The Condor Passes

I Southern writer who manages in her fiction to combine realism and symbolism with a touch of the poet, Shirley Ann Grau has been regarded as an author of considerable talent and brilliance since the publication of her first book of stories in 1955. The characters in the following story will appear in the new novel on which she is working, but the story is not a part of that novel.

A Story by Shirley Ann Grau

IT WAS part of Stanley’s job to open the greenhouse every morning. After the old man had taken his breakfast. It was part of Stanley’s job to march formally along the slate-paved corridor that led from the west corner of the entrance hall, and throw open the double doors that led into the greenhouse itself. Then he had to scurry rapidly among the welter of pots and trees, while the cool tips of climbing orchids and the furry tips of chain trees brushed his neck. Straight to the birdcage. Check the birds — first the floor: remove any dead ones quickly. Before the old man came.

Next Stanley was to check the live birds — even more quickly now, because behind him he could hear the sound of the old man approaching. If any living bird looked sick or weak, Stanley had to reach out and grab it at once, snapping the neck in his fingers and stuffing the carcass out of sight. The old man must never in the course of a day see a bird die or flop about injured or unhealthy.

Sometimes — during the twelve years he had been a butler here — Stanley thought that they had arranged it this way just to make his job difficult. Why, for example, didn’t they let him open the greenhouse doors before the old man came down to breakfast? There was plenty of time then, and there wouldn’t be any of this last-minute business of disposing of the dead birds . . .

But it wasn’t that way at all. Everything in the house had a fixed and ordered pattern. Unchangeable.

Exactly at seven thirty every morning, the old man came down in the elevator with Mr. Murphy, the white night nurse.

White . . . Stanley sniffed. White like me, maybe. Just because he’s got blue eyes, it don’t mean he’s white. His grandma was a nigger, sure as anything. All you had to do was look at the hands on him, and the nails. It didn’t mean nothing that he had blue eyes . . . Stanley thought: Anna’s got blue eyes. I got to tell him this very day how I got a sister that’s got blue eyes . . . See if that bugs him a little . . . Mister Murphy, you ever hear how many niggers got blue eyes . . .

But not now. Now was the morning routine. And the birdcage. It was a huge flattened watermelon-shaped affair made of reeds and straw. It reached right up to the high ceiling and down to the flagstone floor. The old man’s daughter, who had decorated this greenhouse, had told Stanley that it was a fish trap of the sort that Brazilian fishermen use.

Maybe it caught fish, Stanley thought, but it was hell on birds. They died by twos and threes, every day since it had been installed there four years ago. That made hundreds of birds in my hands, Stanley thought.

Only instead of taking the cage down, the old man’s daughter kept restocking it. The pet shop in town sent out a new batch of birds every Wednesday afternoon. And if the old man noticed any difference in numbers according to the day of the week, he never said anything.

Finally, even the old man’s daughter was convinced that it was not the fault of the birds but had something to do with her precious cage. So she found a man who knew about things like that. He came two days ago. A short bald man with thick glasses. Stanley watched while he emptied the cage and gave it a spray with some kind of powder and put in all new birds. Of a more resistant species, he said.

Resistant to what, Stanley wondered. Except maybe the old man . . . And there wasn’t many people could do that, so what did you expect of a bird?

He looked on the floor of the cage. Nothing there. He studied the birds fluttering on their perches. Some of them were actually singing — he hadn’t heard anything like that for quite a while. And even the silent ones looked all right. So maybe the little man with his powder had done some good. Stanley hoped so. He was tired of picking up the stiff bony bodies. Sometimes he didn’t have time to toss the small things out the side door, he’d have to slip them into his pocket. And once, one bad day when four or five of them had died, he’d had to tuck one up under his sleeve. A smelly swollen one at that. They swelled up quick in the damp heat of the green house, quicker than outside.

THIS morning there was nothing to toss out. Stanley drew a sigh of relief.

The rubber-tired wheels of the chair were very close. Stanley straightened up and stood properly, hands behind back, while the old man came in. Roberta, the downstairs maid, was pushing him, as she did every morning.

Stanley avoided her eyes, those yellow eyes like a cat’s, always staring at him. As if he didn’t have enough trouble without getting mixed up with that broad. Never enough. Not for her. And he wasn’t all that young anymore, and with a wife of his own at home ... he just wasn’t up to things like that.

Roberta wheeled the old man to his accustomed place. It was a cleared space like a room in the very center of the greenhouse, completely surrounded by ceiling-high greenery, completely hidden from everything except the low whine of the ventilating fan and the nervous trickle of the little fountain a few dozen feet away.

The old man held up his hand, silently, and listened a minute. Funny, old as he was, and crippled and bent, like last year’s kernel in a mockernut, he could still hear.

He listened, and then nodded, his head trembling on his thin neck. “Thank you, Roberta,” he said.

She left, as the routine said she was to do. But she cut across the space at such an angle that she was bound to cross Stanley’s vision. She wiggled her rear under her tight white dress. She did not look over her shoulder. She did not need to.

Stanley kept his face straight, he’d had lots of practice. Jesus, he thought, with Fred the mailman wanting to lay her real bad these past two, three months . . . you always did find him in the kitchen, hanging around, delaying his route; he was lucky they hadn’t caught him at that. Why didn’t she take on Fred . . .

Stanley stood quietly, in a version of what they would have called parade rest in the army. Almost, but not quite.

The old man sat in his wheelchair, not moving, not saying anything. Just breathing.

Which was quite an effort for him, Stanley thought. Quite an effort.

He whistled and rattled, the phlegm in the back of his throat fluttered, the sinews on the side of his thin neck, the sinews like small snarled cords, moved slightly, tightening and then loosening. His eyes were closed, those old bright eyes, hooded like a bird’s, and quick as a bird’s too, flashingopen to catch you watching.

Stanley did not look at the old man. He simply stood, wiggling his toes inside his black shoes to amuse himself. Thinking, in spite of everything, about Roberta. She had a cute ass, round and high . . .

The old man gargled and fluttered the steamy air through his lungs. The wet air, thick as a cloth, the heavy air, greasy as oil with all the flower and leaf scents on it.

Stanley no longer sweated profusely in the damp heat. When he first took this job — eleven, twelve years ago, he’d really forgotten just when — his shirts were always drenched with sweat when he was finished and came out of the greenhouse, and he’d have to walk around the kitchen with his coat off and his arms waving in the air like a clipped chicken to dry himself off. Sometimes he would even go and stand directly in front of an air-conditioning vent, and let the cold dry air run over him until he had a fit of shivers and had to step away.

The heat in the greenhouse had bothered him once, and so had the smell, the heavy sweet flower smells, the dripping perfumes and musks. Flowers always reminded him of funerals. But he’d gotten used to it. After all, this was a good job. With only the old man in the house.

He was snoring loudly now, his square bony chin resting on the carefully knotted tie.

Soft rubber-soled steps and a faint starchy rustle — Miss Carter and her round white cap nodded to Stanley over a low green distance. That meant that Mr. Murphy, the night nurse, was gone. Miss Carter pulled back and disappeared, her reddish-blond hair fading against some reddishblond orchids. She would wait in the hallway, reading the morning paper, the one the old man had glanced at during breakfast.

Same thing every morning . . . Stanley wiggled his toes. Big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth, fifth. Now, big toe alone, others flat and quiet. Now the little toe alone . . . No, no luck. Still couldn’t do it.

That was how Stanley spent his waiting time, learning to move his toes separately. He would really practice later on, when he was off duty and barefoot. He could move the big toe alone, that was fine. But now he wanted to move the little one.

It had to move, he thought, it was a toe, like the others, it had to be movable, and he was going to train it. Only so far, it wasn’t doing any good. If the little one moved, so did the others . . . He would have to keep practicing.

ABRUPTLY the old man woke up. The thin head lifted, the chin left the tie, which now had a small wet saliva spot on its smooth silk surface. His hand left the arm of the wheelchair and reached out.

Stanley came alive, suddenly. Thinking: the old man’s morning naps are just about the same length, how does he know, must have a clock in his head . . .

Stanley got the cigar box — it was only a foot or two away on a little table, but the old man never actually reached over and took hold of it, he only waved toward it with his hand, and Stanley did the rest. He selected the cigar, slowly because the old man liked to watch. And he cut it, slowly too so the old man could see exactly how he was doing it. Then he tucked the cut end between the old man’s thin blue-tinged lips.

Stanley lit it for him too, and put the silver lighter back on the table, noticing as he did that there were some spots of tarnish on its flat shiny surface. He would have to bring that back into the kitchen to be polished, before the old man’s daughter came. She was a great housekeeper, and she prowled around her father’s house, running her finger along the tops of the shower-curtain rods, and over the bulbs in lamps, opening cupboards and searching drawers.

The old man began to cough, the heavy aromatic smoke spilled from his lungs. Stanley, standing beside him, stretched out his left arm, stiffly. The old man bent forward against it, pressing against it with his thin bony chest, and coughed comfortably. His hands, which rested on his knees, did not move. His fingers, which held the cigar, did not loosen. When he was done, he rested silently against the arm. After a moment, Stanley straightened his arm gently, lifting him back into position. The coughing had given his face a little color. As Stanley watched, the pink drained off, and there was the usual putty color of old skin. Stanley took his arm away, the thin knotted hand lifted the cigar again, the old lungs filled. And emptied smoothly. No cough. Stanley stepped back, resumed his waiting, his toe exercising. The old man smoked quietly, and there was only the deep sound of his breathing.

They were both waiting for eight thirty, when, as he did every weekday, the old man’s office manager would arrive for his day’s orders.

Standing quietly, again practicing moving his toes, Stanley almost did not notice the black shadow that passed over the glass roof of the greenhouse. A bird, he thought, flying low, a black bird, and pretty big. A crow, he supposed, or some kind of hawk. There’d been a red-tailed hawk in the big pecan tree down at the road yesterday. It must be cruising about now, looking for breakfast.

And then Stanley noticed the old man. He was sitting up straight, he almost never did that. (Only once a long time ago — how long was that? Stanley thought. Eight years, when he had heard the news about his son-in-law.)

“Did you see that?” the old man asked. His thin crippled body was poised against the air.

“Yessuh,” Stanley said soothingly, remembering that it was bad for the old man to get upset. “A big crow or that red-tailed hawk I been seeing around here.”

The old man turned to look at him, and the bright eyes, hooded like a bird’s himself, blinked at Stanley. “That was a condor. I didn’t know they had them in this country. I never saw one before.”

“Yessuh,” Stanley said.

“Do you know what a condor is? Of course you wouldn’t.”

“Nosuh,” Stanley said.

“We had them in San Isidro, had lots of them. Wasn’t a day you didn’t look up and see one of the damn big birds sailing over looking at you.”

“Suh ...” Stanley said dutifully, wondering if he should call die nurse now. Whenever the old man started thinking about his days in South America, he got upset.

“And the damn fool Indians, you could kill them before they’d work like a white man . . .”

Stanley thought: I’ll give him maybe hall a minute more, and then I’ll call for Miss Carter.

But this time the old man slipped off the subject. “Long ago, boy” — his hand waved vaguely toward Stanley. “Gone too. Now I can’t drink coffee; those days I used to chew up the beans in my teeth. Like an Indian. Carry a gun and shoot a man soon as a snake, and always looking over my shoulder for bandits . . . That’s gone, boy.”

The old man dropped his hand and rested, remembering quietly. Stanley decided he would not have to call Miss Carter.

“Yes,” the old man said, so softly that Stanley had difficulty hearing him, “I had my time.”

“Yessuh,” Stanley said again. (The old man’s daughter had told him, years ago, when he first took the job: Don’t argue with him. Whatever he says, tell him yes. Whatever he says.)

“You wouldn’t believe it now. You wouldn’t believe the things if I told you. The things we did in San Isidro.”

HE SOUNDED sorry, Stanley thought. And it would be hard to be old and crippled, with nobody to remember the things you remembered. For there wasn’t anybody left from that time . . . Stanley had heard about it: The old man made his money in South America, fruit and coffee, people said. He’d gone down poor, and come back rich. He married then, a man already into middle age, and had his children late, and settled down to a peaceful life.

But that meant there’d be nobody who’d remember . . .

Stanley thought it would be hard, to be cut off like that. He and his wife now, they knew just exactly where they would go when they got old and too tired to work. They’d go back to Ocena Springs, Mississippi, and they’d live in the house that Stanley’s mother now lived in, the house that they were keeping for their old age. They’d known everybody in that town since they were kids, and when they got very old and sick and the shell of their body sat loosely around them, they wouldn’t be alone. There’d be other people to sit on the porches with them and talk about things that had happened to them years before.

Like: the time they were playing hooky from school, fooling around back on the old shell road that went to the Spanish fort, way back of town, where you could hardly find the road for the palmettos that overgrew it, and the still unmoving air smelled musky from snakes. They’d gone off the road somehow, and one of them — Charlie Edwards, it was — stepped into a quicksand, and by the time they got to him and found a plank to reach to him, he was down to his waist in the stuff, he’d lost his pants and torn his shirt. And when his mama found out what he’d been doing that made him come home half naked, stripped like a willow that’s been peeled, she was too frightened to give him the beating he deserved. “Don’t you never forget,” she screeched at them all, because Charlie was her only child and her husband gone, “don’t you never forget what you done today. And how near you come to getting killed. Don’t you never forget, not so long as you live.”

They remembered all right, Stanley thought. His wife, Louise, she had been one of those kids, and every so often she’d say to him: “You remember that pit on the road to the old Spanish fort?” When they went to Ocena Springs, they’d find other people who remembered things like that. They wouldn’t ever be alone, not the way the old man was. With just a lot of images in his mind and nobody really knowing what they were about . . .

Stanley heard the crisp footfall of Mr. Larsen, who was the old man’s office manager. It would be exactly eight thirty. Mr. Larsen was never either late or early.

The old man might be crippled and weak and alone, but he still ran his own affairs. Stanley didn’t know too much about that. He left just as soon as Mr. Larsen arrived, so he didn’t hear what they were talking about, but he knew from Viola, the cook, who’d been in the house for twentyfive years, that the old man was mean and sharp and feisty in his business. “Don’t you let that body of his fool you none,” Viola would always say. “He can’t run no races, nor things like that, and he’d be no good to a woman anymore, but there ain’t nothing wrong with his mind, and he just sits in that hothouse of his thinking up ways to screw more people and make some more money.” And when Stanley looked startled, as he did the first time he heard that, Viola just chuckled. “I reckon he is just about the smartest man God ever got around to making.”

But she’d been there longer than anyone else, and she remembered back to the time when the old man’s wife was still alive, and his children were just married, back to the time before his strokes and paralysis.

Stanley left the greenhouse, closing the door behind him, moving from the warm moist air to the crispy cool dry air of the main part of the house, air that always smelled faintly of machine oil. They’d tried, but the servicemen had never been able to get that odor out of the air conditioner.

Miss Carter was sitting at her usual station in the hall; she dropped the newspaper. “Good morning, Stanley. How is he?”

“Same, I guess,” Stanley said. “Feeble.”

“More than yesterday?”


“Then it’s a good day for him.”

“Would you like me to bring you a cup of coffee?”

“No, thanks.” She almost never accepted. “I’m just waiting to see if I’m needed, as usual.”

Stanley went to the kitchen; he would get his own breakfast now. The room was empty. Viola must be off somewhere. Stanley hung his white coat carefully on the back of a chair. He poured himself a cup of coffee and shook out some cornflakes into a bowl. He was eating that when Viola appeared. She was a short wide woman, not fat but very muscular. “How is he?”

“Same as yesterday,” Stanley said, with his mouth full.

Viola clucked her tongue.

“You didn’t expect no miracles?” Stanley teased her. “Nor anything like that?”

She sighed in answer.

MR. LARSEN left, and the old man’s daughter arrived, as she did every single morning, weekends included, at ten o’clock. And the old man’s daughter found the cigarette lighter with the spot of tarnish on it. She was so upset by this that she went through the house more carefully than ever, and insisted on taking all the linen out of the linen closet and looking it over, even the great initialed damask cloths that belonged to her mother and hadn’t been used since those days. Of course she found that they were blotched by brown age spots, and so the whole staff spent the rest of the morning (while Miss Carter stayed with the old man) carrying the cloths to the backyard and stretching them on the grass in the full sun and spreading the brown age spots with a mixture of lemon juice and salt. And all this time the old man’s daughter stood in the shade of the big oak tree and watched. By noon they were all tired, and so she went off to have lunch with her mother-in-law, as she did every day. She had always got on better with her in-laws than with her own father.

She kissed him good-bye. “See you tomorrow, Papa.”

“Edna?” That was her mother-in-law’s name. The old man asked as if he didn’t know.

“Of course, Papa, I always have lunch there.”

“Terrible woman.”

“I’m going,” the old man’s daughter said hastily.

The old man said: “No wonder that fellow killed himself with a mother like that to drive him to it.”

The old man’s daughter turned her round middle-aged face to Stanley. In her eyes the old bewilderment at her husband’s suicide. “Stanley,” she said, trying to change the subject, “have you ever seen a father like this!”

“Don’t involve the boy,” the old man said.

A boy, Stanley thought, forty-six and I’m still a boy . . . And he felt a little rise of anger, white people were like that . . . But pretty soon it died away. The old man annoyed everybody, white and black alike. Look at his own daughter now, tears beginning in her eyes . . .

“I know you don’t really mean that, Papa. See you tomorrow.”

The old man said to Stanley with surprising strength in his voice: “Silly woman, married a horse’s ass of a husband.”

But Stanley remembered the day when he had brought the news of that suicide. When he had brought the phone to the greenhouse and plugged it into the jack and rolled the wheelchair up to it. And all the time the old man was grumbling, “What the hell is going on, what the hell do you think you’re doing . . I don’t answer the phone,

not in here, you can damn well take the message or they can come out here and tell me . . . and why for Chrissake are you looking like that? You look like you’re ready to puke. What the hell is going on?”

And Stanley not saying anything, just slowly going about the business of putting the old man in contact with the instrument . . .

Stanley already knew the message, he had heard it. He had just refused to deliver it. “No, suh,” he said firmly into the phone, “I couldn’t tell him nothing like that. If you will hold on, suh, I will get him to the phone himself.”

The old man took the receiver away from Stanley testily. “What the hell’s going on?” he demanded into it.

Then he listened. His body stiffened, as if his spine would break. Stiffened and pulled away from the back of the chair, back arching like a bow. Just the way he did when one of his stroke attacks came. Stanley reached out to grab him, but something stopped his hand, and the old man’s body stayed stiff and arched, but it didn’t fall over or collapse. It just stayed there.

Finally he said to Stanley: “Take the phone back where it belongs.” Quietly. He settled back into the chair. That was all.

Eight years later the old man’s widowed daughter said: “Stanley, will you carry that package to the car for me?”

And Stanley, understanding that she wanted a word with him privately, said: “Yes, ma’am.”

They walked all the way to the front door before she asked: “Does he look all right to you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Not pale?”

“He’s got his good days and his bad.”

“Not complaining?”

“He don’t ever complain.”

“He looks sort of strange to me . . . How’re the birds doing?”

“All alive this morning.”

“Fine . . . I guess I will ask the doctor to come by.”

And Stanley knew she meant the doctor for the old man, not the birds.

The old man was waiting for Stanley, bright hooded eyes in the wheelchair. “What were you two talking about?”

Stanley sighed silently. The old man always knew or he guessed correctly. So Stanley told him the truth. “She asked me if I thought you looked all right.”


“Said you had your good days and your bad ones.”

The old man did not answer. He seemed to have gone back to sleep, and his hands on the arms of the chair were fastened like a bird’s claws when it roosts.

THE old man had lunch and went to his nap. Stanley and Miss Carter stretched him out on the huge tester bed with the maroon velvet quilt, stretched him out dressed and all. tie still in place, and covered him with a light cotton blanket because it was summer and even the air-conditioned house was warm. The old man fell asleep at once. He seemed very sleepy, he had dozed through his lunch and hadn’t eaten a thing.

“I’ll ask the doctor about that when he comes,” Miss Carter said, and then they went their separate ways. Miss Carter to have her own lunch and read in the upstairs sitting room, near the old man’s door in case he should call out. Stanley down to the kitchen.

Roberta was there, Roberta with her tight high bottom and her smiling eyes. Like a cat’s, he thought, eyes like a cat’s. He did not want to spend his lunch avoiding her glance. “Just fix me a sandwich, Vi,” he told the cook, “I’m going to lie down, I’m tired.”

“You want company?” Roberta asked wickedly.

“And what you do if I say yes, little girl?”

“Don’t you want to see?”

“No,” he said, “I don’t want nothing. Except I’m tired standing, and I want to sit down.” He put the sandwich in a paper napkin and took a bottle of Coke out of the icebox. He ate his lunch sprawled out on the bed of the room that was called his, way back in the servants’ wing of the house. His room, even though he had never lived there.

He was resting when the doorbell rang. He heard it clearly: one of the stations was at the end of the servants’ corridor. He did not move. Roberta or Viola or Miss Carter would answer.

He supposed it was the doctor ... For a moment Stanley had a picture of the big black hawk ringing the front doorbell. Like a comic-book illustration, that’s what it was. Big black bird with a wing on the buzzer . . . And what had the old man called that hawk? A condor, or something like that ... It wasn’t like the old man to get mixed up in his facts, even sick as he was. But it wasn’t like him to notice a bird either . . . Stanley finished the last swallow of his Coke. It was probably Dr. Andrews, a nice man, short and fat and cheery. Viola and Roberta thought he was courting the old man’s daughter, and that they’d be getting married any day now, but Stanley wasn’t so sure. The old man’s daughter wasn’t young anymore, and she wasn’t ever very pretty, and even if she was rich, that wouldn’t make too much difference. Then there was that bit about her late husband. And what man is going to like following to bed a man who took a shotgun and jammed it in his mouth . . . But Viola and Roberta swore that he would marry her anyway.

Stanley sighed. That was women for you. Always romantic, always looking for marriage and love. Seeing it everywhere.

Stanley reached out to the bedside table, felt around on the shelf, then turned completely over to see. Nothing. And only yesterday he had put four or five new comic books there. He was sure.

It would be Roberta again, Goddamn her. She was always taking them, and yelling at her did no good. He’d tried that.

“But, honey,” she would say, “but honey, living in like I do, this quiet old house, just Mr. Murphy in the evenings, and he ain’t talkative, you know, I get so bored I don’t know what to do, and so I go looking for something to read, and when I see your books there I just know you wouldn’t mind saving my life. After all, you live home, you got a lot to amuse you . . .”

Stanley sighed again. What could you do with a girl like that? Excepting maybe that he was a younger man . . . That was her trouble, part of it anyhow. In a house with no young men around all day. Just him, and he was old and getting older. And Jasper the gardener, he was old too and long past the age of chasing women. So it was no wonder the girl got bored. Maybe he’d better talk to her about Fred the mailman, he was a nice young guy now . . . But then again, maybe he’d better not. The less you talked about it with young girls like that, the better.

And Stanley rolled over on his back again, staring at the ceiling. Pity he wasn’t young anymore. Time was, a girl like Roberta looked real good to him. But that time, he said to the wallpapered ceiling, wasn’t now.

And then his bell started ringing, the servant call bell in its shiny chrome case beside the door. Oh, lord, he thought, what now?

They were impatient. The bell kept ringing. Somebody down in the pantry (where the house signal board was) was keeping his thumb pressed down on that button.

Stanley straightened his tie and put on his coat, and went out into the hall. He was refusing to be hurried. Somebody’s nonsense. As he walked along the hall, heading for the back stairs, passing the doors of the other rooms in the servants’ wing, he noticed that the bells in all of them were ringing. The house was afire or somebody had gone crazy. And clamped a hand down across the signal panel, buzzing every single button . . .

Stanley stomped down the stairs into the pantry. It was Viola all right. Viola standing there with her big hand over the signaling panel.

“OK,”Stanley said. “OK . . . Stop ringing. Nobody’s up there but me. You making enough noise to wake the dead.”

And Viola spun around and stared at him, her heavy-lidded eyes fluttering. Then, with surprising speed for such a big woman, she darted through the swinging door into the kitchen and through the kitchen to the servants’ dining room beyond. Stanley followed, half expecting to see flames and smoke.

Dr. Andrews was standing there, waiting. Stanley had the impression that they had been waiting for him. Viola flopped down at the table, her wide hips flaring over the wooden chair. Roberta was next to the window. She seemed to be backed up against the wall, as if she were afraid. She looked very pretty, Stanley admitted to himself. At least in that light.

And Fred came bouncing in the door, swinging the heavy sack to the floor. “Mailman!” he sang out cheerfully. And stopped.

Roberta said: “Fred, the old man’s dead.”

Before he took notice of what the words meant, Stanley thought: he’s got it made, the lucky bastard. She never used that tone before, but now he’s all fixed to make out.

Fred heard it too. There was just a flicker of understanding on his face.

Then Stanley heard the meaning of the words, and he heard himself say quietly: “Oh, my God.”

Dr. Andrews nodded politely to Fred, but when he spoke, it was to Stanley. “I wanted to tell everyone at once . . . He was dead when I came. He died in his sleep I suppose.”

“The cover wasn’t even disturbed,” Roberta said. Her usually husky voice was high and squeaky. “He didn’t even move.”

Fred’s eyes glittered, and he smiled a comforting smile at her.

Damn the smug bastard, Stanley thought.

“Miss Carter is there now,” Dr. Andrews said. “She’ll stay. If the phone rings, she’ll answer it. Don’t any of you do it, understand? I’m going to tell his family personally, right now.”

His family, Stanley thought. That is his daughter, so maybe there is some truth in the women’s stories.

“Well,” Stanley said into the silence. “Well . . .”

Fred said: “Looks like I walked into something. I didn’t expect nothing like this.”

And Viola put her head down on the table and began to cry.

Stanley went into the front of the house and up the wide polished stair. You could still smell the wax he’d used on the banister earlier in the morning. On the second floor, Miss Carter was at her station. Only this time she wasn’t reading, as she usually was. She was sitting bolt upright, on guard.

Stanley wondered . . . Now she was waking a dead body, she couldn’t read. But when site served a live one she could . . . But he’d stopped puzzling things like that a long time ago.

He went up to her, and she said in a whisper (why whisper, he thought again, we never did when he was alive?), “He looks so natural, he didn’t even stir when he died. When the doctor went in I thought sure he was asleep . . . But he didn’t look so good to me this morning.”

Stanley didn’t tell her any different. “I reckon that’s why his daughter called the doctor.”

Miss Carter sighed and fluttered the frizzy red hair at the top of her cap. “And he might been lying in there dead all the afternoon and us thinking he was just asleep.”

“As soon dead one place as the other.”

And he saw by the startled face that he’d said the wrong thing. So he added hastily, “Can I bring you anything? I mean, I know you can’t leave, and I thought maybe I could bring you something, like a cup of tea.”

She shook her head, and a pale redhead’s face swung back and forth. “Do you want to look at him?”

“Maybe Viola would.”

“Well, tell her to come right up, before they come.”

Stanley was halfway down the stairs before he realized that “they” meant the undertakers.

MUCH later, when the long summer light was finally ending, Viola and Stanley stood on the back drive waiting for her husband to pick her up. It was over. The old man’s daughter, with Dr. Andrews, had come and gone. Stanley had to admit that the old man’s daughter looked more relieved than upset.

Viola rested her fat buttocks against a gatepost and sighed. Her eyes were red with weeping.

Directly over their heads were two lighted windows and a shadow that occasionally passed by them. Roberta had gone upstairs to fix her hair. Fred had promised to stop by tonight, after the house had quieted down. It was the last chance for a while. They’d be bringing the old man back tomorrow, there’d be a couple of days of wake and then the funeral. And a lot of work for the staff. But not tonight. Tonight the house would be empty and quiet. Mr. Murphy wouldn’t be back, the old man had no more need for a night nurse. Roberta would be staying alone. Except for Fred, of course.

The old man sure set that up for him, Stanley thought. As much as if he’d arranged it. And Fred didn’t even know it.

And Stanley said aloud: “You know what a condor is?”

Viola turned her head slightly from watching for her husband. “A what?”

“Just about the last thing the old man said was to ask if a black hawk was a condor.”

“Yeah?” Viola pulled a handkerchief from the front of her dress and blew her nose loudly.

“I never heard of it, but that’s what he asked about.”

“You never can tell what they going to say.” Viola folded the pink square carefully and tucked it away. “My papa now, when he was dying, the last thing he says is: ‘There a fly on the ceiling. No, there two flies on the ceiling.’ And then he died. So you can’t tell what they going to say.”

The night moths were beginning to come for the heavy opening flowers of the moonflower vine by the door. They bumped their dusty pollen-laden wings on the screen of the porch there.

“It’s a bird,” Stanley insisted. “Like a hawk.”

“Red-tailed hawk in the big oak. Saw that yesterday.”

“That’s what I told him.”

“Didn’t believe you?”

“Said it was a condor.”

“He was remembering, I guess.” Viola rubbed at her swollen eyes. “Bet he was talking about the old times in San Isidro.”

“Yeah,” Stanley said.

“That was long before my time here,” Viola said. “I used to hear him talk about it sometimes.”

“How old you suppose he was?”

“Him? Way in his eighties somewhere.”

Stanley lit a cigar. He had taken one out of the old man’s humidor, and now he smoked it slowly, the way the old man would have.

“His?” Viola asked.


“You know,” Viola said, “kind of hard to think it’s all over.”

“Yeah,” Stanley said. “You going to stay on and work for her?”

She had asked them to stay in a formal little speech, with Dr. Andrews standing at her side. “If you want to stay, your jobs will be here. You can go on just as you did before, without a change.”

“You going to work for her?” Stanley repeated.

Viola shook her head. “I don’t reckon I will. I been here nearly thirty years, and I reckon that’s enough.”

“I don’t figure to stay,” Stanley said. “I don’t see much to staying.” He puffed the cigar that had belonged to the old man. “I feel right bad about him. I didn’t expect to feel so bad about him,”

Viola didn’t say anything.

“I wasn’t really expecting him to die. You know, not today. Not with him talking about the old days in San Isidro and how he’d be carrying a gun ready to shoot anybody.”

Then Viola’s husband came. She shifted her weight wearily. “See you tomorrow.”

“I’ll be going along,” Stanley said. But he didn’t, not for a while. Not yet. He wasn’t in any hurry. He hadn’t called his wife to tell her the news, so he would have to go through all of that. She’d have to know every detail so she could pass it along to her sister first thing in the morning.

Stanley looked at the little red glow on the tip of his cigar. He was upset, no doubt of that. And he didn’t know why. It was something he just couldn’t put into words. Or into thoughts. He tried to come at it, but it twisted and slipped and faded away. Leaving just an echo where it had been.

Because he was restless and didn’t quite know where he wanted to go, Stanley walked back through the darkened house, cool and smelling of polish and wax. Stanley crossed through the front hall, through the living room, through the second slate-floored hall and went into the greenhouse. It was too dark, he switched on a light by the door. Not nearly bright enough. But the only one out here, except for the fluorescent tubes over the African violet plants . . . Stanley looked toward the north end of the greenhouse, and he could see the bluish glow.

The old man had loved those African violets. He’d inspected them every few days, measuring with his eye the size of the blooms . . . Would his daughter keep them now? Would she keep the greenhouse? Or even the house itself? Would it be sold and slip away and be painted another color and have different people living in it, people of no blood of the old man. who had built this thing of wood and brick and his energy and money . . .

Stanley wondered. Viola was quite sure that the old man’s daughter would marry Dr. Andrews now. That the old man was the only thing standing in the way. That they would then move into this house, and it would go on that way. “Only thing,” Viola said, “I’m thinking about her age. She’s pushing forty, just about, and she’s just about through with breeding. Kind of pity if she’s too old.”

Stanley wondered. Maybe so. Maybe not. Viola didn’t know everything. She just knew a lot.

Stanley sat down in one of the iron chairs with the blue striped cushions, and looked at the spot where the old man’s wheelchair always stood. He tried to imagine it standing there, imagine the old man sitting in it. And he had trouble with his memory. He couldn’t quite bring it to focus. Like a jigsaw puzzle in a way. He just couldn’t bring the color and the shapes of the pieces into line. It was there in his memory all right, only broken up and scattered. He couldn’t seem to fit them together. Not now, not when he wanted to . . . Of course, he could go into the upstairs hall and look at the wheelchair and get that all settled and sorted out right, but that wasn’t the whole thing. He couldn’t fit the pieces of the old man together. He was dead now and gone. And he hadn’t left behind anything, not even a clear image. Not anything.

Stanley looked around the shadowy greenhouse. He half expected to see a ghost or a spirit or some sort of sign in the tangle of light and shadow. Once lie had believed in ghosts and once had seen them all the time. Ghosts in the shape of people he’d never met. Ghosts in the shape of old people he’d known who had died. Ghosts in the shapes of small animals, cats mostly, that purred and rubbed around his legs. Spirits in the shapes of dark shadows and light shadows. Of winds and voices out of a sunny blue sky.

So he would not have been too surprised if he’d seen something of the old man in the dark greenhouse.

But he didn’t. He looked and he looked. There wasn’t anything.

Not even that, Stanley thought. There wasn’t even that left. It was like the condor that the old man had seen in the red-tailed hawk. He’d seen it, and nobody else had.

The condors and the mountains and the shooting and the anger and the murders — all the things that the old man had left in his memory, keeping them green and fresh and alive until the day he died. All those things were gone now. He’d taken them with him.

Stanley tried again, staring at the spot where the old man used to sit, trying with his thought to make him appear, make him come back from wherever he was.

And it wasn’t any use. He was just gone.

Stanley stood up and left the greenhouse, walked through the empty rooms. Empty except for Roberta. And he shivered. You’re getting old, he told himself. Sitting in the dark and not even trying a good-looking piece of strange like Roberta. Once upon a time you’d tried all the broads . . . just like the old man, he thought abruptly. And stopped. He hadn’t thought of himself as like the old man, not in any way. But there it was.

He fell in his pocket to be sure that he had the house keys. Under his searching fingers the skin of his leg prickled and twitched. Jumpy, he thought.

He went through the house, making sure the lights were turned off, all the lights except the one in the hall and the one in the kitchen. Then he went out, carefully locking the door behind him.

A warm night, bright and clear. Sweet-smelling and heavy with jasmine and calycanthus and sweet olive. Dead man’s bush, the old people called it.

He’d go home now, Stanley thought, and he would tell his wife all the things that had happened during the day, and he would bear with her impatience at his delay. And after a while they would go out on their porch to drink beer and talk about one thing or another. And pretty soon they’d be thinking back to the time in Ocena Springs when they were children together. She was always very good at remembering, far more than he was. But when she’d reminded him, then he’d recall whatever it was she was talking about, and he’d know what it had been like and how it had felt and smelled and tasted. All the things of that time years ago in Mississippi when they were children.

They’d sit late into the night, and he’d get over the creepy feeling that he had right now. She was a good woman, and with her and her talk he could remember all sorts of things. And with her he wouldn’t be lonely.

Roberta would have company tonight too. As Stanley left, he saw Fred’s car turning into the drive.