Part 22 (1/2)

Kathleen, however, had come in with guns blazinga”with accusations and harsh words about Gabe, all of which might be true, but they still hurt. No one could ever injure Maggie with words the way her own mother could; that was just a fact. Shead rather not hear it, especially after the e-mail she had received from Gabe.

aWhereas Alice?a she asked now.

aWe donat know,a Kathleen said.

aDo you mind if I ask what happened with the house?a Maggie said.

Ann Marie shook her head. aIam so angry, I can barely talk about it.a She didnat seem angry. She sounded like her usual chipper self.

Ann Marie went on, aAlice has signed this entire property over to St. Michaelas in her will.a Maggie felt stunned. aWhen did this happen?a aApparently the papers were drawn up six months ago. But Patas looking into whether we have a legal right to somehow undo it. We built that house next door, you know.a aOh, we know,a Kathleen said.

Ann Marie ignored her. aWe must have some legal right to the place. Anyway, Pat told me to stay calm while he sorts it out with the lawyers. So thatas what Iam trying to do.a Ann Marie smiled. Maggie wondered if maybe she was one of those women whose extreme agreeableness had to do with some sort of ma.s.sive addiction to pills.

aThe whole thing is cla.s.sic Alice,a Kathleen said. aI wish my dad were here.a The painful memory of her grandfatheras funeral returned to Maggie then. Her uncle Patrick had given the eulogy. Chris and Little Daniel said the Prayers of the Faithful from the altar, reading aloud sheepishly like schoolkids. Chrisas voice cracked as he said, aThat we might console one another in our time of grief, just as Jesus needed consoling upon the death of Lazarus.a aLord, hear our prayer,a the congregation replied robotically, and Maggie thought of how Chris had p.r.o.nounced the word console like he meant a cabinet where you store electronics, as if Jesus were a fifty-inch TV requiring a place to sit and collect dust.

They always turned to the men for strength in these moments, perhaps because they looked so invincible in their suits. The men pulled the cars around to the front of the church and dropped their wives and daughters off so they didnat have to walk from the parking lot; the men carried the casket up the stairs from the hea.r.s.e. But in the end, it always fell to the women to do the hard work of putting everything back together again.

The choir sang aAve Mariaa as the gifts were brought up to the altar. Everyone wept. It was the sort of song that made you remember it all, your whole life a movie montage full of people who moved you deeply, and then were gone. She thought her mother must be crying to think of herself as a sort of orphan now.

Maggie cried for Daniel. She cried for the fear of ever losing Kathleen, and the fact that they would probably never have a perfect understanding between them, though there was love so strong it suffocated.

At the cemetery, there was an American flag draped over the coffin. The crowd of mourners stood still and silent as two young servicemen in uniform played a recording of aTapsa on a boom box, and then folded the flag into smaller and smaller triangles, snapping it taut with each turn. One of them presented the flag to Alice and said, aOn behalf of a grateful nation, I present this flag as a token of our appreciation for the faithful and selfless service of your loved one for this country.a Maggie realized that she had never heard Daniel talk about the war.

She looked out into the swarm of faces as a priest led them in prayer, and thought that these Catholic customs, which were morbid in a way, served their purpose even so: let no one leave this world alone. There was still the question of who would come later. Who would visit Danielas grave when it was bitter cold, or when his birthday arrived each year. One noticed in these cemeteries that certain graves were more tended to than others, that some were always heaped with fresh flowers. Maggie wondered whether these were the people who had been the most beloved in life, or the least. She imagined it could go either way.

Now, here in the cottage with her mother and aunt, she thought of the baby in her belly. She would have a lifea”a childhood, an awkward adolescence, a marriage and kids, like anyonea”and then this baby too would die, and her grandchildren sitting in the church pews would probably not know Maggie, at least not as anything more than their feeble old great-grandmother. Kathleen would be someone theyad heard about in a story once, maybe.

Maggie heard tires on the road, and she craned her neck to see the plain brown top of a delivery truck coming toward the cottage. A moment later there was a knock from the screen porch, and all three of them went out to investigate. This was the sort of thing that happened when you were at the beach. There was something quaint about it. Back home, where televisions and cell phones and computers were all going at once, who would care enough to even get off the couch and answer the door to see what the UPS man had brought if someone else was already up?

All they could see was a pair of legs in brown shorts and hiked-up socks. The rest of him was obscured by an enormous cardboard box. His arms stretched out as far as they would reach.

aA delivery for Ann Marie Kelleher,a he said from behind the box.

Ann Marie scurried toward him, opening the porch door.

aOh, thank you! Please put it down right here. Gently, please!a Kathleen rolled her eyes.

Ann Marie signed a piece of paper he held forth, attached to a clipboard.

aHave a nice day, ladies,a he said, and was gone.

The three of them stood there for a moment, staring at the box.

aIs it a pony?a Kathleen asked.

aItas my dollhouse,a Ann Marie said. She could not hide her joy, even if she wanted to. Maggie thought it was sweet. Her mother was into worms, for G.o.das sake; couldnat she understand what it meant to have a silly pa.s.sion?

aIall just run to the kitchen to get a knife,a Ann Marie continued, and then disappeared into the cottage.

aOh G.o.d,a Kathleen said. aA knife? I hope sheas not planning to injure herself, having just realized how pathetic it is to be a grown woman with a dollhouse.a aMoma”a aWhat?a Ann Marie returned and sliced through the thick brown packing tape before pulling back the box flaps. They all gazed inside, where a miniature brick house was nestled in a sea of green foam peanuts. Maggie held the box down as her aunt slid the house out and rested it on the floor.

aOh, itas beautiful,a Ann Marie said. aItas even prettier than the picture.a It was rather lovely, the kind of thing that could stoke your imagination and make you believe that you belonged on an English hillside somewhere, raising sheep and reading poetry and permanently deleting your e-mail account. Maybe Maggie would get into dollhouses too after the baby came. She and Ann Marie could open a shop in Brooklyn. After all, it was every New Yorkeras dream to own a home and most of them never woulda”perhaps this was the next best thing.

aI have to take a photo to send to Patty!a Ann Marie said. aMy cameraas in the car.a When she left to retrieve it, Kathleen leaned inquisitively over the dollhouse, tipping her mug until a thin stream of clear yellow tea poured onto the roof.

aWhoops,a she said in a singsongy voice.

aWhat the h.e.l.l is wrong with you?a Maggie asked. She quickly wiped up the spill with the bottom of her T-s.h.i.+rt.

aOh, relax, itas herbal. It wonat stain.a Maggie shook her head.

aWhy are you so mad at me?a Kathleen asked. aLook, Iam sorry for getting us off on the wrong foot yesterday. Itas just that I was worried about you for all those days and I couldnat get through. As soon as we were alone together, I just went for it.a There was really no sense in Kathleen apologizing, since she would only do the same thing again and again. There was an elasticity to their bond. Its limits were often stretched beyond comfort, but it always returned, unbroken.

I came here to stop you from making a huge mistake. Thatas how she had put it, and the words had crushed Maggie. She was annoyed at herself over the fact that she still wanted to please her mother so much. This had only gotten harder as she became an adult with a totally different set of values from Kathleenas.

aItas fine,a Maggie said.

aWhy donat we get away from this toxic environment? We could go to Boston and check into a hotel and have a mother-daughter getaway,a Kathleen said.

aNah. I need to get some work done. Iam officially back on the clock with Till Death.a aOh,a Kathleen said, clearly hurt.

aNot to mention, I have to write an online dating profile for a fairly unattractive woman with two toy poodles, whose interests include manicures, Pilates, and the Bee Gees. And she wants me to work in the fact that she has problems around jealousy.a She had said it to make Kathleen smile, but her mother said flatly, aSounds like a real catch.a aObviously I need to save my pennies,a Maggie said.

aRight. Unless you take me up on my offer and come to the farm.a Maggie ignored the comment. aI think Iall go next door to Grandmaas house, since itas just sitting there empty.a Kathleen didnat answer. Instead she said, aYou and I have always told each other everything.a It was true. While Maggie knew that it wasnat the healthiest way to be, it was the only way they had ever been, and she believed it came from a place of love.

aI know.a aSo how could you not tell me this?a aI did tell you. Youare the first person I told, other than Gabe.a Maggie decided to leave Rhiannon out of it.

aBut how long have you known?a aA month and a half.a aOh, Maggie. The thought of you having to keep it to yourself. I wish you had come out to California right away. Iad like to think thatas what you would have done in a situation like this. Not come here, to Maine, with all the family drama.a Maggie felt a mix of frustration and pity. Before she could stop herself, she said, aUntil yesterday, there really wasnat much drama.a aSo itas my fault.a aI didnat mean that.a aYou know how proud I am of you, and how much I love you, no matter what,a Kathleen said. aSometimes I wonder why you feel such a sense of loyalty to this family. None of these people give a c.r.a.p about us. It makes me so sad to see you let down by them, over and over again. Just like Iave always been. When I think of what Alice said to you yesterdaya”a Maggie had forgotten her motheras ability to turn every conversation about their extended family back to herself, and the ways in which she had been slighted by them. She had begun to make inroads with Alice and Ann Marie these past few weeks, and maybe it was stupid, but she felt happy about that. She knew her mother wanted the best for her. But she also knew this was one thing Kathleen could never let her have.

aNo oneas letting me down,a Maggie said. She straightened up and lifted her computer bag off the table, carefully placing the strap on her shoulder. She muttered, aMy are killing me.a Kathleen nodded. aRight on schedule. Theyare getting bigger, too, you know.a aThey are?a aYeah. I thought youad had implants for a second when I saw you yesterday.a aWell, maybe thatas what Iall tell people,a Maggie said. aIall be back.a And with that, she carried her laptop next door.

Each time she had opened her e-mail for the past four days, she told herself not to read the message from Gabe. And each time, she read it anyway.

When it arrived in her in-box and she saw his name there, just reflexively she got goose b.u.mps, as if they had been out on one magnificent date and she was waiting to see if he would call her again.

But by then, she was already certain about what was to come. She was going to raise this child on her own. It was scary and sometimes sad, but she could do it. Women did it all the time. In some vague way, she had always pictured herself as a single mother. Maybe just because she had grown up with one.

Mags, Iam sorry to have taken this long to reply. Ever since I read your e-mail, Iave been thinking about you and the baby and what I should do. I even went out one afternoon and looked at engagement rings in a panic. I was literally sweating on the jewelry case. But if Iam being honest with us both, the simple fact is I canat do this right now, at this point in my life. I donat know what the future holdsa”maybe Iall grow up one of these days. When youare back in the city, letas have coffee. Iam sorry. Love, Gabe It was cla.s.sic Gabe, exactly what she should have expected: Sorry I canat be a man and a father to our child, but hey, let me buy you a latte.

Maggie understood why he couldnat do it. Still, she felt like she was mourning the loss of something she had never had in the first place. In a different world, she might have been more trusting and he might have been trustworthy. She got that. But part of her missed him. She would never understand why logic couldnat conquer something as simple and commonplace as love.

Maggie sat down in Aliceas kitchen now and decided not to turn on her computer just yet. She put in a call to the police department in a town called Tulip, Texas, where a bitter former prom queen had shot her cheating husband to death. It said a lot that this was a more soothing activity than going to breakfast with her mother.

aCan I speak to your press office please?a she said, fairly sure what the response would be.

aOur what?a aYour press office. Public affairs?a aHold, please.a The hold music began. A country singer belted out that if given the chance, she hoped someone (her child?) would dance. It was some smarmy s.h.i.+t, but even so, Maggie felt a tickle in her throat. She sighed. She could not stand herself when she got like this, too cozy with her sorrow.

For the last several weeks she had thought about the horrors of giving birth, and all the terrible things that could happen to a baby, and how she could ever afford this, and whether maybe Gabe might show up in the final act and rescue her, having become another man entirely. But now she feared something else. It was about the way Alice and Kathleen and Ann Marie had all fussed over her and what she would do next. Maggie was still a blank slatea”childless, unmarried, and therefore yet to begin it. After this baby was born, she would never be that way again. She would cross to the other half of life, in which you yourself are no longer watched over, not in the same way. She couldnat take to her bed whenever she felt like it or allow herself to completely self-destruct.