Read an Excerpt
Part 1: Parting
The last time I saw my husband, he had a tiny teardrop of raspberry jam in the blond hairs of his goatee. We'd just shared cappuccinos he'd made in the ridiculously expensive machine I'd bought on a whim three weeks earlier, and croissants he'd picked up on his way in from his five-mile run, the irony lost on him. His lean, hard body was a machine, never gaining weight without his express design. Unlike me. The very aroma of baked goods and my thighs start to expand.
They were warm, the croissants. And as I tried to resist, he sliced them open and slathered them with butter, then jam on top of that, left one eviscerated and gooey, waiting on the white plate. I fought the internal battle and lost, finally reaching for it. It was perfect—flaky, melty, salty, sweet. And then—gone.
"You're not a very good influence," I said, licking butter from my fingertips. "It would take over an hour on the elliptical trainer to burn that off. And we both know that's not going to happen." He turned his blue eyes on me, all apology.
"I know," he said. "I'm sorry." Then the smile. Oh, the smile. It demanded a smile in return, no matter how angry, how frustrated, how fed up I was. "But it was so good, wasn't it? You'll remember it all day." Was he talking about the croissant or our predawn lovemaking?
"Yes," I said as he kissed me, a strong arm snaking around the small of my back pulling me in urgently, an invitation really, not the good-bye that it was. "I will."
That's when I saw the bit of jam. I motioned that he should wipe his face. He was dressed for an important meeting. Crucial was the word he used when he told me about it. He peered at his reflection in the glass door of the microwave and wiped the jam away.
"Thanks," he said, moving toward the door. He picked up his leather laptop case and draped it over his shoulder. It looked heavy; I was afraid he'd wrinkle his suit, a sharp, expensive black wool affair he'd bought recently, but I didn't say so. Too mothering.
"Thanks for what?" I asked. Already I'd forgotten that I'd spared him from the minor embarrassment of going to an important meeting with food on his face.
"For being the most beautiful thing I'll see all day." He was an opportunistic charmer. Had always been that.
I laughed, wrapped my arms around his neck, kissed him again. He knew what to say, knew how to make me feel good. I would think about our lovemaking, that croissant, his smile, that one sentence all day.
"Go get 'em," I said as I saw him out of the apartment door, watched him walk to the elevator at the end of the short hallway. He pressed the button and waited. The hallway had sold us on the apartment before we'd even walked through the door: the thick red carpet, the wainscoting, and the ten-foot ceilings—New York City prewar elegance. The elevator doors slid open. Maybe it was then, just before he started to move away, that I saw a shadow cross his face. Or maybe later I just imagined it, to give some meaning to those moments. But if it was there at all, that flicker of what—Sadness? Fear?—it passed over him quickly; was gone so fast it barely even registered with me then.
"You know I will," he said with the usual cool confidence. But I heard it, the lick of his native accent on his words, something that only surfaced when he was stressed or drunk. But I wasn't worried for him. I never doubted him. Whatever he had to pull off that day, something vague about investors for his company, there was no doubt in my mind that he'd do it. That was just him: What he wanted, he got. With a wave and a cheeky backward glance, he stepped into the elevator and the doors closed on him. And then—gone.
"I love you, Izzy!" I thought I heard him yell, clowning around, as the elevator dropped down the shaft, taking him and his voice away.
I smiled. After five years of marriage, a miscarriage, at least five knock-'em-down, drag-'em-outs that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, hot sex, dull sex, good days, hard days, all the little heartbreaks and disappointments (and not-so-little ones) inevitable in a relationship that doesn't crash and burn right away, after some dark moments when I thought we weren't going to make it, that I'd be better off without him, and all the breathless moments when I was sure I couldn't even survive without him—after all of that he didn't have to say it, but I was glad he still did.
I closed the door and the morning was under way. Within five minutes, I was chatting on the phone with Jack Mannes, my old friend and longtime agent.
"Any sign of that check?" The author's eternal question.
"I'll follow up." The agent's eternal reply. "How's the manuscript going?"
Within twenty minutes, I was headed out for a run, the taste of Marc's buttery, raspberry-jam kiss still on my lips.
When he stepped onto the street, he was blasted by a cold, bitter wind that made him wish he'd worn a coat. He thought about turning around but it was too late for that. Instead he buttoned his suit jacket, slung the strap of his laptop bag across his chest, and dug his hands deep into his pockets. He moved fast on West Eighty-sixth Street toward Broadway. At the corner, he jogged down the yellow-tiled stairway into the subway station, was glad for the warmth of it even with the particularly pungent stench of urine that morning. He swiped his card and passed through the turnstile, waited for the downtown train.
It was past nine, so the crowd on the platform was thinner than it would have been an hour before. A young businessman kept alternately leaning over the tracks, trying to catch sight of the oncoming train lights, and glancing at his watch. In spite of the rich drape of his black wool coat, his expensive shoes, he looked harried, disheveled. Marcus Raine felt a wash of disdain for him, for his obvious tardiness, and for his even more obvious distress, though he couldn't have explained why.
Marcus leaned his back against the far wall, hands still in his pockets, and waited. It was the perpetual condition of the New Yorker to wait—for trains, buses, or taxis, in impossibly long lines for a cup of coffee, in crowds to see a film or visit a particular museum exhibit. The rest of the world saw New Yorkers as rude, impatient. But they had been conditioned to queue one behind the other with the resignation of the damned, perhaps moaning in discontent, but waiting nonetheless.
He'd been living in this city since he was eighteen years old, but he never quite saw himself as a New Yorker. He saw himself more as a spectator at a zoo, one who'd been allowed to wander around inside the cage of the beast. But then he'd always felt that way, even as a child, even in his native home. Always apart, watching. He accepted this as the natural condition of his
life, without a trace of unhappiness about it or any self-pity. Isabel had always understood this about him; as a writer, she was in a similar position. You can't really observe, unless you stand apart.
It was one of the things that first drew him to her, this sentence. He'd read a novel she'd written, found it uncommonly deep and involving. Her picture on the back of the jacket intrigued him and he'd searched her out on the Internet, read some things about her that interested him--that she was the child of privilege but successful in her own right as the author of eight bestselling novels, that she'd traveled the world and written remarkably insightful essays about the places she visited. "Prague is a city of secrets," she'd written. "Fairy-tale rues taper off into dark alleys, a secret square hides behind a heavy oak and iron door, ornate facades shelter dark histories. Her face is exquisite, finely wrought and so lovely, but her eyes are cool. She'll smirk but never laugh. She knows, but she won't tell." This was true in a way that no outsider could ever really understand, but this American writer caught a glimpse of the real city and it moved him.
It was the river of ink-black curls, those dark eyes, jet in a landscape of snowy skin, the turn of her neck, the birdlike delicacy of her hands, that caused him to seek her out at one of her book signings. He knew right away that she was the one, as Americans were so fond of saying—as if their whole lives were nothing but the search to make themselves whole by finding another. He meant it in another way entirely, at first.
It seemed like such a long time ago, that initial thrill, that rush of desire. He often wished he could go back to the night they first met, relive their years together. He'd done so many wrong things—some she knew about, some she did not, could never, know. He remembered that there was something in her gaze when she first loved him that filled an empty place inside him. Even with all the things she didn't understand, she didn't look at him like that anymore. Her gaze seemed to drift past him. Even when she held his eyes, he believed she was seeing someone who wasn't there. And maybe that was his fault.
He heard the rumble of the train approaching, and pushed himself off the wall. He'd started moving toward the edge when he felt a hand on his arm. It was a firm, hard grip and Marcus, on instinct, rolled his arm and broke the grasp, bringing his fist up fast and taking a step back.
"Take it easy, Marcus," the other man said with a throaty laugh. "Relax." He lifted two beefy hands and pressed the air between them. "Why so tense?"
"Ivan," Marcus said coolly, though his heart was an adrenaline-fueled hammer. The moment took on an unreal cast, the tenor of a dark fantasy. Ivan was a ghost, someone so deeply buried in Marcus's memory that he might as well have been looking at a resurrected corpse. Once a tall, wiry young man, manic and strange, Ivan had gained a lot of weight. Not fat but muscle; he looked like a bulldozer, squat and powerful, ready to break concrete and the earth itself.
"What?" That deep laugh again, with less amusement in its tone. "No 'How are you'? No 'So good to see you'?"
Marcus watched Ivan's face. The wide smile beneath cheekbones like cliffs, the glittering dark eyes—they could all freeze like ice. Even jovial like this, there was something vacant about Ivan, something unsettling. It was so odd to see him in this context, in this life, that for a moment Marcus could almost believe that he was dreaming, that he was still in bed beside Isabel. That he'd wake from this as he had from any of the nightmares that plagued him.
Marcus still didn't say anything as his train came and went, leaving them alone on the platform. The woman in the fare booth read a paperback novel. Marcus could hear the rush of trains below, hear the hum and horns of the street above. Too much time passed. In the silence between them, Marcus watched Ivan's expression cool and harden.
Then Marcus let go of a loud laugh that echoed off the concrete and caused the clerk to look up briefly before she went back to her book.
"Ivan!" Marcus said, forcing a smile. "Why so tense?"
Ivan laughed uncertainly, then reached out and punched Marcus on the arm. Marcus pulled Ivan into an enthusiastic embrace and they patted each other vigorously on the back.
"Do you have some time for me?" Ivan asked, dropping an arm over Marcus's shoulder and moving him toward the exit. Ivan's gigantic arm felt like a side of beef, its weight impossible to move without machinery. Marcus pretended not to hear the threat behind the question.
"Of course, Ivan," Marcus said. "Of course I do."
Marcus heard a catch in his own voice, which he tried to cover with a cough. If Ivan noticed, he didn't let on. A current of foreboding cut a valley from his throat into his belly as they walked up the stairs, Ivan still holding on tight. He was talking, telling a joke about a hooker and a priest, but Marcus wasn't listening. He was thinking about Isabel. He was thinking about how she looked this morning, a little sleepy, pretty in her pajamas, her hair a cloud of untamed curls, smelling like honeysuckle and sex, tasting like butter and jam.
On the street, Ivan was laughing uproariously at his own joke and Marcus found himself laughing along, though he had no idea what the punch line had been. Ivan knew a lot of jokes, one more inane than the last. He'd learned a good deal of his English this way, reading joke books and watching stand-up comedians, insisted that one could not really understand a language without understanding its humor, without knowing what native speakers considered funny. Marcus wasn't sure this was true. But there was no arguing with Ivan. It wasn't healthy. The smallest things caused a switch to flip in the big man. He'd be laughing one minute and then the next he'd be beating you with those fists the size of hams. This had been true since they were children together, a lifetime ago.
Ivan approached a late-model Lincoln parked illegally on Eighty-sixth. With the remote in his hand he unlocked it, then reached to open the front passenger door. It was an expensive vehicle, one that Ivan would not have been able to afford given his circumstances of the last few years. Marcus knew what this meant, that he'd returned to the life that had gotten him into trouble in the first place.
Marcus could see the front entrance to his building, gleaming glass and polished wood, a wide circular drive. A large holiday wreath hung on the awning, reminding him that Christmas was right around the corner.
He watched as a young mother who lived there—was her name Janie?—left with her two small children. He found himself thinking suddenly, urgently, of the baby Isabel had wanted. He'd never wanted children, had been angry when Isabel got pregnant, even relieved when she miscarried. Somehow the sight of this woman with her little girls caused a sharp stab of regret. Marcus turned his face so that they wouldn't see him as they passed on the other side of the street.
From the Paperback edition.