Authors: Howard; Foster
“Alright, we need not proceed any further with this agenda item right now. I'm awaiting your list, Commissioner Dalton, and we'll take it from there.”
They zipped through their other business in ten minutes and Karl adjourned the meeting.
“Interesting start,” said Julia Nickerson, holding out her hand for Miranda to shake. A bookish-looking forty-eight-year-old with graying hair and round gold-framed glasses, Julia had been on the Commission for two years, meaning that Karl had chosen her for the last opening over Miranda. She had no relevant experience, no service in an environmental organization, no post-graduate degree, no published writings and not a whiff of controversy.
Julia and her husband, Kyle, were both third-generation Lincolnites, which meant their families had been here before the town had become an exurb for the academic elite. Even Karl and his family were products of that post-war migration from the Victorian mansions of Cambridge. Julia had a degree from Pine Manor, a third-rate institution in Miranda's view. Upon graduation she had married a medical student whose family owned one of the last working farms in town, which they sold to a developer of McMansions for an enormous sum. They had three children in the early 1980s and were careful to send one to public school rather than have all three in boarding school. Julia served as treasurer of the P.T.A. and maintained close ties with the right people in town government, especially Karl. Her appointment to the Commission over Miranda, Phi Beta Kappa from Bryn Mawr, five years on the board of the Wang Center for the Performing Arts, author of two published articles on conservation, was personal.
“I would have waited a few months before doing that,” said Julia. “We've talked about Karl's idea of public service.”
“I know, but I have my own.”
“Maybe we can talk before the next meeting.”
“I'll call you,” said Miranda, thinking she might try to get her to back off.
As Miranda and Archer walked out of the building, someone snapped a cell phone photo.
“Who was that?” Archer asked her.
“I don't know.”
“You're going to be on the Internet by tomorrow. There's that website about life and politics in Lincoln.”
“OK, so there will be a photo of me on the site. I'm a public official now.”
Archer couldn't contain himself. “You should have sat there and listened for the first meeting.”
“Since when am I a potted plant?”
“You didn't tell me about this.”
“No I didn't, love. I didn't want to be dissuaded.”
“When I looked up at you talking about the peace sign barn I thought of Anne Hutchinson. You're practically a heretic.”
“That's not a bad parallel. She was run out of Boston, right?”
“And then killed by Indians.”
“But she had the authorities terrified. They had to get rid of her. I rather like that.”
He decided not to say another word until they were outside. When they reached his dented green Volvo station wagon he looked around to make sure there was nobody else within earshot.
“Karl Anderson is an icon in this town. You didn't show him the proper respect.”
“I didn't say anything that could be considered disrespectful.”
“Yes you did. You should have stopped when he said proper procedure required notice. You challenged him.”
“I cited our rules.”
“He knows the damn rules. He wrote them! And your body language was projecting confrontation.”
“Well, they don't know me intimately. You see things that aren't visible to the casual observer, like the paint on the barn.”
“He appointed you to the Commission. He respects you.”
“He turned me down three times. Someone or something intervened this time. I'm still not sure what that bolt of lightning was.”
“Judging by the faces of your colleagues, you don't have a second vote to do anything. So slow down!”
“I got the impression that Julia is a possible ally.”
“I didn't. And you know where her money comes fromâcondo development, which you hate.”
“Oh I know. And that's something I need to explore.”
“Lincoln looks pretty much like the set of a Masterpiece Theater production to me,” he said. “I don't know that we have to worry.”
“Except for the subsidized housing, and what's coming on Route 2, and the peace sign barn, and the condos, and the McMansions.”
As they drove by the flowerpot, she fumbled with his radio, looking for the classical music station.
“Why won't you get satellite radio? For another $3 a month you can get rid of all the commercials. They've got talk channels, very intelligent material.”
“I listen to NPR, Hutch. I'm very happy with it. And we've got all the music I want at home on CDs.”
“CDs are so '90s. People get music now by satellite or the Internet.”
“I know,” he said smugly. “I'll keep my CDs.”
They turned onto their gravel driveway. Miranda always gazed at the modern steel sculptures on the marble obelisks scattered on this part of their estate, even at night. She had chosen them after what seemed like countless hours of reading the reviews of the artists that had made her final cut. She liked the mix of new and old, disagreeing with her landscape architect, who favored the consistency of Victorian-era art throughout. But she was drawn to both, and wanted to re-create the feel of Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate, with its Georgian structure and modern art.
He parked in the barn and they went inside.
“Did you take a video?” asked Asa when they reached the kitchen.
“There was no video camera,” she said. “I took an oath while Dad and a few other people watched.”
“And Mom's inaugural address was provocative. There's a lot of malice in the air.”
“But you can watch the next meeting in two weeks,” she said. “You'll learn a lot about the barn with the peace sign and how things really work around here.”
Cody, age fourteen, wearing a backward Red Sox cap covering short light brown hair, seemed confused.
“You said if we were there it would send the wrong signal to Karl, Dr. Evil.”
“He won't notice you at the next meeting. There will be a crowd, and some reporters.”
“Cool,” he said.
“It's not cool if she loses,” said Archer. “We don't want to be embarrassed in front of the whole town.”
Cody went over to the massive stainless steel refrigerator and pressed a drinking glass on the cold-water dispenser.
“But isn't that how you met Dad, by showing up at the Club with a blue tennis dress?”
“Aha, hoist with your own petard,” she said.
“Completely different situation,” he said.
“My tennis dress had a blue trim, and yes I knew I was violating the all-white rule at the Club. And I was a guest, which made it even more provocative. Guests are supposed to know their place. But I'm not a guest at the Commission anymore.”
“There were consequences,” he said. “My friend Jesse Brewer got a letter from the Tennis Committee.”
“And she took it in stride,” said Miranda. “I helped her write a response. We quoted a passage from Canto 9 of the
to explain my transgression. A romance had been sparked by the transgression. And they adored the letter.”
“I haven't read the
,” said Cody.
“Well when you do, you'll gain a special appreciation for it.”
“Let's just say a lot of things have gone on at Longwood over the years,” Archer said, “and we'd rather just leave it at that.”
She stared at him, incredulous that he would even refer to that episode in front of the boys.
“I think I'll go share my news with my friends.”
She walked toward her study down the main hallway with its high barrel ceiling, which was an odd feature in a Victorian. She still wanted to know what had possessed the architect to add it. But the town had no file for the house, and the plans had been drawn in 1902. Her study, with its glass and steel desk, sleek Macintosh computer and cobalt-blue accent wall, did not go with any other room in the house.
“It went more or less as I expected,” she announced in an email to her psychologist, one of many since high school; to Carla Teller, a friend from her tumultuous days on the Wang Center board, which asked her to leave after her failed coup against the CEO; and to her father, Emmet Kedzie, a retired executive in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
“He swore me in. I told him what I wanted to do and he was appalled. But at the next meeting we're going to consider my proposal to get the barn with the peace sign into code. If I could get that thing painted over, gone, erased from my world, I'd consider my tenure a huge success. So that was my evening. How was yours?”
“Whatever happened to the freshman-year feeling things out, getting to know your colleagues?” Carla emailed back.
“I'm no freshman. I've been attending these meetings on and off since we moved to Lincoln fourteen years ago. I tried to join three times. They know me, and I know them.”
Her psychologist responded, as Miranda knew she would, by asking if she took time to “engage” with her colleagues and “consider how they feel.”
Asa walked in before she could answer.
“I'm working, kiddo. I can't go into section 4 of the Word program with you right now.”
“But I want to. We were supposed to do it last night,” he said and sat on her lap.
“Well, OK, for twenty minutes, and then it's bedtime.”
He leaned into her keyboard, closed out the email and opened the tutorial on Microsoft Word where they had closed it two nights ago.
She asked him what a digitally enhanced image was, and he answered correctly. They moved on.
An hour later her father called.
“What's the other woman on the Commission like?” he asked after they had caught up.
“Smart but timid. She wouldn't take on Karl. She's a female Bernard Gilson,” she said, referring to a fellow executive at the Fairbanks Scales Company that her father had forced out of the business. The ouster began a downward spiral in the man's personal and professional life, culminating in suicide. Her father showed no remorse after it happened but stressed to his family that there had always been weak people and they were destined to fail in one way or another in the struggle of life. Her father went on to become a vice president of the company and one of the richest men in their poor rural town in northeast Vermont. After Miranda's brother was killed in a car accident at fourteen, he denied her nothing, and she excelled in school, becoming her high school class valedictorian. Miranda's mother had divorced him when she was in college, and was remarried, living in California. Miranda touched base with her maybe once a year.
“And that's why she's there. He picked her over you because he can't control you. If you can get her to support you, it will kill him emotionally.”
“He doesn't show any emotion, but he's afraid of me. As soon as he heard I wanted to run for Selectman he appointed me.”
“Of course he's afraid of you, kiddo. They're all afraid of you. Even I'm afraid of you once in a while.”
“When?” she asked and laughed.
Julia rode over to Miranda's home two days later for organic tea and pomegranate juice on a rusty but functional bicycle with a wicker basket holding something in wrapping paper that poked out over the top. Miranda was outside, inspecting their modern sculptures attached to large marble cubes, for damage from the recent nor'easter, when the bicycle appeared on the gravel driveway.
Miranda didn't think Julia would even accept her invitation to tea. She could have asked to meet at the Town Hall. They weren't friends. But the bicycle exuded neighborliness, and mutual respect, the antithesis of Karl. Miranda stepped into the driveway and waved.
“Good afternoon, Julia, welcome to my Valhalla.”
“It's most inviting.”
“Look at us, the guardians of Lincoln standing in front of a modern sculpture which doesn't fit the exterior color code. What do you think of it?”
“That it doesn't conform to the code? It doesn't have to. It's not the structure itself, and it's not visible to passersby.”
“Yes, I know that. I mean of the style.”
“Not what I expected.”
“Well, lest you think I'm some sort of dilettante, let me explain.”
They walked toward the house and Miranda slipped her sunglasses back on.
“To me Lincoln is a unique mix of old and new. We have people like my husband doing cutting-edge thinking in the Urban Studies Department while living in a house built in 1902. Our home reflects that. We had to compromise on some things, like central air. Archer didn't want it. And I wanted a minimalist sleek style of furniture. You'll see that in my study and the kitchen but nowhere else.”
Miranda gave Julia a tour, starting with the paintings in the foyer. One was a restored Degas of waterlilies, which Julia glided past, but she stopped to gaze intently at the John Singer Sargent portrait of two sisters in sundresses standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
“This is magnificent,” she said. “May I ask when you acquired it?”
Miranda knew Julia had no interest in when she acquired it. It was an indirect route to find out how much they had paid for the work. And because it was a forgery, any question about it made her nervous.
“It was a bequest from one of Archer's uncles quite some time ago. And here's our new addition,” she said, pointing to a long canvas in the hallway toward the kitchen. “This is the blood of an eel painted in disciplined, logical strokes that to me evokes just perfectly the logarithms of the Macintosh operating system, which I find endlessly fascinating.”
“Blood as art?”
“Oh yes, why not?”
“Isn't it cruelty?”