BY MURIEL RUKEYSER
The world is full of loss; bring, wind, my love,
my home is where we make our meeting-place,
and love whatever I shall touch and read
within that face.
Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes;
peace to look, life to listen and confess,
freedom to find to find to find
Nothing has changed except Angela Dunnewald. Sustained by a large, rich inner life, she’s seen to her husband Ross and his wishes with little trouble for nineteen years, and stayed best friends with Lydia for twelve, but her will, her ability, to care about the things they do has dissolved. For Ross, there’s keeping their social calendar full, making sure their housekeeper Ina has hung his carefully starched shirts in his closet by color, buying steaks only from King’s. For Lydia, there’s her gossip and flirtations and need for attention. Angela loves them, she supposes – maybe not enough – but she’s come unglued.
There’s this: The very things closing her in and making her feel half-crazy – reminding the gardener to prune the matching crab apple trees afternoons never mornings; answering invitations the day they arrive; getting ready for a Lydia outing – put corners on her days, and give them shape and substance. But then, when Ross is gone, and he’s often gone, nerves surface, disorganization, and a sort of self-loathing.
And this: During the first moments Ross is out the door, she’ll feel weightless, free, and open to possibility. She’ll garden, read, get a full night’s sleep. She’ll have a party, invite friends in for lunch, or see something new at the galleries on Newbury Street. But she doesn’t. She walks from room to room, window to window, waiting for morning, waiting for Ina, waiting for Lydia to call with an idea as to how to spend the day, defenseless against pellets of nervous energy that skid under her skin like metal balls on a metal tray.
I’ve known these people all of my life, and still what happened here in Madena frightens
me. I’ll tell you everything, even the parts that might be – there, already: I’ve hardly begun and
I’m already lying – I’ll try not to skip anything, not even the parts that were my fault.
Union Street splits downtown like a red brick artery splitting two halves of a brain. The
western sphere where Theo and Natalie lived as kids sidles up to the railroad station and the
tracks connecting New York City and points south with Albany and points north. The eastern
half slopes down from Union, where the four or five blocks of original houses, once grand, the
industrialists’ and the bankers, are now all duplexes and multi-family rentals; Theo came to live
in one of these with his wife, who soon left, and his adopted daughter, Persephone. Then, sloping
down more steeply, are the subdivisions and cul de sacs with newer streets and fresher houses,
where Natalie, now married with a son, lives next door to me, Celeste, the woman with the
The big, old-fashioned St. Mark’s Catholic Church with its tall, tall steeple hovers high
above Union. Beneath it, their thrift store, where young girls and my aide Agnes like to shop.
Next is the movie theater, closed for years, Catch Me if You Can still on the marquis, the m and f
and second c missing; and the hardware store with wooden floors and dusty bins of nails and
duct tape and fading boxes of small appliances like coffee pots that everybody can buy cheaper
at Wal-Mart north of town, although Eddie and his son still put watering cans and wheelbarrows
out on the sidewalk in the summer, and shovels and bags of salt in the winter, always hopeful;
then, the bridal shop; Sally, the proprietor, never needs one of the dresses she sells, but it it’s not
hard to imagine her trying them on alone, at night, after locking the front door.
Next is the post office, with the famous fading mural of the town in its industrial heyday,
and the creaky A&P with aisles barely big enough for the new double wide carts, and always
smelling like years and years of overripe fruit. Beyond that, Mr. Harricomb the lawyer’s office,
and the Greek pizzeria, where kids go to buy thick slices for a couple dollars. Across the street,
on the eastern side, a gas station, full serve, the old high school, set back, all stately and brick
and more grand than anything else on the street, now set up for senior citizens, and there’s a free
clinic, and the town’s rec department where kids come to sign up for Little League. Next, a scrap
of a park with a memorial statue for some war, the deli, the florist, green and delicious regardless
of the season; the barber, the bakery, and Delphi’s Video, Theo’s place, the last of its kind in the
Hudson Valley, nearly the last in all of New York State. I’ve always been a faithful customer.
Just north of the old school and the gas station, around the corner, heading west uphill,
are smaller, shabbier shops: the tarot card reader, the shoe repair, and Billie’s tattoo parlor. And
on the outskirts, a circle of handsome old factory buildings, mostly empty now.
As all stories do, this one started decades before the events in this book. But the moment
after which nothing was the same came eighteen years ago.