Chapter no 17

A Little Life

AT LEAST ONE Saturday a month now he takes half a day off from work and goes to the Upper East Side. When he leaves Greene Street, the neighborhood’s boutiques and stores haven’t yet opened for the day; when he returns, they are closed for the night. On these days, he can imagine the SoHo Harold knew as a child: a place shuttered and

unpeopled, a place without life.

His first stop is the building on Park and Seventy-eighth, where he takes the elevator to the sixth floor. The maid lets him into the apartment and he follows her to the back study, which is sunny and large, and where Lucien is waiting—not waiting for him, necessarily, but waiting.

There is always a late breakfast laid out for him: thin wedges of smoked salmon and tiny buckwheat pancakes one time; a cake glazed white with lemon icing the next. He can never bring himself to eat anything, although sometimes when he is feeling especially helpless he accepts a slice of cake from the maid and holds the plate in his lap for the entire visit. But although he doesn’t eat anything, he does drink cup after cup of tea, which is always steeped exactly how he likes it. Lucien eats nothing either—he has been fed earlier—nor does he drink.

Now he goes to Lucien and takes his hand. “Hi, Lucien,” he tells him.

He had been in London when Lucien’s wife, Meredith, called him: it was the week of Bergesson’s retrospective at MoMA, and he had arranged to be out of the city on business. Lucien had had a massive stroke, Meredith said; he would live, but the doctors didn’t yet know how great the damage would be.

Lucien was in the hospital for two weeks, and when he was released, it was clear that his impairment was severe. And although it is not yet five months later, it has remained so: the features on the left side of his face seem to be melting off of him, and he cannot use his left arm or leg, either. He can still speak, remarkably well, but his memory has vanished, the past twenty years deserting him completely. In early July, he fell and hit his head and was in a coma; now, he is too unsteady to even walk, and Meredith has moved them

back from their house in Connecticut to their apartment in the city, where they can be closer to the hospital and their daughters.

He thinks Lucien likes, or at least doesn’t mind, his visits, but he doesn’t know this for sure. Certainly Lucien doesn’t know who he is: he is someone who appears in his life and then disappears, and every time he must reintroduce himself.

“Who are you?” Lucien asks. “Jude,” he says.

“Now, remind me,” Lucien says, pleasantly, as if they’re meeting at a cocktail party, “how do I know you?”

“You were my mentor,” he tells him.

“Ah,” says Lucien. And then there is a silence.

In the first weeks, he tried to make Lucien remember his own life: he talked about Rosen Pritchard, and about people they knew, and cases they used to argue about. But then he realized that the expression he had mistaken—in his own stupid hopefulness—for thoughtfulness was in reality fear. And so now he discusses nothing from the past, or nothing from their past together, at least. He lets Lucien direct the conversation, and although he doesn’t understand the references Lucien makes, he smiles and tries to pretend he does.

“Who are you?” Lucien asks. “Jude,” he says.

“Now, tell me, how do I know you?” “You were my mentor.”

“Oh, at Groton!”

“Yes,” he says, trying to smile back. “At Groton.”

Sometimes, though, Lucien looks at him. “Mentor?” he says. “I’m too young to be your mentor!” Or sometimes he doesn’t ask at all, simply begins a conversation in its middle, and he has to wait until he has enough clues and can determine what role he has been assigned— one of his daughters’ long-ago boyfriends, or a college classmate, or a friend at the country club—before he can respond appropriately.

In these hours he learns more about Lucien’s earlier life than Lucien had ever revealed to him before. Although Lucien is no longer Lucien, at least not the Lucien he knew. This Lucien is vague and featureless; he is as smooth and cornerless as an egg. Even his voice, that droll croaking roll with which Lucien used to deliver his sentences, each one a statement, the pause he used to leave between them because he had grown so used to people’s laughter; the particular way he had of structuring his paragraphs, beginning and ending each with a joke

that wasn’t really a joke, but an insult cloaked in a silken cape, is different. Even when they were working together, he knew that the Lucien of the office was not the Lucien of the country club, but he never saw that other Lucien. And now, finally, he has, he does; it is the only person he sees. This Lucien talks about the weather, and golf, and sailing, and taxes, but the tax laws he discusses are from twenty years ago. He never asks him anything about himself: who he is, what he does, why he is sometimes in a wheelchair. Lucien talks, and he smiles and nods back at him, wrapping his hands around his cooling cup of tea. When Lucien’s hands tremble, he takes them in his own, which he knows helps him when his hands shake: Willem used to do this, and breathe with him, and it would always calm him. When Lucien drools, he takes the edge of his napkin and blots the saliva away. Unlike him, however, Lucien doesn’t seem embarrassed by his own shaking and drooling, and he is relieved that he doesn’t. He’s not embarrassed for Lucien, either, but he is embarrassed by his inability to do more for him.

“He loves seeing you, Jude,” Meredith always says, but he doesn’t

think this is true, really. He sometimes thinks he continues to come more for Meredith’s sake than for Lucien’s, and he realizes that this is the way it is, the way it must be: you don’t visit the lost, you visit the people who search for the lost. Lucien is not conscious of this, but he can remember being so when he was sick, both the first time and the second, and Willem was taking care of him. How grateful he was when he would wake and find someone other than Willem sitting next to him. “Roman’s with him,” Richard or Malcolm would say, or “He and JB went out for lunch,” and he’d relax. In the weeks after his amputations, when all he wanted to do was give up, those moments in which he could imagine that Willem might be being comforted were his only moments of happiness. And so he sits with Meredith after sitting with Lucien and they talk, although she too asks him nothing about his life, and this is fine with him. She is lonely; he is lonely, too. She and Lucien have two daughters, one of whom lives in New York but is forever going in and out of rehab; the other lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three children and is a lawyer herself.

He has met both of these daughters, who are a decade or so

younger than he is, although Lucien is Harold’s age. When he went to visit Lucien in the hospital, the older of them, the one who lives in New York, had looked at him with such hatred that he had almost

stepped back, and then had said to her sister, “Oh, and look who it is: Daddy’s pet. What a surprise.”

“Grow up, Portia,” the younger one had hissed. To him she said, “Jude, thanks for coming. I’m so sorry about Willem.”

“Thank you for coming, Jude,” Meredith says now, kissing him goodbye. “I’ll see you soon?” She always asks this, as if he might someday tell her she won’t.

“Yes,” he says. “I’ll e-mail you.”

“Do,” she says, and waves as he walks down the hall toward the elevator. He always has the sense that no one else visits, and yet how can that be? Don’t let that be, he pleads. Meredith and Lucien have always had lots of friends. They threw dinner parties. It wasn’t unusual to see Lucien leaving the offices in black tie, rolling his eyes as he waved goodbye to him. “Benefit,” he’d say as an explanation. “Party.” “Wedding.” “Dinner.”

After these visits he is always exhausted, but still he walks, seven blocks south and a quarter of a block east, to the Irvines’. For months he had avoided the Irvines, and then last month, on the one-year anniversary, they had asked him and Richard and JB to dinner at their house, and he knew he would have to go.

It was the weekend after Labor Day. The previous four weeks—four weeks that had included the day Willem would have turned fifty-three; the day that Willem had died—had been some of the worst he had ever experienced. He had known they would be bad; he had tried to plan accordingly. The firm had needed someone to go to Beijing, and although he knew he should have stayed in New York—he was working on a case that needed him more than the business in Beijing did—he volunteered anyway, and off he went. At first he had hoped he might be safe: the woolly numbness of jet lag was sometimes indistinguishable from the woolly numbness of his grief, and there were other things that were so physically uncomfortable—including the heat, which was woolly itself, woolly and sodden—that he had thought he would be able to distract himself. But then one night near the end of the trip he was being driven back to the hotel from a long day of meetings, and he had looked out of the car window and had seen, glittering over the road, a massive billboard of Willem’s face. It was a beer ad that Willem had shot two years ago, one that was only displayed throughout east Asia. But hanging from the top of the billboard were people on pulleys, and he realized that they were painting over the ad, that they were erasing Willem’s face. Suddenly,

his breath left him, and he had almost asked the driver to stop, but he wouldn’t have been able to—they were on a loop of a road, one with no exits or places to pull over, and so he’d had to sit very still, his heart erupting within him, counting the beats it took to reach the hotel, thank the driver, get out, walk through the lobby, ride the elevator, walk down the hallway, and enter his room, where before he could think, he was throwing himself against the cold marble wall of the shower, his mouth open and his eyes shut, tossing and tossing himself until he was in so much pain that his every vertebrae felt as if it had been jolted out of its sockets.

That night he cut himself wildly, uncontrollably, and when he was shaking too badly to continue, he waited, and cleaned the floor, and drank some juice to give himself energy, and then started again. After three rounds of this he crept to the corner of the shower stall and wept, folding his arms over his head, making his hair tacky with blood, and that night he slept there, covered with a towel instead of a blanket. He had done this sometimes when he was a child and had felt like he was exploding, separating from himself like a dying star, and would feel the need to tuck himself into the smallest space he could find so his very bones would stay knit together. Then, he would carefully work himself out from beneath Brother Luke and ball himself on the filthy motel carpet under the bed, which was prickly with burrs and dropped thumbtacks and slimy with used condoms and strange damp spots, or he would sleep in the bathtub or in the closet, beetled up as tight as he was able. “My poor potato bug,” Brother Luke would say when he found him like this. “Why are you doing this, Jude?” He had been gentle, and worried, but he had never been able to explain it.

Somehow he made it through that trip; somehow he had made it

through a year. The night of Willem’s death he dreamed of glass vases imploding, of Willem’s body being projected through the air, of his face shattering against the tree. He woke missing Willem so profoundly that he felt he was going blind. The day after he returned home, he saw the first of the posters for The Happy Years, which had reverted to its original title: The Dancer and the Stage. Some of these posters were of Willem’s face, his hair longish like Nureyev’s and his top scooped low on his chest, his neck long and powerful. And some were of just monumental images of a foot—Willem’s actual foot, he happened to know—in a toe shoe, en pointe, shot so close you could see its veins and hairs, its thin straining muscles and fat bulging

tendons. Opening Thanksgiving Day, the posters read. Oh god, he thought, and had gone back inside, oh god. He wanted the reminders to stop; he dreaded the day when they would. In recent weeks he’d had the sense that Willem was receding from him, even as his grief refused to diminish in intensity.

The next week they went to the Irvines’. They had decided, in some unspoken way, that they should go up together, and they met at Richard’s apartment and he gave Richard the keys to the car and Richard drove them. They were all silent, even JB, and he was very nervous. He had the sense that the Irvines were angry at him; he had the sense he deserved their anger.

Dinner was all of Malcolm’s favorite foods, and as they ate, he could feel Mr. Irvine staring at him and wondered whether he was thinking what he himself always thought: Why Malcolm? Why not him?

Mrs. Irvine had suggested that they all go around the table and share a memory of Malcolm, and he had sat, listening to the others— Mrs. Irvine, who had told a story about how they had been visiting the Pantheon when Malcolm was six and how, five minutes after they had left, they had realized that Malcolm was missing and had rushed back to find him sitting on the ground, gazing and gazing at the oculus; Flora, who told a story about how as a second-grader Malcolm had appropriated her dollhouse from the attic, removed all the dolls, and filled it with little objects, dozens of chairs and tables and sofas and even pieces of furniture that had no name, that he had made with clay; JB, the story of how they had all returned to Hood one Thanksgiving a day early and had broken into the dormitory so they could have it to themselves, and how Malcolm had built a fire in the living room’s fireplace so they could roast sausages for dinner—and when it was his turn, he told the story of how back at Lispenard Street, Malcolm had built them a set of bookcases, which had partitioned their squish of a living room into such a meager sliver that when you were sitting on the sofa and stretched your legs out, you stretched them into the bookcase itself. But he had wanted the shelves, and Willem had said he could. And so over Malcolm had come with the cheapest wood possible, leftovers from the lumberyard, and he and Willem had taken the wood to the roof and assembled the bookcase there, so the neighbors wouldn’t complain about the banging, and then they had brought it back down and installed it.

But when they did, Malcolm had realized that he’d mismeasured,

and the bookcases were three inches too wide, which caused the edge of the unit to jut into the hallway. He hadn’t minded, and neither had Willem, but Malcolm had wanted to fix it.

“Don’t, Mal,” they had both told him. “It’s great, it’s fine.” “It’s not great,” Malcolm had said, mopily. “It’s not fine.”

Finally they had managed to convince him, and Malcolm had left. He and Willem painted the case a bright vermilion and loaded it with their books. And then early the next Sunday, Malcolm appeared again, looking determined. “I can’t stop thinking about this,” he said. And he’d set his bag down on the floor and drawn out a hacksaw and had started gnawing away at the structure, the two of them shouting at him until they realized that he was going to alter it whether they helped him or not. So back up to the roof went the bookcase; back down, once again, it came, and this time, it was perfect.

“I always think of that incident,” he said, as the others listened. “Because it says so much about how seriously Malcolm took his work, and how he always strove to be perfect in it, to respect the material, whether it was marble or plywood. But I also think it says so much about how much he respected space, any space, even a horrible, unfixable, depressing apartment in Chinatown: even that space deserved respect.

“And it says so much about how much he respected his friends, how much he wanted us all to live somewhere he imagined for us: someplace as beautiful and vivid as his imaginary houses were to him.”

He stopped. What he wanted to say—but what he didn’t think he could get through—was what he had overheard Malcolm say as Willem was complaining about hefting the bookcase back into place and he was in the bathroom gathering the brushes and paint from beneath the sink. “If I had left it like it was, he could’ve tripped against it and fallen, Willem,” Malcolm had whispered. “Would you want that?”

“No,” Willem had said, after a pause, sounding ashamed. “No, of course not. You’re right, Mal.” Malcolm, he realized, had been the first among them to recognize that he was disabled; Malcolm had known this even before he did. He had always been conscious of it, but he had never made him feel self-conscious. Malcolm had sought, only, to make his life easier, and he had once resented him for this.

As they were leaving for the night, Mr. Irvine put his hand on his shoulder. “Jude, will you stay behind for a bit?” he asked. “I’ll have

Monroe drive you home.”

He had to agree and so he did, telling Richard he could take the car back to Greene Street. For a while they sat in the living room, just he and Mr. Irvine—Malcolm’s mother remained in the dining room with Flora and her husband and children—talking about his health, and Mr. Irvine’s health, and Harold, and his work, when Mr. Irvine began to cry. He had stood then, and had sat down again next to Mr. Irvine, and placed his hand hesitantly on his back, feeling awkward and shy, feeling the decades slip away from beneath him.

Mr. Irvine had always been such an intimidating figure to all of them throughout their adulthoods. His height, his self-possession, his large, hard features—he looked like something from an Edward Curtis photograph, and that was what they all called him: “The Chief.” “What’s the Chief gonna say about this, Mal?” JB had asked when Malcolm told them he was going to quit Ratstar, and they were all trying to urge temperance. Or (JB again): “Mal, can you ask the Chief if I can use the apartment when I’m passing through Paris next month?”

But Mr. Irvine was no longer the Chief: although he was still logical and upright, he was eighty-nine, and his dark eyes had turned that same unnamable gray that only the very young or the very old possess: the color of the sea from which one comes, the color of the sea to which one returns.

“I loved him,” Mr. Irvine told him. “You know that, Jude, right?

You know I did.”

“I do,” he said. It was what he had always told Malcolm: “Of course your dad loves you, Mal. Of course he does. Parents love their kids.” And once, when Malcolm was very upset (he could no longer remember why), he had snapped at him, “Like you’d know anything about that, Jude,” and there had been a silence, and then Malcolm, horrified, had begun apologizing to him. “I’m sorry, Jude,” he’d said, “I’m so sorry.” And he’d had nothing to say, because Malcolm was right: he didn’t know anything about that. What he knew, he knew from books, and books lied, they made things prettier. It had been the worst thing Malcolm had ever said to him, and although he had never mentioned it to Malcolm again, Malcolm had mentioned it to him, once, shortly after the adoption.

“I will never forget that thing I said to you,” he’d said.

“Mal, forget it,” he’d told him, although he knew exactly what Malcolm was referring to, “you were upset. It was a long time ago.”

“But it was wrong,” Malcolm had said. “And I was wrong. On every level.”

As he sat with Mr. Irvine, he thought: I wish Malcolm could have had this moment. This moment should have been Malcolm’s.

And so now he visits the Irvines after visiting Lucien, and the visits are not dissimilar. They are both drifts into the past, they are both old men talking at him about memories he doesn’t share, about contexts with which he is unfamiliar. But although these visits depress him, he feels he must fulfill them: both are with people who had always given him time and conversation when he had needed it but hadn’t known how to ask for it. When he was twenty-five and new to the city, he had lived at the Irvines’, and Mr. Irvine would talk to him about the market, and law, and had given him advice: not advice about how to think as much as advice about how to be, about how to be a curiosity in a world in which curiosities weren’t often tolerated. “People are going to think certain things about you because of how you walk,” Mr. Irvine had once said to him, and he had looked down. “No,” he’d said. “Don’t look down, Jude. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re a brilliant man, and you’ll be brilliant, and you’ll be rewarded for your brilliance. But if you act like you don’t belong, if you act like you’re apologetic for your own self, then people will start to treat you that way, too.” He’d taken a deep breath. “Believe me.” Be as steely as you want to be, Mr. Irvine had said. Don’t try to get people to like you. Never try to make yourself more palatable in order to make your colleagues more comfortable. Harold had taught him how to think as a litigator, but Mr. Irvine had taught him how to behave as one. And Lucien had recognized both of these abilities, and had appreciated them both as well.

That afternoon his visit at the Irvines’ is brief because Mr. Irvine is

tired, and on his way out he sees Flora—Fabulous Flora, of whom Malcolm was so proud and so envious—and they speak for a few minutes before he leaves. It is early October but still warm, the mornings like summer but the afternoons turning dark and wintry, and as he walks up Park to his car, he remembers how he used to spend his Saturdays here twenty years ago: more. Then he would walk home, and on his way he would occasionally stop by a famous, pricey bakery on Madison Avenue that he liked and buy a loaf of walnut bread—a single loaf cost as much as he was willing to spend on a dinner back then—that he and Willem would eat with butter and salt. The bakery is still there, and now he veers west off Park to go buy a

loaf, which somehow seems to have remained fixed in price, at least in his memory, while everything else has grown so much more expensive. Until he began his Saturday visits to Lucien and the Irvines, he couldn’t remember the last time he was in this neighborhood in daytime—his appointments with Andy are in the evenings—and now he lingers, looking at the pretty children running down the wide clean sidewalks, their pretty mothers strolling behind them, the linden trees above him shading their leaves into a pale, reluctant yellow. He passes Seventy-fifth Street, where he once tutored Felix, Felix who is now, unbelievably, thirty-three, and no longer a singer in a punk band but, even more unbelievably, a hedge fund manager as his father once was.

At the apartment he cuts the bread, slices some cheese, brings the plate to the table and stares at it. He is making a real effort to eat real meals, to resume the habits and practices of the living. But eating has become somehow difficult for him. His appetite has disappeared, and everything tastes like paste, or like the powdered mashed potatoes they had served at the home. He tries, though. Eating is easier when he has to perform for an audience, and so he has dinner every Friday with Andy, and every Saturday with JB. And he has started appearing every Sunday evening at Richard’s—together the two of them cook one of Richard’s kaley vegetarian meals, and then India joins them at the table.

He has also resumed reading the paper, and now he pushes aside the bread and cheese and opens the arts section cautiously, as if it might bite him. Two Sundays ago he had been feeling confident and had snapped open the first page and been confronted with a story about the film that Willem was to have begun shooting the previous September. The piece was about how the movie had been recast, and how there was strong early critical support for it, and how the main character had been renamed for Willem, and he had shut the paper and had gone to his bed and had held a pillow over his head until he was able to stand again. He knows that for the next two years he will be confronted by articles, posters, signs, commercials, for films Willem was to have been shooting in these past twelve months. But today there is nothing in the paper other than a full-page advertisement for The Dancer and the Stage, and he stares at Willem’s almost life-size face for a long, long time, holding his hand over its eyes and then lifting it off. If this were a movie, he thinks, the face would start speaking to him. If this were a movie, he would look up and Willem would be

standing before him.

Sometimes he thinks: I am doing better. I am getting better. Sometimes he wakes full of fortitude and vigor. Today will be the day, he thinks. Today will be the first day I really get better. Today will be the day I miss Willem less. And then something will happen, something as simple as walking into his closet and seeing the lonely, waiting stand of Willem’s shirts that will never be worn again, and his ambition, his hopefulness will dissolve, and he will be cast into despair once again. Sometimes he thinks: I can do this. But more and more now, he knows: I can’t. He has made a promise to himself to every day find a new reason to keep going. Some of these reasons are little reasons, they are tastes he likes, they are symphonies he likes, they are paintings he likes, buildings he likes, operas and books he likes, places he wants to see, either again or for the first time. Some of these reasons are obligations: Because he should. Because he can. Because Willem would want him to. And some of the reasons are big reasons: Because of Richard. Because of JB. Because of Julia. And, especially, because of Harold.

A little less than a year after he had tried to kill himself, he and

Harold had taken a walk. It was Labor Day; they were in Truro. He remembers that he was having trouble walking that weekend; he remembers stepping carefully through the dunes; he remembers feeling Harold trying not to touch him, trying not to help him.

Finally they had sat and rested and looked out toward the ocean and talked: about a case he was working on, about Laurence, who was retiring, about Harold’s new book. And then suddenly Harold had said, “Jude, you have to promise me you won’t do that again,” and it was Harold’s tone—stern, where Harold was rarely stern—that made him look at him.

“Harold,” he began.

“I try not to ask you for anything,” Harold said, “because I don’t want you to think you owe me anything: and you don’t.” He turned and looked at him, and his expression too was stern. “But I’m asking you this. I’m asking you. You have to promise me.”

He hesitated. “I promise,” he said, finally, and Harold nodded. “Thank you,” he said.

They had never discussed this conversation again, and although he knew it wasn’t quite logical, he didn’t want to break this promise to Harold. At times, it seemed that this promise—this verbal contract— was the only real deterrent to his trying again, although he knew that

if he were to do it again, it wouldn’t be an attempt: this time, he would really do it. He knew how he’d do it; he knew it would work. Since Willem had died, he had thought about it almost daily. He knew the timeline he’d need to follow, he knew how he would arrange to be found. Two months ago, in a very bad week, he had even rewritten his will so that it now read as the document of someone who had died with apologies to make, whose bequests would be attempts to ask for forgiveness. And although he isn’t intending to honor this will—as he reminds himself—he hasn’t changed it, either.

He hopes for infection, something swift and fatal, something that will kill him and leave him blameless. But there is no infection. Since his amputations, there have been no wounds. He is still in pain, but no more—less, actually—than he had been in before. He is cured, or at least as cured as he will ever be.

So there is no real reason for him to see Andy once a week, but he does anyway, because he knows Andy is worried he will kill himself. He is worried he will kill himself. And so every Friday he goes uptown. Most of these Fridays are just dinner dates, except for the second Friday of the month, when their dinner is preceded by an appointment. Here, everything is the same: only his missing feet, his missing calves, are proof that things have changed. In other ways, he has reverted to the person he was decades before. He is self-conscious again. He is scared to be touched. Three years before Willem died he had finally been able to ask him to massage the cream into the scars on his back, and Willem had done so, and for a while, he had felt different, like a snake who had grown a new skin. But now, of course, there is no one to help him and the scars are once again tight and bulky, webbing his back in a series of elastic restraints.

He knows now: People don’t change. He cannot change. Willem had

thought himself transformed by the experience of helping him through his recovery; he had been surprised by his own reserves, by his own forebearance. But he—he and everyone else—had always known that Willem had possessed those characteristics already. Those months may have clarified Willem to himself, but the qualities he had discovered had been a surprise to nobody but Willem. And in the same way, his losing Willem has been clarifying as well. In his years with Willem, he had been able to convince himself that he was someone else, someone happier, someone freer and braver. But now Willem is gone, and he is again who he was twenty, thirty, forty years ago.

And so, another Friday. He goes to Andy’s. The scale: Andy sighing. The questions: his replies, a series of yeses and nos. Yes, he feels fine. No, no more pain than usual. No, no sign of wounds. Yes, an episode every ten days to two weeks. Yes, he’s been sleeping. Yes, he’s been seeing people. Yes, he’s been eating. Yes, three meals a day. Yes, every day. No, he doesn’t know why he then keeps losing weight. No, he doesn’t want to consider seeing Dr. Loehmann again. The inspection of his arms: Andy turning them in his hands, looking for new cuts, not finding any. The week after he returned from Beijing, the week after he had lost control, Andy had looked at them and gasped, and he had looked down, too, and had remembered how bad it had been at times, how insane it had gotten. But Andy hadn’t said anything, just cleaned him up, and after he had finished, he had held both of his hands in both of his.

“A year,” Andy had said.

“A year,” he had echoed. And they had both been silent.

After the appointment, they go around the corner to a small Italian restaurant that they like. Andy is always watching him at these dinners, and if he thinks he’s not ordering enough food, he orders an additional dish for him and then badgers him until he eats it. But at this dinner he can tell Andy is anxious about something: as they wait for their food, Andy drinks, quickly, and talks to him about football, which he knows he doesn’t care about and never discusses with him. Andy had talked about sports with Willem, sometimes, and he would listen to them argue over one team or another as they sat at the dining table eating pistachios and he prepared dessert.

“Sorry,” Andy says, at last. “I’m babbling.” Their appetizers arrive, and they eat, quietly, before Andy takes a breath.

“Jude,” he says, “I’m giving up the practice.”

He has been cutting into his eggplant, but now he stops, puts down his fork. “Not anytime soon,” Andy adds, quickly. “Not for another three years or so. But I’m bringing in a partner this year so the transition process will be as smooth as possible: for the staff, but especially for my patients. He’ll take over more and more of the patient load with each year.” He pauses. “I think you’ll like him. I know you will. I’m going to stay your doctor until the day I leave, and I’ll give you lots of notice before I do. But I want you to meet him, to see if there’s any sort of chemistry between you two”—Andy smiles a bit, but he can’t bring himself to smile back—“and if there’s not, for whatever reason, then we’ll have plenty of time to find you someone

else. I have a couple of other people in mind who I know would be amenable to giving you the full-service treatment. And I won’t leave until we get you settled somewhere.”

He still can’t say anything, can’t even lift his head to look at Andy. “Jude,” he hears Andy say, softly, pleadingly. “I wish I could stay forever, for your sake. You’re the only one I wish I could stay for. But I’m tired. I’m almost sixty-two, and I always swore to myself I’d retire before I turned sixty-five. I—”

But he stops him. “Andy,” he says, “of course you should retire when you want to. You don’t owe me an explanation. I’m happy for you. I am. I’m just. I’m just going to miss you. You’ve been so good to me.” He pauses. “I’m so dependent on you,” he admits at last.

“Jude,” Andy begins, and then is silent. “Jude, I’ll always be your friend. I’ll always be here to help you, medically or otherwise. But you need someone who can grow old with you. This guy I’m bringing in is forty-six; he’ll be around to treat you for the rest of your life, if you want him.”

“As long as I die in the next nineteen years,” he hears himself saying. There’s another silence. “I’m sorry, Andy,” he says, appalled by how wretched he feels, how pettily he is behaving. He has always known, after all, that Andy would retire at some point. But he realizes now that he had never thought he would be alive to see it. “I’m sorry,” he repeats. “Don’t listen to me.”

“Jude,” Andy says, quietly. “I’ll always be here for you, in one way or another. I promised you way back when, and I still mean it now.

“Look, Jude,” he continues, after a pause. “I know this isn’t going to be easy. I know that no one else is going to be able to re-create our history. I’m not being arrogant; I just don’t think anyone else is going to totally understand, necessarily. But we’ll get as close as we can. And who couldn’t love you?” Andy smiles again, but once more, he can’t smile back. “Either way, I want you to come meet this new guy: Linus. He’s a good doctor, and just as important, a good person. I won’t tell him any of your specifics; I just want you to meet him, all right?”

So the next Friday he goes uptown, and in Andy’s office is another man, short and handsome and with a smile that reminds him of Willem’s. Andy introduces them and they shake hands. “I’ve heard so much about you, Jude,” Linus says. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, finally.”

“You too,” he says. “Congratulations.”

Andy leaves them to talk, and they do, a little awkwardly, joking about how this meeting seems like a blind date. Linus has been told only about his amputations, and they discuss them briefly, and the osteomyelitis that had preceded them. “Those treatments can be a killer,” Linus says, but he doesn’t offer his sympathy for his lost legs, which he appreciates. Linus had been a doctor at a group practice that he’d heard Andy mention before; he seems genuinely admiring of Andy and excited to be working with him.

There is nothing wrong with Linus. He can tell, by the questions he asks, and the respect with which he asks them, that he is indeed a good doctor, and probably a good person. But he also knows he will never be able to undress in front of Linus. He can’t imagine having the discussions he has with Andy with anyone else. He can’t imagine allowing anyone else such access to his body, to his fears. When he thinks of someone seeing his body anew he quails: ever since the amputation, he has only looked at himself once. He watches Linus’s face, his unsettlingly Willem-like smile, and although he is only five years older than Linus, he feels centuries older, something broken and desiccated, something that anyone would look at and quickly throw the tarpaulin over once more. “Take this one away,” they’d say. “It’s junked.”

He thinks of the conversations he will need to have, the

explanations he will need to give: about his back, his arms, his legs, his diseases. He is so sick of his own fears, his own trepidations, but as tired as he is of them, he also cannot stop himself from indulging them. He thinks of Linus paging slowly through his chart, of seeing the years, the decades, of notes Andy has made about him: lists of his cuts, of his wounds, of the medications he has been on, of the flare-ups of his infections. Notes on his suicide attempt, on Andy’s pleas to get him to see Dr. Loehmann. He knows Andy has chronicled all of this; he knows how meticulous he is.

“You have to tell someone,” Ana used to say, and as he had grown older, he had decided to interpret this sentence literally: Some One. Someday, he thought, somehow, he would find a way to tell some one, one person. And then he had, someone he had trusted, and that person had died, and he didn’t have the fortitude to tell his story ever again. But then, didn’t everyone only tell their lives—truly tell their lives—to one person? How often could he really be expected to repeat himself, when with each telling he was stripping the clothes from his skin and the flesh from his bones, until he was as vulnerable as a

small pink mouse? He knows, then, that he will never be able to go to another doctor. He will go to Andy for as long as he can, for as long as Andy will let him. And after that, he doesn’t know—he will figure out what to do then. For now, his privacy, his life, is still his. For now, no one else needs to know. His thoughts are so occupied with Willem— trying to re-create him, to hold his face and voice in his head, to keep him present—that his past is as far away as it has ever been: he is in the middle of a lake, trying to stay afloat; he can’t think of returning to shore and having to live among his memories again.

He doesn’t want to go to dinner with Andy that night, but they do, telling Linus goodbye as they leave. They walk to the sushi restaurant in silence, sit in silence, order, and wait in silence.

“What’d you think?” Andy finally asks. “He kind of looks like Willem,” he says. “Does he?” Andy says, and he shrugs. “A little,” he says. “The smile.”

“Ah,” Andy says. “I guess. I can see that.” There’s another silence. “But what did you think? I know it’s sometimes hard to tell from one meeting, but does he seem like someone you might be able to get along with?”

“I don’t think so, Andy,” he says at last, and can feel Andy’s disappointment.

“Really, Jude? What didn’t you like about him?” But he doesn’t answer, and finally Andy sighs. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I hoped you might feel comfortable enough around him to at least consider it. Will you think about it anyway? Maybe you’ll give him another chance? And in the meantime, there’s this other guy, Stephan Wu, who I think you should maybe meet. He’s not an orthopod, but I actually think that might be better; he’s certainly the best internist I’ve ever worked with. Or there’s this guy named—”

“Jesus, Andy, stop,” he says, and he can hear the anger in his voice, anger he hasn’t known he had. “Stop.” He looks up, sees Andy’s stricken face. “Are you so eager to get rid of me? Can’t you give me a break? Can’t you let me take this in for a while? Don’t you understand how hard this is for me?” He knows how selfish, how unreasonable, how self-absorbed he is being, and he is miserable but unable to stop himself, and he stands, bumping against the table. “Leave me alone,” he tells Andy. “If you’re not going to be here for me, then leave me alone.”

“Jude,” Andy says, but he has already pushed past the table, and as

he does, the waitress arrives with the food, and he can hear Andy curse and see him reach for his wallet, and he stumbles out of the restaurant. Mr. Ahmed doesn’t work on Fridays because he drives himself to Andy’s, but now instead of returning to the car, which is parked in front of Andy’s office, he hails a taxi and gets in quickly and leaves before Andy can catch him.

That night he turns off his phones, drugs himself, crawls into bed. He wakes the next day, texts both JB and Richard that he’s not feeling well and has to cancel his dinners with them, and then re-drugs himself until it is Monday. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. He has ignored all of Andy’s calls and texts and e-mails, all of his messages, but although he is no longer angry, only ashamed, he cannot bear to make one more apology, cannot bear his own meanness, his own weakness. “I’m frightened, Andy,” he wants to say. “What will I do without you?”

Andy loves sweets, and on Thursday afternoon he has one of his secretaries place an order for an absurd, a stupid amount of chocolates from Andy’s favorite candy shop. “Any note?” his secretary asks, and he shakes his head. “No,” he says, “just my name.” She nods and starts to leave and he calls her back, grabs a piece of notepaper from his desk, and scribbles Andy—I’m so embarrassed. Please forgive me. Jude, and hands it to her.

But the next night he doesn’t go to see Andy; he goes home to make dinner for Harold, who is in town on one of his unannounced visits. The previous spring had been Harold’s final semester, which he had failed to register until it was September. He and Willem had always spoken of throwing Harold a party when he finally retired, the way they had done for Julia when she had retired. But he had forgotten, and he had done nothing. And then he remembered and he still did nothing.

He is tired. He doesn’t want to see Harold. But he makes dinner anyway, a dinner he knows he will not eat, and serves it to Harold and then sits down himself.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Harold asks him, and he shakes his head. “I ate lunch at five today,” he lies. “I’ll eat later.”

He watches Harold eat, and sees that he is old, that the skin on his hands has become as soft and satiny as a baby’s. He is ever-more aware that he is one year older, two years older, and now, six years older than Harold was when they met. And yet for all these years, Harold has remained in his perceptions stubbornly forty-five; the only

thing that has changed is his perception of how old, exactly, forty-five is. It is embarrassing to admit this to himself, but it is only recently that he has begun considering that there is a possibility, even a probability, that he will outlive Harold. He has already lived beyond his imaginings; isn’t it likely he will live longer still?

He remembers a conversation they’d had when he turned thirty-five. “I’m middle-aged,” he’d said, and Harold had laughed.

“You’re young,” he’d said. “You’re so young, Jude. You’re only middle-aged if you plan on dying at seventy. And you’d better not. I’m really not going to be in the mood to attend your funeral.”

“You’re going to be ninety-five,” he said. “Are you really planning on still being alive then?”

“Alive, and frisky, and being attended to by an assortment of buxom young nurses, and not in any mood to go to some long-winded service.”

He had finally smiled. “And who’s paying for this fleet of buxom young nurses?”

“You, of course,” said Harold. “You and your big-pharma spoils.” But now he worries that this won’t happen after all. Don’t leave me,

Harold, he thinks, but it is a dull, spiritless request, one he doesn’t expect will be answered, made more from rote than from real hope. Don’t leave me.

“You’re not saying anything,” Harold says now, and he refocuses himself.

“I’m sorry, Harold,” he says. “I was drifting a little.”

“I can see that,” Harold says. “I was saying: Julia and I were thinking of spending some more time here, in the city, of living uptown full-time.”

He blinks. “You mean, moving here?”

“Well, we’ll keep the place in Cambridge,” Harold says, “but yes. I’m considering teaching a seminar at Columbia next fall, and we like spending time here.” He looks at him. “We thought it’d be nice to be closer to you, too.”

He isn’t sure what he thinks about this. “But what about your lives up there?” he asks. He is discomfited by this news; Harold and Julia love Cambridge—he has never thought they would leave. “What about Laurence and Gillian?”

“Laurence and Gillian are always coming through the city; so is everyone else.” Harold studies him again. “You don’t seem very happy about this, Jude.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, looking down. “But I just hope you’re not moving here because—because of me.” There’s a silence. “I don’t mean to sound presumptuous,” he says, finally. “But if it is because of me, then you shouldn’t, Harold. I’m fine. I’m doing fine.”

“Are you, Jude?” Harold asks, very quietly, and he suddenly stands, quickly, and goes to the bathroom near the kitchen, where he sits on the toilet seat and puts his face in his hands. He can hear Harold waiting on the other side of the door, but he says nothing, and neither does Harold. Finally, minutes later, when he’s able to compose himself, he opens the door again, and the two of them look at each other.

“I’m fifty-one,” he tells Harold.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harold asks.

“It means I can take care of myself,” he says. “It means I don’t need anyone to help me.”

Harold sighs. “Jude,” he says, “there’s not an expiration date on needing help, or needing people. You don’t get to a certain age and it stops.” They’re quiet again. “You’re so thin,” Harold continues, and when he doesn’t say anything, “What does Andy say?”

“I can’t keep having this conversation,” he says at last, his voice scraped and hoarse. “I can’t, Harold. And you can’t, either. I feel like all I do is disappoint you, and I’m sorry for that, I’m sorry for all of it. But I’m really trying. I’m doing the best I can. I’m sorry if it’s not good enough.” Harold tries to interject, but he talks over him. “This is who I am. This is it, Harold. I’m sorry I’m such a problem for you. I’m sorry I’m ruining your retirement. I’m sorry I’m not happier. I’m sorry I’m not over Willem. I’m sorry I have a job you don’t respect. I’m sorry I’m such a nothing of a person.” He no longer knows what he’s saying; he no longer knows how he feels: he wants to cut himself, to disappear, to lie down and never get up again, to hurl himself into space. He hates himself; he pities himself; he hates himself for pitying himself. “I think you should go,” he says. “I think you should leave.”

“Jude,” Harold says.

“Please go,” he says. “Please. I’m tired. I need to be left alone. Please leave me alone.” And he turns from Harold and stands, waiting, until he hears Harold walk away from him.

After Harold leaves, he takes the elevator to the roof. Here there is a stone wall, chest-high, that lines the perimeter of the building, and he leans against it, swallowing the cool air, placing his palms flat against the top of the wall to try to stop them from shaking. He thinks

of Willem, of how he and Willem used to stand on this roof at night, not saying anything, just looking down into other people’s apartments. From the southern end of the roof, they could almost see the roof of their old building on Lispenard Street, and sometimes they would pretend that they could see not just the building, but them within it, their former selves performing a theater of their daily lives.

“There must be a fold in the space-time continuum,” Willem would say in his action-hero voice. “You’re here beside me, and yet—I can see you moving around in that shithole apartment. My god, St. Francis: Do you realize what’s going on here?!” Back then, he would always laugh, but remembering this now, he cannot. These days, his only pleasure is thoughts of Willem, and yet those same thoughts are also his greatest source of sorrow. He wishes he could forget as completely as Lucien has: that Willem ever existed, his life with him.

As he stands on the roof, he considers what he has done: He has been irrational. He has gotten angry at someone who has, once again, offered to help him, someone he is grateful for, someone he owes, someone he loves. Why am I acting like this, he thinks. But there’s no answer.

Let me get better, he asks. Let me get better or let me end it. He feels that he is in a cold cement room, from which prong several exits, and one by one, he is shutting the doors, closing himself in the room, eliminating his chances for escape. But why is he doing this? Why is he trapping himself in this place he hates and fears when there are other places he could go? This, he thinks, is his punishment for depending on others: one by one, they will leave him, and he will be alone again, and this time it will be worse because he will remember it had once been better. He has the sense, once again, that his life is moving backward, that it is becoming smaller and smaller, the cement box shrinking around him until he is left with a space so cramped that he must fold himself into a crouch, because if he lies down, the ceiling will lower itself upon him and he will be smothered.

Before he goes to bed he writes Harold a note apologizing for his

behavior. He works through Saturday; he sleeps through Sunday. And a new week begins. On Tuesday, he gets a message from Todd. The first of the lawsuits are being settled, for massive figures, but even Todd knows enough not to ask him to celebrate. His messages, by phone or by e-mail, are clipped and sober: the name of the company that is ready to settle, the proposed amount, a short “congratulations.” On Wednesday, he is meant to stop by the artists’ nonprofit where

he still does pro bono work, but he instead meets JB downtown at the Whitney, where his retrospective is being hung. This show is another souvenir from the ghosted past: it has been in the planning stages for almost two years. When JB had told them about it, the three of them had thrown a small party for him at Greene Street.

“Well, JB, you know what this means, right?” Willem had asked, gesturing toward the two paintings—Willem and the Girl and Willem and Jude, Lispenard Street, II, from JB’s first show, which hung, side by side, in their living room. “As soon as the show comes down, all of these pieces are going straight to Christie’s,” and everyone had laughed, JB hardest of all, proud and delighted and relieved.

Those pieces, along with Willem, London, October 8, 9:08 a.m., from “Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days,” which he had bought, and Jude, New York, October 14, 7:02 a.m., which Willem had, along with the ones they owned from “Everyone I’ve Ever Known” and “The Narcissist’s Guide to Self-Hatred” and “Frog and Toad,” and all the drawings, the paintings, the sketches of JB’s that the two of them had been given and had kept, some since college, will be in the Whitney exhibit, as well as previously unshown work.

There will also be a concurrent show of new paintings at JB’s gallery, and three weekends before, he had gone to JB’s studio in Greenpoint to see them. The series is called “The Golden Anniversary,” and it is a chronicle of JB’s parents’ lives, both together, before he was born, and in an imagined future, the two of them living on and on, together, into old age. In reality, JB’s mother is still alive, as are his aunts, but in these paintings, so too is JB’s father, who had actually died at the age of thirty-six. The series is just sixteen paintings, many of them smaller in scale than JB’s previous works, and as he walked through JB’s studio, looking at these scenes of domestic fantasy—his sixty-year-old father coring an apple while his mother made a sandwich; his seventy-year-old father sitting on the sofa reading the paper, while in the background, his mother’s legs can be seen descending a flight of stairs—he couldn’t help but see what his life too was and might have been. It was precisely these scenes he missed the most from his own life with Willem, the forgettable, in-between moments in which nothing seemed to be happening but whose absence was singularly unfillable.

Interspersing the portraits were still lifes of the objects that had

made JB’s parents’ lives together: two pillows on a bed, both slightly depressed as if someone had dragged the back of a spoon through a

bowl of clotted cream; two coffee cups, one’s edge faintly pinked with lipstick; a single picture frame containing a photograph of a teenaged JB with his father: the only appearance JB made in these paintings. And seeing these images, he once again marveled at how perfect JB’s understanding was of a life together, of his life, of how everything in his apartment—Willem’s sweatpants, still slung over the edge of the laundry hamper; Willem’s toothbrush, still waiting in the glass on the bathroom sink; Willem’s watch, its face splintered from the accident, still sitting untouched on his nightstand—had become totemic, a series of runes only he could read. The table next to Willem’s side of the bed at Lantern House had become a sort of unintentional shrine to him: there was the mug he had last drunk from, and the black-framed glasses he’d recently started wearing, and the book he was reading, still splayed, facedown, in the position he’d left it.

“Oh, JB,” he had sighed, and although he had wanted to say

something else, he couldn’t. But JB had thanked him anyway. They were quieter around each other now, and he didn’t know if this was who JB had become or if this was who JB had become around him.

Now he knocks on the museum’s doors and is let in by one of JB’s studio assistants, who is waiting for him and who tells him that JB is overseeing the installation on the top floor, but says he should start on the sixth floor and work his way up to meet him, and so he does.

The galleries on this floor are dedicated to JB’s early works, including juvenilia; there is a whole grid of framed drawings from JB’s childhood, including a math test over which JB had drawn lovely little pencil portraits of, presumably, his classmates: eight- and nine-year-olds bent over their desks, eating candy bars, feeding birds. He had neglected to solve any of the problems, and at the top of the page was a bright red “F,” along with a note: “Dear Mrs. Marion—you see what the problem is here. Please come see me. Sincerely, Jamie Greenberg. P.S. Your son is an immense talent.” He smiles looking at this, the first time he can feel himself smiling in a long time. In a lucite cube on a stand in the middle of the room are a few objects from “The Kwotidien,” including the hair-covered hairbrush that JB had never returned to him, and he smiles again, looking at them, thinking of their weekends devoted to searching for clippings.

The rest of the floor is given over to images from “The Boys,” and

he walks slowly through the rooms, looking at pictures of Malcolm, of him, of Willem. Here are the two of them in their bedroom at Lispenard Street, both of them sitting on their twin beds, staring

straight into JB’s camera, Willem with a small smile; here they are again at the card table, he working on a brief, Willem reading a book. Here they are at a party. Here they are at another party. Here he is with Phaedra; here Willem is with Richard. Here is Malcolm with his sister, Malcolm with his parents. Here is Jude with Cigarette, here is Jude, After Sickness. Here is a wall with pen-and-ink sketches of these images, sketches of them. Here are the photographs that inspired the paintings. Here is the photograph of him from which Jude with Cigarette was painted: here he is—that expression on his face, that hunch of his shoulders—a stranger to himself and yet instantly recognizable to himself as well.

The stairwells between the floors are densely hung with interstitial pieces, drawings and small paintings, studies and experimentations, that JB made between bodies of work. He sees the portrait JB made of him for Harold and Julia, for his adoption; he sees drawings of him in Truro, of him in Cambridge, of Harold and Julia. Here are the four of them; here are JB’s aunts and mother and grandmother; here is the Chief and Mrs. Irvine; here is Flora; here is Richard, and Ali, and the Henry Youngs, and Phaedra.

The next floor: “Everyone I’ve Ever Known Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Everyone I’ve Ever Hated Everyone I’ve Ever Fucked”; “Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days.” Behind him, around him, installers mill, making small adjustments with their white-gloved hands, standing back and staring at the walls. Once again he enters the stairwell. Once again he looks up, and there he sees, again and again, drawings of him: of his face, of him standing, of him in his wheelchair, of him with Willem, of him alone. These are pieces that JB had made when they weren’t speaking, when he had abandoned JB. There are drawings of other people as well, but they are mostly of him: him and Jackson. Again and again, Jackson and him, a checkerboard of the two of them. The images of him are wistful, faint, pencils and pen-and-inks and watercolors. The ones of Jackson are acrylics, thick-lined, looser and angrier. There is one drawing of him that is very small, on a postcard-size piece of paper, and when he examines it more closely, he sees that something had been written on it, and then erased: “Dear Jude,” he makes out, “please”—but there is nothing more after that word. He turns away, his breathing quick, and sees the watercolor of a camellia bush that JB had sent him when he was in the hospital, after he had tried to kill himself.

The next floor: “The Narcissist’s Guide to Self-Hatred.” This had

been JB’s least commercially successful show, and he can understand why—to look at these works, their insistent anger and self-loathing, was to be both awed and made almost unbearably uncomfortable. The Coon, one painting was called; The Buffoon; The Bojangler; The Steppin Fetchit. In each, JB, his skin shined and dark, his eyes bulging and yellowed, dances or howls or cackles, his gums awful and huge and fish-flesh pink, while in the background, Jackson and his friends emerge half formed from a gloom of Goyan browns and grays, all crowing at him, clapping their hands and pointing and laughing. The last painting in this series was called Even Monkeys Get the Blues, and it was of JB wearing a pert red fez and a shrunken red epauletted jacket, pantsless, hopping on one leg in an empty warehouse. He lingers on this floor, staring at these paintings, blinking, his throat shutting, and then slowly moves to the stairs a final time.

Then he is on the top floor, and here there are more people, and for

a while he stands to the side, watching JB talking to the curators and his gallerist, laughing and gesturing. These galleries are hung, mostly, with images from “Frog and Toad,” and he moves from each to each, not really seeing them but rather remembering the experience of viewing them for the first time, in JB’s studio, when he and Willem were new to each other, when he felt as if he was growing new body parts—a second heart, a second brain—to accommodate this excess of feeling, the wonder of his life.

He is staring at one of the paintings when JB finally sees him and comes over, and he hugs JB tightly and congratulates him. “JB,” he says. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks, Judy,” JB says, smiling. “I’m proud of me too, goddammit.” And then he stops smiling. “I wish they were here,” he says.

He shakes his head. “I do too,” he manages to say.

For a while they are silent. Then, “Come here,” JB says, and grabs his hand and pulls him to the far side of the floor, past JB’s gallerist, who waves at him, past a final crate of framed drawings that are being unboxed, to a wall where a canvas is having its skin of bubble wrap carefully cut away from it. JB positions them before it, and when the plastic is unpeeled, he sees it is a painting of Willem.

The piece isn’t large—just four feet by three feet—and is horizontally oriented. It is by far the most sharply photorealistic painting JB has produced in years, the colors rich and dense, the brushstrokes that made Willem’s hair feathery-fine. The Willem in this

painting looks like Willem did shortly before he died: he thinks he is seeing Willem in the months before or after shooting The Dancer and the Stage, for which his hair was longer and darker than it was in life. After Dancer, he decides, because the sweater he is wearing, a black-green the color of magnolia leaves, is one he remembers buying for Willem in Paris when he went to visit him there.

He steps back, still looking. In the painting, Willem’s torso is directed toward the viewer, but his face is turned to the right so that he is almost in profile, and he is leaning toward something or someone and smiling. And because he knows Willem’s smiles, he knows Willem has been captured looking at something he loves, he knows Willem in that instant was happy. Willem’s face and neck dominate the canvas, and although the background is suggested rather than shown, he knows that Willem is at their table; he knows it from the way JB has drawn the light and shadows on Willem’s face. He has the sense that if he says Willem’s name, then the face in the painting will turn toward him and answer; he has the sense that if he stretches his hand out and strokes the canvas, he will feel beneath his fingertips Willem’s hair, his fringe of eyelashes.

But he doesn’t do this, of course, just looks up at last and sees JB

smiling at him, sadly. “The title card’s been mounted already,” JB says, and he goes slowly to the wall behind the painting and sees its title—Willem Listening to Jude Tell a Story, Greene Street—and he feels his breath abandon him; it feels as if his heart is made of something oozing and cold, like ground meat, and it is being squeezed inside a fist so that chunks of it are falling, plopping to the ground near his feet.

He is abruptly dizzy. “I need to sit,” he finally says, and JB takes him around the corner, to the other side of the wall where Willem will hang, where there’s a small cul-de-sac. He half sits atop one of the crates that’s been left here and hangs his head, resting his hands on his thighs. “I’m sorry,” he manages to say. “I’m sorry, JB.”

“It’s for you,” JB says, quietly. “When the show comes down, Jude.

It’s yours.”

“Thank you, JB,” he says. He makes himself stand upright, feels everything within him shift. I need to eat something, he thinks. When was the last time he ate? Breakfast, he thinks, but yesterday. He reaches his hand out toward the crate to center himself, to stop the rocking he feels within his head and spine; he feels this sensation more and more frequently, a floating away, a state close to ecstasy.

Take me somewhere, he hears a voice inside him say, but he doesn’t know to whom he is saying this, or where he wants to go. Take me, take me. He is thinking this, crossing his arms over himself, when JB suddenly grabs him by his shoulders and kisses him on the mouth.

He wrenches away. “What the hell are you doing?” he asks, and he fumbles backward, rubbing his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Jude, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything,” JB says. “You just look so

—so sad.”

“So this is what you do?” he spits at JB, who steps toward him. “Don’t you dare touch me, JB.” In the background, he can hear the chatter of the installers, JB’s gallerist, the curators. He takes another step, this time toward the edge of the wall. I’m going to faint, he thinks, but he doesn’t.

“Jude,” JB says, and then, his face changing, “Jude?”

But he is moving away from him. “Get away from me,” he says. “Don’t touch me. Leave me alone.”

“Jude,” JB says in a low voice, following him, “you don’t look good. Let me help you.” But he keeps walking, trying to get away from JB. “I’m sorry, Jude,” JB continues. “I’m sorry.” He is aware of the pack of people moving as a clump to the other side of the floor, hardly noticing him leaving, JB next to him; it is as if they don’t exist.

Twenty more steps to the elevators, he estimates; eighteen more steps; sixteen; fifteen; fourteen. Beneath him, the floor has become a loosely spinning top, wobbling on its axis. Ten; nine; eight. “Jude,” says JB, who won’t stop talking, “let me help you. Why won’t you talk to me anymore?” He is at the elevator; he smacks the button with his palm; he leans against the wall, praying he’ll be able to stay upright.

“Get away from me,” he hisses at JB. “Leave me alone.”

The elevator arrives; the doors open. He steps toward them. His walk now is different: he still leads with his left leg, always, and he still lifts it unnaturally high—that hasn’t changed, that has been dictated by his injury. But he no longer drags his right leg, and because his prosthetic feet are so well-articulated—much more so than his own feet had been—he is able to feel the roll of his foot as it leaves the floor, the complicated, beautiful pat of it laying itself down on the ground again, section by section.

But when he is tired, when he is desperate, he finds himself unconsciously reverting to his old gait, with each foot landing flatly, slabbily, on the floor, with his right leg listing behind him. And as he steps into the elevator he forgets that his steel-and-fiberglass legs are

made for more nuance than he is allowing them, and he trips and falls. “Jude!” he hears JB call out, and because he is so weak, for a moment everything is dark and empty, and when he regains his vision, he sees that the flock of people have heard JB cry out, that they are now walking in his direction. He sees as well JB’s face above him, but he is too tired to interpret his expression. Willem Listening to Jude Tell a Story, he thinks, and before him appears the painting: Willem’s face, Willem’s smile, but Willem isn’t looking at him, he is looking somewhere else. What if, he thinks, the Willem of the painting is in fact looking for him? He has a sudden urge to stand to the painting’s right, to sit in a chair in what would be Willem’s sightline, to never leave that painting by itself. There is Willem, imprisoned forever in a one-sided conversation. Here he is, in life, imprisoned as well. He thinks of Willem, alone in his painting, night after night in the empty museum, waiting and waiting for him to tell him a story.

Forgive me, Willem, he tells Willem in his head. Forgive me, but I have

to leave you now. Forgive me, but I have to go.

“Jude,” JB says. The elevator doors are closing, but JB reaches his arm out to him.

But he ignores it, works himself to his feet, leans into the corner of the elevator car. The people are very close now. Everyone moves so much faster than he does. “Stay away from me,” he says to JB, but he is quiet. “Leave me alone. Please leave me alone.”

“Jude,” JB says again. “I’m sorry.”

And he begins to say something else, but as he does, the elevator doors close—and he is left alone at last.

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