Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 12)
I was the same after my mother called, overtaken by sorrow and regret, by the idea that if I had confronted Angie in New York, if I’d had the courage, if only . . . my mother wouldn’t have phoned with the news.
It was a Wednesday. My mother normally restricts her calls to weekends. I’m the daughter of my mother, and call her on weekends. I don’t know why but weekends seem the best time, and habit and training, of course. When the phone rang and it was my mother, I knew the news was bad.
“You well, Alyce?” she began.
“I am.” Though, no, I wasn’t entirely well. But the burden was mine, not hers. “The girls and Richard are, too,” I added.
“It’s just horrible,” she said, her voice unsteady and ominous, “I couldn’t believe it when I heard. I couldn’t. Who would have imagined?”
“Things like that don’t happen in Creek Falls. If she’d stayed here, she’d be here today.”
She alarmed me, because I caught her drift. Somebody had suffered terrible harm, and perhaps even the unimaginable.
“Mom,” I said, “what happened? Who are you talking about?”
My heart beat an audible keen. I was in the kitchen and I sank unto a chair.
“Dead?” I whispered with the force of a shout, hard and sharp and painful, like she had reached into me and extracted something vital.
“An accident, a terrible accident.”
“What? How?” Tears welled and spilled down my cheeks.
“A taxi hit her.”
“A taxi in New York?”
“Sure New York. Where do you think? They’re crazy down there. You take your life in your hands crossing a stre–” She stopped abruptly, the way you do when you realize you’re going on, trampling the emotions of another.
I was speechless, enveloped in a disbelieving silence that sounded like a cry to my mother.
“It makes no sense,” she said, offering the slight conciliation of disbelief, of the arbitrariness of death. “None. A lawyer. Married. Pregnant. A beautiful life ahead of her. It makes no sense.”
“Is Bobby in jail?” I cried, possessed by the scene at the memorial, by his duplicity, by a mad brainstorm he had a hand in her death.
“Jail? Alyce, what are you talking about? Bobby is heartbroken. Alyce, are you all right?”
I squirmed. She couldn’t see me physically, but I guessed she saw me nonetheless.” Upset, I guess,” I said.
“Sure you’re upset, a beautiful, talented girl like Angie . . . the whole town’s beside itself. But to say that about Bobby, with all he’s been through, Alyce.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, but without a shred of penitence in any part of me.
“I know,” she said. “Bobby’s here making all the arrangements. The funeral’s at St. Mary’s on Saturday.”
“I’ll tell Richard,” I said.
But, like the marriage, the pregnancy, the place in New York, Richard knew already, before me. He rearranged his schedule on Wednesday and we drove up Friday. The wake, the funeral, the burial, the lunch, every event of that weekend was lost to me, as if I had been a brainless zombie the entire time.
Over the next three months, we visited Creek Falls twice, and it wasn’t until the second time that I was able to muster the courage and visit Angie’s grave, see Rita, relinquish my grief, and attempt laying my suspicion to rest.
They buried Angie in St. Mary’s cemetery, where all the town’s Catholics rested, graves as old as the town, stretching back to the 1830s. I entered the cemetery from behind the church. I’d stopped in to pray. Since college and Richard, I hadn’t been much for church, other than Samantha and Emily’s baptisms and my infrequent attendance with them when home. A few years ago, I’d considered starting up again for their sakes, to give them a religious grounding; whether they continued would be their choice, but I felt we should give them a foundation for the decision. Richard was indifferent, and I went no further than considering.
In the church, I lit votive candles on her behalf, those in red holders, to St. Joseph. I suppose I chose St. Joseph because I wished Richard were like him, a man who honored his family, and his wife. For Angie, Mary might have been more appropriate. Staring into the red glow of the votives, I recalled her as secretary of the Sodality in eighth grade, our last year at St. Mary’s. She’d been quite proud of her position and, from time to time, even in high school, spoke of the pleasure it provided her.
Angie wasn’t buried near the two plots purchased by her parents for themselves, nor with her aunts and uncles. These were in the old section, which had been filled from the time Richard and I moved to Cranbury. Angie’s grave was in the new section, behind the school on the far side of the cemetery road. As I approached, my legs rebelled; my pace slowed; then I stopped, when I saw the blue marble stone, a glazed mirror discordantly radiant among gray slabs. I could not advance farther, could not bear the pain of seeing her chiseled dates, and most painful, her McFarlane name. Rundown by a taxi, a meaningless exit, married to a despicable man who, mysteriously, had resurrected himself as successful and respectable; that’s all I knew, and it didn’t seem enough, not hardly.
I left the cemetery and called on Angie’s mother. Maybe there was more. Maybe my mother hadn’t conveyed the entire story. Really, though, I prayed there was reason to Angie’s choice and her death, and Rita would reveal it.
Rita was home. She was always home, like all the mothers I knew when growing up. Their jobs were to manage the house, raise the children, and wait on the men. For some of us, the way we lived had changed. It had changed for Angie, a lawyer in New York City. But not for me. Looking at Rita, at my mother too, I saw myself years from now, alone in a house.
Rita hugged me. She held onto me, squeezed me, as if by touching me she was again touching Angie. I had to restrain my welling tears.
“I’m sorry about Angie.” I had more than sorry in me, but I couldn’t articulate anything better. Maybe there wasn’t anything better, maybe it was enough, for she tightened her embrace and muttered, “I know. We all are.”
She led me into the kitchen. I sat at the table as she busied herself with coffee, moved a cake platter onto the table, and a cup, plate, and utensils. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t necessary; I wasn’t hungry; I just wanted to talk. But I couldn’t. Catering to me was necessary, therapeutic, for her.
When the coffee finished, she poured us each a cup. She sat and sliced a piece of cake for me. It was a dense pound cake, more like five pounds of brick confection, buttery, guiltily delicious.
“Did she love him?” I asked.
“Eat,” she said, clutching her coffee with both hands.
“I am,” I said. “Was she happy with Bobby?”
“Yes, very happy.”
I must have frowned, for she said, “The cake’s not good, Alyce?”
I shook my head. I poked the cake with my fork. My throat was collapsing, my tongue thickening. I said, “Why didn’t she tell me?”
“She wanted to, Alyce. She always talked of you as her maid of honor, you know.”
“No, no, I didn’t know.”
“Sure she did. But Richard—“
“Richard,” I choked.
She fixed her eyes on mine, reached for my hand with hers, and stoked it.
“Richard told her how you felt about Bobby, reminded her how you wouldn’t let him at your wedding. He didn’t think it would be a good idea. Everybody would be unhappy, he said. It might ruin a beautiful day, he said.”
“Richard said that?”
“Alyce, Richard was thinking of you, of you and Angie and Bobby. He didn’t want to see you unhappy. That’s all. He wanted what was best for everybody. Don’t cry, Alyce.”
But how could I not? I wasn’t Caesar or Christ or stone.
She released my hand and gave me a napkin for my eyes.
“Richard said he’d tell you in time, when you were ready, and everything would be fine, and you and Angie would be friends again, you’d see how happy she and Bobby were together, and you’d be a happy for them. Are you all right?”
I wadded the soggy napkin and nodded.
“Time ran out,” she said, dabbing her eyes with a napkin.” That was all. Time ran out.”
We sat there in the kitchen for a while, two silent, hurt women twisting wet napkins.
Finally, I said, “Thank you for the cake. And I am sorry, more than I can express . . . about Angie.”