Last night, I attended an interesting talk on the book Distracted by Maggie Jackson at the New York Society Library, a centuries-old institution on East 79th Street in Manhattan. Toward the end of the talk, a warm golden glow captivated me, shining out from the tall windows of the apartment house across the street. The lights of the Library bounced back, creating a nimbus around the window frames.
A vignette from long ago: Gaslight streams from windows in an expensive flat. The family sits down to dinner now that Father is home from business. The older children dine with their parents as servants bring the courses, one at a time. Mother is still young and beautiful, her hair in a Gibson. Night moves in. A baby cries, cranky and colicky. The meal continues as Mother becomes alarmed about the ferocity of the baby's cries. Then, silence -- the nursemaid must have calmed the fretful child. Mother speaks in a low voice about nothing much; father replies; the baby cries again, louder.
Now Father is restless, unnerved by the noise. The older children watch him and then turn to Mother as she rises from the table. "I'll go tend to Baby," mother says. "Perhaps she is feverish." Custard is served but Baby's cries become stronger. "Fetch Dr. Clark," Mother says as she rushes back into the room. "Fetch the doctor now." Father runs out the door as the older children sit still and silent. "Hurry," Mother says.
Oh, the street was full of ghosts last night.