Rituals in Silence

FROM A Book Of Common Prayer by Joan Didion

ONE IMAGINES A SWEET INDOLENT GIRL, SOFT WITH BABY fat, her attention span low and her range of interests limited. Marin approved of infants and puppies. Marin dis approved of “meanness” and “showing off.” She appeared to approve equally of Leonard and Warren, and tailored her performance to please each of them. When Warren came to San Francisco she would appear instinctively in the navy-blue blazer no longer required by the progressive Episcopal day school she attended. For Leonard and his friends she would wear blue jeans, and adashiki which scratched her skin. On principle she “adored madly” the presents Warren occasionally sent, although by her fif teenth birthday these presents still ran to the sporadic stuffed animal in a box bearing the charge-plate stamp of whatever woman he was living with at the time. In princi ple she was tolerant of Leonard’s efforts on the behalf of social justice, although in practice she often found the bene ficiaries of these efforts “weird” and their predicaments “unnecessary.” That Episcopal day school Marin attended from the age of four until she entered Berkeley had as its aim “the development of a realistic but optimistic attitude,” and it was characteristic of Charlotte that whenever the phrase “realistic but optimistic” appeared in a school com muniqué she read it as “realistic and optimistic.”

That was Charlotte.

Not Marin.

Marin would never bother changing a phrase to suit herself because she perceived the meanings of words only dimly, and without interest. Perhaps because of her realistic but optimistic attitude Marin was easily confused by such moral questions as were raised by the sight of someone dis figured (would a good God make ugly people?) or the problem of dividing her Halloween candy with the Epis copal orphans (do six licorice balls for the orphans equal one Almond Hershey for Marin, if Marin dislikes licorice?), and when confused could turn sulky, and withdrawn.

What else do I know about Marin.

I know that her posture toward all adult women was agreeably patronizing.

I know that her posture toward all adult men, toward Leonard and toward Warren and toward any man at all who was not disfigured, was uncomplicatedly seductive. I fer mind was empty of grudges and hurts and family malice. Her energies were simple and physical and in the summertime her blond hair had the cast of pale verdigris from the chlorine in swimming pools. Charlotte adored her, brushed her pale hair and licked the tears from her cheeks, held her hand crossing streets and wanted never to let go, believed that when she walked through the valley of the shadow she would be sustained by the taste of Marin’s salt tears, her body and blood. The night Charlotte was inter rogated in the Estadio Nacional she cried not for God but for Marin. Gerardo told me that. I prefer not to know who told Gerardo.


“I SEE,” LEONARD KEPT SAYING FROM WHEREVER HE WAS on the day the FBI first came to the house on California Street. “I see.”

“I don’t see,” Charlotte said. “Frankly I don’t see at all.”

There was a silence. “You’re calling from the house.”

“What difference does it make.”

Charlotte could hear only the faint crackle on the cable. Actually she had forgotten that she was never sup posed to call Leonard from the house if she had anything important to tell him. She was supposed to lose any pos sible surveillance and place the call on what Leonard called a neutral line. During the Mendoza trial in Cleveland she had called Leonard every day from a pay phone in Magnin’s and once she had taken a room in a motel on Van Ness just to call London and tell Leonard that she missed him, but now that she had to tell him that Marin was said to have bombed the Transamerica Building she was calling from the white Princess phone in Marin’s room.

“I mean what difference could it possibly make if they’re listening, since I’m only telling you what they told me in the first place.”

Still Leonard said nothing.

“I mean,” Charlotte said, “I can’t leave the house.”

“I want you to leave the house. I want you to stay with Polly Orben in Sausalito. I want you to call Polly Orben right away—”

“I don’t want to stay with Polly Orben.” Polly Orben had been Leonard’s analyst for eight years. Charlotte did not know what Polly Orben and Leonard had been talking about for eight years but Polly Orben frequently reported that they were within a year or so of “terminating,” or “ending.” She seemed to mean finishing the analysis. “I don’t want to leave the house.”

“It’s Wednesday, Polly counsels at Glide on Wednes day, call her at Glide—”

“I have to be here when Marin calls.”

“My point is this.” Leonard spoke very carefully. “You don’t know where Marin is.”

“That’s exactly why I have to be here.”

“And if you don’t know where Marin is, then you can’t tell anyone where Marin is. Under oath. Can you.”

Charlotte said nothing.

“If you see my point.”

Still Charlotte said nothing.

“Get in touch with Warren. Tell him exactly what I just told you. Tell him he doesn’t want to hear from her.”

“I guess I’ll just wait here and perjure myself,” Charlotte said finally. “And then hire you.”

Charlotte did not call Polly Orben at Glide. Charlotte did not get in touch with Warren. For the rest of that day Charlotte only lay on Marin’s bed, staring at the black-button eyes of the Raggedy Ann Warren had sent for Marin’s twelfth birthday. Charlotte did not see how Marin could have played any useful role in flying an L-1011 to Wendover, Utah. Marin could not even drive a car with a manual transmission.

Marin could not fly an L-1011 so Marin must be skiing at Squaw Valley.

Marin had called her great-grandmother’s wedding bracelet dead metal.

Marin had been in bed with the flu on her twelfth birthday and as if she were four instead of twelve had slept all night with Warren’s Raggedy Ann in her arms.

When it began to rain at six o’clock Charlotte wrapped herself in Marin’s blanket but did not close the windows. She went downstairs only once, when two of the FBI men came back to ask if she had a recent photograph of Marin.

“I don’t know.” In a drawer upstairs she had three recent photographs that Marin had overlooked but there was some quite definite reason why she did not want . the FBI men to have them. She could not put her finger on the reason but she knew that there was one. “I’d have to look.”

She made no move to look.

She realized suddenly that she was still holding the Raggedy Ann, with its dress pulled up to show the red heart that said I LOVE YOU.

One of the FBI men cleared his throat.

“I don’t suppose you’ve heard from her,” he said finally.

“I’m sure you’d tell us if you had,” the other said.

She wanted to slide the Raggedy Ann behind a pillow but she was sitting in one of Leonard’s Barcelona chairs and there were no pillows.

“Actually I wouldn’t,” she said finally.

“Mrs. Douglas—”

“Actually I’d lie. I’d lie to you and I’d perjure myself in court. You know that. You heard me tell my husband that on the telephone.”

The two FBI men looked away from each other.

“Or if you didn’t hear me someone in your office cer tainly did, you should compare notes down there.” She did not want to talk to the FBI this way but she could hear her own voice and it sounded bright and social and it did not stop. “Someone down there’s been listening to me on the telephone for at least five years, you should know me by now. I’d lie.”

“I’m sure you know that under the law a parent has no special—”

The other FBI man held up his hand as if to silence his partner.

“Maybe you’d like someone to stay with you tonight, Mrs. Douglas. Keep an eye on things.”

“I have someone keeping an eye on things. I have all those people you moved into the apartment across the street. Haven’t I. I mean I didn’t see you move them in, but I know how you operate.” She could not seem to stop herself. It was the Raggedy Ann. She resented their catching her with the Raggedy Ann. “One thing I don’t know. I don’t know if you kept tapes of all those telephone calls.”

Neither man spoke.

“I mean it could be very useful if you did. If you could sit down now and listen to those telephone calls you’d probably know more about Marin and me and Leonard and Warren than I even remember. You could probably figure the whole thing out.”

One of the men closed his briefcase. The other reached for his raincoat.

“You must have six or seven hundred hours on Marin and Lisa Harper alone. Doing their algebra.” Charlotte smoothed the Raggedy Ann’s dress over its red heart and (lid not look at the FBI men. “Lisa’s at Stanford this year. In case you missed the installment when Lisa got into Stanford and Marin didn’t.”

“We’re not on opposing sides, Mrs. Douglas.”

“Marin cried when the letter came from Stanford. You probably remember that. Marin crying.”

The next morning when Charlotte woke in Marin’s bed the rain was streaming down Marin’s organdy curtains and puddling on the parquet floor. Charlotte knew as she woke why she could not give the FBI a recent photograph of Marin. She could not give the FBI a recent photograph of Marin because any photograph useful to them would show Marin’s eyes, and then Marin’s eyes would stare back at her from newspapers and television screens, and she was not yet ready to deliver her child to history.


Published in: on April 4, 2010 at 9:25 PM  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://spad1.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/rituals-in-silence/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: