THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25, 1984
Slowly, silently the door swung open. That was odd, thought Lorenza, because since that silly kidnap threat, the invisible security precautions at home had been rigorous. She pushed at the blackened, heavy medieval door. She had known its weathered vertical ridges all her life; her great-grandfather had brought this wooden door, along with the rest of the manor house, from the Cotswolds across the Atlantic to Pennsylvania. For twenty-three years—all her life—she had seen daydream pictures in the door’s wizened indentations as she waited for it to be opened.
“Where is everybody?” she called, as she stepped onto the old York stone of the entrance hall and kicked off her scarlet pumps.
Nobody answered. The echoes of the bell died away.
In stockinged feet, Lorenza walked back outside the front door and glanced beyond her red Ferrari Mondial, carelessly parked askew at the bottom of the steps. She gazed around the quiet parkland that fell away on all sides from the house to distant woods and the Ohio River, but she saw nobody.
Once again, Lorenza gave the bell three peremptory tugs, then walked over to one of the ancient stone lions that stood at the top of the steps. She patted its stone head, as she always did when she came home, then pulled off her sable coat and draped it over the lion; it was warm for the end of October.
She wandered back into the hall and looked up at the lifesize Sargent portrait of her great-grandmother. “Robbed? Raped? Kidnapped? Where do you think they all are, Greatgrandma?”
Lorenza had the same abundant but wispy russet hair as the anxious-looking lady in the pale-gray satin ballgown, but she didn’t have the same twenty-inch waist; Lorenza was chubby, like her mother, especially now. At last she was pregnant! She’d married Andrew sixteen months ago, in June 1983, and since the day she’d returned from her honeymoon her mother had looked hopeful. Lorenza had only to watch her mother stroke her six black cats—sinuous, small panthers—to know that she loved with her hands and longed for a grandchild to cuddle.
In her stockinged feet, Lorenza padded to her right, through a suite of reception rooms linked by double doors; there was no sign of anyone in the morning room, the salon, the library or the ballroom, beyond, which ran the full depth of the house and led into the orangery.
As she returned through the library, Lorenza noticed her mother’s reading glasses lying by a scatter of papers on the silver-gray carpet. So her mother was around somewhere, she thought. Idly, she picked up two invitation cards, a newspaper and a travel brochure. She looked with interest at the travel brochure, on the cover of which was pictured a tropical beach; palm trees waved against an aquamarine sky, above which scarlet words promised: “Paradise can be yours on Paui.” Lorenza flicked open the brochure and saw photographs of a low modern hotel, tropical gardens, black women with pink flowers stuck behind their ears, trays of flower-decorated drinks; young, clean-cut, bronzed white couples smiled into each other’s eyes as they dined under the stars, swam in an azure pool, swung golf clubs and tennis rackets or enjoyed a champagne picnic on a deserted beach. “Just north of Australia and south of the equator, you can reserve a slice of paradise for yourself,” the brochure suggested. “Toll-free reservations 1-800-545-PAUI.”
Lorenza threw down her mother’s papers, returned to the hall and shouted again up the ancient stairs. Her voice echoed around the oak-paneled minstrel’s gallery, but once more there was no response. She pattered to the back of the hall and peered through the double doors onto the terrace, where three fountains were linked by flowerbeds, the whole neatly framed by rows of box hedge. Although the Grahams employed three gardeners, her mother was often to be found weeding the formal Italian garden, beyond which the lawn sloped down to the Ohio River. Today there wasn’t a soul in sight.
Lorenza headed to her left, down the passage that led past the dining room and her father’s study to the staff quarters. No one in the kitchen … No one in the pantry … No one in the staff sitting room … No one in the flower room. But this house contained a butler, a cook, three Filipino housemaids and her mother’s personal maid. Where were they all?
The linen room was off the staff sitting room. In front of a pile of unfolded sheets, a shapeless woman in a white smock was slumped in a rocking chair, her sleeves rolled up over skinny arms with sinews that stood out like a man’s. On the back of each hand was a delta of thick blue veins.
Lorenza tiptoed over, tickled the woman’s ear and bawled into it, “Ciao, Nella!”
With a shriek the woman leaped to her feet, clutching her breast. “Oh! You very bad girl, Miss Lorenza!” As Lorenza hugged her, Nella added in a muffled voice, “You give me the heart attack, then nobody to cook for the family.” Nella had been transplanted from Rome when Lorenza’s mother had first arrived in Pittsburgh as the new Mrs. Arthur Graham.
Lorenza yelled, “Where’s Mama? And where’s everyone else?”
Nella was deaf and had to be bawled at. She used her deafness as a convenient excuse for not hearing anything she did not wish to discuss. If pressed, she would thump the square of white fabric that jutted out between her flat breasts and hid her old-fashioned box hearing aid, saying, “This thing no damn good again, needs fixing.”
Nella said, “Your mama give staff free afternoon, because us all work late tomorrow night for your papa’s birthday party. Your mama, she gone shopping.”
“But Mama always buys her clothes in Rome.”
Nella looked uncomfortable. “Well, maybe not clothes, but is a secret.”
“Aw, come on, Nella.”
Nella looked furtive, but what Italian cook can keep a secret? “Your mama go shopping with the decorator to choose things for your apartment upstairs. Your mama have your rooms redone, because of the baby.”
“But Andrew and I live in New York, and the baby will live there with us, not here.”
“Your mama say, just in case.”
“Just in case of what?”
Lorenza’s attention was distracted as she heard an engine softly hum in the distance. She pushed open a diamond-paned window, hung out and waved at the white Van den Plas Jaguar as it moved sedately up the gravel drive. She said, “Mama must be the only person in the world who drives a six-cylinder Jaguar fifteen miles an hour.”
“Your mama have plenty accident in her cars. Your mama not fast, but not careful. Always she think about other things, always some other place in her head. Your papa want she have some man to drive her, but your mama, she say too much trouble, is just someone else to organize.”
But Nella was talking to the air. Lorenza had rushed off to meet her mother.
Silvana Graham hurried up the steps, dropped two gift wrapped packages at the top and hugged her daughter. “Put your shoes on, darling! Mustn’t catch cold, it’s bad for the baby.” She had a low, lilting voice like a flock of doves, a voice not unusual in Rome, but rare in Pennsylvania. This soothing quality of Silvana’s voice permanently irritated her husband, because it sounded as if she were trying to calm him down, and therefore reminded him of his high blood pressure.
Lorenza kissed her mother on the lips. It was Silvana’s bewitching mouth that had captivated Arthur Graham the first time he saw her, laughing in a seaside café at Santa Margherita, on the Italian Riviera, in 1956. Sophisticated, cosmopolitan Arthur had been surprised by his own reaction to the sensuality and insouciance of the big-breasted, cheerful seventeen-year-old with the loud laugh. Twenty-eight years later, only Silvana’s mouth remained the same. The big dark eyes had lost their sparkle, the heavy black hair no longer tumbled around her shoulders but was tamed back in a tight, graying French twist.
The two women moved toward the library. Shoeless Lorenza waddled with pregnant self-importance; her mother’s slow, regal carriage just offset a heaviness that threatened to turn into bulkiness, but even her upright head could no longer disguise the start of a double chin. Women thought Silvana Graham elegant but unapproachable; men thought she was over the hill, twenty-five pounds too heavy and not worth making a pass at. Silvana moved through life in a lethargic dream, propelled forward only by timetables. “Mustn’t keep the servants waiting” had been the constant admonishment in the small palazzo in Rome, near the Borghese Gardens, where Silvana was born, and where her parents still lived.
In the library, Lorenza picked up the tropical island brochure. “What’s this about, Mama? Are you escaping at last?”
Silvana laughed at their old joke. “No, it’s a business trip. We’re leaving next week for Australia. Nexus is holding the annual conference in Sydney this year. After that, we’re having the usual top-brass working holiday. Your father has chosen Paui because he’s never been fishing there, and apparently there are plenty of sharks. He’s never caught a shark.”
“There’s something to be said for being president of a corporation.” Lorenza threw herself on the silver brocade sofa, propped her feet up and started to discuss her pregnancy with the obsessive concentration of a five-months-pregnant first-timer, who little realized how bored she would be by the subject in two months’ time. Although her baby wasn’t due until late February, Lorenza now looked at her life as if down the wrong end of a telescope: it had shrunk to a circle that included only her husband and this blurry-faced sexless baby. Silvana listened to her daughter’s self-important chatter. “Andrew feels … Andrew knows … Andrew wants me to give up my job … Andrew thinks he should look after my money. It’s one of the things I want to talk to Papa about. Andrew says it’s ridiculous to have someone else invest my money, when he’s a broker … Andrew says …”
Silvana said, “Why give up your job? I thought you enjoyed it. Although I never understood why you took a job in the first place.”
“Don’t you remember? Gran said it would give me an interest.” Lorenza remembered that Arthur’s mother had also implied she didn’t want Lorenza to follow her mother’s aimless path, padding her life out with trivia in order not to notice that she was merely marking time until she died. Gran had always had eccentric ideas.
Lorenza laughed. “It’s just an itsy-bitsy job at Sotheby’s. Andrew says I haven’t learned as much about pictures as Gran expected, and I don’t use my history degree. I’m polite to people on the phone, help someone else to catalogue the paintings and occasionally take telephone bids at auctions…. I’ll have plenty to do at home, looking after Andrew and the baby.”
Silvana lifted the heavy silver coffeepot from the tray that Nella had just placed in front of her. “Nella’s sister is coming from Varese to be your nanny. You’ll have plenty of staff. You’re luckier than most women. You’ll have time to do something, to continue to be somebody.”
Lorenza looked surprised. “Mama! That’s sixties Women’s Lib talk!” She laughed affectionately. “It’s taken you twenty years to catch up.”
“No, it’s taken me twenty years to notice.”
Silvana rubbed her pearl necklace against her cream silk collar, a sign of mild agitation. Hesitantly she said, “Few women are as happy after marriage as they expected to be.”
“What are you talking about, Mama?” Don’t say you and Papa are going to split, she thought. She asked in alarm, “Aren’t you happy? Haven’t you got everything that you could possibly want?”
Everything except what matters most, thought Silvana.
“What more could you possibly want, Mama?”
“To feel that I exist.”
So it was only that. Lorenza stretched out one arm and gently pulled Silvana’s hand toward her pink Fiorucci maternity overalls, so that Silvana could feel the hard little belly beneath. “Of course you exist, and so does that.”
Silvana said, “I hope it’s a boy.” She hesitated again, then added, “I meant what I said about your job. I don’t want your life to be eaten up without your noticing it. One day you look up and think, Where did it go, my life?” She shook her head. “Don’t laugh, Lorenza. The people you love can swallow up your life, if you let it happen. You won’t notice it’s happening or how it happens—and if you do notice, you won’t know how to stop it.”
“Darling Mama, don’t worry.” Lorenza’s indulgent voice didn’t quite hide her irritation. “I have total faith in Andrew.”
* * *
Silvana shrugged, remembering that she had once had total faith in Arthur. She recalled the angry scene with her father when she had carefully, casually told her parents over breakfast—one warm autumn day like this, years ago in Rome—that she wanted them to meet an American friend. Yes, a man. No, she had met him on the beach. (Because husky, blond Arthur had followed her from the café to the sand.) Her father had turned the page of his newspaper and said sharply that well-brought-up girls did not pick up boys on the beach, and he certainly did not wish to meet a young beach bum. So seventeen-year-old Silvana blurted out that Arthur was not young—he was quite old, thirty-four, and she was going to marry him!
The result had been like pushing a flaming rag into a jar of kerosene. Her father smashed down the paper, leaped out of his chair and yelled, “When is it due?” Her mother said, “Tulio, lower your voice or the servants will hear.” She then looked reproachfully at Silvana and asked, “When is it due?”
Amused at being taken for a parvenu, Arthur (whose girlfriend had flown back to New York after a quarrel, leaving him alone on vacation) had taken care to get Silvana pregnant as soon as she had explained that she was—sort of—engaged to be married, to the son of the family whose beautifully tended estate in Tuscany bounded theirs. Without a word Arthur had turned down the next country lane, stopped the car and thrust himself upon her. Silvana had willingly thrust back, then and subsequently, in the backs of hired cars, under hedges, in vineyards, legs waving from the bottom of a motorboat, and once behind a village bakery. Silvana had been thrilled at being made a proper woman by a proper man—not a boy. She thought that Arthur had all the sophistication, vitality and glamour of the U.S.A., a country that Silvana knew only from the movies and the advertising pages of Life magazine, a country which seemed glamorous and as distant as Mars from shabby postwar Italy, where an unmarried girl meekly obeyed her father.
After her father stormed from the breakfast room, followed by her mother repeating, “At least she says he’s a Catholic, Tulio,” the weeping Silvana had been examined by a strange physician—not the family doctor—then locked in her bedroom while her parents argued angrily. Nella, the kitchen maid who brought her meals, took Silvana’s note to Arthur, who read the sad, crumpled letter, grinned, then telephoned his mother in Pittsburgh.
Not astonished by his news, but astounded that this time Arthur actually intended to marry a girl he’d gotten pregnant, Mrs. Graham had sighed, telephoned Nexus Tower and told the office to book her a seat to Rome. After the eighteen-hour flight, during which she had plenty of time to realize that she would, as always, be unable to dissuade her only son from doing what he wanted, Mrs. Graham stepped into the waiting maroon Rolls-Royce, thinking, Well, at least she’s a Catholic.
Upon arriving at her usual suite at the Grand, Mrs. Graham wrote a short letter of invitation to Silvana’s parents, which was delivered by hand to the crumbling Palazzo Cariotto just off the Borghese Gardens.
Count Cariotto went alone to meet the tragically widowed Mrs. Graham, who wore a navy Mainbocher dress, one long string of 16-millimeter pearls—she liked the fact that it never occurred to people that they were real—and her engagement ring, which was the biggest diamond the Count had ever seen. He found his eyes repeatedly drawn to it as they talked, with formal delicacy, of the inexorably approaching event. Eventually it was agreed that their lawyers should meet to discuss the suggested, generous marriage settlement upon Silvana, and the Count returned home to tell his wife that it could have been worse, at least the mother was a lady.
The engagement party was held on a starlit September evening in the interior courtyard of the Palazzo Cariotto, where careful spotlighting drew eyes away from the decay. White satin streamers fell from tubs of dark-green yew trees; marble statues were hung with garlands of white flowers; the many servants wore livery with waistcoats striped in the dark green and yellow Cariotto colors. All the delicious buffet food—the trout, the huge hams, the smoked delicacies, the fruit and the wine—had come from the Cariotto estate in Tuscany. Although the Count’s business schemes invariably failed—someone he trusted always let him down—his farms ran as smoothly as they had always run, administered by the land agent who had inherited the job from his father, to whom it had been handed down by his father.
As swiftly as was decent, the engagement party was followed by the wedding—the bridegroom had business commitments, the Countess explained to her friends, who nodded understandingly. Following the elaborate Roman ceremony, Silvana and Arthur flew to India for their honeymoon. Thirty minutes after the Karachi stopover, Silvana had the first of her miscarriages. This had upset the food service and sanitary facilities in the first-class cabin, but music was played to drown the noise of her pain and an ambulance was waiting at Delhi, where she spent a depressing three weeks in King George Hospital, before being flown in cautious stages back to Pittsburgh.
Silvana had now seen that Arthur was wonderful in a crisis, and fell even more deeply in love with him. “Arthur says … Arthur thinks … Arthur wants me … Arthur insists …” she told her mother over the long-distance calls that grew increasingly frequent. Her mother, correctly diagnosing homesickness, dispatched young Nella to help Silvana settle down in Arthur’s family mansion in Sewickley, but Silvana never felt really happy away from the cheerful noise of Rome or the serenity of the Tuscan countryside where she had grown up, and flew back regularly to visit. Twice a year she observed her mother and father growing smaller, thinner and grayer. At first she clung to Arthur, seeking the support and security of his enfolding arms, but those strong, blond-haired, muscular arms enforced as well as enfolded. Silvana soon found out that she could do anything she wanted—unless Arthur wanted something else.
Arthur’s mother had moved out of the English manor house in Sewickley before Arthur and his bride returned from India. Happily she commissioned Philip Johnson to build her a long, low house of glass, high in the hills, which is what she had always wanted, rather than that gloomy pile of thirty rooms with diamond-paned windows that never let in enough light and heavy carved furniture—much of it supposedly sixteenth century—faded tapestries, brocade upholstery in several dingy shades and heavy, dark velvet curtains.
While Silvana recovered from her first miscarriage, she lay in her four-poster bed and scribbled notes about her pending transformation of the gloomy house. But when, one morning, she casually told Arthur what she was doing, he stopped dressing and looked at her sharply, tie tack in one hand, its stud in the other. “This is one of the best houses in Pennsylvania,” he had said. “I grew up here and I don’t want anything changed. You can replace things when necessary, but the replacements are to be just that—not changes.”
Silvana tried to protest, she even made the mistake of saying that most of the expensive furniture was fake—or, if not, then greatly repaired. Arthur listened in cold silence, turned his ice-blue eyes toward her without moving his head and observed, “At least it doesn’t have to be propped up with somebody else’s money.” A large part of Silvana’s settlement had been “loaned” to repair the Palazzo Cariotto. For a week after that, Arthur did not speak to her. In bed, he treated her as if they had not been introduced. They made up, but things were never the same again.
In romantic fiction, which Silvana loved, the hero is always permanently obsessed by the heroine, whereas in real life, once passion fades, a woman always comes second to a man’s career. Silvana never came to terms with the fact that her romantic ideas were unrealistic, so without noticing it she gradually became permanently depressed—a condition that evinced itself in weariness.
By the time Silvana managed to carry a baby to term, she had been married for four years and had been pregnant, sick or recovering from a miscarriage for almost all of that time. Arthur no longer found Silvana’s pink, moist mouth a novelty, and his interest in her had dissolved like the morning mist that rose from the river at the foot of their estate. The twelve evenings that followed the birth of their daughter were spent by Silvana alone (so that she could rest, Arthur had said). On the thirteenth evening, Silvana realized that Arthur must be doing all those wonderful things to somebody else. She tried to discuss this with him, but if Arthur didn’t want to talk about something, then it wasn’t discussed. His job at Nexus Mining International—the firm started by his great-grandfather—was an excuse for any absence. If Silvana telephoned him at his downtown office in Nexus Tower, then he was at the plant, or vice versa. On his frequent trips to the Nexus offices in New York or Toronto, Arthur was absent all day, and in the evening he left orders at his hotel that he was not to be disturbed.
But, although Arthur didn’t bother to hide his lack of interest from Silvana, he seemed to want to hide it from Pittsburgh. He was never seen with another woman, and he and Silvana made regular public appearances, at which he insisted that Silvana be exquisitely dressed. However, it was noticed that the couple rarely talked to each other when they were seated in the cream-and-crimson velvet Graham box at Heinz Hall, waiting to listen to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra or watch the Pittsburgh Ballet Company.
By that time, Silvana found that she could no longer speak up for herself—the words would not come. She had been frightened of asking Arthur for the truth, but now she was frightened of being told it. She was terrified that one day Arthur would divorce her. She would wake up in the dark with the words Then what? whispering in her ears. She felt panic at the thought of being without a husband, of being sent home to Rome like some export reject, of hearing her father say, “I told you so.” So, after a few timid attempts at discussion had been expertly turned aside by Arthur, Silvana shut her eyes to her marital unhappiness. After all, passion never lasted longer than two years, did it?
But in Arthur’s case, passion had not been replaced by affection. He simply disregarded his wife. Increasingly, Silvana felt insignificant and without hope. She trembled when spoken to, and to speak was a great effort. To outsiders she appeared vague, absentminded or aloof. She felt that real life was on the other side of a glass wall, but she could never decide whether she was looking into the aquarium, or looking out. She confided her humiliation to no one, feeling that pity would render it intolerable.
She clung to her baby, chubby Lorenza who blew bubbles and dribbled down fragile clothes that had been embroidered by Italian nuns. Everyone at Nexus knew that Arthur had returned to his bachelor habits and was once again using his old apartment below the hotel penthouse that was permanently reserved for visiting Nexus VIPs. But, surprisingly, he had felt possessive pride as soon as he saw his baby daughter’s red, screwed-up little face and heard her yell. “She takes after you,” said Silvana, and he beamed.
Within three months of Lorenza’s birth, Arthur’s old nursery suite of four rooms had been redecorated in pale pink, and from that moment Silvana knew she could have anything she wanted, provided that it was for the benefit of Lorenza. Anything, that is to say, except money.
Arthur allowed Silvana no cash. Everything had to be charged. Arthur’s secretary paid the travel bills to Rome, the accounts from Valentino, the bills from Elizabeth Arden on Fifth Avenue, where Silvana bought all her Christian Dior lingerie. Not that Arthur was cheap. If Silvana wanted a new car, she had only to say so in September, when Arthur ordered his next year’s models. Schooled by his mother, Arthur had good taste in jewelry and loved to buy it, so Silvana had plenty of everything—emeralds, pearls, sapphires and diamonds (not rubies, Arthur thought them vulgar). However, Silvana never had any cash.
Arthur knew that cash meant freedom. With even a little stash, flight would be possible. If Arthur didn’t want Silvana to stay, he also didn’t want her to go. The fact of Silvana’s existence prevented Arthur’s mistresses from being too demanding, because Arthur always made it clear that, as he was a Catholic, there could never be a divorce. So Silvana was not allowed the one thing that might have powered her flight from humiliation—she was dependent upon her husband’s whim and her husband’s money. How could she leave him, with no self-confidence and no cash? Silvana felt ashamed of her powerless situation and dealt with her timidity and insecurity by withdrawing from the world. She tried to become nothing, so that nothing could hurt her. Her body was present, but she was not, and Arthur didn’t want her body. Biologically, Silvana was alive, but emotionally she felt dead—she went through the motions of living like a languid sleepwalker, and at all times, behind her exquisite manners, she suppressed her rage toward her husband.
Except on one occasion.
* * *
The Grahams kept a ten-berth yacht at Monte Carlo and generally spent the month of June cruising the Mediterranean with a few friends. One starlit night in 1968 the party went ashore at Cannes to dine at the Carlton and Arthur drank too much Laphroaig malt whiskey after dinner. As they were returning through the moonlight in the launch, he made the mistake of telling Silvana that everyone knew she’d married him for his money.
Silvana, in strapless emerald satin, jumped to her feet—dangerously rocking the launch—and cried, “My father called you a beach bum, and as far as I knew, that’s what you were. This is what I care about your money!”
She pulled off her emerald earrings and flung them overboard.
In the stunned silence that followed, Silvana tore off her emerald bracelet and tossed it into the black, lapping waters. As the launch droned on slowly toward the yacht, Silvana licked her finger—she had put on weight and her rings were now tight—and yanked off her huge emerald engagement ring. She held it up in the moonlight and asked, “How much did you pay for that, darling?” Over the side it went, as Silvana laughed.
One of the male guests grabbed Arthur as he lunged toward Silvana, and the sailor at the wheel yelled “Attention!” as they nearly rammed the stern of another boat. Silvana was the first to climb aboard their yacht. Heedless of her guests, she scrambled below to her stateroom, locked the door and with trembling fingers opened her safe. Because of her agitation, she had to dial the combination twice. Carefully she withdrew the green Moroccan-leather jewel box and hurried back up the companionway to the deck.
Holding up a pearl collar that had belonged to Catherine the Great, Silvana yelled, “How much did this cost you, Arthur?” She threw it overboard—as far as she could.
It now took two male guests to restrain Arthur. “Now, Arthur … Careful … Arthur, get a grip on yourself.”
A diamond necklace flew among the stars, then fell into their reflection. “How much did this set you back, caro?” Silvana shouted. She held up a set of Edwardian diamond star brooches.
Sleepy voices called from neighboring yachts, requesting silence in varying degrees of politeness, as Silvana, with surprising speed and relish, flung all her jewelry into the silver and black Mediterranean. Then she yawned, stretched and tripped off to her stateroom, feeling physically lighter and exultant—her humiliation had dissolved like sea-mist at sunrise.
Inside her stateroom, Silvana hesitated, then double-locked the door. Her ebullience drained away as she sat slumped on the end of the bed. For the first time, she seriously considered leaving her husband, but she realized that would also mean leaving her small daughter. She knew that Arthur’s lawyers would, by expensive, legal and ruthless methods, gain custody of Lorenza for him.
Eventually, Silvana curled into an unhappy mound of crushed emerald satin and fell asleep, resigned to the continuation of her empty life. She had completely forgotten about the jewelry, now settling into the black silt of the harbor.
By four in the morning, Arthur had located two professional scuba divers. Abruptly sobered, he had first telephoned his broker in New York (where it was still only 10 P.M.) to check the insurance situation; he had then wakened the harbor master, and subsequently the Mayor of Cannes. Before first light, a rope cordon was bobbing around the Graham yacht (curious onlookers thought that someone must have drowned), and within two days every item of jewelry had been recovered. Apart from her emerald engagement ring, Silvana had never again worn any of the jewelry except at Arthur’s specific request. She had inherited from her grandmother a row of exquisite but discolored sixteenth-century pearls, and it was these she now fingered in the pale-gold autumn light that flooded the library.
By the time Lorenza left home, her mother had lost her nerve and wouldn’t have dared face life alone—didn’t even dare wonder why not. As for Lorenza, she had never thought to wonder whether her mother was happy. Her mother was just … there.
* * *
Lying on the silver brocade couch in the library, Lorenza pulled a pillow toward her and fitted it under the small of her back. She held a sheet of paper—a typed guest list for her father’s birthday party, which celebration was the reason for her trip home.
Lorenza skimmed the list. “What a bunch of bores! Isn’t there going to be anyone here who’s not Nexus?” She peered closer at the list. “Hey, I thought you said you were never again going to invite Suzy the Blond Bimbo, after the way she behaved last time.”
“Your father wouldn’t like you to use that word. And I suppose that anyone can accidentally fall into a pool at a party.”
“Into the shallow end, of course. And in a white dress with nothing under it—as we had all noticed before she fell into the pool. Don’t you remember Suzy standing up, dripping like Raquel Welch in one of her Grade B movies. And how every man in sight rushed to help her out, poor thing.”
“Your father particularly wanted me to invite Suzy because the other wives aren’t nice to her.”
Lorenza yawned. “They hate her guts. With good reason.”
“Lorenza, you must remember that Suzy is a distant relative.”
“She’s married to my second cousin by marriage. That’s pretty distant.” Suddenly Lorenza sat up. “I hear Papa’s car. He’s back early, isn’t he?”
“He knew you were coming.”
Something about his ice-blue eyes told you that, just like his forebears, Arthur Nimrod Graham watched for the main chance. Although Nexus was no longer entirely a family owned business, Arthur merited his place as its president, because he was as shrewd, tough and implacable as his ancestors. Arthur’s suits may have been hand-tailored by Huntsman, the Royal tailor in London’s Savile Row, but the man who filled those suits was an old-fashioned Yankee entrepreneur, whose family motto was WHAT WE HAVE WE HOLD. Arthur believed that the best form of defense was to be the first to kick the other guy where it hurt, and everybody of any importance in Pittsburgh knew this. He was sixty-two years old, silver-haired and chunky, but still fighting fit as he walked into the library. He paused, beamed and held his arms wide to Lorenza.
“How’s my girl? Not driving too fast, I hope. There’s my grandson to consider.” He chuckled. “How’s Andrew? Taking good care of my girl, I hope.”
Arthur wasn’t aware of the sharp edge of his joviality, as his arms enfolded the only person in the world that he loved. He wasn’t saying she was perfect, in fact he knew she was a little scatterbrain, but his daughter was full of energy. He would agree that she wasn’t beautiful, but you had to admit that Lorenza had irresistible charm—the bright blue eyes and the little white teeth always seemed to be smiling with infectious delight, as if you were the only person in the world she wanted to see, as if she trusted you completely, as if you and she were conspirators in a secret world. Arthur didn’t realize that it was easier to have such magical charm if you were not distracted by life’s exasperating realities, such as waiting in the rain for a bus, carrying groceries, arguing with repair men or paying their bills with money you can’t afford.
To date, nothing worse than a toothache had gone wrong in Lorenza’s life and Arthur was going to make damn certain that nothing ever did. As Lorenza in her Brussels lace wedding dress had waited with her father for the “Wedding March” to start, he had turned to her and said, “Don’t forget, my darling, that if you ever have any problems you don’t want to discuss with Andrew, you tell your papa! Andrew must see you’re not dependent on him.”
“Why shouldn’t I be, Papa?”
“Because dependency destroys self-confidence, my darling.”
Charmingly, Lorenza had lifted her veil and kissed the tip of her father’s nose. “Darling Papa, you worry too much.”
After the ceremony Arthur had taken his new son-in-law aside and said amiably, “Take care of my little girl, now.” His eyes had added, “Or I’ll break your neck.”
“I love her as well, sir.” Andrew had smiled politely. “You can have her on alternate weekends,” he added softly to himself as Lorenza pulled him through a shower of rose petals toward the helipad at the side of the house, where the Nexus helicopter waited to sweep them to the airport, where the Nexus Lear waited to whisk them to Belle Rêve, the Nexus island in the Caribbean.
As she waved at the helicopter growing smaller and smaller, Silvana had worn her indulgent-mother smile, but she had felt left out of life, forgotten.
She still did.
* * *
“Where am I? Who is this person in bed beside me?” Annie’s heart was constricted, her forehead was sweating, she was breathing hard and she felt nauseous. Beside her, in the pearl-gray light of dawn, Annie’s husband mumbled in his sleep. She touched his warm back for comfort. Of course. She was in her own bed, in her own house, and Duke was lying beside her.
So why had she woken in a panic?
Then she remembered that tonight was Arthur’s birthday party. In the dim light she could just see the clock; the alarm wasn’t due to sound for another hour. Beside the glass of water and the copy of Time magazine (which she always read right through, to keep up), she could see the silver-framed color photograph of her family that had been taken at Lorenza’s wedding. Had the photographer taken two hours, instead of two minutes, he couldn’t have achieved a more perfect example of the all-American family. Annie, wearing blue silk, stood in the middle of the group, obscuring Silvana’s Corot seascape on the wall behind her. Annie’s left hand rested on the shoulder of fourteen-year-old Rob, the brightest and noisiest of her four sons, who looked ill at ease in his first adult suit. On Rob’s left—solid, rugged and reliable—stood Annie’s husband, Duke. She thought he looked like John Wayne in his prime, only not so tall and of course he carried a bit more weight. Annie would be lost without her husband, because Duke looked after everything. Annie didn’t even know where the insurance forms for their house were. (The gracious antebellum house with the pillared porch had been a wedding gift from Duke’s parents and was singularly inappropriate for the noisy, sporty lives led by its owners.) Annie didn’t want to know where the insurance forms were, she had had enough of filing documents when she was Duke’s secretary.
In the photograph, next to Duke, grinned Fred, the eldest of their four sons; he never looked tidy in a suit, God bless him. Fred was a mathematician, doing graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania and still, thank heaven, living at home. Annie dreaded the day when all her sons were gone from home and there would be nothing to do in her silent house except empty the ashtrays. To Annie’s right, in front of one of Silvana’s pianos, stood Bill, unsmiling, with his hands in his pockets. Bill, the Romeo of the family, was still at college. The girls couldn’t leave him alone—Annie and Duke had had to give him his own telephone when he was fourteen. Next to Bill was Dave, who, at nineteen, was the best-looking of the boys, although of course they were all attractive in their own ways. Gazing at her sons, Annie thought that at least she had done something right. Four sons was exactly what Duke had wanted—in fact they often behaved like five brothers together. That reminded her, she’d better get the banister fixed again….
They were a football family, as the local glazier could testify. There was also a baseball diamond at the end of the yard, their pool had a proper diving board and they’d had a basketball hoop fixed in the ballroom, which was really only used for table tennis. When Annie’s sons weren’t horsing around or training or playing, they were watching other people play, as they cheered on the Pirates, rooted for the Steelers and howled at the ref on behalf of the Penguins. Dinner-table talk tended to center on what should have happened during the last game and what had better happen at the next one.
Annie was going to feed them all earlier than usual tonight, because it was the maid’s night off and Annie hadn’t wanted to ask her to change nights. But it didn’t matter. Before she dressed, she would fix hot dogs and hamburgers. The boys wouldn’t mind a snack, just this once, instead of a meal.
At the thought of the party, panic set in again. Annie’s head felt as if something was squeezing it, and she was short of breath. She hoped she wouldn’t drop anything this time. At Silvana’s last party, the one where poor Suzy had ruined her dress in the pool, a canapé had simply collapsed in Annie’s fingers and dripped cheese sauce down her white satin formal. She hoped she wouldn’t make a fool of herself tonight. But if she said nothing, then Duke would throw her one of his looks, and if, obediently, Annie jerked out a few words, then—in spite of Time magazine—people tended to look surprised by what she said. So the perspiration would start beneath her arms, her hairdo would sag and she would quickly disappear into the bathroom. However, there was a limit to the number of trips and the amount of time she could spend in the bathroom, or else Duke would growl on the way home, “For Chrissake, you’ve known all these people for years! You grew up here! You yak-yak for hours on the telephone, then you can’t open your mouth at a party, in front of all my colleagues.”
She knew that Duke wished she were a better hostess and felt it would help his career if she were, but she was too timid even to try. She forgot or mixed up people’s names. She could never stand, calm and gracious, at the entrance to her ballroom saying one charming (and different) sentence to two hundred people in turn, as Silvana could.
Silvana made Annie feel dowdy and clumsy. She was always so elegant and remote, and her flower-filled house always looked as if she were expecting the House and Garden photographers any moment. Of course, Silvana had plenty of help—but then, so did Annie.
Running her family seemed to take up all of Annie’s time. She didn’t know how other women found the hours for outside interests—proper intellectual interests, not stuff like fundraising or doing needlepoint covers for the dining chairs, anyone could do that sort of thing. Sadly Annie wondered if the Labrador pup had found her needlepoint, because it had disappeared again. That reminded her, she had to phone Father O’Leary before ten, about the kneeling pads she was working on. In turn, this reminded her that it was her responsibility to do the flowers this Sunday at St. Paul’s, in Oakland, where she’d worshipped all her life. Annie had once bought a selfhelp book called How to Make Time!, but after two months she still hadn’t found the time to read it, then the Labrador ate it.
Unfortunately, needlepoint kneeling pads and church flower arrangements didn’t seem to interest Duke’s business associates. Sometimes, after an evening of business entertaining, Duke would simply sigh, and they would drive back to Fox Chapel in silence. Sometimes, Annie would timidly say she was sorry and Duke would yell, “For Chrissake, stop apologizing!” Whereupon Annie would sit there beside him, making herself as small as possible and wondering if she should take that course in dynamic self-projection that Duke had once suggested.
She couldn’t help feeling apologetic toward Duke, because he’d never really chosen her, he’d been stuck with her. Annie’s dad had been the Company Coordination executive at Nexus, and after junior college he’d sent her to take a secretarial course at Mrs. Parker’s, then pulled strings to get her a job at Nexus, to give her something to do until she got married.
Annie had been Duke’s temporary secretary for one whole summer. During the first few weeks she had regarded him with never-diminishing awe. She saw him through his own eyes, and with the same self-importance. Anxious to please him, she sprang to take his dictation, fill his water carafe, check the office bottle of Wild Turkey and anticipate all his other needs—so much so, that after they’d been working late one night Duke wasn’t surprised to find himself humping that pretty little red-headed temp on the office carpet. He’d had no idea that this was her first time until weeks later when, looking even whiter than usual, she had told him that they had a problem. Well, if you had that sort of problem in Pittsburgh in 1952, you got married, especially if the girl’s father was your boss.
The warm mound next to Annie grunted in his sleep and turned over, causing the quilt to slip to the floor. Carefully Annie slipped out of bed, tiptoed around the four-poster, picked up the quilt and replaced it, covering Duke’s shoulders. She was so proud of him. If Duke were only ten years younger, he would be taking over from Arthur as president. There would be no question about it. But it was just as well that he wasn’t trying for the job.
One thing Annie had to admit was that Duke was not a good loser—in fact it was one of the things that made Duke’s Irish temper blow like a volcano. Of course, he wasn’t physically violent, and he had never laid a finger on Annie in his life—well, hardly ever, if you didn’t count that time she’d forgotten to video the Pirates’ play-off, but then he didn’t realize what he was doing until he saw the bruises on her arm the next day. The boys always kept well out of sight when their father was in one of his moods; they could spot the buildup and take cover, and they knew that he was always sorry afterward. The entire family was aware that certain subjects, ranging from Commies to Gay Lib to bad school marks, were certain to cause a rage, and so Annie would try to watch for them in conversation and attempt to sidestep a whole stream of topics before they came up. If she failed to do so, she would placate her husband by agreeing with him.
They always knew his mood as soon as he came in the house in the evening by the way he shut the front door—the degree of slam acted as a barometer. There had been a bad time, a few years after they were married, when Duke had been passed over for promotion. Every night before he came home Annie would find herself short of breath, then she’d get this feeling of panic. She’d hurry the kids to bed early and make sure that there were no skates or baseball bats around for Duke to fall over—because if there were, he would—and then she would just wait, heart thumping and stomach knotted, for the hurricane to hit. She always went to church the day afterward, because it calmed her agitation and helped her to stop feeling distressed and frustrated because she hadn’t been able to soothe his rage.
The boys had never discussed their father’s temper with her. They’d grown up with it, so they accepted it as part of their lives, but they were all silently ashamed of his rages and simply disappeared if, when he came home, the door slammed fit to shake the house.
Annie was also ashamed of it. She had never talked to anyone about Duke’s terrible temper, except for her mother, who sighed and said that lots of men didn’t realize that they were bullies, and women just had to put up with it … At least Duke was a good provider.
That had certainly proved to be the case, because Duke was now VP Comco—and Vice President of Company Coordination Worldwide was a very great responsibility.
In his sleep, Duke flung an arm up and again dislodged the quilt. Again Annie slid out of bed and replaced it, tucking it around his shoulders. Accidentally she backed into his bedside table and one of the silver picture frames fell on the rug. She picked it up and looked at the grinning redheaded skier in a pale blue suit, flicking through the slalom poles. Harry had taken that picture of her shortly after he’d joined Nexus, the year before she’d married Duke. She’d be seeing Harry again next week and she couldn’t help feeling nervous about it. Harry became more of a problem, not less, as the years went by.
As Annie tiptoed around to her side of the bed, she caught sight of herself in the full-length mirror. In the ghost light of dawn, in her crumpled white nightgown, she looked pleasantly pale, rather than colorless and skinny. You couldn’t see the hollows in her collarbone; her white, freckled forearms were covered with fine, gold down, her once-red hair looked golden, instead of faded ginger. But as the sun rose and light flooded the room, Annie clearly saw her unprepossessing reflection and, for the first time, felt dubious about what she’d planned to do that day.
Again Annie’s heart constricted with fear. She told herself not to be so gutless. She was determined to try—just for one night—to look as stunning as Suzy. Suzy was so full of life, she had such impact and if her clothes were a little flamboyant at times, well, Suzy was always a knockout.
No, this evening, Annie wouldn’t have a thing to worry about. She had been planning her appearance for weeks, and Suzy had been helping her. Suzy had picked the outfit, Suzy had arranged for a professional makeup and this morning she was going to Suzy’s hairdresser.
This evening, just for once, Annie was going to make Duke proud of her!
* * *
Two miles away, another woman also lay in bed, watching the hands of her bedside clock move toward six in the soft light. Thinking about Arthur’s party, Patty had bitten her thumbnail to the quick without realizing it.
Patty slid out of bed, taking care not to wake her husband, Charley, who was vice president of the Legal Department and corporate counsel at Nexus. Quickly she wriggled into her navy jogging suit and crept quietly downstairs, because their son, Stephen, wasn’t supposed to wake for another hour.
She let herself out of the massive oak front door, heavily embedded with knockers, studs and other bits of ironwork that looked as if they’d been made by the early settlers and contrasted oddly with the three, supposedly burglarproof, chrome locks.
This was the only part of the day that belonged to Patty. She took her pulse, then started to warm up with slow stretches against the door for her hamstrings and calves, followed by toe rises on the doorstep. After that she did two splits on the lawn before setting off.
Jogging slowly along the deserted streets, passing one neat grass patch after another beneath maples turning autumnal shades of russet, she wished that, after all, she’d bought a new dress for the party. But they needed every spare penny for the trust fund, and saving was like dieting—you couldn’t allow yourself “just one” anything. But of course the wife of the future president of Nexus would play the same sort of role as an ambassador’s wife, and being well dressed was part of that job. As she rounded the first corner, she wondered whether Silvana got an official dress allowance from the company to cover all those Valentino numbers.
Patty quickened her stride. The first five minutes were usually the worst. After that she hit her rhythm and it got easier. She liked fartlek, running steadily but varying the pace—fast, slow, medium. It was a good technique for long-distance runners … Damn it, why hadn’t she bought a new dress—she should be doing everything possible to help Charley get the promotion. Everybody said that her husband was the best corporate counsel Nexus had ever had, and at fortyfive he was just the right age—he’d be forty-eight by the time Arthur had shepherded him into the job and retired. Charley would have fourteen good years ahead of him before it was his turn to pick his own successor.
Of course, Arthur hated the thought of anyone taking over the helm, as he jovially put it, but everyone knew that he’d been pressed by the Board to make his final decision before the end of the year. Undoubtedly the Paui trip was going to be decisive, unless Arthur decided to bring in someone from outside. But Charley had told her this only happened when a company wasn’t doing well—which wasn’t the case. The Board wanted someone who’d been with Nexus a long time and who had worked with the top-level staff in the various Nexus-affiliated companies around the world.
Maybe she should reconsider her clothes for the convention next week, Patty thought. Maybe a little spending at this stage was really an investment. Because the next president would undoubtedly be decided on this trip. Arthur was playing his cards close to his chest, but his successor had to be one of the guys on the Paui trip. The group was far smaller than usual this year. Why? So that Arthur could make a final selection, that was why. And the reason he was taking so long about it was because he wasn’t only handing over his job, he was also choosing the person who would be responsible for his family fortune, that large slice of Nexus Mining International which was still owned by the Grahams.
Patty checked her watch. Time to slow down.
Perhaps she’d better not have coffee at breakfast today, not with her nervous stomach. She didn’t want to feel ill at the party. She’d scrap her afternoon reading session with Stephen and meditate instead. Immediately she felt guilty but pushed the thought aside, because tonight it was important that she behave like the perfect president’s wife. And by God, when her time came she’d do a better job than that snotty, standoffish Silvana. Just because she’d been brought up in a palazzo, that woman could hardly bring herself to talk to ordinary mortals! Sure, she managed a word or two, and a gracious smile from the receiving line, but Silvana didn’t really care about Nexus. Patty intended to make it clear that she was concerned about the company. She wasn’t going to interfere, of course—but she’d certainly be one hundred percent supportive. Charley needed someone to talk to when he came home, someone who was rooting for him, who understood the stresses of his job but was also interested in the job itself, someone who would help him carry that huge responsibility but nevertheless keep it in perspective. Because Charley must never forget that his first responsibility was toward their son. They shared that responsibility (Doctor Beck had warned her never to call it guilt).
Patty checked her heart rate, which was a bit higher than usual. She’d continue slow.
Well, her gown might not be anything to write postcards about, but her figure was better than Silvana’s. Served her right for eating all that pasta! Probably the reason why Silvana was faithful to that lecherous Arthur was because she didn’t dare let a lover see her naked. Even at her own pool parties, Silvana was never seen in a swimsuit. She had an endless wardrobe of shapeless silk muumuus from Hawaii. By God, Patty thought, if I had a cook … when I have a cook … She’d take advantage of it. Having a cook was the one sure, long-term way to get it off and keep it off. All the First Ladies lost weight as soon as they stepped into the White House. Apparently the current chef still had Jacqueline Kennedy’s menus. Orange juice, poached egg, bacon and black coffee for her breakfast, total 240 calories; for lunch a cup of consommé, a small bowl of salad with French dressing and a grilled hamburger (without the bun), total 250 calories; a cup of tea with a slice of lemon at five o’clock left Jackie 500 calories in hand for the evening. She could manage a good meal and a glass of red wine on 500 calories. For instance, artichokes Provençale, leg of lamb marinated with coriander, cucumber salad and peaches in wine. Of course, Jackie only ate a teaspoon of any sauce, but look at all the years she’d kept to that diet and how it paid off. Oh, it was easy enough to be disciplined if you had somebody else to measure the food out and put it on a plate in front of you.
Patty jogged past the elegant Corinthian columns of the next house. It was only half past six, but already two of Annie’s huge, jock sons were throwing a football around the front lawn. Patty just wouldn’t bother having windows in a house with four of those hulks inside it. Annie never disciplined them, so they all followed that noisy, extrovert Duke’s example. In the eight years she’d known Annie, Patty had watched them treat her as a short-order cook and errand runner—but that was just as much Annie’s fault as theirs. She behaved like a doormat, so it wasn’t surprising that they walked all over her. No self-image, that was Annie’s problem. She was perennially apologetic, a professional worrier. DID I TURN THE LIGHTS OFF? would be carved on Annie’s tombstone. Although Patty had to admit that being “just a housewife,” as Annie always described herself, was probably a full-time survival job in that family.
Patty reached her halfway point and turned back toward home. As she ran, now with a medium pace, she passed other joggers, and few of them could resist throwing her a sideways look. She was as near perfect a human specimen as you were likely to find. Her tall, lean, athletic figure had a natural grace that most plodding joggers lack, her profile had the nervous tension of a greyhound waiting for the trap gates to open, her white-blond straight hair was cut like a boy’s, with a side part, and her blond eyebrows were a straight line above a narrow, elegant nose. The short upper lip and wide mouth with chiseled outer edge to it might have been sculpted by Michelangelo.
Patty was a California baby and had grown up in Tiburon, the little peninsula with a fine view of Alcatraz, that jutted out into San Francisco Bay. She had started jogging when she was at Stanford, where she used to race around those yucky pinkbrown, Spanish-style buildings every morning before school, when everyone else was still yawning or asleep. You had to be bright, not just rich, to get into Stanford. Patty had been a good student because she had a photographic memory, but she had been impatient and lacked concentration, so she was easily attracted by fast solutions; she’d been a natural for TM and est. Charley had refused to do est, and before Nexus functions he made Patty promise to keep quiet about her how-to-get-anything-done-in-ten-minutes philosophies. Apart from that enthusiasm, Charley adored Patty and could find no fault with her.
It was ironic that Patty, the perfect specimen, the bronzed health nut, should have given birth to a baby with spina bifida, for which there was no cure, and for which endless patience was required. There was nothing wrong with Stephen’s brain—in fact he had turned out to be an unusually bright child, which made his physical state all the more frustrating for him. Because of congenital malformation of his spinal cord, Stephen had been born with deformed limbs and would always be helpless and incontinent. Dr. Beck had told them that there was no reason why Stephen should not grow to manhood and lead a useful life, but he would never be normal.
Charley had been wonderful. They had clung to each other in that small, cheery, primrose hospital room and Charley had told Patty that there was no reason for either of them to feel that it was their fault. It wasn’t such a phenomenon, the incidence was 1.5 percent of births.
Clutching her baby, Patty refused to consider putting him in a home, even before Charley had been able to explain the advantages. Stephen was their child. His beautiful face looked up at Patty with soft, blue-eyed trust. The only home that Stephen would know, Patty had instantly decided, would be his parents’. They had formed him and brought him into the world as he was. To care for him themselves was the least they could do to make up for the terrible accident of his birth.
In the eight years since Stephen’s birth, Patty’s care had been constant and the medical bills had been endless. Because of the enormous expenses, it had been hard to start the trust fund, which had been set up to look after Stephen; he would need round-the-clock care for the rest of his life. It was unlikely, but possible, that Stephen might outlive Patty and Charley. Of course, both parents carried heavy life insurance, but they had set up the trust in case their son should need a large sum of money while they were still alive. And there were tax benefits.
The birth of Stephen delivered a blow to Patty’s self-confidence from which she was still reeling. She felt that, in some unknown way which she didn’t understand, she must have done something terrible to deserve such a punishment. She must be guilty of something, although she didn’t know what. So she punished herself, without realizing it.
Puffing slightly, Patty rounded the final corner, from where she could see Judy, the housekeeper, turning her car into their drive just as the night nurse was leaving. A few minutes later Patty could see her home, a Tudor-style farmhouse with diamond-paned windows and that huge over-scaled front door. She would just have time for a quick shower before it was time for Stephen’s breakfast.
She slowed to a walk over the gravel drive, then pulled her navy sweatband from her hair and checked her pulse. She had pushed it further today. Patty had no patience with women who let themselves get out of shape, then had hysterics and rushed to fat farms when they hit thirty. She intended to keep herself in good condition.
Patty didn’t need a new dress tonight to hide her body—although she had to admit that Suzy had a pretty good body, and Suzy never did one minute’s exercise, the bitch. Suzy would have a new dress tonight, Suzy always had a new dress. She had nothing to spend her money and time on except herself. Personally, Patty couldn’t stand wasting an entire day at the hairdresser, the manicurist, the masseur, the suntan parlor and so on—but then, Suzy made a career of maintaining her appearance.
Patty stopped abruptly, struck by a sudden nasty thought. No, Charley would never look at another woman. But maybe she would have just one cup of coffee for breakfast. Without cream or sugar, of course …