Oh! to be a real person, with a husband, and a household, and squealing dependents. Or at least to be involved in a sordid affair—in a narrative of some sort, in the sending up of shoots and buds. Instead, Amaryllis Chen Hughes, age thirty-eight—Paralysis, she called herself—was mired in an e-affair that had died down several times, only to resurrect itself like a computer virus.

if i had it all to do over again, well, you can guess

What a far cry, that, from a real relationship, with careers to juggle, and family issues to work out—homework crises and Internet rules and laundry.

i had a pebble in my shoe today which of course i felt with every step and should have taken out but it reminded me of you somehow—believe me i knew how silly this was, and yet

She replied:

You indeed should have taken it out. Please don’t be ridiculous.

And, one day, finally:

You can write these things but you know I am flesh and blood. I need someone to cook with and eat with and do the dishes with. Someone to complain when I produce horror for dinner.

He responded:

if only i could be that someone! a great true regret

And for a few days afterward she received sentence fragments:

a great regret

if only

what horror could you ever be capable of

Blather. And yet, as the fragments continued, she began to feel, despite herself, touched. The man was a lawyer. But that reckless candor: she recognized that from any number of poets. This was not poetry! But the impulse, she thought. She knew it, that’s all.

She typed:

I would be happy to be friends. But please do not write again until you have returned to your senses, by which I mean standard grammar and the paragraph form. I love you.

Why did she write that? She hated him. He was a strange man, she knew it the moment they met—at a holiday party, this was, in a corporate lobby, beside a photo gouache series her agency had convinced his law firm to buy. There, as others gamely mingled, they had manacled themselves together, making their way, frame by frame, detail by detail, through the work. It was a bit like placing the series all over again, except that she did not have to emphasize how well the colors would complement the couches. Instead, she and this Will—his name was Will—simply looked at the pictures. Heroically scaled, obsessively wrought, all in sepia, the photos featured strange inventor figures in otherworldly settings, with elaborate inscrutable inventions. Leonardo gone Rube Goldberg, he said. She laughed. They talked: alternate realms, the needs driving invention. His art history background. Her disastrous visit to the artist, including how she had knocked Leonardo off a ladder. He laughed. Even as the crowd thinned and the help removed the reindeer punchbowl, they talked. People saw them. He put his hands in and out of his pockets. He played with his wedding ring. She could hear her friend Tara as if through an aural implant: There is something the matter with his life.

Still from the lobby he and Amaryllis went for a drink. And by the end of the evening, lo: there perched the wedding ring atop the wet orifice of a wine bottle. What’s more, she was coming to see something about him. How he gripped things; not unlike the inventors in the lobby, he had narrow channels of intense interest. His life was someone else’s life, an institution-sized edifice risen up as if of its own stony will, out of the generations. Family Bibles, family portraits, family summer houses. Kids. Absurd as it sounded, he was building a summerhouse of his own now—a laughable stab at freedom. There was going to be a boys’ dorm and a girls’ dorm, he said. For those who did not care for dorm life, there would be tents. Amaryllis shook her head. Her life was the opposite, a careening thing, her father having left his Western Pennsylvanian, anti-Hungarian, German-Irish-Welsh Catholic family for a Chinese immigrant, only to find that she embraced everything he loathed. No one can survive alone, Amaryllis’s mother used to say. It is important to get along, to fit in. What society doesn’t have rules? To which Amaryllis’s father would say, Immigrant toadying! Fuck convention. Your mother behaves as if loneliness is not the human condition, which, believe me, it is. Will shook his head; Amaryllis noted that what hair he had was half gray. Was it not slightly horrifying that she did not care more about this? “I’m glad I met you,” he said, smiling and showing his splendid teeth; such an eternal look they had to them. He had brown eyes. It was a wonderful moment. In their maturity they agreed not to try to get together again. Why, though, had they exchanged e-mail addresses? And why had they gone on to write to each other, as they had, for the better part of a year? Never even discussing getting together—just writing.

They were a case.

And now he did not reply and did not reply. She trained herself not to look for his name in the Sent By column. She deleted his old messages and threw herself into baby-sitting her friend Tara’s grandfather while Tara went off to save orphans in Uganda. That was a long story, about the orphans. But talk about event, action, narrative! Tara bit her lip, getting lipstick on her teeth, as she showed Amaryllis pictures of the kids. A little girl who never smiled—sullenness, it seemed, being a sign of malnutrition. A little boy whose hair was turning white, also a sign of malnutrition. Amaryllis listened, horrified.

“I’m not going to Uganda forever,” Tara said, “only for four or five months, whatever it takes—if that’s OK?”

“Of course,” answered Amaryllis. “Stay as long as you need to.”

She understood that Tara’s siblings resented her do-gooding; her brother Andy, in particular, did not see why she had to go to Africa to baby-sit. What’s more, Amaryllis was well positioned for the job, as she lived on a bus line that ran right to Tara’s grandfather’s place; and as the subway from Flushing into midtown was in fact more convenient to her office than the subway from Brooklyn. Most important of all, though, Amaryllis was the only friend of Tara’s who, if she did not exactly speak the grandfather’s dialect, at least understood it, her mother having spoken something similar. Of course, in one way it was strange that Amaryllis’s mother’s dialect should still figure in her modern American life. But in another—a claim of relationship. She had so few.

Tara did not care about getting married. That was a dead idea at odds with the patently polygamous nature of human nature, she said. She said that while in Uganda she was planning to take up long term residence in a hostel, and winked. As for what Amaryllis had to wink about, well, she said, there was this lawyer. She did not mention his e-mails. “He sleeps in his suit,” she said. “If he gets a new one I may not recognize him.” Tara guffawed. Of course, she was larger than Amaryllis. Still her laugh was disproportionately louder and raunchier.

In the meanwhile there was Tara’s grandfather in Flushing to think about—Yah Yah, Tara called him.

“He’s going to want you to give him a bath,” she warned. “Just say no.”

“No baths,” promised Amaryllis.

“And he goes to get groceries in Manhattan Chinatown on Wednesdays. Don’t ask why, we’re just glad he still knows when it’s Wednesday. So if you go and don’t see him, that’s where he is.”

“How old is he?”

“How old is he. Ninety-one, we think, though he seems younger. He’s outlived both his kids. He’s more agile than I am. This doctor is always asking him what he eats.”

“Is he difficult?”

“Is he difficult. No. But he can be stubborn.”

“He sounds amazing.”

“He is amazing, as are you. You are the only person I know who would do this.”

“Oh,” said Amaryllis. “Don’t say that.”

T

ara’s grandfather was no help to a woman trying to make a life of her life. But there he was in it. He did not look like a person who might ask someone to give him a bath. He was spidery thin and pale, with sporadic hair—the long trickling beard and 3-D white eyebrows of a sage. His face was kite-shaped. His skin, thin and spotted, was tenuously adhered. His lips were dry, his teeth mostly there—accordioned in places, and stained, and showing some waist near the gum, but there. He sported a tweed cap with its brim flipped up, even indoors; with this went a flannel shirt, a sweater vest, and aqua training pants with intermittent hems. His hands shook. And yet Tara was right about his agility. He negotiated his cluttered apartment with grace, apparently thanks to the tai chi he did in the park every morning. Amaryllis did not call him Yah Yah, as he was not her grandfather. Neither could she pronounce his name in Chinese—she had trouble with her u-with-an-umlaut sounds, two of which his name involved. So instead she called him Uncle Jeff, Jeffrey being his English name, and uncle being what Chinese people called older men at all close to them. Amaryllis might be, as a California boyfriend so sweetly put it, barely Chinese, but even she knew that much.

Though Tara had of course brought Amaryllis to the apartment and introduced her, Amaryllis began the first couple of visits with an inane, “Hi, remember me? I’m that friend of Tara’s. Amaryllis.” Reminding him just in case, and trying to ease the awkwardness of barging in on him. Tara had said that her grandfather would probably not hear the door if Amaryllis rang, that she should just use her key and let herself in. But how weird to simply show up and begin filling the air with English. I think this fish has gone bad. Does your radiator always clank? I see there are no more light bulbs. She wished she could speak his dialect as well as understand it. But she couldn’t, and silence seemed somehow worse than English, which Tara had said he did understand, a little. Not that the apartment was so quiet. Both visits he had had some Chinese program on his black-and-white TV. He did not watch this, though, any more than he watched her as she puttered around companionably. Cleaning out his bird cage, picking up as best she could. One whole room of his apartment was jammed with furniture and boxes, everything thrown in an enormous pile, willy-nilly; it looked as if there had been a fight, or as if he had been unable to pay his moving bill—something.

The third visit Amaryllis began to notice, first that he took his hat off when she came, and then that he lifted his left ear—his good ear?—when she spoke, the underside of his beard catching against his chest. Maybe he liked being spoken to, even if he didn’t quite understand her? In the park, Amaryllis had seen how mothers talked to their babies as if the babies could understand; the babies kicked and talked back. Of course, Uncle Jeff was no baby. Still, she imagined him taking a similar simple pleasure in her talking and so was startled to find his gaze, by the fourth or fifth visit, alive with an ironic bemusement more grandfatherly than infantile. Would her mother’s father, had she known him, have ever looked at her this way? She knew little about her grandfather but had the impression that he would have more likely looked straight past her to his grandsons—her grandfather having been a mogul of sorts, with bodyguards and a Sikh doorman.

Her sixth visit she knocked on the door instead of letting herself in with the key. She was afraid for a moment that Uncle Jeff had not heard her, as Tara predicted. But the door opened, and this time, when she introduced herself, he smiled.

You’ve told me many times,” he said.

He talked! Softly, and straight down into his chest, but he talked!

“I wasn’t sure you understood,” she said, speaking slowly and loudly.

You talk so fast.” He mimicked her, opening and shutting his mouth very fast.

“You do this.” Amaryllis put her head down and talked into her shirt.

He smiled a little and lifted his chin, his beard rising free of his sweater vest. “Tara is a good girl, he continued mildly.

“She is,” she agreed.

You are a good girl, too. Chinese girl, I can see it. 

Hapa, actually, she wanted to say. In fact, though she had the straight black hair, nobody had ever called her a Chinese girl. People, generally, did not call her anything, though they did sometimes ask, What are you? Men, especially. Drunken men, especially. It was one of the things that Amaryllis had liked about Will, that he had fixed on other things.

“My mother was Chinese,” she said. “From northern Zhejiang Province, right near Jiangsu.”

I can see it,” he said. “Zhejiang people are capable. They are not lazy, like Jiangsu people. Jiangsu people have too much land. In Zhejiang, there is no land. Everyone has to work hard, even the rich people have to work hard.

“Was your family from Jiangsu?”

Our hometown is in Jiangsu Province. Yes. But we were not rich. No. 

Amaryllis was hoping he would say more, but after inviting her in, he sank into his armchair, put on his hat, and seemed to go to sleep. By his shoulder, his bird chirped.

The seventh visit she came early in the morning to watch his tai chi group, which turned out to be one of several groups of white-haired Chinese in the pocket park. One was a dance club with a cassette recorder. Another did tricks involving two sticks with a string between them and a kind of drum—how they made it jump and spin! The groups were not large—three, five, eight people—but they occupied several corners, as well as the paved antechamber to the park, on the street. Amaryllis, wearing high heels, felt strange. No one, though, looked at her strangely. Even Uncle Jeff, after saying hello, looked past her. His group was beginning their routine—slow, even, hypnotic movements that made lithe old people seem younger, Amaryllis thought. Or, no, not so much younger as of indeterminate age—somewhere between life and death, she wanted to say. No, that was wrong too. They were simply, wholly alive. And yet as the brilliant morning light shot through to them, exploding past the yellow leaves of the sycamores, the group—more women than men—did seem to pull and lunge and step in a sphere removed from ordinary reality, their world not unlike the world of a picture. They did deep, deep knee bends—Uncle Jeff’s deeper than almost anyone’s. Their legs stretched long; their shadows longer. Forward and back they moved, unperturbed by the bolting squirrels and loudly crunching leaves. A funnel of birds pooled suddenly around them on the cracked asphalt and then just as suddenly spiraled away, flapping. Still the group gazed calmly at their slowly moving hands. Uncle Jeff’s moved as steadily as anyone’s; no sign of his shake. What did it mean, that unison, that focus? That planetary synchrony. She heard her mother’s voice: No one can survive alone. It is important to get along, to fit in. But no, this was something else. As it was cool, the group was wearing its team uniform, the padded vest; both men and women wore those padded vests, often with stretch pants. Only Uncle Jeff wore a hat. Most wore sneakers, though one wore plastic sandals with socks.

It surprised Amaryllis that the old people did not do more together after tai chi. She gathered that some did go to a senior center, where in a fluorescent-lit room they took classes and played mah-jongg until three o’clock, when several had to pick up their grandchildren. Others hung around the park. But Tara’s grandfather preferred to sit home and watch TV. He hadn’t always been this way; according to Tara, he used to be lively and social. Then suddenly the senior center was too hot. The park was too cold. Tara wrote in an e-mail how she would almost have thought he was pulling in, hunkering down, preparing to die, except for the tai chi and the grocery shopping. And look how he still cooked for himself, too.

 

 

Wednesdays.

“Why do you go to Manhattan to shop?” asked Amaryllis. “Isn’t it more convenient just to shop here?”

Cheaper,” he answered.

“Are you sure?”

Cheaper. 

Tara had warned Amaryllis that on the trip home his backpack could be heavy, especially if he had bought rice or soy sauce. And indeed, some weeks Amaryllis worried it would topple him right over. But even more worrisome was his apparently new tendency to become disoriented. One week he got lost between the subway station and his apartment. It was just lucky that Amaryllis happened to visit that day, after work; she had found him in the park, cold and confused. The next week he was fine. But the week after that he lost his way again, and this time he did not end up in the park but wandered the busy streets—traipsing around and around with his backpack. By the time Amaryllis spotted him crossing the plaza of the new library, his whole body was shaking. Why hadn’t he at least gone in? His feet and shoulders were blistered and raw. He was so tired he half fell into his apartment and, though he had accepted her offer to make him some tea, fell asleep before the water boiled.

She offered to take him shopping. She offered to pay for a cab.

Stubborn. Just as Tara had said—not difficult, but stubborn.

She began waiting for him in Flushing, meeting his subway car.

In truth, she worried about the Manhattan part of his trip too but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Should she tail him there and back in some stealthy way? She decided no, as there was no indication yet that he became confused on that end. Maybe his blood-sugar levels were higher early in the day, or maybe he simply knew Manhattan Chinatown better, having lived there for most of his life; Tara and her siblings had only moved him to Flushing ten years ago. In any case, meeting him on the Flushing end was tricky enough. Meetings were scheduled accordingly; colleagues made comments. Amaryllis felt annoyed at Tara, at Uncle Jeff, at herself even, as she found that she had begun to like the ritual of leaving the office. She liked needing to leave the way so many of her coworkers did—all the time it seemed—to bring their kids to the doctor, pick up a birthday cake, something. She liked the No. 7 train and the people on it; she liked waiting at the platform, on the wooden bench facing the ticket booth. The Flushing stop was the last stop of the line. Why did she like even that? Though he wore no watch, Uncle Jeff usually arrived close enough to three-thirty that she fretted if he was late. Not just because she would be late getting back to the office, though that was certainly an issue. More, she worried that something had happened. She worried that he had tripped, that he had gotten mugged, that he had decided he didn’t like Flushing and was staying in Manhattan. But finally, always, he materialized here, in the subway, before her. Then she nodded coolly and fought with him over whether she could take the backpack for him. More and more often, now, she won, which she enjoyed, though once or twice, as he handed over his pack, he called her Tara. Then again, he also once asked her, as they crossed the platform, what had happened to Tara. Is she married? No no, said Amaryllis. Tara’s away. In Uganda. In Africa. But he persisted. Who did she marry? And, Did she marry Chinese? They took the escalator up, the skylight getting bigger and bigger overhead. On the way to his apartment, they were going to stop under the bridge to get some of those four-for-a-dollar pork buns they liked.

Dear Tara, I love your grandfather but have to say that I wonder if he doesn’t need professional help. The wandering, as I’ve told you. Today he put his groceries out for the pigeons. He seems more and more confused. Did I tell you he sometimes thinks you’re married?

Married! Oh no! Can you manage?

I’m not sure. What if something happens?

OK. I’m going to tell my dear brother Andy to drop in when he comes to town, in two weeks. Is that soon enough? In the meanwhile, thanks again for doing this!!! I honestly did not realize Yah Yah was so out of it.

Amaryllis began eating with him every day. Not all three meals, but 
breakfast and supper. How happy this made him! He took off his hat. He smiled. He laughed, showing the white spots on his tongue. He showed his dimples. Did he ever brush his teeth? She brought him strawberry-flavored toothpaste to try. “Strange,” he said. She brought him cereals—Raisin Bran, Cheerios, Lucky Charms. He loved peanut butter and honey sandwiches, especially with banana. She was surprised. He loved Oreos. Rice Krispie treats. Yogurt-covered raisins. He began to clean up after his bird, who seemed happier too. Chirpier.

They talked more.

You don’t speak Chinese,” he said.

“No,” she said. “I don’t.”

It’s a pity.”

“Yes,” she said. “It is.”

Yet you understand. 

“I do.”

Tara had the same problem. Her father and mother were Chinese, but she couldn’t speak. 

“My father was American.” She wanted to say Caucasian but she wasn’t sure he would know what that meant.

You are not really Chinese, and yet we get along very well.” 

“It just so happens.”

Chinese, not Chinese, makes no difference.” 

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said.

He told her about his life:

I remember when the Japanese came. The Japanese came and boom! Bombs. Once I saw a girl blown up. There was blood everywhere, but her book bag was clean. It was lying right in the road, as if she had just put it down for a moment. Completely clean. So I put it on a rock, and sure enough, the next day it was gone. My mother said, Why didn’t you take the books? She thought if I didn’t read them myself I could give them to someone. Trade them for something. But I told her I couldn’t, no. It made her cry. She said that the way I thought, we were going to starve. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t take that bag.”

And:

I was surprised how cold this country got to be outside, in the winter. While inside it was hot, whew! That was even more surprising. I saw people opening their windows, their apartments were so hot. Now even I open my window sometimes, like an American. If I put food out, the birds come and make my bird sing.” 

And:

All my friends are dead. I used to go to the senior center and see many friends. I even had a girlfriend. Cantonese. She liked to sing karaoke—hold the 
microphone and sing along to Cantonese opera. Nice and fat. Now who knows who is hanging around there. Who knows where they come from. Fuzhou, Wenzhou. The older ones don’t speak Mandarin, the younger ones do but who can stand listening to them? The way they think.” 

Dear Tara, I am embarrassed to say that I am wondering how much of your grandfather’s problem was just depression. Now that I’m spending more time with him, he talks and talks. His whole affect has changed. His bird’s too, I swear. Truth to tell, I feel a certain lightness myself.

She waited to hear back from Tara, but Tara did not write. Maybe the Internet was down at the hostel, or the closest Internet café had closed—who knew. That iffy electricity. She received instead an e-mail from Will.

Forgive me the lapse in our communication. It is inexcusable, I know. I imagined that I was doing us both a favor. But now I see I was misguided. Forgive me! You will note my observance of standard grammatical conventions. They are as per your request, but do feel strange. As if I am quite another person.

Three days later, he wrote again:

I see that you do not reply. And frankly, now that I think about it, why should you? Why not repay silence with silence? And why feel things for which we cannot make a place in our lives? That is another question. My guess is that you cannot see the point. Correct? Whereas I am acquainted with what ice we can become, if we don’t take care. And how little is captured by the social forms we have—I know that too. How much lies beyond them, like the rain beyond the confines of a cistern. So there it is, an old man’s wisdom. Make that an older man’s wisdom. J Which came

to me with difficulty, and which I express here in the most poetic sentence I have penned this decade. You need not reply.

To this she wrote:

You are right. I don’t have time for relationships that go nowhere. As if we are going somewhere, you will say. And yet I feel a pressure you don’t remember. I can’t afford to be wasting my time.

Time! What do you know about time?

You don’t remember. Though since you mention ice, I will say that even now in my callow youth I can already feel how I might ice over, a little, if I’m not careful. If I don’t hurry. How I might become obscurely sensitive. Proud. Do you know what I mean? How I might become one of those people who care more about not appearing desperate than almost anything.

You need not become anything. Shall I say what I feel? What font should I use?

No font.

You know.

Some things are better left untyped J.

Untyped it remains, then. But there it is.

He wrote again a few hours later:

there it is there it is

What was it? It was nothing. It was something. It was nothing. That day she brought flowers to Uncle Jeff and found the energy to clean out the crazy room of his apartment. She washed the windows, the curtains billowing; for an early winter day, it was spring. She made him his favorite dinner—tuna-noodle casserole—and brought up the subject of bathing. He headed for the bathroom with lightness in his step, an air of expectancy.

My wife,” he said as he got in the water.

“Careful,” she said.

My wife,” he said, “used to give me a bath. When she was alive.”

He looked as though he was going to cry, even as he beamed with pleasure. She could not believe how old and small his body was, how shriveled and bony and veiny. Here and there hair sprouted, each one an event. His ribs stuck out as if they had outgrown him. And yet he was happy. He was happy to have water poured down his back, and happy to have what hair he had, washed. She soaped, rinsed. His scalp flaked. She soaped and rinsed again. His beard dripped. She was surprised how hot he liked the water, and how pink he turned, especially against the green tile. And she was surprised too that he seemed to have an erection when he got out of the water. It was so low she could barely tell if that was what it was. A kind of pudginess. He did not seem to notice. Still she smiled and chased after him with a towel as he padded, dripping, into the living room.

 

 

Some days later, Tara’s brother Andy appeared. His lips were thin and pale, his black hair cropped. Though younger than Tara and Amaryllis, he wore cuff links and a monogrammed shirt and a tie with a tiny knot. Amaryllis knew his type from work. She could guess how in meetings he leaned back in his chair and tapped his pen on its arm, then abruptly sat forward, his mind made up. In college, she happened to know, he had switched majors four times. Now he exuded decisiveness. As there was no conference table in the apartment, he seated himself at the kitchen table instead, reaching between his legs to pull his chair forward, nodding politely as she explained to him some of what had gone on. She left out the bath. He tapped his pen on the Formica. To his credit, he did at least listen. And he asked real questions, pointed questions, trying to get a handle on things. She tried to smile at Uncle Jeff as she answered—including him, even as he watched TV. He was wearing his hat. She had never seen him actually watch the TV; slumped as he was, his torso looked short, his knees sharp. His slippers looked too big, as if his feet had shrunk.

Andy sat forward, frowning.

“OK. His cognitive status.” He tapped his pen on the table. “We need to verify that. And after that, a strategy. We’re going to need a strategy.” He tapped again, tightening his mouth. Then, to her surprise, he lay his pen on the table and put his head in his hands. He ran his fingers through his dark hair, his wedding ring shining.

“I think he can live on his own a while longer,” said Amaryllis. “He just needs someone to look in on him every day. Not two or three times a week—every day. Which I can’t do. But he’s not that bad, really. I almost wish I hadn’t said anything to Tara.”

“You almost wish . . .” Andy raised his head.

“I didn’t mean to worry her.”

Andy stared. “Well, you did worry her.” His eyes were beady and intense. “In fact, you worried everyone. I had to drop everything in the middle of the biggest deal of my life to come figure out what to do. Do you realize?”

“I’m sorry, but I really can’t do this forever.”

“You have better things to do.”

She wasn’t entirely sure there was an edge to that. Still, she did think she felt something sharp and cold placed against a soft place she could not quite protect. And so with dignity, she hoped, she said, “It simply isn’t possible.”

The TV droned. Uncle Jeff had fallen asleep, his mouth open; Amaryllis watched his chest to be sure he was breathing.

The radiator clanked.

If at that point Andy had broken the silence to say, You know, we appreciate your generosity, she might well still have answered, I’ve come to love your grandfather as if he were my own. I’d love to go on doing what I can. She might have even gone to say, Fuck convention. Or no, maybe not that. She never said fuck anything. But No one can survive alone. She might have said that. Something.

Instead, clanking. Until finally Andy said, “You have a life.”

“He’s your grandfather, not mine,” she countered—surprising herself with the readiness with which she spoke.

More clanking. Andy pressed his fingers to his eyelids. “I’m sorry, I’m just tired,” he said. “As in very tired.”

“You’re under a lot of pressure.”

“You could say that.”

“You don’t need this.”

He paused, then graciously said, “I don’t. But you’re right. This is not your problem.”

“He’s an extraordinary man, your grandfather,” she said.

“He deserves so much more than any of the kids can give him. Having lives of our own. Kids. I have really got to do something about my travel. But now, Tara. Tara needs her freedom, I suppose.”

“She’s doing a good deed for those kids in Uganda. They’re orphans, you know.”

“Orphans.” He put his hands in his head again.

“They need her and she needs them.”

The TV. The radiator.

At last he looked up. “I’ll tell you what she needs,” he said.

“Don’t,” she said immediately. “Please don’t.”

And with that she stood up, gave her key to Andy, and bent to give Uncle Jeff a quick kiss on his hat. The tweed was rough. He did not wake. She let herself out the door. The air in the hallway was stuffy and hot; the air outside, biting and cold.

That Andy! She would file the full report with Tara. Yes.

At home, though, later, she did not write to Tara right away. Instead she read through her more recent correspondence with Will. She opened her Deleted Items box, too, and rescued what messages she found there—read them and backed them up. Then she clicked on New Message and wrote, and thought, and wrote some more. About Uncle Jeff, about Tara, about Andy, about what happened.

How easily I could have said, I’ve come to love your grandfather as if he were my own. And I almost did, you know. Other things too. But I didn’t, because of Andy. Because I just knew what he was thinking. I did.

There it was.

I guess you’d have to say I’ve developed sensitivities after all. And poor Uncle Jeff! He must be so confused and sad. Bereft. If he even realizes what’s happened. Did I tell you he loves peanut butter with honey? I am going to go visit again soon and bring him a fluffernutter. In the meanwhile, I write to you—return to you too, and to this. Our rain catcher, you would probably say. Which I can just see in a sepia print, with Leonardo. Can’t you? He would have to be holding the thing up in a torrential rain, so all would be water and mist except Leonardo himself, who would be strangely lit, as if from within—as if from this sheer weird joy.