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Their onion soups are delivered, so Sue doesn’t speak until the waiter leaves them more or less in peace. The couple next to them are rapt. They don’t say a word.
“Someone at Macy’s. She got him the job.”
“How do you know this?”
Sue gives Shelby a look. “You know these things, Shelby. Plus Sheila Davis next door told me. She saw them walk out of the store and get into your dad’s car and drive away. Anyway, it’s nothing new.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Sue shrugs. “It’s been going on, Shelby. He considers himself to be a ladies’ man. I think it makes him feel better about himself. Do you think he wanted to take over his father’s store?”
“What the hell did he want?”
“He wanted to be a singer.”
“I thought he looked like Paul McCartney.”
“Dad?” Shelby can’t help but laugh.
“Before he was bald.” Sue is laughing as well.
The couple beside them order the onion soup. They tell the waitress it looks good. “It is, isn’t it?” the woman asks Shelby.
“First-rate,” Shelby says to her. “Like it’s from Paris.”
“Oh, and you got this.” Sue opens her purse and hands over a postcard. “I’m forgetting everything today.”
“Great. My stalker.” Shelby’s started to wonder why this person has never come forward. Lately it feels like someone is playing a game with her. He knows everything about her and she knows nothing about him.
“Your angel,” Sue says. “This time I saw him. He drives a black car.”
“I doubt he’s an angel. Probably just some lunatic who read about me in the paper.”
On the postcard there is a drawing of a woman wearing a blindfold. It’s a beautiful little drawing actually, something worth framing. The message is See something.
It’s then Shelby notices that her mom’s hand is shaking. Just the way Shelby’s hand tremors when she’s anxious and upset. Shelby has been so busy feeling sorry for herself, she hasn’t seen what her mom is going through. Her mother is truly unhappy. Shelby reaches to take her hand. “I’m sorry,” she says. “Dad is a shit.”
“We just got stuck in a marriage that is sadder than being alone. If you don’t love someone, don’t stay. I mean it, Shelby. Even if you need more than five hundred dollars to get your own place. Even if you hurt Ben.”
What Shelby sees is that her mother loves her, that she’s driven in from Huntington to have onion soup that is not particularly good, and that she’s bold enough to ask the waitress if she can put a candle in the éclair they share for dessert. No one else would sing “Happy Birthday” to Shelby in a restaurant on Ninth Avenue or tell her that, despite everything she has been led to believe, love is the only thing that matters.
One bright day, when the leaves on the plane trees have turned green in Union Square and Shelby is on her way to work, the crowd in front of her swells, then moves aside. Shelby has been keeping her eyes open. She sees that a man has collapsed in the crosswalk, hitting his head. Blood sends people skittering away. Shelby should keep going like ­everyone else. Instead, she runs over to the fallen man.
She isn’t the sort of person who gets involved. She’s never been a doer of good deeds. But she thinks of the last postcard on her birthday. See something. And she does, she sees the way this man is splayed out on the concrete. She can’t help but think of Helene trapped in the car, her face pale, her lips the color of hyacinths. Shelby dreams of ice on cold nights, it’s blue or black or red with blood. She dreams she is down on all fours, fingers freezing, the cold going up through her bones until a black coat is covering her.
“Call 911,” Shelby tells the person next to her in the crowd of onlookers. She sounds as if she won’t take no for an answer, and even though the stranger she barks orders to is on his way to work, he does as he’s told. Shelby kneels on the concrete. There’s a pool of blood from a gash in the fallen man’s head that she tries her best to avoid. “You’re going to be okay,” she tells him. The concrete feels cold, like ice.
She knows it’s the right thing to say. She learned this from the nurses when she was in the hospital. They told her they had a list of steps when dealing with new patients. Be calm. No matter what. Even if someone is in a psychotic state and threatening to jump off the roof. No need to worry. No need to shout. Tell them they’re going to be okay.
The fallen man has a long dark beard and knotted hair; he’s wearing a gray overcoat, faded corduroy slacks, army boots. For an instant his eyes flicker.
“Talk to me,” Shelby says. “What’s your name?”
The fallen man mumbles something, but not in English.
Shelby turns to the stranger who dialed 911. He’s a good-looking young man who’s stayed on to wait for the EMTs. “What language is he speaking?” Shelby asks him.
“He’s speaking Russian.”
They’re in this together now and they know it. They can hear sirens, but the morning traffic is heavy, sure to slow down the ambulance. The young man crouches so he can take the fallen man’s pulse, then he unbuttons his coat and listens to his heart. Shelby notices the fallen man’s nails are long and curved, a dull yellow color.
“Malnutrition and nicotine,” the stranger says when he sees her staring at the long, misshapen nails. “They need to be clipped.”
“Are you a doctor?” Shelby asks.
“A vet.”
“Seriously?” Shelby’s secret dream for herself. She looks at the stranger with newfound respect. He grins and introduces himself as Harper Levy. “Your name sounds like a folk song,” Shelby tells him.
Harper gently raises the fallen man’s eyelids. “This is strange. The white film looks like a third eyelid, which is what canines have. I would guess he had a seizure. The fall is probably a by-product of that.”
Shelby’s falling for him as he speaks. The ambulance pulls up, and the EMTs immediately fit the fallen man with an oxygen mask. They ask Shelby and Harper Levy questions neither can answer. There’s no ID in the fallen man’s pockets.
“We don’t know him, but we think he’s Russian,” Harper Levy says.