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Authors: Emily Listfield

The Last Good Night

BOOK: The Last Good Night
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P
RAISE FOR ACCLAIMED AUTHOR
E
MILY
L
ISTFIELD

T
HE
L
AST
G
OOD
N
IGHT

“A taut and disturbing inquiry into the many layers of identity that lie beneath the glossy surface of a television newswoman.”

—
The New York Times Book Review

“A canny psychological thriller…. A modern cautionary tale…. A gripping novel.”

—
San Francisco Chronicle

“It's hard not to become absorbed in the nail-biting, knuckle-whitening suspense that Listfield expertly creates and develops.”

—
Booklist

“A suspenseful and interesting look at the life of TV's elite.”

—
Library Journal

“A solidly crafted, increasingly suspenseful narrative…ratchets up the tension and fully involves the reader in her heroine's harrowing ordeal.”

—
Publishers Weekly

Waiting to Surface

“Heartrending.”

—
People

“Listfield spins a tale of supreme loss into one of gutsy, grace-filled redemption.”

—
Elle

“Based on events from her own life,
Waiting to Surface
is a gripping story that begins when a husband vanishes mysteriously.”

—
Parade

“Heartbreaking…. In muted prose, Listfield movingly takes us through Sarah's day-to-day grief, coupled with her hardheaded determination to figure out what happened to Todd. She juggles her sense of loss, her job and raising a daughter who blames her for her missing dad with the antics of her younger colleagues and her own investigation into her husband's fate.”

—
USA Today

“A well thought-out story about wife-husband relationships, mother-daughter relationships…and perhaps most of all—living with uncertainty.”

—
St. Petersburg Times

“Listfield deftly balances multiple plots.”

—
Booklist

Acts of Love

“A chilling meditation on the so-called acts of love.”

—
The New York Times

“A beautiful, compelling novel…. It's impossible not to instantly care for these flawed people. They are us.”

—
Los Angeles Times

“Tightly written and suspenseful.”

—
Library Journal

“Listfield's prose is clear and fluid as she tells this grim, edgy tale in which homicide is not always the worse crime committed in the name of love.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“What a ride! Dialogue like a burning house, revelations like shotgun blasts and descriptions that zip you straight up in your chair, spine quivering like a tuning fork.”

—
The Kansas City Star

A
LSO BY
E
MILY
L
ISTFIELD

It Was Gonna Be Like Paris

Variations in the Night

Slightly Like Strangers

Acts of Love

Waiting to Surface

Washington Square Press
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 1997 by Emily Listfield

Originally published in 1997 by Little, Brown and Company.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Washington Square Press Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

WASHINGTON SQUARE PRESS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-6049-4
ISBN-10: 1-4165-6049-1

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

In Memory of Ingrid Schwarz Dudding
and for
Sasha

“For life is but a dream whose shapes return Some frequently, some seldom, some by night, And some by day.”

—James Thomson,
The City of the Dreadful Night

P
ART
O
NE
O
NE

I
T WAS THE
last good night, really.

The light from the all-night deli across the street filtered through the lace curtains and fell in shadows across my legs. Outside, the West Village street was deserted except for a delivery truck unloading bundles of the next day's newspapers by the closed metal shutters of the corner store. The wind blew dried leaves across the pavement and the season's first blast of steam heat gasped and sputtered as it made its way through the radiator.

Sophie whimpered softly in my arms. I looked down at her puffy slit eyes neither awake nor asleep, focused up at me. Her irises are black, bottomless. Sometimes I think she can read my mind, literally read my every thought. She pursed her full red lips. It was one of the first things David noticed about her as we rested in the recovery room those first hazy drug-soaked moments five months ago, the baby across my chest, David by my side. “Someone stole your lips,” he said. I traced their outline now, wiping a tiny bubble of spittle from her chin and then licking it from my finger.

Sophie's face suddenly turned purple, deep as an eggplant, as she began to sob. Her arms, her legs are pillows of flesh, boneless, pliant. Her wrists are fat, smooth, and hairless, like the wrists of a plump old lady. The only thing missing is a narrow gold watch and lilac perfume. I offered her the bottle of formula sitting on the floor and held her close to my face while I continued rocking back and forth in the mission chair. The smell of talc and formula and a musty amber scent all her own, like dank cherry wood and cobwebs, engulfed me. I shut my eyes and inhaled deeply, swallowing it, drowning in it. Her fine dark hairs tickled my nose. Sophie's hair is straight, like David's, on the top and sides of her head, but erupts into a patch of wild curls, like mine once did, in the back. I've tried to wet down the renegade ringlets, tame them, this unexpected fragment of my past self, recognizable as if from a foggy distance, but they always bounce stubbornly back.

I wonder what else will spring out suddenly, unbidden.

I sat her up, burped her, wiped the white liquid that spilled from her mouth. Her cheeks, red and chubby, had patches of parched skin from drool and dry heat. Sometimes, in profile, there is a fleeting expression on her face that is exactly like my mother, Astrid—a puzzled consternation nestled in fat. This is what David says: “Nature versus nurture is a joke. Babies come out with their own little agendas. It's all genetics after all, don't you think?” He never met my mother, and wouldn't know, even if I told him of the resemblance, if I'm right or not. Certainly, he wouldn't be troubled by it.

I heard David snoring in our bedroom down the hall. It amazes me that he is able to sleep through the crying, that he truly does not hear, the way I do, every whimper, every breath in the night, hear it in his sleep, in his very bones.

It was another hour before Sophie finally fell to sleep.

Before I left her, I stood in the doorway looking back into the dark room, and hurriedly made the sign of the cross on my fore
head three times. It is one of my secrets, this ritual, always three times, always furtive. If anyone ever catches me at it, I pretend to be rubbing something off my skin, an eyelash, a piece of dust.

I'm not Catholic, I have no religion at all.

I only crave protection.

I shut the door to Sophie's room and climbed quietly back into my own bed, with its soft mattress, Porthault sheets, and extra pillows. David was sprawled on his back, the eyelet quilt across his stomach, his caramel-colored hair standing up on end. I closed my eyes and tried to sink into all the plushness, but my body only skimmed the surface, rigid and resistant.

I lay still a moment more and then got out of bed.

I closed the bedroom door behind me and padded barefoot into the living room. Kneeling by the television, I felt behind a stack of magazines for a videotape, pulled it out, opened the black plastic box, and slid the tape into the VCR. After five seconds of static, music piped up, a graphic of Manhattan's skyline filled the screen, and the title appeared:
The New York Nightly News with Laura Barrett and Ron Kheeler
. I turned the sound down, embarrassed at the thought of David coming out and finding me.

I looked at the two faces on the screen, smiling and then still, as the titles and music dissolved and the camera moved in closer.

My own face, so smooth and confident as I began, “Good evening,” my eyes opening expressively, my hands resting on the desk. When I first started in television, my eyes roamed the screen nervously, looking to connect with the unseen viewer—are you there? or there? My arms rose from the desk, explicating, distracting. Early errors in out-of-town debuts. The way I clutched the microphone in two hands, as if praying, because I had once seen Barbara Walters do it. The makeup I applied myself, too vivid, with glossy lips that surrounded my words in pools of obscene red light. Small markets, small starts.

I slid my hands into the pockets of my silk bathrobe and sat back on the sage velvet couch.

Years ago, I took all of my savings and hired a coach to view my tapes. Maggie Tildon sat in silence through the entire first half hour, her scrawny legs crossed at the ankles, her lips pursed, as she took copious notes. When the tape ended, she pulled her thick glasses lower on her tiny nose and started reading her comments in a gentle voice, couching her criticisms, dulling them, until, frustrated, I insisted: Tell me the truth; don't spare me. That's how badly I wanted it.

After that, we spent weeks watching and rewatching the tapes. She had me slow down my speech, still my eyes and hands, lower my voice. She told me to smooth my hair closer to my head so it didn't look so cheap, dull my lips, square my shoulders to look more authoritative. She changed the way I dressed to more conservative suits, and told me to favor stronger colors. Even when they hurt, I welcomed every suggestion as she cut deeper and deeper, deconstructing me, remaking me. I was just so desperate to leave the past behind.

I watched the tape until the end. It was recorded a week ago, a memento of my last broadcast as co-anchor of the local evening news.

Often during the last week at home, I put the tape in and stared at my own face on the screen, a comfort, a reminder, a lie. This is who you used to be, this is who you are.

And all the while I watched it, I was wondering this: What did they see in it, in me, the network honchos in their leather and art-filled offices high above Manhattan, to make them offer me the national slot?

Others were wondering exactly the same thing—the media critics who thought co-anchors were by their very nature a bad idea, the network reporters who had been dutifully trudging through the ranks from small domestic bureaus to Washington and then overseas, all aimed at getting them to the anchor desk,
only to find the network had chosen someone who'd only done the local news. Not everyone wished me well.

 

W
HEN THE TAPE
ended, I got off the couch, ejected the video, hid it once more behind the television, and went to make a pot of coffee. While I waited for it to brew, I picked up the copy of
People
magazine that was resting on top of the refrigerator. I turned to page seventy-three. My own face smiled back at me from the right-hand side, greasy with fingerprints from secretive studying, blurring the words that trumpeted my soon-to-be debut as co-anchor of the
National Evening News
with Quinn Hartley. This was what the network had figured on, all the hoopla that came with their unexpected choice, the frenzy that a new face can bring.

I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down at the butcher-block counter. Outside, dawn was just beginning to break, pearly gray and wintry. I sipped the hot black coffee and stared once more at the print.

All last week, I wheeled Sophie back and forth past the newsstands, eyeing the magazine displayed in multiples, my face inside each and every one. And each time, a wave of nausea and fear washed through me. It hadn't seemed real before.

I've had press before, of course, but it was always strictly local, circulated only within the borders of whatever city I found myself working in. Who recognizes the news anchor of Burlington outside of its city limits, or Pittsburgh? The fame was contained, held in check. Restaurants seated me in front to impress the other customers, and people looked twice at me on the street. But I could leave the city, and twenty miles away, no one knew me, no one looked.

I was safe.

There are things you don't let yourself think about, things that
you cram into a molten ball and stash deep within the caverns of your gut. Even as I moved to bigger and bigger markets and finally New York, I put out of my mind where it might be headed.

Sometimes now I look back and try to find the exact point where I should have put a halt to it all, when I should have thought about the consequences.

But I didn't.

I went along with the tests to see how I worked with Quinn Hartley, how we sounded together, how we looked, to see if there was that incalculable something between us: chemistry, alchemy, ratings magic. Part of it was simple curiosity—would I make the grade? Part of it was ambition. It is difficult, after all, to say,
This is enough. I'll stop here
, when you are being offered so much more.

Anyway, I never thought I'd get it.

I rested my mug on the countertop and carefully ripped the article out of the magazine. Folding it in half, I took my coffee in the other hand and returned to the living room with its double-height swagged windows, Aubusson rug, and custom-made Italian chairs, all the carefully accumulated accouterments of permanence. When we moved in, I was seven months pregnant. It was our first real place as a family, and I wanted it to be perfect. The scent of all the anonymous apartments I'd had in all the anonymous cities still clung to me, gray impersonal rooms that could be vacated at a moment's notice when I got the call to move on. And all the while, longing for a home.

On the bookshelf, there is a large burgundy leather loose-leaf, and I pulled it down gently. Inside, I had pasted the articles that trailed after my professional career, from Burlington, Providence, Pittsburgh, a scrapbook of the past fourteen years until I made it to New York, complete with grainy photographs of my face behind a series of studio desks. I flipped past the page that held tabloid photos of my wedding to David three years ago, inky shots of us standing outside Tavern on the Green. Our faces, perhaps
because of the long-distance lens, seem strangely expressionless, handsome cutouts of a bride and groom. We had only known each other six months, love was still most of all a hunch.

David has clippings of his own. A professor of urban planning, he wrote what everyone thought would be a well-received if sleepy book three years ago tracing the history of a single Manhattan block from colonial times to the present. Somehow it became a surprise bestseller and was even optioned for a miniseries. Magazines were suddenly clamoring to do profiles of him, intrigued by his ideas as well as his shaggy handsomeness and charm, hostesses wanted him for dinner. Women, enamored of his book jacket photo, so studious and so sensitive, sent him love letters disguised as philosophical analyses of his work. I had just come to New York to anchor the local news and one of my first assignments was to interview him.

My arrival, heralded in the press and in repeated promos on television, fully occupied me at first, but after the initial onslaught, I found myself left much to my own devices to fill the twenty-three hours when I was not on-air. The city left me breathless and unsteady. David, who had grown up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, had seen a lifetime of people come here to conquer it anew. “Just like you,” he teased on our first date. “It's a city of phoenixes, all that small-town ambition burning up whoever comes near it. Everyone here is the one who got out of wherever it is they can't wait to forget. It's a whole goddamned city of amnesiacs.”

“What about you?” I asked.

“Me?” He laughed. “When I went to college, they asked me the name of my hometown paper in case I did anything particularly notable. The only thing I could think to answer was the
New York Times
.” He smiled. “Actually, I'm jealous. No one who was born here has nearly as much energy as you infiltrators.”

I wonder if he looks at the articles about himself behind the closed door of his study, or if he rereads the love letters on dis
couraging afternoons. I suspect that he does, though I've never caught him at it.

I came to an empty page and pasted the
People
article onto it.

 

I
WAS ON
my third cup of coffee when David came up behind me and kissed the back of my neck, his lips still dry and caked with sleep. “Good morning.”

“Morning.”

“So today's the big day.”

“Yup.”

“Nervous?” he asked.

“Why should I be nervous? Just because every television critic in the nation will be watching and every women's group has written to tell me I'm their next great hope?”

“I'll take that as a yes.” David poured himself a half-cup of coffee and filled the rest of the mug with milk. He took a sip and leaned back against the counter, the white T-shirt he had slept in falling in ripples against his solid frame. I knew if I touched it how soft it would be, how warm. “You'll be fine. They wouldn't have chosen you if they didn't think you could do the job.” He smiled. “Of course, that's what they said about Connie Chung, too.”

“It's your optimism I find so irresistible.”

“Not my piercing intellect?”

“Don't flatter yourself.”

“So, how did our little peanut do last night?” he asked.

It was what we always came back to, Sophie. It was where we found each other.

“All right,” I answered. “Only one bout of projectile vomiting.”

BOOK: The Last Good Night
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