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Philip Tate was forty-five and he had everythinga distinguished career, a still-beautiful wife, two healthy kids in top schoolsand now he had the Goldman Chair. Furthermore he was a good man, essentially.
He was thinking these things, a comfy self-evaluation appropriate to the moment, as that old fool Aspergarter rose to offer his toast. "Philip Tate and his lovely wife Maggie," Aspergarter said, and then blah blah blah, who cares, on and on. Philip looked around the room at his handsome friends in their designer clothes, at the mahogany table and the lead crystal and the heavy sterling, at the deep red walls with the perfectly lit matching Klees, and suddenly he wanted out of here and out of these people's company and out of this straitjacket life that was suffocating him and made him want to rip off his clothes and scream "No" and "No." He smiled instead and tuned into the toast once again. Aspergarter was still droning onPhilip's career as physician, as endocrinologist, as psychiatric voyager blah and blahbut finally, when nobody could stand another second of it, he ground to a halt: "To Philip Tate," he said, "long life, good health, our eternal esteem. Please raise your glass with me to the new Tyler P. Goldman Chair of Psychiatry."
They all raised their glasses and drank.
Philip stood up. He thanked Aspergarter and this splendid group, his friends, colleagues, their spouses, and said that he was speechlessas he often wasbut this time he would follow his best instincts and say nothing. "Except thank you, thankyou, thank you."
And so it was over. A truly dreadful evening. Then goodbyes and thanks and more good-byes and at last they were in their car, driving home.
It was a beautiful June night, cool after a long sunny day, the kind of night that made people remark how lucky they were to live in Bostonin Cambridge, actuallythe spring, the fall. But then there were the goddam winters, the ghastly summers ... well, forget it.
They drove in silence, thinking.
Philip was thinking about the dinner party. From any reasonable point of view, it had been a great success. His friends had been there, some enemies but mostly friends, and they had all been happy for him, or at least most of them had been happy and the rest had pretended, and Maggie had been good, very good in fact, so he too should be happy, shouldn't he? He should be triumphant. But he wasn't.
He smiled at Maggie.
"What?" she said.
"I'm feeling happy," he said. "I'm feeling triumphant."
She looked at him and then at the road that lay ahead of them and said, "You can't complain about me tonight. I was very good."
"I'm feeling happy, I told you. Jesus."
He turned back to the road and after a while she put her hand on his knee, conciliatory.
"You know I love you," he said, but it didn't come out right. It sounded practiced. It sounded as if he was just saying what he had to say. Well, fuck a duck, he had tried to be nice.
They drove on in silence.
A few minutes later they turned down Brattle Street and then a quick left and they were home. Philip said, "Here we are," and glanced over at Maggie. She smiled, looking straight ahead.
"It was nice, Philip," she said. "You should be proud."
She got out of the car and headed straight for the house.
In the kitchen she drank a glass of water and took two aspirins. Philip watched her.
"What?" she said.
"Thank you for tonight," he said.
She looked at him, a question.
"That's all I mean," he said, "just thank you."
"I'm all right," she said.
"I know, I know," he said.
He kissed her lightly on the lips and looked into her eyes. She looked away and her eyes wandered to the kitchen cabinet where they kept the breakfast cereal and the liquor.
"Do you want a drink?" he asked. "Let's have a drink."
"If I want one, I'll take one. I don't have to ask your permission."
"I'm gonna have one. Let me make you one."
"Haven't you been toasted enough tonight? You and your goddam Goldman Chair?" She turned and left him.
Philip poured himself a scotch. He could hear the bathwater pounding upstairs. She'd be having her secret drink now, he supposed, or taking her pills, or maybe both. She denied it, of course, but what could you do? There was no shorter route to a fight than asking her if she was okay. What is that supposed to mean? she'd say. Or she'd simply turn on that frozen silence she specialized in. There was no dealing with it. And he had no idea when it had begun, or why, or how serious it was.
He sat at the kitchen table and leafed through an old New Yorker. He could remember laughing at these cartoons but he couldn't remember why. Someday he should make a study of why people laughed. He knew all about Mounier and the mechanistic theory and the cruelty theory and the inappropriate response theory, but he wondered why they really laughed. He had a suspicion that laughter was just another manifestation of despair.
He heard the bathwater being let out. She might come down now and make peace before going to bed. If only he could get through to her. He was a psychiatrist, after all, but that never seemed to make any difference around the house. She was a beautiful woman, very smart, and famous for her wit and charm but above all for her warmth. What on earth had happened to them? He heard her on the stairs and then suddenly she stood in the doorway, her blond hair loose about her shoulders, her face white, and her green eyes glittering with drink. He smiled, nervous.
She kissed him, hard, and he stood up and held her in his arms. He tasted the toothpaste and the gin beneath it and he pressed her body against his own. She was shaking.
"What is it?" he said. "Tell me." He caressed her hair. "I love you, Maggie. You know that."
"Poor Philip," she whispered. They were quiet for a long moment and he deliberately said nothing because perhaps now she might tell him what had come between them, and so he waited. They had everything, their kids and their lives and their health, and they were good-looking, with enough money, and they loved one anotherdidn't they?and yet they were wrecking it, somehow, in spite of themselves. He waited some more, but she said nothing. "Maggie?" he asked finally, but she only patted his backit was all overand gave him a little kiss on the cheek. "You poor thing," she said. "Never mind. It doesn't matter." She collapsed against him for a moment and then, in a distant voice, said, "I'll probably sleep late tomorrow, Philip, I'm awfully tired."
He held her away from him and looked into her eyes. They were empty. She was half asleep already. Pills and booze no doubt.
"Good night, love," he said.
She yawned. "Nighty-night," she said, as if she were talking to a baby. She went upstairs to bed, saying, "Nighty-nighty-night."
Philip poured himself another scotch. He got out the ice cubes and deliberately made a racket with the metal tray. Why not? There'd be no waking her now. She'd be dead until the morning.
He stood at the sink and looked at his reflection in the dark window. "Here's to your Chair," he said, lifting his glass. He drank. "And to your lovely wife and kids." He drank again. "And here's to happy memories." For a good half the evening they had discussed recovered memory and poor old Gaspard. What could be nicer, really, than contemplating somebody else's disaster as you downed lamb and polenta and a perfect cabernet? Oh, fuck them all, he hated parties.
The official partythe one at the President's househad been held a week earlier. The Trustees had been there, and all the big money-givers, and the widow of Tyler P. Goldman himself. There had been endless speeches. Maggie drank a little too much and got surly and made snide comments during the final toast. It was a nightmare.
He poured another drink and went into the tiny family room and flopped on the couch.
This evening's party had been given by Aspergarter, the retiring Dean of the Medical School, as an informal get-together for a group of Philip's close friends. Nice of him to do it. He wasn't obliged to give a party, after all; it was a gesture. Aspergarter had even consulted him about the guest list. The Big A understood how it was: Philip was getting a Chair, and all the heady prestige that went with it, and most of his friends would be jealous, not glad. If he were in trouble, it would be different. You could always find people who would commiserate, and mean it, and maybe even loan you money, but ask them to rejoice? Philip had chosen four couplesthe Treanors, the Fioris, the McGuinns, the Stubbsesand the grande dame of psychiatrists, Leona Spitzer. He hadn't included the Kizers, the new people from Duke, but they sort of included themselves, showing up after the meal just as Philip and Maggie were on their way out.
There was a duo. The Kizers. Hal and Dixie. Hal was new to the Medical School and, like Philip, a specialist in depression. Hal seemed to think that meant they had a lot in common, but they had nothing in common. Hal was loud and abrasive. He was sarcastic. There was something wrong with him, something competitive, something sexual maybe. Philip hadn't yet figured it out. Hal always lookedhow?as if he were about to touch his crotch or, worse, touch yours. Philip smiled, recognizing he had hit on something. Scotch could be wonderfully clarifying. Hal was a lecher, nothing very mysterious about that. The wife, though, was something else. Those tight lips, the smirk lingering at the corner of her wide mouth, the tense hands. A sex problem? Insecurity certainly, but what else? Was she simply crazy as a loon? Something. Better not even to think about them.
Philip shrugged deeper into the sofa and stared up at the ceiling. He was forty-five and he had a beautiful wife and two kids and a distinguished career and now he had the Goldman Chair too. He had done everything right. He was a good doctor. He really was. He was sympathetic and he listened and he was tough when he had to be. He believed that life was short and mean and often cruel and that you should do everything you can to make life better for other people. You should give yourself. You should help. You should create good in a rotten world byhe had read a lot of Sartre in collegeby doing one good thing, and then another, and then another. He had done this. He had always chosen the best over the second-best, no matter how hard the choice.
And he had good kids. They were great kids. Emma was at Berkeley, a sophomore, and Cole had just finished first-year medicine at Hopkins. Cole was brainier and more studious. He didn't have Emma's sense of humor. But they were great kids, both of them. Cole was more like his mother.
He thought about when he himself was a kid. The housebreaker of Brookline, Mass.
Tonight at dinner they had talked about recovered memory because of old Gaspard's situation. Gaspard was a former Dean of the Medical School who was being sued by his thirty-five-year-old daughter for molesting her when she was in grammar school. She had recovered the lost memory during psychotherapy, she claimedtherapy that Gaspard had paid for-and she brought charges against him that she intended to pursue in court. Everybody at the table had an opinion about recovered memory, and a story to illustrate it, but only Roberto Fiori claimed to have had such an experience himself. On his wedding night, he said, he had approached the bed where Isabella lay waiting for him, her hair spread out against the pillow, and a shaft of moonlight had fallen across the bed ...
"A shaft of moonlight?" Beecher Stubbs asked, and Calvin Stubbs said, "What about all this hair spread out on the pillow?" and then Leona Spitzer said, "Come on, Roberto, it sounds more like True Romance than recovered memory," and that was where Philip had stopped listening. He had his own secret memory.
In high school, on a bet, he had broken into a neighbor's house.
A bunch of guys had been shooting the shit one day after gym class, talking about last year's senior class president, who had been arrested for breaking and entering. Ralphie was saying that he must have been shit-stupid not to know he'd get caught and everybody agreed except Philip. "You don't have to get caught," Philip said, "You only have to use your head." And within a couple minutes he had bet each of them ten bucks he could break into a house and not get caught. He'd bring back proof, he said. Two nights later he let himself into Ralphie's househe knew they kept the spare key under the pot of hydrangeasand stole his autographed baseball. The next day when they were all gathered around their lockers, Philip said, "Hey, shithead, is this your ball?" and, as the others watched, he turned the ball over in his hands, studying it, and then passed it around the group. The ball was signed by Mickey Mantle and everybody knew it was Ralphie's. "Yours?" Philip said. "Or should I just keep it?" Ralphie paid up at once and, reluctantly, so did the others.
That was the end of it, or so everybody thought. Days passed, and then a week passed, and each night Philip lay awake thinking of that moment when he had paused at the back door of Ralphie's house, listening to the silence, waiting for something to happen.
He had inserted the key, waited a moment, turned it, and then slowly, slowly pushed the door inward. It creaked just a little and he paused, his heart banging and an empty feeling in his head, but the silence had continued and he stepped inside and eased the door shut behind him. He stood for a moment in the familiar kitchen, his eyes adjusting to the dark. The refrigerator suddenly began to hum and he stepped back quickly, knocking into an empty six-pack of Coke that somebody had shoved behind the door. The bottles rattled loudly in the still house. For a long time he stood motionless, listening, but there was no other sound. He laughed softly. He felt giddy because of what he was about to do.
He walked through the kitchen and down the hall to the staircase. He stopped and listened again. The house was very dark and it smelled faintly of soap. He had never noticed that before. He put one foot on the bottom step. It creaked, as he knew it would, but he put his full weight on it and then stopped. Nothing. He took the next step, and the next, and in a couple seconds he was up the stairs, feeling his way along the wall to Ralphie's room. The wallpaper was pebbly here, with lots of tiny bumps. He stopped outside the open door. He could hear snoring from the big bedroom at the end of the hall and from Ralphie's room he heard a thin asthmatic wheeze. He stepped inside. He could barely make out Ralphie's face on the pillow, his mouth open, his head thrown back. He walked to the foot of the bed and stared at him. He was tempted to say "Boo!" or make ghost sounds or just keep staring into Ralphie's face until he woke up and hollered. He liked the idea of scaring the shit out of him. Somewhere in the neighborhood a dog barked once and then stopped. Downstairs the refrigerator stopped humming. You could hear everything, anything. He looked around the room and in a crack of light from the window he saw Ralphie's desk and on it the baseball signed by Mickey Mantle. The ball would be perfect.
In another second he had taken the ball and was in the corridor on his way to the stairs. There was a cough from the big bedroom and then a different kind of silence. He heard rustling noises and the creak of bedsprings and then heavy feet on the hardwood floor. Still he stood there, motionless, waiting to be discovered. Then he heard loud peeing from the master bathroom and, grateful, he descended the stairs quickly, lightly, and under the sound of the flushing toilet he let himself out the kitchen door, testing afterward to see that it was locked. He put the key under the pot of hydrangeas. And he was home, as he thought, free.
That's how it had been on the night he stole the baseball, and every night afterward he lay awake reliving the sensations of it all, one by one. The pause inside the kitchen door, the rattling Coke bottles, the creak of the bottom stair, the smell of soap, the feel of his fingers on the pebbly wall, the snoring from the parents' room and Ralphie's wheezing, and then the crazy feeling of standing in the room with somebody asleep and you knowing and he not knowing and then not scaring the shit out of him even though you could if you wanted to but instead just stealing the baseball that proved you were there, and then leaving, while somebody was up and awake and peeing right next door, and you were in their house and they didn't know it and you just left, stepping out into the cool dark, no harm done.
No harm done, that was the big thing. Because what, after all, was wrong with it? Nothing, really. It was just fun, it was funny. And so why not do it again?
But he knew that was crazy and he put it out of his mind.
Still, what harm?
He broke into the house next door to Ralphie's, though it wasn't really breaking in. He just let himself in, with a key; it was definitely not breaking and entering. This time was more scary than the first, because he had known Ralphie's house well, but this one was altogether new to him and he didn't know his way around. All he knew was that they didn't have a dog. He counted on that. He closed the door behind him and stood inside the little kitchen entryway and he was suddenly paralyzed with fear. What was he doing? What if he got caught? If he'd been caught in Ralphie's house, he could have said he was just playing a trick and they'd have believed him, but in this house they'd be convinced he was trying to rob them. He stood in the entryway, trembling, and he promised himself, or maybe God, that if he got out of here safely, he'd never do anything this crazy again. He let himself out, put the key back under the mat, and ran all the way home.
It was crazy, insane. Never again.
The next night he went back to the same house, walked through all the downstairs rooms, touching the furniture, the walls, the potted plants on the windowsills. He felt no panic this time. It was exciting, because you might get caught, and it was sexy in a way he couldn't quite explain to himself, but mostly it waswelljust fun. And harmless. He didn't take anything and he didn't damage anything. He just walked around inside the house, he helped himself to a piece of hard candy from a dish on the dining room table, he sat down in front of the blank TV and pretended he lived there. I mean, what was so bad about it, he said to himself, what was the big deal anyhow? But he told nobody what he'd done, not Ralphie or the gang or even the priest in confession.
He put it out of his conscious mind; it was just something that had happened oncewell, twice, if you counted Ralphie's houseand he refused to think about it. Two weeks went by, and then a third, and when it crossed his mind, he couldn't believe he had ever done it. A month later, though, he gave it another try. It was easy. People in his neighborhood left keys under the mat, in potted plants, on the ledge above the door. Everybody was trusting or just careless. Once, during a heat spell in July, he had found a door ajar.
Then, in August, he was caught in the Sanderses' house. He was letting himself out the back door, just a little excited, just a little bit triumphant, when he was suddenly confronted by Dr. Sanders, who was on his way in. "Philip?" he asked. "Can that be Philip?" They looked at one another blankly for a moment and then Philip smiled and said, "Hi, Dr. Sanders. I guess the jig is up." As usual, he was lucky. Dr. Sanders was a professional colleague of his father's, they worked together in the same medical complex, and though Sanders didn't call the police, he did talk to Philip's father the next day to urge that the boy see a psychiatrist. And who better than himself?
So Philip saw Dr. Sanders once a week, professionally, and by October he had come to realize that these night visits to other people's houses were simply a manifestation of his need to matter, his desire to be special, his longing for intimacy. And what else? he wondered, though he did not raise that question. He and Dr. Sanders became friends as Philip entered his new and more stable years. He put his housebreaking phase so completely behind him that he almost believed it had never happened. His parents never mentioned it again, nor did Dr. Sanders, and so far as his friends knew, he had done it only once, on a bet, as a joke on Ralphie.
Philip studied more, his grades shot up, his teachers began to notice that he was quite a talented young man. He might eventually become a doctor like his father, or he might enter the priesthood, or he mightif it weren't for a certain natural shynessfind a place in politics. Certainly he was going to become something interesting. And he did. He married right after collegewith no mention, of course, of his career as a housebreakerhe studied medicine, and he moved to Chicago, where he got a very good job at the university hospital. In a few years he began to specialize in endocrinology. Which led himnaturally, he feltto psychiatry and the physiology of depression. Then a job offer at Harvardit would mean that at last he had everything, so who could say no? And now he had a Chair. Oh, let us never forget the Chair. Ta-daa! Not to mention the whispers that he might be the next Dean of the Medical School.
"Thus far, my life," Philip said aloud, and smiled to himself. He was lying on the couch in the small family room, remembering, with what seemed like pleasure. He reached for his glass, which was empty, and then he reached for the remote control and flicked on the TV. Test patterns, lousy movies, infomercials. He flicked it off.
He stood up and looked around the room. Who lived here? What could you tell from just looking? They had taste, probably a little money, they liked to read. Furniture getting a little shaggy. But two very good McKnight prints. He got up and walked into the kitchen and from there to the big family room they used only when the kids were home. He looked at the dining room and the living room. Formal, but not too formal. Lived in.
He went into the kitchen and made himself another drink. Scotch. Easy on the water. This was absurd, of course. He would have a headache tomorrow, but what the hell, it was a celebration. They had given him a Chair. Because he was a good psychiatrist, a good teacher, a good husband and father and citizen. He did not fuck his colleagues' wives or children. He did not seduce and abandon patients. He did not steal.
But he did break into houses. Or he had. Once upon a time. When he was fifteen. And he had never forgotten it, not really.
He stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window. It was a dark night, very little moon, and there was a light breeze. He could go for a walk. He could clear his head. Sure.
He finished his drink, turned out the light, and then went back to the window and stared out into the dark. It was chilly at this hour. He'd need a jacket if he went for a walk. And he'd have to change his clothes.
"No," he said aloud. He would not go out for a walk. That was crazy. That was asking for trouble.
He would go to bed. He moved quickly to the front room and mounted the stairs and looked into the bedroom. Maggie was in deep sleep. "Maggie?" he said, and there was no response at all. He took off his suit and hung it in the closet. He hung up his tie, his shirt. He tossed his underwear in the hamper and put on his pajamas. He got into bed.
His heart was beating very fast. "No," he said again, and looked over to see if Maggie had stirred, but she was out, completely gone. "No," he whispered, but he got up and got dressed in his jeans and running shoes and, without another glance at Maggie, left their bedroom and went downstairs. He took his black windbreaker from the hall closet, his keys from the tray on the refrigerator, and stepped outside. He locked the door behind him.
It was colder now. He felt good. He would not go for a walk after all, he would go for a little drive. Insomniacs did that all the time. So why shouldn't he?
He drove through Harvard Square to Mass. Ave. and then, without even thinking, he hit the Alewife Brook Parkway and decided to take itwhy not?and in a short while he was in Winchester, very near the Aspergarters' house. It was a wealthy neighborhood with big houses and wide lawns and low fieldstone walls. And, no doubt, security systems to protect the Klees and the Mirós and the Mondrians. All the lights were out. He drove slowly past the house and made a bunch of left turns and passed in front of it again. What dull secrets lurked behind the banal masks of the Aspergarters? Would anyone care? Would anyone want to know? He turned back toward home and as he passed from Winchester to Cambridge he noticed again, as he always did, the sudden change from real wealth to middle-class affluence, from the world of Klees and security systems to McKnight prints and keys under the mat. The difference annoyed the hell out of some people. It meant nothing to him. Money was something he couldn't understand as a value in itself. It had nothing to do, finally, with who you were. He was in Harvard Square heading for Brattle Street when, for no reason at all, no reason he could think of anyhow, he circled back again and drove out to Winchester. The Kizers lived in a new development. Big showy houses, with high walls and foolproof security systems. And dogs, certainly. He turned left on Meadow and then right on Woodlawn, and drove past the Kizers' house. He'd never been inside, but he knew the development because he and Maggie had once thought of moving out here, but Maggie said it was too expensive, what with the kids going off to college, and so they had stayed in Cambridge.
A dim light was burning downstairs. He looked at his watch3 A.M. Could Hal be working? It seemed unlikely. He doubted if Hal ever worked, really. Hal had other interests. He drove to the end of Woodlawn, a cul-de-sac, and parked several houses down on the opposite side of the street. He walked back to the house, through the huge open gate to the driveway, and from the safety of the evergreens he peered into the front window. It was Hal's study all right, but nobody was there. Several books lay open on the desk.
He went down the long curving driveway and around to the back. There was a fake Tudor portico and a sheltered entrance and a door with a long glass panel. Anybody could break in here in thirty seconds. He looked for wiring, a panel of some kind with buttons on it, some minimal security system at least. He knew there had to be one, but he could see no sign of it. If he forced the door and an alarm went off, he'd have a fucking stroke. He put his hand on the doorknob. Nothing. His heart was beating double time. What the hell. He turned the knob slowly, he leaned hard against the door, he waited for the screech of the alarm. Nothing. Not a sound. Nor did the door give.
He looked under the mat. No key. And there were no potted plants either. He felt the ledge above the door. Sure enough.
He took a quick look around him. The night was cold and quiet. Not a sound. The smell of mint from the side garden. He breathed in the scent of it and held his breath.
He should go home now, right now. He should get back into bed and thank the gods he had escaped from a crazy pointless act that could change his life forever. It was madness. It was lunacy.
He slipped the key in the lock, turned it, and the door opened. There was no alarm. There was nothing. He stepped inside.
The house was very quiet.