1. Dana Dana
The tapping at the door is so faint and tentative it’s easy to pretend it’s not happening. The words that follow are whispered just as softly, but too audibly to ignore. Mrs. Dana, good morning. It’s after seven o’clock. The car is downstairs. Hello?
Brisk footfalls pad away. Dana has been dressed and ready to leave for more than an hour but is not yet prepared to face Marcella who begins flipping on light switches and emptying the dishwasher every morning at six-thirty. Marcella is an excellent cook and keeps the house in order, but it galls Dana how patronizing she can be, often speaking to her like she imagines someone addressing an imbecile—crossed arms, tilted head, exaggerated care—with words that to a stranger might sound respectful, even kind, but Dana hears disdain behind every syllable.
It’s time, Mrs. Dana, Marcella singsongs from behind the door, as if coaxing a child to eat vegetables. Time to go.
Another voice, higher-pitched and less sure, follows. Yes, hello? Miss Goss, are you awake? Marcella’s right. It is time.
Cristina. Marcella has brought her as back-up, Dana thinks, eyeing the door as a chess player anticipates her opponent’s next move.
The driver called to say he’s parked outside. It’s Philip. The one you like… not one of the old ones.
Cristina is less annoying, but she can be manipulative, too, when Marcella puts enough pressure on her. She’s younger than Marcella, who’s in her early sixties, though to Dana hardly looks fifty. The olive skin, she thinks. And the extra weight. Dana remembers something her grandmother told her when she was in high school: When you get older you choose your fanny or your face—one or the other, but never both Just look at your Aunt Lee, she looks young and adorable, for her age, but she absolutely can’t wear clothes. She looks like an Irish nanny with good jewelry.
Looking in the mirror across the room from where she sits on the bed, Dana reports joylessly, Grandmother, today I choose my fanny. She runs her hands across her flat stomach to remind herself why she has allowed her face to thin the way it has. She loved her Aunt Lee when she was alive, but agreed with her grandmother: size two and scary was better than size ten and adorable.
Good morning. Hello? Are you awake?
Cristina again. What Dana appreciates most about Cristina is that she doesn’t exude disapproval the way Marcella does; does not presume to know what is best, nor register impatience when she refuses to finish the meals Marcella has prepared, or when she does not respond right away when called to wake up. Unlike Marcella, who lives in Washington Heights with her husband, daughter and granddaughter, Cristina has no children, no husband, and lives in a room behind the gym in the basement of Dana’s townhouse. She is nearby, and more useful, though lately has frequently been called away to tend to her mother’s ill health.
Cristina’s mother was one of the maids in the apartment Dana grew up in on the Upper East Side. Her name was Ada and she’d come with her parents from Florida, and Mexico before that, to work for Dana’s family when she was a girl. Ada had already dropped out of high school by then, but her younger sister, Lupita, was only nine, one year younger than Dana. Their mother, Maria, had been in charge of everything inside the apartment in the city as well as at Edgeweather, the estate in Connecticut that had been in her father’s family since the Civil War. Maria’s husband, Joe, took care of the house and grounds, and lived there year-round with Lupita, while Maria and Ada stayed in the city during the week and came up to Edgeweather with Dana’s family most weekends.
Dana can still remember how ecstatic her mother was when the arrangement had been made to have the Lopez family come from Florida to work for them. She’d overheard her parents discussing it and her father finally agreeing to some kind of legal responsibility having to do with green cards that her mother had been pressing him to commit to. There hadn’t been a full-time staff at Edgeweather since the Deckers, a couple who’d taken care of the place for many years, had to leave because they’d gotten too old. Dana’s mother was also having a bad run with housekeepers and maids in the city at the time and the only person she trusted was Maria Lopez, the part-time maid in their house in Palm Beach. For a while it seemed that Dana’s mother’s entire well-being hinged on whether Dana’s father could manage to deliver Maria and her family to New York. Once he had, Dana remembers hearing him tell a colleague who’d come to their apartment for drinks that not since the days when staff was shipped from Africa had anyone gone to the lengths he’d had to go to in order to employ the Mexican family his wife had become fixated on.
Miss Goss, Cristina pleads from behind the door. You said to make sure you were out the door by seven and it’s already seven-fifteen.
Cristina is on her own now. Smart, Dana thinks with a rival’s respect, imagining Marcella ten steps down the hall, motioning with her fist for Cristina to knock again.
I’m so sorry, she says, beginning to sound defeated, but…
Fine, Dana exhales, shrugging her shoulders like a teenager, as if leaving the apartment on time wasn’t precisely what she’d insisted on the night before. Groaning, she pulls an old briefcase from her bed to her lap. It was a gift her father had given her the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at Bryn Mawr, the summer he’d arranged for her to work at the bank with him. The case is the darkest brown, nearly black, made by the same company in England that made her father’s. The brass hardware was now dulled, but in gold her embossed initials, D.I.G., marched crisp and clear and still embarrassing beneath the handle. Dana Isabel Goss. The case was ridiculous. It always had been. Boxy and manly and expensive, and save for her father’s far more preferable initials, G.R.G., an exact copy of the one he carried most days of his life. Dana had held hers only a few times.
As her mother had predicted, Dana didn’t last long at the bank. After two and a half days on the job she withdrew three hundred dollars in cash from the trust her grandmother created, something her nineteenth birthday in March had finally allowed, walked out onto Park Avenue, and with briefcase in hand, hailed a taxi. She remembers feeling simultaneously rebellious and professional, a soon-to-be-fugitive in a tasteful blue blazer and skirt, clothing her mother had insisted on. Wells, Connecticut, she commanded after closing the taxi door, sounding as much like her father as she could. When the driver began to say, Miss, I don’t know… she clicked open the briefcase, pulled out a handful of cash and fanned it in front of her so that he was sure to see it in the rearview mirror. This was something she was sure her father would never, ever, do. Okay, okay, just tell me how to get there, the driver said. Already mortified by her own theatrics, she slumped back in the seat and tried her best to explain how to drive from the city to Litchfield County.
The day was July 3, 1969, a Thursday, one of the only dates Dana remembers. Not because she’d left the bank that morning without telling her father, or even because she’d spent the first money from her trust on a ridiculously expensive taxi ride. She remembers the date because it’s the one that marked the last day of what she would imprecisely call her youth, a period where her actions didn’t yet have consequences, or if they had, they hadn’t mattered very much. At least not to her.
Do you need my help? Cristina calls again from behind the door, louder than before, her tapping escalating to a full-blown knock. I can help, she offers, the manipulation creeping in, Marcella no doubt looming nearby.
Coat on, briefcase held in front of her with both hands at the bottom corners, she gets up from her bed and walks to the door. When Cristina’s knocking finally stops, Dana speaks—just above a whisper, with a trace of acquiescence, as if selflessly agreeing to perform a very difficult task being asked of her. I’m ready, she says, and waits for the door to be opened.