About the Author

Andromeda Romano-Lax

Books by this Author

Part I
Little Albert

Whip Poor Will Farm, Connecticut

“Why are you doing this?” John asks, coming home to the farm from Manhattan, finding me out of bed, at the corner desk, typing in my nightgown at 8 p.m., the boys already asleep and my dinner, a bowl of chicken soup, ignored at my elbow. Prescription for dysentery: hydrate relentlessly. And I’m trying. But it becomes tiresome, all these bowls of broth and cups of sugar water, and the inevitable visceral responses that become more painful, day and night. The stomach, regardless of what any other organ has to say, does not want nutrition. The stomach and the bowels and all those layers of unstriped, smooth muscle with their associated glands (how John loves to talk of those invisible places and their powerful relationships to our visible physical behaviors) want only to be left alone.
     “Doing what?” I say, tugging out the paper, turning it over, neatening the edges of a growing pile.
     “Working so hard when you’re supposed to be recuperating.”
     I shield the paper with my forearm, like a teenage girl hiding her diary. We have been married close to fifteen years now, we have survived scandal, infidelities, and depressions (his, mine, the nation’s), and mostly I feel we know each other as well as anyone can. And still, every human seems to remain to every other a mystery—despite John’s strenuous disavowal of all things intangible.
     It is the one thing any human can truly own: her private thoughts. But what do you do when you’re married to a man who says “thought,” as we generally refer to it, and the mind, and consciousness, and especially the soul, don’t exist?
     John runs a hand through his hair—now silver but as thick as when we first met. He remains as handsome to me now as when he was forty, and I was—well—half that age. I can smell the city on him. The stale cigarette funk of the train car, but also cologne, kept in his desk drawer, reapplied before leaving the Graybar Building. And the drink—bourbon, invariably—he stopped to have with a fellow ad man or behavior consultant. Even when he—we—worked in the lab with babies, he made it a point not to smell of sour milk. There are opportunities to be missed if you don’t send out the right stimuli.
     “Who’s it for?” he asks finally, gesturing to the overturned pile.
     He means which popular magazine. Cosmopolitan? Parents? John has written for most of them. I’ve had my own luck a couple of times. But this pile of fifty pages I’ve managed to accumulate in a week isn’t meant for any magazine.
     When I don’t answer, he fidgets with his cuff links. A gift from Stanley, when John made VP. And still, he misses the days when he earned a fraction of what he earns now, but commanded the respect of real scientists and scholars, instead of salesmen and radio announcers.
     “I heard you asked Ray to bring down some old Johns Hopkins boxes from the attic,” he says. “I’ve always said I should get rid of all that stuff up there.”
     “Not the lab files, surely.”
     He starts to nod grudgingly, then shakes his head. “What’s important is already published. I can’t see the point in keeping every scrap of paper.”
     “I suppose that’s true.”
      “And no one’s ever going to have a need for my private papers, or yours. Burn it all.”
     “Burn it all,” I repeat, making him smile. Haven’t I heard him say that a hundred times? And he’ll do it someday, I know he will, regardless of my own thoughts about posterity, or my own occasional desires to look back and see what we did, whether we’re remembering things correctly, why our very own publications offer one version here and another slightly different one there, whether there are facts I overlooked in my youthful desire to be his indispensable assistant.
     “When you’re dead, you’re all dead,” he says.
     “No proof to the contrary.”
     He’s relieved by my pretense of agreeability, and yet he can see past it. Perhaps he knows me better than I know myself. John has always maintained that we are unable to observe our own behaviors, which is why others’ behaviors are so much easier to predict and control. Which is always an “out” of sorts, if one chooses to take it. He certainly did.
     “What were you looking for, Rar?”

I’m looking, I suppose, for how it all started: our love, his most important theories, our biggest contributions, our biggest mistakes. And at the same time, I find myself looking away, making excuses, as if I were too immature and impressionable to have known any better.
     The most difficult part, you would think, is realizing that the person you idealized, whom you regarded as infallible, was imperfect all along. Instead, the hardest part is stopping to wonder what was so imperfect or unfinished within oneself as to impede comprehension of the obvious. There wouldn’t be any experts telling us all what to do if we thought for ourselves, if we held our ground and asked the right questions. That’s the most important thing a scientist can do, isn’t it? Ask the right questions?
     It’s tricky for any woman to sort out her feelings, but most of all when her husband is a national expert on feelings, especially the unconditioned ones we are born with, which create the foundation for everything else. John always said there are only three: fear, rage, and love, the latter really only a reaction to erotic stimulation. The first and perhaps most powerful—fear—was the one that obsessed him, and the one we worked on together in the early years, by kindling small newspaper fires in front of babies, by letting our tender subjects touch candle flames, by sending rats scurrying across their laps, and rabbits, monkeys, and dogs jumping and lunging all over the place. (None of which frightened most infants, which was the point.) Only two things seem to stimulate an unconditioned fear response: sudden loud noises, or a sudden loss of stability. Having the rug pulled out from under you, in other words. Which is how I’m feeling now.
     Don’t blame him, I remind myself. He was more honest, even in his errors and duplicities, than any man I have ever known.
     I’m not making sense of it yet.
     There is one remembered image (John doesn’t believe in mental images at all, but I can’t find a better term) that refuses to leave me. It has always been playing on some forbidden film screen of my mind, but it has flashed with a particular insistency during the last two weeks of fevers and gastric distress.

The windowless psychological testing room is warm, as we wait for our camera man to return and to record the footage that will advance—so Dr. Watson hopes—the immature field of psychology. The first thousand feet of film alone costs $450, a considerable expenditure in 1919. Our nine-month-old subject—“Albert B.”—is being remarkably stoic about all the fuss. His round head, bald except for a few flossy, sweat dampened strands, swivels slowly in the direction of the closed door, though his eyes remain unfocused, lids heavy. A thin line of drool runs from his slick, ruby lips to the top of his velvet-smooth chest. As he tires, his chest settles closer to mine, so that I can feel his heat, and his heartbeat, through my blouse.
     Dr. Watson’s face turns toward mine. What do you think?
What I want at that moment is simply to avoid seeming incompetent, to avoid falling out of this swift-moving roadster in which I’ve managed, with great luck, to gain a seat. Drawing on everything I know as a budding scientist, I try to sound merely clinical.
     “He seems . . . healthy.”
     “Yes,” Dr. Watson says, inhaling deeply. He seems relieved. It is one of the few times I have witnessed him betraying any doubt. It is one of the first times he has seemed to need me. Good.
     The little monkey, of the organ grinder’s type, is penned up, outside the door. As is the dog. Somewhere there is a rabbit, too—it shows up on the film, later—but I can’t recall where it’s kept. (I don’t trust myself, in other words. But that has always been part of the problem.)
     In a corner basket, a rat scuffles, and next to it, in a large brown bag, a confined pigeon tries to lift its wings, making the bag shudder and jump. I pull Albert closer, muffling my racing pulse against his soft chest: pride, relief, adult desire, and an infant’s vulnerability all mixed together in that moment which I can feel in my memory as damp heat in a small room thrumming, waiting. Later, he will be in tears, shuddering and terrified. Not from pain—we never hurt them physically, of course. (Does that make it all right? Would I be asking if it did?) For now, our uncomplaining subject releases a bubbling sigh and settles ever deeper, drowsy and trusting, in my arms.
     Was Albert healthy? Was he normal? They are not the only questions— not by a long shot.
     Perhaps none of the questions would even matter, except for what followed: years upon years of consequences for one silly, poorly executed experiment I’d much rather forget, no chance to temper or improve upon it and—no, I am understating things already, I am being a coward, it is bigger than all that—no chance to turn back a tide that washed a great many of us out to sea. If everything had stayed in the lab, it would be different. The lab was only where it started, I realize now.
     One thunderclap of truth.
     And now I am like one of those hundreds of babies we studied: grip loosening, falling with a pure and unconditioned panic, through the air.

Chapter One

But I need to start before I ever knew John, and well before motherhood, if only to prove to myself that I rose to challenges and coped with larger-than-life personalities before. I need to remember that I did have an earlier life, and my own ideas, too.
     Vassar College, 1916.
     The Vassar Brothers Labs.
     Outside: that glorious musty smell of leaves starting to dry and color, shrivel and drop. Scarlet and amber brightening our world of brick and stone, skies fresh and blue overhead. September, that most hopeful month. Some people prefer May—lilies and hyacinths, white gloves and pearls—but I’ve always preferred autumn, the season of rededication, when one experiences that same thrill in the breast that one gets walking into a vast library with its smells of old pages and oiled banisters. All those books still to be read. All those centuries of knowledge. Feeling humbled within the context of all that intelligence— but at the same time, elevated. Made part of something larger.
     Inside the labs: standing at attention in front of a microscope, paired with my dear friend Mary, waiting for our professor to enter the room—Margaret Floy Washburn, the first woman in the entire country to receive a PhD in psychology, from Cornell, four years before I was born. The author of a textbook, The Animal Mind, written just around the time I was first learning to read.
     Mary was also a sophomore, but older than me, because I’d entered Vassar early. We’d missed crossing paths for most of freshman year— each lurkers in our ways, with noses in our books. But then we’d finally noticed each other—I recall the first time I saw her stiff corona of curls bouncing as she strode with an enviable sense of determination through Main—and I’d found someone with whom I could discuss Wilhelm Wundt and John Dewey all the way back to Rousseau and Locke, from whose work on education Mary paraphrased the very first day we met: “We are like chameleons; we take our hue and the color of our moral character, from those who are around us.” Being always a chameleon of sorts and one who took pride in picking the right creature to emulate, I determined that she would be my study and lab partner, whenever possible.
     On this particular morning in September, across the Atlantic, scores of French and German men (no one we knew) were probably off dying at the Battle of the Somme, while we girls rubbed tired eyes and rebraided loose hair, expecting class to begin. Mary, too restless to wait, was fixing an unlabeled slide under the microscope clip.
     “What do you see?”
     “It looks like a blob.” She wrinkled her nose, turning the dials.
     “An amoeba,” I corrected her—though of course, she knew as much, and was only being flip. “I was just reading a paper about the periodic appearance and disappearance of the gastric vacuole . . .”
     “Are you sure we’re in the right class?” she interrupted without looking up from the eyepiece. “Because  I didn’t sign up for zoology. I thought we were here to study the complexities of the human mind.”
     The room, already hushed—girls in drab cardigans and ankle length skirts, whispering in twos and threes—had become uniformly silent, but Mary was too engrossed in her slide to notice. Loudly, she said, “Our teacher may be one of Cavell’s ‘thousand most important men in science,’ but perhaps she’s mixed us up with some other class. How long are we going to have to wait, anyway?”
     From the doorway across the room, through which she had entered on low-heeled, sensible black shoes, Miss Washburn answered. “You don’t have to wait at all. You may be dismissed now, if you’d prefer.”
     A long pause, allowing us to behold her: firm helmet of wavy hair, just starting to silver, with a tiny, darker knot at the nape; deep lines around her mouth formed by years of rigorous concentration. “Name?”
     “Cover. Mary Cover.”
     “And you’re partnered with . . . “”
     I took a half step away from the microscope, chin up. “Rosalie
     “Rayner. Good.” Miss Washburn took her time looking over the registration sheet in her hand. “Rayner, you don’t have an objection to studying animals, do you?”
     “No, Miss Washburn.”
     “Not even amoebas?”
     “No, not at all.”
     “Do you think an amoeba has a mind?”
     The back of my knees softened into jelly. “I’m sorry, Miss Washburn, but I don’t know.”
     Miss Washburn pulled out a high stool and settled herself onto it, legs crossed at the ankle. A delicate chain of swinging black beads shifted against her broad chest and then settled, as we watched, listened, and faintly perspired.
     “Don’t be sorry, Miss Rayner. You don’t know. We don’t precisely know. Not knowing is a perfectly appropriate place to start. Sometimes it’s even the right place to end.”
     Another pause, the tinkling of water in the plumbing, running in another lab over our heads. The distant, purring jet of a Bunsen burner. A faint sniff of some sulfurous chemical. I loved those sounds and smells. Even in my embarrassed concern for Mary, and for myself, I couldn’t be anything but deliriously happy at that moment.
     “Go ahead, everyone,” Miss Washburn said. “Take your seats.”
     We did, and I could feel Mary holding her breath next to me, waiting to discover whether she had been merely warned or actually expelled from the class. But Miss Washburn was not interested in making things clear. Mary’s cheeks held onto their red flush for most of that first hour. Turning the focus knob, her hand shook.
     We would have to wait most of a week until Mary got back a graded lab report to know she hadn’t been banished. But in a way that was slower to reveal itself, she had. For two more years we both progressed well in our studies, each of us optimistic if uncertain about our futures, each of us distinctly skewed toward the sciences. And yet at the beginning of senior year, when Miss Washburn invited a select group of senior students to enroll in her Special Projects in Psychology seminar, Mary wasn’t invited. When Mary, intent on protesting, interrupted Miss Washburn on the way to one of her classes, Miss Washburn explained: “You weren’t satisfied with the lab you took with me before. I don’t imagine you’ll be satisfied with this class either.”
     We were both shocked. Mary was one of the best psychology students at Vassar.
     Mary thought that a private meeting in Washburn’s office might offer a better climate for persuasion, and I offered to tag along, waiting on a plump, tapestry-covered bench in the hall outside faculty offices. From my seat on the bench, I worked at deciphering a German publication of new lectures by Freud—Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse—missing every third or fourth word, and swung my shoes against the floor, softly tapping out the rhythm of a popular tune while I absentmindedly played with the charm bracelet on my left wrist. My mother had given me the bracelet, and Mary had given me my favorite charm, the little magnifying glass, symbolizing my love for science (evidently, no beaker- or brain-shaped charms were commonly available).
     As soon as I saw Mary emerge and walk right past me, I knew things had gone badly.
     “Don’t say it,” she said, intent on moving as quickly as possible away from the source of her humiliation, her pointed chin with its faint cleft just starting to tremble.
     “Oh, Mary,” I said, struggling to catch up. “You’ll be fine.”
     I took her arm so we could walk down the dark hall, past the sconce-lighted portraits and old windows. The wavy leaded glass of each window blurred the view of rust-colored trees outside. “You’re our best and brightest. You’ll be fine.”
     “How will I possibly be fine if I can’t even rise to the top within our own little college? Three years of paying my dues and I’m being excluded.”
“There will be a portrait of you hanging in the labs someday. ‘Mary Cover,’ our next famous psychologist.”
     “I don’t want to be famous. That has nothing to do with it.” Mary hurried our pace. Joined at the elbow, we bobbed out of sync, heels clicking and squeaking against the scuffed wooden floors. “I want to contribute. I want to understand. I’d just like to work with humans—if that’s not so much to ask—instead of worms and rats and color-blind fish.”
     “It was just . . . rotten luck. You rubbed her the wrong way. Calling  her one of Cavell’s ‘most important men,’ and all.”
     Mary snickered. “Your fault, for telling me about that.”
     I was the one who read every journal announcement, every newsletter, every history of the newer “scientific psychology,” from James and Hall to Titchener and Angell.
“Yes, my fault,” I said, feeling the happiness well up inside me, glad that Mary wasn’t feeling demolished at that moment.
     “Self-righteous bat,” Mary said.
     How old was Washburn really? Early forties. She seemed ancient to us both.
     “Cave-dwelling crone.”
     “Half-blind hermaphrodite.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, buoyed by the snicker in Mary’s voice. “We’ll fix it.”
     “I admire your optimism, Rosalie,” Mary said with faux formality, giving my elbow a grateful squeeze. Then she dropped into a huskie whisper, the sound of so many afternoon library conversations, so many sleepy picnics in the shade of ancient campus trees. “But don’t hold your breath.”
     Mary was the type of woman Vassar was intended to produce, the type who wouldn’t just run off and get married but would actually do something. She was needed. Goodness, we were all needed—and more than that, committed to making the world a better place.
     In Europe, the Great War dragged on. Society, government, and even religion seemed to offer few solutions to problems of an incomprehensible scale. And yet, still, my fellow students and I retained our idealism, an unspoken sense that whatever was dismantled or destroyed, something else newer and better would rise up to take its place. Scientists urged us to believe that with the help of new education methods and a commitment to societal improvements, reforming man’s worst habits was more than possible, it was inevitable. Look how much our own suffragette mothers had done to reform the world ahead of us, as they liked to remind us when we showed any sign of forgetting their labors and sacrifices.
     Mary Cover’s mother was more committed than my own. I was glad that my mother didn’t distribute pins and handbills when she came to visit, but of course, we all wanted the same thing: equality of opportunity. And weren’t we practically there already? A few more states to be persuaded, a few more legal details to be pinned down, but the battle had been won. Hadn’t it?
     We were meant to exceed our mothers’ ambitions. We were meant to walk down that cleared path into a new American century of progress and enlightenment. Relying on experimental science, not phrenology or philosophy or voodoo, we would understand what made people tick. We would understand—in addition to how to mix a Manhattan and dance the fox-trot—how to make people healthier, happier, better in character and in conduct from the very start.

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Plum Rains

1 Angelica
Angelica was hurrying toward the crowded crosswalk, determined to get back to her elderly client Sayoko-san before the deliveryman arrived, when the view of buildings and business suits in front of her dissolved.
     The heart of Tokyo at 4:07 p.m., improbably on pause. A sharp whine and then static; a muffled white-noise pulse.
     Three throbbing beats. Then silence.
     Jellied knees.
     Shifting sidewalk.
     Going down.
     Someone else might have thought: terrorism. But Angelica’s mind reeled back only to what she’d known personally, growing up in the rural Philippines: the chaos of nature itself.
     Not again—the first thought of anyone who has lived through tremors, tsunamis and typhoons. Her fingers went to the tiny gold cross at her throat.
     Angelica did not stagger so much as melt. The concrete smacked her cheekbone just as the light seemed to leak out of the world. She took the biggest breath she could, like a diver preparing to go under, filling her lungs with the last clean air she might ever have, while behind closed eyelids, images from her childhood formed: looking up through the rubble to the gray Cebu sky, one arm protecting her head, one hand trapped, the other free, dusty fingers struggling to flex above the ruin. Tabang! Help!
     Papa! Mama!
     But then: veins relaxed. Oxygen flowed. The past burrowed back under its dirty blankets, its broken pipes and dust. The Philippine island of Cebu on that day over thirty years ago was only a memory.
     The light returned, soft and spotty at first, and then too bright. She squinted toward the curb, two meters away, and the street beyond, where whisper-quiet cars eased through the busy intersection.
     Get up. Get up. But she couldn’t. Her head was too heavy. The hiss in her ears was fading, but only slowly. Her leg was abraded from the fall, only a little, but it stung. A moan escaped from her lips, equal parts pain and simple embarrassment.
     Without lifting her face, Angelica could see businessmen’s loafers and women’s low-heeled pumps moving steadily past, pausing, moving again as the light changed. When she rolled to one side to look up, a woman wearing a germ-blocking face mask met her glance with an apologetic bow and then kept going.
     A whisper of wind against thigh warned that her skirt was up, her panties exposed. She’d meant to buy new underwear this spring and never had. Too broke and too busy studying for the next Japanese language proficiency exam. Last night, she had stayed up two extra hours and nodded off with her phone in her hand, kanji quiz app open, unfamiliar characters swimming through her dreams.
     She wasn’t the only one struggling. Ask the other Filipino nurses, the West African physical therapists, the Indonesian caregivers. Ask anyone in her position: trying to learn fast enough to pass the latest JLPT, trying to avoid unsafe jobs and the loan sharks back home, trying to avoid being sent back at the wrong time, always keeping the door open to returning at the right time.
     But still, it could have been worse. Instead of dull gray hip huggers with a worn-out elastic band, she could have been wearing the weirdly juvenile underwear her sometimes-lover Junichi had bought her. A forty-three-year-old Filipina should not be caught wearing a Hello Kitty thong.
     The blood was returning to Angelica’s head now. She needed only to lie on her back and let the spinning stop. She had been hurrying and worrying about something—and not only kanji.
     The deliveryman. That was why she had been rushing, why she had ignored the mounting headache, the prickly flush behind her knees, the feeling of unmanaged anxiety—an army of tiny ants creeping across her scalp. Her body had been trying to tell her: Eat something. Breathe. Put your head between your knees.
     But there’d been no time. Minutes earlier, while waiting in a noodle shop for Junichi (late as usual; probably not even coming) she’d received a text from the agency relief nurse, Phuong Pham: Leaving early. Sayoko is fine. I have emergency.
     When Angelica had texted back, You can’t. Wait until I get there, she’d received no further reply. She had set off toward the Itou family’s luxury condo at a worried trot, throat constricting, scalp crawling.
     At any moment, the deliveryman would be ringing the buzzer, having been assured that someone reliable would be there to greet him. Sayoko would be confused. Unless the old woman had thrown a tea towel over every eldercam eyespot in the house, Angelica’s phone would automatically fill up with images of an agitated lady, rolling back and forth toward the door in her outmoded wheelchair. If Sayoko’s blood pressure plunged or her heartrate increased past a certain point, programmed alarms would sound on her son’s phone, even as he sat in an important business meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Ryo Itou might think it was a serious emergency. Worst of all, Sayoko herself would be afraid and alone. Angelica knew how time could change in that kind of situation: how anxiety opened the door to a lonely eternity.
     Angelica closed her eyes.
     Then opened them, a moment later, to see a white, concave disk as wide as her shoulders, hovering just above her face.
      “I’m fine,” she said as she tried to turn away from the public health device. “I have to get up.”
      “Please, remain still,” the machine responded.
     The disk’s white wings angled down toward either side of her head, granting some small measure of privacy, a comfort more for bystanders who could hurry by with less guilt, even if their questions remained. Had they been standing close to her at the last crosswalk? Would there be some new outbreak announced on the evening news?
      “There’s nothing wrong with me,” she said.
     A cuff tightened automatically around Angelica’s arm. A black weight, no larger than a change purse but hard and heavy, vibrated threateningly against her sternum. Thrusting her chin down into her neck, she just managed to see the unit’s flickering red light, but only until the next instrument moved into place.
      “I have low blood pressure,” she said, before a rubber ring lowered around her mouth and sealed tight.
     The kenkobot was just doing its job. There was no way out—only through. For one claustrophobia-inducing minute as she waited for the test to finish, Angelica tried to distract herself—tried, even, to see the value in the situation.
     This would be a story to tell her brother, Datu. She would confess about the underwear. Yes, all the businessmen were staring. Whether or not it was true, just to make him laugh. So he could moan and answer: Nena, don’t tell me that. Take care of yourself. Buy new underwear at least. You’ve always been such a miser. As if being a big spender was any better. Even when they were kids, he’d been unable to hold onto what the charity sisters gave him long enough to pay their school fees. Every coin went to candy and chips, later to beer, and then they’d sell gasoline from a plastic soda bottle to passing tricycle drivers who could only afford a splash at a time. Stand at the corner, wave them down, waggle your hips, he’d say, sitting on the dusty shoulder, in the shade. Or at least waggle the place you’ll someday have hips. He was four years older, and cool. She had always admired his fearlessness, his reckless dreams—I’ll be the first off the island, and I’ll be the first back home, rich and ready for the good life—and even when their other three siblings had been alive, they were the closest.
     Datu. She would text him this weekend and insist: not just audio. Video. Even if it couldn’t be in real time. I want to see you.
     Finally, the kenkobot finished its task and the rubber ring around her mouth lifted away, leaving its chemical smell and a feeling of pressure under her nose and over her chin. She’d have an indent above her lip for a few hours, a rash on her chin later. Small price to pay for state-of-the-art diagnostics, or so the kenkobot advocates would say.
      “I had sake on an empty stomach,” she told the unit. That part was true. At the noodle shop, she’d tossed back a single tiny cup before dashing out the door. “I’m a nurse. I know I’m fine.”
     She wasn’t quite sure. But that was her business. Later there would be time to consider the symptoms, allowing some possibilities to flit across her mind and deliberately blocking others that were too frightening or simply unlikely. Nurses did that, too. Easier to treat than to be treated.
     One thing she knew for sure: she wasn’t as resilient as she used to be. Not so long ago she’d been able to juggle more uncertainties—Junichi not showing up for a date; Datu possibly trying to hide that he was sick; a borderline exam score—with only a passing sense of worry or irritation. But now, every stressor triggered something physical: Breathlessness. Dizziness. Psoriasis at her hairline or a rash across her chest. Her body was shouting what her mind didn’t care to admit: it was too much, sometimes. She had a better situation than most, but things weren’t getting easier.
     The kenkobot recited her name, her age, her nationality, her physical address. Even the expiry date on her visa. The machine’s volume seemed to increase with that last detail.
     Was it all correct?
     Yes. Of course.
     Did she want to add additional contact information? No thank you. She wanted only to leave.
     A list of medications was reviewed, patient history rapidly taken.
     Symptoms, permission to access recent food purchase data, confirmation that she had not eaten any tainted food products purchased by others.
     Still menstruating? No—sorry, sometimes. Irregularly.
     Fertility therapy? No.
     Sexually active? Is that really necessary?
     Sexually active? Yes.
     Travel outside Japan? Not since moving here.
     When, precisely? Five years ago.
     Sixty months? Let me see . . . fifty-eight.
     Interactions with other foreigners? Only other healthcare professionals. Documented, healthy people.
     From? Vietnam, China, West Africa . . .
     And from the Philippines? The machine already had her travel records and general personal data, of course.
     When she took too long, it asked again: Interactions with citizens of the Philippines?
     She thought of her nursing friend Yanna, who had come with her, from Cebu, and then, despite threats from the moneylenders she still owed back home, had unwisely decided to return. You can go home if you’re paid up. You can risk a trip if you’ve got an envelope full of cash, ready to negotiate the moment they hear you’re back. What you can’t do is return home more broke than when you left, having flouted every payment date you were given. Yanna had known that. And still.
     Angelica answered the kenkobot, “Not many.”
      “Please,” the kenkobot said. Always polite. A flexible perimeter rose around her with a gentle hiss as air inflated the soft, low barrier, each corner marked with a winking blue caution light. “Relax and remain still. With permission granted, final diagnostics will take only three minutes.”
     A stranger had accidentally kicked her right shoe and now it rested several meters away on the street beside the curb. Good nursing shoes in her extra-small size were hard to find. Any small shoes were hard to find. In Cebu and Manila, she had often searched through children’s departments, but here in Japan, where the infertility epidemic was severe, children’s shops were becoming rare, and the clothes they carried were infantile, part of a national obsession with things cute and riotously colorful. Each passing tire missed the simple white shoe only by centimeters.
     She was asked a list of questions, seeking permission for each further invasion. A needle pinched the soft skin of her inner elbow. A chilled puff of air blew against her eye. A swab pushed stealthily into her nose and then retreated.
      “I’m a little cold,” she said, trying to reach a hand down to adjust her skirt and cover her thigh.
      “Ninety-eight point eight degrees. Normal. Estimated time for transportation—”
      “Not necessary,” she said. But it, not she, would make that determination. With any luck, the nearest clinics were overbooked and the directive would be to release her, barring any indication of communicable disease.
      “Please wait,” the kenkobot said.
     All this technology and she’d willingly trade it for a rolled-up towel placed under her neck and a simple blanket draped over her legs. All this so-called progress and what she needed was a kind word in a human voice.
      “Please wait,” the kenkobot repeated.
     Technology alone, no matter how efficient, however seemingly foolproof, could never suffice. Any good nurse knew that. And with that thought, Angelica experienced the first sense of calm she’d felt all day, the certainty providing a visceral comfort: she knew things. She was a professional. She was needed, in this day and age more than ever, when so much of life was automated and impersonal. She had value. No one could take that from her—least of all a machine.

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The Detour

Piedmont, Northern Italy

The russet bloom on the vineyards ahead, the yellowleafed oaks, a hint of truffles fattening in moldy obscurity underfoot—none of it is truly familiar, because I first came here not only in a different season, but as a different man. Yet the smell of autumn anywhere is for me the smell of memory, and I am preoccupied as my feet guide me through the woods and fields up toward the old Piedmontese villa.
   When a salt-and-pepper blur charges out of the grass and stops just in front of me, growling, I stand my ground. I resist retreating; I reach out a hand. Foam drips from the dog’s black gums onto the damp earth. I am in no hurry, and neither is she. The sprint seems to have cost the dog most of her remaining energy, though. Her thin ribs heave as she alternately whines and threatens.
   The teeth retract and the quivering nose comes forward. Her speckled, shorthaired sides move in and out like a bellows.
   “Old hound, is it really you?”
   She sniffs my hand, backs away for one more growl, then surrenders her affection. These have been ten long and lonely years. Take a scratch where you can get it.
   She guides me, as if I have forgotten, up to the old barn.
Through a dirty window, I glimpse the iron bed frame, one dresser. But other items I’d once known by look and touch—the red lantern, the phonograph, any trace of woman’s clothing—are gone. A dark stain mars the stone floor, but perhaps it’s only moisture or fungus. In the corner, wedged into the frame of an oval mirror, is an old postcard of the Colosseum. I know what is written on the other side. I wrote it.
   I consider walking up the hill to the villa’s family burial ground to check for any recent additions—but no, even after coming this far, I’m still not ready for that. Tartufa trots ahead toward the side of the main house, toward the figure seated alone at the wooden table, a spiral of blue smoke rising from his thick-knuckled fingers. The door from the terrace into the kitchen hangs crookedly. Everything about the house seems
more worn, sloping like the old man’s shoulders.
   He calls out first. “Buongiorno.”
   “Adamo?” I try.
   Now he sits up straighter, squinting as I approach.
   “Zio Adamo?”
   It takes a minute for him to recognize me.
   “The Bavarian? Grüss Gott,” he cackles, using the only German phrase he knows. But still, he doesn’t seem to believe.
   “You’re coming from the North?”
   “No, from Rome. I took the train most of the way. Then a
ride, a bit of a walk . . .”    
   “You are living there?”
   “Just visiting museums.”
   “Repatriation of antiquities.” And I explain what that means as he nods slowly, taking in the names of new agencies, international agreements, the effort of my own homeland to undo what was done—a history already begging to be forgotten. Wonder of wonders, the old man replies, how the world changes and stays the same. Except for some things.
   After he pours me a glass of cloudy plum liqueur, I take a seat at the old oak table and ask him about his sister-in-law, Mamma Digiloramo. He gestures with his chin up to the hill.
   “And Gianni and his wife?”
   They occupy the main house with their four children, Zio Adamo explains. He lives with them, and though this villa has been in the Digiloramo family for three generations and Gianni is not even a blood relative, it doesn’t matter—Adamo himself feels like a houseguest now. Fine, it’s less of a headache for him. Fewer worries about the crops, which haven’t done so well in the last few years. Surely I noticed the shriveled black grapes on the west side of the road, approaching
the main house.
   When I empty my glass of liqueur and decline a second, he says, “You haven’t asked about everyone,” with an emphasis on the last word.
   When I don’t reply he volunteers, “She moved to town. During the war, everything here went to pieces. Now she works in a café. She lives with her son.”
   Stunned, I repeat his last word back to him: “Figlio?”
   I must appear tongue-tied because he laughs, clapping me on the shoulder. “That’s about how her mother looked way back when, discovering the happy news. Not a virgin birth, but close. We celebrated without any questions.”
   “È quasi un miracolo.”
   “Your Italian is much better than last time.”
   “I’ve been practicing.”
   “No particular reason. It’s a beautiful language.”
   He runs his tongue over his teeth, unconvinced. “If you wait, I can find someone to take you into town—if that is where you are going.”
   “Grazie. I’ll walk.”
   “It will take you two, three hours.”
   “Va bene. I could use the time with my thoughts.”
   “I don’t recommend it.”
   “No, remembering.” He doesn’t smile.
   Gesturing for me to wait, he pushes to his feet slowly, reaching for the cane leaning against the table’s corner, then escorts me back down the path, past the barn, to the track that leads to the dusty road lined with hazelnut bushes. Something is bothering him. At the end, he straightens his back, lifts his whiskered chin, and brushes his dry lips against my cheek. “That’s as far as I go, or I won’t make it back.”
   The dog has followed us, grateful for her master’s unhurried pace. I reach down to pat her side and mumble a few final endearments, whispering her name a final time.
   “That isn’t the original Tartufa, you know,” Zio Adamo says, looking a little embarrassed to be correcting me. “It’s her pup—the last one.”
   “This, a pup?”
   “A very old one.”
   “They look the same,” I say, squatting down to scratch her ears again, patting her ribs, puzzling over the pattern of her coat.
   He leans on the cane, face lowered to mine. “Certainly, you remember what happened to Tartufa . . .”
   “Yes,” I say, standing up to brush my hands on my trousers.
“That’s right.”
   “It makes me feel better that I’m not the only one who makes mistakes.” Zio Adamo smiles. “I’m sorry for not recognizing you right away. Even after you sat down, it was hard to believe.”
   “No need for apologies—”
   “It’s not just your Italian.”
   “I couldn’t put two words together back then.”
   “No,” he insists, with sudden vehemence, enough to make me wish I’d accepted that second, courage-bolstering drink.
“You were different in other ways.”
   “Weren’t we all?”
   But of course, I know what he means.
   There is a temptation to say that the long-ago past is a fog, that it is nearly impossible to recall the mindset of an earlier time. But that is a lie. The truth is that more recent events, such as the days leading up to the surrender, are a fog. In and out of the army, where they sent me again once it was clear I had made a mess of things on what might have been a relatively simple professional assignment—all that is a fog. I passed through it in a half-numb state, registering few sensations beyond the taste of watery potato soup and the unsticking of dirty, wet wool from frozen, bleeding feet.
   A year or two, or eight, can elapse that way, mercifully, while a fundamental childhood incident or an essential, youthful journey can remain polished by obsessive and dutiful reminiscence. It can remain like marble in one’s mind: five days in Italy—harder, brighter, more fixed and more true than anything that has happened before or since.
   Except I’d forgotten about the dog, and only now that I am reminded can I hear in my mind the stranger’s fatal Luger shot and recall how we all stopped, stunned, watching—and clearly forgetting, wanting to forget—even as the sound rang
out across the farm, the first shot of several that morning, my last morning in Italy, ten years ago. Of course.
   And if I have confused that one detail, have I confused anything else? Am I remembering my final moments at the villa inaccurately—not only the bitter, but also the sweet? Am I imagining a tenderness and a sense of possibility that never were?
   But that’s too much to ask without time to absorb and reflect on what Adamo has said, what the quiet of this villa and the padlock on the barn suggest. I cannot truly remember her, cannot truly remember then, until I can remember the person I was that long decade ago—a difficult portrait of an even more difficult time.
   On this afternoon, with acorns crunching beneath my feet, I have several hours and nothing else to do as I walk, inhaling the soft musk of the season, realizing with each footfall that I have little to lose given how much has been forfeited already. Is there also something, perhaps, to gain? No telling. Only the brittle sound of cracking shells, the memory of a different breeze on my face, the recollection of a less pleasant stroll, and all that followed.

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