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The Dive From Clausen's Pier

by Ann Packer

The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer X
The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2002, 384 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2003, 384 pages

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"Carrie, Carrie, come here." He motioned me over with a boisterous wave of his arm. Although he was sitting and I was standing, he seemed to loom over me: he was without doubt the biggest person I'd ever known, six-six with broad, beefy shoulders and a thick slab of a torso. When I first told him about Mike's accident, he grabbed me and hugged me so hard I nearly lost my breath.

Today he said, "This morning I am telling Ania that we must be more social. In Slavic studies we have parties, but they are too Slavic. You can come for dinner when?"

I glanced around. Viktor's library voice conceded nothing to the place, and several people stared at us from the long tables where they sat working, apparently waiting to hear if I'd accept. Dinner at Viktor's. This was a first, and I wondered how much it had to do with Mike's being in the hospital, and whether or not, given that Mike was in the hospital, I should go. I was about to make an excuse when a door at the back of the room opened, and the neat, prim head of our boss, Miss Grafton, poked out.

"Oops," I said quietly, but Viktor put on a big smile and waved genially at her, and after a moment her head withdrew and she closed the door.

"She loves me," he said matter-of-factly, his voice only a little lower now. "I am tall, strong, good-looking. She sees me and thinks of the agony of her dry, sexless life, but she is happy for a moment because I remind her of when it wasn't so."

"Viktor," I said.

"You don't think this is true?"

"It's just you're so modest."

He ran a hand over his bristly jaw. "I am shaving every two days now for my new look." He took my hand and made me feel his chin. "Yes, I think you like it."

I laughed. Mike loved my Viktor stories, and I thought of how funny he'd think this one was, then remembered I couldn't tell him. A feeling of something heavy moved through me, like sand falling through water. I looked away.

"Let's say a week from Saturday," he said. "We are cooking Tex-Mex. Ania is a fabulous cook, you know."

"I don't know, I--"

"Not 'I don't know,' " he said. "Yes. Yes!"

"OK, yes."

He smiled triumphantly, deep lines appearing in his stubbly cheeks. He was twenty-eight but looked older.

I moved away, ready to get to work, and he called my name.

"Viktor," I said, turning back wearily. "Miss Grafton's going to--"

"You have to relax a little, Carrie." He lifted both hands and shook his head mournfully. "We talk and we do our work, and it is not a problem."

I rolled my eyes.

"Anyway, I am just giving you a message."

He handed me a piece of paper, and I walked a few paces away and slipped between a pair of tall bookcases. In his big, blocky capitals it said, jamie. 10:30. can take lunch any time between 12 and 3 if you call by 11:45. please call. says hi. Sighing, I folded the note and put it in my pocket. Jamie worked in a copy shop three blocks away, and we sometimes met for lunch if our hours were right. The past few months I'd mostly been telling her they weren't, that I'd been given a late lunch or none at all, but recently, since the accident, she'd been pushing it, leaving messages like this one, calling at work just to say "Hi, are you OK?" I knew she was worried about me, and I felt grateful for that, or if not grateful, at least touched. I looked at my watch: 11:35. At the very least I should call to say no, but it would be so much easier not to call, to pretend I hadn't gotten the message in time. I touched my pocket and felt the note in there, the faint outline of it. Then I went and found a cart of books to shelve. Since the accident I could get away with more, which scared me.



The hospital was like a city, with distinct neighborhoods and commercial areas, and corridors inside like long, long streets. When I arrived that evening I sat in one of the lobbies for a few minutes, trying to get myself ready to go up. A farm family stood conferring near me, the men in poly-blend short-sleeved shirts that showed their brown arms and their creased, dark-red necks. Across the way, a very old woman in a wheelchair had been left by herself near a drinking fountain, a crocheted shawl over her hospital-issue gown. Mike and I had passed through this very lobby a couple years ago, when his grandfather was dying of lung cancer: his uncle Dick was too jumpy to sit for a meal, so we were searching for a box of Whoppers for him, the one thing he felt like eating. We finally found them in a gift shop just down the hall, and Mike opened them on the way back so we could each have one. Sitting there two years later, I could almost conjure up the taste of the malt on my tongue, how it burned a little next to the sweet, artificial chocolate.

Excerpted from The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer Copyright 2002 by Ann Packer. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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