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A Safe Place
The baby kicked. "Oh!" Laura Clayborne said, and touched her swollen belly. "There he goes again!"
"He'll be a soccer player, I'm telling you." Across the table, Carol Mazer picked up her glass of chardonnay. "So anyway, Matt tells Sophia her work is shoddy, and Sophia hits the roof. You know Sophia's temper. I swear, honey, you could hear the windows shake. We thought it was Judgment Day. Matt ran back to his office like a whipped puppy, but somebody's got to stand up to that woman, Laura. I mean, she's running the whole show over there, and her ideas absolutely—pardon my French—but they absolutely suck." She took a sip of wine, her dark brown eyes shining with the pleasure of a gossip well told. Her hair was a riot of black ringlets, and her red fingernails looked long enough to pierce to the heart. "You're the only one she's ever listened to, and with you off the track the whole place is falling to pieces. Laura, I swear she's out of control. God help us until you can get back to work."
"I'm not looking forward to it." Laura reached for her own drink: Perrier with a twist of lime. "Sounds like everybody's gone crazy over there." She felt the baby kick once more. A soccer player, indeed. The child was due in two weeks, more or less. Around the first of February, Dr. Bonnart had said. Laura had given up her occasional glass of wine the first month of her pregnancy, way back at the beginning of a long hot summer. Also forsaken, after a much harder struggle, was her habit of a pack of cigarettes a day. She had turned thirty-six in November, and this would be her first child. A boy, for sure. He'd displayed a definite penis on the sonogram. Some days she was almost stupid with happiness and other days she felt a dazed dread of the unknown perched on her shoulder, picking at her brain like a raven. The house was filled with baby books, the guest bedroom—once known as Doug's study—had been painted pale blue and his desk and IBM PC hauled out in favor of a crib that had belonged to her grandmother.
It had been a strange time. Laura had been hearing the ticking of her biological clock for the last four years, and everywhere she looked it seemed she saw women with strollers, members of a different society. She was happy and excited, yes, and sometimes she did think she actually looked radiant—but other times she simply found herself wondering whether or not she'd ever play tennis again, or what she was going to do if the bloat didn't melt away. The horror stories abounded, many of them supplied by Carol, who was seven years her junior, twice married, and had no children. Grace Dealey had ballooned up with her second child, and now all she did was sit around and wolf down boxes of Godiva chocolates. Lindsay Fortanier couldn't control her twins, and the children ran the household like the offspring of Attila the Hun and Marie Antoinette. Marian Burrows had a little red-haired girl with a temper that made McEnroe look like a pansy, and Jane Fields's two boys refused to eat anything but Vienna sausages and fish sticks. All this according to Carol, who was glad to help soothe Laura's fear of future shock.
They were sitting at a table in the Fish Market restaurant, at Atlanta's Lenox Square. The waiter came over, and Laura and Carol ordered lunch. Carol asked for a shrimp and crabmeat salad, and Laura wanted a large bowl of seafood gumbo and the poached salmon special. "I'm eating for two," she said, catching Carol's faint smile. Carol ordered another glass of chardonnay. The restaurant, an attractive place decorated in seagreen, pale violet, and pink, was filling up with the business crowd. Laura scanned the room, counting the power ties. The women wore their dark-hued suits with padded shoulders, their hair fixed in sprayed helmets, and they gave off the flashes of diamonds and the aromas of Chanel or Giorgio. This was definitely the BMW and Mercedes crowd, and the waiters hustled from table to table heeding the desires of new money and platinum American Express cards. Laura knew what businesses these people were in: real estate, banking, stockbrokerage, advertising, public relations—the hot professions of the New South. Most of them were living on plastic, and leasing the luxury cars they drove, but appearance was everything.
Laura suddenly had an odd vision as Carol talked on about the calamities at the newspaper. She saw herself walking through the doors of the Fish Market, into this rarefied air. Only she was not as she was now. She was no longer well-groomed and well-dressed, her nails French-manicured and her chestnut-brown hair drawn back with an antique golden clip to fall softly around her shoulders. She was as she had been when she was eighteen years old, her light blue eyes clear and defiant behind her granny glasses. She wore ragged bellbottom jeans and a blouse that looked like a faded American flag, and on her feet were sandals made from car tires, like the sandals the Vietnamese wore in the news films. She wore no makeup, her long hair limp and in need of brushing, her face adamant with anger. Buttons were stuck to her blouse: peace signs, and slogans like STOP THE WAR, IMPERIALIST AMERIKA, AND POWER TO THE PEOPLE. All conversations of interest rates, business mergers, and ad campaigns abruptly ceased as the hippie who had once been Laura Clayborne—then Laura Beale—strode defiantly into the center of the restaurant, sandals thwacking against the carpeted floor. Most of the people here were in their mid-thirties to early forties. They all remembered the protest marches, the candlelight vigils, and the draft card burnings. Some of them, perhaps, had been on the front lines with her. But now they gaped and sneered, and some laughed nervously. "What happened?" she asked them as forks slid into bowls of seafood gumbo and hands stopped halfway to their glasses of white wine. "What the hell happened to all of us?"
The hippie couldn't answer, but Laura Clayborne knew. We got older, she thought. We grew up and took our places in the machine. And the machine gave us expensive toys to play with, and Rambo and Reagan said don't worry, be happy. We moved into big houses, bought life insurance, and made out our wills. And now we wonder, deep in our secret hearts, if all the protest and tumult had a point. We think that maybe we could have won in Vietnam after all, that the only equality among men is in the wallet, that some books and music should be censored, and we wonder if we would be the first to call out the Guard if a new generation of protesters took to the streets. Youth yearned and burned, Laura thought. Age reflected, by the ruddy fireplaces.
"... wanted to cut his hair short and let one of those rat-tail things hang down in back." Carol cleared her throat. "Earth to Laura! Come in, Laura!"
She blinked. The hippie went away. The Fish Market was a placid pool again. Laura said, "I'm sorry. What were you saying?"
"Nikki Sutcliff's little boy, Max. Eight years old, and he wanted to crop his hair and have a rat-tail. And he loves that rap junk, too. Nikki won't let him listen to it. You can't believe the dirty words on records these days! You'd better think about that, Laura. What are you going to do if your little boy wants to cut all his hair off and go around bald-headed and singing obscene songs?"
"I think," she answered, "that I'll think about it later."
The salad and the gumbo were served. Laura listened as Carol talked on about politics in the Atlanta Constitution's Life and Style department. Laura was a senior reporter specializing in social news and doing book reviews and an occasional travel piece. Atlanta was a social city, of that there was no doubt. The Junior League, the Art Guild, the Opera Society, the Greater Atlanta Museum Board: those and many more demanded Laura's attention, as well as debutante parties, donations from wealthy patrons to various art and music funds, and weddings between old southern families. It was good that she was getting back to work in March, because that was when the wedding season began to blossom, swelling to its peak in mid-June. It sometimes puzzled her how quickly she'd gotten from twenty-one to thirty-six. She'd graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, had worked as a reporter on a small paper in her hometown of Macon for two years, then had come to Atlanta. The big-time, she'd thought. It took her over a year to get onto the copy desk of the Constitution, a period she'd spent selling kitchen appliances at Sears.
She'd always harbored hopes of becoming a reporter for the Constitution. A firebrand reporter, with iron teeth and eagle eyes. She would write stories to rip off the mask of racial injustice, destroy the slumlord, and expose the wickedness of the arms dealer. After three years of drudgery writing headlines and editing the stories of other reporters, she got her chance: she was offered a position as a metro reporter. Her first assignment was covering a shooting in an apartment complex near Braves Stadium.
Only they hadn't told her about the baby. No, they hadn't.
When it was all over, she knew she couldn't do it again. Maybe she was a coward. Maybe she'd been deluding herself, thinking she could handle it like a man. But a man wouldn't have broken down and cried. A man wouldn't have thrown up right there in front of the police officers. She remembered the shriek of an electric guitar, the volume turned up and roaring over the parking lot. It had been a hot, humid night in July. A terrible night, and she still saw it sometimes in her worst dreams.
She was assigned to the social desk. Her first assignment there was covering the Civitans Stars and Bars Ball.
She took it.
Laura knew other reporters, men and women who did their jobs well. They crowded around the distraught relatives of plane-crash victims and stuck microphones in their faces. They went to morgues to count bullet holes in bodies, or stood in gloomy forests while the police hunted for pieces of murder victims. She watched them grow old and haggard, searching for some kind of purpose amid the carnage of life, and she'd decided to stay on the social desk.
It was a safe place. And as she got older, Laura realized that safe places were hard to find, and if the money was good as well, then wasn't that the best a person could do?
She wore a dark blue suit not unlike the outfits worn by the other businesswomen in the restaurant, though hers was maternity-tailored. In the parking lot was her gray BMW. Her husband of eight years was a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch in midtown Atlanta, and together they made over a hundred thousand dollars a year. She used Estée Lauder cosmetics, and she shopped for clothes and accessories in the tony little boutiques of Buckhead. She went to a place where she got manicures and pedicures, and another place where she took steambaths and had massages. She went to ballets, operas, art galleries, and museum parties, and most of the time she went alone.
Doug's work claimed him. He had a car phone in his Mercedes, and when he was home he was constantly making or receiving calls. That was a camouflage, of course. They both knew it was more than work. They were caring toward each other, like two old friends might be who had faced adversity and fought through it together, but what they had could not be called love.
"So how's Doug?" Carol asked. She'd known the truth for a long time. It would be hard to hide the truth from someone as sharp-eyed as Carol, and anyway, they both knew many other couples who lived together in a form of financial partnership.
"He's fine. Working a lot." Laura took another bite of her gumbo. "I hardly see him except on Sunday mornings. He's started playing golf on Sunday afternoons."
"But the baby's going to change things, don't you think?"
"I don't know. Maybe it will." She shrugged. "He's excited about the baby, but ... I think he's scared, too."
"Scared? Of what?"
"Change, I guess. Having someone new in our lives. It's so strange, Carol." She placed a hand against her stomach, where the future lived. "Knowing that inside me is a human being who'll—God willing—be on this earth long after Doug and I are gone. And we've got to teach that person how to think and how to live. That kind of responsibility is scary. It's like ... we've just been playing at being grown-ups until now. Can you understand that?"
"Sure I can. That's why I never wanted children. It's a hell of a job, raising kids. One mistake, and bam! You've either got a wimp or a tyrant. Jesus, I don't know how anybody can raise kids these days." She downed a hefty drink of chardonnay. "I don't think I'm the mothering type, anyway. Hell, I can't even housebreak a puppy."
That much was certainly true. Carol's Pomeranian had no respect for Oriental carpets and no fear of a rolled-up newspaper. "I hope I'm a good mother," Laura said. She felt herself approaching inner shoals. "I really do."
"You will be. Don't worry about it. You definitely are the mothering type."
"Easy for you to say. I'm not so sure."
"I am. You mother the hell out of me, don't you?"
"Maybe I do," Laura agreed, "but that's because you need somebody to kick you in the tail every now and again."
"Listen, you're going to be a fantastic mother. Mother of the year. Hell, mother of the century. You're going to be up to your nose in Pampers and you're going to love it. And you watch what happens to Doug when the baby comes, too."
Here lay the real rocks, on which boats of hope could be broken to pieces. "I've thought about that," Laura said. "I want you to know that I'm not having this baby so Doug and I can stay together. That's not it at all. Doug has his own life, and what he does makes him happy." She traced money signs on the misty glass of Perrier. "One night I was at home reading. Doug had gone to New York on business. I was supposed to cover the Ball of Roses the next day. It struck me how alone I was. You were in Bermuda, on vacation. I didn't want to talk to Sophia, because she doesn't like to listen. I tried four or five people, but everybody was out somewhere. So I sat there in the house, and do you know what I realized?"
Carol shook her head.
"I don't have anything," Laura said, "that's mine."
"Oh, right!" Carol scoffed. "You've got a three-hundred-thousand-dollar house, a BMW, and a closetful of clothes I'd die to get my hooks into! So what else do you need?"
"A purpose," Laura answered, and her friend's wry smile faded.
The waiter brought their lunches. Soon afterward, three women entered the restaurant, one of them pushing a stroller, and they were seated a few tables away from Laura and Carol. Laura watched the mother—a blond-haired woman at least ten years younger than herself, and fresh in the way that youth can only be—look down at her infant and smile like a burst of sunshine. Laura felt her own baby move in her belly, a sudden jab of an elbow or knee, and she thought of what he must look like, cradled in the swollen pink womb, his body feeding from a tube of flesh that united them. It was amazing to her that in the body within her was a brain that would hunger for knowledge. That the baby had lungs, a stomach, veins to carry his blood, reproductive organs, eyes, and eardrums. All this and so much more had been created inside her, had been entrusted to her. A new human being was about to emerge into the earth. A new person, suckled on her fluids. It was a miracle beyond the miraculous, and sometimes Laura couldn't believe it was really about to happen. But here it was, two weeks until a birth day. She watched the young mother smooth a white blanket around the infant's face, and then the woman glanced up at her. Their eyes met for a few seconds, and the two women passed a smile of recognition of labors past and yet to be.
Excerpted from Mine by Robert R. McCammon. Copyright © 1990 The McCammon Corporation. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 26, 2013
Posted June 30, 2012
WRITTEN BY: Robert R. McCammon
PUBLISHED: May, 1990
A fast-paced thriller that will keep you turning the pages. A psychotic woman, trapped in the delusions of her revolutionary hippie days, kidnaps a baby to give to the man she worships. The baby's mother chases after the woman, risking everything to save her newborn. Filled with action, suspense, and solid plot turns, this novel is another success for Robert McCammon.
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Posted March 4, 2013
Posted December 30, 2011
I have been a fan of Robert McGammon's novels for years. In fact, I have a paper back copy of Swan Song that I pull out and re-read about once a year. This book is great and pulls you right in. I agree with the other reviewer who said he didn't know if he could finish it, but picked it right back up!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.