wants, as ever, to be amenable. She wants to believe, with the faith of Frederick’s doctors, that the time and will of those professionals can repair Frederick, as if her husband’s mind were simply some faulty intricate machinery, which only the best technicians can render operative. Still, Canon’s prognosis, his schematic approach to Frederick’s chaos, often strikes Katharine as absurd.
And yet, when finally Frederick phoned her from the hospital, Katharine for once had not accommodated, not placated. She had made a decision to remain firm, to echo her relatives’ faith in Mayflower without attenuating that confidence with her skepticism. She had resolved to remain firm, and that is how she had remained. Her sustained conviction in their short conversation was perhaps a small victory, but suggestive of greater powers. She had made a decision, and—at least for a moment—she had changed.
In the dimmed daylight of the living room at Echo Cottage, Katharine thinks of the impossibility of the immediate future. Here, they are still plainly blessed for this house, their prosperous history that has gifted them all this, but in a few weeks, she will be a single mother of four in a sleeted town on the far side ofMount Washington. She thinks of Nero, fiddling away, with his back to the fires. She rises from the chair.
Katharine must talk with someone else, someone who can consider her uncertainty. All of Katharine’s relatives only reiterate their blind faith in Frederick’s doctors, doctors who diffuse into jargon whenever Katharine pins them to a single cogent question. She must talk to someone else, someone other than her daughters, to whom she knows she has to parrot the doctors’ institutional-vague certainty.
The morning after the night that Frederick exposed himself on Route 109, Katharine woke the girls early. Her eyelids had burned with exhaustion then, her voice had thickened from a dozen anxious cigarettes, and her body had turned clumsy, as if she had spent hours hefting suitcases. But when she gathered the girls around the warped plank table on the eating porch, she produced a piece of psycho-script that perfectly resembled what Frederick’s doctors would later tell her. Like Frederick’s doctors, Katharine then spoke in a tone of infallibly official judgment, easily slipping into some bearded armchair character Freud scripted a half century ago, a costume to disguise herself from uncertainty. But maybe there is a reason that such language comes so easily to both Katharine and the psychiatrists? Perhaps it is simply the obvious truth?
Assembled on the eating porch that morning, the girls, pajamaed and groggy, mustered the kind of attention her daughters usually delight in refusing her. Katharine tried to offer the performance they clearly needed.
You know that Daddy has had a very difficult year. I’m sure you know that he has not been himself. All his yelling, and all the late nights. We should have done something sooner. The truth is that he is just exhausted
and so we’ve decided the best thing for him is to take a nice long rest. There is a place your uncle George recommended. It’s called Mayflower, and it’s near Boston. It won’t be long, but Daddy can rest there—
Surprisingly, the girls asked few questions. They seemed eager to accept the nebulous reasons Katharine provided to explain why their family had imploded while they slept. Maybe Katharine’s performance had successfully softened the news, or maybe the news was not the shock Katharine had thought it would be. Maybe her girls had for years silently carried a feeling about their father that this news clarified, and promised to mend.
The girls had believed her then, but now it has been more than two months since that morning, and still Katharine must act as certain as she first claimed. She must; she knows that she alone is the bridge that conveys the adult world to her daughters, and her daughters to the adult world. And she