F.A.Q.s by Allegra Goodman
19th Mar 2018
Phoebe found the house almost unchanged. Same furniture, same couch cushions worn out in the same old places, practically the same stack of magazines. Phoebe’s parents, Melanie and Dan, looked just as she had left them, and so their new coffee maker startled her.
“Where did that come from?”
Your mother bought it.”
“The old one broke,” Melanie said, defending herself. Of course, Phoebe saw that the new machine stood right where the scrap bucket had been. All composting had ceased the minute she had gone to college. Sweetie, it smelled so bad, had been Melanie’s excuse.
And yet Phoebe’s parents had planted vegetables with her when she was little. They had hired a handyman to build a chicken coop in the backyard. The coop stood empty now, just a few downy feathers blowing in the wind. Freshman year a fox had killed the hen named Scout. Weeks after that, Scout’s sister, Carrie, had disappeared. During spring semester, the last chicken, Mrs. Dalloway, had passed. Sometimes Phoebe questioned the level of care Mrs. Dalloway had received from Melanie and Dan. They had reverted so quickly to supermarket eggs.
“I’ll carry those,” Dan said.
“No that’s okay.” Phoebe shouldered her backpack and dragged her giant duffle upstairs. Nervously, her parents followed, weighted down with unasked questions. Was the boyfriend really history? Was Phoebe done homesteading? Could she register for school again?
“Let me help you get that through the door.” Dan picked up the bottom of the duffle and squeezed the bag sausage-like through the door frame. Phoebe was already inside, gazing at another alien acquisition, an elliptical trainer in the middle of her room. “We can move it.” Dan had opposed the purchase, predicting correctly that it would gather dust. Dan had knee problems, so he never exercised.
“We’ll take it down to the basement.” Melanie said. She had only installed the trainer in Phoebe’s room because she felt closer to her there. Two birds. She’d missed her daughter, and she was trying to lose weight. Missing trumped motivation, however, and after several minutes of exercise, Melanie usually ended up lying on Phoebe’s bed.
When Phoebe turned on the machine, she heard a trilling sound like bells.
“WELCOME …………” she read on the small screen. “HOW OLD ARE YOU?”
Phoebe typed “100.”
Without blinking, the machine asked “HOW MUCH DO YOU WEIGH?”
Once again, Phoebe typed “100.”
“I got you rice milk,” Melanie said. “And oat cakes,” she added hopefully. Phoebe looked so thin. Her long blond hair had lost its spring and trailed down her back; she’d tied it with a repurposed rubber band.
Melanie opened the closet door, revealing bins of clothes and toys, boxed board games and puzzles, including The Great Barrier Reef and The Solar System. On the top shelf lay Grandma Jeanne’s violin in its brown-cloth-covered case, but no one mentioned it.
Dan said, “We can consolidate these boxes.”
Melanie said, “I’ll get more hangers.”
“Hey, it’s almost midnight. Don’t you have work tomorrow?” Phoebe ushered her parents out into the hall.
She was so tired she didn’t even brush her teeth. She undressed completely and slipped between clean sheets.
Phoebe did not come down the next morning.
“Is she okay?” Melanie asked
“What do you mean? She’s exhausted, obviously.” Dan spoke as though Melanie missed the point entirely, although he was just as anxious. He hovered in the kitchen while Melanie washed dishes. Then he followed her upstairs where the two of them waited in the hallway, each willing the other to knock first. Their daughter was home safe, but silent. They felt such joy and dread.
At last Melanie called, “Phoebe?” No answer.
“Let her rest,” Dan said.
Reluctantly, they left for work in separate cars. Dan drove to Progressive Insurance, and Melanie headed for New Jersey Medical. At ten o’clock she texted Phoebe, I left you granola. At noon, she texted her again. Did you get some sleep? Then at one: Phoebe? Are you there?
Still no answer. Was Phoebe really sleeping? Her bedroom bad been preternaturally still. Not a rustle, not a breath escaped the cracks around the door. What if she had done something? Taken something? Drugged herself to disappear?
Melanie was planning to drive home when Phoebe texted. Yes.
Thank God. Melanie felt grateful and foolish. Now she could go about her day. Then she wondered did yes mean of course I’m here; leave me alone? Or was it a broader affirmation? Yes, oh yes, granola with flax seeds, rolled oats, dried cranberries. Yes, I have returned.
The first few days, Phoebe listened to music with her headphones on. She said she was unpacking, but she never did hang up her shirts, or fill her dresser drawers.
When she had the energy, she pulled out clean clothes from her suitcase. At night, she left her dirty laundry on the floor. After she had worn all the shirts and underwear she owned, she did the wash. Then she rigged up a clothesline in the back yard. Dan saw her from the kitchen window, tying one end of a nylon rope to the back porch and the other to the crab apple. She made a neat job of it; she’d even found a tub of clothespins. Methodically she hung her clothes up on the line. After that burst of activity, she drifted back inside and slept.
“Obviously, she needs it,” Dan reasoned.
“I don’t know,” Melanie said.
They remembered how much she had slept when she returned from summer camp, but this was different. After a week at home, she couldn’t stay awake.
Melanie worried about mono, ticks, and Lyme disease. She kept saying, “I think we should take you in.” But Phoebe said no.
“What did he do to you?” Dan was always blaming Phoebe’s ex.
“Oh, come on,” Phoebe said, because did he really think she would tell him anything about her boyfriend?
“Could you be pregnant?” Melanie asked, when she got Phoebe alone.
Melanie was always looking for a diagnosis; Dan had to find someone to blame.
Each day, Phoebe waited in her room until they left for work. Then she would come down and sort the pictures on her phone. Photos from college; photos from the farm and her year off. This took a long time, because she studied each before she made it disappear. Once she ventured into the backyard. She checked the empty coop. She rolled her bike out of the garage and pumped up the tires. Then she rolled it back inside.
She felt disembodied, ghostly. She lived like Emily Dickinson. Yeah, right. She wished! No poems came to her, although she had the recluse part down. Phoebe watched little children play across the street, and imagined lowering a basket of gingerbread as Dickinson had done. Of course, she’d get arrested. Food from strangers, nut allergies. She practised flitting behind blinds instead.
At dusk, her parents returned like chattering birds. The house was small, with thin walls and one narrow upstairs hallway, so Phoebe heard all the arguments. How long would this go on? Could she reenroll past August? Should Melanie pay for fall semester? No! Obviously not, Dan declared. Not if she isn’t taking classes. Well, then what should they do? What should they say? Phoebe had spent sophomore year living with Chris, and now they weren’t together. But what did it mean? And what would happen next? Phoebe was frighteningly calm. She said nothing, did nothing, wanted nothing. Melanie thought Phoebe should see somebody. Dan said great, rush her into therapy.
Listening in bed, Phoebe remembered how her parents had fought when she was little. Once her father had told her mother, ”If you’re that unhappy leave,” and Melanie had driven off in the car. She’d returned an hour later. She’d only gone as far as Edison.
From an early age, Phoebe had kept the family together. Melanie was tired; Dan was out of patience. Therefore, Phoebe had worked as hard as possible. Math, poetry, physics, and violin had filled her days—especially violin. In high school, she had practised at least three hours a day. Now, as her parents snapped at each other, she thought of ways to reassure them. She would apply for internships. Teacher training? Arts administration? She would draft a five-year plan. The trouble was getting out of bed. She managed most days, but she didn’t always make it down the stairs.
True to character, Dan lost it first. He turned to Phoebe at dinner and said, “All right you’ve been here almost two weeks.”
Melanie interrupted, “This is her home, Dan.”
“You’ve been sleeping what twelve, fourteen hours a day?”
Melanie said, “You can see that she’s run down.”
Dan continued speaking to Phoebe, “What you’re doing isn’t healthy and it isn’t fair.”
“What do you mean, fair?” Melanie demanded.
“It’s not fair to the rest of us! From now on we’re having some house rules. First of all, no pajamas at the table.”
Melanie protested, “She’s not wearing—”
“She wore them yesterday. “Second of all.” Dan paused to think of his second point. “No sleeping more than ten hours. You have got to pull yourself together!”
Melanie left the table.
Late that night Phoebe heard a clattering of dishes in the kitchen as Melanie took Dan to task. “You don’t just tell someone to pull herself together.”
Dan said, “I’m not walking on eggshells while my twenty-year-old daughter regresses.”
“She’s not regressing. She’s recovering.”
“She’s growing down!”
Lying in bed, feet rooting underneath the covers, Phoebe imagined herself a misfit carrot, a fingerling potato.
“She doesn’t drive; she doesn’t even ride her bike. She was more capable at twelve. At ten! I’m calling her on it.”
“You know that doesn’t work.”
“Oh, now you’re speaking from experience?”
Melanie’s voice wobbled. “I know it doesn’t work.”
“So, what would you suggest?”
The next night at dinner Phoebe told her parents she was sorry. She was really, really sorry.
“Don’t apologize,” said Dan. “Don’t sit there apologizing to the world. Get up and do something.”
Phoebe said that she would wash the dishes. When she was done, Phoebe sat with Melanie on the couch, while Dan leaned back with his laptop in the reading chair.
Emboldened, Melanie hugged Phoebe. “You’re great.”
This was lame, so Phoebe didn’t answer.
“Breaking up is hard, but you’ll get through this,” Melanie said.
Embarrassed for her mother, Phoebe patted Melanie on the shoulder.
Melanie hesitated. Then she said, “We’ve got Uncle Steve and Aunt Andrea coming over with the boys on Friday night, O.K.?”
“Why are you asking? Are you asking her permission?” Steve was Dan’s brother and lived only three miles away.
“I’m not asking.”
“That’s what it sounded like.”
“I wasn’t asking a question. Even if I was!”
“Oh, my God,” Phoebe said. “Stop.”
Immediately the bickering ended. Bright-eyed, expectant, her parents turned toward her. Their daughter had come alive again.
Were they expecting a major speech? A manifesto? Phoebe had nothing.
“I just wanted to give you the heads-up,” said Melanie.
“It’s fine,” said Phoebe. Uncle Steve and his family
wouldn’t make her feel better or worse. Phoebe barely remembered what grades her cousins were in.
On Friday night Phoebe watched her aunt and uncle through the living room window. It seemed a long time since she’d viewed people up close. Approaching the house, they looked familiar and awkward all at once, like animals who had learned to walk on their hind legs. Andrea brought a bottle of wine. Steve carried a wedge-shaped pillow for his back. In the entryway, Nate and Zach crowded in behind their parents.
“We’re looking at colleges,” Andrea told Phoebe. “You can tell Nate about Michigan!”
Melanie and Dan exchanged looks, but Phoebe didn’t take offense. She was watching her younger cousins—huge, laconic, grazing the light fixtures. Zach brushed against a side-table and knocked
“Good save,” said Nate, who did not ask Phoebe about Michigan.
The three kids sat together at one end of the table, and it was peaceful there. Zach and Nate devoured Melanie’s brisket, while Phoebe picked at her wild rice. The adults did all the talking, discussing dehumidifiers. They spoke about material things but they kept their eyes fixed on the children. Not that anybody made comparisons. Just that the boys had grown so much, and Phoebe looked— crushed. What was she wearing? Nobody asked, but Melanie knew what her sister in law was thinking. Phoebe’s post-consumer dress was faded blue, and nearly shapeless. Not a dress, but an apology for one. Oh why? Melanie wailed silently.
“Good to be home?” Andrea asked Phoebe. “Nice and quiet?”
Phoebe said, “I keep busy.”
Dan could not conceal his surprise.
Melanie tensed, but Andrea saw an opening. “How do you like the violin?”
For a moment, Phoebe didn’t know what her aunt was talking about. Then she remembered Jeanne’s instrument, unopened in her closet. “I don’t know,” she said. “I quit.”
“What?” Steve said slowly. His sons had not received anything from their grandmother when she died the year before. Supposedly the whole point was that Phoebe played an instrument.
“She’ll play again,” said Dan.
Poor dad, thought Phoebe. Never say die! The South will rise again!
“When did you quit?” Steve asked.
“Like a year ago.”
Even her cousins stared now, absorbing this news. They had grown up with Phoebe’s recitals and family concerts. Her music endless, wordless, intricate. All their lives they’d settled down to listen.
Slowly Andrea said, “Well, that’s a shame.”
Phoebe knew what she meant; the instrument was worth a lot of money. “Maybe someone else should have it.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” her father cut her off.
Melanie said, “Jeanne wanted you to have that violin.”
“She wanted somebody to play it,” Steve corrected.
“It was Jeanne’s wish,” Melanie said, and that was the last word.
The others settled in their chairs. Dan furious, Steve and Andrea, not angry but surprised and disappointed. O.K., smoldering.
That night the violin kept Phoebe awake. She’d barely noticed it before, but now she sensed it in the closet, neglected, suffering. Jeanne’s gift seemed to her a wounded thing. Her closet, her room, her house could not contain the blood gushing from that violin. Blood soaked the carpet, stained the walls. Even so, she didn’t scream; she didn’t move. She couldn’t wake her parents. Instead she watched the window, waiting for the sky to brighten.
Daylight wouldn’t come. The sun would not rise. She turned on her light and stole from her bed. Softly she opened her closet door and took down the sealed casket. Then softly, softly she carried the case downstairs, scanning cabinets and pantry shelves. The kitchen was too cluttered; the mudroom damp and cold. She sank into the couch and rocked slightly, clutching Jeanne’s unopened gift. Her parents found her in the morning sleeping there. The violin sat mildly on the coffee table.
“Oh sweetie,” Melanie said. Phoebe opened her eyes and sat up as her mother told her. “They upset you.”
“They had no right,” Dan began.
But Phoebe cut him off. “They were fine. Everything’s fine.”
“Everything is not fine,” Dan told her. “Look at you.”
She tried to look at herself sitting on the couch in
sweatpants and an Interlochen T-shirt. She was clutching her knees to her chest. True she was shaken, but the night was over, and her guilty conscience had calmed again.
Melanie was afraid to leave Phoebe in the house all day.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Phoebe told her mother.
“Prove it,” Dan said.
“I’m going for a walk,” Phoebe said.
“Walking where?” Melanie asked.
“Just to get some exercise.”
As soon as her parents left, Phoebe pulled on a clean shirt and combed her hair and walked out, blinking in the sunlight. Then she felt awkward because she didn’t have anywhere to go. Nothing to do, no bags to carry. She retreated to the house and took Jeanne’s violin, carrying it like a briefcase to the end of the street and then around the corner. A Rutgers shuttle bus stopped there, and she climbed aboard. The bus was free, half-full of students. Phoebe chose a window seat and took the bus from one campus to another. Busch, Livingston, Douglass. She watched trees rustling near the Raritan and saw one or two scarlet leaves in all the green. It was the first week in September.
The next morning, after her parents had left for work, Phoebe headed out again, carrying her violin. She got home just after three, and sat in the kitchen gazing at all the groceries Melanie had bought in her honor. Oats and nuts and grains and sprouted- wheat berries and unsweetened coconut piled up in bags on the kitchen counter. Nobody really ate them. Her dad skipped breakfast. He was supposed to watch his cholesterol, but he didn’t. Her mother nibbled grainy Icelandic chocolate, which she kept in a shoebox in the cabinet above the fridge.
Phoebe preheated the oven and mixed all the grains and nuts, along with the coconut and some pieces of crystalized ginger, and toasted everything on a pair of cookie sheets. The result was a lot of lumpy granola, which she divided into snack- sized bags.
“This is for you.” She handed her mother a little bag that night.
“And this is for you,” she said, handing one to her father.”
“This is awful,” her father told her.
“Dan,” said Melanie.
“I didn’t like your tone of voice,” Melanie told him later when they were alone.
“Your sarcasm and your hostility.”
“That’s the way I talk,” he said. “That’s my natural voice. The hostile one is you.”
“I was just—”
“Listen to yourself!”
The next morning, Phoebe took a bus to campus again. She got off at Knight Library and sat on the steps. She didn’t have a library card, but, carrying her instrument, she might have been an undergraduate. She liked the possibilities. She could have been a music student; she could have been a tourist; she could have been traveling. The leaves were turning, but it was still warm. She sat on the library steps and felt the end-of-summer sun.
When she got home, she showed Melanie an article about cruciferous vegetables. “Phoebe?” Melanie began. She didn’t finish but she was asking, Are you really eating wheat berries? Are you feeling look better? What did better mean?
Phoebe’s parents were seeing someone in Edison, a psychologist recommended by a colleague of Melanie’s. The doctor counseled them to wait patiently and allow Phoebe to lead the way. But where was Phoebe leading? She liked to turn off all the lights. Her parents would sit in the living room at night, and Phoebe would turn off all the lights around them. Could we not sit in the dark? her father said. She kept the violin in the living room now, but she never played it. She liked to rest her bare feet on the closed case.
Melanie asked if she would go with them to Edison. Phoebe said no thank you. Melanie asked if Phoebe would like to take lessons with her old teacher. Phoebe spoke cheerfully. “Not really.”
She took the train to the city, boarding with her violin. The train rattled through Brunswick and Rahway and Elizabeth. Gazing out the window, Phoebe saw black benches and vistas of chain link fence.
When Phoebe got to Penn Station, she thought about walking around, maybe visiting the Egyptian tombs at the Met. She bought a Metrocard and entered the subway, but she didn’t go anywhere. She sat on a bench on the platform and watched people arriving in great drifts, then sinking away again.
A young woman and two small boys were struggling to carry a stroller with a sleeping baby down the stairs. Phoebe jumped up to help. She picked up the crosspiece of the stroller and together with the mother and the children, got it to the top of the stairs. Everybody thanked her, as the baby slept on. “No problem,” Phoebe said. She sauntered back to her bench at the bottom of the stairs. Wait. Her heart jumped. The violin was gone.
How could that be? It wasn’t true. The whole thing was a dream—the station, the woman with her stroller and her children. Phoebe stood bewildered, looking up and down, but, of course, she wasn’t dreaming. She was an idiot. That’s how fast she lurched into self-loathing. Seriously? Seriously? Had she left Jeanne’s gift in the station? Had she fucked this up too? At which point she realized that she had returned to the wrong bench. Her violin was one bench over with a security guard hovering.
“Do not leave bags unattended,” he intoned, even as she snatched the instrument. She clutched Jeanne’s case to her chest and ran away, ashamed to look at him.
As soon as she was out of sight, she knelt down, unzipped the case, unfolded a piece of green velvet, and took out Jeanne’s violin to check for injuries.
There were two bows in the case, and Phoebe tightened one and started tuning. She closed her eyes and listened to the whoosh and roar of trains, the tide of people all around her. No one stopped and no one looked as she played scales. Mercifully, no one could hear as she blundered through folk songs and fiddling riffs and scraps of Bach, the music she had known. Her fingers were thick, the bow scratchy. After a few minutes, Phoebe returned the instrument to its case.
The next day, she returned. Once again, she took the train all the way into the city. This time she didn’t even make it to the subway. In the station, there was a guy playing an amplified acoustic guitar, so she drifted farther down. The passing commuters drowned her out. Unamplified, her music could not carry, and that was a relief. Nobody heard and nobody cared.
Scales, arpeggios. She practised until her hands grew warm. One by one, she played folksongs she had learned at five, “The Irish Washerwoman,” a Hanukkah medley. Snatches of Vivaldi returned to her. Bits of Corelli.
She was embarrassed to find three dollars and change in her violin case. She had not exactly earned the money. Her first thought was that someone had felt sorry for her.
She wanted to give the cash away. She looked for the guitarist near the bench, but he had disappeared. The morning crowds had thinned and it was lunchtime now. By the station clock she saw that she’d been playing for two hours.
She took her cash out to the concourse and went to a donut shop to buy some water. She should have brought her own. She was against disposable water bottles, but she was so thirsty she bought one anyway.
“Anything else?” the cashier asked.
Phoebe gazed at the racks of muffins, cruellers, donuts, cronuts. “Just one of those.”
“Yeah, that one,” Phoebe said.
She had read that nutritionally, doughnuts had no redeeming value; that they were literally nothing, just empty calories, but as sugar melted on her tongue, the pillowy doughnut filled her. She had eaten real food for so long; she had forgotten how good nothing tasted.
She began spending any money thrown her way on cheap treats in the station. A cookie or a cup of supersweet hot chocolate. She earned only a few dollars, just disposable income, good for a cruller or a candy bar. Even so, she enjoyed considering how to spend the cash.
She was rusty. She almost returned a five-dollar bill. She was ridiculously overpaid. Therefore, she began working through a Bach partita, deliberately. This is practice she decided, even though she was playing in public. And this is practice and this is practice. She practised her Bach over hours and days until she got some of it back, the double stops and the cascading phrases. Then, right after a train announcement, she decided, now I am performing. She stepped into her music and her heart pounded; she felt a strange stagefright. No mistakes! This was her recital, although she told nobody.
She tried to perform at least once each day. She would set up and practice until her left hand grew warm, playing at half speed, working over one passage at a time. In slow motion, she would play each phrase. Safe in all the noise around her, she would do her work until she decided she was ready. Then she would begin. Two or three people would gather.
She tried the cream doughnuts, the jelly-filled, the chocolate sprinkles. She purchased orange soda. She went to the greasy pizza place and bought calzone. At home her mother said, “A healthy young woman can’t live on almonds!”
Her father said, “I don’t understand what you do all day.”
“I’m thinking,” Phoebe said.
They looked at her. “What are you thinking about?” her mother asked nervously.
“Right now?” Phoebe deflected the question. “I’m thinking about you.”
They were touched, but they weren’t satisfied. “We want you to be safe,” her mother said.
“I want you to take public transportation,” said Phoebe. “You don’t need two cars!” She showed her parents the bus schedule. From where they lived her father could get to the office on two buses. Her mother could take one, if she walked 1.9 miles—and that would be exercise!
Of course, her parents didn’t listen. They argued late at night instead. Dan was tired of Phoebe’s dogmatism. Melanie thought Phoebe seemed more herself. “I think she’s doing better!” Melanie insisted on this point, until Phoebe began cleaning out the closets. All through the weekend, Phoebe gathered piles of old coats, forgotten shoes, great stacks of T-shirts, games, and toys. “I’m not sure,” Melanie began, and then she said, “No, not the puzzles!” She snatched the solar system.
“Thank you,” Dan said. “Yes,” he cheered softly, when a YMCA van pulled up to cart everything away.
Two days later, Melanie returned home to find Phoebe sitting on the couch with a young man! A high-school friend? A new acquaintance? Melanie did not recognize him, but he and Phoebe were talking eagerly. It took Melanie a moment to see that they were working through some papers on a clipboard. Phoebe had contacted this guy for a free estimate on solar panels for the roof.
“They’d barely cost you anything,” she told her parents at dinner.
This time, Melanie was the good one, studying the paperwork. Dan was recalcitrant and wouldn’t look, even after Phoebe took a magnate and posted the estimate on the refrigerator. He said solar was ridiculous because their roof was all the wrong angles. Even so, he didn’t throw the estimate away. It’s a process, Phoebe thought, as she took the rattling, swishing, morning train. “Little by little,” she told herself, arriving at the station. She had her parents composting again, although Dan told her straight out: No new chickens.
Melanie thought that Phoebe’s eyes looked brighter. Dan was afraid she had a manic look. Both her parents sensed a shift. They studied Phoebe’s face, her battered shoes, her hands. Melanie thought she caught the beginnings of callouses, the old grooves on Phoebe’s fingertips. “Are you playing again?” she asked, and when Phoebe didn’t answer, she was sure of it.
It couldn’t last, this secret life, this music in plain sight. One morning she heard a man calling her name.
“Phoebe?” It was her Uncle Steve standing there in disbelief, holding his coffee and bagel. He had meetings in the city, and, inevitably, even in the crowds, he’d found her. “What are you doing here?”
What does it look like? Phoebe thought, but she said, “Just practicing.”
That was the end. She knew that Steve would tell immediately.
Even before she arrived home her parents pounced. Her phone lit up with questions on the train. Where was she? Was she really busking in Penn Station? Was it true? Was it safe? Was she O.K.?
That night they sat her down and asked what was happening, and how long this had been going on. Their words were anxious, but their voices eager. Initiative! Hadn’t Dan predicted that Phoebe would return to music? Hadn’t Melanie said don’t rush her? Well, that’s what she’d been thinking, anyway. Drifting off to sleep, Phoebe heard rueful laughter, a wistful conspiracy to follow her.
For two days, she evaded them. She played near the escalators—ready to run. She tried a spot outside, but it was getting chilly. The cold wasn’t good for Jeanne’s violin. Phoebe retreated to her usual place, and decided she would enjoy her last few hours.
Sure enough, on the third day, while playing Bach, she opened her eyes and saw two phones held high—her parents filming. They’d found her, run her down at last! She bent into the music, but they saw everything, loose coins in her open case, a bag of—were they gummy worms? Turning away, Phoebe missed her parents’ wide eyes. Really? And she had them eating pumpkin seeds?
Phoebe fought on, as far as memory would take her. To be honest, she had played better at fourteen. As a young child, she had been quicker, sweeter. Where she was patchy now, she had been sure and true. She had sounded deeper, although she’d felt the music less.
Even so, she had Bach in her hands. Her parents heard that, despite the trains. Phoebe finished her partita with a flourish, and her father punched the air. Her parents whooped and clapped so that people turned around, even in their hurry.
“Stop. You guys!”
“What?” Melanie asked, all saintly, unconditional.
“Good job, sweetie,” Dan said.
Phoebe just shook her head.
One more piece, Dan and Melanie pleaded, as she packed up the violin. Just one more. But it was time, past time to go home.
“Where to?” her father asked.
“Let’s get lunch,” Melanie suggested.
They were all set for a day out in the city, but Phoebe had to tell them no. She had to pack, and figure out her housing, not to mention classes. “Winter break,” she promised. She loved her parents, but she couldn’t take care of them forever.
Allegra Goodman is an American writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Three of her novels have been published in the UK by Atlantic Books. They are ‘The Chalk Artist’, ‘The Cookbook Collector’ and ‘Intuition’ (shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize in 2009). Her other novels are ‘Paradise Park’ and ‘Kaaterskill Falls’ (a National Book Award finalist in 1996). Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Commentary and Ploughshares and has been anthologised in The O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories. She has also written two collections of short stories, ‘The Family Markowitz’ and ‘Total Immersion’, and a novel for younger readers, ‘The Other Side of the Island’. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Boston Globe and The American Scholar. She grew up in Honolulu, studied English and philosophy at Harvard, received a PhD in English literature from Stanford, and was a recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award (1991), the Salon Award for Fiction (1997) and a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (2006-2007). She lives with her husband and has four children.