Deirdre 1987

Deirdre awoke for no particular reason at four in the morning. She wasn't anxious, just excited and ready for the day. She untangled herself from Ewas, who usually slept with an arm across her, and walked quietly downstairs. She loved the house near the beach she shared with Ewas and her brother Aidan, but sometimes she felt claustrophobic, especially in the dark. If I lived alone, Deirdre thought, I'd probably be completely nocturnal. But if I lived alone, I'd have dissolved and died by now.

She crossed the living room carefully, trying not to disturb Aidan, who was very annoying if you woke him early. She entered her study and turned on her Mac. She had sixty mail messages waiting on Compuserve, most of them about her IdeaPile product. A man in Iowa was using it to record his family's genealogy, a woman in California had used it to outline her novel, and a teenage boy in Seattle offered to send her a text adventure he had created with it. Hundreds of other customers had already used IdeaPile to create simple text based games. Deirdre had loved the old Infocom games and was sorry the era of the text adventure was over.

She loaded her C compiler in one window and a commercial version control product in another. Aidan had asked her to integrate this product with IdeaPile; a customer should be able to re-create the prior state of a cardpile. It was easy to do and very boring. Writing her own code to add version control to IdeaPile would be more challenging, but still didn't interest Deirdre very much. She had been bothering Aidan for some months to hire another programmer to handle the routine stuff; he hadn't yet agreed, but Deirdre was sure he would.

Bored, she minimized the two windows, and opened another in which she loaded a pile she had created with fifty-two cards, simulating a deck. IdeaPile didn't have graphics yet (another problem she was working on) so each card bore a text notation such as "Queen of Hearts". Deirdre clicked and dragged the cards around to shuffle them, then dealt herself a hand and began to play solitaire.

It occurred to her that a shuffle feature might be interesting to customers. Many of them used IdeaPile to jot down thoughts at random and then look for relationships later. Users laboriously then moved these cards around with the mouse; for some it was even a nervous habit, while they were looking for relationships between the ideas. She exited the solitaire window, brought her editor up, and began creating the new feature: a click of the mouse on a new "shuffle" command on the dropdown menu, and the cards would be presented in a randomly selected order.

"Hello, Thing," Aidan said from the door an hour later. He was nervously combing his sandy- blonde hair with his long fingers. I wonder if he knows how much he looks like our mother when he does that, Deirdre thought. She showed him the shuffle command and saw he was skeptical. It didn't matter; she had a surer sense of what people would use than he did, and knew that in a month or so he would tell her how much people loved the new feature.

"I also want to add a command to turn cards over."

"No-one except you is going to use IdeaPile to play solitaire," Aidan said, sounding like their older brother Liam for a moment.

"But they use it to make presentations. Imagine the drama of putting an inverted cardpile on the screen and then flipping them over one by one."

Aidan shrugged. "How's the version control going?"

"Its going."

He left to get their breakfast at the bakery in Montauk. Deirdre went back upstairs. Ewas was still asleep, sprawled face down like someone who had fallen from a moderate height into the sand. Impulsively, Deirdre bent over, to smell Ewas' neck and hair. "Are you sniffing me again?" a sleepy voice asked.

Deirdre, embarrassed, murmured a reply, hoping that Ewas would go back to sleep, and went to shower. When she came out, Ewas was sitting up in bed, brushing her limp blonde hair. Ewas, who was often grim, had woken up happy. Deirdre went to stand by her, and Ewas kissed her breasts. "You're fuller here, and thinner there," Ewas said, touching Deirdre's stomach. "Its the exercise," Deirdre replied.

"Exercise doesn't make your breasts larger."

They heard the door just as both were contemplating lovemaking. "There's the Sand Prince with your breakfast," Ewas sighed. Deirdre dressed and went downstairs to meet her brother; it was a beautiful June day, so they decided to take their coffee and muffins down to the beach.

"Ewas is mad we won't use her new coffee machine," Deirdre said.

"I would probably use it if she didn't want us to so much."

Sitting on the side of a sweeping dune held in place by sparse beach-grass, they watched the continuous swell of large unbreaking waves with black seabirds atop them. Deirdre longed to swim but the water would be too cold for weeks.

Aidan said that customers were asking to be able to load pre-made graphics into the cards. Deirdre suggested she might even add a simple graphics editor so that customers could draw on cards. "Don't exaggerate," Aidan said.

Ewas came over the dune, carrying her ceramic mug with the witch's face. She frequently visited for a moment during breakfast, but didn't stay because they were discussing business. Ewas was involved only with the financial side--she invested their money and balanced the checkbook.

Deirdre knew that Ewas was very jealous of her brother but had overcome it. She had a proud, private, angry nature but exerted all her great strength to modify herself for Deirdre. When you wake up to find someone smelling you, Deirdre thought, you must know you're loved.

Ewas sat down on the other side of Aidan, and Deirdre watched her covertly through her sunglasses, turning her head a little away so that Ewas wouldn't know. "She is beautiful and handsome together," Deirdre thought. Recently she had begun to like her own body better; running with Ewas, doing exercises on the hard wooden floor, and lifting ten pound weights had tightened all her muscles. But Deirdre still thought of herself as an amorphous Thing---he name she had picked in her childhood games with Aidan. Ewas had a quality of being central; she was like an Indian power-point in New Mexico, one of those places which sky and clouds group themselves around. I love her so much, Deirdre thought, and wanted to tell her, but not in front of Aidan.

Ewas, oblivious, wanted to talk about a stock she had bought. Deirdre and Aidan laughed at her and Ewas stalked away, leaving Deirdre regretful. Most of her breakfast visits ended this way.

"Its like living with a jaguar," Aidan said. Deirdre wanted to change the subject, so she blurted out something she had not meant to tell her brother until she had spoken with Ewas: her desire to have a baby. Recently she had started imagining herself and Ewas holding and playing with a child. She immediately was upset with herself for saying anything to Aidan; God, I'm so clumsy, she thought. Aidan took the information only for what it meant to him: noise, inconvenience, the possibility of having to leave the house. Who will be happy for me? Deirdre wondered. Not Aidan, not Liam. Even Alana probably won't be, as much as she wants grandchildren.

Aidan kissed her on the forehead, then left to see a client in Ronkonkoma. Ewas was upstairs at her own Macintosh, working either on a Darkworld rules supplement or on her novel Huntress of Dreams. Deirdre, unhappy, didn't enjoy the morning's work on the graphics import feature. She wanted to see Ewas, but the women had a rule: they didn't interrupt one another during working hours, except for lunch. At noon, Deirdre prepared a roast beef sandwich with a hint of mustard on seven grain bread for Ewas and a salad for herself, then carried the food upstairs on a tray. The women ate on the deck outside their bedroom; up here, unshielded by the dunes, a breeze was blowing. Ewas seemed preoccupied, as she often did at lunch. She was working out some plot problems in Huntress; could a Tarla of the Seventh Order be skilled at telekinesis? She was concerned she might be infringing her own carefully worked out rules for the series. Deirdre suggested that the character in question might have had a predilection for one of the Orders of the Mind, but been forced down the wrong path by her parents. She heard Ewas' harsh laugh and turned to her.

"You're so kind....I'm sure you're thinking about a new widget you want to add to IdeaPile."

"Actually, there's something else."

"Speak," Ewas said uneasily, pushing some stray locks up under her baseball cap. Deirdre went and sat on the chair with her, but couldn't find a comfortable fit, and sank down to the deck, leaning on Ewas' knee, where she said, "What if we had a baby together?"

"Whoa whoa whoa.....what baby? You mean, adopt one?"

"One of us could be inseminated and bear a child. We'd raise it together: two mommy-daddies."

"You know I've never felt any particular desire to propagate this miserable species."

"Oh, Victoria," said Deirdre impatiently, "we wouldn't be propagating any species, we would have and love a baby. Don't you want one?" She looked up and saw that Ewas' face had become closed and harsh.

"Let's get a few things clear," Ewas said. "First, we're not talking about me bearing a child. Even if I could." Ewas had fibroids and knew from a women's health forum on Compuserve that they interfered with becoming pregnant. "We're talking about you bearing a child."


"You want to."


"Oh God." The exclamation was so unlike Ewas that Deirdre looked up, shocked. Ewas looked as if she wanted to rage or howl but was keeping a tight grip on herself.

"'You keep me out of prison, I keep you alive,'" Ewas said---a line the women often used to one another.

"I know."

"But you know who I really am. I wrestle myself to the mat every day for you. I don't fight people. I stay out of trouble. I give in. I go along. I negotiate and compromise."

Ewas had been arrested twice for brawling in her home town of Lee, Massachusetts, the first time as a juvenile. The second time, when she was twenty-one, a woman had taunted her and Ewas had hit her with a tire jack. The wound required fifty stitches in the scalp to close. Ewas had pled guilty and received a suspended sentence and a year's probation. Upon her sucessfully meeting the terms, the file was sealed. Ewas had always said that if she had been a young adult in 1969 she probably would have joined the Weather Underground and blown things up.

"You know how badly I try to be what you want me to be, and how much work it is. " She didn't usually speak about her violent impulses, but she had told Deirdre how close she had come to punching gentle Aidan on one or two occasions. Another time, after hiking with Alana in Hither Hills, Ewas had joked uneasily about pushing her down a steep dune.

"I'm hitting my limit here. I don't think I can do a baby."

"But why not? You could teach it to throw a baseball. I'd teach it to use a computer."

Ewas spoke very carefully, as if to someone for whom English was a second language. "Walk in my shoes a moment. I have you, though I don't deserve you. But I have you all to myself. Now you want me to share you with a little baby who came out of your body and would have all your attention."

"It would be your baby too."

"It would come from your body and it would be yours, not mine."

"If you love me, you would also love the baby."

"I have to go out for a while," Ewas said, shocking Deirdre by infringing another of their rules: no-one was ever to walk away in the midst of a discussion. Deirdre had proposed the rule and Ewas had agreed to it in the early years. Deirdre could never drop anything until it was resolved, while Ewas swung away too easily from emotional issues. Ewas stood and Deirdre reached for her knees, but the other went downstairs. A moment later, before Deirdre could decide what to do, she saw Ewas drive away in the Beetle.

Deirdre tried to go back to work, but the day was in ruins. She read the same lines of code over and over, tried to add to them, forgot what she was doing and started again. There was no way to look for Ewas on her bicycle, unless she was willing to seek her alone in the back woods, which Deirdre was frightened to do.

She stopped trying to work. Her intense disappointment was tempered by compassion for Ewas and shame at her own clumsiness. She knew Ewas was conservative in the ultimate sense of the word: she had made a little life for herself and Deirdre and guarded it like a flame in the wind. To hurl the idea of a baby at her, as casually as if proposing a picnic, was a mistake. She knew she had hurt Ewas badly. Deirdre herself had suffered only one injury in the collision, which was Ewas' statement that the baby wouldn't be hers. If Deirdre was hers, why wouldn't the baby be? She had always wondered at what limit love failed, but she didn't want to think too much about it.

Several agonizing hours elapsed before Aidan came home from his meeting. Deirdre, wild with anxiety, sent him right off again to the woods in search of Ewas. Two or three more hours passed, during which Deirdre imagined every possible combination of disasters: Ewas attacked or harming someone, Ewas hurting Aidan, Aidan hit by a train in the woods. She lay down in bed, smelling Ewas' scent on the pillow, holding her hand spread on her forehead and calming herself with her story from childhood about Thing and Lady Dancer. The Dancer befriended stocky Thing and traveled out from the city to see her on her secluded beach.

Aidan and Ewas came home and Deirdre was momentarily very angry to learn they had spent an hour fishing in the pond. But she could never stay angry; a moment later she was hugging them both, then taking Ewas away for a walk. She kissed her, but Ewas, who was not angry, had nothing to say. Ewas had always been able to put an argument away in storage somewhere if it was too upsetting. Ewas made an effort and said, "I know you need me to say something. I would do anything for you, but I can't raise a child. So don't ask me to."

Deirdre waited, but there was nothing more. "That's it?"

"That's it."

All three of them were quiet and withdrawn the rest of the day. After dinner, Ewas went back upstairs to work on Huntress of Dreams and Aidan and Deirdre watched television in the living room, hardly speaking to one another. In the morning, Aidan drove to New York to see Liam.

Deirdre was very sad all day. She threw herself into writing code, and finished implementing the shuffling and flipping commands. Ewas, as if repentant, was unusually attentive all day, bringing her coffee and making lunch. They ate on the deck again. When Deirdre was about to go back downstairs, Ewas took her hands and kissed them, saying, "I'm sorry I can't be more than I am." Deirdre said, "I want what you are," kissed Ewas' hands and went back to work.

Ewas' last word on the subject, some weeks later, was, "I'm afraid I might harm a child." She didn't explain further and Deirdre didn't ask.

Aidan returned from New York the second day after he left, unexpectedly bringing Darcy Sisnowski with him, just divorced and back from four years in France. Deirdre was delighted to see her; she had always liked Darcy best of the women Liam had dated. Ewas, who disliked Darcy, was careful and polite.

Darcy was tall, thin and graceful, with light brown hair ("the physical opposite of me in every respect," Deirdre thought.) Deirdre got her alone as soon as she could; they went down to the beach, and Darcy, who was impervious to cold, stripped to a one-piece lime-green bathing suit and dived in. Deirdre waited patiently, admiring Darcy's grace in the waves, and cradling a styrofoam cooler with two beers in it. Darcy made her wait a very long time; she didn't want to come out of the water. But the sun set, and she came up and sat beside Deirdre, who opened both bottles. They clinked; "here's to the hurricane," Darcy said, and Deirdre wondered if she meant life, or Liam. A carpet of stars began to come out, broken only by mist just above the horizon. A meteor flared; Darcy happened to be looking straight at it, and Deirdre saw it from the corner of her eye.

"Five years ago," Darcy said, "Liam brought me out here to see Alana, and we sat on the beach looking for shooting stars, but we didn't see any. Liam was so disappointed."

Deirdre uttered her short bark of a laugh. "He probably took it personally that the universe failed to produce for you."

"I think he did. I like your mom. I've met her a few times."

"I heard about that visit. Did you know Liam asked what she thought of you, and she said, 'Marry her, son.'"

"No shit."

"She said you're too good for Liam, but that that's the right kind of person to marry."

"But what about the better person, whom she wanted to marry the worse person?"

"You weren't Alana's responsibility," Deirdre said, and immediately had a false memory, one she couldn't link up to anything, like the card left alone when you've connected all the others in an IdeaPile: Alana on her knees, banging her forehead on the sand, screaming "Why, why, why," in tones of an excruciating loss. But Alana hadn't behaved that way, even when she lost John Molloy.

"That story," Darcy said, "makes me feel like a dessert Alana wanted to serve Liam."

"So what about this marriage?" Deirdre asked.

Darcy laughed with her head thrown back in the musical way Deirdre loved. "Subtle Deirdre, always beating around the bush. It was a stupid mistake on my part. I married a charming French guy. I knew something about his life but nothing about him as a human being. I liked his accent, the way he smelled and a few phrases, 'metro, boulot, dodo,' and 'un tout petit bout'. I went to live with him in a village of 400 people near the French Alps. I didn't know anybody, nobody spoke English and I couldn't speak much French. He had a house next door to his sister's house; she and her husband had been raising Claude's daughter, an eight year old with Down's Syndrome. Most Down's Syndrome children have sweet, calm personalities, but Perrine was a horror, very low functional. She thrashed and broke things. I was expected to be her mother."

"Where was her mom?"

"Sick somewhere. Mommy had a drug problem. Mommy was a singer with a pretty promising career ten years ago. Now she's ugly and mentally ill and has a screechy voice. I never met her in person but she would call on the phone sometimes and shriek at me."

"It sounds awful."

"At first, it seemed like a wonderful role in a play. Darcy the Martyr, Darcy the Healer, Darcy the Strong. It quickly became Darcy the Trapped. If I'd liked Perrine, if she was sweet and appealing, I'd probably have stuck it out longer. I had scratch marks all over my arms and my legs were black and blue from Perrine kicking me. Hand me your flashlight." She shone the beam on her calf, illuminating a pale scar. "She did that with a knife. That's the last souvenir of my marriage."

"Didn't you know about her when you married Claude?"

"I went in eyes open. But I had no idea what it would be like."

"Where was Claude in all this?"

"Traveling, on tour with musicians, making deals."

"What about Liam?"

"I love your brother and I always will. When I'm with him its my version of hell--he's Claude and Perrine and worse rolled into one. I'm not seeing anybody now, though there's a rather sweet man I met through Claude who's been calling."

"Liam can be tough. He's not nice to me or Ewas at all."

"Liam rarely talks about you or Victoria. When he does, he calls you the 'two Janes'. Why is that?"

"Jane is Ewas' middle name." Ewas would be waiting, and getting jealous; Deirdre stood and brushed herself off.

Back at the house, Aidan was very animated. He turned the radio dial until he found a station playing ballroom music, then plagued reluctant Darcy until she agreed to dance with him. They did a foxtrot on the wooden floor, looking very elegant together, two slender, light-haired people with good posture. Darcy, who had caught the spirit of the thing, asked Ewas to dance ("how clever of her," Deirdre thought.) When Ewas refused, Darcy asked Deirdre, who longed for a moment to share the glamor of Darcy's world. It wasn't a success; Deirdre felt too clumsy to learn the steps; every time Darcy turned her, Deirdre saw Ewas sitting perfectly still and jealous. Deirdre disengaged smiling and went to sit by Ewas, remembering Aidan quoting Hemingway: "Hawks do not share." She slipped her hand into Ewas' and thought of something which had been nagging her all evening: Aidan seemed to have come back from the city with some news. While she sat on the beach with Darcy, she suspected he had discussed it with Ewas. Behind Aidan's gaiety and Ewas' jealousy lay some uneasy matter. Deirdre now took Ewas' wrist and murmured in her ear, "Tell me what's going on or I'll twist your arm off." Ewas smiled against her will, captivated by Deirdre's play, and replied, "Don't make me flick you away, little mouse."

Aidan was dancing with Darcy again when Deirdre called, "Aidan! Speak!" Darcy quickly understood the situation and offered to go for a walk. "That's not necessary," Deirdre said.

Aidan said that Liam had approached him about a potential offer by Galacticorp to purchase their company. Aidan had met Tom Truant of Galacticorp and discussed the possible outlines of a deal.

Darcy expressed astonishment that Liam had said nothing to her about this, and they were all silent for a moment.

Deirdre watched lights on the living room wall: a penumbra from the lampshade, dancing glitters from Darcy's belt buckle, the sliding headlights of a car projected through the vertical blinds. She imagined glare, smoke and floating embers. The room vanished entirely and she imagined herself at her keyboard instantiating a card-pile entitled "Aidan's Motivations": Complacency. Desire to go along with whatever Liam wanted of them. Laziness. Unwillingness to fight Galacticorp, which could clone IdeaPile and put them out of business if they didn't sell. Greed for the two million dollars he hoped Galacticorp would pay. Aidan could not be other than he was. She saw another pile on the screen, unlinked to the first: Ewas. Protection of Deirdre. Rage tempered by realism. Resignation. The desire to do what Deirdre wanted. She linked the two piles with a line called "Deirdre."

They made up the living room couch for Darcy and went to bed before one o'clock. Deirdre came out of the bathroom and Ewas was standing in front of the cabinet in the corner, admiring the glittering guns. As she often did before sleep. She locked the cabinet and asked, "Would you like me to club some sense into Aidan?"

They assumed their comfort position under the quilt, Ewas' arms around Deirdre, Deirdre's head on her shoulder.

"No. It wouldn't change anything."

"He may just be afraid of Galacticorp."

"No. Aidan wants to sell."

"I thought so at one point, but then I said to myself, that can't be true. He loves this life as much as we do."

"Two million is a lot of money. Enough for Aidan to make excuses. He'll tell himself, this life won't end; we'll still live here, financially secure."

"Well, he's right, " said Ewas, their financier. "With even one million in the bank, plus my income, the two of you could get by without working for a living."

"Aidan doesn't work for a living now."

"Oooh, bitter. This isn't new information. And I'm not the one who insisted on living with your brother, as I recall."

"I don't want this to end."

"IdeaPile is your creation. Tell Aidan you won't sell."

"Aidan wants to. If I say no, he'll lose interest. He'll go away." Deirdre started to cry, shocking herself.

"We can buy him out."

"Who would sell the product for us? I'm no good at that."

"We'd hire a salesperson. Preferably one who didn't live here."

"I don't want to work with a stranger." She cried quietly for a little while, then added, "It might be really hard to find someone."

Deirdre knew that Ewas had lost patience but was trying not to show it. "I'll do whatever you want. Fight or flee. You call it."

"Tell me what to do."

"I think you're going to sell IdeaPile. Aidan wants to. You want to please Aidan." Ewas turned away on her side and snapped out the light.

The next day, they took Darcy to see Alana, who flew to her and hugged her for so long that Deirdre became jealous: she could not remember having received from Alana a hug of such duration. Alana then wanted to be alone with Darcy. "You would think she was the one in love with her," Deirdre said to Ewas, who replied, "They look like mother and daughter." "Oh, cruel," Deirdre said.

Afterwards, Darcy told Deirdre, "She was on me for an hour about Liam. She says we're so obviously right for each other that it makes absolutely no sense we haven't married. She never expected to have sons in their late twenties and thirties with no daughter-in-law in sight. She said how delighted she'd be to have me in the family and how much she wants grandchildren."

"Ouch," said Aidan.

Darcy returned to the city and Aidan carried on the negotiation with Truant. Deirdre avoided discussing it with him and threw herself into writing code. She finished a record-locking command, a log which kept a record of all prior states of a card pile and permitted you to restore them, and a feature for importing graphics into a card. She even spent half a day integrating a public domain drawing program into IdeaPile so that you could create pictures within the program. She found images somewhere of a deck of cards, loaded them into IdeaPile, and played solitaire. She had never been so productive in such a short time, but felt as if she was furiously coding at one end of a house that was burning at the other. She knew that Aidan would set a price without regard to the features she added at the last moment, so all her effort was futile. Ewas pointed out that she was even harming herself; any feature she added now she would be barred by the noncompete clause from re-creating in her next product.

Truant asked to come out to the house. Deirdre loathed him on sight, as he stood talking to Aidan in the driveway: he was a sleek, phony, well-manicured man.

Liam, uninvited, drove up with Rick Bauer in his old Mercedes a few minutes after Truant arrived. "Hello Jane, Victoria, Ed," he said at the door. Liam's presence in the house with Truant was too much for Deirdre, who escaped into her study and shut the door. Ewas came in to tell her, apologetically, that she had been nasty to Liam, but Deirdre couldn't scold her. "He had it coming."

Late in the afternoon, after Truant left, they shook off Liam and Rick rudely, and went down the beach to catch bluefish. Ewas drove the wobbling Jeep on the sand while Aidan pointed out a cloud of shrieking terns. Deirdre leaned back in the seat, enjoying a moment when the two people she loved liked one another.

Ewas wore waders and fished so far out that she sometimes scared Deirdre. Here in Ditch Plains at least the bottom was flat; out at the Point she had seen Ewas clamber onto slippery pitted rocks and almost be washed away in pounding surf. Ewas went crazy during a bluefish run, merged in the general insanity of streaking baitfish, chopping bluefish and screaming birds.

Aidan was a chicken. "Your brother is a pussy," Ewas always said. He feared the surf and fished from no deeper than ankle depth, even though he was too far from the fish.

Aidan stood now with his rod bowed, holding it over his head to counter the weight of a fish. The line went slack and he reeled down, then raised it over his head again. A moment later, he ran up the beach, and a sliding, plunging bluefish came out of the waves. He looked at Deirdre mutely and she seized the pliers from the back of the Jeep and ran down the beach.