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Page 14

I follow the sound to its point of origin in the kitchen, at the cupboard between the oven and the sink.

The dumbwaiter.

I throw open the cupboard door, revealing the empty shaft behind it. A cold draft hits me, shivery and crisp. The ropes that hung lazily when Leslie showed me the dumbwaiter during my tour are now taut and in motion. Above, the pulley turns, stopping and starting with each tug of the rope. Each time it moves, it emits a short, shrill squeak.

I peek into the shaft itself, the brisk draft brushing my face. At first I see nothing. Just inky darkness that, for all I know, might stretch to the Bartholomew’s basement. Then something emerges from the black, rising to meet me. Soon I can make out the top of the dumbwaiter itself.


Thick coat of dust.

Holes on the top and bottom to let the ropes slither through.

The pulley turns and squeaks. The dumbwaiter continues to rise. The draft stirs the dust on top of it, sending up a small puff that makes me back away before it swirls out of the cupboard door like ash from a chimney.

I imagine it in use a hundred years ago. The harried cooks sending down extravagant meals dish by dish as the dumbwaiter shaft filled with the scent of roast chicken, rack of lamb, and fresh herbs. The dumbwaiter’s return trip would bring stacks of dirty dishes, soiled silverware, crystal goblets with wine swirling in their bottoms and lipstick on their rims.

It sounds romantic through the soft gauze of time. In truth, it was probably wretched. At least up here, where the servants worked and ate and slept.

When the squeaking of the pulley finally stops, the once-empty space is filled with the dumbwaiter itself. It’s a perfect fit. A casual visitor opening the cupboard door wouldn’t even know it was a dumbwaiter if not for the ropes. It’s a plain wooden box, just like any cupboard.

Resting on the bottom is a piece of paper. Its left edge is slightly ragged, indicating it was torn from a book. Printed on it is a single poem. Emily Dickinson. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”

I turn the page over and see that someone has written on the back. It’s brief. Just three words, the letters large and in all caps.


Beneath it, in slightly smaller text, is the messenger’s name.


I search the kitchen for a pen and paper, finding both in a junk drawer stuffed with rubber bands, ketchup packets, and takeout menus. I write my response—Hi and thanks—before placing it inside the dumbwaiter and giving the rope an upward tug with my right hand.

The dumbwaiter shimmies.

The pulley above it creaks.

It’s not until the dumbwaiter begins to descend that I realize how big the whole contraption really is. The same size as an adult male, and almost as heavy. So heavy that I need to use both hands to lower it. As it descends, I count how far I think it’s traveled.

Five feet. Ten feet. Fifteen.

Just before I hit twenty, the rope goes slack in my hands. The dumbwaiter has been lowered as far as it can go, which by my estimate means to the apartment directly below.


Home of the mysterious Ingrid. Even though I have no idea who she is, I think I like her already.


In the afternoon, I head out to buy groceries, taking the elevator from the silent twelfth floor past levels that are louder and livelier than my own. On the tenth floor, Beethoven drifts from an apartment down the hall. On the ninth, I spy the swing of a door being closed. With it comes a nose-stinging waft of disinfectant.

On the seventh, the elevator stops completely to pick up another passenger—the soap opera actress I saw during yesterday’s tour. Today, she and her tiny dog wear matching fur-trimmed jackets.

The actress’s appearance leaves me momentarily speechless. My brain fumbles for her character’s name. The one my mother loved to hate. Cassidy. That’s what it was.

“Room for two more?” she says, eyeing the closed grate across the door.

“Oh, sorry. Of course.”

I open the grate and nudge to the side so the actress and her dog can enter. Soon we’re descending again, the actress adjusting the hood of her dog’s jacket while I think about how my mother would have gotten a kick out of knowing I rode in an elevator with Cassidy.

She looks different up close and in person. Maybe it’s the abundant makeup she wears. Her face is entirely covered with foundation, which gives her skin a peachy cast. Or it could be the saucer-size sunglasses she’s once again wearing, which cover a third of her face.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?” she says.

“Just moved in,” I reply, debating whether I should add that it’s just for three months and that I’m getting paid to be here. I choose not to. If the woman who played Cassidy wants to think I’m a real resident of the Bartholomew, I’m not going to stop her.

“I’ve been here six months,” she says. “Had to sell my house in Malibu to move, but I think it’ll be worth it. I’m Marianne, by the way.”

I already know this, of course. Marianne Duncan, whose fashionable bitchery on the small screen was as much a part of my adolescence as reading Heart of a Dreamer. Marianne holds out the hand not currently occupied by a dog, and I shake it.

“I’m Jules.” I look to the dog. “Who’s this adorable guy?”

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