She left him still stunned in the Russian restaurant and ran back out to the boardwalk, terrified he would follow her. For a brief moment she let her eyes search the horizon above the Atlantic, desperate to find comfort and warmth in the blanket of darkness out to sea. The night lights of Coney Island had emerged like a tangled caricature down the boardwalk, now almost empty, and she knew, despite the chilly fall breeze and the eternal rhythms of the shorebreak, that time for her was short. She collected herself quickly, pulled her untraceable from her purse and placed a call.
Less than an hour later she was in a dining room seated across from Fay Goldman, former midwife now leader of the underground Resistance Network. Except for the dim light from a brass ring chandelier that hovered above the vintage drop-leaf table, the room was dark and somber with a large antique mahogany hutch lurking in the shadows next to a small cocktail cart arrayed with a miniature cityscape of clear and green and amber liquor bottles, dusty from years of neglect.
In her mid-sixties, plump with short gray hair, a round weathered face and dark brown eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, Fay looked every bit the seasoned matron, equally schooled, or so she appeared at first glance, in the requisite disciplines of both tenderness and scorn. She sat across from Maria and pondered her newest charge -- the most powerful and desirable woman in the city just hours before, now a fugitive like all the others who had come to her table in recent years for exactly the same reason. Fay couldn’t afford to show it, but she was more than a little starstruck in Maria’s presence. She also couldn’t afford to let anything cloud her judgement in the moment; she needed to determine which option, tenderness or scorn, would yield the better results.
“I honestly don’t know what to think about you,” she admitted, still unable to decide. “At first I wondered why you didn’t attend your father’s funeral services. I ask myself what kind of daughter doesn’t attend her own father’s funeral?” Her voice was patient and calm, imbued with innate authority, qualities acquired over years of dealing with the heightened anxieties of expecting parents.
Maria sat in silence like a penitent school girl, eyes cast downward, hands folded in her lap. The room was soundless except for her own breathing and the older woman’s voice: “Then I learned about your appointment to the Diversity Council a few years later and I thought, oh, the kind of daughter with more important things to do.”
Maria looked up at her, eyes suffused with a sudden defiance in the subdued light. “Don’t forget the GreenChoice Act,” she said without equivocation.
Fay stiffened in her seat, surprised and a little unnerved by the boldness of Maria’s unexpected confession -- an abrupt reminder that the younger woman seated across from her was no ordinary supplicant. “Yes,” she said after a lengthy pause. “The GreenChoice Act.” The timber in her voice turned suddenly accusative, steeped in a deep resentment hardened by years of living life as an endless string of secretive meetings and furtive encounters, always fearful of the light. “You turned me into an outlaw, no better than a common gonif, for what? For helping women give birth to unauthorized babies?” She threw her hands up in disgust. “Unauthorized babies! Who can imagine such a thing?” Exasperated, she lowered her hands and paused to catch her breath. “And then,” she continued, “a messenger arrives one day. Out of nowhere he appears with an access code to a king’s ransom, a box full of untraceables and a message from an anonymous benefactor.” Fay removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. How strange and poetic, she thought, that the woman who drove her underground years ago was seated across from her now, pregnant and plaintive like all the others. She wanted to enjoy her righteous indignation a while longer, but was surprised to hear her own voice soften inexplicably instead. “Do you know what he tells me?”
Maria nodded almost imperceptibly. “Because there are more important things,” she said, remembering her instructions to the messenger six years earlier.
“Yes,” confirmed the older woman. “Because there are more important things.”
The sound of her father’s words from the lips of another pierced her soul like a sharp, accusing finger, and filled her eyes with tears. She focused her gaze on Fay and fought not to cry. But just when victory seemed certain, a solitary tear betrayed her, broke ranks and slipped down her cheek in silence.
Unexpectedly shaken by Maria’s candor and courage, Fay excused herself, rose from the table and went to the kitchen. She returned a few moments later with two cups of tea, composed and fully convinced that the plan she had discussed that afternoon in the emergency meeting with the Network leadership would work. “Yes, I knew that you, of all people, were my anonymous benefactor,” she told Maria as she sat back down across from her. “And I knew there may come a day when I would hear from you again. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to hear from you when you reached out to me this morning.” She stared at the still unwitting co-conspirator seated across from her, smiled behind sad eyes and shook her head. “I honestly don’t know what to think about you, girl. But I know what we need to do. Drink your tea now. I’ll explain how things work around here tomorrow.”