"Hi, Nan. It's Marguerite."
"I'm making the girls breakfast."
"Oh, I'll just be a minute. Do you remember how you noticed at the club yesterday that Walter Durnip's color wasn't very good?"
"Vaguely. He looked a little gray."
"He did, he did. Well, he died."
She sat on the wooden stool by the phone, and nodded to herself.
"In his sleep."
"That's how I want to go. What was it? A heart attack? A stroke?"
"I don't know. But when he went to bed, he didn't say anything to Elizabeth about how he felt. He just went to sleep, and when Elizabeth woke up this morning she knew right away he was dead."
"He was eighty-four, wasn't he?"
"Something like that."
"He wasn't even ill."
"At least not visibly."
"Oh, we would have known if Walter was ill. He wasn't particularly stoic."
Nan heard her friend laugh, but she hadn't meant this as a joke. It was, in her mind, a simple reiteration of an obvious fact: Walter Durnip was a man, and men were notoriously unwilling to keep pain to themselveswhich was where, more times than not, it belonged. As a general rule, old people who talked about their ailments made Nan Seton uncomfortable. Too much... body.
"Elizabeth doesn't know for sure when she's going to have the funeral yet, but it will probably be the day after tomorrow. Saturday."
"Saturday? Too bad. Oh, well. At least by then I'll have a houseful, so the girls won't have to go. John and Catherine arrive tomorrow," she said, referring not to a husband and a wife but to her son and her daughter. Nan knew from years of conversations exactly like this one with her friend Marguerite that she did not need to explain that when she said Catherine she meant Catherine and her husband, Spencer, and when she said John she meant John, his wife, Sara, andnowtheir infant son, Patrick.
"How long are they staying?"
"Catherine and Spencer are both taking next week off. Isn't that nice? They'll be here for nine days"
"And John and Sara are bringing the baby, right?"
"You will have a houseful."
"John and Sara will only be here for the weekend. Till Monday morning. Still, it will be good fun. I'm sure the girls miss their parents. The only hard part is going to be dinner because Spencer is just so difficult."
"Being a vegetarian is no big deal, Nan. Lots of people are!"
"There are degrees. And most people don't obsess about it the way he does or lecture their dinner companions the way he does. Soy milk. Soy hot dogs on the grill. Tofu. Yuck. It just makes things so complicated because I never know what to buy."
"Make him cook!"
"He does. Sometimes that's worse. Everything always seems to have lentils in it."
Upstairs in the bedroom above the dining room she heard a colossal thud and then she heard the girls laughing hysterically. Charlotte, she knew from experience, always woke up in a foul mood but tended to cheer up as the morning progressed. By lunchtime, she would be charming. Willow, on the other hand, seemed to grow tired as the day wore on and if she was going to be cranky (and it was generally rare for the younger cousin to grow irritable) it was likely to be at the very end of the day. Late afternoon, just before dinner. After they had returned from the club, where she had the children in a regimen of swimming, tennis, golf, and junior bridge lessons.
"How is Elizabeth doing?" Nan asked, referring back to her and Marguerite's mutual friend, a woman wholike her and Margueritewas now a widow.
"Oh, I believe she's fine," Marguerite told her, her voice as light as a dandelion puffball in May.
Excerpted from Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian Bestselling author of Midwives Copyright© 2004 by Chris Bohjalian. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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