Authors: Emily Frankel
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
There were little things, suspicious things from the very first moment when she walked in the door.
Marian put her two suitcases down. "Anybody home?" There was just a faint jingling of the keys still hanging from the lock. No answer.
"Darling — it's me! I'm home!" Marian sang out, dropping the keys in the pewter plate on the foyer table, peering into the living room.
In the early morning sunshine the room was at its best — cozy, warm, perfect colors, furniture she loved, everything tastefully coordinated.
Marian placed her coat on the brass hook, her hat and scarf in their usual place in the overhead shelf, moved into the living room. She turned slowly around surveying her domain, feeling that good safe feeling she always felt in her home.
The room looked exactly the way she liked it to look. Pillows puffed up on the couch. Books neat on their shelves. Magazines in the rack, not sprawled out on the coffee table. Ashtrays emptied. No liquor glass or cracker crumbs. Everything in order.
There was just a slightly stale smell in the air, a shade of dust on the polished surfaces, but the oriental rug she was standing on was immaculate. No specks, crumbs, or threads.
"How sweet. Ferris must have just vacuumed it," Marian thought, tiptoeing into the bedroom to surprise her husband.
But he wasn't there. The bed was made.
"Well my goodness, early bird, I must have just missed you," Marian said aloud. The shades were up. Sunshine was pouring into the room.
Marian peeked into their bathroom hopefully, and when he wasn't there proceeded to rinse off the travel grime from her hands, carefully removing her aquamarine ring. It was one of his extravagant anniversary gifts — a large oval stone, diamond chips, a white-gold setting, almost ostentatious, but she loved to wear it. Whenever she traveled it was a blue green eye that watched over her.
Placing the ring on the glass shelf, Marian noticed the shelf was spotless. "Not a smudge! Ferris must have polished the shelf himself!" The cleaning service certainly hadn't made the glass so sparkling perfect. Felipe and his two assistants went through the six-room apartment once a week, like racing car drivers speeding to the finish line.
The bulb above the bathroom mirror had been changed. As Marian leaned closer to check herself, she made a mental note to put in a stronger one. A good mirror was like the end-of-the-month balance sheet in business — it told the truth.
Even in the not bright light, the lady in the mirror had something very special. Not exactly beauty in the ordinary sense, but a certain head-turn-around look. Perhaps it was the large green eyes, or the way she wore her hair pulled back in a perfect pear-shaped bun, or the high forehead and the Roman coin profile. The way she carried herself — chin high, the straight back on the slender torso, the high high-heels she wore though she was five-seven without them — the elegant posture was certainly one of the reasons people took a second look, but there was something else, indefinable. It made her
Despite the dim light, Marian could see the faint H lines around her mouth. The mirror in her
hotel suite had been framed with pink makeup lights that were Hollywood-style flattering. For the past three-and-a-half weeks she hadn't seen the lines.
Well, I'm just concentrating on my faults
, Marian reassured herself. The new travel outfit she was wearing, the fact she had returned home a few days early would be certain to please Ferris. They could have an extra long, relaxing weekend together before Monday-back-to-the-grind came around. He'd be delighted to have her home again to take care of the little things — for instance that overflowing laundry hamper.
Marian made a mental note about the laundry. She liked doing little domestic things for him. She bent down to straighten the crooked bathmat. It felt somewhat damp.
Back in the bedroom, Marian unbuttoned the jacket of her travel ensemble which was an impractical beige suede, the same tone but a few shades lighter than her brown-blonde hair. Perfect fitting, exquisitely tailored, the outfit gave her a band-box, groomed and cared-for look.
"Are you a model or something?" the salesgirl had asked. When Marian smiled, the salesgirl had nodded knowingly. "You're in the movies, acting or directing — something like that, I'll bet!"
"Something like that," Marian had echoed and changed the subject.
Marian lay the jacket carefully down on her bedspread, reached around to the back of the dress to unzip the zipper. "I'm going to need an assistant to get me out of this creation," she'd joked with the salesgirl. It was too bad Ferris wasn't home, she certainly did need someone to help her with the zipper.
"Poor darling, he hates to get up early! He had an early breakfast appointment most probably," she said to herself. But the airlessness, the dust, the neatness of the apartment was saying "Probably not." The air said something which Marian could not quite interpret. Also the bedspread. The bed was so neatly made, tucked tightly under the pillows which were rolled like sausages.
When did Ferris learn to make a bed like that?
Marian opened one of his dresser drawers. He liked her to keep them in order. There was a place for everything.
His favorite cufflinks were gone. His hair brush was in the usual place, but the spike-tooth comb was not, which was odd. It was something he used religiously every morning after his shower. Where in the world could the comb be?
She smiled, picturing him at the dresser, checking his hairline, fussing over his hair. For two years, ever since his fortieth birthday Ferris had been afraid he was growing bald like his brothers, though his hair was still thick and wavy.
Suddenly, Marian was swept of a feeling of homesickness and longing. She wanted to be laughing, surprising him, snuggling in his arms.
"Oh God, make Ferris walk in that door right this minute," Marian prayed. Then, immediately, she backspaced-erased that prayer. Prayers were for the weak and sick who needed comfort. They were for children who dreamed of sugar plums and toy paradises. Marian didn't need prayers, she had all the things a woman could want.
"I just hope his appointment's with an important client, a big corporation that wants Ferris to make them a whole series of commercials," the practical Marian whispered. Though her own business was on an upswing, Ferris and his partner Charles Riche were not doing well.
needed a break fairly soon or there was going to be trouble.
Marian hung the suede outfit in her closet, deliberately avoiding the closet door mirror which would tell her — she knew without looking — she'd put on a little weight in California. Ferris loved it when she was a bit softer and rounder, but skinnier was younger and as much as she wanted to please him, being younger was very important. When Marian's weight was down, people assumed she was thirty-five — thirty-six at the most.
The morning sun was still pouring in but the room seemed chilly. While Marian was getting her bathrobe from the hook in the bathroom, she found herself irritated with the impulse that had inspired her to come home ahead of schedule. "I shouldn't have tried to surprise him. I should have phoned from
last night, then he'd be here, we'd be hugging and together." It was silly to feel like crying, but she felt like crying.
The rough terry cloth of the bathrobe was comforting as she wrapped it and tied it securely about her waist. "If it was a big trip, Ferris would have told me. It's just an overnight trip with a tooth brush and shaving kit — " but she was remembering that she'd seen his tooth brush and shaving kit on the bathroom shelf. "So, it's something spur-of-the-moment, maybe one of those last minute deals?" she rationalized.
The dining room, like the living room, was spotless. There was not a chair, a placemat, a candlestick out of place. Marian peeked into the maid's room which she used as a private little office and study. The room seemed emptier than usual. There was a sense of strangeness, wrongness that kept rising up from that subconscious place where things are felt but not translated into words.
It was a relief to notice that the wastebasket needed to be emptied. She'd been feeling as if she were a guest in someone else's home.
"Dammit, when I was away on other trips, he never kept our apartment this neat!" Having said it out loud, Marian was annoyed with herself for being annoyed. "My darling man simply made a very special effort this time, and here I am, cranky, complaining just like Mamma!"
It was sadly amusing to observe how a woman became more and more like her mother with every passing year.
In the kitchen, it cheered Marian to find a pot of stale coffee on the stove, and two coffee cups in the sink!
The refrigerator door was sticky when she opened it. Inside was a carton of fresh milk, a half-open package of cheese, some white bread, a tin of fresh coffee. Fresh coffee was odd. They generally drank Instant. And why were two cups in the sink, not one?
Marian examined the milk carton. "I'm not being fussy, I'm just trying, to figure out when he left."
The carton was stamped Tuesday which meant Ferris had bought it yesterday or the day before. What a laugh they'd have when she told him how she had played detective!
, and have them deliver imported caviar and artichokes vinaigrette!" Marian took a bottle of extra special, dry white wine from the rack, put it in the freezer compartment so it would be ready whenever he walked in.
Unpacking, Marian was aware of a slight taste of blood in her mouth. A wisdom tooth felt slightly sensitive.
She hated going to the dentist but she dug out her schedule, turned to the appropriate page and put it down.
The dentist's receptionist was one of those spinster ladies who invariably made a mountain out of a molehill, but Marian was a list maker, and putting something down on a schedule was also a way of putting it out of her mind.
The rest of the unpacking took five minutes. The only new garment to put away was a frivolous negligee that Marian had bought the afternoon the contract had been signed by her new client, the
. They were a group of wives, mostly of celebrities in the movies who wanted to raise funds for under privileged children. It was an excellent project but the
ladies were very social. What with breakfasts, luncheons, teas, kaffe klatches and cocktail parties, the contract negotiation had been exhausting. Marian's reward was nestled in the tissue paper, a lacy hand-embroidered, silk-chiffon negligee. Though Ferris claimed it was unimportant, Marian knew he would delight in her primping. After one of the business trips when the Coopers came back together, it was always a very special homecoming, honeymoon evening.
She put the gown on her dresser. "I'll wash my hair..." She removed the two brown bobby pins and the three brown hairpins that held her bun in place. "There's plenty of time, he probably won't be home for hours," she mused, dropping the pins into the pocket of her robe.
That was when she noticed the book. It was sitting next to the alarm clock on their night table — "The Poems of T.S. Eliot." She recognized it without reading the title.
A pain like a thud hit her in the stomach. It happened on airplanes when the altitude changed suddenly. It happened when she had to fire an employee or make a very strong statement at a conference.
Marian picked up the book, and the thud was gone — it was really very sweet, touching, to think of Ferris reading himself to sleep with one of their favorites. Perhaps he'd put the book there to read to her as part of their honeymoon evening. She placed it on the sausage pillow, amused that he'd gone to the trouble of making the bed that way. Perhaps he'd even guessed she was going to return home a few days ahead of schedule. They'd been married nine years, weren't they always reading each other's minds?
It was only as Marian was washing off the creme rinse in the shower, that she thought about telephoning Charles Riche at Ferris' office.
But Ferris' partner would probably say something like — "You mean
where he is, Luv — why I can't imagine Ferris going anyplace without telling his wife!" Charles liked to make snide little remarks, implying that she ran Ferris' life. Also, it was possible that Ferris was negotiating something privately. That could be the reason why he dashed off so early.
"No, I won't phone, it might cause a problem. They've got enough problems already," Marian decided. She turned off the water, stepped out of the tub, feeling refreshed and more relaxed.
"A few days at home are just what I need." At home there were no pressures, no decisions to make, no leading people, telling them what to do. Ferris was the boss, not for the typical reasons in a marriage — he was just the natural leader — strong, reliable, considerate and so very loving.
Like a young girl in love, Marian smiled to herself as she lifted her terry-cloth bathrobe from its hook and put it back on. The vapor on the bathroom mirror was just beginning to melt but she could see enough to part her hair carefully, exactly down the middle. It was too soon to comb it out but the right time to mold it back with her hands.