Chapter no 8

A Little Life

ONE SATURDAY MORNING shortly after he turns thirty-six, he opens his eyes and experiences that strange, lovely sensation he sometimes has, the one in which he realizes that his life is cloudless. He imagines Harold and Julia in Cambridge, the two of them moving dozily through the kitchen, pouring coffee into their stained and chipped mugs and

shaking the dew off of the plastic newspaper bags, and, in the air, Willem flying toward him from Cape Town. He pictures Malcolm pressed against Sophie in bed in Brooklyn, and then, because he feels hopeful, JB safe and snoring in his bed on the Lower East Side. Here, on Greene Street, the radiator releases its sibilant sigh. The sheets smell like soap and sky. Above him is the tubular steel chandelier Malcolm installed a month ago. Beneath him is a gleaming black wood floor. The apartment—still impossible in its vastness and possibilities and potential—is silent, and his.

He points his toes toward the bottom of the bed and then flexes them toward his shins: nothing. He shifts his back against the mattress: nothing. He draws his knees toward his chest: nothing. Nothing hurts, nothing even threatens to hurt: his body is his again, something that will perform for him whatever he can imagine, without complaint or sabotage. He closes his eyes, not because he’s tired but because it is a perfect moment, and he knows how to enjoy them.

These moments never last for long—sometimes, all he has to do is sit up, and he will be reminded, as if slapped across the face, that his body owns him, not the other way around—but in recent years, as things have gotten worse, he has worked very hard to give up the idea that he will ever improve, and has instead tried to concentrate on and be grateful for the minutes of reprieve, whenever and wherever his body chooses to bestow them. Finally he sits, slowly, and then stands, just as slowly. And still, he feels wonderful. A good day, he decides, and walks to the bathroom, past the wheelchair that sulks, a sullen ogre, in a corner of his bedroom.

He gets ready and then sits down with some papers from the office to wait. Generally, he spends most of Saturday at work—that at least hasn’t changed from the days he used to take his walks: oh, his walks!

Was that once him, someone who could trip, goatlike, to the Upper East Side and home again, all eleven miles on his own?—but today he’s meeting Malcolm and taking him to his suitmaker’s, because Malcolm is going to get married and needs to buy a suit.

They’re not completely certain if Malcolm is actually getting married or not. They think he is. Over the past three years, he and Sophie have broken up and gotten back together, and broken up, and gotten back together. But in the past year, Malcolm has had conversations with Willem about weddings, and does Willem think they’re an indulgence or not; and with JB about jewelry, and when women say they don’t like diamonds, do they really mean it, or are they just testing the way it sounds; and with him about prenuptial agreements.

He had answered Malcolm’s questions as best as he could, and then had given him the name of a classmate from law school, a matrimonial attorney. “Oh,” Malcolm had said, moving backward, as if he had offered him the name of a professional assassin. “I’m not sure I need this yet, Jude.”

“All right,” he said, and withdrew the card, which Malcolm seemed unwilling to even touch. “Well, if and when you do, just ask.”

And then, a month ago, Malcolm had asked if he could help him pick out a suit. “I don’t even really have one, isn’t that nuts?” he asked. “Don’t you think I should have one? Don’t you think I should start looking, I don’t know, more grown-up or something? Don’t you think it’d be good for business?”

“I think you look great, Mal,” he said. “And I don’t think you need any help on the business front. But if you want one, sure, I’m happy to help you.”

“Thanks,” said Malcolm. “I mean, I just think it’s something I should have. You know, just in case something comes up.” He paused. “I can’t believe you have a suitmaker, by the way.”

He smiled. “He’s not my suitmaker,” he said. “He’s just someone who makes suits, and some of them happen to be mine.”

“God,” said Malcolm, “Harold really created a monster.”

He laughed, obligingly. But he often feels as if a suit is the only thing that makes him look normal. For the months he was in a wheelchair, those suits were a way of reassuring his clients that he was competent and, simultaneously, of reassuring himself that he belonged with the others, that he could at least dress the way they did. He doesn’t consider himself vain, but rather scrupulous: when he

was a child, the boys from the home would occasionally play baseball games with the boys from the local school, who would taunt them, pinching their noses as they walked onto the field. “Take a bath!” they would shout. “You smell! You smell!” But they did bathe: they had mandatory showers every morning, pumping the greasy pink soap into their palms and onto washcloths and sloughing off their skin while one of the counselors walked back and forth before the row of showerheads, cracking one of the thin towels at the boys who were misbehaving, or shouting at the ones who weren’t cleaning themselves with enough vigor. Even now, he has a horror of repulsing, by being unkempt, or dirty, or unsightly. “You’ll always be ugly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be neat,” Father Gabriel used to tell him, and although Father Gabriel was wrong about many things, he knows he was right about this.

Malcolm arrives and hugs him hello and then begins, as he always

does, surveying the space, telescoping his long neck and rotating in a slow circle around the room, his gaze like a lighthouse’s beam, making little assessing noises as he does.

He answers Malcolm’s question before he can ask it: “Next month, Mal.”

“You said that three months ago.”

“I know. But now I really mean it. Now I have the money. Or I will, at the end of this month.”

“But we discussed this.”

“I know. And Malcolm—it’s so unbelievably generous of you. But I’m not going to not pay you.”

He has lived in the apartment for more than four years now, and for four years, he’s been unable to renovate it because he hasn’t had the money, and he hasn’t had the money because he was paying off the apartment. In the meantime, Malcolm has drawn up plans, and walled off the bedrooms, and helped him choose a sofa, which sits, a gray spacecraft, in the center of the living room, and fixed some minor problems, including the floors. “That’s crazy,” he had told Malcolm at the time. “You’re going to have to redo it entirely once the renovation’s done.” But Malcolm had said he’d do it anyway; the floor dye was a new product he wanted to try, and until he was ready to begin work, Greene Street would be his laboratory, where he could do a little experimentation, if he didn’t mind (and he didn’t, of course). But otherwise the apartment is still very much as it was when he moved in: a long rectangle on the sixth floor of a building in southern

SoHo, with windows at either end, one set facing west and the other facing east, as well as the entire southern wall, which looks over a parking lot. His room and bathroom are at the eastern-facing end, which looks onto the top of a stubby building on Mercer Street; Willem’s rooms—or what he continues to think of as Willem’s rooms

—are at the western-facing end, which looks over Greene Street. There is a kitchen in the middle of the apartment, and a third bathroom. And in between the two suites of rooms are acres of space, the black floors shiny as piano keys.

It is still an unfamiliar feeling to have so much space, and a stranger one to be able to afford it. But you can, he has to remind himself sometimes, just as he does when he stands in the grocery store, wondering whether he should buy a tub of the black olives he likes, which are so salty they make his mouth pucker and his eyes water. When he first moved to the city, they were an indulgence, and he’d buy them just once a month, one glistening spoonful at a time. Every night he’d eat only one, sucking the meat slowly off the stone as he sat reading briefs. You can buy them, he tells himself. You have the money. But he still finds it difficult to remember.

The reason behind Greene Street, and the container of olives that are usually in the refrigerator, is his job at Rosen Pritchard and Klein, one of the city’s most powerful and prestigious firms, where he is a litigator and, for a little more than a year now, a partner. Five years ago, he and Citizen and Rhodes had been working on a case concerning securities fraud at a large commercial bank called Thackery Smith, and shortly after the case had settled, he had been contacted by a man named Lucien Voigt, whom he knew was the chair of the litigation department at Rosen Pritchard and Klein, and who had represented Thackery Smith in their negotiations.

Voigt asked him to have a drink. He had been impressed by his work, especially in the courtroom, he said. And Thackery Smith had been as well. He had heard of him anyway—he and Judge Sullivan had been on law review together—and had researched him. Had he ever considered leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office and coming to the dark side?

He would have been lying if he said he hadn’t. All around him, people were leaving. Citizen, he knew, was talking to an international firm in Washington, D.C. Rhodes was wondering whether he should go in-house at a bank. He himself had been approached by two other firms, and had turned them both down. They loved the U.S. Attorney’s

Office, all of them. But Citizen and Rhodes were older than he was, and Rhodes and his wife wanted to have a baby, and they needed to make money. Money, money: it was all they spoke of sometimes.

He, too, thought of money—it was impossible not to. Every time he came home from a party at one of JB’s or Malcolm’s friends’ apartments, Lispenard Street seemed a little shabbier, a little less tolerable. Every time the elevator broke and he had to walk up the flights of stairs, and then rest on the floor in the hallway, his back against their front door, before he had the energy to let himself in, he dreamed of living somewhere functional and reliable. Every time he was standing at the top of the subway stairs, readying himself for the climb down, gripping the handrail and nearly breathing through his mouth with effort, he would wish he could take a taxi. And then there were other fears, bigger fears: in his very dark moments, he imagined himself as an old man, his skin stretched vellum-like over his ribs, still in Lispenard Street, pulling himself on his elbows to the bathroom because he was no longer able to walk. In this dream, he was alone— there was no Willem or JB or Malcolm or Andy, no Harold or Julia. He was an old, old man, and there was no one, and he was the only one left to take care of himself.

“How old are you?” asked Voigt.

“Thirty-one,” he said.

“Thirty-one’s young,” said Voigt, “but you won’t be young forever. Do you really want to grow old in the U.S. Attorney’s Office? You know what they say about assistant prosecutors: Men whose best years are behind them.” He talked about compensation, about an accelerated path to partnership. “Just tell me you’ll think about it.”

“I will,” he said.

And he did. He didn’t discuss it with Citizen or Rhodes—or Harold, because he knew what he’d say—but he did discuss it with Willem, and together they debated the obvious benefits of the job against the obvious drawbacks: the hours (but he never left work as it was, Willem argued), the tedium, the high probability he’d be working with assholes (but Citizen and Rhodes aside, he already worked with assholes, Willem argued). And, of course, the fact that he would now be defending the people he’d spent the past six years prosecuting: liars and crooks and thieves, the entitled and the powerful masquerading as victims. He wasn’t like Harold or Citizen—he was practical; he knew that making a career as a lawyer meant sacrifices, either of money or of moralities, but it still troubled him, this forsaking of what

he knew to be just. And for what? So he could insure he wouldn’t become that old man, lonely and sick? It seemed the worst kind of selfishness, the worst kind of self-indulgence, to disavow what he knew was right simply because he was frightened, because he was scared of being uncomfortable and miserable.

Then, two weeks after his meeting with Voigt, he had come home one Friday night very late. He was exhausted; he’d had to use his wheelchair that day because the wound on his right leg hurt so much, and he was so relieved to get home, back to Lispenard Street, that he had felt himself go weak—in just a few minutes, he would be inside, and he would wrap a damp washcloth, hot and steamed from the microwave, around his calf and sit in the warmth. But when he tried the elevator button, he heard nothing but a grinding of gears, the faint winching noise the machine made when it was broken.

“No!” he shouted. “No!” His voice echoed in the lobby, and he smacked his palm against the elevator door again and again: “No, no, no!” He picked up his briefcase and threw it against the ground, and papers spun up from it. Around him, the building remained silent and unhelpful.

Finally he stopped, ashamed and angry, and gathered his papers back into his bag. He checked his watch: it was eleven. Willem was in a play, Cloud 9, but he knew he’d be off stage by then. But when he called him, Willem didn’t pick up. And then he began to panic. Malcolm was on vacation in Greece. JB was at an artists’ colony. Andy’s daughter, Beatrice, had just been born the previous week: he couldn’t call him. There were only so many people he would let help him, whom he felt at least semi-comfortable clinging to like a sloth, whom he would allow to drag him up the many flights.

But in that moment, he was irrationally, intensely desperate to get into the apartment. And so he stood, tucking his briefcase under his left arm and collapsing his wheelchair, which was too expensive to leave in the lobby, with his right. He began to work his way up the stairs, cleaving his left side to the wall, gripping the chair by one of its spokes. He moved slowly—he had to hop on his left leg, while trying to avoid putting any weight on his right, or letting the wheelchair bang against the wound. Up he went, pausing to rest every third step. There were a hundred and ten steps from the lobby to the fifth floor, and by the fiftieth, he was shaking so badly he had to stop and sit for half an hour. He called and texted Willem again and again. On the fourth call, he left the message he hoped he would never have to

leave: “Willem, I really need help. Please call me. Please.” He had a vision of Willem calling him right back, telling him he’d be right there, but he waited and waited and Willem didn’t call, and finally he managed to stand again.

Somehow he made it inside. But he can’t remember anything else from that night; when he woke the next day, Willem was asleep on the rug next to his bed, and Andy asleep on the chair they must have dragged into his room from the living room. He was thick-tongued, fogged, nauseated, and he knew that Andy must have given him an injection of pain medication, which he hated: he would feel disoriented and constipated for days.

When he woke again, Willem was gone, but Andy was awake, and staring at him.

“Jude, you’ve got to get the fuck out of this apartment,” he said, quietly.

“I know,” he said.

“Jude, what were you thinking?” Willem asked him later, after he had returned from the grocery store and Andy had helped him into the bathroom—he couldn’t walk: Andy had had to carry him—and then put him back into bed, still in his clothes from the day before, and left. Willem had gone to a party after the show and hadn’t heard his phone ring; when he had finally listened to his messages, he had rushed home and found him convulsing on the floor and had called Andy. “Why didn’t you call Andy? Why didn’t you go to a diner and wait for me? Why didn’t you call Richard? Why didn’t you call Philippa and make her find me? Why didn’t you call Citizen, or Rhodes, or Eli, or Phaedra, or the Henry Youngs, or—”

“I don’t know,” he said, miserably. It was impossible to explain to the healthy the logic of the sick, and he didn’t have the energy to try.

The following week, he contacted Lucien Voigt and finalized the terms of the job with him. And once he had signed the contract, he called Harold, who was silent for a long five seconds before taking a deep breath and beginning.

“I just don’t get this, Jude,” he said. “I don’t. You’ve never struck me as a money-grubber. Are you? I mean, I guess you are. You had— you have—a great career at the U.S. Attorney’s. You’re doing work there that matters. And you’re giving it all up to defend, who? Criminals. People so entitled, so certain they won’t be caught that being caught—that very concern—doesn’t even occur to them. People who think the laws are written for people who make less than nine

figures a year. People who think the laws are applicable only by race, or by tax bracket.”

He said nothing, just let Harold become more and more agitated, because he knew Harold was right. They had never explicitly discussed it, but he knew Harold had always assumed that he would make his career in public service. Over the years, Harold would talk with dismay and sorrow about talented former students he admired who had left jobs—at the U.S. Attorney’s, at the Department of Justice, at public defender offices, at legal aid programs—to go to corporate firms. “A society cannot run as it should unless people with excellent legal minds make it their business to make it run,” Harold often said, and he had always agreed with him. And he agreed with him still, which was why he couldn’t defend himself now.

“Don’t you have anything you want to say for yourself?” Harold asked him, finally.

“I’m sorry, Harold,” he said. Harold said nothing. “You’re so angry at me,” he murmured.

“I’m not angry, Jude,” Harold said. “I’m disappointed. Do you know how special you are? Do you know what a difference you could make if you stayed? You could be a judge if you wanted to—you could be a justice someday. But you’re not going to be now. Now you’re going to be another litigator in another corporate firm, and all the good work you could have done you’ll instead be fighting against. It’s just such a waste, Jude, such a waste.”

He was silent again. He repeated Harold’s words to himself: Such a waste, such a waste. Harold sighed. “So what is this about, really?” he asked. “Is it money? Is this what this is about? Why didn’t you tell me you needed money, Jude? I could’ve given you some. Is this all about money? Tell me what you need, Jude, and I’m happy to help you out.”

“Harold,” he began, “that’s so—that’s so kind of you. But—I can’t.” “Bullshit,” said Harold, “you won’t. I’m offering you a way to let

you keep your job, Jude, to not have to take a job you’re going to hate, for work you will hate—and that’s not a maybe, that’s a fact— with no expectations or strings attached. I’m telling you that I’m happy to give you money for this.”

Oh, Harold, he thought. “Harold,” he said, wretchedly, “the kind of money I need isn’t the kind of money you have. I promise you.”

Harold was silent, and when he spoke next, his tone was different. “Jude, are you in any kind of trouble? You can tell me, you know. Whatever it is, I’ll help you.”

“No,” he said, but he wanted to cry. “No, Harold, I’m fine.” He wrapped his right hand around his bandaged calf, with its steady, constant ache.

“Well,” said Harold. “That’s a relief. But Jude, what could you possibly need so much money for, besides an apartment, which Julia and I will help you buy, do you hear me?”

He sometimes found himself both frustrated and fascinated by Harold’s lack of imagination: in Harold’s mind, people had parents who were proud of them, and saved money only for apartments and vacations, and asked for things when they wanted them; he seemed to be curiously unaware of a universe in which those things might not be givens, in which not everyone shared the same past and future. But this was a highly ungenerous way to think, and it was rare—most of the time, he admired Harold’s steadfast optimism, his inability or unwillingness to be cynical, to look for unhappiness or misery in every situation. He loved Harold’s innocence, which was made more remarkable considering what he taught and what he had lost. And so how could he tell Harold that he had to consider wheelchairs, which needed to be replaced every few years, and which insurance didn’t wholly cover? How could he tell him that Andy, who didn’t take insurance, never charged him, had never charged him, but might want to someday, and if he did, he certainly wasn’t not going to pay him? How could he tell him that this most recent time his wound had opened, Andy had mentioned hospitalization and, maybe, someday in the future, amputation? How could he tell him that if his leg was amputated, it would mean a hospital stay, and physical therapy, and prostheses? How could he tell him about the surgery he wanted on his back, the laser burning his carapace of scars down to nothing? How could he tell Harold of his deepest fears: his loneliness, of becoming the old man with a catheter and a bony, bare chest? How could he tell Harold that he dreamed not of marriage, or children, but that he would someday have enough money to pay someone to take care of him if he needed it, someone who would be kind to him and allow him privacy and dignity? And then, yes, there were the things he wanted: He wanted to live somewhere where the elevator worked. He wanted to take cabs when he wanted to. He wanted to find somewhere private to swim, because the motion stilled his back and because he wasn’t able to take his walks any longer.

But he couldn’t tell Harold any of this. He didn’t want Harold to

know just how flawed he was, what a piece of junk he’d acquired.

And so he said nothing, and told Harold he had to go, and that he would talk to him later.

Even before he had talked to Harold, he had prepared himself to be resigned to his new job, nothing more, but to first his unease, and then his surprise, and then his delight, and then his slight disgust, he found that he enjoyed it. He’d had experience with pharmaceutical companies when he was a prosecutor, and so much of his initial caseload concerned that industry: he worked with a company that was opening an Asia-based subsidiary to develop an anticorruption policy, traveling back and forth to Tokyo with the senior partner on the case

—this was a small, tidy, solvable job, and therefore unusual. The other cases were more complicated, and longer, at times infinitely long: he mostly worked on compiling a defense for another of the firm’s clients, this a massive pharmaceutical conglomerate, against a False Claims Act charge. And three years into his life at Rosen Pritchard and Klein, when the investment management company Rhodes worked for was investigated for securities fraud, they came to him, and secured his partnership: he had trial experience, which most of the other associates didn’t, but he had known he would need to bring in a client eventually, and the first client was always the hardest to find.

He would never have admitted it to Harold, but he actually liked directing investigations prompted by whistle-blowers, liked pressing up against the boundaries of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, liked being able to stretch the law, like a strip of elastic, just past its natural tension point, just to the point where it would snap back at you with a sting. By day he told himself it was an intellectual engagement, that his work was an expression of the plasticity of the law itself. But at night he would sometimes think of what Harold would say if he was honest with him about what he was doing, and would hear his words again: Such a waste, such a waste. What was he doing?, he would think in those moments. Had the job made him venal, or had he always been so and had just fancied himself otherwise?

It’s all within the law, he would argue with the Harold-in-his-head.

Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should, Harold-in-his-head would shoot back at him.

And indeed, Harold hadn’t been completely wrong, for he missed the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He missed being righteous and surrounded by the passionate, the heated, the crusading. He missed Citizen, who had moved back to London, and Marshall, whom he occasionally met

for drinks, and Rhodes, whom he saw more frequently but who was perpetually frazzled, and gray, and whom he had remembered as cheery and effervescent, someone who would play electrotango music and squire an imaginary woman around the room when they were at the office late and feeling punchy, just to get him and Citizen to look up from their computers and laugh. They were getting older, all of them. He liked Rosen Pritchard, he liked the people there, but he never sat with them late at night arguing about cases and talking about books: it wasn’t that sort of office. The associates his age had unhappy girlfriends or boyfriends at home (or were themselves unhappy girlfriends or boyfriends); the ones older than he were getting married. In the rare moments they weren’t discussing the work before them, they made small talk about engagements and pregnancies and real estate. They didn’t discuss the law, not for fun or from fervor.

The firm encouraged its attorneys to do pro bono work, and he

began volunteering with a nonprofit group that offered free legal advice to artists. The organization kept what they called “studio hours” every afternoon and evening, when artists could drop by and consult with a lawyer, and every Wednesday night he left work early, at seven, and sat in the group’s creaky-floored SoHo offices on Broome Street for three hours, helping small publishers of radical treatises who wanted to establish themselves as nonprofit entities, and painters with intellectual property disputes, and dance groups, photographers, writers, and filmmakers with contracts that were either so extralegal (he was presented with one written in pencil on a paper towel) that they were meaningless or so needlessly complicated that the artists couldn’t understand them—he could barely understand them—and yet had signed them anyway.

Harold didn’t really approve of his volunteer work, either; he could

tell he thought it frivolous. “Are any of these artists any good?” Harold asked. “Probably not,” he said. But it wasn’t for him to judge whether the artists were good or not—other people, plenty of other people, did that already. He was there only to offer the sort of practical help that so few of them had, as so many of them lived in a world that was deaf to practicalities. He knew it was romantic, but he admired them: he admired anyone who could live for year after year on only their fastburning hopes, even as they grew older and more obscure with every day. And, just as romantically, he thought of his time with the organization as his salute to his friends, all of whom were living the

sorts of lives he marveled at: he considered them such successes, and he was proud of them. Unlike him, they had had no clear path to follow, and yet they had plowed stubbornly ahead. They spent their days making beautiful things.

His friend Richard was on the board of the organization, and some Wednesdays he’d stop by on his way home—he had recently moved to SoHo—and sit and talk with him if he was between clients, or just give him a wave across the room if he was occupied. One night after studio hours, Richard invited him back to his apartment for a drink, and they walked west on Broome Street, past Centre, and Lafayette, and Crosby, and Broadway, and Mercer, before turning south on Greene. Richard lived in a narrow building, its stone gone the color of soot, with a towering garage door marking its first floor and, to its right, a metal door with a face-size glass window cut into its top. There was no lobby, but rather a gray, tiled-floor hallway lit by a series of three glowing bare bulbs dangling from cords. The hallway turned right and led to a cell-like industrial elevator, the size of their living room and Willem’s bedroom at Lispenard Street combined, with a rattling cage door that shuddered shut at the press of a button, but which glided smoothly up through an exposed cinder-block shaft. At the third floor, it stopped, and Richard opened the cage and turned his key into the set of massive, forbidding steel doors before them, which opened into his apartment.

“God,” he said, stepping into the space, as Richard flicked on some

lights. The floors were whitewashed wood, and the walls were white as well. High above him, the ceiling winked and shone with scores of chandeliers—old, glass, new, steel—that were strung every three feet or so, at irregular heights, so that as they walked deeper into the loft, he could feel glass bugles skimming across the top of his head, and Richard, who was even taller than he was, had to duck so they wouldn’t scrape his forehead. There were no dividing walls, but near the far end of the space was a shallow, freestanding box of glass as tall and wide as the front doors, and as he drew closer, he could see that within it was a gigantic honeycomb shaped like a graceful piece of fan coral. Beyond the glass box was a blanket-covered mattress, and before it was a shaggy white Berber rug, its mirrors twinkling in the lights, and a white woolen sofa and television, an odd island of domesticity in the midst of so much aridity. It was the largest apartment he had ever been in.

“It’s not real,” said Richard, watching him look at the honeycomb.

“I made it from wax.”

“It’s spectacular,” he said, and Richard nodded his thanks. “Come on,” he said, “I’ll give you the tour.”

He handed him a beer and then unbolted a door next to the refrigerator. “Emergency stairs,” he said. “I love them. They’re so— descent-into-hell looking, you know?”

“They are,” he agreed, looking into the doorway, where the stairs seemed to vanish into the gloom. And then he stepped back, suddenly uneasy and yet feeling foolish for being so, and Richard, who hadn’t seemed to notice, shut the door and bolted it.

They went down in the elevator to the second floor and into Richard’s studio, and Richard showed him what he was working on. “I call them misrepresentations,” he said, and let him hold what he had assumed was a white birch branch but was actually made from fired clay, and then a stone, round and smooth and lightweight, that had been whittled from ash and lathe-turned but that gave the suggestion of solidity and heft, and a bird skeleton made of hundreds of small porcelain pieces. Bisecting the space lengthwise was a row of seven glass boxes, smaller than the one upstairs with the wax honeycomb but each still as large as one of the casement windows, and each containing a jagged, crumbling mountain of a sickly dark yellow substance that appeared to be half rubber, half flesh. “These are real honeycombs, or they were,” Richard explained. “I let the bees work on them for a while, and then I released them. Each one is named for how long they were occupied, for how long they were actually a home and a sanctuary.”

They sat on the rolling leather desk chairs that Richard worked

from and drank their beers and talked: about Richard’s work, and about his next show, his second, that would open in six months, and about JB’s new paintings.

“You haven’t seen them, right?” Richard asked. “I stopped by his studio two weeks ago, and they’re really beautiful, the best he’s ever done.” He smiled at him. “There’re going to be a lot of you, you know.”

“I know,” he said, trying not to grimace. “So, Richard,” he said, changing the subject, “how did you find this space? It’s incredible.”

“It’s mine.”

“Really? You own it? I’m impressed; that’s so adult of you.”

Richard laughed. “No, the building—it’s mine.” He explained: his grandparents had an import business, and when his father and his

aunt were young, they had bought sixteen buildings downtown, all former factories, to store their wares: six in SoHo, six in TriBeCa, and four in Chinatown. When each of their four grandchildren turned thirty, they got one of the buildings. When they turned thirty-five—as Richard had the previous year—they got another. When they turned forty, they got a third. They would get the last when they turned fifty. “Did you get to choose?” he asked, feeling that particular mix of giddiness and disbelief he did whenever he heard these kinds of stories: both that such wealth existed and could be discussed so casually, and that someone he had known for such a long time was in possession of it. They were reminders of how naïve and unsophisticated he somehow still was—he could never imagine such riches, he could never imagine people he knew had such riches. Even all these years later, even though his years in New York and, especially, his job had taught him differently, he couldn’t help but imagine the rich not as Ezra or Richard or Malcolm but as they were depicted in cartoons, in satires: older men, stamping out of cars with dark-tinted windows and fat-fingered and plush and shinily bald, with

skinny brittle wives and large, polished-floor houses.

“No,” Richard grinned, “they gave us the ones they thought would best suit our personalities. My grouchy cousin got a building on Franklin Street that was used to store vinegar.”

He laughed. “What was this one used for?” “I’ll show you.”

And so back in the elevator they went, up to the fourth floor, where Richard opened the door and turned on the lights, and they were confronted with pallets and pallets stacked high, almost to the ceiling, with what he thought were bricks. “But not just bricks,” said Richard, “decorative terra-cotta bricks, imported from Umbria.” He picked one up from an incomplete pallet and gave it to him, and he turned the brick, which was glazed with a thin, bright green finish, in his hand, running his palm over its blisters. “The fifth and sixth floors are full of them, too,” said Richard, “they’re in the process of selling them to a wholesaler in Chicago, and then those floors’ll be clear.” He smiled. “Now you see why I have such a good elevator in here.”

They returned to Richard’s apartment, back through the hanging garden of chandeliers, and Richard gave him another beer. “Listen,” he said, “I need to talk to you about something important.”

“Anything,” he said, placing the bottle on the table and leaning forward.

“The tiles will probably be out of here by the end of the year,” said Richard. “The fifth and sixth floors are set up exactly like this one— wet walls in the same place, three bathrooms—and the question is whether you’d want one of them.”

“Richard,” he said, “I’d love to. But how much are you charging?” “I’m not talking about renting it, Jude,” said Richard. “I’m talking

about buying it.” Richard had already talked to his father, who was his grandparents’ lawyer: they’d convert the building into a co-op, and he’d buy a certain number of shares. The only thing Richard’s family requested is that he or his heirs give them the right to buy the apartment back from him first if he ever decided to sell it. They would offer him a fair price, and he would pay Richard a monthly rent that would be applied toward his purchase. The Goldfarbs had done this before—his grouchy cousin’s girlfriend had bought a floor of the vinegar building a year ago—and it had worked out fine. Apparently, they got some sort of tax break if they each converted one of their buildings into at least a two-unit co-op, and so Richard’s father was trying to get all of the grandchildren to do so.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked Richard, quietly, once he had recovered. “Why me?”

Richard shrugged. “It gets lonely here,” he said. “Not that I’m going to be stopping by all the time. But it’d be nice to know there’s another living being in this building sometimes. And you’re the most responsible of my friends, not that there’s a lot of competition for the title. And I like your company. Also—” He stopped. “Promise you won’t get mad.”

“Oh god,” he said. “But I promise.”

“Willem told me about what happened, you know, when you were trying to get upstairs last year and the elevator broke. It’s not anything to be embarrassed about, Jude. He’s just worried about you. I told him I was going to ask you about this anyway, and he thought

—he thinks—it’s someplace you could live for a long time: forever. And the elevator will never break here. And if it does, I’ll be right downstairs. I mean—obviously, you can buy somewhere else, but I hope you’ll consider moving in here.”

In that moment he feels not angry but exposed: not just to Richard but to Willem. He tries to hide as much as he can from Willem, not because he doesn’t trust him but because he doesn’t want Willem to see him as less of a person, as someone who has to be looked after and helped. He wants Willem, wants them all, to think of him as

someone reliable and hardy, someone they can come to with their problems, instead of him always having to turn to them. He is embarrassed, thinking of the conversations that have been had about him—between Willem and Andy, and between Willem and Harold (which he is certain happens more often than he fears), and now between Willem and Richard—and saddened as well that Willem is spending so much time worrying about him, that he is having to think of him the way he would have had to think of Hemming, had Hemming lived: as someone who needed care, as someone who needed decisions made for him. He sees the image of himself as an old man again: Is it possible it is also Willem’s vision, that the two of them share the same fear, that his ending seems as inevitable to Willem as it does to himself?

He thinks, then, of a conversation he had once had with Willem and

Philippa; Philippa was talking about how someday, when she and Willem were old, they’d take over her parents’ house and orchards in southern Vermont. “I can see it now,” she said. “The kids’ll have moved back in with us, because they won’t be able to make it in the real world, and they’ll have six kids between them with names like Buster and Carrot and Vixen, who’ll run around naked and won’t be sent to school, and whom Willem and I will have to support until the end of time—”

“What will your kids do?” he asked, practical even in play.

“Oberon will make art installations using only food products, and Miranda will play a zither with yarn for strings,” said Philippa, and he had smiled. “They’ll stay in grad school forever, and Willem will have to keep working until he’s so broken down that I have to push him onto the set in a wheelchair”—she stopped, blushing, but carried on after a hitch—“to pay for all their degrees and experiments. I’ll have to give up costume design and start an organic applesauce company to pay all our debts and maintain the house, which’ll be this huge, glorious wreck with termites everywhere, and we’ll have a huge, scarred wooden table big enough to seat all twelve of us.”

“Thirteen,” said Willem, suddenly. “Why thirteen?”

“Because—Jude’ll be living with us, too.”

“Oh, will I?” he asked lightly, but pleased, and relieved, to be included in Willem’s vision of old age.

“Of course. You’ll have the guest cottage, and every morning Buster will bring you your buckwheat waffles because you’ll be too sick of us

to join us at the main table, and then after breakfast I’ll come hang out with you and hide from Oberon and Miranda, who’re going to want me to make intelligent and supportive comments about their latest endeavors.” Willem grinned at him, and he smiled back, though he could see that Philippa herself wasn’t smiling any longer, but staring at the table. Then she looked up, and their eyes met for half a second, and she looked away, quickly.

It was shortly after that, he thought, that Philippa’s attitude toward him changed. It wasn’t obvious to anyone but him—perhaps not even to her—but where he used to come into the apartment and see her sketching at the table and the two of them were able to talk, companionably, as he drank a glass of water and looked at her drawings, she would now just nod at him and say, “Willem’s at the store,” or “He’s coming back soon,” even though he hadn’t asked (she was always welcome at Lispenard Street, whether Willem was there or not), and he would linger a bit until it was clear she didn’t want to speak, and then retreat to his room to work.

He understood why Philippa might resent him: Willem invited him everywhere with them, included him in everything, even in their retirement, even in Philippa’s daydream of their old age. After that, he was careful to always decline Willem’s invitations, even if it was to things that didn’t involve his and Philippa’s couplehood—if they were going to a party at Malcolm’s to which he was also invited, he’d leave separately, and at Thanksgiving, he made sure to ask Philippa to Boston as well, though she hadn’t come in the end. He had even tried to talk to Willem about what he sensed, to awaken him to what he was certain she was feeling.

“Do you not like her?” Willem had asked him, concerned.

“You know I like Philippa,” he’d replied. “But I think—I think you should just hang out with her more alone, Willem, with just the two of you. It must get annoying for her to always have me around.”

“Did she say that to you?”

“No, Willem, of course not. I’m just guessing. From my vast experience with women, you know.”

Later, when Willem and Philippa broke up, he would feel as guilty as if he had been solely to blame. But even before that, he had wondered whether Willem, too, had come to realize that no serious girlfriend would tolerate his constant presence in Willem’s life; he wondered whether Willem was trying to make alternative plans for him, so he didn’t end up living in a cottage on the property he’d

someday have with his wife, so he wouldn’t be Willem’s sad bachelor friend, a useless reminder of his forsaken, childish life. I will be alone, he decided. He wouldn’t be the one to ruin Willem’s chances for happiness: he wanted Willem to have the orchard and the termite-nibbled house and the grandchildren and the wife who was jealous of his company and attention. He wanted Willem to have everything he deserved, everything he desired. He wanted every day of his to be free of worries and obligations and responsibilities—even if that worry and obligation and responsibility was him.

The following week, Richard’s father—a tall, smiling, pleasant man he’d met at Richard’s first show, three years ago—sent him the contract, which he had a law school classmate, a real estate lawyer, review in tandem with him, and the building’s engineering report, which he gave to Malcolm. The price had almost nauseated him, but his classmate said he had to do it: “This is an unbelievable deal, Jude. You will never, never, never find something that size in that neighborhood for this amount of money.” And after reviewing the report, and then the space, Malcolm told him the same thing: Buy it.

So he did. And although he and the Goldfarbs had worked out a leisurely ten-year payment schedule, an interest-free rent-to-own plan, he was determined to pay the apartment off as soon as he could. Every two weeks, he allotted half of his paycheck to the apartment, and the other half to his savings and living expenses. He told Harold he had moved during their weekly phone call (“Thank Christ,” Harold said: he had never liked Lispenard Street), but didn’t tell him he had bought a place, because he didn’t want Harold to feel obligated to offer him money for it. From Lispenard Street he brought only his mattress and lamp and the table and a chair, all of which he arranged into one corner of the space. At nights, he would sometimes look up from his work and think what a ludicrous decision this had been: How could he ever fill so much room? How would it ever feel like his? He was reminded of Boston, of Hereford Street, and how there, he had dreamed only of a bedroom, of a door he might someday close. Even when he was in Washington, clerking for Sullivan, he had slept in the living room of a one-bedroom apartment he shared with a legislative assistant whom he rarely saw—Lispenard Street had been the first time in his life that he’d had a room, a real room with a real window, wholly to himself. But a year after he moved into Greene Street, Malcolm installed the walls, and the place began to feel a little more comfortable, and the year after that, Willem moved in, and it felt

more comfortable still. He saw less of Richard than he thought he might—they were both traveling frequently—but on Sunday evenings, he would sometimes go down to his studio and help him with one of his projects, polishing a bunch of small branches smooth with a leaf of sandpaper, or snipping the rachis off the vane from a fluff of peacock feathers. Richard’s studio was the sort of place he would have loved as a child—everywhere were containers and bowls of marvelous things: twigs and stones and dried beetles and feathers and tiny, bright-hued taxidermied birds and blocks in various shapes made of some soft pale wood—and at times he wished he could be allowed to abandon his work and simply sit on the floor and play, which he had usually been too busy to do as a boy.

By the end of the third year, he had paid for the apartment, and had immediately begun saving for the renovation. This took less time than he’d thought it would, in part because of something that had happened with Andy. He’d gone uptown one day for his appointment, and Andy had walked in, looking grim and yet oddly triumphant.

“What?” he’d asked, and Andy had silently handed him a magazine article he’d sliced out of a journal. He read it: it was an academic report about how a recently developed semi-experimental laser surgery that had held great promise as a solution for damageless keloid removal was now proven to have adverse medium-term effects: although the keloids were eliminated, patients instead developed raw, burn-like wounds, and the skin beneath the scars became significantly more fragile, more susceptible to splitting and cracking, which resulted in blisters and infection.

“This is what you’re thinking of doing, isn’t it?” Andy asked him, as he sat holding the pages in his hand, unable to speak. “I know you, Judy. And I know you made an appointment at that quack Thompson’s office. Don’t deny it; they called for your chart. I didn’t send it. Please don’t do this, Jude. I’m serious. The last thing you need are open wounds on your back as well as your legs.” And then, when he didn’t say anything, “Talk to me.”

He shook his head. Andy was right: he had been saving for this as well. Like his annual bonuses and most of his savings, all the money he’d made long ago from tutoring Felix had been given over to the apartment, but in recent months, as it was clear he was closing in on his final payments, he had begun saving anew for the surgery. He had it all worked out: he’d have the surgery and then he’d finish saving for the renovation. He had visions of it—his back made as smooth as the

floors themselves, the thick, unbudgeable worm trail of scars vaporized in seconds, and with it, all evidence of his time in the home and in Philadelphia, the documentation of those years erased from his body. He tried so hard to forget, he tried every day, but as much as he tried, there it was to remind him, proof that what he pretended hadn’t happened, actually had.

“Jude,” Andy said, sitting next to him on the examining table. “I know you’re disappointed. And I promise you that when there’s a treatment available that’s both effective and safe, I’ll let you know. I know it bothers you; I’m always looking out for something for you. But right now there isn’t anything, and I can’t in good conscience let you do this to yourself.” He was quiet; they both were. “I suppose I should have asked you this more frequently, Jude, but—do they hurt you? Do they cause you any discomfort? Does the skin feel tight?”

He nodded. “Look, Jude,” Andy said after a pause. “There are some creams I can give you that’ll help with that, but you’re going to need someone to help massage them in nightly, or it’s not going to be effective. Would you let someone do this for you? Willem? Richard?”

“I can’t,” he said, speaking to the magazine article in his hands. “Well,” said Andy. “I’ll write you a scrip anyway, and I’ll show you

how to do it—don’t worry, I asked an actual dermatologist, this isn’t some method I’ve made up—but I can’t say how efficacious it’s going to be on your own.” He slid off the table. “Will you open your gown for me and turn toward the wall?”

He did, and felt Andy’s hands on his shoulders, and then moving slowly across his back. He thought Andy might say, as he sometimes did, “It’s not so bad, Jude,” or “You don’t have anything to be self-conscious about,” but this time he didn’t, just trailed his hands across him, as if his palms were themselves lasers, something that was hovering over him and healing him, the skin beneath them turning healthy and unmarked. Finally Andy told him he could cover himself again, and he did, and turned back around. “I’m really sorry, Jude,” Andy said, and this time, it was Andy who couldn’t look at him.

“Do you want to grab something to eat?” Andy asked after the appointment was over, as he was putting his clothes back on, but he shook his head: “I should go back to the office.” Andy was quiet then, but as he was leaving, he stopped him. “Jude,” he said, “I really am sorry. I don’t like being the one who has to destroy your hopes.” He nodded—he knew Andy didn’t—but in that moment, he couldn’t stand being around him, and wanted only to get away.

However, he reminds himself—he is determined to be more realistic, to stop thinking he can make himself better—the fact that he can’t get this surgery means he now has the money for Malcolm to begin the renovation in earnest. Over the years he has owned the apartment, he has witnessed Malcolm grow both bolder and more imaginative in his work, and so the plans he drew when he first bought the place have been changed and revised and improved upon multiple times: in them, he can see the development of what even he can recognize as an aesthetic confidence, a self-assured idiosyncracy. Shortly before he began working at Rosen Pritchard and Klein, Malcolm had quit his job at Ratstar, and with two of his former colleagues and Sophie, an acquaintance of his from architecture school, had founded a firm called Bellcast; their first commission had been the renovation of the pied-à-terre of one of Malcolm’s parents’ friends. Bellcast did mostly residential work, but last year they had been awarded their first significant public commission, for a photography museum in Doha, and Malcolm—like Willem, like himself—was absent from the city more and more frequently.

“Never underestimate the importance of having rich parents, I

guess,” some asshole at one of JB’s parties had grumbled, sourly, when he heard that Bellcast had been the runners-up in a competition to design a memorial in Los Angeles for Japanese Americans who had been interned in the war, and JB had started shouting at him before he and Willem had a chance; the two of them had smiled at each other over JB’s head, proud of him for defending Malcolm so vehemently.

And so he has watched as, with each new revised blueprint for Greene Street, hallways have materialized and then vanished, and the kitchen has grown larger and then smaller, and bookcases have gone from stretching along the northern wall, which has no windows, to the southern wall, which does, and then back again. One of the renderings eliminated walls altogether—“It’s a loft, Judy, and you should respect its integrity,” Malcolm had argued with him, but he had been firm: he needed a bedroom; he needed a door he could close and lock—and in another, Malcolm had tried to block up the southern-facing windows entirely, which had been the reason he had chosen the sixth-floor unit to begin with, and which Malcolm later admitted had been an idiotic idea. But he enjoys watching Malcolm work, is touched that he has spent so much time—more than he himself has—thinking about how he might live. And now it is going to

happen. Now he has enough saved for Malcolm to indulge even his most outlandish design fantasies. Now he has enough for every piece of furniture Malcolm has ever suggested he might get, for every carpet and vase.

These days, he argues with Malcolm about his most recent plans. The last time they reviewed the sketches, three months ago, he had noticed an element around the toilet in the master bathroom that he couldn’t identify. “What’s that?” he’d asked Malcolm.

“Grab bars,” Malcolm said, briskly, as if by saying it quickly it would become less significant. “Judy, I know what you’re going to say, but—” But he was already examining the blueprints more closely, peering at Malcolm’s tiny notations in the bathroom, where he’d added steel bars in the shower and around the bathtub as well, and in the kitchen, where he’d lowered the height of some of the countertops.

“But I’m not even in a wheelchair,” he’d said, dismayed.

“But Jude,” Malcolm had begun, and then stopped. He knew what Malcolm wanted to say: But you have been. And you will be again. But he didn’t. “These are standard ADA guidelines,” he said instead.

“Mal,” he’d said, chagrined by how upset he was. “I understand. But I don’t want this to be some cripple’s apartment.”

“It won’t be, Jude. It’ll be yours. But don’t you think, maybe, just as a precaution—”

“No, Malcolm. Get rid of them. I mean it.”

“But don’t you think, just as a matter of practicality—”

Now you’re interested in practicalities? The man who wanted me to live in a five-thousand-square-foot space with no walls?” He stopped. “I’m sorry, Mal.”

“It’s okay, Jude,” Malcolm said. “I understand. I do.”

Now, Malcolm stands before him, grinning. “I have something to show you,” he says, waving the baton of rolled-up paper in his hand.

“Malcolm, thank you,” he says. “But should we look at them later?” He’d had to schedule an appointment with the tailor; he doesn’t want to be late.

“It’ll be fast,” Malcolm says, “and I’ll leave them with you.” He sits next to him and smooths out the sheaf of pages, giving him one end to hold, explaining things he’s changed and tweaked. “Counters back up to standard height,” says Malcolm, pointing at the kitchen. “No grab bars in the shower area, but I gave you this ledge that you can use as a seat, just in case. I swear it’ll look nice. I kept the ones around the

toilet—just think about it, okay? We’ll install them last, and if you really, really hate them, we’ll leave them off, but … but I’d do it, Judy.” He nods, reluctantly. He won’t know it then, but years later, he will be grateful that Malcolm has prepared for his future, even when he hadn’t wanted to: he will notice that in his apartment, the passages are wider, that the bathroom and kitchen are oversize, so a wheelchair can make a full, clean revolution in them, that the doorways are generous, that wherever possible, the doors slide instead of swing, that there is no cabinetry under the master bathroom sink, that the highest-placed closet rods lower with the touch of a pneumatic button, that there is a benchlike seat in the bathtub, and, finally, that Malcolm won the fight about the grab bars around the toilet. He’ll feel a sort of bitter wonderment that yet another person in his life—Andy, Willem, Richard, and now Malcolm—had foreseen his future, and knew how inevitable it was.

After their appointment, where Malcolm is measured for a navy suit

and a dark gray one, and where Franklin, the tailor, greets him and asks why he hasn’t seen him for two years—“I’m pretty sure that’s my fault,” Malcolm says, smiling—they have lunch. It’s nice taking a Saturday off, he thinks, as they drink rosewater lemonade and eat za’atar-dusted roasted cauliflower at the crowded Israeli restaurant near Franklin’s shop. Malcolm is excited to start work on the apartment, and he is, too. “This is such perfect timing,” Malcolm keeps saying. “I’ll have the office submit everything to the city on Monday, and by the time it’s approved, I’ll be done with Doha and be able to get started right away, and you can move into Willem’s while it’s being done.” Malcolm has just finished the final pieces of work on Willem’s apartment, which he has supervised more of than Willem has; by the end of the process, he was making decisions for Willem on paint colors. Malcolm did a beautiful job, he thinks; he won’t mind at all staying there for the next year.

It is early when they finish lunch, and they linger on the sidewalk

outside. For the past week it’s been raining, but today the skies are blue and he is still feeling strong, and even a little restless, and he asks Malcolm if he wants to walk for a bit. He can see Malcolm hesitate, flicking his gaze up and down his body as if trying to determine how capable he is, but then he smiles and agrees, and the two of them start heading west, and then north, toward the Village. They pass the building on Mulberry Street that JB used to live in before he moved farther east, and they are quiet for a minute, both of

them, he knows, thinking about JB and wondering what he’s doing, and knowing but also not knowing why he hasn’t answered their and Willem’s calls, their texts, their e-mails. The three of them have had dozens of conversations with one another, with Richard, with Ali and the Henry Youngs about what to do, but with every attempt they have made to find JB, he has eluded them, or barred their way, or ignored them. “We just have to wait until it gets worse,” Richard had said at one point, and he fears that Richard is correct. It is, sometimes, as if JB is no longer theirs at all, and they can do nothing but wait for the moment in which he will have a crisis only they can solve, and they will be able to parachute into his life once again.

“Okay, Malcolm, I’ve got to ask you,” he says, as they walk up the stretch of Hudson Street that is deserted on the weekends, its sidewalks treeless and empty of people, “are you getting married to Sophie or not? We all want to know.”

“God, Jude, I just don’t know,” Malcolm begins, but he sounds relieved, as if he’s been waiting to be asked the question all along. Maybe he has. He lists the potential negatives (marriage is so conventional; it feels so permanent; he’s not really interested in the idea of a wedding but fears Sophie is; his parents are going to try to get involved; something about spending the rest of his life with another architect depresses him; he and Sophie are cofounders of the firm—if something happens between them, what will happen to Bellcast?) and the positives, which also sound like negatives (if he doesn’t propose, he thinks Sophie will leave; his parents have been bothering him about it nonstop and he’d like to shut them up; he really does love Sophie, and knows he won’t be able to do better than her; he’s thirty-eight, and feels he has to do something). As he listens to Malcolm, he tries not to smile: he has always liked this about Malcolm, how he can be so decisive on the page and in his designs, and yet in the rest of his life so in a dither, and so unself-conscious about sharing it. Malcolm has never been someone who pretended he was cooler, or more confident, or silkier than he actually is, and as they grow older, he appreciates and admires more and more his sweet guilelessness, his complete trust in his friends and their opinions.

“What do you think, Jude?” Malcolm asks at last. “I’ve actually

really wanted to talk to you about this. Should we sit down somewhere? Do you have time? I know Willem’s on his way back home.”

He could be more like Malcolm, he thinks; he could ask his friends

for help, he could be vulnerable around them. He has been before, after all; it just hasn’t been by choice. But they have always been kind to him, they have never tried to make him feel self-conscious— shouldn’t that teach him something? Maybe, for instance, he will ask Willem if he could help him with his back: if Willem is disgusted by his appearance, he’ll never say anything. And Andy was right—it is too difficult to apply the creams by himself, and eventually he stopped, although he didn’t throw any of them away, either.

He tries to think how he might begin the conversation with Willem, but he finds he can’t move beyond the first word—Willem—even in his imaginings. And in that moment, he knows he won’t be able to ask Willem after all: Not because I don’t trust you, he says to Willem, with whom he will never have this conversation. But because I can’t bear to have you see me as I really am. Now when he imagines himself as an old man, he is still alone, but on Greene Street, and in these wanderings, he sees Willem in a house somewhere green and tree-filled—the Adirondacks, the Berkshires—and Willem is happy, he is surrounded by people who love him, and maybe a few times a year he comes into the city to visit him on Greene Street, and they spend the afternoon together. In these dreams, he is always sitting down, so he’s uncertain if he can still walk or not, but he knows that he is delighted to see Willem, always, and that at the end of all their meetings, he is able to tell him not to worry, that he can take care of himself, giving him that assurance like a benediction, pleased that he has had the strength to not spoil Willem’s idyll with his needs, his loneliness, his wants.

But that, he reminds himself, is many years in the future. Right now

there is Malcolm, and his hopeful, anxious face, waiting to hear his reply.

“He’s not back until this evening,” he tells Malcolm. “We’ve got all afternoon, Mal. I’ve got as much time as you need.”

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