Authors: Anita Diamant
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The Red Tent
The New Jewish Wedding
How to Be a Jewish Parent: A Practical Handbook for Family Life
Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying,
Bury the Dead and Mourn as a Jew
Choosing a Jewish Life: A Guidebook for
People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends
Bible Baby Names: Spiritual Choices from Judeo-Christian Tradition
The New Jewish Baby Book: Names, Ceremonies and Customs —
a Guide for Today’s Families
Living a Jewish Life: Jewish Traditions, Customs and
Values for Today’s Families
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2001 by Anita Diamant
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any
and design are trademarks of Macmillan Library Reference USA, Inc., used under license
by Simon & Schuster, the publisher of this work.
lay on the massage table and looked up at the casement windows high above her. The
sashes were fashioned of rough oak, the glass uneven and bottle-thick. Propped open
on green sapling sticks, they were windows from an enchanted castle. Having been a
children’s librarian for twenty-five years, Kathleen Levine considered herself something
of an expert on the subject of enchanted castles.
She smiled and closed her eyes. The massage was a birthday present from her coworkers
at Edison Elementary. They’d given her the gift certificate at a surprise party for
her fifty-ninth birthday, almost five months ago. When Madge Feeney, the school secretary,
had learned that Kathleen still hadn’t used it, Madge had harrumphed and made the
appointment for her.
Kathleen stretched her neck from side to side. “Comfortable?” asked Marla, who stood
at the far end of the table, kneading Kathleen’s left instep. Marla Fletcher, who
was nearly six feet tall, sounded as though she were far, far away. Like the giant
wife in the castle of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Kathleen thought, and smiled again.
She sighed, letting go of the tension of driving from school to this odd, out-of-the-way
place. Kathleen had thought she knew every last side street on Cape Ann, but Marla’s
directions had taken her along unfamiliar roads leading, finally, up a rutted, one-way
lane that looped around the steep hills overlooking Mill Pond. She nearly turned back
once, convinced she’d lost the way. But then she spotted the landmark: a stone gate,
half-hidden by overgrown lilac bushes, weeks away from blooming.
It must have been a stunning estate in its day. Much as she hated being late, Kathleen
slowed down for a better look. The great lawn had been designed to show off the pond,
which shone platinum in the spring sun. Beyond it, Mill River glittered into the distance,
silver on mauve.
She turned the car toward the sprawling hewn-granite mansion. Those windows seemed
piteously small to be facing such a magnificent scene, she thought. And the four smaller
outbuildings, made of the same majestic stones, with the same slate turrets, seemed
oddly grand for servants’ quarters.
Kathleen drove past two young couples in tennis whites standing by the net on a pristine
clay court. They turned to watch as she pulled up beside the round stone tower, where
Marla waited by the door. Rapunzel, thought Kathleen, at the sight of her waist-length
Lying on the massage table, Kathleen wondered whether she could translate this amazing
place into “once upon a time.” She had tried to write children’s books, she had even
taken classes. But that was not her gift. Kathleen was good at matching children to
books. She could find just the right story to catch any child’s imagination — even
the wildest boys, who were her pet projects, her special successes. It wasn’t as grand
a gift as writing, but it was a gift. And in her own private way, Kathleen was proud
Yet, here she was, in a castle on a hill in the woods, stroked and kneaded like a
happy lump of dough by a kind lady; it seemed like an engraved invitation. Was this
the kind of scene that had inspired Charles Dodgson to become Lewis Carroll? Was this
the world that Maurice Sendak visited whenever he set out on a new book?
“Time to turn over,” Marla said, draping the sheet so Kathleen remained covered. Warm
oil trickled over Kathleen’s sloping shoulders, velvet drops that soothed and tickled.
“Nice,” she said, overcome by gratitude to this pleasant stranger who made her feel
so well cared for, so . . . cradled. Curious word, Kathleen thought. Curiouser and
curiouser. She closed her eyes.
The next thing she knew, two warm hands cupped her face. “Take your time getting dressed,”
Marla whispered. “I’m going to get you a glass of water.”
But Kathleen was no dawdler. She saw from the clock beside her that nearly two hours
had passed since she had lain down. She swung her legs over the edge of the table
and reached for her bra, fastening the hooks in front, bottom to top, just as her
sister had shown her when Kathleen was twelve years old, before she needed a bra at
all. She had no idea she was weeping until Marla raced back up the winding stone staircase,
an empty glass in her hand.
Kathleen tried to regain control of her breathing. “I have breast cancer,” she said,
staring down at her chest.
“Oh my God,” Marla said softly. She sat down and took Kathleen’s hand. “I wish you’d
told me. I would have brought up my amethyst crystal. I could have burned myrrh instead
Kathleen sniffed and stifled a laugh. “That’s okay. It was a wonderful massage.”
“Do you want to make an appointment for another one? That might be a good thing to
Kathleen wiped her nose on her slippery forearm and turned the bra around, filling
it with her breasts — first the good one, and then the traitor. “I’ll call you after
I know when . . . After . . .” Her throat closed. Marla put an arm around her shoulders.
The only sound was the volley on the tennis court below. The juicy pop of ball hitting
racket, court, racket, sounded back and forth for a long time before someone finally
missed a shot. The players’ laughter filtered up through the windows, like an echo
from another day, another story.
I AM THE QUEEN
of compromise, Joyce thought as she walked into the empty house. “Lowered Expectations
‘R’ Us,” she muttered.
The sound of her heels — somehow it had seemed necessary to wear good shoes to the
closing — echoed against the bare surfaces. She wandered from room to room, reminding
herself that the roof and furnace were new, and that there wasn’t a shred of shag
carpeting anywhere. The house was on a corner lot, and most of the yard faced south,
which meant Frank could have the garden of his dreams.
She told people it was a sweet little house, but in the light of day, it was six pinched
rooms, aluminum siding, and small windows that cranked open and shut. The kitchen
had been mercilessly updated with avocado-green appliances in the 1960s by the Loquasto
family, who had bought the house new in 1957 and raised five kids in it.
There was no ocean view, no fireplace, not even a porch. Her Gloucester dream house
was a boxy Cape on a residential street three blocks up from the oily moorings of
Smith’s Cove, on the way to Rocky Neck.
“Aren’t you sweet?” Joyce said to the green refrigerator.
Maybe someday she would write a best-seller, and she and Frank could afford a white
refrigerator with an icemaker in the door. They would knock down walls and hire an
architect to design a loft and porches and a widow’s walk, so she could see the water.
Nah. If she had that kind of money, they could just buy the million-dollar condo on
Marten Road she had looked at “just for fun.” Two fireplaces and water views from
floor-to-ceiling windows in every room.
“Get a grip!” said Joyce, who caught sight of her scowling face in the bathroom mirror.
She tucked her curly, dark hair behind her ears and sighed. She looked okay for a
forty-two-year-old woman with five extra pounds on her backside and a slight overbite.
“What have you got to bitch about?” she scolded, widening her striking gray eyes.
“You just bought a vacation house for God’s sake. Nine-tenths of the world’s population
would kill to live in your garage!”
So what if it wasn’t a big, fancy dream house? It was on Cape Ann, and she could smell
the ocean. At night she would hear foghorns and halyards, and it was only a short
bike ride to Good Harbor beach.
Maybe she and Frank would start cycling again. They had taken bike trips all over
New England when they’d first met, making love in cheap little motels, eating peanut
butter sandwiches every day for lunch. People sometimes took them for brother and
sister, because they both had dark hair and gray eyes. Maybe they could take a little
trip while Nina was at camp this summer.
Or maybe she would take a watercolor class, and Nina could come along with her.
No matter what, Joyce promised herself, this house would be her own private writers’
colony. She would get up early every morning and write five pages. And not a sequel
, either. This book would have her real name on the cover.
Joyce Tabachnik didn’t sound like the name of a romance novelist. So she had had no
objection when her agent suggested a pseudonym; after all, this book was just a means
to an end. She and her journalist friends had complained for years about their finances
and vowed that
they’d write a mystery or a thriller that would pay their kids’ college tuition
buy them early retirement in the south of France. Joyce’s dream was a house on Cape
Ann — her favorite place on earth, less than an hour’s drive north of Boston but still
somehow off the tourist track.
On her fortieth birthday, Joyce had gotten depressed. “I am such a cliché,” she had
moaned into her pillow. She wanted a dramatic change in her life, but what? She couldn’t
bear the idea of revisiting the high-tech hell of infertility medicine for a second
child. And, as she told her book group, years of freelance freedom had ruined her
for the office politics that go with a “real” job. She decided that a house by the
sea would cure what ailed her, so between assignments for
(“How to Tell If Your Baby Is a Brat”) and
(“Who Fakes Orgasm and Why”), she devoted Tuesdays and Thursdays to writing a romance
Romances were a secret pleasure she had acquired during the last trimester of her
pregnancy with Nina, when a near-hemorrhage had landed her in the hospital on bed
rest. One sleepless night, a nurse had loaned her a few old Silhouette paperbacks,
and she was immediately hooked on the fast-lane plots, the dependable triumph of good
over evil, and the sex, which was a little rough but always satisfying.
For years, she made a Memorial Day ritual out of shopping for a bathing suit for her
daughter, a new tube of sunscreen, and a pile of well-thumbed paperbacks from a malodorous
thrift store in downtown Waltham. She read them all, fitfully, while Nina played on
the beach. But once Nina turned nine and started going to day camp, Joyce set aside
the bodice rippers and joined a book group dedicated to reading serious literature.
Even so, she never stopped searching for the right premise for
romance novel. Nina’s fourth-grade Black History Month report on women and slavery
provided the setting. Joyce read all the women’s slave narratives she could find,
engineered a family vacation to Charleston, South Carolina, and studied the cuisine
of the Old South, as well as the layered striptease of nineteenth-century lingerie:
wrappers, corsets, crinolines, bloomers, petticoats, shifts.