It was a few weeks before Easter. "Look," Brian suggested, "why don't you come to our house Sunday for a little Lent dinner. We're having some people by, and who knows?"
"Who knows?" I asked.
"What's a Lent dinner?"
"We made it up. For Lent. We didn't really want to do Mardi Gras. Too disrespectful, given the international situation."
"So you're doing Lent. I'm unclear on Lent. I mean, I know what the word means to those of us of the Jewish faith. But we don't usually commemorate these transactions with meals. Usually there's just a lot of sighing."
"It's like a pre-Easter Prince of Peace dinner," Brian said slowly. "You're supposed to give things up for Lent. Last year, we gave up our faith and reason. This year, we're giving up our democratic voice, our hope."
I had been looking forward to meeting Brian's goyisheh friends. I was, in fact, Brian's only Jewish friend. Brian himself was low-key, tolerant, self-deprecating to a fault. After all, he was the manager of the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library. A self-described "ethnic Catholic," he once complained dejectedly about not having been cute enough to be molested by a priest. "They would just shake my hand very quickly," he said. Brian's friends, however, tended to be tense, intellectually earnest Protestants who drove new, metallic-hued cars and who within five minutes of light conversation could be counted on to use the phrase "strictly within the framework of."
"Paige has a divorcee friend she's inviting," Brian said. "I'm not trying to fix you up. I really hate that stuff. I'm just saying come. Eat some food. It's almost Easter season and--well, hey, we could use a Jew over here." Brian laughed heartily.
"Yeah, I'll reenact the whole thing for you," I said. "Yessirree. I'll come over and show you all how it's done."
My apartment building--though it was in what the rental company's brochure referred to as "a lovely, pedestrian neighborhood," abutting the streets named after the fifty states, and boasting instead streets named Ordway, Macomb, Newark, Porter and Sedgwick--was full of slow drains, leaky gas burners, stopped-up sinks, and excellent dust for scrawling curse words. Marilyn blows sailors. The draftier windows I had duct-taped up with sheets of plastic on the inside, as instructed by Homeland Security; cold air billowed the plastic inward like sails on a ship. On a windy day it was quite something. "Your whole apartment building could fly away," Brian said, when I told him about the situation.
"Not really," I said lightly. "But it is spinning. It's very interesting, actually."
The yard in front of the apartment building had already gone muddy with March and the flower beds were greening with the tiniest sprigs of stinkweed and quack grass. By June, the chemical weapons of terrorism aimed at the heartland might prove effective in weeding the garden. "This may be the sort of war I could really use!" the apartment manager said out loud to a resident.
Brian and Paige's house, on the other hand, with its perfect lines and friendly fussiness, reeking, I supposed, of historical-preservation tax credits, seemed an impossible dream to me, something plucked from a magazine article about childhood memories conjured on a deathbed. Something seen through the window by the Little Match Girl! Outside, the soffits were perfectly squared. The crocuses were like bells, and the Siberian violets like grape candies scattered in the grass. Soon their prize irises would be gorgeously crested cockatoos along the side yard. Inside, the smell of warm food almost made me weep. With my coat still on, I rushed past Paige to throw my arms around Brian, kissing him on both cheeks. "All the beautiful men must be kissed!" I exclaimed. After I'd got my coat off and wandered into the dining room, I toasted with the champagne that I myself had brought. There were eight guests there, all of whom I had never met before--and probably wouldn't have wanted to meet. That was enough for everyone. They raised their glasses with me. "To Lent!" I cried. "To the final days!" And in case that was too grim, I added, "And to the Resurrection! May it happen a little closer to home next time! Jesus Christ!" Soon I drifted back into the kitchen and, as I felt was required of me, shrieked at the pork. Then I began milling around again, apologizing for the crucifixion. "We really didn't intend it," I murmured. "Not really, not the killing part? We just kind of got carried away? You know how spring can get a little crazy, but, believe me, we're all really, really sorry."