Certain Friends for Certain Secrets
A Storyby Ann Beattie
In January there was a bad winter storm in Washington, but because I didn’t believe the snow would mount up as quickly as it did, and because I was behind in my work at the small foundation where I’d found a job, I went to work anyway, thinking it would be a perfect time to catch up. I was used to winters in Michigan, though my husband and I had left there recently; now we lived in a condo in Bethesda. The Metro was running, but not according to schedule—and when I ascended on the steep elevator and exited at Dupont Circle, it was my good luck to run into a clerk I knew from Kramerbooks, who was just getting into his car, in a shoveled-out parking place he’d found by some miracle, and was hurrying to pick up his son at preschool. I happily accepted a three-block ride down Mass. Avenue to my office. Though I didn’t know it, by late afternoon the weight of the snow back at our house would bring down the gutters. My husband, who’d retired after he’d had two heart attacks, certainly wasn’t going out to shovel (not that he’d have turned his attention to the gutters, anyway); he’d apparently just turned up the TV volume as the gutters pulled away and dropped into the deep snow below.
The man who worked at Kramerbooks was Dwight Whitehead. We’d recognized each other instantly, though we didn’t know each other’s names. “Jan Dasher,” I said, shaking his hand with my mittened hand. My first name is Susan, but when we moved to Washington, I’d decided to switch to my middle name. Soon after I was hired, another employee came to work, expanding our little group from three to four: Susan Richardson—hardly an amazing coincidence, since Susan is a common name, though because we were the only women in the office, I looked up every time someone said her name. Jared Strell was our boss: red-haired; dapper, in a slightly old-fashioned way. He actually wore a fedora. His partner—later his husband—also worked there: Wyatt Bindle. I was a particular friend of Wyatt’s, meaning that every now and then we went off for drinks on Fridays without inviting the others, to a small bar beneath a hotel. Since we were insomniacs, we also sometimes chatted on the phone late at night. When he had an appendectomy, I visited him every day at Sibley Hospital. That was how I found out, from his chart, that he was HIV positive.