Chapter 1

          Asia was down by the river, with the biggest stones
    she could find stuffed into her jacket.  She was ready,
    but it wasn’t quite time.  She would know when it was
    time.  She had always known things like that, without
    ever knowing why she knew them.
          It had been a strange life.  Asia was a strange
    name.  Her mother had also been called Asia, and her
    grandmother too.  No one remembered beyond that.  
    For some reason she couldn’t fathom, she had called her
    little girl Asia as well.  What would happen to little Asia
    without her Mom to look after her?  But she couldn’t
    think about that: she was sure she was doing the right
          Her mother had killed herself at the age of twenty-
    nine, when Asia was just six months old.  So she had
    never known her mother.  And yet, if you asked her what
    person had meant the most in her life, she would
    unhesitatingly have said, “my mother.”  She had never
    known her, but she was the person she knew the best.  
    Much of Asia’s life had been flavored by contradictions
    like this.
          She had grown up alone with her father, in a big
    house with lots of land around.  There were no real
    neighbors: you could walk to the village, and on the way


    there were a couple of houses, but there was no one
    across the road, or even within shouting distance.  Asia
    wasn’t shy, but she was self-contained; she learned to
    read early, and often would spend the whole day
    reading.  Sometimes months would pass without her
    leaving the property.
          She had gone to school, but hadn’t liked it, so her
    father kept her at home.  She found other children
    childish.  She liked people, but they had to be big
    people.  With children, she felt awkward; with adults,
    she was herself.
          Then, when she was eleven, her father took her to
    Paris for the summer.  He had been worried about her;
    he thought she needed a break from the house and the
    solitude it represented.  He rented a big, furnished
    apartment on Boulevard Raspail in the 6th
    arrondissement.  And she loved it.  It changed her life.  
    She loved the apartment, on the top floor of a seven-story
    building, with its four-meter-high ceilings and its walls
    covered with tan-colored cloth.  There was a view of the
    Pantheon from the living room, and from the kitchen
    you could see the Eiffel tower.  She loved the
    neighborhood: there were half a dozen bakeries within
    two minutes of the front door.  There was a metro right
    across the road, and another just half a block away.  She
    loved the river, and the fact that you could walk right


    beside it, and the bridges, and the churches, and the
    Luxembourg Gardens, but most of all she loved sitting
    outside and sipping tea, and listening to her father talk
    about Paris as the city itself rushed by.
          They stayed for June and July, and then left when
    everybody leaves, to spend August on the north coast in
    a fishing village.  It was nothing like Williston–before
    Paris, Williston was all she knew; she had never seen a
    city, or even a large town–but it reminded her of home.  
    She had wanted to go back to Paris, to stay there, to live
    there.  But her father had said he had to make
    arrangements.  They could return next summer if she
    liked and stay as long as she wanted.
          She hadn’t understood any of this until much later
    on.  But her father had to arrange for the house to be
    rented–he couldn’t sell it because Asia’s mother had
    willed it to her daughter–and had to arrange an
    indefinite leave from the university where he taught.  
    Her father was a medical researcher, and had many
    patents; he worked only because he enjoyed company.  
          They spent the fall in Williston.  She had no
    memory of those months; she spent them waiting to go
    back.  And then, right after Thanksgiving, they did go
    back, but not to Paris, not right away.  It was too late for
    school that year, her father said.  They would travel
    together until May, and then return to Paris to enrol her


    in a local lycée.  He had rented an apartment on rue
    Montparnasse.  It was just around the corner from the
    Raspail apartment–he knew she loved the neighborhood–
    but it looked onto a courtyard and not the street, and so
    wasn’t quite so noisy.    
          Until then he wanted to travel in warmer countries.  
    In general, France was milder than Vermont, although
    France could be icy and Vermont quite temperate; but
    now that he was free to choose his winter, he chose to
    make it a warm one.  They flew to Rome and stayed in a
    grand apartment on Piazza Adriana, just behind the
    Castel Sant’Angelo, a minute’s walk from the Tiber.  She
    remembered that winter vividly.  She had no hat.  She
    had no boots.  She had no mitts.  She wore a jacket
    instead of a coat.  She was never even remotely cold.  
    She had never known until then what a burden the
    winter was.  There were days, it is true, when it went
    down to zero–she counted in Celsius now–but those days
    were very few.  And on those days, the Romans (the rich
    ones, anyway) trotted out their furs.  But they didn’t
    know what cold was.  Asia knew what cold was, and this
    wasn’t it.  She walked along the Tiber every day, and
    imagined what it was like to be two thousand years old.
          And on most days the temperature climbed to at
    least ten (50˚) and sometimes reached twenty (68˚) in the
    sun.  As winter began to fade into spring, they made day


    trips, and sometimes these trips expanded to fill entire
    weeks.  Venice had taken her by surprise and been her
    playground for ten magical days.  (She turned twelve in
    Venice.)  And then finally came May, and they packed
    their things, and said goodbye to Rome, and took the
    train to Paris.
          Her father’s Italian had been limited–that had
    presented a few problems, but none that were
    insurmountable.  His French, on the other hand, was
    fluent.  He enrolled her in Lycée Montaigne, on the
    southern edge of the Luxembourg Gardens, and then set
    about teaching her how to speak French.  He gave her a
    grammar and a dictionary, and then spoke to her only in
    French for the next four months.  By the time she started
    5e, her conversational French was as good as her
    English.  After one term, she was fluent, and from that
    time on, he spoke to her only in English.
          It occurred to her once to ask him why he had
    learned French.  There was no need for French in
    Williston.  Montreal was a couple of hours away by car,
    but they had never been.
          “Before you were born, I had a sabbatical and spent
    the year in Paris with your mother.  It was a good year.  
    She didn’t want to leave.  Unfortunately, in those days I
    had no choice but to work.  Do you know where our
    apartment was?”


          She shrugged.  He walked to the window and
    pointed.  “It was that one right there, two floors down.  
    That was fifteen years ago.  The pictures in the blue
    album are all from Paris.  Did I never tell you?”
          The albums were how she knew her mother, the
    albums and the diary her mother had kept.  There were
    twelve albums, all color-coded.  They kept her mother
    alive for her.  In Williston, they stood at the back of her
    desk, with stone bookends on each side.  When she had
    first come to Paris, she had bought a special suitcase
    that fitted them perfectly, and that was what she took as
    hand luggage.  No one was allowed to touch her
          It was not uncommon for Asia to spend the whole
    day with one of the albums.  These pictures were what
    she knew best.  She made up stories about them,
    pretending to know what her mother was thinking and
    feeling in order to understand what made her look
    exactly the way she looked, exactly like that.  
    Sometimes, she stared at a picture for so long that she
    started to believe her own stories.  And at night, the last
    thing she did before getting into bed was say goodnight
    to her mother.
          (The diary was different.  She had read it often, but
    she was not yet emotionally mature enough to make
    sense of it.  Also, between the entries her mother had


    written poems.  They were short, written to someone
    called Tristan; the tone was very sad, but Asia had never
    heard of anyone called Tristan.  So while the pictures
    tended to include her–she knew everyone in the pictures,
    and she was even in some of them herself–the diary
    excluded her.  Tristan was a man who had never entered
    her life.)
          They stayed in Paris for six years, until she had
    finished her baccalaureate.  And though at her lycée she
    was known as l’Américaine, in her heart she felt like a
    Parisian.  And it didn’t take long for her to feel this.  It
    definitely happened before her thirteenth birthday,
    because when she turned thirteen–her birthday was
    March 21, the first day of spring–she remembered
    thinking to herself, “I’m thirteen, and I’m finally where
    I belong.”  It was as though something had been
    missing from her life, and now it was there.  Of course,
    when she lived in Williston, it had never occurred to her
    that anything was missing.  But something was, and the
    something was Paris.  But what exactly was Paris?  
          She had often thought about this, often wondered
    what it was that made Paris so special for her.  And
    there was no real answer.  It was just a feeling, a feeling
    of being home.  But that wasn’t good enough.  Even if
    there was no explaining emotions, she wanted an
    explanation.  And so she had eventually come up with


    this: in Paris, beauty decides everything.  It doesn’t care
    about utility; it doesn’t care about cost; it doesn’t care
    about profitability; it doesn’t even care about comfort,
    really.  What is important is whether or not something is
    beautiful.  That is the imperative.
          She herself had become beautiful in Paris.  She had
    always been thin, and she had always been full of
    angles, like a stick man.  And she was still like that, but
    as she had gotten older, the angles had softened, and she
    had become lovely.  She looked in the mirror, and she
    could see it: there was girl who would be loved by men.  
    But she didn’t want to be loved by men.  She wanted to
    be more than just a shape.  And she also wanted simply  
    to be a girl, a girl who was left to her own devices.  She
    wanted just to be Asia, because that was also who she
    saw in the mirror, just an ordinary girl with a funny
    name.  She thought of herself as a female Peter Pan.  Or
    to put it better: she felt like a grown-up, but she didn’t
    want to do grown-up things.
          The boys didn’t like that at all.  They wanted to put
    their hands all over her.  But she said no.  Touching was
    for later.  And the boys had no choice: if they wanted her
    as a friend, they accepted her rules.  This meant that she
    was friends with many boys at her lycée, but also that
    she never had a boyfriend.
          After her baccalaureate was done, she had a sudden


    urge to return to America.  She didn’t know why.  Her
    home was clearly Paris, and it was everything she
    wanted.  But something was telling her to go back.
          Her father hated the idea.  He had grown very
    comfortable in Paris: he had come to know his
    restaurants and neighborhood very well.  But she was
    restless; she wanted to leave.  In the end they found a
    compromise, but it was a compromise neither of them
    liked: Asia would return to Vermont, live by herself and
    apply to an American university, while her father would
    continue on in Paris.
          So she went back.  She opened up the home in
    Williston, and realized she hated it.  She applied to a
    handful of colleges and then flew back to Paris.  She
    spent a year there doing nothing, and it was such an
    enjoyable nothing that she couldn’t understand her
    desire to go and study in America.  Why not France?  
    Why not just stay where she was and study at the
    Sorbonne?  Why not?
          But she couldn’t.  And so when NYU accepted her,
    she flew back to New York, rented an apartment on the
    upper East side, and waited for September.  She was
    nineteen years old, and looking forward to her life.  She
    was going to study literature, and this excited her
    beyond measure.  But then, at some point, she ran into a
    rock.  She just couldn’t do it.  Something was paralyzing


    her.  Eventually, she knew what it was: she missed her
          She forced herself through the degree, partly
    because she was proud, and always finished what she
    started, and partly because she wanted to please her
    father, or at least not let him down.  But there was no
    pleasure in it.  She was just spending time in a different
    universe, and when she had her degree she once again
    fled back to Paris.
          What she found was not what she expected.  In the
    last three years, her father had become an old man.  He
    had always been a mountain, so much larger than life
    that you couldn’t imagine him needing help of any kind.  
    But now he walked with a cane, and slowly.  He looked
    as though he had aged twenty years.  
          “It’s the cancer.  It’s back.”
          “When did you ever have cancer?”
          “That’s right.  I never told you.  It was right after
    you left.  I had the treatment; I went into remission.  
    Now it’s back.”
          “So what’s going on?  You’re back in chemo?”
          “No.  It’s too far advanced.”
          She felt sick.  Nothing in her life had prepared her
    for this.
          He had already booked his plane ticket.  He had
    also booked himself into a palliative care center, but


    Asia quickly brushed that aside.  Here, at least, even
    though it hardly mattered, she had power.  They would
    go home and they would hire a live-in nurse.  Every
    instant she was awake, she would be with him.  She
    would sleep in his room, at the foot of his bed.  That was
    how things were going to be.
          He didn’t last long; within a month he was dead,
    and that was when she fell apart.  She stopped eating
    and she drank every day.  She never went out. And in the
    end, she was afraid to go out.  She had her groceries and
    liquor delivered; she left checks on the door.  Sometimes
    she didn’t see anyone for months at a time.  She never
    listened to music.  She was entirely enveloped in silence.
          After a year of this, odd things began to happen.  
    First came the visions–that was what she called them.  
    They came during the night, so they were dreams, but
    dreams unlike any she had ever had.  The first she called
    the withering, and it was always exactly the same.  She
    could see herself standing in a field.  The sky was black,
    the moon was full, and there were no stars visible.  Then
    it looked as though the water was slowly disappearing
    from her body.  Her skin became papery and began to
    flake away.  Her body began to shrivel.  Then her skin
    cracked open and her body imploded, and finally she
    became dust and disintegrated, falling onto the ground.
          She always woke up screaming when she had the


    withering.  The other visions were different: they weren’t
    scary and they didn’t repeat themselves.  They were
    visions of her mother.  It was as though one of the
    photographs she had of her mother suddenly became a
    movie, but it was more than that.  She could also feel
    what her mother was feeling and see what her mother
    was seeing, as though she was watching her, and
    somehow inside of her at the same time.  She found
    these visions quite comforting, in a way.  They made her
    feel closer to her mother than ever.  But they were also
    odd: she didn’t know how to file them.  She didn’t know
    why she had them.  And they were dreams about
    impossible situations.
          Soon after the visions began, the voices came.  
    These weren’t scary, but they were disturbing.  It was
    always a child’s voice, and it sounded like the child was
    right there in the room.  Most of the time, she was so
    startled by the voice that by the time she had settled
    down again, the voice had stopped and she didn’t catch
    what was said.  Once, though, she distinctly heard the
    voice say, “Ready or not, here I come!”   She was so sure
    that children were playing hide-and-seek in her house
    that she spent an hour searching for them.  She found no
    one, of course.  She was sure she wouldn’t.  But the
    voices were so real she could put her hands on them.
          She began to feel that she was hovering on the edge


    of disaster, that she was minutes away from madness.  
    She could fall into it, or she could attempt a rescue.  She
    decided to do a second bachelor's degree at NYU.  This
    time she would study psychology, because if anyone
    could tell her what was wrong–and how to make it right–
    it would be a psychologist.  That, in any case, was her
          Happily, NYU wanted her back.  She again decided
    to rent on the upper East side, and spent three years
    trying to make sense of herself.  Just months after she
    turned twenty-seven, she received her second BA.  She
    immediately applied to do a Master’s degree, and was
    accepted.  And in graduate school, she met Donald.
          She should not have married him.  She should have
    run.  She should have flown back to Paris.  He was
    warm, quiet and kind–in many ways he reminded her of
    her father–and he didn’t deserve to have his life run over
    by her craziness.  But she had hoped.  Maybe if she was
    in a stable relationship, things would get better.  Maybe
    if she had a child to care for, she could be a proper
    person again.  There were a hundred maybes, and
    together they forced her hand, because she needed, after
    all, to hope.
          She had tried, and perhaps she hadn’t tried hard
    enough, but whatever the reason was, it hadn’t worked.  
    She couldn’t be honest with him.  She couldn’t tell him


    about the visions and the voices.  That would just have
    pushed him away, and though that was what she should
    have wanted, it was not, in fact, the thing she wanted at
    all.  What she wanted was to be a proper person again.
          But she had failed.  Things had just gotten worse.  
    And now it was time to go somewhere else, a place
    where the smell of the world would be washed away.  
    Was it time?  How would she know?  She looked at the
    sky; there were no stars visible.  So: it was time.  She
    stood up and walked into the water.
The DeathFairy