Joseph Caldwell: Lazarus Rising

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Joseph Caldwell Lazarus Rising
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Lazarus Rising: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The Rome Prize–winning author of In the Shadow of the Bridge “evokes a bygone era and an earlier pandemic…. An affecting turn in [his] long career” (Publishers Weekly). This dark, propulsive novel, the crowning masterwork by ninety-two-year-old Joseph Caldwell, takes place during 1992, when AIDS was still an incurable scourge and death casualties were everyday events. One cold winter night, when the artist Dempsey Coates is on her way home to her loft, she encounters a blaze, several alarms ringing and water jetting every which way from fire hydrants. She ends up offering several firemen a place to get warm. One of them is Johnny Donegan, a passionate lad who falls madly in love with her and is determined, through prayer and sheer perseverance, to make a life with Dempsey unimpeded by the specter of her illness. But when the couple is finally blessed with an unexpected stroke of good luck, this one twist of fate that promises an enduring future will end up coming between them in a very tragic and unforeseen way.

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Joseph Caldwell


A Novel


William Gale Gedney

In loving memory

“Though nothing can bring back of hour
Of the splendor in the grass…”

—William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

—Dylan Thomas


Dempsey Coates first met Johnny Donegan the night the Haviland Piano Factory burned, all six floors of it. There had been no Haviland pianos made in the building for over fifty years, but the light industry that took over the loft spaces lacked sufficient individuality to offer an identity that might replace the superseded pianos. Even after the gutted shell was rebuilt and occupied by artists, sculptors, lawyers, and psychiatrists, it would be known as the Piano Factory.

Dempsey did not live in the Piano Factory. She lived down the block on the other side of the street, the uptown side, in a building with no name, with no particular history.

Coming home from a gallery opening, she’d had to retrace her steps back to Varick Street, go around the block, and come to her building from the other direction, from the west. Her own street was blocked by what was called the “apparatus”: fire engines, ladders, chiefs’ cars, an ambulance, and enough crisscrossing hose to map the entire Northeast.

In spite of the nipping cold, Dempsey had walked down from Prince Street, across Canal to Tribeca, reveling in her defiance of the winter weather, refusing to hunch her shoulders, to draw her arms protectively against her sides, to shiver or to shake. Her head she held high so the wind could have its way against her chin, her neck. The thick woolen scarf, a greenish brown, she’d knitted it for her best friend, Winnie, then decided to keep it for herself—was allowed to warm her chest, but her face must be kept open to the elements, an eager participant in the crisp iced air that made taut her skin, numbed her lips and all but cauterized her eyes.

Rather than be annoyed by the enforced detour, she lifted her head even higher, amused that her encounter with the winter night would now be prolonged. Out the cloudy breaths came; more joyfully defiant was her sure step onto the granulated frost covering the pavement. She went to Varick, turned north for one block, made the turn to the west for two blocks, then south one block and back onto her own street. She stopped at the corner and took in the spectacle.

Klieg lights lit the entire scene as if someone were making a movie. Huge blasts of water shot skyward, sculpting gothic stalactites on the building’s overhang, on the lintels and sills of the blown-out windows. A voice was heard on a loudspeaker, urgent, annoyed, the director trying to keep control of the action.

Helmeted firemen in cumbersome coats and gauntlet gloves and what looked like wading boots, only heavier, the kind favored by the Three Musketeers, were wandering in and out among the apparatus, stumbling on the hoses, some of the men carrying poles, some humping the hoses to feed out more line toward the ladders, others, faces blackened, the whites of their eyes seeming, in contrast, to be made of milk glass. The men traced their way along the hoses to other hoses that might or might not lead them to where they wanted to go.

Only the fire itself seemed organized. The Piano Factory had become a chimney, the roof completely opened, the flames rising, red orange mostly, a blacker red beneath, billowing skyward rather lazily, enjoying themselves, knowing that the worst was over—the blind snaking between walls, underneath floors, the fire’s panicked attempt to find more air. Now the flames had found their way into the open sky. All would be well. They could breathe. They could take it easy; they could just rumble and roll themselves, great mounded billows, folding back into themselves, demonstrating what it really meant to be fire.

Four firemen were walking toward Dempsey. They were weaving, stumbling against each other, bumping shoulders, unsteadying themselves all the more. The man in the lead was using a pole of some kind—with a two-pronged hook at the tip—as a walking staff. One of his boots had flopped down to his calf and his helmet was tipped slightly to the side, an attempt, perhaps, at style. At each building they’d stop and the lead man would try the door. When it failed to yield, he’d pound on it, wait, and then they would all move on.

Dempsey heard one of them say, “They know we’re here. They know we’re freezing.” The men stomped up the three steps onto what had been the docking platform of the building next to Dempsey’s. After he’d yanked twice at the door, he pounded with his fist, then looked up at some lighted windows on the third floor. “We’re freezing,” he yelled. But his voice was caught up in the shouts, roars, and crashing from the burning building behind him.

Dempsey thought she should at least point out that there were six doorbells arrayed along the sides of the doors, each an independent installation that accommodated the occupied lofts inside. It then occurred to her that she herself had only to open her own door with her own key and the men would find warmth—or at least shelter, since the hallways of the building were unheated. Or she could invite them to her loft. If there was time, they could warm themselves, recover their strength and return to battle the blaze refreshed. Who could do less? She could make coffee. She was not, by nature, an easy host, but for four freezing and exhausted firemen she might be able to mutate into something more gracious.

“You looking for a place to warm up?”

“No,” said one man standing slightly behind the others, “we’re selling the Encyclopedia Britannica.”

“All right then.”

“Wait. Yes.” The lead man’s voice was more weary than repentant. “We’ve been relieved for a quick break. We’re looking for a place to warm up.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place.” Dempsey fiddled in her coat pocket for the keys. The clip of a Bic pen was caught in the key ring. She jiggled it free, then drew the keys out of the pocket. A roll of Certs dropped to the cement. No one stooped to pick it up. She put the key into the lock and opened the door. The metal scraped along the cement, the hinges whined, the door itself complaining of the cold.

By the time Dempsey had taken the key out of the lock, the firemen were inside. She retrieved the Certs, then closed the door behind her. The men had plopped themselves down onto the bottom steps of the wide stairway that led to the floors above. The lead man had set his staff against the wall and had lowered his head onto his crossed arms. The others leaned either against the wall or the stairway railing. They were breathing heavily as if they’d run rather than stumbled down the block. Gray mucous flowed from their nostrils, wetting the black soot on their chins, dripping down onto the clasps that held closed their rubber coats.

“You want to come upstairs? It’s warmer there.” Dempsey pulled the thick chain that would bring down the old freight elevator. The clanking and clattering began as if a full complement of galley slaves had been lashed into labor. The leader raised his head and drew his gloved hand over his ears, then let the hands fall back to his knees. “We’re okay here,” he said. “We don’t have that long. But thanks.” Some of the words were obliterated by the clanking elevator chains, but Dempsey thought she understood the meaning.

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