The air was hot when he came back, and as he mopped his brow his sister studied him. “Should I worry about you? If you get this, don’t you have, you know—a co-thing?”
He reassured her: his heart was fine, he had a reptile’s blood pressure. “And, technically speaking, to have a comorbidity you already have to be morbid.”
Liddie winced. “Please do not die on my watch, Trevor. I could not take that.”
Langen didn’t feel like a dying man. But he hadn’t felt like one two summers ago, either. For several weeks he’d experienced a vague pectoral discomfort; then, mowing the backyard, a surprising weakness, as if the lawnmower weighed two hundred pounds. A cardiologist put him on a treadmill for a stress test. It had hardly started when the man shut it down.
Minutes later Langen was in an ambulance.
For years his physician had urged him to deal with his cholesterol, his blood pressure, and he had always stalled. Now here he was. At the hospital, the cardiac interventionist explained what would come next, and remarkably soon, Langen was on the table, prepped and shrouded. He was chagrined to learn he would remain awake. “You’ll be sedated but alert,” the doctor said. “You can watch on the screen if you’d like.”
“I’ll pass,” Langen replied from beneath the shroud. Whatever disinterested scientific curiosity a person needed in order to observe his own heart catheterization, he lacked it utterly.
“Bar’s open!” said the jovial anesthesiologist, releasing the sedative into his bloodstream. “Tonight we’re serving a cocktail of midazolam and fentanyl.”
It began. Through the haze of the drug he could hear the doctor conferring with his assistant, and a hot, animal fear rose in him.
“Bartender,” he said. “Another round, please.” The cocktail flowed, and with gratifying speed Langen’s fear subsided. He listened—he had no choice—as the procedure continued. It was as in every business interaction, the same intensification, always that push-comes-to-shove moment when the pleasantries have been dispensed with and the thing gets transacted. “Here we are,” murmured the doctor. And: “Pretty tight in here.” It sounded vaguely pornographic.
“Hit me again,” Langen beseeched the anesthesiologist.
“Sorry,” he heard the man say. “You’re cut off.”
When he surfaced in his hospital bed, the doctor gave him the news: a 90 percent occlusion of his LAD coronary artery, aka “the widowmaker.” A stent had alleviated the blockage. “Your heart has not been damaged,” the doctor told him. “You’re lucky to have discovered this in time. Your situation can be very nicely managed.”
Which is what he did. Following orders, he rode his bike, he purged his diet of mayonnaise and other culprits, cut back on meat, added copious infusions of veggies and fruit. Obediently, he took his daily pills—three in the morning, two at night. For several months he attended Cardiac Rehab class at the hospital, where he and a dozen others were hooked up to monitors to spend an hour exercising while being shown videos on Your Heart Healthy Lifestyle. Heart disease was the great democratic unifier: Langen’s fellow inmates included lawyers like himself; overweight working guys; schoolteachers; lifelong smokers in agonies of withdrawal; the stray woman or two, fallen among thieves. For a while there was a raucous Jamaican named Orville, tattooed and reeking of pot. The class was overseen by a nurse Langen’s age, whose Midwestern earnestness the class took as a challenge. They might launch into group treadmill karaoke, or provoke some new outlandishness from Orville, until finally the nurse had to restrain a grin. It was like being in eighth grade again.
Throughout it all, Langen missed his father. In his hospital bed after his procedure, as he tried not to think about the little balloon now lodged in his artery, Langen imagined the email he would have received from the old man, zinging him with gusto. I’m glad you’re OK, Tiger. However, I can’t help noting that you have zero genetic predisposition to heart disease, which means your situation is entirely the result of your decadent, sybaritic, high-paid-lawyer lifestyle.
He found it strange to have the private drama of his aging coincide with a global health calamity. Physically he felt fine, but his sense of wellbeing could vanish in an instant. What if it happened now? he thought, riding in the Virginia countryside; what if it happened here? Lying in bed, he’d feel a flutter in his chest and suddenly he was weak and sweaty, waiting for the dagger thrust his brother-in-law had suffered. He imagined it clearly: the tingling, the stabbing pain, his own amazement.
At his sister’s house, his phone continued to malfunction, but the internet still intermittently worked. He emailed his ex-wife: No phone here and Serena AWOL. He scanned his newsfeed. The president had not been seen in two days; the stock market was closed down again; power outages were rampant.
“Why the hell can’t I reach my daughter?” Langen said.
Liddie put a hand on his shoulder. “She’ll be okay. She’s so far from anything.”
“Not far enough.” He closed the laptop—firmly, as if it were a container holding everything that worried him. He felt rattled, seized and shaken, his emotions banging around weirdly inside him.
“I killed a squirrel before,” he said. “Ran over it with my bike. I felt like I was going to cry. Over a squirrel.”
“I wouldn’t worry. With squirrels, there’s always an understudy, you know?” His sister took the laptop. “Want some good news? The Petey GoFundMe is way up. They’re gonna build him a habitat with a sound system in it. He likes swing.”
Langen attempted a grin and failed. “I think I’ll shower,” he said.
He undressed in his room. It was 6:30 p.m.; in former times he would have been arriving home after a long day, and he could still feel a phantom limb of his old work life. It had been three years. Retiring at fifty-nine had never been the plan. But when his father died, something in him had evaporated, some mindless drive to accomplish; he already felt it draining away as he stood with his stepmother in the hospital in Albuquerque. Back in Connecticut and his office, he’d stare out the window at the western hills and imagine hiking in them; in Zoom meetings he would turn off his video and just sit there. His career was slipping away, and he let it go.
The bathroom had a small, grimy window that he looked out while showering. A berm protected his sister’s yard from the flood plain beyond. It resembled an earthwork fortification, and Langen imagined armed men clambering over the top into the yard. He envisioned how the worst-case scenario would play out. All the safeguards and backup systems, the double and triple redundancies that protected people from harm and need; one by one, these would shut down. Eventually he and his sister would fall ill, or someone would show up at the door with havoc in tow. It would be as with any empire. Sickness from within, barbarians at the gates. It was already underway.
After the shower, he returned to the living room to find Liddie on the couch with her dogs, listening to the Talking Heads. His gloom had not lifted. A quick check of his email showed nothing from Miranda or Serena.
“I need a drink,” he announced. On the shelf, Jason’s single malt was down to two fingers. Langen held the bottle up.
“It’s all yours,” his sister said, and he drank off the Scotch in one burning gulp. As he did, the music abruptly stopped. Liddie reached over and flicked a light switch on the wall back and forth.
“Oh, great,” she said. “Just what we needed.”
They fired up the generator for Liddie to make dinner. As they ate, Langen couldn’t shake his anxiety about his daughters. He thought about fear, how it waxed and waned like the contagion itself. “There must be a literary term for that,” he remarked. “For something that’s reality and a metaphor for reality at the same time. Miranda would know.”
His sister was gazing at him earnestly. “Can I ask something? I always wondered what happened between you two. We don’t have to get into it if you don’t want to.”
Langen gestured noncommittally. “The girls were gone, we both had our careers. We didn’t need anything from each other anymore. Separating just kind of happened.” He made a derisive noise. “I sound like a defendant. ‘Your Honor, it just happened.’”
They opened their last bottle of wine. Miranda had made a mistake in marrying him, Langen reflected. He had been dishonest, had presented himself under false pretenses, as someone avid for ideas. His wife, for her part, had begun by loving literature and languages—always reading, fluent in Italian and French—and had moved into ever-hazier realms of abstraction, places that offered Langen no handholds. He thought about Miranda’s no-longer-new husband, a professor like her, conversant in everything, writing incomprehensible essays about German philosophers.
“She’s better off now,” he said to Liddie. “I honestly believe that.”
“I really liked Miranda. I always thought she was good for you. And for the record, I think you were good for her. You brought her back to earth.” A wan look crossed his sister’s face. “I think I was good for Jason. He needed me. Is that bad—you know, if what you really miss most about someone is how much they needed you?”
“I don’t think it’s bad.”
She sighed. “We didn’t have sex anymore. Sorry, TMI. But did that happen with you two? Did you stop?”
“No, we didn’t stop,” he said. “But it got very…polite. Sort of like, I don’t know, going to the barber or something.”
His sister laughed and sniffled. “Jason was always kind of an animal in bed. Just a big happy bear. But then he got depressed and gained all that weight, and we started keeping our bodies to ourselves.”
Too soon, the wine was done. From her patchwork shoulder bag, his sister fished out a small box and removed two orange lozenges. THC gummies, she told him. “I get them for my fucked-up knee. For my osteoarthritis.”
“Auntie’s little helper,” Langen said.
“And now, I’m going to medicate and go paint by candlelight. Join me?”
The gummies were embossed with the image of a marijuana leaf. Langen took the two his sister offered. “Here’s chewing with you, kid,” he said.
They gathered candles and, with the dogs following, paraded across the yard and into the shed, where Langen lit the candles with a grill lighter. His sister stood before an easel, a photo of her hollyhocks taped to a second easel alongside. On a rectangular tray she squeezed dabs of paint, naming the colors: ultramarine, Prussian blue, Cadmium red.
Langen sat on a battered director’s chair, the dogs at his feet, as his sister painted in the flickering light. Arm swooping, she traced stems, adorned them with blobs, and smeared the blobs into blooms. “I don’t worry about making it realistic,” she said. “You’re trying to get the essence. The hollyhockness.” She had slipped into teaching mode. “I think of hollyhocks as aliens from outer space. The way the flower comes out of these big seed pods. Okay, let’s do a big, juicy one.” The blooms burst off the canvas and seemed to float toward him, craning their necks, grinning. Langen suspected the THC was kicking in. “Honestly, Trev, coming out here is the one way I can keep my shit together,” his sister said. “I find it incredibly relaxing.”
But Langen felt the opposite. Beneath the booze and the pot, he felt his heart beating through narrowed arteries, heard its thump and wash, insistent but also somehow lagging. From the shadows his sister’s menagerie of cats and cows and birds stared at him.
One of Liddie’s dogs growled, ears perking up. Langen peered in vain through the black void of the window. He felt a surge of paranoia.
“Excuse me,” he said, pushing up from the chair. “I gotta pee.”
Outside he stood still in the yard. Behind him sat the house, dark and empty, to his left the berm and the marshland beyond, and before him the shed where his sister painted, oblivious, illuminated by candlelight together with her canvas.
Langen cocked his head. He heard the May breeze, a restlessness in the bushes; something moving, something watching.
He bought a gun.
He’d seen the place out on Route 13, a brick bunker with iron-grated windows and a hand-painted rooftop sign, “GUNS.” Telling his sister he was going in search of liquor, he drove over just before dinnertime.
The store was dark, the front door locked, but a pickup truck stood parked alongside, and Langen went around back. A bearded guy, maskless and in camouflage pants and a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt, was smashing crates with a sledgehammer.
“I’m closed,” he said, glancing at his watch. “You picking up?”
“I was hoping to buy something. You know, as a walk-in.”
The man put the sledge aside. “So let’s walk in.”
They went through the back door, and the man slipped behind the counter. “Can you do me a favor?” Langen asked. “Would you be willing to put on a mask?”
The man looked at him closely. “I suppose I would be,” he said, and produced one from his pocket. “Now,” he said after he had pulled it on. “Are you a Virginia resident?”
“Connecticut,” Langen said. “But my sister lives here.”
“Connecticut,” he said. “Funny state. You know you all have open carry in that little true-blue state of yours?”
“I do know that,” Langen said. “I’m a lawyer. A retired lawyer.”
“But the thing is, you don’t have a culture of open carry.” The man told about a friend of his who had gone into a Starbucks in Connecticut while carrying and had been chased out of the place. “People went off on him, hysterical. They didn’t even know their own law.” He made a scoffing sound. “What good is a right if no one exercises it?”
“I don’t disagree,” Langen said.
The man looked at him, sizing him up. “Have you used a firearm?”
Langen’s experience with guns consisted of riflery in summer camp half a century ago and trap shooting with his daughters at a dude ranch in Wyoming.
“Minimally,” he said.
“And I’m assuming that right now we are prioritizing personal protection and defense of your home and loved ones?”
Langen nodded. Around him were display cases filled with rifles, ammunition magazines, brass knuckles, hunting knives, and designer handguns—pistols etched with American flags, with Confederate flags, with coiled snakes, with the face of Donald Trump. On the countertop stood a stack of booklets titled Ready for Anything. His eyes traveled to a small gun sporting an ornate, blue stone handle.
“Tiffany turquoise,” said the man. “For the ladies.” He chuckled darkly. “As for you, the Commonwealth of Virginia says that legally, since you are a non-resident, I am only allowed to sell you a long gun. For a handgun, assuming your sister is a resident, the simplest way would be for her to come and transact the purchase.”
Langen pondered. “I’d rather not do that,” he said.
“I said it was the simplest way, not the only way.” The man’s eyes narrowed, and Langen saw that beneath his mask he was grinning. From the case he removed a squarish, black handgun. “This is your Glock 17. Nine millimeter. Full-sized barrel, nice grip. Minimal recoil. No safety.”
“In a self-defense situation you might forget to disengage. You want to keep things simple.” He removed the cartridge. “Double-stack magazine, seventeen rounds. Now, some people might consider this firearm boring, but to me it’s ultra-reliable. This gun will never not work. Lowest out-of-service rate in my whole fleet.”
The gun felt light in Langen’s hand. “It doesn’t feel like steel,” he said.
“Polymer frame. Glock was a plastics guy. He made field knives for the Austrian army. Used an injection-molding machine for the handles and started experimenting.” He took the gun back. “In the nineties, Glock’s accountant hired a hitman to take him out. He was embezzling and wanted to cover it up. The hitman figured he’d bludgeon Glock with a hammer. But Glock, who’s seventy, takes the hammer and beats the guy senseless. The hitman was a French mercenary named Jacques Pecheur—that’s French for Jack the Sinner. You cannot make this shit up!” He placed the gun on the counter with a box of bullets. “Sticker price on this firearm is $694, but I will give it to you for the special Virginia visitor price of $900, cash. The bullets are on the house.”
Langen took an envelope from his pocket and removed ten crisp hundreds, placing them on the counter. He asked about a background check.
“We can do that.” The man counted the bills and pushed one back. “Have you ever been convicted of, or are you currently under indictment for, a felony offense of any class, or a misdemeanor involving a domestic-violence incident, or been the object of a restraining order or substantial-risk order of any kind?”
“No,” Langen said.
“Are you an unlawful user of any controlled substance, or have you ever been adjudicated legally incompetent, medically incapacitated or been discharged from the Armed Forces dishonorably?”
Langen shook his head.
“Congratulations. You are now part of the worldwide Glock family.”
“Is that it?” Langen asked.
“Well, that’s all you and I are gonna do, under the circumstances. What would you call that—a truncated version?” The man seemed pleased with himself. “Now normally you would be headed to a shooting range to familiarize yourself with the firearm. But I wouldn’t worry too much. If I had to teach my grandmother to fire a weapon, this would be it.” He grinned again. “No offense.”
“That’s okay,” Langen said. “None taken.” He looked at the gun, squared-off and angular, its grip featuring molded indentations where his fingers would go. The box of bullets, he saw now, was labeled “CRITICAL DEFENSE.”
The man was studying him. “Let me tell you something. You see this room? This is a room full of ‘what if?’ ‘What if?’ is the only reason my business even exists. Now, this right here”—he patted the Glock—“this is your fallback, right? This is your answer to what-if.” He gave Langen an earnest look. “Someone starts hurting people in your vicinity, you need to be able to hurt back. Now, sir, you have yourself a nice evening.”
Outside, Langen put the gun and bullets in the glove compartment of his Audi, locked it, and drove onto Route 13. Next to the gun shop stood a café, long closed, a small frame house whose owners had adorned it with gingerbread trim in pink and lime, and a sign that read “Muffins ‘n Stuff.” Weeds had shot up, engulfing the handicapped ramp; the big front window was boarded up. Whole stretches of the roadway were cluttered with abandoned businesses, mom-and-pop operations that had barely made it through 2020, survived on life support in the interregnum, then quickly perished in the new emergency. Hair salons, dog groomers, restaurants, a fishmonger, a Christian bookstore, a financial advisor, the Little Ones daycare center, the Amigos Taqueria, and on and on. Langen shuddered to think of the ruined dreams he was passing, the ruined lives. He drove through a ghost town, empty and forlorn.
With his gun. His Glock.
He glanced at the glove box. It disturbed him to contemplate the weapon inside, all the harm coiled within it, ready to be sprung with the merest motion of his finger. He felt not only criminal, but radioactive. In his years practicing law, the closest he had gotten to a case involving weapons had been defending the insurer of a gun club where an accidental shooting had maimed a boy. Guns, gun people, gun crimes—it had never been his world. He thought about a criminal lawyer he knew in Hartford, a roguish character who’d been a cop before putting himself through law school, and whose days were spent at jail and court, his nights carousing with his friend the bondsman, his friend the parole officer, going to boxing matches at the casinos, hanging out in low-rent bars.
Now Langen remembered: alcohol. It was the reason he’d given his sister for heading out in the first place. He did a U-turn and drove back toward a place he had seen before, a combo gas station and liquor store, set in a roadside cul-de-sac. “NO GAS,” a sign read, but the liquor store was open. A mammoth generator stood outside, humming away, and no fewer than seven cars and pickup trucks were in the lot. Langen put on his mask and went in to spend the hundred dollars left over from his shopping excursion. It daunted him to contemplate what businesses still thrived, amid all the ruin, and what essentials they purveyed. The booze to help you not think about what was coming. The gun, for when it finally arrived.
Driving back to his sister’s house, he approached the edge of town, the site of the roadblock days earlier. It was back. Orange barriers, vehicles, men in the road. One stepped forward, waving. He wore a holstered pistol. Two others cradled shotguns.
Langen slowed to a stop, put on his mask and cracked the window. The lead man approached, taking a long look at the Audi’s license plate. He wore a black mask with a circle of stars around the Roman numeral III. A roll of flesh bulged out beneath.
“Evening,” he said. “Our county has authorized a citizens’ militia under the oversight of the Accomac Community Watch. May I ask where you’re coming from?”
“The liquor store.” Langen nodded toward the box on the passenger seat.
The man gave a cursory glance. “Sir, I see you have Connecticut tags. We’re restricting entry to full-time residents only, so I’m going to ask you to turn around.”
“I’m staying here, at my sister’s. Where should I go?”
“Back where you came from, would be my suggestion.”
He checked his phone. No signal. “I’ve been here almost two weeks,” he said through the window slot. “I’m not sick and I have zero contact with the outside world. I think you guys should just let me get back to my sister’s house.”
“I’m not authorized to do that.” The man shifted, settling into his position. Langen glanced over at his glove compartment, pictured the gun inside. Insanely, he imagined himself reaching for it, a shootout, flying glass and blood, mayhem, escape.
“Can I talk to your sheriff or one of his deputies?” he asked.
The man laughed beneath his mask and turned to his group. “Tyler! Come on over!” One of the shotgun-toting men approached. “This gentleman wants a deputy.”
“I’m visiting my sister,” Langen said to the second man. “Her husband was Jason Beddowes. He died, and I came down to help out.” He gestured vaguely. “Look, I drove out an hour ago, and you guys weren’t here. I’m just trying to get back.”
“Well, that ain’t happening,” said the second man. “This is a lawful action by the citizens of this town.”
“My sister is a citizen of this town.” Langen felt his anger rising. “Whatever statute or decree you think you’re operating under, there’s no way it legally bars me from getting to my sister’s house. I’m just telling you that. As an officer of the court.”
“Now what court would that be, exactly?”
Langen restrained himself; he could only imagine the judge he’d have to deal with out here, if things came to that. “I really need to get through to my sister,” he said.
The two men stepped back and conferred, as Langen made a forlorn backup plan. He would drive back along the main road and park. Take his gun and whisky, traipse through the woods, and hope no one shot him before he got to his sister’s.
The first man returned to his window. “Was your brother-in-law Jason on Bay Street?” he asked. “Jason the U.S. Marine?”
Langen nodded, and the man signaled to the crew to move the barrier. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, leaning down. He patted the roof of the Audi. “Nice vehicle. But use your sister’s next time.”
Back at home, carrying the box of booze into the living room, he found Liddie in tears. It was Helga, she said; Helga was sick. “I went over, and she wouldn’t come out. She told me through the window. Last week she stopped at Claire’s”—a Liars Club friend, bedridden with cancer—“and she and Claire’s caretaker talked. But they stayed outside. With masks.” His sister looked at him. “Will we get sick?”
He counted six days since their Helga dinner. “I feel okay,” he said. “You?”
She made a futile gesture. “I feel like tearing my own head off. And Helga, what, does she just take her pills now and end it?”
“Hold on, hold on. She hasn’t even been tested yet, right? One thing at a time.” Langen needed to think. “Let me stash this liquor and go check the generator.”
In his room he extracted the gun from the box, placed the bullets in the bedside table drawer, and stuffed the Glock beneath the mattress—the prince and the pea, he thought, grimly. Outside, in the yard, he checked the generator and the gas can. Both were low. Only a few service stations still had fuel; if necessary, they could drain their cars. He studied the vehicles in the drive, calculating the power stored up in them. Then he refueled the generator and turned it on.
Back in the living room he told his sister the plan to siphon gas. He wouldn’t be using the Audi anyway, he said, and filled her in on the encounter at the roadblock and the connection to Jason. “Seems I got the guest patriot pass.”
Liddie managed a tiny smile. “He hated those guys. They were always trying to get him to join in on their first-responder crap. He went once. ‘Never again,’ he said.”
With the power running, Langen turned on his sister’s laptop. The internet was back up, but not his email; nothing from Miranda or the girls. He took stock of his and his sister’s current situation. Their resources were dwindling. Liddie’s freezer food was only good for as long as they kept the generator going. As for himself, he had three weeks of heart meds; after that, he was on his own.
“I got a gun,” he said to his sister.
“You did? Where? When?”
“A place on Route 13. When I went out for the booze. I walked in and paid $900.”
“And where is it now?”
“It’s under my mattress. The bullets are in the nightstand.”
She gaped at him.
“I don’t intend to use it,” he said. “But what if there’s some kind of situation? We need to deal with ‘what if’.” He laughed, a strange, loose, skidding cackle. “Jesus. I just repeated verbatim the pep talk of some cracker in a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt.”
The haggard intensity on Liddie’s face was new to him. “You know what I’m going to do, Trevor? I’m going to hug my dogs and miss my dead husband and drink my wine and eat my gummies until I’m unconscious. That’s how I’m going to deal with ‘what if’.” She brandished the gummy pillbox. “Now could you please go into your little arsenal back there and get us some liquor?”
Drinking for courage—he had done it once before, back when Chloe was a toddler and began suffering seizures and other ominous symptoms. The culprit turned out to be a rare enzyme deficiency and was easily treatable, but Langen and his wife endured three agonizing weeks as their child went through endless rounds of diagnostics, with terrifying outcomes in play. Langen was stunned at how ill-prepared he was to face his daughter’s vulnerability; none of the tools he’d acquired in his life proved remotely useful. Every day at 5 p.m. he began funneling whiskey into himself, trying to rescue himself from a dark dungeon in his psyche. “This is all I can do right now,” he had said when Miranda raised an eyebrow. His drinking seemed like weakness, even to him.
And now here he was again. This time, at least, he had company. He sat back as Liddie readied their chemical helpmates on the coffee table. They chewed and sluiced, and soon Langen felt the onset of a merciful fuzziness.
“I keep thinking about the girls,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”
“I know you were always the Shield,” his sister said. “But they have their own shields now, Trev. You don’t have to do anything. You already did it.”
He poured more Scotch and studied Liddie’s face. He remembered her at thirteen, at fifteen, his older sister—Big Red, the tallest kid in the class, dreamy and awkward, always less strategic than he, ingenuous even, prone to displays of daughterly fealty, writing fulsome notes to their parents on their birthdays, Mom, you are the GREATEST MOM EVER :) :)!! How strange to see her transmogrified into someone supposedly elderly, like those bad makeup jobs in low-budget movies.
“Monday’s Memorial Day,” she said. “Jason died nine months ago this week.”
“I know,” Langen said. “I remember.”
“I was like a zombie. And then this thing came and made it even worse. There’s this period in December and early January, after the solstice, when sunset is already coming a little later every day, but sunrise is still coming later too. It’s sort of meteorologically, you know—”
“Lopsided,” Langen offered. “Asymmetrical.”
“Yes. And every year I wait for the day when the sunrise finally starts coming earlier. But this year I was like, ‘Don’t.’ I’d look out that east window and I’d think, ‘No more light!’” Her breath caught. “I miss him so much, Trev. He was like you. He had a way of making everything make sense. I can’t make anything make sense.”
She produced a tissue and blew her nose loudly. “Do you remember Jason back in Boston, when he was driving that cab? He was so skinny then. And that hair.”
Langen did remember: an impressive figure, in denim and John Lennon glasses, a ponytail halfway down his back; a Marine who had somehow become a hippie. “Didn’t you meet him in his cab?” he asked. “Weren’t you a fare?”
“I was. And how did you meet Miranda? I know it was in a café somewhere.”
He told her the story: the crowded café in Porter Square, where they sat down together at the same table; a first date at the Gardner Museum; his sense of having met someone of consequence. “There’s a Childe Hassam painting at the Gardner, ‘New York Blizzard,’ that has a figure with a big, black umbrella. We talked about it. I was just bloviating, you know, some totally disposable comment. And she very quietly said something about how black was a forbidden color to the Impressionists, and Hassam smuggled it in from an illustrator’s toolkit, and this was his special transgressive genius. I remember that phrase, ‘special transgressive genius.’ I felt like a horse’s ass. Here I am, with these three showoffy opinions of mine, and she’s practically an art historian.” After the date Langen had taken her back to her apartment, in a beat-up three-family just off Porter Square, rented almost entirely to lesbians. He described the place for his sister. “Miranda was literally the only straight person there. You should have seen Dad’s face when he and Mom stopped by.”