Everybody who knows thirty-five-year-old artist Adrienne tells her that she “would make a terrific mother.” But at the beginning of the story, there is a fatal accident. While holding her friend’s baby at a picnic, Adrienne loses her balance, drops the child, and the child dies of a head injury. Adrienne is left traumatised. She drifts into marriage with Martin, an academic, whom she accompanies to a villa in northern Italy which doubles as their honeymoon. The villa, full of scholars that are experts in their various fields, is an emotionally sterile environment, perfectly mirroring it seems Adrienne’s state of mind, who for most of the story only appears to emotionally engage with thoughts of the dead baby: “Adrienne felt a light weight on the inside of her arm vanish and return, vanish and return, like the history of something, like the story of all things.” And later when she goes to a masseuse to help her relax, she hears lullaby music: “She was to become an infant again. Perhaps she would become the Spearson boy. He had been a beautiful baby.” The story, though, treads lightly when dealing with the aftermath of tragedy, the startingly accomplished writing shot through with black humour and acerbic wit that makes it all the more powerful.
First published in The Paris Review, Issue 124, Fall 1992, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in Birds Of America, Faber, 1998 and Collected Stories, Faber 2008; also a Faber Single, 2019