December, 1997, London
For the briefest instant, Ellen Wheelock thought Guy had pushed up behind her. She expected his hand on her shoulder. She listened for the low-voiced Maddie that was her name for most purposes and most people, and short for her middle name, which was Madeleine.
But Guy wasn’t here. He was at home with the newest caregiver, and Maddie was alone in this gallery with the hundreds of people who had crowded their way into her retrospective, the eerie mix of The Joshua Tree and Adagio for Strings she’d found in Guy’s studio playing in the background. There were posters on the gallery window, posters on the Tube with a signature piece of her work and the tucked-in, arty picture of her that the gallery rep had insisted on using, a sepia-toned shot that looked more like her mother from the 30’s than Maddie from the 60’s though Maddie had always loved it because the resemblance to her mother was so strong. The rep had convinced her finally by not trying to flatter her it was still accurate.
Ellen Wheelock: 25 Years of Seeing with the Camera’s Eye.
Maddie turned from the would-be buyers and would-be photographers she’d been talking with to a man who was much taller than Guy and exceptionally handsome, his hair receding but so slightly he might have still had his boyhood hairline.
Maddie knew better. “Carter,” she said. “Amazing. It really is you?”
She could tell he was freshly shaved when he leaned down to kiss her. “Aunt Maddie. Yes, of course it’s me, Maddie.” His voice was deep, but he was still soft-spoken. He squeezed her hands. “Tell me I’m not late for the gallery talk.”
They made their way toward a space behind the podium in the next room, which was set up for her talk, Maddie nodding her way past the nation of people claimed from the London night, the whole gallery smelling damp from the mist that had patterned their clothes and then faded away to a scent. There were women with invitations held tight to their handbags, goateed men in jackets and crew neck sweaters. Mostly there were seventeen-year-old girls and their inevitable dates, the girls sporting lemon or purple hair and making an immediate track to the wine and the canapés.
“We should get you a drink,” she said. “Tell me everything. When did you get here? You’re straight from the airport? Good. You really must stay with us. Guy’s not . . . you’ll understand. Just make allowances. But how did you know?” Maddie aimed a thumb at the walls, at her pictures that, surrounding her with their intensity, their contrails of history, had made her so ridiculously emotional. She hurried on. “And your children? Your wife. And Mercy. How’s Mercy?”