floor not marked for anything in particular, not surgery, not cancer, an
unlabeled place where they put you while they wait for you to die.
Alicia seems to be asleep, so Judith sits down, and as she waits she
remembers how they met at their first job after college, a women’s magazine in New York City. It was Alicia who taught Judith how to deal
with an artichoke, a vegetable unknown to Indiana, or at least to Judith,
and, when she went home with Alicia for Thanksgiving, how to handle
a soft-boiled egg in an egg cup. She remembers how formidable Alicia’s
mother was, the daughter of a bishop, the inhabitant of a world filled
with artichokes and egg cups and arcane rules for coping with them,
a world Alicia was eager to escape, although at the time just how she
would do that was beyond her imagining. Still, it was to be expected that
her plans for escape did not include flirting with Huntington Hartford
in an elevator, while Judith, eager to belong to a sophisticated Eastern
world the precise details of which were beyond her imagining, would
have responded in a second had she been the focus of Huntington
Hartford’s admiration. Who was Huntington Hartford anyway? Forty
years ago she’d known that. Now she seems to remember that he was a
grocery-store heir. A rich old Wasp. Or something like a Wasp and then
considered rich on what must have been the limited spoils of groceries.
Not like computers or petroleum. Tea, maybe? She’s read somewhere
recently that there aren’t any Wasps anymore. That seems reasonable.
Why would anybody want to be a Wasp? As Alicia can testify, it isn’t any
fun, and Judith can back her up on that. In her experience many Wasps
marry poor whites like herself or, if they’re really lucky, Jews, and then
they celebrate Passover and their narrow escape from being as limited
as their parents. And even more Wasps become Buddhists, or what they
imagine Buddhists to be, and suddenly a vision of her former in-laws’
dogs gambols across her brain: Max, a golden retriever too stupid to
fetch, and the black Lab, Sambo, last of his name if not his kind. Hard as
she tries, she cannot remember what Huntington Hartford looked like.
Eventually Alicia opens her eyes. Judith doesn’t ask her how she is.
Alicia tells her that Ellie has just stepped out for a nibble, and it flits
through Judith’s mind that for all the worlds they were eager to escape
and attain, they have not done very well. Now in their late fifties, they
have achieved the unlooked-for experience of foiled expectations. Alicia
is married to the rector of Washington’s most conventional Episcopal
church, and Judith has not managed to hang on to any vestiges of the