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The snowflakes fell in big white clusters, clinging together like a drawing in a fairy tale, just like in the books Sarah used to read to the children. She sat at the typewriter, looking out the window, watching snow cover the lawn, hanging from the trees like lace, and she completely forgot the story she'd been chasing around in her head since early that morning. It was so damn picturesque. So pretty. Everything was pretty here. It was a storybook life in a storybook town, and the people around her seemed like storybook people. They were exactly what she had never wanted to become, and now she was one of them, and had been for years. And probably always would be. Sarah MacCormick, the rebel, the assistant editor of the Crimson, the girl who had graduated from Radcliffe in 1969 at the top of her class and knew she was different, had become one of them. Overnight. Or almost. In truth, it had taken almost twenty years. And now she was Sarah Watson. Mrs. Oliver Wendell Watson. She lived in Purchase, New York, in a beautiful house they almost owned, after fourteen years of struggling with the mortgage. She had three children, one dog, the last hamster had finally died the year before. And she had a husband she loved. Dear sweet Ollie. He graduated from Harvard Business School when she finished Radcliffe, and they'd been in love since her sophomore year. But he was everything that she wasn't. He was conservative when she was wild, he had believed in what they had tried to do in Vietnam, and for a while she had hated him for it. She had even stopped seeing him for a time after graduation, because she insisted that they were too different. She had gone to live in SoHo, in New York, and tried to write, and she'd actually done pretty well. She'd been published twice in The Atlantic Monthly, and once . . . holy of holies . . . in The New Yorker. She was good and she knew it. And Oliver lived uptown, in an apartment he shared with two friends on East 79th Street, and with his MBA, he got a pretty good job in an ad agency on Madison Avenue. She wanted to hate him for it, wanted to hate him for conforming, but she didn't. Even then, she knew how much she loved him.
He talked about things like living in the country, having Irish setters, wanting four kids, and a wife who didn't work, and she made fun of him for it. But he just grinned that incredible boyish grin that made her heart pound even then . . . even when she pretended to herself that what she really wanted was a man with hair longer than her own . . . an artist . . . a sculptor . . . a writer . . . someone "creative." Oliver was creative, and he was smart. He had graduated magna from Harvard, and the trends of the sixties had never touched him. When she marched, he fished her out of jail, when she argued with him, even calling him names, he explained quietly and rationally what he believed in. And he was so damn decent, so good-hearted, he was her best friend, even when he made her angry. They would meet in the Village sometimes, or uptown for coffee, or drinks, or lunch, and he would tell her what he was doing and ask her about the latest piece she was writing. He knew she was good, too, but he didn't see why she couldn't be "creative" and married.
". . . Marriage is for women who are looking for someone to support them. I want to take care of myself, Oliver Watson." And she was capable of it, or she had been then, after a fashion. She had worked as a part-time gallery sitter in SoHo, and a free-lance writer. And she'd made money at it. Sometimes. But now, sometimes, she wondered if she would still be able to take care of herself, to support herself, to fill out her own tax forms, and make sure her health insurance hadn't lapsed. In the eighteen years they'd been married, she'd become so dependent on him. He took care of all the little problems in her life, and most of the big ones. It was like living in a hermetically sealed world, with Ollie always there to protect her.
She counted on him for everything, and more often than not, it scared her. What if something happened to him? Could she manage? Would she be able to keep the house, to support herself, or the kids? She tried to talk to him about it sometimes, and he only laughed, and told her she'd never have to worry. He hadn't made a fortune, but he had done well and he was responsible. He had lots of life insurance. Madison Avenue had been good to him, and at forty-four, he was the number three man at Hinkley, Burrows, and Dawson, one of the biggest ad agencies in the country. He had brought in their four biggest accounts himself and he was valuable to the firm, and respected among his peers. He had been one of the youngest vice-presidents in the business, and she was proud of him. But it still scared her. What was she doing out here, in pretty little Purchase, watching the snow fall, and waiting for the kids to come home, while she pretended to write a story . . . a story that would never be written, that would never end, that would never go anywhere, just like the others she had tried to write in the last two years. She had decided to go back to writing on the eve of her thirty-ninth birthday. It had been an important decision for her. Thirty-nine had actually been worse than turning forty. By forty, she was resigned to "impending doom," as she woefully called it. Oliver took her to Europe alone for a month for her fortieth birthday. The kids were away at camp, two of them anyway, and her mother-in-law had kept Sam. He had only been seven then, and it was the first time she'd left him. It had been like opening the gates to heaven when she got to Paris . . . no car pools . . . no children . . . no pets . . . no PTA . . . no benefit dinners to run for the school or the local hospitals . . . no one . . . nothing . . . except the two of them, and four unforgettable weeks in Europe. Paris . . . Rome . . . driving through Tuscany, a brief stop on the Italian Riviera, and then a few days on a boat he rented, drifting between Cannes and St. Tropez . . . driving up to Eze and Saint-Paul-de-Vence, and dinner at the Colombe d'Or, and then a few final whirlwind days in London. She had scribbled constantly during the trip, and filled seven notebooks. But when she got home . . . nothing. None of it wanted to be woven into stories, or tales, or articles, or even poems. She just sat there, staring at her notebooks, and a blank page in her typewriter that she never seemed to fill. And she was still doing it a year and a half later. At forty-one, she felt as though her entire life were behind her. And Oliver always laughed at her when she said it.
"Christ, Sarrie . . . you haven't changed a bit since I met you." And he meant it. It was almost true. But not quite. She, and those who wanted to be critical, could tell the difference. The shining dark red hair that used to hang down her back in sheets of coppery brilliance had faded to a reddish brown now. She wore it to her shoulders and there were more than a few threads of silver, which bothered the children more than they did Sarah. The bright blue eyes were the same, they were a dark, vibrant blue, and the creamy skin was still fine and for the most part unlined, but there were tiny traces of time here and there, but Oliver only said that they gave her face more expression. She was a pretty woman, and she had been a pretty girl, long and lean, with a good figure and graceful hands, and a sense of humor that danced in her eyes. It was that that he had loved about her from the first. Her laughter and her fire, and her courage, and her rabid determination to stick by what she believed in. There were those who thought her difficult when she was young, but not Ollie. Never Ollie. He liked the way she thought, and the things she said, and the way she said them. They had a relationship built on mutual respect and caring, and they had a very good time in bed. They always had, and they still did. Sometimes he even thought that after twenty years it was better. And it was, in some ways. They knew each other perfectly, like satin-smooth wood that had been touched and caressed and traveled a thousand times by loving hands and the tenderness of true belonging.
It had taken him exactly two years to convince her to marry him after her SoHo days, and at twenty-three she had become Mrs. Oliver Watson. Balking all the way, and in typical fashion, she had refused to have a traditional wedding. They had been married in the garden of his parents' Pound Ridge home, and her parents and her younger sister had come from Chicago. Sarah had worn a bright red dress and a big picture hat, and she looked more like a young girl in a painting than a bride, but they had both been happy. They had gone to Bermuda for their honeymoon, and the weather had been lousy, but they never noticed. They laughed and played, and stayed in bed until the late afternoon, emerging only for an early foray in the staid dining room of the hotel, and then they would hurry back to their room again, giggling and laughing, like two children.
It was three weeks after that that Sarah was less amused. They were living in a small apartment on Second Avenue, in a building filled with stewardesses and young executives, and "singles" who seemed to turn the entire building into a constant party.
He had come home from work to find her looking as though her best friend had died. But it was no friend, it was only "the rabbit." She had been puzzled by the absence of her period once they got home, but she had been religious about using her diaphragm, and knew she couldn't be pregnant. She had worn it practically night and day from the altar till they got home from their honeymoon, but somehow, some way, something had gone wrong, and she was pregnant. And she wanted to have an abortion. Oliver was horrified that she would even think of it. But Sarah was even more so at the thought of having children so quickly.
"We don't want a family yet . . . I want to get a job again . . . to do something . . ." She'd been thinking of getting a job this time as an editor at a literary magazine, her stories hadn't been selling quite as well, and she had applied to Columbia Graduate School to do some work toward her master's. She had quit the gallery-sitting job as soon as she married Ollie, because commuting to SoHo every day wouldn't have been convenient.
"You can always get a job later!" He reasoned with her. He comforted, he cajoled, he did everything he could to try to make her feel better. But she was inconsolable, and every evening on the way home, he was suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of terror . . . what if she did it . . . if she went to someone while he was at work, and had an abortion. But she didn't. Somehow, she was too sick, and too exhausted, and too depressed to even attempt it, and the next thing she knew she was waddling around their apartment, wondering how she could have let it happen. But Oliver was thrilled. He wanted four kids, he had always said so, and even if it stretched their budget just then, he was willing to face it. He was doing well, advancing rapidly in the firm, and even if they had been starving, he wouldn't have let her get an abortion. He just wouldn't. It was their baby. Theirs. And long before the baby came, he loved it.
Benjamin Watson arrived with a shock of bright red hair, and a look of astonishment in his bright eyes, exactly nine months and three days after his parents' wedding. He looked anxious to discover the world, cried a lot, and looked almost exactly like his mother, much to Oliver's delight, who was thrilled to have a son, and particularly one who looked like Sarah. Benjamin grew like a weed, and had more than Sarah's looks. He had her determination, her stubbornness, and her fiery temper. And there were days when she thought she would strangle the child before Oliver got home to soothe them. Within minutes of his arrival on the scene, he had the baby cooing happily, laughing, playing peekaboo, and he walked around the house, carrying him in his arms, while Sarah collapsed in a chair with a sigh and a glass of wine, wondering how she was going to survive it. Motherhood was definitely not her strong suit, and the apartment was so small, it was driving her crazy. When the weather was bad, as it often was that year, they couldn't get out at all, and the baby's screams seemed to echo off the walls until she thought she would go crazy. Oliver wanted to move them out of town somewhere to a home of their own, but that dream was still a long way off, they couldn't afford it. Sarah offered to get a job, but whenever they tried to figure it out, it seemed pointless, whatever she 0 might have earned would have gone to pay a sitter, leaving them with no more money than they had before. The only purpose it would serve would be to get her out of the house, and although it appealed to Sarah, Oliver thought that it was important for her to be with the baby.
"Talk about chauvinistic, Ol. What do you expect me to do, sit here all day and talk to myself while he screams?" There were days when she really thought she couldn't take it. And the prospect of having the four children he still wanted made her suicidal.
Her own parents were no help because they were in Chicago, and for all their good intentions, his weren't much better. His mother had had one child, and the memory of how to cope with it seemed to have escaped her. Being around Benjamin only seemed to make her nervous. But not nearly as nervous as it was making Sarah.
Eventually the baby settled down, and Benjamin seemed a lot less terrifying to her by the time he was walking. They were finally out of the woods. They rented a house on Long Island for the summer, and in another year she could send him to nursery school . . . one more year . . . she was almost home free . . . and then she could go back to writing. She had given up the idea of a job. She wanted to write a novel. Everything was starting to look up, and then she got the flu. It was the flu to end all flus, and after a month of it, she was convinced she was dying. She had never been so 1 sick in her life. She had a cold that simply would not go away, a cough that sounded like TB, and she was nauseous from morning till night from coughing. In the end, after four weeks of battling it, she decided to go to the expense and see the doctor. She had the flu, but she had more than that. She was expecting another baby. This time there was no anger, no rages, no outrage or fury, there was simply despair, and what seemed to Oliver like hours and hours and hours of crying. She couldn't face it, she couldn't do it again. She couldn't handle another child, and Benjamin wasn't even out of diapers, and now there would be two of them. It was the only time she had actually seen Oliver down too. He didn't know what to do to turn her around. And just like the first time, he was thrilled about the baby, but telling her that only made her cry harder.
"I can't . . . I just can't, Ollie . . . please . . . don't make me. . . ." They argued about an abortion again, and once she almost swayed him, for fear that if he didn't agree, she might go crazy. But he talked her out of it, and he got a raise when she was halfway through the pregnancy, and spent every penny of it hiring a woman to come in and help her with Benjamin three afternoons a week. She was an Irish girl from a family of thirteen children, and she was just what Sarah needed. Suddenly she could go out, to libraries, to meet friends, to art galleries and museums, and her disposition improved immeasurably. She even started to 2 enjoy Benjamin, and once or twice she took him to the museum with her. And Oliver knew that although she wouldn't admit it to him, she was beginning to look forward to their second baby.
Melissa was born when Benjamin was two, and Oliver started thinking seriously about moving his family to the country. They looked at houses in Connecticut almost every weekend, and finally decided they just couldn't afford them. They tried Long Island, Westchester, and it seemed as though every weekend they were riding to look at houses. Pound Ridge, Rye, Bronxville, Katonah, and then finally, after a year, they found just what they wanted in Purchase. It was an old farmhouse that hadn't been lived in in twenty years, and it needed an enormous amount of work. It was part of an estate, and they got it for a song in probate. A song that still cost them dearly to sing, but scraping and saving and doing most of the work themselves, they turned it into a remarkably pretty place within a year, and they were both proud of it. "But this does not mean I'm going to have more children, Oliver Watson!" As far as she was concerned, it was enough of a sacrifice that she was living in the suburbs. She had sworn that she would never do that when they were dating. But even she had to admit that it made more sense. The apartment on Second Avenue had been impossible to manage, and everything else they'd looked at in town seemed tiny and was ridiculously expensive. Here 3 the children had their own rooms.
There was a huge but cozy living room with a fireplace, a library they lovingly filled with books, a cozy kitchen with two brick walls, heavy wooden beams overhead, and an old-fashioned stove that Sarah insisted on restoring and keeping. It had huge bay windows that looked over what she magically turned into a garden, and she could watch the children playing outside when she was cooking. With their move to the country, she had lost the Irish girl, and it was just as well, because for the moment they couldn't afford her.
Benjamin was three by then anyway, and he was in school every morning, and two years later Melissa was in school too, and Sarah told herself she would go back to writing. But somehow there was no time anymore. She always had things to do. She was doing volunteer work at the local hospital, working one day a week at the children's school, running errands, doing car pools, keeping the house clean, ironing Ollie's shirts, and working in the garden. It was a hell of a switch for the once assistant editor of the Crimson. But the funny thing was, she didn't mind it.
Once they left New York, it was as though a part of her got left behind there, the part of her that had still been fighting marriage and motherhood. Suddenly, she seemed a part of the peaceful little world around her. She met other women with children the same age, there were couples they played tennis and bridge with on the weekends, her volunteer work seemed to be constantly more 4 demanding, and the thrashing and fighting she had done was all but forgotten. And along with all of that went her writing. She didn't even miss it anymore. All she wanted was what she had, a happy, busy little life with her husband and children.
Benjamin's screaming babyhood began to fade into distant memory and he turned into a sweet sunny child, who not only had her looks but seemed to share all her interests and passions and values. He was like a little sponge, soaking up everything she was, and in many ways, he was like a mirror of Sarah. Oliver saw it and laughed, and although Sarah seldom admitted it to anyone, in some ways it flattered and amused her. He was so much like her. Melissa was a sweet child too, she was easier than Benjamin had been, and in some ways she was more like her father. She had an easy smile, and a happy attitude about life. And she didn't seem to want much from either of them. She was happy following Sarah everywhere with a book or a doll or a puzzle. Sometimes, Sarah even forgot she was in the next room. She was an undemanding little girl, and she had Oliver's blond hair and green eyes, yet she didn't really look like him. She looked more like his mother actually, which when commented on by her in-laws never failed to annoy Sarah.
She and Oliver's mother had never really become friends. Mrs. Watson had been outspoken early on and had told her only son what she thought of Sarah before they were married. She thought her a headstrong, difficult girl, who 5 wanted her own way at any price, and she always feared that one day she might hurt Oliver badly. But so far Sarah had been a good wife to him, she admitted to her husband begrudgingly when he stood up for the girl, but Sarah always felt that the older woman was watching her, as though waiting for some slip, some faux pas, some terrible failing that would prove her right in the end. The only joy the two women shared was the two children, who delighted Mrs. Watson, and whom Sarah loved now as though she had wanted them from the first, which Mrs. Watson still remembered she hadn't. Oliver had never told her anything, but she had sensed what was going on, without being told. She was an intelligent woman with a quick eye, and she knew perfectly well that Sarah hadn't been happy to be pregnant, nor had she enjoyed Benjamin's early days, but on the other hand, she had to admit that he hadn't been an easy baby. He had unnerved her, too, with his constant colicky screaming. But all of that was forgotten now, as the children grew, and Sarah and Oliver thrived, both of them busy and happy, and doing well. And Sarah finally seemed to have given up her literary aspirations, which had always seemed a little excessive to Mrs. Watson.
"She's a good girl, Phyllis. Don't be so hard on her. She was young when they got married. And she makes Oliver very happy." Her husband had always been more philosophical than she was.
"I know . . . but I always get the feeling that she wants something more, something just out of reach . . . something that will cost Oliver dearly." It was an astute remark, more so than she knew. But George Watson shook his head with an indulgent smile.
"Ollie can handle her."
"I'm not sure he wants to. I think he'd let her have anything she wants, whatever the cost to him. He's that kind of man." She smiled gently up at the husband she had loved for almost forty years, years that were too precious to even count now. They had become bonded like one body, one soul, long since. She couldn't even remember a time without him. "He's just like his father. Too good. Sometimes that can be dangerous in the hands of the wrong woman." She was always concerned about her son, and even after all these years, always faintly distrustful of Sarah.
But the compliment had not gone unnoticed by her husband, as he smiled down at his bride with the look that still made her tingle. "Give the girl a little credit, Phyllis. She hasn't hurt our boy, and she's given him, and us, two beautiful children." Indeed they were, and although neither of them looked exactly like their father, they both had some of his classic good looks. Oliver was tall and graceful and athletic-looking, with thick, straight blond hair that had been the envy of every mother when he was a child, and every girl when he was in college. And although 7 Sarah seldom acknowledged it to him, because she didn't want to bloat his ego beyond something she could cope with, more than once she had heard it said that Oliver Watson was the best-looking man in Purchase. For six months of the year, he had a deep tan, and his green eyes seemed to dance with mischief and laughter. And yet he was unaware of his good looks, which made him all the more attractive.
"Do you think they'll have more children, George?" Phyllis often wondered but would never have dared to ask her son, much less Sarah.
"I don't know, darling. I think they have a full life as it is. And these days, you can never be too sure of what's going to happen. Oliver is in an insecure business. Advertising is nothing like banking when I was a young man. You can't count on anything anymore. It's probably wiser for them not to." George Watson had been talking that way for the past year. He had lived long enough to watch many of his investments, once so sound, begin to shrink and dwindle. The cost of living was astonishingly high, and he and Phyllis had to be careful. They had a pretty little house in Westchester they had bought fifteen years before, around the time when Oliver was in college. They knew that he'd never be coming home again for any great length of time, and it seemed foolish to continue hanging on to their rambling old house in New London. But George worried about their finances constantly 8 now. It wasn't that they were destitute by any means, but if they both lived another twenty-five years, which at fifty-nine and sixty-two they still could, and he hoped they did, it could stretch their savings beyond their limit. He had just retired from the bank and was getting a decent pension. And he had made numerous wise investments over the years, but still . . . you could never be too careful. It was what he told Oliver every time he saw him. He had seen a lot in his lifetime, one big war and several small ones. He had fought in Guadalcanal, and been lucky enough to survive it. He had been twelve in the crash of '29, he knew just how brutal the Depression had been, and he had seen the economy go up and down over the years. He wanted his son to be careful. "I don't see why they'd want any more children."
And Sarah completely agreed with him. It was one of the few subjects on which she and George Watson were in total agreement. Whenever the subject came up with Oliver, once in a while in bed late at night, or on a quiet walk in the woods in a remote corner of Purchase, she always told him she thought it was silly to even consider it. "Why would we want more kids now, Ollie? Melissa and Benjamin are growing up. They're easy, they have their own lives. In a few years we'll be able to do anything we want. Why tie ourselves down with all those headaches again?" Even the thought of it made her shudder.
"It wouldn't be the same this time. We could afford someone to help us. I don't know . . . I just think it would be nice. One day we might regret not having more children." He looked at her tenderly with the eyes that almost made women swoon at the PTA, but Sarah pretended not to notice.
From the Paperback edition.