If Richard Christie had seen her standing on Sixth, if he'd been driving his dusty blue unmarked Taurus, headed for a crime scene on the hazy, humid morning of June 26, would he have noticed her? Or would she, if she'd stopped, turned, looked outward into the rows and rows of cars, looked through dirty or rolled-down windows, into faces, have seen him? He thinks, later, he would have. She, well, she wasn't looking outward, she knows that, hadn't been for a while.
If he had noticed her, he would have felt an automatic nudge of lust. And why? The hair, partly, she had long hair, which he liked. Abundant. Very large eyes, a dark gray-green he would call them, and not at all serene; unusual bone structure about the cheeks and mouth; a thin face with determined curved lines under the eyes. Most people would have described her hair as black, but as a policeman, he knew it was actually a dark brown. She had a look of summer, islands. Put her in a sarong, have her sell suntan lotion. That kind of thing.
Still. If he'd seen her then, he would have seen sadness in her and understood she was one of what nearly all of us are in his opinionmotherless children.
She, she blamed herself for not looking outward. A narcissistic blot, she had it. A constant soul-searching. She didn't think much about how she looked, although most people would have been surprised to hear that, since she dressed and walked with what passed for self-awareness, even self-love.
If she'd looked outward toward Christie, she would not have noticed him. Even closer upif he'd popped on his blinkers, hopped out of the car, if someone had introduced themshe would have dismissed him. A detective, essentially a cop. A thickheaded flatfoot. Light-years away. Maybe even a Republican. Not somebody she could know or want to know.
She stood on Sixth with Michael. he held his briefcase stiffly. People walked around them. "I have to go, Marina," he said. "I'm supposed to be there by ten-fifteen."
"I'd drive you, but it would make me late."
He offered a new suggestion, dropping each word reluctantly. "You could take me and then pick me up. Then you'd have the car."
There was tightness around his eyes as if he fought a glare. She felt badly for him, wished she could embrace him, but that was the point, she couldn't, hadn't been able to get in for a long time now. The tense muscles of his face worked hard as he tried to stay calm.
There was a moment, before he turned and strode off, in which she might have undone everythingtaken back what she'd just said upstairs in Dr. Caldwell's office. And she almost did, out of agony for the look on his face. But something stopped her words. The way he tightened his lips, maybe, the reminder of recent cruelties. From that point on, many things were decided.
Dr. Caldwell had asked her, "And do you still feel you ought to leave, be on your own?" The homework assignment had been to think this through, or more accurately, feel it through, Marina having lost her ability to act for herself instead of for Michael. "You keep saying what he wants," Dr. Caldwell had pointed out. This morning Marina caught Dr. Caldwell's almost imperceptible nod when she said she'd decided a separation might be better for both of them. "I think we're hurting each other too much." Him on the love seat, her on the matching sofa, the doctor in the high-backed chair, all of them on their sandy-colored islands. Again that nod. Or her imagination.
Michael made an exhalation of pretend affront, surprise.
Dr. Caldwell turned to Michael. "It's been going on for a long time," she reminded him.
"Whatever she wants. I don't care." He sank back with an arm around the shoulder of the sofa and looked toward his own crossed legs, unable to make eye contact.
Dr. Caldwell looked hard at him, but he didn't look up. "You don't care?" she asked finally.
"No. I've had it."
He looked up. "Failure. I can't take any more failure."
"SeparationI know I've said thishas rules. You have to make them and keep to them. Decide exactly what you want out of it. You told me your wishes, your needs, didn't you, last week?" Here she turned to Marina.
Marina said, "It's hard to remember. Change. Peace. Peace is what I want."
"You told me last week, 'Self-knowledge. A chance to figure out what I feel.' " Dr. Caldwell seemed to be reading from her yellow legal pad. The room was a court, of sorts, judge, plaintiff, and accused.
Marina was exhausted with trying.
Dr. Caldwell had looked downward at her tablet and honored the seriousness of this about-to-happen parting with a long silence. For a long time, nobody said anything.
"I'm so sad," Marina said finally. "And yet it still feels the right thing to do."
Even the way Michael bristled, the little bit he moved, as soon as she showed the soft underbelly of her sadness, spoke of the violence in him. Marina's breath caught. If she needed a warning not to go soft now, this was it. He had not struck her except for that once. But the books, papers, dishes, he had thrown, broken. He had been on the verge of striking her a million times. The threat of it was almost worse, given her family history, than if he'd hit her.
Dr. Caldwell by now knew all about Marina's family historya violent father who'd struck her mother repeatedly, her sister as well, and Marina sometimes, too, or began to, but somehow left off, mysteriously collapsed into himself. As a child of ten, Marina had yelled at her father, "Don't you ever hit my mother again!" And her father had stopped moving forwardchaos all around them, the table turned over, the pie makings on the floor. Her mother whimpering in a corner. After that, he waited till Marina was at school to go crazy. He was clearly afraid of her, a child. Twice she called the police about him. Dr. Caldwell puzzled over these stories, saying she thought there was something unusual, forceful in Marina even when there didn't seem to be.
And the blame, a few years later, on Marina for his illness and death. Can you kill someone with a look, with accusations? Her mother and sister seemed to imply she had.
She was afraid to look at Michael, today, upstairs . . .
did not want to hurt him . . . did not want to hurt herself, either . . . could not understand how this was her drama, to be enacted over and over, being faced with violence and seeking to stop it. Why? Are people born into certain patterns?
She'd said, riding down the elevator, "I'll take the bus home. I don't mind."
He did not say, "Is it real, then? Are you leaving?"
She did not say, "I meant it, I'm leaving." The discussion was over, and now only the action to be done.
She watched him walk up the street until he was out of sight and felt grief that she had once loved him and didn't anymore. People who turned to look at her probably sensed her making a decision, saw her almost run after him, but in the end, not. And in that pause, she was shifting roles. Right there on Sixth Avenue, beneath Dr. Caldwell's office. Deciding to go it alone. Small steps forward, acting on her own interests for once, even if afraid.
"You are too accommodating," Dr. Caldwell said once. "People take advantage."
"She's too fucking saintly," Michael said. "Not a great turn-on!"
"No," Dr. Caldwell said seriously. "No, it's not."
After Marina watched Michael hurry up the street, head bent, she turned the other way and went toward Liberty Avenue. A tiny plan was forming. She and Michael were scheduled to see Dr. Caldwell next week to work out finances and rules: How would they separate? Would they see each other, call each other in that time? How often? Who would pay for what?
The fact was, they had hardly enough money for one household, definitely not enough for two. Michael had loans to pay off, they had a high mortgage, their bank account was a mess. One of their cars had broken down and they'd given it upjust told the guys at the station to sell it. They were down to one car, but Marina was going to need a car, on her own, in her own place.
They'd lived beyond their means, like so many in their generation, with their Cuisinarts and all-wool carpets and two cars. The dull facts emerged six months back, along with everything else, bigger things than money, when they first went to Dr. Caldwell, pretending to themselves they needed to figure out what to do differently, but really in the beginning stages of unwinding from each other.
Beside myself, Marina thought, feeling the truth of that expression. She was someone else walking along beside her body. Why, she couldn't even remember where the bus stop was! Finally remembered. After she did her one tiny bit of investigation, she would walk up past that newspaper box and take the bus home.
She headed toward the Clark Building.
All she wanted was truth and yet she kept up appearances, walking as if she could think, and people smiled back at her, one jaunty man, one old woman, as if this were some other time in her life when she was a woman of fashion, feeling good. Was this her way of not offending anyone with the dark wells of sadness in her?
Had she become an actressDr. Caldwell thought sobecause she had a need to turn rage and grief into something acceptable? Make something good out of it.
Not bother anybody.
And so she wore a pink-and-orange-flowered sheath dress, classic cut, short. A small black shoulder bag, an old thing, of black leather, very un-summery, and black strapped sandals with small stacked heels. Her starburst earrings picked up and reflected the colors of the dress. A costume for an Italian comedy. And this on a day her life was falling apart. A director had told her once that she was like the Marina in Shakespeare's Pericles; she confused people; empathy and beauty together, he said, is a curse. Because people don't know what to do, aren't sure they like it. You seem to be flaunting somethinggoodnesshe told her. And it makes them feel kind of shabby with their grubby inner lives.
She understood. Kindness in an unkind world seemed disingenuous. Was disingenuous. Even laughable. Well, she had changes to make. She was going to be of the world from now on, responsive to it, harsher, grabbing.
She crossed the street toward the Clark Building. There was a jewelry shop on the second floor where for years Michael had bought her gold and silver, sapphires and emeralds, adornments for the ears, neck, wrists, fingers. At first, the weight and beauty of the jewelry against her skin seemed a measure of her worth. Now these things felt like blackmail. How could she keep jewelry when she needed money so badly for an apartment, for food?
In the shop, she would be stepping over the line. Onstage to off. She had told only her best friend, Lizzie, that she and Michael were in trouble, not her mother or sister or anyone else. When she asked about selling the jewels back . . . Well, it would be obvious.
Even Lizzie didn't know how bad things really were.
Michael could be charming. People were not going to want to believe the level of his fury at himself, at life, at luck, the way he'd routinely taken it out on her. Her mother and sister would remember Michael teasing, joking with them, and they would think that was the whole of him, for he managed to be charming even when things were very bad between them. Ha. Who was the actor in the family?
The building's lobby was cool and dark, with patterned marble floors and walls. She didn't look around, didn't pay attention to anybody or anything, except the cool green walls with their deco brassy outlining bands. She wished she could rest her head against the smooth marble. A sob began to well up in her and she imagined death was a nice thing, cool, and preferable to living. After all, maybe the trouble was her fault. Too fucking saintly. Why did she not strike out for herself? Nobody liked weakness. "You're too nice," the receptionist at the casting agency had said soberly, a hint of instruction in her tone. Who wanted nice?
Suddenly Marina felt light-headed and unsteady. She leaned against the wall. "Better eat something," she heard someone say. She looked up to see the very old man who ran the concessions counter. He had been there every time she ever came in. He looked as if he had sold candy bars and sodas from that spot his whole life.
His counter was full of dusty goods. She wanted one of the chocolate bars, but didn't trust themwhere was it she'd bought a Clark bar and opened it to find a tiny worm poking its head up at her? Irrationally, she felt the Granola bar, more newly invented, might be fresher; so she took a chance on it.
While she was paying for the candy bar, she heard the elevator open behind her. "Oh, I ought to get that." She watched the man take her change and begin counting it.
"You don't get it now, you get it a minute from now. Right? That's not so terrible."
He looked closely at her. "What's the matter? Your boyfriend giving you a hard time?"
She shook her head.
The elevator doors closed and the thing went upward without her.
Unwrapping the candy bar, she watched a woman who'd evidently just come out of the elevator, leaning over a baby stroller. The woman was twenty-five, maybe less, and she was pretty in a wholesome way, all her features in line, nothing particularly outstanding. She wore a light blue, flower-patterned sundress, and she looked happy. The young mother looked up at Marina and back down to her baby, who waved arms and legs in a wobbly but energetic semaphore. The woman tucked a diaper into a plastic bag, looked around for a waste bin, thought better of it, and tucked the wrapped bag back in the star-spangled one.
Boy, Marina registered, because he wore little blue overalls and a T-shirt underneath that was a sea of small sailboats. Marina always looked at babies, always had, even when she was too young to be so desperate and full of longing as she was now. And that was one of the large strands in the undoing of her marriage, their failure to make a child. In her heart she felt an actual physical pain of longing.