Authors: Pamela Redmond Satran
“Okay,” Maggie said decisively.
“I think you're ready.”
She propelled me across the loft to the mirror.
I swear, at first I didn't recognize myself. I actually swiveled to look behind me, thinking somebody else may have walked in when I wasn't looking.
Somebody blond. Somebody hot. And somebody very, very young.
“I can't believe it,” I said, blinking hard.
Maggie grinned. “I'd take you for twenty-two!” she crowed.
When I was really twenty-two, I was finishing up my study of Jane Austen and the BrontÃ«s at Mount Holyoke, with my hair scraped back in a ponytail and my body swathed in big baggy sweat clothesâit might as well have been a burkhaâand my thick glasses perennially sliding down my unpowdered nose. I had certainly never looked like this: buff and blond, wearing lipstick and baring cleavage and looking smart and a little bit slutty.
“Who is she?” I whispered.
But Maggie, who was busy checking her watch, didn't hear me. “It's almost midnight,” she said. “Time to take the new you out for a test run.”
“Satran tells realistic and intriguing stories that will enthrall and, ultimately, surprise readers.”
“The truth at last about what happens after the happily ever after. Sassy Pamela Redmond Satran's new novel is droll, poignant, and razor-sharp in its observations of marriage, mothering, desire, and female friendships. It should be subtitled
Sex in the Suburbs
âKaren Karbo, author of
Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me
“Here's the latest in the hottest subject in fiction: the secret world of suburban moms. A sassy, fun read.”
âDanielle Crittenden, author of
amanda bright @ home
“Tender, hopeful, funny and engagingâ¦. Don't miss it!”
“This novel is a breath of fresh airâ¦. It's delightful to read about women attempting to find out what really makes them happy, without throwing away their families to accomplish it. The friends' unique dilemmas make their stories fascinating.”
“It's a fast, funny read, with characters you'd love to have as friends.”
“Featured Book of the Week!”
“My fave chick-lit choice.”
âThe Book Babes,
“Joy, love, and sex in the modern suburbsâPamela Redmond Satran gets it exactly right.”
âLaurie Lico Albanese, author of
“This witty first novelâ¦is both completely readable and utterly charming.”
âJacquelyn Mitchard, #1 bestselling author of
The Deep End of the Ocean
“I love, love, love
The Man I Should Have Married
. Pamela Redmond Satran has captured Kennedy's dilemma with energy and wit. I couldn't put it down.”
âAlice Elliott Dark
Also by Pamela Redmond Satran
The Man I Should Have Married
Babes in Captivity
In One Year and Out the Other
Available from Downtown Press
Publication of POCKET BOOKS
|DOWNTOWN PRESS, published by Pocket Books|
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New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents 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 Â© 2005 by Pamela Redmond Satran
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.
First Downtown Press trade paperback edition July 2005
DOWNTOWN PRESS and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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To my daughter,
I'm so grateful to have two of the most brilliant and generous women in publishing on my team, my agent Deborah Schneider and editor Amy Pierpont. Also at Downtown Press, thanks to Louise Burke, Megan McKeever, Hillary Schupf, Anne Dowling, and Danielle Rehfeld, and at Gelfman Schneider, to Cathy Gleason and Britt Carlson. For a key plot twist that bedeviled the rest of the world, thank you to the inspired Leslie Rexach. I'm lucky enough to have close friends who are also smart writers and supportive colleagues: Rita DiMatteo, Alice Elliott Dark, Benilde Little, and Christina Baker Kline. Thank you to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Geraldine Dodge Foundation for the two most heavenly weeks of my writing life, during which I spun out most of the first draft of this book. For insights into life on the south side of forty, I send thanks and kisses to my cousin's lovely daughters, Kimberly and Katie Kavanagh, and to my own fabulousâokay, awesomeâchildren, Rory, Joe, and Owen Satran. And thank you, always, to Dick.
almost didn't get on the ferry.
I was scared. And nervous. And overwhelmed by how out of place I felt, in the crowd of young people surging toward the boat bound for New York.
Not just New York, but New York City on New Year's Eve. The mere thought of it made my hands sweat and my feet tingle, the way they did the one time I rode to the top of the Empire State Building and tried to look down. In the immortal words of my daughter Diana, it made my weenie hurt.
I would have turned around and driven right back home to my safe suburban houseâ
I can see the ball drop better on TV anyway!
âexcept I couldn't leave Maggie waiting for me on the freezing pier in downtown Manhattan. Maggie, my oldest and still closest friend, didn't believe in cell phones. She also didn't believe in computers, or cars, or staying in New Jersey on New Year's Eve, or for that matter, staying in New Jersey ever. Maggie, who came out as a lesbian to her ultra-Catholic parents at sixteen and made her living as an artist, didn't believe in doing anything the easy way. And so I couldn't cancel our night out, and there was nothing for me to do but keep marching forward to my potential doom.
At least I was first in line for the next boat. It was frigid out that night, but I staked my claim to the prime spot, hanging on to the barricade to keep anybody from cutting in front of me. These kind of suburban yos who were milling around on the dock with me, I knew, majored in line-cutting in kindergarten.
Then a weird thing happened. The longer I stood there, guarding my turf, the more I began to want to go into the cityânot just for Maggie, but for myself. Looking out across the dark water at the lights of Manhattan sparkling beyond, I began to think that Maggie had been right, and going into New York on New Year's Eve was exactly what I needed. Shake things up, she said. Do something you've never done before. Hadn't doing everything the way I'd always done itâthe cautious way, the theoretically secure wayâlanded me precisely in the middle of my current mess? It had, and no one wanted that to change more than me.
And so when they opened the gate to the ferry, I sprinted ahead. I was determined to be the first one up the stairs, to beat everybody else to the front of the outside deck, where I could watch New York glide into view. I could hear them all on my heels as I ran, but I was first out the door and to the front of the boat, grabbing the metal rail and hanging on tight as I labored to catch my breath. The ferry's engine roared to life, its diesel smell rising above the saltiness of the harbor, but still I sucked the air deep into my lungs as we chugged away from the dock. Here I am, I thought: alive and moving forward, on a night when anything can happen.
It wasn't until then that I noticed I was the only one standing out there. Everybody else was packed into the glassed-in cabin, their collective breath fogging its windows. Apparently I was the only one who wasn't afraid of a little cold, of a little wind, of a little icy sprayâokay, make that a
of icy sprayâas the boat bucked like a mechanical bull across the waves. It was worth it, assuming I wasn't hurled into the inky waters, for the incredible view of the glowing green Statue of Liberty and the twinkling skyscrapers up ahead.
As I gripped the rail even tighter, congratulating myself on my amazing bravery, the boat slowed and seemed to stall there in the middle of the harbor, its motor idling loudly. Just as I began to wonder whether we were about to sink, or make a break for the open seas at the hands of a renegade captain running from the law, the boat began to back up. Back up and turn around. Were we returning to New Jersey? Maybe the captain had the same misgivings about Manhattan on New Year's Eve that I did.
But no. Once the boat swung around, it began moving toward the city again. Leaving me facing not the spectacular vista of Manhattan but the big clock and broken-down dock of Hoboken, and darkest New Jersey beyond. Frantically, I looked over my shoulder at the bright, snug cabin, which now had the prime view of New York, but it was so crowded, it would have been impossible to squeeze inside. I was stuck out in the cold facing New Jersey, all alone. The story of my life.
Half an hour later, I was hobbling through the streets of Soho arm in arm with Maggie, cursing the vanity that had led me to wear high heels and fantasizing about grabbing the comfy-looking green lace-up boots off Maggie's feet. Maggie was very sensibly striding along beside me in boot-cut jeans, a down-filled coat as enormous as a sleeping bag, and a leopard-print hunter's cap, with the earflaps down and a velvet bow tied under her chin.
“Are we almost there yet?” I asked, the shoes nipping at my toes.
“Come on,” she said, tugging me away from the crowded sidewalk of West Broadway toward a dark, unpopulated side street. “This'll be faster.”
I stopped, looking with alarm down the deserted street. “We'll get raped.”
“Don't be such a scaredy-cat.” Maggie laughed, pulling me forward.
Easy for her to say: Maggie had moved to the Lower East Side at eighteen, back when Ratner's was still serving blintzes and crackheads camped under her stairwell. Now she owned her building, the entire top floor turned into a studio where she lived and worked on her sculptures, larger-than-life leaping, twirling women fashioned from wire and tulle. All those years in New York on her own had made Maggie tough, while I was still the soft suburban mom, protected by my husband's money, or should I say, my soon-to-be-ex-husband's ex-money.
My heart hammered in my ears as Maggie dragged me down the black street, slowing only slightly when I focused on the sole beam of light on the entire block, which seemed, for some strange reason, to be pink. When we reached the storefront from which the light was emanating, we saw why: in the window was a bright pink neon sign that read “Madame Aurora.” The glow was further enhanced by a curtain of pink and orange glass beads covering the window, filtering the light from inside the shop. Beyond the beads, we could just make out a woman who could only be Madame Aurora herself, a gold turban askew on her gray hair, smoke curling from the cigarette that teetered from her lips. Suddenly, she looked straight at us and beckoned us inside. Taped to the window was a hand-lettered sign: “New Year's Wishes, $25.”
“Let's go in,” I said to Maggie. I'd always been a sucker for any kind of wish and any kind of fortune-telling, so the combination of the two was irresistible. Besides, I wanted to get out of the cold and off my feet, however briefly.
Maggie made a face, her “You have got to be out of your fucking mind” face.
“Come on,” I said. “It will be fun.”
“Eating a fabulous meal is fun,” Maggie said. “Kissing someone you have a crush on is fun. Dropping good money on some phony fortune-teller is
“Come on,” I wheedled, the way I did when I called to read her a particularly good horoscope, or suggested she join me in wishing on a star. “You're the one who told me I should start taking more risks.”
Maggie hesitated just long enough to give me the confidence to step in front of her and push open Madame Aurora's door, giving Maggie no choice but to follow.
It was hot inside the room, and smoky. I waved my hands in front of my face in an attempt to signal my discomfort to Madame Aurora, but this only seemed to provoke her to take a deeper drag on her cigarette and then to emit a plume of smoke aimed directly at my face.
I looked doubtfully at Maggie, who only shrugged and refused to meet my eye. I was the one who'd dragged us in here; she wasn't about to get us out.
“So, darling,” said the Madame, finally removing the cigarette from her mouth. “What is your wish?”
What was my
? I wasn't expecting her to pop the big question right out of the gate like that. I figured there'd be some preamble, a few moments examining my palm, shuffling the tarot cards, that kind of thing.
“Well,” I stalled. “Do I get only one?”
Madame Aurora shrugged. “You can have as many as you want, for twenty-five dollars a pop.”
And no fair, as everybody knows, wishing for more wishes.
Again, I tried to catch Maggie's eye. Again, she looked stubbornly away from me. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate.
What was the one thing I wanted, above all others? For my daughter Diana to return from Africa? Definitely, I wanted that, but she was scheduled to come home this month anyway, so that seemed like a waste of a wish.
To get a job? Of course. I'd been so determined to support myself when my husband left that I'd negotiated sole title to our house in lieu of long-term alimony. Then I'd spent half the year humiliating myself at interviews at publishing houses. No one, it seemed, wanted to hire a forty-four-year-old woman who'd spent precisely four months in the workforce before becoming a full-time mom. I tried to tell them I'd devoted the past twenty years to reading everything I could get my hands on, and I knew better than anybody what middle-class suburban women in book groupsâwomen exactly like me, who made up the prime novel-buying marketâwanted to read.
But nobody cared about my experience in the reading trenches. All they seemed to see was a middle-aged housewife with an ancient English degree and a rÃ©sumÃ© padded with such “jobs” as co-chair of the book fair at my kid's elementary school. I was unqualified for an editor's position, and though I always told them I would be happy to start as an assistant, I wasn't considered for entry-level jobs. No one put it this way, but they thought I was too old.
“I wish I were younger,” I said.
By the looks on Madame Aurora's and Maggie's faces, I must have said that out loud.
The Madame burst out laughing.
“Whaddaya wanna be younger for?” she said. “All that worryin', who am I gonna marry, what am I gonna do with my life. It's for the birds!”
Maggie chimed in. “What are you saying, that you want to go back to all that uncertainty? Now that you finally have a chance to get your life together?”
I couldn't believe they were ganging up on me. “It's just that if I were younger I could do some things a little differently,” I tried to explain. “Think about what I want more, take my career more seriouslyâ¦”
But Maggie was already shaking her head. “You are who you are, Alice,” she said. “I knew you when you were six, and even back then you always put everybody else first. Before you went out to play, you had to make sure your stuffed animals were comfortable. When we were freshmen in high school, and everybody else was consumed with trying to look cool, you were the one who volunteered to push that crippled girl around in her wheelchair. And once you had Diana, she was always what you cared about above everything else.”
I had to admit, she was right. I may have left my job at Gentility Press because I had to, when I started bleeding and almost lost the baby. But once Diana was born, I stayed home because I wanted to. And then, as she got older, I kept telling myself I couldn't go back to work because maybe this was the year I'd finally get pregnant again, but the truth was that Diana herself was all the focus I needed in my life.
So now I wanted to undo that? Now I wished I could go back and put Diana in day care, become a working mom, or even not have Diana at all?
The very idea was enough to send an enormous shiver up my spine, as if even the shadow of the idea could jinx my daughter, my motherhood, the most important thing in my life. I could never wish her out of existence, never dream of wishing away even one of the moments I'd spent with her.
But still, what about me? Had devoting all those years to my child disqualified me from ever claiming a life for myself? The real reason I wished I'd been different back then was so that I could be different now: ballsier, bolder, capable of grabbing the world by the throat and bending it to my will.
“What's it gonna be?” said Madame Aurora.
“I want to be braver,” I said. “Plus maybe, if you could do something about my celluliteâ¦”
Maggie rolled her eyes and jumped to her feet.
“This is ridiculous,” she said, taking hold of my arm. “Come on, Alice. We're leaving.”
“But I didn't get my wish,” I said.
“I didn't get my money,” said Madame Aurora.
“Too bad,” said Maggie. “We're out of here.”
Now Maggie was walking really fast. I tried asking her to slow down, but instead of listening, she kept forging ahead, expecting me to keep up. Finally, I stopped dead in my tracks so she had to double back and talk to me.
“Give me your boots,” I said.
She looked puzzled.
“If you expect me to walk this far and this fast, you're going to have to trade shoes with me.”
Maggie looked down at my feet and burst out laughing.
“You need more help than I thought,” she said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You'll see.” She was already untying her green boots.
“Where are we going?” I always trusted Maggie to be my guide to New York, following unquestioningly, like a little girl, wherever she wanted to take me. Tonight, for instance, I thought she said we were going to a cool new restaurant. But now that I took a moment to look around at the low brick buildings and decidedly uncool neighborhood as I stepped into Maggie's boots, I was starting to wonder.