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Jesus commands us to visit the sick and pray for them when they die. Judith seems to remember hearing this from someone, a voice from the past, maybe even someone from her Indiana youth. Raised by atheists and never going to church, she would have had to be told. Or maybe she picked it up as she wobbled toward a C in the required Sacred Studies course at her Seven Sisters college, although she is unable to recall a specific text. Still, whoever or whatever the source, she clearly remembers that Jesus, in all his various versions, does not just make a suggestion. He firmly commands, and that command is what has floated up into her brain today. It’s been two weeks, and so, instead of going over to Brookings for lunch with everybody else on the magazine staff, she gets her car out of the lot and drives to Georgetown to visit Alicia. [End Page 99]
She finds an unexpected parking space on N Street and walks across the campus to the university hospital. Going up in the elevator, she surreptitiously examines her fellow passenger, a handsome black kid, somber, closed in on himself. He too is going up to visit someone, and for no good reason she remembers an elevator ride with Alicia forty years ago, shooting up through a fancy building somewhere in New York City to a party given by a friend of Alicia’s who’d dropped out freshman year to be a full-time debutante but was nevertheless doing well, with a rich husband and a great apartment. There they were, rising up to some rich girl’s party, and suddenly the elevator door opened, and there was Huntington Hartford, who immediately commented on how beautiful Alicia was. One minute they were alone in the elevator, and the next, there was Huntington Hartford proclaiming Alicia’s beauty. And she was beautiful, although of course she never thought of herself in those terms: tall, thin, flat-chested, acne-scarred but beautiful nevertheless, and Huntington Hartford had seen it the very moment he entered the elevator. He got out a floor or two later, a short, baffling trip, and as soon as the door closed, Judith whispered to Alicia, “That was Huntington Hartford!” because she knew Alicia wouldn’t know. “And he was trying to pick you up!” No response, so she proposed a slightly different explanation: “He’s a famous art collector. He has an eye for beauty. He knows what he’s talking about.” She knew Alicia pretty well by then, and Alicia’s reply was quite predictably something like “Ugh.” And that’s Alicia, thinks Judith, and gets off on the third floor of the hospital, a [End Page 100] floor not marked for anything in particular, not surgery, not cancer, an unlabeled place where they put you while they wait for you to die.
Alicia seems to be asleep, so Judith sits down, and as she waits she remembers how they met at their first job after college, a women’s magazine in New York City. It was Alicia who taught Judith how to deal with an artichoke, a vegetable unknown to Indiana, or at least to Judith, and, when she went home with Alicia for Thanksgiving, how to handle a soft-boiled egg in an egg cup. She remembers how formidable Alicia’s mother was, the daughter of a bishop, the inhabitant of a world filled with artichokes and egg cups and arcane rules for coping with them, a world Alicia was eager to escape, although at the time just how she would do that was beyond her imagining. Still, it was to be expected that her plans for escape did not include flirting with Huntington Hartford in an elevator, while Judith, eager to belong to a sophisticated Eastern world the precise details of which were beyond her imagining, would have responded in a second had she been the focus of Huntington Hartford’s admiration. Who was Huntington Hartford anyway? Forty years ago she’d known that. Now she seems to remember that he was a grocery-store heir. A...