I cut north to the trail along the Reservoir. There is one more playground in my path, but it is far enough away that I can keep my eyes averted from the Lincoln Log play structure and the red-and-yellow slide. It is late for the mommies with jogging strollers, and if my luck holds I will miss them entirely. Last Wednesday I left a couple of hours early, to meet a friend who had decided that a morning of shoe shopping would bounce me out of my despondency, would turn me back into someone whose company she enjoyed. Mindy did not, of course, say that. Mindy said that her husband had given her a pair of Manolo Blahniks for her birthday in the size she had led him to believe that she wore, and she needed to see if the store carried the shoe in a ten and a half.
On that day, I came upon a whole row of new mothers crouched down in back of their strollers, their postpartum-padded behinds thrust out, their hands gripping the handles as they rose up to their toes and then squatted back down, cooing all the while to their well-bundled infants who squawked, laughed, or slept in $750 strollers, Bugaboo Frogs just like the one parked in the hallway outside our apartment, next to the spindly table with the silk orchids. The blue denim Bugaboo that kicks me in the gut every time I stand waiting for the elevator. They squatted and rose in unison, this group of mommies, and none of them said a word when I stopped in front of them and grunted as if I'd been punched. They looked at me, and then back at each other, but no one spoke, not when I started to cry, and not when I turned and ran, back along the path, past the first playground and then the second, and then back out onto Central Park West.
Today I am lucky. The mommies have stayed in, or are sharing a post-workout latte. I don't see one until I am on the Bridle Path on the East Side. She runs by me so fast that I barely have time to register the taut balls of her calves pumping in shiny pink running pants, her ears covered in matching fur earmuffs. The babies in her double jogging stroller are tiny purple mounds, pink noses, and then gone. Too fast to cause me anything but a momentary blaze of pain.
At Ninetieth Street, having made it safely and sanely across the park, I look at my watch. Shit. I am late, again, with only five minutes to make it up to Ninety-second and then all the way across to Lex. I quicken my pace, pinching my waist against the stitch in my side. The tails of my long coat flap against my legs, and with my other hand I do my best to hold the coat closed. I can button it now, but it looks dreadful, my thick torso straining against the buttons, causing the fabric to gape. While I'm not vain enough to buy a new winter coat--I will not spend hundreds of dollars on a piece of clothing I am bound and determined not to need a month from now--I am sufficiently self-conscious to leave the coat open, counting on a thick scarf to keep out the bitter damp.
It is not until I run around the white fence barriers and the cement planters, show my ID card at the security desk, pass through the metal detector, and am shifting from foot to foot in front of the bank of elevators that I remember that I have set my watch forward fifteen minutes for this very reason, so I will not be late again, so that Carolyn will not have yet another reason to call Jack and berate him for my capricious negligence, my disregard for her and all she holds sacred. I feel myself deflate, as if the only thing keeping me buoyant was my agitation and anxiety. By the time the elevator arrives I am tiny, I am shrunken to the size of a mouse, I am the smallest person in the 92nd Street Y.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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