When the kids were young Alfred had spent thousandsnhelping her to complete her prizewinners — especially thenone she’d wrought with her bare hands in the garage, usingnexotic jungle flowers and a vase from Sotheby’s; she hadnreplicated it in Bermuda to win the Grand Prize. She hadnmade successes here; she had been photographed, andnwritten up. He had bought her a ring.nAt the dinner table in those days Alfred would sometimesnreach for her hand, in front of guests who smiled indulgently:n”Lissy. Isn’t she wonderful? The flowers!” He wouldnpull her close when the company left, his face crushing hernhair.nThey were never closer than at those moments. Everythingnshe did in those days was a credit to him.nAt first he treated her graduate career like anothernextension, or enhancement of himself, jetting to Europe tonmake a holiday of her scholarly errands, meeting her in thenshade of some abbey in England or in Bonn for yet anothernhoneymoon; couldn’t he see she was serious? Recreatingnherself, she began to argue at dinner parties like a brightnteenager discovering her powers. Newly assertive, she foundnshe interrupted Alfred to tell the girls’ admiring husbandsnabout pigment on vellum, or cleaning incunables, and innthanks for support, she had dedicated her thesis to him.nShe had surpassed the dear girls who were coming to hernhouse today, her partners at innumerable bridge luncheons,nloving givers of gifts at baby and wedding showers, by goingnback to school and taking a paying job. By having malencolleagues, whom she could have lunch with, Alicia hadnchanged her standing among them; yet this created anpuzzle: why should they judge her more harshly, preciselynbecause she had accomplished more than they?n(“If you work too hard you’ll lose your looks,” Elise hadnsaid, quite gratuitously.n”Don’t get so busy you lose track of your man,”ndark-haired Clarita said to Alicia before she had intimationsnthat her own husband had strayed.)nBut the girls had gotten together to give her a black-tiendinner party when she got her master’s; when Tad gave hernthe job, they took her to lunch. They were almost as pleasednas Alfred. They had been college classmates, frantic mothersnat a collective play group, who some years later discussed thenloves and losses of their grown children with the samenpassion they’d had for their own; they were her friends.nThen why should her face ache and her shoulders twitchnbecause they were coming up the drive? No matternhow she tried to stabilize the miniature football it dropped tona vertical position, dangling foolishly over the clever teakwoodngoalposts she’d paid McBride to build. No matter howncarefully she walked, the wretched thing quivered andntipped. Why should she think they wanted her to fail?nShe’d read or dreamed she read about a transplant doctornin one of those bizarre weekly tabloids—a medical geniusnwhose work on organ transplants was without peer. It wasnrumored that his taste for the delicate meat was such that hendid the most exquisite of excisions — no scrap of inflamedntissue left anywhere because he was not so much ravenous asnintoxicated by quality. Did he cook it right there, over anBunsen burner in a corner of the operating theater, or didnhe like to take it home and eat it raw? Did he do this secretly,n22/CHRONICLESnnnor did he offer bits to his resident, to the anaesthesiologist?nDid the nurses jump for leftovers, snapping like huntingndogs eager for a reward? Sometimes it seemed one way tonher, at other times, another. Was he a figment of hernimagination? She did not know.nShe did know that anyone who aspired to success had tonrise above detractors. If the doctor really ate the meat, thennhe probably deserved it. He had replaced failing hearts andnkidneys with good ones, he was conferring life. He had anhigh function, an unassailable place in society. If she wonnthe first round of judging in this category, let the women,nwalking away from the house, draw this picture if it pleasednthem: Alicia crouched in a corner, devouring baby’s breath.nT Tse a coathanger,” Tad had said — a serious scholarnVy who cared enough to give her the time. “You cannprop it with a coathanger.” Well, this had almost worked. Innsome respect it had worked, because she would be able tonsay to the girls, “If the football wobbles it’s my boss’s fault.nHe came all the way over just to advise.”nShe wished the girls would hurry; it was only a matter ofntime before the goalposts listed in spite of the supportingnmarbles, and the whole thing began to slide.nWas Tad stifling laughter this morning, dutifully praisingnher work? Although he made a great show of beingnegalitarian he might despise her for having money, even asnshe would always secretly resent him, for being young. Shenwould never admit he had invented her, any more than shenwould forgive him for finding her weeping in the stacks thatnfirst day. Had he really seen promise in her, or was she hisnwelfare work?nUseful. She couldn’t remember whether he’d heard hernsay it aloud. Tad had pushed through her master’s thesis tonhigh honors in spite of the committee’s complaints thatnAlfred’s money bought trips other graduate studentsncouldn’t afford to make to all those museums and monasteriesnabroad. A good administrator. Tad needed to protect hisnpredictions; he sent her to professional meetings, sometimesnin his stead.n”Use initials when you publish,” he said. “Your first namensounds a little — I don’t know.”nAt parties Alfred boasted that his wife had been invited tongive a paper in Kansas City or Quebec; she came home latento find him standing in the kitchen, angrily stabbing his forkninto an open can of beans. She had redeemed that one bynproducing the pate en croute she’d made and frozen againstnsuch eventualities; still the angel on the hearth, OK?nFor a while she got up in the night to keep the kitchennimmaculate, bought a cocktail dress in American BeautynRose because it made her look frivolous. She had to keepnproving herself In spite of his frequent presents andnsurprises, she still did not know; did her accomplishmentsnmake Alfred proud or angry, or did he need to keep hernoccupied, for reasons she could not divine?nShe and Tad found it important to believe that he was notnsorry for her and she did not envy him; that she wasn’t reallynrich. Now that she’d almost finished creating herself, shenfound it necessary to dispute him in staff^ meetings, to arguenover fine points of dating certain Books of Hours, evennthough he had hired her knowing that she would nevernreally need a paycheck, not for food or lodging, not even forn