Page 33

I set down my glass. “Mrs. Manville?”

Greta closes her eyes as her face, already pale, turns ashen. Her whole body tilts. First slowly, then gaining steam until she’s leaning at a precarious angle. I rush to her side, keeping her upright while searching for a chair. I find one near the door to the dining room and gently guide her into it.

The movement jostles her back into consciousness. Her head snaps to attention, and life returns to her eyes. She clamps a hand around my wrist, the knuckles knobby with age, purple veins visible beneath tissue-paper skin.

“Dear me,” she says, slightly dazed. “Well, that was embarrassing.”

I hover over her, not sure what else to do. My body’s gained a tremor that runs from head to heel. “Do you need a doctor? I can fetch Dr. Nick.”

“I’m not in that dire of shape,” she says. “Really, it’s nothing. I sometimes get spells.”

“Fainting spells?”

“I call them sudden sleeps, because that’s what they feel like. An instant slipping away. But then I roar back to life and it’s like nothing’s happened. Never get old, Jules. It’s horrible. No one tells you that until it’s too fucking late.”

That’s when I know it’s okay to stop hovering. She’s back to her normal, ornery self. Still trembling, I return to the kitchen counter and my glass of wine. No sip this time. I gulp.

“If you’d like, you may ask me one question about that book,” Greta says. “You’ve earned it.”

Only one? I have a hundred. But I noticed the pronoun she used. Not my book. Or the book. It tells me she’d rather talk about anything other than Heart of a Dreamer.

“Why did you stop writing?”

“The short answer is because I’m lazy. And unmotivated. Also, I have no financial need to write. My family was wealthy. The book made me wealthier. Even today, it generates enough income to allow me to live very comfortably.”

“In the Bartholomew, no less,” I say. “Have you lived here long?”

“Are you asking if I lived here when I wrote Heart of a Dreamer?”

That’s exactly what I’m asking. Being read so easily makes me take another gulp of wine.

“The answer to your real, unsolicited question is yes,” Greta says. “I was living at the Bartholomew when I wrote it.”

“In this apartment?”

Greta gives a quick shake of her head. “Elsewhere.”

“Is the book autobiographical?”

“More like wishful thinking,” Greta replies. “Unlike Ginny, it was my parents’ apartment. I grew up there, moved out after getting married, and moved back in following my divorce. I was aimless and bitter and suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I decided to fill it by writing what I wished my life to be like. When the book was finished, I moved out again.”

“Why?” I ask, still unable to comprehend why anyone would choose to leave the Bartholomew.

“Why does anyone move, really?” Greta muses. “I needed a change of view. Besides, one gets tired of living with their parents. Isn’t that why everyone eventually leaves the nest?”

Most people, yes. But not me. I wasn’t given a choice.

“Because of how and when the book was written, is that why you hate it so much?”

Greta looks up, affronted. “Who says I hate it?”

“I just assumed you did.”

“No, you surmised,” Greta says. “There’s a difference. As for the book, I don’t hate it as much as I find myself disappointed by it.”

“But it brought you so much success. And it’s touched so many people.”

“I’m a very different woman now than when I wrote it. Think back to when you were younger. Think about your tastes and behavior and habits. You’ve changed since then. Evolved. We all do. Which means there are aspects of that younger version of yourself that you’d probably detest now.”

I nod, thinking of my mother and store-brand cereal.

“When I wrote that book, I was so in need of fantasy that I failed to do the one thing all good writers are supposed to do—tell the truth,” Greta says. “I was a liar, and that book is my biggest lie.”

I down the rest of the wine, preparing myself for something I never thought I’d have to do—defend a book to its own author.

“You’re forgetting that readers need fantasy, too,” I say. “My sister and I used to lie on her bed, reading Heart of a Dreamer and picturing ourselves in Ginny’s shoes. The book showed us there was life outside our tiny, dying town. The book gave us hope. Even now, after all that hope has been stripped away, I still love Heart of a Dreamer and I remain grateful that you wrote it. Sure, the Manhattan in the book doesn’t exist in real life. And no, few people in this city end up getting the happy ending Ginny received. But fiction can be an escape, which is why we need idealized versions of New York City. It balances out the crowded, gritty, heartbreaking real thing.”

“But what about the real world?” Greta says.

“That sister I mentioned? She disappeared when I was seventeen.” I know I should stop talking. But now that the wine has loosened my tongue, I find that I can’t. “My parents died when I was nineteen. So, frankly, I’ve had enough of the real world.”