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Dead Time Excerpt

SPOILER WARNING! This excerpt includes spoilers for Dry Ice.

Chapter 2

His ex, Merideth

     If anyone else I knew from the old days in Boulder had died, Adrienne would have picked up the phone to let me know that something awful had happened.
     She, not Alan—my ex-husband, Alan Gregory—had been the one who had called and ordered me to "Sit down, damn it," before she sobbed out the news of her husband Peter's murder so many years before.  
     Her harbinger duties weren't limited to death announcements. Adrienne called to inform me when Alan had a serious new sweetheart, and later on, that the sweetheart had become his wife.     
Adrienne knew that I would want to learn that the loving couple was pregnant, and later, that they had a healthy baby daughter they'd named Grace.
     Adrienne would start each of the news-from-Colorado-involving-my-ex-husband conversations with something like, "Do you really want to know this, Merideth? I don't have to tell you. I don't. Say the word and I'll ask you about work, or the weather, or if you've found one decent man in New York City. We can talk about something girly. I can do girly. Not for long, but . . . Or I could bitch about something here. In Boulder, I mean. July? January? The damn Chinooks? The Broncos? I don't like any of them."
    I'd reply that of course I wanted to know what was going on in Alan's life. Why wouldn't I? Then Adrienne would tell me whatever it was she had called to tell me and my heart would get plucked like one of the long strings on a harp.

     Adrienne was my only enduring link to my Colorado past.
     She and I had always been perplexed by some of the same things about Boulder. Neither of us had ever been able to understand the local populace's insistence about forgoing motors and using muscles—jogging, biking, cross-country skiing—to ascend the local mountains. Nor had either of us ever comprehended Boulderites' inclination to squander free weekends and precious holidays wandering off into the wilderness, pitching tents, squatting in the woods, and generally pretending they didn't have houses.
     We were both baffled by women we knew in town who were more interested in a new backpack than they were in new earrings.
     But beyond our addresses—we'd been across-the-lane neighbors—and our shared editorial critiques about the local mores, Adrienne and I had little in common.
     Personality-wise she and I couldn't have been less alike.
     Still, Adrienne and I were. We endured. Despite the differences, despite the distance, and despite the years, she and I continued to exist as something. Friends? Sure. Not buddies. Not . . . girlfriends. Not like my girlfriends here, in New York City or LA.
     Adrienne and I could never have gone shopping together. Not for fun. We'd never be eager to show each other the new shoes we just bought. I would never think to call her to go out to a bar for a recreational flirt with the latest crop of I-bankers from Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs. Never.
     What kept us connected?
     There was part of me that thought we had stayed in contact because we had the natural attraction that outsiders feel for each other. As neighbors in Boulder, we catalyzed each other like the components of epoxy. When we touched, we stuck.
     In the mile-high air of Boulder, each of us had been an outsider. She was the shoot-from-the-hip, New York raised, Jewish urologist living in the always-hip, ever-progressive, but-be-careful-what-you-say Peoples' Republic of Boulder.
     Me? I was a left coast princess in a mountain paradise that, alas, did not appreciate royalty.
     At least non-Buddhist royalty.

     Adrienne didn't call with the news of the latest death.
     It was her diminutive body that had gone still.
     It was her irreverent laugh that had been quieted.
     No one from the old crowd bothered to assume her role. No one remembered that I'd been forgotten. No one thought to tell me that my old friend had died a wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time death from a senseless bombing outside a café in an Israeli Mediterranean resort town. I was left to learn about Adrienne's end while I was scanning the AP Wire when I arrived at my office at the network where I worked in Midtown. I noticed a familiar name in a follow-up story about a recent bombing in Israel.
     After reading the wire report of the new developments, and then re-reading her name—I must have checked it five times—I cried alone at my desk in my office until my assistant asked me if I was all right. I wondered at the time if I had stopped weeping because my assistant had intruded upon my sorrow, or if I had stopped weeping because someone had finally noticed that I was so sad.
     For other people it might have been a small distinction, but for me it was an important one. It was important, too, that I was asking myself the question at all, and that I was unsure about the answer. The very fact that I recognized there was a difference—between the desire to grieve privately, and the desire to have my sorrow acknowledged publicly—was significant to me.
     It's silly, but that I knew there was a difference was a sign of my growth.
     I was changing.
     Alan used to quote Confucius to me. He'd say, "Confucius said the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. The second best time is now."
     I'd wasted energy back then doubting whether the quote was really from Confucius.  My growth had been a long time coming. Ten years sooner would have been a more ideal time for my development. Even five years sooner would have been good.

     Since Alan hadn't called, I didn't know whether or not he expected I'd come from New York to attend Adrienne's funeral. Or if I'd show up at the reception. Even if he had given me a solitary thought since the bombing.
     I wanted him to acknowledge that I had lost a friend, too.
     An old colleague from Denver's NBC affiliate—it had been a CBS horn when I was there—had emailed me about the memorial service that was planned for Adrienne in Colorado. Her note said that her ex-husband—he was an oncologist in a big group in Denver's northern suburbs—had known Adrienne through the Boulder medical community. My old co-worker knew that Adrienne and I had once been neighbors, and she thought I would like to know about the service.
     The woman had been trying to get the hell out of the incestuous Denver news market since her divorce and she was hoping that my gratitude might assist her in finagling a producing gig in New York or California.
     Her ulterior motive didn't bother me. I knew what to expect from the business I was in. They call them networks for a reason.

     Although I'd been back to Colorado—I adore Aspen and Vail, who doesn't—I hadn't set foot in Boulder between the two funerals, the earlier one for Peter, Adrienne's husband, and this one for Adrienne.
     I take responsibility for my antipathy for the town. I'd never really made room in my heart for Boulder. I had expected Boulder to first make room for me.
     The informal gathering after Adrienne's funeral was scheduled to be in the house where my ex-husband and I had lived during our brief marriage. The cottage—that was Alan's quaint counter-portrait when I described the house where he was living when we had first met as a "glorified shack"—had been built prior to the Depression as the caretaker's dwelling for a decent-sized ranch. The frame home sat near the top of a western facing slope in Spanish Hills on the eastern rim of the Boulder Valley. On a clear day—most of them were clear days, at least meteorologically—Alan and I could look out almost any window and see an expanse of the Rocky Mountains stretching from Pike's Peak north to Rocky Mountain National Park, and from the Front Range foothills immediately behind Boulder all the way west to the glaciers that frosted the Continental Divide.
     I loved to stand beside our guests as they inhaled that vista for the first time.
     Showing off our ramshackle house had never been an option.
     Adrienne and her husband Peter had lived up the hill across the lane, only a few dozen yards away. Theirs was the big house, the one the founders of the ranch had built a hundred years before. It was the house I coveted.
     I had always imagined that the architect had conceived a lovely turret for the southwest corner of the two-story farmhouse. A wraparound covered porch would have been a perfect perch to take advantage of the expansive views toward Chautauqua and Eldorado. I suspected that the homesteaders had either lacked the vision or had been too modest to construct the signature element. The result of their timidity was that the prime corner of Adrienne's house was a blunt, windowless expanse of intersecting planes.

     I picked up a car at DIA and drove straight from the airport to the gathering in Spanish Hills. So many people were already at the reception that cars—okay, it was Boulder, mostly SUVs—lined the familiar dirt lane halfway back to South Boulder Road. I had to park a few hundred yards away.
     The hike to the dead end of the lane wasn't pleasant in heels. Boulder or not, though, I wasn't about to attend a memorial service in anything else.
     I spotted Alan and his black-lacquer haired wife on opposite sides of their new great room seconds after I'd walked in the door. The renovations they'd done made the space feel familiar yet foreign. I thought they could have benefited from a more imaginative architect, and a better designer.
     Or maybe any designer. They actually had a pool table—with burgundy felt—in the center of the dining room.
     I weaved through the crowd—the place was packed—toward the western-facing windows without turning my head even a few degrees. I didn't want to be sidetracked by anyone I knew before I made it to Alan. He was standing near the sliding door that led from the living room to the long deck on the mountain side of the house.
     My ex was facing away from me, leaning forward slightly. He was involved in a conversation with a woman whom I thought I recognized, but I couldn't place.
     I paused behind him and waited for a few seconds. Alan had always had a thing for women's scents; I thought he might pick up mine. I hadn't changed perfumes since before we were married.
     He didn't notice. I waited until a break in his conversation before I said, in a quiet voice, "Hey. It's Me."
     Me.

Chapter 3

Her ex, Alan

     Jonas had been my son for mere days.
     Jonas's father, Peter, had been murdered years before when Jonas was a toddler. His mother, Adrienne, my dear buddy and neighbor, was so recently deceased that the depth of the loss I felt at her absence still crept nightly into my restless dreams.
     Jonas had been by his mother's side in Israel when a terrorist's bomb exploded. He had witnessed her death and that of their Israeli cousin. Once they had finished healing, two shrapnel scars—one long straight one that ran almost the entire length of the bone on Jonas's left shin and another one shaped like the letter L on his left forearm—would be permanent reminders of what had happened to him that day.
     Especially, what he'd lost.

     In her will Adrienne had named my wife, Lauren, and me as Jonas's guardians. Adrienne's decision didn't digest easily for either her long-dead husband's family in Wyoming, or for her own distant family in New York, where Adrienne's only sibling lived with his wife and two sons. Her brother made it clear during a phone call on day three—days one and two, for me, were spent in shock as I flew to Tel Aviv to retrieve my traumatized stepson and his mother's remains from Israel—that he considered the idea of his nephew becoming the child of "strangers" to be incomprehensible.
     Lauren and I were the "strangers" that brother Martin was dismissing. The reality was that Jonas had lived yards across a dusty lane from us since the day he was born. Other than his parents, and maybe one or two luminescent pearls in a long string of forgettable nannies, he was closer to no one than he was to us.
     Although we were anything but strangers to Jonas, we were strangers to Martin. And that, apparently, was what was most important to him as he maneuvered in the shadows cast by his sister's death. I forced myself to try to find some empathy for Martin's position. It wasn't hard to do.
     Martin, however, made it hard to hang on to.
     Adrienne had been estranged from her family, who had questioned every choice she'd made since she'd decided to attend medical school. When she had shown an inclination for biology in college, they had been hoping she would become a radiologist or a pharmaceutical researcher, certainly not a clinician. When she made it clear that she had a passion for patient care, they switched tracks and made it equally clear that they thought she should become a dermatologist. They had been appalled by her decision to become a urologist.
     Adrienne's take was, "Bottom line? They don't like that I have a job that involves pricks. My mother won't tell her friends what I do. She thinks I'm one step removed from being Hand-Job Judy."
     Although I'd been tempted at the time, I had never asked Adrienne about the eponymous "Hand-Job Judy." I really wished I had. That provocative omission was a poignant addition to the long list of conversations I would never have with her.
     The familial disappointment didn't stop with career. Adrienne's family didn't like that Adrienne had fallen in love with, and then eloped with, a woodworker. A carpenter. They hated that she'd settled with him in the West in general, in Colorado specifically, and in Boulder in particular.
     Over the years, Jonas's only contacts with his maternal uncle and his family had taken place during visits East with his mother. Adrienne considered the infrequent trips to New York to be obligatory vacations, which in her unique shorthand she labeled "oblications." Lauren and I kept an eye on the Boulder house while she was out of town. When the trips involved an oblication, the interludes were inevitably short and Adrienne always seemed relieved to return to her Spanish Hills home.

     Martin flew west with his wife, a pleasant woman with lovely gray eyes and an unnervingly loud voice, to attend Adrienne's funeral services in Boulder, and to come to my home to the reception that followed.
     I was trying to decide if that trip counted as a family visit. If Adrienne were around I knew she would have said, "Hell, no." She would have considered her brother's pilgrimage the ultimate oblication.
     Moments after meeting Martin I had recognized that he was an impatient man, a compact car running on fuel with too much octane. Some part of his body was always moving. A foot tapping. His face grimacing. Fingertips rubbing together. Something. At first, my diagnostic curiosity was piqued, and I wondered if he had a mild form of Tourette's.
     I soon decided he was merely annoyingly fidgety.
     Less than twenty minutes into the reception after the funeral—the house was just beginning to fill with Adrienne's friends and loved ones—he insisted I join him on the west-facing deck outside the living room. He placed an unwelcome hand on my shoulder and said, "Al." The tone he employed was a faux-sincere that made me suspicious.
     He explained that although he knew it was a "difficult time for everyone" and that he was sorry for all the inconvenience that Lauren and I had experienced—he, not I, should have been the one to go to Tel Aviv, of course, he still didn't know why he hadn't been called, but that was water under the bridge—he was prepared to "muddle" through the "legalities" of transferring Jonas's guardianship to him and his wife "right away, to minimize confusion, et cetera et cetera, for the boy."
     He added that the estate would take care of the necessary legal expenses—I needn't worry about that.
     I didn't know what to say. I fought the urge to tell him that of all the things I was worried about, paying lawyers hadn't made my top fifty.
     My flabbergasted silence troubled Martin enough that he felt compelled to inject an additional explanation. "You know my sister," he said.
     He hadn't said it kindly. Martin must have been assuming that he was conversing with an ally. Could he be misreading me that badly? I wondered. Grief does funny things.
     I wasn't comfortable with the eye roll that he used to accompany the statement about knowing his sister, nor the little nostril-snort that effectively completed it. I couldn't be certain what he meant with his comment about knowing Adrienne, but I suspected that when I did understand I would conclude that it was demeaning to my stepson's mother's memory. I feared that it was, in four vague words, Jonas's uncle's way not only of trying to undo the wishes of my dear friend only minutes after her body was buried, but also his way of attempting to enroll me as a conspirator in whatever suspect endeavor he was contemplating next.
     I took a quick step back so that his hand would fall from my shoulder. It worked. The hand tumbled to his side with a fat thwop, as though his arm had fallen asleep while it was up there.
     "I did know your sister," I said. "Very well."
     "Good then," he said. "We see to eye-to-eye."
     Like his sister, Martin was wide in the hips, and less than tall. He and I didn't see eye-to-eye literally. Figuratively? The odds were long, and getting longer by the minute.
     "You know, Martin— Do you prefer Martin?"
     "Marty is fine."
     "Thank you. You know, Marty, I don't think we do," I said. "See eye-to-eye."
     "About?" he said.
     He was either honestly perplexed, which made him dim, or he was being disingenuous, which made him dangerous in one or two of a kaleidoscope of ways that I would have to sort through at a time when I was less distracted.
     "Jonas," I replied. "My son."
     My words were deliberately chosen. Marty smiled his reaction to them in a way that made me want to smack him. After a provocative pause he shook his head. Then he nodded his head.
     Confusion? I wondered. Or more accurately, I hoped.
     He closed his eyes tightly and grimaced with his teeth exposed. It wasn't an attractive expression. With his eyes that way and his lips peeled back he looked like a rodent suffering from near-terminal constipation. When he reopened his eyes things didn't improve much. He glanced my way again, but with a fresh look on his face. I interpreted it to be a melodramatic attempt to try to convey the sentiment that I should take whatever step I was contemplating taking next with a truckload of caution.
     I did a reality check. I had to convince myself that this conversation was really occurring during Adrienne's memorial. My contemplative pause had the unintended consequence of softening Marty's tough-guy comportment, which made me begin to fear that he'd concluded his hushed warning had done the trick.
     To be certain that I hadn't missed his meaning, he said, "I don't think you want to do this, Al. 'Go there,' is what I think the kids say these days. I really, really don't. Blood is thicker than water."
     I counted to ten. It didn't seem to help, so I did it again. My anger wasn't abating. I said, "I don't know what 'this' you're talking about, Marty. What my wife and I plan to do is to strive to honor your sister's wishes regarding her son, whom she loved in a way that was magical for us to watch. You and I have seen the same documents. In her will, Adrienne asks Lauren and me to raise Jonas. We intend to do that to the best of our abilities."
     He lowered his gaze. When he looked back up he was facing away from me, contemplating the seemingly infinite swath of the Front Range. "You know she was . . . bisexual?" He swallowed the last word—the loaded word—as though it was a revelation not to be shared in polite company.
     I raised my eyebrows involuntarily, not as a comment on Adrienne's sexuality—her sexual adventures, and occasional misadventures, were a far-from-secret part of the texture of the fabric of who she was—but rather as a reaction to her brother's condescending judgment about her. At that moment Marty and I were standing in a location with a fine view of Boulder, and I was inclined to give him credit for being sufficiently cosmopolitan that he would have at least an inkling that the rooms behind us were infiltrated with men and women whose sexual identities were not describable by limiting his choices to words that begin with the prefix "hetero."
     Marty caught my raised eyebrows but misinterpreted the gesture to be a sign of encouragement. He leaned forward a few inches and added, "More l than s if you know what I mean." He lifted a fist in front of his mouth and coughed.
     "Excuse me?" I said, hoping I'd heard him wrong. And hoping that he really wasn't someone who used snorts and throat noises as punctuation.
     The l was likely lesbian. The s is straight? I thought. That must be it.
     I wondered if I should tell Marty that Adrienne did not consider herself bisexual.
     He said, "That's what I'm talking about. With Adrienne? At times, she could have a sweet heart—my kids adored her visits—but there're things that, well, you don't really want to know about her. My sister had her . . . call them blind spots. She didn't make the wisest choices. And she wasn't always a good . . . judge of what's best for the boy."
     I despised that Marty was denigrating Adrienne's mothering, something he knew almost nothing about. I despised that he considered choosing Lauren and me as guardians one of Adrienne's unwise choices. I despised that he referred to Jonas as "the boy." I despised that he used "et cetera et cetera" in conversation.
     I despised that he called me "Al." That one was petty, but there it was.
     "Because of whom she slept with?" I said. I was going to say "loved" instead of "slept with" but feared the nuance would sail over his head like an errant Frisbee.
     He exhaled. "Exactly."
     He still thought I was agreeing with him about something.
     "Marty, could we talk about this later, after things wind down here?" I said. "We have many guests. People who want to talk, need to talk, about Adrienne. This"—I turned toward the room full of her friends and loved ones—"is about your sister."

     I made my living as a psychotherapist. Had Marty walked into my office as a prospective patient, within two minutes I would have recognized him as a psychotherapeutic annuity.
     There was that much work to do. That many rocks to turn. That much resistance to which to apply the forces of psychotherapeutic hydraulics.
     My professional radar had also pegged Marty's pathology as being of the personality disorder variety. Unlike people with garden-variety neuroses, who come in to see people like me because they are miserable, people with personality disorders often show up in the office of people like me not because they are miserable, but because the people around them are miserable.
     I could well understand how people around Marty could be miserable.
     Thank God, it's not my job, I said to myself.

     I stopped at the door from the deck to the house and opened my mouth with fresh determination to defend my dead friend. I managed, just barely, to control the outburst I was rehearsing in my head.
     Before I was able to close the door behind me, he muttered, "We're not done, Al."
     I had taken only two steps inside when an old friend of mine, a social worker, said hello. Her name was Cassandra Poteet. She was married to one of my favorite mental health colleagues in Boulder. I hadn't been aware that they knew Adrienne.
     Cassandra revealed that a couple of her kids had been urology patients of Adrienne's. "Is Wallace here?" I asked, wondering about my professional friend.
     She seemed at a loss for words, but finally said, "No, he . . . Wallace couldn't come." She lowered her voice. "He had some issues with Adrienne about Mason's . . . care. It's . . . awkward." Mason was one of their children.
     Cassandra had said all that she wanted to say about the topic. We began to talk about Adrienne. Less than a minute into the conversation I heard a voice from behind me say, "Hey. It's me."
     My mind translated the melody as familiar, even if the words didn't register as anything special. Intrigued by the refracted memory fragment, I said, "Would you please excuse me?" to Cassandra.
     I turned to discover that I was looking into the eyes of my first wife, Merideth.
     Me.
     Her.
     Whoa.

 

Dead Time paperback

Signet (USA) Paperback, 2009,
ISBN: 0451223772

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