turned out, a parade in honor of veterans had thumped and trumpeted along Riverside Drive all morning long,
sending up fanfare through the open window while Sir Maxwell held forth.
“The churches are full. There is absolute law and order and peace behind Franco’s lines.” At some point, perhaps before this
last declaration, perhaps afterward, he’d wandered over to the window to peruse a military band passing below, and with his
back turned to his visitor he’d recited one of his great-grandfather’s verses:
Come, Mother, lift your wee treasure high,
Innocent aloft glanced by the flashing eye
Of he who urges our good men to war...
But poetry apparently meant nothing to the journalist, who had omitted the lines from his transcription. Like most journalists,
he’d wanted controversy and slogans. Sir Maxwell had given him both. “The world is fooled! Propaganda is so frightfully clever.
Franco is no dictator, nor is he a fascist. You can see the light of understanding in his eyes.” The light of understanding!
Sir Maxwell has a way with words, and if he can’t devote himself entirely to poetry, he can, at the tip of a hat, use poetry
to enhance his opinions.
He imagines General Franco’s pleasure when he hears about the interview. He imagines his own name spoken with admiration around
I N THE KITCHEN of the Brown family house on Rogers Avenue in Marwood, New Jersey, two old women drink their thin coffee laced with Schenley’s
Supreme and chatter about yesterday’s adventures: they had gone into the city to watch the parade and then to meet the French
in hopes of catching a glimpse of Gloria Swanson, who was said to be returning from Europe. Well, they hadn’t seen the grande
dame herself, but they’d had plenty of fun matching three longshoremen dime for dime in craps. Then they’d gone to the matinee
at the Booth, two hours plus spent in such scientifically cooled comfort that both sisters had promptly fallen asleep at intermission
and slept through to the end.
“Aunties,” their niece, Clara, says the next morning, addressing them as usual in the plural, “have a bite before you go.”
She slides a plate of buttered toast into the center of the table and sits down to join them. “Let’s just pray the weather
“My bones are telling me” says the younger of the two old sisters, but the elder interrupts—“Your rattling bones”—leaving
the younger to insist, “My bones are always right”
“Unless they’re wrong.”
“And today will be fair.”
“That’s the order.”
“Fair skies and warm.”
They reach for the plate of toast at the same time, their fingers brush, and the elder slips a piece from the middle of the
stack, leaving the top pieces for her sister. They munch in silence, crumbs collecting in the cracks of their lips while their
niece, mother of six grown children, stares through the screen door into the backyard, her expression wistful, as though she
were halfheartedly searching the yard for evidence that the past had really happened.
“Don’t let Tony forget the watermelon.”
The aunts plan to spend today at Belmont Park, where Clara’s brother Tony will treat them to lunch and share tips when they
go to place their bets. It will be a good day because every day they remain alive is a good day. And as it’s the birthday
of their niece, it will be a special day.
“You’ll bring Gabriella back with you this evening,” Clara reminds her aunts. Gabriella, Clara’s youngest child, is turning
twenty today, and the entire family is gathering to celebrate. Twenty happy years. By suppertime there will be little children
darting about the house, tangling themselves in their uncle Trip’s legs and causing him to fall headfirst into the rack covered
with strips of fresh noodles while Clara’s husband and Tony and the aunts play cards and