Deirdre 1997

"Thank you for inviting me today. There' s no group I'd rather speak to than women computer science majors, though I didn't major in C.S. myself. When I was first invited a few years ago to talk to a group of women, I had absolutely no idea what I should say to them. I felt as if for no apparent reason everyone around me was treating me as a grownup, and even as someone with some wisdom, who had something to say. But I felt like a child. Have you ever felt that way? I see some of you nodding.

"I asked myself: what is it they believe I know? I'm not the world's greatest authority on anything. For my own personal reasons, I wrote some code, starting in 1981, and I enjoyed writing it. And I created a little product which we called IdeaPile. If I had seen it going in, as a battle or a test, I'm sure I would have shied away; I didn't even like to play my clarinet in front of other people, and I was a music major. I started writing code the way some people keep a diary---as a way to think things through, and not to be lonely and unhappy. I had no idea that writing code would become my living. And I think I'm very lucky, because the best careers are accidental ones. I didn't set my sights on something and then endure years of struggle, like most people.

"It helped not to have high expectations. I didn't want to manage a large team of developers, or to own a large company. And I don't. Nor did I plan to be a multimillionaire, and I'm not. I wanted to make a living, and to live in a way I was comfortable with, and to be my own boss. And I did all that.

"The first time I was asked to speak to a group of women developers about their careers, I panicked and I asked the woman I live with for advice. Her name is Victoria Sawe, the author---I see some of you know her; if you've read the series, the annoying shapeshifter who won't take anyone's advice is based on me.

"This time though, I took Victoria's advice. She told me to read Virginia Woolf's 'A Room of One's Own.' I have to admit, I was a bit resistant. 'Didn't she kill herself?' I asked. 'That's not a good omen.'

"'Things have changed', Victoria said. 'No-one drowns themselves any more. There are choices.' I thought she had given me a good jumping off point for the speech, and I went and read the book. I discovered that much has changed in the seventy years or so since Woolf wrote, but much has stayed the same. She wrote of women being chased off lawns and out of Oxford libraries by dons furiously explaining that the facilities were reserved for men. That couldn't happen today. She then goes to two dinners, one at a men's college, the other at a women's; at the latter, the food is poorer, there are fewer resources, less of an endowment. That could happen today. I attended a women's school, Colman College in western New York, because I was shy and didn't like being interrupted in class by boys. Colman didn't offer a computer science degree, not in 1981. Today I advise any young woman who asks, to go to a coeducational college and don't let the men interrupt. But I won't say any more about that, because that's the choice all of you made.

"Woolf said that for a woman to write she needs five hundred pounds a year and a room of her own. I don't know what 500 pounds translates into in today's dollars. I do know that the room of one's own is incredibly important. For many of you, it will never come up, because you will spend nine to whenever at your employer's office. But some of you may have the opportunity to telecommute or to be self-employed. If you plan to work at home, make sure that you have a room which is yours and that no-one else, your spouse or significant other or children, can enter without permission. I do. My den has a sign on the door which says, 'Intruders will be killed and eaten.'

"I suspect an aspiring woman writer in Woolf's time would have had more role models, despite the disadvantages, than a woman developer has today. I'm not entirely sure why that is; you are all significant evidence that there are scads of women entering the profession, but where are you once you get in? Almost all of the famous software jocks are men. Dan Bricklin, Wayne Ratliff, Mitch Kapor, and the list goes on. Where were the women? Well, no speech on this topic would be complete if it didn't mention Ada Lovelace, the programmer of Babbage's Difference Engine (the Ada language is named after her) and Grace Hopper, who created Cobol and became an admiral in the Navy. People I admired when I was coming up included Heidi Roizen, who had a pretty neat product called Tmaker in the '80's, and Adele Kaufman, one of the creators of Smalltalk. And there are some courageous women VP's at places like J.P. Morgan, leading large software development efforts. I see one of them here---hi, Liliane. But that's about it.

"My brother Liam has a software development consulting firm, which has about 150 employees. At any given time, ten or so are women. Every time I visit, I say, 'Liam, where are the women?' and he says that he hires all he can find. So I hope you'll all send your resumes to Liam---its Molloy Consulting, he's in the book---to help turn that around. Put a note on it saying Deirdre sent you.

"Thank you.

"I mentioned earlier that I live with Victoria Sawe. I'm a very private person, and it didn't come easily to me to tell large groups of people that I'm with a woman. The reason I do it is that, the first few times I spoke to groups of women, I talked only of my work, and not my life, as if these were in two separate compartments that don't communicate with one another. And women came up afterwards and asked me questions: Was I married? Single? Any children? How do I balance relationships and work? I realized I was presenting a piece of my life---a fragment really---and pretending it was the whole thing.

"So I owe it to you to tell you how I live. I'm pleased and embarrassed to do so, because I like the way I live, yet hearing about it may be of little benefit to you, who may have more to balance than I do.

"Victoria and I have lived together for fifteen years. For twelve of those, we have lived in a two story house in Montauk, New York, near the beach. We live on the top floor, and my brother Aidan, who is my partner in Starthrower Software, lives on the ground floor. The house has two bedrooms, a living room, and my study.

"Every morning around six-thirty, Aidan and I have breakfast together and talk about business. I tell him what features I'm working on and he tells me about meetings, trade shows, and marketing initiatives. Around seven, Victoria usually joins us for a few minutes.

"Its an old routine, and we began it when there were only the two of us. Starthrower now employs five other people, who are, I'm glad to say, Aidan's headache more than mine. One is a salesperson working in New York City, and the other four are developers we persuaded to move to Montauk, and who work in an office about a five minute drive from our house. By nine o'clock, Aidan's over there, if he's not driving somewhere for a meeting. I'm spoiled and I like to work at home, so most days by nine I'm in my study. I still prefer a Macintosh at this late date, as my main machine, but I have a PC as well. One computer is logged in to my ISP all day, and I'm constantly checking email. I have four or five friends in various places, including Australia, whom I trade mail with all day: 'Having some tricky Java bean problems. How are you doing?' One of them, whose voice I've never even heard on the phone, has corresponded with me for more than ten years.

"Victoria's office is in our bedroom. She's usually at work on a novel these days. She gave up Macs a few years ago and works on a Pentium machine running Windows 95. Here's the key part: we just don't interrupt each other until lunch. Then we take turns getting food for one another, and if the weather is nice, we eat on the deck or down on the beach. By one o'clock, we're back at work, and again we don't interrupt each other until dinner.

"When you ask me how to balance hard creative work with a relationship, all I can say is, find someone who has hard creative work of their own. Two people can sit in silence near each other, in the same house, working on different things, and still be completely present to each other. There must be no contrary expectations. I endorse your work as you do mine.

"Several days a week, I go over to the office, which I find a bit of a burden, frankly, and I sit with our employees. I give them chunks of code I have done which are ready for them to integrate. They show me what they are working on. I answer their questions if I can. I decided years ago that I never wanted to be anyone's boss. It felt like the same character of decision as another I made never to eat the flesh of an animal. I am not there as their boss. I am more like an older sister or an aunt.

"If this talk has sounded rambling, its because that is the way I think. I imagine an advertising slogan: 'The World Wide Web: where a thought disorder is a competitive advantage.' If you think I'm bad, you should listen to our developers: from Philip K. Dick to Monty Python to South Park to William Gibson in one five minute conversation. I used to get really dizzy listening to them, until I realized it was mental web-surfing. They were leaping from link to link, speaking in hypertext. Of course, conversations have always been like that, much more than novels, plays or treatises.

"Some of you may know that our first product was IdeaPile in the mid-1980's. Galacticorp bought it, so it doesn't exist any more. It was a utility for writing down a bunch of ideas and then drawing relationships between them. It used the metaphor of a card pile: you could view the whole pile on the screen at once, or maximize them and flip through a card at a time. It was in effect an early implementation of hypertext, though we didn't use that phrase.

"Our current product, Starthrower, is essentially a new implementation of IdeaPile, using http and the Web. It allows you to enfold a group of objects loosely in a framework which you manage and view from your browser. The objects can be text, HTML, word processing files, database records or spreadsheets. The Starthrower framework includes information on how you want your objects displayed---what views you want of your information. A framework is highly fluid---you can change it at any moment, just like moving the cards around in a pile. The objects in a Starthrower framework can exist anywhere on your network or the Net, accessible by any protocol, http, ftp or what have you. For example, I created a Starthrower collection about Victoria, which includes her own web page, some fan pages about her, some files on an ftp server, and some material I've written about her residing in pdf format on my own server. Starthrower takes the content of each of these objects and presents it with a consistent look and feel determined by the framework.

"The idea of Starthrower was born in a conversation Aidan and I had in the final days before we sold IdeaPile to Galacticorp. We spoke of the fact that IdeaPile was two-dimensional. In order to create or view a cardpile, you had to boot up the application---it was ignorant of the existence of other files on your computer created using other applications. We speculated about making a version of IdeaPile in which, instead of creating cards, you made pointers to other objects---pointers which said, 'treat this as a card'. Whenever I want to feel humble, I think about how close we came to imagining the World Wide Web at that moment---but we failed to and Tim Berners-Lee invented it instead.

"In IdeaPile, you could use the same cards in any number of separate piles. Similarly, in Starthrower, you can incorporate the same objects in any number of frameworks. What I like about that is that an object is allowed to be polymorphous---it isn't forced to have a single identity, or a set place in a hierarchy, any more than you or I should.

"This leads me to a semi-irrelevant observation about the dangers of words. Some years ago, Victoria and I took up scuba diving, and we've made a number of trips to the Caribbean. The first time we dived on a coral reef, we saw a moray eel, and I was frightened. Victoria suggested that I imagine I was in the woods with Alice, you know, where the creatures forget who they are. If I forgot the name 'moray eel' and the baggage it carried with it, what would I think? I saw a fat green creature, ugly but rather interesting, that wanted to be left alone.

"I've been reading a book by Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea. I highly recommend the book, but one thing I didn't like about it is that he spends an awful lot of time personally attacking Stephen Jay Gould, an author and evolutionary biologist with opposing views. Dennett even examines the possible psychological motivations for Gould's beliefs, as if that mattered.

"One of their arguments is about something they call a 'spandrel'. A spandrel originally was an empty space in a cathedral, created as a side-effect when you put some other architectural pieces together. It was a by-product, which the architects eventually began to treat as a feature; they decorated the spandrels. The phrase is used in evolutionary biology to mean a by-product of an adaptation, as distinguished from the adaptation itself. Both Dennett and Gould agree that some changes in the genome are adaptations and others are spandrels. Gould seems to believe spandrels serve no purpose, while Dennett replies that some spandrels themselves become an adaptation later on---they unspandrel themselves, I suppose.

"Now, I don't want to be unfair to Daniel Dennett. He seems like a nice man you meet at a party, perfectly reasonable until a particular topic comes up, in his case Gould. Then he starts to froth at the mouth. Perhaps I was already feeling distressed when I got to the part of the book about spandrels. I thought, what a pejorative word! It suggests something unloved and useless---what a way to sink something under the weight of language. How presumptuous to manipulate the world with tongs, dividing everything into just two heaps, spandrels and adaptations. The computers we work on and the software we write may be binary, but that doesn't mean that the things we build with them have to be. Seurat's pointillist paintings are not the portrait of a point. That's why I like card piles and hypertext better than spreadsheets or databases. The constellations are not stars existing in a rigid hierarchy; they are lines we draw, that exist only in our minds, and we can redraw them at any time, in any way we choose. That's where we got our name, Starthrower, and the animated logo of the figure---its supposed to be me---throwing a bunch of stars, then connecting them up. In a card pile, in a Starthrower framework, there are no spandrels; only ideas. You can label them, but they are not their labels.

"One thing that I like about my relationship with Victoria is that we are not anything you can categorize to each other, not husband or wife or 'girlfriend'. We just are.

"I told my friend Lisa Bauer about spandrels, and she said they reminded her of a line from the Passover service: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.'

"Let me leave you with a thought that I've included, as a sort of superstitious gesture, in every card pile and Starthrower framework I've created, always as card or object number one. It is the Schlegel sisters' motto from Howards' End: 'Only connect'. Its a really appropriate mantra for the age of the Internet, isn't it? 'Only connect.'

"Thank you. Thank you. Anne says we have time for a few questions."

"Ms. Molloy, I'm a gay woman who is also a skilled C++ programmer. I've heard you speak before, and I've noticed that in talking about yourself, you never use the words 'gay' or 'lesbian'----why?"

"You're not going to like my answer---I've been told its evasive and accused of being in denial. I think of myself as a woman who chose a woman, one day in 1982, and has been with her ever since. Does that make me 'gay'? In my idea pile, that's a label like 'spandrel', but I recognize in yours it is probably a badge of pride. In a polymorphous world, we each get to choose our labels, but have no need to be them. In the front row."

"How do you think of ideas? I'm trying to come up with a product and I'm feeling a little stuck."

"I get asked that one a lot, and I wish I had a better answer. I really don't think up product ideas as such. I wake up in the morning wanting to try something, which I will enjoy making and using. IdeaPile came from the way I outlined term papers in college. You could even say I only had one idea in my life and implemented it twice, once as IdeaPile, once as Starthrower. The woman in the back."

"I'm bothered by the thought that yours is a culturally relativistic approach. You attack binary thinking, but isn't it true there are some real world standards we appropriately apply? Every child's watercolor is not a Seurat. There is software that doesn't work, and software which works but hogs memory, and so on. Then there is tight, beautifully written code, like yours. Would you really treat them all the same?"

"Not at all. Nothing I said was intended to imply that. Imagine looking down from far above with a god-like objectivity on any collection of objects, and trying to reach some judgment about them. I think you would continually be rewarded by the discoveries you make if you suspend the use of binary categories such as 'adaptation' and 'spandrel'. By contrast, binary thinkers will always miss some number of successful objects. If my thoughts had been even more disorganized, I might have invented the World Wide Web, as I said earlier."

"I was interested by your use of evolutionary parallels in a speech about software development. I'd like to recommend a book, T.H. Huxley's Evolution and Ethics, written a hundred years ago. Huxley commented on the way we confuse 'successful' with 'best'. He points out that if the climate changed in particular way, the only surviving life form on earth might be a lichen. Would it therefore also be the best life form?"

"Thanks. I've actually seen that book on Victoria's shelf; you've given me a reason to read it. What you said makes me think of Galacticorp. Some of their software is like that lichen. I think in IdeaPile we created something very advanced, but Galacticorp eventually buried it and went on to triumph with more linear products. Today, we are all still counting on Galacticorp not really understanding the Internet. That gave us a two year head start, but as the company figures out how to get its jaws around the Net, we may see history repeat itself. I can tell you one thing: if approached again, we would fight to the death rather than sell."

"The Association of Women in Software is having its biannual luncheon in the Devane Room upstairs, right after this. We'd be delighted if you joined us."

"I would have loved to, but my sister-in-law Darcy is here to take me to lunch."

Over salads, Darcy said, "I was fascinated by by the idea of spandrels. It sounds like a breed of dog, doesn't it? 'Deirdre walked her spandrel down the beach.'"

"I meant to mention another idea from the Dennett book: language itself may be a spandrel, a by-product of a selection for bigger brains for hunting or throwing."

"I've always thought that language was highly over-rated as a means of communication. How is Aidan?"

"Aidan is Aidan. He's seeing someone again, a biologist from North Carolina who's doing some research on our local fox population. Naturally, we call her the fox lady."

Deirdre took the five o'clock train home after doing some book-shopping. Ewas met her at the Montauk train station and, after they kissed, said, "Liam wants you to sell the company again."


"He's in negotiations with a company called Fledermaus to sell his two businesses, and he called Aidan to ask if you would sell Starthrower too. Fledermaus would merge you and Liam into one company."

"I won't do it. Does Aidan want to?"

"He says not, but the CEO of Fledermaus wants to pay us a visit. Aidan says we should hear him out."

"God, what part of 'never' doesn't Aidan understand? Or Liam, for that matter."

"I told him that."

At the house, Aidan told her that Fledermaus was an insurance claim processing empire buying up high tech consulting firms.

"I don't want to go through this again. I'd buy you out sooner than sell Starthrower. It would die even faster than our last product did, especially in the hands of an insurance company."

"May I say something? I don't want to sell either. Believe it or not, I'm capable of learning from my mistakes." But there was something in Aidan's tone, some hesitation or tiredness, which kept her from believing him.

In 1987, when Galacticorp bought their company Montauk Software in order to get IdeaPile, Aidan and Deirdre had both signed two year consulting agreements. Galacticorp agreed they could remain in Montauk as their home base. After the first few months, the phone never rang. Deirdre continued to develop new functionality for IdeaPile until she knew for sure that Galacticorp would never include it in any future release. She had been given an account on a server to which she uploaded her work, then sought in vain for weeks to find anyone who had looked at it. There was a team of developers who had been assigned to IdeaPile at Galacticorp headquarters and they had an arrogant attitude towards Deirdre: "We're the professionals, we'll take over from here." Their job was to rewrite IdeaPile to fit it into Galactiword. In the process, they were shaving off features she had already created; they were flattening IdeaPile to make it fit within a word processor.

The monthly checks continued to arrive even though she and Aidan were not called upon to provide any services. Deirdre wanted to quit. Aidan was in favor of taking the money; he argued it was really part of the purchase price they had negotiated. Deirdre did not feel right being paid to do nothing. By quitting now, they would forfeit $100,000 apiece, but would be released from their noncompete agreements a year early. Aidan and Deirdre had a terrible fight, the first one in years.

Deirdre emailed Tom Truant at Galacticorp that she wanted to quit. Truant called to talk her out of it, promising to find her some New York-based consulting work, almost certainly not involving IdeaPile.

Aidan left to pursue an old goal of wandering around North America. He had always daydreamed of arriving in a city, renting an apartment, staying one month or six, then moving on. He went to Vancouver, B.C., Seattle and Monterey. His checks continued to come to Montauk, and Ewas deposited them in the local bank for him. Aidan transferred sums to himself; once, when there was a problem, they wired him money via Western Union. He arrived home, unexpectedly, about ten months after he left. He had gotten very lonely.

In the meantime, Truant had taken Deirdre on some sales calls to Galacticorp clients, but she was too shy and awkward to succeed in that role. He offered her a team of programmers to manage, implementing Galacticorp technology at a large bank in the city. She was good at this, but it was very boring work. For six months, she spent four nights a week in Liam's guest bedroom, where Aidan had lived five years before. When the project was over, she resigned from Galacticorp and went home to Montauk.

Soon after Aidan's return, Deirdre realized that she was in a bad patch with Ewas. It had most likely started when she was spending most of her nights in the city, but they hadn't been together enough even to fight. Ewas had never had to endure Deirdre idle. Deirdre, ashamed of herself, was unable to stop interrupting Ewas' work. Ewas told her roughly to get herself a job, or create another product. She and Aidan had eight hundred thousand dollars in the bank after paying taxes on the Galacticorp sale, so they didn't need the money. Ewas didn't want Deirdre on her hands all day.

Aidan had a computer science degree but hadn't written code in years. When they first started their company, Deirdre had often redone Aidan's work, and soon he had stopped coding and devoted his full attention to sales and marketing. Deirdre sometimes worried that she had caused him to stop by being better at it than he was and intrusive to boot.

Now that IdeaPile was gone, Aidan felt free to write software again. He created a few utilities, printer managers and the like, with colorful, easy user interfaces and amusing documentation which he wrote himself. He never showed these to Deirdre but distributed them as shareware. They weren't very comprehensive products, and the heyday of shareware was a few years back anyway. He had more success with a fantasy baseball management system, which sold a few hundred copies.

Deirdre spent almost a year paralyzed. She still couldn't quite let go of IdeaPile, but when she sat down to work on it knew that she was working on code no longer current and which she was legally barred from showing anyone. Ewas, who was never very patient, hit a height of exasperation; the words, "perhaps we should separate," hovered in the air between them for the first and only time, but faded away immediately. The one who said it immediately said, "I don't mean that," and the other agreed.

Ewas introduced Deirdre to a computer book publisher, and she spent most of a year writing a book on C++ programming. It sold a few thousand copies; when it went out of print Deirdre was not disappointed, because she had something to do again and most of the reward was in the writing, not the selling. She immediately signed up to do another one, and the two books led to opportunities writing product reviews for several trade publications.

In late 1991, Deirdre began the initial version of Starthrower. The Web didn't yet exist; the primitive prototype put an object-oriented framework around spreadsheets, word processor files and databases located anywhere on a network, and could also access files on the Internet via ftp. It had a proprietary front end, as the Web browser hadn't yet been invented. When the Web came along two years later, Deirdre rewrote Starthrower to use Mosaic, the first browser, as its client. When the Java programming language was released in 1995, she redid the whole product in it.

Aidan settled into his old comfortable role and began marketing Deirdre's new software. Ewas suggested the name Starthrower and, as a gift for Deirdre, made a little crude animation of a Deirdre-figure, flowing at the edges to indicate it was a shapeshifter, throwing stars into the sky and then drawing a line with its forefinger to link them into a constellation. Redone by a professional, this became their logo, running on screen as the software booted up.

IdeaPile had been an application anyone could learn to use in a few minutes. Starthrower was a development environment for creating applications. Aidan priced the entry-level version at five thousand dollars. IdeaPile had originally sold for $99.00. Deirdre missed having an inexpensive product; the most interesting IdeaPile customers had been the individuals using it to trace family genealogy or collect recipes, not the corporate clients who created cardpiles of bad loans, airplane parts, or project metrics. There were no small uses of Starthrower.

Attention and admiration from people who used her software had become a necessary nutrient to Deirdre during the IdeaPile years, and had been lacking from her life in 1987-1991. She found it again with Starthrower. She began to get daily email from corporate developers praising the product and seeking technical counsel. Reviewers wrote that Starthrower fully leveraged the potential of the Web.

Liam called Aidan to say that he thought Fledermaus would pay ten or twelve million dollars for Starthrower: about three times gross revenues for 1997. Deirdre, Aidan and Ewas held a formal "family" meeting at which Ewas made a presentation on their net worth. They had about $2.5 million in cash, mutual funds and stock. Alana had made them a gift of the house outright, and their lifestyle was not expensive. Deirdre said, "I can't imagine what we could do with ten million dollars more that we can't already do."

"I can," said Aidan, but added, "I'm not particularly driven to do it."

Ewas abstained because Starthrower was not hers. It was an unseasonably mild day in March and later Deirdre and Ewas took their usual walk in the Hither Hills woods, winding up at the pond. Here Ewas had met Ilana Morgan, the wildlife biologist surveying the native fox population, whom she had introduced to Aidan. Ewas didn't like strangers, but she had made an exception for Ilana, because Ewas herself was fascinated by the foxes. Ilana had told her that a fox could pounce fifteen or more feet, and that several sometimes hunted together for fawns. "I told her it wasn't safe for a woman to be back here alone," Ewas said laughing, holding Deirdre's mittened hand.

The trail ran through sere woods and dead fields, then woods again. "Mouse, do you ever think about the future?" Ewas asked.

"I think the future is like a blanket wrapped around the two of us. You can't see the far end of it but you know its the same material as the part you're touching."

"That's true for us but not for everybody."

"I was only talking about us. The future is, I want to live here, in our house, with you. We're living in our future."

"I was thinking the same thing."

They went on a little ways and Ewas said, "You asked once if I would raise a child with you."

"I remember."

"I said I can't. Can't is convenient. Can't levitate, can't raise a child. I was afraid. I didn't want to. Did you want to very badly?"

"I did for a while, but I let it go."

"Why did you, mouse?"

"Because I wanted you more."

"Its not too late now, if you still want."

Deirdre stopped astonished. Ewas asked, "Have I upset you?"

"No. I'm overwhelmed. I gave this up long ago."

"I'm still not sure how I would do with it, but I'm willing to try."

"Why is this coming up now?"

"I don't really know. I really regret telling you I wouldn't. Its the worse thing I ever did to you.. And then I realized something recently. I always thought I'd be very jealous. But I've watched you with the Bauer children, and it makes me happy to see you so happy."

"I'm almost thirty-five."

"Which means now would be the time."

They sat on Ewas' boulder on the shore of the nameless, half-frozen pond. "The birdless lake," Ewas said.

"I had a dream the other night," Deirdre said, "that Darcy had a baby and didn't want it. I said we would take it."

"Well, do you want to?"

"I don't know now," Deirdre said, leaning back against her, "but I'll think about it."

Later that day, Deirdre asked Aidan if he thought about the future. "For me," he answered, "the future has always been a sort of fog. I'm not like Liam, with his twelve month financial projections and business plans; I always lived in the day. But recently its been different. I was going to tell you: I'm thinking about asking Ilana to marry me."

Deirdre was surprised; Aidan had dated other women over the years without ever thinking of marriage. "I like Ilana. She's smart and she really cares for you. She'd be a good companion. But do you love her, Aidan?"

"I don't know, Thing. I don't think I've ever been in love with anyone. On the other hand, I love everybody. I hope that will be good enough."

"When Ilana says, 'I love you', will you answer, 'And I love everybody'?"

"Sarcasm isn't your style, Thing. Are you jealous?"

"It would be a bit tight, if you wanted to live here."

"I'd take a house nearby. You were ready to throw me out years ago, when you were thinking of having a child."

"Ilana teaches at a university in North Carolina. How would you work that out? You might have to go there."

"I couldn't; Starthrower is here. I'm not leaving you, or the company."

Deirdre told Ewas, "Ilana is thinner and prettier, but she looks and sounds a lot like me, have you noticed?"

"No-one is prettier than you, Thing, but I did see the resemblance. And her name is similar to your mother's."

"I thought of that too."

Andy Greene, the Fledermaus CEO, couldn't come to visit and sent David Harper, an investment banker, in his stead. Harper was a broad-faced, brown-haired man with a disarming style. Deirdre didn't want to like him. Ewas stayed upstairs, out of sight. After an hour of conversation about Starthrower, Aidan took Harper down to the beach.

Deirdre and Ewas went out on the deck; they could see Harper and Aidan standing atop the dune, looking at the cold ocean. First Aidan gestured and spoke, then Harper.

"Its a biblical scene," said Deirdre, "like the devil showing Jesus the world."

"Which is which?" asked Ewas.

Aidan returned and they could hear Harper's BMW driving away.

"I told him we're not interested," Aidan said.

In early May, a Bauer-Molloy family weekend had long been planned. Liam and Rick Bauer stayed in the city, working on the sale of Liam's two companies to Fledermaus. Rick's wife Lisa came out with their two sons, joined by Rick's brother Robin, his wife Lina, and their son Tod. Darcy drove out alone in Liam's Mercedes.

On the first day they played their traditional softball game at the field in Montauk. Ewas pitched and Deirdre was the catcher. Stocky, pleasant Rob Bauer hit the ball past the children in the outfield and against the opposite fence. He ran slowly around the bases, doing funny dance steps on each one, while two of the boys chased the ball. His beautiful raven-haired wife, fiery Lina, swung wildly at every pitch, connecting with the third one for a double.

Ewas was deliberately throwing easy pitches, as she did every year. Deirdre's eyes were always on the three sober, darkhaired boys, who ranged in age from nine to twelve years old. They were smart, respectful, good in school. Lina, Tod's mother, was tough, often bitter, funny when in a good mood. Deirdre liked her broad Brooklyn accent. Rick and Rob had grown up a few blocks from her in Brooklyn, but had none.

Lisa, Rick's wife, was good-hearted but very silly. Deirdre always felt guilty she didn't like Lisa more. Rick was much more intelligent than his wife but loved her whole-heartedly; they seemed to have a good marriage. Lisa had been Deirdre's roommate her first year at Colman College. She was vain, and like Alana, she wore beautiful, expensive rings on every finger; Ewas called her "diamond girl." Recently she had put on a few pounds, and her face had started to take on the matronly look she would wear for the rest of her life.

Aidan came up to bat and Ewas struck him out with three pitches. She never cut him any slack, but he didn't resent it; it was a running joke between them. She threw gentler pitches to Jon Bauer, who was physically awkward like Rick, but struck him out anyway. Rob Bauer came up again and hit a pop fly. At second base, Darcy stretched her graceful long body and caught it without moving. She held her glove up in the air for a moment, looking towards the spectators and laughing silently, extending her sensuous lips in a smile. In the stands, Alana applauded frenetically, ruining Deirdre's good mood. Whenever Darcy was around, Alana stayed near her: the daughter she'd never had. Deirdre didn't hold it against Darcy: she didn't do anything to encourage Alana.

After the game, Lina said to Deirdre, "May I speak with you?" Deirdre noticed again that Lina was the most beautiful woman present; though she was forty-five years old, her fierce coloring and animation eclipsed Darcy, who usually stayed at the far end of any family group from her.

"Of course."

"Its about my husband. Rob has been working at the same place, Kastmeier Industries, for fifteen years, as a database developer. He's bored out of his skull and ready for a change. He's too shy to speak with you, so I'm asking: is there any chance he could come work for you?"

"Our employees live out here."

"We'd move here in a heartbeat. We've been trying to get out of Brooklyn for years."

"I'll talk to Aidan about it."

"Will you think about it? Will you?" Lina asked nervously.

"I said I would," Deirdre replied gently, and Lina gripped her hand contritely: "I'm such a pest. I know you will. Thank you."

Back at the house, came the moment Deirdre most enjoyed: Jon, Joe and Tod wanted to make Web pages. She took the boys to her study and placed them at the two computers: Joe worked alone and Jon sat with his cousin. Over a series of visits, the boys had constructed a world, which they called Planet Montauk; it consisted of linked pages, which you could explore like the places in an old text adventure game. With Ewas' help, Deirdre had collected images from the Web of warriors, dragons, and magical objects, and she taught the boys enough HTML that they were able to write their own pages with the pictures plugged in. Each was a description of a Planet Montauk location and ended with two links elsewhere. Over two years, Planet Montauk had grown to hundreds of short pages, which Deirdre had ultimately mounted on a server at her ISP so that the boys could access it from their homes. Deirdre liked leaning over the children, smelling them and patting their short, bristly hair. When she had been with them for an hour, she noticed that Ewas had come in quietly and was sitting in an armchair across the room, watching.

Darcy stayed two days after the others left. The first night, they convened a family meeting--they were used to having Darcy at their meetings---to discuss Lina's request.

"What are Rob's skills?" Aidan asked.

"He's a database guy. Lots of DB2, some Informix. Formerly an administrator, but doing more development now. He's got some Web experience, mainly tools like Cold Fusion. He's dabbled with Java a bit on his own."

Aidan thought it might work. "He's not mainstream for us, but maybe we could get him working on a SQL back end that customers could use instead of our built-in persistence engine."

Ewas usually saw her role in the meetings as providing financial information; she had always been careful not to comment on strategic decisions. Tonight she was furious at both of them. "Rob Bauer is a lost kitten. Left to your own devices, you'd hire every wounded bird and lost kitten for miles around. Its none of my business, but its obvious to me you're creating a job for Rob, not figuring out what skills Starthrower needs and then looking for the right person. You already have two waste cases working for you and I have to listen to you complaining about them every day. Don't hire this man."

Deirdre suggested they table the question of Rob Bauer for later discussion, and Aidan agreed.

The next day, Tuesday, Deirdre played hooky from work. Darcy borrowed a pair of Aidan's hiking boots--her feet were the same size as his --and Deirdre took her on the walk back to the pond. Darcy sat on Ewas' boulder talking to Deirdre, on the ground nearby, about Liam.

Darcy said that Liam had admitted to an affair with a woman named Signe Anderson. "I went up to Vermont by myself for a few days. Liam didn't know where I was."

"He called here looking for you."

"I wanted him to wonder if I was with another man. It was childish but effective: I restored the balance of power." She was silent a moment. "It would have served Liam right if I'd gone with someone else, but I couldn't. Not so much because I love Liam, but I'm tired. I think of another man and I think: Another penis, another set of expectations. If Liam really knew me, he would have known I wasn't with anybody. Its funny: I got hold of him through his ignorance."

"How are you now?"

"I haven't forgiven him exactly. I'm resigned. I told him it can never happen again, and he promised." She unlaced and laced her hiking boot nervously. "You know, I had a sort of crush on your brother when we got married. Strange thing, considering I'd already known him, what, fifteen years. For a little while, I forgot something I always knew about him: Liam just doesn't resonate on a certain level. He can be pleasant and affectionate, but a piece of him is missing. I forgot that just long enough to marry him. I've thought about leaving. Every day I have less of a reason to stay, but I'm not motivated to go. I think about being a three-time loser. At some point it becomes permanent: I see myself as one of those elderly women you see walking a ridiculous little dog on the Upper West Side and muttering to herself. You know, the strongest motivation to leave has been the thirty million dollars he expects to get from Fledermaus: I keep thinking people will believe I stayed for the money, and I don't give a shit about the money."

"Everyone knows that."

"I don't think Rick and Lisa know it. They're very jealous people."

"The hell with the Bauers."

"I love Liam but I don't always like him. He makes these cutting little comments, that prove how tone-deaf he is to emotions."

"That's why we nicknamed him Jones, remember?"

"I look at Rick and Lisa and I hate them sometimes for having a better marriage than Liam and I do. A vain man married a moron, and they make each other happy. Why?" Deirdre did not know how to answer, and Darcy said: "Well, thanks for letting me whine. I'm not a victim; I'm trying to resist victim thoughts. We'll put this behind us and I'll tell Liam some things have to change. We have to move back into Manhattan; I can't stand Westchester. I have to find something real to do; I've been marking time. I'll get a job or go back to school. Get Darcy in motion again."

Deirdre became very friendly with Ilana Morgan, though Aidan hadn't said anything more about marrying her. Ilana was tough, honest and sexy in an unselfconscious way; she was very smart and had a scientist's easygoing, unafraid attitude to the world. Her hair, her skin, her laugh were all like Deirdre's. One day, Deirdre and Ilana went shopping together for sweatshirts and hats at White's drugstore in Montauk. The cash register clerk asked Deirdre, "Are you the older or younger sister?"

Ilana often spent the night with Aidan and Deirdre would find her reading in the living room when Deirdre came down early in the morning to do email. One morning in June, Ilana followed Deirdre into her study and asked, after some hesitation: "Did you know Aidan proposed to me yesterday?"

"No, but he told me some time ago he was thinking about it."

"I have a question which I know is completely out of line, and if you refuse to answer I'll understand. Is Aidan gay? I mean, bisexual?"

"Why do you ask?"

"He watches men. When guys walk by in bathing suits, his eyes flick."

"Everyone's eyes follow people who walk by."

"I think he looks at them with desire. He's probably completely unaware of it."

Deirdre thought for a while, selecting words carefully. "I don't believe Aidan has ever been with a man. We've lived together twelve years and only women have ever stayed here." She couldn't tell whether Ilana was satisfied by the response; possibly not, because she asked, "Do you think Aidan would be happy with me?"

"Aidan cares for you very much."

"He's such an easy going guy," Ilana said brightly. "Marrying him would be like slipping on a comfortable old glove." This image made Deirdre think of another: a hermit crab hurriedly switching shells. Ilana was returning to North Carolina in September, when her fox project ended. Deirdre could not imagine Ilana leaving her job. Aidan's choice would be to give up Ilana or leave Montauk.

"Aidan will go," Ewas predicted.

For the first time, Deirdre thought that she could carry on without Aidan if need be. She would manage the developers in the office in town and hire a salesperson to replace her brother. Looking out the bedroom window towards the dune, she thought: I've always seen myself as being so soft. But if I had to, I could become the hardest substance known to humankind.

In July, Darcy called to ask if she could come out. Liam had closed the deal with Fledermaus, and was now in trouble; he had gone to Atlanta to sort it out. She said she would arrive around noontime, but called at three to ask Deirdre to meet a train at Amagansett.

Darcy had a long, mean-looking scratch on her forehead. "I totaled the Mercedes on the L.I.E.," she said. "The whole front end is crushed." Deirdre ascertained she didn't need medical attention, then took her right to the pizzeria and got her a slice and a Coke; Darcy hadn't eaten anything since morning. "Timing is everything," Darcy said. "I've been attempting to tell Liam for two days that I may be pregnant. I haven't done one of those home tests yet, but I'm weeks late."

"Were you trying?"

"Shit no. For ten years I've thought I was infertile. Joao and I stopped using birth control and I never got pregnant. I knew it wasn't him, because he had two kids by his first marriage. I've never used anything since. Anyway, this Fledermaus mess happened and Liam took off for Atlanta. I was just about to get in the car this morning when I got a call from an old friend who just saw Liam with Signe---at least I assume its her from the description."

"I'm sorry."

"So am I. Timing is everything. I keep asking myself, 'What does Signe signify?'" Her humorous expression turned into a fearful one and back again; all in the play of her wonderfully expressive lips. Deirdre took her home, and found Alana, Ewas and Aidan heading down to the beach. Alana was very drunk. Deirdre and Darcy changed into bathing suits and followed. It was a warm, overcast day. Ewas the sea otter was diving into the waves. Alana sat on a blanket looking at Darcy with a tremulous smile. Deirdre noticed her beautiful mother was old: fussy-looking, almost senile in appearance, layered in inappropriate make-up. Darcy went to Alana and put a hand on her head. Looking at Alana, Darcy made that face again. Deirdre took the opportunity to whisper to Aidan to watch Darcy; she was not in good shape. Ewas came out of the water and lay down on a blanket.

Deirdre lay down next to Ewas. Darcy went to sit with Aidan; she took a little spiral notebook from her bag and started to turn its pages. She smiled, but the strained smile again turned into a frightened grimace. Deirdre took the cell-phone from Ewas' bag and dialed Molloy Data, where Liam's executive secretary gave her the phone numbers of the Atlanta hotel and the Fledermaus headquarters. Deirdre called both of these and Liam's cell number as well, but couldn't find him anywhere. Aidan and Darcy were talking; everything seemed all right, so she rolled against Ewas' moist back, not looking to see Alana's disapproval, and dozed off.

Aidan woke her moments later, screaming that Darcy had swum so far out he could no longer see her.