Photo: David Yellen
Four women. One leafy urban park. Topics: men, wrinkles, headlines, coffee, one another.
The phone rings, 7 on the dot. It's Frances Kiernan, author most recently of The Last Mrs. Astor.

"Are we on?" she trills.


I call Molly Haskell, the film critic.

"We're on," I say.

Molly calls Lily Tuck, author of the forthcoming Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Morante.

At 7:30 (weather permitting) we meet in Central Park, four writers, Tuesdays and Thursdays, like a religion.

By 7:30 Frannie has scoured the Times. She fills us in on anything incendiary. We talk about our work, we talk about our wrinkles, we talk about our men: current, ex, and late. We talk about our editors, our agents, what we've read, what we've heard, what we did last night. We laugh our heads off.

One of us has a good ear. We walk on that side of her. One of us has a propensity for surgery. We slow down for her. One of us has a new apartment in Paris. Her we miss.

We peel out of the park at 85th and head for cappuccino at Le Pain Quotidien. We take turns paying for it. Molly keeps track on a little pad she is rarely without. If somehow we're not sure whose turn it is, we shoot for it, as in "The odd finger is it!" I understood in a newly profound way what it meant for Lily to grow up in Europe, because shooting was news to her.

A couple of times a year, my power-broker friend Michael reserves the best table for us at Elio's and we get swanked up and meet for dinner. We never fail to be shocked by how beautiful we are with makeup. It was at one of these dinners that a famous older man and his hilariously young sweetie pie were cooing at the table next to us. We gossiped fiendishly. The next day, we opened the papers and something terrible had happened to the man.

"We're witches," Frannie declared. Now we call ourselves the Witches. I'm the self-proclaimed Alpha Witch because I've been going around the reservoir longest and I started the thing, and I'm the fastest, although Lily, who is accustomed to being best, says she is.

I love everything about the Witches. I love that we are wildly, wickedly different except for the fact we all write and have good manners. Molly is Southern. Frannie is old New York courtly. Lily is international. Molly dresses like Huck Finn by day and Doris Day by night. Lily, even in spandex, looks like Greta Garbo. And Frannie, whether it's jeans or velvet, is pure Bloomsbury. Our points of view couldn't be more different. Like the park, we're unpredictable, we keep changing.

By 8:45 we're back at our computers, ready to rock 'n' roll. The walk is 1.67 miles, or 3,677 steps, according to my pedometer. (Molly wrote the brand down in her little book, and now she wears a pedometer, too.) One loop takes us 30 minutes. That's 3.34 miles per hour, or almost as fast as the fastest cockroach in the world, Periplaneta americana. If there's a better way to start the day, I'm all ears.

We are witches, hear us cackle.

Patricia Volk is the author of the novel, To My Dearest Friends (Vintage).

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.


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