Adelita narrates a memory of a slow Thursday morning spent with Corrigan in her clapboard house in the Bronx. She wakes up and rolls toward him; it is the first time he has spent the night. She examines him and his morning beard, his shirt with wooden buttons, his religious chain and the tan line it has left along his chest. He awakes and they begin talking about the night before, how they drank too much wine. They hear the footsteps of the upstairs neighbors and the sound of Adelita’s children watching Sesame Street. She tells him that she woke early in the morning and diagnosed “a very early case of happiness,” and Corrigan jokes that he has never heard of it. They kiss and Adelita can sense happiness and guilt working through him simultaneously.
This is a crucial moment in the development of Corrigan’s life, one that provides further insight into his devotion to Adelita as a lover. The fact that he spent the night at her house is quite significant, since in the earlier stages of their relationship they required Ciaran to be with them at all times as a boundary of sorts. Now, it seems, they have ventured into murky new waters. Adelita lives inside this memory as if it is the current moment, a useful way of approaching time throughout the entire book: memories—especially emotionally significant ones—are not necessarily linear or chronological, much like the way multiple narratives and lives weave together without necessarily tracking one another.
The night before, Adelita and Corrigan made love. It was Corrigan’s very first time. He then wept over having broken his vows. Adelita told him that she loved him and that she “Felt like a child who throws a centavo into a fountain and then she has to tell someone her most extraordinary wish even though she knows that the wish should be kept secret and that, in telling it, she is quite probably losing it.” Corrigan tells her not to worry, assuring her that the penny will emerge from the fountain time and again. He told her that he wanted to try making love again, and they did.
In breaking his vow of celibacy, Corrigan progresses even further down the road that will potentially lead him away from his religion, which has heretofore been the defining element of his existence. For the moment, though, he isn’t focused on such concerns. Rather, he devotes his attention to this slow morning with Adelita.
In the morning—which Adelita will never forget—they start to have sex for a third time after locking the bedroom door and covering the peephole with Corrigan’s black shirt. Adelita already knows that she will forever come back to the memory of this morning, turning it over in her mind, knowing that the feeling cannot be adequately articulated using words. There is a pounding at the door and her children are waiting for her to appear. She makes them breakfast and Corrigan showers.
The fact that Corrigan wants to have sex again in the morning indicates that he doesn’t regret breaking his vows—or, at the very least, it shows that he allows himself to put off having to consider the consequences of his actions. Either way, Adelita’s memory of this morning paints a picture of a man happily swept up in new love.
A week after this morning, Adelita comes home from the hospital and takes a number of stray hairs from her sink—they are Corrigan’s, and she meticulously arranges them, already missing him sorely. By then she has seen the X-rays that depict the intense trauma his heart sustained in the accident. She has watched the doctor put a needle in his chest while Ciaran prayed repeatedly in the room.
This jump in time to the day after Corrigan’s death lends a sense of urgency and finality to Adelita’s memory. It adds gravity and meaning to that happy morning by emphasizing its impermanence and temporality.
But right now Adelita dwells in the memory of that Thursday morning, when her children greet Corrigan and he sits at her kitchen table. In this memory, she wishes she had a garden that she and Corrigan could sit in while the children watch television, something like a grove she remembers loving as a child living in Guatemala. Corrigan calls her back from her fantasy and they casually flirt. He goes over to her children and sits between them on the couch, one arm around each little body, and this is where Adelita wants him to remain fixed her mind, poised happily on the couch with her children.
The image of Corrigan sitting between Adelita’s children is a projection of what may have been, had the accident not happened. It is an indication of what the best case scenario could have been for their relationship, a possibility that is incredibly important to Adelita as she remembers this morning in an effort to cope with Corrigan’s death.
Later, after the accident, Adelita wonders what it was that Corrigan had seen when he told her that he had encountered a beauty he would never forget; he mentioned something about a man and a building, but Adelita couldn’t understand what he was saying. She wonders if he had perhaps finally decided to leave the Order, or if the moment of beauty was something simpler than that, like a conversation he’d had with Tillie or Jazzlyn. Maybe, she thinks, he had decided that he didn’t need her, that he would stay in the Order and give up their love.
Death is often accompanied by an onslaught of unanswered questions, and this is certainly true for Adelita when Corrigan dies. Not only does she yearn to know what he would have decided about their relationship if he had lived on, she also is left trying to guess what his final words meant. Right to the end, it seems, Corrigan maintained an element of mystery.
Of course, Adelita heard about the tightrope walker. She knows that Corrigan spent the night in his van near the courthouse in Lower Manhattan that Tillie and Jazzlyn had been sent to. She thinks it is possible that he awoke in time to see the man walking in the sky, “challenging God, a man above the cross rather than below.”
It is apt that Adelita frames the tightrope walker’s stunt in terms of religion, for this is surely what Corrigan would have done. This is especially the case because Corrigan was constantly challenging God himself, believing that true faith emerged not from comfortable beliefs but from difficult battles with uncertainty.
Adelita admits that she has moments in which she loses hope and thinks that Corrigan must have been speeding home in his van in order to tell her that he could not be with her any longer. But she also reveals that in her stronger moments, when she is hopeful, she believes that he would have appeared at her house ready to embrace her, ready to stay with her. Regardless though, she tries mostly to remember him as he was on that slow Thursday morning. She imagines him still sitting on her couch, thinking that nothing will ever be able to take him elsewhere.
By imagining Corrigan on her couch between her two children, Adelita fixes her lover in a moment that seemed to allude to a continuation of their relationship. Of course, this is speculation, but it is significant that a character in a book full of many different stories and narratives is able to (however tenuously) choose her own ending.
Book Three, Chapter 9: A Part of the Parts
Book Three, Chapter 9: A Part of the Parts