Today's Reading

Another of Nora and Charlie's marital agreements was that social intercourse with George Smythe must be avoided at all cost, but this morning Charlie shook George's hand warmly, as though they were concluding a particularly lucrative business deal. Nora supposed they were, since George seemed in some peculiar and unstated way to be the keeper of the parking lot as well as the majordomo of the block, slipping printed notices through their mail slots about everything from street trees to trash disposal. George-o-Grams, Rachel called them when they appeared on the floor of their foyer. Nora thought that Charlie didn't mind George because he reminded him of the sort of guy who was the social chairman at a fraternity house. Nora couldn't bear George for precisely the same reason.

George sensed her dislike, and was galvanized by it. Soon after Charlie and Nora had moved to the block, when it became clear that she was unlikely to meet George's practiced (and often early-morning) bonhomie with more of the same, George had fastened on her as his project, the way men fasten on a woman who will not sleep with them, or a client who proves elusive, or a marathon, or Everest.

"Ms. Twinkletoes," he would say as she sped by on her run to the park on Saturday mornings. "Madame Miler." "The Harrier."

"Harrier," he had said to his son, Jonathan, one morning years before, the boy curved into a question mark beneath the burden of his backpack. "There's a word that might be on the SATs. You know what a harrier is, son?"

Nora had never once heard Jonathan respond. George's only child gave off an aura of unwashed T-shirt and contempt. His silence made no difference; George was the kind of man who could carry on both sides of a conversation. In fact he seemed to prefer it. Jonathan had left for college in Colorado three years ago and, as far as Nora knew, had never been seen on the block again.

"Living the dream," George said when someone asked him about Jonathan. "Mountain air, hiking. None of this Ivy League slog. He's living the dream."

"He got rejected at most of the places he applied," said Oliver.

"He works in a pot dispensary," Rachel said.

"Cool job," said Oliver.

"We're not sending you to MIT so you can wind up selling sinsemilla in Denver," Nora said.

"Okay, Mom, but how come you even know what sinsemilla is?"

Charlie waggled his eyebrows and grinned. "Don't encourage them," Nora said when the twins went upstairs.

"Relax, Bun," Charlie said. "You're always so uptight about stuff like that." They had quarreled about whether the twins should be given wine at dinner now that they were away at college and doubtless drinking, but not yet of drinking age. It was notable
because they rarely quarreled anymore. Their marriage had become like the AA prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." Or at least to move into a zone in which I so don't care anymore and scarcely notice. Nora had thought this was their problem alone until she realized that it was what had happened to almost everyone she knew who was still married, even some of those who were on their second husbands. At her women's lunches they talked about the most intimate things, about errant chin hairs and persistent bladder infections and who had a short haircut because she just couldn't be bothered and who had a short haircut because she'd just finished chemo. But while they were willing to talk about marriage generally, they tended not to talk about their own husbands specifically. Marriage vows, Nora had long felt, constituted a loyalty oath.

"As long as he doesn't set anything on fire, I'm satisfied," Elena had said one day, and all the other women chuckled drily, since
Elena's husband had in fact once set their screened porch in the country on fire when he brought the barbecue grill inside during a thunderstorm. There had been a prolonged fight with the insurance company, which didn't consider saving the spareribs enough of a reason to use hot charcoal in a confined space. The dispute was ongoing, Elena said, because Henry enjoyed telling people about it, mainly other guys who cheered him on.

"So, Miss Fleet Feet, how do you feel about the parking situation?" George said now, one hand on Charlie's shoulder. "Nothing says you've arrived on the block like a space in the lot." George had a space, the Fisks had a space, the Fentermachers had a space, the Lessmans had a space, and the Rizzolis had a space, although the Rizzolis' had been handed down to their elder son and his wife, who lived in their triplex and rented out the bottom floors. The senior Rizzolis now lived in their house in Naples. Florida, not Italy. "I'm too old for the city now, Nora," Mike Rizzoli said when he and his wife came by to visit. "It's a young person's game, all the nuttiness."

One of the men who lived in the SRO that backed onto the parking lot came down the street with a battered wheeled suitcase. "We're all dying we're all dying we're all dying inside," he said as he went past, smelling of old sweat and fried food. Homer woofed slightly, at the suitcase, not the man. Nora had never figured out exactly why Homer distrusted things with wheels. He reacted suspiciously to both strollers and bicycles.


This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition.

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