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Her sisters flinched because she was the youngest, but she looked so old. Jeanne was just seventy-four, and no one had ever thought . . . They didn’t speak of it. They would not allow themselves, but Helen was eighty, Sylvia seventy-eight. They’d married first, been mothers first. They were older. They should have been frailer. How could Jeanne be first to go?
“La Vita Nuova”
The day her fiancé left, Amanda went walking in the Colonial cemetery off Garden Street. The gravestones were so worn that she could hardly read them. They were melting away into the weedy grass. You are a very dark person, her fiancé had said.
He was at work when it began. We offer a choice of two plans,” Mel told the new programmer on the phone. On the desk, his computer beamed at him, along with Sam and Annie, in their school pictures, his grown son and daughter fixed in first- and third-grade amber. The office was relatively quiet, the open-plan space still cavernous, although Mel was drawing up contracts and issuing I.D.s as fast as he could.
Ed Markowitz, a professor from Georgetown, took the Peters town invitation to attend the Christians and Jews conference at the Ecumenical Institute because the honorarium covered his trip to California. After riding in a van for hours with Pat Flannagan, a new professor at St. Peter’s College, they arrived. The Institute is connected to the college. Its buildings are all sod structures. Brother Matthew takes Ed to his sod bungalow, where Ed covers himself with mosquito repellent. He has been warned about MinnesotaOs state bird.
This is the second story in a series about the Markowitz family centering around grandmother Rose visiting her son Ed and his wife Sarah after her friend, Eileen Meeker, passed on. Rose stays in Miriam’s room, who is now engaged and off at Harvard Medical School. The room needs to be redone, and Rose says she could make drapes because she is planning to stay. Rose doesn’t want the impersonal liquidation of her life after her death.
Evelyn’s sister, Lily, has begun living in the closet of the old house in Hawaii they share with Evelyn’s husband, Stan. Lily is ill. Her illness has many shifting names and ambiguities. She has stopped driving, leaving the house, cooking, playing the piano, and answering the telephone and door. Stan suggests calling the doctor or Roselva, Lily’s caseworker. Evelyn is sorry for Stan, and afraid he’ll blow his top. Stan comes from a tall, meat-eating family in Providence, Rhode Island. For dinner, Evelyn makes spring rolls with fresh mint leaves, rice, mock duck and spicy vegetarian meatballs. She brings up a tray and leaves it by the closet door.
“The Wedding of Henry Markowitz”
Henry Markowitz’s relatives are surprised when he becomes engaged to Susan McPhearson. Henry works for Laura Ashley in Oxford, England; Susan is assistant registrar at Merton College. Henry has been a professor at Queens College and N.Y.U.; horrified by the vulgarity he encountered there, he moved to Oxford in pursuit of a refined aestheticism.
“The Local Production of Cinderella”
A native Hawaiian social worker discovers a colleague’s strange letter and, interpreting it as an apocalyptic prediction about Hawaii’s return to its pristine origins, realizes she’s always thought the same thing. It’s 1978, and for fifteen years, Roselva and Helen have worked together at the Hawaii Department of Human Services. Roselva is Chinese-Hawaiian-Portuguese, a religious woman who believes in her job. Helen, on the other hand, grew up in Maine, of German-Lutheran ancestry. She talks all the time about how she wants to leave social work.
Sarah Markowitz teaches creative writing at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. Tells about her students’ Bible-based stories and poems and about Sarah’s mother-in-law, who has a drug overdose in California and moves in with them.
Story in the form of a letter written by Sharon, a middleaged Jewish college student, to Dr. Friedell, her religion professor at the University of Hawaii. Now living in Israel, she writes to explain why she stood up in his class and said Fuck Augustine. She feels that the academic approach to religion misses the point. She tells how she came to Hawaii from Boston, in the seventies. Gene, her boyfriend, split for Fiji shortly after their arrival. She held a string of jobs, taught folk dancing, and studied Hebrew.