Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Acknowledgements
THE BOOK OF DAYS
BOOKS BY MAUREEN HOWARD
Not a Word About Nightingales
Before My Time
NOVELS OF THE FOUR SEASONS
A Lover’s Almanac
Big as Life
The Silver Screen
Facts of Life
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in 2009 by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright ? Maureen Howard, 2009
All rights reserved
Conjunctions.Portions of this book first appeared in different form in
ILLUSTRATION CREDITS: Page 1: ? Lee Friedlander. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco Pages87 and 185: Drawings by Todd Mauritz. Page 142: Photograph by Andre Emmerich. By permission ofSusanne Emmerich. Pages 112, 140-1, 145, 160, 163 (top), and 221: Photographs by Ali Elai Page152: National Portrait Gallery, London Page 163 (bottom): Photograph by Ken Fang. Pages 177 and184: Courtesy of the National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historical Site Page191: Sara Cedar Miller, Central Park Conservancy Page 236: Paul Strand: Bombed Church,
Moselle, France, 1950. ? Aperture Foundation, Inc., Paul Strand Archive. PUBLISHER’S NOTE:This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product ofthe author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Howard, Maureen, date.
The rags of time : a novel / Maureen Howard. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-14884-6
1. Fiction—Authorship—Fiction. 2. Central Park (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction. I. Title. PS3558.O8823R34 2009 813’.54—dc22 2009015167
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To Mark, and to Nicholas Howard Fudge—time bends
My family—husband, Mark Probst; brother, George Kearns; daughter, Loretta Howard, incalculablethanks for their support and correction. Richard Powers for his generous editorial reading;James Longenbach and Joanna Scott for their care and honesty with a work in long progress, thislast of my Seasons. Binnie Kirschenbaum for her spirited commentary. My agent and friend,Gloria Loomis, patient with me over the years; and Paul Slovak, my gifted editor, at onceexacting and imaginative. I am indebted to Jeri Laber, Patrick Keefe, Mohammet Yildiz, HarishBhat, George and Sonya Tcherny, Cleo Kearns, Brenda Maddox, Ann Weiss mann, Ed Park, Paul LaFarge, Bradford Morrow, and to Drs. Iris Sherman and Mary Anne McLaughlin for theirconsultation; to the Mercy Learning Center for letting me camp on their porch, and theBogliasco Foundation for a residency at the Villa dei Pini.
Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time.
—John Donne, “The Sunne Rising”
THE BOOK OF DAYS
In soul-baring confessional writings (maximum honesty with regard to oneself), the third-personform is better.
— Max Frisch, Sketchbook (1970)
In God We Trust . She notes these words inscribed on a five dollar bill she sticks in herpocket, heads for the park. Odd, how she no longer sees the motto on twenties and tens, onevery coin in her purse. Did she ever believe in that trust? When the patrician voice of thepresident declared a date that will live in infamy ; when her brother was drafted during the
conflict in Korea; perhaps held that tarnished belief when she marched with thousands againstthe wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Even then believed, though her trust was in the marching,
God on a dull penny, in the slogans and songs, trusting something worthy would come ofnot
her effort, more than camaraderie or the glow of self-satisfaction. Her picture had beensnapped with the hippie academics. She’s in the tie-dye T pushing through the police barrier,storming onto campus when Governor Reagan punished children who stepped out of line, said oh noyou don’t teach your dispiriting lessons against the war, not on my watch. These days shewould not be sure of her footing if herded into the courthouse in Santa Barbara to be chargedwith unlawful assembly.
This contribution from her daughter who lives nearby.The Sixties were so performative!
What does that mean?
Well, she can no longer march. In Central Park she walks the short distance set by her failingheart, delights in a warm day, an amber wash of Indian Summer.
She would like to know who proposed the motto In God We Trust, and when unseasonable days
were first called Indian Summer, as though knowing might steady her flip-flop pulse. These arealmanac questions with almanac answers available on an Internet service. Suppose, just suppose,this time round the easy answers will not heal by way of distraction. I am outraged. She
repeats this phrase in the lilting, stage center voice that entertained students in theclassroom and readings of her work in years past. I am outraged. What crimes are they
Delivered to her husband, her brother, to Cleo andcommitting at their Black Sites?
Glo—whoever will listen, and they are outraged, too, repeating the day’s dreadful news. We
She is caught up in gestures of dollars andhave not been given the full count of the injured.
cents where In God We Trust came into her story—on green-backs, coinage in the pocket of herold black coat, though it’s her credit card that registers the small donations of her protest.So it goes.
She is still in her bathrobe at noon, her flighty gray hair unwashed, strange crust on hercheek, a new hillock of puffed flesh on the wrinkled map of age. She turns from the mirror. Notmuch for mirrors anymore. Let the body play out the days with a handful of pills adjusting theheartbeat, thinning the blood. Till well after noon she stays in her back room writing the lastof her seasons, Fall with its showy splendor. She predicts year’s end may be her end, butthat’s one of her stories. Her body will float on a bier of books and first drafts down theLethe, or bob in Olmsted’s Lake, which appears at a distance, an elegiac vision she may haveto revise, a cold wind ruffling the glass surface. Seldom given to self-pity. Consolation isacross the street in Central Park with its Bridle Path, Pinetum, Reservoir Track, all thatprospect of a healthy, if halting, afternoon walk, thus the five dollar bill in her pocket forthe needy or a threatening encounter. She loses her glasses, forgets her cell phone and what’sfor dinner, repeats her riff on outrage, remembers in some detail disturbing events of the pastfiled away under Wars I have known, one scene oddly persistent in recent days.
As a freshman in college, she stayed up late with her new friends. It must have been the firstweeks of October. Three little girls at school with no bedtime, few rules. What stories didthey have to swap? Empty vessels. She is harsh as she thinks of them in their flannelnightgowns, their French grammars and Lattimore’s monumental Greek Tragedies thrown aside
for idle chatter. The woman came to their door, which stood open a crack. Looming, mysterious,she waited in the dim night light of the hall for a long moment, then invited herself in. Thegirls made tea on an electric hot plate, the red coil dangerously close to a curtain her motherhad sewn to make life homey away from home. She figures how old their guest was, a graduatestudent from Austria studying Government, as they called Political Science then. Perhaps in her
mid-twenties—big breasts, heavy thighs, the pulsing of her neck as she told her story. Theplait of honey hair she drew round the fullness of that neck was a noose snapped free to reveala silver cross. The three girls were children who listened obediently to the woman’s steadyguttural voice with now and again a German word translated for them to English. The salty odorof sweat from the Austrian woman’s ragged ski sweater. They were all sitting on the floor ofthis room in a dormitory for mostly privileged young women. The rug was lumpy, braided of ragsby the mother of the old woman who was then a girl listening to a story she could notcomprehend, how their visitor’s father was taken away, the brother, too. Tap, tapping hercross, the woman said the Cardinal came to lunch. Her father had thought His Eminence’s visita good sign. She knelt to kiss the Cardinal’s ring which smelled of laundry soap. They mightfind that the strangest part of her story. Come the next year, a knock on the door in Innsbruckand they were gone, the father, the brother taken by brutal men these girls had seen innewsreels and movies. More tea, and though they had not asked, the Austrian student with a
chande. Never sawwoman’s body said as the war was coming to its end a soldier spoiled her. S him, her face covered with a pillow. Soon after, the Russians came.
For years the woman who lives across from the Park recalled the shame of her relief when theforeign student left her college room, shame at her inability to feel nothing more thanembarrassment, to wonder at—the harsh soap of suet and lye embedded under the princely ring asthough the honored guest in the magenta beanie joined in a humble washday task. Had the womanfound other children in the dead of night to listen to the calm recitation of her story? Todaythe warm dormitory room appears again with the two friends who went their separate ways by theend of that year, the poster on the wall— Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose —Sargent’s little
girls in white summer dresses, their Japanese lanterns illuminating a garden beyond lovely. Andthere on the floor, the discarded textbook in which the Greek chorus mourned what had come topass as in the chant— We are outraged —or warns what will come to pass, but tragedy had gone
out of business. Her own initials were incised on her tea mug, MK—a gift from her father—agruff, sentimental man, who never wanted her to grow up, leave home with new clothes—a lumpyrag rug, gauzy curtains fluttering near the hot coil of the burner.
Not much for mirrors, and not happy with my attempt at third person. In my book, confessionbegs for absolution, but my sins are not wiped away like sweat when you’ve run too fast or toofar; and now I can’t run at all. Today I am outraged by the use of camouflage in the desert.Disguises nothing, you’ve noticed? With sophisticated surveillance devices, there’s no needfor blotches simulating mud and sand. Camouflage of a sort is worn by the Cheerleader, hisbusiness suit, navy or gray. You’ve seen him bounce down the steps of Air Force One,sprightly, airy. Crossing the tarmac, he waves us off, the palm of his hand denying access aswe watch the evening news. Thumbs-up, he gives us the finger; his tight-lipped smile, mum’sthe word. The boy who painted our fence has gone to his war—a kid who worked in a toy store atthe mall, had no future in that line and asked what I worked at since I am seldom at the littlehouse in the country. I showed him a book. He took it in his hands. Bewildered, he laughed asthough at a useless brick, slick and lighter than the ones that edge the front path but do notkeep weeds out of the garden. It’s a book with false moves written at the turn of thiscentury, not this sketchbook, album, field notes of the past and passing days.
I’m comfortable with first person, don’t mind drawing back the velvet curtain, comingonstage. I was born in the city of P. T. Barnum, the impresario who never feared facing hisaudience even when the music was too highbrow or the freak show failed to amaze. On Good
a marine amputee is learning to walk on metal stilts to carry on in ourMorning America,
I have my troupe, my regulars, bring them center stage as they are needed, one by two by three,duets and line dancing, solo turns throughout the seasons, not lives of the saints, yet not