"A powerful novel... another winner... Ms. Plain weaves her story like a master craftsman entwining the colorful threads of each character's life embroidered with the golden strands of historical details."—Rave Reviews
Tapestryby Belva Plain
Beginning in 1920, paralleling Hitler's rise to power, and encompassing World War II, Bleva Plain's new novel weaves the threads of history into a brilliant tapestry. As vivid events plunge the world into a dizzying vortex of change, an unforgettable American Family must summon up extraordinary courage to face birth, death, murder, illicit passion, and a great… See more details below
Beginning in 1920, paralleling Hitler's rise to power, and encompassing World War II, Bleva Plain's new novel weaves the threads of history into a brilliant tapestry. As vivid events plunge the world into a dizzying vortex of change, an unforgettable American Family must summon up extraordinary courage to face birth, death, murder, illicit passion, and a great tragedy... and one passionate man must fight his own war against evil—a war that can be won only with honor, integrity, and love.
- Random House Publishing Group
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- 4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.20(d)
Read an Excerpt
In the spring of the year 1920, Paul Werner sat in a private hospital on New York's Upper East Side, waiting for the birth of his first child. He was thirty-two years old, and after surviving the worst of the war in the trenches of France, had come home in good health. He was an attractive man, with a strong narrow frame and an aquiline face; when he was animated he looked younger than his years. Chiefly, though, his expression was thoughtful, courteous and listening; when his vivid blue eyes, so unusual in combination with olive skin, turned their full attention to anything or anyone, the effect was startling.
His future lay clearly marked before him; it always had been. Second in authority at the investment banking house founded by his late grandfather, he knew he was only a step away from the first position. Soon his father would retire, and Paul would be moving into the faintly shabby, spacious front room that looked out onto Wall Street. The family had deliberately maintained an atmosphere of quiet, unassuming prosperity. The elder Werner liked to compare their narrow little building, now wedged among skyscrapers, to a counting house in a Dickens novel. Its comfortable atmosphere suited Paul very well. An office was a place of business: one did not flaunt luxuries there; indeed, one did not flaunt them anywhere.
It would seem that Paul had everything. His wife, four years younger than he, was a gentle patrician girl whom he had known from childhood. Marian, affectionately called "Mimi," belonged to one of those families who, not necessarily related by blood, were a part of the tight, unbroken German-Jewish circle that had been prospering in the city since the Civil War. They went to the same schools, belonged to the same clubs, and summered at the same places in the Adirondacks or at the Jersey Shore. Paul's family and Mimi's had been especially close: Mimi and Paul had sat across a table from each other at birthdays and on holidays since they were old enough to eat with the adults. He had taken her to her first dance.
Now, after seven years of childless marriage, of numerous medical tests and monthly disappointments, at last she lay upstairs on the maternity floor. All his hopes lay with her. He wondered–for he was much given, perhaps too much given, to self-analysis–why his need to have children should be so consuming. Had it perhaps become so urgent because he had been marked by the terrible waste and slaughter of the war? But whatever the reason, it didn't matter. Simply, his need was there.
He sat now trying to concentrate on a magazine and, not succeeding, gazed out into the blank air at the center of the room. His long, slender feet were crossed at the ankles; he hadn't moved for half an hour. On the settee beside him lay his velvet-collared overcoat, his black leather briefcase and silver-knobbed umbrella. His agitation was concealed. Composure was a part of his nature and his training. One didn't allow whatever might be raging inside to reveal itself to the whole world. Only his eyes, alternately soft and sharply penetrating, could betray any message to those who knew him very well. There were not many who knew him very well.
When he glanced out of the window, he was surprised to see that the streetlamps had come on. The day had ebbed away; he had been here for hours, ever since they had summoned him to say that Mimi had gone to the hospital. The rain, which had been pouring before, had dwindled to a fine mist and the quiet street was deserted. There was hardly a sound indoors, either; in small private hospitals like this one there was no bustle. Now the quiet seemed eerie, and Paul shivered.
A first delivery could take an awfully long time. Everyone knew that. He had been prepared for it, and he told himself that he had also been prepared for it, and he told himself that he had also been prepared to see his wife suffer. It was expected and natural that women suffered. Yet her face had been so terrible, distorted, unrecognizable, wild! Her hair soaking wet on her forehead, and her screams, as she twisted and flung herself, lunging on the bed . . . They had put him out of her room.
She bore pain well, he thought, remembering the time she'd had a compound fracture of the arm. Yet childbirth was not to be compared with a broken arm, was it? So that the pain he had seen upstairs was not unusual? He didn't know. Certainly, though, the doctor knew. He was one of the best obstetricians in the city.
A young man came back to retrieve the coat and hat he had left on the chair across from Paul.
"A girl," he announced, answering Paul's question before it could be asked. "Seven pounds. A beautiful blonde."
Mirth seemed to bubble in the man's throat. He would go home now and sit down at the telephone to spread his happy news. Paul gave congratulations. The man had brought his wife in not two hours ago! When he went out again, the silence rang in Paul's ears.
He got up and began to pace the room. His legs ached from sitting. It was a dreary room, filled with imitation factory-made Chippendale, all in good enough taste but sterile. Tenth-rate landscapes on the walls. Hudson River school. Also imitation, of course. Well, what did he want in a hospital waiting room, for heaven's sake? An art exhibit?
He tried to focus his thoughts on art. He had always been open to new ideas, had bought Expressionists before they became as sought after as they were now; yet some of the wildest stuff that was being done today he couldn't look at. It reflected only what the war had done to the world: pulled things apart. It made you uneasy; the world before 1914 might have been a century ago, not just six years. His mind roved. Everything in the postwar world was swelling larger. Debts, too, he thought soberly. Debt was a pit one must not fall into; that was one thing, anyway, on which he agreed with his father. There were others on which he did not agree.
Good God! What were they doing upstairs?
He pulled his thoughts back. What had he been thinking about? Oh, debts! No, no speculation, not for clients or himself. For the family, triple-A bonds and unmortgaged properties. Prepare for the biblical seven lean years that were bound to come.
Why didn't somebody come down and tell him something?
The people at the desks in the office across the hall didn't know anything, or said they didn't. Damn it all! He was just going to ask them again, to insist that they find out something, anything. Insist! He was crossing the hall when the elevator whirred, the door opened, and the doctor called out.
"Mr. Werner! Mr. Werner! It's all right. Your wife's fine." He laid his hand on Paul's arm. "We're very, very lucky tonight."
Lucky? Why? Was it to be a matter of luck, then? Had something gone wrong? Or almost gone wrong? Paul stood there, confused.
"My office is just down the hall. Come in. Sit down."
Yes, something has gone wrong. He wants to tell me.
"Very lucky," the doctor repeated. "We had to do a cesarean, Mr. Werner. Tried not to." He sighed, moving his hand, left, right, and back like a pendulum. "But it went well."
"A cesarean," Paul said. He felt cold.
"The problem was a transverse lie, lying crossways, that is." And again the doctor moved his hand; there was a small spot of blood on his white sleeve. "It's impossible to deliver a baby that way, you understand–"
I wish he would stop saying you understand, and get on with it.
Paul leaned forward as if to pull the words out of the other man's mouth.
"–and as the woman continues to labor in that situation, the uterus ruptures, with internal bleeding. An ordeal, Mr. Werner, if you want to call it that. Quite an ordeal."
"Yes," Paul said.
"But, thank God, she's come through. We've made the repairs and she's resting comfortably. Just came out of the anesthesia. I've been waiting up there until she did."
"Yes," Paul said.
"A very brave young woman, your wife."
Certificates and diplomas on the narrow wall at the end of the room behind the doctor's head testified to his knowledge and gave him authority. He's not much older than I am. Paul thought irrelevantly, reading the dates. Arthur Bennet Lyons, he read. One was in Latin; that gave authority too.
"Will," the doctor was saying. "There's no real proof, I know, but I'm convinced that a patient with a brave will can tilt things in the right direction. Your wife held on, Mr. Werner."
He's talking to fill a void, Paul thought. There's something else he doesn't want to get to; neither of us does. Yet he must know that I know what it is. And through lips so dry that they almost stuck together, he asked:
"Dead. In that situation it always is. Inevitably."
"A normal baby?"
"Yes. A good-sized boy . . . I'm awfully sorry."
An old image flared in the eye of Paul's mind; like a bulb turned on or a match struck into total darkness, it flared and was quenched.
My son–my sons–and I go down to Conservatory Pond in the park, bringing the sailboats, the beautiful toy boats with mahogany hulls. A wind ruffles the water, the boats move outward with bellied sails and the strings go taut in our hands. I watch the boy–boys–laugh. Their baby teeth are like white seeds, like pebbles. We walk home, holding hands to cross the street. When they're older, we'll sail real boats out of Nantucket or the Cape. My son. Sons.
He came to himself. The doctor was doodling circles on a sheet of yellow paper.
"Would you like me to explain more clearly, draw you a diagram?"
"No, I'm sure you did everything anyone could do. May I see her now?"
The doctor's eyes were sympathetic. He looked old and tired.
"I don't see why not, for a minute or two."
Paul went upstairs. He felt like an intruder, passing between two rows of closed doors that seemed to frown reproach upon him as he broke the silence with his steps and his squeaking shoes. The place smelled of disinfectant and fear.
The door to his wife's room was ajar. In dim light he saw a white bed in the center of the room; a long straight ridge lay on it; he saw a catafalque and a stone body.
A nurse, who had been sitting in a corner, stood up and rustled past him. "Come in. Your wife's been waiting for you." She went out and closed the door.
Lightly, gently, he kissed Mimi's forehead as if he feared that his touch would hurt her. She had come back from the dead!
"Are you terribly sad about the boy? Has it broken your heart?" she murmured.
"No. Well–yes, of course. But what matters is, you're here."
"They didn't let me see him."
Paul didn't answer.
"I'm sure they would have if I'd insisted. But I thought–this way I won't have to remember his face. This way–"
She turned into the pillow. Pity ran through Paul, watching her struggle for control.
"This way," she resumed, "it can be almost as if we hadn't had him at all, don't you see?"
"Yes, yes, I see."
They were both silent. Somewhere in the building, in some room tiled, cold and bare, as he imagined it to be, lay the child. Normal, the doctor had said. A good-sized boy. Eight days from now he would have been circumcised, given his name and the rabbi's blessing. In the living room, where the sun streams from the long windows, it would have been. After that, wine and cake in the dining room. All the relatives there, admiring. A good-sized boy. I can't grasp it, Paul thought. It doesn't make sense. Why should this have happened to us when everything was going so well?
Mimi was speaking.
"Paul, there'll be another, you know."
"You'd go through this again?"
"It wouldn't happen like this. Lightning doesn't strike twice."
That's not true, he thought. And yet a surge of hope, almost of elation, jumped at once into his throat. Yes, as soon as she was properly strong, there'd be another chance. Plenty of people had this kind of trouble and then went on to have as many children as they wanted. Of course they did. And a woman could have more than one cesarean. Look forward, not back!
She touched his hand with chilled fingers.
"You're cold," he said. "I'll go tell the nurse to get another blanket."
"No. Stay a minute."
He rubbed her hand between his. They smiled at each other. She looked normal. Who could believe it, after the way she had been only a few hours ago! Some pink had crept back into her fair, freckled skin; her long sandy hair had been brushed and the nurse had tied it back with a white ribbon.
"You frightened the life out of me," he said.
"Poor Paul! I'm sorry, I promise I won't do it again. What are you going to tell my parents and yours?
"The truth, without letting them know how bad it was. I'll phone them all in Florida in the morning."
"You ought to go home. You must be exhausted. Have you had anything at all to eat?"
"I'm not hungry."
"But you have to eat! What time is it?"
"I don't know." He looked at his watch. "Almost ten."
"I know you won't wake the maids up, though you should. There's a whole roast chicken in the icebox, and a pudding. I had her make a lemon pudding this morning. Do fix something before you go to bed. I'm sure you won't take care of yourself at all while I'm here. You never do."
He laughed and kissed her forehead again. "How on earth did I ever get through the war without you to take care of me?"
He stood up. "The doctor said only a few minutes. You have to rest. I'll be back first thing in the morning." At the door he remembered. "Is there anything you want me to bring you?"
He went out on tiptoe. Halfway down the corridor he was struck again with the thought that his dead baby lay somewhere in the building. He could ask. He had a right to see it. He wanted to. Also, he didn't want to . . .
Abruptly, there came a tremendous pressure in his chest. It surged and beat into his neck, burst and roared into his head. And he knew it for what it was: the pressure of something he wanted to forget. For a few hours this afternoon, and again up here with Mimi, it had subsided, but now it came back, expanding to fill him and take his breath away. And he had to grasp the wall to steady himself.
In a few moments he breathed naturally again. But he had to talk to someone! He had to!
Nobody, seeing the dignified young man in the fine dark suit, could have imagined his anguish as he stepped into the telephone booth.
I'll call Hennie, he thought. Who else in the world but Hennie?
Hennie Roth was not at home to receive the call. Having heard from the servants at the Werner house that Mimi was in the hospital, she had kept in touch all day. Hennie was Paul's aunt; more importantly, in a rare and special way, she was his most trusted friend, and had been since the days when he had sat on her lap and heard her read Grimms' fairy tales. Now, with her daughter-in-law, Leah, she sat in Paul's living room waiting for him to come home.
Still in her forties, she looked younger, not because of any beauty, for she was large-boned, tall, and too plainly dressed–as now in her strict tan suit–but rather because of the vigor and enthusiasm that brought a certain charm to her long face, with its unfashionable coronet of brown hair.
Hennie had what her relatives called her "spiritual beauty." She was a fighter for social justice, as was her husband, Dan, a teacher and scientist, an idealist who had refused a fortune from one of his electronic inventions because the War Department had bought it. Both of them had spoken and marched for many causes; Hennie had marched for woman suffrage and in behalf of striking garment workers; she had even been arrested once while picketing a shirtwaist factory. They had worked for peace all their lives and, now that the war was over, still wrote and spoke for the League of Nations, for the National Council for the Prevention of War, and to anyone else who would listen.
They were, in short, the family mavericks.
And they had had their grief. Their son, their only child, had come home from the war without his legs; and after that, they had lost him; he had left a baby, Henry–little Hank, now four–and his widow, Leah. A slum child, orphaned at the age of eight, Leah had been adopted by Hennie and Dan. From them she had learned all that they had to teach, had married their son, and had now traveled beyond them into a world they had no wish to enter. For Leah was ambitious; gifted with a sense of fashion, she had already opened her own luxurious establishment on Madison Avenue. Remarried to an equally ambitious young lawyer and accountant, she lived with him and Hank near the Metropolitan Museum in Georgian elegance, in the handsome private house with marble fireplaces and circular stairs that Dan's money had bought for his wounded son. What he would not touch for himself, Dan had accepted for his son.
Leah bore no mark of early deprivation. Her glossy brown hair was coiffed short in the newest style; her narrow gold and diamond bracelets glittered at the pleated cuffs of her pale blue woolen sleeves; her alert, inquisitive round eyes surveyed Paul's lovely room with expert appraisal as she waited.
No two women could have been more unlike than Hennie and Leah; yet they loved each other as mothers and daughters, when they are fortunate, can love.
Restless now, Hennie got up and went to stand at the window, pushing aside the silk curtains to strain and peer through the dark mist, as though she could hurry Paul home.
"Do you suppose anything can be wrong?" she asked. "It's taken all day and no word. I don't know why I have such a feeling that there must be." Hennie was a worrier.
Leah, who was not, said cheerfully, "No, it's a first baby. They don't all have as easy a time as I did. You remember, Hank practically fell out," she finished, with some complacency.
"They've waited so long," Hennie fretted. "It would be awful for Paul if anything were to go wrong with this baby. Awful for Marian, too, of course."
When they heard the key in the lock, they both sprang up and Hennie came toward Paul with outstretched hands.
"It's all over. Marian's fine. She almost wasn't, but she's fine."
"Oh, thank heaven for that!"
"The baby's dead. A boy."
Paul was thinking of how clearly he could remember Hennie's Freddy. He'd been six years old and they'd taken him to the hospital to see the new baby. The arms and legs had waved. . . . A dead baby must look like one of those life-size dolls one saw in expensive toy stores. Waxy. Would the eyes be open or shut? He felt sudden nausea.
Hennie had turned away. She was twisting the wedding ring on her blunt finger.
Leah said softly, "It's awful, Paul. Awful. But you'll have another. You must think of that. And Mimi must. Not right away. But soon. You will."
They wanted to help him.
"Yes," Hennie added, "a neighbor of ours, when we lived downtown, lost two in a row. Then she went on to have three more!"
Funny, that was what he had told himself, there in Mimi's room tonight, and had felt so heartened . . . until that other thought had knocked the breath out of him. Now Leah was here, and he wouldn't be able to talk to Hennie about it.
"I suppose I could say, at least we never knew him."
"Ah, yes, that's true," Hennie said.
Poor Hennie! You didn't rear a son to fight in the war you so violently hated that you had spent years of your life trying to prevent it, only to lose him because of it–
Then he thought: There's no comparison between her poor Freddy and this. Yet comparisons weren't the point, were they?
"Have you had anything to eat? I asked your cook to fix a plate in case you wanted anything."
"Thanks, but I don't."
Hennie didn't urge him, for which he was grateful. Mimi was always coaxing him to eat, to wear his galoshes, to take a sweater, to lie down and rest.
Hennie wanted to know whether he had been able to see Marian.
"Yes. She's taking it very bravely."
"You must get her away as soon as she's able," Leah exclaimed. "A trip abroad will do marvels for her. Do some shopping in Paris, then the Riviera–or perhaps Biarritz a little later in the summer."
Paul felt an inward smile. How well she had learned, this young Leah, about life's pretty toys and prizes!
"And start another baby," she added boldly.
She went out to the hall and returned with a package wrapped in navy blue satin paper, smartly tied with a scarlet bow.
"My new logo." LÉA, complete with accent, sprawled across the top of the box. "It's a bed jacket for Mimi. Don't forget to bring it to her tomorrow. I rushed the monogram."
"It's absolutely beautiful," Hennie assured him. "I saw it. An extravagance."
Paul murmured the appropriate thanks.
"Is there anything we can do for you, Paul? Do you want us to leave you alone and go home?" Hennie asked.
He didn't want to be alone just yet. "No, stay. Unless you're tired."
"We'll stay a little, then. Dan won't be in before midnight anyway."
They resumed their seats on either side of the fireplace. Between them, on a low marble table, lay a shallow bowl of gardenias, giving off the strong sweet smell that Paul hated. For no good reason it made him think of funerals, and he would have moved them into the pantry, except that Mimi loved gardenias, and it didn't seem right to get rid of them just because she wasn't there.
"Dan's downtown, speaking about the League of Nations," Hennie said, "otherwise you know he'd be here."
"How's he feeling?"
"Oh, angina comes and goes. He takes his nitroglycerin when he's misbehaved, gone out in the wind or something else that he's not supposed to do."
"Shouldn't he give up teaching? High school kids can wear you out."
"It's his life. That and his lab. Especially now that he's got that new little place for himself on Canal Street. He's working on two or three inventions, something about a bladeless steam turbine. He just couldn't give it all up."
"Hennie–you're not worried about money?"
"We never were, were we? You know us. We don't need much."
"Well, if you–well, this is a day for straight talk. If anything should happen to Dan, I want you know I'll take care of you. You're never to go without, do you hear?"
Leah interposed. "You don't think Ben and I would let her go without?"
"I can go without almost anything except Dan." Tears sprang to Hennie's eyes. She raised her voice. "I worry. He's too outspoken for these times! They're hunting Bolsheviks at every peace meeting, dragging decent people off to jail for simply speaking the truth! You'd think we were back in seventeenth-century Salem hunting witches! And I don't mind telling you, I'm terrified. Dan talks too much."
Paul shook his head. "With that bad heart, he can't afford to take risks. I'll speak to him."
"It won't do any good. You know how stubborn he is. . . . Oh, I shouldn't bother you with my troubles after the day you've had!"
"You never trouble me," he said.
And he wanted so much to tell her about the pressure that had almost torn him apart a little while ago. He wished he could tell her everything; he hadn't told her "everything" since that afternoon before his wedding, when he had come to her in his anguish.
"Alfie telephoned," Leah was saying, "the minute he heard that Mimi had gone to the hospital."
Uncle Alfie was another generous soul. Now that he had made his fortune in real estate, his life's pleasure was to give, whether money, advice, or vacations at his country place. Softhearted, he would be teary over Paul's dead baby.
Hennie added, "Mama called too. She was awfully worried."
Grandmother Angelique, going toward eighty, had been looking forward to being a great-grandmother again. She, too, would be genuinely sorry.
At least I am blessed with a family who cares, Paul thought.
"Now I'm really going," said Hennie. "Good night, Paul dear. Do try to get some sleep."
"I'll have the doorman call a cab for you."
"No, I'll walk. I've an umbrella and it's only a few blocks."
Only a few blocks–and a world of distance–from this apartment or from Leah's house to the East River and Dan's walk-up flat. And yet the simple places in which Hennie and Dan had lived had always been, and were still now, a kind of other home for Paul. He, who so cherished the beauty that dazzles the eye, could surely find none in those sparsely furnished rooms, but it was another kind of beauty that he found there, something that spoke to the other side of his soul. He went with the two women to the elevator and kissed Hennie's cheek with extra tenderness.
When he walked back to the apartment, the telephone was ringing.
Back in the waiting room, he sat with the intern who had been sent downstairs to talk to him.
"She began to hemorrhage about an hour after you left there. We called Dr. Lyons and couldn't get him right away. He'd left for home, and must have stopped off somewhere. We made several calls and just missed him each time, but finally–"
"Yes, yes," Paul interrupted furiously. Why couldn't the fellow get to the point? "You got him. And then? And now?"
Flushing, the young man spoke faster. "The internal bleeding resumed and–"
"Hemorrhage, you're saying?"
"Yes. I stopped it as best I could, using–"
"How is she now? Now?"
"Well, Dr. Lyons operated. He's still upstairs. I believe she's back in her room."
Another trip through the silent corridors. Again his shoe squeaked. It didn't seem to squeak anyplace but here. Dr. Lyons was just leaving the room when Paul reached it.
"Oh, Mr. Werner. Come into the solarium for a minute. Your wife's not quite awake yet."
Weak lamplight quivered at the end of the hall. They sat down on the kind of wicker chairs that belong on a summer porch. A sense of unreality shook Paul, here in this place, past midnight.
"You operated? What happened?"
"It was a bad time. There'd been too much tearing after all. We couldn't seem to stop the bleeding. So there was no choice but to do a hysterectomy."
"Hysterectomy! My God! You had to?"
"I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't had to." The voice was gently reproachful; the eyes were circled black, like an owl's.
Paul took out a handkerchief and scrubbed his wet palms.
"A nasty combination of events, Mr. Werner. Nasty. Just about everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong."
"But she–there's no danger now?"
"I'd say she's probably out of the woods. Barring infection, heaven forbid. We'll just keep our fingers crossed."
The end of the road. Miles and miles through wastelands and over mountains; then the weather clears, it's all blue and silver, you're almost where you want to go, until you come to the blank wall, hundreds of feet high, all stone, and the road stops.
"How will this affect her? All through her life, I mean?"
"Well, naturally, it's pretty sad to have a hysterectomy this young, but it shouldn't keep her from having a normal life, from being a woman in every respect."
Sex, he meant. There'd be no difference. Except–no children.
Words slipped out of Paul's mouth. "You have children, Doctor? Boys?"
"Three–a girl and two boys."
"I'm sorry. I don't know why I asked that."
"That's all right, Mr. Werner."
They stood up, hesitating in the gloom.
"Is there anything else you'd want me to explain to you? We could go downstairs to my office. I have books and diagrams that might make things clearer."
"Well, some people want them and they're entitled to them."
"I don't," Paul said. The sweat was pouring again on his palms. What questions? What difference now?
"You can always call me if there's anything else you want to know. Call me anytime or come in."
Paul remembered civility. "You've had a hard day, Doctor. Go home and rest."
"Not as hard as that girl of yours has had. And you've had."
Poor Mimi. Poor Mimi.
"I think you can see her now. She'll be waking up, but she'll be groggy, so don't stay more than a minute. Then go home and have a brandy. Two brandies." Dr. Lyons winked. "Even if it is against the law."
Again she lay like stone on the catafalque, and again the nurse rustled tactfully away. He stood above her. She was as pale as the sheet that was drawn around her neck. Her cheeks seemed to have sunk since the last time he'd seen her just a few hours before, making her proud, arched nose more prominent. He touched her spread hair.
"Mimi," he whispered.
To have been as happy as she had been only yesterday, to have anticipated everything; to have suffered all that hellish pain and end with nothing!
No child now, or ever.
It was wrong, it was unfair, it was cruel. What had either one of them done to be punished like this? His anger boiled.
She opened her eyes. "Paul?"
"I'm here, don't be afraid."
Her lips barely opened, so that he had to bend down to hear her.
"Not . . . only sleepy."
"I know. You've had a little operation. You're fine though, the doctor says. Can you hear me?"
He stood there, stroking her hair. He felt powerless. He wasn't used to feeling powerless. One planned things with care, one took precautions, was reasonable, industrious, and considerate. Then a whirlwind came and one was nothing more than a scrap, after all, blown ahead of the wind.
She stirred. He bent down, thinking she had said something, and spoke her name, but she had only sighed. Then he remembered he was to stay just for a minute, and took another look at her, listened to her even breathing, and went out.
He walked home. There were no cabs on the avenue, and anyway, he needed to walk off the turbulence inside him. It had begun to rain heavily and he had forgotten his umbrella, but he didn't care. He could have walked the length of Manhattan and back.
The night elevator operator looked at him with curiosity. "You've got yourself soaked, Mr. Werner." Then as the elevator rose, "I hope everything will turn out fine for the missus."
He wants to know what happened, Paul thought. It's a natural curiosity. This is a situation that, when it becomes known, will arouse excitement and sympathy in equal amounts. The possibility of tragedy always does. Accidents. Deaths. Crimes. All those uncomplicated sorrows.
But what if the sorrow is not uncomplicated? What if there are other hidden factors? Guilt, for instance? And the pressure came back, along with the roaring in his ears.
He turned on a lamp and sat down in his front hall, holding his head in his hands. This time, though, he felt no urge to seek out Hennie. This time he knew there would be no use in confiding, after all. Perhaps, too, given the terrible events of the day, he would be too miserably ashamed to confide, even to Hennie, whose mind was so open, who made no judgments. Yes, he would be ashamed.
He hadn't been ashamed that other time; he'd been so desperate, so torn apart before the wedding, torn between Mimi and Anna . . .
Into his parents' house she had come as a maid, only another in a stream of young foreign girls who stayed awhile, married, and left; there had been nothing different except that he had fallen love with her, and she with him, in a way that he had not thought possible before or since.
But he had married Mimi. He had been promised to her. . . .
He stood up. Always, always that face before his eyes! When would it go away and leave him?
He had thought, during the glad months of Mimi's pregnancy, that he was teaching himself at last to say a final farewell to Anna. He had been–how absurdly!–trying to convince himself that she might possibly have been some sort of aberration, one of those sexual delights that can beset and confuse a man or woman, and ultimately will vanish; that it was only Mimi who was real and right and would last.
And today in that hospital, he had been filled with a new horror. What if it had been Anna, he had thought, whose life was slipping away upstairs? The thought had shattered him. Would he have had an instant's care for the loss of the baby, for the children they would never have? No, much as he longed for a child, a son, he would have gone on his knees and begged for Anna's life. What worth could any child, could ten children, have, compared with her?
And today what had he mourned for, what was he mourning for now? For his wife, whom he had almost lost or might yet lose? No, not for her, but only for the child, for the children he would never have.
"God help me," he said aloud, thrusting his fist into his palm.
Then he began to walk around the apartment. He went from one fine room to the other and back again.
Only a few months ago, they had moved into this much larger apartment to have space for a growing family. They weren't even finished with the furnishing of it; he almost tripped over a roll of carpet that hadn't yet been laid. He'd been so pleased with the arrangement of the possessions that he treasured; the glimmer of sunshine on the Monet landscape over the mantel, the antique English table in the dining room, the crystal horse on its pedestal, a wedding gift from his German cousin, Joachim, who had remembered his love of horses. He was even growing used to Mimi's experiment with art deco in her little sitting room, with its unfamiliar angles, its inlaid ivory-and-shagreen table at which she worked on correspondence for her charities. But what good now were all these things?
He paced the hall, not knowing what he was looking for, not looking for anything. In the library, he stood gazing absently at the array of awards and plaques that Mimi, so foolishly proud of him, had hung on the wall behind his desk. Everywhere his name, Paul Aaron Werner, was written in black ink on white paper or in brass letters on brown wood; his charities, the hospitals and orphanages on whose boards he served commended him. The American Joint Distribution Committee honored him for his work in filing the $7 million New York City quota "for relief of suffering in the war-ravaged ghettos of Central Europe." Solid citizen, he thought with irony, condemning himself.
He picked up a framed snapshot of Hank at the age of three, sitting on a park bench one day when Paul had taken him on an outing. Such a merry little face! Bold like Dan's. And yet a little like his father, with a softness around the mouth. The dead Freddy had left something of himself behind, anyway. To have a boy like that . . .
Try not to be bitter, Paul. It's useless and it's ugly.
On the opposite wall he came face-to-face with his wife in a silver frame. The photograph was a duplicate of the one he kept at the office. She had an air of sensitive refinement, showing her characteristic somewhat prim and wistful smile. Her long neck was framed in an Elizabethan collar of starched lace; she wore lace because he liked it, she did everything because he liked it. And he could have wept for her, for himself, for everything.
Then he crossed the hall. The door to the nursery was ajar, so that light fell over the canopied bassinet. That old wives' warning about buying nothing for a baby until it was safely born, a warning at which both Marian and he had scoffed, made sense after all. He slammed the nursery door. Tomorrow he'd all some charity and get all the stuff out of the house.
At last he went into the kitchen. Take a brandy, the doctor had said. He'd laid in a nice supply just before Prohibition went into effect. He'd thought to save the brandy for some celebration, although what possible celebration there would be now, he didn't know. So he poured a generous, wasteful glass. Maybe it would help him sleep. And, sipping it slowly, he went to stand at a living room window, looking out into the night. Here and there, in houses up and down the street, a light went on: some student studying late for an examination, someone struck by sudden sickness, or a lover come home late, after having loved?
For a long time Paul stood waiting for sleep to tranquilize him. At last, near dawn, he went in to the wide, solitary bed and closed his eyes.
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