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Authors: Lawrence Block

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Community of Women

BOOK: Community of Women
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Community of Women

Lawrence Block
Writing as Sheldon Lord

Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

A New Afterword by the Author

A Biography of Lawrence Block

1

T
HE
alarm clock rang at precisely fourteen minutes to seven. It was an electric clock that had been painfully acquired at the cost of several months’ worth of trading stamps accumulated from a gas station, a supermarket and a dry-cleaner. Since Howard Haskell invariably forgot to wind alarm clocks, this electric clock was a blessing of sorts. Power failures, not uncommon in Cheshire Point, tended to negate its value, having once conspired to deliver Howard at the offices of MacNaughton and Byrnes at 12:15 in the afternoon. But this morning there was no power failure. The alarm clock once again proved a blessing, exploding into noise at, as has been noted, precisely fourteen minutes before seven o’clock.

Nan Haskell didn’t think of it as a blessing. Before her eyes were entirely open her hand reached out from beneath the covers, her forefinger unerringly headed for the button which would turn off the clock. Then, the ringing stilled, she permitted herself the luxury of one yawn. Her whole body stretched beneath the covers like a giant cat uncoiling at a fireside. It was a pleasure to stretch, she thought. A pleasure to come awake slowly, gingerly, entering the land of wakefulness like a reluctant swimmer stepping into cold water.

A pleasure she couldn’t afford. Grimly she swung her legs over the edge of the bed, stood up, blinked her blue eyes groggily. Howard was still asleep, or pretending to be; she reached over and shook his shoulder, squeezing him with the natural intimacy of wife for husband. She did not say a word. Long experience had taught her that anyone who said a word to Howard Haskell before he had his morning coffee was asking for trouble. He opened his eyes, got out of bed, and Nan headed for the bathroom.

She had no time for a shower. That would come later, when Howard was off to the advertising agency and the kids were on their way to school. Until then she could not waste a moment. She washed her face with cold water, flapped a toothbrush over her teeth. She went back to the bedroom, wrapped a housecoat around her, and headed downstairs to make breakfast.

Even at that ungodly hour of the morning, with the shapeless housecoat around her, with her hair uncombed and her head still foggy from the last martini of the night before, Nan Haskell was a striking woman. She was tall and full-bodied, with long corn-yellow hair and a Hollywood figure. Firm full breasts pushed out the front of the housecoat. The belt, which she had tied carelessly, was snug around a narrow waist. Her hips were also full and sensual, and as she shuffled around the kitchen in house-slippers they still swayed in a distinctly physical manner.

The morning went as weekday mornings always went. Howard entered the breakfast nook at the precise moment that the orange juice and eggs and toast and coffee hit the table. His hair was cropped in a crew-cut, his narrow tie neatly knotted, his skin glowing with the deceptive vitality induced under a sunlamp. He sat down, ate wordlessly, drank his coffee, set fire to the tip of the day’s first Pall Mall, and then, finally, smiled and returned to the land of the living.

“Good coffee,” he said.

For four years now, these had been the first words Nan Haskell heard five mornings out of every seven. She replied by asking him if the eggs were all right. She always asked Howard if the eggs were’ all right. They always were.

“Better get going,” he said. “Want to run me down to the station?”

“Glad to. Everything set?”

“Everything. The Old Man wants the Dunridge presentation today. I’ve got a portfolio ready that ought to set the old bastard on his ear.”

Nan had no idea what the Dunridge presentation was. Howard had never told her. She said that was fine, and he picked up his slim attaché case, and she wrapped the housecoat a little tighter around herself, and they went to the car.

There were two cars. The one they took to the Cheshire Point station of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Rail Road was the station wagon. It was a Chewy, five years old, roomy, economical, and paid for. The other car, which remained in the attached-garage of their split-level colonial home, was a Cadillac sedan. It was new, shiny, expensive to operate, too long for the garage, and not paid for. Howard had once calculated that the Caddy would be fully paid for at about the time that Skip, their six-year-old, was ready to enter Junior High. They tried not to think about that little fact too often.

Nan dropped her husband at the station, watched him walk up onto the platform with a cigarette in his hand, waiting for the 8:03 to wend its wayward way into the station. She glanced around, watching other wives kiss other husbands good-bye for the day, all of them synchronizing their little fives to fit the schedules of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Rail Road. There was something about the whole thing, something that had made Nan wince uncomfortably from time to time. All the wives in housecoats, all the husbands in flannel suits, all the copies of the
Times
or the
Trib
in the hands of all the men, all the dangling attaché cases—

She didn’t have time to think about it. She put the car in gear and headed back to the split-level colonial, a rather strange architectural concept which was in great demand in that particular area of northern Westchester County. She parked in the driveway, entered the house, woke the kids and started cooking the second breakfast of the day.

Danny, who was eight, tried to argue that he had enough of a cold to keep him out of school.

“You’re going to school,” she told him.

“Aw, Mom—”

“Your father pays twenty-five dollars a month in school tax,” she told him. “We go to meeting of the PTA on the average of three times a month. You are going to school, Danny Boy.”

“Aw, Mom—”

She drove them both to school in the station wagon. At precisely fourteen minutes before nine, exactly two hours after the dreadful ringing of the dreadful alarm clock, she kissed both boys good-bye and watched them creeping like snails unwillingly to school. Other mothers were doing the same with other children, and Nan looked at them and thought of the similarity between this little scene and the scene at the railway station. It was funny, but it was too early in the morning to laugh. Besides, she had thought similar thoughts often enough in the past.

The station wagon made the return trip to the split-level colonial and placed the car, this time, alongside the Cadillac in the garage. She went into the house, ate breakfast herself, finally, and went upstairs to stand under the shower. The pelting spray of hot water on her bare flesh made her fully awake for the first time. She had never been able to come alive without a shower in the morning. It was a habit begun long before marriage, before her job as an editorial assistant at Greybarr Publications, before her four years at Clifton College. A shower, something to wash off a night of sleep and a day before—

She rubbed herself briskly with a nubby pink towel, rubbed herself until her skin tingled and her nerve-ends vibrated with life. She dressed, putting on a plaid skirt and a simple white blouse.

After the beds were made, she wandered downstairs and poured out a fresh cup of coffee. She took it to the living room and sat down in a Danish modern chair, sleek and simple and incredibly uncomfortable. She rested the cup of coffee in its saucer on the freeform cherrywood coffee table and lighted a cigarette.

She thought of other wives in Cheshire Point. She thought of all the husbands on the 8:03 to Grand Central, and of all the children now at their desks in various levels of the Cheshire Point public education system. And all the wives, alone.

A whole little community of women, she thought. All our brats are in school and all our husbands are in the city. And we sit home alone all day until the kids and husbands drift home. What in the name of God Almighty do we do with ourselves?

She finished the cigarette and the coffee. She, of course, had things to do—a house to clean, shopping to shop for, people to call and odds and ends to take care of. Never a dull moment in Cheshire Point. Wait a minute, she thought. Correct that. Plenty of dull moments, but never an occupied one. Loads of monotony, oodles of banality, an impressive quantity of boredom.

And here we are, Nan thought. Thirty-two years old, pretty, married, two kids, and an expensive and ugly heavily-mortgaged house on a full-acre plot in lovely Cheshire Point. And a day full of monotony with the boys in school and Howard on Madison Avenue.

Was this what she had wanted? Was this the dream stuff in Clifton College, where she had majored in English and covered reams of unlined yellow paper with sophomoric poetry? Was this the dream at Greybarr, where she waded through the slush pile, pinning Thanks But No Thanks notes on manuscripts from frustrated Iowa housewives? Was this the be-all and end-all, the obvious role for an intelligent woman in the twentieth century?

Cheshire Point. Close enough to New York so the men could get to work, far enough away so the air was clean and the grounds were spacious and the schools were good. Country advantages and city convenience—that was the sales pitch, and it was true enough, fundamentally.

She ground out a cigarette, stood up, stretched. There was nothing wrong with Cheshire Point, she told herself. It was better than a Manhattan apartment, better than a sandbox house in Queens, better than the real country. It was the best they could possibly afford, and she was perfectly satisfied with it.

Wasn’t she?

She thought again of all the other women in all the other houses in Cheshire Point. Women alone, she thought romantically. Women alone, with the menfolk away. Might make a thoughtful article for a woman’s mag, maybe the one with the togetherness pitch. Or, with a little sex tossed in, a hot item for the exposé type books. Sin In The Suburbs. Or Excitement In The Exurbs. Or—

Things to do, shopping and cleaning and straightening up. Was the evening free? No, she thought sadly, it wasn’t. The Carrs, Ted and Elly, were due to arrive for an evening of family bridge. Not that she didn’t like the Carrs, but it would be heaven to spend an evening alone with Howie for a change instead of sharing his company with the rest of the world.

At eleven-thirty, after a trip to the Grand Union and after a load of wash had gone first into washing machine and then into dryer, she thought again about Sin In The Suburbs and Excitement In The Exurbs. No, she thought; no article there. What kind of sin could happen in Cheshire Point?

Hardly a nest of sinful folk. Take Elly Carr, for example. Now who in the name of God Almighty could imagine Elly, for example, cheating on her husband?

2

I
T
was twelve-thirty in the afternoon, and Elly Carr was about to cheat on her husband.

She had done this before. She was a very attractive woman, two years younger than Nan Haskell and several inches shorter. Her hair was black, and she wore it in an Italian-style haircut which made her look perhaps three years younger than she was. Her build was boyish, while distinctly feminine; men who lusted for Audrey Hepburn were frequently entranced by Elly Carr. Her breasts were small but firm and well-shaped, her waist very slender, her hips barely evident.

She had one child, a dark-haired pug-nosed girl named Pamela. Pam was at school now, not due to return until three-thirty. She had a husband named Ted, a sandy-haired public relations executive. Ted was in an air-conditioned office on Forty-eighth Street off Madison, not due to return until six-fifteen. She had, then, a minimum of three hours to cheat on her husband.

BOOK: Community of Women
4.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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