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[End Page 78]
Years later, Ann saw one of the daughters. She ended up seated beside her on a flight from New York to Chicago, the odds who knows how many millions to one.
As strangers will in transit, they began talking. Ann learned that the woman taught high school English and was just now trying her hand at playwriting, that she had never married but had lived with someone off and on for years. After a while, exchanging names seemed beside the point. Ann wondered why this woman seemed familiar, but now that she was seventy-seven, almost everyone she met reminded her of someone she used to know. Still, there was something about her: an expression that was both discerning and compassionate, [End Page 79] those pale eyes of no discernible color, those graying curls poised to spring from their clip. When the flight attendant came by with honey peanuts, Ann's seatmate slipped her reading glasses onto the tip of her nose and peered at the list of ingredients on the package. Even this gesture echoed that of someone Ann had known years before.
"I think I won't," she said and handed the peanuts back to the slightly flustered stewardess.
"By the way, I'm Bianca Sunderlund," the woman said, an afterthought as the plane angled toward its descent.
Sunderlund. With that name, everything came back in a rush: a lobby in an apartment building, once elegant but fallen into disrepair; a dark painting shot through with streaks of color; the vertigo Ann had felt at twenty-two, living alone for the first time in her life.
Before she quite knew what she was doing, Ann grasped her seatmate's forearm. "Was your mother Edith Sunderlund? Was your father Hugh Sunderlund, the painter?"
Bianca's eyes widened, but her long career in the public schools had left her practiced at hiding any shock she might have felt. "Hugh Sunderlund, the painter." She chortled. "My father spent his whole life waiting for somebody to say that."
The Sunderlunds had lived in the apartment next door. Bianca and her sister had become in Ann's memory a tumble of curls and wild races down badly lit hallways. It was their mother, Edith, who shone most brightly in Ann's consciousness back then, and, later, their father, Hugh.
"I was your neighbor on Columbus Avenue," Ann exclaimed. "Your mother and I were friends. When I met your parents, I'd never met anyone like them. I always thought of them as the first original bohemians."
"My parents? That's rich."
"I remember you and your sister very well," Ann pressed on, a gambit to keep the conversation afloat. A skeptical voice bubbled up and queried: you and Edith? Friends? Yes, Ann thought. We were.
She felt Bianca looking at her, taking measure of her thin white hair, held back by two barrettes, her no-iron pantsuit and—her one vanity—her carefully tended hands. Ann knew she looked every inch the faded Connecticut matron; though she had not been born to that life, it had become hers. Bianca had been only ten or eleven when Ann was already a young woman living on her own, but her shrewd gaze cut through the decades. Ann felt anxious, culpable. [End Page 80]
There was no reason to feel that way. Nothing had happened. It was all so long ago.
"Hmm," Bianca said. "I don't remember you at all."
* * *
It is such a familiar story it is almost a cliché: a girl comes to the city in the 1930s or '40s or '50s with two suitcases and half-formed artistic or vocational or intellectual intentions. There were thousands upon thousands of such girls then, eating lunch at a corner coffee shop, passing through turnstiles in the subway, stretching their typist's or bank teller's salary to afford leather gloves or tickets to the opera, but each girl believed she was unique. Each believed she had embarked on a journey that was nothing short of revolutionary. At the time, Ann believed it about herself...