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Authors: Mary Morris

Crossroads

BOOK: Crossroads
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents

Copyright

Acknowledgments

Dedication

Epigraph

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

About the Author

Copyright © 1983 by Mary Morris

 

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted by the 1976 Copyright Act or in writing from the publisher.

 

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

 

www.hmhco.com

 

The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Morris, Mary, date

Crossroads.

I. Title.

PS3563.O87445C7  1983  813'.54 82-15468

ISBN
0-395-33104-8

 

e
ISBN
978-0-544-35703-7
v1.0714

 

 

 

 

I would like to thank the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Artists Public Service Program (CAPS), the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Academy in Rome, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for their generous support in the completion of this project.

I would also like to thank Sharon Dunn, Alice Fahs, and Ellen Posner for all their support and assistance.

 

 

 

 

for Johnny Morris,

         
Carol Wise, and Ro

 

 

 

 

In the middle of the journey of our life

I came to myself in a dark wood

where the straight way was lost.

—D
ANTE,
The Inferno,
Canto 1

1

I
NEVER FELL IN LOVE
in my father's office, though I wanted to and tried. I wanted to fall in love with one of the boys in jersey shirts and polyester pants who worked out their days designing parking lots and drove home on the freeway to a ranchhouse in Chicago's northern suburbs. Instead I fell in love in all the wrong places, in museums with bearded intellectuals who'd share a painting with me, in buses and subways with men who never got off at my stop, in the back seat of cars with teen-age boys, on Caribbean islands with bored executives, in unreal and exotic places with men who'd flash briefly through my life—but never in my father's office, where I thought I belonged.

My father had begun an engineering firm on the south side of Chicago after the war. He wanted to specialize in building suspension bridges. His dream was to bridge the gap across the Bering Strait and drive home to Russia in search of his ancestral past. It was a structural impossibility; the towers would have to reach the ozone layer to support a fifty-six-mile suspension. The only bridge my father ever built was one made
of rope across a brook in a neighbor's yard. He eventually added five architects to his firm and settled for housing developments.

It was in his office that I decided to become a planner of cities. In the summers I used to run his switchboard, a chore that left me harried and confused. All those little lights to all those extensions reaching into the depths of the drafting room, making demands I'd never understand. When the phones weren't ringing in my father's office, I built cities I thought I might like to live in sometime. I made them out of discarded models and plans and drew them with colored pencils. At night I had city dreams. Huge, smoggy, gray buildings, a zillion people dashing around in an urban nightmare with big orange cranes set against the sky.

My father's office was a place of reason. It was not a place for irrational mood swings. I believed you could order people's lives. I thought if you gave them well-lit streets, nice houses, you'd make them happy. After my husband left me, I saw you couldn't.

Like many of my friends, I'd been sent east to college, for it is believed by Midwesterners with some sophistication that a serious education cannot be had west of Philadelphia. It was in the East, in graduate school, that I met and fell in love with a law student, Mark Lusterman, in a library and married him a few years later.

Mark and I married when we did in part because we thought it would keep him out of Vietnam. We'd planned to marry sooner or later anyway. Mark still got called up for his physical. His family doctor remembered Mark had fainted once after seeing a train wreck when he was three years old. The doctor wrote a letter saying Mark fainted under stress. When the sergeant yelled out, “All right, all you little fakers, let's see those phony notes from the doctor,” and sixty boys in their Jockey shorts at a draft board in Brooklyn held up sixty letters, Mark fainted.

He didn't go to Vietnam and we were married for seven years. I thought I'd done the right thing by marrying Mark, but in time it was wrong. I knew it was wrong before he left me in February, the bleariest part of the month, and my only regret was that I hadn't left him first. Mark left me, classically, for another woman, named Lila Harris. A woman from my home town whom I'd once helped conjugate French verbs, never suspecting that a dozen years later and twelve hundred miles away from Chicago, she'd seduce my husband in the South Bronx. If my life with Mark was one of a simple, changeless passion, my life after he left me became equally simple—a rather straightforward and primitive desire for revenge.

After we married and moved to New York City, I took a job with the New York Center for Urban Advancement as their chief proposal writer and as a planner of special projects. I was their expert in roads. I could glance at a map of Manhattan and tell you where to put a stop sign. In college I studied journalism and urban studies. I wanted to go to wild, dangerous places and interview the people who lived in those places. I wound up in the slums of New York. Mark worked for Legal Action in the South Bronx, and sometimes when I had a project uptown we'd meet for lunch at a little Chinese-Cuban restaurant across from the district courthouse.

I was working in the South Bronx one Friday and thought I'd give Mark a call to see if he wanted to have lunch. He said sure but he was lunching with a colleague who was working on a big rape case with him. When I walked into the restaurant, the colleague jumped up and rushed to me, open-armed. “I don't believe it,” Lila said. “I just don't believe it.”

“Small world,” I said. She looked great. Slim and healthy. Her misty gray eyes, her chestnut hair, always appealed to me. She'd become a vegetarian and did yoga every day after work. She'd never learned French. Instead Lila had done Berkeley's joint program in social work and law. When I went east, she went west. I'd always admired her spirit of adventure. Lila was
working in prison reform, and her office was not far from the main office of the New York Center for Urban Advancement near the Battery.

“You mean you guys know one another?” Mark said. He looked half-pleased, half-perplexed.

We sat down. “We grew up together,” I explained. Lila had been one of the Indian Tree crowd. She married a great guy named Robert in California—a businessman who could do imitations of all the Disney characters and who went to the hospitals to entertain the kids. He adored kids and he worshiped Lila.

I'm not sure when they started sleeping together. I'm sure it was already on their minds as we ate lunch but I don't think anything had happened. I like to think it was after Lila and I spent a day in the courthouse. She invited me to observe the rape case proceedings. She sat close beside me as we watched the trial. A tall, bony, young black woman had been raped by this huge dark man, and I could feel Lila tense up beside me when the young woman started to cry, recounting the details of the crime.

We confided in one another that day. Lila said she was getting bored with Robert. They'd been together so long. He was content doing financial consulting for major department stores while she feared she was getting ulcers from helping the disadvantaged. I told her how my marriage was in good shape, all things considered. I like to think they didn't begin sleeping together until she and Mark started working on the Savage Skulls case.

It was after the Savage Skulls began that Mark said he needed more space. I took him literally and started looking for a bigger apartment.

What he needed was breathing space, he told me one Sunday morning as I scanned the real estate ads. The concept was new to me. Time, I understood. When he needed time, there wasn't any quarrel. Often we didn't have time for one another,
but I hadn't heard of space. “I just feel crowded, that's all.” He sat in our large reading chair, newspaper open wide on his lap. He was still beautiful to me as the day I'd met him. His reddish hair remained full at the hairline; the gray-green eyes were still inexplicably sad.

I tried to remember how his youth had been squandered in dull, lifeless rooms in Brooklyn, how he hated demands because his mother had always demanded, never asked. Mrs. Lusterman, whom I could never bring myself to call Mom, was a golden, narrow woman with thick yellow hair who always wore tight yellow dresses and looked like a banana—of Polish Catholic descent. Her earlier traumas during the war were hidden, except in the constant motion of her hands. She seemed happiest beating eggs. His father was a distracted attorney, bored with it all. I only remember him saying hello and good-bye to me in all the years I knew him. Mark could also be spare with words.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked. He shook his head wearily, exasperated, and told me. “Don't cling to my every word. Don't wait for me to come home. Don't stay up until I go to sleep. Don't make plans for us until you ask me what my plans are.”

I began doing exactly what he'd told me not to do. I hung on his every word. I looked for hidden meanings behind each action. I made breakfast dates for us at ungodly hours. I waited up. If he was late, I panicked. I couldn't bear the waiting. And I waited and waited.

I never used to care if he was a little late as long as he let me know. Suddenly I started to care enormously. One November night, just a few months before he left me, he called to say he wouldn't get home until around ten. “Can you bring me some moo shu pork from that place next door to the courthouse?” I asked him. They had the best moo shu pork in town.

“Sure, no problem.”

He got home just before midnight with Chinese food from a
restaurant around the corner from our apartment in the West Sixties. “I didn't want it to get cold on the ride home,” he explained.

Actually he'd been with Lila all evening and couldn't have bought the Chinese food at the place near the courthouse. I found out accidentally when Lila made a slip. Over lunch the following week she mentioned to me that Robert had been in Detroit for a while on business and that she and Mark had gotten a lot of work done the previous week when they worked at her apartment. “Which night was that?” I asked.

“Tuesday, I think.” She paused. “Maybe Monday.”

“Monday or Tuesday?”

“Tuesday.” I could see her eyes dart as she tried to figure out if she'd made a mistake. She was pretty sure she'd made a mistake but she didn't know what it was. Mark had forgotten to give her his alibi for Tuesday night.

“So what's the story?” I said to him that evening. “Were you at the office or at Lila's?”

He paled as I'd seen him pale only once before, years ago in Cambridge when we were dating and he wanted to break up.

I begged him, “Tell me the truth but please don't leave me.”

Mark threw up his arms. “It's impossible to talk to you about anything,” he said. “All you do is imagine the worst. I didn't tell you I was working at Lila's Tuesday night because I knew you'd make a scene.”

“I'm married to you,” I said. “We've been together a long time. Tell me what's happening.”

It was Robert who told me. He called me in the early evening, when he got back from Detroit, and sobbed into the phone. It took me a few moments to understand what he was saying, because the connection was bad and he was calling from somewhere on the street. At first I thought there'd been an accident. I heard words like “dead” and “hurt.” Then I slowly pieced it together. Lila had left Robert. She told him she'd been in love with Mark for quite some time. “What am I
going to do?” he sobbed to me. His life, his job, they meant nothing to him without her.

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