Authors: Cathie Pelletier
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Copyright Â© 2014 by Cathie Pelletier
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Cover design and illustrations by Amanda Kain
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Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:
Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., for permission to reprint “Lady Willpower” by Jerry Fuller. Copyright Â© 1968 by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., for permission to reprint “Over You” by Jerry Fuller. Copyright Â© 1968 by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. and Trackshoe Music. All rights on behalf of Track-Shoe Music administered by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., for permission to reprint “This Girl Is A Woman Now” by Victor Millrose and Alan Bernstein. Copyright Â© 1968 by Chappell & Co. Renewed. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., for permission to reprint “Young Girl” by Jerry Fuller. Copyright Â© 1968 by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Famous Music Publishing for permission to reprint “Woman, Woman” by Jim Glaser and Jimmy Payne. Copyright Â© 1967, 1972, 1973 by Ensign Music Corporation. Used by permission.
New Directions Publishing Corp. for permission to reprint “Dance Figure” from
by Ezra Pound. Copyright Â© 1926 by Ezra Pound. Used by permission.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Originally published in 1994 in the United States by Crown Publishers, Inc. This edition is based on the 1995 trade paperback edition published by Washington Square Press, a publication of Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is on file with the publisher.
Dawn was just coming to Ellsboro Street as Frederick Stone tiptoed across the dewy grass for his morning paper. He stopped in his driveway, as he always did, and surveyed the street. He felt it arrive again, the sweet sense of satisfaction that he was the first person in the neighborhood to be awake. It had not always been that way. For two years, while the Andersons lived in the light blue Cape across the street, their son Tommy had risen daily at four thirty for his paper route. Frederick Stone was glad that the Andersons had taken their little automaton and transferred to another state. Now a bank manager and his teller wife lived in the blue Cape. Frederick needn't worry about
lights coming on before six o'clock, not unless they were embezzling. He looked at his watch. Five fifty-eight, and already he had coffee perking and an English muffin sitting on a paper towel in the microwave. He would dawdle the two extra minutes, just for the hell of it, just because when one gets up at five forty-five one can spare two meager minutes. Above his head, the Victorian turret of his house pointed like a medieval steeple toward heaven. On the lawn a plump robin was canting its head toward the soil, searching for the next available earthworm. Frederick could hear a wall of bird calls and notes rising up from all the hedges. The birds had beaten him, but birds were just birds. Five fifty-nine. One more minute to wait.
He made his way through the wet grass, toward the front porch. Like the turret, the porch was a bit dated, the old-fashioned kind one sees on farmhouses in the country. But it was another reason that his wife, Chandra Kimball-Stone, had loved the house so. Frederick now had a better view of the street from the porch's top step. Thirty more seconds. He pulled his pajama sleeve down over his fist and wiped at the cast-iron mailbox, which was nailed next to the front door. FREDERICK STONE, the small, dignified lettering announced, STONE ACCOUNTING & CONSULTATION. Beneath this sign, a tailless orange cat, no doubt another of Chandra's strays, was curled into a sleepy ball on the throw rug. Ten more seconds. The morning paper landed with a
on the front porch, prompting the robin to fly off on quick wings and the orange cat to spring to life. Five seconds more and it would be six o'clock sharp. Bingo! As Frederick watched, a light burst forth from an upstairs window of the house next door.
“Take that, Walter Muller!” Frederick said. Walter Muller, also an accountant, had once questioned Frederick's good business sense in regards to working out of his house instead of a downtown office. And yet here it was six o'clock and Walter was just now stirring. By the time Frederick sat down at his computer, muffin crumbs on the kitchen counter, to begin work on a client's account, Walter Muller would be just staggering out of the shower. And by the time Walter Muller was approaching the on-ramp and morning traffic, Frederick would already have an hour's work done. He gave Walter's window an emphatic thumbs-down. He was sincerely proud that his neighborsâthrough chats over their backyard fencesâhad come to know Frederick Stone as the earliest riser on Ellsboro Street. Frederick had made slight reference to his habit each time one of them took a break from their lawn mowing or hedge trimming to say hello. “I sure miss Tommy the paperboy,” Frederick inevitably got around to mentioning. “It gets lonely, you know, when one gets up with the birds.”
His wife, Chandra, felt none of this Early Bird Pride, however. “They probably think you're a lunatic, Freddy,” was her only praise. “An early-rising nut.” But then, how could
understand his inner Puritan? There were mornings when Frederick rose in the dark, reached a hand beneath a lamp shade, and discovered that the bulb was still radiating heat from its filament, Chandra only recently retired. One kept late hours, it seemed, when one had a degree in psychology and was concerned with matters of the mind.
Frederick Stone remembered the day Chandra had abandoned teaching psychology to high school students in order to begin a counseling service for Portland's emotionally confused.
, her new business card announced.
. He had turned it over and over in his hands before he asked the ageless, aesthetic question: “How much money can you make?” Frederick knew that loonies desperate for a seminar in
, much less an odyssey into the unchartered regions of the human brain, abounded in Portland, Maine. As long as Chandra didn't take up with any convicted murderers who may or may not be working on their autobiographies. But Chandra had scolded him, insisting he cared only about money and not the betterment of mankind. Frederick had carefully considered this comment from his wife. After all, they were both products of the altruistic sixties, had even met at Woodstock's famous music festival. “How much money can you make?” Frederick Stone had asked again.
â¢ â¢ â¢
It was time for his first cup of coffee, made from his specially blended beans. It had taken many months of combining the wide selection available at Full of Beans to achieve what he now considered to be the perfect coffee taste. The secret was not only his special ratio of several different Colombian varieties, but also the addition of beans from Africa's Ivory Coast. Frederick had attended a “Coffee Blender's Forum,” via his computer modem, and had learned that the African beans robusta are slightly higher in caffeine and other alkaloids than the arabica beans from South America. This gave his morning coffee a nice little boost. He smiled again. Walter Muller probably drank Sanka.
Frederick took the cup of coffee with him to the upstairs bathroom. He could have performed his morning toiletries in the dimly lighted downstairs bathâthe one Chandra referred to as
bathâbut he preferred the upstairs mirror for facial inspections, which he did daily. It had huge lights encircling its circumference, and mirrored panels that opened for profile viewing. He lathered his face with shaving cream and then doused his razor, the Sensor, Gillette's newest triumph, in the basin of hot water. Now, here was a comfortable, close shave. He was most grateful to
for their generous tip about the razor. It had taken Gillette thirteen years before they found a way to get the twin-cartridge blade to not only swivel, but to ride on minuscule springs. Thirteen years and $200 million to perfect a razor that maneuvered like a dream and protected its owner from nicks, cuts, and pulls. Yet it cost Frederick Stone $3.50 to own it. If he shaved six times a week and averaged eleven shaves per blade, he would spend less than $25 a year to rid himself of facial hair. Such was the modern world in which he lived. Not to mention the fact that he no longer had to listen to Chandra complain about how the disposable razor he'd been usingâhe tossed out forty plastic ones a yearâwas adding to the demise of Mother Earth. “If a million men throw out forty disposable razors a year,” she'd lectured, “the plastic would fill a box twenty feet high and twenty feet wide.” Who figured these things out? That's what Frederick Stone would like to know. He was about to resort to a full beard until he read about Gillette's little jewel. Chandra would simply have to suffer the disposal of his blades. Frederick had done his math and he felt quite sure that 28.4 used blades would require only the tiniest of boxes.
His shave complete, Frederick began his daily assessment. The usual whisper of gray was still entrenched at his temples, a smoky coloring he had noticed for the first time on August 4, 1981, a Tuesday that had promised to be as regular as any other morning. But Tuesday, August 4, 1981, had lied, forcing Frederick to pull up his computer calendar of important dates and list the discrepancy, next to August 4, 1977, when he had smoked his last cigarette. And lately, to Frederick's dismay, an obscene puffiness loomed about his eyes, regardless of how much sleep he got. He tipped his face to one side, searching again for the cheekbones he had hoped to inherit from his father's side of the family. But his genetic coding seemed determined to bequeath him the jowliness that had struck down his mother's face in its prime. Her brothers, his maternal uncles, had grown to look like rotund court jesters, red cheeked, jolly, pleasing to the king. But at least they had all lived to a seasoned old age. On the other hand, all three of his paternal uncles had gone handsomely into their caskets with elongated, youthful faces. Even the funeral director had noticed. “It's like burying Gregory Peck, over and over again,” he had whispered to Frederick. Frederick's father was the last to die, from a congenital heart problem. “He had the same bad heart as Jim Fixx, the runner,” Frederick had heard the funeral director explaining to an employee. Yet, at the age of forty-four, Frederick was still torn between longevity and cheekbones.
He decided in an instant to ignore the puffiness, at least for the time being. No need to call up the computer's calendar one day only to find the puffiness gone the next. And why trouble The Girlsâknown to those ancient Greeks as the Fates, Clotho, Dumbo, and Zippo, or something like thatâwhen they had been so kind to him thus far? True, he had no fear that The Girls would pick up their skirts and desert him over a little swelling about the eyelids, but they might be unnecessarily concerned. They were women, after all. Frederick had always prided himself in being able to prevail with the weaker sex, shuffling out that certain
at the last moment. And The Girls were not immune to his charm. He wondered if Chandra was right, that his daily compulsion about aging was directly attributable to a tiny flaw in his character. “Hubris,” Frederick had heard her mutter, mornings when she had risen to use the bathroom while he shaved and assessed. “Complete and total hubris, Freddy,” she would caution, her words accompanied by a musical stream of pee.
At the bedroom door he paused to cant his head, his listening stance. Chandra was breathing evenly, dreaming no doubt of sound lessons in humanity for unsound minds. Frederick was reminded of the counseling she had recently given Paul Jablonski, a portly butcher in his midsixties who was lusting heavily for his twin great-nieces, aged ten. Chandra had hypnotized the butcher and was now convinced that his pedophilic preoccupation was all because of an unfortunate incident in an earlier life, one as a nineteenth-century headmaster of a school for retarded girls. But Jablonski hadn't settled for this Karmic-Dickensian notion. He seemed to think, good butcher that he was, that the little nieces were yearning for his kielbasa. To Frederick it was, by God, and
, a classic case of the hubris of which he himself had been accused.
Downstairs, he opened the refrigerator door in search of an apple. A sheet of typing paper caught the sudden breeze and flapped at him. It had been pinned there with two magnetsâone a butterfly, the other a duck with an abnormal-looking headâand was undoubtedly one of Chandra's famous pronouncements. He poured himself a second cup of coffee before he pulled the sheet loose of its magnets and took it to the kitchen table.
“Jesus!” Frederick shouted, and jumped just enough that a trickle of hot coffee laced its way down his wrist. A sly movement in the window had startled him, but now he saw what it was: the same orange cat that had been on the front porch. Now it was stretching itself on the windowsill. Frederick ignored it. Over the rim of his cup, and through the lens of his newly acquired no-line bifocals, Frederick read the note.
earth-shattering importance that you wake me at nine. Sukie will be here at ten.
Who the hell was Sukie?
Frederick rolled the note up into a ball and pitched it at the window. It hit exactly where he intended, into the blurry face of the orange cat, which was peering hopefully through the glass.
“Sorry, but the soup line's not open yet,” Frederick said. The cat frisked back and forth on the window ledge, meowing pitifully. “Why don't you call back around nine fifteen? Madame should be up by then.” He didn't really dislike cats, but he
allergic to them. Yet Chandra brought strays home as though they were nothing more than doughnuts or pencils. His job was to feed them until they went to a good home. And he received no pity for his allergy since she insisted it was all in his head. She was right about it being in his head. Or in his eyes and nose, to be more precise. Of course, the stray cats were easier to take than the stray humans.
Frederick wondered what Sukie's real name was, and if Paul Jablonski had ever served as her meat man. By the time he finished his second cup of coffee, the orange cat had fallen asleep, like a soft field of orange poppies, spread out along the windowsill.
It was nearly eight o'clock and threatening rain when Frederick went into his office and turned on the computer. He pulled up the accounting software and began updating ledgers and entering weekly payroll information for Portland Concrete, his largest client. Having just landed a contract with the city, the company had hired a string of new people, and now Frederick added each one to the list of employees, filling in the necessary personal profile data. There were Theodores and Allans and Margarets, all straightforward and unpretentious names, names borrowed from their ancestors, most likely. There was not one Chandra or Sukie. And, thankfully, there was no Paul Jablonski.
When he'd finished the lengthy data entry, Frederick pressed the keys to automatically print the payroll checks. They had to be delivered by eleven. Just as Portland Concrete's last check was sputtering out of the printer, the phone in the den rang suddenly, two loud bleats. He listened as the answering machine clicked on.
Hello. This is Chandra
, he heard, followed by a brief message of instructions. He glanced briefly at his own phone, his separate business line, a necessity if he was to get any sensible work done. He couldn't spend hours a day prattling brainlessly to Chandra's
, not to mention those of the crotch. But, out of curiosity, and in case there had been some family emergencyâto Chandra's family this might mean the toaster burning upâFrederick went begrudgingly into the den and pushed the Play button. There was a call from his brother, Herbert, from the previous evening, which he'd forgotten to erase.