A claque of women follows me into the elevator. Two are pregnant; one holds a baby strapped to her chest in a black leather Baby Björn infant carrier. The last pushes a Bugaboo stroller identical to the one parked outside my apartment. Because of course the irony is that for all my expertise as the preeminent cartographer of a childfree Central Park, my very destination is into the belly of the beast. My goal, my journey's end, is the 92nd Street Y Nursery School.
All this fecundity would have stopped me dead in my tracks had I stumbled upon it in the park. Central Park is my refuge, and its invasion by the baby brigade enrages and devastates me. At the preschool, however, I am used to a certain quality and quantity of misery. I have never been anything but uncomfortable and unhappy here. To be reduced to tears in the elevator by the milk-drunk flush of an infant's cheek is pretty much par for the course.
The women in the elevator acknowledge my presence with the barest nod, precisely the nod I give those of my neighbors who permit me this coldness. I respond in kind and affix my eyes to the lighted buttons over the elevator door, clocking our progress up through the building to the sixth floor.
The hallway of the preschool is decorated, as always, in brilliantly colored children's artwork that changes with every Jewish holiday. Now it is Tu B'Shevat that we are celebrating, and the children have painted various kinds of trees. The hallway trumpets the school's celebrated student-teacher ratio. It evidences sure and patient guidance, a wellspring of inventive and carefully educated creativity, and an art supply budget rivaling that of the School of Visual Arts. I scan the paintings, looking to see if William has done one. He is an adept artist for his age, is William. He has inherited his mother's agile and delicate fingers. He draws mostly seascapes: fish and octopi, multi-fanged sharks and moray eels. His latest is displayed outside his classroom. William, it turns out, is the only child who has failed to honor the birthday of the trees. At first I think his picture is nothing more than a huge scribble of red crayon, but when I lean in to take a closer look I see that on the bottom of the page William has drawn a rainbow-colored parrot fish. The parrot fish is lying on its side because a swordfish has torn a hole in its belly. The red overlying the scene is blood spurting from the fish's wounds. Perhaps the picture is meant to be an allegory, and the parrot fish to symbolize the Jewish people should they fail to recognize their connection to the land. But I doubt it.
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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