/ Language: English / Genre:prose_classic, prose_contemporary

The Hotel New Hampshire J Irving

John Irving

John living was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942, and he once admitted that he was a “grim” child. Although he excelled in English at school and knew by the time he graduated that he wanted to write novels, it was not until he met a young Southern novelist named John Yount, at the University of New Hampshire, that he received encouragement. “It was so simple,” he remembers. “Yount was the first person to point out that anything I did except writing was going to be vaguely unsatisfying.”

In 1963, Irving enrolled at the Institute of European Studies in Vienna, and he later worked as a university lecturer. His first novel, about a plot to release all the animals from the Vienna Zoo, was followed by a comic tale of a man with a urinary complaint, and which exposes the complications of spouse-swapping. Irving achieved international recognition with which he hoped would “cause a few smiles among the tough-minded and break a few softer hearts.”

Copyright © Garp Enterprises Ltd 1981

“A Birthday Candle” Copyright © 1957 by Donald Justice. This poem first appeared in

“On the death of Friends and Childhood” Copyright © 1959 by Donald Justice.

“Love Stratagems” Copyright © 1958 by Donald Justice. This poem first appeared in

“To a Ten-Months’ Child” Copyright 1960 by Donald Justice.

“Tales from a Family Album” Copyright © 1957 by Donald Justice. These poems reprinted from by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

“The Evening of the Mind” Copyright © 1965 by Donald Justice. This poem first appeared in

“The Tourist from Syracuse” Copyright © 1965 by Donald Justice.

“Men of Forty” Copyright © 1966 by Donald Justice. This poem first appeared in These poems reprinted from by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

“I Forgot To Forget” Copyright © by permission of Stanley Kesler; Highlow Music Inc. 639 Madison Avenue, Memphis, Tn. 38130.

“I Love You Because” by Leon Payne Copyright © 1949 by Fred Rose Music, Inc. Used by permission of the Publisher. All rights reserved.

The novelist is indebted to the following works and wishes to express his gratitude to the authors: , by Carl E. Schorske; , by Frederic Morton; , by J. Sydney Jones; , by David Pryce-Jones and the Editors of Time-Life Books; , by Gaetano Donizetti, the Dover Opera Guide and Libretto Series, (introduced and translated by Ellen H. Bleiler); and by Sigmund Freud.

With special thanks to Donald Justice. And with special thanks and special affection—to Lesley Claire and the Sonoma County Rape Crisis Center of Santa Rosa, California.

On July 18, 1980 the Stanhope Hotel on Eighty-first and Fifth Avenue changed management and ownership and became the American Stanhope—a fine hotel currently not beset by the problems of the Stanhope described in this fiction.


John Irving

The Hotel New Hampshire

For my wife Shyla

Whose love provided

The light and the space

For five novels

1

The Bear Called State O’Maine

The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born—we weren’t even conceived: not Frank, the oldest; not Franny, the loudest; not me, the next; and not the youngest of us, Lilly and Egg. My father and mother were hometown kids who knew each other all their lives, but their “union,” as Frank always called it, hadn’t taken place when Father bought the bear.

“Their ‘union,’ Frank?” Franny used to tease him; although Frank was the oldest, he seemed younger than Franny, to me, and Franny always treated him as if he were a baby. “What you mean, Frank,” Franny said, “is that they hadn’t started screwing.”

They hadn’t consummated their relationship,” said Lilly, one time; although she was younger than any of us, except Egg, Lilly behaved as if she were everyone’s older sister—a habit Franny found irritating.

“‘Consummated’?” Franny said. I don’t remember how old Franny was at the time, but Egg was not old enough to hear talk like this: “Mother and Father simply didn’t discover sex until after the old man got that bear,” Franny said. “That bear gave them the idea—he was such a gross, horny animal, humping trees and playing with himself and trying to rape dogs.”

“He mauled an occasional dog,” Frank said, with disgust. “He didn’t rape dogs.”

“He tried to,” Franny said. “You know the story.”

Father’s story,” Lilly would then say, with a disgust slightly different from Frank’s disgust; it was Franny Frank was disgusted with, but Lilly was disgusted with Father.

And so it’s up to me—the middle child, and the least opinionated—to set the record straight, or nearly straight. We were a family whose favourite story was the story of my mother and father’s romance: how Father bought the bear, how Mother and Father fell in love and had, in rapid succession, Frank, Franny, and me (“Bang, Bang, Bang!” as Franny would say); and, after a brief rest, how they then had Lilly and Egg (“Pop and Fizzle,” Franny says). The story we were told as children, and retold to each other when we were growing up, tends to focus on those years we couldn’t have known about and can see now only through our parents’ many versions of the tale. I tend to see my parents in those years more clearly than I see them in the years I actually can remember, because those times I was present, of course, are coloured by the fact that they were up-and-down times—about which I have up-and-down opinions. Toward the famous summer of the bear, and the magic of my mother and father’s courtship, I can allow myself a more consistent point of view.

When Father would stumble in telling us the story—when he would contradict an earlier version, or leave out our favourite parts of the tale—we would shriek at him like violent birds.

“Either you’re lying now or you lied the last time,” Franny (always the harshest of us) would tell him, but Father would shake his head, innocently.

“Don’t you understand?” he would ask us. “You imagine the story better than I remember it.”

“Go get Mother,” Franny would order me, shoving me off the couch. Or else Frank would lift Lilly off his lap and whisper to her, “Go get Mother.” And our mother would be summoned as witness to the story we suspected Father of fabricating.

“Or else you’re leaving out the juicy parts on purpose,” Franny would accuse him, “just because you think Lilly and Egg are too young to hear about all the screwing around.”

“There was no screwing around,” Mother would say. There was not the promiscuity and freedom there is today. If a girl went off and spent the night or weekend with someone, even her peers thought her a tramp or worse; we really didn’t pay much attention to a girl after that. ‘Her kind sticks together,’ we used to say. And ‘Water seeks its own level.’ “ And Franny, whether she was eight or ten or fifteen or twenty-five, would always roll her eyes and elbow me, or tickle me, and whenever I tickled her back she’d holler, “Pervert! Feeling up his own sister!” And whether he was nine or eleven or twenty-one or forty-one, Frank always hated sexual conversations and demonstrations of Franny’s kind; he would say quickly to Father, “Never mind that. What about the motorcycle?”

“No, go on about the sex,” Lilly would tell Mother, very humorlessly, and Franny would stick her tongue in my ear or make a farting noise against my neck.

“Well,” Mother said, “we did not talk freely of sex in mixed company. There was necking and petting, light or heavy; it was usually carried on in cars. There were always secluded areas to park. Lots more dirt roads, of course, fewer people and fewer cars—and cars weren’t compact, then.”

“So you could stretch out,” Franny said.

Mother would frown at Franny and persevere with her version of the times. She was a truthful but boring storyteller—no match for my father—and whenever we called on Mother to verify a version of a story, we regretted it.

“Better to let the old man go on and on,” Franny would say. “Mother’s so serious.” Frank would frown. “Oh, go play with yourself, Frank, you’ll feel better,” Franny would tell him.

But Frank would only frown harder. Then he’d say, “If you’d begin by asking Father about the motorcycle, or something concrete, you’d get a better answer than when you bring up such general things: the clothes, the customs, the sexual habits.”

“Frank, tell us what sex is,” Franny would say, but Father would rescue us all by saying, in his dreamy voice, “I can tell you: it couldn’t have happened today. You may think you have more freedom, but you also have more laws. That bear could not have happened today. He would not have been allowed.” And in that moment we would be silenced, all our bickering suddenly over. When Father talked, even Frank and Franny could be sitting together close enough to touch each other and they wouldn’t fight; I could even be sitting close enough to Franny to feel her hair against my face or her leg against mine, and if Father was talking I wouldn’t think about Franny at all. Lilly would sit deathly still (as only Lilly could) on Frank’s lap. Egg was usually too young to listen, much less understand, but he was a quiet baby. Even Franny could hold him on her lap and he’d be still; whenever I held him on my lap, he fell asleep.

“He was a black bear,” Father said; “he weighed four hundred pounds and was a trifle surly.”

Ursus americanus,” Frank would murmur. “And he was unpredictable.”

“Yes,” Father said, “but good-natured enough, most of the time.”

“He was too old to be a bear anymore,” Franny said, religiously.

That was the line Father usually began with—the line he began with the first time I remember being told the story. “He was too old to be a bear anymore.” I was in my mother’s lap for this version, and I remember how I felt fixed forever to this time and place: Mother’s lap, Franny in Father’s lap beside me, Frank erect and by himself—sitting cross-legged on the shabby oriental with our first family dog, Sorrow (who would one day be put to sleep for his terrible farting). “He was too old to be a bear anymore,” Father began. I looked at Sorrow, a witless and loving Labrador, and he grew on the floor to the size of a bear and then aged, sagging beside Frank in smelly dishevelment, until he was merely a dog again (but Sorrow would never be “merely a dog”).

That first time I don’t remember Lilly or Egg—they must have been such babies that they were not present, in a conscious way. “He was too old to be a bear anymore,” Father said. “He was on his last legs.”

“But they were the only legs he had!” we would chant, our ritual response—learned by heart—Frank, Franny, and I all together. And when they got the story down pat, eventually Lilly and even Egg would join in.

The bear did not enjoy his role as an entertainer anymore,” Father said. “He was just going through the motions. And the only person or animal or thing he loved was that motorcycle. That’s why I had to buy the motorcycle when I bought the bear. That’s why it was relatively easy for the bear to leave his trainer and come with me; the motorcycle meant more to that bear than any trainer.”

And later, Frank would prod Lilly, who was trained to ask, “What was the bear’s name?”

And Frank and Franny and Father and I would shout, in unison, “State o’Maine!” That dumb bear was named State o’Maine, and my father bought him in the summer of 1939—together with a 1937 Indian motorcycle with a homemade sidecar—for 200 dollars and the best clothes in his summer footlocker.

My father and mother were nineteen that summer; they were both born in 1920 and raised in Dairy, New Hampshire, and had more or less avoided each other through the years they were growing up. It is one of those logical coincidences upon which many good stories are founded that they—to their mutual surprise—ended up having summer jobs at the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea, a resort hotel that was, for them, far away from home, because Maine was far from New Hampshire (in those days, and to their thinking).

My mother was a chambermaid, although she dressed in her own clothes for serving dinner, and she helped serve cocktails under the tents to the lawn parties (which were attended by the golfers, the tennis and croquet players, and the sailors home from racing on the sea). My father helped in the kitchen, carried luggage, hand-groomed the putting greens, and saw to it that the white lines on the tennis courts were fresh and straight and that the unsteady people who should not have been on board a boat in the first place were helped on and off at dockside with a minimum of injury or getting wet.

They were summer jobs both my mother’s and father’s parents approved of, although it was a humiliation to Mother and Father that they should discover each other there. It was their first summer away from Dairy, New Hampshire, and they no doubt imagined the posh resort as a place where they could present themselves—total strangers—as also somewhat glamorous. My father had just graduated from the Dairy School, the private boys” academy; he’d been admitted to Harvard for the fall. He knew it would be the fall of 1941 before he’d finally get to go, because he’d set himself the task of making money for his tuition; but at the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea in the summer of ’39 my father would have been happy to let the guests and other help think he was headed for Harvard straight away. My mother being there, with her hometown knowledge of his circumstances, forced Father to tell the truth. He could go to Harvard when he made the money for what it would cost; it was some accomplishment that he could go at all, of course, and most of the people of Dairy, New Hampshire, had been surprised to learn he’d even been admitted to Harvard.

The son of the football coach at the Dairy School, my father, Winslow Berry, was not quite in the category of a faculty child. He was a jock’s only son, and his father, whom everyone called Coach Bob, was not a Harvard man—he was thought incapable, in fact, of producing Harvard material.

Robert Berry had come East from Iowa when his wife died in childbirth. Bob Berry was a little old to be single and a first-time father—he was thirty-two. He came searching for an education for his baby boy, for which he offered himself, in trade, for the process. He sold his physical education abilities to the best prep school that would promise to take his son when his son was old enough to go. The Dairy School was not a bastion of secondary school education.

It might have once wished for a status equal to Exeter’s or Andover’s, but it had settled, in the early 1900s, for a future of compromise. Near to Boston, it admitted a few hundred boys who had been turned down by Exeter and Andover, and a hundred more who shouldn’t have been admitted anywhere, and it gave them a curriculum that was standard and wise—and more rigorous than most of the faculty who were employed to teach there; most of them had been turned down elsewhere, too. But, even second-rate among New England prep schools, it was far better than the area public schools and especially better than the only high school in the town of Dairy.

The Dairy School was just the kind of school to make deals, like the one it made with Coach Bob Berry, for a piddling salary and the promise that Coach Bob’s son, Win, could be educated there (for free) when he was old enough. Neither Coach Bob nor the Dairy School was prepared for how bright a student my father, Win Berry, would turn out to be. Harvard accepted him among the first class of applicants, but he was ranked below scholarship level. If he’d come to them from a better school than Dairy, he probably could have won some kind of Latin or Greek scholarship; he thought he was good at languages and at first wanted to major in Russian.

My mother, who (being a girl) could never go to the Dairy School, attended the private female seminary also in town. This was another second-rate education that was nonetheless an improvement over the public high school, and the only choice of the town’s parents who wished their daughters to be educated without the presence of boys. Unlike the Dairy School, which had dormitories—and 95 percent boarding students—the Thompson Female Seminary was only a private day school. My mother’s parents, who for some reason were even older than Coach Bob, wished that their daughter would associate only with the Dairy School boys and not with the boys from the town—my mother’s father being a retired Dairy School teacher (everyone called him Latin Emeritus) and my mother’s mother being a doctor’s daughter from Brookline, Massachusetts, who had married a Harvard man; she hoped her daughter might aspire to the same fate. Although my mother’s mother never complained that her Harvard man had whisked her away to the sticks, and out of Boston society, she did hope that—through meeting one of the proper Dairy School boys—my mother could be whisked back to Boston.

My mother, Mary Bates, knew that my father, Win Berry, was not the proper sort of Dairy boy her mother had in mind. Harvard or no Harvard, he was Coach Bob’s son—and a delayed admission was not the same thing as being there, or being able to afford to go.

Mother’s own plans, in the summer of ’39, were hardly appealing to her. Her father, old Latin Emeritus, had suffered a stroke; drooling and addled, and muttering in Latin, he would totter about the Dairy house with his wife ineffectually worrying about him unless young Mary was there to look after them both. Mary Bates, at nineteen, had parents older than most people’s grandparents, and she had the sense of duty, if not the inclination, to pass up the possibility of her own college education to stay at home and care for them. She thought she would learn how to type and work in the town. This summer job, at the Arbuthnot, was really meant to be an exotic summer vacation for her before she settled into whatever drudgery the fall would bring. With every year, she looked ahead, the Dairy School boys would get younger and younger—until none of them would be interested in whisking her back to Boston.

Mary Bates had grown up with Winslow Berry, yet they had never given each other more than a nod or a grimace of recognition. “We seemed to be looking beyond each other, I don’t know why,” Father told us children—until, perhaps, they first saw each other out of the familiar place where they’d both grown up; the motley town of Dairy and the barely less motley campus of the Dairy School.

When the Thompson Female Seminary graduated my mother in June of 1939, my mother was hurt to realize that the Dairy School had already had its graduation and was closed; the fancier, out-of-town boys had gone home, and her two or three “beaus” (as she called them)—who she might have hoped would ask her to her own graduation dance—were gone. She knew no local high school boys, and when her mother suggested Win Berry to her, my mother ran out of the dining room. “Or I suppose I could ask Coach Bob!” she shouted to her mother. Her father, Latin Emeritus, raised his head from the dinner table where he’d been napping.

“Coach Bob?” he said. “Is that moron here to borrow the sled again?”

Coach Bob, who was also called Iowa Bob, was no moron, but to Latin Emeritus, whose stroke seemed to have fuddled his sense of time, the hired jock from the Midwest was not in the same league with the academic faculty. And years ago, when Mary Bates and Win Berry had been children, Coach Bob had come to borrow an old sleigh, once notorious for standing three years, unmoved, in the Bates front yard.

“Does the fool have a horse for it?” Latin Emeritus had asked his wife.

“No, he’s going to pull it himself!” my mother’s mother said. And the Bates family watched out the window while Coach Bob put little Win in the driver’s seat, gripped the whiffletree in his hands behind his back, and heaved the sleigh into motion; the great sled skidded down the snowy yard and into the slippery street that was still lined with elms, in those days—“As fast as a horse could have pulled it!” my mother always said.

Iowa Bob had been the shortest ulterior lineman ever to play first-string football in the Big Ten. He once admitted to being so carried away he bit a running back after he tackled him. At Dairy, in addition to his duties with football, he coached the shot put and instructed those interested in weight lifting. But to the Bates family, Iowa Bob was too uncomplicated to be taken seriously: a funny, squat strongman with hair so short he looked bald, always jogging through the streets of town—“with a ghastly-coloured sweatband around his dome,” Latin Emeritus used to say.

Since Coach Bob would live a long time, he was th—e only grand-parent any of us children would remember.

“What’s that sound?” Frank would ask, in alarm, in the middle of the night when Bob had come to live with us.

What Frank heard, and what we often heard after Coach Bob moved in, was the creaking of push-ups and the grunting of sit-ups on the old man’s floor (our ceiling) above us.

“It’s Iowa Bob,” Lilly whispered once. “He’s trying to stay in shape forever.”

Anyway, it wasn’t Win Berry who took Mary Bates to her graduation dance. The Bates family minister, who was considerably older than my mother, but unattached, was kind enough to ask her. “That was a long night,” Mother told us. “I felt depressed. I was an outsider in my own hometown. But in a very short while that same minister would marry your father and me!”

They could not even have imagined it when they were “introduced,” together with the other summer help, on the unreal green of the pampered lawn at the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea. Even the staff introductions were formal, there. A girl was called out, by name, from a line of other girls and women; she would meet a boy called out from a line of boys and men, as if they were going to be dance partners.

“This is Mary Bates, just graduated from the Thompson Female Seminary! She’ll be helping in the hotel, and with hostessing. She likes sailing, don’t you, Mary?”

Waiters and waitresses, the grounds crew and caddies, the boat help and the kitchen staff, odd-jobbers, hostesses, chambermaids, laundry people, a plumber, and the members of the band. Ballroom dancing was very popular; the resorts farther south—like the Weirs at Laconia, and Hampton Beach—drew some of the big-name bands in the summers. But the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea had its own band, which imitated in a cold, Maine way the big-band sound.

“And this is Winslow Berry, who likes to be called Win! Don’t you, Win? He’s going to Harvard in the fall!”

But my father looked straight at my mother, who smiled and turned her face away—as embarrassed for him as she was for herself. She’d never noticed what a handsome boy he was, really; he had a body as hard as Coach Bob’s, but the Dairy School had exposed him to the manners, the dress, and the way with his hair that Bostonians (not Iowans) were favouring. He looked as if he already went to Harvard, whatever that must have meant to my mother then. “Oh, I don’t know what it meant,” she told us children. “Kind of cultured, I guess. He looked like a boy who knew how to drink without getting sick. He had the darkest, brightest eyes, and whenever you looked at him you were sure he’d just been looking at you—but you could never catch him.”

My father maintained that latter ability all his life; we felt around him, always, the sense that he’d been observing us closely and affectionately—even if, when we looked at him, he seemed to be looking elsewhere, dreaming or making plans, thinking of something hard or faraway. Even when he was quite blind, to our schemes and lives, he seemed to be “observing” us. It was a strange combination of aloofness and warmth—and the first time my mother felt it was on that tongue of bright green lawn that was framed by the grey Maine sea.

STAFF INTRODUCTIONS: 4:00 P.M.

That was when she learned he was there.

When the introductions were over, and the staff was instructed to make ready for the first cocktail hour, the first dinner, and the first evening’s entertainment, my mother caught my father’s eye and he came up to her.

“It will be two years before I can afford Harvard,” he said, immediately, to her.

“So I thought,” my mother said. “But I think it’s wonderful you got in,” she added quickly.

“Why wouldn’t I have gotten in?” he asked.

Mary Bates shrugged, a gesture learned from never understanding her father (since his stroke had slurred his speech). She wore white gloves and a white hat with a veil; she was dressed for “serving” at the first lawn party, and my father admired how nicely her hair hugged her head—it was longer in back, swept away from her face, and clamped somehow to the hat and veil in a manner both so simple and mysterious that my father fell to wondering about her.

“What are you doing in the fall?” he asked her.

Again she shrugged, but maybe my father saw in her eyes, through her white veil, that my mother was hoping to be rescued from the scenario she imagined was her future.

“We were nice to each other, that first time, I remember that,” Mother told us. “We were both alone in a new place and we knew things about each other nobody else knew.” In those days, I imagine, that was intimate enough.

“There wasn’t any intimacy, in those days,” Franny said once. “Even lovers wouldn’t fart in front of each other.”

And Franny was forceful—I frequently believed her. Even Franny’s language was ahead of her time—as if she always knew where she was going; and I would never quite catch up to her.

That first evening at the Arbuthnot there was the staff band playing its imitation of the big-band sound, but there were very few guests, and even fewer dancers; the season was just beginning, and it begins slowly in Maine—it’s so cold there, even in the summer. The dance hall had a deck of hard-shined wood that seemed to extend beyond the open porches that overlooked the ocean. When it rained, they had to drop awnings over the porches because the ballroom was so open, on all sides, that the rain washed in and wet the polished dance floor.

That first evening, as a special treat to the staff—and because there were so few guests, and most of them had gone to bed, to get warm—the band played late. My father and mother, and the other help, were invited to dance for an hour or more. My mother always remembered that the ballroom chandelier was broken—it blinked dimly; uneven spots of colour dappled the dance floor, which looked so soft and glossy in the ailing light that the floor appeared to have the texture of a candle.

“I’m glad someone I know is here,” my mother whispered to my father, who had rather formally asked her to dance and danced with her very stiffly.

“But you don’t know me,” Father said.

“I said that,” Father told us, “so that your mother would shrug again.” And when she shrugged, thinking him impossibly difficult to talk to—and perhaps superior—my father was convinced that his attraction to her was not a fluke.

“But I want you to know me,” he told her, “and I want to know you.”

(“Yuck,” Franny always said, at this point in the story.)

The sound of an engine was drowning out the band, and many of the dancers left the floor to see what the commotion was. My mother was grateful for the interruption: she couldn’t think of what to say to Father. They walked, not holding hands, to the porch that faced the docks; they saw, under the dock lights swaying on the overhead wires, a lobster boat putting out to sea. The boat had just deposited on the dock a dark motorcycle, which was now roaring—revving itself, perhaps to free its tubes and pipes of the damp salt air. Its rider seemed intent on getting the noise right before he put the machine in gear. The motorcycle had a sidecar attached, and in it sat a dark figure, hulking and still, like a man made awkward by too many clothes.

“It’s Freud,” someone on the staff said. And other, older members of the staff cried out, “Yes! It’s Freud! It’s Freud and State o’Maine!”

My mother and father both thought that “State o’Maine” was the name of the motorcycle. But then the band stopped playing, seeing its audience was gone, and some of the band members, too, joined the dancers on the porch.

“Freud!” people yelled.

My father always told us he was amused to imagine that the Freud would any moment motor over beneath the porch and, in the high-strung lights lining the perfect gravel driveway, introduce himself to the staff. So here comes Sigmund Freud, Father thought: he was falling in love, so anything was possible.

But this was not that Freud, of course; it was the year when that Freud died. This Freud was a Viennese Jew with a limp and an unpronounceable name, who in the summers since he had been working at the Arbuthnot {since 1933, when he’d left his native Austria) had earned the name Freud for his abilities to soothe the distress of the staff and guests alike; he was an entertainer, and since he came from Vienna and was a Jew, “Freud” seemed only natural to some of the odd, foreign wits at the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea. The name seemed especially appropriate when, in 1937, Freud arrived for the summer on a new Indian motorcycle with a sidecar he’d made all by himself.

“Who gets to ride behind and who gets to ride in the sidecar, Freud?” the working girls at the hotel teased him—because he was so frightfully scarred and ugly with pockmarks (“holes from the boils!” he called them) that no woman would ever love him.

“Nobody rides with me but State o’Maine,” Freud said, and he unsnapped the canvas canopy from the sidecar. In the sidecar sat a bear, black as exhaust, thicker with muscles than Iowa Bob, warier than any stray dog. Freud had retrieved this bear from a logging camp in the north of the state and had convinced the management of the Arbuthnot that he could train the beast to entertain the guests. Freud, when he emigrated from Austria, had arrived in Boothbay Harbor, by boat, from New York, with two job descriptions in capital letters on his work papers: EXPERIENCE AS ANIMAL TRAINER AND KEEPER; GOOD MECHANICAL APTITUDE. There being no animals available, he fixed the vehicles at the Arbuthnot and properly put them to rest for the non-tourist months, when he travelled to the logging camps and the paper mills as a mechanic.

All that time, he later told my father, he’d been looking for a bear. Bears, Freud said, were where the money was.

When my father saw the man dismount from the motorcycle under the ballroom porch, he wondered at the cheers from the veteran members of the staff; when Freud helped the figure from the sidecar, my mother’s first thought was that the passenger was an old, old woman—the motorcyclist’s mother, perhaps (a stout woman wrapped in a dark blanket).

“State o’Maine!” yelled someone in the band, and blew his horn.

My mother and father saw the bear begin to dance. He danced away from Freud on his hind legs; he dropped to all fours and did a short lap or two around the motorcycle. Freud stood on the motorcycle and clapped. The bear called State o’Maine began to clap, too. When my mother felt my father take her hand into his—they were not clapping—she did not resist him; she gave back equal pressure, both of them never taking their eyes from the bulky bear performing below them, and my mother thought: I am nineteen and my life is just beginning.

“You felt that, really?” Franny always asked.

“Everything is relative,” Mother would say. “But that’s what I felt, yes. I felt my life start.”

“Holy cow,” said Frank.

“Was it me or the bear you liked?” Father asked.

“Don’t be silly,” Mother said. “It was the whole thing. It was the start of my life.”

And that line had the same fix-me-to-the-spot quality of Father’s line about the bear (“He was too old to be a bear anymore”). I felt rooted to the story when my mother said that this was the start of her life; it was as if I could see Mother’s life, like the motorcycle, after long revving, finally chunk into gear and lurch forward.

And what must my father have imagined, reaching for her hand just because a bear was brought by a lobster boat into his life?

“I knew it would be my bear,” Father told us. “I don’t know how.” And perhaps it was this knowledge—that he saw something that would be his—that made him reach for my mother, too.

You can see why we children asked so many questions. It is a vague story, the kind parents prefer to tell.

That first night they saw Freud and his bear, my father and mother did not even kiss. When the band broke up, and the help retired to the male and female dormitories—the slightly less elegant buildings separate from the main hotel—my father and mother went down to the docks and watched the water. If they talked, they never told us children what they said. There must have been a few classy sailboats there, and even the private piers in Maine were sure to have a lobster boat or two moored off them. There was probably a dinghy, and my father suggested borrowing it for a short row; my mother probably refused. Fort Popham was a ruin, then, and not the tourist attraction it is today; but if there were any lights on the Fort Popham shore, they would have been visible from the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea. Also, the broad mouth of the Kennebec River, at Bay Point, had a bell buoy and a light, and there might have been a lighthouse on Stage Island as long ago as 1939—my father never remembered.

But generally, in those days, it would have been a dark coast, so that when the white sloop sailed toward them—out of Boston, or New York: out of the southwest and civilization, anyway—my mother and father must have seen it very clearly and watched it undistracted for the time it took to come alongside the dock. My father caught the mooring line; he always told us he was at the point of panic about what to do with the rope—tie it up to something or tug it—when the man in the white dinner jacket, black slacks, and black dress shoes stepped easily off the deck and climbed the ladder up to the dock and took the rope from my father’s hands. Effortlessly, the man guided the sloop past the end of the dock before he threw the rope back on board. “You’re free!” he called to the boat, then. My mother and father claimed they saw no sailors on board, but the sloop slipped away, back to the sea—its yellow lights leaving like sinking glass—and the man in the dinner jacket turned to my father and said, “Thanks for the hand. Are you new here?”

“Yes, we both are,” Father said.

The man’s perfect clothes were unaffected by his voyage. For so early in the summer he was very tanned, and he offered my mother and father cigarettes from a handsome flat black box. They didn’t smoke. “I’d hoped to catch the last dance,” the man said, “but the band has retired?”

“Yes,” my mother said. At nineteen, my mother and father had never seen anyone quite like this man. “He had obscene confidence,” my mother told us.

“He had money,” Father said.

“Have Freud and the bear arrived?” the man asked.

“Yes,” Father said. “And the motorcycle.”

The man in the white dinner jacket smoked hungrily, but neatly, while he looked at the dark hotel; very few rooms were lit, but the outdoor lights strung to illuminate the paths, the hedgerows, and the docks shone on the man’s tanned face and made his eyes narrow and were reflected on the black, moving sea. “Freud’s a Jew, you know,” the man said. “It’s a good thing he got out of Europe when he did, you know. Europe’s going to be no place for Jews. My broker told me.”

This solemn news must have impressed my father, eager to enter Harvard—and the world—and not yet aware that a war would interrupt his plans for a while, the man in the white dinner jacket caused my father to take my mother’s hand into his, for the second time that evening, and again she gave equal pressure as they politely waited for the man to finish his cigarette, or say good night, or go on.

But all he said was, “And the world’s going to be no place for bears!” His teeth were as white as his dinner jacket when he laughed, and with the wind my father and mother didn’t hear the hiss of his cigarette entering the ocean—or the sloop coming alongside again. Suddenly the man stepped to the ladder, and only when he slipped quickly down the rungs did Mary Bates and Win Berry realize that the white sloop was gliding under the, ladder and the man was perfectly in time to drop to its deck. No rope passed bands. The sloop, not under sail but chugging slowly under other power, turned southwest (toward Boston, or New York, again)—unafraid of night travel—and what the man in the white dinner jacket last called to them was lost in the sputter of the engine, the slap of the hull on the sea, and the wind that blew the gulls by (like party hats, with feathers, bobbing in the water after drunks had thrown them there). All his life my father wished he’d heard what the man had to say.

It was Freud who told my father that he’d seen the owner of the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea.

Ja, that was him, all right,” Freud said. “That’s how he comes, just a couple of times a summer. Once he danced with a girl who worked here—the last dance; we never saw her again. A week later, some other guy came for her things.”

“What’s his name” Father asked.

“Maybe he’s Arbuthnot, you know?” Freud said. “Someone said he’s Dutch, but I never heard his name. He knows all about Europe, though—I can tell you that!”

My father was dying to ask about the Jews; he felt my mother nudge him in his ribs. They were sitting on one of the putting greens, after hours—when the green turned blue in the moonlight and the red golfing flag flapped in the cup. The bear called State o’Maine had his muzzle off and was trying to scratch himself against the thin stem of the flag.

“Come here, stupid!” Freud said to the bear, but the bear paid no attention to him.

“Is your family still in Vienna?” my mother asked Freud.

“My sister is my only family,” he said. “And I don’t hear nothing from her since a year ago March.”

“A year ago March,” my father said, “the Nazis took Austria.”

Ja, you’re telling me?” Freud said.

State o’Maine, frustrated by the lack of resistance the flagpole gave him—for scratching—slapped the flagpole out of the cup and sent it spinning across the putting green.

“Jesus God,” said Freud. “He’s going to start digging holes in the golf course if we don’t go somewhere.” My father put the silly flag, marked “18,” back into the cup. My mother had been given the night off from “serving” and was still in her chambermaid’s uniform; she ran ahead of the bear, calling him.

The bear rarely ran. He shambled—and never very far from the motorcycle. He rubbed up against the motorcycle so much that the red fender paint was shined as silvery as the chrome, and the conical point of the sidecar was dented in from his pushing against it. He had often burned himself on the pipes, going to rub against the machine too soon after it had been driven, so that there were ominous patches of charred bear hair stuck to the pipes—as if the motorcycle itself had been (at one time) a furry animal. Correspondingly, State o’Maine had ragged patches in his black coat where his fur was missing, or singed flat and brown—the dull colour of dried seaweed.

What exactly the bear was trained to do was a mystery to everyone—even something of a mystery to Freud.

Their “act” together, performed before the lawn parties in the late afternoon, was more of an effort for the motorcycle and Freud than it was an effort for the bear. Around and around Freud would drive, the bear in the sidecar, canopy snapped off—the bear like a pilot in an open cockpit without controls. State o’Maine usually wore his muzzle in public: it was a red leather thing that reminded my father of the face masks occasionally worn in the game of lacrosse. The muzzle made the bear look smaller; it further scrunched up his already wrinkled face and elongated his nose so that, more than ever, he resembled an overweight dog.

Around and around they would drive, and just before the bored guests returned to their conversation and abandoned this oddity, Freud would stop the motorcycle, dismount, with the engine running, and walk to the sidecar, where he would harass the bear in German. This was funny to the crowd, largely because someone speaking German was funny, but Freud would persist until the bear, slowly, would climb out of the sidecar and mount the motorcycle, sitting in the driver’s seat, his heavy paws on the handlebars, his short hind legs not able to reach the footposts or the rear-brake controls. Freud would climb into the sidecar and order the bear to drive off.

Nothing would happen. Freud would sit in the sidecar, protesting their lack of motion; the bear would grimly hold the handlebars, jounce in the saddle, paddle his legs back and forth, as if he were treading water.

“State o’Maine!” someone would shout. The bear would nod, with a kind of embarrassed dignity, and stay where he was.

Freud, now raging in a German everyone loved to hear, climbed out of the sidecar and approached the bear at the controls. He attempted to show the animal how to operate the motorcycle.

“Clutch!” Freud would say: he’d hold the bear’s big paw over the clutch handle. “Throttle!” he would shout: he’d rev the motorcycle with the bear’s other paw. Freud’s 1937 Indian had the gearshift mounted alongside the gas tank, so that for a frightening moment the driver needed to take one hand from the handlebars to engage or change gears. “Shift!” Freud cried, and slammed the cycle into gear.

Whereupon the bear on the motorcycle would proceed across the lawn, the throttle held at a steady low growl, neither accelerating nor slowing down but moving resolutely toward the smug and beautifully attired guests—the men, even fresh from their sporting events, wore hats; even the male swimmers at the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea wore bathing suits with tops, although the thirties saw trunks, on men, prevailing more and more. Not in Maine. The shoulders of the jackets, men’s and women’s, were padded; the men wore white flannels, wide and baggy; the sportswomen wore saddle shoes with bobby socks; the “dressed” women wore natural waistlines, their sleeves frequently puffed. All of them made quite a colourful stir as the bear bore down on them, pursued by Freud.

Nein! Nein! You dumb bear!”

And State o’Maine, his expression under the muzzle a mystery to the guests, drove forward, turning only slightly, hulking over the handlebars.

“You stupid animal!” Freud cried.

The bear drove away—always through a party tent without striking a support pole or snagging the white linen tablecloths that covered the tables of food and the bar. He was pursued by waiters over the rich expanse of lawn. The tennis players cheered from the courts, but as the bear drew nearer to them, they abandoned their game.

The bear either knew or didn’t know what he was doing, but he never hit a hedge, and he never went too fast; he never drove down to the docks and attempted to board a yacht or a lobster boat. And Freud always caught up with him, when it seemed that the guests had seen enough. Freud mounted the cycle behind the bear; hugging himself to the broad back, he guided the beast and the ’37 Indian back to the lawn party.

“So, a few kinks to work out!” he’d call to the crowd. “A few flies in the ointment, but nichts to worry! In no time he will get it right!”

That was the act. It never changed. That was all Freud had taught State o’Maine; he claimed it was all that the bear could learn.

“He’s not so smart a bear,” Freud told Father. “I got him when he was too old. I thought he’d be fine. He was tamed as a cub. But the logging camps taught him nothing. Those people have no manners, anyway. They’re just animals, too. They kept the bear as a pet, they fed him enough so he wouldn’t get nasty, but they just let him hang around and be lazy. Like them. I think this bear’s got a drinking problem because of them loggers. He don’t drink now—I don’t let him—but he acts like he wants to, you know?”

Father didn’t know. He thought Freud was wonderful and the 1937 Indian was the most beautiful machine he had ever met. On days off, my father would take my mother driving on the coast roads, the two of them hugged together and cool in the salt air, but they were never alone: the motorcycle could not be driven away from the Arbuthnot without State o’Maine in the sidecar. The bear went berserk if the motorcycle tried to drive away without him; it was the only event that could make the old bear run. A bear can run surprisingly fast.

“Go ahead, you try to get away,” Freud told Father. “But better push it down the driveway, all the way out to the road, before you start the engine. And the first time you try it, don’t take poor Mary with you. Wear lots of heavy clothes, because if he catches you, he’ll paw you all over. He won’t be mad—just excited. Go on, try it. But if you look back, after a few miles, and he’s still coming, you better stop and bring him back. He’ll have a heart attack, or he’ll get lost—he’s so stupid.”

“He don’t know how to hunt, or anything. He’s helpless if you don’t feed him. He’s a pet, he’s not a real animal no more. And he’s only about twice as smart as a German shepherd. And that’s not smart enough for the world, you know.”

“The world?” Lilly would always ask, her eyes popping.

But the world for my father, in the summer of ’39, was new and affectionate with my mother’s shy touches, the roar of the ’37 Indian and the strong smell of State o’Maine, the cold Maine nights and the wisdom of Freud.

His limp, of course, was from a motorcycle accident; the leg had been set improperly. “Discrimination,” Freud claimed.

Freud was small, strong, alert as an animal, a peculiar colour (like a green olive cooked slowly until it almost browned). He had glossy black hair, a strange patch of which grew on his cheek, just under one eye: it was a silky-soft spot of hair, bigger than most moles, at least the size of an average coin, more distinctive than any birthmark, and as naturally a part of Freud’s face as a limpet attached to a Maine rock.

“It’s because my brain is so enormous,” Freud told Mother and Father. “My brain don’t leave room on my head for hair, so the hair gets jealous and grows a little where it shouldn’t.”

“Maybe it was bear hair,” Frank said once, seriously, and Franny screamed and hugged me around the neck so hard that I bit my tongue.

“Frank is so weird!” she cried. “Show us your bear hair, Frank.” Poor Frank was approaching puberty at the time; he was ahead of his time, and he was very embarrassed about it. But not even Franny could distract us from the mesmerizing spell of Freud and his bear; we children were as caught up with them as my father and mother must have been that summer of 1939.

Some nights, Father told us, he would walk my mother to her dorm and kiss her good night. If Freud was asleep, Father would unchain State o’Maine from the motorcycle and slip his muzzle off so the bear could eat. Then my father would take him fishing. There was a tarp staked low over the motorcycle, like an open tent, which protected State o’Maine from the rain, and Father would leave his fishing gear wrapped in the flap of that tarp for these occasions.

The two of them would go to the Bay Point dock; it was beyond the row of hotel piers, and choppy with lobster boats and fishermen’s dinghies. Father and State o’Maine would sit on the end of the dock while Father cast what he called spooners, for pollack. He would feed the pollack live to State o’Maine. There was only one evening when there was an altercation between them. Father usually caught three or four pollack; that was enough—for both Father and State o’Maine—and then they’d go home. But one evening the pollack weren’t running, and after an hour without a nibble Father got up off the dock to take the bear back to his muzzle and chain.

“Come on,” he said. “No fish in the ocean tonight.”

State o’Maine wouldn’t leave.

“Come on!” Father said. But State o’Maine wouldn’t let Father leave the dock, either.

“Earl!” the bear growled. Father sat down and kept fishing. “Earl!” State o’Maine complained. Father cast and cast, he changed spooners, he tried everything. If he could have dug for clam worms down on the mud flats, he could have bottom-fished for flounder, but State o’Maine became unfriendly whenever Father attempted to leave the dock. Father contemplated jumping in and swimming ashore; he could sneak back to the dorm for Freud, then, and they could come recapture State o’Maine with food from the hotel. But after a while Father got into the spirit of the evening and said, “All right, all right, so you want fish? We’ll catch a fish, goddamn it!”

A little before dawn a lobsterman came down to the dock to put out to sea. He was going to pull his traps and he had some new traps with him to drop, and—unfortunately—he had bait with him, too. State o’Maine smelled the bait.

“Better give it to him,” Father said.

“Earl!” said State o’Maine, and the lobsterman gave the bear all his baitfish.

“We’ll repay you,” Father said. “First thing.”

“I know what I’d like to do, ‘first thing,’” the lobsterman said. “I’d like to put that bear in my traps and use him for bait. I’d like to see him et up by lobsters!”

“Earl!” said State o’Maine.

“Better not tease him,” Father told the lobsterman, who agreed.

Ja, he’s not so smart, that bear,” Freud told Father. “I should have warned you. He can be funny about food. They fed him too much at the logging camps; he ate all the time—lots of junk. And sometimes, now, he just decides he’s not eating enough—or he wants a drink, or something. You got to remember: don’t ever sit down to eat yourself if you haven’t fed him first. He don’t like that.”

So State o’Maine was always well fed before he performed at the lawn parties—for the white linen tablecloths were everywhere burdened with hors d’oeuvres, fancy raw fish, and grilled meats, and if State o’Maine had been hungry, there might have been trouble. But Freud stuffed State o’Maine before the act, and the bloated bear drove the motorcycle calmly. He was placid, even bored, at the handlebars, as if the greatest physical need soon to seize him would be an awesome belch, or the need to move his great bear’s bowels.

“It’s a dumb act and I’m losing money,” Freud said. “This place is too fancy. There’s only snobs who come here. I should be someplace with a little cruder crowd, someplace where there’s bingo games—not just dancing. I should be places that are more democratic—places where they bet on dog fights, you know?”

My father didn’t know, but he must have marvelled at such places—rougher than the Weirs at Laconia, or even Hampton Beach. Places where there were more drunks, and more careless money for an act with a performing bear. The Arbuthnot was simply too refined a crowd for a man like Freud and a bear like State o’Maine. It was too refined, even, to appreciate that motorcycle: the 1937 Indian.

But my father realized that Freud felt no ambition drawing him away. Freud had an easy summer at the Arbuthnot; the bear simply hadn’t turned out to be the gold mine Freud had hoped for. What Freud wanted was a different bear.

“With a bear this dumb,” he told my mother and father, “there’s no point in trying to better my take. And you got other problems when you hustle them cheap resorts.”

My mother took my father’s hand and gave it firm, warning pressure—perhaps because she saw him imagining those “other problems,” those “cheap resorts.” But my father was thinking of his tuition at Harvard; he liked the 1937 Indian and the bear called State o’Maine. He hadn’t seen Freud put the slightest effort into training the bear, and Win Berry was a boy who believed in himself; Coach Bob’s son was a young man who imagined he could do anything he could imagine.

He had earlier planned that, after the summer at the Arbuthnot, he would go to Cambridge, take a room, and find a job—perhaps in Boston. He would get to know the area around Harvard and get employed in the vicinity, so that as soon as there was money for tuition, he could enroll. This way, he imagined, he might even be able to keep a part-time job and go to Harvard. My mother, of course, had liked this plan because Boston to Dairy, and back again, was an easy trip on the Boston & Maine—the trains ran regularly then. She was already imagining the visits from my father—long weekends—and perhaps the occasional, though proper, visits she might make to Cambridge or Boston to see him.

“What do you know about bears, anyway?” she asked. “Or motorcycles?”

She didn’t like, either, his idea that—if Freud was unwilling to part with his Indian or his bear—Father would travel the logging camps with Freud. Win Berry was a strong boy, but not vulgar. And Mother imagined the camps to be vulgar places, from which Father would not emerge the same—or would not emerge at all.

She needn’t have worried. That summer and how it would end were obviously planned more hugely and inevitably than any trivial arrangements my father and mother could imagine ahead of them. That summer of ’39 was as inevitable as the war in Europe, as it would soon be called, and all of them—Freud, Mary Bates, and Winslow Berry—were as lightly tossed along by the summer as the gulls knocked about in the rough currents at the mouth of the Kennebec.

One night in late August, when Mother had served at the evening meal and had only just had time to change into her saddle shoes and the long skirt she played croquet in, Father was called from his room to assist with an injured man. Father ran past the lawn for croquet where Mother was waiting for him. She held a mallet over her shoulder. The Christmas-like light bulbs strung in the trees lit the lawn for croquet in such a ghostly way that—to my father—my mother “looked like an angel holding a club.”

“I’ll be right with you,” Father said to her. “Someone’s been hurt.”

She came with him, and some other running men, and they ran down to the hotel piers. Alongside the dock was a throbbing big ship aglow with lights. A band with too much brass was playing on board, and the strong fuel smell and motor exhaust in the salt air mixed with the smell of crushed fruit. It appeared that some enormous bowl of alcoholic fruit punch was being served to the ship’s guests, and they were spilling it over themselves or washing the deck down with it. At the end of the dock a man lay on his side, bleeding from a wound in his cheek: he had stumbled coming up the ladder and had torn his face on a mooring cleat.

He was a large man, his face florid in the blue wash of the light from the moon, and he sat up as soon as anybody touched him. “Scheiss!” he said.

My father and mother recognized the German word for “shit” from Freud’s many performances. With the assistance of several strong young men the German was brought to his feet. He had bled, magnificently, over his white dinner jacket, which seemed large enough to clothe two men; his blue-black cummerbund resembled a curtain, and his matching bow tie stuck up straight at his throat, like a twisted, propeller. He was rather jowly and he smelled strongly of the fruit punch served on board ship. He bellowed to someone. From on board came a chorus of German, and a tall, tanned woman in an evening dress with yellow lace, or ruching, came up the dock’s ladder like a panther wearing silk. The bleeding man seized her and leaned on her so heavily that the woman, despite her own obvious strength and agility, was pushed into my father, who helped her maintain her balance. She was much younger than the man, my mother noted, and also German—speaking in an easy, clucking manner to him, while he continued to bleat and gesture, nastily, to those members of the German chorus left on board. Up the dock, and up the gravel driveway, the big couple wove.

At the entrance to the Arbuthnot, the woman turned to my father and said, with a controlled accent: “He vill need stitches, ja? Of course you haf a doctor.”

The desk manager whispered to Father, “Get Freud.”

“Stitches?” Freud said. “The doctor lives all the way in Bath, and he’s a drunk. But I know how to stitch anybody.”

The desk manager ran out to the dorm and shouted for Freud.

“Get on your Indian and bring old Doc Todd here! We’ll sober him up when he arrives,” the manager said. “But for God’s sake, get going!”

“It will take an hour, if I can find him,” Freud said. “You know I can handle stitching. Just get me the proper clothes.”

This is different,” the desk manager said. “I think it’s different, Freud—I mean, the guy. He’s a German, Freud. And it’s his face that’s cut.”

Freud stripped his work clothes off his pitted, olive body; he began to comb his damp hair. The clothes,” he said. “Just bring them. It’s too complicated to get old Doc Todd.”

The wound is on his face, Freud,” Father said.

“So what’s a face?” said Freud. “Just skin, ja? Like on the hands or foots. I’ve sewn up lots of foots before. Axel and saw cuts—them stupid loggers.”

Outside, the other Germans from the ship were bringing trunks and heavy luggage the shortest distance from the pier to the entranceway—across the eighteenth green. “Look at those swine,” Freud said. “Putting dents where the little white ball will get caught.”

The headwaiter came into Freud’s room. It was the best room in the men’s dorm—no one knew how Freud ended up with it. The headwaiter began to undress.

“Everything but your jacket, dummy,” Freud said to him. “Doctors don’t wear waiters’ jackets.”

Father had a black tuxedo jacket that more or less agreed with the waiter’s black pants, and he brought it to Freud.

“I’ve told them, a million times,” the headwaiter said—although he looked strange saying this with any authority, while he was naked. “There should be a doctor who actually lives at the hotel.”

When Freud was all dressed, he said, “There is.” The desk manager ran back to the main hotel ahead of him. Father watched the headwaiter looking helplessly at Freud’s abandoned clothes; they were not very clean and they smelled strongly of State o’Maine; the waiter, clearly, did not want to put them on. Father ran to catch up with Freud.

The Germans, now in the driveway outside the entrance, were grinding a large trunk across the gravel; someone would have to rake the stones in the morning. “Is der not enough help at dis hotel to help us?” one of the Germans yelled.

On the spotless counter, in the serving room between the main dining hall and the kitchen, the big German with the gashed cheek lay like a corpse, his pale head resting on his folded-up dinner jacket, which would never be white again; his propeller of a dark tie sagged limply at his throat, his cummerbund heaved.

“It’z a goot doctor?” he asked the desk manager. The young giantess in the gown with the yellow ruching held the German’s hand.

“An excellent doctor,” the desk manager said.

“Especially at stitching,” my father said. My mother held his hand.

“It’z not too civilized a hotel, I tink,” the German said.

“It’z in der vilderness,” the tawny, athletic woman said, but she dismissed herself with a laugh. “But it’z nicht so bad a cut, I tink,” she told Father and Mother, and the desk manager. “We don’t need too goot a doctor to fix it up, I tink.”

“Just so it’z no Jew,” the German said. He coughed. Freud was in the small room, though none of them had seen him; he was having trouble threading a needle.

“It’z no Jew, I’m sure.” The tawny princess laughed. “They haf no Jews in Maine!” When she saw Freud, she didn’t look so sure.

Guten Abend, meine Dame und Herr,” Freud said. “Was ist los?”

My father said that Freud, in the black tuxedo, was a figure so runted and distorted by his boil scars that he immediately looked as if he had stolen his clothes; the clothes appeared to have been stolen from at least two different people. Even his most visible instrument was black—a black spool of thread, which Freud grasped in the grey-rubber kitchen gloves the dishwashers wore. The best needle to be found in the laundry room of the Arbuthnot looked too large in Freud’s small hand, as if he’d grabbed the needle used to sew the sails for the racing boats. Perhaps he had.

“Herr Doktor?” the German asked, his face whitening. His wound appeared to stop bleeding, instantly.

“Herr Doktor Professor Freud,” Freud said, moving in close and leering at the wound.

“Freud?” the woman said.

Ja,” Freud said.

When he poured the first shot glass of whiskey into the German’s cut, the whiskey washed into the German’s eyes.

“Ooops!” said Freud.

“I’m blind! I’m blind!” the German sang.

Nein, you’re nicht so blind,” Freud said. “But you should have shut your eyes.” He splashed another glass in the wound; then he went to work.

In the morning the manager asked Freud not to perform with State o’Maine until after the Germans left—they were leaving as soon as ample provisions could be loaded aboard their large vessel. Freud refused to remain attired as a doctor; he insisted on tinkering with the ’37 Indian in his mechanic’s costume, so it was in such attire that the German found him, seaward of the tennis courts, not exactly hidden from the main hotel grounds and the lawns of play, but discreetly off to himself. The huge, bandaged face of the German was badly swollen and he approached Freud warily, as if the little motorcycle mechanic might be the alarming twin brother of the “Herr Doktor Professor” of the night before.

Nein, it’z him,” said the tanned woman, trailing on the German’s arm.

“What’s the Jew doctor fixing this morning?” the German asked Freud.

“My hobby,” Freud said, not looking up. My father, who was handing Freud his motorcycle tools—like an assistant to a surgeon—took a firmer grip on the three-quarters-inch wrench.

The German couple did not see the bear. State o’Maine was scratching himself against the fence of the tennis court—making deep, thrusting scratches with his back against the metal mesh, groaning to himself and rocking to a rhythm akin to masturbation. My mother, to make him more comfortable, had removed his muzzle.

“I never heard of such a motorcycle as dis,” the German told Freud, critically. “It’z junk, I tink, ja? What’s an Indian? I never heard of it.”

“You should try riding it yourself,” Freud said. “Want to?”

The German woman seemed unsure of the idea—and quite sure that she didn’t want to—but the idea clearly appealed to the German. He stood close to the motorcycle and touched its gas tank and ran his fingers over its clutch cable and fondled the knob to the gearshift. He seized the throttle at the handlebars and gave it a sharp twist. He felt the soft rubber tube—like an exposed vital organ among so much metal—where the gas ran from the tank into the carburetor. He opened the valve to the carburetor, without asking Freud’s permission; he tickled the valve and wet his fingers with gasoline, then wiped his fingers on the seat.

“You don’t mind, HerrDoktor?” the German asked Freud.

“No, go on,” Freud said. “Take it for a spin.”

And that was the summer of ’39: my father saw how it would end, but he could not move to interfere. “I couldn’t have stopped it,” Father always said. “It was coming, like the war.”

Mother, at the tennis court fence, saw the German mount the motorcycle; she thought she’d better put State o’Maine’s muzzle back on. But the bear was impatient with her; he shook his head and scratched himself harder.

“Just a standard kick starter, ja?” the German asked.

“Just kick it over and she’ll start right up,” Freud said. Something about the way he and Father stepped away from the motorcycle made the young German woman join them; she stepped back, too.

“Here goes!” the German said, and kicked the starter down.

With the first catch of the engine, before the first rev, the bear called State o’Maine stood erect against the tennis court fence, the coarse fur on his dense chest stiffening; he stared across centre court at the 1937 Indian that was trying to go somewhere without him. When the German chunked the machine into gear and began, rather timidly, to advance across the grass to a nearby gravel path, State o’Maine dropped to all fours and charged. He was in full stride when he crossed centre court and broke up the doubles game—racquets falling, balls rolling loose. The player who was playing net chose to hug the net instead; he shut his eyes as the bear tore by him.

“Earl!” cried State o’Maine, but the German on the throaty ’37 Indian couldn’t hear anything.

The German woman heard, however, and turned—with Father and Freud—to see the bear. “Gott! Vut vilderness!” she cried, and fainted sideways against my father, who wrestled her gently to the lawn.

When the German saw that a bear was after him, he had not yet got his bearings; he was unsure which way the main road was. If he’d found the main road, of course, he could have outdistanced the bear, but confined to the narrow paths and walkways, of the hotel grounds, and the soft fields for sports, he lacked the necessary speed.

“Earl!” growled the bear. The German swerved across the croquet lawn and headed for the picnic tents where they were setting up for lunch. The bear was on the motorcycle in less than twenty-five yards, clumsily trying to mount behind the German—as if State o’Maine had finally learned Freud’s driving lesson, and was about to insist that the act be performed properly.

The German would not allow Freud to stitch him up this time and even Freud confessed that it was too big a job for him. “What a mess,” Freud wondered aloud to my father. “Such a lot of stitches—not for me. I couldn’t stand to hear him bawl all the time it would take.”

So the German was transported, by the Coast Guard, to the hospital at Bath. State o’Maine was concealed in the laundry room so that the bear’s mythical status as “a wild animal” could be confirmed.

“Out of the voods, it came,” said the revived German woman. “It must haf been incensed by der noise from der motorcycle.”

“A she-bear with young cubs,” Freud explained. “Sehr treacherous at this time of year.”

But the management of the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea would not allow the matter to be dismissed so easily; Freud knew that.

“I’m leaving before I have to talk with him again,” Freud told Father and Mother. They knew that Freud meant the owner of the Arbuthnot, the man in the white dinner jacket who occasionally showed up for the last dance. “I can just hear him, the big shot: ‘Now, Freud, you knew the risk—we discussed it. When I agreed to have the animal here, we agreed he would be your responsiblity.’ And if he tells me I’m a lucky Jew—to be in his fucking America in the first place—I will let State o’Maine eat him!” Freud said. “Him and his fancy cigarettes, I don’t need. This isn’t my kind of hotel, anyway.”

The bear, nervous at being confined in the laundry room and worried to see Freud packing his clothes as fast as they came out of the wash—still wet—began to growl to himself. “Earl!” he whispered.

“Oh, shut up!” Freud yelled. “You’re not my kind of bear, either.”

“It was my fault,” my mother said. “I shouldn’t have taken his muzzle off.”

Those were just love bites,” Freud said. “It was the brute’s claws that really carved that fucker up!”

“If he hadn’t tried to pull State o’Maine’s fur,” Father said, “I don’t think it would have gotten so bad.”

“Of course it wouldn’t have!” Freud said. “Who likes to have hair pulled?”

“Earl!” complained State o’Maine.

“That should be your name: ‘Earl!’” Freud told the bear. “You’re so stupid, that’s all you ever say.”

“But what will you do?” Father asked Freud. “Where can you go?”

“Back to Europe,” Freud said. “They got smart bears there.”

“They have Nazis there,” Father said.

“Give me a smart bear and fuck the Nazis,” Freud said.

“I’ll take care of State o’Maine,” Father said.

“You can do better than that,” Freud said. “You can buy him. Two hundred dollars, and what you got for clothes. These are all wet!” he shouted, throwing his clothes.

“Earl!” said the bear, distressed.

“Watch your language, Earl,” Freud told him.

“Two hundred dollars?” Mother asked.

That’s all they’ve paid me, so far,” Father said.

“I know what they pay you,” Freud said. “That’s why it’s only two hundred dollars. Of course, it’s for the motorcycle, too. You’ve seen why you need to keep the Indian, ja? State o’Maine don’t get in cars; they make him throw up. And some woodsman chained him in a pickup once—I saw that. The dumb bear tore the tailgate off and beat in the rear window and mauled the guy in the cab. So don’t you be dumb. Buy the Indian.”

Two hundred dollars,” Father repeated.

“Now for your clothes,” Freud said. He left his own wet things on the laundry room floor. The bear tried to follow them to my father’s room, but Freud told my mother to take State o’Maine outside and chain him to the motorcycle.

“He knows you’re leaving and he’s nervous, poor thing,” Mother said.

“He just misses the motorcycle,” Freud said, but he let the bear come upstairs—although the Arbuthnot had asked him not to allow this.

“What do I care now what they allow?” Freud said, trying on my father’s clothes. My mother watched up and down the hall, bears and women were not allowed in the men’s dorm.

“My clothes are all too big for you,” my father told Freud when Freud had dressed himself.

“I’m still growing,” said Freud, who must have been at least forty then. “If I’d had the right clothes, I’d be bigger now.” He wore three of my father’s suit pants, one pair right over the other; he wore two suit jackets, the pockets stuffed with underwear and socks, and he carried a third jacket over his shoulder. “Why trouble with suitcases?” he asked.

“But how will you get to Europe?” Mother whispered into the room.

“By crossing the Atlantic Ocean,” Freud said. “Come in here,” he said to Mother; he took my mother’s and father’s hands and joined them together. “You’re only teen-agers,” he told them, “so listen to me: you are in love. We start from this assumption, ja?” And although my mother and father had never admitted any such thing to each other, they both nodded while Freud held their hands. “Okay,” Freud said. “Now, three things from this follow. You promise me you will agree to these three things?”

“I promise,” said my father.

“So do I,” Mother said.

“Okay,” said Freud. “Here’s number one: you get married, right away, before some clods and whores change your minds. Got it? You get married, even though it will cost you.”

“Yes,” my parents agreed.

“Here’s number two,” Freud said, looking only at my father. “You go to Harvard—you promise me—even though it will cost you.”

“But I’ll already be married,” my father said.

“I said it will cost you, didn’t I?” Freud said. “You promise me: you’ll go to Harvard. You take every opportunity given you in this world, even if you have too many opportunities. One day the opportunities stop, you know?”

“I want you to go to Harvard, anyway,” Mother told Father.

“Even though it will cost me,” Father said, but he agreed to go.

“We’re up to number three,” Freud said. “You ready?” And he turned to my mother; he dropped my father’s hand, he even shoved it away from his so that he was holding Mother’s hand all alone. “Forgive him,” Freud told her, “even though it will cost you.”

“Forgive me for what?” Father said.

“Just forgive him,” Freud said, looking only at my mother. She shrugged.

“And you!” Freud said to the bear, who was sniffing around under Father’s bed. Freud startled State o’Maine, who’d found a tennis ball under the bed and put it in his mouth.

“Urp!” the bear said. Out came the tennis ball.

“ You,” Freud said to the bear. “May you one day be grateful that you were rescued from the disgusting world of nature!”

That was all. It was a wedding and a benediction, my mother always said. It was a good old-fashioned Jewish service, my father always said; Jews were a mystery to him—of the order of China, India, and Africa, and all the exotic places he’d never been.

Father chained the bear to the motorcycle. When he and Mother kissed Freud good-bye, the bear tried to butt his head between them.

“Watch out!” Freud cried, and they scattered apart. “He thought we were eating something,” Freud told Mother and Father. “Watch out how you kiss around him; he don’t understand kissing. He thinks it’s eating.”

“Earl!” the bear said.

“And please, for me,” Freud said, “call him Earl—that’s all he ever says, and State o’Maine is such a dumb name.”

“Earl?” my mother said.

“Earl!” the bear said.

“Okay,” Father said. “Earl it is.”

“Good-bye, Earl,” Freud said. “Auf Wiedersehen!”

They watched Freud for a long time, waiting on the Bay Point dock for a boat going to Boothbay, and when a lobsterman finally took him—although my parents knew that in Boothbay Freud would be boarding a larger ship—they thought how it looked as if the lobster boat were taking Freud to Europe, all the way across the dark ocean. They watched the boat chug and bob until it seemed smaller than a tern or even a sandpiper on the sea; but then it was out of hearing.

“Did you do it for the first time that night?” Franny always asked.

“Franny!” Mother said.

“Well, you said you felt married,” Franny said.

“Never mind when we did it,” Father said.

“But you did, right?” Franny said.

“Never mind that,” Frank said.

“It doesn’t matter when,” Lilly said, in her weird way.

And that was true—it didn’t really matter when. When they left the summer of 1939 and the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea, my mother and father were in love—and in their minds, married. After all, they had promised Freud. They had his 1937 Indian and his bear, now named Earl, and when they arrived home in Dairy, New Hampshire, they drove first to the Bates family house.

“Mary’s home!” my mother’s mother called.

“What’s that machine she’s on?” said old Latin Emeritus. “Who’s that with her?”

“It’s a motorcycle and that’s Win Berry!” my mother’s mother said.

“No, no!” said Latin Emeritus. “Who’s the other one?” The old man stared at the bundled figure in the sidecar.

“It must be Coach Bob,” said my mother’s mother.

That moron!” Latin Emeritus said. “What in hell is he wearing in this weather? Don’t they know how to dress in Iowa?”

“I’m going to marry Win Berry!” my mother rushed up and told her parents. “That’s his motorcycle. He’s going to Harvard. And this... is Earl.”

Coach Bob was more understanding. He liked Earl.

“I’d love to know what he could bench-press,” the former Big Ten lineman said. “But can’t we cut his nails?”

It was silly to have another wedding; my father thought that Freud’s service would suffice. But my mother’s family insisted that they be married by the Congregational minister who had taken Mother to her graduation dance, and so they were.

It was a small, informal wedding, where Coach Bob played the best man and Latin Emeritus gave his daughter away, with only an occasional mumbling of an odd Latin phrase; my mother’s mother wept, full of the knowledge that Win Berry was not the Harvard man destined to whisk Mary Bates back to Boston—at least, not right away. Earl sat out the whole service in the sidecar of the” 37 Indian, where he was pacified with crackers and herring.

My mother and father had a brief honeymoon by themselves.

Then you surely must have done it!” Franny always cried. But they probably didn’t; they didn’t stay anywhere overnight. They took an early train to Boston and wandered around Cambridge, imagining themselves living there, one day, and Father attending Harvard; they took the milk train back to New Hampshire, arriving at dawn the next day. Their first nuptial bed would have been the single bed in my mother’s girlhood room in the house of Latin Emeritus—which was where my mother would still reside, while Father sought his fortune for Harvard.

Coach Bob was sorry to see Earl leave. Bob was sure the bear could be taught to play defensive end, but my father told Iowa Bob that the bear was going to be his family’s meal ticket and his tuition. So one evening (after the Nazis took Poland), with the earliest nip of fall in the air, my mother kissed my father good-bye on the athletic fields of the Dairy School, which rolled right up to Iowa Bob’s back door.

“Look after your parents,” my father told Mother, “and I’ll be back to look after you.”

“Yuck!” Franny always groaned for some reason, this part bothered her. She never believed it. Lilly, too, shivered and turned up her nose.

“Shut up and listen to the story,” Frank always said.

At least I’m not opinionated to the degree of my brothers and sisters. I could simply see how Mother and Father must have kissed: carefully—Coach Bob amusing the bear with some game, so that Earl would not think my mother and father were eating something that they weren’t sharing with him. Kissing would always be hazardous around Earl.

My mother told us that she knew my father would be faithful to her because the bear would maul him if he kissed anybody.

“And were you faithful?” Franny asked Father, in her terrible way.

“Why, of course,” Father said.

“I’ll bet,” Franny said. Lilly always looked worried—Frank looked away.

That was the fall of 1939. Although she didn’t know it, my mother was already pregnant—with Frank. My father would motorcycle down the East Coast, his exploration of resort hotels—the big-band sounds, the bingo crowds, and the casinos—taking him farther and farther south as the seasons changed. He was in Texas in the spring of 1940 when Frank was born; Father and Earl were at that time touring with an outfit called the Lone Star Brass Band. Bears were popular in Texas—although some drunk in Fort Worth had tried to steal the 1937 Indian, unaware that Earl slept chained to it. Texas law charged Father for the man’s hospitalization, and it cost Father some more of his earnings to drive all the way East to welcome his first child into the world.

My mother was still in the hospital when Father returned to Dairy. They called Frank “Frank” because my father said that was what they would always be to each other and to the family: “frank.”

“Yuck!” Franny used to say. But Frank was quite proud of the origins of his name.

Father stayed with my mother in Dairy only long enough to get her pregnant again. Then he and Earl hit Virginia Beach and the Carolinas. They were banned from Falmouth, Cape Cod, on the Fourth of July, and back home with Mother in Dairy—to recover—soon after their disaster. The 1937 Indian had thrown a bearing in the Falmouth Independence Day Parade, and Earl had run amok when a fireman from Buzzards Bay tried to help Father with the ailing motorcycle. The fireman was unfortunately accompanied by two Dalmatian dogs, a breed not known for intelligence; doing nothing to disprove their reputation, the Dalmatians attacked Earl in the sidecar. Earl beheaded one of them quite cleanly, then chased the other one into the marching unit of the Osterville Men’s Softball Team, where the foolish dog attempted to conceal himself. The parade was thus scattered, the grieving fireman from Buzzards Bay refused my father any more help with the Indian, and the sheriff of Falmouth escorted Father and Earl to the city limits. Since Earl refused to ride in cars, this had been a most tedious escort, Earl sitting in the sidecar of the motorcycle, which had to be towed. They were five days finding parts to rebuild the engine.

Worse, Earl had developed a taste for dogs. Coach Bob tried to train him out of this maiming habit by teaching him other sports: retrieving balls, perfecting the forward roll—even sit-ups—but Earl was already old, and not blessed with the belief in vigorous exercise that possessed Iowa Bob. Slaughtering dogs didn’t even require much running, Earl discovered; if he was sly—and Earl was sly—the dogs would come right up to him. “And then it’s all over,” Coach Bob observed. “What a hell of a linebacker he could have been!”

So Father kept Earl chained, most of the time, and tried to make him wear his muzzle. Mother said that Earl was depressed—she found the old bear increasingly sad—but my father said that Earl wasn’t depressed in the slightest. “He’s just thinking about dogs.” Father said. “And he’s perfectly happy to be attached to the motorcycle.”

That summer of ’40 Father lived at the Bates house in Dairy and worked the Hampton Beach crowd at night. He managed to teach Earl a new routine. It was called “Applying for a Job,” and it saved wear and tear on the old Indian.

Earl and Father performed in the outdoor bandstand at Hampton Beach. When the lights came on, Earl would be seated in a chair, wearing a man’s suit; the suit, radically altered, had once belonged to Coach Bob. After the laughter died down, my father entered the bandstand with a piece of paper in one hand.

“Your name?” Father would ask.

“Earl!” Earl said.

“Yes, Earl, I see,” Father said. “And you want a job, Earl?”

“Earl!” said Earl.

“Yes, I know it’s Earl, but you want ajob, right?” Father said. “Except it says here that you can’t type, you can’t even read—it says—and you have a drinking problem.”

“Earl,” Earl agreed.

The crowd occasionally threw fruit, but Father had fed Earl well; this was not the same kind of crowd that Father remembered from the Arbuthnot.

“Well, if all you can say is your own name,” Father said, “I would venture to say that either you’ve been drinking this very night or you’re too stupid to even know how to take off your own clothes.”

Earl said nothing.

“Well?” Father asked. “Let’s see if you can do it. Take off your own clothes. Go on!” And here Father would pull the chair out from under Earl, who would do one of the forward rolls Coach Bob had taught him.

“So you can do a somersault,” Father said. “Big deal. The clothes, Earl. Let’s see the clothes come off.”

For some reason it is silly for a crowd of humans to watch a bear undress: my mother hated this routine—she said it was unfair to Earl to expose him to such a rowdy, uncouth bunch. When Earl undressed, Father usually had to help him with his tie—without help, Earl would get frustrated and rip it off his neck.

“You sure are hard on ties, Earl,” Father would say then. The audience at Hampton Beach loved it.

When Earl was undressed, Father would say, “Well, come on—don’t stop now. Off with the bear suit.”

“Earl?” Earl would say.

“Off with the bear suit,” Father would say, and he’d pull Earl’s fur—just a little.

“Earl!” Earl would roar, and the audience would scream in alarm.

“My God, you’re a real bear!” Father would cry.

“Earl!” Earl would bellow, and chase Father around and around the chair—half the audience fleeing into the night, some of them stumbling through the soft beach sand and down to the water; some of them threw more fruit, and paper cups with warm beer.

A more gentle act, for Earl, was performed once a week in the Hampton Beach casino. Mother had refined Earl’s dancing style, and she would kick off the big band’s opening number by taking a turn with Earl around the empty floor, the couples crowded close and wondering at them—the short, bent, broad bear in Iowa Bob’s suit, surprisingly graceful on his hind paws, shuffling after my mother, who led.

Those evenings Coach Bob would baby-sit with Frank. Mother and Father and Earl would drive home along the coast road, stopping to watch the surf at Rye, where the homes of the rich were; the surf at Rye was called “the breakers.” The New Hampshire coast was both more civilized and more seedy than Maine, but the phosphore-.scence off the breakers at Rye must have reminded my parents of evenings at the Arbuthnot. They said they always paused there, before driving home to Dairy.

One night Earl did not want to leave the breakers at Rye.

“He thinks I’m taking him fishing,” Father said. “Look. Earl, I’ve got no gear—no bait, no spooners, no pole—dummy,” Father said to the bear, holding out his empty hands. Earl looked bewildered; they realized the bear was nearly blind. They talked Earl out of fishing and took him home.

“How did he get so old?” my mother asked my father.

“He’s started peeing in the sidecar,” Father said.

My mother was quite pregnant, this time with Franny, when Father left for the winter season in the fall of 1940. He had decided on Florida, and Mother first heard from him in Clearwater, and then from Tarpon Springs. Earl had acquired an odd skin disease—an ear infection, some fungus peculiar to bears—and business was slow.

That was shortly before Franny was born, late in the winter of 1941. Father was not home for this birth, and Franny never forgave him for it.

“I suspect he knew I would be a girl,” Franny was fond of saying.

It was the summer of ’41 before Father was back in Dairy again; he promptly impregnated my mother with me.

He promised he would not have to leave her again; he had enough money from a successful circus stint in Miami to start Harvard in the fall. They could have a relaxed summer, playing Hampton Beach only when they felt like it. He would commute on the train to Boston for his classes, unless a cheap place in Cambridge turned up.

Earl was getting older by the minute. A pale blue salve, the texture of the film on a jellyfish, had to be put in his eyes every day; Earl rubbed it off on the furniture. My mother noticed alarming absences of hair from much of his body, which seemed shrunken and looser. “He’s lost his muscle tone,” Coach Bob worried. “He ought to be lifting weights, or running.”

“Just try to get away from him on the Indian,” my father told his father. “He’ll run.” But when Coach Bob tried it, he got away with it. Earl didn’t run; he didn’t care.

“With Earl,” Father said, “familiarity does breed a little contempt.” He had worked with Earl long and hard enough to understand Freud’s exasperation with the bear.

My mother and father rarely talked of Freud; with “the war in Europe,” it was too easy to imagine what could have happened to him.

The liquor stores in Harvard Square sold Wilson’s “That’s All” rye whiskey, very cheap, but my father was not a drinker. The Oxford Grill in Cambridge used to dispense draught beer in a glass container the shape of a brandy snifter and holding a gallon. If you could drink this within some brief amount of time, you got a free one. But Father drank one regular beer there, when his week’s classes were over, and he’d hurry to the North Station to catch the train to Dairy.

He accelerated his courses as much as possible, to graduate sooner; he was able to do this not because he was smarter than the other Harvard boys (he was older, but not smarter, than most of them) but because he spent little time with friends. He had a pregnant wife and two babies; he hardly had time for friends. His only recreation, he said, was listening to professional baseball games on the radio. Just a few months after the World Series, Father listened to the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I was born in March of 1942, and named John—after John Harvard. (Franny had been called Franny because it somehow went with Frank.) My mother was not only busy taking care of us; she was busy taking care of old Latin Emeritus, and helping Coach Bob with the aged Earl; she didn’t have time for friends, either.

By the end of summer of 1942, the war had really obtruded on everyone; it was no longer just “the war in Europe.” And although it used very little gas, the 1937 Indian was retired to the status of living quarters for Earl; it was no longer used for transportation. Patriotic mania spread across the nation’s campuses. Students were allowed to receive sugar stamps, which most students gave to their families. Within a three-month period, every acquaintance Father had at Harvard either was drafted or had volunteered into some programme. When Latin Emeritus died—and, in her sleep, my mother’s mother quickly followed him—my mother came into a modest inheritance. My father accelerated his induction voluntarily and went off in the spring of 1943 for basic training; he was twenty-three.

He left behind Frank, Franny, and me with Mother in the Bates family house; he left behind his father, Iowa Bob, to whom he trusted the tedious care of Earl.

My father wrote home that basic training was a lesson in ruining the hotels of Atlantic City. They washed down the wood floors daily, and marched off down the boardwalk for rifle training on a sand dune. The bars on the boardwalk did a booming business with the trainees, except my father. No one inquired about age; the trainees, most of them younger than my father, wore all their marksman’s medals and drank on. The bars were full of office girls from Washington, and everyone smoked unfiltered cigarettes—except my father.

Father said everyone romanticized about “a last fling” before going overseas, although far fewer realized it than boasted of it; Father, at least, had his—with my mother, in a hotel in New Jersey. This time, fortunately, he did not make her pregnant, so Mother would not be adding to Frank, Franny, and me for a while.

From Atlantic City my father went to a former prep school north of New York, for cryptographic training. He was then sent to Chanute Field—Kearns, Utah—and then to Savannah, Georgia, where he’d earlier performed, with Earl, in the old DeSoto Hotel. Then it was Hampton Roads, Port of Embarkation, and my father went to “the war in Europe,” having a vague idea that he might find Freud there. Father felt confident that by leaving three offspring with my mother he was ensuring his safe return.

He had Air Force assignment at a bomber base in Italy, and the greatest danger was shooting someone when drunk, being shot by someone who was drunk, or falling into the latrine when drunk—which actually happened to a colonel my father knew; the colonel was crapped on several times before he was rescued. The only other danger involved acquiring a venereal disease from an Italian whore. And since my father did not drink or screw, he had a safe passage through World War II.

He left Italy via Navy transport and Trinidad to Brazil—“which is like Italy in Portuguese,” he wrote my mother. He flew back to the States with a shell-shocked pilot who buzzed a C-47 up the broadest street of Miami. From the air, my father recognized a parking lot where Earl had vomited after a performance.

My mother’s contribution to the war effort—although she did secretarial work for her alma mater, the Thompson Female Seminary—consisted of hospital training; she was in the second class the Dairy Hospital gave to prepare nurses” aides. She worked one eight-hour shift per week and was on call for substitutions, which were frequent (there being a great shortage of nurses). Her favourite stations were the maternity ward and the delivery room; she knew what it was like to have a baby in that hospital with no husband around. That was how my mother spent the war.

Just after the war, Father took Coach Bob to see a professional football game, which was played in Fenway Park, Boston. On their way to the North Station to take the train back home to Dairy, they met one of Father’s Harvard classmates, who sold them a 1940 Chevy coupe for 600 dollars—a bit more than it cost new, but it was in fair shape and gasoline was ridiculously cheap, maybe twenty cents a gallon; Coach Bob and my father split the cost of insurance, so at last our family had a car. While Father finished his degree at Harvard, my mother had a means to take Frank, Franny, and me to the beaches on the New Hampshire shore, and Iowa Bob drove us once to the White Mountains, where Frank was badly stung by yellow jackets when Franny pushed him into a nest.

Harvard life had changed; the rooms were overcrowded; the Crimson had a new crew. The Slavic studies students claimed responsibility for the American discovery of vodka; no one mixed it with anything—you drank it Russian style, cold and straight in little stemmed glasses—but my father stuck with beer and changed his major to English literature. That way he tried, once again, to accelerate his graduation.

There were not many of the big bands around. Ballroom dancing was declining as a sport and pastime. And Earl was too decrepit to perform anymore; my father’s first Christmas out of the Air Force, he worked in the toy department of Jordan Marsh and made my mother pregnant, again. This time, it would be Lilly. As concrete as the reasons were for calling Frank Frank and Franny Franny and me John, there was no specific reason for calling Lilly Lilly—a fact that would bother Lilly, perhaps more than we knew; maybe for all her life.

Father graduated with the Harvard class of 1946. The Dairy School had just hired a new headmaster, who interviewed my father at the Harvard Faculty Club and offered him a job—to teach English and coach two sports—for a starting salary of twenty-one hundred dollars. Coach Bob had probably put the new headmaster up to it. My father was twenty-six: he accepted the position at the Dairy School, although it hardly struck him as his life’s calling. It would simply mean he could finally live with my mother and us children, in the Bates family house in Dairy, near to his father and near to Earl—his ancient bear. At this phase in his life, my father’s dreams were clearly more important to him than his education, perhaps even more important to him than we children, certainly more important to him than World War II. (“At every phase of his life,” Franny would say.)

Lilly was born in 1946, when Frank was six, Franny was five, and I was four. We suddenly had a father—as if for the first time, really; he had been at war, at school, and on the road with Earl all our lives, so far. He was a stranger to us.

The first thing he did with us, in the fall of 1946, was to take us to Maine, where we’d never been before, to visit the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea. Of course, it was a romantic pilgrimage for my father and mother—an expedition for old times” sake. Lilly was too young to travel and Earl was too old, but Father insisted that Earl come with us.

“The Arbuthnot is his place, too, for God’s sake,” Father told Mother. “It wouldn’t be the same—to be at the Arbuthnot without old State o’Maine!”

So Lilly was left with Coach Bob, and Mother drove the 1940 Chevy coupe, with Frank, Franny, and me, a big basket of picnic food, and a mountain of blankets. Father got the 1937 Indian running; he drove it, with Earl in the sidecar. That was how we travelled, unbelievably slowly, up the tortuous coast highway, many years before there was a Maine Turnpike. It took hours to get to Brunswick; it took another hour past Bath. And then we saw the rough, moving, bruise-coloured water that was the mouth of the Kennebec meeting the sea, Fort Popham, and the fishing shacks at Bay Point—and the chain drawn across the driveway to the Arbuthnot. The sign said:

CLOSED FOR THE SEASON!

The Arbuthnot had been closed for many seasons. Father must have realized this soon after he took down the chain and our caravan drove up to the old hotel. Bleached colourless as bones, the buildings stood abandoned and boarded-up; every window that was showing had been smashed or shot out. The faded flag for the eighteenth green had been stabbed into a crack between the floorboards of the overhanging porch, where the ballroom was; the flag drooped from the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea as if to indicate that this had been a castle taken by siege.

“Jesus God,” Father said. We children huddled around my mother and complained. It was cold; it was foggy; the place scared us. We’d been told we were going to a resort hotel, and if this was what a hotel was, we knew we wouldn’t like it. Great clots of grass had pushed their way through the ruptured clay of the tennis courts, and the lawn for croquet was knee-high, to my father, with a saw-edged kind of marsh grass that grows wildly by salt water. Frank cut himself on an old wicket and began to snivel. Franny insisted on Father’s carrying her. I hung to my mother’s hips. Earl, whose arthritis affected him disagreeably, refused to move away from the motorcycle and threw up in his muzzle. When Father took his muzzle off, Earl found something in the dirt and tried to eat it; it was an old tennis ball, which Father took from him and tossed far away, toward the sea. Gamely, Earl started to retrieve the ball; then the old bear seemed to forget what he was doing and just sat there squinting at the docks. Probably he could barely see them.

The hotel piers were sagging. The boathouse had been washed out to sea in a hurricane during the war. The fishermen had tried to use the old docks to bolster up their fishing weirs, which were strung together down at the lobstermen’s dock at Bay Point, where a man or a boy appeared to be standing guard with a rifle. He was stationed there to shoot seals, Father had to explain—because the far-off figure with the gun startled my mother. Seals were the number one reason why weir fishing would never be too successful in Maine: the seals broke into the weirs, gorged themselves on the trapped fish, and then broke out. They ate a lot of fish this way, and destroyed the nets in the process, and the fishermen shot them whenever they could.

“It’s what Freud would have called ‘one of the gross rules of nature,’” Father said. He insisted on showing us the dormitories where he and Mother had stayed.

It must have been depressing to both of them—it was simply uncomfortable and foreign to us children—but I think my mother was more upset at Father’s reaction to the fall of the Arbuthnot than she was upset by what had happened to the once great resort.

“The war changed a lot of things,” Mother said, showing us her famous shrug.

“Jesus God,” Father kept saying. “Think of what it could have been!” he cried. “How could they have blown it? They weren’t democratic enough,” he told us baffled kids. “There ought to be a way to have standards, to have good taste, and still not be so exclusive that you go under. There ought to be a livable compromise between the Arbuthnot and some hole like Hampton Beach. Jesus God!” he kept calling out. “Jesus God.”

We followed him around the beaten buildings, the mangled and grown-amok lawns. We found the old bus that the band members had travelled in, and the truck the grounds crew had used—it was full of rusty golf clubs. They were the vehicles Freud had fixed and kept running; they wouldn’t run anymore.

“Jesus God,” Father said.

We heard Earl calling to us from far away. “Earl!” he called.

We heard two shots from the rifle, from far away—down on the Bay Point dock. I think we all knew that it was not the sound of a seal being shot. It was Earl.

“Oh no, Win,” my mother said. She picked me up and started running; Frank ran in agitated circles around her. Father ran with Franny in his arms.

“State o’Maine!” he cried.

“I shot a bear!” the boy on the dock was calling. “I shot a whole bear!” He was a boy in dungaree coveralls and a soft flannel shirt; both knees were gone out of the coveralls and his carrot-coloured hair was stiff and shiny from saltwater spray; he had a curious rash on his pale face; he had very poor teeth; he was only thirteen or fourteen years old. “I shot a bear!” he screamed. He was very excited, and the fishermen out on the sea must have wondered what he was yelling about. They couldn’t hear him, over their trolling motors and the wind off the water, but they slowly gathered their boats around the dock and came bobbing in to land, to see what the matter was.

Earl lay on the dock with his big head on a coil of tarred rope, his hind paws crumpled under him, and one heavy forepaw only inches from a bucket of baitfish. The bear’s eyes had been so bad for so long, he must have mistaken the boy with the rifle for Father with a fishing pole. He might even, dimly, have remembered eating lots of pollack off that dock. And when he wandered down there, and got close to the boy, the old bear’s nose was still good enough to smell the bait. The boy, watching out to sea—for seals—had no doubt been frightened by the way the bear had greeted him. He was a good shot, although at that range even a poor shot would have hit Earl; the boy shot the bear twice in the heart.

“Gosh, I didn’t know he belonged to anybody,” the boy with the rifle told my mother, “I didn’t know he was a pet.”

“Of course you didn’t,” my mother soothed him.

“I’m sorry, mister,” the boy told Father, but Father didn’t hear him. He sat beside Earl on the dock and raised the dead bear’s head into his lap; he hugged Earl’s old face to his stomach and cried and cried. He was crying for more than Earl, of course. He was crying for the Arbuthnot, and Freud, and for the summer of ’39; but we were very worried, we children—because, at that time, we had known Earl longer, and better, than we really knew our father. It was very confusing to us—why this man, home from Harvard, and home from the war, should be dissolved in tears, hugging our old bear. We were, all of us, really too young to have known Earl, but the bear’s presence—the stiff feel of his fur, the heat of his fruity and mud-like breath, the dead-geranium and urine smell of him—was more memorable to us, for example, than the ghosts of Latin Emeritus and my mother’s mother.

I truly remember this day on the dock below the ruined Arbuthnot. I was four, and I sincerely believe that this is my first memory of life itself—as opposed to what I was told happened, as opposed to the pictures other people have painted for me. The man with the strong body and the gentleman’s face was my father, who had come to live with us; he sat sobbing with Earl in his arms—on a rotting dock, over dangerous water. Little boats chugged nearer and nearer. My mother hugged us to her, as tightly as Father held fast to Earl.

“I think the dumb kid shot someone’s dog,” a man in one of the boats said.

Up the dock’s ladder came an old fisherman in a dirty-yellow oil-skin slicker, his face a mottled tan beneath a dirty-white and spotty beard. His wet boots sloshed and he smelled more strongly of fish than the bucket of bait by Earl’s curled paw. He was plenty old enough to have been active in the vicinity in the days when the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea had been the grand hotel it was. The fisherman, too, had seen better days.

When this old man saw the dead bear, he took off his broad sou’wester hat and held it in one hand, which was big and hard as a gaff. “Holy cow,” he said, reverently, wrapping an arm around the shoulders of the shaken boy with the rifle. “Holy cow. You kilt State o’Maine.”

2

The First Hotel New Hampshire

The first Hotel New Hampshire came about this way: when the Dairy School realized it had to admit women to its student body, in order to survive, the Thompson Female Seminary was put out of business; there was suddenly a large, unusable piece of real estate on the Dairy market—a market that was forever depressed. No one knew what to do with the huge building that had once been an all-girls” school.

They should burn it,” Mother suggested, “and turn the whole area into a park.”

It was something of a park, anyway—a high plot of ground, maybe two acres, in the dilapidated heart of the town of Dairy. Old clapboard houses, once for large families and now rented piecemeal to widows and widowers—and to the retired Dairy School faculty—surrounded by dying elms, which surrounded the four-story brick monster of a school building, which was named after Ethel Thompson. Miss Thompson had been an Episcopal minister who had successfully masqueraded as a man until her death (the Reverend Edward Thompson, she’d been called, rector of the Dairy Episcopal parish and notorious for hiding runaway slaves in the rectory). The discovery that she was a woman (following an accident in which she was crushed while changing a wheel of her carriage) came as no surprise to a few of the Dairy menfolk who had taken their problems to her at the height of her popularity as rector. She had somehow acquired a lot of money, not a penny of which was left to the church; it was all left to found a female seminary—“until,” Ethel Thompson wrote, “that abomination of a boys’ academy is forced to take in girls.”

My father would have agreed that the Dairy School was an abomination. Although we children loved playing on its athletic fields, Father never ceased reminding us that Dairy was not a “real” school. Just as the town of Dairy had once been dairy land, so had the athletic fields of the school been a pasture for cows; and when the school had been founded, in the early 1800s, the old barns were allowed to stand beside the newer school buildings, and the old cows were allowed, like the students, to wander freely about the school. Modern landscaping had improved the fields for sports, but the barns, and the first of the original buildings, still occupied the scruffy centre of the campus; some token cows still occupied the barns. It had been the school’s “game plan,” as Coach Bob called it, to have the students care for the dairy farm while going to school—a plan that led to a lax education and poorly cared-for cows, a plan that was abandoned before the First World War. There were still those on the Dairy School faculty—and many of them were the newer, younger faculty—who believed that this combination of a school and a farm should be returned to.

My father resisted the plan to return the Dairy School to what he called “a barnyard-experiment in education.”

“When my kids are old enough to go to this wretched school,” he would rage to my mother, and to Coach Bob, “they will no doubt be given academic credit for planting a garden.”

“And varsity letters for shovelling shit!” said Iowa Bob.

The school, in other words, was in search of a philosophy. It was now firmly second-rate among conventional prep schools; although it modelled its curriculum on the acquiring of academic skills, the school’s faculty grew less and less able to teach such skills and, conveniently, less convinced of the need for such skills—after all, the student body was decreasingly receptive. Admissions were down, hence admission standards fell even lower; the school became one of those places you could get into almost immediately upon being thrown out of another school. A few of the faculty, like my father, who believed in teaching people how to read and write—and even punctuate—despaired that such skills were largely wasted on students like these. “Pearls before swine,” Father ranted. “We might as well teach them how to rake hay and milk cows.”

“They can’t play football, either,” Coach Bob mourned. “They won’t block for each other.”

“They won’t even run,” Father said.

“They won’t hit anybody,” said Iowa Bob.

“Oh yes they will,” said Frank, who was always picked on.

“They broke into the greenhouse and vandalized all the plants,” said Mother, who read of this incident in the school paper, which was, Father said, illiterate.

“One of them showed me his thing,” Franny said, to cause trouble.

“Where?” Father said.

“Behind the hockey rink,” Franny said.

“What were you doing behind the hockey rink, anyway?” Frank said, disgusted as usual.

“The hockey rink is warped,” Coach Bob said. “There’s been no maintenance since that man, whatever his name was, retired.”

“He didn’t retire, he died,” Father said. Father was often exasperated with his father, now that Iowa Bob was getting older.

In 1950 Frank was ten, Franny was nine, I was eight, and Lilly was four; Egg had just been born, and in his ignorance was spared our dread that we would one day be expected to attend the much accused Dairy School. Father was sure that by the time Franny was old enough, they would be admitting girls.

“Not out of anything resembling a progressive instinct,” he claimed, “but purely to avoid bankruptcy.”

He was right, of course. By 1952 the Dairy School’s academic standards were in question; its admissions were steadily falling, and its admission standards were even further in question. And when the admissions continued to go down, the tuition went up, which turned away even more students, which meant some faculty had to be let go—and others, the ones with principles and other means, resigned.

The 1953 football team went 1-9 for the season; Coach Bob thought that the school couldn’t wait for him to retire so that they could drop football altogether—it was too costly, and the alumni, who had once supported it (and the entire athletic programme), were too ashamed to come back and see the games anymore.

“It’s the damn uniforms,” Iowa Bob said, and Father rolled his eyes and tried to look tolerant of Bob’s approaching senility. Father had learned of senility from Earl. But Coach Bob, to be fair, had a point about the uniforms.

The colours of the Dairy School, perhaps modelled on a now-vanished breed of cow, were meant to be a deep chocolate brown and a luminous silver. But with the years, and the increasingly synthetic quality of the fabrics, this rich cocoa and silver had become dingy and sad.

The colour of mud and clouds,” my father said.

The students at the Dairy School, who played with us kids—when they were not showing Franny their “things”—informed us of the other names for these colours, which were in vogue at the school. There was an older kid named De Meo—Ralph De Meo, one of Iowa Bob’s few stars, and the star sprinter on Father’s winter and spring track teams—who told Frank, Franny, and me what the Dairy School colours really were. “Grey like the pallor of a dead man’s face,” De Meo said. I was ten and scared of him; Franny was eleven, but behaved older with him; Frank was twelve and afraid of everybody.

“Grey like the pallor of a dead man’s face,” De Meo repeated slowly, for me. “And brown—cow-brown, like manure,” he said. “That’s shit to you, Frank.”

“I know,” said Frank.

“Show it to me again,” Franny said to De Meo; she meant his thing.

Thus shit and death were the colours of the dying Dairy School. The board of trustees, labouring under this curse—and others, going back to the barnyard history of the school and the less-than-quaint New Hampshire town the school was plopped down in—decided to admit women to the student body.

That, at least, would raise admissions.

“That will be the end of football,” said old Coach Bob.

The girls will play better football than most of your boys,” Father said.

“That’s what I mean,” said Iowa Bob.

“Ralph De Meo plays pretty good,” Franny said.

“Plays with what pretty good,” I said, and Franny kicked me under the table. Frank sat sullen and larger than any of us, dangerously close to Franny and across from me.

“De Meo is at least fast,” Father said.

“De Meo is at least a hitter,” Coach Bob said.

“He sure is,” Frank said; Frank had been hit by Ralph De Meo several times.

It was Franny who protected me from Ralph. One day when we were watching them paint the yard-line stripes on the football field—just Franny and I; we were hiding from Frank (we were often hiding from Frank)—De Meo came up to us and pushed me into the blocking sled. He was wearing his scrimmage uniform: shit and death Number 19 (his age). He took his helmet off and spit his mouthpiece out across the cinder track, letting his teeth gleam at Franny. “Beat it,” he said to me, still looking at Franny. “I got to talk to your sister in the worst way.”

“You don’t have to push him,” Franny said.

“She’s only twelve,” I said.

“Beat it,” De Meo said.

“You don’t have to push him,” Franny told De Meo. “He’s only eleven.”

“I got to tell you how sorry I am,” De Meo said to her. “I won’t still be here by the time you’re a student. I’ll be graduated already.”

“What do you mean?” Franny said.

They’re going to take in girls,” De Meo said.

“I know,” Franny said. “So what?”

“So, it’s a pity, that’s all,” he told her, “that I won’t be here by the time you’re finally old enough.”

Franny shrugged; it was Mother’s shrug—independent and pretty. I picked De Meo’s mouthpiece up from the cinder track; it was slimy and gritty and I tossed it at him.

“Why don’t you put that back in your mouth?” I asked him. I could run fast, but I didn’t think I could run faster than Ralph De Meo.

“Beat it,” he said; he zipped the mouthpiece at my head, but I ducked. It sailed away somewhere.

“How come you’re not scrimmaging,” Franny asked him. Behind the grey wooden bleachers that passed for the Dairy School “stadium” was the practice field where we could hear the shoulder pads and helmets tapping.

“I got a groin injury,” De Meo told Franny. “Want to see it?”

“I hope it falls off,” I said.

“I can catch you, Johnny,” he said, still looking at Franny. Nobody called me “Johnny.”

“Not with a groin injury you can’t,” I said.

I was wrong; he caught me at the forty-yard line and pushed my face in the fresh lime painted on the field. He was kneeling on my back when I heard him exhale sharply and he slumped off me and lay on his side on the cinder track.

“Jesus,” he said, in a soft little voice. Franny had grabbed the tin cup in his jock strap and twisted its edges into his private parts, which is what we called them in those days.

We both could outrun him, then.

“How’d you know about it?” I asked her. “The thing in his jock strap? I mean, the cup.”

“He showed me, another time,” she said grimly.

We lay still in the pine needles in the deep woods behind the practice field; we could hear Coach Bob’s whistle and the contact, but we were hidden from all of them.

Franny never minded when Ralph De Meo beat up Frank, and I asked her why she minded when Ralph beat up me.

“You’re not Frank,” she whispered fiercely; she wet her skirt in the damp grass at the edge of the woods and wiped the lime off my face with it, rolling up the hem of her skirt so that her belly was bare. A pine needle stuck to her stomach and I picked it off for her.

“Thank you,” she said, intent on getting every last bit of the lime off me; she pulled her skirt up higher, spit in it, and kept wiping. My face stung.

“Why do we like each other more than we like Frank?” I asked her.

“We just do,” she said, “and we always will. Frank is weird,” she said.

“But he’s our brother,” I said.

“So? You’re my brother, too,” she said. “That’s not why I like you.”

“Why do you?” I asked.

“I just do,” she said. We wrestled for a while in the woods, until she got something in her eye; I helped her get it out. She was sweaty and smelled like clean dirt. She had very high breasts, which seemed separated by too wide an expanse of chest, but Franny was strong. She could usually beat me up, unless I got completely on top of her; then she could still tickle me hard enough to make me pee if I didn’t get off her. When she was on top of me, there was no moving her.

“One day I’ll be able to beat you up,” I told her.

“So what?” she said. “By then you won’t want to.”

A fat football player, named Poindexter, came into the woods to move his bowels. We saw him coming and hid in the ferns we’d known about for years. For years the football players crapped in these woods, just off the practice field—especially, it seemed, the fat ones. It was a long run back to the gymnasium, and Coach Bob harangued them for not emptying their bowels before they came to practice. For some reason the fat ones could never get them entirely empty, we imagined.

“It’s Poindexter,” I whispered.

“Of course it is,” Franny said.

Poindexter was very awkward; he always had trouble getting his thigh pads down. Once he had to take off his cleats and remove the entire bottom half of his uniform, except his socks. This time he just struggled with the pads and pants that bound his knees precariously close together. He kept his balance by squatting slightly forward with his hands on his helmet (on the ground in front of him). This time he crapped messily on the insides of his football shoes and had to wipe the shoes as well as his ass. For a moment, Franny and I feared he would use the ferns for this purpose, but Poindexter was always hurried and panting, and he did as good a job as he could with the handful of maple leaves he’d gathered on the path and brought into the woods with him. We heard Coach Bob’s whistle blowing, and Poindexter heard it, too.

When he ran back toward the practice field, Franny and I started clapping. When Poindexter stopped and listened, we stopped clapping; the poor fat boy stood in the woods, wondering what applause he had imagined—this time—and then rushed back to the game he played so badly and, usually, with such humiliation.

Then Franny and I snuck down to the path that the football players always took back to the gym. It was a narrow path, pockmarked from their cleats. We were slightly worried where De Meo might be, but I went up to the edge of the practice field and “spotted” for Franny while she dropped her pants and squatted on the path; then she spotted for me. We both covered our rather disappointing messes with a light sprinkling of leaves. Then we retreated to the usual ferns to wait for the football players to finish practice, but Lilly was already in the ferns.

“Go home,” Franny told her; Lilly was seven. Most of the time she was too young for Franny and me, but we were nice to her around the house; she had no friends, and she seemed entranced by Frank, who enjoyed babying her.

“I don’t have to go home,” Lilly said.

“Better go,” Franny said.

“Why’s your face so red?” Lilly asked me.

“De Meo put poison on it,” Franny said, “and he’s looking around for more people to rub it on.”

“If I go home, he’ll see me,” Lilly said seriously.

“Not if you go right away,” I said.

“We’ll watch out for you,” Franny said. She stood up out of the ferns. “It’s all clear,” she whispered. Lilly ran home.

“Am I really all red in the face?” I asked Franny.

Franny pulled my face up close to hers and licked me once on my cheek, once on my forehead, once on my nose, once on my lips. “I can’t taste it anymore,” she said. “I got it all off you.”

We lay together in the ferns; it wasn’t boring, but it took a while for the practice to be over and for the first football players to come down the path. The third one stepped in it—a running back from Boston who was doing a postgraduate year at Dairy, basically to get a little older before he played football in college. He slid a short ways in it, but caught his balance; then he regarded the horror in his cleats.

“Poindexter!” he screamed. Poindexter, a slow runner, was well to the rear of the line of players heading for the showers. “Poindexter!” screamed the running back from Boston. “You turd, Poindexter!”

“What’d I do?” Poindexter asked, out of breath, forever fat—“fat in his genes,” Franny would say, later, when she knew what genes were.

“Did you have to do it on the path, you asshole?” the running back asked Poindexter.

“It wasn’t me!” Poindexter protested.

“Clean my cleats, you shit-for-brains,” the running back said. At a school like Dairy, the linemen, although bigger, were the weaker, fatter, younger boys, often sacrificed for the few good athletes—Coach Bob let the good ones carry the ball.

Several rougher members of Iowa Bob’s backfield surrounded Poindexter on the path.

They don’t have girls here yet, Poindexter,” said the running back from Boston, “so there’s nobody but you to clean the shit off my shoes.”

Poindexter did as he was told; he was, at least, familiar with the job.

Franny and I went home, past the token cows in the falling-down school barns, past Coach Bob’s back door, where the rusty fenders of the 1937 Indian were inverted on the porch—to scrape your shoes on. The motorcycle fenders were the only outdoor remains of Earl.

“When it’s time for us to go to the Dairy School,” I said to Franny, “I hope we’re living somewhere else.”

I’m not going to clean the shit off anybody’s shoes,” Franny said. “No way.”

Coach Bob, who ate supper with us, bemoaned his terrible football team. “It’s my last year, I swear,” the old man said, but he was always saying this. “Poindexter actually took a dump on the path today—during practice.”

“I saw Franny and John with their clothes off,” Lilly said.

“You did not,” Franny said.

“On the path,” Lilly said.

“Doing what?” Mother said.

“Doing what Grandpa Bob said,” Lilly told everyone.

Frank snorted his disgust; Father banished Franny and me to our rooms. Upstairs Franny whispered to me, “You see? It’s just you and me. Not Lilly. Not Frank.”

“Not Egg,” I added.

“Egg isn’t anybody yet, dummy,” Franny said. “Egg isn’t a human being yet.” Egg was only three.

“Now there’s two of them following us,” Franny said. “Frank and Lilly.”

“Don’t forget De Meo,” I said.

“I can forget him easy,” Franny said. “I’m going to have lots of De Meos when I grow up.”

This thought alarmed me and I was silent.

“Don’t worry,” Franny whispered, but I said nothing and she crept down the hall and into my room; she got into my bed and we left my door open so we could hear them all talking at the dinner table.

“It’s not fit for my children, this school,” Father said. “I know that.”

“Well,” Mother said, “all your talk about it has certainly convinced them of that. They’ll be afraid to go, when the time comes.”

“When the time comes,” Father said, “we’ll send them away to a good school.”

“I don’t care about a good school,” Frank said, and Franny and I could sympathize with him; although we hated the notion of going to Dairy, we were more disturbed at the thought of going “away.”

“‘Away’ where?” Frank asked.

“Who’s going away?” Lilly asked.

“Hush,” Mother said. “No one is going away to school. We couldn’t afford it. If there’s a benefit to being on the faculty at the Dairy School, it’s at least that there’s someplace free to send our children to.”

“Someplace that’s not any good,” Father said.

“Better than average,” Mother said.

“Listen,” Father said. “We’re going to make money.”

This was news to us; Franny and I kept very still.

Frank must have been nervous at the prospect. “May I be excused?” he asked.

“Of course, dear,” Mother said. “How are we going to make money?” Mother asked Father.

“For God’s sake, tell me,” Coach Bob said. “I’m the one who wants to retire.”

“Listen,” Father said. We listened. “This school may be worthless, but it’s going to grow; it’s going to take on girls, remember? And even if it doesn’t grow, it’s not going to fold. It’s been here too long to fold; its instincts are only to survive, and it will. It won’t ever be a good school; it will go through so many phases that at times we won’t recognize the place, but it’s going to keep going—you can count on that.”

“So what?” said Iowa Bob.

“So there’s going to be a school here,” Father said. “A private school is going to go on being here, in this crummy town,” he said, “and the Thompson Female Seminary isn’t going to go on being here, because now the girls in town will go to Dairy.”

“Everybody knows that,” said Mother.

“May I be excused?” Lilly asked.

“Yes, yes,” Father said. “Listen,” he said to Mother and Bob, “don’t you see?” Franny and I didn’t see anything—only Frank, sneaking by in the upstairs hall. “What’s going to become of that old building, the Thompson Female Seminary?” Father asked. And that’s when Mother suggested burning it. Coach Bob suggested it become the county jail.

“It’s big enough,” he said. Someone else had suggested this at Town Meeting.

“Nobody wants a jail here,” Father said. “Not in the middle of town.”

“It already looks like a jail,” Mother said.

“Just needs more bars,” said Iowa Bob.

“Listen,” Father said, impatiently. Franny and I froze together; Frank was lurking outside my door—Lilly was whistling, somewhere close by. “Listen, listen,” Father said. “What this town needs is a hotel.”

There was silence from the dining room table. A “hotel,” Franny and I knew, lying in my bed, was what did away with old Earl. A hotel was a vast ruined space, smelling of fish, guarded by a gun.

“Why a hotel?” Mother finally said. “You’re always saying it’s a crummy town—who’d want to come here?”

“Maybe not want to,” Father said, “but have to. Those parents of those kids at the Dairy School,” he said. “They visit their kids, don’t they? And you know what? The parents are going to get richer and richer, because the tuition is going to keep going up and up, and there won’t be any more scholarship students—there will only be rich kids coming here. And if you visit your kid at this school now, you can’t stay in town. You have to go to the beach, where all the motels are, or you have to drive even farther, up toward the mountains—but there’s nothing, absolutely nothing to stay in right here.”

That was his plan. Somehow, although the Dairy School could barely afford enough janitors, Father thought it would provide the clientele for one hotel in the town of Dairy—that the town was so motley, and no one else had dreamed of putting up a place to stay in it, didn’t worry my Father, in New Hampshire the summer tourists went to the beaches—they were half an hour away. The mountains were an hour away, where the skiers went, and where there were summer lakes. But Dairy was valley land, inland but not upland: Dairy was close enough to the sea to feel the sea’s dampness but far enough away from the sea to benefit not in the slightest from the sea’s freshness. The brisk air from the ocean and from the moutains did not penetrate the dull haze that hung over the valley of the Squamscott River, and Dairy was a Squamscott Valley town—a penetrating damp cold in winter, a steamy humidity all summer. Not a picture-pretty New England village but a mill town on a polluted river—the mill now as abandoned and as ugly as the Thompson Female Seminary. It was a town with its sole hopes hung on the Dairy School, a place no one wanted to go.

“If there was a hotel here, however,” Father said, “people would stay in it.”

“But the Thompson Female Seminary would make a dreadful hotel,” Mother said. “It could only be what it is: an old school.”

“Do you realize how cheaply one could buy it?” Father said.

“Do you realize how much it would cost to fix it up?” Mother said.

“What a depressing idea!” said Coach Bob.

Franny started to pin my arms down; it was her usual method of attack—she’d get my arms all tied up, then tickle me by grinding her chin into my ribs or my armpit, or else she’d bite me on the neck (just hard enough to make me lie still). Our legs were thrashing under the covers, throwing the blankets off—whoever could scissor the other’s legs had the initial advantage—when Lily came into my room in her weird way, on all fours with a sheet over her.

“Creep,” Franny said to her.

“I’m sorry you got in trouble,” Lilly said under the sheet. Lilly always apologized for ratting on us by completely covering her body and crawling into our rooms on all fours. “I brought you something,” Lilly said.

“Food?” Franny asked. I pulled Lilly’s sheet off and Franny took a paper bag that Lilly had carried to us, clutched in her teeth. There were two bananas and two of the warm rolls from supper in it. “Nothing to drink?” Franny asked. Lilly shook her head.

“Come on, get in,” I said to her, and Lilly crawled into bed with Franny and me.

“We’re going to move to a hotel,” Lilly said.

“Not quite,” said Franny.

But they seemed to be talking about something else downstairs at the dining table. Coach Bob was angry with my Father, again—for the same old thing, it seemed: for never being satisfied, as Bob put it, for living in the future. For always making plans for the next year instead of just living, moment by moment.

“But he can’t help it,” my mother was saying; she always defended my father from Coach Bob.

“You’ve got a wonderful wife, and a wonderful family,” Iowa Bob was telling my father. “You’ve got this big old house—an inheritance! You didn’t even have to pay for it! You’ve got a job. So what if the pay’s not great—what do you need money for? You’re a lucky man.”

“I don’t want to be a teacher,” Father said quietly, which meant he was angry again. “I don’t want to be a coach. I don’t want my kids to go to a school this bad. It’s a hick town, and a floundering school full of rich kids with problems; their parents send them here in a desperate effort to arrest their already considerable sophistication—run-amok sophistication on the part of the kids, run-amok hickness on the part of the school and the town. It’s the worst of both worlds.”

“But if you just spent more time with the kids, now,” Mother said, quietly, “and worried a little less about where they’re all going to be in a few years.”

“The future again!” said Iowa Bob. “He lives in the future! First it was all the travelling—all so he could go to Harvard. So he went to Harvard, then, as fast as he could—so he could be through with it. For what? For this job, which he’s done nothing but complain about. Why doesn’t he enjoy it?”

“Enjoy this?” Father said, “You don’t enjoy it, do you?”

We could imagine our grandfather, Coach Bob, fuming; fuming was how he ended most arguments with my father, who was quicker than Iowa Bob; when Bob felt outwitted, but still right, he fumed. Franny and Lilly and I could imagine his knotty, bald head smoldering. It was true that he had no higher regard for the Dairy School than my father had, but Iowa Bob had at least committed himself to something, he felt, and he wished to see my father involved with what he was doing instead of involved—as Bob would say—with the future. After all, Coach Bob had once bitten a running back; he had not seen my father ever so engaged.

He was probably distressed that my father never became passionate about any sport, although Father was athletic and liked exercise. And Iowa Bob loved my mother very much; he had known her all the years my father was away at the war, away at Harvard, and away with Earl. Coach Bob probably thought that my father neglected his family; in the last years, I know, Bob thought Father had neglected Earl.

“Excuse me,” we heard Frank say; Franny locked her hands around my waist at the base of my spine; I tried to force her chin up, off my shoulder, but Lilly was sitting on my head.

“What is it, dear?” Mother said.

“What’s up, Frank?” Father said, and we could tell by the sharp creak of a chair that Father had grabbed for Frank; he was always trying to loosen Frank up a little by wrestling with him, or trying to get him to play, but Frank wouldn’t go for it. Franny and I loved it when Father would roughhouse with us, but Frank didn’t like it at all.

“Excuse me,” Frank repeated.

“You’re excused, you’re excused,” Father said.

“Franny is out of her room, she’s in bed with John,” Frank said. “And Lilly’s with them. She brought them something to eat.”

I felt Franny slide away from me; she was out of my bed and out of my room, her flannel nightie ballooning like a sail in the draught from the upstairs hall by the stairwell; Lilly grabbed her sheet and crawled into my closet. The old Bates family house was huge; there were so many places to hide, but my mother knew them all. I thought Franny was dashing back to her room, but I heard her going downstairs, instead, and then I heard her screaming.

“You weirdo fink, Frank!” she screamed. “You fart! You turd in a birdbath!”

“Franny!” Mother said.

I ran to the stairwell and hugged the banister; the stairs were carpeted, deep and soft, the same carpet that covered the house, I could see Franny go straight for the headlock on Frank in the dining room. She took him down fast—Frank was slow-moving and not very physical; he was badly coordinated, although bigger than Franny, and much bigger than me. I rarely fought with him, even in fun; Frank did little in the way of fighting for fun, and even in fun he could hurt you. He was too large, and despite his distaste for the physical life, he was strong. He had a way, too, of finding your ear with his elbow, or your nose with his knee; he was the kind of fighter whose fingers and thumbs always found an eye, whose head bobbed up and split your lip against your own teeth. There are people who are so physically uncomfortable with themselves that they seem to jar against any other body. Frank was like that, and I left him alone; it was not just because he was two years older.

Franny occasionally couldn’t stand not testing him, but they almost always hurt each other. I watched her locked in a death grip with Frank under the dining room table.

“Stop them, Win!” my mother said, but Father hit his head on the table trying to drag them out where he could separate them; Coach Bob went under the table from the other side.

“Shit!” Father said.

I felt something warm against my hip at the banister; it was Lilly, peering out from under her sheet.

“You rat’s asshole, Frank!” Franny was screaming.

Then Frank got Franny’s hair and yanked her head against the dining table leg; although I did not have breasts of my own, I could feel it in my chest when Frank dug his knuckles into Franny’s breast. She had to let go of her headlock and he rapped her head against the table leg twice more, snarling her hair around his fist, before Coach Bob got three of their four legs in his huge hands and hauled them out from under the table. Franny lashed out with her free foot and caught Bob with a good blow to the nose, but the old Iowa lineman hung on. Franny was crying now, but she managed to strain against her hair hard enough to bite Frank on the cheek. Frank grabbed one of her breasts in his hand; he must have squeezed her hard because Franny’s mouth opened against Frank’s cheek and a losing sob broke from her. It was so terrible and defeated a sound that it sent Lilly running back to my room with her sheet. Father knocked Frank’s hand from Franny’s breast and Coach Bob got a headlock on Franny, so that she couldn’t bite Frank again. But Franny had a hand free and she went for Frank’s private parts; whether you were in a cup, in or out of a jock, or wearing nothing at all, Franny could get to your private parts when the chips were down. Frank was suddenly all arms and legs jerking, and a moan so blue escaped him that I shivered. Father slapped Franny in the face, but she wouldn’t let go; he had to claw her fingers open. Coach Bob dragged Frank free of her, but Franny took a last kick with her long leg and Father was forced to slap her, hard, across the mouth. That ended it.

Father sat on the dining room carpet, holding Franny’s head against his chest and rocking her in his arms while she cried. “Franny, Franny,” he said to her softly. “Why does everyone have to hurt you to stop you?”

“Easy, son, just breathe easy,” Coach Bob told Frank, who lay on his side with his knees up to his chest, his face as grey as one of the Dairy School colours; old Iowa Bob knew how to console somebody who’d been felled by a blow to the balls. “Feel kind of sick, don’t you?” Coach Bob inquired, gently. “Just breathe easy, lie still. It goes away.”

Mother cleared the table, picked up the fallen chairs; her determined disapproval of her family’s inner violence registered on her face as enforced silence, bitter and hurt and full of dread.

“Try a deeper breath, now,” Coach Bob advised Frank; Frank tried and coughed. “Okay, okay,” said Iowa Bob. “Stick with the little breaths awhile longer.” Frank moaned.

Father examined Franny’s lower lip while her tears streamed down her face and she made those gagging kinds of sobs, half strangled in her chest. “I think you need some stitches, darling,” he said, but Franny shook her head furiously. Father held her head tightly between his hands and kissed her just above her eyes, twice. “I’m sorry, Franny,” he said, “but what can I do with you, what can I do?”

“I don’t need stitches,” Franny mourned. “No stitches. No way.”

But on her lower lip a jagged flap protruded and Father had to cup his hand under Franny’s chin to catch her blood. Mother brought a washcloth full of ice.

I went back to my room and coaxed Lilly out of the closet; she wanted to stay with me and I let her. She fell right asleep, but I lay in bed thinking that every time someone said “Hotel,” there would be blood and sudden sorrow. Father and Mother drove Franny to the Dairy School infirmary, where someone would stitch her lip together; no one would blame Father—least of all Franny. Franny would blame Frank, of course, which—in those days—was my tendency, too. Father would not blame himself—or at least not for long—and Mother would blame herself, inexplicably, for some while longer.

Whenever we fought, Father usually cried at us, “Do you know how this upsets your mother and me? Imagine that we fought all the time, and you had to live with it? But do your mother and I fight? Do we? Would you like it if we did?”

We would not, of course; and they didn’t—most of the time. There was only the old argument, the living-in-the-future-and-not-enjoying-today argument, which Coach Bob expressed more vehemently than Mother, though we knew it was her opinion of my father, too (that, and that Father couldn’t help it).

It didn’t seem like a big thing, to us kids. I rolled Lilly on her side so that I could stretch out flat on my back with both my ears off the pillow, so that I could hear Iowa Bob coaching Frank upstairs. “Easy, boy, just lean on me,” Bob was saying. “The secret’s in the breathing.” Frank blubbered something and Coach Bob said, “But you can’t grab a girl’s tit, boy, and not expect to take a shot in the balls, now, can you?”

But Frank blubbered on: how Franny was terrible to him, how she never let him alone, how she was always turning the other kids against him, how he tried to avoid her but she was always there. “She’s in the middle of everything bad that happens to me!” he cried. “You don’t know!” he croaked. “You don’t know how she teases me.”

I thought I knew, and Frank was right; he was also rather unlikable, and that was the problem. Franny was awful to him, but Franny was not awful; and Frank was not really awful to any of us, except he (himself) was, somehow, awful. It bewildered me, lying there. Lilly began to snore. I heard Egg snuffle down the hall and wondered how Coach Bob would handle it if Egg woke up hollering for Mother. Bob had his hands full with Frank in the bathroom.

“Go on,” Bob said. “Just let me see you do it.” Frank sobbed. “There!” cried Iowa Bob, as if he’d just discovered a fumble in the end zone “See? No blood, boy—just piss. You’re okay.”

“You don’t know,” Frank kept saying. “You don’t know.”

I went to see what Egg wanted; being three, he wanted something unobtainable, I thought, but I was surprised that he was cheerful when I came into his room. He was obviously surprised to see me, and when I returned all the soft animals to his bed—he had thrown them all over his room—he proceeded to introduce me to each of them: the frayed squirrel he had vomited on, many times; the worn elephant with one ear; the orange hippopotamus. He was upset whenever I tried to leave him, so I took him into my room and put him in my bed with Lilly. Then I carried Lily back to her room, although that was a long way for me to carry her and she woke up and became irritable before I got her in her own bed.

“I never get to stay in your room,” she said; then she was asleep again, instantly.

I went back to my room and got in bed with Egg, who was wide-awake and talking nonsense. He was happy, though, and I heard Coach Bob talking downstairs—at first, I thought, to Frank, but then I realized Bob was talking to our old dog, Sorrow. Frank must have gone off to sleep, or at least gone off to sulk.

“You smell worse than Earl,” Iowa Bob was telling the dog. And, in truth. Sorrow was dreadful to smell; not only his farting but his halitosis could kill you if you weren’t careful, and the old black Labrador retriever seemed viler to me, too, than my faint memory of the foul odors of Earl. “What are we going to do with you?” Bob mumbled to the dog, who enjoyed lying under the dining room table and farting all through mealtimes.

Iowa Bob opened windows downstairs. “Come on, boy,” he called to Sorrow. “Jesus,” Bob said, under his breath. I heard the front door open; presumably Coach Bob had put Sorrow out.

I lay awake with Egg crawling all over me, waiting for Franny to get back; if I was awake, I knew she’d come and show me her stitches. When Egg finally fell asleep, I carried him back to his room and his animals.

Sorrow was still outside when Father and Mother drove Franny home; if his barking hadn’t woken me up, I’d have missed them. “Well, that looks pretty good,” Coach Bob was saying, obviously approving of Franny’s lip job. “That won’t leave any scar at all, after a while.”

“Five of them,” Franny said, thickly, as though they had given her an additional tongue.

“Five!” Iowa Bob cried. “Terrific!”

“That dog’s been farting in here again,” Father said; he sounded grouchy and tired, as if they’d been talking, talking, talking nonstop since they’d left for the infirmary.

“Oh, he’s so sweet,” Franny said, and I heard Sorrow’s hard tail wagging against a chair or the sideboard—whack, whack, whack. Only Franny could he next to Sorrow for hours and be unaffected by the dog’s various stenches. Of course, Franny seemed to notice smell, in general, less than the rest of us. She had never objected to changing Egg’s diapers—or even Lilly’s, when we were all much younger. And when Sorrow, in his senility, would have an accident overnight, Franny never found the dog shit displeasing; she had a cheerful curiosity about strong things. She could go the longest, of any of us, without a bath.

I heard all the grown-ups kiss Franny good night and I thought: Families must be like this—gore one minute, forgiveness the next. Just as I knew she would, Franny came into my room to show me her lip. The stitches were a crisp, shiny black, like pubic hair; Franny had pubic hair, I did not. Frank did, but he hated it.

“You know what your stitches look like?” I asked her.

“Yeah, I know,” she said.

“Did he hurt you?” I asked her, and she crouched close by my bed and let me touch her breast.

“It was the other one, dummy,” she said, and moved away from me.

“You really got Frank,” I said.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “Good night.” Then she peeked back in my door. “We are going to move to a hotel,” she said. Then I heard her going into Frank’s room.

“Want to see my stitches?” she whispered.

“Sure,” Frank said.

“You know what they look like?” Franny asked him.

“They look gross,” Frank said.

“Yeah, but you know what they look like, don’t you?” Franny asked.

“Yes, I know,” he said, “and they’re gross.”

“Sorry about your balls, Frank,” Franny told him.

“Sure,” he said. “They’re okay. Sorry about...” Frank started to say, but he had never said “breast,” much less “tit,” in his life. Franny waited; so did I. “Sorry about the whole thing,” Frank said.

“Yeah, sure,” Franny said. “Me too.”

Then I heard her testing Lilly, but Lilly was too soundly asleep to be disturbed. “Want to see my stitches?” Franny whispered. Then after a while I heard her say to Lilly, “Sweet dreams, kiddo.”

There was, of course, no point in showing stitches to Egg. He would assume that they were remnants of something Franny had eaten.

“Want a ride home?” my father asked his father, but old Iowa Bob said he could always use the exercise.

“You may think this is a crummy town,” Bob said, “but at least it’s safe to walk at night.”

Then I listened some more; I knew when my parents were alone.

“I love you,” my father said.

And my mother said, “I know you do. And I love you.” I knew, then, that she was tired, too.

“Let’s take a walk,” Father said.

“I don’t like to leave the children,” Mother said, but that was no argument, I knew; Franny and I were perfectly capable of looking after Lilly and Egg, and Frank looked after himself.

“It won’t take fifteen minutes,” Father said. “Let’s just walk up there and look at it.”

“It,” of course, was the Thompson Female Seminary—that beast of a building Father wanted to turn into a hotel.

“I went to school there,” Mother said, “I know that building better than you do; I don’t want to look at it.”

“You used to like walking with me at night,” Father said, and I could tell by my mother’s laughter, which was only slightly mocking, that she was shrugging her shoulders for him again.

It was quiet downstairs; I couldn’t tell if they were kissing or putting on their jackets—because it was a fall night, damp and cool—and then I heard Mother say, “I don’t think you have any idea how much money you’re going to have to sink into that building to make it even resemble a hotel anybody would ever want to stay in.”

“Not necessarily want,” Father said. “Remember? It will be the only hotel in town.”

“But where’s the money going to come from?” Mother said.

“Come on, Sorrow,” Father said, and I knew that they were on their way out the door. “Come on, Sorrow. Come stink up the whole town,” Father said. Mother laughed again.

“Answer me,” she said, but she was being flirtatious now; Father had already convinced her, somewhere, sometime before—perhaps when Franny was taking the stitches in her lip (stoically, I knew: without a tear). “Where’s the money going to come from?” Mother asked him.

You know,” he said, and closed the door. I heard Sorrow barking at the night, at everything in it, at nothing at all.

And I knew that if a white sloop had pulled up to the front porch and the trellises of the old Bates family house, my mother and father would not have been surprised. If the man in the white dinner jacket, who owned the once exotic Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea, had been there to greet them, they wouldn’t have blinked an eye. If he’d been there, smoking, tanned and impeccable, and if he’d said to them, “Welcome aboard!”—they would have set out to sea on the white sloop there and then.

And when they walked up Pine Street to Elliot Park and turned past the last row of the houses lived in by the widows and widowers, the wretched Thompson Female Seminary must have shone in the night to them like a chateau, or a villa, throwing a gala for the rich and famous—although there couldn’t have been a light on, and the only soul around would have been the old policeman in his squad car, cruising every hour or so to break up the teen-agers who went there to neck. There was just one streetlight in Elliot Park; Franny and I would never cross the park after dark in our bare feet for fear of stepping on beer bottle glass—or used condoms.

But how Father must have painted a different picture! How he must have taken Mother past the stumps of long-dead elms—the glass crunching underfoot must have imitated the sound of pebbles on an expensive beach, to them—and how he must have said, “Can’t you just imagine it? A family-run hotel! We’d have it to ourselves most of the time. With the killing we’d make on the big school weekends, we wouldn’t even have to advertise—at least, not much. Just keep the restaurant and bar open during the week, to attract the businessmen—the lunch and cocktail crowd.”

“Businessmen?” my mother might have wondered aloud. “What lunch and cocktail crowd?”

But even when Sorrow flushed the teen-agers from the bushes, even when the squad car stopped Father and Mother and asked them to identify themselves, my father must have been convincing. “Oh, it’s you, Win Berry,” the policeman must have said. Old Howard Tuck drove the night car; he was a moron and smelled of cigars extinguished in puddles of beer. Sorrow must have growled at him: here was an odour to conflict with the dog’s own highly developed smell. “Poor Bob’s having a rough season,” old Howard Tuck probably said, because everyone knew my father was Iowa Bob’s son; Father had been a backup quarterback for one of Coach Bob’s old Dairy teams—the teams that used to win.

“Another rough season,” my father must have joked.

“Wutcha doin’ here?” old Howard Tuck must have asked them.

And my father, without a doubt, must have said, “Well, Howard, between you and me, we’re going to buy this place.”

“You are?”

“You betcha,” Father would have said. “We’re going to turn this place into a hotel.”

“A hotel?”

“That’s right,” Father would have said. “And a restaurant, with a bar, for the lunch and cocktail crowd.”

“The lunch and cocktail crowd,” Howard Tuck would have repeated.

“You’ve got the picture,” Father would have said. “The finest hotel in New Hampshire!”

“Holy cow,” the cop could only have replied.

Anyway, it was the night-duty town patrolman, Howard Tuck, who asked my father, “Wutcha gonna call it?”

Remember: it was night, and the night inspired my father. He had first seen Freud and his bear at night; he had fished with State o’Maine at night; nighttime was the only time the man in the white dinner jacket made an appearance; it was after dark when the German and his brass band arrived at the Arbuthnot to spill a little blood; it must have been dark when my father and mother first slept together; and Freud’s Europe was in total darkness now. There in Elliot Park, with the patrol car’s spotlight on him, my father looked at the four-storey brick school that indeed resembled a county jail—the rust-iron fire escapes crawled all over it, like scaffolding on a building trying to become something else. No doubt he took my mother’s hand. In the darkness, where the imagination is never impeded, my father felt the name of his future hotel, and our future, coming to him.

“Wutcha gonna call it?” asked the old cop.

“The Hotel New Hampshire,” my father said.

“Holy cow,” said Howard Tuck.

“Holy cow” might have been a better name for it, but the matter was decided: the Hotel New Hampshire it would be.

I was still awake when Mother and Father came home—they were gone much longer than fifteen minutes, so I knew that they’d encountered at least the white sloop, if not Freud and the man in the white dinner jacket, along the way.

“My God, Sorrow,” I heard Father say. “Couldn’t you have done that outside?”

The vision of them coming home was clear to me: Sorrow snorting through the hedges alongside the clapboard buildings of the town, rousing the light-sleeping elderly from their beds. Confused with time, these old people might have looked out and seen my father with my mother, hand in hand, unaware of the years gone by, they would have gone back to bed, muttering, “It’s Iowa Bob’s boy, with the Bates girl and that old bear, again.”

“Just one thing I don’t understand,” my mother was saying. “Will we have to sell this house, and move out of it, before we’re ready to move in there?”

Because that was the only way he could afford to convert a school into a hotel, of course. The town would be glad to let him have the Thompson Female Seminary, dirt-cheap. Who wanted to have the eye-sore left empty, where children could get hurt, smashing the windows and climbing the fire escapes? But it was my mother’s family house—the lush Bates family house—that would have to pay for the restoration. Perhaps this was what Freud meant: what Mother must forgive Father for.

“We may have to sell it before we move there,” Father said, “but we may not have to move out. Those are just details.”

Those details (and others) would take us years, and would cause Franny to say, long after the stitches were out of her lip and the scar was so thin that you thought you could brush it away with your finger—or that one good kiss would erase the mark from her mouth—“If Father could have bought another bear, he wouldn’t have needed to buy a hotel.” But the first of my father’s illusions was that bears could survive the life lived by human beings, and the second was that human beings could survive a life led in hotels.

3

Iowa Bob’s Winning Season

In 1954 Frank joined the freshman class at the Dairy School—an uneventful transition for him, it seemed, except that he spent even more time in his room, by himself. There was a vague homosexual incident, but a number of boys, all from the same dormitory, had been involved—all older than Frank—and the assumption was that Frank had been the victim of a rather common prep school joke. After all, he lived at home; it’s not surprising that he was naïve about dormitory life.

In 1955 Franny went to the Dairy School; that was the first year women went there, and the transition was not so smooth. Transitions would never be too smooth when Franny was involved, but in this case there were many unforeseen problems, ranging from discrimination in the classrooms to not enough showers in the wing of the gym they had partitioned for the women to use. Also, the sudden presence of women teachers on the faculty caused several tottering marriages to fall, and the fantasy life of the boys at Dairy was no doubt increased a thousand-fold.

In 1956 it was my turn. That was the year they bought an entire backfield and three linemen for Coach Bob; the school knew he was retiring, and he hadn’t had a winning season since just after the war. They thought they’d do him a favour by stocking his football team with one-year postgraduate athletes from the toughest Boston high schools. For once Coach Bob not only had a back-field; he had some beef up front, for blocking, and although the old man disliked the idea of a “bought” team—of what (even in those days) we called “ringers”—he appreciated the gesture. The Dairy School, however, had more in mind than making Iowa Bob’s last year a winning season. They were shooting every angle they could, to attract more alumni money and a new and younger football coach for the next year. One more losing season, Bob knew, and the Dairy School would drop football forever. Coach Bob would rather have gone out a winner with a team he built, over several years, but who wouldn’t rather go out a winner almost any way possible.

“Besides,” said Coach Bob, “even good talent needs a coach. These guys wouldn’t be so hot without me. Everybody needs a game plan; everybody needs to be told what they’re doing wrong.”

In those years, Iowa Bob had lots to say to my father on the subject of game plan and doing wrong. Coach Bob said that the restoration of the Thompson Female Seminary was “a task akin to raping a rhinoceros.” It took a little longer than my father had expected.

He had no trouble selling Mother’s family house—it was a beauty, and we made a killing on it—but the new owners were impatient to take possession and we paid them a stiff rent to live there for a full year after all the papers were signed.

I remember watching the old school desks being removed from what was going to be the Hotel New Hampshire—hundreds of desks that had been screwed down to the floor. Hundreds of holes in the floor to fill, or else carpet the whole thing. That was one of the details Father had to deal with.

And the fourth-floor bathroom equipment was a surprise to him. My mother should have remembered: years before her time at the Thompson Female Seminary, the toilets and sinks for the top floor had been misordered. Instead of outfitting bathrooms for high school-sized students, the toilet and sink people delivered and installed miniatures—they were meant for a kindergarten in the north of the state. Since the mistake cost less than the original order, the Thompson Female Seminary had let it pass. And so generations of high school girls had stooped and cracked their knees while trying to pee and wash—the tiny child-sized toilets breaking the girls” backs if they sat down too fast, the little sinks hitting them a knee level, the mirrors staring straight at their breasts.

“Jesus God,” Father said. “It’s an outhouse for elves.” He had hoped simply to disperse the old bathroom equipment throughout the hotel; he had enough sense to know that the guests wouldn’t want to share communal bathrooms, but he thought he could save a lot of money by using the toilets and sinks that were already there. After all, there wasn’t much equipment that a high school and a hotel had in common.

“We can use the mirrors, anyway,” Mother said. “We’ll just mount them higher on the walls.”

“And we can use the sinks and toilets, too,” Father insisted.

Who can use them?” Mother asked.

“Dwarfs?” said Coach Bob.

“Lilly and Egg, anyway,” Franny said. “At least for a few more years.”

Then there were the screwed-down desk chairs that had matched the desks. Father wouldn’t throw them out, either.

“They’re perfectly good chairs,” Father said. “They’re very comfortable.”

“It’s sort of quaint how they have names carved in them,” Frank said.

Quaint, Frank?” Franny said.

“But they have to be screwed down to the floor,” Mother said. “People won’t be able to move them around.”

“Why should people have to move hotel furniture around?” Father asked. “I mean, we set the rooms the way they should be, “right? I don’t want people moving the chairs, anyway,” he said. “This way, they can’t.”

“Even in the restaurant?” Mother asked.

“People like to shove back their chairs after a big meal,” said Iowa Bob.

“Well, they can’t—that’s all,” Father said. “We’ll let them push the tables away from them instead.”

“Why not screw down the tables, too?” Frank suggested.

“That’s a quaint idea,” Franny said. She would say, later, that Frank’s insecurity was so vast that he would have preferred all of life screwed down to the floor.

Of course, the partitioning of rooms, with their own baths, took the longest. And the plumbing was as complex as a freight yard of tracks in a city railroad station; when someone flushed on the fourth floor, you could hear it coursing through the entire hotel—trying to find a way down. And some of the rooms still had blackboards.

“So long as they’re clean,” Father said, “what’s the harm?”

“Sure,” said Iowa Bob. “One guest can leave messages for the next guest.”

Things like “Don’t ever stay here!” Franny said.

“It will be all right,” Frank said. “I just want my own room.”

“In a hotel, Frank,” Franny said, “everybody gets a room.”

Even Coach Bob would get a room; after his retirement, the Dairy School wouldn’t let him go on living in campus housing. Coach Bob was cautiously warming to the idea; he was ready to move in when we were ready. He was interested in the future of the playground equipment: the cracked-clay volleyball court, the field-hockey field, and the basketball backboards and hoops—the nets were long since rotted away.

There’s nothing that looks more abandoned,” Bob said, “than a basketball hoop without a net. I think that’s so sad.”

And one day we watched the men with the pneumatic drills chipping THOMPSON FEMALE SEMINARY off the death-grey face of stone, sunk in the bricks, above the great front door. They stopped work for the day—I’m sure on purpose—leaving only the letters MALE SEMIN over the door. It was Friday, so the letters stayed that way over the weekend, to my mother’s and father’s irritation—and to Coach Bob’s amusement.

“Why don’t you call it the Hotel Male Semen?” Iowa Bob asked my father. “Then you’ll only have to change one letter.” Bob was in a good mood, because his team was winning and he knew he was about to get out of the wretched Dairy School.

If my father was in a bad mood, he rarely let it show. (He was full of energy—“Energy begets energy,” he would repeat and repeat to us, over our homework and at sports practices for the teams he coached.) He had not resigned from the Dairy School; he probably didn’t dare, or Mother wouldn’t let him. He was going ahead with the Hotel New Hampshire, but he was teaching three classes of English and coaching track winter and spring, so he was going ahead at half-speed.

Frank seemed to disappear at the Dairy School; he was like one of the token cows. You didn’t notice him after a while. He did his work—he seemed to find it hard—and he attended the required athletics, although he favoured no particular sport and wasn’t good enough for (or didn’t try to make) any of the teams. He was big and strong and as awkward as ever.

And (at sixteen) he grew a thin moustache on his upper lip, which made him look much older. There was something floppy and puppylike about him—a certain heavy cloddishness in his feet—that suggested he would one day be a very large and imposing dog; but Frank would wait forever for the poise that must attend imposing size in order for the animal to be imposing. He had no friends, but no one worried; Frank had never been much for having friends.

Franny, of course, had lots of boyfriends. Most of them were older than Franny, and one of them I liked: he was a tall, red-haired senior at the school—a strong, silent type who stroked the first boat of the varsity crew. His name was Struthers, he had grown up in Maine, and except for the blisters on his hands, which were painted a rust-brown with benzoin—to toughen them—and the fact that he smelled, at times, like wet socks, he was acceptable to everyone in our family. Even Frank. Sorrow growled at Struthers, but that was a smell thing: Struthers threatened Sorrow’s dominance of our house. I didn’t know if Struthers was Franny’s favourite boyfriend, but he was very fond of her, and nice to the rest of us.

Some of the others—one of them was the leader of that pack of Boston ringers who’d been hired to play for Coach Bob—were not so nice. In fact, the quarterback of that imported backfield was a boy who made Ralph De Meo look like a saint. His name was Sterling Dove, although he was called Chip, or Chipper, and he was a cruel, angular boy from one of the posher Boston suburban schools.

“He’s a natural leader, that Chip Dove,” Coach Bob said.

He’s a natural commander of someone’s secret police, I thought. Chipper Dove was blondly handsome, in a spotless, slightly pretty sort of way; we were a dark-haired family, except for Lilly, who was not so blond as she was washed-out—all over; even her hair was pale.

I would have enjoyed seeing Chip Dove play quarterback without a good line to protect him—and when he had to throw a lot of passes to catch up several touchdowns—but the admissions office had done a good job for Coach Bob; Dairy’s football team never fell behind. When they got the ball, they kept it, and Dove rarely had to pass. Although it was the first winning season that any of us children could remember, it was dull—watching them grind down the field, eating up the clock and scoring from three or four yards out. They were not flashy, they were simply strong and precise and well coached; their defence was not so strong—the other teams scored back on them, but not too often: the other teams rarely got to have the ball.

“Ball control,” crowed Iowa Bob. “First time I’ve had a ball-control team since the war.”

My only comfort in Franny’s relationship with Chipper Dove was that Dove was such a team boy he was rarely in Franny’s company without the rest of the Dairy backfield—and often a lineman or two. They menaced the campus that year like a horde, and Franny sometimes was seen in their camp; Dove was attracted to her—every boy, except Frank, seemed attracted to Franny. Girls were cautious in her company; she simply outshone them, and perhaps she was not a very good friend to them. Franny was always meeting more and newer people; she was probably too curious about strangers to be loyal in the way girls want their girl friends to be loyal.

I don’t know; I was kept in the dark about that. At times Franny would fix me up with a date, but the girls were usually older and it didn’t work out. “Everyone thinks you’re cute,” Franny said, “but you have to talk to people a little bit, you know—you can’t just start out necking.”

“I don’t start out necking,” I’d tell her. “I never get to the necking.”

“Well,” she said, “that’s because you just sit there waiting for something to happen. Everyone knows what you’re thinking.”

“You don’t,” I said. “Not always.”

“About me, you mean?” she asked, but I didn’t say anything. “Listen, kid,” Franny said. “I know you think about me too much—if that’s what you mean.”

It was at Dairy that she started calling me “kid,” although there was just a year’s difference between us. To my shame, the name stuck.

“Hey, kid,” Chip Dove said to me in the showers at the gym. “Your sister’s got the nicest ass at this school. Is she banging anybody?”

“Struthers,” I said, although I hoped it wasn’t true. Struthers was at least better than Dove.

“Struthers!” Dove said. “The fucking oarsman? The clod who rows?”

“He’s very strong,” I said; that much was true—oarsmen are strong, and Struthers was the strongest of them.

“Yeah, but he’s a clod,” Dove said.

“Just pulls his oar all day!” said Lenny Metz, a running back who was always—even in the showers—just to the right of Chip Dove’s hip, as if he expected, even there, to be handed the ball. He was as dumb as cement, and as hard.

“Well, kid,” said Chipper Dove. “You tell Franny I think she’s got the nicest ass at this school.”

“And tits!” cried Lenny Metz.

“Well, they’re okay,” Dove said. “But it’s the ass that’s really special.”

“She has a nice smile, too,” Metz said.

Chip Dove rolled his eyes at me, conspiratorially—as if to show me he knew how dumb Metz was, and he was much, much smarter. “Don’t forget to use a little soap, huh, Lenny?” Dove said, and passed him the slippery bar, which Metz, instinctively—a non-fumbler—slapped against his belly in his bearish grip.

I turned off my shower because some bigger person had moved under the stream of water with me. He shoved me out of his way altogether and turned the water back on.

“Move on, man,” he said, softly. It was one of the linemen who kept other football players from hurting Chipper Dove. His name was Samuel Jones, Jr., and he was called Junior Jones. Junior Jones was as black as any night in which my father’s imagination was inspired; he would go on to play college football at Penn State, and pro ball in Cleveland, until someone messed up his knee.

I was fourteen, in 1956, and Junior Jones was the largest organization of human flesh I had ever seen. I moved out of his way, but Chipper Dove said, “Hey, Junior, don’t you know this kid?”

“No, I haven’t met him,” said Junior Jones.

“Well, this is Franny Berry’s brother,” Chip Dove said.

“How do you do?” said Junior Jones.

“Hello,” I said.

“Old Coach Bob is this kid’s grandfather, Junior,” Dove said.

That’s nice,” said Junior Jones. He filled his mouth with a froth of lather from the tiny bar of soap in his hand, then tipped his head back and rinsed his mouth out in the downstream of the shower. Perhaps, I thought, this was what he did instead of brushing his teeth.

“We were talking,” Dove said, “about what it was we liked about Franny.”

“Her smile,” Metz said.

“You said her tits, too,” Chipper Dove said. “And I said she had the nicest ass at this school. We didn’t get to ask the kid, here, what he likes about his sister, but I thought we’d ask you first, Junior.”

Junior Jones had lathered his bar of soap away to nothing; his huge head was awash with white froth; when he rinsed himself under the shower, the suds lapped around his ankles. I looked down at my feet and felt the close presence of the remaining twosome from Iowa Bob’s backfield. A burnt-face boy named Chester Pulaski, who spent too much time under the sun lamp—even so, his neck blazed with boils; his forehead was studded with them. He was primarily a blocking back—not by choice; he simply didn’t run quite as well as Lenny Metz. Chester Pulaski was a natural blocking back because he tended to run at his opponents more than he tended away from them. With him, and flitting near to me, like a horsefly that won’t leave you alone, was a boy as black as Junior Jones; any comparison, however, was over with their colour. He sometimes lined up as a wide receiver, and when he ran out of the backfield it was only to catch Chipper Dove’s short and safe little passes. His name was Harold Swallow, and he was no bigger than I was, but Harold Swallow could fly. He had moves like the bird he was named for; if anyone ever tackled him, he might have broken in half, but when he wasn’t catching passes and flying out of bounds, he was just hiding in the backfield, usually behind Chester Pulaski or Junior Jones.

They were all there, standing around me, and I thought that if a bomb were to be dropped on one spot in the shower room, Coach Bob’s winning season would be over. Athletically, at least, I was the only one who wouldn’t have been missed. I was simply not in the same category with Iowa Bob’s imported backfield, or with the giant lineman Junior Jones; there were other linemen, of course, but Junior Jones was the main reason Chipper Dove never even fell down. He was the main reason there was always a hole for Chester Pulaski to lead Lenny Metz through; Jones made a hole big enough for them to run through side by side.

“Come on, Junior, think,” Chip Dove said, dangerously—because the tone of mockery in his voice implied his doubt that Junior Jones could think. “What is it you like about Franny Berry?” Dove asked.

“She’s got nice little feet,” said Harold Swallow. Everyone stared at him, but he just pranced around under the falling water, not looking at anybody.

“She’s got beautiful skin,” said Chester Pulaski, helplessly drawing even more attention to his boils.

“Junior!” Chip Dove said, and Junior Jones shut off his shower. He stood and dripped for a while. He made me feel as if I were Egg, years ago, still learning to walk.

“She’s just another white girl, to me,” Junior Jones said, and his look paused a second on each of us before moving on. “But she seems like a good girl,” he added, to me. Then he turned my shower back on and shoved me under it—it was too cold—and he walked out of the shower room, leaving a draught.

I was impressed that even Chipper Dove would go only so far with him, but I was more impressed that Franny was in trouble—and still more impressed that I was helpless to do anything about it.

“That scum Chipper Dove talks about your ass, your tits, even your feet” I told her. “You watch out for him.”

“My feet?” Franny said. “What’s he say about my feet?”

“All right,” I said. “That was Harold Swallow.” Everyone knew Harold Swallow was crazy; in those days, when someone was as crazy as Harold Swallow, we said he was as crazy as a waltzing mouse.

“What did Chip Dove say about me?” Franny asked. “I just care about him.”

“Your ass is all he cares about,” I told her. “And he talks about it to everyone.”

“I don’t care,” she said. “I’m not that interested.”

“Well, he’s interested,” I said. “Just stick with Struthers.”

“Oh, kid, let me tell you,” she sighed. “Struthers is sweet, but he is boring, boring, boring.”

I hung my head. We were in the upstairs hall of what was now only a rented house, although it still felt like the Bates family house to us. Franny rarely came into my room anymore. We did our homework in our own rooms and met outside the bathroom to talk. Frank didn’t even seem to use the bathroom. Every day, now, in the hall outside our rooms, Mother would stack up more cartons and trunks; we were getting ready to move to the Hotel New Hampshire.

“And I don’t see why you have to be a cheerleader, Franny,” I said. “I mean, you, of all people—a cheerleader.”

“Because I like it,” she said.

In fact, it was after a cheerleading practice that I met Franny, not far from our place in the ferns we didn’t see so much of—now that we were students at the school—when we encountered Iowa Bob’s backfield. They had accosted someone on the path through the woods that was the shortcut back to the gym; they were working someone over in the large mud puddle that was drilled with football cleats—holes like machine-gun fire in the mud. When Franny and I saw who they were—the boys in the backfield—and that they were beating up on someone, we started to run the other way. That backfield was always beating up on someone. But we hadn’t run more than twenty-five yards before Franny caught my arm and stopped me. “I think it was Frank,” she said. “They’ve got Frank.”

So of course we had to go back. For just a second, before we could actually see what was going on, I felt very brave; I felt Franny take my hand and I gave her a strong squeeze. Her cheerleading skirt was so short that the back of my hand brushed her thigh. Then she pulled her hand out of mine and screamed. I was in my track shorts and I felt my legs turn cold.

Frank was wearing his band uniform. They had stripped the shit-brown pants (with the death-grey stripe down the leg) clean off him. Frank’s underwear was yanked down to his ankles. The jacket of his band uniform had been tugged up to the middle of his chest; one silver epaulette floated free in the mud puddle, alongside Frank’s face, and his silver cap with the brown braid—almost indistinguishable from the mud itself—was squashed under Harold Swallow’s knee. Harold held on to one of Frank’s arms, fully extended; Lenny Metz stretched Frank’s other arm. Frank lay belly down with his balls in the heart of the mud puddle, his astonishing bare ass rising up out of the water and submerging again, as Chipper Dove pushed it down with his foot, then let it up, then pushed it down. Chester Pulaski, the blocking back, sat on the backs of Frank’s knees with Frank’s ankles locked under this arms.

“Come on, hump it!” said Chipper Dove to Frank. He pushed down on Frank’s ass and drove him deep into the mud puddle again. The football cleats left little white indentations on Frank’s ass.

“Come on, you mud-fucker,” said Lenny Metz. “You heard the man—hump it!”

“Stop it!” Franny screamed at them. “What are you doing?”

Frank seemed the most alarmed to see her, although even Chipper Dove couldn’t conceal his surprise.

“Well, look who’s here,” Dove said, but I could tell he was thinking about what to say next.

“We’re just giving him what he likes,” Lenny Metz told Franny and me. “Frank likes to screw mud puddles, don’t you, Frank?”

“Let him go,” Franny said.

“We’re not hurting him,” Chester Pulaski said; he was forever embarrassed about his complexion and he chose to look at me, not at Franny; he probably couldn’t stand to see Franny’s fine skin.

“Your brother likes boys,” Chipper Dover told us. “Don’t you, Frank?” he asked.

“So what?” said Frank. He was angry, not whipped; he’d probably stuck his fingers in their eyes—he’d probably hurt one or two of them, here or there. Frank always put up a fight.

“Putting it up boys’ asses,” said Lenny Metz, “is disgusting.”

“It’s like stickin’ it in mud,” Harold Swallow explained, but he looked as if he’d really rather be running, somewhere, than holding Frank’s arm. Harold Swallow always looked uneasy—as if he were crossing a busy street, at night, for the first time.

“Hey, no harm done,” said Chipper Dove. He took his foot off Frank’s ass and took a step toward Franny and me. I remembered what Coach Bob was always saying about knee injuries; I was wondering if I could take a swipe at Chip Dove’s knee before he beat the shit out of me.

I didn’t know what Franny was thinking, but she said to Dove, “I want to talk with you. Alone. I want to be alone with you, right now,” Franny told him.

Harold Swallow shrieked with a laughter as nasal and high-pitched as the song of any waltzing mouse.

“Well, that’s possible,” Dove said to Franny. “Sure, we can talk. Alone. Anytime.”

“Right now,” Franny said. “I want to do it right now—or never,” she said.

“Well, right now, sure,” said Dove. He rolled his eyes to his backfield men. Chester Pulaski and Lenny Metz looked mortified with envy, but Harold Swallow was frowning at a grass stain on his football uniform. It was the only mark on him: a small grass stain, where Harold Swallow must have flown too close to the ground. Or perhaps he was frowning because Frank’s outstretched body blocked his view of Franny’s feet.

“Let Frank go,” Franny told Dove. “And make the others go—to the gym,” she said.

“Sure we’ll let him go,” Dove said. “We were just going to, anyway, right?” he said—the quarterback: giving signals to his backfield. They let Frank go. Frank stumbled getting up and tried to cover his private parts, which were thick and sodden with mud. He dressed himself, furiously, without a word. At that moment I was more afraid of him than I was afraid of any of the others—they were doing what they’d been told to do, anyway: they were trotting down the path to the gym. Lenny Metz turned to leer and wave. Franny gave him the finger. Frank pushed wetly between Franny and me and started tramping home.

“Forget something?” Chip Dove said to him.

Frank’s cymbals were in the bushes. He stopped—seemingly more embarrassed for forgetting his band instrument than he appeared to be humiliated for all the rest of it. Franny and I hated Frank’s cymbals. I think it was wearing a uniform—any uniform—that had attracted Frank to the band. He was not a social creature, but when Coach Bob’s winning season prompted the resurrection of a marching band—no band had marched at Dairy since shortly after. World War II—Frank could not resist the uniforms. Since he could play nothing, musically, they gave him the cymbals. Other people probably felt foolish with them, but not Frank. He liked marching around, doing nothing, waiting for his big moment to CLASH!

It was not like having a musical member of the family, always practicing and driving the rest of us nuts with the screeching, tooting, or plinking of an instrument. Frank didn’t “practice” the cymbals. Occasionally, at odd hours, we would hear one shattering clang from them—from Frank’s locked room—and we had to imagine, Franny and I, that Frank had been marching in place in his uniform, sweating in front of his mirror until he couldn’t stand the sound of his own breathing and had been inspired to put a dramatic end to it.

The terrible noise made Sorrow bark and, probably, fart. Mother would drop things. Franny would run to Frank’s door and pound on it. I would imagine the sound differently: it was remindful of the suddenness of a gun, to me, and I always thought, for an instant, that we had just been startled by the sound of Frank’s suicide.

On the path where the backfield had ambushed him, Frank dragged his muddy cymbals from the bushes, clanking them under his arm.

“Where can we go?” Chip Dove asked Franny. “To be alone.”

“I know a place,” she said. “Nearby,” she added. “It’s a place I’ve known forever.” And I knew, of course, that she meant the ferns—our ferns. To my knowledge, Franny hadn’t even taken Struthers there. I thought she could only be mentioning them this clearly so that Frank and I would know where to find her, and rescue her, but Frank was already heading home, stomping down the path without a word to Franny, or one look at her, and Chip Dove smiled at me with his ice-blue eyes and said, “Beat it, kid.”

Franny took him by the hand and pulled him off the path, but I caught up to Frank in no time. “Jesus, Frank,” I said, “where are you going? We’ve got to help her.”

“Help Franny?” he said.

“She helped you,” I said to him. “She saved your ass.”

“So what?” he said, and then he started to cry. “How do you know she wants our help?” he said, snivelling. “Maybe she wants to be alone with him.”

That was too terrible a thought for me—it was almost as bad as imagining Chipper Dove doing things to Franny that she didn’t want done to her—and I grabbed Frank by his one remaining epaulette and dragged him after me.

“Stop crying,” I said, because I didn’t want Dove to hear us coming.

“I want to talk with you, just talk!” we heard Franny screaming. “You rat’s asshole!” she yelled. “You could have been so nice, but you had to go and be such a super shit of a human being. I hate you!” she cried. “Cut it out!” she screamed.

“I think you like me,” we heard Chipper Dove say.

“I might have,” Franny said, “but not now. Not ever,” we heard her say, but she stopped sounding angry; suddenly she was crying.

When Frank and I reached the ferns, Dove had his football pants down at the knees. He was having the same trouble with the thigh pads that Franny and I had observed, years ago, while spying on the crapping posture of the fat football player named Poindexter. Franny had her clothes on, but she seemed curiously passive, to me—sitting in the ferns (where he’d pushed her, she told me later) with her hands over her face. Frank clashed his damn cymbals together—so startling loud that I thought an airplane was flying into another airplane above us. Then he swung the right-hand cymbal smack into Chip Dove’s face. It was the hardest hit the quarterback had taken all season; we could tell he wasn’t used to it. Clearly, too, he was impeded by the position of his pants. I dropped straight on him as soon as he was down. Frank continued to clash his cymbals together—as if this were a ritual dance that our family always practiced prior to slaughtering an enemy.

Dove threw me off him, the way old Sorrow could still knock Egg down—with a good toss of his big head—but the clamour Frank was making seemed to paralyze the quarterback. It seemed to awaken Franny from her moment of passivity, too. She made her usual unbeatable move for the private parts of Chipper Dove, and he made the sickly motions of quitting this life, forever, that surely Frank must have recognized—and, of course, I remembered from the days of Ralph De Meo. She really grabbed him good, and when he was still on his hip in the pine needles, with his football pants still around his knees, Franny pulled his jock and cup halfway down his thighs before releasing it with a snap. For just a second, Frank, Franny and I got to see Dove’s small, frightened private parts. “Big deal!” Franny screamed at Dove. “You’re such a big deal!”

Then Franny and I had to restrain Frank from going on and on with his banging cymbals; it seemed that the sound might kill the trees and drive small animals from the forest. Chipper Dove lay on his side with one hand cupping his balls and the other hand holding one ear shut against the noise; his other ear was pressed to the ground.

I saw Dove’s helmet in the ferns and took it with me when we left him there to recover himself. Back at the mud puddle, on the path, Frank and Franny filled the quarterback’s helmet with mud. We left it brimming full for him.

“Shit and death,” Franny said, darkly.

Frank couldn’t stop tapping his cymbals together, he was so excited.

“Jesus, Frank,” Franny said. “Please cut it out.”

“I’m sorry,” he told us. And when we were nearer home, he said, “Thank you.”

Thank you, too,” Franny said. “Both of you,” she said, squeezing my arm.

“I really am queer, you know,” Frank mumbled.

“I guess I knew,” Franny said.

“It’s okay, Frank,” I said, because what else could a brother say?

“I was thinking of a way to tell you,” Frank said.

And Franny said, “This was a quaint way.”

Even Frank laughed; I think it was the first time I’d heard Frank laugh since the time Father discovered the size of the fourth-floor toilets in the Hotel New Hampshire—our fourth-floor “outhouse for elves.”

We sometimes wondered if living in the Hotel New Hampshire would always be like this.

What seemed more important to know was who would come to stay in our hotel after we moved in and opened it for business. As that time approached, Father became more emphatic about his theories for the perfect hotel. He had seen an interview, on television, with the head of a hotel-management school—in Switzerland. The man said that the secret to success was how quickly a new hotel could establish a pattern of advance bookings.

“Advance Bookings!” Father wrote on a shirt cardboard and stuck it to the refrigerator of Mother’s soon-to-be-abandoned family house.

“Good morning, Advance Bookings!” we would greet each other at breakfast, to tease Father, but he was rather serious about it.

“You laugh,” he told us one morning. “Well, I already have two.”

“Two what?” Egg asked.

“Two advance bookings,” Father said, mysteriously.

We were planning to open the weekend of the Exeter game. We knew that was the first “advance booking.” Every year the Dairy School concluded its miserable football season by losing to one of the big schools, like Exeter or Andover, by a big score. It was always worse when we had to travel to those schools and play them on their own well-kept turf. Exeter, for example, had a real stadium; both Exeter and Andover had smart uniforms; they were both “all-boys” schools then—and the students wore coats and ties to classes. Some’of them even wore coats and ties to the football games, but even if they were informally attired, they looked better than we did. It made us feel terrible to see students like that—altogether clean and cocky. And every year our team stumbled out on the field, looking like shit and death—and when the game was over, that was how we all felt.

Exeter and Andover traded us off; each one liked to use us for their next-to-last game—a kind of warm-up exercise—because their last game of the season was with each other.

But for Iowa Bob’s winning season we were playing at home, and this year it would be Exeter. Win or lose, it would be a winning season, but most people—even my father and Coach Bob—thought that this year’s Dairy team had a chance of going all the way; undefeated, and with a last-game victory over Exeter, a team the Dairy School had never beaten. With a winning season, even the alumni were coming back, and the Exeter game was made a parents” weekend. Coach Bob wished he had new uniforms to go with his imported backfield, and Junior Jones, but it pleased the old man to imagine that his tattered shit-and-death squad just might knock Exeter’s crisp white uniforms with crimson letters, and crimson helmets, all over the field.

Exeter wasn’t having too hot a year, anyway; they were poking along about 5-3—against better competition than we usually saw, to be sure, but it was not one of their great teams. Iowa Bob saw that he had a chance, and my father took the entire football season as a good omen for the Hotel New Hampshire.

The weekend of the Exeter game was booked in advance—every room reserved, for two nights; and reservations for the restaurant on Saturday were already closed.

My mother was worried about the chef, as Father insisted on calling her; she was a Canadian from Prince Edward Island, where she’d cooked for a large shipping family for fifteen years. “There’s a difference between cooking for a family and cooking for a hotel” Mother warned Father.

“But it was a large family—she said so,” Father said. “And besides, we’re a small hotel.”

“We’re a full hotel for the Exeter weekend,” Mother said. “And a full restaurant.”

The cook’s name was Mrs. Urick; she was to be assisted by her husband, Max—a former merchant seaman and galley cook who was missing the thumb and index finger of his left hand. An accident in the galley of a vessel called the Miss Intrepid, he told us children, with a salty wink. He had been distracted imagining what Mrs. Urick would do to him if she knew about his time ashore with an intrepid lady in Halifax.

“All at once I looked down,” Max told us—Lilly never taking her eyes from his maimed hand. “And there was my thumb and my finger amongst the bloody carrots, and the cleaver was hacking away with a will of its own.” Max flinched his claw of a hand, as if recoiling from the blade, and Lilly blinked. Lilly was ten, although she didn’t seem to have grown much since she’d been eight. Egg, who was six, seemed less frail than Lilly—and sturdily unimpressed with Max Urick’s stories.

Mrs. Urick didn’t tell stories. For hours she scrutinized crossword puzzles without filling in the squares; she hung Max’s laundry in the kitchen, which had been the girls” locker room of the Thompson Female Seminary—thus it was familiar with drying socks and underwear. Mrs. Urick and my father had decided that the most fetching menu for the Hotel New Hampshire would be family-style meals. By this Mrs. Urick meant a choice of two big roasts, or a New England boiled dinner; a choice of two pies—and on Mondays a variety of meat pies, made from leftover roasts. For luncheons there would be soups and cold cuts; for breakfasts, griddle cakes, and so forth.

“Nothing fancy, but just plain good,” said Mrs. Urick, rather humorlessly; she reminded Franny and me of the kind of boarding-school dietician we were familiar with from the Dairy School—a firm believer that food was no fun but, somehow, morally essential. We shared Mother’s anxieties about the cooking—since it would be our standard fare, too—but Father was sure Mrs. Urick would manage.

She was given a basement room of her own, “to be close to my kitchen,” she said; she expected her stockpots to simmer overnight. Max Urick had a room of his own, too—on the fourth floor. There was no elevator, and my father was happy to use up a fourth-floor room. The fourth-floor rooms had the child-sized toilets and sinks, but since Max had done his bathroom business for so many years in the cramped latrine of the Miss Intrepid, he was not insulted by the dwarf facilities.

“Good for my heart,” Max told us. “Good for pumping the blood—all that stair-climbing,” he said, and whacked his stringy gray chest with his damaged hand. But we thought that Max would go to great lengths to keep as far from Mrs. Urick as possible; he would even climb stairs—he would pee and wash in anything. He claimed to be “handy,” and when he wasn’t helping Mrs. Urick in the kitchen he was supposed to be fixing things. “Everything from toilets to locks!” he claimed; he could click his tongue like a key turning in a lock, and he could make a terrible whooshing sound—like the tiny fourth-floor toilets in the Hotel New Hampshire sending their matter on an awesome, long voyage.

“What’s the second advance booking?” I asked Father.

We knew there’d be a Dairy School graduation weekend, in the spring; and maybe a big hockey-game weekend in the winter. But the small, if steady, visits from parents of students at the Dairy School would hardly require any booking in advance.

“Graduation, right?” Franny asked. But Father shook his head.

“A giant wedding!” Lilly cried, and we stared at her.

“Whose wedding?” Frank asked.

“I don’t know,” Lilly said. “But a giant one—a really big one. The biggest wedding in New England.”

We never knew where Lilly thought up the things she thought up; Mother looked worriedly at her, then she spoke to Father.

“Don’t be secretive,” she said. “We all want to know: what’s the second advance booking?”

“It’s not until summer,” he said. “There’s a lot of time to get ready for it. We have to concentrate on the Exeter weekend. First things first.”

“It’s probably a convention for the blind,” Franny said to Frank and me, when we were walking to our classes in the morning.

“Or a leprosy clinic,” I said.

“It will be all right,” Frank said, worriedly.

We didn’t take the path through the woods behind the practice field anymore. We walked straight across the soccer fields, sometimes throwing our apple cores into the goals, or else we walked down the main path that bisected the campus dormitories. We were concerned that we continue to avoid Iowa Bob’s backfield; none of us wanted to be caught alone with Chipper Dove. We hadn’t told Father of the incident—Frank had asked Franny and me not to tell him.

“Mother already knows,” Frank told us. “I mean, she knows I’m queer.”

This surprised Franny and me only for a moment; when we thought of it, it made perfect sense, really. If you had a secret, Mother would keep it; if you wanted a democratic debate, and a family discussion lasting for hours, maybe weeks—perhaps months—then you brought up whatever it was with Father. He was not very patient with secrets, although he was being silent enough about his second advance booking.

“It’s going to be a meeting of all the great writers and artists of Europe,” Lilly guessed, and Franny and I kicked each other under the table and rolled our eyes; our eyes said: Lilly is weird, and Frank is queer, and Egg is only six. Our eyes said: We’re all alone in this family—just the two of us.

“It’s going to be the circus,” said Egg.

“How’d you know?” Father snapped at him.

“Oh no, Win,” Mother said. “It is a circus?”

“Just a little one,” Father said.

“Not the descendants of P.T. Barnum?” said Iowa Bob.

“Of course not,” Father said.

“The King Brothers!” Frank said; he had a King Brothers tiger-act poster in his room.

“No, I mean really small,” Father said. “A sort of private circus.”

“One of those second-rate ones, you mean,” Coach Bob said.

“Not the kind with freaky animals!” Franny said.

“Certainly not,” said Father.

“What do you mean, ‘freaky animals’?” Lilly asked.

“Horses with not enough legs,” said Frank. “A cow with an extra head—growing out of her back.”

“Where’d you see that?” I asked.

“Will there be tigers and lions?” Egg asked.

“Just so they’re on the fourth floor,” said Iowa Bob.

“No, put them with Mrs. Urick!” Franny said.

“Win,” my mother said. “What circus?”

“Well, they can use the field, you see,” Father said. “They can pitch their tents on the old playground, they can eat in the restaurant, and some of them might actually stay in the hotel, too—although most of those people have their own trailers, I think.”

“What will the animals be?” Lilly asked.

“Well,” said Father, “I don’t think they have too many animals. It’s small, you see. Probably just a few animals. I think they have some special acts, you know—but I’m not sure what animals.”

“What acts?” said Iowa Bob.

“It’s probably one of those awful circuses,” Franny said. “The kind with goats and chickens and those everyday junky animals everyone’s seen—some dumb reindeers, a talking crow. But nothing big, you know, and nothing exotic.”

“It’s the exotic ones I’d just as soon not have around here,” Mother said.

What acts?” said Iowa Bob.

“Well,” Father said. “I’m not sure. Trapeze, maybe?”

“You don’t know what animals,” Mother said. “And you don’t know what acts, either. What do you know?”

“They’re small,” Father said. “They just wanted to reserve some rooms, and maybe half the restaurant. They take Mondays off.”

“Mondays off?” said Iowa Bob. “How long did you book them for?”

“Well,” Father said.

“Win!” my mother said. “How many weeks will they be here?”

“They’ll be here the whole summer,” Father said.

“Wow!” cried Egg. “The circus!”

“A circus,” said Franny. “A weirdo circus.”

“Dumb acts, dumb animals,” I said.

“Weird acts, weird animals,” Frank said.

“Well, you’ll fit right in, Frank,” Franny told him.

“Stop it,” Mother said.

“There’s no reason to get anxious,” Father said. “It’s just a small, private circus.”

“What’s its name?” Mother asked.

“Well,” said Father.

“You don’t know its name?” asked Coach Bob.

“Of course I know its name!” Father said. “It’s called Fritz’s Act.”

“Fritz’s act?” Frank said.

“What’s the act?” I asked.

“Well,” Father said. “That’s just a name. I’m sure there’s more than one act.”

“It sounds very modern,” Frank said.

Modern, Frank?” Franny said.

“It sounds kinky,” I said.

“What’s kinky?” said Lilly.

“A kind of animal?” Egg asked.

“Never mind,” said Mother.

“I think we should concentrate on the Exeter weekend,” Father said.

“Yes, and getting yourselves, and me, all moved in,” said Iowa Bob. “There’s lots of time to discuss the summer.”

“The whole summer is booked in advance?” Mother asked.

“You see?” Father said. “Now, that’s good business! Already we’ve taken care of the summer, and the Exeter weekend. First things first. Now all we have to do is move in.”

That happened a week before the Exeter game; it was the weekend when Iowa Bob’s ringers rang up nine touchdowns—to match their ninth straight victory, against no defeats. Franny didn’t get to see it; she had decided not to be a cheerleader anymore. That Saturday Franny and I helped Mother move the last things that the moving vans hadn’t already taken to the Hotel New Hampshire; Lilly and Egg went with Father and Coach Bob to the game; Frank, of course, was in the band.

There were thirty rooms over four floors, and our family occupied seven rooms in the southeast corner, covering two floors. One room in the basement was dominated by Mrs. Urick; that meant that, together with the fourth-floor resting place of Max, there were twenty-two rooms for guests. But the headwaitress and head maid, Ronda Ray, had a day-room on the second floor—to gather herself together, she’d said to Father. And two southeast-corner rooms on the third floor—just above us—were reserved for Iowa Bob. That left only nineteen rooms for guests, and only thirteen of those came with their own baths; six of the rooms came with the midget facilities.

“It’s more than enough,” Father said. “This is a small town. And not popular.”

It was more than enough for the circus called Fritz’s Act, perhaps, but we were anxious how we were going to handle the full house we expected for the Exeter weekend.

That Saturday we moved in, Franny discovered the intercom system and switched on the “Receiving” buttons in all the rooms. They were all empty, of course, but we tried to imagine listening to the first guests moving into them. The squawk-box system, as Father called it, had been left over from the Thompson Female Seminary, of course—the principal could announce fire drills to the various classrooms, and teachers who were out of their homerooms could hear if the kids were fooling around. Father thought that keeping the intercom system would make it unnecessary to have phones in the rooms.

“They can call for help on the intercom,” Father said.

“Or we can wake them for breakfast. And if they want to use the phone, they can use the phone at the main desk.” But of course the squawk-box system also meant that it was possible to listen to the guests in their rooms.

“Not ethically possible,” Father said, but Franny and I couldn’t wait.

That Saturday we moved in, we were without even the main-desk phone—or a phone in our family’s apartment—and we were without linen, because the linen service that was going to handle the hotel laundry had also been contracted to do ours. They weren’t starting service until Monday, Ronda Ray wasn’t starting until Monday, either, but she was there—in the Hotel New Hampshire—looking over her dayroom when we arrived.

“I just need it, you know?” she asked Mother. “I mean, I can’t change sheets in the morning, after I wait on the breakfast eaters—and before I serve lunch to the lunch eaters—without having no place to lay down. And between lunch and supper, if I don’t lay down, I get feeling nasty—all over. And if you lived where I lived, you wouldn’t wanna go home.”

Ronda Ray lived at Hampton Beach, where she waitressed and changed sheets for the summer crowd. She’d been looking for a year-round arrangement for her hotel career—and, my mother guessed, a way to get out of Hampton Beach, forever. She was about my mother’s age, and in fact claimed to remember seeing Earl perform in Earl’s casino years. She had not seen his ballroom dancing performance, though; it was the bandstand she remembered, and the act called “Applying for a Job.”

“But I never believed it was a real bear,” she told Franny and me, as we watched her unpack a small suitcase in her dayroom. “I mean,” Ronda Ray said, “I thought nobody would get a kick out of undressing no real bear.”

We wondered why she was unpacking night clothes from the suitcase, if this day room was not where she intended to spend the night; she was a woman Franny was curious about—and I thought she was even exotic. She had dyed hair; I can’t say what colour it was because it wasn’t a real colour. It wasn’t red, it wasn’t blonde; it was the colour of plastic, or metal, and I wondered how it felt. Ronda Ray had a body that I imagined was formerly as strong as Franny’s but had grown a little thick—still powerful, but straining. It is hard to say what she smelled like, although—after we left Ronda—Franny tried.

“She put perfume on her wrist two days ago,” Franny said. “You following me?”

“Yes,” I said.

“But her watchband wasn’t there then—her brother was wearing her watch, or her father,” Franny said. “Some man, anyway, and he really sweated a lot.”

“Yes,” I said.

Then Ronda put the watchband on, over the perfume, and she wore it for a day while she was stripping beds,” Franny said.

“What beds?” I said.

Franny thought a minute. “Beds very strange people had slept in,” she said.

“The circus called Fritz’s Act slept in them!” I said.

“Right!” said Franny.

“The whole summer!” we said, in unison.

“Right,” Franny said. “And what we smell when we smell Ronda is what Ronda’s watchband smells like—after all that.”

That was coming close to it, but I thought it was a slightly better smell than that—just slightly. I thought of Ronda Ray’s stockings, which she hung in the closet of her dayroom; I thought that if I sniffed just behind the knee of the pair of stockings she was wearing I would catch the true essence of her.

“You know why she wears them?” Franny asked me.

“No,” I said.

“Some man spilled hot coffee on her legs,” Franny said. “He did it on purpose. He tried to boil her.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I’ve seen the scars,” Franny said. “And she told me.”

At the squawk-box controls, we switched off all the rooms and listened to Ronda Ray’s room. She was humming. Then we heard her smoke. We imagined how she’d sound with a man.

“Noisy,” Franny said. We listened to Ronda’s breathing, intermixed with the crackles of the intercom system—an ancient system that ran on the power from an automobile battery, like a clever electric fence.

When Lilly and Egg and Father came home from the game, Franny and I put Egg in the dumbwaiter and hauled him up and down the four-storey shaft until Frank ratted on us and Father told us that the dumbwaiter would be used only for removing linen and dishes and other things—not humans—from the rooms.

It wasn’t safe. Father said. If we let go of the rope, the dumbwaiter fell at the speed imposed by its own response to gravity. That was fast—if not for a thing, at least for a human.

“But Egg is so light,” Franny argued. “I mean, we’re not going to try it with Frank.”

“You’re not going to try it at all!” Father said.

Then Lilly got lost and we stopped unpacking for almost an hour, trying to find her. She was sitting in the kitchen with Mrs. Urick, who had seized Lilly’s attention by telling her stories of the various ways she’d been punished when she’d been a girl. Her hair had been cut out in hunks, to humiliate her, when she forgot to wash before supper; she’d been told to go stand barefoot in the snow whenever she swore; when she’d “snitched” food, she’d been force to eat a tablespoon of salt.

“If you and Mother go away,” Lilly said to Father, “you won’t leave us with Mrs. Urick, will you?”

Frank had the best room and Franny complained; she had to share a room with Lilly. A doorway without a door connected my room to Egg’s. Max Urick dismantled his intercom; when we listened to his room, all we heard was static—as if the old sailor were still far out to sea. Mrs. Urick’s room bubbled like the stockpots on the back of her stove—the sound of life held steadily at a simmer.

We were so restless for more guests, and for the Hotel New Hampshire to actually be open, that we couldn’t keep still.

Father paced us through two fire drills, to tire us out, but it only roused us to wanting more action. When it was dark, we realized the electricity hadn’t been turned on—so we hid from each other, and searched for each other, through the empty rooms with candles.

I hid in Ronda Ray’s dayroom on the second floor. I blew my candle out and, with my sense of smell, located the drawers where she’d put her nightclothes away. I heard Frank scream from the third floor—he’d put his hand on a plant in the dark—and what could only be Franny laughing in the echo chamber that the stairwell was.

“Have your fun now!” Father roared from our apartment. “When there are guests here, you can’t have the run of the place.”

Lilly found me in Ronda Ray’s room and helped me put Ronda’s clothes back in the chest of drawers. Father caught us leaving Ronda’s room and took Lilly back to our apartment and put her to bed; he was irritable because he’d just tried to call the electric company to complain that the power was off and had discovered that our phones weren’t connected, either. Mother had volunteered to take a walk with Egg and make the call from the railroad station.

I went looking for Franny, but she had made it back to the lobby, undetected; she switched all the intercoms to “Broadcasting” and broadcast an announcement throughout the hotel.

“Now hear this!” Franny boomed. “Now hear this! Everyone out of bed for a sex check!”

“What’s a sex check?” I wondered, running down the stairwell to the lobby.

Frank fortunately missed the message; he was hiding in the fourth-floor utility closet, where there was no squawk box installed: when he heard Franny’s announcement, the message was garbled. He probably thought that Father was pacing us through another fire drill; in his haste to leave the utility closet, Frank stepped in a pail and fell on all fours, his head hitting the floor and one hand touching, this time, a dead mouse.

We heard him scream again, and Max Urick opened his door at the end of the fourth-floor hall and bellowed as if he were out to sea and going down.

“Shut up your God-awful screeching, or I’ll hang you by your little fingers off the fire escape!”

That put Frank in a bad mood; he declared that our games were “childish” and he went to his room. Franny and I watched out over Elliot Park from the big corner window in 3F; that would be Coach Bob’s bedroom, but Bob was out at an Athletic Department banquet, celebrating all but the last game—yet to be played.

Elliot Park was typically deserted, and the unused playground facilities stuck up like dead trees against the dull glow from the one streetlight. The last of the construction equipment was still there, the diesel machines and the workmen’s shack, but the Hotel New Hampshire was finished, now, except for landscaping, and the only machine that had been in use, for days, was the backhoe that crouched near the front flagstone path like a starving dinosaur. There were still a few stumps from the dead elms to dig out of the ground, and a few holes to fill around the periphery of the new parking lot. A soft, glossy light came from the windows of our apartment, where Father was putting Lilly to bed, by candlelight, and Frank was, no doubt, looking at himself in his band uniform in the mirror of his room.

Franny and I saw the squad car come into Elliot Park—like a shark cruising forsaken waters for an unlikely meal. We speculated that the old patrolman, Howard Tuck, would “arrest” Mother and Egg as they were walking back from the railroad station. We speculated that the candle-light in the Hotel New Hampshire would convince Patrolman Tuck that there were ghosts of old Thompson Female Seminary students haunting the hotel. But Howard parked the patrol car behind the most obvious pile of construction rubble and shut off his engine and his lights.

We saw the head of his cigar, like the shimmering red eye of an animal, in the dark car.

We saw Mother and Egg crossing the playground undetected. They came out of the darkness, and out of the scant light, as if their time on earth were that brief and that dimly illuminated; it gave me a twinge, to see them like that, and I felt Franny shudder beside me.

“Let’s go turn all the lights on,” Franny suggested. “In all the rooms.”

“But the electricity is out,” I said.

“It is now, dummy,” she said, “but if we turn on all the lights, the whole hotel will light up when they turn the power on.”

That sounded like a fine idea, so I helped her do it—even the hall lights outside Max Urick’s room—and the outdoor floodlights, which would one day illuminate a patio extending from the restaurant but now would shine only on the backhoe, and a yellow steel hard hat that dangled by its chin strap from a small tree the back-hoe had left alone. The workman whose hat it was seemed gone forever.

The abandoned hat reminded me of Struthers, strong and dull; I knew Franny hadn’t seen him in a while. I knew she had no favourite boyfriends, and she seemed sullen on the subject. Franny was a virgin, she’d told me, not because she wanted to be but because there wasn’t a boy at the Dairy School who was (as she put it) “worth it.”

“I don’t mean I think I’m so great,” she told me, “but I don’t want some clod ruining it for me, and I don’t want someone who’d laugh at me, either. It’s very important, John,” she told me, “especially the first time.”

“Why?” I asked.

It just is,” Franny said. “It’s the first time, that’s why. It stays with you forever.”

I doubted it; I hoped not. I thought of Ronda Ray: what had the first time meant to her? I thought of her night-clothes, smelling—ambiguously—like her wrist under her watchband, like the back of her knee.

Howard Tuck and the patrol car hadn’t moved by the time Franny and I accomplished turning on all the lights. We snuck outdoors; when the power went on, we wanted to see the whole hotel ablaze. We climbed into the driver’s seat of the backhoe and waited.

Howard Tuck sat so still in the squad car, he looked as if he were waiting for his retirement. In fact, Iowa Bob was fond of saying that Howard Tuck always looked “at death’s door.”

When Howard Tuck cranked the ignition of the squad car, the hotel lit up as if he’d done it. When the patrol car’s headlights bunked on, every light in the hotel came to life, and Howard Tuck seemed to lurch the car forward and stall—as if the sight of the bright hotel had dazed him and his foot had slipped off the gas or off the clutch. Actually, the sight of the Hotel New Hampshire blazing with light the instant he started his car had been too much for old Howard Tuck. His life in Elliot Park had been less illuminated—only occasional sexual discoveries, inexpert teen-agers caught in his spotlight, and the odd vandal interested in doing trivial damage to the Thompson Female Seminary. Once the Dairy School students had stolen one of the school’s token cows and tied it to the goal at one end of the field-hockey field.

What Howard Tuck saw when he started his car had been a four-storey shock of light—the way the Hotel New Hampshire might look the precise second it was bombed. Max Urick’s radio came on with a blast of music that caused Max to shriek in alarm; a stove tuner chimed in Mrs. Urick’s underground kitchen; Lilly cried out in her sleep; Frank came to life in the dark mirror; Egg, anxious at the hum of electricity he felt throb through the hotel, shut his eyes; Franny and I, in the backhoe, held our hands over our ears—as if the sight of this much sudden light could only be accompanied by an explosion. And the old patrolman, Howard Tuck, felt his foot slip off the clutch at the moment his heart stopped and he departed a world where hotels could spring to life so easily.

Franny and I were the first to get to the squad car. We saw the policeman’s body slumped against the steering wheel and heard the horn blaring. Father and Mother and Frank ran out of the Hotel New Hampshire, as if the police car were sounding the signal for another fire drill.

“Jesus, Howard, you’re dead!” Father said to the old man, shaking him.

“We didn’t mean to, we didn’t mean to,” Franny said.

Father thumped old Howard Tuck on the chest and stretched him out on the police car’s front seat; then he struck him on the chest again.

“Call somebody!” Father said, but there was no working phone in our unlikely house. Father looked at the puzzling maze of wires and switches and ear—and mouthpieces in the squad car. “Hello? Hello!” he said into something, pushing something else. “How the fuck does this thing work?” he cried.

“Who’s this?” said a voice out of the tubes of the car.

“Get an ambulance to Elliot Park!” my father said.

“Halloween alert?” said the voice. “Halloween trouble? Hello. Hello.”

“Jesus God, it’s Halloween!” Father said. “Goddamn silly machine!” he cried, slamming the dashboard of the squad car with one hand; he gave a fairly hard thump to the quiet chest of Howard Tuck with his other hand.

“We can get an ambulance!” Franny said. “The school ambulance!”

And I ran with her through Elliot Park, which was now glowing in the stunning light that poured from the Hotel New Hampshire. “Holy cow,” said Iowa Bob, when we ran into him at the Pine Street entrance to the park; he was looking at the bright hotel as if the place had opened for business without him. In the unnatural light, Coach Bob looked years older to me, but I suppose he really looked only as old as he was—a grandfather and a retiring coach with one more game to play.

“Howard Tuck had a heart attack!” I told him, and Franny and I ran on toward the Dairy School—which was always up to heart-attack tricks of its own, especially on Halloween.

4

Franny Loses a Fight

On Halloween, the Police Department of the town of Dairy sent old Howard Tuck to Elliot Park, as usual, but the State Police sent two cars to cruise the campus of the Dairy School, and the campus security force was doubled; although short on tradition, the Dairy School had a considerable Halloween reputation.

It had been Halloween when one of the token cows had been tied to the goal at the Thompson Female Seminary. It had been another Halloween when another cow had been led to the Dairy School field house and indoor swimming pool, where the beast suffered a violent reaction to the chlorine in the water and drowned.

It had been Halloween when four little kids from the town had made the mistake of going trick-or-treating in one of the Dairy dorms. The children were kidnapped for the night; they had their heads shaved by a student costumed as an executioner, and one child was unable to speak for a week.

“I hate Halloween,” Franny said, as we noted there were few trick-or-treaters on the streets; the little kids of Dairy were frightened of Halloween. An occasional cringing child, with a paper bag or a mask on its head, cowered as Franny and I ran by; and a group of small children—one dressed as a witch, one as a ghost, and two as robots from a recent film about a Martian invasion—fled into the safety of a lit doorway as we charged up the sidewalk toward them.

Cars with anxious parents were parked here and there along the street—spotting for would-be attackers as their children cautiously approached a door to ring a bell. The usual anxieties about the razor blades in apples, the arsenic in the chocolate cookies, were no doubt passing through the parked parents” minds. One such anxious father put his headlights on Franny and me and leaped from his car to give chase. “Hey, you!” he yelled.

“Howard Tuck had a heart attack!” I called to him, and that seemed to stop him—cold. Franny and I ran through the open gate, like the gate to a cemetery, that admitted us to the playing fields of the Dairy School; past the pointed iron bars, I tried to imagine the gate for the Exeter weekend—when they would be selling pennants and blankets and cowbells to bash together at the game. It was a rather cheerless gate, now, and as we ran in, a small horde of children rushed by us, running out—the other way. They were running for their lives, it seemed, and a few of their terrified faces were as shocking as the Halloween masks some of the other kids had managed to keep on. Their plastic black-and-white and pumpkin-coloured costumes were in shreds and tatters, and they wailed like a children’s hospital ward—great gagging snivels of fear.

“Jesus God,” Franny said, and they fled away from her—as if she were in costume and I wore the worst mask of all.

I grabbed a small boy and asked him, “What’s happening?” But he writhed and screamed in my hands, he tried to bite my wrist—he was wet and trembling and he smelled strange, and his skeleton costume came away in pieces in my hands, like soggy toilet paper or a decomposing sponge. “Giant spiders!” he cried, witlessly. I let him go.

“What’s happening?” Franny called to the children, but they were gone as suddenly as they’d appeared. The playing fields stretched in front of us, dark and empty; at the end of them, like tall ships across a harbour shrouded by fog, the dorms and buildings of the Dairy School seemed sparsely lit—as if everyone had gone to bed early, and only a few good students were burning, as they say, the midnight oil. But Franny and I knew that there were very few “good” students at Dairy, and on a Halloween Saturday night we doubted that even the good ones were studying—and we doubted that any of the dark windows meant that anyone was sleeping. Perhaps they were drinking in the blackness of their rooms, perhaps they were violating each other, and some captured children, in their dark dorms. Perhaps there was a new religion, the rage of the campus, and the religion required total night for its rituals—and Halloween was its day of reckoning.

Something was wrong. The white wooden goal at the near end of the soccer field seemed too white, to me, although it was the darkest night I had been in. Something was too stark and apparent about the goal.

“I wish Sorrow was with us,” Franny said.

Sorrow will be with us, I thought—knowing what Franny didn’t know: that Father had taken Sorrow to the vet’s this very day, to have the old dog put to sleep. There had been a sober discussion—in Franny’s absence—of the need for this. Lilly and Egg weren’t with us, either. Father had told Mother, Frank, and me—and Iowa Bob. “Franny won’t understand,” Father had said. “And Lilly and Egg are too young. There’s no point in asking their opinion. They won’t be rational.”

Frank did not care for Sorrow, but even Frank seemed saddened by the death sentence.

“I know he smells bad,” Frank said, “but that’s not exactly a fatal disease.”

“In a hotel it is,” Father said. “That dog has terminal flatulence.”

“And he is old,” Mother said.

“When you get old,” I told Mother and Father, “we won’t put you to sleep.”

“And what about me?” Iowa Bob said. “I suppose I’m the next one to go. Got to watch my farting, or it’s off to the nursing home!”

“You’re no help at all,” Father told Coach Bob. “It’s only Franny who really loves the dog. She’s the one who’s really going to be upset, and we’ll just have to make it as easy for her as we can.”

Father no doubt thought that anticipation was nine-tenths of suffering: he was not really being cowardly by not seeking Franny’s opinion; he knew what her opinion would be, of course, and he knew that Sorrow had to go.

And so I wondered how long we would be moved into the Hotel New Hampshire before Franny would notice the old farter’s absence, before she would start sniffing around for Sorrow—Father would have to put all his cards on the table.

“Well, Franny,” I could imagine Father beginning. “You know that Sorrow wasn’t getting any younger—or any better at controlling himself.”

Passing the dead-white soccer goal, under the black sky, I shuddered to think how Franny would take it. “Murderers!” she would call us all. And we would all look guilty. “Franny, Franny,” Father would say, but Franny would make an awful fuss. I pitied the strangers in the Hotel New Hampshire who would waken to the variety of sounds Franny was capable of.

Then I realized what was wrong about the soccer goal: the net was gone. End of the season? I thought. But no, if there was one week more of football, surely there was a week more of soccer, too. And I recalled in past years how the nets would stay on the goals until the first snow, as if it took the first storm to remind the maintenance crew what they had forgotten. The nets in the goals held the drifted snow—like spider webs so dense that they trap dust.

“The net’s gone—off the goal” I said to Franny.

“Big deal” she said, and we veered into the woods. Even in the dark, Franny and I could find the shortcut, the path the football players always used—and everyone else, because of them, stayed off it.

A Halloween prank? I thought. Stealing a net to a soccer goal... and then, of course, Franny and I ran right into it. Suddenly the net was over us, and under us, and there were two other people trapped like us: a Dairy School freshman, named Firestone, his face as round as a tyre and as soft as a kind of cheese, and a small trick-or-treater from town. The trick-or-treater was wearing a gorilla suit, though he was closer, in size, to a spider monkey. His gorilla mask was backwards on his head, so that when you saw the back of his head you saw a monkey, and when you saw his screaming face you saw him for the frightened little boy he was.

It was a jungle trap, and the monkey thrashed in it wildly. Firestone tried to He down, but the net kept jiggling him out of position—he collided with me and said, “Sorry”; then he collided with Franny and said, “God, awfully sorry.” Every time I tried to get back on my feet, the net would jerk my feet out from under me, or the net over my head would jerk my head back and I’d fall. Franny crouched on all fours, keeping her balance. Inside the net with us was a large brown paper bag, spewing forth the Halloween hoardings of the child in the gorilla suit—candy corn and sticky balls of coagulated popcorn, breaking apart under us, and lollipops with their crinkly cellophane wrappers. The child in the gorilla suit was screaming in that breathless, hysterical way, as if he were about to choke, and Franny got her arms around him and tried to calm him down. “It’s all right, it’s just a dirty trick,” she said to him. “They’ll let us go.”

“Giant spiders!” cried the child, slapping himself all over and twitching in Franny’s grasp.

“No, no,” Franny said. “No spiders. They’re just people.”

But I thought I knew what people they were; I would have preferred the spiders.

“Got four of them!” said someone—a voice with a locker-room familiarity to it. “Got fucking four of them at once!”

“Got a little one and three big ones,” said another familiar voice, a ballcarrier’s voice or a blocking back’s voice—it was hard to tell.

Flashlights, like the blinking eyes of rather mechanical spiders in the night, looked us over.

“Well, look who’s here,” said the voice in command, said the quarterback called Chipper Dove.

“Got pretty little feet,” said Harold Swallow.

“Got beautiful skin,” said Chester Pulasik.

“She has a nice smile, too,” said Lenny Metz.

“And the best ass in the whole school,” said Chipper Dove. Franny rested on her knees.

“Howard Tuck had a heart attack!” I told them all. “We’ve got to get an ambulance!”

“Let the fucking monkey go,” said Chip Dove. The net shifted. The thin black arm of Harold Swallow snatched the kid in the gorilla suit out of the spider’s web and released him into the night. “Trick or treat!” said Harold, and the little gorilla was gone.

“Is that you, Firestone?” Dove asked, and the flashlight shone on the bland boy named Firestone, who looked as if he were trying to fall asleep at the bottom of the net, his knees drawn fetus-tight up to his chest, his eyes closed, his hand over his mouth.

“You fag, Firestone,” said Lenny Metz. “What are you doing?”

“He’s suckin’ his thumb,” said Harold Swallow.

“Let him go,” the quarterback said, and Chester Pulaski’s painful complexion blossomed, momentarily, in the flashlight; he dragged the dormant Firestone from the net. After a slight pounding sound, of flesh on flesh, we heard the awakened Firestone trot away.

“Now look who’s left,” said Chipper Dove.

“A man had a heart attack,” Franny said. “We really are going to the infirmary for the ambulance.”

“You’re not going there now,” said Dove. “Hey, kid,” he said to me, holding a flashlight on my face. “You know what I want you to do, kid?”

“No,” I said. And someone kicked me through the net.

“What I want you to do, kid,” Chipper Dove said, “is stay right here, in our giant spider web, until one of the spiders tells you you can go. You understand?”

“No,” I said, and someone kicked me again, a little harder.

“Be smart,” Franny said to me.

“That’s right,” said Lenny Metz. “Be smart.”

“And you know what I want you to do, Franny?” said Chipper Dove, but Franny didn’t respond. “I want you to show me that place, again,” he said. “That place where we can be alone. Remember?”

I tried to crawl closer to Franny, but someone was tightening the net around me.

“She stays with me!” I yelled. “Franny stays with me.”

I was down on my hip, then, with the net growing tighter and someone was kneeling on my back.

“Leave him alone,” Franny said. “I’ll show you the place.”

“Just stay here and don’t move, Franny,” I said, but she let Lenny Metz pull her out from under the net. “Remember what you said, Franny!” I cried to her. “Remember—about the first time?”

“It probably isn’t true,” she said, dully. “It probably isn’t anything.”

Then she must have made a break for it, because I heard a scuffle in the dark, and Lenny Metz cried out, “Nuff! Son of a bitch, you bitch!” And there was that familiar sound of pounding—flesh on flesh again—and I heard Franny say, “All right! All right! You bastard.”

“Lenny and Chester are going to help you show me the place, Franny,” Chipper Dove said. “Okay?”

“You turd in a birdbath,” Franny said. “You rat’s asshole,” she said, but I heard flesh on flesh again, and Franny said, “Okay! Okay.”

It was Harold Swallow who was kneeling on my back. If the net hadn’t been all tangled around me, I might have been a match for him, but I couldn’t move.

“We’ll be back for you, Harold!” Chipper Dove called.

“Hang in there, Harold!” said Chester Pulaski.

“You’ll get your turn, Harold!” said Lenny Metz, and they all laughed.

“I don’t want no turn,” said Harold Swallow. “I don’t want no trouble,” he said. But they were gone, Franny occasionally cursing—but farther and farther away from me.

“You’re going to get in trouble, Harold,” I said. “You know what they’re going to do to her.”

“I don’t want to know,” he said. “I don’t get in no trouble. I come to this shit-ass school to get outa trouble.”

“Well, you’re in trouble now, Harold,” I said. “They’re going to rape her, Harold.”

“That happens,” said Harold Swallow. “But not to me.” I struggled briefly under the net, but it was easy for him to keep me pinned down. “I don’t like to fight, either,” he said.

“They think you’re a crazy nigger,” I told him. “That’s what they think you are. That’s why they’re with her and you’re here, Harold. But it’s the same trouble,” I told him. “You’re in the same trouble they’re in.”

“They never get in no trouble,” Harold said. “Nobody ever tells.”

“Franny will tell,” I said, but I felt the candy corn pressed against my face, and into the damp ground. It was another Halloween to remember, for sure, and I felt as weak and small as I’d ever felt—on every Dairy Halloween I could recall, scared to death by bigger, always bigger kids, stuffing my head in my trick-or-treat bag and rattling it until all I heard was cellophane, and then the bag bursting around my ears.

“What did they look like?” Father would always ask us.

But every year they looked like ghosts, gorillas, skeletons, and worse, of course; it was a night for disguises, and nobody ever was caught. Not for tying Frank to the fire escape of the biggest dorm, where he wet his pants; no one ever caught anyone for that. Not for the three pounds of cold, wet pasta someone threw on Franny and me, crying, “Live eels! Run for your lives!” And we lay writhing on the dark sidewalk, the spaghetti sticking to us, beating each other and screaming.

“They’re going to rape my sister, Harold!” I said. “You got to help her.”

“I can’t help nobody,” Harold said.

Somebody can help,” I said. “We could run and get somebody. I know you can run, Harold.”

“Yeah,” he said. “But who’s going to help you with those guys?”

Not Howard Tuck, I knew, and by the sound of sirens, which I heard now—from the campus and the town—I guessed that Father had figured out the police car enough to use its radio for help. So there would be no authorities available to help Franny, anyway. I started to cry, and Harold Swallow shifted his weight on my shoulder.

It was quiet for a second, between the deep breaths the sirens take, and we heard Franny. Flesh on flesh, I thought—but it was different now. Franny made a sound that moved Harold Swallow to remember whomight help her.

“Junior Jones could handle those guys,” Harold said. “Junior Jones don’t take no shit from nobody.”

“Yes!” I said. “And he’s your friend, isn’t he? He likes you better than them, doesn’t he?”

“He don’t like nobody,” said Harold Swallow, admiringly; but suddenly his weight was off me, and he was pawing at the net, unwinding it from around me. “Get up off your ass,” he said. “Junior does like somebody.”

“Who’s he like?” I asked.

“He likes everybody’s sister,” said Harold Swallow, but this thought did not reassure me.

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Get up on your feet!” said Harold Swallow. “Junior Jones likes everybody’s sister—he told me so, man. He said, ‘Everybody’s sister is a good girl’—that’s just what he said.”

“But what’s he mean?” I said, trying to keep up with him, now, because he was the fastest organization of human flesh at the Dairy School. As Coach Bob said, Harold Swallow could fly.

We ran toward the light at the end of the footpath; we ran past where I knew I’d last heard from Franny—where the ferns were, where Iowa Bob’s backfield was taking turns. I stopped there; I wanted to run into the woods there, and find her, but Harold Swallow pulled me along.

“You can’t do nothing to those guys, man,” he said. “We got to get Junior.”

Why Junior Jones would help us, I didn’t know. I only thought that I would die before I found out—trying to keep up with Harold Swallow—and I thought that if Jones indeed liked “everybody’s sister,” as he apparently claimed, that didn’t necessarily mean good news for Franny.

How does he like everybody’s sister?” I panted to Harold Swallow.

“He likes them like he likes his own sister,” Harold Swallow said. “Man!” he said to me “Why are you so slow? Junior Jones has got a sister himself, man,” Harold said. “And some dudes raped her. Shit,” he said. “I thought everybody knew that!”

“There’s a lot you miss, not living in the dorms,” Frank was always saying.

“Did they catch them?” I asked Harold Swallow. “Did they catch the guys who raped Junior’s sister?”

“Shit,” said Harold Swallow. “Junior caught them! I thought everybody knew that.”

“What’d he do to them?” I asked Harold Swallow, but Harold had beaten me to Junior Jone’s dorm. He was flying up the stairwell and I was easily a full flight of stairs behind him.

“Don’t ask!” Harold Swallow yelled down to me. “Shit,” he said. “Nobody knows what he did to them, man. And nobody asks.”

Where the hell does Junior Jones live? I wondered, passing the third floor and climbing higher, my lungs breaking, Harold Swallow nowhere in sight. But Harold was waiting for me at the landing of the fifth and topmost floor.

Junior Jones lives in the sky, I thought, but Harold explained to me that most of the black athletes at the Dairy School were quartered on the top floor of this one dorm. “Where we’re out of sight, you know?” Harold asked me. “Like fucking birdies in the nests in the tippy-tops of the trees, man,” said Harold Swallow. “That’s where the black people get put at this shit-ass school.”

The fifth floor of the dorm was dark and hot. “Heat rises, don’t you know?” said Harold Swallow. “Welcome to the fuckin’ jungle.”

Every light in every room was out, but music was playing and escaping from under the doors; the fifth floor of that dorm was like a tiny street of nightclubs and bars in a city observing blackout conditions; and from the rooms I heard the unmistakable shuffling of feet—dancing and dancing in the dark.

Harold Swallow pounded on a door.

“What you want?” said the terrifying voice of Junior Jones. “You want to die?”

“Junior, Junior!” said Harold Swallow, pounding harder.

“You do want to die, don’t you?” said Junior Jones, and we heard a series of locks, as if from a jail cell, unlocking the door from inside.

“If some mother wants to die,” said Junior Jones, “I’ll help him.” More locks unlocked; Harold Swallow and I stepped back from the door. “Which one of you wants to die first?” said Junior Jones. Heat and a saxophone throbbed from his room; he was backlit by a candle burning on his desk, which was draped—like the coffin of a President—with the American flag.

“We need your help, Junior,” said Harold Swallow.

“You sure do,” said Junior Jones.

“They’ve got my sister,” I said to him. “They’ve got Franny,” I said. “And they’re raping her.”

Junior Jones seized me by my armpits and hoisted me up to him, face to face; he leaned me, gently, against the wall. My feet felt a foot or two off the floor; I didn’t struggle.

“Did you say rape, man?” he asked.

“Yeah, rape, rape!” said Harold Swallow, darting around us like a bee. “They’re raping his sister, man. They really are.”

“Your sister?” Junior asked me, letting me slide to the floor against the wall.

“My sister Franny,” I said, and for a moment I feared he would say, again, “She’s just another white girl, to me.” But he didn’t say anything; he was crying—his big face as shiny and wet as the shield of a warrior left out in the rain.

“Please?” I said to him. “We have to hurry.” But Junior Jones started shaking his head, his tears spraying Harold Swallow and me.

“We’re not gonna be in time,” Junior said. “No way are we going to be in time.”

There’s three of them,” said Harold Swallow. “Three times takes time.” And I felt sick—I felt like Halloween, again and again, with a bellyful of junk and trash.

“And I know which three of them, don’t I?” said Junior Jones. I noticed he was getting dressed: I hadn’t noticed he’d been naked. He pulled on a baggy grey pair of sweat pants, he pulled on his high-topped white basketball shoes over his huge bare feet. He put on a baseball cap, with the visor turned backwards; that was all he was going to wear, apparently, because he stood in the fifth-floor hall of the dorm and shouted suddenly. “Black Arm of the Law!” he said. Doors opened. “Lion hunt!” Jones yelled. The black athletes, quarantined on the top floor, peered out at him. “Get your shit together,” said Junior Jones.

“Lion hunt!” cried Harold Swallow, flying up and down the hall. “Get your shit together! Black Arm of the Law!”

It was then that it occurred to me that I didn’t know any black students at the Dairy School who weren’t athletes—of course: our shit-ass school wouldn’t take them if they couldn’t be of some use.

“What’s a lion hunt?” I asked Junior Jones.

“Your sister’s a good girl,” Jones said. “I know she is. Everybody’s own sister is a good girl,” he said, and I agreed with him, of course, and Harold Swallow bumped my arm and said, “You see, man? Everybody’s sister is a good girl.”

And we flew down the stairwell with remarkable silence, considering how many of us there were. Harold Swallow led us, waiting impatiently on every landing. Junior Jones was surprisngly quick for his size. On the second-floor landing we encountered two white students coming home from somewhere; they saw the black athletes descending the stairs and fled down the hall on their floor. “Lion hunt!” they cried. “Fucking Black Arm of the Law!”

Not a door opened; two lights went out. And then we were outside in the Halloween night, heading for the woods and the place just off the footpath that I would recognize and remember all my life. There’s not a day when I couldn’t locate those ferns, where Franny and I were first and always alone.

“Franny,” I cried out, but there was no answer. I led Jones and Harold Swallow into the woods; behind us, the black athletes fanned out along the footpath and entered the woods all up and down the path—shaking the trees, kicking the dead leaves, some of them humming a little tune, all of them (I suddenly noticed) wearing those baseball caps turned backwards, all of them bare-chested; two of them wore “catchers” masks. The sound they made coming through the woods was like the whirring of a large rotary blade cutting through a field. Flashlights blinked, and like a swarm of large fireflies we came upon the ferns where Lenny Metz, his pants still off, held my sister’s head pinched between his knees. Metz was kneeling on Franny’s arms, stretched over her head, while Chester Pulaski—who no doubt, had been third in line—was finishing his turn.

Chipper Dove was gone; he had been first, of course. And like the careful quarterback he was, he hadn’t held the ball too long.

“Of course I knew what he was going to do,” Franny told me, much later. “I was prepared for him, I’d even imagined it—with him. I always knew it would be him—the first time—somehow. But I never thought he’d let the others even see me with him. I even told him that they didn’t have to force me, that I’d let him. But when he left me with them—I wasn’t prepared for that at all. I never even imagined that.”

It seemed to my sister that she’d been made to pay disproportionately for her mischief with the lights in the Hotel New Hampshire and her inadvertent contribution to Howard Tuck’s departure from our world. “Boy, are you ever made to pay for a little fun,” Franny said.

And it seemed to me that Lenny Metz and Chester Pulaski hardly paid enough for the “fun” they’d had. Metz released my sister’s arms when he first caught sight of Junior Jones; he pulled his pants up and made a break for it—but he was a running back used to good blocking in front of him and a relatively open field. In the dark woods he could barely see the dark bodies of the humming black athletes, and although he ran with power and with some speed, he struck a tree as big around as his thigh and it broke his collarbone. He was surrounded rather quickly then, and was dragged back to the holy ground in the ferns, where Junior Jones ordered all his clothes stripped off him and had him tied to a lacrosse stick; he was then carried, naked, to the Dean of Men. I learned, later, that the lion hunters always delivered up their prey with a certain flair.

Once they’d caught an exhibitionist who’d been bothering the girls’ dorm. They hung him by his ankles to the shower head in the most populated of the girls” bathrooms—wrapped naked in a transparent shower curtain. Then they called the Dean. “This is the Black Arm of the Law,” said Junior Jones. “This is the sheriff of the fucking fifth floor.”

“Yes, Junior, what is it?” the Dean asked.

“There’s a male nudist in the females’ dorm, first-floor bathroom, on your right,” Jones said. “The lion hunters captured him in the act of exhibiting himself.”

Thus Lenny Metz was lugged to the Dean of Men. Chester Pulaski got there ahead of him. “Lion hunt!” Harold Swallow had screamed in the woods, and when Lenny let go of Franny’s arms, Chester Pulaski slipped out of my sister and made a break for it, too. He was completely undressed, however, and on his tender bare feet he trotted slowly between the trees, not striking them. Every twenty yards or so, he was scared to death by the Black Arm of the Law, the black athletes who crept through the woods, swishing the trees, snapping sticks, and humming their tune. It had been Chester Pulaski’s first gang bang, and the jungle ritual had completely coloured the night for him—he thought the woods were suddenly full of natives! (cannibals! he imagined)—and he stumbled whimpering and bent over, appropriate to my imagination of Early Man, not quite upright, mostly on all fours, when he arrived at the dormitory apartment of the Dean of Men.

The Dean of Men had not been happy at the Dairy School since the school had admitted women. Before then he’d been Dean of Students—a prim, fit man with a pipe and a fondness for racquet sports, he had a pert, fit wife of the youthful, cheerleader variety, her age betrayed only by an alarming pouchiness about her eyes; they had no children. The boys,” the Dean of Students liked to say, “are all my children.”

When the “girls” arrived, he never felt the same about them and quickly appointed, to assist himself, his wife in the role of Dean of Women. His new title, Dean of Men, pleased him, but he despaired at all the new sorts of trouble his boys got into now that there were girls at Dairy.

“Oh no,” he probably said, when he heard Chester Pulaski clawing at his door. “I hate Halloween.”

“I’ll get it,” his wife said, and the Dean of Women went to open the door. “I know, I know,” she said, cheerfully, “trick or treat!”

And there was a naked and cringing Chester Pulaski, the blocking back—blazing with boils, smelling of sex.

The scream of the Dean of Women was said to have awakened the bottom two floors of the dorm the two deans lived in—and even Mrs. Butler, the night nurse, who was sleeping at her desk in the infirmary next door. “I hate Halloween,” she probably said to herself. She went to the infirmary door and saw Junior Jones and Harold Swallow and me; Junior was carrying Franny.

I had helped Franny get dressed in the ferns and Junior Jones had tried to untangle her hair while she cried and cried, and finally he’d said to her, “You want to walk or ride?” It was a question Father used to ask us children when we were years younger, which meant did we want to walk or did we want to take the car. Junior, of course, meant he would carry her, and that’s what Franny wanted—so he did.

He carried her past the spot in the ferns where Lenny Metz was being lashed to a lacrosse stick and prepared for a different land of travel. Franny cried and cried, and Junior said, “Hey, you’re a good girl, I have very good judgement about that.” But Franny kept crying. “Hey, listen,” said Junior Jones. “You know what? When someone touches you and you don’t want to be touched, that’s not really being touched—you got to believe me. It’s not you they touch when they touch you that way; they don’t really get you, you understand. You’ve still got you inside you. Nobody’s touched you—not really. You’re a really good girl, you believe me? You’ve still got you inside you, you believe that?”

“I don’t know,” Franny whispered, and went on crying. One of her arms lolled down Junior’s side and I took her hand; she squeezed; I squeezed back. Harold Swallow, darting through the trees, guiding us like a hush up the path, found the infirmary and opened the door.

“What’s all this?” said the night nurse, Mrs. Butler.

“I’m Franny Berry,” said my sister, “and I’ve been beaten up.”

“Beaten up” would remain Franny’s euphemism for it, although everyone knew she had been raped. “Beaten up” was all Franny would admit to, although no one missed the point; this way it would never be a legal point, however.

“She means she was raped,” Junior Jones told Mrs. Butler. But Franny kept shaking her head. I think that her way of interpreting Junior’s kindness to her, and his version of how the her in her had not been touched, was to convert her sexual abuse into the terms of a mere fight she had lost. She whispered to him—he still held her against his chest and in his arms—and then he put her down on her feet and said to Mrs. Butler, “Okay, she was beaten up.” Mrs. Butler knew what was meant.

“She was beaten up and raped,” said Harold Swallow, who couldn’t stand still, but Junior Jones cooled him down with a look and said to him, “Why don’t you fly away, Harold? Why don’t you fly off and find Mr. Dove?” That put the gleam back in Harold’s eye, and he flew away.

I called Father, before I remembered there was no working phone in the Hotel New Hampshire. Then I called Campus Security and asked them to give Father the message: Franny and I were at the Dairy School Infirmary; Franny had been “beaten up.”

“It’s just another Halloween, kid,” Franny said, holding my hand.

“The worst one, Franny,” I said to her.

The worst one so far,” she said.

Mrs. Butler took Franny off, to fix her—among other things—a bath, and Junior Jones explained to me that if Franny cleaned herself there would be no evidence that she was raped, and I went after Mrs. Butler to explain it to her, but Mrs. Butler had already explained this to Franny, who wanted to let it go. “I’ve been beaten up,” she said, although she would listen to Mrs. Butler’s advice about checking, later, to see if she was pregnant (she wasn’t)—or infected with a venereal disease (someone had passed on a little something, which was eventually cured).

When Father arrived at the infirmary, Junior Jones had gone to lend his assistance to the delivery of Lenny Metz to the Dean, Harold Swallow was combing the campus, like a hawk, looking for a dove—and I was sitting in an all-white hospital room with Franny, fresh from her bath, her hair in a towel, an ice pack on her left cheekbone, her right ring finger bandaged (she’d torn out a nail); she wore a white hospital smock and was sitting up in bed. “I want to go home,” she told Father. “Tell Mother I just need some clean clothes.”

“What did they do to you, darling?” Father asked her, and sat beside her on the bed.

“They beat me up,” Franny said.

“Where were you?” Father asked me.

“He got help,” Franny said.

“Did you see what happened?” Father asked me.

“He didn’t see anything,” Franny said.

I saw the Third Act, I wanted to tell Father, but although we all knew what “beaten up” meant, I would remain faithful to Franny’s term for it.

“I just want to go home,” Franny said, although the Hotel New Hampshire seemed, to me, to be a large and unfamiliar place to curl up in. Father went to get her clothes.

It was a pity he missed seeing Lenny Metz trussed up on the lacrosse stick and carried through the campus to the Dean like a poorly prepared piece of meat on a spit. And a pity Father didn’t witness the precociousness of Harold Swallow searching for Dove, gliding up to every dorm room like a shadow. Until Harold ascertained that Chipper Dove could only be in the girls” dorm. After that, he thought, it would be just a matter of time until he found whose room Dove was hiding in.

The Dean of Men, covering Chester Pulaski with his wife’s camel’s-hair coat—it was the nearest thing handy—cried out, “Chester, Chester, my boy! Why? Only a week before the Exeter game!”

“The woods are full of niggers,” Chester Pulaski said, mournfully. “They’re taking over. Run for your life.”

The Dean of Women had locked herself in the bathroom, and when the second set of clawing sounds, and banging, reached her ears, she cried to her husband. “You can answer the goddamned door this time!”

“It’s the niggers, don’t let them in!” Chester Pulaski cried, clutching the Dean of Women’s coat around him. The Dean of Men bravely opened the door; for some time he’d had an arrangement with Junior Jones’s secret police, which was Dairy’s highly underground and very good arm of the law.

“For God’s sake, Junior,” the Dean said. “This is going too far.”

“Who is it?” cried the Dean of Women from the bathroom, as Lenny Metz was brought into the Deans’ living room and stretched out on the hearth before the fireplace; his broken collarbone was killing him, and when he saw the fire he must have thought it was meant for him.

“I confess!” he cried.

“You bet you do,” said Junior Jones.

“I did it!” cried Lenny Metz.

“You sure did,” said Junior Jones.

“I did it, too!” cried Chester Pulaski.

“And who did it first?” asked Junior Jones.

“Chipper Dove!” sang the boys in the backfield. “Dove did it first!”

“There you have it,” said Junior Jones to the Dean of Men. “You got the picture?”

“What did they do—and to whom?” the Dean asked.

They gang-banged Franny Berry,” said Junior Jones, just as the Dean of Women emerged from the bathroom; she saw the black athletes swaying in the doorway, like a choral society from an African country, and she screamed again; she shut herself back up in the bathroom.

“Now we’ll bring you Dove,” said Junior Jones.

“Gently, Junior!” cried the Dean. “For God’s sake, gently!”

I stayed with Franny; Mother and Father came to the infirmary with her clothes. Coach Bob was left to babysit with Lilly and Egg—like the old days, I thought. But where was Frank?

Frank was out on a “mission,” Father said mysteriously. When Father had heard that Franny was “beaten up,” he’d never doubted the worst. And he knew that Sorrow would be the first thing she’d ask for when she was home in her own bed. “I want to go home,” she would say; and then she’d say, “I want Sorrow to sleep with me.”

“Maybe it’s not too late,” Father had said; he’d left Sorrow at the vet’s before the football game. If it had been a busy day for the vet, perhaps the old farter was still alive in some cage. Frank had undertaken the mission to go and see.

But it was like the rescue mission of Junior Jones; Frank arrived too late. He woke up the vet with his pounding on the door. “I hate Halloween,” the vet probably said, but his wife told him it was one of the Berry boys asking about Sorrow. “Oh-oh,” the vet said. “I’m sorry, son,” the vet told Frank, “but your dog passed away this afternoon.”

“I want to see him,” Frank said.

“Oh-oh,” the vet said. “The dog is dead, son.”

“Have you buried him?” Frank asked.

“It’s so sweet,” the vet’s wife told her husband. “Let the boy bury his own dog, if that’s what he wants.”

“Oh-oh,” the vet said, but he led Frank to the hindmost room of the kennel, where Frank was treated to the sight of three dead dogs in a pile, with a pile of three dead cats beside them. “We don’t bury things on the weekends,” the vet explained. “Which one is Sorrow?”

Frank spotted the old evil-smeller instantly; Sorrow had begun to stiffen up, but Frank was still able to force the dead black Labrador into a large trash bag. The vet and his wife couldn’t have known that Frank had no intention of burying Sorrow.

“Too late,” Frank whispered to Father, when Mother and Father and Franny and I arrived home—at the Hotel New Hampshire.

“Jesus God, I can walk by myself, you know,” Franny said, because all of us were trying to walk next to her. “Here, Sorrow!” she called. “Come on, boy!”

Mother started to cry and Franny took her arm. “I’m okay, Mom,” she said. “Really I am. Nobody touched the me inside me, I guess.” Father started to cry and Franny took his arm, too. I had been crying all night, it seemed, and I was all cried out.

Frank pulled me aside.

“What the fuck is it, Frank?” I said.

“Come see,” he said.

Sorrow, still in the trash bag, was under the bed in Frank’s room.

“Jesus God, Frank!” I said.

“I’m going to fix him for Franny,” he said. “In time for Christmas!”

Christmas, Frank?” I said. “Fix him?”

“I’m going to have Sorrow stuffed!” Frank said. Frank’s favourite course at the Dairy School was biology, a weird course taught by an amateur taxidermist named Foit. Frank, with Foit’s help, had already stuffed a squirrel and an odd orange bird.

“Holy cow, Frank,” I said, “I don’t know if Franny will like that.”

“It’s the next-best thing to being alive,” Frank said.

I didn’t know. By the sudden outburst we heard, from Franny, we knew that Father had broken the news to her. A slight distraction to Franny’s grief was caused by Iowa Bob. He insisted on going out and finding Chipper Dove himself, and it took some persuading to talk him out of it. Franny wanted another bath, and I lay in bed listening to the tub filling. Then I got up and went to the bathroom door and asked her if there was anything I could get her.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “Just go out and get me yesterday and most of today,” she said. “I want them back.”

“Is that all?” I said. “Just yesterday and today?”

“That’s all,” she said. “Thank you.”

“I would if I could, Franny,” I told her.

“I know,” she said. I heard her sinking slowly in the tub. “I’m okay,” she whispered. “Nobody got the fucking me in me.”

“I love you,” I whispered.

She didn’t answer me, and I went back to bed.

I heard Coach Bob, in his rooms above us—doing push-ups, and then some sit-ups, and then a little work with the one-arm curls (the bar-bells” rhythmic clanks and the old man’s enraged breaths)—and I wished he had been allowed to find Chipper Dove, who would have been no match for the old Iowa lineman.

Unfortunately, Dove was a match for Junior Jones and the Black Arm of the Law. Dove had gone straight to the girls” dorm, and to the room of a doting cheerleader named Melinda Mitchell. She was called Mindy and she was gaga over Dove. He told her he’d been “fooling around” with Franny Berry, but that when she started fooling around with Lenny Metz and Chester Pulaski, too, it had put him off. “A cock tease,” he called my sister, and Mindy Mitchell agreed. She had been jealous of Franny for years.

“But now Franny’s got the black bunch after me,” Dove told Mindy. “She’s pals with them. Especially Junior Jones,” Dove said, “—that goody-goody spade who’s a fink for the Dean.” So Mindy Mitchell tucked Dove into her bed with her, and when Harold Swallow came whispering at her door (“Dove, Dove—have you seen Dove? Black Arm of the Law wants to know”), she said she didn’t let any boy into her room and she wouldn’t let Harold in, either.

So they didn’t find him. He was expelled from the Dairy School in the morning—along with Chester Pulaski and Lenny Metz. The parents of the gang-bangers, when they heard the story, were grateful enough that nothing criminal was being charged that they accepted the expulsion from school rather graciously. Some of the faculty, and most of the trustees, were upset that the incident couldn’t have been suppressed until after the Exeter game, but it was pointed out that Iowa Bob’s backfield was a less embarrassing loss than losing Iowa Bob himself—for the old man surely would have refused to coach in a game with those three still on his team.

It was an incident that was hushed up in the best private school tradition; it was remarkable, really, how a school as unsophisticated as the Dairy School could at times imitate exactly the decorum of silence in dealing with distasteful matters that the more sophisticated schools had learned like a science.

For “beating up” Franny Berry—in what was implied to be merely an extension of the general roughhouse quality of a Dairy School Halloween—Chester Pulaski, Lenny Metz, and Chipper Dove were expelled. Dove, it appeared to me, got off scot-free. But Franny and I had not seen the last of him, and perhaps Franny already knew that. We had not seen the last of Junior Jones, either; he became Franny’s friend, if not exactly her bodyguard, for the duration of his stay at Dairy. They went everywhere together, and it was clear to me that Junior Jones was responsible for helping Franny feel that she was, indeed, a good girl—as he was always telling her. We had not seen the last of Jones when we left Dairy, although—once again—his style of rescuing Franny would distinguish itself by his late arrival. Junior Jones, as you know, would play college football at Penn State, and professional football for the Browns—until someone would mess up his knee. He would then go to law school and become active in an organization in New York City—which would be called, at his suggestion, the Black Arm of the Law. As Lilly would say—and one day she would make this clear to us—Everything is a fairy tale.

Chester Pulaski would suffer his racist nightmares most of his life, which would be over in a car. The police would say that he must have had his hands all over someone while he was supposed to be paying attention to the steering wheel. The woman was killed, too, and Lenny Metz said he knew her. When his collarbone healed, Metz went right back to carrying the ball; he played college football somewhere in Virginia and introduced Chester Pulaski to the woman he killed over one Christmas vacation. Metz would never be drafted by the pros—for a pronounced lack of quickness—but he was drafted by the U.S. Army, who didn’t care how slow he was, and he died for his country, as they say, in Vietnam. Actually, he was not shot by the enemy; he did not step on a mine. It was another kind of combat that Lenny Metz succumbed to: he was poisoned by a prostitute, whom he had cheated.

Harold Swallow was both too crazy and too fast for me to keep up with. God knows what became of him. Good luck to you, Harold, wherever you are!

Perhaps because it was Halloween, and Halloween’s atmosphere pervades my memory of Iowa Bob’s winning season, they have all become like ghosts and wizards and devils and creatures of magic, to me. Remember, too: it was the first night we slept in the Hotel New Hampshire—not that we slept for most of it. Any night in a new place is a little uneasy—there are the different sounds of the beds to get used to. And Lilly, who always woke up with the same dry cough, as if she were a very old person—and we’d be constantly surprised to see how small she was—woke up coughing differently, almost as if she were as exasperated with her own poor health as Mother was. Egg never woke up unless someone woke him, and then he behaved as if he’d been awake for hours. But the morning after Halloween, Egg woke up by himself—almost peacefully. And I had heard Frank masturbate in his room for years, but it was different hearing him do it in the Hotel New Hampshire—perhaps because I knew that Sorrow was in a trash bag under his bed.

The morning after Halloween, I watched the early light fall in Elliot Park. There’d been a frost, and through the frozen rinds of someone’s mangled pumpkin I saw Frank trudging to the bio lab with Sorrow in the trash bag over his shoulder. Father saw him out the same window.

“Where the hell is Frank going with the garbage?” Father asked.

“He probably couldn’t find the trash barrels,” I said, so that Frank could make good his escape. “I mean, we don’t have a phone that works, and we were out of electricity. There probably aren’t any trash barrels, either.”

“There are so,” Father said. “The barrels are out at the delivery entrance.” He stared after Frank and shook his head. “The damn fool must be going all the way to the dump,” Father said. “Jesus, that boy is queer.”

I shivered, because I knew that Father didn’t know that Frank really was queer.

When Egg was finally out of the bathroom, Father went to use the facilities and found that Franny had beaten him to the door. She was drawing another bath for herself, and Mother told Father, “Don’t you say a word to her. She can take all the baths she wants.” And they went away, arguing—which they rarely did. “I told you we’d need another bathroom,” Mother said.

I listened to Franny, drawing her bath. “I love you,” I whispered at the locked door. But—over the sound of the healing water—it is unlikely that Franny ever heard me.

5

Merry Christmas, 1956

I remember the rest of 1956, from Halloween to Christmas, as the length of time it took Franny to stop taking three baths a day—and to return to her natural fondness for her own good, ripe smell. Franny always smelled nice to me—although at times she gave off a very strong smell—but from Halloween to Christmas, 1956, Franny did not smell nice to herself. And so she took so many baths that she did not smell at all.

In the Hotel New Hampshire, our family took over another bathroom and sharpened our skills at Father’s first family business. Mother took charge of the cranky pride of Mrs. Urick, and the plain-but-good production of Mrs. Urick’s kitchen; Mrs. Urick took charge of Max, in spite of his being well hidden from her, on the fourth floor. Father handled Ronda Ray—“not literally,” as Franny would say.

Ronda had a curious energy. She would strip and make up all the beds in a single morning; she could serve four tables in the restaurant without botching an order or making anyone wait; she could spell Father at the bar (we were open every evening, except Monday, until eleven) and have all the tables set before breakfast (at seven). But when she retired, to her “dayroom,” she seemed either in hibernation or in a deep stupor, and even at the peak of her energy—when she was getting everything done, on time—she looked sleepy.

“Why do we say it’s a dayroom?” Iowa Bob asked. “I mean, if Ronda goes back to Hampton Beach, when does she do it? I mean, it’s all right that she lives here, but why don’t we say she lives here—why doesn’t she say so?”

“She’s doing a good job,” Father said.

“But she’s living in her dayroom,” Mother said.

“What’s a dayroom?” Egg asked. It seemed everyone wanted to know that.

Franny and I listened to Ronda Ray’s room on the intercom for hours, but it would be weeks before we learned what a dayroom was. At midmornings we would switch on Ronda’s room and Franny would say, after listening to the breathing for a while, “Asleep.” Or sometimes: “Smoking a cigarette.”

Late at night, Franny and I would listen and I would say, “Perhaps she’s reading.”

“Are you kidding?” Franny would say.

Bored, we would listen to the other rooms, one at a time, or all together. Checking out Max Urick’s static, over which we could—occasionally—hear Max’s radio. Checking the stockpots in Mrs. Urick’s basement kitchen. We knew that 3F was Iowa Bob, and we would tune in the sound of his barbells every once in a while—often interrupting him with our own comments, like: “Come on, Grandpa, a little quicker! Let’s really snap those babies up—you’re slowing down.”

“You damn kids!” Bob would grunt; or at other times he would slap two iron weights together, right next to the speaker-receiver box, so that Franny and I would jump and hold our ringing ears. “Ha!” Coach Bob would cry. “Got you little buggers that time, didn’t I?”

“Lunatic in 3F,” Franny would broadcast on the intercom. “Lock your doors. Lunatic in 3F.”

“Ha!” Iowa Bob would grunt—over the bench presses, over the push-ups, the sit-ups, the one-arm curls. “This hotel is for lunatics!”

It was Iowa Bob who encouraged me to lift weights. What happened to Franny had somehow inspired me to make myself stronger. By Thanksgiving I was running six miles a day, although the cross-country course at Dairy was only two and a quarter miles. Bob put me on a heavy dose of bananas and milk and oranges. “And pasta, rice, fish, lots of greens, hot cereal, and ice cream,” the old coach told me. I lifted twice a day; and in addition to my six miles, I ran wind sprints every morning in Elliot Park.

At first, I just put on weight.

“Lay off the bananas,” Father said.

“And the ice cream,” said Mother.

“No, no,” said Iowa Bob. “Muscles take a little time.”

“Muscles?” Father said. “He’s fat.”

“You look like a cherub, dear,” Mother told me.

“You look like a teddy bear,” Franny told me.

“Just keep eating,” said Iowa Bob. “With all the lifting and running, you’re going to see a change in no time.”

“Before he explodes?” Franny said.

I was going on fifteen, as they say; between Halloween and Christmas I gained twenty pounds; I weighed 170, but I was still only five feet six inches tall.

“Man,” Junior Jones told me, “if we painted you black and white, and put circles around your eyes, you’d look like a panda.”

“One day soon,” said Iowa Bob, “you’re going to drop twenty pounds and you’ll be hard all over.”

Franny gave an exaggerated shiver and kicked me under the table “Hard all over!” she cried.

“It’s gross,” Frank said. “All of it. The weight lifting, the bananas, the panting up and down the stairs.” In the mornings when it rained, I refused to run wind sprints in Elliot Park; I sprinted up and down the stairs of the Hotel New Hampshire, instead.

Max Urick said he was going to throw grenades down the stairwell. And on a very rainy morning, Ronda Ray stopped me on the second-floor landing; she was wearing one of her nightgowns and looking especially sleepy. “Let me tell you, it’s like listening to lovers go at it in the room next to mine,” she said. Her dayroom was nearest the stairwell. She liked to call me John-O. “I don’t mind the sound of the feet, John-O,” she told me. “It’s the breathing that gets me,” she said. “I don’t know if you’re dying or trying to come, but it curls my hair, let me tell you.”

“Don’t listen to any of them,” said Iowa Bob. “You’re the first member of this family who’s taken a proper interest in his body. You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed,” Bob told me. “And we have to beef you up before we can strip you down.”

Thus it was, and so it is: I owe my body to Iowa Bob—an obsession that has never left me—and bananas.

It would be a while before those extra twenty pounds came off, but they would come off, and they have stayed off ever since. I weigh 150 pounds, all the time.

And I would be seventeen before I finally grew another two inches, and stopped for life. That’s me: five feet eight inches tall and 150 pounds. And hard all over.

In a little while I will be forty, but even now, when I work out, I remember the Christmas season of 1956. Now they have such fancy weight machines; there’s no more sliding the weights on the bar, and forgetting to tighten the screws and having the weights slide together and mash your fingers, or fall off the end of the bar on your toes. But no matter how modern the gymnasium, or the equipment, it only takes a little light lifting to bring back Iowa Bob’s room—good old 3F, and the worn oriental rug where his weights were, the rug Sorrow used to sleep on: after weight lifting on that rug, Bob and I would be covered with the dead dog’s hair. And after I’ve been pushing the weight for a while, and that long-lasting, luxurious ache starts creeping over me, I can bring to mind every scruffy person and every stain on the canvas that dotted the horsehair mats in the weight room of the Dairy School gym, where we would always be waiting for Junior Jones to finish his turn. Jones took all the weights in the room and put them on one barbell, and we would stand there with our empty bars, waiting and waiting. In his days with the Cleveland Browns, Junior Jones weighed 285 and could bench-press 550. He was not that strong when he was at the Dairy School, but he was already strong enough to suggest to me a proper goal for the bench press.

“What you weigh?” he’d ask me. “Do you even know?” And when I’d tell him what I weighed, he’d shake his head and say, “Okay, double it.” And when I’d doubled it—and had put 300 pounds or so on the barbell—he’d say, “Okay, down on the mat, on your back.” There were no benches for doing bench presses at the Dairy School, so I’d lie down on the mat on my back and Junior Jones would pick up the 300-pound barbell and place it gently across my throat—there was just enough room so that the bar depressed my Adam’s apple only slightly. I gripped the bar in both hands and I felt my elbows sink down into the mat. “Now lift it over your head,” said Junior Jones, and he’d walk out of the weight room, to get a drink of water, or go take his shower, and I’d lie there under the barbell—trapped. Nothing happened when I tried to lift 300 pounds. Other, bigger people would come into the weight room and see me lying there, under the 300 pounds, and they’d respectfully ask me, “Uh, you gonna be through with that, after a while?”

“Yeah, just resting,” I’d say, puffing up like a toad. And they’d go away and come back later.

Junior Jones would always come back later, too.

“How’s it going?” he’d ask. He’d take off twenty pounds, then fifty, then one hundred.

“Try that,” he’d keep saying; he kept going away, and coming back, until I could extricate myself from under the barbell.

And all 150 pounds of me has never bench-pressed 300 pounds, of course, although twice in my life I have done 215, and I believe that doubling my own weight is not impossible. I can get in a marvellous trance under all that weight.

Sometimes, when I’m really pumping, I can see the Black Arm of the Law moving through the trees, humming their tune, and sometimes I can recall the smell of the fifth floor of the dorm where Junior Jones lived—that hot, jungle nightclub in the sky—and when I run, about the third mile, or the fourth, or sometimes not until the sixth, my own lungs remember, vividly, the feeling of keeping up with Harold Swallow. And the sight of a slash of Franny’s hair, fallen across her open mouth—no sound coming from her—as Lenny Metz knelt on her arms and pinched her head between his heavy, running-back’s thighs. And Chester Pulaski on top of her: an automaton. I sometimes can duplicate his rhythm, exactly, when I am counting out the push-ups (“seventy-five, seventy-six, seventy-seven”). Or the sit-ups (“one hundred and twenty-one, one hundred and twenty-two, one hundred and twenty-three”).

Iowa Bob simply introduced me to the equipment; Junior Jones added his advice, and his own marvellous example; Father had already taught me how to run—and Harold Swallow, how to run harder. The technique and routine—and even Coach Bob’s diet—were easy. The hard part, for most people, is the discipline. As Coach Bob said, you’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed. But for me, this was also easy. Because I did it all for Franny. I’m not complaining, but it was all for Franny—and she knew it.

“Listen, kid,” she told me—from Halloween to Christmas, 1956—“you’re going to throw up if you don’t stop eating bananas. And if you don’t stop eating oranges, you’re going to have a vitamin overdose. What the hell are you pushing so hard for? You’ll never be as fast as Harold Swallow. You’ll never be as big as Junior Jones.”

“Kid, I can read you like a book,” Franny told me. “No way is it going to happen again, you know. And if it does—and you actually are strong enough to save me—what makes you think you’ll even be there? If it happens again, I’ll be someplace far away from you—and I’ll hope you never know about it, anyway. I promise.”

But Franny took the purpose of my workouts too literally. I wanted strength, stamina, and speed—or I desired their illusions. I never wanted to feel, again, the helplessness of another Halloween.

There was still the evidence of a mangled pumpkin or two—one at the curb of Pine Street and Elliot Park, and another that had been thrown from the bleachers and burst upon the cinder track around the football field—when Dairy hosted Exeter for the last game of Iowa Bob’s winning season. Halloween was still in the air, although Chipper Dove, Lenny Metz, and Chester Pulaski were gone.

The second-string backfield appeared under the influence of a spell: they did everything in slow motion. They ran to the holes that Junior Jones had opened, after the holes had closed; they lobbed passes into the sky, and the passes took forever to come down. Waiting for one such pass, Harold Swallow was knocked unconscious and Iowa Bob wouldn’t let him play the rest of the long day.

“Somebody rang your bell, Harold,” Coach Bob told the speedster.

“I ain’t got no bell,” Harold Swallow complained. “Who rang?” he asked. “What somebody?”

At the half, Exeter led 24-0. Junior Jones, playing both offence and defence, had been involved in a dozen tackles; he caused three fumbles and recovered two; but the second-string Dairy backfield had coughed up the ball three times, and two looping passes had been intercepted. In the second half, Coach Bob started Junior Jones at a running-back position, and Jones made three consecutive first downs before the Exeter defence adjusted. The adjustment was simply recognizing that as long as Junior Jones was in the backfield, he would carry the ball. So Iowa Bob put Junior back in the line, where he had more fun, and Dairy’s only score, which came late in the fourth quarter, was properly credited to Jones. He broke into the Exeter backfield and took the ball away from an Exeter running back and ran into the Exeter end zone with it—and with two or three Exeter players clinging to him. The extra point was wide to the left and the final score was Exeter 45, Dairy 6.

Franny missed Junior’s touchdown: she had come to the game only because of him, and she had gone back to being a cheerleader for the Exeter game only to yell her lungs out for Junior Jones. But Franny got involved in an altercation with another cheerleader, and Mother had to take her home. The other cheerleader was Chipper Dove’s hiding place, Mindy Mitchell.

“Cock tease,” Mindy Mitchell called my sister.

“Dumb cunt,” Franny said, and whacked Mindy with her cheerleader’s megaphone. It was made of cardboard, and it looked like a large shit-brown ice cream cone with a death-grey D for Dairy painted on it. “D is for Death,” Franny always said.

“Smack in the boobs,” another cheerleader told me. “Franny hit Mindy Mitchell with the megaphone smack in the boobs.”

Of course I told Junior Jones, after the game”, why Franny wasn’t there to walk with him back to the gym.

“What a good girl she is!” Junior said. “You tell her, won’t you?”

And of course I did. Franny had taken another bath and was all dressed up to help Ronda Ray wait on tables; she was in a pretty good mood. Despite the rather landslide conclusion to Iowa Bob’s winning season, nearly everyone seemed in a good mood. It was opening night at the Hotel New Hampshire!

Mrs. Urick had outdone herself at plainness-but-goodness; even Max was wearing a white shirt and tie, and Father was absolutely beaming behind the bar—the bottles winking in the mirror, under his fast-moving elbows and over his shoulders, were like a sunrise Father had always believed was coming.

There were eleven couples and seven singles for overnight guests, and a divorced man from Texas had come all the way to see his son play against Exeter; the kid had gone out of the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle, but even the Texan was in a good mood. Compared to him, the couples and the singles seemed a little shy—not knowing each other, just having children at the Dairy School in common—but after the kids went back to their dorms, the Texan got everyone talking to each other in the restaurant and bar. “Isn’t it great having kids?” he asked. “God, it’s something how they all grow up, isn’t it?” Everyone agreed. The Texan said, “Why don’t you all pull your chairs over here to my table and have a drink on me!” And Mother stood anxiously in the kitchen doorway, with Mrs. Urick and Max, and Father stood poised but confident behind the bar; Frank ran out of the room; Franny held my hand and we held our breath; Iowa Bob looked as if he were suppressing an enormous sneeze. And one by one the couples and the singles got up from where they were sitting and attempted to pull their chairs over to the Texan’s table.

“Mine’s stuck!” said a woman from New Jersey, who’d had a little too much to drink; she had a sharp, squeaky giggle of the mindless quality of hamsters running miles and miles on those little wheels in their cages.

A man from Connecticut turned bright red in the face, trying to lift his chair, until his wife said, “It’s nailed down. There are nails that go right into the floor.”

A man from Massachusetts knelt on the floor by his chair. “Screws,” he said. “Those are screws—four or five of them, for each chair!”

The Texan knelt down on the floor and stared at his chair.

Everything’s screwed down here!” Iowa Bob shouted, suddenly. He had not spoken to anyone since after the game, when he told the scout from Penn State that Junior Jones could play anywhere. His face was unfamiliarly red and shining, as if he’d had one more drink than he usually allowed himself—or the sense of his own retirement had finally come to him. “We’re all on a big ship!” said Iowa Bob. “We’re on a big cruise, across the world!”

“Ya-hoo!” the Texan shouted. “I’ll drink to that!”

The woman from New Jersey clutched the back of her screwed-down chair. Some of the others sat down.

“We’re in danger of being swept away, at any time!” Coach Bob said, and Ronda Ray came swishing back and forth between Bob and the Dairy parents poised at their well-fastened seats; she was passing out the coasters, and the cocktail napkins again, and flicking a damp towel over the edges of the tables. Frank peeked in from the door to the hall; Mother and the Uricks seemed paralyzed in the kitchen doorway; Father had lost none of the glitter he absorbed from the bar mirror, but he stared at his father, old Iowa Bob, as if he feared that the retired coach was about to say something crazy.

“Of course the chairs are screwed down!” Bob said, sweeping his arm toward the sky, as if he were giving his last halftime speech—and this were the game of his life. “At the Hotel New Hampshire,” said Iowa Bob, “when the shit hits the fan, nobody gets blown away!”

“Ya-hoo!” the Texan cried again, but everyone else seemed to have stopped breathing.

“Just hold on to your seats!” said Coach Bob. “And nothing will ever hurt you here.”

“Ya-hoo! Thank God the chairs are screwed down!” the big-hearted Texan cried. “Let’s all drink to that!”

The wife of the man from Connecticut gave an audible sigh of relief.

“Well, I guess, we’ll just have to speak up if we’re all going to be friends and talk to each other!” the Texan said.

“Yes!” said the New Jersey woman, a little breathlessly.

Father was still staring at Iowa Bob, but Bob was just fine—he turned and winked at Frank in the hall doorway, and bowed to Mother and the Uricks, and Ronda Ray came through the room again and gave the old coach a saucy stroke across his cheek, and the Texan watched Ronda as if he’d forgotten all about chairs—screwed down or not screwed down. Who cares if the chairs can’t be moved? he was thinking to himself—because Ronda Ray had more moves than Harold Swallow, and she was into the spirit of opening night, like everyone else.

“Ya-hoo,” Franny whispered in my ear, but I sat at the bar watching Father make the drinks. He looked more concentrated with energy than I had ever seen him before, and the gradual volume of voices came over me—and always would: I will remember that restaurant and bar, in that Hotel New Hampshire, as a place that was always so loud with talk, even if there weren’t many people there. Like the Texan said, everyone had to speak up if they were going to sit so far apart.

And even after the Hotel New Hampshire, had been open long enough so that we recognized many of our customers, from the town, as “regulars”—those who were at the bar every night until closing time, just before which old Iowa Bob would appear for a nightcap before he turned in—even during those familiar evenings, with those familiar few, Bob could still pull his favourite trick. “Hey, pull up your chair,” he’d say to someone, and someone would always be fooled. For a moment, forgetting where he or she was, someone would give a little lift, a little grunt, a little perplexed strain would pass across a face, and Iowa Bob would laugh and cry out, “Nothing moves at the Hotel New Hampshire! We’re screwed down here—for life!”

That opening night, after the bar and restaurant was closed and everyone had gone to bed, Franny and Frank and I met at the switchboard and did a bed check on each of the rooms with the unique squawk-box system. We could hear who slept soundly, and who snored; we could detect who was still up (reading), and we were surprised (and disappointed) to discover no couples were talking, or making love.

Iowa Bob slept like a subway, rumbling miles and miles underground. Mrs. Urick had left a stockpot simmering, and Max was playing his usual static. The New Jersey couple was reading, or one of them was: the slow turning of pages, the short breaths of the nonsleeper. The Connecticut pair wheezed and whinnied and whooped in their sleep; their room was a boiler room of sound. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maine all gave off the sounds of their various habits of repose.

Then we switched on the Texan. “Ya-hoo,” I said to Franny.

“Whoo-pee,” she whispered back.

We expected to hear his cowboy boots striking the floor; we expected to hear him drinking out of his hat, or sleeping like a horse—his long legs cantering under the covers, his big hands, strangling the bed. But we heard nothing.

“He’s dead!” Frank said, making Franny and me jump.

“Jesus, Frank,” Franny said. “Maybe he’s just out of his room.”

“He’s had a heart attack,” Frank said. “He’s overweight and he drank too much.”

We listened. Nothing. No horse. No creaking of boots. Not a breath.

Franny switched the Texan’s room from Receiving to Broadcasting. “Ya-hoo?” she whispered.

And then it came to us—all three of us (even Frank) seemed to grasp it. It took Franny about one second to switch to Ronda Ray’s “dayroom.”

“You want to know what a dayroom is, Frank?” she asked.

And on came the unforgettable sound.

As Iowa Bob said, we are on a big cruise, across the world, and we’re in danger of being swept away, at any time.

Frank and Franny and I gripped our chairs.

Oooooooooo!” gasped Ronda Ray.

Hoo, hoo, hoo!” the Texan cried.

And later he said, “I sure appreciate this.”

“Phooey,” Ronda said.

“No, I do, I really do,” he said. We heard him peeing—like a horse, it went on forever. “You don’t know how hard it is for me to hit that little bitty toilet up on the fourth floor,” he said. “It’s so far down,” the Texan said, “I have to take aim before I shoot.”

“Ha!” cried Ronda Ray.

“Ya-hoo!” the Texan said.

“Disgust ing,” Frank said, and went to bed, but Franny and I stayed up until the only sounds on the squawk box were the sounds of sleep.

In the morning it was raining, and I made a point of holding my breath every time I ran by the second-floor landing—not wanting to disturb Ronda, and knowing what she thought of my “breathing.”

Blue in the face, I passed the Texan climbing between three and four.

“Ya-Hoo!” I said.

“Morning! Morning!” he cried. “Staying in shape, huh?” he said. “Good for you! Your body’s got to last you all your life, you know.”

“Yessir,” I said, and ran up and down some more.

About the thirtieth trip I was beginning to bring back the Black Arm of the Law, and the sight of Franny’s missing fingernail—how so much pain seemed focused at this bleeding tip of her hand, and perhaps distracted her from the rest of her body—when Ronda Ray blocked my way on the second-floor landing.

“Whoa, boy,” she said, and I stopped. She was wearing one of her nightgowns, and if the sun had been shining, the light would have shot right through the material and lit her up for me—but it was a gloomy light, that morning, and the dim stairwell revealed very little of her. Just her moves, and her absorbing odour.

“Good morning,” I said. “Ya-hoo!”

“Ya-hoo to you, John-O,” she said. I smiled and ran in place.

“You’re breathing again,” Ronda told me.

“I was trying to hold my breath for you,” I panted, “but I got too tired.”

“I can hear your fucking heart,” she said.

“It’s good for me,” I said.

“It’s not good for me,” Ronda said. She put her hand on my chest, as if she were reading my heartbeat. I stopped running in place; I needed to spit.

“John-O,” said Ronda Ray, “if you like to breathe this hard and make your heart pound, you should come see me the next time it rains.”

And I ran up and down the stairs about forty more times. It will probably never rain again, I thought. I was too tired to eat anything at breakfast.

“Just have a banana,” said Iowa Bob, but I looked away from it. “And an orange or two,” Bob said. I excused myself.

Egg was in the bathroom and he wouldn’t let Franny in.

“Why don’t Franny and Egg take their baths together?” Father asked. Egg was six, and in another year he would probably be too embarrassed to take a bath with Franny. He was fond of baths now because of all the tub toys he possessed; when you used the bathroom after Egg had been there, the bathtub looked like a children’s beach—abandoned during an air raid. Hippos, boats, frogmen, rubber birds, lizards, alligators, a shark with a wind-up mouth, a seal with wind-up flippers, a ghastly yellow turtle—every conceivable imitation of amphibious life, sodden and dripping on the tub floor and crunching on the bathmat, underfoot.

“Egg!” I would scream. “Come clean up your shit!”

What shit?” Egg would cry.

“Honestly, your language,” Mother said—repeatedly, to us all.

Frank had taken to peeing against the trash barrels at the delivery entrance in the morning; he claimed he could never get to the bathroom when he wanted to. I went upstairs and used the bathroom attached to Iowa Bob’s room, and used the weights there, too, of course.

“What a racket to wake up to!” old Bob complained. “I never thought this is how retirement would be. Listening to someone peeing and weight-lifting. What an alarm clock!”

“You like to get up early, anyway,” I told him.

“It’s not when that I mind,” said the old coach. “It’s how.”

And we slipped through November that way—a freak snowfall early in the month: it really should have been rain, I knew. What did it mean that it wasn’t rain? I wondered, thinking of Ronda Ray and her dayroom.

It was a dry November.

Egg had a run of ear infections; he seemed partially deaf most of the time.

“Egg, what did you do with my green sweater?” Franny asked.

“What?” Egg said.

“My green sweater!” Franny screamed.

“I don’t have a green sweater,” Egg said.

“It’s my green sweater!” Franny shouted. “He dressed his bear in it yesterday—I saw it,” Franny told Mother. “And now I can’t find it.”

“Egg, where’s your bear?” Mother asked.

“Franny doesn’t have a bear,” Egg said. “That’s my bear.”

“Where’s my running hat?” I asked Mother. “It was on the radiator in the hall last night.”

“Egg’s bear is probably wearing it,” Frank said. “And he’s out doing wind sprints.”

“What?” Egg said.

Lilly also had medical problems. We had our annual physicals just before Thanksgiving and our family doctor—an old geezer named Dr. Blaze, whose fire, Franny remarked, was almost out—discovered during a routine check that Lilly hadn’t grown in a year. Not a pound, not a fraction of an inch. She was exactly the same size she’d been when she was nine, which was not much bigger than she’d been at eight—or (checking the records) at seven.

“She’s not growing?” Father asked.

“I’ve said so, for years,” Franny said. “Lilly doesn’t grow—she just is.”

Lilly seemed unimpressed by the analysis; she shrugged. “So I’m small,” she said. “Everyone’s always saying so. So what’s the matter with being small?”

“Nothing, dear,” Mother said. “You can be as small as you want, but you should be growing—just a little.”

“She’s going to be one of those who shoots up all at once,” said Iowa Bob, but even he looked doubtful. Lilly didn’t impress you as the sort who would ever “shoot up.”

We made her stand back to back with Egg; at six, Egg was almost as big as Lilly at ten, and he certainly looked more solid.

“Stand still!” Lilly said to Egg. “Stop standing on your toes!”

“What?” said Egg.

“Stop standing on your toes, Egg!” Franny said.

“They’re my toes!” Egg said.

“Maybe I’m dying,” Lilly said, and everyone shivered, especially Mother.

“You are not dying,” Father said, sternly.

“Frank’s the only one who’s dying,” Franny said.

“No,” said Frank. “I have already died. And the living bore me to death.”

“Stop it,” Mother said.

I went to lift weights in Iowa Bob’s room. Every time the weights rolled off the end of the barbell, one of them struck the closet door, and it opened, and out fell something. Coach Bob was terrible about the closet; he just threw everything in there loose. And one morning when Iowa Bob dropped a few weights, one of them rolled into the closet and out rolled Egg’s bear. The bear was wearing my running hat, Franny’s green sweater, a pair of Mother’s nylons.

“Egg!” I screamed.

“What?” Egg screamed.

“I found your damn bear!” I yelled.

“It’s my bear!” Egg yelled back.

“Jesus God,” Father said, and Egg went to Dr. Blaze to have his ears checked, again, and Lilly went to Dr. Blaze to have her size checked, again.

“If she hasn’t grown in two years,” Franny said, “I doubt she’s grown in the last two days.” But there were tests that could be run on Lilly, and old Dr. Blaze was apparently trying to figure out what the tests were.

“You don’t eat enough, Lilly,” I said. “Don’t worry about it, but just try to eat a little more.”

“I don’t like to eat,” Lilly said.

And it wouldn’t rain—not a drop! Or when it rained, it was always in the afternoon, or in the evening. I would be sitting in Algebra II, or in the History of Tudor England, or in Beginning Latin, and I would hear the rain fall, and despair. Or I would be in bed, and it was dark—dark in my room and throughout the Hotel New Hampshire, and all of Elliot Park—and I would hear it raining and raining, and I’d think: Tomorrow! But in the morning, the rain would have turned to snow, or would have petered out; or it would be dry and windy again, and I would run my wind sprints in Elliot Park—Frank passing me en route to the bio lab.

“Nuts, nuts, nuts,” Frank would grumble.

“Who’s nuts?” I asked.

“You’re nuts,” he said. “And Franny’s always nuts. And Egg is deaf, and Lilly’s weird,” Frank said.

“And you’re perfectly normal, Frank?” I asked, running in place.

“At least I don’t play with my body as if I were a rubber band,” Frank said. I knew, of course, that Frank played with his body—plenty—but Father had already assured me, in one of his heart-to-heart talks about boys and girls, that everyone masturbated (and ought to, from time to time), and so I decided to be friendly to Frank and not tease him about his beating off.

“How’s it coming with stuffing the dog, Frank?” I asked him, and he became immediately serious.

“Well,” he said. “There are a few problems. The pose, for example, is very important. I’m still deciding on the best possible pose,” he said. “The actual body has been properly treated, but the pose really worries me.”

“The pose?” I said, trying to imagine what poses Sorrow ever had. He seemed to have slept and farted in a variety of casual positions.

“Well,” Frank explained. “There are certain classic poses in taxidermy.”

“I see,” I said.

“There’s the ‘cornered’ pose,” Frank said, and he recoiled from me, suddenly, putting his forepaws up to defend himself and raising his hackles. “You know?” he asked.

“God, Frank,” I said. “I don’t think that one would be too appropriate to Sorrow.”

“Well, it’s a classic,” Frank said. “And this one,” he said, turning sideways to me, and appearing to sneak along the limb of a tree, snarling over his shoulder. “This is the ‘stalking’ pose,” he said.

“I see,” I said, wondering if in this pose poor Sorrow would be supplied with a branch to stalk on. “You know, he was a dog, Frank,” I said, “Not a cougar.”

Frank frowned. “Personally,” he said, “I favor the ‘attack’ pose.”

“Don’t show me,” I said. “Surprise me.”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “You won’t recognize him.”

That is precisely what worried me—that no one would recognize poor Sorrow. Least of all Franny. I think Frank had forgotten the purpose of what he was doing—he was so carried away with the project of it; he was getting three credits of independent study in biology for the task, and Sorrow had taken on the proportions of a term paper for a course. I could not imagine Sorrow, ever, in an “attack” pose.

“Why not just curl Sorrow up in a ball, the way he used to sleep,” I said, “with his tail over his face and his nose in his asshole?”

Frank looked disgusted, as usual, and I was tired of running in place; I did a few more wind sprints across Elliot Park.

I heard Max Urick yell at me from his fourth-floor window in the Hotel New Hampshire. “You goddamn fool!” Max cried across the frozen ground, the dead leaves, and startled squirrels in the park. Off the fire escape, at her end of the second floor, a pale green nightgown waved in the grey air: Ronda Ray must have been sleeping in the blue one this morning, or in the black one—or in the shocking-orange one. The pale green one flapped at me like a flag, and I ran a few more wind sprints.

When I went to 3F, Iowa Bob was already up; he was doing his neck bridge routine, down on his back on the oriental rug, a pillow under his head. He was into a high neck bridge—with the barbell, at about 150 pounds, held straight over his head. Old Bob had a neck as big as my thigh.

“Good morning,” I whispered, and his eyes rolled back, and the barbell tilted, and he hadn’t screwed the little things that hold the weights on tight enough, so that a few of the weights rolled off one end, and then the other, and Coach Bob shut his eyes and cringed as the weights dropped on either side of his head and went rolling off everywhere. I stopped a couple with my feet, but one of them rolled into the closet door, and it opened, of course, and out came a few things; a broom, a sweat shirt, Bob’s running shoes, and a tennis racquet with his sweatband wrapped around the handle.

“Jesus God,” said Father, from downstairs in our family’s kitchen.

“Good morning,” Bob said to me.

“Do you think Ronda Ray is attractive?” I asked him.

“Oh boy,” said Coach Bob.

“No, really,” I said.

“Really?” he said. “Go ask your father. I’m too old. I haven’t looked at girls since I broke my nose—the last time.”

That must have been in the line, at Iowa, I knew, because old Bob’s nose had quite a number of wrinkles in it. He never put his teeth in until breakfast, too, so that his head in the early mornings looked astonishingly bald—like some strange, featherless bird, his empty mouth gaping like the lower half of a bill under his bent nose. Iowa Bob had the head of a gargoyle on the body of a lion.

“Well, do you think she’s ‘pretty,’” I asked him.

“I don’t think about it,” he said.

“Well, think about it now!” I said.

“Not exactly ‘pretty,’” said Iowa Bob. “But she’s sort of appealing.”

“Appealing?” I asked.

“Sexy!” said a voice over Bob’s intercom—Franny’s voice, of course; she had been listening to the squawk boxes at the switchboard, as usual.

“Damn kids,” said Iowa Bob.

“Damn it, Franny!” I said.

“You should ask me,” Franny said.

“Oh boy,” said Iowa Bob.

So it was that I came to tell Franny the story of Ronda Ray’s apparent offer on the stairwell, her interest in my hard breathing, and in my beating heart—and the plan for a rainy day.

“So? Do it,” said Franny. “But why wait for the rain?”

“Do you think she’s a whore?” I asked Franny.

“You mean, do I think she charges money?” Franny said.

That thought had not occurred to me—“whore” being a word that was used all too loosely at the Dairy School.

“Money?” I said. “How much do you think she charges?”

“I don’t know if she charges,” Franny said, “but if I were you, that’s something I’d want to find out.” At the intercom, we switched to Ronda’s room and listened to her breathing. It was her awake-but-just-lying-there-breathing sound. We listened to her a long while, as if we would understand from what we heard the possible price attached to her. Franny finally shrugged.

“I’m going to take a bath,” she said, and she gave a twirl to the room dial, and the intercom listened to the empty rooms. 2A, not a sound; 3A, nothing; 4A, nothing at all; IB, nothing; 4B, Max Urick and his static. Franny was leaving the switchboard to go draw her bath and I gave the room dial a twirl: to 2C, 3C, 4C, then switching fast to 2E, 3E... and there it was... and on to 4E, where there was nothing.

“Wait a minute,” I said.

“What was that?” Franny said.

“Three E, I think,” I said.

“Try it again,” she said. It was the floor above Ronda Ray, and at the opposite end of the hall from her; it was across the hall from Iowa Bob, who was out.

“Do it,” Franny said. We were scared. We had no guests in the Hotel New Hampshire, but there had been one hell of a sound from 3E.

It was Sunday afternoon. Frank was in the bio lab and Egg and Lilly were at the movie matinee. Ronda Ray was just sitting in her room, and Iowa Bob was out. Mrs. Urick was in the kitchen, and Max Urick was playing his radio behind the static.

I put on 3E and Franny and I heard it again.

Oooooooooo!”went the woman.

Hoo, hoo, hoo!”went the man.

But the Texan had gone home, long ago, and there was no woman staying in 3E.

Yike, yike, yike!” said the woman.

“Muff, muff, muff!” said the man.

It was as if the crazy intercom system had made them up! Franny held my hand, tightly. I tried to switch it off, or move it to another, calmer room, but Franny wouldn’t let me.

“Eeeep!” the woman cried.

“Nup!” said the man. A lamp fell. Then the woman laughed, and the man began to mutter.

“Jesus God,” my father said.

“Another lamp,” Mother said, and went on laughing.

“If we were guests,” Father said, “we’d have to pay for it!”

They laughed at this as if Father had said the funniest thing in the world.

Turn it off!” Franny said. I did.

“It’s kind of funny, isn’t it?” I ventured to say.

“They have to use the hotel,” Franny said, “just to get away from us!”

I couldn’t see what she was thinking.

“God!” Franny said. “They really love each other—they really do!” And I wondered why I had taken such a thing for granted, and why it seemed to surprise my sister so much. Franny dropped my hand and wrapped her arms around herself; she hugged herself, as if she were trying to wake herself up, or get warm. “What am I going to do?” she said. “What’s it going to be like? What happens next?” she asked.

But I could never see as far as Franny could see. I was not really looking beyond that moment; I had even forgotten Ronda Ray.

“You were going to take a bath,” I reminded Franny, who seemed in need of reminding—or some other advice.

“What?” she said.

“A bath,” I said. “That’s what was going to happen next. You were going to take a bath.”

“Ha!” Franny cried. “The hell with that!” she said. “Fuck the bath!” said Franny, and went on hugging herself, and moving in place, as if she were trying to dance with herself. I couldn’t tell whether she was happy or upset, but when I began to fool with her—to dance with her, and push her, and tickle her under the arms, she pushed and tickled and danced back, and we ran out of the switchboard room and up the stairwell to the second-floor landing.

“Rain, rain, rain!” Franny started yelling, and I became terribly embarrassed; Ronda Ray opened the door to her dayroom, and frowned at us.

“We’re having a rain dance,” Franny told her. “Want to dance with us?”

Ronda smiled. She had on a shocking-orange nightgown. There was a magazine in her hand.

“Not right now,” she said.

“Rain, rain, it’s going to rain!” Franny went off dancing.

Ronda shook her head at me—but nicely—and then shut her door.

I chased Franny outside into Elliot Park. We could see Mother and Father at the window by the fire escape in 3E. Mother had opened the window to call to us.

“Go get Egg and Lilly at the movies!” she said.

“What are you doing in that room?” I called back.

“Cleaning it!” said Mother.

“Rain, rain, rain!” Franny screamed, and we ran downtown to the matinee.

Egg and Lilly came out of the movies with Junior Jones.

“It’s a kids’ movie,” Franny said to Jones. “How come you went?”

“I’m just a big kid,” Junior said. He held her hand while we all walked home, and Franny took a stroll with him through the Dairy School grounds; I continued toward home with Egg and Lilly.

“Does Franny love Junior Jones?” Lilly asked, seriously.

“Well, shelikes him, anyway,” I said. “He is her friend.”

“What?” said Egg.

It was almost Thanksgiving. Junior was staying with us for Thanksgiving vacation, because his parents didn’t send him enough money to go home. And several of the foreign students at the Dairy School—who lived too far away to go home for Thanksgiving—would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone liked having Junior around, but the foreign students, whom nobody knew, had been Father’s idea—and Mother had gone along, saying it was the kind of thing Thanksgiving was originally for. Maybe, but we children did not care for the invasion. Guests in the hotel were one thing, and there was one of those staying with us—a famous Finnish doctor, supposedly, who was there to visit his daughter at the Dairy School. She was one of the foreigners coming to dinner. The others included a Japanese whom Frank knew from his taxidermy project; the Japanese had been sworn to secrecy over the stuffing of Sorrow, Frank had told me, but the boy’s English was so bad that he could have blurted out the truth and no one would have understood him. Then there were two Korean girls, whose hands were so pretty and small Lilly would never take her eyes from them—not for the entire dinner. They perhaps kindled an interest in eating that had been absent in Lilly before, however, because they ate lots of things with their little fingers—in such a delicate and beautiful way that Lilly began to play with her food in this fashion, and eventually even ate some. Egg, of course, would spend the day shouting “What?” to the tragically incomprehensible Japanese boy. And Junior Jones would eat, and eat, and eat—making Mrs. Urick nearly detonate with pride.

“Now, there is an appetite!” said Mrs. Urick, admiringly.

“If I was as big as that, I’d eat like that, too,” Max said.

“No you wouldn’t,” said Mrs. Urick. “You don’t have it in you.”

Ronda Ray did not wear her waitress uniform; she sat and ate with the family, jumping up to clear the dishes and serve things from the kitchen, along with Franny and Mother and the big blonde girl from Finland whose famous father was visiting her.

The Finnish girl was enormous and made swooping movements around the table that made Lilly cringe. She was a big blue-and-white ski-sweater sort of girl, who kept hugging her father, a big blue-and-white ski-sweater sort of man.

“Ho!” he kept crying, at the arrival of new food from the kitchen.

“Ya-hoo,” Franny whispered.

“Holy cow,” said Junior Jones.

Iowa Bob sat next to Jones at the table; their end of the table was nearest the television above the bar, so that they could watch the football game in progress through our dinner.

“If that’s a clip, I’ll eat my plate,” Jones would say.

“Eat your plate,” Coach Bob would say.

“What’s a ‘clip’?” the famous Finnish doctor would ask, only it sounded like “Wot’s a clop?”

Iowa Bob would then offer to demonstrate a clip, on Ronda, who was willing, and the Korean girls giggled shyly to themselves, and the Japanese struggled—with his turkey, with his butter knife, with Frank’s mumbling explanations, with Egg’s shouts of “What!” all the time, with (apparently) everything.

“This is the loudest dinner I’ve ever eaten,” Franny said.

“What?” Egg cried.

“Jesus God,” said Father.

“Lilly,” Mother said. “Please eat. Then you’ll grow.”

“What’s that?” said the famous Finnish doctor, only it sounded like “Wot’s dot?” He looked at Mother and Lilly. “Who’s not growing?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Mother said.

“It’s me,” said Lilly. “I’ve stopped growing.”

“No you haven’t, dear,” Mother said.

“Her growth appears to be arrested,” Father said.

“Ho, arrested!” the Finn said, staring at Lilly. “Not growing, eh?” he asked her. She nodded in her small way. The doctor put his hands on her head and peered into her eyes. Everyone stopped eating, except the Japanese boy and the Korean girls.

“How do you say?” the doctor asked, and then said something unpronounceable to his daughter.

“Tape measure,” she said.

“Ho, a tape measure?” the doctor cried. Max Urick ran and got one. The doctor measured Lilly around her chest, around her waist, around her wrists and ankles, around her shoulders, around her head.

“She’s all right,” Father said. “It’s nothing.”

“Be quiet,” Mother said.

The doctor wrote down all the figures.

“Ho!” he said.

“Eat up your food, dear,” Mother told Lilly, but Lilly was staring at the figures the doctor had written on his napkin.

“How do you say?” the doctor asked his daughter, and said another unpronounceable word. This time the daughter drew a blank. “You don’t know?” her father asked her. She shook her head. “Where’s the dictionary?” he asked her.

“In my dorm,” she said.

“Ho!” he said. “Go and get it.”

“Now?” she said, and looked wistfully at her second serving of goose and turkey and stuffing, heaped upon her plate.

“Go, go!” her father said. “Of course now. Go! Ho! Go!” he said, and the big blue-and-white ski-sweater girl was gone.

“It’s—how you say?—a pathological condition,” the famous Finnish doctor said, calmly.

“A pathological condition?” Father said.

“A pathological condition of arrested growth,” said the doctor. “It’s common, and there’s a variety of causes.”

“A pathological condition of arrested growth,” Mother repeated.

Lilly shrugged; she imitated the way the Korean girls skinned a drumstick.

When the big, blonde, out-of-breath girl was back, she looked stricken to see that Ronda Ray had cleared her plate; she handed the dictionary to her father.

“Ho!” Franny whispered across the table to me, and I kicked her under the table. She kicked me back; I kicked back at her and kicked Junior Jones by mistake.

“Ow,” he said.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Ho!” said the Finnish doctor, putting his finger on the word. “Dwarfism!” he exclaimed.

It was quiet at the table, except for the sound of the Japanese struggling with his creamed corn.

“Are you saying she’s a dwarf?” Father asked the doctor.

“Ho, yes! A dwarf,” the doctor said.

“Bullshit,” said Iowa Bob. “That’s no dwarf—that’s a little girl! That’s a child, you moron!”

“What is ‘moron’?” the doctor asked his daughter, but she wouldn’t tell him.

Ronda Ray brought out the pies.

“You’re no dwarf, dear,” Mother whispered to Lilly, but Lilly just shrugged.

“So what if I am?” she said, bravely. “I’m a good kid.”

“Bananas,” said Iowa Bob, darkly. And no one knew if he meant that as a cure—“Just feed her bananas!”—or if he was stating a euphemism for “bullshit.”

Anyway, that was Thanksgiving, 1956, and we careened on toward Christmas in that fashion: pondering size, listening to love, giving up baths, hoping to properly pose the dead—running and lifting and waiting for rain.

It was a morning in early December when Franny woke me. It was still dark in my room, and the snorkling sound of Egg’s breathing reached me through the open connecting doorway; Egg was still asleep. There was someone’s softer, controlled breathing nearer to me than Egg, and I was aware of Franny’s smell—a smell I hadn’t known for a while: a rich but never rank smell, a little salty, a little sweet, strong but never syrupy. And in the darkness I knew that Franny had been cured of taking baths. It was overhearing my Mother and Father that did it; I think that made her own smell seem perfectly natural to Franny again.

“Franny?” I whispered, because I couldn’t see her. Her hand brushed my cheek.

“Over here,” she said. She was curled against the wall and the headboard of my bed; how she could squeeze in beside me without waking me, I’ll never know. I turned toward her and smelled that she’d brushed her teeth. “Listen,” she whispered. I heard Franny’s heartbeat and mine, and Egg deep-sea diving in the adjoining room. And something else, as soft as Franny’s breath.

“It’s rain, dummy,” Franny said, and wormed a knuckle into my ribs. “It’s raining, kid,” she told me. “It’s your big day!”

“It’s still dark,” I said. “I’m still sleeping.”

“It’s dawn,” Franny hissed in my ear; then she bit my cheek and started tickling me under the covers.

“Cut it out, Franny!” I said.

“Rain, rain, rain,” she chanted. “Don’t be chicken. Frank and I have been up for hours.”

She said that Frank was at the switchboard, playing with the squawk-box system. Franny dragged me out of bed and made me brush my teeth and put on my track clothes, as if I were going to run wind sprints on the stairs, as usual. Then she took me to Frank at the switchboard, and the two of them counted out the money and told me to hide it in one of my running shoes—a thick wad of bills, mostly ones and fives.

“How can I run with that in my shoe?” I asked.

“You’re not going to run, remember?” Franny said.

“How much is it?” I asked.

“First find out if she charges,” Franny said. “Then worry if you have enough.”

Frank sat at the controls of the switchboard like the crazed operator of some flight-control tower at an airport under attack.

“And what are you guys going to do?” I asked.

“We’re just looking out for you,” Frank said. “If you really start embarrassing yourself, we’ll call for a fire drill or something.”

“Oh, great!” I said. “I don’t need this.”

“Look, kid,” Franny said. “We got the money, we have a right to listen.”

“Oh boy,” I said.

“You’ll do just fine,” Franny said. “Don’t be nervous.”

“What if it’s all a misunderstanding?” I asked.

That’s actually what I think it is,” Frank said. “In which case,” he said, “just take the money out of your shoe and run your wind sprints up and down the stairs.”

“You pill, Frank,” Franny said. “Shut up and give us the bed check.”

Click, click, click, click: Iowa Bob was a subway again, miles underground; Max Urick slept behind his static, with a static all his own; Mrs. Urick and a stockpot or two were simmering; the guest in 3H—the grim aunt of a student at the Dairy School, whose name was Bower—slept with a snore like the sound of a chisel being sharpened.

“And... good morning, Ronda!” Franny whispered, as Frank turned on her room. Oh, the delicious sound of Ronda Ray asleep! A sea breeze blowing through silk! I felt my armpits start to sweat.

“Get the hell up there,” Franny said to me, “before it stops raining.”

Fat chance of that, I knew, glancing out the portal windows on the stairwell: Elliot Park was submerged, the water flooding over the curbs and carving ditches through the playground equipment; the grey sky was teeming rain. I pondered running a few laps, up and down the stairs—not necessarily for old times” sake, but thinking that this might be the most familiar way to wake Ronda up. But when I was standing in the hall outside her door, my fingers tingled, and I was already breathing hard—harder than I knew, Franny told me, later; she said that she and Frank could hear me over the intercom, even before Ronda got up and opened the door.

“It’s either John-O or a runaway train,” Ronda whispered before she let me in, but I couldn’t talk. I was already out of breath, as if I’d been running the stairs all morning.

It was dark in her room, but I could see that she was wearing the blue one. Her morning breath was slightly sour—but it smelled nice to me, and she smelled nice to me, although I would think, later, that her smell was simply Franny’s smell taken several stages too far.

“Goodness, what cold knees—from wearing those pants without the legs!” said Ronda Ray. “Come in here and get warm.”

I stumbled out of my shorts, and she said, “Goodness, what cold arms—from wearing that shirt without the sleeves!” And I struggled out of that, too. I got out of my running shoes, managing to conceal the wad of money by stuffing it into the toe of one shoe.

And I wonder if it wasn’t making love under the squawk-box system that coloured my feelings about sexual intercourse from that moment on. Even now—when I’m almost forty—I am inclined to whisper. I remember begging Ronda Ray to whisper, too.

“I could have screamed at you to ‘speak up’” Franny told me later. “It made me so damn mad—all that silly whispering!”

But there were other things I might have told Ronda Ray if I hadn’t known that Franny could hear. I never really thought about Frank, although I would always tend to see him—throughout our lives, together and apart—as stationed at an intercom, somewhere, listening in on love. I imagine Frank as listening in on love with the same displeased expression he wore for most of his tasks: a vague but widespread distaste, even bordering on disgust.

“You’re quick, John-O, you’re very quick,” Ronda Ray told me.

“Please whisper,” I told her, talking in a muffled voice into her wildly colourful hair.

I owe my sexual nervousness to this initiation—a feeling I have never quite escaped: that I’ve got to watch what I say and do, somehow, or risk betraying Franny. Is it because of Ronda Ray, in that first Hotel New Hampshire, that I always imagine Franny is listening in?

“It sounded a little subdued,” Franny told me later. “But I’m sure that’s okay—for the first time.”

Thank you for not coaching, from the sidelines,” I told her.

“Did you really think I would?” she asked me, and I apologized; but I never knew what Franny would or wouldn’t do.

“How’s it coming with the dog, Frank?” I kept asking, as Christmas bore down upon us all.

“How’s it coming with the whispering?” Frank asked. “I notice it’s been raining a lot, lately.”

Or, if it didn’t really rain a lot—that year, just before Christmas—I admit I took the liberty of interpreting snow as almost rain; or even a cloudy morning that threatened to be rain or snow, sometime later. And it was one of those times, very near to Christmas—when I’d long ago given Frank and Franny back the wad of money I’d stuffed in my shoe—that Ronda Ray asked me, “Do you know, John-O, that it’s customary to tip a waitress?” And I got the picture; I wondered if Franny overheard me that morning—or overheard the subsequent crinkling of bills.

I spent my Christmas money on Ronda Ray.

I bought a little something for Mother and Father, of course. We were not big on gifts at Christmas—the idea was to give something silly. I think I got Father an apron to wear behind the bar at the Hotel New Hampshire; it was one of those aprons with a stupid slogan on it. I think I got Mother a china bear. Frank always got Father a tie and Mother a scarf, and Mother gave the scarves to Franny, who wore them every which way, and Father gave the ties back to Frank, who liked ties.

For Christmas, 1956, we made something special for Iowa Bob: a framed, blown-up photograph of Junior Jones scoring Dairy’s only touchdown against Exeter. That was not so silly, but everything else was. Franny bought Mother a sexy dress that Mother would never wear. Franny was hoping Mother would give it to her, but Mother would never have allowed Franny to wear it, either.

“She can wear it for Father when they visit old Three E,” Franny told me, in a grouchy mood.

Father bought Frank a bus driver’s uniform, because Frank was so fond of uniforms; Frank would wear it when he played doorman at the Hotel New Hampshire. On those rare occasions when we had more than one overnight guest, Frank liked to pretend that there was always a doorman at the Hotel New Hampshire. The bus driver’s uniform was the good old Dairy death-grey colour; the pants and the jacket sleeves were too short for Frank, and the cap was too large, so that Frank had an ominous, seedy-funeral-parlour look to him when he let in the guests.

“Welcome to the Hotel New Hampshire!” he practiced saying, but it always sounded as if he didn’t mean it.

No one knew what to get Lilly—certainly not a dwarf, or an elf, or anything little.

“Give her food!” Iowa Bob suggested, a few days before Christmas. My family never went in for all this organized Christmas shopping shit, either. It was always down-to-the-last-minute with us, although Iowa Bob made a big deal about the tree that he chopped down in Elliot Park one morning: it was too large to stand up in the restaurant of the Hotel New Hampshire without being cut in half.

“You chopped down that lovely tree in the park!” Mother said.

“Well, we own the park, don’t we?” Coach Bob said. “What else do you do with trees?” He was from Iowa, after all, where you can see for miles—sometimes, without a tree in sight.

It was on Egg that we lavished the most presents, because he was the only one of us who was the prime age for Christmas that year. And Egg was very fond of things. Everyone got him animals and balls and tub toys and outdoor equiment—most of it junk that would be lost or outgrown or broken or under the snow before the winter was over.

Franny and I found a jar of chimpanzee teeth in an antique store in Dairy, and we bought the teeth for Frank.

“He can use them in one of his stuffing experiments,” Franny said.

I was just as glad that we would not be giving Frank the teeth before Christmas, because I feared that Frank might try to use them in his version of Sorrow.

“Sorrow!” Iowa Bob screamed aloud one night, just before Christmas, and we all sat up in our beds with our hair itching. “Sorrow!” the old man called and we heard him bellow down the deserted third-floor hall. “Sorrow!” he called.

“The old fool is having a bad dream,” Father said, thumping upstairs in his bathrobe, but I went into Frank’s room and stared at him.

“Don’t look at me,” Frank said. “Sorrow’s still down at the lab. He’s not finished.”

And we all went upstairs to see what was the matter with Iowa Bob.

He had “seen” Sorrow, he said. Coach Bob had smelled the old dog in his sleep, and when he woke up, Sorrow was standing on the old oriental rug—his favourite—in Bob’s room. “But he looked at me with such menace,” old Bob said. “He looked like he was going to attack!”

I stared at Frank again, but Frank shrugged. Father rolled his eyes.

“You were having a nightmare,” he told his old dad.

“Sorrow was in this room!” Coach Bob said. “But he didn’t look like Sorrow. He looked like he wanted to kill me.”

“Hush, hush,” Mother said, and Father waved us out of the room; I heard him start talking to Iowa Bob that way I’d heard Father talk to Egg, or to Lilly—or to any of us children, when we were younger—and I realized that Father often talked to Bob that way, as if he thought his father was a child.

“It’s that old rug,” Mother whispered to us kids. “It’s got so much dog hair on it that your grandfather can still smell Sorrow in his sleep.”

Lilly looked frightened, but Lilly often looked frightened. Egg was staggering around as if he were asleep on his feet.

“Sorrow is dead, isn’t he?” Egg asked.

“Yes, yes,” Franny said.

“What?” Egg said, in such a loud voice that Lilly jumped.

“Okay, Frank,” I whispered in the stairwell. “What pose did you put Sorrow in?”

“Attack,” he said, and I shuddered.

I thought that the old dog, in resentment for the terrible pose he’d been condemned to, had come back to haunt the Hotel New Hampshire. He’d gone to Iowa Bob’s room because Bob had Sorrow’s rug.

“Let’s put Sorrow’s old rug in Frank’s room,” I suggested, at breakfast.

“I don’t want that old rug,” Frank said.

“I do want that old rug,” said Coach Bob. “It’s perfect for my weights.”

“That was some dream you had last night,” Franny ventured to say.

“That was no dream, Franny,” Bob said, grimly. “That was Sorrow—in the flesh,” said the old coach, and Lilly shivered so hard at the word “flesh” that she dropped her cereal spoon with a clatter.

“What is flesh?” Egg asked.

“Look, Frank,” I said to Frank, out in frozen Elliot Park—the day before Christmas. “I think you better let Sorrow stay down at the lab.”

Frank looked ready to “attack” at this suggestion. “He’s all ready,” Frank said, “and he’s coming home tonight.”

“Do me a favour and don’t gift-wrap him, okay?” I said.

“Gift-wrap him?” Frank said, with only mild disgust. “Do you think I’m crazy?”

I didn’t answer him, and he said, “Look, don’t you understand what’s going on? I’ve done such a good job with Sorrow that Grandfather has had a premonition that Sorrow’s come home,” Frank said.

It would always amaze me, how Frank could make pure idiocy sound logical.

And so we came to the night before Christmas. Not a creature was stirring, as they say. Just a stockpot or two. Max Urick’s ever-present static. Ronda Ray was in her room. And there was a Turk in 2B—a Turkish diplomat visiting his son at the Dairy School; he was the only student at the Dairy School who had not gone home (or to someone’s home) for Christmas. All the presents were hidden with care. It was our family tradition to bring everything out and put it under the bare tree on Christmas morning.

Mother and Father, we knew, had hidden all our presents in 3E—a room they visited happily and often. Iowa Bob had stored his gifts in one of the tiny fourth-floor bathrooms, which were not called “fit for dwarfs,” not anymore—not since the dubious diagnosis of Lilly’s possible affliction. Franny showed me all the presents she got—including modelling, for me, the sexy dress she bought for Mother. That prompted me to show her the nightgown I bought for Ronda Ray, and Franny promptly modelled it. When I saw it on her, I knew I should have gotten it for Franny. It was snow-white, a colour not available in Ronda’s collection.

“You should have gotten this for me!” Franny said. “I love it!”

But I would never catch on to what I should do about Franny, in time; as Franny said, “I’ll always be a year ahead of you, kid.”

Lilly hid her gifts in a small box; all her gifts were small. Egg didn’t get anyone any gifts, but he searched endlessly through the Hotel New Hampshire for all the gifts people had gotten for him. And Frank hid Sorrow in Coach Bob’s closet.

Why?” I would ask him, and ask him, later.

“It was just for one night,” Frank said. “And I knew that Franny would never look there.”

On Christmas Eve, 1956, everyone went to bed early and no one slept—another family tradition. We heard the ice groaning under the snow in Elliot Park. There were times when Elliot Park could creak like a coffin changing temperature—being lowered into the ground. Why is it that even the Christmas of 1956 felt a little like Halloween?

There was even a dog barking, late at night, and although the dog could not have been Sorrow, all of us who were awake thought of Iowa Bob’s dream—or his “premonition,” as Frank called it.

And then it was Christmas morning—clear, windy, and cold—and I ran my forty or fifty wind sprints across Elliot Park. Naked, I was no longer as “chubby” as I looked with my running clothes on—as Ronda Ray was always telling me. Some of the bananas were turning hard. And Christmas morning or no Christmas morning, a routine is a routine: I joined Coach Bob for a little weight lifting before the family gathered for Christmas breakfast.

“You do your curls while I do my neck bridges,” Iowa Bob told me.

“Yes, Grandfather,” I said, and I did as I was told. Feet to feet on Sorrow’s old rug, we did our sit-ups; head to head, our push-ups. There was only one long barbell, and the two short dumbbells for the one-arm curls. We traded the weights back and forth—it was a kind of wordless morning prayer for us.

“Your upper arms, your chest, your neck—that all looks pretty good,” Grandpa Bob told me, “but your forearms could stand some work. And put maybe a flat twenty-five-pounder on your chest when you do your sit-ups—you’re doing them too easily. And bend your knees.”

“Yup,” I said, out of breath in my Ronda Ray way.

Bob put the long barbell up; he cleaned it neatly about ten times, then he pumped a few standing presses with it—it seemed to me he had about 160 or 180 on the bar when the weights slid off one end and I got out of their way, and then about fifty or seventy-five pounds came sliding off the other end of the bar, and old Iowa Bob cried, “Shit! Goddamn thing!” The weights rolled across the room. Father, downstairs, hollered up at us.

“Jesus God, you crazy weight lifters!” he yelled. “Tighten those screws!”

And one of the weights rolled into the door of Bob’s closet, and the door opened, of course, and out came the tennis racquet, Bob’s laundry bag, a vacuum cleaner hose, a squash ball, and Sorrow—stuffed.

I tried to say something, although the dog alarmed me nearly as much as it must have alarmed Iowa Bob; at least I knew what it was. It was Sorrow in Frank’s “attack” pose. It was a pretty good attack pose, all right, and a better job of stuffing a black Labrador retriever than I would have thought Frank capable of. Sorrow was screwed down to a pine board—as Coach Bob would have said, “Everything is screwed down in the Hotel New Hampshire; in the Hotel New Hampshire, we’re screwed down for life!” The fierce dog slid rather gracefully out of the closet, landing firmly on all four feet and looking ready to spring. His black fur was so glossy it must have been recently oiled, and his yellow eyes caught the bright morning light—and the light caught the gleam in his old yellow teeth, which Frank had polished white for the occasion. The dog’s hackles were drawn back farther than I ever saw old Sorrow’s hackles drawn back, when Sorrow had been alive, and a shiny sort of spittle—very convincing stuff—seemed to brighten the dead dog’s gums. His black nose looked wet and healthy, and I could almost smell his fetid halitosis reaching out to Iowa Bob and me. But this Sorrow looked much too serious to fart.

This Sorrow meant business, and before I could get my breath back and tell my grandfather that it was only a Christmas present for Franny—that it was only one of Frank’s awful projects from down at the bio lab—the old coach slung his barbell at the savage attack dog and threw his wonderful lineman’s body back against me (to protect me, no doubt; that must have been what he meant to do).

“Holy cow!” said Iowa Bob, in a strangely small voice, and the weights clattered on all sides of Sorrow. The snarling dog was unfazed; he remained poised for the kill. And Iowa Bob, who was past the end of his last season, dropped dead in my arms.

“Jesus God, are you throwing those weights around on purpose?” Father screamed upstairs to us. “Jesus God!” Father cried. “Take a day off, will you? It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”

“Merry fucking Christmas!” shouted Franny, from downstairs.

“Merry Christmas!” said Lilly, and Egg—and even Frank.

“Merry Christmas!” Mother called softly.

And was it Ronda Ray I heard chiming in? And the Uricks—already setting up for Christmas breakfast in the Hotel New Hampshire? And I heard something unpronounceable—it might have been the Turk in 2B.

In my arms, which I realized had grown very strong, I held the former Big Ten star, who was as heavy and meaningful, to me, as our family bear, and I stared into the short distance that separated us from Sorrow.

6

Father Hears from Freud

Coach Bob’s Christmas present—the framed, blown-up photograph of Junior Jones scoring Dairy’s only touchdown against Exeter—was given to Franny, who also inherited 3F, Iowa Bob’s old room. Franny wanted nothing to do with Frank’s version of Sorrow, which Egg dragged to his room; he hid the stuffed dog under his bed, where Mother discovered it, with a shriek, several days after Christmas. I know that Frank would have liked to have Sorrow back—for further experimenting with the facial expression, or the pose—but Frank had kept to himself, and to his room, since scaring his grandfather to death.

Iowa Bob was sixty-eight when he died, but the old lineman was in first-rate shape; without a fright of Sorrow’s magnitude, he might have lived for another decade. Our family made every effort not to let the responsibility for the accident weigh too heavily on Frank. “Nothing weighs too heavily on Frank,” Franny said, but even Franny tried to cheer him up. “Stuffing Sorrow was a sweet idea, Frank,” Franny told him, “but you must realize not everybody has your taste.”

What she might have told him was that taxidermy, like sex, is a very personal subject; the manner in which we impose it on others should be discreet.

Frank’s guilt, if guilt was what he felt, was apparent only by his exaggerated absence; Frank was always more absent than the rest of us, but his usual silence grew even quieter. Even so, Franny and I felt that only Frank’s sulking prevented him from asking for Sorrow.

Mother, against Egg’s protests, instructed Max Urick to dispose of Sorrow, which Max accomplished by merely upending the paralyzed beast in one of the trash barrels at the delivery entrance. And one rainy morning, from Ronda Ray’s room, I was startled to see the soggy tail and rump of Sorrow protruding from the mouth of the barrel; I could imagine the rubbish man, with his Department of Sanitation truck, being similarly startled—thinking suddenly to himself: My God, when they’re through with their pets at the Hotel New Hampshire, they just throw them out with the garbage!

“Come back to bed, John-O,” said Ronda Ray, but I just stared through the rain, which was turning to snow—falling over the row of barrels crammed with Christmas wrappings, ribbons and tinsel, the bottles and cartons and cans of the restaurant business, the bright and dull scraps of food, of interest to the birds and dogs, and one dead dog of interest to no one. Well, almost no one. It would have broken Frank’s heart to see Sorrow come to this degrading end, and I looked out at the snow thickening over Elliot Park and saw another member of my family who was still keenly interested in Sorrow. I saw Egg, in his ski parka and ski hat, dragging his sled to the delivery entrance. He moved quickly over the slick coating of snow, his sled grating on the driveway, which was still bare and dotted with puddles. Egg knew where he was going—a quick look into the basement windows and he was safely past Mrs. Urick’s scrutiny; a glance to the fourth floor, but Max was not guarding the trash barrels. Our family’s rooms didn’t overlook the delivery entrance, and Egg knew that left only Ronda Ray who could see him. But she was in bed, and when Egg glanced up at her window, I ducked out of sight.

“If you’d rather be out running, John-O,” Ronda groaned, “go run”

And when I looked out the window again. Egg was gone; Sorrow had gone with him. The efforts to bring Sorrow back from the grave were not over, I knew; I could only guess where the beast might reappear.

When Franny moved to Iowa Bob’s room, Mother rearranged the rest of us. She put Egg and me together, where Franny and Lilly had been, and she gave Lilly my old room and Egg’s adjoining room—as if, illogically, Lilly’s so-called dwarfism needed to be accommodated not only with privacy but with a large space. I complained, but Father said I would have a “maturing” influence on Egg. Frank’s secret quarters were unchanged, and the barbells still resided in Iowa Bob’s room, which gave me more reason to visit Franny, who liked to watch me lift. So when I lifted, now, I was not thinking just of Franny—my only audience!—but with a little extra effort I could bring back Coach Bob. I was lifting for both of us.

I suppose that, by salvaging Sorrow from the inevitable journey to the dump, Egg might have been resurrecting Iowa Bob in the only way Egg could do it. What “maturing” influence I was expected to have on Egg remained a mystery to me, though it was tolerable sharing a room with him. His clothes bothered me most of all, or not his clothes but his habits with clothes: Egg didn’t dress himself, he costumed himself. He changed costumes several times a day, the discarded clothing always dominating a central area of our room and accumulating there, after several days, before Mother would rampage through the room and ask me if I couldn’t urge Egg to be more tidy. Perhaps Father meant “tidying” when he said “maturing.”

For my first week of sharing a room with Egg, I was less concerned with his messiness than I was anxious to discover where he had hidden Sorrow. I did not want to be startled by that shape of death again, although I think the shape of death is always startling to us—it is meant to be startling—and not even proper anticipation can prepare us enough for it. This, at least, was true of Egg and Sorrow.

The night before New Year’s Eve, with Iowa Bob not dead a week, and Sorrow missing from the garbage for only two days, I whispered across the darkness of our room to Egg; I knew he wasn’t asleep.

“Okay, Egg,” I whispered. “Where is he?” But it would always be a mistake to whisper to Egg.

“What?” Egg said. Mother and Dr. Blaze said that Egg’s hearing was improving, although Father referred to Egg’s “deafness,” not to his “hearing,” and concluded that Dr. Blaze must be deaf himself to think of Egg’s condition as “improving.” It was rather like Dr. Blaze’s opinion of Lilly’s dwarfism: that it was improving, too, because Lilly had grown (a little). But everyone else had grown much more, and the impression, therefore, was that Lilly was growing smaller.

“Egg,” I said more loudly. “Where is Sorrow?”

“Sorrow is dead,” Egg said.

“I know he’s dead, damn it,” I said, “but where, Egg? Where is Sorrow?”

“Sorrow is with Grandpa Bob,” said Egg, who was right about that, of course, and I knew there would be no cajoling the whereabouts of the stuffed terror out of Egg.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve,” I said.

“Who?” Egg said.

“New Year’s Eve!” I said. “We’re having a party.”

“Where?” he asked.

“Here,” I said. “In the Hotel New Hampshire.”

“What room?” he said.

“The main room,” I said. “The big room. The restaurant, dummy,”

“We’re not having a party in this room,” Egg said.

With Egg’s costumes all around, there was hardly room for a party in our room, I knew, but I let this observation pass. I was almost asleep when Egg spoke again.

“How would you dry something that’s wet?” Egg asked.

And I thought to myself of the likely condition of Sorrow, after God knows how many hours in the open trash barrel, in the rain and snow.

“What is it that’s wet, Egg?” I asked.

“Hair,” he said. “How would you dry hair?”

“Your hair, Egg?”

“Anybody’s hair,” Egg said. “Lots of hair. More hair than mine.”

“Well, with a hair dryer, I suppose,” I said.

“That thing Franny has?” Egg asked.

“Mother has one, too,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he said, “but Franny’s is bigger. I think it’s hotter, too.”

“Got a lot of hair to dry, huh?” I said.

“What?” Egg said. But it wasn’t worth repeating; an aspect of Egg’s deafness was Egg’s ability to choose when not to hear.

In the morning I watched him take off his pajamas, under which he wore—and had slept in—a full suit of clothes.

“It’s good to be ready—right, Egg?” I asked.

“Ready for what?” he asked. “There isn’t any school today—it’s still vacation.”

“Then why’d you wear your clothes to bed?” I asked him, but he let that pass; he was rummaging through various piles of costumes. “What are you looking for?” I asked him. “You’re already dressed.” But whenever Egg detected that the tone I took toward him was a teasing one, he ignored me.

“See you at the party,” he said.

Egg loved the Hotel New Hampshire; perhaps he loved it even more than Father, because Father loved most of all the idea of it; in fact, Father seemed daily more and more unsure of the actual success of his venture. Egg loved all the rooms, the stairwells, the great unoccupied emptiness of the former all-girls” school. Father knew we were unoccupied a little too much of the time, but that was fine with Egg.

Guests would occasionally bring odd things they had found in their rooms to breakfast. The room was very clean,” they would begin, “but someone must have left this... this something.” The right rubber arm of a cowboy; the wrinkled, webbed foot of a dried toad. A playing card, with a face drawn over the face of the jack of diamonds; the five of clubs with the word “Yuck” written across it. A small sock with six marbles in it. A costume change (Egg’s policeman’s badge pinned to his baseball uniform) hanging in the closet of 4G.

On the day of New Year’s Eve, the weather was that thawing kind—a mist spreading over Elliot Park, and yesterday’s snow already melting and revealing the grey snow of a week ago. “Where were you this morning, John-O?” Ronda Ray asked me, as we were fussing with the restaurant for the New Year’s Eve party.

“It wasn’t raining,” I pointed out. A weak excuse, I knew—and she knew. I was hardly being unfaithful to Ronda—there was no one to be unfaithful with—but I dreamed of an imaginary someone else, about Franny’s age, all the time. I had even asked Franny for a date with one of her friends, someone she would recommend—although Franny was in the habit of saying that her friends were too old for me, now; by which she meant that they were sixteen.

“No weight lifting this morning?” Franny asked me. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get out of shape?”

“I’m in training for the party,” I said.

For the party, we expected that three or four Dairy students (who were cutting their Christmas break short) would be spending the night in the hotel, among them Junior Jones, who was Franny’s date, and a sister of Junior Jones, who was not a Dairy student. Junior was bringing her with him for me—I was terrified that Junior Jones’s sister was going to be as big as Junior Jones, and I was also eager to know if this was the sister who’d been raped, as Harold Swallow had told me; it seemed unjustly important to know. Was I to have a large, raped girl for a date or a large, unraped girl?—for either way, I was sure, she would have to be huge.

“Don’t be nervous,” Franny said to me.

We dismantled the Christmas tree, which brought tears to my father’s eyes, because it had been Iowa Bob’s tree; Mother had to leave the room. The funeral had seemed so subdued to us children—it was the first funeral we had ever seen, being too young to remember what was done about Latin Emeritus and my mother’s mother; the bear called State o’Maine had not been given a funeral. I think that considering the noise attached to the death of Iowa Bob, we expected the funeral to be louder, too—“at least the sound of barbells falling,” I said to Franny.

“Be serious,” she said. She seemed to think she was growing much older than me, and I was afraid she was right.

“Is this the sister who was raped?” I asked Franny suddenly. “I mean, which sister is Junior bringing?” By Franny’s look at me, I guessed that this question also put years between us.

“He only has one sister,” Franny said, looking straight at me. “Does it matter to you that she was raped?”

Of course I didn’t know what to say: that it did? That one would not discuss rape with someone who’d been raped, as opposed to launching into the subject right away with someone who hadn’t? That one would look for the lasting scars in the personality, or not look for them? That one would assume lasting scars in the personality, and speak to the person as to an invalid? (And how did one speak to an invalid?) That it didn’t matter? But it did. I knew why, too. I was fourteen. In my inexpert years (and I would always be inexpert on the subject of rape), I imagined that one would touch a person who’d been raped a little differently, or a little less; or that one would not touch her at all. I said that to Franny, finally, and she stared at me.

“You’re wrong,” she said, but it was the way she said to Frank, “You’re an asshole,” and I felt that I would probably always be fourteen, too.

“Where is Egg?” Father bellowed. “Egg!”

“Egg never does any work,” Frank complained, sweeping the dead needles from the Christmas tree aimlessly about the restaurant.

“Egg is a little boy, Frank,” Franny said.

“Egg could be more mature than he is,” Father said. And I (who was to be the maturing influence)... I knew very well why Egg was out of earshot. He was in some empty room of the Hotel New Hampshire, contemplating the terrible mass of wet black Labrador retriever, which was Sorrow.

When the last of Christmas had been swept and dragged out of the Hotel New Hampshire, we considered what decorations would be appropriate for New Year’s Eve.

“No one feels very much like New Year’s Eve,” Franny said. “Let’s not decorate anything at all.”

“A party is a party,” said Father, gamely, although we suspected he felt the least like a party of us all. Everyone knew whose idea a New Year’s Eve party had been: Iowa Bob’s.

There won’t be anybody coming, anyway,” Frank said.

“Well, speak for yourself, Frank,” Franny said. “I have some friends coming.”

There could be a hundred people here and you’d still stay in your room, Frank,” I said.

“Go eat another banana,” Frank said. “Go take a run—to the moon.”

“Well, I like having a party,” Lilly said, and everyone looked at her—because, of course, we had not seen her until she spoke; she was getting so small. Lilly was almost eleven, but she now seemed substantially smaller than Egg; she barely came up to my waist and she weighed less than forty pounds.

So we all rallied to the occasion: as long as Lilly was looking forward to a party, we would try to get in the mood.

“So how should we decorate the restaurant, Lilly?” Frank asked her; he had a way of bending over when he spoke to Lilly, as if he were addressing a baby in a carriage and what he had to say were pure gibberish.

“Let’s not decorate anything at all,” Lilly said. “Let’s just have a good time.”

We all stood still, facing this prospect as we might face a death sentence, but Mother said, “That’s a wonderful idea! I’m going to call the Matsons!”

“The Matsons?” Father said.

“And the Foxes, and maybe the Calders,” Mother said.

“Not the Matsons!” Father said. “And the Calders already asked us to a party—they have a New Year’s party every year.”

“Well, we’ll just have a few friends,” Mother said.

“Well, there will be the usual customers, too,” Father said, but he didn’t look too sure, and we looked away from him. The “usual customers” were such a small cluster of cronies; for the most part, they were the drinking friends of Coach Bob. We wondered if they’d ever show up again—and on New Year’s Eve we doubted it.

Mrs. Urick didn’t know how much food to have on hand; Max wondered if the entire parking lot should be plowed, or just the usual few spaces. Ronda Ray seemed in the spirit for a New Year’s party of her own; she had a dress she wanted to wear—she’d told me all about it. I already knew the dress: it was the sexy dress Franny had bought Mother for Christmas; Mother had given it to Ronda. Having seen Franny model it, I was anxious about how Ronda would ever cram herself into it.

Mother had arranged to have a live band. “An almost live band,” Franny said, because she’d heard the band before. They played to the Hampton Beach crowd in the summers, but during the regular year most of them were still in high school. The electric guitarist was a high school hood named Sleazy Wales; his mother was the lead singer and acoustic guitarist—a strapping, loud woman named Doris, whom Ronda Ray fervently called a slut. The band was named either after Doris or after the mild hurricane of some years before—which was also named Doris. The band was called, naturally, Hurricane Doris, and it featured Sleazy Wales and his mother and two of Sleazy’s high school pals; acoustic bass and drums. I think that the boys worked in the same auto garage after school, because the band’s uniforms consisted of “garage mechanics” clothes—on the boys—with their names sewn on the breast alongside the GULF insignia. Their names were Danny, Jake, Sleazy—and all of them were GULF. Doris wore whatever she wanted to—dresses that even Ronda Ray would have thought immodest. Frank, of course, called Hurricane Doris “disgusting.”

The band favoured Elvis Presley numbers—“with lots of slow stuff if there’s a lot of grown-ups in the crowd,” Doris told my mother over the phone, “and the faster shit if the crowd’s,young.”

“Oh boy,” Franny said. “I can’t wait to hear what Junior thinks of Hurricane Doris.”

And I dropped several glass ashtrays that I was supposed to be distributing to the tables, because I couldn’t wait to see what Junior Jones’s sister would think of me.

“How old is she?” I asked Franny.

“If you’re lucky, kid,” Franny teased me, “she’ll be about twelve.”

Frank had returned the mop and broom to the first-floor utility closet and had discovered, in the closet, a clue to the existence of Sorrow. It was the board, the cut-to-size plank, upon which Sorrow had been mounted in his attack pose. There were four neat screw holes in the board, and the trace of the dog’s paw prints; he’d been screwed by his paws to the plank.

“Egg!” Frank screamed. “You little thief, Egg!”

So Egg had removed Sorrow from his stand, and was perhaps at this very moment refashioning Sorrow’s pose into something closer to his own version of our old pet.

“It’s a good thing Egg never got hold of State o’Maine,” Lilly said.

“It’s a good thing Frank didn’t get hold of State o’Maine,” Franny noted.

“There’s not going to be much room for dancing,” said Ronda Ray, wearily. “We can’t move any of the chairs out of the way.”

“We’ll dance around the chairs!” Father cried, optimistically.

“Screwed down for life,” Franny murmured, but Father heard her, and he wasn’t ready to hear any of Iowa Bob’s old lines played back to him—not just yet. He looked very hurt, then he looked away. I remember New Year’s Eve of 1956 as a time when everyone did a lot of “looking away.”

“Oh, damn,” Franny whispered to me, and looked—actually—ashamed.

Ronda Ray gave Franny a quick hug. “You just got a grow up a little, honey,” she said to her. “You got to find out: grown-ups don’t bounce back as fast as kids.”

We could hear Frank wailing for Egg in the stairwell. Frank didn’t “bounce back” so well, either, I thought. But Frank, in a way, was never a kid.

“Shut up your noise!” yelled Max Urick-from the fourth floor.

“Come down and help us with the party—both of you!” Father cried.

“Kids!” Max bellowed.

“What does he know about kids?” Mrs. Urick grumbled.

Then Harold Swallow called from Detroit. He wasn’t coming back to Dairy early, after all; he was going to miss the party. He said that he just remembered that New Year’s Eve depressed him and he always ended up watching the whole thing on television. “I might as well do that in Detroit,” he said. “I don’t have to take no airplane to Boston and ride in no car with Junior Jones and a whole crowd, just to stay in a funny hotel to watch New Year’s Eve on TV.”

“We won’t turn on the TV,” I told him. “It would conflict with the band, anyway.”

“Well,” he said. “Then I’d miss it. I better stay in Detroit.” There was never very much logic to the conversations one had with Harold Swallow; I never knew what to say next to him.

“Sorry about Bob,” Harold said, and I thanked him and reported to the others.

“Nasty isn’t coming, either,” Franny said. “Nasty” was the Boston boyfriend of Franny’s friend Ernestine Tuck of Greenwich, Connecticut. Ernestine was called Bitty by everyone but Franny and Junior Jones. Apparently her mother had called her a “little bitty” one terrible night and the name, as they say, stuck. Ernestine didn’t seem to mind it, and she tolerated Junior Jones’s version of her name, too: she had wondrous breasts and Junior called her Titsie Tuck, and Franny did, too. Bitty Tuck idolized Franny so much that she would endure any insult from her; and everyone in the world, I used to think, would simply have to accept insults from Junior Jones. Bitty Tuck was rich and pretty and eighteen, and not a bad person—she was just so easy to tease—and she was coming for New Year’s Eve because she was what Franny called a party girl, and Franny’s only female friend at the Dairy School. At eighteen, Bitty was very sophisticated—in Franny’s opinion. The plan, Franny explained to me, was that Junior Jones and his sister were driving their own car from Philadelphia; they would pick up Titsie Tuck in Greenwich, en route, and then pick up Titsie’s boyfriend, Peter (“Nasty”) Raskin, in Boston. But now, Franny said, Nasty was not allowed to come—because he had insulted an aunt at a family wedding. Titsie had decided to come with Junior and his sister, anyway.

“Then there will be an extra girl—for Frank,” Father said, in his well-meaning way, and several shapes of death passed above us all, in silence.

“Just so there isn’t a girl for me,” said Egg.

“Egg!” Frank yelled, making us all jump. None of us knew that Egg was with us, or when he’d arrived, but he had changed his costume and was pretending to straighten up things in a busy fashion about the restaurant, as if he’d been working right along with the rest of us, all day.

“I want to talk to you, Egg,” Frank said.

“What?” said Egg.

“Don’t shout at Egg!” Lilly said, and drew Egg aside in her irritating, motherly fashion. We noticed that Lilly had taken an interest in mothering Egg as soon as Egg grew bigger than she was. Frank followed them into a corner of the room, hissing at Egg like a barrel of snakes.

“I know you’ve got him, Egg,” Frank was hissing.

“What?” Egg said.

Frank didn’t dare say “Sorrow” with Father in the restaurant, and none of us would allow Egg to be bullied; Egg was safe, and he knew it. Egg was wearing his infantry combat uniform; Franny had told me that she thought Frank probably wished he had a uniform like that, and that it made Frank mad every time Egg wore a uniform—and Egg had several. If Frank’s love of uniforms seemed odd, it seemed natural enough for Egg to love them; no doubt Frank resented this.

Then I asked Franny how Junior Jones’s sister was going to get back to Philadelphia once New Year’s was over and the Dairy School started again. Franny looked puzzled, and I explained that I didn’t think Junior was going to drive his sister all the way back to Philadelphia, and then come right back to Dairy for school, and he wouldn’t be allowed to keep a car at Dairy. That was against school rules.

“She’ll drive herself back, I suppose,” Franny said. “I mean, it’s her car—or I think it is.”

Then it dawned on me that Junior Jones’s sister, since they were bringing her car, had to be old enough to drive. “She’s got to be at least sixteen!” I said to Franny.

“Don’t be frightened,” Franny said. “How old do you guess Ronda is?” she whispered.

But the thought of an older girl was intimidating enough without imagining a huge older girl: a bigger, older, once-raped girl.

“It’s reasonable to assume that she’ll be black, too,” Franny said to me. “Or didn’t that occur to you, either?”

“That doesn’t bother me,” I said.

“Oh, everything bothers you,” Franny said. “Titsie Tuck is eighteen and she bothers the hell out of you, and she’ll be here, too.”

That was true: Titsie Tuck referred to me, publicly, as “cute”—in her rich, rather condescending way. But I don’t mean that; she was nice—she just never regarded me at all, unless it was to joke with me; she was intimidating to me in the way someone who never remembers your name can be intimidating. “In this world,” Franny once observed, “just when you’re trying to think of yourself as memorable, there is always someone who forgets that they’ve met you.”

It was an up-and-down day at the Hotel New Hampshire, getting ready for New Year’s Eve: I remember that something more pronounced than even the usual weave of silliness and sadness seemed to hang over us all, as if we’d be conscious, from time to time, of hardly mourning for Iowa Bob at all—and conscious, at other times, that our most necessary responsibility (not just in spite of but because of Iowa Bob) was to have fun. It was perhaps our first test of a dictum passed down to my father from old Iowa Bob himself; it was a dictum Father preached to us, over and over again. It was so familiar to us, we wouldn’t dream of not behaving as if we believed it, although we probably never knew—until much later—whether we believed it or not.

The dictum was connected with Iowa Bob’s theory that we were all on a big ship—“on a big cruise, across the world.” And in spite of the danger of being swept away, at any time, or perhaps because of the danger, we were not allowed to be depressed or unhappy. The way the world worked was not cause for some sort of blanket cynicism or sophomoric despair; according to my father and Iowa Bob, the way the world worked—which was badly—was just a strong incentive to live purposefully, and to be determined about living well.

“Happy fatalism,” Frank would speak of their philosophy, later; Frank, as a troubled youth, was not a believer.

And one night, when we were watching a wretched melodrama on the TV above the bar in the Hotel New Hampshire, my mother said, “I don’t want to see the end of this. I like happy endings.”

And Father said, “There are no happy endings.”

“Right!” cried Iowa Bob—an odd mixture of exuberance and stoicism in his cracked voice. “Death is horrible, final, and frequently premature,” Coach Bob declared.

“So what?” my father said.

“Right!” cried Iowa Bob. “That’s the point: So what?”

Thus the family maxim was that an unhappy ending did not undermine a rich and energetic life. This was based on the belief that there were no happy endings. Mother resisted this, and Frank was morose about it, and Franny and I were probably believers of this religion—or if, at times, we doubted Iowa Bob, the world would always come up with something that seemed to prove the old lineman right. We never knew what Lilly’s religion was (no doubt it was a small idea, kept to herself), and Egg would be the retriever of Sorrow, in more than one sense. Retrieving Sorrow is a kind of religion, too.

The board that Frank had found with the paw prints on it and the Sorrow holes in it, looking like the abandoned crucifix of a four-footed Christ, seemed ominous to me. I talked Franny into a bed check, although she said Frank and I were nuts—Egg, she said, had probably wanted to keep the board and had thrown the dog away. Of course the intercom revealed nothing, since Sorrow—whether he was thrown away or hidden—was no longer breathing. There was a strange blowing sound, like the rushing of air, from 4A—at the opposite end of the hall from Max Urick’s static—but Franny said there was probably a window open: Ronda Ray had made up that bed for Bitty Tuck, and the room had probably been stuffy.

“Why are we putting Bitty way up on the fourth floor?” I asked.

“Because Mother thought she’d be here with Nasty,” Franny said, “and that way—stuck up on the fourth floor—they could have some privacy from you kids.”

“From us kids, you mean,” I said. “Where’s Junior sleeping?”

“Not with me,” Franny said crisply. “Junior and Sabrina have their own rooms on the second floor.”

“Sa-bree –na?” I said.

“That’s it,” Franny said.

Sabrina Jones! I thought, and experienced a catacylsmic closing of the throat. Seventeen and six-foot-six, I imagined; goes about 185, stripped and towel-dried—and she can bench-press 200 pounds.

“They’re here,” Lilly came and told us at the switchboard, in her wispy voice. The sight of the size of Junior Jones always took Lilly’s breath away.

“How big is she?” I asked Lilly, but of course everyone looked enormous to Lilly; I would have to see Sabrina Jones for myself.

Frank, indulging in a moment of overt self-consciousness, had dressed himself in his bus driver’s uniform and was playing doorman at the Hotel New Hampshire. He was carrying Bitty Tuck’s luggage into the lobby; Bitty Tuck was the kind of girl who had luggage. She wore a sort of man’s suit, but it had been tailored for a woman, and even a sort of man’s dress shirt, with a button-down collar and tie, and everything—except the breasts, which were extraordinary, as Junior Jones had observed: they were impossible to conceal even in the most mannish costume. She flounced into the lobby behind Frank, who was sweating with her luggage.

“Hi, John-John!” she said.

“Hi, Titsie,” I said, not meaning to let her nickname slip out, because only Junior and Franny could call her Titsie and not receive her scorn. She looked at me scornfully and rushed past me, embracing Franny with the strange shrieks her kind of girl seems to have been born making.

“The bags go to 4A, Frank,” I said.

“Jesus, not now they don’t,” Frank said, collapsing with Bitty’s luggage in the lobby. “It will take a team effort,” he said. “Maybe some of you fools will get excited enough to actually have fun doing it, during the party.”

Junior Jones loomed in the lobby, looking capable of hurling Bitty Tuck’s luggage up four floors—including Frank with the bags, I thought.

“Hey, the fun is here,” said Junior Jones. “Here’s the fun, man.”

I tried to see past him, or around him, to the doorway. For a terrified second I actually looked above him, as if his sister, Sabrina, might be towering there.

“Hey, Sabrina,” said Junior Jones. “Here’s your weight lifter.”

In the doorway was a slender Negress, about my height; her high, floppy-brimmed hat perhaps made her appear a little taller—and she wore heels. Her suit—a woman’s suit—was every ounce as fashionable as Bitty Tuck’s attire; she wore a cream-coloured silky blouse with a wide collar, and it was open down her long throat to just a glimpse of the red lace of her bra; she wore rings on every finger, and bracelets, and she was a wondrous bitter-chocolate color, with wide bright eyes and a wide mouth smiling, full of strange but handsome teeth; she smelled so nice, and from so far away, that even Bitty Tuck’s shrieks were diminished by the scent of Sabrina Jones. She was, I guessed, about twenty-eight or thirty, and she looked a little surprised to be introduced to me. Junior Jones, who was awfully quick for his size, moved far away from us fast.

You’re the weight lifter?” said Sabrina Jones.

“I’m only fifteen years old,” I lied; I would be fifteen very soon, after all.

“Holy cow,” said Sabrina Jones; she was so pretty I couldn’t look at her. “Junior!” she yelled, but Junior Jones was hiding from her—all the many pounds of him.

He had obviously needed a ride from Philadelphia, and not wanting to disappoint Franny by not showing up for New Year’s Eve, he had acquired his older sister, and his sister’s car, under the pretense of getting her a date with me.

“He told me Franny had an older brother,” Sabrina said, sorrowfully. I suppose Junior might have been thinking of Frank. Sabrina Jones was a secretary in a law firm in Philadelphia; she was twenty-nine.

“Fifteen,” she whistled through her teeth, which were not the bright white of her brother’s gleaming mouth; Sabrina’s teeth were perfectly sized and very straight, but they had a pearly, oyster hue to them. They were not unattractive teeth, but they were the only visibly flawed part of her. In my insecurity, I needed to notice them. I felt cloddish—full of bananas, as Frank would say.

There’s going to be a live band,” I said, and regretted saying so, immediately.

“Hot dog,” said Sabrina Jones, but she was nice; she smiled. “Do you dance?” she asked.

“No,” I admitted.

“Oh well,” she said; she was really trying to be a good sport. “You do lift weights?” she asked.

“Not as much as Junior,” I said.

“I’d like to drop a few weights on Junior’s head,” she said.

Frank lurched through the lobby, struggling with a trunk full of Junior Jones’s winter clothes; he couldn’t seem to navigate successfully past Bitty Tuck’s luggage, at the foot of the stairs, and so he dropped the trunk there—startling Lilly, who was sitting on the bottom step, watching Sabrina Jones.

“This is my sister Lilly,” I said to Sabrina, “and that was Frank,” I said, pointing to Frank’s back as he slunk away. We could hear Franny and Bitty Tuck shrieking somewhere, and I knew that Junior Jones would be speaking to my father—offering his condolences for Coach Bob.

“Hello, Lilly,” Sabrina said.

“I’m a dwarf,” Lilly said. “I’m not ever going to grow any bigger.”

This information must have seemed, to Sabrina Jones, to fit rather perfectly with her disappointment at discovering my age; Sabrina did not appear shocked.

“Well, that’s interesting,” she said to Lilly.

“You are going to grow, Lilly,” I said, “At least, you’re going to grow a little, and you’re not a dwarf.”

Lilly shrugged. “I don’t mind,” she said.

A figure passed swiftly across the landing at the turn of the staircase—he had a tomahawk, he wore war paint and little else (a black loincloth with coloured beads decorating the hips).

“That was Egg,” I said, watching the dazzled eyes of Sabrina Jones, her pretty mouth parted—as if attempting speech.

“That was a little Indian boy,” she said. “Why’s he called Egg?”

“I know why!” Lilly volunteered; sitting on the stairs, she raised her hand—as if she were in class, waiting to be called on. I was glad she was there; I never liked explaining Egg’s name. Egg had been Egg from the beginning, dating from Mother’s pregnancy, when Franny had asked her what the name of the new baby was going to be. “Right now it’s just an egg,” Frank had said, darkly—his wisdom of biology was always shocking, to us all. And so, as Mother grew and grew, the egg was called Egg with increasing conviction. Mother and Father were hoping for a third girl, only because it was going to be an April baby and they both liked the name April for a girl; they were undecided about a boy’s name, Father not caring for his own name, Win, and Mother—despite her fondness for Iowa Bob—not really liking the idea of a Robert, Jr. By the time it was clear that the egg was a boy, he was—in our family—already an Egg, and the name (as they say) stuck. Egg had no other name.

“He began as an egg, and he’s still an egg,” Lilly explained to Sabrina Jones.

“Holy cow,” Sabrina said, and I wished that something powerfully distracting would happen in the Hotel New Hampshire... to distract me from my embarrassment at how (it always struck me) our family must appear to outsiders.

“You see,” Franny would explain, years later, “we aren’t eccentric, we’re not bizarre. To each other,” Franny would say, “we’re as common as rain.” And she was right: to each other, we were as normal and nice as the smell of bread, we were just a family. In a family, even exaggerations make perfect sense; they are always logical exaggerations, nothing more.

But my embarrassment with Sabrina Jones made me embarrassed for us all. My embarrassment even included people beyond my family. I was embarrassed for Harold Swallow every time I spoke with him; I was always afraid someone would make fun of him and hurt his feelings. And on New Year’s Eve at the Hotel New Hampshire, I was embarrassed for Ronda Ray, wearing the dress Franny bought for Mother; I was even embarrassed for the almost live band, the terrible rock group called Hurricane Doris.

I recognized Sleazy Wales as a punk who had threatened me, years ago, in the Saturday matinee. He had wadded up a ball of bread, grey with the oil and grime from his auto-mechanic life; he’d stuck the wad of bread under my nose.

“Wanna eat that, kid?” he asked.

“No thanks,” I said. Frank leaped up and ran into the aisle, but Sleazy Wales gripped my arm and held me in my seat. “Don’t move,” he said. I promised I wouldn’t, and he took a long nail out of his pocket and drove it through the wad of bread. Then he made a fist around the bread with the nail protruding savagely between his middle and ring fingers.

“Wanna get your fucking eyes poked out?” he asked me.

“No thanks,” I said.

“Then get the fuck out of here!” he said; even then I was embarrassed for him. I went to find Frank—who, whenever he was frightened at the movies, always stood by the water cooler. Frank frequently embarrassed me, too.

At the Hotel New Hampshire, on New Year’s Eve, 1 saw at once that Sleazy Wales didn’t recognize me. Too many miles, too much weight lifting, too many bananas had come between us; if he threatened me with bread and nails again, I could simply hug him to death. He didn’t seem to have grown since the Saturday matinee. Scrawny and grey-skinned, his whole face the tone of a dirty ashtray, he hunched his shoulders forward in his GULF shirt and tried to walk as if each arm weighed one hundred pounds. I estimated that his whole body, plus wrenches and a few other heavy tools, couldn’t weigh more than 130.1 could have bench-pressed him an easy half-dozen times.

Hurricane Doris didn’t seem especially disappointed at the absence of a crowd; and perhaps the boys were even grateful to have fewer people staring at them, as they dragged their bright, cheap equipment from outlet to outlet, plugging in.

The first thing I heard Doris Wales say was, “Move the mike back, Jake, and don’t be an asshole.” The acoustic bass (called Jake), another greasy splinter in a GULF shirt, cringed over the microphone as if he lived in terror of electrical shock—and of being an asshole. Sleazy Wales gave the other boy in the band a lovable punch in the kidneys; a fat drummer named Danny, the boy absorbed the punch with dignity—but with obvious pain.

Doris Wales was a woman with straw-blonde hair whose body appeared to have been dipped in corn oil; then she must have put her dress on, wet. The dress grabbed at all her parts, and plunged and sagged over the gaps in her body; a lover’s line of hickeys, or love bites—“lovesucks,” Franny called them—dotted Doris’s chest and throat like a violent rash; the welts were like wounds from a whip. She wore plum-coloured lipstick, some of which was on her teeth, and she said, to Sabrina Jones and me, “You want hot-dancin’ music, or slow-neckin’ music? Or both?”

“Both,” said Sabrina Jones, without missing a beat, but I felt certain that if the world would stop indulging wars and famines and other perils, it would still be possible for human beings to embarrass each other to death. Our self-destruction might take a little longer that way, but I believe it would be no less complete.

Doris Wales, some months after the hurricane that was her namesake, first heard Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” when she was actually in a hotel. She told Sabrina and me that this had been a religious experience.

“You understand?” Doris said. “I was shacked up with this guy, in an actual hotel, when this song comes over the radio. That song told me how to feel,” Doris explained. “That was about half a year ago,” she said. “I haven’t been the same since.”

I wondered about the guy who’d been shacked up with Doris Wales when she had her experiences; where was he now? Had he been the same since?

Doris Wales sang only Elvis Presley songs; when it was appropriate, she changed the he’s to she’s (and vice versa); this improvisation and the fact, as Junior Jones noted, that she was “no Negro,” made listening to her almost unbearable.

In a gesture of making peace with his sister, Junior Jones asked Sabrina to dance the first dance; the song, I remember, was “Baby, Let’s Play House,” during which Sleazy Wales several times overpowered his mother’s voice with his electricity. “Jesus God,” Father said. “How much are we paying them?”

“Never mind,” Mother said. “Everyone can have a good time.”

It seemed unlikely, although Egg appeared to be having a good time; he was wearing a toga, and Mother’s sunglasses, and he was keeping clear of Frank, who lurked at the edge of light, among the empty tables and chairs—no doubt grumbling, to himself, his disgust.

I told Bitty Tuck that I was sorry I’d called her Titsie—that it had just slipped out.

“Okay, John-John,” she said, feigning indifference—or worse: feeling true indifference for me.

Lilly asked me to dance, but I was too shy; then Ronda Ray asked me, and I was too shy to refuse. Lilly looked hurt, and refused a gallant invitation from Father. Ronda Ray swung me violently around the floor.

“I know I’m losing you,” Ronda told me. “My advice: when you’re going to pull out on someone, tell them first.”

I was hoping Franny would cut in, but Ronda wheeled us into Junior and Sabrina, who were clearly arguing.

“Switch!” Ronda cried, gaily, and took Junior away.

Hurricane Doris, in an unforgettable transition of slopped-together sound, crushed instruments, and Doris’s strident voice, switched gears and gave us “I Love You Because”—a slow, close-dancing number, through which I trembled in the steady arms of Sabrina Jones.

“You’re not doing so bad,” she said. “Why don’t you put a move on that Tuck girl—your sister’s friend?” she asked me. “She’s about your age.”

“She’s eighteen,” I said, “and I don’t know how to put a move on anybody.” I wanted to tell Sabrina that although my relationship with Ronda Ray was carnal, it had hardly been a learning experience. With Ronda, there was no foreplay; sex was immediate and genital, but Ronda refused to let me kiss her on the mouth.

“That’s how the worst germs get spread around,” Ronda assured me. “Mouths.”

“I don’t even know how to kiss anybody,” I told Sabrina Jones, who seemed puzzled at what—for her—was a non sequitur.

Franny, who didn’t care for the way Ronda Ray was dancing the slow number with Junior, cut in on them, and I held my breath—hoping Ronda wasn’t going to come after me.

“Relax,” said Sabrina Jones. “You feel like a ball of wire.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Never apologize to the opposite sex,” she said. “Not if you want to get anywhere.”

“Get anywhere?” I said.

“Beyond the kissing,” Sabrina said.

“I can’t get to the kissing,” I explained to her.

That’s easy,” Sabrina said. “To get to the kissing, all you have to do is act like you know how to kiss: then someone will let you start.”

“But I don’t know how,” I said.

That’s easy,” Sabrina said. “Just practice.”

“Nobody to practice with,” I said—but I thought, fleetingly, of Franny.

“Try it with Bitty Tuck,” Sabrina whispered, laughing.

“But I have to look like I know how,” I said. “And I don’t.”

“We’re back to that,” Sabrina said. “I’m too old to let you practice with me. It wouldn’t be good for either of us.”

Ronda Ray, cruising the dance floor, spotted Frank behind the empty tables, but Frank fled before she could ask him to dance. Egg was gone, so Frank had probably been waiting for an excuse to go corner Egg alone. Lilly was dancing, stoically, with one of Father and Mother’s friends, Mr. Matson, an unfortunately tall man—although, if he had been short, he couldn’t have been short enough for Lilly. They looked like an awkward, perhaps unmentionable animal act.

Father danced with Mrs. Matson and Mother stood at the bar, talking with an old crony who was at the Hotel New Hampshire nearly every night—a drinking friend of Coach Bob’s; his name was Merton, and he was the foreman at the lumberyard. Merton was a wide, heavy man with a limp and mighty, swollen hands; he listened half-heartedly to my mother, his face stricken with the absence of Iowa Bob; his eyes, feasting on Doris Wales, seemed to think that the band was inappropriate so soon after Bob’s ultimate retirement.

“Variety,” said Sabrina Jones in my ear. “That’s the secret to kissing,” she said.

“‘I love you for a hundred thousand reasons!’” crooned Doris Wales.

Egg was back; he was in his Big Chicken costume; then he was gone again. Bitty Tuck looked bored; she seemed unsure about cutting in on Junior and Franny. And she was so sophisticated, as Franny would say, that she did not know how to talk with Ronda Ray, who had fixed herself a drink at the bar. I saw Max Urick gawking out of the kitchen doorway.

“Little bites, and a little bit of tongue,” said Sabrina Jones, “but the important thing is to move your mouth around.”

“Do you want a drink?” I asked her. “I mean, you’re old enough. Father put a case of beer in the snow, out at the delivery entrance, for us kids. He said he couldn’t let us drink at the bar, but you can.”

“Show me the delivery entrance,” said Sabrina Jones. “I’ll have a beer with you. Just don’t get fresh.”

We left the dance floor, fortunately just in time to miss Doris Wales’s slamming transition to “I Don’t Care If the Sun Don’t Shine.”—the speed of which prompted Bitty Tuck to cut in on Franny for a dance with Junior. Ronda looked sullenly upon my leaving.

Sabrina and I startled Frank, who was pissing on the trash barrels at the delivery entrance. In a gesture of Frank-like awkwardness, Frank pretended to be pointing out the beer to us. “Got an opener, Frank?” I asked, but he had vanished into the mist of Elliot Park—the ever-dreary fog, which in the winter was our dominant weather.

Sabrina and I opened our beers at the reception desk in the lobby, where Frank had permanently hung a bottle opener from a nail on a length of twine; it was for opening his Pepsi-Colas when he was on phone duty at the desk. In a clumsy effort to sit beside Sabrina, on the trunk of Junior’s winter clothes, I spilled some beer on Bitty Tuck’s luggage.

“You could introduce yourself to her affections,” Sabrina was saying, “by offering to take all those bags to her room.”

“Where are your bags?” I asked Sabrina.

“For one night,” Sabrina said, “I don’t pack a bag. And you don’t have to offer to show me to my room. I can find it.”

“I could show it to you, anyway,” I said.

“Well, do it,” she said. “I got a book to read. This is one party I don’t need,” she added. “I might as well get ready for a long drive back to Philadelphia.”

I walked with her to her room on the second floor. I had no illusions of making a move on her, as she would say; I wouldn’t have had the courage, anyway. “Good night,” I mumbled at her door, and let her slip away. She was not gone long.

“Hey,” she said, opening her door before I had left the hall. “You’ll never get anywhere not trying. You didn’t even try to kiss me,” she added.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Never apologize!” Sabrina said. She stood close to me in the hallway and let me kiss her. “First things first,” she said. “Your breath smells nice—that’s a start. But stop shaking, and you shouldn’t make tooth contact at the beginning; and don’t try to ram me with your tongue.” We tried again. “Keep your hands in your pockets,” she told me. “Watch the tooth contact. Better,” she said. “Hands in the pockets at all times; two feet on the floor.” I stumbled toward her. We made tooth contact quite violently; she snapped her head back, away from me, and when I looked at her, incredibly, I saw that she held a row of her front upper teeth in her hand. “Shit!” she cried. “Watch the tooth contact!” For a horrible moment I thought I had knocked her teeth out, but she turned her back to me and said, “Don’t look at me. False teeth. Turn out the light.” I did, and it was dark in her room.

“I’m sorry,” I said, hopelessly.

“Never apologize,” she murmured. “I was raped.”

“Yes,” I said, knowing all along that this would surface. “So was Franny.”

“So I heard,” said Sabrina Jones. “But they didn’t knock her teeth out with a pipe. Am I right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s the kissing that gets me, every fucking time,” Sabrina said. “Just when it gets good, my uppers loosen up—or some clod makes too much tooth contact.”

I didn’t apologize; I reached to touch her but she said, “Keep your hands in your pockets.” Then she came up close to me and said, “I’m going to help you if you help me. I’ll teach you all about kissing,” she said, “but you’ve got to tell me something I always wanted to know. I was never with anyone I dared to ask. I try to keep it a secret.”

“Yes,” I agreed, terrified—not knowing to what I was agreeing.

“I want to know if it’s better with my damn teeth out,” she said, “or if it’s gross. I always thought it would be gross, so I never tried it.” She went into the bathroom and I waited for her, in the dark, watching the line of light framing the bathroom door—until the light went out and Sabrina was back beside me.

Warm and mobile, her mouth was a cave in the world’s heart. Her tongue was long and round and her gums were hard but never painful in the nips she took. “A little less lip,” she mumbled, “a little more tongue. No, not that much. That’s disgusting! Yes, a little biting is fine. That’s nice. Hands back in the pockets—I mean it. Do you like this?”

“Oh yes,” I said.

“Really?” she asked. “Is it really better?”

“It’s deeper!” I said.

She laughed. “But better, too?” she asked.

“Wonderful,” I confessed.

“Hands back in the pockets,” Sabrina said. “Don’t get out of control. Don’t be sloppy. Ouch!”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. Just don’t bite so hard. Hands in the pockets. I mean it. Don’t get fresh. In the pockets!”

And so forth, until I was pronounced initiated, and ready for Bitty Tuck, and the world, and sent on my way from Sabrina Jones’s room; hands still in my pockets, I collided with the door to 2B. Thank you!” I called to Sabrina. In the hall light, without her teeth, she dared to smile at me—a rose-brown, rose-blue smile, so much nicer than the odd, pearly cast of her false teeth.

She had sucked on my lips to make them swell, she had told me, and I walked pouting into the restaurant of the Hotel New Hampshire, aware of the powers of my mouth, ready to make kissing history with Bitty Tuck. But Hurricane Doris was groaning its way through “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”; Ronda Ray slumped at the bar in a stupor, Mother’s new dress slipped up to the knot of muscle at Ronda’s hip, on which a bruise, in the shape of a thumbprint, stared at me. Merton, the lumberyard foreman, was swapping stories with my father—I knew the stories would be about Iowa Bob.

“‘I forgot to remember to forget,’” moaned Doris Wales.

Poor Lilly, who would always be too small to feel comfortable at a party—although she would continue to anticipate parties, with pleasure—had gone to bed. Egg, wearing ordinary clothes, sat sulking in one of the screwed-down chairs; his little face was grey, as if he had eaten something that had disagreed with him, as if he was willing himself to stay awake till midnight—as if he had lost Sorrow.

Frank, I imagined, was out drinking the cold beer in the snow stacked by the delivery entrance, or sucking Pepsi-Colas at the reception desk in the lobby, or perhaps at the intercom—listening to Sabrina Jones reading a book and humming with her marvellous mouth.

Mother, and the Matsons, were watching Doris Wales without reserve. Only Franny was free for dancing—Bitty Tuck was out on the floor, with Junior Jones.

“Dance with me,” I said to Franny, grabbing her.

“You can’t dance,” Franny said, but she allowed me to drag her out on the floor.

“I can kiss,” I whispered to Franny, and tried to kiss her, but she pushed me away.

“Switch!” she cried to Junior and Bitty Tuck, and Bitty was in my arms and instantly bored.

“Just be dancing with her when it’s midnight,” Sabrina Jones had advised. “At midnight you get to kiss who you’re with. Once you kiss her, she’ll be hooked. Just don’t blow the first one.”

“Have you been drinking, John-John?” Bitty asked me. “Your lips are all puffy.”

And Doris Wales, hoarse and sweating, gave us “Tryin’ to Get to You,” one of those clumsy numbers, not slow and not fast, forcing Bitty Tuck to decide whether or not to dance close. Before she’d made her choice, Max Urick leaped out of the kitchen in his sailor’s cap with a referee’s whistle clenched in his teeth; he blew the whistle so shrilly that even Ronda Ray moved, a little, at the bar. “Happy New Year!” shrieked Max, and Franny stood on her toes and gave Junior Jones the sweetest kiss, and Mother ran to find Father. Merton, the lumberyard foreman, looked once at the dozing Ronda Ray; he then thought better of it. And Bitty Tuck, with a bored shrug, gave me her superior smile, again, and I remembered every lustiness of the cavernous mouth of Sabrina Jones; I made, as they say, my move. A little tooth contact, but nothing offensive; the penetration of the tongue past the teeth, but only a flicker of ramming it farther; and the teeth skating under the upper lip. There were Bitty Tuck’s wondrous, much-discussed breasts, like soft fists pushing my chest away, but I kept my hands in my pockets, forcing nothing; she was always free to pull away, but she didn’t choose to break contact.

“Holy cow,” observed Junior Jones, momentarily breaking Bitty Tuck’s concentration.

“Titsie!” Franny said. “What are you doing to my brother?” But I held Titsie Tuck in touch a little longer, lingering over her lower lip, and nipping her tongue, which she’d given me, suddenly, too much of. There was a slight awkwardness, as I removed my hands from my pockets, because Bitty had decided that “Tryin’ to Get to You” was suitable for close dancing.

“Where’d you learn how to do that?” she whispered, her breasts like two warm kittens curled against my chest. We left the dance floor before Hurricane Doris could change the tempo.

There was a draught in the lobby, where Frank had left the door to the delivery entrance open; we could hear him outside in the dark slush, urinating—with great force—against a trash barrel. The floor beneath the bottle opener on the braid of twine was littered with beer-bottle caps. As I lifted Bitty Tuck’s luggage in my arms, she said, “Aren’t you going to make two trips?” I heard Frank’s sharp belch, a primitive gong announcing that the turn of the year was past, and I seized the luggage tighter and started climbing—four storeys up, Bitty following.

“Geez,” she said. “I knew you were strong, John-John, but you could get a job on television—kissing like that.” And I wondered what she imagined: my mouth as an advertisement, smooching a camera, point-blank?

I thus distracted myself from my lower-back pain, was grateful I had skipped this morning’s bench presses and one-arm curls, and bore Bitty Tuck’s luggage to 4A. The windows were open, but I couldn’t hear the rushing-of-air sound I had heard over the intercom hours before; I guessed that the wind had dropped. The luggage seemed to explode from my arms, which felt pounds lighter, and Bitty Tuck angled me toward her bed.

“Do it again,” she said. “I bet you can’t. I bet it was beginner’s luck.” So I kissed her again, encouraging a little more tooth contact, and more mischief with the tongue.

“Jesus,” mumbled Bitty Tuck, touching me. “Get your hands out of your pockets!” she said. “Oh, wait, I have to use the bathroom.” And when she flicked on the bathroom light, she said, “Oh, it was nice of Franny to leave me her hair dryer!” And I, for the first time, smelled the room—an odor more distinctive than a swamp: it was a burnt smell, yet strangely wet, as if fire and water had joined unpleasantly. I knew that the rushing-of-air sound I had heard on the intercom had been the hair dryer, but before I could get to the bathroom to prevent Bitty Tuck from looking farther, she said, “What’s that wrapped up in the shower curtain? Gaaaaaaaaa!” Her scream froze me in motion between her bed and the bathroom door. Even Doris Wales, four floors below and wailing her way through “You’re a Heartbreaker,” must have heard it. Sabrina Jones told me later that her book flew from her hands. Ronda Ray jerked bolt upright on the barstool, for at least a passing second; Sleazy Wales, Junior Jones told me, thought the source of the scream was his amplifier, but nobody else was fooled.

“Titsie!” Franny cried.

“Jesus God!” said Father.

“Holy cow!” said Junior Jones.

I was the first to get Bitty out of the bathroom. She had fainted sideways against the child-sized toilet and had wedged herself under the child-sized sink. The grown-up-sized bathtub, half-full of water, had caught her eye as she was inserting her diaphragm—which, in those days, was very sophisticated. Floating in the tub of water was the shower curtain, and Bitty had leaned forward and raised the curtain just enough to sue the grizzly, submerged head of Sorrow—looking like a murder victim: a drowned dog, the ghastly fierceness of his last snarling fight with death slipping from his face under the water.

The discoverer of the body is rarely spared. It was fortunate Bitty’s heart was young and strong; I could feel it pounding through her bosom when I put her on the bed. Thinking it a plausible way to revive her, I kissed her, and although it roused her eyes open for a bright moment, she only screamed again—even louder.

“It’s just Sorrow,” I told her, as if this would explain everything.

Sabrina Jones was the first to get to 4A, since she was only travelling from the second floor. She glared at me, as if I’d been clearly a part of a rape case, and she said to me, “You must have done something I never showed you!” She no doubt thought Bitty was the victim of bad kissing.

It had been Egg who’d done the wrong, of course. He had turned the hair dryer on Sorrow in Bitty’s bathroom, and the terrible dog had caught fire. In a panic, Egg had thrown the burning beast in the bathtub and covered it with water. The fire thus extinguished, Egg had opened the windows to clear the scorched smell from the room, and at the peak of his tiredness, just before midnight—and fearing capture from the ever-prowling Frank—Egg had covered the carcass with the shower curtain, for the sodden dog was now too heavy with water for Egg to be able to lift him; Egg had gone to our room and changed into ordinary clothes to await his eventual punishment.

“My God,” Frank said, morosely, when he saw Sorrow, “I think he’s really ruined; I think he’s beyond repair.”

Even the boys from Hurricane Doris trooped into Bitty’s bathroom to pay their respects to the dreadful Sorrow.

“I wanted to make him nice again!” Egg cried. “He was nice once,” Egg insisted, “and I wanted him to be nice again.”

Frank, with a sudden wealth of pity, seemed to understand something about taxidermy for the first time.

“Egg, Egg,” Frank reasoned with the sobbing child. “I can make him nice again. You should have let me. I can make him anything,” Frank claimed. “I still can,” he said. “You want him nice, Egg? I’ll make him nice.” But Franny and I stared into the bathtub and felt great doubt. That Frank had taken a harmless, farting Labrador retriever and made him a killer was one thing; but to reassemble this truly disgusting body, matted and burned and bloated in the bathtub, was a miracle of perversion that we doubted even Frank was capable of.

Father, on the other hand, was ever the optimist; he seemed to think all of this would be excellent “therapy” for Frank—and, no doubt, a further maturing influence on Egg.

“If you can restore the dog, and make him nice, son,” Father told Frank, with inappropriate solemnity, “that would make us all very happy.”

“I think we should throw it away,” Mother said.

“Ditto,” said Franny.

“I tried,” Max Urick complained.

But Egg and Frank began to whoop and cry. Perhaps Father saw that in the restoration of Sorrow lay Frank’s forgiveness; salvaging Sorrow could possibly restore Frank’s self-esteem; and perhaps by refashioning Sorrow, for Egg—by making Sorrow “nice”—Father thought that a bit of Iowa Bob would be returned to us all. But as Franny would say, years later, there was never any such thing as “nice sorrow”; by definition, sorrow would never be nice.

Could I blame my father for trying? Or Frank for being the agent of such depressing optimism? And there was no blaming Egg, of course; we would, none of us, ever blame Egg.

Only Lilly had slept through it all, perhaps already inhabiting a world not quite like ours. Doris Wales and Ronda Ray had not climbed four flights of stairs to see the body, but when we found them in the restaurant, they seemed almost sobered by the experience—even secondhand. Whatever hopes for even a mini-seduction that might have been on Junior Jones’s mind were dashed by the interruption to the music; Franny kissed Junior good night and went to her own room. And Bitty Tuck, although she loved my kisses, could not forgive the intrusion upon her privacy in the bathroom—both Sorrow’s and mine. I suppose she resented, most of all, the ungainly position I’d discovered her in—“Fainted while diaphragming herself!” as Franny would later characterize the scene.

I found myself alone with Junior Jones at the delivery entrance, drinking up the cold beer and watching out into Elliot Park for any other New Year’s Eve survivors. Sleazy Wales and the boys in the band had gone home; Doris and Ronda were draped upon the bar—a kind of camaraderie had suddenly risen, in a blurry fashion, between them. And Junior Jones said, “No offence to your sister, man, but I am very horny.”

“Ditto,” I said, “and no offence to yours.”

The laughter of the women in the restaurant reached us, and Junior said, “Want to try to hustle them ladies at the bar?” I didn’t dare tell Junior the repugnance of that idea, to me—having already been hustled by one of them—but I felt badly later at how quickly I was willing to betray Ronda Ray. I told Junior that she could be hustled very easily, and it would only cost him money.

Later, I drank another beer and listened to Junior carrying Ronda to the stairwell at the hall’s far end, away from me. And after another beer, or two, I heard Doris Wales, all alone, start to sing “Heartbreak Hotel,” without the music, and occasionally forgetting the words of her religion—and occasionally slurring the rest. Lastly came the unmistakable sound of her throwing up in the bar sink.

After a while she found me in the lobby, at the open door to the delivery entrance, and I offered the last cold beer. “Sure, why not?” she said. “It helps to cut the phlegm. That damn ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’” she added. “It always moves me too much.”

Doris Wales was wearing her knee-high cowboy boots and carrying her thin-strapped green high heels in her hand; in her other hand she dallied her coat, a sad-flecked tweed with a skimpy fur collar. “It’s just muskrat,” she said, rubbing it against my cheek. She gripped the throat of her beer bottle in the hand with her high-heeled shoes and drank nearly all of it down. The hickey on her tilted throat appeared to have been made by a red-hot fifty-cent piece. She dropped the beer bottle at her feet and kicked it out the door, where it rolled toward the trash barrels at the delivery entrance. She stepped closer to me and thrust her thigh between my legs; she kissed me on the mouth, a kiss like nothing Sabrina Jones had shown me; it was a kiss like a wedge of soft fruit being mashed past my teeth and tongue until I gagged; her kiss tasted, lingeringly, of vomit and beer.

“I’m picking Sleazy up at this party,” she said. “Wanna come?”

It reminded me of when Sleazy offered to force-feed me the ball of bread or poke out my eyes with the nail in the movies. “No thanks,” I said.

“Chicken shit,” she said, and belched sharply. “Kids today have no spunk.” Then she slammed me to her chest and hugged me to her body, hard as a man’s but with her breasts sliding between us like two fresh-caught fish in loose bags; her tongue lolled along my jawline before skidding into my ear. “You squirrel dink,” she whispered, then pushed me from her.

She fell in the slush near the delivery entrance, but when I helped her to her feet, she shoved me into the trash barrels and walked into the darkness of Elliot Park, unassisted. I waited for her to pass out of the darkness and into the pale lamplight from the single streetlight, and then pass into the darkness again; when she came briefly under the light, I called to her.

“Good night, Mrs. Wales, and thank you for the music!” She gave me the finger, slipped, almost fell again, and lurched out of the light—cursing at something, or someone, she encountered there. “What the fuck?” she said. “Cram it, will you?”

I turned away from the light and threw up in the emptiest trash barrel. When I looked back at the streetlight again, a figure was just veering under it, and I thought it was Doris Wales, returning to abuse me. But it was someone from another New Year’s Eve party, for whom home was in another direction. It was a man, or a reasonably grown-up teen-ager, and although he was weaving under the spell of alcohol, he maintained slightly better footing in the slush than Doris Wales.

“Cram it yourself, lady!” he cried into the darkness.

“Chicken shit!” called Doris, from the dark and far away.

“Whore!” the man yelled, then lost his balance and sat down in the slush. “Shit,” he said, to no one in particular; he couldn’t see me.

It was then that I noticed how he was dressed. Black slacks and shoes, black cummerbund and bow tie—and a white dinner jacket. Of course I knew he was not the man in the white dinner jacket; he was lacking the necessary dignity, and whatever voyage he was on, or interrupting, it was not an exotic voyage. Also, it was New Year’s Eve, and not the season—in New England—for white dinner jackets. The man was inappropriately dressed, and I knew this was no eccentric habit of distinction. In Dairy, New Hampshire, it could only mean that the moron had gone to the rental tuxedo shop after all the black jackets had been taken. Or else he didn’t know the difference between summer and winter formal dress in our town; he was either a young clod coming from a high school dance or an older clod coming from an older dance (which had been no less sad and wasteful than anything a high school could engender). He was not our man in the white dinner jacket, but he reminded me of him.

Then I noticed that the man had stretched out in the slush under the streetlight and had gone to sleep there. The temperature was right around freezing.

I felt, at last, that New Year’s Eve had come to something: there seemed to be a purpose for my having taken part in it at all—a purpose beyond the simultaneously vague and concrete sensations of lust. I lifted the man in the white dinner jacket and carried him to the lobby of the Hotel New Hampshire; he was easier to carry than Bitty Tuck’s luggage; he didn’t weigh much, although he was a man, not a teen-ager—in fact, he looked older than my father, to me. And when I searched him for some identification, I found I had been right about the rental clothes. PROPERTY OF CHESTER’S MEN’S STORE, said the label in the white dinner jacket. The man, although he looked reasonably distinguished—at least for Dairy, New Hampshire—carried no wallet, but he had a silver comb.

Perhaps Doris Wales had mugged him in the dark, and that was what they’d been yelling about. But no, I thought: Doris would have taken the silver comb, too.

It seemed a good trick, to me, to arrange the man in the white dinner jacket on the couch in the lobby of the Hotel New Hampshire—so that early in the morning I might be able to surprise Father and Mother. I could say, “There’s someone who came for the last dance—last night—but he was too late. He’s waiting to see you, in the lobby.”

I thought that was a terrific idea, but I felt—since I had been drinking—that I should really wake up Franny and show her the man in the white dinner jacket, who was peacefully passed out on the couch; Franny would inform me if she thought this was a bad idea. She would like it, too, I was sure.

I straightened the black bow tie of the man in the white dinner jacket and folded his hands upon his chest; I buttoned the waist button of his jacket, and straightened his cummerbund, so that he wouldn’t look sloppy. The only thing missing was the tan, and the black cigarette box—and the white sloop outside the Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea.

That was not the sound of the sea outside the Hotel New Hampshire, I knew; it was the sound of the slush in Elliot Park, freezing and thawing and refreezing; and those were not the gulls calling, but dogs—alley dogs, ripping into the trash, which was everywhere. I hadn’t noticed, until I arranged the man in the white dinner jacket on the couch, how shabby our lobby was—how the presence of an all-girls” school had never left the building: the ostracism, the anxiety of being considered (sexually) second-best, the too-early marriages, and other disappointments, that waited ahead. The almost elegant man in the white dinner jacket looked—in the Hotel New Hampshire—like someone from another planet, and I suddenly didn’t want my father to see him.

I ran into the restaurant for some cold water; Doris Wales had broken a glass at the bar, and Ronda Ray’s oddly sexless working shoes were scuffed under a table, where she must have kicked them—when she started dancing, and making her move for Junior Jones.

If I woke up Franny, I thought, Franny might catch on that Junior was with Ronda, and wouldn’t that hurt her?

I listened at the stairwell and felt a flash of interest in Bitty Tuck returning to me—the thought of seeing her, asleep—but when I listened to her on the intercom, she was snoring (as deep and wallowing a sound as a pig in mud). The book of reservations hadn’t a single name marked down; there was nothing until the summer, when the circus called Fritz’s Act would arrive and (no doubt) appall us all. The petty-cash box, at the reception desk, wasn’t even locked—and Frank, in his boredom during phone duty, had used the sharp end of the bottle opener to gouge his name into the armrest of the chair.

In the grey, after-the-party stench of New Year’s Day, I felt that I should spare my father the vision of the man in the white dinner jacket. I thought that, if I could wake the man, I could employ Junior Jones to scare the man away, but I would have been embarrassed to disturb Junior with Ronda Ray.

“Hey, get up!” I hissed at the man in the white dinner jacket.

“Snorf!” he shouted, in his sleep. “Ack! A whore!”

“Be quiet!” I whispered fiercely to him.

“Gick?” he said. I seized him around the chest and squeezed him. “Fuh!” he moaned. “God help me.”

“You’re all right,” I said. “But you have to leave.”

He opened his eyes and sat up on the couch.

“A young thug,” he said. “Where have you taken me?”

“You passed out, outside,” I said. “I brought you in so you wouldn’t freeze. Now you have to leave.”

“I have to use the bathroom,” he said, with dignity.

“Go outside,” I said. “Can you walk?”

“Of course I can walk,” he said. He went toward the delivery entrance, but stopped on the threshold. “It’s dark out there,” he said. “You’re setting me up, aren’t you? How many of them are there—out there?”

I led him to the front lobby door and turned on the outside light. I’m afraid that this was the light that woke up Father. “Good-bye,” I told the man in the white dinner jacket, “and Happy New Year.”

“This is Elliot Park!” he cried, indignantly.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, this is that funny hotel, then,” he concluded. “If it’s a hotel, I want a room for the night.”

I thought it best not to tell him that he didn’t have any money on him, so I said instead, “We’re full. No vacancies.”

The man in the white dinner jacket stared at the desolate lobby, gawked at the empty mail slots, and at the abandoned trunk of Junior Jones’s winter clothes lying at the foot of the dingy stairs. “You’re full?” he said, as if some truth about life in general had occured to him, for the first time. “Holy cow,” he said. “I’d heard this place was going under.” It wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

I steered him toward the main door again, but he bent down and picked up the mail and handed it to me; in our haste to prepare for the party, no one had been to the mail slot at the front lobby door all day; no one had picked up the mail.

The man walked only a little way out of the door, then came back.

“I want to call a cab,” he informed me. “There’s too much violence out there,” he said, gesturing, again, to life in general; he couldn’t have meant Elliot Park—at least not now, not since Doris Wales had gone.

“You don’t have enough money for a cab,” I informed him.

“Oh,” the man in the white dinner jacket said. He sat down on the steps in the cold, foggy air. “I need a minute,” he said.

“What for?” I asked him.

“Have to remember where I’m going,” he said.

“Home?” I suggested, but the man waved his hand above his head.

He was thinking. I looked at the mail. The usual bills, the usual absence of letters from unknowns requesting rooms. And one letter that stood out from the rest. It had pretty foreign stamps; österreich said the stamps—and a few other exotic things. The letter was from Vienna, and it was addressed to my father in a most curious way:

Win Berry

Graduate of Harvard

Class of 194?

U.S.A.

The letter had taken a long time to reach my father, but the postal authorities had found one among them who knew where Harvard was. My father would say later that getting that letter was the most concrete thing going to Harvard ever did for him; if he’d gone to some less-famous school, the letter would never have been delivered. That’s a good reason,” Franny would say, later, “to wish he’d gone to a less-famous school.”

But, of course, the alumni network at Harvard is efficient and vast. My father’s name and “Class of 194?” was all they needed to discover the right class, ’46, and the correct address.

“What’s going on?” I heard my father calling; he had come out of our family’s second-floor rooms and was on the landing, calling down the stairwell to me.

“Nothing!” I said, kicking the drunk on the steps in front of me, because he was falling asleep again.

“Why’s the front light on?” Father called.

“Get going!” I said to the man in the white dinner jacket.

“I’m happy to meet you!” the man said, cordially. “I’ll just be trotting along now!”

“Good, good,” I whispered.

But the man walked only to the bottom step before he seemed overcome with thought again.

“Who are you talking to?” Father called.

“No one! Just a drunk!” I said.

“Jesus God,” said Father, “A drunk isn’t no one!”

“I can handle it!” I called.

“Wait till I get dressed,” Father said. “Jesus God.”

“Get going!” I yelled at the man in the white dinner jacket.

“Good-bye! Good-bye!” the man called, happily waving to me from the bottom step of the Hotel New Hampshire. “I had a wonderful time!”

The letter, of course, was from Freud. I knew that, and I wanted to see what it said before I let my father see it. I wanted to talk with Franny about it, for hours—and even with Mother—before I let Father see it. But there wasn’t time. The letter was brief and to the point.

IF YOU GOT THIS, THEN YOU WENT TO HARVARD LIKE YOU PROMISED ME [Freud wrote]. YOU GOOD BOY, YOU!

“Good night! God bless you!” cried the man in the white dinner jacket. But he would walk no farther than the perimeter of light; where the darkness of Elliot Park began, he stopped and waved.

I flicked off the light so that if Father came, Father couldn’t spot the apparition in formal attire.

“I can’t see!” the drunk wailed, and I turned the light on again.

“Get out of here or I’ll beat the shit out of you!” I screamed at him.

“That’s no way to handle it” I heard Father yelling.

“Good night, bless you all!” cried the man; he was still in the circle of light when I cut the light off him, again, and he made no protest. I kept the light off. I finished Freud’s letter.

I FINALLY GOT A SMART BEAR [Freud wrote]. IT MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. I HAD A GOOD HOTEL GOING, BUT I GOT OLD. IT COULD STILL BE A GREAT HOTEL [Freud added], IF YOU AND MARY COME HELP ME RUN IT. I GOT A SMART BEAR, BUT I NEED A SMART HARVARD BOY LIKE YOU, TOO!

Father stormed into the wretched lobby of the Hotel New Hampshire; in his slippers he stumbled over a beer bottle, which he kicked, and his bathrobe flapped in the wind from the open door.

“He’s gone,” I said to Father. “Just some drunk.” But Father snapped on the outside light—and there, waving, on the rim of the light, was the man in the white dinner jacket. “Good-bye!” he called, hopefully. “Goodbye! Good luck! Good-bye!” The effect was stunning: the man in the white dinner jacket stepped out of the light and was gone—as gone as if he were gone to sea—and my father gaped into the darkness after him.

“Hello!” Father screamed. “Hello? Come back! Hello?”

“Good-bye! Good luck! Good-bye!” called the voice of the man in the white dinner jacket, and my father stood staring into the darkness until the wind chilled him and he shivered in his bathrobe and slippers; he let me pull him inside.

Like any storyteller, I had the power to end the story, and I could have. But I didn’t destroy Freud’s letter; I gave it to Father, while the vision of the man in the white dinner jacket was still upon him. I handed over Freud’s letter—like any storyteller, knowing (more or less) where we would all be going.

7

Sorrow Strikes Again

Sabrina Jones, who taught me how to kiss—whose deep and mobile mouth will have a hold on me, always—found the man who could fathom her teeth-in-or-out mystery; she married a lawyer from the same firm in which she was a secretary and had three healthy children (“Bang, Bang, Bang,” as Franny would say).

Bitty Tuck, who fainted while diaphragming herself—whose wondrous breasts and modern ways would, one day, seem not nearly as unique as they seemed to me in 1956—survived her encounter with Sorrow; in fact, I heard (not long ago) that she is still unmarried, and still a party girl.

And a man named Frederick Worter, who was only a hair over four feet tall, and forty-one years old, and who was better known to our family as “Fritz”—whose circus, called Fritz’s Act, was an advance booking for a summer that we looked forward to with curiosity and dread—bought the first Hotel New Hampshire from my father in the winter of 1957.

“For a son, I’ll bet,” Franny said. But we children never knew how much Father sold the Hotel New Hampshire for; since Fritz’s Act was the only advance booking for the summer of 1957, my father had written to Fritz first—warning the diminutive circus king of our family’s move to Vienna.

“Vienna?” Mother kept muttering, and shaking her head at my father. “What do you know about Vienna?”

“What did I know about motorcycles?” Father asked. “Or bears? Or hotels?”

“And what have you learned?” Mother asked him, but my father had no doubt. Freud had said that a smart bear made all the difference.

“I know that Vienna isn’t Dairy, New Hampshire,” Father said to Mother; and he apologized to Fritz of Fritz’s Act—saying that he was putting the Hotel New Hampshire up for sale, and that the circus might need to seek other lodgings. I don’t know if the circus called Fritz’s Act made my father a good offer, but it was the first offer, and Father took it.

“Vienna?” said Junior Jones. “Holy cow.”

Franny might have protested the move, for fear that she would miss Junior, but Franny had discovered Junior’s infidelity (with Ronda Ray on New Year’s Eve), and she was being cool to him.

“Tell her I was just horny, man,” Junior told me.

“He was just horny, Franny,” I said.

“Clearly,” Franny said. “And you surely know all about what that’s like.”

“Vienna,” said Ronda Ray, sighing under me—probably from boredom. “I’d like to go to Vienna,” she said. “But I suppose I have to stay here—where I might be out of a job. Or else work for that bald midget.”

Frederick “Fritz” Worter was the bald midget, a runt figure who visited us one snowy weekend; he was especially impressed with the size of the fourth-floor bathroom facilities—and with Ronda Ray. Lilly, of course, was most impressed with Fritz. He was only a little bigger than Lilly, although we tried to assure Lilly (and, mainly, ourselves) that she would continue to grow—a little—and that her features (we hoped) would not ever appear so out of proportion. Lilly was pretty: tiny but nice. But Fritz had a head several sizes too large for his body; his forearms sagged like slack calf muscles obscenely grafted to the wrong limbs; his fingers were sawed-off salamis; his ankles were swollen over his little doll’s feet—like socks with wrecked elastic.

“What kind of circus do you have?” Lilly asked him, boldly.

“Weird acts, weird animals,” Franny whispered in my ear, and I shivered.

Little acts, little animals,” Frank mumbled.

“We’re just a small circus,” Fritz told Lilly, meaningfully.

“Meaning,” said Max Urick—after Fritz was gone—“that they’ll all fit just fine on the fucking fourth floor.”

“If they’re all like him,” said Mrs. Urick, “they won’t eat very much.”

“If they’re all like him,” said Ronda Ray, and rolled her eyes—but she didn’t continue; she decided to let it pass.

“I think he’s cute,” said Lilly.

But Fritz of Fritz’s Act gave Egg nightmares—great shrieks that stiffened my back and tore muscles in my neck; Egg’s arm lashed out and bashed the bedside lamp, his legs thrashed under the sheets, as if the bedclothes were drowning him.

“Egg!” I cried. “It’s just a dream! You’re having a dream!”

“A what?” he screamed.

“A dream!” I yelled.

“Midgets!” Egg shouted. “They’re under the bed! They’re crawling all around! They’re all over, everywhere!” he howled.

“Jesus God,” Father said. “If they’re just midgets, why does he get so upset?”

“Hush,” Mother said, ever fearful of hurting Lilly’s little feelings.

And I lay under the barbell in the morning, sneaking a look at Franny getting out of bed—or getting dressed—and thinking of Iowa Bob. What would he have said about going to Vienna? About Freud’s hotel that somehow needed a smart Harvard boy? About the differences a smart bear might make—to anyone’s prospects for success? I lifted and thought. “It doesn’t matter,” Iowa Bob would have said. “Whether we go to Vienna or stay here, it won’t matter.” Under all that weight, that’s what I thought Coach Bob would have said. “Here or there,” Bob would have said, “we’re screwed down for life.” It would be Father’s hotel—whether in Dairy or in Vienna. Would nothing, ever, make us more or less exotic than we were? I wondered, with the weight wonderfully taut and rising, and Franny in the corner of my eye.

“I wish you’d take those weights to another room,” Franny said. “So I can get dressed by myself, sometimes—for Christ’s sake.”

“What do you think about going to Vienna, Franny?” I asked her.

“I think it will be more sophisticated than staying here,” Franny said. Completely dressed now, and always so sure of herself, she looked down at me where I struggled to let my bench press down slowly and levelly. “I might even get a room without barbells in it,” she added. “Even one without a weight lifter in it,” Franny said, blowing lightly into the armpit of my left (and weaker) arm—and getting out of the way when the weights slid first to the left, then to the right, off the bar.

“Jesus God!” Father shouted upstairs to me, and I thought that if Iowa Bob had still been with us, he would have said that Franny was wrong. Whether Vienna was more sophisticated, or less—whether Franny had a room with barbells or a room with lace—we were inhabitants of one Hotel New Hampshire after another.

Freud’s hotel—or our imperfect picture of Freud’s hotel, via air mail—was called the Gasthaus Freud; it was unclear, from Freud’s correspondence, whether or not the other Freud had ever stayed there. We only knew it was “centrally located,” according to Freud—“in the First District!”—but in the all-grey black-and-white photograph that Freud sent, we could barely make out the iron double door, sandwiched between the display cases of a land of candy store. KONDITOREI, said one sign; ZUCKERWAREN, said another; SCHOKOLADEN, promised a third; and over it all—bigger than the faded letters saying, GASTHAUS FREUD—was the word BONBONS.

“What?” said Egg.

Bonbons,” said Franny. “Oh boy.”

“Which is the door to the candy store, and which is the door to the hotel?” Frank asked; Frank would always think like a doorman.

“I think you have to live there to know,” Franny said.

Lilly got a magnifying glass and deciphered the name of the street, in funny script, under the street number on the hotel’s double door.

“Krugerstrasse,” she decided, which at least matched the name of the street in Freud’s address. Father bought a map of Vienna from a travel agency and we located Krugerstrasse—in the First District, as Freud had promised; it appeared very central.

“It’s only a block or two from the opera!” Frank cried, enthusiastically.

“Oh boy,” Franny said.

The map had little green areas for parks, thin red and blue lines where the streetcars ran, and ornate buildings—grossly out of proportion to the street—to indicate the places of interest.

“It looks like a kind of Monopoly board,” Lilly said.

We noted cathedrals, museums, the town hall, the university, the Parliament.

“I wonder where the gangs hang out,” said Junior Jones, looking over the streets with us.

The gangs?” said Egg. “The who?”

“The tough guys,” said Junior Jones. “The guys with guns and blades, man.”

“The gangs,” Lilly repeated, and we stared at the map as if the streets would indicate their darkest alleys to us.

“This is Europe,” Frank said, with disgust. “Maybe there aren’t gangs.”

“It’s a city, isn’t it?” Junior Jones said.

But on the map it looked like a toy city, to me—with pretty places of interest, and all the green spots where nature had been arranged for pleasure.

“Probably in the parks,” said Franny, biting her lower lip. “The gangs hang out in the parks.”

“Shit,” I said.

“There won’t be any gangs!” Frank cried. “There will be music! And pastry! And the people do a lot of bowing, and they dress differently!” We stared at him, but we knew he’d been reading up on Vienna; he’d gotten a head start on the books Father kept bringing home.

“Pastry and music and people bowing all the time, Frank?” Franny said. “Is that what it’s like?” Lilly was using her magnifying glass on the map now—as if people would spring to life, in miniature, on the paper; and they’d either be bowing, and dressed differently, or they’d be cruising in gangs.

“Well,” Franny said. “At least we can be pretty sure there won’t be any black gangs.” Franny was still angry with Junior Jones for sleeping with Ronda Ray.

“Shit,” Junior said. “You better hope there are black gangs. Black gangs are the best gangs, man. Those white gangs have inferiority complexes,” Junior said. “And there’s nothing worse than a gang with an inferiority complex.”

“A what?” said Egg. No doubt he thought that an inferiority complex was a weapon; sometimes, I guess, it is.

“Well, I think it’s going to be nice,” said Frank, grimly.

“Yes, it will be,” Lilly said, with a humourlessness akin to Frank’s.

“I can’t see it,” Egg said, seriously. “I can’t see it, so I don’t know what it’s going to be like.”

“It’ll be okay,” Franny said. “I don’t think it’s going to be great, but it’ll be all right.”

It was odd, but Franny seemed the most influenced by Iowa Bob’s philosophy—which, to a degree, had become Father’s philosophy. This was odd because Franny was frequently the most sarcastic to Father—and the most sarcastic about Father’s plans. Yet when she was raped, Father had said to her—incredibly! I thought—that when he had a bad day, he tried to see if he could construe it as the luckiest day of his life. “Maybe this is the luckiest day of your life,” he had said to her; I was amazed that she seemed to find this reverse thinking useful. She was a kind of parrot of other tidbits of Father’s philosophy. “It was just a little event among so many,” I heard her say—to Frank, about scaring Iowa Bob to death. And once, about Chipper Dove, I heard Father say, “He probably has a most unhappy life.” Franny actually agreed with him!

I felt much more nervous about going to Vienna than Franny seemed to feel, and I was ever conscious of what feelings Franny and I didn’t absolutely share—because it mattered to me that I stay close to her.

We all knew that Mother thought the idea was crazy, but we could not ever make her disloyal to Father—although we tried.

“We won’t understand the language,” Lilly said to Mother.

“The what?” Egg cried.

“The language!” Lilly said. “They speak German in Vienna.”

“You’ll all go to an English-speaking school,” Mother said.

“There will be weird kids in a school like that,” I said. “Everyone will be a foreigner.”

We’ll be the foreigners,” Franny said.

“In an English-speaking school,” I said, “the whole place will be full of misfits.”

“And people from the government,” said Frank. “Diplomats and ambassadors will send their kids there. The kids will be all fucked up.”

“Who could be more fucked up than the kids at the Dairy School, Frank?” Franny asked.

“Whoa!” said Junior Jones. “There’s fucked up and then there’s foreign and fucked up.”

Franny shrugged; so did Mother.

“We’ll still be a family,” Mother said. “The main part of your lives will be your family—just like now.”

And that seemed to please everyone. We busied ourselves with the books Father brought from the library, and the travel agency brochures. We reread the short but elated messages from Freud:

GOOD YOU COMING! BRING ALL KIDS AND PETS! LOTS OF ROOM. CENTRALLY LOCATED. GOOD SHOPPING FOR GIRLS (HOW MANY GIRLS?) AND PARKS FOR THE BOYS AND PETS TO PLAY IN. BRING MONEY. MUST RENOVATE—WITH YOUR ASSISTANCE. YOU’LL LIKE THE BEAR. A SMART BEAR MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. NOW WE CAN WORK ON THE AMERICAN AUDIENCE. WHEN WE UPGRADE THE CLIENTELE, THEN WE’LL HAVE A HOTEL TO BE PROUD OF. I HOPE YOUR ENGLISH STILL GOOD IS. HA HA! BEST TO LEARN A LITTLE GERMAN, YOU KNOW? REMEMBER MIRACLES DON’T GET BUILT IN A NIGHT, BUT IN A COUPLE NIGHTS EVEN BEARS CAN BE QUEENS. HA HA! I GOT OLD—THAT WAS THE PROBLEM. NOW WE’LL BE OKAY. NOW WE SHOW THE BASTARDS SONSOFBITCHES AND COCKSUCKER NAZIS WHAT A GOOD HOTEL IS! HOPE THE KIDS DON’T HAVE COLDS, AND DON’T FORGET TO GIVE PETS NECESSARY SHOTS.

Since Sorrow was our only pet—and he needed help, but not a shot—we wondered if Freud thought we still had Earl.

“Of course not,” Father said. “He’s just speaking generally, he’s just trying to be helpful.”

“Make sure Sorrow gets his shots, Frank,” Franny said, but Frank was getting better about Sorrow; he could occasionally be teased about the new restoration, and he seemed to be committed to the task of refashioning Sorrow—in a cheerful pose—for Egg. We were not allowed to see the gross dog’s transformation, of course, but Frank himself seemed ever cheerful—upon returning from the bio lab—so that we could only hope that, this time, Sorrow would be “nice.”

Father read a book about Austrian anti-Semitism and wondered if Freud had made the right decision in naming the hotel the Gasthaus Freud; Father wondered, from what he read, if the Viennese even Jilted the other Freud. He also couldn’t help wondering who the “bastards sonsofbitches and cocksucker Nazis” were.

“I can’t help wondering how old Freud is,” Mother said. They determined that if he’d been in his middle or late forties in 1939, he would be only in his middle sixties now. But Mother said that he sounded older. In his messages to us, she meant.

HI! QUICK IDEA: YOU THINK IT BEST TO RESTRICT CERTAIN ACTIVITIES TO CERTAIN FLOORS? MAYBE HAVE CERTAIN KIND OF CLIENTELE ON FOURTH FLOOR, OTHER KIND IN BASEMENT? DELICATE MATTER TO DISCRIMINATE, YOU THINK? CURRENT DAYTIME AND NIGHTTIME CLIENTELE OF DIFFERENT—I WON’T SAY “WARRING”—INTERESTS. HA HA! ALL THAT WILL CHANGE WITH REMODELING. AND ONCE THEY STOP THE FUCKING DIGGING UP THE STREET. JUST A FEW MORE YEARS OF WAR RESTORATION, THEY SAY. WAIT TILL YOU MEET THE BEAR: NOT JUST SMART, BUT YOUNG! WHAT A TEAM WE’LL BE TOGETHER! WHAT YOU MEAN, “IS FREUD A REALLY WELL-LIKED NAME IN VIENNA?” DID YOU GO TO HARVARD OR NOT??!! HA HA.

“He doesn’t sound necessarily older,” said Franny, “but he sounds crazy.”

“He just doesn’t use English very well,” Father said. “It’s not his language.”

So we studied German. Franny and Frank and I took courses at the Dairy School, and brought the records home to play to Lilly; Mother worked with Egg. She started by just getting him familiar with the names of the streets and the places of interest on the tourist map.

“Lobkowitzplatz,” Mother would say.

“What?” Egg would say.

Father was supposed to be teaching himself, but he seemed to be making the least progress. “You kids have to learn it,” he kept saying. “I don’t have to go to school, meet new kids, all of that.”

“But we’re going to an English-speaking school,” Lilly said.

“Even so,” Father said. “You’ll need the German more than I will.”

“But you’re going to run a hotel,” Mother said to him.

“I’m going to start off going after the American audience,” Father said. “We’re trying to drum up an American clientele, first—remember?”

“Better all brush up on our American, too,” said Franny.

Frank was getting the German more quickly than any of us. It seemed to suit him: every syllable was pronounced, the verbs fell like grapeshot at the ends of sentences, the umlauts were a form of dressing up; and the whole idea of words having gender must have appealed to Frank. By the late winter he was (pretentiously) chatting in German, purposefully bewildering us all, correcting our attempts to answer him, then consoling our failures by telling us that he’d take care of us when we were “over there.”

“Oh boy,” Franny said. “That’s the part that really gets to me. Having Frank take us all to school, talk to the bus drivers, order in the restaurants, take all the phone calls. Jesus, now that I’m finally going abroad, I don’t want to be dependent on him!”

But Frank seemed to flower at the preparations for moving to Vienna. No doubt he was encouraged by having been given a second chance with Sorrow, but he also seemed genuinely interested in studying Vienna. After dinner he read aloud to us, selected excerpts from what Frank called the “plums” of Viennese history; Ronda Ray and the Uricks listened too—curiously, because they knew they weren’t going and their future with Fritz’s Act was unclear.

After two months of history lessons, Frank gave us an oral examination on the interesting characters around Vienna at the time of the Crown Prince’s suicide at Mayerling (which Frank had earlier read to us, in full detail, moving Ronda Ray to tears). Franny said that Prince Rudolf was becoming Frank’s hero—“because of his clothes.” Frank had portraits of Rudolf hi his room: one in hunting costume—a thin-headed young man with an oversized moustache, draped with furs and smoking a cigarette as thick as a finger—and another in uniform, wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece, his forehead as vulnerable as a baby’s, his beard as sharp as a spade.

“All right, Franny,” Frank began, “this one is for you. He was a composer of genius, perhaps the world’s greatest organist, but he was a hick—a complete rube in the imperial city—and he had a stupid habit of falling in love with young girls.”

“Why is that stupid?” I asked.

“Shut up,” said Frank. “It’s stupid, and this is Franny’s question.”

“Anton Bruckner,” Franny said. “He was stupid, all right.”

“Very,” said Lilly.

“Your turn, Lilly,” said Frank. “Who was ‘the Flemish peasant’?”

“Oh, come on,” said Lilly, “that’s too easy. Give it to Egg.”

“It’s too hard for Egg,” Franny said.

What is?” Egg said.

“Princess Stephanie,” said Lilly, tiredly, “the daughter of the King of Belgium, and Rudolf’s wife.”

“Now Father,” Frank said.

“Oh boy,” Franny said, because Father was almost as bad at history as he was at German.

“Whose music was so widely loved that even peasants copied the composer’s beard?” Frank asked.

“Jesus, you’re strange, Frank,” Franny said.

“Brahms?” Father guessed, and we all groaned.

“Brahms had a beard like a peasant’s,” Frank said. “Whose beard did the peasants copy?”

“Strauss!” Lilly and I yelled.

“The poor drip,” said Franny. “Now I get to ask Frank one.”

“Shoot,” said Frank, shutting his eyes tight and scrunching up his face.

“Who was Jeanette Heger?” Franny asked.

“She was Schnitzler’s ‘Sweet Girl,’” Frank said, blushing.

“What’s a ‘Sweet Girl,’ Frank?” Franny asked, and Ronda Ray laughed.

You know,” said Frank, still blushing.

“And how many acts of love did Schnitzler and his ‘Sweet Girl’ make between 1888 and 1889?” Franny asked.

“Jesus,” said Frank. “A lot! I forget.”

“Four hundred and sixty-four!” cried Max Urick, who’d been present at all the historical readings, and never forgot a fact. Like Ronda Ray, Max had never been educated before; it was a novelty for Max and Ronda; they paid better attention at Frank’s lessons than the rest of us.

“I’ve got another one for Father!” Franny said. “Who was Mitzi Caspar?”

“Mitzi Caspar?” Father said. “Jesus God.”

“Jesus God,” said Frank. “Franny only remembers the sexual parts.”

“Who was she, Frank?” Franny asked.

“I know!” said Ronda Ray. “She was Rudolf’s ‘Sweet Girl’; he spent the night with her before killing himself, with Marie Vetsera, at Mayerling.” Ronda had a special place in her memory, and in her heart, for Sweet Girls.

I’m one, aren’t I?” she had asked me, after Frank’s rendering of Arthur Schnitzler’s life and work.

“The sweetest,” I had told her.

“Phooey,” said Ronda Ray.

Where did Freud live beyond his means?” Frank asked, to any of us who knew.

Which Freud?” Lilly asked, and we all laughed.

“The Sühnhaus,” Frank said, answering his own question. “Translation?” he asked. “The Atonement House,” he answered.

“Fuck you, Frank,” said Franny.

“Not about sex, so she didn’t know it,” Frank said to me.

“Who was the last person to touch Schubert?” I asked Frank; he looked suspicious.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Just what I said,” I said. “Who was the last person to touch Schubert?” Franny laughed; I had shared this story with her, and I didn’t think Frank knew it—because I had taken the pages out of Frank’s book. It was a sick story.

“Is this some kind of joke?” Frank asked.

When Schubert had been dead, for sixty years, the poor hick Anton Bruckner attended the opening of Schubert’s grave. Only Bruckner and some scientists were allowed. Someone from the mayor’s office delivered a speech, going on and on about Schubert’s ghastly remains. Schubert’s skull was photographed; a secretary took notes at the investigation—noting that Schubert was a shade of orange, and that his teeth were in better shape than Beethoven’s (Beethoven had been resurrected for similar studies, earlier). The measurements of Schubert’s brain cavity were recorded.

After nearly two hours of “scientific” investigation, Bruckner could restrain himself no longer. He grabbed the head of Schubert and hugged it until he was asked to let it go. So Bruckner touched Schubert last. It was Frank’s kind of story, really, and he was furious not to know it.

“Bruckner, again,” Mother answered, quietly, and Franny and I were amazed that she knew; we went from day to day thinking that Mother knew nothing, and then she turned up knowing it all. For Vienna, we know, she had been secretly studying—knowing, perhaps, that Father was unprepared.

“What trivia!” said Frank, when we had explained the story to him. “Honestly, what trivia!”

“All history is trivia,” Father said, showing again the Iowa Bob side of himself.

But Frank was usually the source of trivia—at least concerning Vienna, he hated to be outdone. His room was full of drawings of soldiers in their regimentals: Hussars in skin-tight pink pants and fitted jackets of a sunny-lake blue, and the officers of the Tyrolean Rifle in dawn-green. In 1900, at the Paris World’s Fair, Austria won the Most Beautiful Uniform Prize (for Artillery); it was no wonder that the fin de siècle in Vienna appealed to Frank. It was only alarming that the fin de siècle was the only period Frank really learned—and taught to us. All the rest of it was not as interesting to him.

“Vienna won’t be like Mayerling, for Christ’s sake,” Franny whispered to me, while I was lifting weights. “Not now.”

“Who was the master of the song—as an art form?” I asked her. “But his beard was plucked raw because he was so nervous he never let the hairs alone.”

“Hugo Wolf, you asshole,” she said. “Don’t you see? Vienna isn’t like that anymore.”

HI!

Freud wrote to us.

YOU ASKED FOR A FLOOR PLAN? WELL I HOPE I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN. THE JOURNAL FOR THE SYMPOSIUM ON EAST-WEST RELATIONS OCCUPIES THE SECOND FLOOR—THEIR DAYTIME OFFICES—AND I LET THE PROSTITUTES USE THE THIRD FLOOR, BECAUSE THEY’RE ABOVE THE OFFICES, YOU SEE, WHICH ARE NEVER USED AT NIGHT. SO NOBODY COMPLAINS (USUALLY). HA HA! THE FIRST FLOOR IS OUR FLOOR, I MEAN THE BEAR AND ME—AND YOU, ALL OF YOU, WHEN YOU COME. SO THERE’S THE FOURTH AND FIFTH FOR THE GUESTS, WHEN WE GET THE GUESTS. WHY YOU ASK? YOU HAVE A PLAN? THE PROSTITUTES SAY WE NEED AN ELEVATOR, BUT THEY MAKE LOTS OF TRIPS. HA HA! WHAT YOU MEAN, HOW OLD AM I? ABOUT ONE HUNDRED! BUT VIENNESE ANSWER IS BETTER: WE SAY, “I KEEP PASSING THE OPEN WINDOWS.” THIS IS AN OLD JOKE. THERE WAS A STREET CLOWN CALLED KING OF THE MICE: HE TRAINED RODENTS, HE DID HOROSCOPES, HE COULD IMPERSONATE NAPOLEAN, HE COULD MAKE DOGS FART ON COMMAND. ONE NIGHT HE JUMPED OUT HIS WINDOW WITH ALL HIS PETS IN A BOX. WRITTEN ON THE BOX WAS THIS: “LIFE IS SERIOUS BUT ART IS FUN!” I HEAR HIS FUNERAL WAS A PARTY. A STREET ARTIST HAD KILLED HIMSELF. NOBODY HAD SUPPORTED HIM BUT NOW EVERYBODY MISSED HIM. NOW WHO WOULD MAKE THE DOGS MAKE MUSIC AND THE MICE PANT? THE BEAR KNOWS THIS, TOO: IT IS HARD WORK AND GREAT ART TO MAKE LIFE NOT SO SERIOUS. PROSTITUTES KNOW THIS TOO.

“Prostitutes?” Mother said.

“What?” said Egg.

“Whores?” said Franny.

“There are whores in the hotel?” Lilly asked. So what else is new? I thought, but Max Urick looked more than usually overcome with sullenness at the thought of staying behind; Ronda Ray shrugged.

“Sweet Girls!” said Frank.

“Well, Jesus God,” Father said. “If they’re there, we’ll just get them out.”

Wo bleibt die alte Zeit

und die Gemütlichkeit?

Frank went around singing.

Where is the old time?

Where is the Gemütlichkeit?

It was the song Bratfisch sang at the Fiacre Ball; Bratfisch had been Crown Prince Rudolf’s personal horse-cab driver—a dangerous-looking rake with a whip.

Wo bleibt die alte Zeit?

Pfirt di Gott, mein schönes Wien!

Frank went on singing. Bratfisch had sung this after Rudolf murdered his mistress and then blew out his own brains.

Where is the old time?

Fare thee well, my beautiful Vienna!

HI!

Freud wrote.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE PROSTITUTES. THEY’RE LEGAL HERE. IT’S JUST BUSINESS. THAT EAST-WEST RELATIONS BUNCH IS THE BUNCH TO WATCH. THEIR TYPEWRITERS BOTHER THE BEAR. THEY COMPLAIN A LOT AND THEY TIE UP THE PHONES. DAMN POLITICS, DAMN INTELLECTUALS, DAMN INTRIGUE.

“Intrigue?” Mother said.

“A language problem,” Father said. “Freud doesn’t know the language.”

“Name one anti-Semite for whom an actual square, a whole Platz, in the city of Vienna has been named,” Frank demanded. “Name just one.”

“Jesus God, Frank,” Father said.

“No,” Frank said.

“Dr. Karl Lueger,” Mother said, with such a dullness in her voice that Franny and I felt a chill.

“Very good,” said Frank, impressed.

“Who thought all Vienna was an elaborate job of concealing sexual reality?” Mother asked.

“Freud?” said Frank.

“Not our Freud,” said Franny.

But our Freud wrote to us:

ALL VIENNA IS AN ELABORATE JOB OF CONCEALING SEXUAL REALITY. THIS IS WHY PROSTITUTION IS LEGAL. THIS IS WHY WE BELIEVE IN BEARS. OVER AND OUT!

I was with Ronda Ray one morning, thinking wearily of Arthur Schnitzler fucking Jeanette Heger 464 times in something like eleven months, and Ronda asked me, “What does he mean, it’s ‘legal’—prostitution is legal—what’s he mean?”

“It’s not against the law,” I said. “In Vienna, apparently, prostitution is not against the law.”

There was a long silence from Ronda; she moved, awkwardly, out from under me.

“Is it legal here?” she asked me; I could see she was serious—she looked frightened.

Everything’s legal in the Hotel New Hampshire!” I said; it was an Iowa Bob thing to say.

“No, here!” she said, angrily. “In America. Is it legal?”

“No,” I said. “Not in New Hampshire.”

No?” she cried. “It’s against the law? It is?” she screamed.

“Well, but it happens, anyway,” I said.

Why?” Ronda yelled. “Why is it against the law?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You better go,” she said. “And you’re going to Vienna and leaving me here?” she added, pushing me out the door. “You better go,” she said.

“Who worked for two years on a fresco and called it Schweinsdreck?” Frank asked me at breakfast. Schweinsdreck means “pig shit.”

“Jesus, Frank, it’s breakfast,” I said.

“Gustav Klimt,” Frank said, smugly.

And there went the winter of 1957: still lifting the weights, but going easy on the bananas; still visiting Ronda Ray, but dreaming of the imperial city; learning irregular verbs and the mesmerizing trivia of history, trying to imagine the circus Fritz’s Act and the hotel called Gasthaus Freud. Our mother seemed tired, but she was loyal; she and my father appeared to rely on more frequent visits to old 3E, where the differences between them perhaps appeared easier to solve. The Uricks were wary; a cautious streak had developed in them, because they no doubt felt abandoned—“to a dwarf,” Max said, but not around Lilly. And one morning in early spring, with the ground in Elliot Park still half-frozen but turning spongy, Ronda Ray refused to take my money—but she accepted me.

“It’s not legal,” she whispered, bitterly. “I’m no criminal.”

It was later that I discovered she was playing for higher stakes.

“Vienna,” she whispered. “What will you do there without me?” she asked. I had a million ideas, and almost as many pictures, but I promised Ronda I would ask Father to consider bringing her along.

“She’s a real worker,” I told Father. Mother frowned. Franny started choking on something. Frank mumbled about the weather in Vienna—“Lots of rain.” Egg, naturally, asked what we were talking about.

“No,” Father said. “Not Ronda. We can’t afford it.” Everyone looked relieved—even me, I confess.

I broke the news to Ronda when she was oiling the top of the bar.

“Well, there was no harm in asking, right?” she said.

“No harm,” I said. But the next morning, when I stopped and breathed a little outside her door, it seemed that there had been some harm.

“Just keep running, John-O,” she said. “Running is legal. Running is free.”

I then had an awkward and vague conversation with Junior Jones about lust; it was comforting that he didn’t seem to understand it any better than I did. It was a frustration to us both that Franny had so many other opinions on the subject.

“Women,” said Junior Jones. “They’re very different from you and me.” I nodded, of course. Franny seemed to have forgiven Junior for his lust with Ronda Ray, but a part of her remained aloof to him; she appeared, at least outwardly, indifferent to leaving Junior for Vienna. Perhaps she was torn between not wanting to miss Junior Jones too much and remaining hopeful but calm about the possible adventure that Vienna could be for her.

She was detached when asked about it, and I found myself, that spring, more often stuck with Frank; Frank was in high gear. His moustache resembled, nervously, the facial excesses of the departed Crown Prince Rudolf, although Franny and I liked to call Frank the King of Mice.

“Here he comes! He can make dogs fart on command! Who is it?” I would cry.

“‘Life Is Serious But Art Is Fun!’” Franny would shout. “Here is the hero of the street clowns! Keep him away from the open windows!”

“King of the Mice!” I yelled.

“Drop dead, both of you,” Frank said.

“How’s it coming with the dog, Frank?” I asked; this would win him over, every time.

“Well,” Frank said, some vision of Sorrow crossing his mind and making his moustache quiver, “I think Egg will be pleased—although Sorrow may seem a little tame, to the rest of us.”

“I doubt it,” I said. Looking at Frank, I could imagine the Crown Prince, moodily en route to Mayerling—and the murder of his mistress, and the killing of himself—but it was easier to think of Freud’s street artist leaping out a window with his box of pets: the King of Mice dashed to the ground and a city that ignored him, once, now mourning him. Somehow, Frank looked the part.

“Who will make the dogs make music and the mice pant?” I asked Frank over breakfast.

“Go lift a few weights,” he said. “And drop them on your head.”

So Frank journeyed back to the bio lab; if the King of Mice could make dogs fart on command, Frank could make Sorrow live in more than one pose—so perhaps he was a kind of Crown Prince, like Rudolf, Emperor of Austria to Be, King of Bohemia, King of Transylvania, Margrave of Moravia, Duke of Auschwitz (to mention only a few of Rudolf’s titles).

“Where is the King of Mice?” Franny would ask.

“With Sorrow,” I would say. “Teaching Sorrow to fart on command.”

And passing each other in the halls of the Hotel New Hampshire, I would say to Lilly, or Franny would say to Frank, “Keep passing the open windows.”

Schweinsdreck,” Frank would say.

“Show off,” Franny would say back to him.

“Pig shit to you, Frank,” I’d say.

What?” Egg would shout.

And one morning Lilly asked Father, “Will we leave before the circus called Fritz’s Act moves in, or will we get to see them?”

“I hope to miss seeing them,” Franny said.

“Won’t we overlap, at least a day?” Frank asked. “I mean for the passing of the keys, or something?”

What keys?” Max Urick asked.

“What locks?” said Ronda Ray, whose door was shut to me.

“Perhaps we’ll coincide for about ten or fifteen minutes,” Father said.

“I want to see them,” Lilly said, seriously. And I looked at Mother, who looked tired—but nice: she was a soft, rumpled woman, whom Father clearly loved to touch. He was always burrowing his face in her neck, and cupping her breasts, and hugging her from behind—which she only pretended to resent (in front of us children). When he was around Mother, Father was remindful of those dogs whose heads are always thrust in your lap, whose snouts take comfort in armpits and crotches—I don’t mean, at all, that Father was crude with her, but he was always making contact: hugging and hanging on tight.

Of course, Egg did this with Mother, too, and Lilly—to a degree—though Lilly was more dignified, and holding back of herself, since her smallness had become such an item. It was as if she didn’t want to appear any smaller than she was by acting too young.

“The average Austrian is three to four inches shorter than the average American, Lilly,” Frank informed her, but Lilly appeared not to care—she shrugged; it was Mother’s move, independent and pretty. In their different ways both Franny and Lilly had inherited the motion.

Sometime that spring I saw Franny use it: just a single deft shrug, with a hint of some involuntary ache behind it—when Junior Jones told us that he would be accepting the football scholarship from Penn State in the fall.

“I’ll write you,” Franny told him.

“Sure, and I’ll write you,” he told her.

“I’ll write you more,” said Franny. Junior Jones tried to shrug, but it didn’t come off.

“Shit,” he told me, when we were throwing rocks at a tree in Elliot Park. “What does Franny want to do, anyway? What does she think is going to happen to her over there?”

“Over there” was what we all called it. Except Frank: he now spoke of Vienna the German way. “Wien,” he said.

Veen,” Lilly said, shuddering. “It sounds like something a lizard would say.” And we all stared at her, waiting for Egg to say his “What?”

Then the grass came out in Elliot Park, and one warm night, when I was sure Egg was asleep, I opened the window and looked at the moon and the stars and listened to the crickets and the frogs, and Egg said, “Keep passing the open windows.”

“You awake?” I said.

“I can’t sleep,” Egg said. “I can’t see where I’m going,” he said. “I don’t know what it’ll be like.”

He sounded ready to cry, so I said, “Come on, Egg. It will be great. You’ve never lived in a city,” I said.

“I know,” he said, sniffling a little.

“Well, there’s more to do than there is to do here,” I promised him.

“I have a lot to do here,” he said.

“But this will be so different,” I told him.

“Why do the people jump out of windows?” he asked me.

And I explained to him that it was just a story, although the sense of a metaphor might have been lost on him.

“There are spies in the hotel,” he said. “That’s what Lilly said: ‘Spies and low women.’”

I imagined Lilly thinking that “low women” were short, like her, and I tried to reassure Egg that there was nothing frightening about the occupants of Freud’s hotel; I said that Father would take care of everything—and heard the silence with which both Egg and I accepted that promise.

“How will we get there?” Egg asked. “It’s so far.”

“An airplane,” I said.

“I don’t know what that’s like, either,” he said.

(There would be two airplanes, actually, because Father and Mother would never fly on the same plane; many parents are like that. I explained that to Egg, too, but he kept repeating. “I don’t know what it’ll be like.”)

Then Mother came into our room to comfort Egg and I fell back to sleep with them talking together, and woke up again as Mother was leaving; Egg was asleep. Mother came over to my bed and sat down beside me; her hair was loose and she looked very young; in fact, in the half-dark, she looked a lot like Franny.

“He’s only seven,” she said, about Egg. “You should talk to him more.”

“Okay,” I said. “Do you want to go to Vienna?”

And of course, she shrugged—and smiled—and said, “Your father is a good, good man.” For the first time, really, I could see them in the summer of 1939, with Father promising Freud that he would get married, and he would go to Harvard—and Freud asking Mother one thing: to forgive Father. Was this what she had to forgive him for? And was rooting us out of the terrible town of Dairy, and the wretched Dairy School—and the first Hotel New Hampshire, which wasn’t so hot a hotel (though nobody said so)—was that so bad a thing that Father was doing, really?

“Do you like Freud?” I asked her.

“I don’t really know Freud,” Mother said.

“But Father likes him,” I said.

“Your father likes him,” Mother said, “but he doesn’t really know him, either.”

“What do you think the bear will be like?” I asked her.

“I don’t know what the bear is for,” Mother whispered, “so I couldn’t guess what it could be like.”

“What could it be for?” I asked, but she shrugged again—perhaps remembering what Earl had been like, and trying to remember what Earl could have been for.

“We’ll all find out,” she said, and kissed me. It was an Iowa Bob thing to say.

“Good night,” I said to Mother, and kissed her.

“Keep passing the open windows,” she whispered, and I was asleep.

Then I had a dream that Mother died.

“No more bears,” she said to Father, but he misunderstood her; he thought she was asking him a question.

“No, one more bear,” he said. “Just one more. I promise.”

And she smiled and shook her head; she was too tired to explain. There was the faintest effort of her famous shrug, and the intention of a shrug in her eyes, which rolled up and out of sight, suddenly, and Father knew that the man in the white dinner jacket had taken Mother’s hand.

“Okay! No more bears!” Father promised, but Mother was aboard the white sloop, now, and she went sailing out to sea.

In the dream, Egg wasn’t there; but Egg was there when I woke up—he was still sleeping, and someone else was watching him. I recognized the sleek, black back—the fur thick and short and oily; the square back of his blundering head, and the half-cocked, no-account ears. He was sitting on his tail, as he used to do—in life—and he was facing Egg. Frank had probably made him smiling, or at least panting, witlessly, in that goofy way of dogs who repeatedly drop balls and sticks at your feet. Oh, the moronic but happy fetchers of this world—that was our old Sorrow: a fetcher and a farter. I crept out of bed to face the beast—from Egg’s point of view.

I could see at a glance that Frank had outdone himself at “niceness.” Sorrow sat on his tail with his forepaws touching and modestly hiding his groin; his face had a dippy, glazed happiness about it, his tongue lolled stupidly out of his mouth. He looked ready to fart, or wag his tail, or roll idiotically on his back; he looked like he was dying to be scratched behind his ears—he looked like a hopelessly slavish animal, forever in need of fondling attention. If it weren’t for the fact that he was dead, and that it was impossible to banish from memory Sorrow’s other manifestations, this Sorrow looked as harmless as Sorrow ever could have looked.

“Egg?” I whispered. “Wake up.” But it was Saturday morning—Egg’s morning for sleeping in—and I knew Egg had slept badly, or only a little, through the night. Out the window I saw our car driving between the trees of Elliot Park, treating the soggy park like a slalom course—at slow speed—and I knew that meant Frank was at the wheel; he’d just gotten his driver’s license, and he liked to practice by driving around the trees in Elliot Park. Also, Franny had just gotten her learner’s permit and Frank was teaching her to drive. I could tell it was Frank at the wheel because of the stately progress of the car through the trees, at limousine speed, at hearse speed—that was the way Frank always drove. Even when he drove Mother to the supermarket, he drove as if he were bearing the coffin of a queen past throngs of mourners seeking one last look. When Franny drove, Frank yelped beside her, cringing in the passenger seat; Franny liked to go fast.

“Egg!” I said more loudly, and he stirred a little. There was a slamming of doors outside, a changing of drivers in our car in Elliot Park; I could tell Franny had taken the wheel when the car began to careen between the trees, great slithers of the spring mud flying—and the wild, half-seen gestures of Frank’s arms waving in what is popularly called the death seat.

“Jesus God!” I heard Father yell, out another window. Then he shut the window and I heard him raving at Mother—about the way Franny drove, about having to replant the grass in Elliot Park, about having to chip the mud off the car with a chisel—and while I was still watching Franny racing among the trees, Egg opened his eyes and saw Sorrow. His scream jammed my thumbs against the windowsill and made me bite my tongue. Mother ran into the room to see what was the matter and greeted Sorrow with a shriek of her own.

“Jesus God,” said Father. “Why does Frank have to spring the damn dog on everyone? Why can’t he just say, ‘Now I’m going to show you Sorrow,’ and carry the damn thing into a room—when we’re all ready for it, for Christ’s sake!”

“Sorrow?” said Egg, peering from under his bedclothes.

“It’s just Sorrow, Egg,” I said. “Doesn’t he look nice?” Egg smiled cautiously at the foolish-looking dog.

“He does look nice,” Father said, suddenly pleased.

“He’s smiling!” Egg said.

Lilly came into Egg’s room and hugged Sorrow; she sat down and leaned back against the upright dog. “Look, Egg,” she said, “you can use him like a backrest.”

Frank came in the room, looking awfully proud.

“It’s terrific, Frank,” I said.

“It’s really nice,” said Lilly.

“A remarkable job, son,” Father said; Frank was just beaming. Franny came in the room, talking before she came in.

“Honestly, Frank is such a chicken shit in the car,” she complained. “You’d think he was giving me stagecoach lessons!” Then she saw Sorrow. “Wow!” she cried. And why did we all wait so quietly for what Franny would say? Even when she was not quite sixteen, my whole family seemed to regard her as the real authority—as the last word. Franny circled Sorrow, almost as if she were another dog—sniffing him. Franny put her arm around Frank’s shoulder, and he stood tensed for her verdict. “The King of Mice has produced a fucking masterpiece,” Franny announced; a spasm of a smile crossed Frank’s anxious face, “Frank,” Franny said to him sincerely, “you’ve really done it, Frank. This really is Sorrow,” she said. And she got down and patted the dog—the way she used to, in the old days, hugging his head and rubbing behind his ears. This seemed completely reassuring to Egg, who began to hug Sorrow without reserve. “You may be an asshole in an automobile, Frank,” Franny told him, “but you’ve done an absolutely first-rate job with Sorrow.”

Frank looked as if he were going to faint, or just fall over, and everyone began talking at once, and pounding Frank on the back, and poking and scratching Sorrow—everyone but Mother, we suddenly noticed; she was standing by the window, looking out at Elliot Park.

“Franny?” she said.

“Yes,” Franny said.

“Franny,” Mother said, “you’re not to drive like that in the park again—do you understand?”

“Okay,” Franny said.

“You may go out to the delivery entrance, now,” Mother said, “and get Max to help you find the lawn hose. And get some buckets of hot, soapy water. You’re going to wash all the mud off the car before it dries.”

“Okay,” Franny said.

“Just look at the park,” Mother told her. “You’ve torn up the new grass.”

“I’m sorry,” Franny said.

“Lilly?” Mother said, still looking out the window—she was through with Franny, now.

“Yes?” Lilly said.

“Your room, Lilly,” Mother said. “What am I going to say about your room?”

“Oh,” Lilly said. “It’s a mess.”

“For a week it’s been a mess,” Mother said. “Today, please, don’t leave your room until it’s better.”

I noticed that Father slunk quietly away, with Lilly—and Franny went to wash the car. Frank seemed bewildered that his moment of success had been cut so short! He seemed unwilling to leave Sorrow, now that he had re-created him.

“Frank?” said Mother.

“Yes!” Frank said.

“Now that you’re finished with Sorrow, perhaps you could straighten up your room, too?” Mother asked.

“Oh, sure,” Frank said.

“I’m sorry, Frank,” Mother said.

“Sorry?” Frank said.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t like Sorrow, Frank,” Mother said.

“You don’t like him?” Frank said.

“No, because he’s dead, Frank,” Mother said. “He’s very real, Frank, but he’s dead, and I don’t find dead things amusing.”

“I’m sorry,” Frank said.

“Jesus God!” I said.

“And you, please,” Mother said to me, “will you watch your language? Your language is terrible,” Mother told me. “Especially when you pause to consider that you share a room with a seven-year-old. I am tired of the ‘fucking’ this and the ‘fucking’ that,” Mother said. “This house is not a locker room.”

“Yes,” I said, and noticed that Frank was gone—the King of Mice had slipped away.

“Egg,” Mother said—her voice winding down.

“What?” Egg said.

“Sorrow is not to leave your room, Egg,” Mother said. “I don’t like to be startled,” she said, “and if Sorrow leaves this room—if I see him anyplace but where I expect to see him, which is right here—then that’s it, then he’s gone for good.”

“Right,” said Egg. “But can I take him to Vienna? When we go, I mean—can Sorrow come?”

“I suppose he’ll have to come,” Mother said. Her voice had the same resignation in it that I’d heard in her voice in my dream—when Mother had said, “No more bears,” and then drifted away on the white sloop.

“Holy cow,” said Junior Jones, when he saw Sorrow sitting on Egg’s bed, one of Mother’s shawls around Sorrow’s shoulders, Egg’s baseball cap on Sorrow’s head. Franny had brought Junior to the hotel to see Frank’s miracle. Harold Swallow had come along with Junior, but Harold was lost somewhere; he’d made a wrong turn on the second floor, and rather than come into our apartment, he was wandering around the hotel. I was trying to work at my desk—I was studying for my German exam, and was trying not to ask Frank for help. Franny and Junior Jones went off looking for Harold, and Egg decided against Sorrow’s present costume; he undressed the dog and started over.

Then Harold Swallow found his way to our door and peered in at Egg and me—and at Sorrow sitting naked on Egg’s bed. Harold had never seen Sorrow before—dead or alive—and he called the dog over to the doorway.

“Here, dog!” he called. “Come here! Come on!”

Sorrow sat smiling at Harold, his tail itching to wag—but motionless.

“Come on! Here, doggy!” Harold cried. “Good dog, nice doggy!”

“He’s supposed to stay in this room,” Egg informed Harold Swallow.

“Oh,” said Harold, with an impressive roll of his eyes to me. “Well, he’s very well behaved,” Harold Swallow said. “He ain’t budging, is he?”

And I went to take Harold Swallow down to the restaurant, where Junior and Franny were looking for him; I saw no reason to tell Harold that Sorrow was dead.

“That your little brother?” Harold asked me, about Egg.

“Right,” I said.

“And you got a nice dog, too,” Harold said.

“Shit,” Junior Jones said to me, later; we were standing outside the gymnasium, which the Dairy School had tried to decorate like a building of parliament—for the weekend of Junior’s graduation. “Shit,” Junior said, “I’m really worried about Franny.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Something’s bothering her,” Junior said. “She won’t sleep with me,” he said. “Not even as just a way of saying good-bye, or something. She won’t even do it once! Sometimes I think she doesn’t trust me,” Junior said.

“Well,” I said. “Franny’s only sixteen, you know.”

“Well, she’s an old sixteen, you know,” he said. “I wish you’d speak to her.”

Me?” I said. “What should I say?”

“I wish you’d ask her why she won’t sleep with me,” Junior Jones said.

“Shit,” I said, but I asked her—later: when the Dairy School was empty, when Junior Jones had gone home for the summer (to whip himself into shape for playing football at Penn State), when the old campus, and especially the path through the woods that the football players always used, reminded Franny and me of what seemed like years ago (to us). “Why didn’t you ever sleep with Junior Jones?” I asked her.

“I’m only sixteen, John,” Franny said.

“Well, you’re an old sixteen, you know,” I said, not exactly sure what this might mean. Franny shrugged, of course.

“Look at it this way,” she said. “I’ll see Junior again; we’re going to write letters, and all that. We’re staying friends. Now, someday—when I’m older, and if we do stay friends—it might be the perfect thing to do: to sleep with him. I wouldn’t want to have used it up.”

“Why couldn’t you sleep with him twice?” I asked her.

“You don’t get it,” she said.

I was thinking it had to do with her having been raped, but Franny could always read me like a book.

“No, kid,” she said. “It’s got nothing to do with being raped. Sleeping with someone is very different—provided it means something. I just don’t know what it would mean—with Junior. Not yet. Also,” she said, with a big sigh—and she paused. “Also,” she said, “I don’t have exactly a lot of experience, but it seems that once someone—or some people—get to have you, you don’t ever hear from them again.”

Now, it seemed to me, she had to be talking about her rape; I was confused. I said, “Who do you mean, Franny?” And she bit her lip a while.

Then she said, “It surprises me that I have not heard one word—not a single word—from Chipper Dove. Can you imagine that?” she asked. “All this time and not one word.”

Now I was really confused; it seemed amazing to me that she would have thought she’d ever hear from him. I couldn’t think of anything to say, except a stupid joke, so I said. “Well, Franny, I don’t suppose you’ve written to him, either.”

Twice,” Franny said. “I think that’s enough.”

Enough?” I cried. “Why the fuck did you write him at all?” I yelled.

She looked surprised. “Why, to tell him how I was, and what I was doing,” she said. I just stared at her, and she looked away. “I was in love with him, John,” she whispered to me.

“Chipper Dove raped you, Franny,” I said. “Dove and Chester Pulaski and Lenny Metz—they gang-banged you.”

“It’s not necessary to say that,” she snapped at me. “I’m talking about Chipper Dove,” she said. “Just him.”

“He raped you,” I said.

“I was in love with him,” she said, keeping her back to me. “You don’t understand. I was in love—and maybe I still am,” she said. “Now,” she added, brightly, “would you like to tell Junior that? Do you think I should tell Junior that?” she asked. “Wouldn’t Junior just love that?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“No, I thought not, too,” Franny said. “So I just thought that—under the circumstances—I wouldn’t sleep with him. Okay?” she asked.

“Okay,” I said, but I wanted to tell her that certainly Chipper Dove had not loved her.

“Don’t tell me,” Franny said. “Don’t tell me that he didn’t love me. I think I know. But do you know what?” she asked me. “One day,” Franny said, “Chipper Dove might fall in love with me. And you know what?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“Maybe if that happens, if he falls in love with me,” Franny said, “maybe—by then—I won’t love him anymore. And then I’ll really get him, won’t I?” she asked me. I just stared at her; she was, as Junior Jones had observed, a very old sixteen indeed.

I felt suddenly that we all couldn’t get to Vienna soon enough—that we all needed time to grow older, and wiser (if that’s what really was involved in the process). I know that I wanted a chance to pull even with Franny, if not ever ahead of her, and I thought I needed a new hotel for that.

It suddenly occurred to me that Franny might have been thinking of Vienna in somewhat the same way: of using it—to make herself smarter and tougher and (somehow) grown-up enough for the world that neither of us understood.

“Keep passing the open windows,” was all I could say to her, at the moment. We looked at the stubbly grass on the practice field, and knew that in the fall it would be punctured everywhere with cleats, churned by knees striking the ground, and clawing fingers—and that, this fall, we would not be in Dairy to see it, or to look away from it. Somewhere else all that—or something like it—would be going on, and we would be watching, or taking part in, whatever it was.

I took Franny’s hand and we walked along the path the football players always used, pausing only briefly by the turn we remembered—the way into the woods, where the ferns were; we didn’t need to see them. “Bye-bye,” Franny whispered to that holy and unholy place; I squeezed her hand—she squeezed back, then she broke our grip—and we tried to speak only German to each other, all the way back to the Hotel New Hampshire. It would be our new language very soon, after all, and we weren’t very good at it. We both knew that we needed to get better in order to be free of Frank.

Frank was taking his hearse-driving tour through the trees when we returned to Elliot Park. “Want a lesson?” he asked Franny. She shrugged, and Mother sent them both on an errand—Franny driving, Frank praying and flinching beside her.

That night, when I went to bed, Egg had put Sorrow in my bed—and dressed him in my running clothes. Getting Sorrow out of my bed—and getting Sorrow’s hair out of my bed—I thoroughly woke myself up again. I went down to the restaurant and bar to read. Max Urick was having a drink, sitting in one of the screwed-down chairs.

“How many times did old Schnitzler give it to Jeanette What’s Her Name?” Max asked me.

“Four hundred and sixty-four,” I said.

“Isn’t that something!” he cried.

When Max stumbled upstairs to bed, I sat listening to Mrs. Urick putting away some pans. Ronda Ray was not around; she was out—or maybe she was in; it hardly mattered. It was too dark to take a run—and Franny was asleep, so I couldn’t lift weights. Sorrow had ruined my bed for a while, so I just tried to read. It was a book about the 1918 flu—about all the famous and the unfamous people who were wiped out by it. It seemed like one of the saddest times in Vienna. Gustav Klimt, who once called his own work ‘Pig shit,’ died; he had been Schiele’s teacher. Schiele’s wife died—her name was Edith—and then Schiele himself died, when he was very young. I read a whole chapter in the book about what pictures Schiele might have painted if the flu hadn’t got him. I was beginning to get the rather fuzzy idea that the whole book was about what Vienna might have become if the flu hadn’t come to town, when Lilly woke me up.

“Why aren’t you sleeping in your room?” she asked. I explained about Sorrow.

“I can’t sleep because I can’t imagine what my room over there is going to be like,” Lilly explained. I told her about the 1918 flu, but she wasn’t interested. “I’m worried,” Lilly admitted. “I’m worried about the violence.”

What violence?” I asked her.

“In Freud’s hotel,” Lilly said. “There’s going to be violence.”

Why, Lilly?” I asked.

“Sex and violence,” Lilly said.

“You mean the whores?” I asked her.

“The climate of them,” Lilly said, sitting pretty in one of the screwed-down chairs, rocking slightly in her seat—her feet, of course, not reaching the floor.

“The climate of whores?” I said.

“The climate of sex and violence,” Lilly said. “That’s what it sounds like to me. That whole city,” she said. “Look at Rudolf—killing his girl friend, then killing himself.”

“That was in the last century, Lilly,” I reminded her.

“And that man who fucked that woman four hundred and sixty-four times,” Lilly said.

“Schnitzler,” I said. “Almost a century ago, Lilly.”

“It’s probably worse now,” Lilly said. “Most things are.”

That would have been Frank—who told her that—I knew.

“And the flu,” said Lilly, “and the wars. And the Hungarians,” she said.

“The revolution?” I asked her. “That was last year, Lilly.”

“And all the rape in the Russian Sector,” Lilly said. “Franny will get raped again. Or I will,” she said, adding, “if someone small enough catches me.”

“The occupation is over,” I said.

“A violent climate,” Lilly repeated. “All the repressed sexuality.”

“That’s the other Freud, Lilly,” I said.

“And what will the bear do?” Lilly asked. “A hotel with whores and bears and spies.”

“Not spies, Lilly,” I said. I knew she meant the East-West relations people. “I think they’re just intellectuals,” I told her, but this didn’t appear to comfort her; she shook her head.

“I can’t stand violence,” Lilly said. “And Vienna reeks of it,” she said; it was as if she’d been studying the tourist map and had found all the corners where Junior Jones’s gangs hung out. “The whole place shouts of violence,” Lilly said. “It absolutely broadcasts it,” Lilly said; it was as if she had taken these words into her mouth to suck on them: reeks, shouts, broadcasts. “The whole idea of going over there just shivers with violence,” Lilly said, shivering. Her tiny knees gripped the seat of the screwed-down chair, her slender legs whipped back and forth, violently fanning the floor. She was only eleven, and I wondered where she’d found all the words she used, and why her imagination seemed much older than she was. Why were the women in our family either wise, like Mother, or an “old sixteen”—as Junior Jones said of Franny—or like Lilly: small and soft, but bright beyond her years? Why should they get all the brains? I wondered, thinking of Father; although Mother and Father were both thirty-seven, Father seemed ten years younger to me—“and ten years dumber,” Franny said. And what was I? I wondered, because Franny—and even Lilly—made me feel I would be fifteen forever. And Egg was immature—a seven-year-old with five-year-old habits. And Frank was Frank, the King of Mice, able to bring back dogs from the dead, able to master a different language, and able to put the oddities of history to his personal use; but in spite of his obvious abilities, I felt that Frank—in many other categories—was operating with a mental age of four.

Lilly sat with her head down and her little legs swinging. “I like the Hotel New Hampshire,” Lilly said. “In fact, I love it; I don’t want to leave here,” she said, the predictable tears in her eyes. I gave her a hug and picked her up; I could have bench-pressed Lilly while the seasons changed. I carried her back to her room.

“Think of it this way,” I told her. “We’ll just be going to another Hotel New Hampshire, Lilly. The same thing, but another country.” But Lilly cried and cried.

“I’d rather stay with the circus called Fritz’s Act,” she bawled. “I’d rather stay with them, and I don’t even know what they do!”

Soon wewould know what they did, of course. Too soon. It was summer, then, and before we were packed—before we’d even made the airplane reservations—the four-foot forty-one-year-old named Frederick “Fritz” Worter paid us a visit. There were some papers to sign, and some of the other members of Fritz’s Act wished to have a look at their future home.

One morning, when Egg was sleeping beside Sorrow, I looked out our window at Elliot Park. At first nothing seemed strange; some men and women were getting out of a Volkswagen bus. They were all, more or less, the same size. We were still a hotel, after all, and I thought they might be guests. Then I realized that there were five women and eight men—yet they quite comfortably spilled out of one Volkswagen bus—and when I recognized Frederick “Fritz” Worter as one of them, I realized that they were all the same size as him.

Max Urick, who’d been shaving while looking out his fourth-floor window, screamed and cut himself. “A fucking busload of midgets,” he told us later. “It’s not what you expect to see when you’re just getting up.”

It is impossible to say what Ronda Ray might have done, or said, if she had seen them; but Ronda was still in bed. Franny, and my barbells, were lying untouched in Franny’s room; Frank—whether he was dreaming, studying German, or reading about Vienna—was in a world of his own. Egg was sleeping with Sorrow, and Mother and Father—who would be embarrassed about it, later—were having fun in old 3E.

I ran into Lilly’s room, knowing she would want to see the arrival of at least the human part of Fritz’s Act, but Lilly was already awake and watching them through her window; she was wearing an old-fashioned nightgown that Mother had bought her in an antique store—it completely enveloped Lilly—and she was hugging her Raggedy Ann doll to her chest. “It’s a small circus, just like Mr. Worter said,” Lilly whispered, adoringly. In Elliot Park we watched the midgets gathering beside the Volkswagen bus; they were stretching and yawning; one of the men did a handstand; one of the women did a cartwheel. One of them started moving on all fours, like a chimpanzee, but Fritz clapped his hands, scolding such foolishness; they drew together, like a miniature football team having a huddle (with two extra players); then they started marching, in an orderly fashion, toward our lobby door.

Lilly went to let them in; I went to the switchboard to make the announcement. To 3E, for example: “New owners arriving—all thirteen of them. Over and out.” To Frank: “Guten Morgen! Fritz’s Act ist hier angekommen. Wachs du auf!” And to Franny: “Midgets! Go wake up Egg so he won’t be frightened; he’ll think he dreamed them. Tell him thirteen midgets are here, but it’s safe!”

Then I ran up to Ronda Ray’s room; I was better at giving her messages in person. They’re here!” I whispered, outside her door.

“Keep running, John-O,” Ronda said.

“There’s thirteen of them,” I said. “Only five women and eight men,” I said. “There’s at least three men for you!”

“What size are they?” Ronda Ray asked.

“That’s a surprise,” I said. “Come see.”

“Keep running,” Ronda said. “All of you—keep running.”

Max Urick went and hid with Mrs. Urick in the kitchen; they were shy about being introduced, but Father dragged them out to meet the midgets, and Mrs. Urick marched the midgets through her kitchen—showing off her stockpots, and how plain-but-good everything smelled.

“They are small,” Mrs. Urick conceded later, “but there’s a lot of them; they’ll have to eat something.”

“They’ll never reach all the lights,” Max Urick said. “I’ll have to change all the switches.” Grumpily, he moved off the fourth floor. It was clear that the fourth floor was the one the midgets wanted—“suited to their tiny washing and tiny peeing,” Max grumbled, but not around Lilly. Franny thought Max was only angry that he was moving closer to Mrs. Urick; but he moved no nearer to her than the third floor, where, (I imagined), he would be forever blessed to hear the patter of little feet above him.

“Where will the animals go?” Lilly asked Mr. Worter. Fritz explained that the circus would use the Hotel New Hampshire only for their summer quarters; the animals would stay outside.

“What kind of animals are they?” Egg asked, clutching Sorrow to his chest.

Live ones,” said one of the lady midgets, who was about Egg’s size and appeared to be intrigued with Sorrow; she kept patting him.

It was the end of June when the midgets made Elliot Park look like a fairground; the once-brightly-colored canvases, now faded to pastels, flapped over the little stalls, fringed the merry-go-round, domed the big tent where the main acts would be performed. Kids from the town of Dairy came and hung around our park all day, but the midgets were in no hurry; they set up the stalls; they changed the position of the merry-go-round three times—and refused to hook up the engine that ran it, even to test it out. One day a box arrived, the size of a dining-room table; it was full of large spools of different-coloured tickets, each spool as big as a tyre.

And Frank drove carefully through the now crowded park, circling the little tents and the one big tent, telling the kids from the town to move on. “It opens the Fourth of July, kids,” Frank would say, officiously—his arm hanging out the window of the car. “Come back then.”

We would be gone by then; we hoped that the animals might arrive before we had to leave, but we knew, in advance, we were going to miss opening night.

“We’ve seen all the things they do, anyway,” Franny said.

“Mainly,” Frank said, “they just go around looking small.”

Lilly burned. She pointed out the handstands, the juggling acts, the water and fire dance, the eight-man standing pyramid, the blind baseball team skit; and the smallest of the lady midgets said she could ride bareback—on a dog.

“Show me the dog,” said Frank. He was sour because Father had sold Fritz the family car, and Frank now needed Fritz’s permission to drive the car around Elliot Park; Fritz was generous about the car, but Frank hated to ask.

Franny liked to take her driving lessons with Max Urick in the hotel pickup, because Max was nervy about Franny driving fast. “Gun it,” he would encourage her. “Pass that sucker—you’ve got plenty of room.” And Franny would come back from a lesson, proud that she had laid nine feet of rubber around the bandstand or twelve feet around the corner of Front Street verging with Court. “Laying rubber” was what we said in Dairy, New Hampshire, for leaving a black stain on the road with squealing tyres.

“It’s disgusting,” Frank said. “Bad for the clutch, bad for the tyres, nothing but juvenile showing off—you’ll get in trouble, you’ll get your learner’s permit revoked, Max will lose his license (which he probably should ), you’ll run over someone’s dog, or a small child, some dumb hoods from the town will try to drag-race you, or follow you home and beat the shit out of you. Or they’ll beat the shit out of me,” Frank said, “just because I know you.”

“We’re going to Vienna, Frank,” Franny said. “Get in your licks at the town of Dairy while you can.”

Licks!” said Frank. “Disgusting.”

HI

Freud wrote.

YOU ALMOST HERE! GOOD TIME TO COME. PLENTY OF TIME FOR KIDS TO GET ADJUSTED BEFORE SCHOOL STARTS. EVERYONE LOOKING FORWARD TO YOU COMING. EVEN PROSTITUTES! HA HA! WHORES HAPPY TO TAKE MATERNAL INTEREST IN KIDS—REALLY! I SHOW THEM ALL THE PICTURES. SUMMER A GOOD TIME FOR WHORES: LOTS OF TOURISTS, EVERYONE IN GOOD MOOD. EVEN EAST-WEST RELATIONS ASSHOLES SEEM CONTENT. THEY NOT SO BUSY IN SUMMER—DON’T START TYPING UNTIL 11 A.M. POLITICS TAKE SUMMER VACATIONS, TOO. HA HA! IT NICE HERE. NICE MUSIC IN PARKS. NICE ICE CREAM. EVEN BEAR IS HAPPIER—GLAD YOU COMING, TOO. BEAR’S NAME, BY THE WAY, IS SUSIE. LOVE FROM SUSIE AND ME, FREUD.

“Susie?” Franny said.

“A bear named Susie?” Frank said. He seemed irritated that it wasn’t a German name, or that it was a female bear. It was a disappointment to most of us, I think—a kind of anticlimax before we’d really gotten started. But moving is like that. First the excitement, then the anxiety, then the letdown. First we took a cram course on Vienna, then we started missing the old Hotel New Hampshire—in advance. Then there was a period of waiting—interminable, and perhaps preparing us for some inevitable disappointment on that day of simultaneous departure and arrival, which the invention of the jet plane makes possible.

On the first of July we borrowed the Volkswagen bus belonging to Fritz’s Act. It had funny hand controls, for braking and acceleration, because the midgets couldn’t reach the foot pedals; Father and Frank argued over who would be more dexterous at driving the unusual vehicle. Finally, Fritz offered to drive the first shift to the airport.

Father, Frank, Franny, Lilly, and I were in the first shift. Mother and Egg would meet us in Vienna the next day; Sorrow would fly with them. But the morning we were leaving, Egg was up before me. He was sitting on his bed in a white dress shirt, and with his best dress pants and black dress shoes, and wearing a white linen jacket; he looked like one of the midgets—in their skit about crippled waiters in a fancy restaurant. Egg was waiting for me to wake up so that I could help him tie his tie. On the bed beside him, the great grinning dog, Sorrow, sat with the frozen idiot glee of the truly insane.

“You go tomorrow, Egg,” I said. “We go today, but you and Mother don’t go until tomorrow.”

“I want to be ready,” Egg said, anxiously. I tied his tie for him—to humour him. He was dressing up Sorrow—in an appropriate flying costume—when I brought my bags down to the Volkswagen bus. Egg and Sorrow followed me downstairs.

“If you’ve room,” Mother said to Father, “I wish one of you would take the dead dog.”

“No!” Egg said. “I want Sorrow to stay with me!”

“You know, you can check him through with the bags,” Fritz said. “It’s not necessary to carry him on board.”

“He can sit in my lap,” Egg said. And that was that.

The trunks had been sent ahead of us.

The carry-on and check-through bags were packed.

The midgets were waving.

Hanging from the fire escape, at Ronda Ray’s window, was her orange nightgown—once shocking, now faded, like the canvas for Fritz’s Act.

Mrs. Urick and Max stood at the delivery entrance; Mrs. Urick had been scouring pans—she had her rubber gloves on—and Max was holding a leaf basket. “Four hundred and sixty-four!” Max called.

Frank blushed; he kissed Mother. “See you soon,” he said.

Franny kissed Egg. “See you soon, Egg,” Franny said.

“What?” said Egg. He had undressed Sorrow; the beast was naked.

Lilly was crying.

“Four hundred and sixty-four!” Max Urick screamed, witlessly.

Ronda Ray was there, a little orange juice on her white waitress uniform. “Keep running, John-O,” she whispered, but nicely. She kissed me—she kissed everyone but Frank, who had crawled into the Volkswagen bus to avoid the contact.

Lilly kept crying; one of the midgets was riding Lilly’s old bicycle. And just as we were leaving Elliot Park, the animals for Fritz’s Act arrived. We saw the long flat-bed trailers, the cages, and the chains. Fritz had to stop the bus for a moment; he ran around, giving everyone directions.

In our own cage—in the Volkswagen bus—we peered at the animals; we had been wondering if they would be dwarf species.

“Ponies,” Lilly said, blubbering. “And a chimpanzee.” In a cage with red elephants painted on its side—like a child’s bedroom wallpaper—a big ape was shrieking.

“Perfectly ordinary animals,” Frank said.

A sled dog circled the bus, barking. One of the lady midgets began to ride the dog.

“No tigers,” said Franny, disappointed, “no lions, no elephants.”

“See the bear?” said Father. In a grey cage, with nothing painted on it, a dark figure sat swaying in place, rocking to some sad inner tune—its nose too long, its rump too broad, its neck too thick, its paws too short to ever be happy.

“That’s a bear?” Franny said.

There was a cage that looked full of geese, or chickens. It was mostly a dog and pony circus, it seemed—with one ape and one disappointing bear: mere tokens toward the exotic hopefulness in us all.

Looking back on them, in Elliot Park, as Fritz returned to the bus and drove us forward—to the airport and to Vienna—I saw that Egg still held in his arms the most exotic animal of them all. With Lilly crying beside me, I imagined I saw—in the chaos of moving midgets and unloading animals—a whole circus called Sorrow, instead of Fritz’s Act. Mother waved, and Mrs. Urick and Ronda Ray waved with her. Max Urick was yelling, but we couldn’t hear him. Franny’s lips, in time with his, whispered, “Four hundred and sixty-four!” Frank was already reading the German dictionary, and Father—who was not a man for looking back—sat up front with Fritz and talked rapidly about nothing at all. Lilly wept, but as harmlessly as rain. And Elliot Park disappeared: my last look caught Egg in motion, struggling to run among the midgets, Sorrow held like an idol above his head—an animal for all those other, ordinary animals to worship. Egg was excited, and yelling, and Franny’s lips—in time with his—whispered, “What? What? What?”

Fritz drove us to Boston, where Franny had to shop for what Mother called “city underwear”; Lilly wept her way through the lingerie aisles; Frank and I cruised the escalators. We were at the airport much too early. Fritz apologized for not being able to wait with us; his animals needed him, he said, and Father wished him well—thanking him, in advance, for driving Mother and Egg to the airport tomorrow. Frank was “approached” in the men’s room at Logan International, but he refused to describe the incident to Franny and me; he continued to say only that he had been “approached.” He was indignant about it, and Franny and I were furious with him for not spelling it out to us in more detail. Father bought Lilly a plastic carry-on flight bag, to cheer her up, and we boarded the plane before dark. I think we took off about 7 or 8 P.M.: the lights of Boston, on a summer night, were half on and half off, and there was enough daylight left to see the harbour clearly. It was our first time on an airplane, and we loved it.

We flew all night across the ocean. Father slept the whole way. Lilly would not sleep; she watched the darkness, and reported sighting what she said were two ocean liners. I dozed and woke, dozed and woke again; with my eyes shut, I watched Elliot Park turning into a circus. Most places we leave in childhood grow less, not more, fancy. I imagined returning to Dairy, and wondered if Fritz’s Act would improve or run down the neighbourhood.

We landed in Frankfurt at quarter to eight in the morning. Maybe it was quarter to nine.

Deutschland!” Frank said. He led us through the Frankfurt airport to our connecting flight to Vienna, reading all the signs out loud, speaking amiably to all the foreigners.

“We’re the foreigners,” Franny kept whispering.

Guten Tag!” Frank hailed all the passing strangers.

“Those people were French, Frank,” Franny said. “I’m sure of it.”

Father almost lost the passports, so we attached them with two stout rubber bands to Lilly’s wrist; then I carried Lilly, who seemed exhausted from her tears.

We left Frankfurt at quarter to nine, or maybe quarter to ten, and arrived in Vienna about noon. It was a short, choppy flight in a smaller plane; Lilly saw some mountains and was frightened; Franny said she hoped it would be smoother weather, the next day, for Mother and Egg; Frank vomited twice.

“Say it in German, Frank,” Franny said, but Frank felt too terrible to answer her.

We had a day and a night and the next morning to get the Gasthaus Freud ready for Mother and Egg. Our flight had totaled about eight hours in the air—about six or seven from Boston to Frankfurt, and another hour or so to Vienna. The flight that Mother and Egg were taking was supposed to leave Boston slightly later in the evening of the next day and fly to Zurich; their connecting flight, to Vienna, would take about an hour, and Boston to Zurich—like our flight to Frankfurt—was scheduled for about seven hours. But Mother and Egg—and Sorrow—landed short of Zurich. Less than six hours out of Boston, they struck the Atlantic Ocean a glancing blow—off the coastline of that part of the continent called France. In my imagination, later (and illogically), it was some slight consolation to know that they did not fall in darkness, and to imagine that there might—in their minds—have been some hopefulness implied by the vision of solid ground in the distance {though they did not reach the ground). It is too unlikely to imagine that Egg was sleeping, although anyone would hope so; knowing Egg, he would have been wide-awake the whole way—Sorrow jouncing on his knees. Egg would have had the window seat.

What went wrong, we were told, went wrong quickly; but surely there would have been time to blurt out some advice—in some language. And time for Mother to kiss Egg, and squeeze him; time for Egg to ask, “What?”

And though we had moved to the city of Freud, I must say that dreams are vastly overrated: my dream of Mother’s death was inexact, and I would never dream it again. Her death—by some considerable stretch of the imagination—might have been initiated by the man in the white dinner jacket, but no pretty white sloop sailed her away. She shot from the sky to the bottom of the sea with her son beside her screaming, Sorrow hugged to his chest.

It was Sorrow, of course, that the rescue planes saw. Searching for the sunken wreckage, trying to spot the first debris upon the surface of the grey morning water, someone saw a dog swimming. Closer examination convinced the rescue crew that the dog was just another victim; there were no survivors, and how could the rescue crew have known that this dog was already dead? This knowledge of what led the rescue crew to the bodies came as no surprise to my surviving family. We had learned this fact of Sorrow, previously, from Frank: Sorrow floats.

It was Franny who said, later, that we must all watch out for whatever form Sorrow would take next; we must learn to recognize the different poses.

Frank was silent, pondering the responsibilities of resurrection—always a source of mystery to him, and now a source of pain.

Father had to identify the bodies; he left us in Freud’s care and travelled by train. Later, he wouldn’t speak often of Mother or Egg; he was not a backward-looking man, and his need to care for us no doubt prevented him from such indulgent and dangerous reflection. No doubt it would have crossed his mind that this was what Freud wanted Mother to forgive my father for.

Lilly would weep, knowing all along that Fritz’s Act would have been smaller and easier to live with—all around.

And I? With Egg and Mother gone—and Sorrow in an unknown pose, or in disguise—I knew we had arrived in a foreign country.

8

Sorrow Floats

Ronda Ray, whose breathing first seduced me over an intercom—whose warm, strong, heavy hands I can still feel (occasionally) in my sleep—would never leave the first Hotel New Hampshire. She would remain faithful to Fritz’s Act, and serve them well—perhaps discovering, as she grew older, that waiting on midgets and making their beds were altogether preferable to the services she’d rendered to more fully grown adults. One day Fritz would write us that Ronda Ray had died—“in her sleep.” After losing Mother and Egg, no death would ever strike me as “appropriate,” though Franny said that Ronda’s was.

It was more appropriate, at least, than the unfortunate passing of Max Urick, who succumbed to life in the Hotel New Hampshire in a bathtub on the third floor. Perhaps Max never got over his irritation at having to give up the smaller bathroom equipment, and his cherished hideaway on the fourth floor, because I imagine him plagued by the sense, if not by the actual sound, of the midgets living over his head. I always thought it was probably the same bathtub where Egg attempted to conceal Sorrow that finally did in Max—having come close to doing the job on Bitty Tuck. Fritz never explained which tub it was, just that it was on the third floor; Max had appeared to suffer a stroke while bathing—he subsequently drowned. That an old sailor who’d come back from the deep so many times should end it all in a bathtub was a source of anguish to poor Mrs. Urick, who found Max’s leaving so inappropriate.

“Four hundred and sixty-four,” Franny would go on saying, whenever we mentioned Max.

Mrs. Urick is still the cook for Fritz’s Act today—perhaps a testament to the food, and to the life, of plainness but goodness. One Christmas Lilly would send her a pretty handwritten scroll with these words from an anonymous poet, translated from the Anglo-Saxon: “They who live humbly have angels from heaven to carry them courage and strength and belief.”

Amen.

Fritz of Fritz’s Act surely had similar angels looking after him. He would retire in Dairy, making the Hotel New Hampshire his year-round home (when he no longer hit the road, and the winter circus circuit, with the younger midgets). Lilly would get sad whenever she thought of him, because if it had been Fritz’s size that first impressed her, it was the vision of staying in Fritz’s Hotel New Hampshire (instead of going to Vienna) that Lilly imagined whenever she thought of Fritz—and Lilly would therefore imagine how all our lives might have been different if we had not lost Mother and Egg. No “angels from heaven” had been on hand to save them.

But, of course, we had no such vision of the world when we first saw Vienna. “Freud’s Vienna,” as Frank would say—and we knew which Freud he meant.

All over Vienna (in 1957) were the gaps between the buildings, were the buildings collapsed and airy, the buildings left as the bombs had left them. In some rubbled lots, often the perimeters of playgrounds abandoned by children, one had the feeling of unexploded bombs buried in the raked and orderly debris. Between the airport and the outer districts, we passed a Russian tank that had been firmly arranged—in concrete—as a kind of memorial. The tank’s top hatch was sprouting flowers, its long barrel was draped with flags, its red star faded and speckled by birds. It was permanently parked in front of what looked like a post office, but our cab flew by too fast for us to be sure.

Sorrow floats, but we arrived in Vienna before our bad news arrived, and we were inclined toward a cautious optimism. The war damage was more contained as we approached the inner districts; on occasion, even the sun shone through the elaborate buildings—and a row of stone cupids leaned off a roof over us, their bellies pockmarked by machine-gun fire. More people appeared in the streets, though the outer districts resembled one of those old sepia photographs taken at a time of day before everyone was up—or after everyone had been killed.

“It’s spooky,” Lilly ventured; out of fright, she had finally stopped crying.

“It’s old,” Franny said.

“Wo ist die Geműtlichkeit?” Frank sang, cheerfully—looking around for some.

“I think your mother will like it here,” Father said, optimistically.

“Egg won’t like it,” Franny said.

“Egg won’t be able to hear it,” Frank said.

“Mother will hate it, too,” Lilly said.

“Four hundred and sixty-four,” Franny said.

Our driver said something unintelligible. Even Father could tell it wasn’t German. Frank struggled to talk with the man and discovered he was Hungarian—from the recent revolution. We searched the rearview mirror, and our driver’s dull eyes, for signs of lasting wounds—imagining them, if not seeing them. Then a park burst beside us, on our right, and a building as lovely as a palace (it was a palace), and out a courtyard gate came a cheerful fat woman in a nurse’s uniform (clearly a nanny) pushing in front of her a double-seater baby carriage (someone had had twins!), and Frank read an idiot statistic from a mindless travel brochure.

“A city of fewer than one and a half million people,” Frank read to us, “Vienna still has more than three hundred coffeehouses!” We stared out of our cab at the streets, expecting them to be stained with coffee. Franny rolled down her window and sniffed; there was the diesel rankness of Europe, but no coffee. It would not take us long to learn what coffeehouses were for: for sitting a long time, for homework, for talking to whores, for darts, for billiards, for drinking more than coffee, for making plans—for our escape—and of course for insomnia, and for dreams. But then we were dazzled by the fountain at the Schwarzenbergplatz, we crossed the Ringstrasse, jolly with streetcars, and our driver began chanting to himself, “Krugerstrasse, Krugerstrasse,” as if by this repetition the little street would leap out at us (it did), and then: “Gasthaus Freud, Gasthaus Freud.”

The Gasthaus Freud did not leap out at us. Our driver slowly drove right by it, and Frank ran into the Kaffe Mowatt to ask directions; it was then pointed out to us—the building we had missed. Gone was the candy store (although the signs for the former Konditorei—BONBONS, and so forth—were leaning against the window, inside). Father assumed this meant that Freud—in preparation for our arrival—had begun the expansion plans, had bought out the candy store. But, upon closer inspection, we realized that a fire had destroyed the Konditorei and must have at least threatened the inhabitants of the adjacent Gasthaus Freud. We entered the small, dark hotel, passing the new sign by the gutted candy store; the sign, Frank translated, said: DON’T STEP ON THE SUGAR.

“Don’t step on the sugar, Frank?” Franny said.

That’s what it says,” Frank said, and indeed, entering cautiously into the lobby of the Gasthaus Freud, we felt a certain stickiness on the floor (no doubt from those feet that had already trafficked on the sugar—the hideous glaze from the candy melted in the fire). And now the ghastly smell of burnt chocolate overwhelmed us. Lilly, staggering with her little bags, stumbled into the lobby first, and screamed.

We were expecting Freud, but we had forgotten Freud’s bear. Lilly had not expected to see it in the lobby—loose. And none of us expected to see it on the couch by the reception desk, its short legs crossed while it rested its heels on a chair; it appeared to be reading a magazine (an apparently “smart bear” as Freud had claimed), but Lilly’s scream startled the pages right out of its paws and it gathered itself together in a bearlike fashion. It swung itself off the couch and ambled sideways toward the reception desk, not really looking at us, and we saw how small it was—squat, but short; no longer or taller than a Labrador retriever (we all were thinking), but considerably denser, thick-waisted, big-assed, stout-armed. It rose up on its hind legs and gave the bell on the reception desk a terrible clout, bashing the bell so violently that the little ping! was muffled by the thump of the animal’s paw.

“Jesus God!” said Father.

“Is that you?” cried a voice. “Is that Win Berry?”

The bear, impatient that Freud had still not emerged, picked up the bell on the reception desk and whistled it across the lobby; the bell struck a door with great force—with the sound of a hammer banging an organ pipe.

“I hear you!” Freud cried. “Jesus God! Is that you?” And he came out of the room with open arms—a figure as strange to us children as any bear. It was the first time we children realized that Father had learned his “Jesus God!” from Freud, and perhaps the contrast this information made with Freud’s body was what surprised us; Freud’s body bore no resemblance to my father’s athletic shape and movements. If Fritz had allowed his midgets to vote, Freud might have been admitted to their circus—he was only slightly larger than they were. His body seemed stricken with something like an abridged history of his former power; he was now simply solid and compact. The black hair we’d been told about was white and long with the fly-around quality of corn silk. He had a cane like a club, like a baseball bat—which we realized, later, was a baseball bat. The strange patch of hair that grew on his cheek was still the size of an average coin, but its colour was as grey as a sidewalk—the nondescript and neglected colour of a city street. But the main thing (about how Freud had aged) was that he was blind.

“Is that you?” Freud called across the lobby, facing not Father but the ancient iron post that began the banister of the staircase.

“Over here,” my father said, softly. Freud opened his arms and groped toward my father’s voice.

“Win Berry!” Freud cried, and the bear swiftly rushed to him, caught the old man’s elbow with its rough paw, and propelled him in my father’s direction. When Freud slowed his pace, fearful of chairs out of place, or feet to trip over, the bear butted him with its head from behind. Not just a smart bear, we children thought: here was a Seeing Eye bear. Freud now had a bear to see for him. Unquestionably, this was the kind of bear who could change your life.

We watched the blind gnome hugging my father; we watched their awkward dance in the dingy lobby of the Gasthaus Freud. As their voices softened, we could hear the typewriters going at it from the third floor—the radicals making their music, the leftists writing up their versions of the world. Even the typewriters sounded sure of themselves—at odds with all those other, flawed versions of the world, but sure they were right, absolutely believing it, every word tap-tap-tapping into place, like fingers drumming impatiently on tabletops, fingers marking time between speeches.

But wasn’t this better than arriving at night? Admittedly, the lobby would have looked better cared for under the mellow glow of inadequate lighting and the forgiveness of darkness. But wasn’t it better (for us children) to hear the typewriters, and see the bear—better than to hear (or imagine) the lunging of beds, the traffic of the prostitutes going up and down the stairs, the guilty greetings and good-byes (going on all night) in the lobby?

The bear nosed between us children. Lilly was wary of it (it was bigger than she was), I felt shy, Frank tried to be friendly—in German—but the bear had eyes only for Franny. The bear pressed its broad head against Franny’s waist; the bear jabbed its snout in my sister’s crotch. Franny jumped, and laughed, and Freud said, “Susie! Are you being nice? Are you being rude?” Susie the bear turned to him and made a short run at him, on all fours; the bear butted the old man in the stomach—knocking him to the floor. My father seemed inclined to intervene, but Freud—leaning on the baseball bat—got back to his feet. It was hard to tell if he was chuckling. “Oh, Susie!” he said, in the wrong direction. “Susie’s just showing off. She don’t like criticism,” Freud said. “And she’s not so fond of men as she is of the girls. Where are the girls?” the old man said, his hands held out in two directions, and Franny and Lilly went to him—Susie the bear following Franny, nudging her affectionately from behind. Frank, suddenly obsessed with making friends with the bear, tugged the animal’s coarse fur, stammering, “Uh, you must be Susie the bear. We’ve all heard a lot about you. I’m Frank. Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

“No, no,” said Freud, “not German. Susie don’t like German. She speaks your language,” Freud said in Frank’s general direction.

Frank, oafishly, bent down to the bear, tugging its fur again. “Do you shake hands, Susie?” Frank asked, bending down, but the bear turned to face him; the bear stood up.

“She’s not being rude, is she?” Freud cried. “Susie, be nice! Don’t be rude.” Standing up, the bear wasn’t as tall as any of us—except she was taller than Lilly, and she was taller than Freud. The bear’s snout came to Frank’s chin. They stood face to face, for a moment, the bear shifting its weight on its hind legs, shuffling like a boxer.

“I’m Frank,” Frank said nervously to the bear, holding out his hand; then, with both hands, he tried to grasp the bear’s right paw and shake it.

“Keep your hands to yourself, kid,” the bear said to Frank, cuffing Frank’s arms apart with a swift, short blow. Frank, reeling backwards, stumbled on the reception bell—which made a quick ping.

“How’d you do that?” Franny asked Freud. “How’d you make it talk?”

“Nobody makes me talk, honey,” Susie the bear said, nuzzling Franny’s hip.

Lilly screamed again. “The bear talks, the bear talks!” she cried.

“She’s a smart bear!” Freud shouted. “Didn’t I tell you?”

“The bear talks!” Lilly screamed, hysterically.

“At least I don’t scream,” Susie the bear said. Then she dropped all semblance of bear-like mannerisms; she walked upright, and sullenly, back to the couch—where Lilly’s first scream had disturbed her. She sat down and crossed her legs and put her feet on the chair. It was Time magazine that she was reading, a rather out-of-date issue.

“Susie’s from Michigan,” Freud said, as if this explained everything. “But she went to college in New York. She’s very smart.”

“I went to Sarah Lawrence,” the bear said, “but I dropped out. What an elitist crock of shit,” she said—of Sarah Lawrence—the world of Time magazine passing impatiently through her paws.

“She’s a girl!” Father said. “It’s a girl in a bear suit!”

“A woman,” Susie said. “Watch it.” It was only 1957; Susie was a bear ahead of her time.

“A woman in a bear suit,” Frank said, with Lilly sliding against me and clutching my leg.

“There are no smart bears,” Freud said, ominously. “Except this kind.”

Upstairs, the typewriters were quarreling over our stunned silence. We regarded Susie the bear—a smart bear, indeed; and a Seeing Eye bear, too. Knowing she was not a real bear suddenly made her appear larger; she took on new power before us. She was more than Freud’s eyes, we thought; she might be his heart and mind, too.

Father viewed the lobby, while his old, blind mentor leaned on him for support. And what was Father seeing this time? I wondered. What castle, what palace, what deluxe-class possibility looming larger and larger—as he passed over the sagging couch where the she-bear sat, passed over the imitation Impressionists: the pink, bovine nudes fallen in flowers of light (on the clashing floral wallpaper)? And the easy chair with its stuffing exploding (like the bombs to be imagined under all the debris in the outer districts); and the one reading lamp too dim to dream by.

“Too bad about the candy store,” Father said to Freud.

“Too bad?” Freud cried. “Nein, nein, nicht too bad! It’s good. The place is gone, and they had no insurance. We can buy them up—cheap! Give ourselves a lobby people will notice—from the street!” Freud cried, though of course there was nothing his own eyes would notice, or could. “A very fortunate fire,” Freud said, “a fire perfectly timed for your arrival,” Freud said, squeezing my father’s arm. “A brilliant fire!” Freud said.

“A smart bear’s sort of fire,” said Susie the bear, cynically tearing her way through the old issue of Time.

“Did you set it?” Franny asked Susie the bear.

“You bet your sweet ass, honey,” Susie said.

Oh, there once was a woman who had also been raped, but when I told her Franny’s story, and how it seemed to me that Franny had handled it—by not handling it, perhaps, or by denying the worst of it—this woman told me that Franny and I were wrong.

“Wrong?” I said.

“You bet your ass,” this woman said. “Franny was raped, not beaten up. And those bastards did get the ‘her in her’—as your bullshit black friend calls it. What’s he know? A rape expert because he’s got a sister? Your sister robbed herself of the only weapon she had against those punks—their semen. And nobody stopped her from washing herself, nobody made her deal with it—so she’s going to be dealing with it all her life. In fact, she sacrificed her own integrity by not fighting her attackers in the first place—and you,” this woman said to me, “you conveniently diffused the rape of your sister and robbed the rape of its integrity by running off to find the hero instead of staying on the scene and dealing with it yourself.”

“A rape has integrity?” Frank asked.

“I went to get help,” I said. “They just would have beaten the shit out of me and raped her, anyway.”

“I’ve got to talk to your sister, honey,” this woman said. “She’s into her own amateurish psychology and it won’t work, believe me: I know rape.”

“Whoa!” Iowa Bob said, once. “All psychology is amateurish. Fuck Freud, and all that!”

That Freud, anyway,” my father had added. And I would think, later: Maybe our Freud, too.

Anyway, this rape-expert woman said that Franny’s apparent reaction to her own rape was bullshit; and knowing that Franny still wrote letters to Chipper Dove made me wonder. The rape-expert woman said that rape simply wasn’t like that, that it didn’t have that effect—at all. She knew, she said. It had happened to her. And in college she’d joined a kind of club of women who’d all been raped, and they had agreed among themselves exactly what it was like, and what were the exactly correct responses to have to it. Even before she started talking to Franny, I could see how desperately important this woman’s private unhappiness was to her, and how—in her mind—the only credible reaction to the event of rape was hers. That someone else might have responded differently to a similar abuse only meant to her that the abuse couldn’t possibly have been the same.

“People are like that,” Iowa Bob would have said. “They need to make their own worst experiences universal. It gives them a kind of support.”

And who can blame them? It is just infuriating to argue with someone like that; because of an experience that has denied them their humanity, they go around denying another kind of humanity in others, which is the truth of human variety—it stands alongside our sameness. Too bad for her.

“She probably has had a most unhappy life,” Iowa Bob would have said.

Indeed: this woman had had a most unhappy life. This rape-expert woman was Susie the bear.

“What’s this ‘little event among so many’ bullshit?” Susie the bear asked Franny. “What’s this ‘luckiest day of my life’ bullshit?” Susie asked her. “Those thugs didn’t just want to fuck you, honey, they wanted to take your strength away, and you let them. Any woman who accepts a violation of herself so passively … how you can actually say that you knew, somehow, Chip Dove would be ‘the first.’ Sweetheart! You have minimized the enormity of what has happened to you—just to make it a little easier to take.”

“Whose rape is it?” Franny asked Susie the bear. “I mean, you’ve got yours, I’ve got mine. If I say nobody got the me in me, then nobody got it. You think they get it every time?”

“You bet your sweet ass, honey,” Susie said. “A rapist is using his prick as a weapon. Nobody uses a weapon on you without getting you. For example,” said Susie the bear, “how’s your sex life these days?”

“She’s only sixteen,” I said. “She’s not supposed to have such a great sex life—at sixteen.”

“I’m not confused,” Franny said. “There’s sex and then there’s rape,” she said. “Day and night.”

“Then how come you keep saying Chipper Dove was ‘the first,’ Franny?” I asked her quietly.

“You bet your ass—that’s the point,” said Susie the bear.

“Look,” Franny said to us—with Frank uncomfortably playing solitaire and pretending not to listen; with Lilly following our conversation like a championship tennis match that demanded reverence for every stroke. “Look,” Franny said, “the point is I own my own rape. It’s mine. I own it. I’ll deal with it my way.”

“But you’re not dealing with it,” Susie said. “You never got angry enough. You’ve got to get angry. You’ve got to get savage about all the facts.”

“You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed,” said Frank, rolling his eyes and quoting old Iowa Bob.

“I’m serious,” said Susie the bear. She was too serious, of course—but more likable than she at first appeared. Susie the bear would finally get rape right, after a while. She would run a very fine rape crisis center, later in her life, and she would write in the very first line of advice in the rape-counseling literature that the matter of “Who Owns the Rape,” is the most important matter. She would finally understand that although her anger was essentially healthy for her, it might not have been the healthiest thing for Franny, at the time. “Allow the Victim to Ventilate,” she would wisely write in her counseling newsletter—and: “Keep Your Own Problems Separate from the Problems of the Victim.” Later, Susie the bear would really become a rape-expert woman—she of the famous line “Watch Out: the real issue of each rape may not be your real issue; kindly consider there might be more than one.” And to all her rape counselors she would impart this advice: “It is essential to understand that there is no one way that victims respond and adjust to this crisis. Any one victim might exhibit all, none, or any combination of the usual symptoms: guilt, denial, anger, confusion, fear, or something quite different. And problems might occur within a week, a year, ten years, or never.”

Very true; Iowa Bob would have liked this bear as much as he liked Earl. But in her first days with us, Susie was a bear on the rape issue—and on a lot of other issues, too.

And we were forced into an intimacy with her that was unnatural because we would suddenly turn to her as we would turn to a mother (in the absence of our own mother); after a while, we would turn to Susie for other things. Almost immediately this smart (though harsh) bear seemed more all-seeing than the blind Freud, and from our first day and night in our new hotel we turned to Susie the bear for all our information.

“Who are the people with the typewriters?” I asked her.

“How much do the prostitutes charge?” Lilly asked her.

“Where can I buy a good map?” Frank asked her. “Preferably, one that indicates walking tours.”

“Walking tours, Frank?” Franny said.

“Show the children their rooms, Susie,” Freud instructed his smart bear.

Somehow, we all went first to Egg’s room, which was the worst room—a room with two doors and no windows, a cube with a door connecting it to Lilly’s room (which was only one window better) and a door entering the ground-floor lobby.

“Egg won’t like it,” Lilly said, but Lilly was predicting that Egg wouldn’t like any of it: the move, the whole thing. I suspect she was right, and whenever I think of Egg, now, I tend to see him in his room in the Gasthaus Freud that he never saw. Egg in an airless,. windowless box, a tiny trapped space in the heart of a foreign hotel—a room unfit for guests.

The typical tyranny of families: the youngest child always gets the worst room. Egg would not have been happy in the Gasthaus Freud, and I wonder now if any of us could have been. Of course, we didn’t have a fair start. We had only a day and a night before the news of Mother and Egg would settle over us, before Susie became our Seeing Eye bear, too, and Father and Freud began their duet in the direction of a grand hotel—a successful hotel, at the very least, they hoped; if not a great hotel, at least a good one.

On the day of arrival, Father and Freud were already making plans. Father wanted to move the prostitutes to the fifth floor, and move the Symposium on East-West Relations to the fourth floor, thereby clearing floors two and three for guests.

“Why should the paying guests have to climb to the fourth and fifth floors?” Father asked Freud.

“The prostitutes,” Freud reminded my father, “are also paying guests.” He didn’t need to add that they also made a number of trips every night. “And some of their clients are too old for all those stairs,” Freud added.

“If they’re too old for the stairs,” Susie the bear said, “they’re too old for the dirty action, too. Better to have one croak on the stairs than to have one give up the ship in bed—on top of one of the smaller girls.”

“Jesus God,” said Father. “Maybe give the prostitutes the second floor, then. And make the damn radicals move to the top.”

“Intellectuals,” Freud said, “are in notorious bad shape.”

“Not all these radicals are intellectuals,” Susie said. “And we should have an elevator, eventually,” she added. “I’m for keeping the whores close to the ground and letting the thinkers do the climbing.”

“Yes, and put the guests in between,” Father said.

What guests?” Franny asked. She and Frank had checked the registration; the Gasthaus Freud had no guests.

“It’s just the candy fire,” Freud said. “It smoked out the guests. Once we get the lobby right, the guests will pour in!”

“And the fucking will keep them awake all night, and the typewriters will wake them up in the morning,” said Susie the bear.

“A kind of bohemian hotel,” Frank said, optimistically.

“What do you know about bohemians, Frank?” Franny asked.

In Frank’s room was a dressmaker’s dummy, formerly the property of a prostitute who had kept a permanent room in the hotel. It was a stoutish dummy, upon which perched the chipped head of a mannequin Freud claimed had been stolen from one of the big department stores on the Kärntnerstrasse. A pretty but pitted face with her wig askew.

“Perfect for all your costume changes, Frank,” Franny said. Frank sullenly hung his coat on it.

“Very funny,” he said.

Franny’s room adjoined mine. We shared a bath with an ancient bathtub in it; the tub was deep enough to stew an ox in. The W.C. was down the hall and directly off the lobby. Only Father’s room had its own bath and its own W.C. It appeared that Susie shared the bath Franny and I shared, although she could enter it only through one of our rooms.

“Don’t sweat it,” Susie said. “I don’t wash a whole lot.”

We could tell. The odor was not exactly bear, but it was acrid, salty, rich, and strong, and when she took her bear’s head off, and we saw her dark, damp hair—her pale, pockmarked face, and her haggard, nervous eyes—we felt more comfortable with her appearance as a bear.

“What you see,” Susie said, “are the ravishments of acne—my teen-age misery. I am the original not-bad-if-you-put-a-bag-over-her-head girl.”

“Don’t feel bad,” said Frank. “I’m a homosexual. I’m not in for such a hot time as a teen-ager, either.”

“Well, at least you’re attractive,” said Susie the bear. “Your whole family is attractive,” she said, darting a mean look at us all. “You may get discriminated against, but let me tell you: there’s no discrimination quite like the Ugly Treatment. I was an ugly kid and I just get uglier, every fucking day.”

We couldn’t help staring at her in the bear costume without the head; we wondered, of course, if Susie’s own body was as burly as a bear’s. And when we saw her later in the afternoon, sweating in her T-shirt and gym shorts, doing squats and knee bends against the wall of Freud’s office—warming up for her role when the radicals checked out for the day and the prostitutes came on at night—we could see she was physically suited to her particular form of animal imitation.

“Pretty chunky, huh?” she said to me. Too many bananas, Iowa Bob might have said; and not enough road work.

But—to be fair—it was hard for Susie to go anywhere not dressed, and performing, as a bear. Exercise is difficult when dressed as a bear.

“I can’t blow my cover or we’re in trouble,” she said.

Because how could Freud ever keep order without her? Susie the bear was the enforcer. When the radicals were bothered by troublemakers from the Right, when there were violent shouting matches in the hall and on the staircase, when some new-wave fascist started screaming, “Nothing is free!”—when a small mob came to protest in the lobby, carrying the banner that said the Symposium on East-West Relations should move … farther East—it was at these times that Freud needed her, Susie said.

“Get out, you’re making the bear hostile!” Freud would shout.

Sometimes it took a low growl and a short charge.

“It’s funny,” Susie said. “I’m not really so tough, but no one tries to fight a bear. All I have to do is grab someone and they roll into a ball and start moaning. I just sort of breathe on the bastards, I just kind of lay a little weight on them. No one fights back if you’re a bear.”

Because of the radicals” gratitude for this bearish protection, there was really no problem telling the radicals to move upstairs. My father and Freud explained their case in midafternoon. Father offered me as a typewriter mover, and I began carrying the machines up to the empty fifth-floor rooms. There were a half-dozen typewriters and a mimeograph machine; the usual office supplies; a seeming excess of telephones. I got a little tired with the third or fourth desk, but I hadn’t been doing my usual weight lifting—while we were traveling—and so I appreciated the exercise. I asked a couple of the younger radicals if they knew where I could get a set of barbells, but they seemed very suspicious—that we were Americans—and either they didn’t understand English or they chose to speak their own language. There was a brief protest from an older radical, who struck up what appeared to be quite a lively argument with Freud, but Susie the bear started whining and rolling her head around the old man’s ankles—as if she were trying to blow her nose on the cuffs of his pants—and he calmed down and climbed the stairs, even though he knew Susie wasn’t a real bear.

“What are they writing?” Franny asked Susie. “I mean, is it one of those newsletter kind of things, is it propaganda?”

“Why do they have so many phones?” I asked, because we hadn’t heard the phones ringing, not once—not all day.

“They make a lot of outgoing calls,” Susie said. “I think they’re into threatening phone calls. And I don’t read their newsletters. I’m not into their politics.”

“But what are their politics?” Frank asked.

“To change fucking everything,” Susie said. “To start again. They want to wipe the slate clean. They want a whole new ball game.”

“So do I,” said Frank. “That sounds like a good idea.”

“They’re scary,” said Lilly. “They look right over you, and they don’t see you when they’re looking right at you.”

“Well, you’re pretty short,” said Susie the bear. “They sure look at me, a lot.”

“And one of them looks at Franny, a lot,” I said.

“That’s not what I mean,” said Lilly. “I mean they don’t see people when they look at you.”

“That’s because they’re thinking about how everything could be different,” Frank said.

“People, too, Frank?” Franny asked. “Do they think people could be different? Do you?”

“Yeah,” said Susie the bear. “Like we could all be dead.”

Grief makes everything intimate; in our grieving for Mother and Egg, we got to know the radicals and whores as if we had always known them. We were the bereft children, motherless (to the whores), our golden brother slain (to the radicals). And so—to compensate for our gloom, and the added gloom of the conditions in the Gasthaus Freud—the radicals and whores treated us pretty well. And despite their day-and-night differences, they bore more similarities to each other than they might have supposed.

They both believed in the commercial possibilities of a simple ideal: they both believed they could, one day, be “free.” They both thought that their own bodies were objects easily sacrificed for a cause (and easily restored, or replaced, after the hardship of the sacrifice). Even their names were similar—if for different reasons. They had only code names, or nicknames, or if they used their real names, they used only their first names.

Two of them actually shared the same name, but there was no confusion, since the radical was male, the whore was female, and they were never at the Gasthaus Freud at the same time. The name was Old Billig—billig, in German, means “cheap.” The oldest whore was called this because her prices were substandard for the district of the city she strolled; the Krugerstrasse whores, although Krugerstrasse was in the First District, were themselves a sort of subdistrict to the Kärntnerstrasse whores (around the corner). If you turned off the Kärntnerstrasse onto our tiny street, it was as if you were lowering yourself (by comparison) into a world without light; one street off the Kärntnerstrasse you lost the glow of the Hotel Sacher, and the grand gleam of the State Opera, and you noticed how the whores wore more eyeshadow, how their knees buckled, slightly, or their ankles appeared to cave in (from standing too long), or how they appeared to be thicker in the waist—like the dressmaker’s dummy in Frank’s room. Old Billig was the captain of the Krugerstrasse whores.

Her namesake, among the radicals, was the old gentleman who had argued most ferociously with Freud about moving to the fifth floor. This Old Billig had earned his “cheap” designation for his reputation of leading a hand-to-mouth existence—and his history of being what the other radicals called “a radical’s radical.” When there were Bolsheviks, he was one; when the names changed, he changed his name. He was at the forefront of every movement, but—somehow—when the movement ran amok or into terminal trouble, Old Billig took up the rear position and discreetly trailed away out of sight, waiting for the next forefront. The idealists among the younger radicals were both suspicious of Old Billig and admiring of his endurance—his survival. This was not unlike the view held of Old Billig, the whore, by her colleagues.

Seniority is an institution that is revered and resented in and out of society.

Like Old Billig the radical, Old Billig the whore was the most argumentative with Freud about changing floors.

“But you’re going down,” Freud said, “you’ll have to climb one less flight of stairs. In a hotel with no elevator, the second floor is an improvement over the third.”

I could follow Freud’s German, but not Old Billig’s answer. Frank told me that she protested on the grounds of having too many “mementos” to move.

“Look at this boy!” Freud said, groping around for me. “Look at his muscles!” Freud, of course, “looked” at my muscles by feeling them; squeezing and punching me, he shoved me in the general direction of the old whore. “Feel him!” Freud cried. “He can move every memento you got. If we gave him a day, he could move the whole hotel!”

And Frank told me what Old Billig said. “I don’t need to feel any more muscles,” Old Billig told Freud, declining the offer to squeeze me. “I feel muscles in my frigging sleep,” she said. “Sure he can move the mementos,” she said. “But I don’t want nothing broken.”

And so I moved Old Billig’s “mementos” with the greatest of care. A collection of china bears that rivaled Mother’s collection (and after Mother’s death, Old Billig would invite me to visit her room in the daylight hours—when