Chapters 1-2 Summary
The novel opens with the death of Elspeth in a hospital. Her lover, Robert, happens to be away from her bedside when she passes. He went down the hall to get himself some tea. As she dies, she thinks of a conversation she had with Robert not too long ago. They had been walking by the river, and he remarked that they should have had children. When Robert returns to Elspeth’s room, he does not initially realize that she is dead. She is turned facing the door with open eyes. Once he realizes what has happened, Robert closes the door and gently curls up beside Elspeth’s frail body. Elspeth’s spirit sees all this happen while floating above them on the ceiling of the hospital room. It is early dawn, and the city is just beginning to stir. Robert holds onto Elspeth for as long as he can, knowing that someone will soon come to take her away.
Elspeth’s twin sister, Edie, lives in the United States. She regularly receives letters from Elspeth at a private post office box that only she knows about. Her husband, Jack, grows suspicious of the letters, particularly when he discovers a lighter in Edie’s car. Edie doesn’t smoke; she uses the lighter to burn up Elspeth’s letters after she reads them. Finally, Jack hires a private detective to follow Edie and find out more about the letters. Edie had spotted the detective early on and is annoyed by his presence. When Edie receives her latest letter, she heads down to the beach to read it, and naturally, the P.I. follows her. The letter is brief: in it, Elspeth confirms her impending death. She tells Edie she won’t inherit anything because Edie has Elspeth’s life. She also informs Edie that she has left everything to Edie’s daughters, who are also twins. Edie takes the letter home and lets Jack read it. He is both surprised and relieved about the letter’s author. He thought Edie and Elspeth didn’t speak, but is glad the letter is not from a lover of some kind. After he reads the letter, Edie curls up with Jack in bed in a thoughtful silence. Edie is consumed with a sense of loss, feeling unprepared for Elspeth’s departure, despite their long separation. Suddenly, Edie’s twins, Valentina and Julia, arrive home from school. Hearing them from the next room, Edie immediately goes to the bathroom to pull herself together. She makes it very clear to Jack that he is not to tell the girls about their aunt’s death. She then goes to greet the twins and begins to make plans for dinner, keeping her cool.