MY HUSBAND, NICK SYMONDS, COMMUTED to work in a seaplane. This was unusual, of great interest to people who lived in our small town on Connecticut's shore and to the people we met at parties in New York. They loved to hear about how he and three other Wall Street lawyers, all of whom had pilots' licenses and lived in Black Hall, beyond reasonable commuting distance to New York, had bought and refurbished a third-hand seaplane for less money than it would cost to buy a new station wagon. Only during bad weather and when the bay iced over did they drive into the city. Still, I considered the seaplane an ominous portent. It symbolized the extremes to which Nick would go for Wall Street. The trouble was, we loved each other madly, but the Street was stealing him from me.
It was early May; the leaves were out. I stood on the wide porch watching Nick go through his briefcase. Every morning he inventoried its contents. I stared at his wavy hair, wild in the wind. I saw the scene as a tableau, as an outsider would see it. My black hair and white nightgown were whipping behind me as if I were a heroine about to be left. I wanted to pull him inside, take off his dark topcoat, have him with me all day. We could go back to bed for an hour, eat a big breakfast, fish for snapper blues, ride bikes along the Shore Road.
"Baby, don't go," I said. I always called him "baby" when I wanted to make light of something I felt murderously strong about.
He stood and hugged me close, and then I pulled back so I could see his eyes. They were black, nearly purple like India ink. They held my gaze for a while, but then I heard the plane taxiing across the choppy bay.
"Why don't you drive today?" I asked. "It's too windy to fly." The Tobins' flag was snapping like gunfire.
"There's not time now, Georgie," he said. He sounded a little sad; lately I had become more anxious about his flying. I could hear the voice of a Coast Guard commander: "We're sorry, madam, the plane and all passengers were lost."
"I have to go," he said. He kissed me and ran for the plane. Nick was tall; his strides were long. His black coat flapped in the wind. For a few steps he ran backwards, waving at me. I watched him climb into the rear seat behind my brother-in-law, Donald Macken. How incongruous it looked, that shabby yellow plane full of pristine lawyers! I could see them only from the chest up, wearing identical dark coats, white shirts, dark ties. Nick was identical to no one; he only dressed that way. The plane taxied into the Sound, gaining speed as it bounced across the waves, then took off. It circled once over the pine trees, casting a black shadow on the bay. Then I did what I always did when Nick flew in windy weather: I walked next door to visit my mother.
PEM, MY GRANDMOTHER, stood at the kitchen door. "You ought to cover yourself up," she said, holding the cuff of my nightgown between her thumb and forefinger. I kissed the top of her head. She had once been five feet six, my height, but she had shrunk to five one and developed a humpback. She was eighty-six. Her white hair was sparse and wild, her nose prominent. She resembled Einstein.
"No one saw me," I said.
"Those birds in the plane did."
"True, but one of them is Nick and one of them is Donald."
"Who are they?"
"My granddaughters are married?"
For eight years, I was about to answer, but then my mother called from the living room. She sat in a wicker chair, wrapped in a red plaid blanket, a tiny portable radio on the table beside her. She had a famous smile, wide and radiant and nearly square, but her expression was pained that morning. For effect, she swept back her thick shoulder-length chestnut hair with one hand and held it there. "A winter sea in May," she said.
"It's not that bad," I said, feeling vaguely angry that she should bring up the subject so abruptly, as if I wouldn't be worrying myself.
"I don't think those guys should be flying at all," she said. "No jobs are worth risking their lives in that plane. I have to say, Georgie, that you and Clare should tell them what's what. The plane is a rattletrap, winds on the Sound are fluky . . ."
"You're not helping, Mom."
"Another thing--remember the hurricane season begins in June."
I thought, not for the first time, of how incredulous her audience would have been to know that Honora Swift, the woman they had watched nightly as Channel 6's weather forecaster and Saturday mornings as Weather Woman, placed weather at the head of her ever-changing list of One Hundred Things to Fear Most. This list included the dangers of walking barefoot on the beach at night, the dangers of pigeons, the dangers of cans left too long in the refrigerator.
Clare walked in, followed by her two sons and Pem. "You know what Mom did?" Clare asked, kissing my mother, then me. "She called before dawn to tell us the wind speed and wave heights."
"I wish they hadn't flown," I said, hating to admit it in front of Honora. Clare smirked, slipping off her down parka. Casey came to sit on my lap and Eugene pressed my nose hard. "Ouch," I said, and did it back to him.
"Hey, hey," Pem said, laughing.
"I'm not saying the wind is actually dangerous today, but it's important to be aware. You girls of all people should know how dangerous weather can be." She was referring to our father, who had died on a North Sea oil rig in Force 10 weather.
"I think that's a really mean thing to bring up," Clare said.
"Your father was a scientist--he knew the dangers. My God, they had been predicting that storm all week. But those precious bottom samples were so important, so almighty important to him. Just like
Wall Street for Nicky and Don."
"Shut up, Mama, and eat your peanuts," Pem said, a bland expression on her face.
Honora looked at her with hurt eyes while Clare and I tried not to laugh. "That is a very vulgar saying," Honora said.
Ignoring her, Pem spoke to Eugene. "It's an old Irish saying. My mother used to say it to her mother."
"Your mother was English and she was lovely," Honora said. "My grandma would never say anything like that. Mrs. Dawkins told us that story, it was about a bridal shower where the mother kept mentioning the girl's old flame, over and over again, until the girl finally said, 'Shut up, Mama, and eat your peanuts.' "
Put out, Pem watched Honora across the heads of her great-grandsons. She stuck out her tongue. Still wounded by the story, my mother looked away. "Do you believe my mother is making faces at me? Who would believe the dignified matriarch makes faces at her daughter? Two days ago the librarian called her 'the grande dame of Bennison Point.' "
Our great-aunts had told us that Pem had been a hellion as a child, but none of us had really believed it until she had started to get senile nine years ago. The white-haired matriarch became a naughty girl. She would start boxing matches. She would say "Oh, I'll smash you," and mean it, if she didn't get her way. Having always admired the color pink, she one day dyed the living room's predominantly ecru chintz curtains and slipcovers damask rose. Then she dipped the sponge mop in a bucket of leftover dye and pinkened the white patches on the hooked rugs. She had always loved our family, but now she loved us exclusively, if pugilistically. In public she became overly polite, as if she knew that once her guard dropped the antics would start. She stopped wanting to go out. She was happiest when we were all together at her house. "Is the family coming home tonight?" she asked Honora every night, never mind that Clare and I had families of our own, that we lived in houses my grandfather had built on his property during the years Clare and I were born. Our proximity gave her no comfort; we had to be under her roof, and that included Nick, Donald, Eugene, and Casey, even though she could never remember their names. Although Pem was frantic for our presence, no one but my mother would have been surprised if Pem decided to smash all the sherry glasses or started putting lit matches between our toes. My mother continued to treat her like a normal person, like her mother, as if she hoped the condition would go away and they could get back to their regular shopping-and-lunch days.
"I'd better go home and change," I said.
"Waiting for Nick to call?" Clare asked in a funny tone, as if she were teasing me about having a crush on him.
"Doesn't Donald call when he gets to his office?" our mother asked, leaving no doubt that she thought he should.
"That's the worst trap a woman can get into," Clare said. "You spend your time waiting for the phone to ring and if it doesn't you're sure he's dead. Or kissing someone. Same thing anyway--Donald kisses someone else, he's dead."
Clare and I laughed; Honora tightened her lips and shook her head. Then I left. To go home and wait for Nick to call.
NICK AND I HAD a fine telephone romance. This was fortunate, considering the twelve or so hours he spent at the office every day. For six and a half years he had worked for a securities law firm where he specialized in "tender offers," top secret transactions in which one company would take control of another, often in an arrogant, hostile manner. Every deal had a code name: Project Hamlet, Project Broadsword, Project Blue Lightning. Telling anyone about the deals was forbidden. Before joining the Tender Offer Squad, Nick had had to swear on the Bible never to talk about the deals, even by their code names, to anyone outside the firm. He had to specifically swear not to tell me. The senior partner who had administered the oath told him that wives were the worst: they were always giving inside information to cabdrivers, hairdressers, Park Avenue doormen. The senior partner had held the Bible before Nick and said solemnly, "You must swear, son, never to tell Mrs. Symonds about your work, no matter how curious she becomes." Nick had sworn, but the oath was invalid, since Nick had sworn not to tell Mrs. Symonds, and I had kept my own name, Swift, after our marriage. Besides, we always told each other everything.
The phone rang. I knew it was Nick before I answered. "Hi," I said.
"Safe and sound," he said quickly.
"It's incredibly windy here, Nick," I said ominously.
"But if I hadn't flown, I would have had to get up two hours earlier. Think of what we did in that time."
We had made love and fallen back to sleep. But the memory didn't make me smile. "Will you be busy today?"
"Very, and it's already starting. The clients are here from Project Broadsword. They're going into the conference room now, but I have a few minutes."
We sat there, silent, connected by the phone line. Nick never put me on the speakerphone. He said he liked talking to me through the receiver, something he could hold on to.
"Is this a big deal?"
"Very big. Four billion dollars will be exchanged." He laughed. "That's what we say--'exchanged.' Doesn't that sound totally unrelated to money? Like wampum, or chickens exchanged for medical care in rural Spain?"
"It does, exactly." I smiled, but he had missed my point. I didn't care about the money involved in his deals, but the figure he quoted gave me an idea of how late I could expect him to be each night. Four billion dollars was a very, very late deal.
I heard someone in the background at Nick's office. A male voice telling him they were ready to leave for the meeting.
"Are you interviewing anyone today?" Nick asked.
"I have a few possibilities, don't worry."
"I'm not worried about keeping you busy, Georgie." He paused. "I love you," he said, even though someone was standing right there.
I hung up feeling angry; I had started to notice I often felt angry after talking to Nick. That was one secret I kept from him. He knew I was bothered, but he didn't know how much. I barely knew myself. At the beginning his job had been an adventure, not to mention being the type of work about which every law student dreams. Everything about it felt larger than life: the clients he represented, the amounts of money involved, the way we lived in a house directly on Long Island Sound while many of his law school classmates had small rent-stabilized apartments in the city, the way he flew in and out of Black Hall by seaplane, the exotic places we went on business trips. But gradually the stakes had grown higher. He had been at the firm for nearly seven years, and he was thinking about partnership. That meant longer hours and major pressure. A tiny mistake could cost a client millions and Nick his chance.
Occasionally we considered returning to New York, where the commute would be twenty minutes by subway instead of an hour by seaplane, but I loved living in the country. Our shingled house perched on a rocky point jutting into the Sound. My grandparents, Penitence (Pem) and Damon Bennison, had built houses for Honora, me, and Clare, and prayed we would always love the place. We had flower and vegetable gardens and an entire hillside covered with heather. Migrating birds passed through every March and September. Every winter, seals came down from Maine to swim in the bay. For years I had been working on a profile of the bay, from the rocky bottom to the water column itself, but now I had another job. I operated the Swift Observatory, an institution that observed neither galaxies nor constellations but human nature.
It began with a lie. I lied to Nick. Or, rather, I failed to tell him the whole truth. Six months earlier I had answered a classified ad and started working as a maid. I did not tell Nick. Later I saw this as an act of pure defiance, a private protest against his endless working nights, but at the time I felt nearly out of control, in need of a secret. When Nick would call late in the afternoon, asking where I had been, I would say, "The fish store." It astonished me, the fact he never suspected. I hid my wages in an envelope in my desk drawer. I imagined whipping it out some day, handing it to Nick, and saying, "Pack your bags, baby, we're going to the Bahamas." Sometimes I considered buying him an extravagant birthday present. Mainly I saved the money for our future.
Excerpted from Crazy in Love by Luanne Rice. Copyright © 2006 by Luanne Rice. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, 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.