If he had ever wondered what his life would have been like if he had made the other decision -- to follow the law -- not his art, Pender Cobb finds out very quickly.
The story follows how he adapts to the parallel world and its bewildering society with its lax morals and heightened mortal dangers; to a different wife -- not Susan, with whom he has been happily in love, but to a wife who is openly having an affair with another man; how he seeks and finds Susan, who is the mother of two children and is married to a stranger; how he conducts the murder trial; how he handles the prestigious law firm of which he is the senior partner and which he discovers is routinely engaged in illegal activities and treasonable practices, etc.
These and other adventures form a series of surprise after surprise events, and lead to a resolution in the parallel world... and the world he left behind... to which he ultimately returns.
|Publisher:||Denlinger's Publishers, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
The empty conference room throbbed with lingering acrimony. Waves of bitterness and frustration washed through Cobb. Federich had said, with the arrogance of petty power, "The National Academy of Creative Arts is non-political, Mister Cobb." Emphasis on `Mister' was supercilious and derogatory. "We're on government grants; we don't want messages. We're not in China, you know." He'd stood at the head of the long table with its twelve captain's chairs cushioning the rumps of mediocrity and broken dreams. "As long as I'm Director here we'll work with the Eternal Verities."
Eternal Verities! Federich's uninspired poltergeist shimmered in the air. Cobb looked at the east wall. The triptych he'd been working on was almost finished, the painting alive with firm bold strokes and slashing colors of the harsh muscular figures bent in toil. Of course there was violence there, but it was subjective in essence: emotion, not comment -- as though the violence to his hand so long ago had transmitted crushed bone and sinew to the canvas-covered wall.
"What did Federich say?"
The voice came from behind Cobb. He hadn't heard the door open. Susan: picking him up on the way home. How to tell her? He turned, mimicked the pedantic director, "You misrepresented, Mister Cobb. That was deceitful. That's a black mark against our whole program here; it's a stab in the heart of our grant." That wasn't all Federich had said. How was he going to tell her the rest?
Susan grinned and moved into the room. Her eyes went to the east wall. Beyond the overt violence, there was something covertly frightening in the picture -- the substance of it, the soul.
"He saw only the violence," Susan said quietly, "not your despair." She kissed the time-worn scar that curved down across his cheek. An act of remembrance and love.
"And how was your day?" Pender Cobb said, still not telling her, the haunting desperation a cancer in him.
His fingers trembled slightly punching out the Fell Gallery's number that evening, the evening before Susan was to take the plane to St. Paul. "Anton? It's Pender Cobb." He'd submitted several canvases for a special showing -- the Fell Gallery encouraged talent; sponsored it.
Anton was apologetic. "Oh, I'm sorry, Pen. No, no -- Mr. Fell is impressed with your work. It's just that a one-man show is a large undertaking for a gallery our size, and he's quite taken with Del Valle, the youngster from New Orleans."
"I see," Cobb said tightly.
Anton went on, "Well, the fact is, Pen, Mr. Fell is not as...enthusiastic about your work as I am."
"Right," Cobb said, bitterness drowning his disappointment. "Thanks anyway, Anton." He hung up, his fingers still trembling.
A show of his own might have turned it all around. He painted windbent forests not sundappled elms, angry crowds not drawing room portraits. He painted storms and passions not sweetness and light. You had to look to see the rot beneath the outrage. It flowed through muscle and nerve and knife and brush; behind the thunders and violences and pulsing colors that blinded the Federiches...and gallery owners and critics and patrons, too, and all those who could listen to Wagner and not hear the lost chord.
"There comes a time," Cobb said in the bedroom of their apartment, "when the boy genius has to admit he isn't a boy any more."
"At thirty-four," Susan said lightly, "you're practically doddering."
Cobb shook his head. "And maybe not a genius, either. You work and I daub walls with emotion not reason."
Susan grinned. "What's reason got to do with anything?" She decided to take the woollen sweater. Minnesota in April was still a little blustery, still chilly. There'd be pink-cheeked walks in bright thin sunshine, galoshes crunching into last-of-winter snow. "Incidentally," she said, "the Academy's checks are coming later and later each month. If it keeps up, we'll lose a month." Cobb took a breath. Now. Tell her now. "We don't have to bother complaining," he said. He stood at the window, looked down seven flights to the lighted pharmacy window across the street. Susan turned quickly.
"My grant is not going to be renewed," Cobb said.
"Because of the painting?"
"Because I told Federich he couldn't see the difference between politics and humanity since he didn't understand either." She sighed. He turned to her. "You sighed."
"With relief," she said.
She came out of the bathroom, wearing the slinky nightie that came up above her knees. Her hair was brushed back; her face, with its patrician nose and wide eyes and generous mouth, was scrubbed and fresh. Cobb saw the mischief in her eyes and was struck with the miracle of their intimacy.
Now, responsive as always to the core of sexuality she promised, he reached for her. She laughed in his arms, the satin nightie sliding as his hands moved down her back. He lifted the nightdress up over her head so she was pristine before him, not laughing now, her eyes searching as they fell on the bed, Susan accepting him, holding him with astonishing strength, joining him in rising abandon.
He heard the slow quickening of her breath, felt the tiny scar on her hip.
"Oh, Pen; oh, Pen," she murmured. She reached to match his climax. "My love," she whispered.
"What I need," he said as he picked up the garment bag and valise on their way out of the apartment the next morning, "is to cut off an ear, maybe."
"Then what'll I blow into?" Susan grinned.
The door across the hall opened and the venerable Mr. Soderberg, in flannel bathrobe, his hair uncombed, stooped down for his bottle of milk and morning newspaper. As he straightened up, adjusting his slipping half-frames --"Vacation, isn't it, Susie? Visiting your folks?"
"Going to miss me, Mr. Soderberg?" Susan smiled.
Soderberg's eyes went over her face. "Miss your cheerfulness for sure," he said. "And good morning to you, Pender."
Pender Cobb smiled. "Okay, I'll try to be cheerful, too."
"On you it won't look the same," Soderberg chuckled, and waved the milk bottle as he turned back into his apartment.
It was a cool April morning, a little overcast. A gusty breeze blew along Seventy-eighth Street. The doorman said, "Have a nice trip, Mrs. Cobb," and held the cab door open for her.
"Thank you, Milton."
Cobb looked across the street at the corner pharmacy. "Need aspirin?"
She shook her head as she got into the cab. Cobb put the traveling bags in the front beside the driver. "LaGuardia," he said and got in the back with Susan.
The cab pulled out.
"Your folks meeting you at the airport?"
Susan nodded. "I'll tell them you can't come because you'll be doing your own thing from now on."
He was silent.
"And it has nothing to do with their paying the fare and your wicked pride."
"I can't stand the cold weather."
"Ah. That's why you bundled up so close the whole night." She glanced at him, grinned. "I know it's silly of me to think you wouldn't remember, but I made out a list of things you have to take care of anyway. It's on the kitchen table."
"Like those two unexplained charges on the phone bill -- "
"I'll call the business office."
"And call Norm. You've got a dinner date with him tonight and you're playing bridge with him this weekend."
Cobb nodded. "It's the Regional."
"And the cleaner has your gray suit."
"I'll get it out."
She was quiet for a moment. "You'll get severance pay, won't you?"
"I think so." He held her hand. "My God, what a nag. Who was it said, `There comes a tide in the affairs of men' -- "
Susan grinned. "Some husband batching it for ten days."
Cobb looked up ahead at the driver's back. "United," he said.
At the airline counter, Cobb watched the attendant tag Susan's luggage and give her the flight tickets and baggage checks. "You'll arrive in St. Paul twelve-forty this afternoon, Mrs. Cobb. Your return flight Three Hundred leaves St. Paul Sunday, May second, at twelve-fifteen PM, and arrives here at three-ten." He smiled. "United wishes you a pleasant trip."
At the gate, Cobb said, "Have a great time."
She met his eyes, sensing his dispiritedness. "Good riddance with Federich anyway."
He forced a smile. "Good concept for a painting."
"Pen," she said, "I'll stay. I won't go."
He shook his head. "Give my love to the folks." He kissed her forehead and the tip of her nose. The line started moving through the gate. They embraced. "Damn them all," she said softly.
She turned and went through the gate and stopped at the tunnel entrance to look back. Her eyes said, Love you, love you; I'll be lonesome.
Then she was gone.
No presentiment; nothing.
He took a Yellow cab back to Manhattan. It was an extravagance, but the full impact of losing his grant at the National Academy was hitting him. Despair, Susan had said. She meant the lack of recognition for his work; that others couldn't see or understand what he was trying to say. She was right. But it was despair laced with a growing dread that what he was trying to say in his slashing, oblique way was really not profound. It had gone on too long like this. More than eleven years. A man had to be pretty selfish to keep a woman like Susan chained to his stubbornness for eleven years.
She worked with autistic children, an emotionally devastating job, to keep him going; she coddled and catered to him; she propped his ego, buttressed his hopes and dreams, while the nagging suspicion was there, all the time now, that he was fooling her, not himself, that he was a con man playing a con game.
Losing his grant was the last straw.
Guilt swept through him. As it had so often lately. What had he done to her? What kind of life had he forced on her? She deserved so much better. She should never even have crossed his life. She was paying penance for the accident that had crushed his hand and scarred his face. He should have continued with the law -- followed his head instead of his heart. Well, he'd get a job, try academia while he worked, get an M.A. in art, follow through for a doctorate -- teach, commercialize his talent, make things easier for her. It was totally selfish of him to allow...He closed his eyes to shut it all out.
What was that rushing roaring sound.....?