- Air Space
As soon as Mooney saw her he knew something was wrong. She stood at the top of her porch steps in a sleeveless white nightgown, pale calves and bare feet showing below the hem, slim arms waving, orange hair vivid in the morning light. He paused at the bottom of the wooden steps, and Charles and Amelia instantly hairpinned their lean flexible bodies and pointed their snouts back at him, two sets of moist dark eyes hungry for reassurance.
"You don't know, do you?" she said.
"I can't watch this alone. Can you come inside?"
Before Mooney could answer, his neighbor turned around and walked into her house, the nightgown billowing around her legs as his startled mind groped for her name—a name he ought to remember. He had never entered this house before, but for the dogs' sake he acted like it was natural, talking them up the porch stairs and over the threshold.
She stood across the living room, intent on the television he could hear but not yet see. Directly behind her, strong morning sunlight poured in through the window on the east wall of the room. The fabric of the white nightgown was sheer, summer weight. Before he crossed the room to join her, Mooney accepted the vision that the sun offered him, a clear outline of the woman's profile as if drawn in preparation by an artist who would sculpt her. The form was streamlined, proportional, the small breast above counterbalanced by the slim haunch and modest buttock below. The hair that topped this slender body was spectacular, a persimmon-colored tangle that massed densely upward from the nape of the neck and then roiled above the cranium in an exaltation of sunlit coils. The sun showed Mooney another bank of orange coils flaring forward beneath the gentle rise of her stomach.
On the television screen the Twin Towers were burning. Mooney and his neighbor—he knew her name; he had known it—stood side by side watching the spectacle, listening to the newscasters' voices, the dogs whining quietly as they leaned against Mooney's legs. [End Page 158]
An explosion curdled the air outside. The dogs squealed and she took hold of Mooney's arm. "What was that?"
They walked together out onto her porch. The street was quiet; the whole neighborhood was quiet. The September sky was blue, the air crisp and warm and still.
"Maman," she said, and they headed back inside.
The phone to her ear, she spoke in rapid French as he stood next to her in front of the television. She stopped talking when the network cut away from the burning towers to report that the Pentagon had been struck.
"That boom," she said to Mooney, and he nodded.
She spoke for a few more minutes and then set down the phone. Newscasters speculated about how many planes had been hijacked, who was flying them, where they would strike next. The dogs lay on the floor, beginning to settle in, but they both jumped to their feet the moment the sirens began to moan. Charles yapped while Amelia tossed her pointed snout skyward and howled. Mooney bent down and stroked Amelia's narrow back.
"What's that?" she said, walking over to the open window.
"What?" Mooney said.
"I smell something."
They went out onto the porch and Mooney smelled it too, something burning, not wood. Something acrid, toxic. Something malignant. She pointed above the roof of the house opposite, and through a gap between the trees he could see the pall of black smoke.
"The Pentagon," he said.
They closed the door and the windows and went back to the television. Sirens wailed from every side of the neighborhood and the dogs answered them. The air in the house grew warm.
"My god," she said, and he realized he'd gotten distracted, was looking away from the television at the pictures on the woman's walls as he rifled through his cluttered mind searching for her name. Kate? Kathy?
He looked back at the television in time to see one of the smoking towers crumble and fall...