- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 4.17(w) x 6.72(h) x 0.85(d)
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It was ten degrees outside, and I wore nothing on my feet but socks and an old pair of loafers that had a small hole in them. I had no hat or gloves, just an old, threadbare sport coat, clutched together at the lapels as I ran. My toes were numb already by the time I'd stumbled halfway up the river. My ears, my fingers, the flesh on my checks, were all gone, too, as if they'd somehow hardened and become separate from the rest of me.
The secret, of course, is to strive for oblivion. There can be some real comfort in that.
It's only if you choose to make it back to the warmth that you pay for the unfeeling.
It took me only minutes, gasping and wheezing for breath, to reach the spot in the river immediately underneath the small clearing in the woods where much of Sandy's family is buried. From the middle of the frozen river, I could see, in the distance as I ran past, the top of an ornate monument that marked some of the graves.
Her great-great-grandparents were there, under an epitaph that had already faded. Near them, under more modest stones, were great-uncles and far-removed aunts, Sandy's grandparents, and, already, some distant cousins, too.
Last in line, unseen from the river though I knew it was there, sat the small, dark, polished gravestone of Sandy's father. He was only fifty-nine years old when he went, and Elizabeth, who is Sandy's mother and a practical and committed sort, put her name on that stone as well. Sandy's own plot, empty and covered still in snow, was ten feet away, just off to one side.
I knew of Sandy when I was young, as almost any Catholic boy who lived in Droughton and went to her church would. She was a child of privilege dressed in Sunday finery who seemed part of the bygone ritual of another age. I think now, especially now, that I loved her long before I met her and there was a time, I know, when she felt of me just the same.
Do you find that romantic? I once considered it that way myself, evidence of some ethereal bond or fate. I think I thought it even as I ran to her that night. Today, I will confess with all that has happened, I wonder if we imagined in each other beautiful things that, in a real world, could never be conceived.
We did not date when we were young, when the differences of a few blocks and more than a few dollars were the differences of entire worlds. It was only later, after I went out with Haley, the woman who would become her law partner, that we met formally at all.
For me, the attraction was instantaneous, almost to the point of cliché, the kind of thing that quickly obliterates one's past. In Sandy I saw all the things I'd never known: unbridled confidence, intelligence, compassion, a sophisticated sort of beauty -- things that penury, I thought, had robbed from the less fortunate. That it was all interspersed with periods of deep depression and self-recrimination only made it all the more mysterious.
Sandy, like generations of Crosses before her, grew up along that river in a house that was magnificent. It was a white, three-story Victorian surrounded by hundred-foot pines her great-great-grandfather had planted. The trees provided anchor and shade, Sandy often said. Stability. Succor. While all else changed and turned from one season to the next, the trees stayed still, never wavering, always green, standing sentry over the oldest and most prominent house in town.
It was a grand house to live in during the warmer months, when the French doors opened up onto a spacious terrace that overlooked the green river valley below. In the spring and summer the sounds of lumbering barges wafted up with the smells of lilac bushes and freshly mowed grass.
Like all serious homes in this part of the world, however, the Cross House was built for winter. It was then, when the solid workmanship and stately efficiency was left bare, unmitigated by the burgeoning shrubbery and manicured lawns, that she was at her best. Built long before the invention of fuel-efficient furnaces and double-paned thermal windows, she was dominated by fireplaces. Not small, ornamental fireplaces like the ones in the newer jerry-built houses on the south side, but fireplaces with character and purpose. The one in the living room was large enough for a full-grown man to walk into without bowing his head. Others -- in the study, the bedrooms, even the kitchen -- were smaller, but intricate in detail.
We were married not long after Sandy graduated from law school and, because her father died within a week of the ceremony, immediately returned home from our honeymoon. Until then, I had gotten by on a bartending job at a local microbrewery, serving pale ales and martinis to some of the same kids I had grown up with and telling myself it would be foolish to take a real job in a place where I had never been certain I wanted to settle down.
After the funeral all that changed. Sandy helped her mother with the estate and took a position in the local public defender's office. I, uncertain what else to do, took a...The Waking. Copyright © by Mike Nichols. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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