The Old Economy Husband

A Short Story

It was that summer, the summer we were fifty and the little Cuban boy went home to no mother, not the first West Nile-virus summer but the second, the Hillary and Survivor summer, you know that summer, the summer the women were manhandled in Central Park and the kids lined up for Harry Potter, the summer we were fifty, all of us, fifty and holding, the ones a little older and the ones a little younger, fifty and holding, like thirty and holding only fifty, and it was summer and the ones who were rich were and the ones who weren't weren't, but we were all fifty, every one of us, and holding.

We were in the city that summer because we couldn't afford a vacation and we couldn't afford a beach house, because our oven died and it was vintage 1929 or something and connected to the dishwasher in some complicated way having to do with converted residential hotels—in other words irreplaceable—and one thing led to another and now we had $20,000 worth of European-made appliances on order. It was the summer we renovated the kitchen.

"Will you call the Miele place in the morning?" I asked Richard. "Will you remember to? Because I can't face it. Will you?" Our contractor was useless. Also he was in Brazil.

"I'll do it," Richard said. "I said I would."

"Because you have to sweetie, okay?" What was I, deaf? He said he would.

One minute I was disgusted with myself for owning a fancy dishwasher I couldn't even pronounce—Meal? Mee-lay? May-lay?—and the next I was in a rage over the incompetence of the people responsible for getting it to me. Those were the two ways I was.

Everything that used to be in the kitchen was spread out all over the living room. One thing about a renovation was you saw all the stuff you never used with sickening clarity: the useless, stupid juice glasses and the dust-encrusted early-eighties cappuccino maker and the rusted flour sifter and the grimy oven mitts from the Caribbean vacations—cartons of junk you dragged guiltily down the hall to the recycling room for the building staff to pick over. The bathroom was now the acting kitchen, and a lot of stuff that used to be in the living room, specifically the dining room, was in my office.

We ate dinner there, in front of the TV. It was summer, so pickings were slim. We were watching a biography of the actress Jane Seymour—Dr. Quinn, with the hair. How her first husband left her and her life was terrible, then she had a baby, then her life was terrible again, then she had another baby. Like that. Terrible, baby, terrible, baby, commercial, baby, baby, with some husbands thrown in and a castle and the hair.

Richard carried our dirty dinner dishes to the bathroom—it was his week to cook, and like a champ he'd brought in takeout burritos—and reappeared with dessert, from somewhere, on plates: pie. He kissed the top of my head. "Do you know that you're my fave?" he said. He said it a lot lately, probably picking up those voodoo vibes of double-dose Zoloft, of Tylenol PM addiction, of night-sweaty breakdown. Those crazy fifty-year-old women! He said, "You're my fave" instead of "I love you," instead of "Take whatever hormone you want, just don't get cancer," instead of "I'm sorry I already had children in my first marriage and didn't want any in my second and you didn't get to be a mother." Fine. He wasn't exactly sorry, but it was fine anyway. He was my fave too. That was me, married to the one man who made me feel like my fiercest, most clear-hearted twelve-year-old self and not to any of the men who made me feel that other way, that euphorically grandiose, desperately insecure, wildly libidinous twenty-five-year-old way.

We ate the pie.

Dr. Quinn was looking back, saying it was all worth it. I picked up the pie plates, headed for the bathroom, and considered walking straight out the door and shoving everything down the compactor. Throwing out was definitely doing it for me lately. I made a few mistakes: our income-tax files from 1990 to 1995, a set of Berlitz tapes (French), the zip-in lining to Richard's raincoat. But why tell him now, when it was only July and he wouldn't need the lining until November? If I were a mother, my kids could be grown and gone by now. Or they could be triplets about to turn three. Or murdered or run over or autistic or kidnapped or cancer-riddled and bald or schizophrenic or in prison or nanny-shaken or searching for their real mother or late getting home from school. At least I'd been spared that—that's what I told myself, because I knew I'd never survive any of those, not a chance.

It was my first summer on earth as an orphan. Wasn't that every kid's fantasy? Well, it had been mine. I loved the Hayley Mills "Biography." The Parent Trap was a great movie. My mother had died in the spring. I was used to my father's being dead—he'd been dead for three years, and I'd barely known him. Now I was fifty, not a mother, not a daughter, and the kitchen was in the living room and I didn't know how I was supposed to behave.

We went to bed, Richard instantly asleep and making those putt-putt noises. I bounced around violently a few times, blew softly into his ear, huffed off to the living-room sofa for a read, and came back to bed with my book; by then he'd quieted down. I fell asleep with the book open. At some point Richard woke, bookmarked my page, turned out the light, and nuzzled my lips with my bite guard until I put it in.

He was long and lanky, my husband, as straight-arrow decent as Jimmy Stewart. Not neurotic or tricky, not the least bit mean. He'd never taken a drug, not even pot. "Are you sure you're even an American?" I asked him. He never got pissed off at me, just came home with that open look on his face, now and then passing on stories about his temper—losing it with the poky old people in the supermarket checkout line, with the virago in the laundry room who took his still-wet clothes out of the dryer, with the punk who threatened him on a street corner. When he cupped my head with his hand while we made love, I was startled all over again at the largeness of it, at what a man's hand can be, and I liked it, those big fingers twined in my hair. I really liked it a lot, that largeness. I just kept forgetting how much I liked it—I had sexual-memory malaise, like one of those eccentrically damaged Oliver Sacks people who couldn't remember a conversation beyond five minutes ago. The Woman Who Couldn't Retain the Memory of Pleasure. Doesn't every marriage contain its own evil twin? Maybe I was ours. Melee, My Lai, malaise.

In the morning Richard made the coffee in the bathroom, and we asked each other how we had slept, and we read the Times.

I was happy to get out of the apartment. Besides the money, getting out was why I had taken a job ghostwriting Winston Winter's book on etiquette. Three days a week I took the bus from lower Fifth Avenue to Winston Winter Lifestyles, on upper Madison Avenue. Winston was Manhattan's most famous party and wedding planner. Today we were working on "Chapter Seven: How to Raise a Gracious Child."

From the archives:

"The Plight of the High-Status Woman" (December 1999)
Recent fiction, essays, and self-help books (Dumped!, for one) suggest that a harsh new mating system is emerging. By Barbara Dafoe Whitehead

I'd always made a decent living as a magazine writer. My specialty was sex and dating, the five-friend, two-shrink service piece dissecting the romantic lives of single women in their twenties and thirties and, occasionally, in their early forties—though not in any of the unmentionable decades after that—for Marvelous Woman magazine. I even wrote a column for single women called "On Your Own." Then one day I realized that I couldn't write another word on that subject. What else could I think of to say? How could I ask one more woman or one more representative for women what was going right or wrong in her life, what she wanted that she didn't have, what she wound up getting even though she had never claimed to want it and never asked for it. I couldn't even bear to read any more articles about women's lives, especially the serious ones written by the very smartest women which showed irrefutably all that remained wrong with women and the culture that served women despite everyone's best intentions and efforts. I couldn't bear thinking, Yes! Exactly! My brains hurt from nodding my head in so much agreement.

"Just do what you want for a while," Richard said when I told him how adrift I felt. "We'll dip into the nest egg if we have to." He was an Old Economy husband. He never wanted to dip into the nest egg, ever. His willingness to dip into it now alarmed me. Was now the time for the dipping to begin? And if now wasn't the time, when was the time? I asked him again to explain the financial strategy of investing for the long haul.

"Isn't the haul getting shorter by the minute?" I said.

"Well, that's one way to look at it," he said.

I said no the first time Winston Winter Lifestyles asked me to write the etiquette book. Ghostwriter? Way too beside the point—whatever the point was. They said, "You don't understand! It's not just a guide to etiquette! It's a guide to the new spiritual etiquette!" Then they offered me a little bit more money—enough to make their original offer feel that much more insulting. I've noticed that people tend to offer you things when you say no to them—one more important lesson I've learned too late in life for the discovery to do me any good. Didn't I have to earn some money? I mean, I'd never not earned money. Richard's salary had already taken a dive. After years of Wall Street money-managing, he was handling finances for a small foundation. He had an office near the Empire State Building. What about haircuts? Was the nest egg expected to pay for those? What about long-term-care insurance? Not to mention the looming face-lift expense. I was beginning to suspect that the whole thing was careering toward some horrifying endgame in which people behaved either well or badly, in which strategies either panned out or didn't pan out, in which being a person with good bone structure meant one thing, and truly understanding what it means to forgive and forget meant something else. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I wanted to train a golden-retriever puppy to be a working companion for the handicapped, and then weep when the time came to turn the dog over to its grateful new owner.

Maybe it would be good for me to take on an ego-less project, I told myself. That way I'd make some money and empty myself at the same time, create room for something new, something meaningful. Not that etiquette was meaningless. Even the rudest people expressed outrage at the revolting treatment they received from others. No, etiquette was meaningful.

Travel might be involved, Winston's people added, and they pointed out that Winston Winter Lifestyles had an arrangement with The Four Seasons Hotel. Some exquisitely brought-up underling must have recalled my mentioning in a meeting that I had found the beds in that hotel chain to be the only beds I could sleep on without taking a ten-milligram Ambien first. I said okay, I would do it.

Richard left for work. I watched him from the window, and when he reached the corner, I waved, adding a manic shimmy to make him laugh. An hour later I collected my stuff and walked to the bus stop at University Place and Ninth Street, directly in front of the sexy-lingerie boutique. I loved my neighborhood. I'd lived in it for more than twenty years, half of those years the tail end of my long single-woman life, a drama played out just a few blocks away from where I lived now. Every time I left the house, I saw overlapping pieces of my present and my past: the dead-in-the-water blind dates, the still married ex-lover, former colleagues and current shopkeepers, the assortment of nodding-acquaintance neighbors. Once I saw the Pope pass by in his Popemobile. I'd lived here long enough to see my UPS man go completely gray.

A dozen tiny day campers on a leash drifted past Bagel Bob's. When I first moved to Greenwich Village, I never saw a single infant or toddler on the street. Where were all the families? Maybe on the Upper West Side. I was a suburban girl, transplanted to the city on the morning after the sexual revolution. Those were the days when you slept with every man who so much as caught your eye across a party. I tumbled desperately in and out of love, exempt from worrying about my future when love came along, thrown back into teeth-grinding uncertainty when it vanished. One day, without warning, the new mothers appeared. They blanketed the sidewalks like startling spring snow, pale, dazed, and puffy-eyed, bravely lipsticked, their babies in a pouch. But the mothers were the ones who looked newborn.

When the bus swung over to the curb, I climbed on along with three bus-specific women, capable widows with decorative brooches and sensible shoes. The bus was so civilized. I settled into a window seat, and we bullied our way toward Union Square. At Park Avenue South the bus turned north and began making stops again. By the time we began the crawl up Madison Avenue, no seats were left.

From the archives:

"The Wedding Merchants" (February 2001)
Marriage is in Chapter Eleven, but the white wedding is in the black. By Caitlin Flanagan

I saw Winston Winter on Oprah once. He was explaining how to plan a wedding that included white doves, Byzantine place settings, robed choirs, and chandeliers made from the petals of orchids bred for that purpose. Apparently even ordinary Americans now wanted weddings that resembled papal-investiture ceremonies from the fourteenth century or exact replicas of Celine Dion's marriage ceremony. On television Winston Winter appeared suntanned and buoyant, with very white teeth and an accent I couldn't place but that I recognized from Merchant Ivory films.

I'd never imagined that sort of wedding for myself. I'd never imagined any sort of wedding, really—never pictured myself a bride at all. My single life was staged in a tiny studio apartment that often felt like a waiting room for marriage, but The Big White Day never seized my imagination as the denouement I was waiting for. The story I was in seemed more closely based on the disease model. I had turned out to be one of those women for whom the virus of infatuation—fever and delirium followed by a nineteenth-century wasting decline and then protracted convalescence—was potentially lethal. At best the virus became latent, resurfacing as New Year's Eve disease and other nuisance ailments. I noticed that some women had theories about men that, if not cures, seemed to shorten the illness: men were childish, men were selfish, men were insecure. Others relied on talismans and folklore, the equivalent of hanging garlic around your neck: never prepare a cheese tray for a first date; always answer the door without your shoes on; when he calls, announce that you just got out of the shower. "Men like women who are full of life!" my mother offered—somewhat disingenuously, I thought, since we both knew it was the virus's cunning to mimic that feeling.

I didn't have any theories. To me, men were the great mystery, the source of all pleasure and pain. I admired them as poets—the way they described a woman as having a "thin waist," the dress she wore as "sort of greenish." Lacking language for unnamed experience, men were forced to invent it. "If no one else is President, why can't I be President until the new one gets elected?" a lover I wanted to break up with once said. Another, on his way out the door, reached for a song lyric to explain that he always found himself "slip-sliding away."

I realized I'd better get some theories. I was still working on it when Richard wandered into the middle of my love affair with a not-quite-divorced alcoholic Egyptian diplomat. I still don't know how I managed to choose happiness—I barely recognized it. Richard and I married, eventually, in our own home and with the smallest amount of hoopla. That became my theory, but only retrospectively: You can choose.

At Thirty-third Street the bus passed the hotel where my father and his wife had stayed the one time he came to New York, long before I met Richard. I was in my mid-thirties then and hadn't seen my father since I was a teenager. My mother had divorced him when I was six, and remarried twice after that, neither time happily. My father seemed gentle and kind. I asked him two questions. "Do you think I'm pretty?" and "If you had one question to ask me, what would it be?" He said he did think I was pretty—that I looked like my mother. His question was "Why aren't you married?"

When he had a stroke, his wife phoned. Did I want to come? I flew to Cleveland. My father was in intensive care, in a coma. I stood by his bed and held his hand. I repeated his name, "Irv? Irv?" I said, "Can you hear me? If you can hear me, squeeze my hand." Those were the only words I knew to say at the bedside of a comatose person. His wife stood on the other side of the hospital bed and held his other hand. She looked over at me benignly. "Grace," his wife said, "why don't you try calling him Dad?" It turned out to be not at all like a scene from a Golden Age of MGM movie—more like a scene from a Lifetime Original movie. I didn't want to be rude. But when I tried substituting "Dad" for "Irv," my father still didn't answer, and he still didn't squeeze my hand. I flew back to New York the same day.

All the parents were dying, the decent ones and the nightmares, the incest parents and the saints, the parents who doted and the ones who drank, the parents who lied and the parents who beat you up, the parents who always preferred your younger sister older brother dog, the silent fathers and the shopping mothers, the adulterous parents and the religious nuts, the ones who came to every game forgot to pick you up at the movies bought you the wrong birthday present didn't give you piano lessons made you try out for band, the ones who didn't notice you were gifted depressed gay fat thin suicidal talented bulimic and the ones who did. Who would be left to remember World War II and the cha-cha and the thank-you note? Yes, the end of communism was huge. But the end of parents! I went to a funeral just a few weeks ago—the father of a friend. They had an open casket. A woman standing in front of it took out her cell phone and made a call.

At Forty-second and Madison, roughly halfway to Winston's, I gave up my seat to an elderly man and was then jostled—a surprising rudeness—as I grabbed for the pole. The tricky blocks were ahead, the blocks that bordered my mother's neighborhood—the restaurants where we met for lunch, the office buildings where we went for her doctors' appointments. Although my mother had held on to her glamour almost to the end, glaucoma had demanded certain compromises: rubber-soled shoes and minimal makeup. Every six weeks we went to the ophthalmologist. I sat with her in the darkened examining room while the ancient, elegant Dr. Berg checked her eye pressure. My mother's feet, once snappy in slingbacks, sat meekly on the footrest like those of an obedient kindergartner, in Reeboks and slipping-down socks. A few months before she died, we went for an MRI. By then my mother thought she was being kept against her will at a spa, one where the guests had scarily whitened faces. "Do you have a locker here too?" she asked me in a polite voice. I didn't know what to say. Who would know what to say? What was the right thing to say? A cell phone at a casket was clear. Everything else was up for grabs. The MRI room was as noisy as any Manhattan construction site. I removed my watch and my wedding band, as instructed, and sat on a folding chair at one end of the tunnel, holding my mother's foot as she disappeared inside. I wondered who would hold my foot.

Abby was the person with whom I regularly shared Winston's etiquette advice. Abby had been my editor at Marvelous Woman. "The man is irony-proof," Abby often said in a reverent voice. She owned all of Winston's books. She was right. Everything about Winston was un-ironic. Abby was particularly taken with Winston's dictum about the proper moment to pick up your fork and begin eating your meal at a dinner party. "Once three or four plates are served, you may begin," Winston said. "A gracious host or hostess doesn't want guests to eat food that has grown cold."

"Really? He said that?" Abby seemed as surprised to hear this as Richard had been when I told him that Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine were brother and sister.

I wrote my first article for Abby, on contraception etiquette. While I was doing research for it, I came across Emily Post's rules for debutantes. My mother had given me a copy of Emily Post's Etiquette when I graduated from high school. I had dutifully moved that book from shelf to shelf over the decades since, without ever once opening it. How was I to know that hidden away in that seemingly useless volume were three rules containing all the guidance any young woman would ever need? Abby and I quoted them to each other regularly: "Don't hang on anyone for support. Don't allow anyone to paw you. On no account force yourself to laugh." Emily Post didn't cover contraception etiquette.

I got off the bus at Seventy-ninth Street and walked the few blocks to Winston's apartment. They were the same elegantly proportioned blocks I traveled to when I was seeing my former psychotherapist, Dr. Isabella Gold. Week after week, year after year, I carried individual dreams from my apartment to Dr. Gold's office, dream by dream, one dream at a time, as if my job were to transfer an entire universe of matter from one place to another by the teaspoonful. Then one day the work was done. All of the matter that had been in one place was now in another place entirely, and I couldn't picture or imagine what used to be in either place. That was New York in a nutshell, I realized. Things changed all the time. As soon as the change was complete, reconstructing the past was impossible. It couldn't be done. The former landscape would always feel like a dream or a lie.

Winston's building was small and elegant, with a long green canopy and an elevator man. The first time I had come here, the elevator man repeated, "Winston Winter!" and took me to the eleventh floor. When the doors opened, I found myself in a small, red-lacquered jewel box of an entryway, with an umbrella holder, a gilt mirror, and two doors. One door led to the living quarters of the apartment, the other to the office quarters. "Have a good day!" the elevator man said, and left me there. I couldn't remember which door I had been told to knock on. I began to break into a bit of a sweat. It reminded me of a brainteaser my husband liked: Twins confined in a tower room with two doors. One door leads to freedom, the other to the executioner. One twin tells the truth, the other twin lies. Ask one twin one question to determine the door to freedom. What question? Which twin? That to me seemed to sum up everything.

I discovered that it didn't matter which door I knocked on, because no one heard me. Eventually the housekeeper, Margaret, wandered out with the recyclables and let me in. "Oh, he's so late, my boss!" she said. "Juice?" Then she pointed toward a room with walls the color of eggplant, and I went in and sat down on a burnt-orange velvet sofa. Winston shouted from another room, "Give her some of that mango-pango juice!" Occasionally he sang out an order to an assistant whose name was Patricia or Felicia or Delicious. "Navy taffeta for the tables! And four dozen candelabra!" While I waited for Winston, I tried to identify the wonderful scent of the candle burning on the wenge table and attempted to add up how much everything in that one room cost and began to feel downhearted about my own apartment, with its deficiency of silver cigarette boxes and 1930s cocktail accessories. Why hadn't I thought of eggplant as a color?

This time the door was open, and I walked right in. Felicia Delicious was doing something with bubble wrap. "Good morning, Grace," she said. "How are you this morning?" She was twenty-three, tops. I wanted to throw my arms around her.

"Gracie, my love! Just finishing up the morning's e-mail. Get comfy, darling." Winston was seated at his Art Deco desk, laptop open. He wore narrow pants and the thinnest of summer cashmere pullovers, both the color of slate, and on his feet were exquisite objects that seemed to be the marriage of an athletic shoe and a Ferrari. His face looked as if it had just returned from Sardinia.

I put my microcassette recorder on the table and opened my notebook. I wrote down everything Winston said in case of tape malfunction.

He came around to the sofa, kissed me on both cheeks, and settled into one corner. "So where are we today, my sweet?"

"We're beginning Chapter Seven," I said. "How to Raise a Gracious Child." Oh, boy. Winston Winter on child-rearing.

"Very important! A topic dear to my heart. Because you know, Grace, good manners begin with children. Margaret! Mango-pango on a tray, please, thank you! With instilling respect and integrity and compassion. With setting limits."

I smiled. That was my interviewing technique. I wrote down the words "respect, integrity, compassion."

Winston lifted his exfoliated chin and sniffed the un-ironic air.

"Let's see ... A section on those vile people who let their children run up and down the aisle of airplanes ... Should we talk about physical punishment now or at the end?"

"I think we should probably stick to etiquette," I said. "Like, should you bring your kid to a dinner party. Only because, well, that's more your area, right?"

"Never strike your child in anger."

I wrote it down.

He hit PAUSE while Margaret set down a tray with juice. "What about you, Grace? Do you and your husband plan on having children? Thank you, Margaret, lovely." How old did this man think I was? Did I register on him at all?

At lunchtime we sat on tall stools in the handsome stainless-steel and wood kitchen eating Margaret's vegetable soup while Winston oversaw the cutting and arranging in various-sized vases of that day's delivery of orange roses. During "Chapter Four: An Organized Home Is a Spiritual Home," Winston had opened his kitchen cabinets and bedroom closets—spices alphabetic, Prada white to black—and discussed his philosophy of creating a peaceful environment: "Edit! Edit! Edit!" During "Chapter Six: Positive Energy in Difficult Situations," Winston addressed the etiquette of blame: "Let it go!" Every chapter seemed to have an etiquette situation capable of being resolved by "Send a fragrant candle!"

Winston and I finished up close to five. I walked to the subway, feeling perfectly empty. Walking down the stairs, plucking my metro card from where I'd stuck it inside a book, I sensed the absence of something. I took the local to Union Square, and when I had gotten off and walked up the stairs and onto the corner of Broadway, I stopped. I rummaged through my bag. My wallet was gone. Uncomprehending grief swam through my bloodstream. Then it swam out. I remembered: I had an 800 number at home, all my account numbers were stored on my computer, I could replace my driver's license by mail. My legs moved again, and I walked toward home.

In the window of the coffee shop on University Place and Twelfth Street, I saw the two ancient sisters seated in their customary window booth having the early-bird dinner. Both women had snowy hair and the tactful, pensive face of Miss Marple. I was always struck by how complex and subtle a variation each sister was on the other—the piled white hair, the parchment skin, the casually worn quirky piece of jewelry, the comfortably inward expression—and by how deeply at home each sister appeared to be in the other's company. That's me and Abby, I always thought, when the husbands are dead. I wished that I knew everything about those sisters and their lives. Who had they loved and what had their little piece of New York looked like back at the beginning and which small luxuries had fallen away and which did they still cling to? Were they still moving forward or content to hang on? That was the mystery.

When I got home, I tried not to look at the boxes, at the gaping empty kitchen, at the living-room mess. I went straight to my office and called American Express, and the bank, and then Abby, because I had to say out loud, "My wallet was stolen." I remembered the lengthy recovery time such routine losses exacted when I was twenty-five and thirty, the doomed sense that keys and credit cards and salad-bar coupons were not only irreplaceable but ominous metaphors for everything bad to come. But by the time my apartment was burglarized, when I was thirty-five, I'd come to know the losses bluntly for what they were: stuff you missed and, eventually, replaced, even though you never got back exactly what you'd lost. I spoke out loud to the quiet apartment. "Mom," I said. I said it again. Then I flung open the hall closet and threw out every cheap umbrella I could get my hands on.

Being fifty give or take was like being an original Supreme. Some later groups could call themselves The Supremes, they could sing "Baby Love," but we were the one and onlies. And that was also our curse. Because no experience we had in our lives could be unique. We would briefly, naively, think we were having a unique experience—laughing at Steve Martin, eating sushi, forgetting the word for fear of leaving the house—and then, five minutes later, everyone would be claiming that experience. The experience would be on the cover of Newsweek, and people for whom we had the deepest contempt would be selling a miniseries based on it. Everyone's parents were going to die, even the parents of those middle-aged celebrities with twenty-five-year-old skin who paid Winston Winter to plan birthday parties for their toddler triplets.

Around eight someone phoned from Billy's Topless, a bar on Sixth Avenue. My wallet was there, emptied of cash but with credit cards in it. I said thank you, and that I'd come and pick it up, and thank you again.

Richard called just after that. How was I? I said I was fine and told him all about Winston and the wallet. I stood at the window talking to him like that, about my day, watching the midsummer sky turn to dusk. I could see Richard's office building from the window where I stood. The sky turned a deep navy as we talked, and then it was night, and the building's upper stories blazed with light. When I concentrated and counted carefully, I was able to find exactly where Richard was, up on the sixtieth floor. We knew we had a spectacular view when we moved into our apartment, but we'd always seen it in daylight. Not until our first night there did we really know how lucky we were.

We talked a little more that way, me at home staring out the window, Richard gathering up his things before heading home. We made dinner plans.

"Ready?" Richard said then.


He switched to speakerphone. Then he flicked the lights in his office on and off, on and off. One, two, three blinks.

"Can you see them?" he called out. "Can you see them now?"

I could, I could see them, an improbable mile away, at not quite the top, a narrow band of flickering lights.

"Yes!" I said. "I can see them!" What were the odds of such a thing in such a city? What were the odds? I remembered how happy I was. I was just happy.