A little before Christmas, when the steam pipes had wakened her by rattling more loudly than usual, a woman sitting in a kitchen in Manhattan read an account of her own death in the morning newspaper. She had picked up the paper in a fog; while water dripped into her coffee machine and the pipes rattled and knocked, she read, and then re-read, a small, two-inch article with a dateline from Belfast.
Mary Flynn, returning from a neighborhood shop where she had gone to purchase milk, had been hit in the face with a plastic bullet. It was the sort of bullet used by the British Army for crowd-control during riots, but since there had been no rioting in the Catholic district at the time, no special unrest on the street where Mary Flynn had lived, the shooting was rather a mystery. The doctor who examined her in death said she had been fired upon at quite close range. She had died on her way to the hospital.
The woman at the table read the article a third time, hoping to find something which would explain more fully the manner of the child’s death, but nothing more could be extracted from the few lines. She understood that she was not, in fact, perusing a description of her own death, but she, too, had once been Mary Flynn. The Mary who waited for her morning coffee was in her thirty-seventh year; the one who had been killed was twelve years old. Nothing connected them but the name—a common enough name at that time—yet it seemed to the living Mary that a connection must exist. They might have been obscurely related, although her father’s people had not come from Belfast. If one erased the boundaries of fact and nationality, Mary Flynn, given her age, might have been her daughter. She clipped the article and placed it in a drawer containing mail and bits of yarn for wrapping gifts and went to begin her day. In that way, the death, in Ireland, of a Catholic schoolgirl, entered the life of an American woman who had shared her name.
The apartment building where Mary Schiller lived with her husband, Philip, was on West End Avenue. It was a large, fortress like affair with a dim, cavernous lobby which reminded everyone who entered it of a funeral home. The apartments on the higher floors were sunny, though, and even if the tenants were cheated of the river view by a taller building on Riverside Drive, most of them thought they were lucky to have landed in such pleasant quarters. Hardly anyone ever moved out—where would they go to find anything half so nice at the price?
That was the way it had been before the specter of co-operative ownership had arrived to divide them. Many of the tenants were delighted at the prospect of owning their own apartments and spoke glowingly of the advantages of becoming a co-op, such as tax breaks, the enormous investment. Mary’s husband was one of these, and during the long, dull meetings, held in the lobby, he tried to convert the dubious to his point of view. They listened respectfully enough, but their expressions were cynical. Tax breaks were helpful only if our income was, like Philip Schiller’s, large. What good was it to sit on an investment, they asked, if you could not afford to live anymore?
The old people were the most difficult to persuade. No matter how often they were assured that senior citizens could not be forced to buy and would never be evicted, they harbored bitter fears. Many of them were immigrants from central Europe; they had planned to end their days on West End Avenue and knew, despite the soothing words of Mary’s husband and the other vigorous young lawyers and stockbrokers who tried to convert them, that they would be forced from their homes one last time. Stella was as generous now, presiding over her elegant table, as she had been in the dorms sharing Mounds Bars with Mary and the other members of their inner circle. Stella had always acted first and reasoned later, she, whose fair hair had sprung from her head in electrifying curls long before it was the fashion, seemed always to be saying: Aren’t I silly? But nice, too, there’s no harm in me. Trust me, and we’ll have a good time. It was not her way to conceal her intellect, which was considerable, but to make you forget about it. Mary admired her.
Stella had married a young man with love beads straight out of college. The marriage had lasted little more than a year, after which she had announced she was swearing off marriage forever. But in her late twenties she forgot her vow and married an embittered novelist, a man who had once confided in Mary that of all novelists, living or dead, he ranked himself twelfth. Now she was in the third year of her third marriage and professed to be gloriously happy. Her husband was elderly, rich and extremely kind. Mary disagreed with those who said Stella was ruthless and shrewd, that she had married Harry Brandt for his money alone; if Stella had married a man old enough to be her father; it was for one reason—because she wanted to. Stella loved to play roles, and the fact that Harry could amply afford to subsidize her must have been a very strong inducement, but nothing could have made her marry him if she had not loved him in some fashion. While she loved, she was ardent and loyal. At seventy-two, Harry Brandt might never live to become disillusioned.
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