Mr. Potter was dead, but no one would have known the occasion was a sad one by watching the people arriving at the Meadows Club for the after-funeral reception. Hector helped take people’s coats as they came in cheerfully out of the cold March afternoon, exclaiming about the strength of the wind. “Well! My heavens! In like a lion,” said nice, little Mrs. Fisher from the Historical Society, where Hector mowed the grass in the summer. Mr. Fisher helped his wife off with her coat and handed it to Hector. Mrs. Fisher was barely five feet tall, with white hair that stood straight up from her forehead, giving her the look of startled bird. Relieved of her coat, she appeared as small as a child. She couldn’t have weighed more than eighty pounds, Hector thought.
“Nearly lost her to a big gust in the parking lot,” Mr. Fisher said, winking at Hector.
Everyone seemed in good spirits. Drinks in hand, the guests milled around in the great hall, smiling and laughing. Maybe no one had liked Mr. Potter much, Hector thought. Most of the women were dressed in black, but that wasn’t unusual. Overall the feeling was similar to that of every other party Hector had worked at the club. He moved throughout the crowd, offering plates of hors d’oeuvres: mushroom tartlets, mini quiches, coin-sized crab cakes. Tony, the chef, seemed to be making everything miniature these days. Mini cupcakes. Mini club sandwiches stuck through with toothpicks. Soup served in shot glasses. Mini burgers. Only people who had always had enough to eat would be delighted by a burger the size of their thumbnail, Hector thought.
Except for the flowers at the club’s entrance, a pair of towering edifices of white lilies, the event might have been any sort of social occasion. The only difference was that, though wine was served, hard liquor was not available until 5:00 p.m. Usually you could get a drink at the club at any time of day.
It had to do with some sort of respect for the dead, Raoul had explained.
There was only one apparent mourner, a weepy middle-aged woman, her hair a strange shade that was somehow both red and black. She was wearing what seemed to Hector inappropriately provocative clothing for the occasion—very high heels and a purple V-neck dress that revealed plenty of brown cleavage and a necklace of what looked like ice cubes. She circulated like an asteroid throughout the crowd, attempting to embrace anyone she could catch. Hector watched the various strategies people employed to avoid her: they stepped hastily behind a lamp or deliberately turned their back to her or held up their wine glasses in a cautionary gesture. Everyone seemed aware that fending her off was an unfortunate but inevitable part of such affairs. No one seemed worried about offending her.
And no one seemed sad.
Raoul, standing with Hector at the edge of the gathering, nodded in the direction of the woman in purple. She veered, drink in hand, toward an unsuspecting group of teenagers huddled together in a tight circle, four boys in identical blazers and striped ties and braces on their teeth, and a pretty girl with long, silky blond hair. The tight perimeter they formed seemed to Hector part-protection, part-plot.
Raoul shook his head. “Mrs. Parker.”
“Who is she? She was his . . . wife? Daughter?” Hector found it difficult to determine people’s ages. Raoul said it was because he was young. Was she fifty? Seventy?
“Huh? No. No relation. She’s a widow. I never met her husband. He died before I started work here.” Raoul put a hand up on one side of his head and cracked his neck, which made a distinct popping sound. Then he did the other side. “She comes and cries at these things, wants to hug and kiss everybody, has too much to drink, gets on people’s nerves.”
Hector glanced around for Katarina. She’d reprimanded Raoul about popping his neck and knuckles, which he did frequently.
“No touching your body in any way,” she had said one night recently to the staff, whom she had assembled just before the dining room opened. “I don’t want to see any of you fixing your hair, wiping your nose. No . . . adjustments of any kind.” She’d looked meaningfully at Raoul, who had a bad back and relieved it sometimes by twisting his torso in one direction and then the other. “Don’t pick your nose, don’t scratch your ass, don’t rearrange your goddamn balls. For the next six hours, forget you have a body.”
It always amazed Hector how coarse Katarina could be. When she was with the members, speaking with that faint trace of an accent she affected, she was so polite and apparently sincere. After this lecture, and after Katarina had left the kitchen, Raoul had mimed taking a notebook out of his pocket, licking a pencil, and making a check mark in the book.
“They’re gonna get her one day,” he’d said quietly to Hector. “One day she’s going to be cussing someone out, and a member is gonna overhear her talking like that, and then—”
He made a slashing movement across his throat. “Curtains for Katarina.”
Hector had never met the deceased Mr. Potter. Raoul told Hector that apparently Mr. Potter had so much money that he didn’t actually live in Troy anymore but had his official residence in the Bahamas or somewhere like that in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes. This seemed to Hector kind of a rotten thing to do. If you made all your money in America, didn’t you owe the country its share of your wealth? He was paying taxes, and they wouldn’t even let him be a citizen. Still, even though Mr. Potter hadn’t been around much in recent years, some of his offspring still lived in Troy, and Mr. Potter himself continued to exert an intimidating presence in the club, like an old warlord, the memory of whose vicious deeds made people wince. He’d won tournaments in every racquet sport—tennis, paddle tennis, squash—for years running, and his name appeared again and again in gold letters on the enormous wooden club championship plaques mounted on the walls in the great hall: H.W.R. Potter IV. Sometimes he’d held a title for six or seven years in a row, lost one year, and then come back, presumably fired with vengeance, to claim another run of wins. You could see from the frequency with which his name appeared on the plaques that there were few people who could touch him on the court. Those who did seemed to have done so once and then sunk quickly from view, as if it had taken only that one foolish move—beating Mr. Potter—to earn eternal banishment.
Hector and Raoul had looked inside one of the little printed programs as they’d distributed them on tables around the great hall before the event began: Henry Willard Richard “Dick” Potter, 1921–2015. The photograph on the cover showed a handsome man in a white shirt, sleeves rolled—in his forties at the time, Hector guessed—smiling from the deck of a sailboat. Wavy, golden brown hair. Strong jaw. Flashing teeth. Sunlight on his face. Inside the program was a little paragraph about Mr. Potter’s education and achievements: Exeter, Harvard, Fulbright Fellow at the University of Oxford, Yale University School of Law, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, then Governor for one term, Assistant Secretary of Commerce under President Johnson, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium and then the Netherlands, Special Envoy to the Secretary of State for International Labor Affairs, Consular for the U.S. Missions in Poland, President of the Bank of New York Mellon. The list went on.
How did he have time to play tennis, Hector had wondered.
“Sportsman, statesman, sailor,” the text read, “Dick is survived by twelve loving children and sixty-one grandchildren.”
“Busy Dick,” Raoul had said, fussily tidying a stack of programs.
Hector had laughed. Raoul had smiled, but then he had gazed tiredly around the great room, empty for the moment except for Ron Black, the bartender, stacking clean glasses behind the bar. The great hall had the air of a place waiting for something important to happen there. Blink, and suddenly the place would be magically full of people. Or—Hector had an unwelcome vision of the room in the aftermath of an explosion, cables dangling, sparks issuing from their broken mouths, beams titled at crazy angles, heaps of rubble, the air full of bitter smoke. It seemed like every time he looked at a newspaper, he saw pictures like that, everything covered in ash. The world was getting blown up, one building at a time. It was difficult not to imagine that soon the pace of destruction would outstrip the world’s ability to repair the damages. He had been only five years old on 9/11, and he didn’t remember anything about it, but he’d seen the photos, the little flecks in the air. The jumpers. One day in the media center at his middle school, some boys had looked at photos in a magazine using the magnifying glass from the big encyclopedia on its wooden stand. Hector had looked, too, because it would have seemed chicken not to. But he was sorry afterward. He had seen how one falling man, dressed in a suit, had arranged his limbs for the formal descent, arms straight at his sides, feet together. The scale of the buildings, the black marks that revealed their terrible detail only under scrutiny, had made Hector feel sick.
He’d only been in New York City once. The way the buildings towered over him had made him feel claustrophobic.
“Old Dick must have been worried the planet was going to run out of Potters,” Raoul said. “What a crisis. No more Potters.”
Hector smiled, but Raoul’s face was serious.
Such bitterness was rare for Raoul. Hector knew he was just tired and worried, his wife Sarah being so sick.
“He must have been a pretty good athlete,” Hector said, gazing up at the plaques.
“He was a pretty big a-hole,” Raoul said. “Everyone was too afraid of him to beat him.” He paused. “He could ruin someone’s career, their whole life, if he felt like it. Bet he did, too.”
“So I guess no one’s going to be upset this afternoon.”
“More like ding-dong, the witch is dead,” Raoul said.
There was no mention of a wife in the program for Mr. Potter. Had to be wives, with twelve children, Hector guessed. He must have outlived them all, outlived them all so thoroughly that they didn’t even rate a mention. H.W.R. Potter IV seemed like a guy who would outlive people.
Over the course of the reception that afternoon, Raoul and Hector made their way through the crowded great hall, going back and forth to the kitchen to replenish their trays. At one point, they stopped and stood together at the side of the gathering. A burst of laughter exploded from a group that had congregated over by the bar. A pack of little children—girls in party dresses with wide, brightly colored sashes, boys in tiny blazers with gold buttons—ran through the crowd, shrieking.
Raoul stared glumly at the gathering. “I hate these happy funeral things,” he said. “They give me a bellyache.”
Hector watched Katarina move through the room, taking people’s hands in her own, pressing her cheek to theirs. Her face was composed in an expression of compassionate attentiveness. When she reached Raoul and Hector, standing there with their trays of hors d’oeuvres, she cut her eyes at them. “Circulate,” she hissed.
Raoul sighed and moved away. Hector knew he was thinking of Sarah. There would be no drinking and merriment at Sarah’s funeral, Hector knew. There would be Raoul, holding the pew in front of him, his forehead resting on his knuckles. There would be Sarah’s friends, crying quietly, and the hospice people Raoul had said were like angels. “You wouldn’t believe it, how nice they are,” he had told Hector. “And it don’t cost nothing. They just volunteer. I like to think I’m a good man, but I couldn’t do that,” Raoul had said. “Watching someone die, even someone you don’t know. I guess they get used to it, God bless ’em.”
There would be the Catholic Mass for the dead at Sarah’s funeral, Hector thought. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord. Let perpetual light shine upon them. Hector had been to a funeral recently with Uncle Sandor. He had gotten him in his wheelchair at St. Elizabeth’s Nursing Home, loaded him onto the van with the lift, gotten him out at the church in the rain, found the handicapped entrance, sat beside him in the pew, aware in the cool, high air of the church—old air, somehow; sacred air—that his uncle needed a bath. Or maybe Sandor was beyond the effects of soap and water. Maybe he just smelled like what he was, a person rotting from the inside out. Maybe you could dip him in perfume and still not get rid of that smell.
The dead man had been an old friend, someone Sandor had worked with at the horse farm. Afterward there had been a reception in the church hall, coffee served from two big urns, Lipton tea bags, store-bought cookies. A platter of cold sopapillas someone had ordered from Café Maya.
Hector was 100 percent certain he would break down at Sarah’s funeral. He had felt hot tears in his eyes and a constriction at the back of his throat at the funeral of Sandor’s friend, the man’s wife sobbing openly, comforted by a group of grown children who stood protectively around their mother, rubbing her back, the girls with ravaged faces, one man—the youngest son, maybe—having difficulty controlling his wobbling mouth and chin. And Hector hadn’t even known the man who’d died. But Sarah was always so nice to him, and Raoul’s grief—well, he did not think he could stand to see that. Raoul was so brave. He never complained about what was happening, about Sarah’s slow dying, about the toll it was taking, watching her suffer.
Just as the reception was beginning to clear out, Hector came across Mr. and Mrs. Fisher in one of the empty dining rooms. Mr. Fisher was tall and bespectacled, with a long, kindly face. Whenever Hector went to the Historical Society to mow the grass, Mrs. Fisher seemed to know he was coming and brought him a sandwich, two homemade cookies, and a juice box in a paper bag, as if he were five years old. It was nice of her, though. Her back had a little hump, but her expression was intelligent, her eyes bright. Today she was wearing a dark blue and white tweedy-looking suit with little black fringes like eyelashes on the pockets. On her lapel was pinned a tiny gold hummingbird with a jeweled eye.
The Fishers were looking up at the plaques, but Mrs. Fisher noticed when Hector came into the room.
“Hector!” Mrs. Fisher seemed pleased to see him again. “Andy, you remember. Hector is the one who does such a lovely job with the lawn at the Historical Society.”
Mr. Fisher held out his hand. “Of course. How are you, Hector?”
“Fine, sir. Thank you.” Hector shook hands with the strong Meadows Club grip he had been practicing.
Mr. Fisher’s eyes widened slightly.
Maybe that was a little too firm, Hector thought.
“I hope you are both well, also,” he said, trying to cover his embarrassment.
“Oh, we’re fine,” Mrs. Fisher said. “We have nothing to complain about.” She touched her ear. “In fact, I have a new hearing aid, Hector. You wouldn’t believe what a difference it makes. And also how tiny it is! I can scarcely see it, even when I’m holding it in my hand. It looks like—what does it look like, Andy? It looks like a tiny, tiny spider. Or a tiny tendril of a vine, a little clear vine.” She made a comical face of regret. “I’ve already lost one, just taking off my sweater. It flew right out of my ear, and I couldn’t find it anywhere, even though I got down on my hands and knees and, you know—” She mimed combing a rug with her fingers. “And they cost a fortune, of course. But I haven’t quite adjusted it for crowds.”
Mr. Fisher took his wife’s arm. “We thought we’d get out of the crush a little bit.”
“Good idea, sir,” Hector said.
“It sounds as if I’m in standing on a mountaintop in a blizzard,” Mrs. Fisher said suddenly, quite loudly. A worried look passed over her face. “I know there’s a way to adjust it.”
She reached into the pocket of her jacket and withdrew a little remote. “Look!’ she said. “This is how you do it. Can you believe it?” She shook her head. “We live in an age of miracles, don’t we, Hector?”
Hector leaned over to look at the device in her palm, about the size and weight of a stick of gum. He thought about Sarah.
“Maybe she’s going to pull through,” Raoul had said a few days ago. “She’s done it before. She looks so bad, and she holds my hand and cries and says she can’t take it anymore, and then the next day, well, she’s up, she’s in the kitchen, does a little cooking, maybe goes around the block for a walk. Laughs. It’s how it works sometimes, you know? It looks like it might be the end, but then people surprise you. And she’s a fighter, my Sarah.”
Mrs. Fisher returned her gaze to the plaque showing the long run of Mr. Potter’s victories. “He certainly was a very fine athlete,” she said. “You played him once, didn’t you, Andy?”
“Yes, I did,” Mr. Fisher said, “and I don’t enjoy losing any more than the next man. But it would have been worse to beat him. Not that I would have beaten him. He was very smart on the court.”
“Andy is still a very good player,” Mrs. Fisher said in a confiding tone to Hector.
“Not good enough—or stupid enough—to beat Dick Potter,” Mr. Fisher said, “even when he was ninety and I was seventy.” He laughed. “The whole game was trying not to beat him, if you wanted to keep your head.”
“Competitive,” Hector said, after a minute.
Mr. Fisher looked up at the plaque. “That’s one word for it.”
Mrs. Fisher turned to her husband. “Andy, maybe Hector could help us.” To Hector she said, “We have an old attic of things over the garage that we need to get cleaned out, but I don’t want Andy climbing that ladder—you know, it’s one of those rickety pull-down things, and he’s just back on his feet after a knee replacement. Do you think you could help us one day?”
“I’d be glad to,” Hector said.
Mrs. Fisher reached into her pocketbook and rummaged in it. Then she withdrew a little pad with a kitten on its cover. A speech bubble came out of the kitten’s mouth. You’re the cat’s meow, it said. She wrote down a phone number. “That’s our number,” she said, tearing off the page and handing it to him. “If you can find a day, would you call and let us know? There’s no hurry, but it just troubles me, all those old things up there. I don’t even know what’s up there anymore.” And indeed, her face looked troubled. She reached a hand delicately toward her ear. She turned to her husband. “Is it still in there?” she whispered.
He bent toward her and peered into her ear, gently brushing a wing of white hair aside with his finger. Then he stood upright and mouthed: Seems to be.
For a second she looked alarmed, and then she laughed. “Oh, you,” she said.
Hector was putting the paper in his pocket when Katarina came into the room. She stopped, apparently surprised to find him in conversation with the Fishers and putting away a piece of paper that suggested an arrangement between them. Hector saw that she was figuring out how to assess the situation.
“Mrs. Fisher, Mr. Fisher,” she said warmly after a minute. She came toward them, holding out both hands. “What a sad day.”
Mrs. Fisher allowed her hands to be taken by Katarina and to be kissed, but Mr. Fisher, whose hands were clasped behind his back, just smiled. “He lived a long, full life,” he said.
“Oh, absolutely,” Katarina said, as if she were familiar with the worlds in which Mr. Potter had moved and had an intimate appreciation of his achievements. “You saw Senator Blumenthal here? And Governor Christie? He couldn’t stay, of course . . .” She trailed off. “Is there something Hector here can get for you?”
“We know Hector from the Historical Society,” Mrs. Fisher said. “He takes care of the grass for us there. Aren’t you lucky to have him at the Meadows? I’d forgotten he was here, too. Aren’t we all lucky?”
“Yes, we are.” Katarina showed her teeth. “Hector is terrific.”
Hector saw Mr. Fisher’s eyes move from Katarina to Hector and then back to Katarina again. Even though Hector sensed that it was Katarina whose insincerity had been detected—he had nothing but friendly feelings toward the Fishers—he felt himself turning red.
“Time for us to make our goodbyes.” Mr. Fisher reached for his wife’s arm. “It can take awhile with this one.” He winked at Hector again.
“So nice to see you, Hector,” Mrs. Fisher said. “I’ll see you at the Historical Society? Spring is almost here!”
Hector deliberately avoided Katarina’s eyes and followed the Fishers from the room. He didn’t want any further conversation with Katarina about his relationship with them. He hadn’t done anything wrong, he told himself, but Katarina somehow always made him feel dirty.
Katarina was the only bad thing about the job at the Meadows. But Hector figured Raoul was right. One day, she was going to be revealed for who she really was.
Back in the kitchen, Hector found that Raoul had taken off his waiter’s jacket and was changing his shoes. A couple of the other waiters were setting up for the dinner shift, the chef Tony, and the sous chef, a woman named Ingrid who had recently joined the club, stood nearby, arms folded, faces serious.
Tony glanced at Hector. “He just got a phone call,” he said quietly.
Raoul bent over to tie his shoelaces. “She wanted to go the hospital,” he said, looking up at Hector. “They’re taking her to the hospital right now.”
Hector felt as if he’d just stepped into the club’s giant walk-in freezer.
Raoul stood up. He looked at Hector. “We need a miracle, Hector,” he said. “Think you can swing it?” He smiled, but his face was full of naked fear.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” Hector said.
“It’s all right. Katarina’d be pissed. She’s gonna be pissed I’m leaving.”
“No.” Hector said. “I’m coming with you.”
Outside, the sun had set and the air was cold, but underneath the smell of wood smoke from the fireplaces in the great hall was the scent of green things growing, a ripple of turbulence under the ground and creeping invisibly along the bare branches of the trees. You could feel that spring was nearby, Hector thought, just as Mrs. Fisher had said. The high parking lot lights were so bright it was impossible to see the stars. Instead, the air was misty, the shapes of the cars filling the lot like big ghost cars. Most of the snow had melted, but here and there dirty heaps pushed up by the plows, miniature mountain ranges with jagged blackened peaks, lined the parking lot. Hector and Raoul passed through the members’ lot and took the steps down to the staff parking lot, where the mist was even thicker.
“Jesus. It’s like pea soup. Watch it,” Raoul said. “There’s still some ice. Not enough sun gets back here.”
“I’ll come to the hospital,” Hector said. “Soon as I get off.”
Raoul fished in his pocket for his car keys. “You know what? She always says she doesn’t want to die at home,” he said. “She doesn’t want to die in our bed, she says. Doesn’t want me dealing with that, doesn’t want me thinking about that for the rest of my life, every time I get into bed at night. Doesn’t want me remembering that.” They had reached his car. He stopped. “You know what she told me? She told me she wants me to remarry, to get another wife. ‘I want you to be happy, Raoul,’ she says to me. ‘I want you—’” He put his hands on the roof of the car and leaned his head against them. His back heaved.
From a window in the club above them, light fell obliquely in a shaft onto the roof of Raoul’s car, the worn, bleached paint there. Raoul’s back in his white shirt stood out in the mist, but Hector could see no other cars, no trees, nothing except that one lighted window, up high behind them—What was that? Katarina’s office?—and Raoul’s back, and the dull, waxen shine of the old Mazda’s roof and hood. It felt as if he and Raoul stood on an iceberg, floating through the mist in a black sea. Inside the club, Mr. Potter was dead, and people were laughing and drinking and eating miniature hamburgers.
Raoul wiped his face and turned around. “I gotta go,” he said.
Hector watched him unlock the car and get in. Before Raoul could back out, Hector stepped forward and knocked twice on the roof of the car, the way his Uncle Sandor had patted the rumps of the racehorses, he realized, when he’d released them into the pasture at the end of the day, the beautiful, strong animals springing away into the fields. Hector had felt the force of their hoofbeats in his own body, the earth communicating the sensation to him.
In the car Raoul turned to look up at Hector. Raoul’s face behind the window seemed blank. Hector could only see his eyes, empty and black, shards of light cutting across the glass.
“I know where Raoul is,” Katarina said, without looking at Hector, when he started to explain. “Help me with people’s coats. Right now. They’re starting to leave.”
From the racks in the cloakroom off the front hall, Katarina took down coats and Hector helped people into them: a fur, another fur, a Burberry, a tattered old black wool, a fur, a Burberry, a fur, a velveteen cape, a trench coat. Hector marveled that as soon as someone appeared, Katarina seemed to know exactly which coat belonged to whom. Raoul had taught him how to help someone on with a coat, how to hold it at just the right height and angle so that a woman could slip her arms easily into the sleeves. Sometimes men wanted your help, too; they turned their back to you, and that’s how you knew what they wanted. Sometimes they just took their coat from you, and you tried not to suggest that you’d had one thing or the other in mind.
The noise was deafening, everybody pressing cheeks and saying goodbye, and Well, old Dick, and Good to see you, anyway, and Lunch? Next week?
Then came a lull.
Katarina stepped out from between the coatracks and into the hall next to Hector. He saw that she was perspiring; there were beads of sweat around her hairline.
It was not just a lull, he realized after a minute. It was a silence, suspended around them like a bridge hanging from its cables over deep water. Hector felt a kind of trembling under his feet.
Hector glanced at Katarina. Her expression was alert, tense.
“Shit,” she said. “Shit. Come with me.”
In the great hall, the crowd had thinned out. Hector saw that some couples were already seated in the first dining room—obviously they’d decided just to go straight from the reception to dinner—but several people were congregated in silence in one part of the great hall, concealing what was taking place there, or what had happened.
A very tall, very handsome man in a dark suit and a blond woman, equally beautiful—surprisingly dark eyebrows, her face fixed in an unreadable expression, the man’s hand at her elbow—moved quickly past Katarina and Hector as if eager to depart. “Excuse me,” the man said, and for once Katarina didn’t try to impose herself.
“Good night,” she said automatically, but she wasn’t looking at them.
Katarina pushed through the crowd. Hector followed helplessly.
The lady in the purple dress was on the floor, curled up in a fetal position, her hands over her face. A short man, balding and red-faced, had his arm around a woman—younger than him, stick-thin and tanned, her blond hair expertly dyed; Hector had learned from the Meadows what a really good hair colorist could do, and it wasn’t anything like the crazy streaks of purple or the painful-looking bleach jobs he’d seen on the girls who lived around his neighborhood in Port Hannah, and who went to places like Soleil Salon or Divino. The woman’s fingers were pressed to her lips. Her eyes were wide. She had a blunt nose, a little upturned, piggish.
“She tried to assault us, for God’s sake,” the man was saying. “You saw it. I didn’t touch her. She shouldn’t be allowed in here. She’s always like this. She didn’t even know Potter. Who invited her? Jesus, God.” He took a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it to his mouth with such vehemence that Hector saw the blood leave his fingertips. “You saw it. I just turned to get away from her, and my elbow . . . and then she was on us. My God. Like an animal. She needs help. She’s sick.”
“Candace? Candy.” Little Mrs. Fisher had stepped forward and was bent down over the woman in purple.
Mr. Fisher stepped out of the crowd as well. He touched the balding man’s arm. “Let me help you find your coats,” he said firmly.
“She should press charges,” a woman in the crowd said. “That was uncalled for, Eggleston. You meant to do that.”
There was a pause; then someone else—someone elderly—spoke in a quavering voice. “He knocked her down!”
Hector felt the crowd around him shifting, remembered the feeling of riding the Island Beach ferry, the first time he’d ever not been on dry land. He had been aware then of deep water below him, had felt his stomach rising and falling inside him.
Another man joined Mr. Fisher, helped him to steer the angry man and his companion toward the front hall.
“Time to call it a day,” Mr. Fisher said quietly to the crowd.
“She, press charges?” the balding man said incredulously, as Mr. Fisher turned him around. “She’s a fucking nutcase. I’m the one who should be pressing charges against her.”
Mrs. Fisher leaned over the woman in purple. “Candy,” she said. “Let’s get you on your feet.” The kindness had not left her voice, but there was command in it, too. They’d had children, Hector knew suddenly, she and Mr. Fisher. Tiny as she was now, she knew how to take charge. She looked up and saw Hector. “Hector. Can you help me, please?”
“What happened here?” Katarina said.
“Just a misunderstanding,” Mrs. Fisher said. “Nothing.”
“We barely even know her, and she tried to put her arms around us,” the balding man said, reeling around. “I was just surprised. All I did was turn around and knock into her and she fell over. She’s drunk.”
Hector saw that Katarina’s neck was mottled with red blotches.
A man extricated himself from the crowd and passed Katarina, moving roughly. “If I see him, Eggleston—or her—in this room again, I’m cancelling my membership,” he said to Katarina in an undertone. “Get things under control here. This is appalling.”
Hector knelt down and looked at the woman, her necklace of acrylic ice cubes, her brown breasts nearly falling out of her dress, her hands over her face.
“You want me to pick her up?” he said to Mrs. Fisher. “It’s okay? To touch her? Is she hurt?”
“Candy, if you can’t get to your feet, Hector here will help you,” Mrs. Fisher said briskly. She waited a minute. Candy did not move.
Mrs. Fisher sighed. “Go ahead,” she said to Hector.
Hector pushed his arms under the woman. She didn’t so much resist him as fail to do anything at all. It was an effort to raise her in his arms. He got one knee off the floor, planted his foot, then stood. He routinely moved boulders and gravel and stacks of lumber, working his day job for Salvador, but he felt as if he’d never lifted anything so heavy in his life as this woman.
“The ladies’ room,” Mrs. Fisher said.
She went ahead of him through the great room and down the hall.
At the door of the ladies’ room, Mrs. Fisher said, “Wait,” and disappeared inside.
The woman in his arms smelled like alcohol and perfume, something very strong. She kept her eyes closed, but Hector did not think she was out cold.
“All right,” Mrs. Fisher called back to him. Hector came in. The room was a bafflement of mirrors, the wallpaper a riot of flowers and birds and bamboo trellises. Because of all the mirrors, birds seemed to be actually flying through the room.
“There,” Mrs. Fisher said, pointing to a pink chaise lounge.
Hector deposited the woman on the chaise lounge, where she turned her face aside and pulled in her knees. So far, she hadn’t uttered a single word.
He’d broken out in a sweat and was breathing hard.
Mrs. Fisher filled a glass at the sink and stood over the woman. “Have a drink of water, Candy,” she said.
She looked at Hector. “Thank you, Hector,” she said. “Will you tell Mr. Fisher where I am?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said.
The woman on the chaise lounge sat up then, carefully, and took the glass. Hector saw that she had a bad bruise on her cheek.
“Oh, dear.” Mrs. Fisher sat down beside her. “Candy. I know these occasions . . . make you sad. But of course people are funny about being touched. Best to let them—well, feel whatever they’re going to feel, in their own way.”
“I just had a little too much to drink,” the woman said, though she did not sound drunk, Hector thought.
She looked up at Hector, her expression ravaged. “It’s important that people touch each other,” she said.
Mrs. Fisher glanced at Hector and then gazed sadly at the woman.
The woman took another sip of water. “‘I have desired to go where springs not fail,’” she said. “‘To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail and a few lilies blow.’” She stared off into the room. Hector looked up and saw that he and Mrs. Fisher and the woman were reflected countless times in the mirrors, their arrangement duplicated in shifting patterns, like in a kaleidoscope. The woman put her hand to her head and closed her eyes “‘And I have asked to be, Where no storms come, Where the green swell is in the havens dumb, And out of the swing of the sea.’ It’s a poem. Hopkins.”
Mrs. Fisher looked up at Hector. “She was actually a high school teacher,” she said to Hector. “Many years ago, before she lost her husband—oh, how many years has it been, Candy?”
“Twenty-five.” Candy finished the water. “A quarter of a century.”
Mrs. Fisher sighed. “There’s never any harm in trying to offer comfort, Candy. Just—some people . . . well, you know. But there’s never any harm in kindness.”
Hector wanted at that moment to ask Mrs. Fisher to come with him to the hospital. It would be all right, he thought, if Mrs. Fisher were there beside him. But of course he could not ask that of her.
He was alone.
After telling Mr. Fisher where his wife was, Hector found Katarina in the great hall, picking up the discarded programs about Mr. Potter.
“Is she still in the ladies’ room?” Katarina said.
“Mrs. Fisher’s in there with her. She’s okay,” Hector said.
“Yeah, well, she ruined my fucking night,” Katarina replied.
“Katarina?” Hector said. “Can I leave early? There aren’t many people in the dining room, and Nate and Louis are here. They got it covered.”
Hector stared at her. “You know where Raoul is,” he said. “You know what’s happening.”
“Well, the whole world can’t come to a grinding halt, Hector, just because someone is sick.”
Hector watched Katarina move to another grouping of chairs and adjust the position of one with her knee.
“I’m not saying the whole world,” Hector said. “I’m just asking . . . for me. Just for now. Tonight.”
Katarina straightened up. “What do you think would happen if I let people off every time something just . . . came up?”
Hector clenched his teeth. Katarina turned away. He followed her as she moved again.
“Please,” he said.
“You didn’t see anyone making a big fuss today, did you?” Katarina said. “That’s how to do it, Hector. That’s how it’s done. You just—carry on.”
She moved away from him, bent to pick up a couple of glasses from a table.
“I’m going,” Hector said. “You can take it out of my pay.”
She stopped at that, straightened up again and looked at him.
Hector turned away from her, afraid that his face would betray him, his anger and also his fear. He knew that the woman in the purple dress—Candy—had gone about it all wrong, whatever she was trying to get for herself this afternoon, whatever she had been trying to make happen in a group of people gathered on the occasion of someone’s death. Who knew what people—even his kids—really felt about Mr. Potter’s death? Whatever it was, they weren’t going to show it this afternoon. That was for sure. And that scared him worse than anything, he realized. Was that what it meant to grow up and be successful and powerful like all these people at the club? Keeping it together all the time? Laughing and drinking when someone died? So what did that say about the wife of the man who had been Uncle Sandor’s friend, crying in the church? What did it say about him, trying not to cry but feeling like he wanted to, needed to? And what did it say about Raoul? These people at the Meadows Club. . . . They were human. They must have human feelings.
“You want to say that again?” Katarina said.
Hector kept walking. “No,” he said. “I don’t.”
After a minute she called after him. “You do this again, and you’re fired, Hector.”
As he was strapping on his bicycle clips in the back hall off the kitchen, he realized that he did not know what hospital Sarah had been taken to. He was so stupid! He texted Raoul. “Where r u? What hospital.” He changed into his sneakers, put his good shoes in his backpack, hung up his waiter’s jacket.
Outside, a light rain had begun falling through the mist. The whole world seemed shrouded and hushed, the parking lot mostly empty. The lights from the club shone hazily through the mist.
He checked his phone. Nothing.
He pulled his bicycle under the eaves of the building to get out of the rain for a minute. “You OK?” he texted Raoul.
After a moment, a reply came. “Beth Israel Poughkeepsie.”
Hector Googled the hospital and then plugged the location into his phone. It was almost twenty-five miles away. And now the rain seemed to be falling harder. He put on his windbreaker.
He looked out across the parking lot, where everything was shining darkly, as if newly washed. The mist had evaporated almost completely.
The loneliness he’d felt earlier seemed now as if it threatened to drown him. Everything about the evening—people’s gaiety at the reception, Raoul’s departure and Sarah’s illness, the crazy scene with the Candy lady and the man who had knocked her down, the poem she’d recited. Out of the swing of the sea. That was all he remembered of it. But that was not to be his fate or Raoul’s. They were in the deep water. They weren’t sailing on the tops of the waves like those people at the club.
He calculated. He could get there, despite the rain. He would do it.
He pushed his bicycle out into the parking lot, his head bowed against the rain.
He was halfway up the club’s entrance road and standing up on the pedals, pumping to get the bike up the hill, when he saw the headlights from a car behind him illuminate the road ahead. When the car pulled up level with him, the passenger window rolled down. It was Mrs. Fisher.
“Hector!” she said. “You can’t ride home in this weather! It’s dangerous. Andy, stop the car. Hector, stop. We’ll give you a ride.”
Hector got into the back seat. The inside of the car smelled like dogs. Mrs. Fisher was bent over the front seat, pushing things from the back seat to the floor: papers, an umbrella, a garden trowel. “Such a mess,” she said. “I’m sorry, Hector.”
Mr. Fisher had waved away Hector’s help and put Hector’s bicycle in the back of the car. He got back into the driver’s seat, pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his face. “Where do you need to go, Hector?” he said, looking back at him through the rearview mirror.
“Beth Israel Hospital,” Hector said. “In Poughkeepsie. Thank you so much.”
The car was warm, the windows fogged up a bit.
Mrs. Fisher turned around again. “Everything okay?”
“It’s Raoul,” Hector said. “His wife. She’s sick.”
“Oh, dear.” Mrs. Fisher’s face was worried. “I knew that,” she said. “I hope she’ll be all right.”
Hector couldn’t see out of his window at all. Mr. Fisher drove up the remainder of the entrance lane and turned onto the main road. When Hector glanced at the rearview mirror, he saw Mr. Fisher’s eyes resting on him briefly. Hector looked away.
What would it have been like to grow up as the child of these people? How lucky their kids were, he thought, to have good parents, to have money. He had no information about his father, hadn’t seen his mother since he was an infant, didn’t even remember her. He had lived in the U.S., practically his whole life, raised by his uncle, but neither of them were citizens; he was like a fugitive, worried all the time he’d get picked up for something.
“You don’t have a car?” Mr. Fisher asked after a moment. His eyes were on Hector again in the rearview mirror.
Hector paused. “I like riding my bike,” he said. “It’s good exercise.”
“It certainly is,” Mrs. Fisher said. “We ride out at the beach sometimes. You know, on the roads there, where they’re blocked off. I don’t like to be in traffic anymore.” Hector tried to imagine the Fishers on bicycles, Mr. Fisher as tall and upright as an old stork, Mrs. Fisher on a tiny bicycle behind him, riding in his wake, Mr. Fisher’s arm out when a car approached, to protect her.
Hector turned his face aside again.
When he glanced back out the front windshield, he saw that Mr. Fisher’s gaze was on him again in his mirror.
At the hospital, Mr. Fisher parked under the emergency room bay in order to unload the bicycle out of the rain.
“You’ll be all right?” he said. “How far to get you home?”
“Oh, it’s not far,” Hector said, though he had calculated that the distance was about thirty miles. “Thank you very much, Mr. Fisher.”
He put out his hand and Mr. Fisher took it. Hector was aware of making his grip a little softer, gentler.
“I’m sure Raoul will appreciate your presence very much, Hector,” Mr. Fisher said. “It’s very kind of you.”
Mr. Fisher let go of Hector’s hand and withdrew his wallet. He held out three twenties. “Cab fare,” he said. “If it’s still raining later. It’s dangerous to ride your bike in weather like this. You give Raoul our best. Tell him we’re thinking of him.”
“Oh.” Hector looked at the money. “I’m okay, sir. Really.”
“Well, just take it anyway,” Mr. Fisher said mildly, and he reached out and tucked the bills into Hector’s shirt pocket. “You never know when it might come in handy. Might want to bet on the bobtail nag.”
Hector had no idea what he was talking about. He started to protest again, but Mr. Fisher waved him off and moved toward the driver’s side. “Good night, Hector,” he said. “Tell Raoul we will say a prayer.”
In the hospital, Hector found the information desk, asked for Sarah Hernandez’s room. The volunteer, a white-haired man in a striped red jacket clicked away at the computer and then looked up at Hector. “ICU,” he said. “No visiting hours.”
Hector felt his stomach drop.
“Only family are allowed,” the man went on. “Are you family?”
Hector thought about Raoul, resting his head on his hands on the roof of his car, the way he had wanted to put his arms around him.
“Son,” he said.
“Fifth floor,” the man said. “There’s a buzzer. If they don’t answer, it means they’re busy. You can go to the glass windows in the hall and wait.”
In the elevator, Hector felt his stomach drop away from him, remembered again the feeling of being on the ferry, the way he had reckoned that the water immediately below him fed into much larger waters and then into the Atlantic Ocean, a kind of downward slipping away of the earth, the water getting deeper and deeper.
At the door of the ICU, he pressed the buzzer and waited. No crackling voice greeted him. He looked at his phone. Almost 9:00 p.m. He waited a minute, but it seemed rude to ring again. Instead, he walked down the hall to where it turned a corner. A glass window about the size of a big windshield offered a view of the ICU. Nurses in scrubs moved around inside; curtains were drawn around some of the bays. The room was as brightly lit as the gymnasium at his high school, Hector thought. Everywhere was machinery, things on wheels, or hanging from poles, computers on rolling carts, their screens glowing. It would be noisy in there—he knew that from his experience with Uncle Sandor in the hospital—but in the hall outside the window, Hector could hear nothing. It was as if the whole world’s sound had suddenly been shut off completely. He thought about Mrs. Fisher with her hearing aid, and then his eyes filled with tears, he couldn’t help it, and he had to bring his arm up against his face.
When he took it away, one of the curtains had been drawn aside, and Hector recognized Raoul’s broad back, his white shirt coming untucked from the back of his pants. He was sitting beside a bed, his back to the window, holding Sarah’s hand. She was propped up in bed, an IV in her arm, oxygen tubes going to her nose. Her eyes were closed. Hector had never seen her without her wig or a scarf. Her head was bald. He was surprised; her head was such a beautiful shape, he thought. He had no idea a bald head could look so beautiful.
He put his hand up to the window, and as soon as his fingers brushed the cold glass, Raoul turned around, as if sensing him there. Hector had expected him to be crying, but he smiled, gave Hector a thumbs-up.
Hector raised his eyebrows, questioning, and repeated the gesture. Really? Thumbs-up?
Raoul repeated the gesture. Then he shrugged, hands open, as if to say: I’m not in control of any of this. It’s a miracle and a mystery.
Then he pointed at Hector, patted his chest twice, and crossed his hands over his heart. Thank you, he mouthed.
Hector didn’t want to walk away. He wished he could just keep doing this with Raoul all night, trading information through the glass.
But Raoul tapped his watch, made a shooing motion. Go home. We’re okay for now. I’ll tell her you were here.
Hector put both palms against the glass, leaned forward.
Go see the babies, Raoul mouthed. He made a motion, like rocking an infant in his arms.
What? Hector mouthed.
Raoul made that gesture again, rocking a baby, and gestured upstairs with his thumb. He smiled.
The nursery was on the fourth floor, and there was a glass window there, too, it turned out. An Asian couple, the woman in a hospital gown with a bathrobe over it, stood before the window, the man’s arm around the woman’s shoulders. They were smiling and talking quietly. A nurse inside reached into one of the clear bassinets and lifted out a little bundle in a white blanket, brought it near to the window and held it up. The baby wore a little striped cap, and its face was bright red, its eyes squeezed tightly shut. The woman made a little sound and leaned forward, smiling, raising a finger to touch the glass.
Hector gazed across the room, every bassinet filled with a bundle just like this one, anonymous little cocoon shapes, swaddled tight.
He turned his attention back to the couple, the infant held to the window, the smiling nurse, the smiling parents. The baby’s eyes were closed so tightly, they were like little slits in its fat cheeks.
Hector found himself smiling, too. The couple glanced his way and seemed with their smiles to invite him to come admire their baby.
Hector moved closer to them. The woman waved her fingers at the baby, as if she hoped it would wake up and see them.
But Hector looked at the baby again.
Not yet, he thought. Oh, not yet. Don’t open your eyes yet, baby. You open your eyes, and everything will start up. It’s gonna get really crazy. No matter what you do, it will get really, really crazy. Just stay like that a little longer. Stay like that.