Kyesha Jones, the Baptist woman who took Darlene back and forth to the hospital not only to administer dialysis but also to discuss salvation and daytime TV dramas, said, "Isn't it wonderful"—lifting her large hands toward the ceiling light—"that your husband carried the name of our Lord?" Darlene reminded her that her husband's name, Templeton Krist, "rhymes with 'grist,' you know, as in 'grist for the mill.' Or 'tryst.'" Darlene—a once sturdily built woman, still with a lazy right eye and drooping eyelid, her mouth often twisted to the side—could not leave her house except for the visits to the hospital, and was wearing an electronic surveillance anklet attached by the Dallas police ever since she had been indicted for shooting Templeton Krist in the head while he was taking a nap. She needed to be on a dialysis machine three times a week, a service that none of the prisons could provide. Darlene's attorney knew that the District Attorney's office hoped Darlene's kidneys would fail before a trial was attempted.
Two months after her indictment, Darlene fell into a coma. She found herself in a kind of nether region. Damp wisps of sea weed were clinging to her skin and hanging from the trees like imitation Spanish moss. She was walking down a path toward the dimly lit doorway of the house that she and Templeton had bought in Ridgewood, New Jersey—a small home built in the 1950s, with a backyard enclosed by boxwoods and a parlor nearly filled by the baby grand piano where she would play while Templeton sang. She could hear it now, still a bit out of tune, Templeton singing a song from Oklahoma. In the driveway was their venerable Dodge Dart. She heard a woman's voice responding in song to Templeton's. She knew the woman had a freckled face, was big-breasted, wore a low-cut sweater, and tight slacks that accentuated wide hips. She knew that Templeton wore jeans, his paunch becoming obvious, glasses halfway down his nose. She could envision the metal fillings gleaming in his back molars as he opened his mouth wider for the orotund notes. She was carrying her briefcase. In it was his birthday gift, tickets to a Broadway show, and her father's .22 caliber target-practice handgun. Oh, Templeton would be so happy, and they could stay overnight at the Carlisle, they could ride in a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park. She tried to brush the seaweed off her arms. Why was she wearing this fuchsia outfit? Why was Templeton calling her name, his voice suddenly thick as if he had a cold—like that time in Atlantic City, when he applied Noxema to her sun burn and confessed that he loved her, and kept blowing his nose and apologizing for it?
Even in this darkness she could still recall the rumor that Templeton had been paid by father to marry her—when she was working for a life insurance company in the claims division, keeping to herself at home while writing tightly rhymed sonnets. She did try to get out in the world by joining a local arts group, didn't she? That's how she met Templeton, a biochemist known as The Singing Scientist, who performed in local productions. You don't have to lie flat like that all the time, sweetie, like you're afraid. Ain't nobody gonna hurt you. I know you can hear me. C'mon, turn on your side. See? We gotta keep those kidneys workin'. Oh, but he promised they would not stay in Dallas forever, even though she knew they were here because Colleen McGuire his co-star from all those productions in Westchester County and New Jersey had signed on with the Dallas Opera Company. Wasn't he always wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with AMICI DI OPERA? How long, how long had she waited for him to be faithful to his word, to return to the Northeast, this man who could sing the trees out of their stiff poses and bring the animals forth from the woods to listen with rapt attention?
Something dark and odorous was roiling the air. She was in her backyard, burying their cat who'd just been put to sleep by the vet. Templeton was in the house, his head in his hands, crying. "I just can't," he'd confessed. He'd always been like that. When they found anything dead in the yard, a baby robin fallen from its nest, or a mouse on its back, stiff with rigor, Templeton would turn away, his hands over his eyes, leaving Darlene or a neighbor to dispose of the remains. To the women in his theater group, this kind of thing made him an artiste, and more than once he was offered the shelter of a woman's bed, all those women who glowed on stage, their lives transformed, though Darlene was convinced that Templeton had been faithful until they moved from New Jersey to Hartsdale, in Westchester County, which is where she was now, standing at the big four-corners intersection, the air heavy with car exhaust, the sign on a nearby telephone pole advertising The Most Happy Fella, starring Tempelton Krist and Colleen McGuire. She could feel the sun burning through the haze and was having trouble breathing. She knew that as she stood, waiting for the "Walk" sign to light up so she could cross Central Park Avenue, Templeton was at this moment in their condo (so much easier to maintain than a house in New Jersey), caressing Colleen, a woman who'd left a trail of husbands and lovers behind her like sacks fallen from a truck. Darlene reached the building and rose in the elevator to the fifth floor, still finding it difficult to breathe. She slipped quietly into the apartment, into the bedroom, and with her ring of keys beat and scraped Templeton on his naked back, even as he was pumping away. The woman beneath him screamed. It was the cleaning lady, who struggled out from under Templeton and was standing now, a black woman with beautiful eyes, holding a towel to her body, saying, I pray for you every day.
Oh, this was too much! Waiting for the school bus, hair in pigtails, her math homework neatly creased in her school bag, and this irritating boy behind her. She was overweight, clumsy, the object of ridicule, except when it came time for the answers to a quiz. The bus driver always singing, his glasses slipped down his nose as he looked at the children boarding. "Cheer up, kids," he said, "you've got a whole future ahead of you." Then he sang something from Cole Porter which no one could understand. Her father was in the back of the bus, nodding, unshaven, his eyes red rimmed, something odd on his head, his target-practice pistol in its case, as if he were going to the shooting range, and that's why he wore those puffy black ear guards. Shall I, she thought, shall I give everyone my homework? But it was too late, the plane had taken off, they were on their way to Dallas, she had spilled food down her new blouse, Templeton was reading one of his technical periodicals, his dark hair just beginning to gray, her father's obituary a bookmark in the magazine she'd shoved into the storage pocket on the back of the seat in front of her. What is there to know? she thought. It was cold. Templeton put his hand over hers. "You see, once we're in the air, it's just fine." His clear singer's voice resonating like something she turned up on the stereo (that's what her father had been wearing in the bus—a stereo headset!). "Don't patronize me," she said.
Oh, God, Oh, God, she thought. She'd stepped into a puddle and the filthy water had splashed up onto her white slacks. There was nothing she could do, except to pat the stains dry. When she went up in the hospital elevator and got off at Neurology, and entered the hospital room, she observed that her mother didn't notice much about her daughter's appearance, being cranked up in bed. She held Darlene's hand and tried to squeeze it. "There," she said, "there." She'd had several discs fused in her spine to alleviate terrible pains that had affected her legs. "Mother," Darlene asked, "what are you doing here? Why aren't you with your sister in Providence?" "Silly," her mother responded, her white hair let down and encircling her broad face that had so few wrinkles in it, though her eyes had grown watery and her lips trembled. "I came back here to forgive your father. And look what happened to me." "For what, forgive him for what?" "I came back to forgive him for losing all our money." But she hadn't, Darlene thought. Her mother had never given up the acrimony she'd felt when her husband's electronics business failed and she discovered that almost all her money as well as his had gone to creditors. She'd moved to Rhode Island, to a small cottage near Narragansett, where Darlene used to visit her with Templeton. "Yes," her mother continued, "I thought it was time." "But, mother," Darlene said. "you died years ago. After Daddy." "Don't be silly," her mother replied. "You were always such a literal child. Your father will be here any minute." And he was. A hefty man with gentle gray eyes, his shirt threadbare at the elbows—the same shirt he wore when Darlene and Templeton visited in the crumbling apartment on Riverside Drive. After his death, they'd found virtually new clothes hanging in his closet and shirts still in their packaging in his dresser drawers. "Well," he said, "look who's here." He kissed his daughter on the cheek. "Where's Templeton? I thought I just saw him parking the car." "Hi, daddy. Templeton is . . . Templeton is . . . " "Hello, everyone!" His voice filled the room. But wherever Darlene turned, she couldn't find him. Now he was singing. The nearly limp flowers in the vase on her mother's bedside table came alive. "Show yourself!" she demanded. "I can't," he said. "I can't."
It must be here, she told herself, digging into the old toy chest. The nursery that still contained her crib and the books she'd learned to read from had a view of an apartment in the building opposite, where a woman was looking back at her. The woman waved. Darlene threw open the window. "Mind your business!" she shouted. The woman began to sing. Templeton was suddenly there, too, his arms wide, his head back, his mouth open, the glitter of his silvery amalgam-filled molars almost blinding in the sunlit window, just as they had shone in the lamplight of the den, when he was on the sofa, his jaw hanging slack, the side of his head blown out into a space she imagined as the interior of a giant eye, where she was now, the world blurred all around her, thin red veins like threads in a diaphanous curtain beginning to swell and then empty to a hidden pulse that must be the thump-thump of her heart—or the sound of legs hitting the floor and being dragged across a hardwood surface. She could hear Templeton singing, Why won't you believe me? It's you I adore! She floated on a darkness like the sea yet too viscous for that, her eyes open to a nothingness, a voice saying, Turn over. You can turn over. And when she did, she sucked in vast amounts of a sugary black tonic like the vitamin-laden syrup of her childhood, when she'd begun to gain weight. The young Templeton reaching inside her bra, though she wouldn't meet him for years yet. Don't, she told herself, don't you give him the satisfaction. She felt her lungs collapse. Something gill-like in her side opening and closing. The world entirely liquid. And if she opened her mouth, it would fill. Here, his singing couldn't be heard. Here, he couldn't reach her.
What a hill! One never thought of Central Park as being steep. Or of hearing Othello in the nearby open-air theater, I smote him thus! The fragrant darkness opening around her like a blossom she emerged from, and she stepped forth sensing his presence in the quiescent trees, the shrubs, something dormant in the air, a newly released pollen that began to fall upon the vacant benches and the chalk-marked path where a child had left her pink Hello! They were in the Met again, the greatest museum in the world, he said, the museum mile along the Park the only distance you'd ever have to traverse to know human history. Is there any other kind? she'd asked, looking around her at the Egyptian tomb artifacts, the promise of an after-life, the continuation of the senses, bejeweled goblets lifted to a thirst forever unslaked. And here the shattered images of the pharaoh queen destroyed by a jealous nephew. Here the false love of the people. Here the memory of Templeton's first touch at the base of her spine, his hand sliding upwards, his voice like an unknown sustenance she took into her hearing, as if sound shaped itself within her into an image of herself, a tomb figurine, an incarnation of the soul. "Oh, the job is just a job," he'd said. "My real life is in theater." And she wept for the passing of so much beauty, the ocher-tinted slaves pictured in profile on a wall, holding their staffs aloft, the jackal-headed god . . .
Hissss! A snake sound, she thought. It was just the oxygen tent her mother inhabited. Or was that her father? Hissss! "It's pushing the biology of the thing," Templeton had said. "Whether or not you can exceed nature, whether you can improve upon it." It was about the new drug he was developing. Oh, he was so full of himself. So little-boyish daydreaming about fame. So sweet in the way he wrapped the towel about himself after their first love-making, as he went to the kitchen and came back with two flutes of Spanish champagne, holding the tapered stemware up to the light and watching the bubbles rise. "Price is not everything," he said, "that establishes quality." He looked up and down her plump nakedness. "Or pleasure." He was on her in a minute. Hissss! It was the bicycle's front tire that had been pierced by a thorn. They were on Amelia Island off the Florida coast, for a week-long holiday. He was huffing and puffing, not used to a bike without gears. She was hardly breaking a sweat. "God, what strong legs you must have," he said. She had that firm kind of overweight, not flabby, no collops of cascading flesh, pneumatic, yes, but taut on the surface, smooth. His tire was now completely flat and they walked together back to the rental center. "It's not you," he said later, lying back. "I think it's my diet. Or those decongestant pills. I'm drying up. No semen. No . . . " "What about one of your miracle drugs?" she asked. "What about love? What about Colleen McGuire?" Ten years older than he, that woman with a voice out of Gilbert & Sullivan, its quaver, its fluty highs, its comic alto depths. Its almost phallic drive. What a shit you are! Really! What a liar. You're so weak! That noise exploding inside her head. Her ears ringing. A coldness sweeping over her like the fingers of dead slaves.
She could hear him singing a very sad song. He was weeping. In the darkness all around her, the sound of little scurrying feet was like the drumming of a woman's fingernails on a desk. It was her fifth-grade school teacher, Mrs. Johnson, impatient for the answer to a math question she'd put to her, who even then was thinking of him, the boy she'd meet, his hair thick and dark, his smile soothing, his hand outstretched as if to stop whatever trouble was coming toward her, whatever the meanness of Mrs. Johnson's clacking fingernails, because in fact she knew the answer, It's an imaginary number. Because they were fated to meet, and she could go back in each of their times to make that happen, to cause him to appear at the desk behind hers, and he'd lean over to whisper, It's an imaginary number. And she turned on him, I know that! I'm not stupid! His father was already famous for inventing a new kind of plastic wrap that clung to damp surfaces and for . . . Her own father struggling to keep his business. The huge super stores killing him. Everything sliding. Why is everything sliding? She was slipping down a wet wall. She heard him. "Darlene! Darlene! I never meant . . . " And then the darkness lifted, everything was bright, she stood in a field, Queen Anne's lace and blue cornflowers, purple pokeberry, a giant mullein wavering, her bare ankles speckled red with tiny insect bites, his song suddenly filling the air, the mullein stiffening, the cornflowers heaving to one side, the white lace heads bending over on their slender stalks to make a kind of O. "You son of a bitch!" she shouted. "This won't work!"
I know you can hear me, so I'm just gonna keep on talkin'. I told my congregation about you, but they don't know you haven't yet declared yourself and they might think I'm talkin' about the Lord to the wall, because if you don't believe, there ain't no point in anything an' you won't understand it's all about love an' that He loves us no matter what we done .
That evening she saw him on stage for the first time opposite Colleen McGuire in Hello Dolly, the woman's voice bursting at the seams. Templeton—playing Horace Vandergelder the wealthy man Dolly had set herself for—had to be aged, a matter of gray hair, penciled crows feet around the eyes, and a little paunch, which he already had. He made love to her when they got home, still in make-up. She knew he was imagining Colleen and she threw herself into it, even faking a Barbra Streisand Jewish accent from the movie, as he came. For a while, she thought it would help to do just that—dress and act like the characters he played opposite. Being the girlish governess Maria from The Sound of Music or the young Julie Jordan who falls for Billy Bigelow, the shiftless man who kills himself in Carousel and comes back from heaven to perform a redeeming last act. Waking up one morning—as she was now, in her old bed, though the mirror was draped with a towel and there was a constant rushing sound of water all around her—she'd felt ashamed. Humiliated. Not that she hadn't enjoyed the sexual fantasies . . . until he lost interest. And it was clear that he and Colleen were doing more than rehearse. She heard him singing again. Like Billy Bigelow returning from the dead. Here to save the daughter they never had. So it must be to save her, Darlene, his wife, the woman he . . . "Forget it!" she yelled.
Pain, is this pain, a hollowness invading her legs, so she can hardly walk up the path to their home near Fair Park and the Garden Center and the Music Hall in Dallas? They'd just closed on the mortgage. "We'll get a new kitchen, I promise," he said. "I don't care about the kitchen," she replied. "I want a new life." "But we're here, it's all new!" "I want you to love me. Just me." Her voice was mournful. Is it so terrible to be alone? And where was he? She imagined him wandering in a vacant theater, looking up and down the aisles, then going up the little stairs that led to the stage, turning to look at all the empty seats. "I'm here," she called out. "I'm right here!" She sounded like a five-year old playing hide and seek.
She was floating again. Remembering how she ran the correspondence section of a big insurance company, teaching young women how to sound concerned, when their real job was to deny claims. It was like marriage. It was like Templeton coming home from his job, saying his supervisor didn't know any science, he was just a money man, they'd wind up with a drug that terminated people—and all she felt was fatigue with people's complaints, boredom in spite of her new Armani outfits, the bi-weekly facials, her weight creeping up ever so slowly. He'd run off to rehearsals and come home late, the poems she was writing getting tighter and tighter, shrinking to epigrams that off-rhymed hex and crux, though sometimes she wandered into an Elizabethan style and spoke of the moon, something obscene always trying to insinuate itself into the florid harmonies of a bygone age. "You're so talented," he would say, standing behind her, reading the page in her typewriter, reaching down to cup her breasts, just as she hunted for a word to rhyme with flume . . . buffoon . . . some scrotum . . . "And you too, darling," she would say, turning to him, especially after rehearsals, pressing at his erection with her open palm, as if to push it back into its socket. Oh, she loved him! She did! Isn't that why she leaned over him when he was sleeping and . . . what must he have been dreaming?
A kind of fire was fingering her groin. She was nauseous. Her womb felt bloated. She bent over on herself. Three miscarriages and still she was weighted down with a life within her that whispered into her dreams. The names of girls, Melanie, Claudia, Penelope written on the pad at her bedside table, though she hadn't remembered doing that during the night. He would read them over breakfast, tears in his eyes, Pagliacci with the Times in one hand, a lost future in the other, his utter phoniness worse than anything he simulated on stage. She snatched the names away from him. "Don't make me sick," she said, "with your feelings." "I just can't win with you, can I?" he said. It was true. He couldn't. She knew it. She was rolling from side to side. I'm just gonna make you more comfortable, sweetie. Then I'm gonna read to you from the papers this story how a woman saw Jesus in an elevator. Up and up, we all goin' up. To Him
No. She had to go down. That's where he was. That's where she'd put him. He'd come home in tears, after Colleen's collapse on the tennis court. Not that he ever played, being soft in his body now, almost womanish. Why had a person of Colleen's size (and age!) been racing about on a court in Texas heat? What a relief! They could return to the Northeast now. She had to find him. It would be okay now. There were plenty of tech companies in New Jersey or Manhattan, laboratories on Long Island, new glass buildings in Westchester County that housed the latest equipment. "Where are you?" she called. It was like shouting down a well, her echo swirling about. "This is my home now," he'd said. "Our home." Praising Dallas neighborhoods like Deep Ellum for their variety. She knew what it was. He couldn't leave the cemetery where Colleen had been laid to rest. He'd rather stare down at that tombstone than take his wife by the hand back to where they'd been nearly happy, her parents still alive, his early years of success as a scientist and a tenor, before they moved to that house in Ridgewood and something went sour. What was it he wanted—adoration? Applause? It sounded so cheap. Something out of a celebrity scandal tabloid. Fame. Oh, she gave him fame, all right.
Why you sweating so much, sweetie? What are you doin' wherever you are that you so tired out? You just dream lovely dreams how you gonna come back to me. Just listen to this nice music, these people singin' how they be saved. The air stirred around her. He was singing. It was something from Wagner, she knew that, something he would never have attempted, something only a heldentenor of great girth could have sent soaring upward to the balcony seats in a vast theater, something out of Tristan und Isolde, and she realized he was not looking for her, though she tried to imagine herself dying in his arms. But where was he? Down, he was further down, and she descended, a loose hospital gown fluttering about her. She remembered how in restaurants he would tuck the napkin under his chin and laugh when she splashed a bit of sauce on herself or when the butter was so hard that she began hacking at it. He'd had a subtle way with the physical world. He could transfer the last of the olive oil into a cruet, never spilling a drop. He could thread a needle on the first attempt, not needing his glasses. He could find whatever she would drop, whether it rolled under the couch or slipped down the drain and got stuck in the elbow-shaped pipe under the sink. Twice she'd slipped on the front walk in the winter, until he put down a long narrow carpet that their friends joked about. His friends. Her own had gradually fallen away, people she'd known since grade school, among them a teacher, a middle-school principal, a dentist, a corporate executive, but none of them so entranced with Templeton's singing career that they would attend his performances or cut out articles about musical theater. All his friends did that. "But, sweetie," her old roommate from college said, "I thought he was a scientist. He talks about nothing but all these shows. I mean, it's only entertainment. Whatever do you do with yourself?" Without saying, "No children?"
She kept falling, facing the side of a mountain. It was impossible to tell whether she was going up or down, but she could feel everything pushing up into her throat. Slowly, she was descending slowly. He was singing again. Calling at the same time. As if in an operetta, ordinary speech a sing-song welter of ephemeral feelings and words that fell from his lips like the husks of lies, though she understood the one word that he repeated. The name that wasn't hers. As if by intoning it, he could bring the dark forces up through the earth into the light, create a pathway, a channel, a tunnel, along or through which he and his beloved could unite verb, noun, adjective, stone, tree, bird feather, serpent scale, genitals, mind, heart, stomach in a union of cool flame that did not sear what it healed. She could feel the swelling of time. She could finger the collapse of her breathing. What do you think you're doin' now? Sweetie, there just ain't no way you can get out that door. But you don't have to. Because He is where you are all the time. I told you that already. I told you He don't have no list you gotta be on for Him to love you. You were born to be saved. Yes, you were. Why He's takin' you in His arms right now.
"But I'll never leave you," he'd said. "You know why I won't leave you?" she returned. "Why I cling to you like skin? Why I'll be with you like the smell of your own excrement? Why I'll pour your coffee every morning and you won't know what's in it? You want to know why?" "Stop, stop, stop, for the love of god, stop it!" he pleaded. "We need to talk!" He sat in the armchair, his face in his hands, like an old man in one of his plays. "You want to know why?" she continued. "Because, believe it or not, I still love you. I'm doomed to love you." She wept. And so did he. They made love as if for the first time. But in the morning, she felt nothing. He'd burned it all out of her, she thought. Him and his precious Colleen, they'd set fire to her innocence. But one squeeze of her finger on that sliver of metal, she'd gotten it back. Blood the color of flame!
She was walking now, her hospital gown flowing behind her, its strings coming loose. Soon she'd be naked. Bit by bit, the gown was leaving her. And her memory of when they'd met. Their first home, that small apartment with the leaky faucet in Scarsdale, the Chinese restaurant down the block, how they would sweat in bed after making love and he put ice cubes inside a wash cloth and cooled her back, her thighs. Before that, the honeymoon—the green ocean all around Key West, the bizarre street people, Hemingway's house, and on the way back, the railroad tracks that had broken off from an old hurricane. So sad, the way they wanted to continue but couldn't. A gap, a space, a way of falling into the sea. She was forgetting it all. Before her was a hill. It wasn't very steep, nor did its surface trouble her bare feet. A breeze was building up behind her, and her gown flew off, circling in the air, billowing, swept into the darkness. He was calling her name. Oh, she was ready, she thought. She'd go back. They could . . . She was forgetting so much! Who was this woman ahead of her? The red hair, the big-woman's walk that was neither a waddle nor a slide but a kind of surging, her hips taut hemispheres beneath a scarlet dress worthy of an ancient Egyptian princess, who would never have been so stout, so outsized, so . . . Why was she herself unclothed? He was singing, both she and the other woman advancing up the hill. The son of a bitch!
The woman in the red Egyptian garment turned to face her. What had once been handsome in Colleen McGuire's broad face was now swollen and bruised, as if she'd been beaten. Her breasts seemed flat and empty, just so much loose skin beneath her ancient attire. Darlene stared into her eyes, but instead of a sparkling, mischievous blue there were only empty sockets. And when the woman opened her mouth to speak (or sing! Darlene thought, she's going to sing!), there was only a moan and a tongueless cavity. Darlene passed her. Templeton's voice sang out, "Where are you?" But it wasn't him calling and singing. It was Darlene herself. It was her vigor, the power of her love/hate, that kept him serenading the darkness and its creatures, of which she was one, like the vacant Colleen, both women tethered to each other and to him by a desire not of the body, not of the spirit, but of a vast emptiness, an immobilizing zero-sum logos that was beginning to wrack her consciousness. You see? I told you there wasn't no kind of foolishness he don't know about. Didn't he suffer everything? Didn't he come to us knowing that he would? You layin' there like you know it all, an' guess what? Sweetie, we don't know nothin' . . . unless it's just time to go . . .
But what if? She was by herself, struggling up a hill, surrounded by dark woods, seeing people in dimly lit copses on either side, some of them gnashing their teeth as they scraped thorns down the sides of their faces, some of them carving letters into their skin with a paring knife, some of them clawing at their mouths, some of them with their shirts torn open, leeches sucking for blood that wasn't there. Here was a man seated, trying to perform fellatio on himself. Here were two women tied back to back, unable to reach one another. Here was a shrieking woman being mounted from behind by a huge Irish wolfhound. A man was eating paper money out of a vat that swirled with grease and cow dung. Two men facing each other were falling on each other's swords again and again. A clown kept ripping off his face, revealing the same clown face beneath. A boy was on fire, blood pouring out of his ears, but he never dropped to the ground. Wrath, envy, lust, greed, what were any of these, she thought, compared to the suffering of the betrayed? All she'd wanted from him was . . . was . . .
She could hear him singing behind her. She was making her way up. She knew he was following now. She knew that Colleen had fallen far behind, that woman's blind voice lost in the wind. It would be fine. She would emerge behind the laurels in their backyard. The peonies would be just opening, their soft white flowers displaying themselves. There would be several days of uncollected newspapers in the driveway. Next season's opera offerings would be in the mailbox, its glossy photos of divas, the boxes she could check for Lucia di Lammermoor, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni. She knew he was down there behind her. She could almost hear him puffing, his lack of conditioning what had made him finally a supernumerary, his voice failing, the roles going to younger men, though he always sounded so fine to her, because what she hated she couldn't stop wanting. So she turned, to urge him on. And he was there, his hand reaching for her, the left side of his head a vacancy, his one good eye open and bright. She waved him upward and watched him crumble as he stepped forward, first one leg, then the other turning to ashes, his torso next, though she saw for a last time the old white scar of an appendectomy, then his shoulders fell away, his head fell intact on the ground, one eye open, as he tried to sing.