Fleur knocked on my door, and I must have been asleep because it seemed to wake me. I guessed that she had heard something of the argument the night before. It hadn’t sounded very loud at the time, but that morning it occurred to me that the whole world was dimmed and muffled. The light was very faint, just leaving night behind.
I let her in. We looked at each other.
“I’ll be back,” she said, and returned a few minutes later with tea in a cup on a saucer. The delicacy of the china was somehow wonderful, transparent even in the dull light. Strength, fragility, all at once.
She sat down in the chair at my desk—I was sitting on the chaise longue—and lit a cigarette. “Sorry,” she said, “I know you don’t like it, but too bad.” She smoked it half down. “I’ll go with you. To the hospital.”
I sat there, quite still. “No,” I said.
“Have you looked in the mirror?” she asked.
I smiled at her, or started to. It hurt.
She finished the cigarette and stubbed it out in a dented metal saucer she had brought in with her. “OK,” she said. “I’ll call Carl.”
I didn’t complain.
She went downstairs and shut her door. The sound of her voice came very faintly through to my room, only because I knew to listen for it.
My dress from the night before lay on the floor in a pool of silk. It was pale oyster gray, with a split up the side that had shown the bruise on my upper leg like an ugly pressed flower. Gil had stayed by my side all night to shield the view. His fury when we walked in the apartment door had been fast and strong, a striking snake.
I’m being dramatic again.
Fleur came back up carrying the newspaper and handed it to me. She had a magazine as well, and she sat down with it. She picked up the little amphora on my desk and held it in her hands, turning it over, then set it down again.
“I don’t like him coming here. I wish you would go to the hospital this time.” She sighed, a short sigh, a sort of huff. “He’s coming anyway, and he’ll stitch you up.”
I must have flinched at that.
She narrowed her eyes at me, then picked up her magazine and put her feet on the desk and started to read. She was wearing striped socks, three colors repeated. I spent a while studying the contrast they made against the white surface.
“I’ll wait here,” she said, without looking at me. She turned a page. “Dad’s gone to the gallery already. His bag is gone so I think he’ll stay upstate.” The statement caused her visible effort.
I hadn’t heard him leave.
There are no mirrors in my room, so I didn’t need to look. Carl was Gil’s cousin, a plastic surgeon with a practice a few blocks away. He faxed through prescriptions for Gil, antibiotics or whatever, and I suspected that he faxed a few for Fleur, too.
The morning suddenly had some structure: I was waiting for Carl to arrive. Then I would wait for him to finish. Then he would leave. That was about all I could think through.
He seemed to take a while. I’d read through the whole style section but couldn’t remember a word of it, I found when I came to the last page, except a vague sense that black and white together were in vogue. I closed and folded it when the buzzer rang and Fleur went to answer it.
I heard them talking. There was the sound of water running in the kitchen sink. Carl came into the room carrying a brown leather case, an old-fashioned-looking doctor’s bag, and Fleur stood behind him, holding a basin. Steam rose from it. Carl was wearing a white shirt and the pants of a gray suit. His teeth were very white when he smiled at me.
“Ingrid, Ingrid,” he said, chiding me.
I started to smile. It hurt, but I kept it up as well as I could. I tried to arrange myself with confidence. My limbs moved stiffly. He dragged the desk chair over to the chaise and sat himself down. Fleur put the basin on the desk. It sat right where her feet had been before. I looked down at them. She had put on soft black ballet slippers that were scuffed around the toes.
Carl smiled his white smile at me and shook his head ever so slightly. “Those stairs!” he said, turning his head an inch and giving me a sideways look. “A real nuisance.” His voice shook a tiny bit and I glanced at him quickly.
“Oh, yes,” I said, keeping it vague.
The muffling that had been there earlier was gone, and I didn’t like the new sharpness in the sounds I was hearing. I frowned. He gave me a tiny medicine cup full of bright red liquid and I drank it. It felt warm.
“Now,” he said, drawing out the word, and got to work.
It was only three stitches in the end, tiny little strips of sticky tape that held my face together in a line just above my eyebrow. I knew that because I did look up at the mirror later that afternoon in the bathroom, brushing my teeth. I looked away quickly but I saw them.
Carl kissed my hand gently when he was finished. Once his bag was closed he stood up and became very chatty, telling me how much he was looking forward to having us all around to dinner next week.
I nodded. “Thanks, Carl,” I said, “thanks for coming over.” It sounded wrong. “For coming by.”
“You’ve got everything you need?” he asked. “Can I send Fleur out to get anything?”
Fleur raised her eyebrows sarcastically. She was back, leaning in the doorway with folded arms. “We’re fine,” she said. I nodded again.
“Rest,” he said. “You must have one hell of a headache.” His sideways smile again. He left, taking the stairs quickly, in a rhythm, da-dum, da-dum.
A small bottle of the red liquid sat on my desk, its medicine cup showing the trace of what I’d drunk earlier. A little Alice in Wonderland drink, I thought, and reached for it. Drink me.
Fleur poured herself one too after I’d finished. “Cheers,” she said, and drained it down.
I lay on the chaise and closed my eyes. It didn’t hurt. I heard Fleur laughing at something she was reading in her magazine, and I smiled.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at school?” I asked her.
She laughed at me, the same laugh. I opened my eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be at school?” she echoed, mocking me.
“Well, yes,” I said. “No. I don’t have to go today.”
“I’m not going today either,” she said, and flicked a page. “Mondays are a waste.”
A minute passed. “I’m going to the studio later, though,” she told me. “Not for long. I’ll be back for dinner. We can order Thai.”
We ate that night sitting at the island in the kitchen, only because she refused to bring the food upstairs to me and once I was down there in the kitchen I wanted to stay with her.
“You’re looking after me,” I said to her, only realizing it was true as I was saying it. She chewed and swallowed and didn’t say a thing. “It’s supposed to be the other way around,” I said.
“Sometimes it is,” she replied.
I’m not sure what she meant, whether I sometimes looked after her, or that stepmothers in general sometimes looked after their stepdaughters. At the time it sounded comforting. The muffling came down again as I went to sleep on the chaise in my room, but one of my thoughts was sharp through it for a moment. I knew both that she was too young to be looking after me and old enough that she would not be prepared to do it for much longer. I wondered how far she would go to protect me. I wondered how much I had looked after her, and what kind of loyalty that had bought me.
Our shared cup sat on the desk, line of red against the plastic. Not at all like blood or rubies, although it suggested those. Like liquid plastic, unmistakably artificial cherry red. The amphora on my desk was back exactly as it had been before she picked it up, at the same angle, the same spot. She was clever. I knew that already.
I knew that trusting her laid burdens on her that were unfair, but I let myself be unfair. The sounds of the traffic outside and far below floated up softly, cars coming and going and sirens wailing in a fading cry. I lay there with my Alice bottle and thought about the story I could tell, the curse that I could lay, the scrolls that I could fill. I could engrave it all on plates of steel, as tall as my body, stacked up against the walls.
Those mirrored, shining doors dissolved and I fell into a dream that was all about escaping on a boat across a river. The island city dropped away behind me. I felt a joyful sense of freedom until I saw the man at the stern of the ferry, his hand held out for payment. Then I knew that the river we were crossing was the one no one ever crossed back from and I grasped his outstretched hand in supplication. He smiled at me, a cruel smile I knew well, and coins fell down around me, welling up around my knees, golden in the shadows.
© 2010 Kirsten Tranter
A thrilling and addictive novel about three unlikely friends and the web of lies that unravels after one of them goes missing.
At the center of The Legacy is the story of Julia Alpers, her friend Ralph, and the beautiful and wealthy Ingrid. As students in Sydney, the bond that ties this threesome together is complex—delicate and intense, shaped by intellect, and defined by desire. When Ingrid falls in love and marries the much older and very handsome Gil Grey, she decides to leave her friends and settle in New York City, where Gil is a major player in the art world. It is here that she becomes stepmother to Gil’s teenage daughter, a former child prodigy, and begins her own work on rare, ancient texts called "curse scrolls" at Columbia University. But on the morning of September 11, 2001, she has an appointment downtown. And is never seen again.
Devastated and heartsick, Ralph sends Julia to New York to investigate Ingrid’s last days. What Julia discovers plunges her more deeply into Ingrid’s life than she could ever imagine. As Julia grows closer to unearthing the truth about Ingrid’s death, she is forced to confront her conflicted feelings about her former friend and to make a crucial decision about her own future.
Praised by international critics as an "entertaining literary thriller that skillfully describes the almost pleasurable pain of love and life denied" (The Australian), The Legacy is an utterly addictive and beautifully written novel that introduces a brilliant new voice in fiction.
Complicated Feelings and Unrequited Love between Friends
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Reading Group Guide
Julia, a student at Sydney University, is struggling with her unrequited love for her best friend, Ralph, when his recently orphaned cousin Ingrid is taken into his household. Ralph falls unhappily in love with beautiful Ingrid, but Ingrid leaves Australia for New York after she comes into a large inheritance and marries the charismatic but sinister Gil Grey, an art dealer and father to child art prodigy Fleur. On September 11 she has an appointment downtown and is never seen again.
A year later, Julia Alpers travels to New York at the request of her friend Ralph to search for answers about Ingrid’s last days. As Julia moves through the worlds of art and academia, peeling away the layers of mystery surrounding Ingrid—Ralph’s cousin and their mutual friend—she finds herself drawn into a puzzling and possibly dangerous web of secrets.
Alternating between Julia, Ingrid, and Ralph’s college days in Sydney and post-9/11 New York, The Legacy is a thrilling novel about love and fr see more