Authors: Sol Stein
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Literary Fiction, #Literary
By Sol Stein
Copyright 2013 by Sol Stein
Cover Copyright 2013 Ginny Glass
and Untreed Reads Publishing
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
Previously published in print, 1974.
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This is a work of fiction. New York City, Scarborough, Dearborn and Bermuda are, of course, real place names, Dick Cavett is the name of a real person, and Ford is an automobile manufacturing company, but the characters, dialogue, and events in this novel are wholly fictional and any resemblance to actual persons and companies is coincidental.
Also by Sol Stein and Untreed Reads Publishing
For the professional women in my life of whom I am inordinately fond:
I am grateful to Patricia Day, Renni Browne, Sabina Iardella, and Michaela Hamilton, who patiently saw me through the early drafts of this book, and to Donald Fine, whose loving Labor Day critique gave a title to this novel and concluded, “I am convinced I absolutely must publish this. You’re a damn fool if you don’t make it possible for us both.”
Scarborough, New York
November 18, 1973
SHIRLEY HARTMAN double-locked the door of her eighth-floor apartment, dropped her keys into her open handbag and clicked it shut She waited for the elevator, which seemed to take a long time coming.
Once in it, she glanced at the buttons and, aware of the tremor in her index finger, pushed “14.” In the years she had been living in the East Side Manhattan high rise, she had gone countless times between the ground floor and eight, but never above it. She watched the indicator lights as the elevator ascended to the top. The doors opened. She hesitated; the doors were starting to close as she quickly stepped out.
She spotted the gray metal door marked “Exit to Roof.” Pushing the door release, turning the knob, she knew that once the door slammed shut behind her she could not go back; the spring lock was meant to keep rooftop intruders from entering the building.
Her heels resounded on the concrete steps. At the top, the second door also had a spring latch. Outside, she was startled by the floodlight and quickly moved beyond its arc into the shadows. When she had leased the apartment, they had made a big point about the security of the building: a doorman twenty-four hours a day; closed-circuit television; two deadbolt locks on each apartment door.
Through gaps in the clouds drifting across the charcoal sky, she made out the moon. As a child, she could always decipher its face; now it seemed to have only a scarred surface, crags and mottled ground where instruments had been implanted, sending messages, even now.
A few rectangles of light in the higher building across the street betrayed their occupants’ sleeplessness. Shirley leaned over the waist-high parapet, her feet on tiptoe, and dizzyingly saw in the street below a taxi disgorging its passengers. Suddenly she thought of the unwashed dish with the remains of the cottage cheese and fruit. She should have rinsed it off, stuck it in the dishwasher, left things neat. And the diary she kept in her desk drawer, the leather flaking with age, the broken lock, the coded recordings of long ago, the first time she had taken pleasure with herself, the crazy evening with Harry, she should have dropped it into the incinerator! And Al’s one letter, she should have flushed it away. Al, that intolerably independent man who could live without anyone, who she thought loved her but didn’t need her, how would he react when he heard, would it surprise him, the stoic who pretended never to be surprised by anything?
Its tires screeching, the taxi accelerated away in the street below.
she thought, her obituary would rate a picture. In the
it might even make the up-front pages, given her occasional notoriety and the scandalous nature of what she was determined to do.
Her father would think what? He’d say something like,
Death can’t teach you anything you can use!
In her mind, she touched fingers to Philip Hartman’s eyes, closing them so that he could not see.
Pulling herself up onto the ledge she scratched her right knee. She remembered the midtown traffic accident she had come upon and the badly injured woman lying in the street, her dress up, her pubic hair visible to the gaping onlookers; Shirley was glad she was wearing pantyhose,
as if it mattered.
Why was she still holding her handbag? She dropped it to the roof behind her, heard the glass of her mirror break.
What if her hurtling self hit that pedestrian late-walking his dog, or another one unseen, she was not a murderer, the only crime she wanted to commit was against herself. If there were a crowd below yelling
Jump! Jump! Jump!
would she leap into their midst?
It seemed funny to be
to stand up on the ledge. She swung her legs around to let them dangle over the side.
Would her limbs flail?
Might her head turn down as she fell? The thought of it striking the pavement first was terrible.
She stood up on the parapet, swaying slightly.
Al had said she looked better naked than she did with clothes on, as if that were the ultimate compliment. Al had nothing to do with her decision. It was her life. She wanted out. Shirley held her breath.
We had better go back to the beginning.
FOR PHILIP HARTMAN there were three theaters of war—in Europe, in the Pacific, and in his own heart. At forty, none of the armed services would have him even if he had volunteered. He had no previous military experience except in his own head, where as early as 1936 he had battled Hitler single-handedly out of rage. And frankly, when he went out on Sunday morning for the newspaper and some fresh Danish at the bakery and then climbed the stairs back to his apartment, his stamina was taxed. When the Nazis invaded Poland and bombed Britain, he felt as one with the Europeans caught by surprise, and his feelings joined with theirs long before his beloved Franklin Delano Roosevelt had offered official help. And that Sunday morning in 1941 when the news came in a shout from a neighbor who had heard on the radio that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor, he stalked the truth in hurried conversations with friends and acquaintances; the Japanese had never really entered his consciousness in an important way—Rosalie would not buy silk stockings, that was all—and now
this Oriental colossus
was thrust in his ears and head, an enemy that day by day was conquering.
Had Philip Hartman not been so intimidated by the Depression, had he had the guts to have a son at the proper time when he was twenty or twenty-one and first married, the boy would be a soldier now. But he and Rosalie were foolishly childless. However, his natural penchant for being a Dutch uncle to everyone younger caused his self-election as the neighborhood adviser to every boy of seventeen or eighteen in that section of the Bronx who was susceptible to advice from an older man more impartial than a parent. It was inevitable that Philip Hartman should be asked to serve on the local draft board, and inevitable also that the day of reckoning would come.
Michael O’Mahoney, a red-haired friendly man of sixty, head of the board, said, “Phil, why the long face?”
“Mike, these are all neighborhood kids, I remember some since their baby carriages. Now they stand nervous and one by one we decide this one goes to get killed here, this one goes to get killed there, who am I to decide, I can’t do it.”
O’Mahoney pulled him to a corner, out of earshot of the others who were assembling. “You Jews,” said O’Mahoney, “take everything too seriously.”
“What seriously? Life? Death?”
“Someone has to decide. Better a fair man like yourself.”
“Mike, for God’s sake, Hitler pushes strangers into gas ovens, I push boys I know into the Army or Navy or Air Corps, what is the difference between me and Hitler? I can’t do it. Please?”
O’Mahoney reluctantly accepted Philip Hartman’s resignation from the draft board.
In his apartment, watched over worriedly by Rosalie, Hartman spent evenings, weekends, poring over the newspapers, clucking over the dismal events in Europe and Asia as if the reporters whose names appeared over the stories from distant battlefields were all conspiring to bring him bad news. On the kitchen wall he had put up a massive Rand McNally map of the world in color which he would consult when reading daily newspaper accounts, trying to understand the magnitude of the calamity which was sundering the universe.
Rosalie chided him, “You should think less and live more. I mean it.”
“What do you think God gave you a brain for, for doing laundry?”
“For enjoying life,” she said, touching his cheek with her hand.
“Even in wartime?”
“Especially in wartime! Which side are you on, death or life?”
Philip Hartman had to laugh. “Rosalie,” he said, “if it had been you instead of Moses who had gone up Sinai, you’d have brought down a hundred commandments instead of ten!”
Her vitality was contagious. He turned from his map and looked at Rosalie, staring not at her face but at her breasts and body as he had not for a long time, and then with urgency led her into the bedroom, undressing her as they went, unmindful of her plea that she was not prepared, couldn’t he wait?
An old stallion let loose from a corral, he mounted his wife of many years as if seized by the devil, and thrust with such force Rosalie worried about his health as well as his sanity and then, in a rush, her concerns were swept aside in a passion such as he remembered only from the fevered early days of their romance.
And Hartman was back at her the very next day, insisting she take no precautions. So it went for a time, months of strenuous activity and a sense of duress until one day a jubilant Rosalie returned from Dr. Niemeyer’s to tell Philip that she had indeed conceived, and that evening the two of them celebrated as if for only the second time in Jewish history a star in heaven ought to be called on to witness a pending birth of such magnitude. At last the day arrived when Rosalie said, “Now,” and Hartman rushed his wife from the top of the Bronx to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan so she could give birth to his son.