Authors: Vincent Zandri
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Literary, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Contemporary Fiction, #Literary Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
PRAISE FOR VINCENT ZANDRI
“Vincent Zandri explodes onto the scene with the debut thriller of the year. The
is gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting. Don’t miss it.” — Harlan Coben, author
“A SATISFYING YARN.” —
pulls you in with rat-a-tat prose, kinetic pacing … characters are authentic, and the punchy dialogue rings true. Zandri’s staccato prose moves
at a steady, suspenseful pace.” —
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
“EXCITING … AN ENGROSSING THRILLER … the descriptions of life behind bars will stand your hair on end.” —
Rocky Mountain News
“READERS WILL BE HELD CAPTIVE BY PROSE THAT POUNDS AS STEADILY AS AN ELEVATED PULSE… Vincent Zandri nails readers’ attention.” —
“A SMOKING GUN OF A DEBUT NOVEL. The rough and tumble pages turn quicker than men turn on each other.” —
“THE STORY LINE IS NON-STOP ACTION and the flashback to Attica is eerily brilliant. If this debut is any indication of his work, readers will demand a lifetime sentence of novels by Vincent Zandri.” —í
Love a Mystery
“A TOUGH-MINDED, INVOLVING NOVEL … Zandri writes strong prose that rarely strains for effect, and some of his scenes … achieve a powerful hallucinatory horror,”
CLASSIC DETECTIVE TALE.” —
“[Zandri] demonstrates an uncanny knack for exposition, introducing new characters and narrative possibilities with the confidence of an old pro… Zandri does a superb job creating interlocking puzzle pieces.”
—San Diego Union-Tribune
“This is a tough, stylish, heartbreaking car accident of a book: You don’t want to look but you can’t look away. Zandri’s a terrific writer and he tells a terrific story.” — Don Winslow, author of
The Death & Life of Bobby
Also by Vincent Zandri
The Innocent (formerly As Catch Can)
The Concrete Pearl
Moonlight Mafia (Digital Short)
Murder By Moonlight
Pathological (Digital Short)
True Stories (Digital Short)
Copyright © 2010 by Vincent Zandri
Cover design and art by Jeroen Ten Berge
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
Edition: June 2012
Sections of this novella have appeared, in slightly different form, under the titles listed in the following publications:
—”Permanence,” (short story),
, Vol. 1, No. 2, September, 1993 (ISBN) 1069-9457, by Susan Carrol Publishing, Williamsburg, VA.)
—-”Hopelessly Lost In Love And Venice,” (travel article),
New York Newsday
(Sunday, October 10, 1993).
—”Permanence,” (short story),
, #10, Fall/Winter 1994, University of Idaho, English Dept., Brink Hall, Room 200 Moscow, ID 83844-1102.
—”Permanence,” (short story). Spring 1995,
The Ultimate Writer
. New Orleans, LA.
I look to you and I see nothing.
I look to you to see the truth.
The problem is my heart.
I thought it would break when doctor poured a glass of water from the pitcher on his desk. Running water is the sound I remember best—and worst—about baby. Water is what I remember as it spilled over the walls of the bathtub when baby died fourteen months ago.
For six months now I’ve been seeing doctor once a week, whether I need him or not. The visits are not really voluntary visits. The visits are necessity. But I give the visits a different name: restitution—self-appointed penance for my guilt, for the time I left baby alone in the bathtub.
So here’s what I do to get my money’s worth: I ask doctor to tell me about someone whose life is worse than my own.
“If it isn’t about a bad marriage or a tragic death,” I tell him, “then just make it plain miserable so I don’t feel so bad.”
“I know,” says doctor. “Misery loves company.”
Doctor’s face bears no expression at all. His face is emotionless, but mysteriously attractive. His thin, pale lips are pressed together inside his salt-and-pepper beard. He neither smiles nor frowns.
I make a small, fake laugh. I cross my legs while I sit on this long, leather patient’s couch. I smooth the creases and wrinkles that disfigure my skirt. I run my hands through my shoulder-length, brown hair. I close my legs tightly, feel the warmth of thigh against thigh and all that is beginning to excite between my thighs.
“Yes,” I say, looking away from doctor and at the plain white walls of his office. “Something like that, so long as it’s miserable.”
Doctor stares at the ceiling for some time, as though collecting his thoughts. “I knew this fat man a long time ago,” he says. “The man was so convinced of being trapped inside his body, he overdosed on tranquilizers. But the tranquilizers did not have the hoped-for effect.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” I say.
“The man’s body was so large, it absorbed the entirety of the drugs without killing him. He stayed alive.”
“Alive,” I say. “I see.”
“You don’t see,” insists doctor from behind his enormous mahogany desk. “The fat man tried hanging himself, but the thin rope he wrapped around his neck and around the roof rafters in his attic wasn’t strong enough. The rope suddenly snapped in two when the fat man kicked a chair out from under himself. He came tumbling to the floor, a bit bruised but very much alive.
“By that time,” doctor goes on, “the man was in a state of panic. He felt absolutely helpless. He believed he had become immortal. He was miserable. He even tried to gas himself with the oven, but listen to this: the appliance was electric.”
I don’t know whether to believe doctor or not. I don’t know whether to smile or not, because doctor is dead serious. He stares off into the distance, despite the lack of distance in this small office.
A long, weighty silence ensues.
Then doctor jumps from his chair to his feet. He slams his fist to the mahogany desk. He raises the same fist to me. He stares into me with passionate, feeling eyes.
“Listen,” he demands. “Don’t you get it? The fat man stayed alive in spite of himself.”
Slowly, doctor reins his emotion in. He sits back down into the leather chair. He pulls a white handkerchief from his pocket, wipes his moist brow. He breathes a heavy, exaggerated breath. He seems frustrated. Like a suffocating man, he seems to be gasping for air that will not come.
Maybe a story about someone who lives in spite of himself is too miserable, because I force a smile onto my face, beginning with the comers of my mouth and getting larger, straining to grow. I gaze upon my own smile in the mirror behind doctor. But then I shift my focus to doctor. I want him to see how happy I can be. I want him to know he has affected me, and in this, perhaps he has made some progress. But why should I smile? What is it about guilt that can make me smile?
I should be crying.
Doctor stares into my eyes. He bears his usual, indifferent frown. After six months’ worth of Friday afternoon visits, I do not expect him to smile, ever.
I guess you can say that doctor is never in a smiling mood
So I do this in order to avoid looking at his sullen face: I stand up from the leather patient’s couch. I walk to the window and stare outside. I picture the travel posters that covered the walls of my office before I gave up my career as a travel agent after the death of baby. Colorful posters of exotic, faraway destinations that still fill my imagination. Except that the place outside this window is not exotic or romantic. This is not “Beautiful Miami Beach,” or “Sunny Southern California.” Life might be “Better in the Bahamas,” but for now I watch the rain coming down steady against the pavement of this parking lot in Albany, New York, at the end of daylight, the start of darkness.
“You win, doc,” I say. “How’s about a miserable story with a
“What you want, Mary,” says doctor, “is a parable.”
“Aren’t all stories parables?”
“Some more than others.”
“I give you only what you ask for. I give you what you need.”
I stand by the window. I see my face reflected in the glass. My face is not my face at all. It is a detached, distorted face. A face that has seen too much; a face that knows too much. My eyes are sunken deep, drooping almost. I look older, feel far older than twenty-nine years, as though the loss of baby and Jamie has sucked the life out of me.
In the distance of this window reflection, I see my doctor. He is standing behind me. I know this: he does not know that I can see him. I watch him pull at his beard with his fingertips. I watch him pick at his nose gently with his forefinger and thumb, like he’s not really picking. He moves to his desk and pours water from a pitcher into a glass that is already half-full. He lifts the now full glass and stares into it, deeply.
Doctor places the glass of water back down on his desk without taking a drink. I turn away from the window. Doctor stares at me, into me. We say nothing. But I sense we are communicating, tearing apart my past with his vision. We do this in order to save my life, not my soul, which, in the eyes of God, must already be damned. I am responsible for the death of my two-year-old son. A toddler who was walking and talking. But also a boy who I will forever think of as
—my first and last
I was responsible for baby’s life
“Okay,” says doctor. “How’s this for a happy ending?” He sits back deeply into his chair and places his hands behind his head. “This is what I did to make the fat man regain control of his body and his life. I convinced him that his body was not his enemy, that a person obsessed with exercise, a person who cannot live without Dexatrim Max or Lean Cuisine, is the person truly trapped inside his body.”
Doctor sits up straight in his leather chair. He extends his arms to me. His eyes widen. The steady rain falls outside the window onto the parking lot on this late September afternoon.
“Don’t you get it?” he asks. “It took some time, but I made the fat man feel so good about himself, he was able to stop overeating. He lost one hundred fifty pounds in just ten months. He kept the weight off. No fad diets, no grueling exercise, no pills.” Doctor extends his index finger to his temple. An imitation pistol. “Just mind over matter,” he says. “The formerly fat man was thin. He was suddenly free. Happy to be alive.”
“I see now,” I lie, smiling. “Truly, I see.”
“That’s the beauty,” says doctor.
“No,” he says. “Of a parable.”
Is there a doctor in the house?
Doctor and I drown ourselves in silence.
Until the rain, spattering hard now against the pavement outside this window, revives our senses like bees buzzing around a hive. Now that doctor is finished with his story, he takes a deep drink of water. But the drink turns out to be too deep.