NewYork City 2008
I just put hairspray on my armpits, Carrie said. She told
herself the shrill note in her voice was not hysteria. She was
not losing it; she had merely chosen to call her ex-fiancé to
tell him a funny story. He was one of her very best friends, and you
shared the good stuff with your pals. I was going for the deodorant.
I kept thinking, Wow, this deodorant is sticky. Then I looked
at the can. The thing is, I dont know why I had hairsprayI
never use it. It makes my hair look like a Brillo pad.
Carrie? You okay? Howies voice came at her over the
phone. And suddenly she was going to lose it after all. How the hell
do you thinkI am, Howie? My mother died ten days ago.
Carrie drew in a deep breath.
Im fine, she said.
You sure? Howie sounded worriedand not quite awake.
What time was it, anyway? Why are you up at four-thirty in the
morning? he added, answering the question.
Oh God, Im sorry. I didnt know . . . Explanations
raced through her head. See, Howie, Ive been waking up a little
early . . . No, the truth is, Howie, I cant sleep. I cant
eat eithernothing except potato chips. I got into them when I
was hanging around the hospital . . . She stopped herself. Because
she was rambling. True, it was an internal ramble, but anytime she started
wandering mentally it was a sure sign that she had lost control. And
dwelling on the hospital and her mothers last days there
was definitely a bad idea. Carrie had gotten through the funeral Mass
a week ago, and the memorial service the day before, by not dwelling.
Not dwelling had gotten her out of bed that morning and it had gotten
her dressedexcept for the hairspray/deodorant mishapand
now she was on her way to clean out her mothers apartment. Although
possibly not right at this moment. Not at four-thirty am. Go back
to sleep, Howie. Im sorry I bothered you.
I am fine. I am Carrie Manning. I am thirty-seven years old. And, okay,
Im a little tense this morning because my mothers ...not
alive anymore. But Im not going to dwell on that. Not now. Now,
Im going to think about how I got through the memorial service
yesterday without crying once. I was great at that service. I didnt
even tear up when they sang the Panis Angelicus.
voice on the phone brought her back to reality. Honey, youre
not still freaking out about the flowers, are you?
Okay, so I didnt get through the memorial service quite as well
as I might have.
I didnt freak out. I was upset.
However you want to say it, Carrie . . .
I put it in the obituaryNo flowersthats
what it said. It was right there in the New York Times. I listed all
of Mothers charities so people could make donations.
Yes, I saw that.I did it exactly the way she wanted
it. The woman was once voted Humanitarian of the Year by Living Life
magazine. Thats what the plaque said: Rose Manning, Humanitarian
of the Year, 1986 ...Her wishes for her own funeral should have
been obeyed. And I got it right. I got it goddamned right!
Everyone knows how Mother feels about flowers. Especially roses.
Why would anyone send her a basket of white roses?
I guess there was someone who didnt know . . .
After the article she wrote about Guatemalan children? The one
about the five-year-old kids who pick roses and wind up with respiratory
diseases and blisters full of insecticides?
Sweetheart, calm down.
You know what Mother says every time she sees those cheap roses
in the delis on the street. She carries her pamphlets in her purse so
she can show the owners
She carried them.
Thats what I said.
No, you said she carries them. Wrong tense, Carrie.
And suddenly it was realin a way that it hadnt been at the
memorial service, or at the funeral Mass, or at the mausoleum. Now there
was no way not to think about it. Her mother was gone. And Carrie was
an orphan. The room went cold. There was a lingering scent of hairspray
in the air.
Carrie? Would you like me to come into the city and stay with
you until my first appointment?
No. Thank you.
I could bring you some coffeefrom the diner on the corner,
all black and bitter. None of that Starbucks-wannabe stuff.
Youre the best ex on the planetbut I really am okay.
And you need to get your sleep. You probably have a gazillion root
Go back to sleep. Youll need steady hands.
And I need to get through this without dramatics.
That was what her mother had called it when Carrie was a kid and her
mother thought she was getting too worked up about something. Youre
being dramatic, dear, Rose would say. Are you sure youre
not trying to draw attention to yourself? Thats ego, Carrie, and
you must never indulge in ego. The nuns tried to teach me that when
I was your age, and I wish I had listened. Just remember, you and I
are just ordinary people.
That had been a lie. Carries mother hadnt had an ordinary
bone in her body. If you looked up not ordinary in the dictionary
youd find a picture of Rose Manning. And she never had to try
to draw attention to herselfit came to her automatically. For
years it was her looks that did it. When she was young, Rose Mannings
beauty was almost unnerving. Carrie closed her eyes and pictured her
mother: the tall, slender body made for fashionalthough by the
time Carrie knew her, Rose was no longer wearing couture the huge,
green almond-shaped eyes, the high, sculpted cheekbones, and the
creamy skin. Roses thick red-gold hair was always piled in a shiny
mass at the back of her head, her mouth was delicate but somehow
still full, and her nose was aquiline perfection. When you put the whole
package together you got a mix of ethereal and elegant that stopped
conversations. And the magic had lasted for decades. When Rose died
she was sixty-four, and until her last year when the cancer finally
took over, she could still silence a room just by entering it.
But Carries mother had always been more than just a breathtakingly
pretty face. She had possessed an internal power her daughter could
never define or understand. Wearing one of her interchangeable skirt-and-blouse
ensemblesshe never spent time on wardrobeand exhausted from
a night spent volunteering at her homeless shelter, Rose could glide
into a board meeting packed with Wall Street sharks and dominate. Carrie
opened her eyes.
Is it pretty out there in Katonah? she asked Howie. She
and Howie were both city people, but after Carrie had canceled the wedding,
hed relocated to the suburbs, saying hed needed to move
on. Carrie couldnt imagine anyone voluntarily not living in Manhattan,
but since he was her friendthank you, God, because she wasnt
quite sure she could handle it if he werentshe tried to
be supportive. I bet its pretty out there, she repeated.
Its hard to tell; its still a little dark outside.
Was it pretty last night before you went to bed?
I guess, Howie said. Theres a big bush on my
front yard that was there when I bought the place, and its starting
to get all these yellow flowers on it. The guy across the street says
its a forsythia.
Im glad youre happy, Howie. And she was. Truly.
Even though it ached a little to think that he could be happy without
her. But that was only naturalright? The real point, the thing
to focus on here, was that he was still her friend, that he had understood
that she backed out of marrying him for his own good, because emotionally
speaking she was a disaster on two feet and she didnt want to
inflict the train wreck that was her life on him. Howie, bless him forever,
had understood the backing-out thing for the act of love that it was.
I mean thatabout me being happy youre happy, Howie,
Thanks. He paused for a second, then chose his words carefully,
Listen . . . sweetheart, why dont you hold off on clearing
out your mothers apartment for a few weeks? Give yourself a break.
Because if I dont do it right now, Ill never be able to.
Im cool. Really.
Of course you are! he said, way too heartily. I know
Thanks. Night, Howie . . . well . . . good morning. She
started to hang up, but his voice stopped her.
Carrie? he said. You did get it right, yesterday.
You got the memorial service right.
Thank you, she said as she put down the phone. But Howie
was wrong. Carries eyes shifted over to the doorway, where the
basket of white roses sat on the floor.
Would you like these? the priest had asked her after the
service was over. What she should have done was to tell him, vehemently,
to toss the basket into the garbage. But the flowers were lovely, a
soft off-white with just a touch of pinkish blush at the heart. In the
days since Rose had died, there had been many speeches given about her.
Her memorial service had been packed with people who had admired
and respected her. But, per her instructions, there had not been one
personal touch, not one moment in which anyone acknowledged that Rose
Manning had been more than an icon, that shed also been a widow,
a daughter, and a mother. No one had thought to say good-bye with something
extravagant and beautifulexcept the clueless sender of the white
Yes, I want them, Carrie had said to the priest, and she
had taken the basket out of his hands and brought the roses home.
I failed you, Mother. Im sorry.
carrie stumbled through the obstacle course that was her bedroom. When
shed finally left her mothers apartment in her late twenties,
shed been determined to create a cozy space for herself, and shed
splurged on several large, cushy pieces of furniture. Unfortunately,
she had not measured the size of the rooms in her small home. The monster
bed ate up almost all of the floor space in her bedroom, so opening
the bottom drawer of the bureau was impossible unless she was squatting
in the closet. For bedding, Carrie had purchased eight white pillows
and a white down-filled comforter. Shed been going for Sensuous
Luxury; her best friend, Zoe, said shed achieved Marshmallow Blob.
In the living room were more puffy oversize chairs, ottomans, and a
sofa. Someone had told Carrie that putting a mirror on the wall above
the sofa would make the room look bigger, and she had dutifully done
so. The bottom of the mirror frame jutted out from the wall, so when
guests sat on the couch they had to slouch or risk losing a piece of
Carrie carefully threaded her way to the bathroom. She looked at herself
in the tiny mirror. She was not the beauty her mother had been, but
that was not something she obsessed about. As Zoe once said, who the
hell was as beautiful as Rose? Even in a time when any woman with enough
cash could buy the nose and boobs of her dreams, Rose had been in a
class by herself. On the other hand, Zoe had continued kindly, Carrie
wasnt exactly a disaster. At five-four, she was cute rather than
regal, but she was endowed with fairly impressive cleavage, and her
legs were truly fine. Her nose might have been a little too long, her
dark brown eyes were probably too deep set, and her curly hairalso
dark brownwas always a mess by three in the afternoon. But her
smile was fabulous. When she unleashed it. Which you dont
do often enough, Zoe had said, wrapping up her assessment. You
cant get away with your moms ice princess act. And it wouldnt
hurt if you used a little makeup.
Carrie searched around in her medicine chest and finally unearthed
some seldom used blush and mascara. She found her lip gloss in her purse,
managed to stall another minute or two with it, then went into her kitchen
and dawdled over her breakfast quotient of sour-cream-and-onion-flavored
chips. But it still wasnt six oclock yet. For some reason
she didnt want to go to her mothers apartment before six
oclock. On the other hand, staying in her own apartment was out
of the question. There was only one person Carrie knewexcept for
poor Howiewhod be awake at this hour. Carrie put on her
coat and headed out the door.
zoe was already up and working when Carrie rang her buzzer. Carrie knew
this because when Zoe answered the door she was wearing her work clothesflannel
pajamas with red roses on them and an apron liberally smeared with chocolateand
her blond hair was bundled up under a net. Since Zoe was six feet tall
and skinny, the look was distinctive. She stood in her doorway peeling
off a pair of surgical gloves and eyeing Carrie with the look of sympathy
and concern that everyone had been giving her for the last year.
Hey, Carrie. Are you
New rule, Carrie broke in hastily. Dont ask
me how I am, okay? Zoe started to speak, then thought better of
it. And were not talking about memorial services, or funerals.
Zoe nodded. Can I ask why youre here?
Okay. Come into the kitchen.
Actually, Zoes entire apartment was a kitchen. Shed stashed
a cot in one corner of it, and there was a closet where she kept her
wardrobe, but the rest of her small studio had been gutted and fitted
out with two industrial-size refrigerators, a restaurant stove, a large
table at which two people could work comfortably, and several huge
storage bins full of sugar and cocoa. Stacked against one wall were
shipping supplies, rolls of gold tissue paper, and cases of hand-painted
candy boxes. Zoe was a candy maker who sold herb-flavored chocolate
truffles to the hippest gourmet groceries and restaurants in Manhattan.
Since five that morning shed been taking baking sheets covered
with little frozen balls of the chocolateand-cream mixture known
as ganache out of the fridge and dipping them into melted bittersweet
chocolatethe best Belgium had to offerbefore dusting them
with cocoa. The ganache had been infused with a variety of flavors such
as lavender and rosewater, and in the case of one clienta
Mexican restauranthot chili peppers.
Carrie knew all of this because for two years she too had stumbled
out of bed at the crack of dawn to dip and dust truffles. That was when
she had been Zoes partner in the businessa business they
had started together and worked on happily, until one day Carrie felt
the walls start to close in. Shed begged Zoe to please understand
that she still loved her but there had to be more meaning to life
than candy. Zoe had argued that they were on the verge of landing their
first big account with a chain of trendy Manhattan grocery stores, which
they had both busted their buns for, and Carrie would be ripping herself
off if she sold out. Carrie couldnt explain why she had to dump
the business which had been her idea in the first place. She just knew
if she had to wrap one more truffle in one more piece of gold tissue
she was going to start throwing pots of chocolate around Zoes
apartment. Shed left the business, and six weeks later, Zoe, as
sole owner, had landed the coveted account. Now Zoe could afford to
hire people to help with the wrapping, although she was still doing
the dipping and the dusting herself. And soon shed be reclaiming
her living space because shed be renting a professional kitchen
As Zoe swirled the first of the truffles in the coating, the hot chocolate
released a whisper of a scent from the frozen ganache. Carrie sniffed
the air. Basil? she asked.
Intent on her candy, Zoe didnt look up. Its still
the most popular flavor, she said. Bean and Brown cant
keep it in stock. She placed the coated truffles on a piece of
parchment paper and prepared to start rolling them in the cocoa.
Hang on, Carrie said. She opened the cabinet under the sink
where the hairnets and gloves were kept, and suited up. Itll
go faster if we work together.
Zoe threw her a funny look, but mercifully she didnt say anything.
They worked side by side in silence, falling into the familiar rhythm
theyd established over so many mornings, until five cookie sheets
covered with finished truffles were back in the fridge. You still
have the feel for it, Zoe said as they stripped off their rubber
gloves. You know how many people Ive hired and fired over
the last four months because they didnt have the touch?
She hesitated, then said, You know . . . if you wanted to,
Carrie ...you could buy back in.
There were a lot of people who would have been pissed about the way
Carrie had split right before their big contract came through. But Zoe
had known Carrie since they were in grammar school and she understood
Carries problem with follow-through. Shed watched Carrie
start and abandon a dog walking service, a vintage clothing storethis
was with another, less understanding partnerand a brief, horrific
career as a personal assistant. Now Zoe eased herself onto one of the
stools that flanked the worktable. Im serious,
she said. Would you like to come back?
For a moment it sounded wonderful. For the last year, most of Carries
time, to say nothing of her available brain space, had been spent caring
for her mother. Roses doctors had admitted early on that there
wasnt anything they could do for her, and faced with that reality,
Carrie had set out to make sure her mothers death was a good
oneeven though she wasnt sure she believed there was such
a thing. Rose had stayed in her own apartment for as long as the medical
professionals would allow it, because that was what she had wanted.
Only her last two weeks were spent in the hospital. The ordeal
had been so absorbing that once it was over, Carrie had found herself
with endless hours she couldnt fill. And shed never felt
so lost in her life. If she went back into partnership with Zoe, shed
have work, and a place to go every day, and ...And after two weeks she
knew shed be begging to get out again.
Something ragged and painful started growing in Carries chest.
The business is big now. It would be too expensive for me to get
back in, she said.
Youd pay what I did when I bought you out.
The ragged something moved up into her throat. Youre being
too nice to me, Carrie mumbled. And she wanted Zoe to please,
please stop. Because she couldnt take nice right now. Nasty she
could handle, but nice was going to make her lose it.
Why the hell would you want to work with me again? she demanded
belligerently. Ive messed up everything Ive ever tried.
I washed out of college; I didnt make it through six months of
But you came up with a great recipe for basil truffles
Ive had God knows how many jobs and Ive quit every
one of them. This candy thing is the third business Ive tried
and dumped. I couldnt even hang in with Howie and hes got
to be the sweetest man in the world. I am a complete and total screwup,
and . . . she stopped herself. And why arent you all
over me right now?
Why would I do that?
Im whining and wallowing. Why arent you busting me
for having a pity party? Thats what girlfriends dowe bust
each other. Why arent you telling me that I made those choices
and I need to take responsibility and grow up, like you always do?
Old rule, Zoe said softly. A girlfriend doesnt
bust a friend whose mother has just died.
So Carrie finally lost it. She cried loudly for a long time. After she
finally finished, Zoe pointed out that was probably the reason why shed
come over. And you had mommy issues even before Rose died,
Not anymore, Carrie said.
Theyre probably worse now that shes gone. You never
got it all cleared up with her, and you need to do that. You know?
Carrie did know. But she didnt want to start sobbing again. Unfortunately
its going to be hard to have a nice long talk.
You need closure, Carrie.
You really should stop Tivo-ing Dr. Phil. And for your information,
Im getting closure. Im going to the apartment today to clean
Alone? Dont do that.
Why does everyone keep saying that? I can handle it. Zoe
looked at her. Im okay. Okay?
After a second, Zoe nodded and pulled another tray of basil truffles
out of the freezer. They dipped and dusted until it was nine oclock
and there was no way Carrie could tell herself that it was too early
to go to Roses apartment.
can i ask one question about the memorial service? Zoe said
as she walked Carrie to the elevator.
Can I stop you? Carrie braced herself for another Dr. Phil
Did you invite your grandmother?
The question was a little worse than Carrie had expected. I couldnt,
she said after a moment. Mother wouldnt have wanted it.
Do you think your grandmother would have come anyway?
I thought I saw someone in the back ...she looked a little like
some of the pictures Ive seen ...from the end of your grandmothers
The way I understand it, if she had shown up we would have known
it. At the very least there would have been an entire brass section.
That sounds a little hostile.
Its just a fact. Everyone says no one could milk an entrance
like Lu Lawson.
Read Chapter 1 of The
Three Miss Margarets.
Read Chapter 1 of Family
Read Chapter 1 of The
Ladies of Garrison Gardens