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Authors: Ellen Gilchrist

A Dangerous Age

BOOK: A Dangerous Age
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A Dangerous Age

also by ELLEN GILCHRIST

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams
The Annunciation
Victory Over Japan
Drunk with Love
Falling Through Space
The Anna Papers
Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle
I Cannot Get You Close Enough
Net of Jewels
Starcarbon
Anabasis
The Age of Miracles
Rhoda
The Courts of Love
Sarah Conley
Flights of Angels
The Cabal and Other Stories
Collected Stories
I, Rhoda Manning, Go Hunting with My Daddy
The Writing Life
Nora Jane

A Dangerous Age

A NOVEL BY

Ellen Gilchrist

Published by
A
LGONQUIN
B
OOKS
OF C
HAPEL
H
ILL
Post Office Box 2225
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27515-2225

a division of
W
ORKMAN
P
UBLISHING
225 Varick Street
New York, New York 10014

© 2008 by Ellen Gilchrist. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
Published simultaneously in Canada by Thomas Allen & Son Limited.
Design by Anne Winslow.

This is a work of fiction. While, as in all fiction, the literary perceptions and
insights are based on experience, all names, characters, places, and incidents
either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

“Spring Pools” from
The Poetry of Robert Frost
edited by Edward Connery Lathem.
Copyright 1928, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright 1956 by Robert
Frost. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gilchrist, Ellen.

A dangerous age : a novel / by Ellen Gilchrist.—1st. ed.

p. cm.

ISBN-13: 978-1-56512-542-1
   1. Iraq War, 2003—Fiction. 2. Domestic fiction. 1. Title.
   PS3557 I34258D36 2008
   813’.54—dc22                                                                      2007052183

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Edition

FOR CARLA

contents

1 Onward, or How Nature Took Back the Reins as Touching the Hand Clan of North Carolina during the Dangerous Years of 2001 to 2005

2 Neurotically Exercising Pays Off in Spring While I Remember Chaucer as I Always Do in This Season

3 Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

4 A Faithful Life

5 War

6 Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada

7 Data, April 2005

8 Blessings

9 Choices

10 The Dazzling Return of the Real Earth in Spring When New Leaves Are Enough to Drive a Man to Wonder and Small Birds Are Learning to Fly

11 Louise

12 Tallulah

13 Operation Matador

14 Sleeping Swords

15 Burying the Dead

16 August

17 Birth

A Dangerous Age

1
O
NWARD
,
OR
H
OW
N
ATURE
T
OOK
B
ACK
THE R
EINS
AS
T
OUCHING
THE
H
AND
C
LAN
OF
N
ORTH
C
AROLINA
DURING
THE
D
ANGEROUS
Y
EARS
OF
2001
TO
2005

Miss Winifred Hand Abadie to marry Charles Christian Kane on December 21, 2001, in the Chapel of Saint James Episcopal Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, at seven in the evening, reception to follow at the Duke Inn in Durham
.

That was the printed announcement, but it might have gone on to say: Formal dress. The bridesmaids will be wearing red velvet. The thirty-year-old bride will be wearing an off-white satin and lace gown that was worn by her mother and two of her aunts. The maid of honor will be Louise Hand Healy (that’s me), the bride’s first cousin. The bridesmaids will be Tallulah Hand, Nell Walker Bush, Sarah Hand, and Dr. Susan Clark, all of Memphis, Tennessee, and Olivia de Havilland Hand of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The bridegroom will be attended by his three brothers and his father. Mr. Kane is employed by the Greenlaw Investment Strategy of Raleigh.

Our cousin Olivia figured it out and decided we would be the oldest bunch of bridesmaids ever assembled in an Episcopal church for a formal wedding. The red velvet bridesmaids’ costumes were actually good-looking cocktail dresses with jackets we could wear later, and were being custom-made for us by a shop in Durham that specialized in that sort of thing. Winifred had lost ten pounds to fit into the wedding dress, and we had people flying in from all over the world.

Except the wedding never took place because Charles Kane perished on September 11, 2001, along with three thousand other perfectly lovely, helpless human beings.

He had been in the first tower of the World Trade Center, on the fifteenth floor, with two other young brokers, trying to set up a deal to build a new tennis club in Raleigh. The night before he had told Winifred on the phone that he thought they had it licked and he would be home a day early, in time for their mutual birthday, on the thirteenth. “We’ll be able to buy a house right away if this goes through,” he said. “Start looking for one and make sure it has a yard. I want some children, Winnie. I want a real life.”

“We’re going to have one,” she answered. “Why are we having this damned complicated wedding, Charles? How did we get into all this?”

“We didn’t. Our mothers did.”

Their mothers had. Winifred’s mother, my aunt Helen, and Charles’s mother, Sally, had been friends since high school.
They had given birth to Winifred and Charles on the same day in the same hospital. They were having a wedding and that was that, and Winifred and Charles were going along with it and all of us were flying in and getting giddy at the thought of red velvet bridesmaids dresses and a Christmas wedding in North Carolina with the stock market at an all-time high and all of us as rich and successful as we could be and the world before us like a land of dreams.

I
T IS EXTREMELY HARD
to have a funeral when you don’t have anything to bury. It was four months after the disaster before the Kanes gave up waiting for the New York Fire Department to send them a bone. They just went on and had a memorial service on the tenth of January, and everyone who had been planning on coming to the wedding came to that instead. Winifred wore a dark brown Armani coat and knee-high boots, and I sat on one side of her and one of Charles’s brothers sat on the other side, and we read poems out loud and talked about how sad we were, and the next day Charles’s identical twin younger cousins joined the United States Marines.

O
UR COUSIN
O
LIVIA
was the last reader. She read a poem by Yeats and a beautiful long passage from
The Tempest
by William Shakespeare. A few of our cousins thought the Shakespeare was overly melodramatic and depressing, but most of us liked it. Here’s what she read:

 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors

(As I foretold you) were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air,

And like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,

And like this insubstantial pageant faded

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on; and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep. . . .

 

“You are not a widow,” I told Winifred later that night. We were sitting in the library of her mother’s house with Olivia asleep on the sofa and an empty bottle of white wine making an indelible stain on Aunt Helen’s cherry coffee table.

“Then what am I?” she answered. “We learned I was pregnant last spring, and the baby would have come a week before the wedding. We thought it was hilarious. We were so excited. We didn’t tell a soul besides my doctor, who had confirmed the tests. I lost the baby a few weeks later. We were really sad. Charles wanted to be a father so much. We wanted five babies. We wanted as many babies as we could get. So what am I now, Louise? I spent years dating dopey men who either left me or bored me or thought I was fat. And then I turned around and there was Charles, back in town and working for his daddy, and it was like I’d been blind all my life and suddenly could see. Now this. This isn’t just some other thing that happened. It’s
the end of hope for me. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go to medical school. I talked to Susan about it. I took the prerequisite courses when I was at Duke. I have to do something for other people now because it’s finished for me. It’s over.” She was sitting on the sofa where Olivia was sleeping. Olivia had been made editor of the newspaper in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shortly after 9/11. She had not been to North Carolina since the attacks and had only been able to get to the memorial service an hour before it began. “The publisher actually suggested I might want to do an editorial about coming to this funeral,” she told me earlier that evening. “The effects of terror on the individual, et cetera, as opposed, I asked him, to the effects on what else?”

“You aren’t going to write about it, are you?” I asked.

“I hope to God I won’t.”

O
LIVIA WOKE UP
and put her hand on Winifred’s head and began to pat her. “It’s okay,” she said. “It’s going to be okay. It isn’t the end for you. It’s a tragedy but you’ll live through it. Our ancestors lost their loved ones all the time and they pulled through. We just have to relearn how to do it.” She patted Winifred a few more times, then lay back down on the sofa. “Don’t let me miss my plane tomorrow,” she said. “I have to be back. Don’t let me miss it.”

She fell asleep with her hand still on Winifred’s arm. It was a strong, wide hand, thick, wide fingers, her Cherokee blood. Winifred and I watched her sleep. She was so much like our aunt Anna we couldn’t stop talking to each other about it. Driven,
driven, driven, even in her sleep. Not that my mother or our uncles Daniel and Niall were any less driven, but it showed somehow in Olivia more than it did in them. She shone with it. She was our shining, driven cousin.

“Did you apply to medical schools?” I asked Winifred. “Did you take the MCAT? How far did you get with that? I remember Mother telling me about it, but I was gone from home and didn’t pay attention to the details.”

“It was six years ago. I applied to twelve medical schools and I didn’t get into any of them. My MCAT scores were low and my undergraduate grades from Duke weren’t all that good. I took the MCAT before I took physics. It was a stupid thing to do. Well, I’ll never be a physician. That’s a dream. And I am a widow. Don’t say I’m not.”

“You can try again. Take the Kaplan course. I know people who applied three times before they got into medical school. It’s a tough racket to break into.”

BOOK: A Dangerous Age
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