"There's a muscle that controls the lens of your eye, if you will. It gets rigid with age ... " His voice trailed off when he realized Cynthia was staring over his shoulder, refusing to make eye contact with him or his plastic model. "Anyway, no reading glasses yet, just a new contact lens prescription. These should be ready in a week. Should the nurse call you at home or at work?"
"Home. I haven't worked in years."
Dr. Silverstein blinked, suddenly awkward. He was one of the people who had never had a chance to say, "I'm sorry," because the tragedy was almost a year in the past by the time he saw her at her annual exam. Cynthia's life was full of such acquaintances, well-meaning types who had been left stranded by the tenuousness of their connection. Doctors, mechanics, accountants. She remembered the April immediately following, when Warren asked the accountant how one calculated for a dependent who had not survived the calendar year. Did they take the full credit, or did Olivia's death mean they had to prorate the deduction? For Warren and Cynthia, who had already asked a thousand questions they had never planned to ask -- questions about burials and caskets and plots and the scars left by autopsies -- it was just another dreary postscript. The accountant had looked so stricken she had wanted to comfort him.
She was beyond that now.
Cynthia went blinking out into the bright day, remembering, as she always did upon leaving the eye doctor, that first pair of glasses when she was ten. The wonder of finally seeing the world in sharp, clear focus had been dwarfed by the fear of her classmates' taunts. The other girls at Dickey Hill Elementary, even her friends, were always looking for a way to prick the self-importance of Judge Poole's oldest daughter. Another girl might have begged her mother to let her carry her glasses in a case, putting them on only as necessary. But to take them on and off would be an admission of weakness. So Cynthia wore those tortoiseshell frames wherever she went, holding her head high.
"Four-eyes," one girl had tried. "Four is better than two," Cynthia had said. And that was that.
She climbed into her car, the BMW X-25, a sports utility vehicle chosen not for its status but its heft. At 4,665 pounds it was heavier than the Lexus, even heavier than the Mercedes, and easier to maneuver than the Lincoln Navigator, which was a bit ghetto, anyway. Cynthia had actually wanted something a little less glamorous, because high-end SUVs were big with local carjackers. But the BMW had the best safety rating, so she bought the BMW and withstood the usual teasing about her love of luxury. Yes, she had once cared about things like expensive shoes and fine jewelry, had deserved her family's fond observation that Cynthia believed herself to be, if not at the center of the universe, just a few inches to the left. But that Cynthia was long gone, even if no one else could bear to acknowledge this fact.
Her cell phone rang. Headsets weren't the law in Maryland, but Cynthia had opted for one anyway. It amazed her to think of how she had once driven one-handed through the city behind the wheel of a smaller, sportier BMW, heedless of her heedlessness.
"Yes?" She recognized the voice, but she would be damned if she would grant this caller any intimacy.
"It's Sharon Kerpelman."
Cynthia didn't say anything, just concentrated on passing the cars that were entering the Beltway from the tricky exit off I-83. The Beacon-Light had recently run a list of the most dangerous highway intersections in the city, and this spot was in the top five. Cynthia had memorized them without realizing it.
"From the public defender's office?"
"Right," Cynthia said.
"I guess this is a courtesy call."
From Every Secret Thing by Laura Lippman. Copyright Laura Lippman 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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