For several minutes Rachel did not and could not move. She stared at her daughter, waiting for the sudden miracle. She blinked and sat back in her chair. She had somehow expected something more: Latin incantations, a ring of burning candles, black-hatted witches. No, she had done it because it made sense, her reasoning was so scientific. Andy Millington was proof that Milada’s venom—and it seemed so ordinary now to think that a person should have venom—could suppress the autoimmune response. Should it not act the same on the chains of proteins working such ruinous carnage in her daughter’s body?
Rationality begot only more rationality, and what was logical ultimately failed to inspire.
She found Milada in the lobby, standing in front of the large windows that looked west across the city. The city lights sparkled in the late twilight, like the reflecting pool of the universe. Milada said, “This will not work. This will not make a difference.”
“Then why did you come?”
“Because you asked.”
The minivan wound down North Campus Drive, headlights glowing in the falling dark, a firefly lost on the face of the broad expanse of the towering mountains. Fifteenth East ran along the East Bench, the narrow streets shrouded with trees, the leafy branches closing out the sky. It was one of those almost-otherworldly parts of the valley. More like Massachusetts than the Rocky Mountains.
The Mormons who first came to this high desert valley had ventured forth from New England, sailed from Great Britain and Scandinavia, trudged through New York, Ohio, and Illinois and across the Great Plains. They came and irrigated with a vengeance until the green memory of their ancestral homes sprouted from the ancient sandy shores of Lake Bonneville.
Rachel said, if only to break the silence, “Getting your driver’s license renewed must be a curious experience.”
“A small annoyance. Garrick has a retired Treasury Department engraver on retainer. He prepares all our identification papers. Garrick convinced him that working for the family was a less risky and more rewarding hobby than passing the odd hand-drawn C-note at the 7-Eleven.”
“Should you be telling me things like that?” Rachel asked lightly.
“Who would believe you?”
“I suppose you’re right.” Rachel shook her head. There was no suppose about it. She began again, “The story you told about being named for the abbess—was that really you?”
“I was named for the abbess, as I said. Boleslaw and his kin lived in the tenth century. I was born in the sixteenth.” She paused, reaching back into the past. “In 1566, the year Transylvania fell under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. When I was ten, my parents died. Kammy believes it was cholera. We were sent across the river to an orphanage in Szeged.”
“Oh,” said Rachel, remembering. “You said Michael was your stepfather.”
“Yes. As I remember it now, the orphanage was not a bad life. But ten-year-olds are such indomitable creatures.” This time she did smile. Her cheeks came close to dimpling, a smile that vanished as soon as she resumed her narrative.
“Two years later, a man arrived to claim the meager remains of our parents’ estate, ourselves included. He was from the provinces, he said. A distant relative. He had only recently heard of our parents’ deaths. He produced papers to the effect and a sufficient amount of money to convince the powers that be. He called himself Rakosi, a count of some sort or another. I was certainly impressed.”
Rachel glanced at her. The casual tone of her narration did not mask the tone of ambivalence in the statement I was certainly impressed.
“But you said that Michael—”
“That came later.” Her brow furrowed. “Except for the Mother Superior, the sisters were quite happy for us, so rare it was for a child, let alone three, to be rescued from rags to riches. It only happens in fairy tales.” She conceded, “It was an adventure to experience so exciting and vast a world. So beyond our small imaginations. He took us to Budapest, Vienna, Paris. I had seen most of Europe by the time I turned fourteen.”
“You speak with a British accent.”
“I’ve spent most of my life in London. We came to America shortly before the Great War. Michael takes the long view of things, and he’s usually right.”
What are you leaving out? Rachel thought as she pulled up to the curb on Larkspur Lane.
Milada opened the car door. Rachel reached across the armrest and grasped her arm. She said, and she did not speak out of any reflexive social obligation, “Thank you.”
Milada again showed that small, self-deprecating smile, in which Rachel had begun to see the whisperings of a long-buried childlike sweetness. “You have your angels to answer to, Rachel. I have my demons.” She got out of the car. “And I do hope yours have the ear of a kinder God than mine do.”
Rachel watched her walk up to the porch and disappear into the house. She drove home and sat there in the dark garage for a long time before getting out of the car and going into the house.
She told her husband as they got into bed later that night, “Milada came to the hospital to see Jennifer.”
“While we were driving home, she told me something of her childhood. I’d assumed she was born into money. But her parents died when she was ten. It was a number of years before she and her sisters were adopted by that well-off family.”
“Still, happily ever after, no? And you think it only happens in fairy tales.”
“Maybe it does.” She rolled over on her back and laid her head on the pillow and spoke to the ceiling. “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
He sat down on the bed beside her. “I get worried whenever you start quoting Job.”
“Don’t be. Things are getting better after this. I just know it.”
“You’ve never been this sure before.”
She raised herself up on her elbows. “Because I have reason to believe,” she said and then kissed him.
It did not occur to him to ask why. As much as his wife might rail against God, she was the optimist in the family, the one who steadfastly refused to accept the bitter consignments of fate.