Cover image for Rain line
Rain line
Pierce, Anne Whitney, 1953-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Hanover : University Press of New England, [2000]

Physical Description:
361 pages ; 23 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



After a tragic car accident that kills her boyfriend but spares her, Leo Baye comes to terms with her guilt over her own survival while trying to resume her normal life.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

On the way home from a party, the car carrying Leo and her boyfriend, Danny, plunges into the river. Danny dies, but Leo manages to escape. What follows is a beautifully written story of a young woman coping with the grief and guilt of surviving a tragic accident. Leo tries to resume her life by practicing the violin; writing her thesis; preparing for her orchestra audition; and taking comfort in the arms of a sweet, eccentric chess player named Kilroy. She also moves back into her parent's house, where her mother is lost somewhere in her own mind and has been for more than 20 years and her father spends his days inventing things but never finishing them. When Leo finds out she is pregnant with Danny's child, however, she must learn to face the truth about her relationship with Danny and to deal with his ghostly, haunting presence. Pierce writes lyrically and honestly in this powerful tale of life after tragedy, taking her time to fully develop characters and story. --Carolyn Kubisz

Publisher's Weekly Review

The accidental death of her hockey star boyfriend forces a young woman to redefine her life and relationship with her parents in this lucid, crisply wrought novel set in Cambridge, Mass., in 1982. Twenty-two-year-old Leonarda "Leo" Baye--named by her eccentric parents after Leonardo da Vinci--is in the car with Danny McPhee after a party on the night his Harvard team wins a big game, when he loses control and crashes through a guard rail and into the river. But while Leo swims to safety, Danny, inexplicably, does not. Shattered by Danny's apparent suicide, scorned by his parents and conflicted about finishing her violin studies at the Boston Conservatory, Leo retreats to her musty childhood home on Cobb's Hill. Her mother, once a celebrated opera singer whose stage fright prematurely ended her career, rarely emerges from her room, while her father, a failed inventor, caters to his wife's every fragile whim. After Leo discovers that she is pregnant with Danny's baby, they all begin to have a salubrious effect on one another, bringing them "one foot over the rain line," into the "warm, sunlit place" that represents safety. This simple tale is redeemed from sentimentality by Pierce's sure, resonant prose. Leo is an appealing character and her parents, especially her mother, Lydia, who spouts statistics and non sequiturs, are affectionately and precisely delineated. In Pierce's patient hands (her Wonder Women won the 1994 Willa Cather Fiction Prize), this story of survival and healing achieves poetic immediacy. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Pierce's first novel is an outstanding work of domestic fiction in which the central action is made up of the flipped bookends of death and then birth. Main character Leonarda's daily life is a series of clich‚s, surprising in light of her eccentric parents--her father is a self-styled inventor, her mother a post-breakdown prodigy. When boyfriend Danny is killed by a car crash into an icy river--a crash that Leonarda survives--the cold water wakes her from her slumber. She learns that she is pregnant with Danny's child, meets and falls for chess-whiz Kilroy, takes care of Danny's younger brother Po, passes a conservatory graduation audition, and watches as both her mother and father emerge from decades of somnolence. Advise readers to get past the purposely dull first 15 pages, and they won't regret it. Recommended for public libraries.--Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib. of New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One T o this day, I wonder if Danny knew he was going to die. I somehow knew I would not, even as the car crashed through the railing and fell oddly quiet into the river. My life didn't flash before me. I wasn't scared. As we sailed through the dark, I thought clearly about how I'd get out of the car. Danny said, "oh, shit," and I said back to him, "I love you." It was a conversation we'd had many times before, in penultimate moments before lesser tragedies--Danny telling me what he was going to do--here to die--and me asking him not to.     We'd been at a party at Eddie Quintana's house just before. Eddie and Danny were long-time friends and hockey teammates, the only Cambridge boys in their Harvard senior class. They played Harvard down, played it cool, played it out. Asked where they went to school, they'd mumble, "down in the Square," or just "around." Solid students. Super jocks. Stuck together not so much by character or deed, but more by the ice-bottomed fate they'd come to share, Danny and Eddie held their ground, held their turf, held their own.     "We filled the quota," Eddie liked to say. "Token townies in the ivory tower."     "Only let us in 'cause we could skate," Danny would grumble, with a spit for emphasis. And skate they both could--Eddie a lumbering bear of a goalie with mittened paws and voodoo mask, Danny, sleek and fast on offense, flying from one end of the ice to the other, slamming the puck into the net time and time again. Sticks raised in victory, grins and tousled hair laced with sweat. I'd seen the picture a thousand times--one Irish, one Italian son, heroes that night the Buick plowed into the river.     Harvard won the championship in the last period. Danny checked the Dartmouth forward against the boards and stole the puck. His stick hurled it from the crease into the corner of the net and he flew out of nowhere to catch it on the other side. Ice shards exploded in the air. Danny lifted his stick and made the shot in the corner of the net as the Dartmouth forward charged from behind and slammed into him. Danny's fist lunged into the forward's gut and Danny took a right to his eye.     They both took the penalty for roughing. As the 2 slid into a 3 on the scoreboard, the crowd rose to its feet, hoarse and wild. It was the go-ahead goal, Danny's third of the game. Hats came flying out of the stands--a cowboy hat and a curly blond wig, a sombrero, a baseball cap. The referee scooped them up in between his legs and dumped them into Danny's lap in the penalty box. Danny must have said something to make him mad. The ref's black and white striped arm started waving wildly and his thumb jerked Danny off to the dressing room. Danny stuffed the cowboy hat onto his head and stalked off to a standing ovation, skates stomping up the wooden ramp as the crowd chanted his name--McPhee! McPhee!--eyes never wavering. This was the kind of brooding exit Danny made so often--from the hockey rink, from his mother's house, from my bed.     After the game, the crowd streamed out of the rink into the parking lot near the river, whooping and shouting, dousing each other with beer. Danny and I hit the open air. It was an oddly warm winter night, a late January reprieve. A chorus of confused crocuses pushed its way up through the ground by the door of the rink. Above it, a ledge of ice slipped quietly away. Cries and whistles filled the pockets in the breeze. Beery breath hung steamy in the air. Some of the players took their shirts off and rode as bowsprits on the hoods of cars. Muscle-bound chests and gleaming grins shimmered in the dark. Eddie and Danny found each other by the pay phone and embraced.     "We did it, man," Eddie said. "Took care of business. The last deed. Like that painting on the ceiling. The last supper. The last god damned supper."     "Yeah," Danny said quietly. "We finally took the green boys to town."     I stood beside Danny as he held reluctant court. People clapped him on the back, slapped him five, ruffled his hair. He'd won the game for them. Everyone had said he would. Eddie let in two killer goals, but Danny had scored the hat trick. Without warning, he broke free from the crowd, strode through the rows of parked cars, shirt open, cowboy hat still atilt on his head, holding his skates by the blades, laces dangling. I turned on my heel to follow. The voices trailed behind.     "Hey, Danny, want a ride?"     "Hop in, McPhee. Got some smoke that will blow your brains out."     "You're the man, Danny. You're the fucking man !"     I slid into the Buick just as Danny's foot hit the gas pedal. Someone in a passing car threw a six-pack through the driver seat window. Danny caught it neatly, yanked a beer from its plastic yoke. We drove across the bridge and along Memorial Drive toward East Cambridge. The warm, wet air came up from the river through the window to brush my face.     "Congratulations," I said.     "Glad it's over." Danny took a swig of his beer. "Last game I'm ever going to play."     "Of hockey?" I asked him.     "Of anything. I'm tired of games. I'm almost a quarter of a century old and all I've done my whole life is play games." Danny planted the beer can between his legs. "I just want to get on with it."     "On with what?" So often with Danny I turned into dumb inquisitor.     "Life. Plain old fucking life."     "Plain old fucking life as opposed to plain old fucking what?"     "Just life. Like like other people know it."     "I thought you were other people," I said, looking over at him. "Mr. Cambridge. Mr. Hockey. Mr. Golden Star."     "I'm just a fake, Leo." Danny took another swig as we passed the Hyatt and turned to me. "I thought you knew that."     I reached over to touch his bruised and swelling eye. "God, look at you." I said.     "Don't make a big deal." He winced as I pulled my hand away. "You know it's part of the game."     "I bet Bobby Orr didn't come home with black eyes." Bobby Orr was Danny's hero, some kind of deity sent down to roam the earth's ice patches on skates and spread the quiet word about superlatives--of body, spirit and mind. Danny told only one joke in a crowd, with a seriousness that made it more sacrament than humor, the one where Jesus saves, but Espo scores on the rebound.     "No one messed with Orr," Danny said. "You just don't mess with God."     I stuck my arm out the window, flattened my palm against the breeze. Spray dotted the windshield as Danny flipped open the top of his second beer. "What happened in the penalty box?" I asked him. "Why'd the referee kick you out of the game?"     "It was a bad call and I told him so," Danny said. "He thought I gave him the finger. I was scratching my nose. Can't even scratch my own god damned nose. It was nothing."     "Some nothings are more calculated than others," I said.     "What's that supposed to mean?" Danny ran the light at the corner of Prospect and Cambridge, passing by my apartment above the pizza parlor.     I didn't know and so I said nothing back. It was the kind of thing I often said to Danny when he was angry, words meant to distract or assuage, perplex or salvage an uneasy moment, but which only made him mad and me regretful, and then both of us sorry. "You could write a column," he said. "Right next to `Ask Beth.' `Dear Leo,' How do you play hockey and be a saint at the same god damned time?"     "Don't swear so much." I looked out the window as we headed west down Cambridge Street. "I'm sick of games too, Danny," I told him. "Sick of this game we're playing."     "What game?"     "X-rated sticks and stones."     "Break my bones, Leo," Danny whispered into a gulp of beer, as he careened around the corner of 3rd Street. "That Dartmouth jerk was trying to break my fucking bones." We pulled up to Eddie's house just as the keg arrived. He lived near Lechmere Sales in East Cambridge, on the second floor of a triple decker, just above the railroad tracks on the Somerville line. Upstairs, an old door resting on two sawhorses made the bar. I poured myself a plastic glass of pink wine and sat down on a lumpy sofa backed up against a wall. An old poster of Janis Joplin hung crooked on the wall, baby face ravaged, a twinkle in her doomed eyes. Eddie's girlfriend of the hour, dressed in red high heels and a purple suede skirt, put on some girl groups and turned it up loud. She and two other girls formed a line, swiveling hips and swirling palms, fists to mouths. Doo wah. Danny and Eddie sat down to a game of Cardinal Puff, chasing beer with whiskey and whiskey with more beer.     Car doors slammed and more people tracked up the narrow rubber-trailed stairs to fill the empty room, bringing blasts of cool air and noise with them. The door table filled with bottles--vodka, Jack Daniels, Kahlua, Ripple wine--and the corners filled with coats--fake fur, leather, down, Army fatigue. The room was lit by a purple glow, and the rhythmic flashing of a yellow stop light hoisted from a street corner. Eddie got up and started to roam, swigging Jim Beam from a bottle, making introductions, making inquiries, making eyes.     I leaned back on the sofa and closed my eyes. I wouldn't miss these parties--the hockey crowd getting together to drown victory and defeat alike in buckets of beer--big boys acting like little boys with Tarzan bravado and girls who kept them small with cold shoulders, smoky lips, perfumed cool. The boys were a blur of muscle, mouth, smoke and sweat. They moved by me like the swells of waves. I had eyes only for Danny. But I watched the girls. I couldn't imagine where they'd all come from, who'd ever sprouted them. Some had a waxy perfection about them, straight white teeth and round breasts, thin hips melting effortlessly into strong legs, gently indented abdomens bared just above their beltlines, waterfalls of just-so honeyed hair. Some blew fine hair from their eyes with a puffed out lower lip. Others were freckled, hair-sprayed and tough. Some dressed to kill and were nobody's fools. A few would consider being anyone's. Some came alone. Others in gaggles. There were always plenty of girls.     Eddie's parties were open invitations to anyone who'd ever crossed his path--the drunk he'd once talked down off the railing of the Salt and Pepper bridge, the waitress who toasted his English muffins just so at the Tasty in the Square, his dental hygienist, and a retarded boy from grammar school for whom Eddie had looked out over the years. Most of these people had turned their memories inside out, felt beholden to Eddie where they might have considered revenge. In truth, it was Eddie who'd led the drunk up onto the bridge on a lark, Eddie who'd first dunked the retarded boy's head in a toilet at school before taking him under his wing. Who remembered that Eddie had given the Tasty waitress the clap, that he'd dumped the hygienist without so much as a phone call? Forgotten the kill. Remembered the kindnesses. Many years later, all these people would elect Eddie the mayor.     When Eddie Quintana opened his battered doors, everything was up for grabs--his apartment, his beer, his smoke, even his old girlfriends. On those nights, and only on those nights, was Eddie a generous man. The parties were wild, dawn-bound, filled with music and smoke, recklessness and booze. I'd seen the most unlikely couplings in Eddie's house--a Pulitzer pouring Boone's farm for a Somervillian beautician, a nice Jewish boy asking a nasty WASP to dance, a cheerleader arguing a Marxist into a dark, hot corner. I'd seen Eddie lead identical twin girls into an empty room, his arms curled around their waists like tentacles, and I'd seen Danny come looking for me after he was drunk, as if there were no one else in the room.     In Eddie Quintana's bleak house of noise and lust, metamorphosis was not only possible, but likely. In Eddie Quintana's bleak house of drink and blare, there was even room for me. Neither town nor gown really, but a swatch of both. I'd grown up in Cambridge, but so far up a hill in the city's northwest corner, so far from the subways or stores or real sidewalks, that the city only half-heartedly claimed Cobb's Hill as one of its neighborhoods, often neglecting to collect its trash or plow its streets in the winter. I'd gone to the neighborhood school, the first Baye in generations not to have stumbled through a private education. But so little had I made my presence felt, no more than a pale, black-haired phantom huddling in the back rows of class pictures, peering out of a tree costume in the "Save the Sycamores" school play, I couldn't say, with any conviction or pride, as Eddie's girlfriends did--that I was a Cambridge girl.     Music was all that distinguished me. I'd played the violin since I was six and was thought to have some talent, how much, no one knew, least of all me. As a child, I'd been eager to know who I was, composing paragraphs that would explain me in one paragraph in the World Book Encyclopedia after I died. LEONARDA BYEWORTH BAYE. Born 1960. Named after the great Leonardo da Vinci. Alphabetically, my entry would fall just after BAT. We had much in common, I thought, both nocturnal creatures and known to eat bugs, often misunderstood to be unfriendly or strange. Startled by passing shadows. Afraid of howling cats and white light. Prefer to be left alone, to hang upside down in dark, remote places. Not so much scary--as scared. As I took a sip of the pink wine at the party, a curl of nausea rose up from a deep place in my stomach. I leaned forward and brought my legs up underneath me on Eddie's lumpy couch. Someone put on Sam Cooke. His cool voice slid over me. At first I thought it was in-fat-u-a-tion. But oooh, it's lasted so long. I sat and watched the smoky dream unfold before me, waited for the time when Danny and I could leave the noise and the smells and the hot, breathless confusion, make contact again with the open air. I drank more wine. Danny leaned against the opposite wall, one leg bent straight back, beer bottle level with his groin. We came and went together. That was all. What happened in between was a mute and frenzied blur. This wasn't my way to spend an evening, but for Danny, I'd made it my way, glad, sometimes, just to have a way.     I was somehow, curiously, Danny McPhee's girlfriend, and that fact imbued me with powers and charms that weren't otherwise mine, as a snake does a woman with a basket. I could have sat on that sofa forever. No one would have tried to move or shake or hurt me. Danny McPhee was God's gift and I was his. He'd scored the hat trick, and he'd be taking me home.     One of Eddie's old girlfriends came over, April, a tall girl with a leopard skin shirt, all legs and beautiful green eyes, a gold chain riding the lip of her tiny waist.     "You bored?" she asked me, fingering the links of her belt. "You look bored, just sitting there like you do."     "Bored?" I straightened up on the couch. "No, I'm not bored."     "You always come here and you sit there all night on that couch looking bored," she said. "Like you're too good for all this."     "No." I swept my hand around the arc of the room and tried to explain. "I'm just no good at this. That's all."     She laughed. "What's to be good at? You drink. You smoke. You swing. You lean. You crash. All you got to be good at, girl, is being. Listen. You'll be all right."     "You think so?" I asked.     April tugged down her shirt, followed my eyes over to Danny. "You better hold onto that boy," she said. "You don't look out, someone's going to take him away from you. That boy's to die for." She took a drag of her cigarette and warned me on the exhale. "The way I see it, someone just might have to die."     I took a sip of my Kool-Aid wine, and hoped it wouldn't be me. After a while, I got up and went over to Danny, who was still leaning against a wall with his beer.     "Having fun yet?" he asked me.     "I wouldn't go that far."     "Just came to suffer, I guess."     "Let's go, Danny. You're getting drunk."     "Just be Leo, will you?" Danny raised his beer bottle to his lips.     "And not the warden?"     "Okay, I'll be Leo." I turned away from him. "And you be the jerk." I was tired of arguing with the liquor after it had invaded Danny's bloodstream, after it brought the dull look into his eyes and the sneer to his face. I was sick of the ragged banter we let pass for conversation. We went on and on this way, strangely afraid of ourselves and one another, of our intimacy. We spoke in jibes and put-downs, interjections, inuendo, omission, shrugs, turns of the heel.     I went back to the couch. Someone passed me a joint. I took a why-not toke and coughed most of it back out into the air. Someone dancing by took the joint from my fingers. The music played on, disc jockeys rotating as the spirits moved--Airplanes, Beatles, Fish and Fuggs. Temps, Tops, Tammy. With George. And without. The mood changed with each flick of a hand. Eddie put on Van Morrison and came over to me.     "Hey, Lee," he purred.     "Leo," I said. "Nice game, Eddie. Good party."     "It's a waste, Lee." Eddie's hand brushed the nape of my neck. "Just sitting here, waiting for it to be over. Come on. Let's dance."     The hot breath of persuasion roamed my ear. I let Eddie pull me up onto the dance floor, where a few people moved in time. His arms wrapped around me, victory sweat still seeping. I pushed him away. But he drew me back and I gave in to the pulls of gravity and fatigue and Eddie Quintana alike. We dipped and swayed to "Moondance." I watched as Danny pulled a chair over to a table in the corner of the room, where a man sat alone, playing chess. Danny shook the man's hand and sat down across from him. The two of them bent their heads over the board. Slowly, a crowd gathered. People liked to be near Danny, to watch his hands and his murky blue eyes, to catch the muscles in his shoulders move under his t-shirt or one of his rare twisted smiles. Eddie's hands flattened against my back. I steered him toward the chess table. For a split second, feeling my eyes upon him, Danny looked my way. Finding me in Eddie's arms, his eyes went blank, and fell back down to the chessboard. As Eddie and I danced by the bar, I picked up a bottle of gin and took a swig.     For that blank look in Danny's eyes, I might have drunk whole bottles of gin, I might have stayed on the floor all night dancing with Eddie, followed him into a dark room, slid my shirt off my shoulders and my hand under his belt, breathed deep of his heady smell. But as Danny's forehead creased and the first pawn went out, as Eddie's thick fingers climbed up my spine, the sickness that had been riding my stomach all night shot up into my throat. I left Eddie crooning into his fist of a microphone, swaying in the direction of a girl with clocks on her tights, a girl he'd been watching in between twirls as we danced. In the bathroom, with no time even to flush away the froth of hockey player pee, I vomited. Once, and then again. Laying my head on the toilet seat, I closed my eyes and tried to think of nothing, until someone pounded on the door. By midnight, Eddie's party had grown loud and frenzied. Smoke swirled and music blared. Couples slid lizard-like into corners and through half-open doors. I went over to Danny, who was still playing chess with the dark-haired man in the corner, both of them oblivious to the din. The dark-haired man wore one blue sock and one brown, a curiously insignificant detail, the catch of a hand that reaches in a drawer for the first two socks it can find and nothing more. I came up behind Danny, put one hand on his shoulder. He moved his rook, scratched his chin.     "Can we go now, Danny? Please. I don't feel well." He lifted his hand to silence me. I looked down at the board. "Looks like the game's over, anyhow," I said.     "What?" Danny's head jerked up.     "She's right." The dark-haired man looked up at me curiously. "It's mate with queen to bishop five."     "Shit." Danny flattened his king onto the board with his palm. "I didn't see that coming. I was going to attack your knight."     The chess player's fingers reached down to fiddle with the chess pieces. "This was your only move," he told Danny. "Back in the middle game. The bishop could have gone here, taken my pawn ..." He rearranged some pieces, swooped up one of his knights. "You weakened your pawn structure back in the opening, left your king-side wide open."     "Damn. What an idiot." The liquor which Danny had cleared to one side of his brain during the chess game washed back over him, all those mingling shots of whiskey and beer causing him to sway as he ran his square fingers through his hair. "I'm so tired, man. So beat. I can't come up with the killer moves. I thought my pawn storm was going to do it. I thought I had the game."     "That's the thing," the man said. "When the attack is premature, the counterattack prevails."     Danny kept staring at the board, staring, trying to figure it out. "My pawn went here ..."     "Danny, please," I said.     "Go on, take her home, man," the chess player said. "Game's over."     Danny didn't move, didn't speak.     "Hey." The chess player reached out to touch his arm. "I think she's had enough. I think you ..."     "Who the fuck ..." Danny flung his arm away.     "Danny, stop," I said.     "Lay off it, Leo. I mean it. Just lay off."     "Hey, easy, man," the chess player said. "Easy ..."     "Easy?" The black had risen in Danny's eyes. "No. Whatever else it is, man , it is ... not ... fucking ... easy." He raised the flattened edge of his palm, made contact with his fallen king as if it were a sitting puck, and with one fell sweep of his arm knocked the chessboard off the table. As the pieces rolled and scattered on the floor, Danny raised both arms as if in surrender. "Now the game's over," he said. "Now it's fucking over."     The chess player started to pick up the chess pieces and I knelt down to help him. Danny left the room without another word.     "I'm sorry," I said. "He's drunk. He's ..."     "Don't worry about it," he said. "Why don't you just get him home."     Out on the sidewalk, Danny was waiting for me, hands in his coat pockets, rocking on his heels, still simmering. "What's the matter?" he said, really looking at me for the first time all night. "You look like you've seen a ghost."     "I needed some air, that's all," I said. "I can't believe what you just did in there, Danny."     "I lost," he said. "What can I say, Leo. I'm a loser."     "I guess you made that perfectly clear." We sat silently for a while in the car on the way home, the dark cloud of Danny's blow-up at the chess table hanging heavy between us, postponing explanations and apologies because we couldn't make such gestures anywhere else but in my grandmothers dark, liquor-clouded bed. Danny drove fast along the river drive, still sure that nothing could ever really hurt him, and me suddenly aware that anything could. I held my tongue, knowing I had nothing to say that wouldn't make him mad.     "How'd you know the game was over?" he said finally.     "Your bishop was in trouble. I saw it a few moves back."     "So." He took a swig of his beer. "You play chess, too?"     "I used to play with my father," I said.     Danny put his beer can in between his legs. "I guess there's a lot I don't know about you, Leo."     "I could fill you in."     "It would take a lifetime," he said, reaching for a pack of cigarettes on the dashboard.     "That's right," I said. "It would."     Danny took a deep breath before lighting up. "That guy knows something," he said.     "What guy?"     "Kilroy. The guy I was playing chess with."     "What does he know, Danny? Besides the fact that some people are incredibly bad losers."     "Good, bad. A loser's a loser."     "What does he know, Danny?"     "If I knew, Leo ..." Danny spoke so softly, I could hardly hear. "I wouldn't be smoking this cigarette. I wouldn't be driving this old shit box. And my hands wouldn't smell like fish."     "And maybe you wouldn't feel so sorry for yourself," was what I said back to him. But what I was thinking was, "and you wouldn't be here with me." Copyright © 2000 Anne Whitney Pierce. All rights reserved.