Read a Free Excerpt of Remembering Olympus
Chapter 1: OF EARLIER TIME
THERE ARE WORLDS within worlds where time is not what humanity understands it to be and destiny is the intricate shifting plan that binds us all. There are those who know this and those who do not. He was one of them, standing, guilty, too thoughtful for his own good, too reflective for his purpose. He never wanted to go, but had given his word and an agreement was struck. Known only as Cain, he was a retriever of souls that had been destined for one purpose yet chose another. But for souls that are eternally connected, choices have consequences. Cain would rather have spent his days on the porch of his cabin in the middle of a rundown farm rather than engaging in the dark business for which he had come to be known. The whiskers on his face showed the same neglect. And in many ways he was a reflection of it all, broken but not completely. The memory of what had happened was the troubled glue that held him together. He could see the gate to his property from where he stood on his porch. It was just as weary, creaking in the distance each time a breeze touched it. Cain stepped over to one of the posts, leaned forward against the railing and closed his eyes. It was time. Then he stepped back until he could feel the rough wall of his cabin against his back while he slid slowly down until he was sitting comfortably on the loose boards. With eyes still closed, he opened his mind and began to remember the entire affair as it had unfolded.
-Two Years Earlier-
For a soul retriever, opening the mind was like opening a window in time. Cain could see the old street as it was, lined with half-dead trees and thinning grass. Walking along, he wondered if he would find himself in the same condition. Jumping lifetimes was difficult, and because of this, his time was limited. He could see the house in the distance. It was built of wood and stone, sturdy, a survivor. Cain could feel the past overtaking him as he walked, aging as the old street had aged until he stood at the base of the steps leading up to the door.
He stood for a moment studying the dark windows because he was afraid of the past. It was as if he could feel it looking back at him, daring him. Inside, he switched on the lights taking time to study the details of the house. Curious, he walked into a dim bedroom and opened the closet door. Trousers and suits were hanging neatly. Shirts and sweaters lined the shelves above them. He ran his hand along the suits. Smell and color was of great interest to him. He pressed his face into one of the jackets, quickly jerked back and moved away from the closet when he noticed a lamp on the bedside table. Stumbling toward it, he switched it on. In this place where he was supposed be in control, he was being controlled by the past. Always the pursuer, he was accustomed to trespassing in other lives. But this was different, unsettling. Finding Aaron Payne was not the challenge. The rules of time and space meant nothing to Cain. He used time as one would use a common doorway, a means by which to move from one point in space to another. Intention and destination, thought and place, those were his keys. The risk as he understood it was not being able to resist this house, the contents, and the details of Payne’s life that included her life as well. He continued through the house confronting those details, photographs torn from frames, shuttered windows, and then the study. It was not large by comparison to the other rooms. Two of the four walls were bookshelves. A great rug stretched across the floor managing to avoid touching the corners of the room. An overstuffed leather sofa and a reading chair faced the fireplace. A simple mahogany desk stood against one of the two plain walls. A large brown envelope rested on top, pushed to a corner under a low brass lamp. Alongside was an empty picture frame. Tiny pieces of paper were still attached to the edges. He had a sudden impulse to touch it then quickly put it down.
The envelope was of greater interest. It was open and so he pulled out the contents, a thick stack of papers loosely bound accompanied by a letter addressed to Aaron Payne from George Miles Publishing. His fingers had barely touched the surface of it when words rushed into his mind: What shall be said of romance? Cain could see that it was a letter of acceptance for a memoir written by Payne. He began flipping through the pages of the manuscript until it opened to a place marked by a piece of notepaper on which were scribbled a few lines of verse,
There are a few things to be said of romance
Things in form,
Things in feeling,
Things in fewer substances,
Things in failure of being said.
The words became fixed in his mind because he had seen them before. Remembering her warning, he put the manuscript down and began rubbing his forehead. He could hear each word she spoke as if she were there. As we experience ourselves we forget ourselves, she had said, remembering causes forgetting. This was a truth Cain learned early on. He understood the threat. Locating Aaron Payne would not be difficult. The cycle of forgetting and remembering was the problem. But the lure of the note and the obvious access to Payne’s life was at the same time too much temptation and too much opportunity to understand the soul he was sent to retrieve. Fully aware, Cain took the first step in embracing a reckless path, settled himself in the armchair behind the desk, and opened the manuscript to the first page.
AARON PAYNE MEMOIR
OCTOBER 11, 2012 – FUGITIVE
The things I write are because of her. The time I spend doing this, time I don’t have, I spend because of her. He’s coming for me and he’ll find me. I have to speak about it in words, everything. It may or may not justify what I did. Some would call it selfish, some the perpetration of crime. I don’t care because I’d do it again. It’s in my nature, flying to close to the sun. The only thing that remains is this, a full accounting.
I have power now, very different from where I started. I suppose you could call it my ‘beginning to see’ the difference between having and not having. Nowadays, sociologists would call my family the working poor, a cleaner label on an otherwise dingy state of living.
We were not the worst off, my mother, father, and me. We didn’t need food stamps to eat. But coupon clipping was a routine every Sunday and Wednesday so my mother could figure out which grocery store we’d shop at, and what discount store we’d buy the household goods from. Going out to dinner meant studying the prices of the entrees before you’d decide what you wanted, the actual food was irrelevant. I was allotted three new pairs of pants, three new shirts and one new pair of shoes each school year. So that was me, a kind of prince of poverty, neither rich nor really poor. Knowing where I stood helped me to start scrubbing the stain.
My life in and after college was spent trying to compensate, always navigating the middle. I became a man of appearances, speaking to myself in the mirror as I dressed, checking on my appearance in any available storefront ever mindful of the stain. And still, no one could see it and I didn’t tell.
That was me, stuck between two worlds until I met her and then things changed, and changed again which has brought me to this place. I’m standing with my back against a wall. I’m a kind of fugitive with power, again in the middle. I’ve only a few days to get all of this down, a final scenario full of irony. This time I can’t plot the resolution. I have no idea what he will do or if I can resist. Will death be the great equalizer, the destroyer? I think not.
I was destroyed when she said she didn’t love me anymore. Not because love had apparently worn out all by itself, but because love had been worn out with the help of someone I had thought of as a friend. My wife, Miranda, with the pedigree, first destroyed me in our bedroom after the family dinner which we, the crown princess and her consort, would unfailingly hold each month. While listening to her, it had occurred to me that I was a little like Othello, surrounded by various intrigues designed for only one purpose. Revenge wasn’t involved, but there was an objective and it had everything to do with what I thought I loved. I hadn’t a clue that cocktails, dinner, and dessert were the three levels of hell into which all society husbands must sink before they are carefully and most congenially divested of their plush lifestyle.
And so I retreated upstairs after everyone had left. It made good drama. Totally unaware, the victim had been set up by those he trusted. In actuality though, the real surprise wasn’t the divorce itself. It was why she wanted it. Miranda Elaine Reed had unexpectedly trumped me.
My life as part of the culturally elite would soon end. It would be hard making the transition, but it could be done. I had been a better than average drone, the type that has all the intellectual ability to succeed, looked the part because of my preoccupation with appearance, but lacked the killer instinct and chameleon-like nature corporate politics demands. This ensured my sentence to middle management, until Miranda. Yes, I could make the transition back to middle management. I was an expert on being in the middle. A few less country club dances, cocktail parties, and weekend getaways to Long Island estates would not be missed. I would have to hang up my white dinner jacket for good. But give it up I would for the privilege of wearing a T-shirt and khakis outside the country.
I would survive Miranda with the pedigree and her reticent family taking satisfaction in the fact that their daughter, though marrying out of her class, married well. I in their minds was an intelligent, sufficiently educated, self-made man with enough panache to make up for an absent trust fund.
As for the unexpected divorce, the settlement was extremely gratifying to Miranda’s father. The prenuptial agreement had taken care of that along with the cash allowance I was to receive. It would compensate me for what they understood was a job well done, a tranquil marriage, suitable appearances in and out of the public eye, strict adherence to the tribal order, and above all, a quietly civilized breakup.
I would of course have to leave the family business, but because of the strict code of honor that was the centermost point of order in Miranda’s world, I was to be coolly and quietly transitioned into another equally comfortable position with a competing business firm. I didn’t know it at the time. All that I saw and understood was the excellent severance package, letters of reference, and interested contacts poised to hire me.
And so I was ready to gather my keepsakes and take my leave of the ruling class determined to begin again where I had left off. Miranda with the pedigree, surprisingly, had a different idea with regard to my future. A new object of her affection would disable me for some time and prove to be equally problematic for the tribal leaders.
I had always thought that there would be the dramatic announcement of the sexually unfulfilling marriage, or the we can’t communicate anymore speech, or what I thought would be the lowliest excuse used only in extreme desperation, the your background is standing in our way speech. But it was actually neither of the three. Miranda with the pedigree had made Ben’s warning, “She’ll hurt you in a way you won’t expect.” a reality. We would always get into an argument over that. I’d defend her to the end. My best friend, Ben Hargrove, would equate beauty with deception, and then there would be silence between us, then the parting for a period of time.
Ben and I parted on fairly good terms the day of my wedding. He said he didn’t want to be around to say I told you so. “Call me if you need me,” he said, shaking my hand at the reception. He didn’t hang around for the cake ritual. He said it would be a real live enactment of the knife one of her ex-boyfriends would bury in my back. We saw each other off and on only briefly during my marriage. Time eventually proved he was right.
To describe her, I will have to defer to my teacher of human nature. Miranda with the pedigree, named for a Shakespearean character that was the daughter of the sorcerer Prospero, did indeed inherit something from her father, a kind of magic that caused men to see her as the ideal. She was as Ferdinand described her, so perfect and so peerless, beautiful, intelligent, and wealthy. She was certainly not the kind of woman I thought would glance my way, even passing, much less marry me. She was that gift you think you’ll never get your entire life because you don’t deserve it, the kind of woman a man would see in the crowd and look for her face on movie screens, or fantasize about it when you’re trying to sleep.
She was a cursed gift that found me at the symphony. Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto was the chief work on the program. I was only there because of the generosity of my oldest friend, Ben. Here was an excellent example of irony. Miranda and I would probably never have met otherwise. He had been given two tickets by Miranda, one for himself and one for a friend.
Whenever I’d feel nervous in certain situations, I’d fall back on Shakespeare. He was my master when it came to navigating the social classes. I made it a habit to not only read him, but to study him. There were many lessons, human drama, comedy, treachery, infidelity, conspiracy. These were all of the tools with which I needed to be familiar, given the world I was about to enter. My strategy was to look as if I belonged. Rather than take the elevator, I decided to take the stairs to the Patrons Club where ordinary folk mixed with the extraordinary.
The stairs were long winding marble. From step to step, I imagined faces from years before, confused faces of teammates when coach dropped me off in the neighborhood from which I had escaped. I could see my mother coming out of the front door to wave at everyone in the van. She was smiling; it was just another day, just another practice. I remember thinking as I read coach’s face, and Phil, Jim, and David’s, that she had no idea they were in utter disbelief of my house and the neighborhood. Mom had no idea she was being judged as less, and that I was being judged along with her.
Every impression, every assumption of what we were had disappeared on a Saturday afternoon after baseball practice. This was the day I began to become both attracted to and repulsed by those who had money. I tried to act as if nothing was any different jumping out of the van. So what if our house was really an apartment; so what if it wasn’t brick and we didn’t live on the north side. Mother was thanking the coach for dropping me off that day because the car was in the shop when I brushed past her through the door.
Now I was about to pass through another door into circumstances where everything was based on perception. The people gathered there were clean, austere and controlled. The glamorous were enjoying themselves in a minimalist gallery of muted shades where individual style took precedence over actual furnishings. Their carryings on were equally muted, smiling but not laughing, greeting but not embracing, as one would expect of the upper class.
And there was Ben, tall and thin in his usual black. Ben was not the sort to be conspicuous. Waving to get my attention would not be on the program, though his profession usually contributed to a certain amount of extroverted behavior.
He moved toward me. “You’re here, good. Stop adjusting yourself.”
“I’m here and I’m not adjusting, just fitting.”
We had been friends fifteen years. We met at a writer’s workshop in college. I wanted to be a playwright; he was studying acting and directing. Against his better judgment, I changed my major to international business because of high salaries; he stayed the course and became a professor of dramatic arts at Whitmore College.
“I’m using all of my subtlety to introduce you to the Reeds, which is a must for you. Appreciate it!”
That being said, it was never an easy thing for Ben Hargrove to be inconspicuous, except when he really wanted it. The night at the concert was a perfect example. Within a few short minutes he acquainted me with Carlton and Naomi Reed.
“Carlton, Naomi, I’d like to introduce you to Aaron Payne. We graduated Whitmore College together.” Ben had come to know them at a fundraiser on campus. The Reeds were among the college’s most generous donors and in the tradition of their class, adopted the fine arts department.
As coolly as I could, I leaned in extending my hand, “It’s a pleasure,
and thank you for inviting me.”
Our entire party had the privilege of enjoying the concert in the Reed box complete with the usual amenities. My knowledge of classical music proved to be invaluable, because my business experience did not include bloody boardroom campaigns. Making polite conversation on the conductor’s command of Beethoven’s work was very effective. The high point had to have been quoting some of the great master’s letters, which he had written while he was composing the concerto. That landed me a personal tour of the floor by Mrs. Reed.
For Naomi Reed age was not an issue. She wasn’t particularly beautiful as much as she was dignified and gracious. She and her husband were also major donors during the construction of the symphony hall, which explained the mezzanine being named for the Reed family. I remember her saying that it was only fitting that I being so in tune with the master’s intimate thoughts should be shown around the floor by the woman who had assisted in its conception. What made it special was the manner in which it was situated above the ground floor as if it were part of the air. I stood thinking, would it dissolve like Prospero’s island, the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples? On three sides any of the blessed few could look down from on high. Below was the Garden of Eden and above a glimpse of paradise in the city, some minute indication of the night sky.
I walked to the bar still focused on looking as if I belonged there. I was expecting tuxedos and gowns, but got European chic instead. I was still uncomfortable even after the personal tour. It was the first time I had ever been in the Patrons Club, and felt clearly out of my
league. And so I began to spend my concentration on the upcoming performance and provocative conversation rather than my clothing and the cut of my hair.
My goal was to look as if I was waiting for my usual cocktail. I moved from face to face trying to get a bartender’s attention. After a minute or two, I dropped the mask and put up my hand, worried someone had noticed my failure.
From behind I heard, “You’re in the right place.” She raised her chin to one of the men behind the bar and directed him toward me with her eyes. Clearly, my camouflage didn’t work on those who truly belonged.
I studied her out of the corner of my eye. She was talking to another woman curious of other guests, a friend I thought judging from their body language. Her hair was gathered into a blonde french twist that allowed a single thin lock to dangle over her left eye. She played at trying to secure it. The diamond on her finger was more noticeable.
She had the look. It was the one urban professionals tried to emulate and in the process been reduced to cardboard cutout images. But hers was the original model, and I could feel her eyes going through the same evaluation of me. Fortunately, the waiter arrived and interrupted the process.
I took my drink and retreated to higher ground alongside Ben. His self-assurance was constant, mine was not.
He pulled me over. “John, Margaret, this is Aaron Payne. Aaron’s my plus-one so to speak, but only in the brotherly way.” Somewhat amused, the Randall’s were able to decode Ben’s wit. And somewhat nervous of their ability to arrive at the right conclusion, I laughed.
“Yes, absolutely, in the most brotherly way. We’ve known each other for years. And since he can’t seem to find a legitimate date, I take full advantage.”
Margaret took a sip of her wine. “Well then, I should think you would young man.” And began relating what she called a sobering adventure in remodeling their getaway in Wyoming.
John Randall, thick with the arrogance of his class, listened to his wife ready to step in and validate their investment. Meanwhile, Carlton Reed recapped the market’s activity for the day. In contrast to John Randall, he was too authentic to advertise his wealth, preferring
instead to let his knowledge of high finance speak for itself. The family history was written on Wall Street.
Beauty, whose inspection of me had been paused, mingled her way across the room and began mingling her way back towards us. I started adjusting myself when she resumed. Looking over her friend, then clutching Ben’s arm, she trained her eyes on me while
addressing him. “Ben, dear, I thought I told you to introduce me to your guests first, but as usual, you choose to ignore convention.”
In his own way, Ben had a way of dispensing sarcasm with no side effects.
“Really Miranda, you sound like a nineteenth century novel. This isn’t Wharton’s Age of Innocence. It’s the age of opulence when I’m with your family.”
“You’re still guilty for hiding him.”
I had wanted to tell Ben about the incident at the bar when I first laid eyes on her, but missed my chance. And before I could get used to the fact that everyone knew everyone else, Ben introduced her to me as the daughter of Carlton and Naomi Reed. I saw the resemblance. She had her mother’s tall slender build and her father’s handsome face and secure attitude. She nudged Ben with her shoulder, smiling as if they were complicit in a school yard prank, then extended her hand to me.
Ben smiled his way into taking charge, “Aaron I want you to meet Miranda, Mr. and Mrs. Reed’s daughter. And I believe, Jill Price? Best friend in claim only? Miranda, Jill, this is Aaron Payne, my best friend in fact.”
Jill was an old school chum of Miranda’s and a regular fixture on non-profit boards around the city. Like Margaret Randall, she believed protecting one’s social position was a duty that sometimes required interrogation. Skillfully, she attached herself to Ben and
began the questioning. She did not know him, but keenly knew of him. I on the other hand was left unprotected.
“I see you finally have your drink.” Miranda said.
“Yes, and thanks for the help at the bar.” Then she popped the first interview question. “So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m in international logistics with the Chandler Corporation. And you?”
“I head up the mergers and acquisitions group for my father’s company, which is why evenings like this are a necessity.”
“In what sense?”
“In the entertainment sense of course. Deals don’t turn on billable hours only. Relationships have to be factored in as well.”
None of what she said fazed me. After all, she was Carlton Reed’s daughter, not a trench worker. Up there somewhere, she was above us all.
“So how do you know Ben?” she asked.
“We’ve been friends since college. He’s been like a brother to me for fifteen years now. I try not to make a move without running it by him first.”
“Really, he’s never mentioned you.”
“We don’t run in the same circles as you probably know, so I guess talking about me wouldn’t make much sense.”
Eyeing me intensely, “No, I guess not. Still, he should have. It’s always good to meet people you’re not accustomed too.”
Insulted, I called her out, “He didn’t mention you either.”
“Yes, I suppose it’s too bad.”
Standing my ground, I stuck both hands in both pockets. “That he didn’t mention you?”
Standing her ground, she literally got in my face. “No, she replied, then waited two seconds. “It’s the missed opportunities. Anyone who’s that close to Ben is certainly someone I’d like to have known. So it’s all been a giant waste, know what I mean?”
Clearly I had picked the wrong opponent. And I would have politely excused myself if it wasn’t for the shade of her lipstick. I didn’t have any particular intentions at the time. She was more powerful than me. It’s just that I couldn’t look at her directly. I didn’t realize it
then. Her eyes would have been kinder to me if I had. They would have let me slip away. I wouldn’t have been seized me so perfectly as when she took my hand escorting me to the box. My memory of things seemed to stop at that moment. All of the events of the
evening were folded into it, in that hand soft and strange, imbued with special powers. As for the degree of the magic, I closed my eyes and hoped for the best.
When I opened them we were all seated in the Reed box, Miranda and I were next to each other, then Ben and Jill. Carlton, Naomi, John, and Margaret were seated behind us on the second row. The gap of time between Miranda taking my hand and me waking next to
her seated was a blank space without explanation. I wouldn’t call it love at first sight. You have to be looking, I mean really looking into someone for it to work, that is, if you believe that sort of thing. It was more complicated than I understood at the time. And it has taken years for me to understand that whatever was created in that moment was irrevocable and timeless. What is love? What are its properties? Does it exist outside us? Does it have intention? Is it held to the known rules of time and space? I would soon find out.
It was almost six weeks before I saw her again. I returned to regular things and put aside Miranda with the pedigree. I had made a major decision. I knew my limitations as a mid-level manager. I knew full well that a director’s slot might be the most I could hope for. I needed to decide whether to stay and enjoy my creature comforts, or get into graduate school.
For me, my compromise was the outlet I needed and Ben was
“Go back to school,” he would say.
“Follow your nose,” he would say as if he knew exactly where I was headed. And so I did.
As far as my peers were concerned safely tucked in their respective cubicles, they didn’t get it. A graduate degree in English was as useless as a hardwired car phone. Did their responses come as a great surprise? Not so much, it was to be expected. They were each
characters in a number of plays and novels my professors assigned for reading. As for me, I couldn’t deny that I might also be a character in a story that was unfolding without my knowledge.
Reading Shakespeare taught me about human behavior. Reading Jung taught me about the possibilities of human interaction referring to it as “meaningful cross-connections.” Reading him was like remembering things I had no conscious memory of ever having known. “That cannot be mere chance,” he wrote. I had not totally bought in to the idea until I spotted Miranda at the Goldstein’s, a small coffee bar a block down from the building where my offices were located. I and most of the people I worked closely with were always there. I couldn’t help but whisper to myself, “There are no such things as coincidences.”
I was standing behind her in line. She was ordering some nonfat double something or other with caramel while I was remembering my parent’s motto: “Keep the price in mind before you order.” I had figured out plain coffee was a sufficient caffeine blast. It was triple
the punch for less than a nonfat double something. And so I stood waiting, my eyes wandering through retail things while other people piled into the shop joining the line.
Bored with the usual goings on, my eyes wandered back to the one standing in front of me checking out the pastry case. I was certain it was her when she turned her head just enough to reveal the same dangling lock of hair I noticed at the concert.
I wondered if she could feel me watching her from behind. I knew that it was possible from my own experiences. It’s something about the vibe or some intense wish to be noticed that makes people feel they must turn and look to see if they are being looked upon. I
hoped she would feel it because I wanted her to see me. I couldn’t stand the idea of missing out. Truth be told, things between us at the concert were not what you would call passionate like Beethoven’s Fifth. They had ended sterile. A polite thank you was exchanged, but no phone numbers or hints of future meetings. But now, six weeks later, no family, no family friends, no Ben.
Not knowing she would recognize my voice, I spoke up. “Hello
No movement, no response. I was at that bar at the concert all over again, underdressed and hoping my failed attempt at getting some attention was missed. So, I started reading headlines in newspapers stacked on the counter in front of the cappuccino
Then quite effortlessly, leaving more money than was required, she turned and allowed herself to recognize me.
“It’s Aaron Payne from the concert. Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
I left my coffee behind and walked with her toward the door where we stood for a moment, “Actually, I did say something, but I guess you didn’t recognize my voice”.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I get so distracted a lot of the time. It’s really good to see you. I didn’t expect that we’d bump into each other again”.
I nodded. “Yeah, the likelihood of it was shall I say, not gonna happen?”
She paused and then a slow smile. “Apparently not so because here we are out of the blue with no one in between. Significant don’t you think?”
Trying to keep my joy in check, I played it as cool as I could, stone faced. “Very significant, why can’t we do it again?”
Thoughtfully she replied. “Yes, alright, let’s do it again.” Then she walked toward the door, stopped, looked back at me without a word, and left.
Three days later on a Friday, looking to buy more coffee, we bumped into each other again when our hands reached for the door at the same time. Both of us pulled back immediately.
“It’s you,” I said.
“Yes, wow, it’s me and we need to figure out who goes in first.”
Feeling the inevitability of the moment, I opened the door and motioned her away from the line to the nearest corner, “How about not figuring it out. How about we go in together and make this a date of opportunity?”
Open to what was happening, “Alright then, no work for me right now, but you do seem a little nervous.”
“Nervous? No…yes. Okay, I am. This is not the way I thought this would play out.”
“You mean me making time for you?” she replied.
“Yes, time for me, not time as in time out of your busy day.”
She was careful not to speak too loud. “I think I might be able to put you at ease, you seem smart. There’s no such thing as coincidence.”
“Really,” I replied.
“So running into each other like this may be greater than what one might think?”
“I can see this, yes.”
I was not relaxed with the way the conversation was headed. On the outside she was everything her status said she should be. Apart from that I couldn’t say what was on the inside. But there was something silent. I could feel it pulling me.
Behind the shelves of coffee accessories and racks of newspapers, there was a table in the corner against the wall with no view to the outside. We’d meet there every Friday for the next five weeks before going to work. Even though it was early morning, it was a good time
for us to be together in a protected space, protected for the time being and giving us time to redraw boundaries.
I was finally able to move to the point beyond when she invited me for dinner at her apartment. I’m not sure I should really call it that. It wasn’t my first time being on the Upper East Side. Her address was one of the buildings that overlooked the park. I purposefully left my cab behind to walk the distance, sort of get the feel of the land
so to speak. I’d been on the periphery for weeks even though we’d been seeing each other regularly.
From building to building, the doormen stood like Christmas nutcrackers all dressed up in crisp colorful uniforms. When I arrived at Miranda’s building, the nutcracker seemed to approve of me, I think, because he only gave me the once-over and then promptly
opened the door.
The foyer was impressive and stuffy as were the residents leaving instructions as they went on their way. No conversation on the elevator. Headed for the penthouse, I was left alone to worry about how I looked. It took me more time than I needed to get dressed,
which made no sense. There had been plenty of occasions for her to size up my taste. The elevator stopped, the doors opened onto a crème marble expanse. It was like a sea of stone given the gulf between her background and mine. But I had to cross that sea to
reach the doorbell.
The chimes sounded twice before a woman in gray and white opened the door and invited me in. I stepped into another inner vestibule. The vaulted ceilings were at least fifteen feet high. In the distance I could hear Puccini. The uniformed woman ushered me into what I thought was a living room later to find it was one of many galleries where size dictated, or so I thought. I had no idea if this was true.
There were several family photographs on the fireplace mantle. I waited patiently, picking each one apart until I heard her.
“Don’t be too hard on us. We’re just a family like any other”.
I turned. “Well of course you are.”
Joining me, she picked up one of the frames. “Liar, I understand the implications of position. That’s not being a snob. That’s being a realist. Wealth doesn’t fulfill all of one’s needs. That having been said, I would’ve been a fool to pass you up. Don’t you agree?”
“I can’t answer that.”
She leaned back against the mantle and crossed her arms. “Then let me. From what I can see, my instincts say yes. You look very handsome by the way.”
“I wasn’t sure what I should wear.”
A soft smile, “Aaron, I’m afraid what you’re wearing is not important. So relax for God’s sake.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Just in case, I’ve had the cook keep martinis on ice. I remembered from the concert. She’ll bring some small plates. You weren’t expecting dinner were you?”
Anxious, “I’m fine, really, no, this is just fine.”
“Good, I’ll check on them now.”
She turned away. The dress she was wearing exposed her back, beautiful. Its lines hugged the curves of her body. There would be no relief for me until she returned. Alone, I returned to the pictures on the mantle.
With cocktails in each hand and the cook following, “I see you’re still studying.”
“It’s good to study when you’re at a disadvantage.” Somewhat concerned, “Come now Aaron, don’t tell me you’re a classist.”
“It’s your body language. You’re tight. I think it’s time to jump ahead. I detest wasting time.”
I claimed I had no problem with that. But she didn’t believe me, took my arm and led me to the sofa.
“Make yourself comfortable if you can. But if that’s still too difficult, well let’s see.”
She turned and walked toward a mahogany cabinet to change the music. She took her time searching. I knew she felt me watching her. When she finally settled on something new, she brought herself back.
Sitting next to me, relaxed, she lay her arm along the top of the sofa, “Aaron, I don’t want you to be afraid of me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Not thinking, knowing. Look, I’m not untouchable. I’m not that special. So if nothing comes of this, the responsibility is yours.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Biting her lower lip, “I have one shortcoming, a lack of patience. When I’m interested in someone, I don’t have much of it.”
“You’re talking about me right?”
“You are adorable, I’ll give you that. I could help you make a few social improvements if you want?” Grasping my shoulder, “Do you or don’t you?”
“You know I do, but without having to look up at you all of the time.”
She moved closer, “As far as I can tell, neither one of us is looking up now.”
Before we kissed, she held my face in her hands. I pulled her close so that I could have some sense of her body against mine. I remember her lips, calm and slow. Everything had been settled.
There are telling moments between men and women that take you places where you’re allowed to become someone else. We were both in disguise. I felt as if I had been rushing from some place to get to her as quickly as I could. And finally, I was there, triumphant and afraid. Miranda had the advantage of knowing exactly who and what I was. I had no such advantage.
Securing her hold, she stood up from the sofa undressed, and whispered, “I’ll wait for you in the bedroom.”
What followed was a long series of social engagements and sexy nights that constituted our marriage. I don’t think that our relationship was purely physical even as we grew more conscious of each other. But I am certain my sense of self diminished and my defenses plummeted in my time with Miranda.
As I wrote before, it was the first time she destroyed me. I half expected the strange ending so much like our strange beginning, seemingly by chance. But no, nothing by chance, the best question is why? I waited in our bedroom looking out the window watching cars of guests pull up to the door. We were on Long Island for the weekend. In a rush to get dressed, she dashed out of the bathroom into her closet. I didn’t know what to say either in anger or anguish.
But I did recognize the inevitable. I knew that her decision was final and the best thing for me was to go quietly. Ben was right when he warned me she would hurt me in a way I
wouldn’t expect. She had warned me about her patience. And I had come to detect a stealthy kind of darkness I would see again.
When she finally emerged from the closet dress in hand, she stopped short, “It’s for the best Aaron.” I remember thinking the most intelligent woman I had ever known had ended our marriage with a cliché.
It was the manner in which Cain closed the manuscript that was most worrisome. Forcing it to the desk was so typically human, so far away from what he had become and so far away from the security of his farm. Remembering bits and pieces had begun to take effect. He could feel the change because Aaron was becoming less of a focus. His attentions were being drawn elsewhere. Cain plunged his face into his hands trying to hold on to the reason for his being there. Rubbing his eyes, he tried to rub her away. She was of more interest to him than Aaron Payne. He could be sure of him, but not of her because she had the troubling power to distract which was vaguely familiar.
Cain clearly understood the consequences of remembering, but he whispered her name anyway while he looked through the beveled glass window aligning itself to the desk. The view was much like his mind, fragmented and less than clear. He rose from the chair and headed to the bedroom again believing she was at the root of what was happening to him. Becoming more obsessed with thoughts and memories of the man he had been sent to confront, Cain rifled through each drawer in the chest as if he knew what he would find. But he found only himself stretched across the bed staring up at the ceiling. The thought of her was too easy, the interest too urgent.
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