In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Marla
  • Jerome Charyn (bio)


There was little Marla could do. Irene would have wilted had she remained in that rest home near the Bronx botanical garden. Marla’s dad, Mortimer Silk, separated the two sisters when Marla was five and Irene four, whisked Irene into the Bronx like some phantom little girl, and never once talked of her again. And Irene remained a phantom for years and years. Marla didn’t find her until Mortimer died and she invaded his vault. Irene’s history had been hidden in a dented tin box. Marla raged after she rediscovered Irene.

Her mother compounded the mystery, pretended there was no such creature as Irene Silk. But Lollie lived in her own private landscape, where nothing untoward had the right to exist. Lollie blinked when Marla brought Little Sister home from Rhineland Manor. Then she devoured Irene with a murderous glare.

“Who is this stranger?”

“Mother,” Marla said, “be quiet.”

She could handle Lollie—bribe her if she had to—but she was less certain about her own teenage daughters, Candice and Lollie Jr. Could they cope with a stranger in the house, an aunt they had never even heard of? There was plenty of space for Irene. The Silks lived in fifteen rooms on Central Park West. Marla had just moved to a larger law firm—Bregman, Bourne, soon to be Bregman, Bourne & Silk.

But Marla needn’t have worried about Candice and Lollie Jr.—they adopted Irene like some pet snake.

“Awesome,” they said. “We have a new aunt.”

Irene wasn’t retarded; she’d just been out of commission for a while. She was quite funny and talked of her own strange adventures in the Bronx. Candice and Lollie Jr. bragged about Irene, brought her up to their school in Riverdale, had her pose half-naked in their art classes. Marla knew the girls would tire of Irene, but she could only deal with one crisis at a time. She worked sixteen-hour days at [End Page 562] Bregman, Bourne & Silk. Prosecutors in all five boroughs were reluctant to meet Marla in open court—she massacred their most reliable witnesses. Whatever case they built, Marla tore it down. She had the finest investigators in the business, a pair of shadow men who had kept her father out of jail. They had a military background, and must have graduated from some supersecret agency.

When the shadow men appeared at Bregman, Bourne & Silk, the senior partners shut their doors. There was nothing salacious or shifty about these shadow men. They wore identical suits from Brooks Brothers—charcoal gray with a hint of green—and identical ties. Their shoes were made of Spanish leather. They might have been cousins or brothers. Their faces had a slight bluish cast, as if they were once fond of wearing war paint. No one knew where they’d come from. They were called Marla’s Indians.

Other law firms had tried to hire them away. But these shadow men—Hector and Paul—were loyal to Marla. They volunteered to squire Irene around—took her ice-skating at Chelsea Piers, visited Ellis Island and the sculpted debris of the World Trade Center, and went to Brighton Beach, where Irene wandered on the boardwalk and performed a few tricks with a little gang of Russian acrobats.

She dressed like a cowgirl in leather chaps. And she slipped into some kind of life on Central Park West. Marla gave her a generous allowance, like she did with Candice and Lollie Jr. And Marla held on to one of her father’s last rituals, a Sunday brunch at home. Her daughters had opted out of that ritual—they wouldn’t dream of spending Sunday mornings with their own mother and Grandma Lollie. But at least Lollie didn’t hide in her room. She played the martyr and sat with Irene.

Lollie would eat in silence for ten minutes; Irene had impeccable manners; she never licked her fingers the way Lollie did. It was always Irene who broke the ice. She would talk about the alcoholic movie stars she had met at Rhineland Manor—Marisa Endicott, Gracie Chance . . . Marla had never heard...