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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

22 Minutes of Unconditional Love

A Novel

Daphne Merkin

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

I



“YOU FEEL SO SOFT,” he whispers in her ear, slipping his hand inside the waistband of her pants and down under her cotton underwear. Now his hand is on the naked flesh of her ass, on her flesh, which is so soft. He circles a finger around her anus and then wiggles inside it.

“Do I,” she says. No one has ever dared to do this to her before in public—in a movie theater, moreover—no one, that is, until Howard Rose. In the darkness around them she hears breathing and whispers, the crunching of popcorn, but she might as well be alone on a desert island with this man. She is wet, she drips wetness like a leak. She has known Howard Rose less than two weeks—ten days it must be—and already she is impaled on the end of his sexual spearing, trapped like a fly on sticky paper. She hasn’t seen him for several days now, but it might as well be a Siberia of days, it’s so cold without him.

The movie they are watching is lightweight to the point of disappearing, a comedy set in a country house in France. All the women in the film have long, tanned legs and on several occasions everyone gathers around a refectory table to eat delicious-looking stews that they mop up with crusty pieces of bread. She finds herself getting hungry just watching, and somehow this hunger morphs into a sexual hunger, a sensation of something dropping down deep inside her, creating a craving in her body.

“You’re nice and wet,” Howard Rose whispers, his breath smelling slightly of peppermint. “I want to fuck you right now.”

He turns his head back to watch the movie. She stares at his profile, the leanness of his face, the blackness of his beard, and the incongruous lushness of his mouth. She is mortified and excited by the evidence of her senses, the stream that has started up between her legs, a steady stream of desire. Something in her is excited by his brazen impropriety, his disregard for the conventions of public behavior. The slight edge of contempt that underlies his daring excites her even more.

They leave the movie before it’s over and take a taxi to Howard Rose’s apartment. This is only her second time there and already she feels she’s committed his one-bedroom to memory, will never be able to forget the way he drops his keys on the desk when he comes in, or the small half-circle of a dining table right off the kitchen, or the batik spread on his low bed. He takes his clothes off in a flash, first his pants and his Calvin Klein underpants (men’s underpants, with their extra fold of cotton around the crotch, always put her in mind of diapers), then his sweater and shirt in one fell swoop over his head.

She sits on his brown fake-suede couch and watches his naked body appear in its sinewy yet fragile glory, a body that moves her in some way beyond the sexual, that makes her want to crush and be crushed at the same time. His thighs are long and taut and his penis is well sized and straight, set between full balls. She has come late to sexual activity, has imbibed her mother’s stated disgust with the whole thing and still thinks of erotic pleasure as untrustworthy, but sometimes the untrustworthy has an added appeal.

“Come here,” Howard Rose says. He has moved to his bedroom, where he lies under the covers, patting the space next to him, then folding his hands behind his head. “I think I know what you want.”

“It’s cold,” she says, rubbing her arms, “or maybe I’m imagining it.” Her voice gives her away; it is thick with longing. This is still at the beginning of their involvement, before she has fully learned how little he can tolerate anything but the most appreciative of responses. She doesn’t yet realize how unwise it is to play with him, to lead him on.

“It’s toasty in here,” he says, patting the bed again, as though she were a dog getting ready to jump.

“I should go home,” she says, “I really should.” She says this rhetorically, without meaning it, as a way of dignifying her desire for him. She is imagining herself as a container ready to be filled with warm milk, and Howard Rose is the spigot. That’s what he makes her feel like: milky. They have been in bed together only once before and already she is obsessed with him. When she goes into Barnes & Noble to study the racks of new books during lunchtime—novel after novel, lined up in their shiny jackets, whoever will read them all?—she is really thinking of him, repositioning herself in the erotic movie that’s been running in her head ever since they met.

She gets undressed slowly, self-consciously, undoing her bra (underwire, 36D) to reveal her breasts and then getting into bed with her virginal underpants (plain white cotton, not at all the knock-’em-dead, tiny bits of lacy lingerie her friend Celia sports) still on. He pulls them down over her hips, watching her all the while. When she is stark naked he kneels and parts her legs carefully. He puts his mouth on her nipples, sucking one, then the other. She moves downward, takes his penis in her mouth, one hand circling its base, and runs her tongue round and round the smooth slippery tip, then slowly up and down. She is trying for a hooker’s expertise, a kind of erotic multitasking, calling on the wisdom from the issues of Cosmo she reads while waiting in the doctor’s office or at the nail salon for her nails to dry: “5 Ways to Drive Him Crazy in Bed,” or “The 3 Sexual Fantasies He Won’t Admit To,” or “The 4 Love Spots Every Man Wants You to Touch.” She moves back to stroke something she’d read about called the perineum, although she remains vague as to its precise location.

Everyone knew about performance anxiety in men, Judith had always thought, the way they were required to strut their stuff, over and over again, while women had the option of remaining passive in bed, making grocery lists in their head or conjuring up Brad Pitt. She supposed this was why women were taught to coddle the poor, provisional male ego, always on the verge of wilting, why they were taught to gush about how big a perfectly ordinary penis was. What hadn’t been sufficiently recognized, if you asked her, was that it was possible for women to be aflutter with their own version of performance anxiety.

She closes her eyes when he moves down her body, preparing herself for the sensation, a mixture of pleasure and a touch of shame, at the flicker of his tongue inside her.

“Do I own you now?” he says into the silence, something he hadn’t said the first time they went to bed.

The truth is, she secretly wants to be owned, her independent-woman demeanor notwithstanding: wants someone to take over inside her head and make her decisions for her, leaving her nothing to do but to follow the man holding up the sign saying PLEASURE THIS WAY. How did he know that was what she wanted? And is it the men who know such things who are the real danger to women like her? His penis inside her feels like the missing piece, expressly designed to fill the chink in her armor; she wants to keep it for protection. The question is: Whose protection? Hers or his?



II



SHE KNOWS HIS NUMBER by heart within minutes of his telling it to her, almost instinctively. She writes it down in a mahogany leather address book that she subsequently lost when her bag was stolen while she ate lunch in a coffee shop with a friend somewhere in the city. She would later wonder how much of her life got misplaced in that roomy Coach bag; she dates a lot from the theft of that bag, perhaps wrongly. Her friend’s bag wasn’t taken, only hers, and for a brief while she seriously entertained the thought that her friend, Celia, was in cahoots with the two hefty girls who were spotted running out of the restaurant. She is suspicious by nature, she hasn’t had much reason not to be, although she imagines it would be pleasant to go through the world giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Even at the time—way before it would be clear what he was up to, what she was up to with him—she enters his home number secretively, as though there were something illicit about it. She scribbles it in pencil in her datebook, under his initials, “H.R.” His work number she never writes down, and she will eventually forget it. It’s a habit that endures, this abbreviated referral system, as though she were a character in a spy novel, her every action observed by trench-coated men hiding behind newspapers: she uses initials instead of names for the people who mean the most to her, hoping to fool the fates by not spelling things out.

What she means is the same thing she meant when she was eight years old and made pacts with God; she would do this for him if in return he would do that for her. She means to ensure that fate will not, one day, take her unpleasantly by surprise, make her look silly or pathetic in front of knowledgeable witnesses—people who can point to an entry in a diary or phone book and say: Look whom she loved, how much he meant to her, his name is right here. She means to ensure that those entries, known by their initials, will become like characters in the posthumous novel of her life: tantalizing biographical clues that only she, the protagonist, could have deciphered and without whose help the puzzle of her life will remain forever unsolved, the outcome forever elusive …

“H.R.,” for Howard Rose. The name always struck her as off, wrong somehow, as if from another era: it didn’t sound like him, and he in turn didn’t look like the name. What “Howard Rose” conjured up to her was a vaguely fat, very white-skinned man, someone who maintained strong family ties, who still visited his aging parents in Brooklyn once a week. The real Howard Rose, on the other hand, had been thin, with well-muscled legs. One of the things she found most attractive about him was the way his skin always held a bit of a tan way after the summer. Only deep into the winter would his color fade, turning sallow—that slightly yellowish tone of olive—rather than pale.

As for his parents, she had never met them and he talked about them almost not at all, as though they were best left behind. He dated his life from adulthood: this kind of expeditiousness was new to her. It surprised her to no end that you could organize your life around the locus of the present instead of the past, that you could treat your childhood—and all that went with it, including parents—with so little emotion, as something that was done with.

* * *

Several years after their relationship is over, she wakes up from a dream, one of those basic Freudian dreams where she is frantically opening doors in her apartment trying to find the way out. Only it is no longer her apartment but a revised version: extra rooms have been added to it, rooms filled with boxes, and there are large fake-suede pillows on the couch in the living room, the sort of pillows she would never own but that Howard Rose had owned. It is quarter to four in the morning. Outside her window there is the rumble of the city, but inside her apartment it is very quiet, just the faint rustle of her sheets as she turns in bed.

There is no one she can call at this hour of the night and say, “Hi, I’m up,” not even Celia. She has spent a lot of time talking with other women about themselves—their bodies, their hair, their mothers, their dashed romantic hopes, everything you could want to know about a person and then some—and still there is no one to call. She is struck by this reality every time she wakes up in the still of the night. She supposes this basic, inalterably lonely fact is why people live with other people, why they eventually get married: it had to be for the simple sustenance of it, a warm body in the middle of the night to curl your own unmoored, woken-up self around, flesh to living flesh, against the quiet and the darkness and the anxieties ignited by one’s dreams.

She gets up and pads on bare feet to the bathroom to get herself a glass of water. Somehow she finds it soothing to run herself a glass of water when she wakes up like this—as though the answer to whatever terrors assail her now, a grown woman living on her own, lies somewhere in the primitive rituals of childhood, her mother bringing her a glass of warm milk, however impatiently, when she couldn’t fall asleep. When she gets back in bed, she turns on the light for a second, and then she turns it back off. Her room is still there, looking its usual disheveled state, and her dream has been just that—a dream: it is this she wanted to check on, to make sure of. She is the sort of person who is easily disoriented, who has never figured out how to go “left” instead of “right” in an unfamiliar place without mentally playing it out with her hands.

The clock radio near her bed glows the hour in luminous green numerals. It is very dark in her bedroom, but if she strains she can make out shadows within shadows, the outline of her closet door. Inside her closet are her clothes: she dresses with an erratic sense of commitment to fashion, sometimes pulling off a chic, urban look, and sometimes not. She has many black sweaters, in cotton, wool, and two cashmeres, but there is no conceivable way she could patch the various garments she has bought over the past five years—in an array of sizes and styles, depending on her weight and her vision of herself at the time—into a coherent whole, a semblance of a working woman’s wardrobe.

She knows that there are women like her mother, whose closets are stunningly organized, with places for bags and shoes, hats and belts, winter and summer wear. She is convinced that if she were capable of maintaining such a closet, her life would be different: she would think coordinated thoughts, never arrive breathlessly late for appointments with florid excuses at the ready, and exercise impeccable judgment in her choice of men. Her bad taste in men was like an instinct gone awry—some effort to get her parents to love her, she supposed, but done ass-backward. It was something she had discussed endlessly with her therapist, Dr. Munch. If only he had stayed around to lead her out of the thickets.

Howard Rose had liked her in tight pants. He liked to look at her in close-fitting jeans, his arms folded behind his head, and imagine to himself what she would look like with her pants off. He told her this early on, how he envisioned her tight, high butt, the roundness of it, silky to the touch, and it excited her to hear herself described this way, like a part instead of a whole. (There was a term for this that she had learned in graduate school, “metonymy,” using a phrase to conjure up something larger, but she had never expected to have it applied to herself.) The only time she owned shoes with really high heels—“fuck-me shoes,” as Celia called them—was when she was involved with him; he liked what they did to the shape of her legs.

She returns to him in her dreams in spite of herself, like a dog who’s been out wandering but sniffs his way home. She is in fact trying to make up her mind whether to marry another man. His name is Richard and he cares about her in a more respectful, less exclusionary way, one that she has gradually trained herself to think of as love, the sort of love that stays in its place, providing an anchor. Tomorrow she is going to dinner with Richard’s parents, signifying the seriousness of their involvement, although a part of her feels a sense of loss at the prospect of signing on for a life with him. For there is still this: seven digits, Howard Rose’s number, crumbs of bread dropped along the path through the woods in a fairy tale that happened to be the honest-to-goodness story of her life.



III



BEFORE HOWARD ROSE, she hadn’t loved many men—one or two, at the most, ambivalently. Then again she hadn’t been in the habit of seeing herself as a sexual creature, despite her looks, someone whose presence stirred men. She wasn’t like her sister, Rebecca, who twirled her hair and spun men around until they were breathless. Then, too, her amorous history was a bit shaky; she had a habit of charming men on the first date only to turn on them on the second. From her teens on she had been practicing an I’ll-reject-you-before-you-reject-me maneuver, fine-tuning her defenses, and for a while it had looked as though no one would have the patience to break through this elaborate barricade.

She had lost her virginity at the creaky age of twenty-four, dishearteningly late by the eased-up standards of her generation. First came several false tries, once with a chatty graduate student in literature who talked his way out of consummating the act, and another time with a short but overly virile Israeli who strutted around naked, brandishing his penis like a proud five-year-old before she had even taken her clothes off. She had been secretly afraid of the aggression, not to mention the pain, involved in intercourse, a reality she had glommed on to in the cautionary, anxiety-producing exhortations of her high school hygiene course while everyone else snickered. Not to mention her beloved Rabbi Klein at Jewish after-school, who rhapsodized about the value of waiting to consummate—“consecrate,” he had called it—a relationship until after marriage. She might as well have been living in the 1950s, in a Smith College dorm room alongside Sylvia Plath, meting out kisses, planning to go so far and no further with polite boys from Amherst.

It had finally happened on a June night with someone she had been seeing and found lacking in sophistication but who had appealed to her with an ever-greater luster after the fact, when he had moved on. Ron Zelder was a studious third-year medical student from New Jersey whose hair was beginning to fray at the top. She had been at her thinnest ever—118 elfin pounds and 5'6" tall—when she met him, and for two months he had been infatuated, tirelessly putting up bookcases and cleaning windows in her dark little apartment all the way over on the East Seventies. They had slept together with great zeal, once they had gotten the issue of her still-intact hymen out of the way. But she had eventually scared him off with a barrage of criticisms—beginning with his straight-arrow friends and moving on from there to what she described as his inextricable suburban-ness.

Whatever she had meant by that. Now the suburbs looked good to her, having gotten ever closer to the decisive, much-dreaded benchmark of her thirtieth birthday (hadn’t her beloved Dr. Munch lived in the suburbs?) and still stuck in that same dark little apartment. There was something reassuringly traditional about a man who liked to guzzle beer and watch football with his cronies. On their second-to-last date she had told Ron Zelder that he lacked taste, that his mustard-beige bathing trunks were the color an old man might wear. They had been arguing in his car, over the radio, on the way home from the beach. On their last date he had told her, his voice heavy with finality, that she should find someone more worthy of her high standards. That had been five years ago, and from what she understood he had gone on to marry a blonde anchorwoman from a minor-league TV station.

Maybe she had mistaken the round of suburban life, with its station wagons and family rooms, for something more dull and confining than it was. Maybe Ron Zelder’s instincts had been too wholesome for her, too lacking in edge. It was becoming clear to her that she liked a serrated emotional style in men; it seemed that without it she felt she might flounder, or its opposite—feel confined, lose her bearing in vast acreages of tenderness. But look where all her fear of—of what? commitment? conventionality? boredom? men?—had left her: alone, in a small apartment with an infinitesimal kitchen; alone, at a desk in an office without a view other than the building across from her; alone, shopping for Mott’s prune juice for her infernal constipation late at night at the bodega around the corner. Ron Zelder was probably an eminent heart surgeon by now, with a proud wife whom he whisked off to the Caribbean for expensive winter vacations.

The other man she had loved didn’t count because he happened to be her therapist, and by the time she had mustered up the courage to express her love for Dr. Munch he was dying. She had been a contentious patient, often coming late to her sessions, always agitating for more, always looking for flaws in the treatment—slippage from his unconscious. The whole profession got on her nerves, really, these people who set themselves up to heal; failing that, they tried to redirect your personality, tried to get you to accept your unhealed self.

What she wanted from sessions with a therapist was the same thing she wanted from everything, the animate and the inanimate, from people as well as food, from the movies she went to see and the music she listened to. She wanted a voiding of her own troubled consciousness, a state of permanent satisfaction to replace her own permanent state of unease. She was looking for a rush—the sort of rush other people might use drugs or alcohol for—that went on and on and would make her feel good forever and ever. She wanted her therapist to love her above all his other patients, above his wife and children. (She knew he had a wife and children because it was part of his preferred therapeutic style to impart the occasional personal detail.) Only then would she consider her money well spent. True, Dr. Munch did call her, with gratifying informality, by her first name: this seemed like a step in the right direction. But it was such a tiny one, considering, and in return she leaped forward, she loved him.

It sometimes seemed to her that she had loved Dr. Munch as much as she had only because he paid such close attention to her innermost being. Because her own father was resolutely uninterested in her feelings, she thought of all men as genetically disinclined to hearing intimate confidences. Now here was Dr. Munch, sitting with one leg bent over the other, pulling at his earlobe, joining with her in close scrutiny—why she hadn’t said such and such to so-and-so, why she had admired Y and hated X, why she still felt bad about not having been chosen as a cheerleader when she had tried out for the squad, why why why she was the way she was. All this time spent by him on the examination of her very own personality, her cloudy motives and ancient conflicts, what had happened to her long ago in some playground—it could make you delirious with love.

But then, as if freshly stumbled upon every time, she would be brought up short by the realization that she was paying out money to the tune of over two dollars a minute for all this diligence on her own behalf! It seemed that, short of her killing herself and being reborn as the doted-upon darling of a different pair of parents, no one would focus on her this way for free. There lay the crux of her disappointment, her overwhelming wish to alert Dr. Munch to his particular shortcomings, her readiness to point out the limits of his chosen profession.

“If you really cared about helping me,” she would say, “you’d see me for free.”

“I’d like to,” he’d answer, leaning back in his big, creaky chair. “But I do this for a living. If I didn’t have to make a living, believe me, I would listen to you for free.”

“And all your other patients, too?”

“Ah, ah, here we go, being the jealous sibling again. No, just you. Everyone else would have to pay up as usual.”

“You’re making fun of me,” she’d say, but there had been something strangely comforting to her about these preordained arguments of theirs. It was like playing hide-and-seek in childhood, dashing off to crouch behind a tree and then peeking out to check if everyone was still around: she felt recognized by Dr. Munch, felt that he saw her as she was and that she could trust him with the bad as well as the good about herself. Who else, when it came down to it, could you do this with? Your parents, if you were lucky, but her mother had always been a tricky character, someone you couldn’t count on to catch you when you fell, and her father was no more available to her as an adult than he had been when she was growing up.

But even as she felt gratitude tugging at her heartstrings she remembered who she was and where she was, and that at the end of the month she would be handed a bill for services rendered. So she remained set on catching Dr. Munch out, proving him unworthy of her attachment. His full name was Selwyn Munch, a name that seemed to her impossibly ornate for a man of such down-to-earth inclinations and suggested to her a questionable grandiosity on the part of his parents (leading her in turn to wonder about the nature of his childhood, and why he had chosen to become a shrink).

Sometimes she would comment on the inadequate decor of his office, hoping to wound his pride or at least his aesthetic sense. His office was noncommittal, furnished with strenuously neutral touches that struck her as being all the more acutely revealing. She attacked anything at hand: “I see you like red,” she told him accusingly, because he happened to have a small red rug under his chair. “It’s my least favorite color.” On his walls hung a number of carefully framed photographs of mountains and forest scenes. They looked very professional, as though they might be found in the kind of magazine that was given to dispassionate overviews of the world, such as National Geographic or Smithsonian. She was quite sure he had taken the photographs himself; she could just see him trudging up a perilously narrow footpath with a clunky camera slung over his chest. She told Dr. Munch that she found the photographs boring. He opened his eyes wide when she attacked his photographs, but that was all.

In the end, of course, Dr. Munch had been as unrequited a love as it was possible to have. He died on her suddenly, without due warning. He died before she had had a chance to straighten everything out, to admit that the fights were just a detour, a way of throwing him off the scent; before she could tell him that she loved him. It had been a recurrence of a long illness that he had failed—or not wanted—to tell her about. Later she would think that this withheld information (information without which she was unprepared for what was to come, until one day she found herself bereft of his attentive presence) had put the whole enterprise of their relationship in jeopardy.

What happened was this: He had gone on an unscheduled vacation—it was spring rather than summer, that proverbial shrink-less August—and he had been curiously, even suspiciously, specific about the details. First he was planning to visit an ailing uncle, and then he was joining his family for one of their athletic trips—featuring canoes and tents instead of hotel rooms—across some carefully selected part of the American wilderness. They had scheduled an extra session that last week. She had been fighting with him more than was usual even for her, and was feeling anxious about his departure. Was he trying to punish her, she wanted to know. “Of course not.” He had laughed. “I like our fights, at least most of the time. No, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”

But, as it turned out, she had not been stuck with him, nor he with her. A day before he was due back she received a phone call from a woman who introduced herself as a colleague of Dr. Munch’s and curtly told her that he wouldn’t be coming back from his “vacation.” When she had asked what was wrong, the woman became evasive and suggested she come in to talk. She made an appointment for the next day, which wasn’t soon enough; she was filled with panic, which she tried to cover up in the presence of this abrupt, overweight woman with an unbecoming hairdo—an analyst herself, with the diplomas and seating arrangement to prove it—who seemed intent on keeping Dr. Munch’s whereabouts and general condition a secret.

It was the most hideous of possible scenarios, Kafkaesque really. She found herself sitting in a strange doctor’s office asking the same questions over and over again, as though persistence would yield answers. No, he wasn’t dead, it seemed, but he was sick, too sick to plan on seeing her again even if he did get well. What about his other patients, she wanted to know. They had apparently all been told by him before he left on vacation. Why, she wondered, hadn’t she been told? And what was wrong with him exactly? Nothing, it appeared, could be divulged. All she was to know was that he wouldn’t be coming back and that it was important she find herself another doctor. “I can give you some names,” she was told. “There are other good people who can help you.” Names! She supposed the doctor had her own chubby, unsympathetic self in mind. She didn’t want names! “I want Dr. Munch back,” she said, and started to cry. “I’m sorry,” the doctor said, her voice losing a little of its edge.

She went home and wrote Dr. Munch a long letter as he lay dying, for that was clearly what he was doing. In it she expressed all the gratitude and love she had failed—not dared—to tell him about while he was dauntingly alive in his office. She wrote him: “I am so sad my tears could fill your swimming pool.” She was alluding to a long-standing joke between them—about his needing the money she so reluctantly paid him so he could re-plaster the bottom of his swimming pool. Now she wanted him to know that not only had she not minded paying but that she wished he could, right now, be swimming endless laps across what she hoped was a state-of-the-art pool.

She read the obituaries every day without fail after she heard he wasn’t coming back from a vacation he had obviously made up to cover a hideously final absence. There had been a whole network of lies, from the made-up story of the visit to the uncle on. She looked back and marveled at her ability to not see what had been clearly going on in front of her eyes: his skin had been burned by the radiation treatment, a burn she had mistaken for a suntan, and his hair had fallen out, requiring that he wear what in hindsight had obviously been a wig, although at the time she had mistaken it for a strange new Prince Valiant hairstyle. How could she have been so obtuse? She felt herself blush when she thought of it and blamed herself doubly in retrospect for continuing to be difficult, coming late for sessions and arguing about fees, even as Dr. Munch was fighting off a fatal disease.

You could get in terrible trouble not being able to figure out who was on your side. But then she had always been in the habit of cozying up to the wrong people and keeping the right ones at bay; that was one of the things she had hoped to fix in therapy. It went all the way back to fifth grade, when she convinced herself that Kenny Finkelstein really had a crush on her underneath his mean jokes; she kept trying to impress him with ever-more sophisticated vocabulary until one day she understood, from a cluster of girls who were giggling around the sinks in the dank bathroom on the fourth floor, that he truly thought she was weird, irredeemably out to lunch. And undoubtedly this tendency to misread emotional signals went further back to a time before Kenny Finkelstein, to herself in a cradle gurgling up at an inhospitable mother, hoping to win a bottle with all the infantile charm she could muster.

She finally came upon what she was dreading one morning early in May, his obituary in The New York Times; it was rather anonymous-sounding if you weren’t familiar with him. It made her wonder whether all deaths came down to this, a private affair of grief and memory, impossible to translate. My Dr. Munch is dead, she thought, as though she were a child and he were hers alone. Her Dr. Munch, his last bill still unpaid, was gone forever. She felt sadness tearing at her heart, and fury, too. How could he have abandoned her? Had her fighting worn him down—weakened as he was by disease—even further? Was that why he hadn’t told her the truth?

Most important: What was she supposed to do without him? At work she closed the door of her office and sat staring out the window, tears streaming down. Less than a month later, three weeks it must have been, she met Howard Rose.


Copyright © 2020 by Daphne Merkin