So what about the mother and daughter’s shared jealousy, guilt, strain or pain – those?
Oh, must everybody have to deal with those?
The mother is a slightly brave, a slightly unembarrassed person who can be quite social and today she has just written this letter.
Well, I don’t know how to say I am wretched. It is terribly sad that I am living at the end of the saga. Sorry that you are too. Do you have another point of view you can share?
Ann is here. Are you coming?
‘Hello! Hello!’ It is Joe Lesko at the door and he has brought cucumbers for Frances Reff and for her daughter.
‘And some tarragon. It’s great in omelettes. Finally,’ he says, ‘something for you from my garden. It will be interesting to see where all this is headed.’
‘Liverwurst is my favourite!’ Mrs Reff says, ‘That’s what I like,’ while her daughter Ann notes for the first time that Lesko looks just like Benjamin Franklin – a person who is curious, but not curious about her.
‘Did Daddy live here, Ann?’
‘Mother he built this house!’
There is a better way for talking to people, Mr Lesko is thinking, than my way or theirs, as he drives home on a public road made up of complicated swirls that lead to his cottage on the lake.
The room where he receives guests is unlike the rest of his house and many unhappy times are spent in this front room, which is spare and bare, although a vase of thistles and wild flowers and a folded newspaper help to make it look as if somebody lives in it.
His recent crop of creamy-skinned Boothby’s Blondes are in a bowl on the kitchen counter and he is so pleased that as promised, they have no bitter aftertaste. He hadn’t cared for the sourness of the Lemon Cucumbers he tried out last year. Next year he’ll try the Poona Kheera, said to be tender, crisp and delicious – that can be eaten skin and all – or perhaps the Painted Serpent, which is not really a cucumber. It’s a melon, heavily ribbed.
Lesko hears a tiny sneeze from the front path through an open window.
To accommodate Ann Reff, he offers her fresh coffee, warm food.
‘I couldn’t stand it any more,’ she is saying. ‘There is such unjust treatment. I had pulled a carrot out of the ground and dusted it off and I ate it and I was told I couldn’t do that! Do you know when I was a girl my toys were put out in the yard in an open bin for any other children to help themselves! Oh, Joe! I love you so much! I’ve loved you so much! I worship you! I’ve loved you so much!’
‘No,’ Lesko says. ‘You are mistaken.’
Not that he minds the outburst and the general unease he is feeling that he is so used to.
And to Ann he says, ‘Come here!’ even though he has never described her to himself down to the smallest detail, nor will he ever.