Usually, if I duck my head and walk briskly, I can make it past
the playground at West Eighty-first Street. I start preparing in
the elevator, my eyes on the long brass arrow as it ticks down
from the seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth floor. Sometimes the
elevator stops and one of my neighbors gets on, and I have no
choice but to crack the carapace of my solitude, and pretend
civility. If it's one of the younger ones, the guitar player
with the brush of red hair and the peeling skin, say, or the
movie executive in the rumpled jeans and the buttery leather
coat, it's enough to muster a polite nod of the head. The older
ones require more. The steel-haired women in the
self-consciously bohemian dresses, folds of purple peeping from
under the hems of black wool capes, demand conversation about
the weather, or the spot of wear on the Oriental carpet runner
in the lobby, or the front page of the arts section. That is
quite nearly too much to bear, because don't they see that I am
busy? Don't they realize that obsessive self-pity is an
all-consuming activity that leaves no room for conversation?
Don't they know that the entrance to the park lies right next to
the Eighty-first Street playground and that if I am not
completely prepared, if I do not clear my mind, stop my ears to
all sounds other than my own breathing, it is entirely
possible--likely even--that instead of striding boldly past the
playground with my eyes on the bare gray branches of the trees,
I will collapse outside the playground gate, the shrill voices
of the children keening in my skull? Don't they understand,
these ladies with their petitions and their dead banker husbands
and bulky Tod's purses, that if I let them distract me with talk
of Republicans stealing elections or whether Mrs. Katz from 2B
saw Anthony the new doorman asleep behind the desk last Tuesday
night, I will not make it past the playground to the refuge of
the park beyond? Don't they get that the barbaric assault of
their voices, the impatient thumping of their Lucite canes as
they wait insistently for my mumbled replies, will prevent me
from getting to the only place in the entire city where I am
able to approximate serenity? They will force me instead to
trudge along the Seventy-ninth Street Transverse, pressed
against the grimy stone walls, inhaling exhaust fumes from
crosstown buses all the way to the East Side. Or worse, they
will force me to take a cab.
Today, thank God, the elevator is empty all the way to the lobby.
"Have a nice walk, Mrs. Woolf," Ivan says as he holds the door open for me.
That started the day after our wedding. The first few times I tried to explain that I was still Ms. Greenleaf. I know Ivan understood. He's not an idiot. But he merely smiled, nodded, and said, "Of course, Ms. Greenleaf," and then greeted me with a "Good morning, Mrs. Woolf," the next day. At least it was better than when I'd first moved in with Jack. Then I had muttered something like, "Oh, no, please call me Emilia." Ivan hadn't even bothered to smile and nod. He had stared at me from behind his thick black glasses, shaken his head as if he were my fifth-grade teacher and I'd disappointed him by forgetting my homework or, worse, using foul language in class. "No, Ms. Greenleaf," he had said. That was all. Not "I couldn't," or "I wouldn't feel right." Just, "No." Because of course he would never call someone in the building by her first name; it was appalling to have suggested it at all.
Excerpted from Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman, pages 1-8 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2006 by Ayelet Waldman. 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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