A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

On September 11, 2001 I worried about a lot of people: David Rice in his Midtown tower and Deirdre in her TriBeCa loft, various high-school friends and their families. I worried that there was someone I wasn’t thinking of, someone I had forgotten to call, as though not calling made it more likely that something had happened to them. I worried about people I barely knew, my friends’ friends, friends of my mothers who I hadn’t seen since I was a child. Was Guy Anstine all right? What about his ex-wife who wore the floppy hat? I didn’t worry about my mothers. They were on Montauk for the week: a late-summer vacation which Celeste had arranged for Marie, who needed it badly. Celeste had given me the number of the bed and breakfast where they were staying and I called it and left a message to let them know I was all right. Deirdre was all right, David Rice was all right, and so were his friends, even the ones who worked on Wall Street. The panic knot in my heart loosened and I wept from purely general grief.

The next morning I was on hold with the Red Cross, hoping they would tell me where to give blood, when my mother called.

“I can’t find Celeste,” she said.


“She went back to the city on Monday.”


I met Marie at the apartment on Ninety-eighth Street, which was stuffy: windows closed pre-trip and not yet re-opened. My mother was already pale with certainty. In the serious voice which would, in a few hours, become her only voice, the only voice she was still capable of using, she told me how Celeste had applied to the arts council which had sponsored her last show for a fellowship and what she got was a studio in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. A big if low-ceilinged space with a view of most of Manhattan and a big wedge of Jersey and the blue-white almost curved horizon. She’d been working on her little people, clay figures which had shrunk to pin-size, pea-size, as if Celeste were seeing them from a greater and greater height. She’d gone back to the city not to work on them but to tidy up for a dealer who sent her an email over the weekend, intimating interest in giving her a show. “She didn’t want to let the chance slip by,” Marie said. “She said if she didn’t see him right away she’d be thinking about it all week.” By the time of the dealer’s appointment her studio and everything else on the 91st floor of the North Tower had vaporized.


“Are you thirsty?” Marie asked, out of the blue. She went to the kitchen and came back with a pitcher of water but no glasses. “Oh!” Marie said, “Hold on a sec.”

She came back with two tall water glasses. She set them on the table a couple of inches apart. We both looked at them. They were the towers, the first re-creation of many. After a minute Marie half-filled one of the glasses and put it down on another table without drinking from it. Then she stood up and opened her arms and I embraced her and we stood there falling into the new world which had been within our world all along. The land line rang. It was a woman whose voice I’d never heard before: “Is Celeste there?” From the way she asked it I guessed that she was falling too.

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