She Departed Ever So Slightly
Phoebe Daligan is one of my favorite characters. I think of her often.
In this scene, she’s being interviewed by Fina.
Early the next day before we set our for New Jersey, I rang Mrs. Daligan’s bell. Let Jane interview the Hectors of the case. Maybe he’d give her solid information like a license plate number or maybe he’d be able to identify Arrowsmith as one of the handymen he’d seen on College Place. But I needed to wrap my mind around Mary Ward Simon, the person.
I remember my grandmother telling me that murder doesn’t happen all at once. That’s what her mother told her, the ancestor with my surname. It’s slow to start, begins way back in a person’s history and simmers before it pounces, doing an ugly slow burn. And I wanted to get to know the woman, her past, her reactions, so I’d be motivated in my bones to focus on finding her killer. That’s why I saved talking to Phoebe Daligan for myself. Because Phoebe Daligan was Mary Ward Simon’s friend, a friend from back in the day.
“I can’t believe she’s gone,” she said. “This morning I looked on my calendar. ‘Call Mary’ was written in today’s square. I relied so much on her, and through the years we’d become real friends.”
We sat in the parlor of her brownstone with high ceilings and crystal chandeliers, a view overlooking the promenade and Manhattan’s skyline, the green lady in the near distance, you name it. “How long had you known Mrs. Simon?”
“Mary? We go way back, way back. Let’s see, my husband and I moved here in 1966, newlyweds, and shortly after that the Simons moved next door. I’d say we weren’t even here a year—yes, must have been, because Lyndon Johnson was still president. I can remember the protests we used to have on the promenade, looking right out that window. I used to be so scared sometimes.”
This was all ancient history to me, but the neighbor, Mrs. Phoebe Daligan, got a misty-eyed, dazed look and left me just a little so I let her talk when she was around and made allowances for her when she departed ever so slightly. I knew she’d return. Pencil thin, she wore a bright red cardigan sweater and a white silk blouse underneath. Pearls. Navy blue slacks. Probably lined. Dark red penny loafers, blue and red argyles, and a diamond on her ring finger that didn’t quit. Make-up perfect by seven in the morning. You know the look—Anglican, Mom called it. How can you tell, I asked her once, and she’d just smile, and say something like, “Wait until you’re my age, you’ll be able to tell whether a computer is Republican or Democrat.”