I pushed my laptop aside. I would take notes first, sketch out my ideas in old-fashioned ballpoint on solid paper. I noticed, as I bent to pick my pen off the floor where it had rolled, that the rug badly needed vacuuming. What with final exams and the deluge of grading, I hadn't cleaned the apartment in weeks. I tried to think of an important idea on which I could build a firm base for an important book, but the grit kept drawing my eyes to the floor. The windowsills, too, were fuzzy with dust, and the bottom of my coffee cup had collected some stickiness from the kitchen counter. I'd be able to think more clearly if my environment was less chaotic.
Around five-thirty, I sat down again at the computer. I'd cleaned all afternoon with satisfying concentration, interrupting my efforts between finishing the kitchen and starting the bathroom only for my call to Letty. I felt focused and relaxed, even a little weary. I was now ready to settle down for a few hours of mental exertion, so the sound of Ted's knock at the door was somewhat irritating.
"Why do you refuse to carry keys?"
In his hand was a small, plastic bag.
"Just a little surprise."
I reached for the bag, but he held it back. "Later," he said. "It's not to be given without ceremony."
"So you had a good day of work?" he said, glancing into the closet with the window on an air shaft we both used as a study. But I'd been careful to turn off my laptop.
Excerpted from All Is Vanity by Christina Schwarz. Copyright 2002 by Christina Schwarz. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, 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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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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