The lost wife, p.1
The Lost Wife, p.1Alyson Richman
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 - New York City 2000
CHAPTER 2 - New York City 2000
THE LOST WIFE
Questions for Discussion
PRAISE FOR THE WORKS OF ALYSON RICHMAN
The Lost Wife
“Daringly constructed, this moving novel begins at the end, and then, in a fully realized circle through the most traumatic events of the twentieth century, returns you there in a way that makes your heart leap. Richman writes with the clarity and softness of freshly fallen snow.”
two-time Emmy Award–winning playwright of Conspiracy
The Last Van Gogh
“The Last Van Gogh is a balanced symphony . . . Richman’s style is gentle and sober. With clear, undulating prose.... it is as evocative as one of Van Gogh’s paintings. Richman proves she can travel through time to re-create the past.”
—En Route Magazine
“The Last Van Gogh paints an intricate portrait of a woman’s life at the end of the nineteenth century . . . it is a powerful and poignant love story.”
“[A] beautiful book.”
“An engrossing examination of the prisons people create for themselves and the way they accustom themselves to suffering until liberation seems as painful as captivity. This is an ambitious exploration of political and personal struggles.”
“A heart-wrenching story of loss and love in the lives of people affected by war and political upheaval . . . [marked by] sharp resonance.”
“Places an Ayn Rand lens on societal ethics against personal loyalty and safety . . . deep, thought-provoking, philosophical questions on the needs of an individual and a family against the demands of deadly leadership and a nation.”
—Midwest Book Review
The Mask Carver’s Son
“Recalls Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha . . . Her sense of Japanese culture is subtle and nuanced.”
—San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle
“This reverent, formal and ambitious first novel boasts a glossy surface and convincing period detail.”
“Richman has successfully drawn upon her historical research and her own experience . . . filled with historical detail and strong characterization.”
“A meticulous profile of a man struggling against his native culture, his family, and his own sense of responsibility.”
—The New York Times Book Review
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
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Copyright © 2011 by Alyson Richman
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Berkley trade paperback edition: September 2011
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
ISBN : 978-1-101-55254-4
To Charlotte, Zachary, Stephen,
and my parents with love.
With special thanks to the Book Revue.
I am my beloved and my beloved is mine
SONG OF SOLOMON 6:3
New York City 2000
He dressed deliberately for the occasion, his suit pressed and his shoes shined. While shaving, he turned each cheek carefully to the mirror to ensure he hadn’t missed a single whisker. Earlier that afternoon, he had even bought a lemon-scented pomade to smooth his few remaining curls.
He had only one grandson, one grandchild for that matter, and had been looking forward to this wedding for months now. And although he had met the bride only a few times, he liked her from the first. She was bright and charming, quick to laugh, and possessed a certain old-world elegance. He hadn’t realized what a rare quality that was until he sat there now staring at her, his grandson clasping her hand.
Even now, as he walke
His grandson had inherited his dark, unruly curls. A study in contrast to his bride-to-be, he fidgeted nervously, while she seemed to glide into the room. He looked like he would be more comfortable with a book between his hands than holding a flute of champagne. But there was an ease that flowed between them, a balance that made them appear perfectly suited for each other. Both of them were smart, highly educated second-generation Americans. Their voices lacked even the faintest traces of the accents that had laced their grandparents’ English. The New York Times wedding announcement that Sunday morning would read:Eleanor Tanz married Jason Baum last night at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan. The rabbi Stephen Schwartz officiated. The bride, 26, graduated from Amherst College and is currently employed in the decorative arts department of Christie’s, the auction house. The bride’s father, Dr. Jeremy Tanz, is an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital in Manhattan. Her mother, Elisa Tanz, works as an occupational therapist with the New York City public schools. The groom, 28, a graduate of Brown University and Yale Law School, is currently an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP. His father, Benjamin Baum, was until recently an attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP in New York City. The groom’s mother, Rebekkah Baum, is a retired schoolteacher. The couple was introduced by mutual friends.
At the head table, the lone living grandparent from each side was introduced to each other for the first time. Again, the groom’s grandfather felt himself being swept away by the image of the woman before him. She was decades older then her granddaughter, but there was something familiar about her. He felt it immediately, from the moment he first saw her eyes.
“I know you from somewhere,” he finally managed to say, although he felt as though he were now speaking to a ghost, not a woman he had just met. His body was responding in some visceral manner that he didn’t quite understand. He regretted drinking that second glass of wine. His stomach was turning over on itself. He could hardly breathe.
“You must be mistaken,” she said politely. She did not want to appear rude, but she, too, had been looking forward to her granddaughter’s wedding for months and didn’t want to be distracted from the evening’s festivities. As she saw the girl navigating the crowd, the many cheeks turning to her to be kissed and the envelopes being pressed into her and Jason’s hands, she had to pinch herself to make sure that she really was still alive to witness it all.
But this old man next to her would not give up.
“I definitely think I know you from somewhere,” he repeated.
She turned and now showed her face even more clearly to him. The feathered skin. Her silver hair. Her ice-blue eyes.
But it was the shadow of something dark blue beneath the transparent material of her sleeve that caused shivers to run through his old veins.
“Your sleeve . . .” His finger was shaking as it reached to touch the silk.
Her face twitched as he touched her wrist, her discomfort registering over her face.
“Your sleeve, may I?” He knew he was being rude.
She looked straight at him.
“May I see your arm?” he said again. “Please.” This time his voice sounded almost desperate.
She was now staring at him, her eyes now locked to his. As if in a trance, she pushed up her sleeve. There on her forearm, next to a small brown birthmark, were six tattooed numbers.
“Do you remember me now?” he asked, trembling.
She looked at him again, as if giving weight and bone to a ghost.
“Lenka, it’s me,” he said. “Josef. Your husband.”
New York City 2000
She had slid the painting out of its cardboard tube the night before, flattening it like an old map. For over sixty years she had taken it with her wherever she went. First hidden in an old suitcase, then rolled into a metal cylinder and buried under floorboards, eventually pushed behind several boxes in a crowded closet.
The painting was created with thin black and red strokes. A kinetic energy shone through each line, the artist working to capture the scene as quickly as possible.
She had always felt it too sacred to be displayed, as if the mere exposure to light and air or, perhaps worse, the stares of visitors would be too much for its delicate skin. So it remained in an airtight box, locked away like Lenka’s thoughts. Weeks before, while lying in bed, she decided that the painting would be her wedding gift to her granddaughter and her groom.
When the Vltava freezes, it turns the color of an oyster shell. As a child, I watched men rescue swans trapped within its frozen current, cutting them out with ice picks to free their webbed feet.
I was born Lenka Josefina Maizel, the eldest daughter of a glass dealer in Prague. We lived on the Smetanovo nábřeži embankment, in a rambling apartment with a wall of windows overlooking the river and bridge. There were red velvet walls and gilded mirrors, a parlor with carved furniture, and a beautiful mother who smelled like lily of the valley all year long. I still return to my childhood like it was a dream. Palačinka served with apricot jam, cups of hot cocoa, and ice skating on the Vltava. My hair piled underneath a fox hat when it snowed.
We saw our reflections everywhere: in the mirrors, the windows, the river down below, and in the transparent curve of Father’s glasswares. Mother had a special closet lined with glasses for every occasion. There were champagne flutes that had been etched with delicate flowers, special wine goblets with gilded rims and frosted stems, even rubycolored water glasses that reflected pink light when held up to the sun.
My father was a man who loved beauty and beautiful things, and believed his profession created both using a chemistry of perfect proportions. One needed more than sand and quartz to create glass. One needed fire and breath as well. “A glassblower is both a lover and a life giver,” he once told a room filled with dinner guests. He lifted one of the water glasses from our dinner table. “Next time you drink from one of your goblets, think of the lips that created the subtle, elegant shape which you now sip from, and how many mistakes were shattered and recycled to make a perfect set of twelve.”
He would have every guest enraptured as he twisted the goblet to the light. But he had not meant to be a salesman or a spectacle that evening. He truly loved how an artisan could create an object that was simultaneously strong and fragile, transparent, yet capable of reflecting color. He believed there was beauty in both the flattest surface of glass and those rippled with soft waves.
His business took him all over Europe, but he always walked through our front door the same way he left. His shirt white and crisp, his neck smelling of cedar and clove.
“Milačku,” he would say in Czech as he grasped Mother’s waist between two thick hands. “Love.”
“Lasko Moje,” she would answer as their lips touched. “My love.”
Even after a decade of marriage, Father remained beguiled by her. Many times, he returned home with presents bought solely because they reminded him of her. A miniature cloisonné bird with intricately enameled feathers might appear by her wineglass, or a small locket with seed pearls in a velvet box might be placed on her pillow. My favorite was a wooden radio with a brilliant sunburst design radiating from its center that he surprised Mother with after a trip to Vienna.
If I were to close my eyes during the first five years of my life, I could see Father’s hand on that radio dial. The wisps of black hair on his fingers as they adjusted the tuner to find one of the few stations t
I can see his head turning to smile at us, his arm extending to my mother and me. I can feel the warmth of his cheek as he lifts me and brings my legs around his waist, his other free hand turning mother into a spin.
I can smell the scent of spiced wine wafting from delicate cups on a cold January night. Outside, the tall windows of our apartment are covered in frost, but inside it is warm as toast. Long fingers of orange candlelight flicker across the faces of men and women who have crowded into the parlor to hear a string quartet Father has invited to play for the evening. There is the sight of mother in the center, her long white arms reaching for a small canapé. A new bracelet at her wrist. A kiss from Father. And me peering from my bedroom, a voyeur to their glamour and ease.
There are quiet nights, too. The three of us nestled around a small card table. Chopin on the record player. Mother fanning her cards so only I can see. A smile curled at her lips. Father feigning a frown as he allows my mother to win.
At night, I am tucked in by a mother who tells me to close my eyes. “Imagine the color of water,” she whispers into my ear. Other nights, she suggests the color of ice. On another, the color of snow. I fall asleep to the thoughts of those shades shifting and turning in the light. I teach myself to imagine the varying degrees of blue, the delicate threads of lavender, or the palest dust of white. And in doing so, my dreams are seeded in the mystery of change.
Lucie arrived one morning holding a letter. She held the envelope out to Father, and he read it aloud to my mother. The girl has no previous experience as a nanny, his colleague had written. But she has natural talent with children and she is beyond trustworthy.
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