Chapter no 7

The Secret History

ALTHOUGH BUNNY hadn’t known many people at Hampden, it was such a small school that almost everyone had been aware of him in some way or other; people knew his name, knew him by sight, remembered the sound of his voice which was in many ways his most distinct feature of all. Odd, but even though I have a snapshot or two of

Bunny it is not the face but the voice, the lost voice, which has stayed with me over the years—strident, garrulous, abnormally resonant, once heard it was not easily forgotten, and in those first days after his death the dining halls were strangely quiet without that great braying hee-haw of his echoing in its customary place by the milk machine.

It was normal, then, that he should be missed, even mourned—for it’s a hard thing when someone dies at a school like Hampden, where we were all so isolated, and thrown so much together. But I was surprised at the wanton display of grief which spewed forth once his death became official. It seemed not only gratuitous, but rather shameful given the circumstances. No one had seemed very torn up by his disappearance, even in those grim final days when it seemed that the news when it came must certainly be bad; nor, in the public eye, had the search seemed much besides a massive inconvenience. But now, at news of his death, people were strangely frantic. Everyone, suddenly, had known him; everyone was deranged with grief; everyone was just going to have to try and get on as well as they could without him. “He would have wanted it that way.” That was a phrase I heard many times that week on the lips of people who had absolutely no idea what Bunny wanted; college officials, anonymous weepers, strangers who clutched and sobbed outside the dining halls; from the Board of Trustees, who, in a defensive and carefully worded statement, said that “in harmony with the unique spirit of Bunny Corcoran, as well as the humane and progressive ideals of Hampden College,” a large gift was being made in his name to the American Civil Liberties Union—an organization Bunny would certainly have

abhorred, had he been aware of its existence.

I really could go on for pages about all the public histrionics in the days after Bunny’s death. The flag flew at half-mast. The psychological counselors were on call twenty-four hours a day. A few oddballs from the Political Science department wore black armbands. There was an agitated flurry of tree plantings, memorial services, fund-raisers and concerts. A freshman girl attempted suicide—for entirely unrelated reasons—by eating poison berries from a bush outside the Music Building, but somehow this was all tied in with the general hysteria. Everyone wore sunglasses for days. Frank and Jud, taking as always the view that Life Must Go On, went around with their paint can collecting money for a Beer Blast to be held in Bunny’s memory. This was thought to be in bad taste by certain of the school officials, especially as Bunny’s death had brought to public attention the large number of alcohol-related functions at Hampden, but Frank and Jud were unmoved. “He would have wanted us to party,” they said sullenly, which certainly was not the case; but then again, the Student Services office lived in mortal fear of Frank and Jud. Their fathers were on the lifetime board of directors; Frank’s dad had donated money for a new library and Jud’s had built the science building; theory had it that the two of them were unexpellable, and a reprimand from the Dean of Studies was not going to stop them from doing anything they felt like doing. So the Beer Blast went on, and was just the sort of tasteless and incoherent event you might expect— but I am getting ahead of my story.

Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to

hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally believed to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petrie dish of melodrama and distortion. I remember well, for instance, the blind animal terror which ensued when some townie set off the civil defense sirens as a joke. Someone said it was a nuclear attack; TV and radio reception, never good there in the mountains, happened to be particularly bad that night, and in the ensuing stampede for the telephones the switchboard shorted out, plunging the school into a violent and almost unimaginable panic. Cars collided in the parking lot. People screamed, wept, gave away their possessions, huddled in small groups for comfort and warmth. Some hippies barricaded themselves in the Science Building, in the lone bomb shelter, and refused to let anyone in who didn’t know the

words to “Sugar Magnolia.” Factions formed, leaders rose from the chaos. Though the world, in fact, was not destroyed, everyone had a marvelous time and people spoke fondly of the event for years afterward.

Though not nearly so spectacular, this manifestation of grief for Bunny was in many ways a similar phenomenon—an affirmation of community, a formulaic expression of homage and dread. Learn by Doing is the motto of Hampden. People experienced a sense of invulnerability and well-being by attending rap sessions, outdoor flute concerts; enjoyed having an official excuse to compare nightmares or break down in public. In a certain sense it was simply play-acting but at Hampden, where creative expression was valued above all else, play-acting was itself a kind of work, and people went about their grief as seriously as small children will sometimes play quite grimly and without pleasure in make-believe offices and stores.

The mourning of the hippies, in particular, had an almost anthropological significance. Bunny, in life, had been at almost perpetual war with them: the hippies contaminating the bathtub with tie-dye and playing their stereos loudly to annoy him; Bunny bombarding them with empty soda cans and calling Security whenever he thought they were smoking pot. Now that he was dead, they marked his passage to another plane in impersonal and almost tribal fashion—chanting, weaving mandalas, beating on drums, performing their own inscrutable and mysterious rites. Henry stopped to watch them at a distance, resting the ferrule of his umbrella on the toe of his khaki-gaitered shoe.

“Is ‘mandala’ a Pali word?” I asked him.

He shook his head. “No,” he said. “Sanskrit. Means ‘circle’.” “So this is some Hindu kind of thing?”

“Not necessarily,” he said, looking the hippies up and down as if they were animals in a zoo. “They have come to be associated with Tantrism—mandalas, that is. Tantrism acted as a kind of corrupting influence upon the Indian Buddhist pantheon, though of course elements of it were assimilated into and restructured by the Buddhist tradition, until, by A.D. 800, say, Tantrism had an academic tradition of its own—a corrupt tradition, to my way of thinking, but a tradition nonetheless.” He paused, watching a girl with a tambourine twirling dizzily on the lawn. “But to answer your question,” he said, “I believe that the mandala actually has quite a respectable place in the history of Theravada, Buddhism proper. One finds their features in reliquary

mounds on the Gangetic plain and elsewhere from as early as the first century A.D.”


Reading back over this, I feel that in some respects I’ve done Bunny an injustice. People really did like him. No one had known him all that well but it was a strange feature of his personality that the less one actually knew him, the more one felt one did. Viewed from a distance, his character projected an impression of solidity and wholeness which was in fact as insubstantial as a hologram; up close, he was all motes and light, you could pass your hand right through him. If you stepped back far enough, however, the illusion would click in again and there he would be, bigger than life, squinting at you from behind his little glasses and raking back a dank lock of hair with one hand.

A character like his disintegrates under analysis. It can only be defined by the anecdote, the chance encounter or the sentence overheard. People who had never once spoken to him suddenly remembered, with a pang of affection, having seen him throwing sticks to a dog or stealing tulips from a teacher’s garden. “He touched people’s lives,” said the college president, leaning forward to grip the podium with both his hands; and though he was to repeat the exact phrase, in the exact way, two months later at a memorial service for the freshman girl (who’d fared better with a single-edged razor blade than with the poison berries) it was, in Bunny’s case at least, strangely true. He did touch people’s lives, the lives of strangers, in an entirely unanticipated way. It was they who really mourned him—or what they thought was him—with a grief that was no less sharp for not being intimate with its object.

It was this unreality of character, this cartoonishness if you will,

which was the secret of his appeal and what finally made his death so sad. Like any great comedian, he colored his environment wherever he went; in order to marvel at his constancy you wanted to see him in all sorts of alien situations: Bunny riding a camel, Bunny babysitting, Bunny in space. Now, in death, this constancy crystallized and became something else entirely: he was an old familiar jokester cast—with surprising effect—in the tragic role.


When the snow finally melted it went as quickly as it had come. In twenty-four hours it was all gone except for some lovely shady patches in the woods—white-laced branches dripping rain holes in the

crust—and the slushy gray piles at the roadside. Commons lawn stretched out wide and desolate like some Napoleonic battlefield: churned, sordid, roiled with footprints.

It was a strange, fragmented time. In the days before the funeral none of us saw each other very much. The Corcorans had spirited Henry back to Connecticut with them; Cloke, who seemed to me close on the verge of a nervous breakdown, went uninvited to stay at Charles and Camilla’s, where he drank Grolsch beer by the six-pack and fell asleep on the couch with lighted cigarettes. I myself was encumbered with Judy Poovey and her friends Tracy and Beth. At mealtimes they came regularly to fetch me (“Richard,” Judy would say, reaching across the table to squeeze my hand, “you must eat”) and for the rest of the time I was captive to little activities they planned for me—drive-in movies and Mexican food, going to Tracy’s apartment for Margaritas and MTV. Though I didn’t mind the drive-ins, I did not care for the continual parade of nachos and tequila-based drinks. They were crazy about something called Kamikazes, and liked to dye their Margaritas a horrifying electric blue.

Actually, I was often glad of their company. Despite her faults, Judy

was a kindly soul, and she was so bossy and talkative that I felt oddly safe with her. Beth I disliked. She was a dancer, from Santa Fe, with a rubbery face and an idiotic giggle and dimples all over when she smiled. At Hampden she was thought something of a beauty but I loathed her lolloping, spaniel-like walk and her little-girl voice—very affected, it seemed to me—which degenerated frequently into a whine. She had also had a nervous breakdown or two, and sometimes, in repose, she got a kind of walleyed look that made me nervous. Tracy was great. She was pretty and Jewish, with a dazzling smile and a penchant for Mary Tyler Moore mannerisms like hugging herself or twirling around with her arms outstretched. The three of them smoked a lot, told long boring stories (“So, like, our plane just sat on the runway for five hours”) and talked about people I didn’t know. I, the absentminded bereaved, was free to stare peacefully out the window. But sometimes I grew tired of them, and if I complained of a headache or said I wanted to go to sleep, Tracy and Beth would disappear with prearranged swiftness and there I would be, alone with Judy. She meant well, I suppose, but the type of comfort she wished to offer did not much appeal to me and after ten or twenty minutes alone with her I was ready again for any amount of Margaritas and MTV at Tracy’s.

Francis, alone of us all, was unencumbered and occasionally he stopped by to see me. Sometimes he found me alone; when he did not he would sit stiffly in my desk chair and pretend, Henrylike, to examine my Greek books until even dimwit Tracy got the hint and left. As soon as the door closed and he heard footsteps on the stairs he would shut the book on his finger and lean forward, agitated and blinking. Our main worry at the time was the autopsy Bunny’s family had requested; we were shocked when Henry, in Connecticut, got us word that one was in progress, by slipping away from the Corcorans’ house one afternoon to call Francis from a pay phone, under the flapping banners and striped awnings of a used-car lot, with a highway roaring in the background. He’d overheard Mrs. Corcoran tell Mr. Corcoran that it was all for the best, that otherwise (and Henry swore he’d heard this very distinctly) they’d never know for sure. Whatever else one may say about guilt, it certainly lends one diabolical powers of invention; and I spent two or three of the worst nights I had, then or ever, lying awake drunk with a horrible taste of tequila in my mouth and worrying about clothing filaments, fingerprints, strands of hair. All I knew about autopsies was what I had seen on reruns of “Quincy,” but somehow it never occurred to me that my information might be inaccurate because it came from a TV show. Didn’t they research these things carefully, have a consulting physician on the set? I sat up, turned on the lights; my mouth was stained a ghastly blue. When the drinks came up in the bathroom they were brilliant-hued, perfectly clear, a rush of vibrant acid turquoise

the color of Ty-D-Bol.

But Henry, free as he was to observe the Corcorans in their own habitat, soon figured out what was going on. Francis was so impatient with his happy news that he did not even wait for Tracy and Judy to leave the room but told me immediately, in sloppily inflected Greek, while sweet dopey Tracy wondered aloud at our wanting to keep up our schoolwork at a time like this.

Do not fear,” he said to me. “It is the mother. She is concerned with the dishonor of the son having to do with wine.

I did not understand what he meant. The form of “dishonor” (

) that he used also meant “loss of civil rights.” “Atimia?” I repeated.



But rights are for living men, not for the dead.

Oiμ,” he said, shaking his head. “Oh, dear. No. No.”

He cast about, snapping his fingers, while Judy and Tracy looked on

in interest. It is harder to carry on a conversation in a dead language than you might think. “There has been much rumor,” he said at last. “The mother grieves. Not for her son,” he added hastily, when he saw I was about to speak, “for she is a wicked woman. Rather she grieves for the shame which has fallen on her house.

What shame is this?

Oivov,” he said impatiently. “

She seeks to show that his corpse does not hold wine” (and here he employed a very elegant and untranslatable metaphor: dregs in the empty wineskin of his body).


And why, pray tell, does she care?

Because there is talk among the citizens. It is shameful for a young man to die while drunk.

This was true, about the talk at least. Mrs. Corcoran, who previously had put herself at the disposal of anyone who would listen, was angry at the unflattering position in which she now found herself. Early articles, which had depicted her as “well-dressed,” “striking,” the family “perfect,” had given way to snide and vaguely accusatory ones of the ilk of MOM SEZ: NOT MY KID. Though there was only a poor beer

bottle to suggest the presence of alcohol, and no real evidence of drugs at all, psychologists on the evening news spoke of dysfunctional families, the phenomenon of denial, pointed out that addictive tendencies were often passed from parent to child. It was a hard blow. Mrs. Corcoran, leaving Hampden, walked through the crush of her old pals the reporters with her eyes averted and her teeth clenched in a brilliant hateful smile.

Of course, it was unfair. From the news accounts one would have thought Bunny the most stereotypical of “substance abusers” or “troubled teens.” It did not matter a whit that everyone who knew him (including us: Bunny was no juvenile delinquent) denied this; no matter that the autopsy showed only a tiny percentage of blood alcohol and no drugs at all; no matter that he was not even a teenager: the rumors—wheeling vulture-like in the skies above his corpse—had finally descended and sunk in their claws for good. A paragraph which blandly stated the results of the autopsy appeared in the back of the Hampden Examiner. But in college folklore he is remembered as a stumbling teen inebriate; his beery ghost is still evoked in darkened rooms, for freshmen, along with the car-crash decapitees and the bobby soxer who hanged herself in Putnam attic and all the rest of the shadowy ranks of the Hampden dead.


The funeral was set for Wednesday. On Monday morning I found two envelopes in my mailbox: one from Henry, the other from Julian. I opened Julian’s first. It was postmarked New York and was written hastily, in the red pen he used for correcting our Greek.

Dear Richard—How very unhappy I am this morning, as I know I will be for many mornings to come. The news of our friend’s death has saddened me greatly. I do not know if you have tried to reach me, I have been away, I have not been well, I doubt if I shall return to Hampden until after the funeral–

How sad it is to think that Wednesday will be the last time that we shall all be together. I hope this letter finds you well. It brings love.

At the bottom were his initials.

Henry’s letter, from Connecticut, was as stilted as a cryptogram from the western front.

Dear Richard,

I hope you are well. For several days I have been at the Corcorans’ house. Although I feel I am less comfort to them than they, in their bereavement, can recognize, they have allowed me to be of help to them in many small household matters.

Mr. Corcoran has asked me to write to Bunny’s friends at school and extend an invitation to spend the night before the funeral at his house. I understand you will be put up in the basement. If you do not plan to attend, please telephone Mrs. Corcoran and let her know.

I look forward to seeing you at the funeral if not, as I hope, before.

There was no signature, but instead a tag from the Iliad, in Greek. It was from the eleventh book, when Odysseus, cut off from his friends, finds himself alone and on enemy territory:

Be strong, saith my heart; I am a soldier; I have seen worse sights than this.


I rode down to Connecticut with Francis. Though I’d expected the twins to come with us, instead they went a day earlier with Cloke— who, to everyone’s surprise, had received a personal invitation from Mrs. Corcoran herself. We had thought he would not be invited at all. After Sciola and Davenport caught him trying to leave town, Mrs.

Corcoran had refused to even speak to him. (“She’s saving face,” said Francis.) At any rate, he’d got the personal invitation, and there had also been invitations—relayed through Henry—for Cloke’s friends Rooney Wynne and Bram Guernsey.

Actually, the Corcorans had invited quite a few people from Hampden—dorm acquaintances, people I didn’t know Bunny even knew. A girl named Sophie Dearbold, whom I knew slightly from French class, was to ride down with Francis and me.

“How did Bunny know her?” I asked Francis on the way to her dorm.

“I don’t think he did, not well. He did have a crush on her, though, freshman year. I’m sure Marion won’t like it a bit that they’ve asked her.”

Though I’d feared that the ride down might be awkward, in fact it was a wonderful relief to be around a stranger. We almost had fun, with the radio going and Sophie (brown-eyed, gravel-voiced) leaning on folded arms over the front seat talking to us, and Francis in a better mood than I’d seen him in in ages. “You look like Audrey Hepburn,” he told her, “you know that?” She gave us Kools and cinnamon gumballs, told funny stories. I laughed and looked out the window and prayed we’d miss our turn. I had never been to Connecticut in my life. I had never been to a funeral, either.

Shady Brook was on a narrow road that veered off sharply from the highway and twisted along for many miles, over bridges, past farmland and horse pastures and fields. After a time the rolling meadows segued into a golf course. SHADY BROOK COUNTRY CLUB, said the wood-burned sign that swung in front of the mock-Tudor clubhouse.

The houses began after that–large, handsome, widely spaced, each set on its own six or seven acres of land.

The place was like a maze. Frances looked for numbers on the mailboxes, nosing into one false trail after another and backing out again, cursing, grinding the gears. There were no signs and no apparent logic to the house numbers, and after we’d poked around blind for about half an hour, I began to hope that we would never find it at all, that we could just turn around and have a jolly ride back to Hampden.

But of course we did find it. At the end of its own cul-de-sac, it was a large modern house of the “architectural” sort, bleached cedar, its split levels and asymmetrical terraces self-consciously bare. The yard

was paved with black cinder, and there was no greenery at all except a few gingko trees in postmodern tubs, placed at dramatic intervals.

“Wow,” said Sophie, a true Hampden girl, ever dutiful in homage to the New.

I looked over at Francis and he shrugged.

“His mom likes modern architecture,” he said.


I had never seen the man who answered the door but with a sick, dreamlike feeling I recognized him instantly. He was big and red in the face, with a heavy jaw and a full head of white hair; for a moment he stared at us, his smallish mouth fallen open into a tight, round o. Then, surprisingly boyish and quick, he sprang forward and seized Francis’s hand. “Well,” he said. “Well, well, well.” His voice was nasal, garrulous, Bunny’s voice. “If it’s not the old Carrot Top. How are you, boy?”

“Pretty good,” said Francis, and I was a little surprised at the depth and warmth with which he said it, and the strength with which he returned the handshake.

Mr. Corcoran slung a heavy arm around his neck and pulled him close. “This one’s my boy,” he said to Sophie and me, reaching up to tousle Francis’s hair. “All my brothers were redheads and out of my boys there’s not an honest-to-god redhead in the bunch. Can’t understand it. Who are you, sweetheart?” he said to Sophie, disengaging his arm and reaching for her hand.

“Hi. I’m Sophie Dearbold.”

“Well, you’re mighty pretty. Isn’t she pretty, boys. You look just like your aunt Jean, honey.”

“What?” said Sophie, after a confused pause.

“Why, your aunt, honey. Your daddy’s sister. That pretty Jean Lickfold that won the ladies’ golf tournament out at the club last year.”

“No, sir. Dearbold.

“Dearfold. Well, isn’t that strange. I don’t know of any Dearfolds around here. Now, I used to know a fellow name of Breedlow, but that must have been, oh, twenty years ago. He was in business. They say he embezzled a cool five million from his partner.”

“I’m not from around here.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her, in a manner reminiscent of Bunny. “No?” he said.


“Not from Shady Brook?” He said it as if he could hardly believe it. “No.”

“Then where you from, honey? Greenwich?” “Detroit.”

“Bless your heart then. To come all this way.”

Sophie, smiling, shook her head and started to explain when, with absolutely no warning, Mr. Corcoran flung his arms around her and burst into tears.

We were frozen with horror. Sophie’s eyes, over his heaving shoulder, were round and aghast as if he’d run her through with a knife.

“Oh, darling,” he wailed, his face buried deep in her neck. “Honey, how are we going to get along without him?”

“Come on, Mr. Corcoran,” said Francis, tugging at his sleeve.

“We loved him a lot, honey,” sobbed Mr. Corcoran. “Didn’t we? He loved you, too. He would have wanted you to know that. You know that, don’t you, dear?”

“Mr. Corcoran,” said Francis, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him hard. “Mr. Corcoran.

He turned and fell back against Francis, bellowing.

I ran around to the other side and managed to get his arm around my neck. His knees sagged; he almost pulled me down but somehow, staggering beneath his weight, Francis and I got him to his feet and together we maneuvered him inside and weaved down the hall with him (“Oh, shit,” I heard Sophie murmur, “shit.”) and got him into a chair.

He was still crying. His face was purple. When I reached down to loosen his collar he grabbed me by the wrist. “Gone,” he wailed, looking me straight in the eye. “My baby.

His gaze—helpless, wild—hit me like a blackjack. Suddenly, and for the first time, really, I was struck by the bitter, irrevocable truth of it; the evil of what we had done. It was like running full speed into a brick wall. I let go his collar, feeling completely helpless. I wanted to die. “Oh, God,” I mumbled, “God help me, I’m sorry—”

I felt a fierce kick in my anklebone. It was Francis. His face was as white as chalk.

A shaft of light splintered painfully in my vision. I clutched the back of the chair, closed my eyes and saw luminous red as the rhythmic noise of his sobs fell over and over again, like a bludgeon.

Then, very abruptly, they stopped. Everything was quiet. I opened

my eyes. Mr. Corcoran—leftover tears still rolling down his cheeks but his face otherwise composed—was looking with interest at a spaniel puppy who was gnawing furtively at the toe of his shoe.

Jennie,” he said severely. “Bad girl. Didn’t Mama put you out?


With a cooing, baby noise, he reached down and scooped up the little dog—its feet paddling furiously in midair—and carried her out of the room.

“Now, go on,” I heard him say airily. “Scat.”

A screen door creaked somewhere. In a moment he was back: calm now, beaming, a dad from an ad.

“Any of you kids care for a beer?” he said.

We were all agog. No one answered him. I stared at him, trembling, ashen-faced.

“Come on, guys,” he said, and winked. “No takers?”

At last, Francis cleared his throat with a rasping sound. “Ah, I believe I’d like one, yes.”

There was a silence. “Me, too,” said Sophie.

“Three?” said Mr. Corcoran to me jovially, holding up three fingers. I moved my mouth but no sound came out of it.

He put his head to the side, as if fixing me with his good eye. “I don’t think we’ve met, have we, son?”

I shook my head.

“Macdonald Corcoran,” he said, leaning forward to offer his hand. “Call me Mack.”

I mumbled my own name.

“What’s that?” he said brightly, hand to ear. I said it again, louder this time.

“Ah! So you’re the one from California! Where’s your tan, son?” He laughed loudly at his joke and went to fetch the beers.

I sat down hard, exhausted and almost sick. We were in an overscaled, Architectural Digest sort of room, big and loft-like, with skylights and a fieldstone fireplace, chairs upholstered in white leather, kidney-shaped coffee table—modern, expensive, Italian stuff. Running along the back wall was a long glass trophy case filled with loving cups, ribbons, school and sports memorabilia; in ominous proximity were several large funeral wreaths which, in conjunction with the trophies, gave that corner of the room a Kentucky Derby sort of look.

“This is a beautiful space,” said Sophie. Her voice echoed amid the sharp surfaces and the polished floor.

“Why, thank you, honey,” Mr. Corcoran said from the kitchen. “We were in House Beautiful last year, and the Home section of the Times the year before that. Not quite what I’d pick myself, but Kathy’s the decorator in the family, y’know.”

The doorbell rang. We looked at each other. Then it rang again, two melodious chimes, and Mrs. Corcoran clicked through from the back of the house and past us without a word or a glance.

Henry,” she called. “Your guests are here.” Then she opened the front door. “Hello,” she said to the delivery boy who was standing outside. “Which one are you? Are you from Sunset Florists?”

“Yes, ma’am. Please sign.”

“Now wait just a minute. I called you people earlier. I want to know why you delivered all these wreaths here while I was out this morning.”

“I didn’t deliver them. I just came on shift.” “You’re with Sunset Florists, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I felt sorry for him. He was a teenager, with blotches of flesh-colored Clearasil scattered over his face.

“I asked specifically that only floral arrangements and house plants be sent here. These wreaths should all be down at the funeral home.”

“I’m sorry, lady. If you want to call the manager or something—” “I’m afraid you don’t understand. I don’t want these wreaths in my

house. I want you to pack them right back up in your truck and take them to the funeral home. And don’t try to give me that one, either,” she said as he held up a gaudy wreath of red and yellow carnations. “Just tell me who it’s from.”

The boy squinted at his clipboard. “ ‘With sympathy, Mr. and Mrs.

Robert Bartle.’ ”

“Ah!” said Mr. Corcoran, who had come back with the beers; he had them all clasped together in his hands, very clumsily, without a tray. “That from Betty and Bob?”

Mrs. Corcoran ignored him. “I guess you can go ahead and bring in those ferns,” she said to the delivery boy, eyeing the foil-wrapped pots with loathing.

After he had gone Mrs. Corcoran began to inspect the ferns, lifting up the fronds to check for dead foliage, making notes on the backs of the envelopes with a tiny silver screw-point pencil. To her husband she said: “Did you see that wreath the Bartles sent?”

“Wasn’t that nice of them.”

“No, in fact I don’t think it appropriate for an employee to send something like that. I wonder, is Bob thinking about asking you for a raise?”

“Now, hon.”

“I can’t believe these plants, either,” she said, jabbing a forefinger into the soil. “This African violet is almost dead. Louise would be humiliated if she knew.”

“It’s the thought that counts.”

“I know, but still, if I’ve learned one thing from this it is never to order flowers from Sunset Florists again. All the things from Tina’s Flowerland are so much nicer. Francis,” she said, in the same bored tone and without looking up. “You haven’t been to see us since last Easter.”

Francis took a sip of his beer. “Oh, I’ve been fine,” he said stagily. “How are you?”

She sighed and shook her head. “It’s been terribly hard,” she said. “We’re all trying to take things one day at a time. I never realized before how very difficult it can be for a parent to just let go and … Henry, is that you?” she said sharply at the sound of some scuffling on the landing.

A pause. “No, Mom, just me.”

“Go find him, Pat, and tell him to get down here,” she said. Then she turned back to Francis. “We got a lovely spray of Easter lilies from your mother this morning,” she said to him. “How is she?”

“Oh, she’s fine. She’s in the city now. She was really upset,” he added uncomfortably, “when she heard about Bunny.” (Francis had told me she was hysterical on the telephone and had to go take a pill.) “She is such a lovely person,” said Mrs. Corcoran sweetly. “I was so

sorry when I heard she’d been admitted to the Betty Ford Center.” “She was only there for a couple of days,” said Francis.

She raised an eyebrow. “Oh? She made that much progress, did she? I’ve always heard it was an excellent place.”

Francis cleared his throat. “Well, she mainly went out there for a rest. Quite a number of people do that, you know.”

Mrs. Corcoran looked surprised. “Oh, you don’t mind talking about it, do you?” she said. “I don’t think you should. I think it’s very modern of your mother to realize that she needed help. Not so long ago one simply didn’t admit to problems of that nature. When I was a girl—”

“Well, well, speak of the Devil,” boomed Mr. Corcoran.

Henry, in dark suit, was creaking down the stairs with a stiff, measured tread.

Francis stood up. I did, too. He ignored us.

“Come on in here, son,” said Mr. Corcoran. “Grab yourself a brewski.”

“Thank you, no,” said Henry.

Up close, I was startled to see how pale he was. His face was leaden and set and beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead.

“What you boys been doing up there all afternoon?” Mr. Corcoran said through a mouthful of ice.

Henry blinked at him.

“Huh?” said Mr. Corcoran pleasantly. “Looking at girlie magazines?

Building yourselves a ham radio set?”

Henry passed a hand—which, I saw, trembled slightly—over his forehead. “I was reading,” he said.

Reading?” said Mr. Corcoran, as if he’d never heard of such a thing. “Yes, sir.”

“What is it? Something good?” “The Upanishads.

“Well aren’t you smart. You know, I’ve got a whole shelf of books down in the basement if you want to take a look. Even have a couple old Perry Masons. They’re pretty good. Exactly like the TV show, except Perry gets a little sexy with Della and sometimes he’ll say ‘damn’ and stuff.”

Mrs. Corcoran cleared her throat.

“Henry,” she said smoothly, reaching for her drink, “I’m sure the young people would like to see where they’ll be staying. Maybe they have some luggage in the car.”

“All right.”

“Check the downstairs bathroom to make sure there are enough washcloths and towels. If there aren’t, get some from the linen closet in the hall.”

Henry nodded but before he could answer Mr. Corcoran suddenly came up behind him. “This boy,” he said, slapping him on the back—I saw Henry’s neck clench and his teeth sink into his lower lip—“is one in a million. Isn’t he a prince, Kathy?”

“He has certainly been quite a help,” said Mrs. Corcoran coolly. “You bet your boots he has. I don’t know what we would’ve done

this week without him. You kids,” said Mr. Corcoran, a hand clamped

on Henry’s shoulder, “better hope you’ve got friends like this one. They don’t come along like this every day. No, sir. Why, I’ll never forget, it was Bunny’s first night at Hampden, he called me up on the telephone. ‘Dad,’ he said to me, ‘Dad, you ought to see this nut they gave me for a roommate.’ ‘Stick it out, son,’ I told him, ‘give it a chance’ and before you could spit it was Henry this, Henry that, he’s changing his major from whatever the hell it was to ancient Greek. Tearing off to Italy. Happy as a clam.” The tears were welling in his eyes. “Just goes to show,” he said, shaking Henry’s shoulder with a kind of rough affection. “Never judge a book by its cover. Old Henry here may look like he’s got a stick up his butt but there never breathed a finer fella. Why, just about the last time I spoke to the old Bunster he was all excited about taking off to France with this guy in the summer—”

“Now, Mack,” said Mrs. Corcoran, but it was too late. He was crying


It was not as bad as the first time but still it was bad. He threw his arms around Henry and sobbed in his lapel while Henry just stood there, gazing off into the distance with a haggard, stoic calm.

Everyone was embarrassed. Mrs. Corcoran began to pick at the house plants and I, ears burning, was staring at my lap when a door slammed and two young men sauntered into the wide, high-raftered hall. There was no mistaking for an instant who they were. The light was behind them, I couldn’t see either of them very well but they were laughing and talking and, oh, God, what a bright sudden stab in my heart at the echo of Bunny which rang—harsh, derisive, vibrant— through their laughter.

They ignored their father’s tears and marched right up to him. “Hey, Pop,” said the eldest. He was curly haired, about thirty, and looked very much like Bunny in the face. A baby wearing a little cap that said Red Sox was perched high on his hip.

The other brother—freckled, thinner, with a too-dark tan and black circles under his blue eyes—took the baby. “Here,” he said. “Go see Grandpa.”

Mr. Corcoran stopped crying instantly, in mid-sob; he held the baby high in the air and looked up at it adoringly. “Champ!” he shouted. “Did you go for a ride with Daddy and Uncle Brady?”

“We took him to McDonald’s,” said Brady. “Got him a Happy Meal.”

Mr. Corcoran’s jaw dropped in wonder. “Did you eat it all?” he asked the baby. “All that Happy Meal?”

“Say yes,” cooed the baby’s father. “ ‘Yes, Drampaw.’ 

“That’s baloney, Ted,” said Brady, laughing. “He didn’t eat a bite of it.”

“He got a prize in the box, though, didn’t you? Didn’t you? Huh?” “Let’s see it,” said Mr. Corcoran, busily prying the baby’s fingers

from around it.

“Henry,” said Mrs. Corcoran, “perhaps you’ll help the young lady with her bags and show her to her room. Brady, you can take the boys downstairs.”

Mr. Corcoran had got the prize—a plastic airplane—away from the baby and was making it fly back and forth.

“Look!” he said, in a tone of hushed awe.

“Since it’s only for a night,” Mrs. Corcoran said to us, “I’m sure that no one will mind doubling up.”

As we were leaving with Brady, Mr. Corcoran plumped the baby down on the hearth rug and was rolling around, tickling him. I could hear the baby’s high screams of terror and delight all the way down the stairs.


We were to stay in the basement. Along the back wall, near the Ping-Pong and pool tables, several army cots had been set up, and in the corner was a pile of sleeping bags.

“Isn’t this wretched,” said Francis as soon as we were alone. “It’s just for tonight.”

“I can’t sleep in rooms with lots of people. I’ll be up all night.”

I sat down on a cot. The room had a damp, unused smell and the light from the lamp over the pool table was greenish and depressing.

“It’s dusty, too,” said Francis. “I think we ought to just go check into a hotel.”

Sniffing noisily, he complained about the dust as he searched for an ashtray but deadly radon could have been seeping into the room, it didn’t matter to me. All I wondered was how, in the name of Heaven and a merciful God, was I going to make it through the hours ahead. We had been there only twenty minutes and already I felt like shooting myself.

He was still complaining and I was still sunk in despair when Camilla came down. She was wearing jet earrings, patent-leather shoes, a natty, closely cut black velvet suit.

“Hello,” Francis said, handing her a cigarette. “Let’s go check into the Ramada Inn.”

As she put the cigarette between her parched lips I realized how much I’d missed her for the last few days.

“Oh, you don’t have it so bad,” she said. “Last night had to sleep with Marion.

“Same room?” “Same bed.

Francis’s eyes widened with admiration and horror. “Oh, really?

Oh, I say. That’s awful,” he said in a hushed, respectful voice.

“Charles is upstairs with her now. She’s hysterical because somebody asked that poor girl who rode down with you.”

“Where’s Henry?”

“Haven’t you seen him yet?”

“I saw him. I didn’t talk to him.”

She paused to blow out a cloud of smoke. “How does he seem to you?”

“I’ve seen him looking better. Why?” “Because he’s sick. Those headaches.” “One of the bad ones?”

“That’s what he says.”

Francis looked at her in disbelief. “How is he up and walking around, then?”

“I don’t know. He’s all doped up. He has his pills and he’s been taking them for days.”

“Well, where is he now? Why isn’t he in bed?”

“I don’t know. Mrs. Corcoran just sent him down to the Cumberland Farms to get that damn baby a quart of milk.”

“Can he drive?” “I have no idea.”

“Francis,” I said, “your cigarette.”

He jumped up, grabbed for it too quickly and burned his fingers. He’d laid it on the edge of the pool table and the coal had burned down to the wood; a charred spot was spreading on the varnish.

“Boys?” Mrs. Corcoran called from the head of the stairs. “Boys? Do you mind if I come down to check the thermostat?”

“Quick,” Camilla whispered, mashing out her cigarette. “We’re not supposed to smoke down here.”

“Who’s there?” said Mrs. Corcoran sharply. “Is something burning?” “No, ma’am,” Francis said, wiping at the burned spot and

scrambling to hide the cigarette butt as she came down the steps.


It was one of the worst nights of my life. The house was filling with people and the hours passed in a dreadful streaky blur of relatives, neighbors, crying children, covered dishes, blocked driveways, ringing telephones, bright lights, strange faces, awkward conversations. Some swinish, hard-faced man trapped me in a corner for hours, boasting of bass tournaments and businesses in Chicago and Nashville and Kansas City until finally I excused myself and locked myself in an upstairs bathroom, ignoring the beating and piteous cries of an unknown toddler who pled, weeping, for admittance.

Dinner was set out at seven, an unappetizing combination of gourmet carry-out—orzo salad, duck in Campari, miniature foie gras tarts—and food the neighbors had made: tuna casseroles, gelatin molds in Tupperware, and a frightful dessert called a “wacky cake” that I am at a loss to even describe. People roamed with paper plates. It was dark outside and raining. Hugh Corcoran, in shirtsleeves, went around with a bottle freshening drinks, nudging his way through the dark, murmuring crowd. He brushed by me without a glance. Of all the brothers, he bore the strongest resemblance to Bunny (Bunny’s death was starting to seem some horrible kind of generative act, more Bunnys popping up everywhere I looked, Bunnys coming out of the woodwork), and it was akin to looking into the future and seeing what Bunny would have looked like at thirty-five, just as looking at his father was like seeing him at sixty. I knew him and he didn’t know me. I had a strong, nearly irresistible urge to take him by the arm, say something to him, what I didn’t know: just to see the brows drop abruptly in the way I knew so well, to see the startled expression in the naive, muddy eyes.

It was I killed the old pawnbroker woman and her sister Lizaveta with

an axe and robbed them.

Laughter, vertigo. Strangers kept wandering up and talking at me. I disengaged myself from one of Bunny’s teenaged cousins—who, upon hearing I was from California, had begun to ask me a lot of very complicated questions about surfing—and, swimming through the bobbling crowd, found Henry. He was standing by himself in front of some glass doors, his back to the room, smoking a cigarette.

I stood beside him. He didn’t look at me or speak. The doors faced out on a barren, floodlit terrace—black cinder, privet in concrete urns, a statue artfully broken in white pieces on the ground. Rain slanted in the lights, which were angled to cast long, dramatic shadows. The effect was fashionable, post-nuclear but ancient, too, like some

pumice-strewn courtyard from Pompeii.

“That is the ugliest garden I have ever seen,” I said. “Yes,” said Henry. He was very pale. “Rubble and ash.”

People laughed and talked behind us. The lights, through the rain-spattered window, cast a pattern of droplets trickling down his face.

“Maybe you’d better lie down,” I said after a while.

He bit his lip. The ash on his cigarette was about an inch long. “I don’t have any more medicine,” he said.

I looked at the side of his face. “Can you get along?” “I guess I’ll have to, won’t I?” he said without moving.


Camilla locked the door of the bathroom behind us and the two of us, on our hands and knees, began to rummage through the mess of prescription bottles under the sink.

“ ‘For high blood pressure,’ ” she read. “No.”

“ ‘For asthma.’ ”

There was a knock on the door. “Somebody’s in here,” I yelled.

Camilla’s head was wedged all the way in the cabinet by the water pipes, so that her rear end stuck out. I could hear the medicine bottles clinking. “ ‘Inner ear?’ ” she said, her voice muffled. “ ‘One cap twice daily’?”

“Let’s see.”

She handed me some antibiotics, at least ten years old.

“This won’t do,” I said, edging closer. “Do you see anything with a no-refill sticker? From a dentist, maybe?”


“ ‘May Cause Drowsiness’? ‘Do Not Drive or Operate Heavy Machinery’?”

Someone knocked on the door again and rattled the knob. I knocked back, then reached up and turned on both taps full-blast.

Our findings were not good. If Henry had been suffering from poison ivy, hay fever, rheumatism, pinkeye, we would have been in luck but the only painkiller they had was Excedrin. Out of sheer desperation I took a handful, also two ambiguous capsules that had a Drowsiness sticker but which I suspected of being antihistamines.

I’d thought our mystery guest had left, but venturing out I was annoyed to find Cloke lurking outside. He gave me a contemptuous look that turned to a stare when Camilla—hair tousled, tugging at her

skirt—stepped out behind me.

If she was surprised to see him, she didn’t show it. “Oh, hello,” she said to him, reaching down to dust off her knees.

“Hi.” He glanced away in a studied, offhanded manner. We all knew Cloke was sort of interested in her, but even if he hadn’t been, Camilla was not exactly the sort of girl one expected to find making out with someone in a locked bathroom.

She brushed past us and headed downstairs. I started down, too, but Cloke coughed in a significant manner and I turned around.

He leaned back against the wall, looking at me as if he’d had me figured out from the day I was born. “So,” he said. His shirt was unironed and his shirttails were out; and though his eyes were red, I didn’t know if he was stoned or just tired. “How’s it going?”

I paused on the landing. Camilla was at the foot of the steps, out of earshot. “All right,” I said.

“What’s the story?” “What?”

“Better not let Kathy catch you guys screwing around in her bathroom. She’ll make you walk to the bus station.”

His tone was neutral. Still, I was reminded of the business with Mona’s boyfriend the week before. Cloke, however, presented little or nothing in the way of physical threat and besides, he had problems enough of his own.

“Look,” I said, “you’ve got it wrong.” “I don’t care. I’m just telling you.”

“Well, I’m telling you. Believe it or not, I don’t care.

Cloke fished lazily in his pocket, came out with a pack of Marlboros so crumpled and flat that it did not seem possible that a cigarette could be inside it. He said: “I thought she was seeing somebody.”

“For God’s sake.”

He shrugged. “It’s no business of mine,” he said, extracting one crooked cigarette and crushing the empty pack in his hand. “People were bothering me at school, so I was staying on their couch before we came down here. I’ve heard her talking on the phone.”

“And saying what?”

“Oh, nothing, but like two or three in the morning, whispering, you’ve got to wonder.” He smiled bleakly. “I guess she thinks I’m passed out but to tell you the truth I haven’t been sleeping all that well.… Right,” he said, when I didn’t answer. “You don’t know a thing about it.”

“I don’t.”


“I really don’t.”

“So what were you doing in there?”

I looked at him for a moment, and then I took out a handful of pills and held them out on my open palm.

He leaned forward, brows knit, and then, quite suddenly, his foggy eyes became intelligent and alert. He selected a capsule and held it up to the light in businesslike fashion. “What is it?” he said. “Do you know?”

“Sudafed,” I said. “Don’t bother. There’s nothing in there.”

He chuckled. “Know why?” he said, looking at me for the first time with real friendliness. “That’s because you were looking in the wrong place.”


He glanced over his shoulder. “Down the hall. Off the master bedroom. I would have told you if you’d asked.”

I was startled. “How do you know?”

He pocketed the capsule and raised an eyebrow at me. “I practically grew up in this house,” he said. “Old Kathy is on about sixteen different types of dope.”

I looked back at the closed door of the master bedroom. “No,” he said. “Not now.”

“Why not?”

“Bunny’s grandma. She has to lie down after she eats. We’ll come up later.”


Things downstairs had cleared out some, but not much. Camilla was nowhere in sight. Charles, bored and drunk, his back in a corner, was holding a glass to his temple as a tearful Marion babbled away—her hair pulled back in one of those tremendous preppy bows from the Talbots catalogue. I hadn’t had a chance to speak to him because she had shadowed him almost constantly since we arrived; why she had latched so firmly on to him I don’t know, except that she wasn’t talking to Cloke, and Bunny’s brothers were either married or engaged, and of the remaining males in her age group—Bunny’s cousins, Henry and me, Bram Guernsey and Rooney Wynne—Charles was by far the best looking.

He glanced at me over her shoulder. I didn’t have the stomach to go over and rescue him, and I looked away; but just then a toddler—

fleeing his grinning, jug-eared brother—slid into my legs and almost knocked me down.

They dodged round me in circles. The smaller one, terrified and shrieking, dove to the floor and grabbed my knees. “Butthole,” he sobbed.

The other one stopped and took a step backwards, and there was something nasty and almost lascivious about the look on his face. “Oh, Dad,” he sang, his voice like spilled syrup.

Oh, Daa-yid.

Across the room, Hugh Corcoran turned, glass in hand. “Don’t make me come over there, Brandon,” he said.

“But Corey called you a butthole, Daa-yid.

“You’re a butthole,” sobbed the little one. “You you you.”

I pried him off my leg and went looking for Henry. He and Mr. Corcoran were in the kitchen, surrounded by a semicircle of people: Mr. Corcoran, who had his arm around Henry, looked as if he’d had a few too many.

“Now Kathy and I,” he said, in a loud, didactic voice, “have always opened our home to young people. Always an extra place at the table. First thing you know, they’d be coming to Kathy and me with their problems, too. Like this guy,” he said, jostling Henry. “I’ll never forget the time he came up to me one night after supper. He said, ‘Mack’— all the kids call me Mack—‘I’d like to ask your advice about something, man to man.’ ‘Well, before you start, son,’ I said, ‘I want to tell you just one thing. I think I know boys pretty well. I raised five of ’em myself. And I had four brothers when I was coming up, so I guess you might call me a pretty good authority on boys in general.…’ ”

He rambled on with this fraudulent recollection while Henry, pale and ill, endured his prods and backslaps as a well-trained dog will tolerate the pummeling of a rough child. The story itself was ludicrous. It had a dynamic and strangely hot-headed young Henry wanting to rush out and buy a used single-engine airplane against the advice of his parents.

“But this guy was determined,” said Mr. Corcoran. “He was going to get that plane or bust. After he’d told me all about it I sat there for a minute and then I took a deep breath and I said, ‘Henry, son, she sounds like a beaut, but I’m still going to have to be a square and agree with your folks. Let me tell you why that is.’ ”

“Hey, Dad,” said Patrick Corcoran, who had just come in to fix himself another drink. He was slighter than Bun, heavily freckled, but

he had Bunny’s sandy hair and his sharp little nose. “Dad, you’re all mixed up. That didn’t happen to Henry. That was Hugh’s old friend Walter Ballantine.”

“Bosh,” said Mr. Corcoran.

“Sure it was. And he ended up buying the plane anyway. Hugh?” he shouted into the next room. “Hugh, do you remember Walter Ballantine?”

“Sure,” said Hugh, and appeared in the doorway. He had by the wrist the kid Brandon, who was twisting and trying furiously to get away. “What about him?”

“Didn’t Walter wind up buying that little Bonanza?”

“It wasn’t a Bonanza,” said Hugh, ignoring with a glacial calm the thrashing and yelps of his son. “It was a Beechcraft. No, I know what you’re thinking,” he said, as both Patrick and his father started to object. “I drove out to Danbury with Walter to look at a little converted Bonanza, but the guy wanted way too much. Those things cost a fortune to maintain, and there was plenty wrong with it, too. He was selling it because he couldn’t afford to keep it.”

“What about this Beechcraft, then?” said Mr. Corcoran. His hand had slipped from Henry’s shoulder. “I’ve heard that’s an excellent little outfit.”

“Walter had some trouble with it. Got it through an ad in the Pennysaver, off some retired congressman from New Jersey. He’d used it to fly around in while he was campaigning and—”

Gasping, he lurched forward as with a sudden wrench the kid broke free of him and shot across the room like a cannonball. Evading his father’s tackle, he sidestepped Patrick’s block as well and, glancing back at his pursuers, slammed right into Henry’s abdomen.

It was a hard blow. The kid began to cry. Henry’s jaw dropped and every ounce of blood drained from his face. For a moment I was sure he would fall, but somehow he drew himself upright, with the dignified, massive effort of a wounded elephant, while Mr. Corcoran threw back his head and laughed merrily at his distress.


I had not entirely believed Cloke about the drugs to be found upstairs, but when I went up with him again I saw he had told the truth. There was a tiny dressing room off the master bedroom, and a black lacquer vanity with lots of little compartments and a tiny key, and inside one of the compartments was a ballotin of Godiva chocolates and a neat, well-tended collection of candy-colored pills. The doctor who had

prescribed them—E. G. Hart, M.D., and apparently a more reckless character than his prim initials would suggest—was a generous fellow, particularly with the amphetamines. Ladies of Mrs. Corcoran’s age usually went in pretty heavily for the Valium and so forth but she had enough speed to send a gang of Hell’s Angels on a cross-country rampage.

I was nervous. The room smelled like new clothes and perfume; big disco mirrors on the wall reproduced our every move in paranoiac multiple-image; there was no way out and no possible excuse for being there should anyone happen in. I kept an eye on the door while Cloke, with admirable efficiency, went swiftly through the bottles.

Dalmane. Yellow and orange. Darvon. Red and gray. Fiorinal.

Nembutal. Miltown. I took two from each of the bottles he gave me. “What,” he said, “don’t you want more than that?”

“I don’t want her to miss anything.”

“Shit,” he said, opening another bottle and pouring half the contents into his pocket. “Take what you want. She’ll think it was one of her daughters-in-law or something. Here, have some of this speed,” he said, tapping most of the rest of the bottle on my palm. “It’s great stuff. Pharmaceutical. During exams you can get ten or fifteen dollars a hit for this, easy.”


I went downstairs, the right-hand pocket of my jacket full of ups and the left full of downs. Francis was standing at the foot of the steps. “Listen,” I said, “do you know where Henry is?”

“No. Have you seen Charles?”

He was half-hysterical. “What’s wrong?” I said. “He stole my car keys.”


“He took the keys out of my coat pocket and left. Camilla saw him pulling out of the driveway. He had the top down. That car stalls in the rain, anyway, but if—shit,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “You don’t know anything about it, do you?”

“I saw him about an hour ago. With Marion.”

“Yes, I talked to her too. He said he was going out for cigarettes, but that was an hour ago. You did see him? You haven’t talked to him?”


“Was he drunk? Marion said he was. Did he look drunk to you?” Francis looked pretty drunk himself. “Not very,” I said. “Come on,

help me find Henry.”

“I told you. I don’t know where he is. What do you want him for?” “I have something for him.”

What is it?” he said in Greek. “Drugs?” “Yes.”

“Well, give me something, for God’s sake,” he said, swaying forward, pop-eyed.

He was far too drunk for sleeping pills. I gave him an Excedrin. “Thanks,” he said, and swallowed it with a big sloppy drink of his

whiskey. “I hope I die in the night. Where do you suppose he went, anyway? What time is it?”

“About ten.”

“You don’t suppose he decided to drive home, do you? Maybe he just took the car and went back to Hampden. Camilla said certainly not, not with the funeral tomorrow, but I don’t know, he’s just disappeared. If he really just went for cigarettes, don’t you think he’d be back by now? I can’t imagine where else he would have gone. What do you think?”

“He’ll turn up,” I said. “Look, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you later.”

I looked all over the house for Henry and found him sitting by himself on an army cot, in the basement, in the dark.

He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, without moving his head. “What is that?” he said, when I offered him a couple of capsules.

“Nembutal. Here.”

He took them from me and swallowed them without water. “Do you have any more?”


“Give them to me.”

“You can’t take more than two.” “Give them to me.”

I gave them to him. “I’m not kidding, Henry,” I said. “You’d better be careful.”

He looked at them, then reached in his pocket for the blue enamel pillbox and put them carefully inside it. “I don’t suppose,” he said, “you would go upstairs and get me a drink.”

“You shouldn’t be drinking on top of those pills.” “I’ve been drinking already.”

“I know that.”

There was a brief silence.

“Look,” he said, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. “I want a Scotch and soda. In a tall glass. Heavy on the Scotch, light on the soda, lots of ice, a glass of plain water, no ice, on the side. That’s what I want.”

“I’m not going to get it for you.”

“If you don’t go up and get it for me,” he said, “I’ll just have to go up and get it myself.”

I went up to the kitchen and got it for him, except I made it a good deal heavier on the soda than I knew he wanted me to.

“That’s for Henry,” said Camilla, coming into the kitchen just as I’d finished the first glass and was filling the second with water from the tap.


“Where is he?” “Downstairs.” “How’s he doing?”

We were alone in the kitchen. With my eyes on the empty doorway, I told her about the lacquer chest.

“That sounds like Cloke,” she said, laughing. “He’s really pretty decent, isn’t he? Bun always said he reminded him of you.”

I was puzzled and a bit offended by this last. I started to say something about it, but instead I set down the glass and said, “Who do you talk to on the telephone at three in the morning?”


Her surprise seemed perfectly natural. The problem was that she was such an expert actress it was impossible to know if it was genuine.

I held her gaze. She met it unblinking, brows knit, and just when I thought she’d been silent a beat too long, she shook her head and laughed again. “What’s wrong with you?” she said. “What are you talking about?”

I laughed too. It was impossible to outfox her at this game.

“I’m not trying to put you on the spot,” I said. “But you need to be careful what you say on the telephone when Cloke’s in your house.”

She looked blank. “I am careful.”

“I hope you are, because he’s been listening.” “He couldn’t have heard anything.”

“Well, that’s not for want of trying.”

We stood looking at each other. There was a heart-stopping, ruby-

red pinprick of a beauty mark just beneath her eye. On an irresistible impulse I leaned down and gave her a kiss.

She laughed. “What was that for?” she said.

My heart—which, thrilled at my daring, had held its breath for a moment or two—began suddenly to beat quite wildly. I turned and busied myself with the glasses. “Nothing,” I said, “you just looked pretty,” and I might have said something else had Charles—dripping wet—not burst through the kitchen door, Francis hard at his heels.

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” said Francis in an angry whisper. He was flushed and trembling. “Never mind that the seats are soaked, and will probably mildew and rot, and that I’ve got to drive back to Hampden tomorrow. But never mind about that. I don’t care. What I can’t believe is that you went up, you deliberately went looking for my coat, you took the keys and—”

“I’ve seen you leave the top down in the rain before,” said Charles curtly. He was at the counter, his back to Francis, pouring himself a drink. His hair was plastered to his head and a small puddle was forming round him on the linoleum.

“What,” said Francis, through his teeth. “I never.” “Yes you have,” said Charles, without turning around. “Name one time.”

“Okay. What about that afternoon you and I were in Manchester, and it was about two weeks before school started, and we decided to go to the Equinox House for—”

“That was a summer afternoon. It was sprinkling.

“It was not. It was raining hard. You just don’t want to talk about that now because that was the afternoon you tried to get me to—”

“You’re crazy,” said Francis. “That doesn’t have anything to do with this. It’s dark as hell and pouring rain and you’re drunk out of your skull. It’s a miracle you didn’t kill somebody. Where the hell did you go for those cigarettes, anyway? There’s not a store around here for


“I’m not drunk.”

“Ha, ha. Tell me. Where’d you get those cigarettes? I’d like to know.

I bet—”

“I said I’m not drunk.”

“Yeah, sure. I bet you didn’t even buy any cigarettes. If you did, they must be soaking wet. Where are they, anyway?”

“Leave me alone.”

“No. Really. Show them to me. I’d like to see these famous—”

Charles slammed down his glass and spun around. “Leave me alone,” he hissed.

It was not the tone of his voice, exactly, as much as the look on his face which was so terrible. Francis stared, his mouth fallen slightly open. For about ten long seconds there was no sound but the rhythmic tick tick tick of the water dripping from Charles’s sodden clothes.

I took Henry’s Scotch and soda, lots of ice, and his water, no ice, and walked past Francis, out the swinging door and down to the basement.


It rained hard all night. My nose tickled from the dust in the sleeping bag, and the basement floor—which was poured concrete beneath a thin, comfortless layer of indoor-outdoor carpeting—made my bones ache whichever way I turned. The rain drummed on the high windows, and the floodlights, shining through the glass, cast a pattern on the walls as if dark rivulets of water were streaming down them from ceiling to floor.

Charles snored on his cot, his mouth open; Francis grumbled in his sleep. Occasionally a car swooshed by in the rain and its headlights would swing round momentarily and illuminate the room—the pool table, the snowshoes on the wall and the rowing machine, the armchair in which Henry sat, motionless, a glass in his hand and the cigarette burning low between his fingers. For a moment his face, pale and watchful as a ghost’s, would be caught in the headlights and then, very gradually, it would slide back into the dark.


In the morning I woke up sore and disoriented to the sound of a loose shutter banging somewhere. The rain was falling harder than ever. It lashed in rhythmic waves against the windows of the white, brightly lit kitchen as we guests sat around the table and ate a silent, cheerless breakfast of coffee and Pop Tarts.

The Corcorans were upstairs, dressing. Cloke and Bram and Rooney drank coffee with their elbows on the table and talked in low voices. They were freshly showered and shaven, cocky in their Sunday suits but uneasy, too, as if they were about to go to court. Francis—puff-eyed, his stiff red hair full of absurd cowlicks—was still in his bathrobe. He had got up late and was in a state of barely contained outrage because all the hot water in the downstairs tank was gone.

He and Charles were across the table from each other, and took great pains to avoid looking in the other’s direction. Marion—red-

eyed, her hair in hot curlers—was sullen and silent, too. She was dressed very smartly, in a navy suit, but with fuzzy pink slippers over her fleshtone nylons. Every now and then she would reach up and put her hands on the rollers to see if they were cooling off.

Henry, among us, was the only pallbearer—the other five being family friends or business associates of Mr. Corcoran’s. I wondered if the coffin was very heavy and, if so, how Henry would manage. Though he emitted a faint, ammoniac odor of sweat and Scotch he did not look at all drunk. The pills had sunk him into a glassy, fathomless calm. Threads of smoke floated up from a filterless cigarette whose coal burned dangerously near his fingertips. It was a state which might have seemed a suspiciously narcotic one except that it differed so little from his customary manner.

It was a little after nine-thirty by the kitchen clock. The funeral was set for eleven. Francis went off to dress and Marion to take her rollers out. The rest of us were still sitting around the kitchen table, awkward and inert, pretending to enjoy our second and third cups of coffee when Teddy’s wife marched in. She was a hard-faced, pretty litigation lawyer who smoked constantly and wore her blond hair in a China chop. With her was Hugh’s wife: a small, mild-mannered woman who looked far too young and frail to have borne as many children as she had. By an unfortunate coincidence, both of them were named Lisa, which made for a lot of confusion around the house.

“Henry,” said the first Lisa, leaning forward and jamming out her half-smoked Vantage so it crooked at a right angle in the ashtray. She was wearing Giorgio perfume and far too much of it. “We’re driving to the church now to arrange the flowers in the chancel and collect the cards before the service starts. Ted’s mother”—both Lisas disliked Mrs. Corcoran, a feeling which was heartily reciprocated—“said you should drive over with us so that you can meet with the pallbearers. Okay?”

Henry, the light winking off the steel rims of his glasses, gave no indication of having heard her. I was about to kick him under the table when, very slowly, he looked up.

“Why?” he said.

“The pallbearers are supposed to meet in the vestibule at ten-fifteen.”

“Why?” repeated Henry, with Vedic calm.

“I don’t know why. I’m just telling you what she said. This stuff is planned out like synchronized swimming or some damn thing. Are

you ready to go, or do you need a minute?”

“Now, Brandon,” said Hugh’s wife weakly to her little son, who had run into the kitchen and was attempting to swing from his mother’s arms like an ape. “Please. You’re going to hurt Mother. Brandon.

“Lisa, you shouldn’t let him hang all over you like that,” said the first Lisa, glancing at her watch.

Please, Brandon. Mother’s got to go now.”

“He’s too big to act like that. You know he is. If I were you, I would just take him in the bathroom and tear him up.”


Mrs. Corcoran came down about twenty minutes later, in black crepe de chine, riffling through a quilted-leather clutch. “Where is everybody?” she said when she saw only Camilla, Sophie Dearbold and me loafing by the trophy case.

When no one answered her, she paused on the stair, annoyed. “Well?” she said. “Has everybody left? Where’s Francis?”

“I think he’s dressing,” I said, glad she’d asked something I could answer without having to lie. From where she stood on the stairs she could not see what the rest of us saw, quite clearly, through the glass doors of the living room: Cloke and Bram and Rooney, Charles with them, all of them standing around under the sheltered part of the terrace getting stoned. It was odd to see Charles of all people smoking pot and the only reason I could think why he was doing it was because he thought it would brace him up, the way a stiff drink might. If so, I felt certain he was in for a nasty surprise. When I was twelve and thirteen I used to get high at school every day—not because I liked it, it broke me out in cold sweats and panic—but because in the lower grades it was such a fabulous prestige to be thought a pothead, also because I was so expert at hiding the paranoiac flulike symptoms it gave me.

Mrs. Corcoran was looking at me as if I’d uttered some Nazi oath.

Dressing?” she said. “I think so.”

“Isn’t he even dressed by now? What’s everybody been doing all morning?”

I didn’t know what to say. She was drifting down the stairs a step at a time, and now that her head was free of the balustrade, she had an unimpeded view of the patio doors—rain-splashed glass, oblivious smokers beyond—if she chose to look that way. We were all transfixed with suspense. Sometimes mothers didn’t know what pot

was when they saw it, but Mrs. Corcoran looked like she would know, all right.

She snapped the clutch bag shut and looked around with a sweeping, raptor-like gaze—the only thing about her, surely, that could remind me of my father, and it did.

“Well?” she said. “Would somebody tell him to hurry up?”

Camilla jumped up. “I’ll get him, Mrs. Corcoran,” she said, but once she was around the corner she scooted over to the terrace door.

“Thank you, dear,” said Mrs. Corcoran. She had found what she wanted—her sunglasses—and she put them on. “I don’t know what it is with you young people,” she said. “I don’t mean you in particular, but this is a very difficult time and we’re all under a great deal of stress and we must try to make things go as smoothly as they possibly can.”

Cloke looked up, bloodshot and uncomprehending, at Camilla’s soft rap on the glass. Then he looked past her into the living room, and all of a sudden his face changed. Shit, I saw him say, noiselessly, and a cloud of smoke escaped from his mouth.

Charles saw, too, and almost choked. Cloke snatched the joint from Bram and pinched it out with thumb and forefinger.

Mrs. Corcoran, in big black sunglasses, remained thankfully unaware of this drama unfolding behind her back. “The church is a bit of a drive, you know,” she said as Camilla circled behind her and went to fetch Francis. “Mack and I will go ahead in the station wagon, and you people can follow either us or the boys. I think you’ll have to go in three cars, though maybe you can squeeze into two—Don’t run in Grandmother’s house,” she snapped at Brandon and his cousin Neale, who’d darted past her on the stairs and clattered into the living room. They wore little blue suits with snap-on bow ties, and their Sunday shoes made a terrific racket on the floor.

Brandon, panting, dodged behind the sofa. “He hit me, Grandma.” “He called me a booty wipe.”

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

Boys,” she thundered. “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.” She paused dramatically, to observe their silent, stricken faces.

“Your Uncle Bunny is dead and do you know what that means? It means that he is gone forever. You will never see him again as long as you live.” She glared at them. “Today is a very special day,” she said. “It is a day for remembering him. You ought to be sitting quietly

somewhere thinking about all the nice things he used to do for you instead of running around and scuffing up this pretty new floor that Grandmother just had re-finished.”

There was a silence. Neale kicked sullenly at Brandon. “One time Uncle Bunny called me a bastard,” he said.

I wasn’t sure if she really didn’t hear him or if she chose not to; the fixed expression on her face made me think maybe the latter, but then the terrace doors slid open and Cloke came in with Charles and Bram and Rooney.

“Oh. So there you are,” said Mrs. Corcoran suspiciously. “What are you doing out there in the rain?”

“Fresh air,” said Cloke. He looked really stoned. The tip of a Visine bottle stuck out from the handkerchief pocket of his suit.

They all looked really stoned. Poor Charles was bug-eyed and sweating. This was probably more than he’d bargained for: bright lights, too high, having to deal with a hostile adult.

She looked at them. I wondered if she knew. For a moment I thought she’d say something, but instead she reached out and grabbed hold of Brandon’s arm. “Well, you should all get a move on,” she said curtly, leaning down to run a hand through his mussed hair. “It’s getting late and I’ve been led to expect that there might be a little problem with seating.


The church had been built in seventeen-something, according to the National Register of Historic Places. It was an age-blacked, dungeonlike building with its own rickety little graveyard in the back, set on a rolling country lane. When we arrived, damp and uncomfortable from Francis’s sodden car seats, cars lined the road on both sides, as if for a rural dance or bingo night, sloping gently into the grassy ditch. A gray drizzle was falling. We parked near the country club, which was down a bit, and hiked the quarter-mile silently, in the mud.

The sanctuary was dim, and stepping inside I was blinded by a dazzle of candles. When my eyes cleared I saw iron lanterns, clammy stone floors, flowers everywhere. Startled, I noticed that one of the arrangements, quite near the altar, was wired in the shape of the number 27.

“I thought he was twenty-four,” I whispered to Camilla. “No,” she said, “that’s his old football number.”

The church was packed. I looked for Henry but didn’t see him; saw

someone I thought was Julian but realized it wasn’t when he turned around. For a moment we stood there in a knot, confused. There were metal folding chairs along the back wall to accommodate the crowd, but then someone spotted a half-empty pew and we headed for that: Francis and Sophie, the twins, and me. Charles, who stuck close to Camilla, was plainly freaking out. The doomy horrorhouse atmosphere of the church was not helping at all and he stared at his surroundings with frank terror, while Camilla took his arm and tried to nudge him down the row. Marion had disappeared to sit with some people who’d driven down from Hampden, and Cloke and Bram and Rooney had simply disappeared, somewhere between car and church.


It was a long service. The minister, who took his ecumenical and— some felt—slightly impersonal remarks from Saint Paul’s sermon on Love from First Corinthians, talked for about half an hour. (“Didn’t you feel that was a very inappropriate text?” said Julian, who had a pagan’s gloomy view of death coupled with a horror of the non-specific.) Next was Hugh Corcoran (“He was the best little brother a guy could have”); then Bunny’s old football coach, a dynamic Jaycee type who talked at length of Bunny’s team spirit, telling a rousing anecdote about how Bunny had once saved the day against a particularly tough team from “lower” Connecticut. (“That means black,” whispered Francis.) He wound up his story by pausing and staring at the lectern for a count of ten; then he looked up frankly. “I don’t know,” he said, “a whole lot about Heaven. My business is teaching boys to play a game and play it hard. Today we’re here to honor a boy who’s been taken out of the game early. But that’s not to say that while he was out on the field, he didn’t give us all he had. That’s not to say he wasn’t a winner.” A long, suspenseful pause. “Bunny Corcoran,” he said gruffly, “was a winner.”

A long, solitary wail went up from somebody towards the middle of

the congregation.

Except in the movies (Knute Rockne, All-American) I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a bravura performance. When he sat down, half the place was in tears—the coach included. No one paid much attention to the final speaker, Henry himself, who went to the podium and read, inaudibly and without comment, a short poem by A. E. Housman.

The poem was called “With Rue My Heart Is Laden.” I don’t know why he chose that particular one. We knew that the Corcorans had

asked him to read something and I expected that they had trusted him to choose something appropriate. It would have been so easy for him to choose something else, though, something you would think he would pick, for Christ’s sake, from Lycidas or the Upanishads or anything, really—certainly not that poem, which Bunny had known by heart. He’d been very fond of the corny old poems he’d learned in grade school: “The Charge of the Light Brigade,”

“In Flanders Fields,” a lot of strange old sentimental stuff whose authors and titles I never even knew. The rest of us, who were snobs about such things, had thought this a shameful taste, akin to his taste for King Dons and Hostess Twinkies. Quite often I had heard Bunny say this Housman aloud—seriously when drunk, more mockingly when sober—so that the lines for me were set and hardened in the cadence of his voice; perhaps that is why hearing it then, in Henry’s academic monotone (he was a terrible reader) there with the guttering candles and the draft shivering in the flowers and people crying all around, enkindled in me such a brief and yet so excruciating pain, like one of those weirdly scientific Japanese tortures calibrated to extract the greatest possible misery in the smallest space of time.

It was a very short poem.

With rue my heart is laden For golden friends I had, For many a rose-lipt maiden And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping The lightfoot boys are laid;

The rose-lipt girls are sleeping In fields where roses fade.


During the closing prayer (overly long) I felt myself swaying, so much so that the sides of my new shoes dug in the tender spot beneath my anklebones. The air was close; people were crying; there was an insistent buzz which came in close to my ear and then receded. For a moment I was afraid I would black out. Then I realized the buzz actually came from a large wasp flying in erratic darts and circles over our heads. Francis, by flailing at it uselessly with the memorial service bulletin, had succeeded in enraging it; it dove towards the weeping

Sophie’s head but, finding her unresponsive, turned in midair and lit on the back of the pew to collect its wits. Stealthily Camilla leaned to one side and began to slip off her shoe, but before she could, Charles had killed it with a resounding thwack from The Book of Common Prayer.

The pastor, at a key point in his prayer, started. He opened his eyes and his glance fell on Charles, still wielding the guilty prayerbook. “That they may not languish in unavailing grief,” he said in a slightly amplified voice, “nor sorrow as those who have no hope, but through their tears look always up to Thee.…”

Quickly I bowed my head. The wasp still clung with one black feeler to the edge of the pew. I stared down at it and thought of Bunny, poor old Bunny, expert killer of flying pests, stalking houseflies with a rolled-up copy of the Hampden Examiner.


Charles and Francis, who weren’t speaking before the service, had managed somehow to make up during the course of it. After the final amen, in silent, perfect sympathy, they ducked into an empty corridor off the side aisle. I caught a glimpse of them speeding wordlessly down it before they turned into the men’s room, Francis stopping for one last nervous glance behind and already reaching in his coat pocket for what I knew was there—the flat pint bottle of something or other I’d seen him take from the glove compartment.

It was a muddy, black day in the churchyard. The rain had stopped but the sky was dark and the wind was blowing hard. Someone was ringing the church bell and not doing a very good job of it; it clanged unevenly to and fro like a bell at a seance.

People straggled to their cars, dresses billowing, holding hats to head. A few paces in front of me Camilla struggled on tiptoe to pull down her umbrella, which dragged her along in little skipping steps— Mary Poppins in her black funeral dress. I stepped up to help her, but before I got there the umbrella blew inside out. For a moment it had a horrible life of its own, squawking and flapping its spines like a pterodactyl; with a sudden sharp cry she let it go and immediately it sailed ten feet in the air, somersaulting once or twice before it caught in the high branches of an ash tree.

“Damn,” she said, looking up at it and then down at her finger, from which a thin seam of blood sprang. “Damn, damn, damn.”

“Are you okay?”

She stuck the injured finger in her mouth. “It’s not that,” she said

peevishly, glancing up at the branches. “This is my favorite umbrella.”

I fished around in my pocket, gave her my handkerchief. She shook it out and held it to her finger (flutter of white, blown hair, darkening sky) and as I watched time stopped and I was transfixed by a bright knife of memory: the sky was the same thundery gray as it had been then, new leaves, her hair had blown across her mouth just so …

(flutter of white)

(… at the ravine. She’d climbed down with Henry and was back at the top before him, the rest of us waiting at the edge, cold wind, jitters, springing to hoist her up; dead? is he …? She took a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her muddy hands, not looking at any of us, really, her hair blowing back light against the sky and her face a blank for just about any emotion one might care to project …)

Behind us someone said, very loudly, “Dad?”

I jumped, startled and guilty. It was Hugh. He was walking briskly, half-running, and in a moment had caught up with his father. “Dad?” he said again, placing a hand on his father’s slumping shoulder. There was no response. He shook him gently. Up ahead, the pallbearers (Henry indistinct, somewhere among them) were sliding the casket into the open doors of the hearse.

“Dad,” said Hugh. He was tremendously agitated. “Dad. You gotta listen to me for a sec.”

The doors slammed. Slowly, slowly, Mr. Corcoran turned. He was carrying the baby they called Champ but today its presence seemed to offer him little comfort. The expression on his big slack face was haunted and lost. He stared at his son as if he had never seen him before.

Dad” said Hugh. “Guess who I just saw. Guess who came. Mr.

Vanderfeller,” he said urgently, pressing his father’s arm.

The syllables of this illustrious name—one which the Cocorans invoked with very nearly as much respect as that of God Almighty— had when uttered aloud a miraculous effect of healing on Mr. Corcoran. “Vanderfeller’s here?” he said, looking around. “Where?”

This august personage, who loomed large in the collective unconscious of the Corcorans, was the head of a charitable foundation

—endowed by his even more august grandpapa—which happened to own a controlling interest in the stock of Mr. Corcoran’s bank. This entailed board meetings, and occasional social functions, and the Corcorans had an endless store of “delightful” anecdotes about Paul Vanderfeller, of how European he was, what a celebrated “wit,” and

though the witticisms they found frequent occasion to repeat seemed poor things to me (the guards up at the security booth at Hampden were cleverer) they made the Corcorans rock with urbane and apparently quite sincere laughter. One of Bunny’s favorite ways to start a sentence had been to let drop, quite casually: “When Dad was lunching with Paul Vanderfeller the other day …”

And here he was, the great one himself, scorching us all with his rays of glory. I glanced in the direction Hugh indicated to his father and saw him—an ordinary-looking man with the good-natured expression of someone used to being constantly catered to; late forties; nicely dressed; nothing particularly “European” about him except his ugly eyeglasses and the fact that he was considerably below the average height.

An expression of something very like tenderness spread itself across Mr. Corcoran’s face. Without a word he thrust the baby at Hugh and hurried off across the lawn.


Maybe it was because the Corcorans were Irish, maybe it was that Mr. Corcoran was born in Boston, but the whole family seemed to feel, somehow, that it had a mysterious affinity with the Kennedys. It was a resemblance they tried to cultivate—especially Mrs. Corcoran, with her hairdo and faux-Jackie glasses—but it also had some slight physical basis: in Brady and Patrick’s toothy, too-tanned gauntness there was a shadow of Bobby Kennedy while the other brothers, Bunny among them, were built on the Ted Kennedy model, much heavier, with little round features bunched in the middle of their faces. It would not have been difficult to mistake any of them for minor clan members, cousins perhaps. Francis had told me of walking into a fashionable, very crowded restaurant in Boston once, with Bunny. There was a long wait, and the waiter had asked for a name: “Kennedy,” Bun said briskly, rocking back on his heels, and the next instant half the staff was scrambling to clear a table.

And maybe it was these old associations which were clicking

around in my mind or maybe it was that the only funerals I had ever seen were televised events, affairs of state: in any case, the funeral procession—long, black, rain-splashed cars, Mr. Vanderfeller’s Bentley among them—was linked for me in dreamlike fashion to another funeral and another, far more famous motorcade. Slowly we rolled along. Open cars of flowers—like convertibles in some nightmare Rose Parade—crept behind the curtained hearse. Gladiola, dyed

chrysanthemum, sprays of palm. The wind was blowing hard, and garish petals shook loose and tumbled back among the cars, sticking to the damp windshields like bits of confetti.


The cemetery was on a highway. We pulled over and got out of the Mustang (flat clack of car doors) and stood blinking on the littered shoulder. Cars whooshed past on the asphalt, not ten feet away.

It was a big cemetery, windy and flat and anonymous. The stones were laid out in rows like tract homes. The uniformed driver of the funeral-home Lincoln walked around to open the door for Mrs. Corcoran. She was carrying—I didn’t know why—a small bouquet of rosebuds. Patrick offered her an arm and she slipped a gloved hand in the crook of his elbow, inscrutable behind her dark glasses, calm as a bride.

The back doors of the hearse were opened and the coffin slid out. Silently, the party drifted after it as it was borne aloft into the open field, bobbing across the sea of grass like a little boat. Yellow ribbons fluttered gaily from the lid. The sky was hostile and enormous. We passed one grave, a child’s, from which grinned a faded plastic jack-o’-lantern.

A green striped canopy, of the sort used for lawn parties, was set up over the grave. There was something vacuous and stupid about it, flapping out there in the middle of nowhere, something empty, banal, brutish. We stopped, stood, in awkward little groups. Somehow I had thought there would be more than this. Bits of litter chewed up by the mowers lay scattered on the grass. There were cigarette butts, a Twix wrapper, recognizable.

This is stupid, I thought, with a sudden rush of panic. How did this happen?

Traffic washed past up on the expressway.

The grave was almost unspeakably horrible. I had never seen one before. It was a barbarous thing, a blind clayey hole with folding chairs for the family teetering on one side and raw dirt heaped on the other. My God, I thought. I was starting to see everything, all at once, with a blistering clarity. Why bother with the coffin, the awning or any of it if they were just doing to dump him, shovel the dirt in, go home? Was this all there was to it? To get rid of him like a piece of garbage?

Bun, I thought, oh, Bun, I’m sorry.

The minister ran through the service fast, his bland face tinted

green beneath the canopy. Julian was there—I saw him now, looking towards the four of us. First Francis, and then Charles and Camilla, moved to go stand with him but I didn’t care, I was in a daze. The Corcorans sat very quietly, hands in laps: how can they just sit there? I thought, by that awful pit, do nothing? It was Wednesday. On Wednesdays at ten we had Greek Prose Composition and that was where we all ought to have been now. The coffin lay dumbly by the grave. I knew they wouldn’t open it, but I wished they would. It was just starting to dawn on me that I would never see him again.

The pallbearers stood in a dark row behind the coffin, like a chorus of elders in a tragedy. Henry was the youngest one. He stood there quietly, his hands folded before him—big, white, scholarly hands, capable and well-kept, the same hands that had dug in Bunny’s neck for a pulse and rolled his head back and forth on its poor broken stem while the rest of us leaned over the edge, breathless, watching. Even from that distance we could see the terrible angle of his neck, the shoe turned the wrong way, the trickle of blood from nose and mouth. He pulled back the eyelids with his thumb, leaning close, careful not to touch the eyeglasses which were skewed on top of Bunny’s head. One leg jerked in a solitary spasm which quieted gradually to a twitch and then stopped. Camilla’s wristwatch had a second hand. We saw them silently conferring. Climbing up the hill after her, bracing his knee with his palm, he’d wiped his hands on his trousers and answered our clamorous whispers—dead? is he—?—with the brief impersonal nod of a doctor.…

? Lord we beseech you, that while we lament the departure of our

brother Edmund Grayden Corcoran your servant out of this life, we bear in mind that we are most certainly ready to follow him. Give us grace to make ready for that last hour, and protect us against a sudden and unprovided death.…

He hadn’t seen it coming at all. He hadn’t even understood, there wasn’t time. Teetering back as if on the edge of the swimming pool: comic yodel, windmilling arms. Then the surprised nightmare of falling. Someone who didn’t know there was such a thing in the world as Death; who couldn’t believe it even when he saw it; had never dreamed it would come to him.

Flapping crows. Shiny beetles crawling in the undergrowth. A patch of sky, frozen in a cloudy retina, reflected in a puddle on the ground. Yoo-hoo. Being and nothingness.

… I am the Resurrection and the life; he who believeth in Me, even if he

die, shall live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.…

The pallbearers lowered the coffin into the grave with long, creaking straps. Henry’s muscles quivered with the effort; his jaw was clenched tight. Sweat had soaked through to the back of his jacket.

I felt in the pocket of my jacket to make sure the painkillers were still there. It was going to be a long ride home.

The straps were pulled up. The minister blessed the grave and then sprinkled it with holy water. Dirt and dark. Mr. Corcoran, his face buried in his hands, sobbed monotonously. The awning rattled in the wind.

The first spadeful of earth. The thud of it on the hollow lid gave me a sick, black, empty feeling. Mrs. Corcoran—Patrick on one side, sober Ted on the other—stepped forward. With a gloved hand she tossed the little bouquet of roses into the grave.

Slowly, slowly, with a drugged, fathomless calm, Henry bent and picked up a handful of dirt. He held it over the grave and let it trickle from his fingers. Then, with terrible composure, he stepped back and absently dragged the hand across his chest, smearing mud upon his lapel, his tie, the starched immaculate white of his shirt.

I stared at him. So did Julian, and Francis, and the twins, with a kind of shocked horror. He seemed not to realize he had done anything out of the ordinary. He stood there perfectly still, the wind ruffling his hair and the dull light glinting from the rims of his glasses.

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