All this is necessary for survival. I am a visitor from another planet, and the natives are not friendly.
I open my mail myself. Then it disappears. Whisked away. Today, pleas for help to save the whales, save the pandas, free Tibet.
My bank statement shows that I have $3,567.89 in a Bank of America checking account. There is another statement from a stockbroker, Michael Brownstein. My name is on the top. My assets have declined 19 percent in the last six months. They apparently now total $2.56 million. He includes a note: It is not as bad as it could have been due to your conservative investment choices and a broad portfolio diversification strategy.
Is $2.56 million a lot of money? Is it enough? I stare at the letters on the page until they blur. AAPL, IBM, CVR, ASF, SFR. The secret language of money.
James is sly. James has secrets. Some I am privy to, more I am not. Where is he today? The children are at school. The house is empty except for a woman who seems to be a sort of housekeeper. She is straightening the books in the den, humming a tune I don't recognize. Did James hire her? Likely. Someone must be keeping things in order, for the house looks well tended, and I have always been hostile to housework, and James, although a compulsive tidier, is too busy. Always out and about. On undercover missions. Like now. Amanda doesn't approve. Marriages should be transparent, she says. They must withstand the glare of full sunlight. But James is a shadowy man. He needs cover, flourishes in the dark. James himself explained it long ago, concocted the perfect metaphor. Or rather, he plucked it from nature. And although I am suspicious of too-neat categorizations, this one rang true. It was a hot humid day in summer, at James's boyhood home in North Carolina. Before we were married. We'd gone for an after-dinner walk in the waning light and just two hundred yards away from his parents' back porch found ourselves deep in a primeval forest, dark with trees that dripped white moss, our footsteps muffled by the dead leaves that blanketed the ground. Pockets of ferns unfurled through the debris and the occasional mushroom gleamed. James gestured. Poisonous, he said. As he spoke, a bird called. Otherwise, silence. If there was a path, I couldn't see it, but James steadily moved ahead and magically a way forward appeared in front of us. We'd gone perhaps a quarter of a mile, the light diminishing minute by minute, when James stopped. He pointed. At the foot of a tree, amid a mass of yellow green moss, something glowed a ghostly white. A flower, a single flower on a long white stalk. James let out a breath. We're lucky, he said. Sometimes you can search for days and not find one.
And what is it? I asked. The flower emitted its own light, so strong that several small insects were circling around it, as if attracted by the glare.
A ghost plant, James said. Monotropa uniflora. He stooped down and cupped the flower in his hand, being careful not to disengage it from its stalk. It's one of the few plants that doesn't need light. It actually grows in the dark.
How is that possible? I asked.
It's a parasite - it doesn't photosynthesize but feeds off the fungus and the trees around it, lets others do the hard work. I've always felt a kinship to it. Admiration, even. Because it's not easy - that's why they don't propagate widely. The plant has to find the right host, and conditions must be exactly right for it to flourish. But when it does flourish, it is truly spectacular. He let go of the flower and stood up.
Yes, I can see that, I said.
Can you? James asked. Can you really?
Yes, I repeated, and the word hung in the heavy moist air between us, like a promise. A vow.
Excerpted from Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante. Copyright © 2011 by Alice LaPlante. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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