She left the hospital early in the evening, in no rush to get home. As always, she walked the city's main streets, perfuming herself with the pulse of everyday life, drinking in the notion that all the people in the cars, stores, cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, and on sidewalks, this mass of mankind, was not, at this very moment, engaged in the act of love. She walked her usual route, pleased by the sight of mortals immersed in their affairs, urban men and women of the cloth, who, for the time being, kept their chastity belts clasped tight, as did she. Her mind, at this point, still shied away from her sanctum sanctorum. Five minutes away from her house, she crossed the street and approached the final bend in the road, where an untamable, feral pounding erupted in her chest. The rational part of her mind stabbed at her repeatedly, for her childish excitement, for the crudeness of the whole affair, for the fact that a geographic Spot could charge the dusty battery of her heart and fill it to the point where she could almost hear the growl of an awakening engine in her ears, causing her to scan the street, to ensure that no one else had heard the ghastly noise. But no one heard and no one knew.
Two years ago, the bend in the road was just another curve on the way home from work, and she had no reason to believe that a health club would be built right there, firmly and unavoidably in her way. And then it happened. Since then, had anyone noticed her, they would have had some trouble interpreting the expression draped across her facea lethal concoction of embarrassment, paralysis, disdain, attraction, disgust, agony, excitement, jealousy, resentment, indignation, pretension, and happiness. For the past two years she had been shuffling past the club, feigning nonchalance as she glanced through the front window, behind which sweaty and sleek men and women exhibited their bodies' achievements. For two years she had been experiencing a tiny pleasurable heart attack, averting her eyes whenever they happened to meet those of any male club member. For two years she'd endured tedious, ten-hour shifts at the hospital in order to reap the reward of five blissful minutes on the walk home. If she could have it her way, she'd be waylaid for a while longer, but she feared that her sinewy heroes would spot her and creep into her forbidden thoughts. So, after five probing minutes, she marched on. Every once in a while, with the arrival of a new member or the disappearance of a regular, a wild sheen invaded her eyes, as if her mind had, with secretarial diligence, filed away every possible twist in the usual plot. A year before, she chose her protagonist. She had been tracking him since then, focusing on his mute attributes. The man frequented the gym every evening, never mingling, devoutly safeguarding his privacy. She was reminded of her first glimpse of him: tall, well-groomed, in his early forties, with brown hair cropped close to his scalp, whimsically spiked; blue, void and immobile eyes; a thick nose, thin lips, and body language that spoke of firmly harnessed sensuality. Over the course of the year, she wondered why the once-scrawny man distanced himself from the humming social scene at the health club, especially as his body revealed its clear intent to join the gym's pantheon of well-defined Herculi. To her delight, he did not turn into one of those formidable monsters that treat their bodies like a sacred temple. He kept his humanity, immersing himself in his demanding workout, determined to carry on with the addictive mission, as though he expected some great reward at the end of the road.
Taking the bend, her eyes widened in surprise. Tonight, for the first time, he was not there, his absence creating a chasm between the perky-breasted blond to his right and the expressionless blind man to his left.
At 9:00 P.M. the bell rang. One after another, Ben's friends, heavy with longing, poured into the house that had been off limits for a year. Beyond the dozens of balloons, wall decorations, overflowing plates of food, blaring dance music, and the enormous sign for Marian, the guests had no trouble recognizing the familiar guest room and were delighted to see that the owner had made no changesthe overloaded shelves still groaned under the weight of books, CDs, LPs, and videos, and the works of art, so loved by the woman of the hour, were still immaculately strewn all over the house.
The World of the End © Ofir Touché Gafla 2013
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.
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