Authors: Sally Mandel
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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First Diversion Books edition September 2013
ï¿¼My gratitude to Peter Lampack for his perspicacity and hard work, to the Writers Room, which is my Shangri-la, and to Maureen Madden Marlowe for herself.
The November wind picked up a wad of paper, whipped it past the stone buildings and out the other side of the library steps, leaving the central quadrangle litter-free. The grass, freeze-dried a month ago by Halloween frost, hid under a crust of brown leaves. The old maple trees that lined the interior walkways of the campus were bare, branches stretched against the pale sky, stark and clean. Knots of students hustled along the sidewalk, oblivious to the austere beauty of the place, chattering, laughing, dropping books, clutching jackets tightly against the chill.
Quinn Mallory raced across the campus with her battered suitcase, darting past the slower students. Her auburn hair flew against her cheeks. Her red sweater was a bright splash of color, like a winter cardinal startling against the subdued landscape. She emerged at the far end of the quadrangle, bounced down a flight of marble steps, and came to a halt at the tall wrought-iron gates of the college's formal entrance. Panting to catch her breath, she watched an elderly Volkswagen bus drive up to the gate and stop. Its brakes protested with a metallic screech, temporarily drowning out the Shirelles as they professed, full volume, “Baby it's you.”
Stanley Markowitz pushed his mass of tangled black curls through the window. “Been waiting long?” he asked.
Quinn grinned at him, swung her suitcase onto the backseat, and climbed in. “Hours,” she answered, still gasping. “What kind of limousine service is this, anyhow? Oh, God, I'm dying.”
Stanley persuaded the bus into first gear and they shuddered past the gate onto the main road. VanessaâVanâHuntington, who sat next to Stanley, turned around to scrutinize Quinn's cheeks, which were steamy red from exertion. “We wouldn't have left without you, you know,” Van said.
“What?” Quinn yelled. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were wailing “I wanna hold your hand.”
Van snapped off the radio. “I
we wouldn't have left without you.”
“I was afraid I might hold you up.”
“Where's your jacket?”
“I don't need it,” Quinn said.
Van looked at Stanley. “There's something wrong with her. It's forty degrees out and she doesn't need a coat.”
“Comes from all those years at St. Theresa's, watching our breath in class,” Quinn said. “They never turned on the heat until Sister Superior declared winter, which usually wasn't until December fifteenth.” She stretched luxuriously. “Let's hear it for vacation. Come on, come on.” She raised her hands to summon applause from the front seat.
“Yay, Thanksgiving,” Van said.
Stanley glowered at them. “I'm happy for you both. I only pray this thing has a coronary so we never get to Boston.”
“Stanley's nervous.” Van gave him a gentle smile, and he took his hand off the wheel to tug on a strand of her long dark hair.
“Not a coronary exactly,” Quinn said, listening to the engine wheeze into fourth gear. “Nervous breakdown, maybe. Your carburetor's screwed up. Before you make another trip, you've
to let me work on the wheel alignment.”
“Yes, doctor. Anything you say, doctor,” Stanley said.
Quinn settled back into her favorite comer against the left-hand door and thought about home. She always enjoyed the trip from school to Medham. Not long, cramped hours that caused her body to ache, yet time enough for decompression. As they picked up speed she could feel herself shedding burdensâterm papers, exams, after-school jobsâpreoccupations that evaporated behind her like the exhaust from Stanley's bus. Instead, her mind was cheered with images of home: the faces of her parents, the cozy comfort of the house on Gardner Street that awaited her two hours down the road. She smiled. It was lovely to be taken care of every now and then. Tomorrow morning Quinn would awaken to the smell of fresh-baked muffins and black coffee as her mother quietly entered her room with the tray. They would sit on the bed and enjoy their first-morning-home breakfast together, gossiping and catching up. Just thinking about it made her feel drowsy and warm.
Suddenly Stanley pressed hard on the accelerator and roared past a city bus that hobbled along near the curb.
“Go get 'em, tiger! Ah, there's life in the old nag yet,” he said.
“That bus was not moving,” Quinn remarked.
“It was,” Stanley protested. “I distinctly saw the back wheel move. Vanessa, defend your chariot.”
She craned her neck to look out the back window. “Sorry, honey. That's a dead bus.”
Stanley's eyes in the rearview mirror were tragicâhuge and brown. Quinn stuck out her tongue at them and they sparkled.
“Know what I'm going to do tonight?” Quinn said. “Set my alarm for six
so I can turn it off, roll over, and go right back to sleep.”
“Why don't you just sleep?” Van asked.
“Didn't you ever do that? I thought everybody did.”
“It seems like I always had to get up for
on weekends,” Stanley said. “Maybe if your daddy promises to get me into Harvard Med School I'll give him a treat and take him to Temple Emanuel on Saturday.”
“Oh, sure,” Van said.
“Right!” Stanley exclaimed heartily, pulling onto the eastbound ramp of the Massachusetts Turnpike. “Who's for Burlington, Vermont?”
“No, no, my darling,” Van said. “Straight on to Beacon Hill.”
Stanley glanced at her. “The closer you get to Boston, the more you sound like Mummy and Daddy.”
Van replied. She had the inflection wrong so that the expression came out sounding prim and stiff. Stanley and Quinn laughed.
“You think we'll have turnips?” Stanley asked. “I always wanted to see a turnip in the flesh.”
“You never had turnips on Thanksgiving?” Quinn asked. “Sacrilege. What did you eat in Brooklyn?”
“Turkey with stuffing and potato pudding and noodle pudding and
and potato pancakes. And a nice bowl of chicken soup with a couple of matzoh balls lurking on the bottom. Real sinkers.”
“The Indians shared maize with the Pilgrims, not matzoh balls,” Van said.
“In Flatbush we didn't have Indians. Chassidim, yes. Indians, no.”
Quinn examined Van's profile. In repose her friend's features were classically long, rather somber. Stanley liked to call her his Modified Modigliani. But when she smiled, particularly at him, the angular lines of her face lifted and two faint dimples appeared beside her mouth, making her seem vulnerable and girlish.
“Hey, Mallory,” Stanley said. “What would your parents do if you brought home a Jewish boyfriend?”
“Enroll me in a convent.”
“Oh, you'd make a great nun,” Van laughed.
“It's never been mentioned,” Quinn continued, “but I think they'd
a Catholic, preferably Irish. Preferably from County Kerry, except not one of those heathen Calhouns.”
“Did they give your boyfriends a rough time?” Van asked.
“Mom never gives anybody a rough time, except for my father, and he always deserves it.” Quinn scratched her nose, remembering. “Tommy Flanagan was the only one who counted, and they thought he was the second coming of St. Patrick. Until he dumped me, of course, and then my father nearly lynched him.”
“Hey!” Van exclaimed suddenly. “Aren't you going to see him this vacation?”
romance is in the air,” Stanley said.
“Don't get all worked up,” Quinn muttered. “I'm going to his engagement party. Actually, I'm going to Margery O'Malley's engagement party. Tommy Flanagan just happens to be the person she's marrying. Otherwise I'd drop dead before I'd show up.”
Van peered at her. “Your freckles just got darker. You must really hate him.” Quinn rolled her eyes. “No, really,” Van insisted. “Look, Stan. Isn't that amazing?”
Stanley obligingly twisted his head around to view Quinn's freckles. “Topographical map of Ireland, right there,” he said. “How come Tommy Flannelman dumped you?”
“Flanagan. I told you. He was a shit. The only potential Marvin the Magnificent I have ever known, and he turned out to be El Creep.”
“Oh, Lord, Marvin again,” Van said. “I don't like to disillusion you, dearest, but there's no such thing as the perfect man.”
“I resent that,” Stanley said.
“Marvin will be perfect,” Quinn protested. “Body beautiful and mind
Four-oh average, of course. Poetic soul. Man of my dreams. Although,” she added, “if he turns up at Margery's party, he won't have a four-oh. I'll be the only one there who goes to college. But he could still be brilliant. Tommy was.”
“How come he didn't go to college, then?” Stanley asked.
“Thought it was a waste of time. He got a full scholarship to B.U., the jerk. Can you believe anything so ridiculous?”
“What's he doing now?” Van asked.
“He works at a bank. He's doing all right, I guess, but I haven't seen him in three years.” She watched out the window as the Berkshire foothills smoothed out into long, flat fields. “Maybe I should have been a nun,” she murmured to herself, and fell silent. Holiday traffic was beginning to crowd the turnpike. The van clattered into the left lane to overtake a slow-moving caravan of cars. A campaign poster, remnant of the election three weeks ago, whizzed past:
Vote for Moore in '64.
Suddenly Stanley boomed out in a hearty, man-to-man voice, “Well, stuck in the rough, were you, eh, Dr. Huntington? Guess I'd have used my seven wood or my widge.”
“Wedge!” Van howled. “Oh, Lord, it's hopeless. The wedge is for sand traps. He'd probably use his five iron in the rough.”
“Five iron,” Stanley echoed morosely. “Can't we talk about stickball? I bet you didn't know one time I hit three sewers. I mean, what's a hole in one compared to three sewers on Avenue J?”
“What?” Van and Quinn said in unison.
“You know,” Stanley explained. “Those manholes in the street. If you hit the ball past two, you were a champ, but three was Hall of Fame. Izzy Pinkowitz was a three-sewer man too. Me, and Izzy, and Jackie Halpem, of course.”
Van shook her head. “I don't think Father would relate to sewers.”
“Aw, shucks,” Stanley said regretfully. “Better refresh my memory on putts.” His face brightened and he adopted a heavy Yiddish accent. “Oy, a Jewish voyd. I'll explain 'im all about my
“Oh, Stanley, for heaven's sake, they're not going to eat you,” Van said.
“Were they really so awful the last time?” Quinn asked.
“I was a perfect gentleman. They hated me.”
“They did not,” Van protested. “They just never saw anybody in jeans, an army shirt, and a black silk vest.”
“You're kidding,” Quinn said.
“It was from my grandfather's tuxedo, and I wore it out of respect for your parents,” Stanley said. “They hated me. They still hate me. Why are we doing this mad thing?” He swerved the car as if to make a U-turn.
Quinn reached into her sweater pocket and held out a metal object. “I brought you a lucky charm, so now you don't have to be so nervous.” Stanley took his hand off the wheel and examined it. From heavy wire Quinn had fashioned a Star of David with a cross in the center. “I'm going to buy you a chain for it, but I just finished it this morning. This way, see, you've got all the big guns on your side.”
“I'm going to keep it with me every second,” Stanley said. “Thanks, babe.”
“May I see?” Van examined it. “It's wonderful. Would you maybe make me one someday?”
“Sure.” Quinn thought about the pile of rejects that had accumulated on her desk as she puzzled over the talisman. It had taken two weeks to get it right.
Van stretched out a hand to touch Stanley's cheek. “Well, there's nothing my parents can do about the way I feel,” she said.
Stanley grabbed her fingers and began kissing them ferociously. “I can take all kinds of abuse as long as I get to sneak into your bedroom and ravage your body,” he said.
Quinn studied Van's flushed profile and remembered the night she had watched her friends saying good night in the shadows beside the dormitory entrance. They were crushed together, their mouths locked, parting briefly only to join again. Quinn had caught a glimpse of their faces as they stared at each other in wonder. They had looked awed.
Margery's party flashed into her head, a shimmering question mark. Marvin, she thought, where are you? It's time. It's time.
Medham was part of the blighted area of Boston situated halfway between the central city and the suburbs. In April the trees wore a hopeful tender green veil, but they soon blackened with soot from the nearby shoe factory where John Mallory worked. In summertime the tiny front lawns were overgrown with weeds, and in September the leaves made no final dazzling display of predeath defiance; rather, they just curled into defeated husks and fell to earth beside the shabby wood-frame houses, most of which, like the Mallorys', were divided into two sections and shared with another family. Now, in late November, the ground was a bleak crust of brown with an occasional splotch of frozen slush.
Quinn waved good-bye to Stanley and Van and marched up the steps. Before she could ring the bell, John Mallory opened the door and grasped her in a tight hug, suitcase and all.
“Daddy, I've missed you,” she murmured against his bony shoulder. “Hey, you're squishing me to death.” She held him away from her and smiled into his face. For a fair-skinned man his whiskers were very dark, as were his eyebrows. Quinn had always thought the coarse auburn hair, a shade darker than her own, and the hazel eyes under dark brows made him unusually handsome.