"Like a bunch of ninety-five-year-olds watching their generation end." I close the book for a moment and drink the rest of the cocktail Ned poured me, the second cocktail, and I stare at him for a moment. I notice he's shifted his body to the left a little, and I’ve shifted myself to the right, so we’re not directly across from one another anymore.
What is a lie, and what isn't? Like when the narrator tells a new client that his former attendant misses him, even though she's never actually met that attendant. And when the new client says: I miss him too. That place between your heart and the fabric on your chest, the fabric on your chest and the world beyond.
Heart, hearing — that’s what I write down. I’m wondering about this lie, this relationship with Ned. Although I've always been honest. Honest about what matters.
Of course he lies to me too, like when he said he made $200,000 a year, and paid half of that in taxes — he said that because he wanted me to think he was giving me a quarter of his entire earnings, that I shouldn't ask for more. And then I looked at his tax statement when he was out one day, it was right there in the unlocked file cabinet under T, and last year he made over $600,000. But am I getting too used to this house with the chandeliers and a cocktail always ready?
The narrator learns that her supervisor is leaving. Home-care aides leave a lot, but the supervisors generally stay. She's leaving because she sick. Another of these moments that feels like a shock, a shock to the narrator and a shock to me at this table with Ned where I keep crying and he doesn't look up, except this time he does, just briefly, and then he reaches over for my hand and I reach over for his, this gesture that happens so often in the book and maybe it feels nice here too. Although it’s hard to reach that far across the table, I mean reach that far and keep reading at the same time. So I pull my hand back, softly, and I smile; Ned smiles too and then we both go back to reading.
The narrator starts crying at Connie's house, Connie who she's taking care of, and Connie ends up holding her. The way this book is about generosity, how much it matters.
It's not that this book doesn't have flaws, just that there are very few of them. There's a cheesy moment at a meeting to say goodbye to the departing supervisor, a meeting where the narrator asks her if there's anything she can do, and the supervisor says: "You can hope again." It's not that that doesn't sound like something a departing supervisor might say, just that it's given too much emphasis as the last line of a chapter, and the chapter is called "The Gift of Hope." Maybe I don't believe in hope.
I'm getting to the end of my third cocktail, and there's that feeling in my head that must be chemical, the perfect combination of liquor and coke, invulnerability on ice. It’s what I need to channel in order to fuck Ned and right now I could easily bend him over that white sofa and shove my dick in his ass. He would laugh in that drunk old guy way and say let's go upstairs.
Maybe I'll never have to do that again.
The book ends with Connie's death. Her gay son and his boyfriend are there at her bedside, with the attendant. The end of the book is nothing but sobs until I have to put the book down and go upstairs and that’s when I realize I need to piss, I mean I've been holding it for a while but now I can’t hold it anymore, I mean I don’t need to. So I go in the bathroom and look in the mirror — under my eyes I have a rash from crying and my lips pressed up into a child’s frown. And I wonder whether closing the book with the death of an old straight woman is fair, even if it doesn’t matter it matters but what really matters is the way this book has affected me.
I can't decide whether I want a bump of coke, but I do one anyway, and then I go in my room and lie on top of the velvet comforter and stare up at the crystals of this chandelier, floating in a way but also sinking. Eventually Ned comes upstairs and he stands in my doorway. He looks like he's in shock. His face is red like a really bad sunburn. I sit up, and he sits next to me on the bed. It feels crowded, but not too crowded. I give him a hug, maybe this is the first time I've actually felt like it.
He says: I've always felt guilty that I didn't come out sooner, that I lied for so long to my wife and then my kids. It's only the cowards of my generation who’ve survived. If I’d come out sooner, I know I would be dead.
And I wonder if I’m a coward too, in a different way but still a coward.