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Authors: Robert Ward

The Sandman (5 page)

BOOK: The Sandman
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Her thoughts were interrupted by noise behind her, and she turned and saw Harry Gardner following Peter Cross into the park. Before she could turn away, she saw Gardner give her the eye, and before she could gather up the wrappings from her sandwich and her empty juice carton, he was springing over to her. It was comical, really. She had just been sitting there, thinking of Mister Swinging Singles, and here he was, in the flesh.

“Hi, Debby,” Harry said, his short, hairy arms hanging out of his green operating coat like those on a baboon.

“Hello, Harry,” she said. “Have a good morning?”

“Yeah,” he said, “a walkthrough, just a little hernia operation and a gallbladder, nothing the kid can’t handle.”

“Which kid are you referring to?” Debby said.

“The kid!” Harry said quickly, pointing to his own chest. “The kid, right here. Who else? Harry, the Kid.”

“I’ve got to go, Harry,” she said. “Lunchtime is over.”

“Yeah, well, listen,” Harry said, “your shift is off at five. So’s mine. Why don’t we go over to the Emergency Room and have a few drinks? I’d like to get to know you a little better.”

“Oh, really, Harry? Get to know me a little better?” Debby said, putting Harry on.

But Harry was beyond irony. “Yeah,” he said, “I would. I think you and I could maybe …”

“Make some beautiful music?” Debby said, overstating her sarcasm as much as possible so that he might possibly get injured and leave.

“Hey,” Harry said, “give me a break.”

“Sorry, stud,” Debby said, “I didn’t realize you were so sensitive.”

“Hey,” said Harry, “I’m not … I mean …”

“Yes?” Debby said. “What do you mean? Hmm?”

Harry stuttered and looked as though he were mortally wounded.

Debby heard a chuckle and looked over in the direction of Peter Cross, who had been left alone on the bench nearest the river. She hoped he might respond. In fact, she realized now that she had purposely delivered the last lines to Harry a little loudly so that Peter might hear her. There was something remote, distant, and brilliant about him. The mere fact that a goof like Harry called him Spaceman (such an unoriginal, fraternity-boy putdown) had made her interested in Peter right from the start. But he had never shown the slightest interest in her. Or, if she could believe the gossip in the nurses’ station, any other woman in the hospital. He was a real loner, which to Debby made him all the more attractive. But even now, she couldn’t be certain he had laughed at her rebuff of Harry, because he was not facing her, but the river, and he seemed to be engrossed in a book.

“Look,” Harry said. “You don’t have to be so damned bitchy about it. Christ! I was just trying to get to know you.”

“Harry,” she said, “I am sorry. I just don’t feel like it. All right?”

Harry recouped quickly. “It’s all right, doll,” he said. “Some other time. Well, I’ll leave you now. Gotta go see some friends. You can stay out here with Dr. I. Q.” He delivered the last line with some vengeance, then smiled and winked at her conspiratorially to let her know that she was a very small fish in his giant pond of guppies. She watched him as he bounded through the door back into the hospital.

Debby knew she should go in herself. She had her rounds to make, but the longer she looked at Peter Cross’s back, the more interested she became. There was something about him that reminded her of a picture she had seen of an artist. No, not an artist, a poet of some kind. But she knew nothing of poetry. She had only thought of poetry because he was reading The
Collected Stories of Edgar
Allan Poe.

“Hello,” she said softly, feeling terribly self-conscious, afraid that he would treat her as she had treated Harry.

For a second Cross did not look up. It was as if she were invisible. Then he acknowledged her with a nod of his head.

“That was pretty rough in there yesterday,” she said. “I hope they didn’t get on you at the meeting.”

He smiled a bit and shook his head.

“Not too bad,” he said.

Now she smiled and sat down next to him.

“You’re just saying that,” she said, “but I can guess pretty well what happened. Dios and Black probably stuck up for one another. The surgeons always do.”

He put his book down on his lap and nodded.

“Okay. You’ve got me there. But that’s okay. Still it bothers me. I hate to see an old person suffer because some doctors want to test out their technique….

“Do you think that’s what happened?” Debby said, alarmed.

“Well, no, not this time,” Cross said. “But the other times maybe. Do you know how many operations that woman had had in the past eighteen months? Five. And you know, four of them were probably the result of the first one.”

Debby smiled, and shook her head.

“Dr. Cross,” she said, “you are quite an outspoken person … I mean once you start talking.”

“Really?” he said. “I always thought I was the Space Cadet.”

Debby blushed a little. “You’ve heard those dumb jokes?”

“I’ve heard them.”

“They make me furious,” she said. “You know why people call you that? Because you’re a little aloof and you like to read something other than junk. Like Poe.”

“That’s probably it,” Cross said. “Too much for the conservative, soulless mind of science.”

He chuckled a bit to himself, and she laughed with him. He was much easier to talk to than she had imagined. In fact, he was charming. She looked at his book.

“Poe,” she said. “I remember seeing a Poe play when I was a kid. They brought The
Black Cat
to our high school. Just a local group in Rochester. I watched it, and it didn’t make any real impression on me—at the time, that is. Then later that night I went home and got in bed, and I began hearing the damned heartbeat under my bed. I mean it—it scared the hell out of me.”

Cross looked at her in amazement. The simple story seemed to him a revelation.

“How did you feel?” he said.

“Scared,” she said. “Very scared.”

“Only scared?” he said.

“I don’t see what you mean. No, wait, I do. No, there was something else. It was like I wanted it to stop, but part of me didn’t. Part of me wanted to go right on being afraid. It was terrible, but it was deliciously terrible.”

“Aha,” Peter said, laughing. “Eureka.”

He laughed wildly and touched her shoulder. She broke into laughter herself then and looked at his face. God, he was a handsome man, and strange.

“Poe will do that to you,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

They laughed a little more, but then neither of them seemed to be able to pick up the thread. She sat there for a second, a little nervous, tense, and waited for him to say something more, to ask for her number, but he just sat staring at her, and she finally had to get up.

“I’ll be seeing you, Peter,” she said. “I’ve got to get back to work.”

“Sure,” he said. “See you soon.”

She moved away from him then, and wondered if he was attracted to her. And if he was, why he had blown his chance.

5

“You look as though you could use a cup of tea.”

“Don’t try subtlety, Mrs. O’Shea,” Robert Beauregard said. “I look like I’ve been stuffed into a bottle of hydrochloride.”

“Not that bad, darlin’,” Mrs. O’Shea said, taking Beauregard’s coat and hanging it in the closet. Beauregard looked down at his old Chippendale table and picked up the mail. Nothing but bills and requests for money from charity organizations.

Beauregard put down the mail and walked across the living room. What he saw depressed him. Not that there was disorder. Mrs. O’Shea had done a terrific job. His dark brown carpet and comfortable modern couches were spotless. His large glass coffee table was neatly stacked with magazines, and over in the corner, at the bar, all the ingredients for his vodka and tonic stood ready, including freshly cut limes. In the days before Heather had left him, he would have felt happiness that all this could be his. Especially the original Lyle Blackmore painting on the wall. An abstract in blues and yellows, with a jagged red line through its center, the painting had been Heather’s purchase, not his own. She had seen talent in the young man from SoHo, whereas Beauregard had initially only used the painting as an occasion to get off a good one-liner. “Looks like the price index graph at Con Ed.” But now he had gotten used to that damned painting and he regretted his lame little joke. Perhaps that’s why she had taken off to Europe—to escape his one-liners.

He mixed his drink, stared at the painting, trying to relax his brain in its cool colors. But his mind circled endlessly around Lorraine Bell’s death.

Beauregard sipped the drink, and shut his eyes, and saw a hand reaching up toward him … a long, thin hand, like that of a concentration camp victim. He reached for the hand, and it grasped his wrist, the bony fingers clammy and cold. Then he looked down the length of the arm at the pathetically bony shoulder, and then at the two pale blue eyes which sat in the yellow flesh like two seeds—hard and flat and watery. The face was that of Kathy Albertson, one of his own patients … many years ago, when he was a resident. She had terminal leukemia, and her mouth was dry, small, and she was saying, “Doctor, please … please …,” and Beauregard felt terror growing within him, so that he wanted to rip the needles out of her arm …

“You ought to go to bed,” said Mrs. O’Shea. “You ought to just take a nice nap.”

“What?” Beauregard said, suddenly snapped back into his own home.

“You were nodding off,” Mrs. O’Shea said. “You need a nap.”

“No,” he said, “I’m all right … really. I met an interesting young man at the hospital today. His name is Peter Cross … and he’s really extraordinary. I was just thinking how Heather would like to meet him.”

“Funny you should mention it,” Mrs. O’Shea said. “Mrs. Beauregard called today from Paris.”

“Yes?” Beauregard said, trying not to reveal the excitement he felt growing inside him.

“She said to tell you that she was coming to New York in a week or so. Maybe in time for the holidays. She wasn’t sure of the exact date. She had to finish her studies first. She went on about her studies for quite a while, but I had no idea what she was talking about. To tell you the truth, she kept mentioning this fellow she had to study with, a man named Herman Neutics. Sounds like a real complicated lad.”

Beauregard began to laugh out loud. It was the first time he had laughed all week, and the sound of his laughter seemed to come from a tunnel deep inside him.

“Mrs. O’Shea, you’re a marvel,” Beauregard said. “Hermeneutics is not the name of a man but a branch of philosophy.”

Mrs. O’Shea shrugged and smiled.

Beauregard took a sip of his drink and sat down on the white couch. Outside he heard a siren sound … emergency … but his mind drifted toward an image of his wife … walking down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial … her yellow hair shining in the sun, her long, tanned legs outlined against the brilliant speckled concrete. A goddess … and like a goddess she was impatient … had to know everything at once. First philosophy, then English, then psychology, and finally Marxism … God knows what she was into by now. She had always been quixotic, and it had irritated him. Just as his own steady course had bothered her. But now, as he thought of her, all his hostility melted away and he could only remember the good times they had shared at Georgetown—the nights working in the clubs, Beauregard playing piano, doing Mose Allison tunes. That seemed a million years ago … before she had been swept up by every revolutionary change the 60’s had to offer.

She had come from money and had the natural confidence that money brings. She had never really wanted anything—unlike himself. He was from Atlanta, just as she was, but his family didn’t have any real fortune.

Not for long anyway. Old Beau, his father, had been a successful GP but had blown the family money on several crazy investments—Health Food Chicken—a fried chicken with a batter made of megavitamins, and the Anatomical Robot, A Health Toy, which was designed to teach kids about the glories of the body. Unfortunately, the toy had been a bit too daring for its day, and the Southern Baptists had staged a robot melting party in Peachtree Square. By the time Beauregard had been ready to walk into the world, the money was spent. And he had to work in bars in Georgetown to pay his way through medical school. Still, they had been good days. He had met Heather, who was a psychology major. She had then switched to history, and finally, after they were married, had been converted to political theory. That was during the 60’s, when every day had seemed like a new breakthrough. God, the people they had met … most of whom he had thought of as bums, hangers-on, or simply Heather-worshippers. But he had been wrong, and if she came back, he would show her that he could care, given a chance to do it his own way. He really would have to introduce her to Peter Cross.

“Sarah will be coming home soon, Beau,” Mrs. O’Shea said. You better be getting a move on to eat dinner. I’ve laid out your tuxedo.”

“God,” Beauregard said. “That’s the last thing I feel like wearing. And where is Sarah anyway?”

“Taking her ballet lesson, sir. She’s a regular little demon. She says she’ll be in City Center in two years.”

“And I will,” came a voice from the door.

“Talk about timing, darling. I believe you will,” said Mrs. O’Shea.

Beauregard looked up to see his blond, gracefully beautiful daughter smile at him. Her blue eyes, her perfect skin, her long thin face—she was already a beauty. Like Heather.

“Daddy,” she said, racing across the room and kissing him.

He held her to him and kissed the top of her head. She even smelled like Heather, and he felt all his tenderness blooming forth from within. That and his intense loneliness. He sighed deeply and patted her head.

“Don’t tell me to clean the room, Dad,” Sarah said, as Beauregard tucked her into bed. “I already feel guilty about it, and I will devote all tomorrow morning to getting the books put back in the cases and the records back in the jackets and the dust from underneath the floor and the dolls put back on the dresser, and the lipsticks and powders put back into their containers, and all that other stuff.”

BOOK: The Sandman
10.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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