Lincoln Park

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CHAPTER ONE

Philip handed her a four-inch nail. Barefoot, Sarah stood on a step-stool she’d taken from the bureau chief’s office, a bad book in hand. A very, very bad book.

She hesitated. “The thing is, I don’t want the nail to show.”

“Nail everything but the cover, then we’ll glue it closed. That way no one will see the nail.”

Sarah turned to her husband. “You’re brilliant.” She turned back and set the nail into the title page, hammering it into all the dreck that followed, affixing the soft pages to a wide flat wood column opposite her desk. She held out her palm for another nail, so she could anchor the bottom of the book. Then she asked for the glue.

When Sarah took this job two years ago, her predecessor had pointed to a stack of books and said, “Most days it’s great — but at a certain point, you’re gonna want to nail the worst of ‘em to the wall.” Sarah had reached that point.

Philip liked the idea of nailing the very bad book to the wall, but hadn’t thought it would be part of his evening out. He’d been away from home for more than two weeks and wanted nothing more than to have a good meal alone with his wife. He didn’t want to be in her office; he didn’t want to be in any office.

Philip held out his hand, helping her down from the step stool. Sarah stood back and admired her handiwork.

“Let’s go,” Philip said.

“Hang on,” Sarah said, slipping on her slinky sling backs and handing him a ten-page printout. “Would you look at this speech? Not really a speech, more like a talk. For ‘Women of the Ivies’, they meet quarterly. They asked me to speak. Julie, too. I think Alex is on the panel.” She tapped her fingers on the desk. “I’m feeling unworthy.”

Philip stopped reading. “You’ve been writing your entire professional life. You won the poetry prize in college. Your stories went Page One…” He noticed a white dog hair on his sleeve, which he flicked into the garbage can. “That series: it changed the way people look at the city.”

Sarah saw the “PARTY” file on her desk and wondered if he’d peeked into it while she’d been nailing “Gillian’s Knot” to the wall. She nudged the file under a stack of assignment sheets and school forms.

“Remember that year?” he asked, still reading.

“Now I write three paragraphs an issue.”

“For the world’s best-read magazine,” Philip noted.

“Three paragraphs,” Sarah repeated. “It takes me fifteen minutes to write a review. It’s not even writing, it’s more like a fox trot across the keyboard.”

Philip laughed lightly at the image and set down the printout, scanning the last page as he pulled on his jacket. “You barely mention the professor.”

Sarah stood by the wall of windows in her office. It was night now, the city’s lights pricking the black sky. She looked over to the Tribune’s gnarled buttresses, the blue beacon of the Britannica building, the river curling inland like a lazy snake. She slipped on her thin leather jacket and wondered out loud if she’d ever grow tired of this view.

“The professor,” Philip repeated.

Sarah turned away from the windows. “It’s an audience of women. They’ll think I slept with him.”

“People go to these things to find out how someone got from there to here. The story about the professor is magical, and now it’s come full circle.”

Sarah shook her head and smiled knowingly. “People go to these things to find out if you’ve met J-Lo.”

He held the door open for her. “Let’s go.”

#

Their table wasn’t ready, which didn’t matter. They sat at a table in the bar and admired the curvy interior.

“This is a perfect place to celebrate.”

“Keith and Cindy designed this one, too,” Philip said strongly, over the noise.

“Really? It looks different than the last place. More feminine.” Sarah motioned for him to sit beside her. “I can’t hear you.”

Philip had been in New York reviewing plans and running numbers with a developer, then on to Paris to receive an honor even though no one involved was French. He — or she — had called every night, and during the day sometimes, but it was a long time, far too long a time, to be apart. Sarah looked at him, then kissed him lightly. “Unbelievable,” she said. “The achievement of a lifetime, and you’re not even 40.”

Philip shook his head. “I don’t know. Frank Lloyd Wright designed a building that high and it ended up a poster.”

A barely clad waitress in combat boots leaned over the table to take their drink order.

“I used to have breasts like that,” Sarah said, after she’d left.

Philip slipped his arm onto her shoulders, bringing her closer to him. “Are you sure you want to eat? You look really great in that dress.”

The waitress returned and set down their drinks. “Your table is ready.”

#

Philip held Sarah’s hand as they threaded through the bar crowd, Philip leading the way. A man with thick white hair stopped him.

“Philip Hamner? Mile High Man?” The man pumped Philip’s hand and turned to his wife. “Remember the model we saw at the MCA show?” he said to his wife. “The see-through skyscraper? This is the man, my dear.”

Philip smiled and brought Sarah to his side. “My wife, Sarah Anders.”

The man took Sarah’s hand in both of his. “A genius, your husband. An architect and a builder. It’s rare.”

Sarah smiled, agreeing. She had no idea who she was talking to.

“And how do you spend your days?” the man asked Sarah.

“Raising his children.”

“Wonderful!” the man cried. “No better calling.”

Philip looked at Sarah oddly, then pressed on through the crowd. “Nice to see you, Fred.”

#

Sarah slid into the booth. Philip sat down opposite her and picked up the menu.

“This place is beautiful! Those huge windows onto the street. And the tall grass to divide the tables. They’re talented, those two.”

Philip turned to the wine list. “Raising the kids?”

Sarah sipped her water. “That’s what he wanted to hear.”

“How do you know that?”

“He was delighted!”

“People love to hear about your work.”

“Our table was ready.”

“Nothing to be embarrassed about, Sarah. You’re at the top of your game.”

Sarah snorted, splatting water on the table.

“When I describe your job to people,” Philip began, “that you sit back, with a dazzling view of the city, and read books and cherry pick culture — you know what they say? They say, ‘Sweet’.”

Sarah picked up her menu. Every single thing sounded good. How often did that happen? She set the menu down again, and leaned towards him mischievously. “Anything that sounds too good to be true usually isn’t.”

#

They slid into Yellow Cab 2374 and headed home. “I can’t remember the last time I had a perfect meal,” Sarah offered.

Philip lay his head on her shoulder and smiled, sated. He slid his hand under her dress, and fingered the lace of her bra. Soon he was circling her nipple and kissing her, sliding her down onto the cab’s wide seat. Philip grinned as he eyed the customer complaint sign: “If you’re not completely satisfied by this cab ride, please call…” He kissed her, just shy of sloppy. “Too bad we don’t live farther.”

“Just far enough,” Sarah pointed out as the cab swung off Clark Street, away from the club noise and bright lights, onto their dark, still Lincoln Park side street. “I don’t want to get pregnant again.”

Philip sat up, instantly sobered, and reached for his wallet. “This is good right here,” he said to the cabbie.

#

Philip turned the key and opened the door, pulling a puddied Sarah in behind him. He closed the door and kissed her again, pressing her against the door. “Kids asleep?”

“Where’s Rimbaud?” Sarah said, looking beyond him. “He better not have gotten loose.”

Philip cocked his head, listening. “And Helga?”

“Her name is Sabine, and I told her not to wait up.”

“Great,” he said, pulling her up the stairs, whispering and kissing her. “Because I happen to know you cannot get pregnant in this house. I designed it that way.”

“Let me check on the kids. It’s kind of cool out,” she whispered, “and we don’t have the heat on.”

“I’ll build a fire.”

“Yell — don’t yell — but let me know if you find the dog. I don’t want to go out looking for him.”

Me either, Philip thought to himself. In the dark, he climbed the floating staircase, rising, not falling, pretending he had not just fallen to last in line upon walking in his own front door. Rising, not falling: rising, he repeated to himself as his foot hit something soft but solid stuck in the airy space where the riser would be. He leaned over to pick up the toy or jacket or pillow and found that he had found…the dog, sleeping. Philip leaned over to pet him; his tailed thumped once on the tread.