| Audrey Rose |
By Frank De Felitta
(The buy button will take you to the standard print edition of this book at Amazon.com. From there you will be able to see if the book is also available in large print or audio.)
He was there again, standing among the glut of waiting mothers who arrived each day at ten to three and milled about in their separate worlds, waiting for their children to be released from school.
Until today he was merely a presence to Janice Templeton, just another parent standing in the cold, outside the Ethical Culture School, waiting for his sprite to emerge. Today, however, Janice found herself noticing hima lone male in a sea of femalesand wondering why it was always he who showed up, and not his wife.
He was standing now with his back half turned to her, gazing expectantly up at the big doors of the school building. Somewhere in his early forties, Janice guessed, and not at all bad-looking. He wore a thick mustache and carefully trimmed sideburns and had the lean, hard body of an athlete.
She wondered who his child might be and made a mental note to find out.
The school bell rang.
The parade of children tumbling through the doors was, each day, a bittersweet experience for Janice. It made her realize how quickly time sped by, how swiftly the child of yesterday was becoming the adolescent of tomorrow.
Tall, lithe, strikingly beautiful, ten-year-old Ivy Templeton possessed a feminine elegance that seemed out of place for her young age. A sweep of blond hairpure to the rootsfell back past the line of her shoulders, framing a face of exquisite features. The delicate pallor of her skin formed the perfect background for the large deep-gray eyes. The shape of her mouth was clearcut, a sensual mouth until she smiled, restoring childhood and innocence. Janice never ceased to marvel over the beauty of her daughter and never ceased to wonder about the genetic miracle that had formed her.
"Can I get a Coke?"
"I've got Cokes in the refrigerator," Janice said, kissing Ivy's hair.
Hand in hand, they started their walk up Central Park West when Janice stopped, remembering the man. Glancing over her shoulder to see which child's hand might be linked to his, she froze. The man was standing immediately behind them, close enough to touch, close enough to feel the plumes of his breath, and in his eyes a manic glint of desperate need-of inexpressible longingdirected exclu-sively at Ivy. At Ivy!
"Excuse me," Janice gasped inanely and in shock, her heart pounding as she clutched Ivy's arm and hurried up Central Park West toward Des Artistes, five blocks away, without once looking back to see if the man was following them.
"Who was he, Mom?" "I don't know," Janice panted.
The thought of what might have happened had she not been there to meet Ivy brought Janice to a sudden stop at the corner of their street. What if she had given in to Ivy's persistent demands and had allowed her to walk home alone like Bettina Carew and some of the others in her class?
"Why have we stopped, Mom?"
Janice took a deep breath to regain control of herself, smiled wanly, and together, they crossed the street and entered the old building, Des Artistes.
The Fortress, Bill called it.
Built at the turn of the century at the whim of a group of painters and sculptors who purchased the land, hired an architectural firm, approved of the plans, and arranged for the mortgage, each level of the twenty-story building contained six master apartments of various sizes, featuring huge, high-ceilinged studios with galleries facing large floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a diversified selection of city views. A number of these windows admitted the northern light, a must for the painters. The decor of the apartments was lavish, imaginative, and fulfilled the esthetic and emotional needs of their owners. Some studios took on a baroque character, displaying vaulted ceilings replete with inset pediments and slavering gargoyles. Others went a more frivolous rococo route, featuring painted ceilings with rich, gilded moldings. A few apartments followed a somber Tudor pattern and were intricately paneled in darkly stained veneers.
A magnificent restaurant in the lobby of the building amply satisfied the artists' appetites and even delivered exquisitely prepared dinners to each apartment via a network of dumbwaiters scattered throughout the building.
During the Depression, Des Artistes was sold to a cooperative association, and the new people who purchased apartments began to remodel them. The space in midair was valuable to them and was quickly subdivided, providing a large living room downstairs and enough room for two or three bedrooms upstairs.
With all the changes and departures from the artists' original concepts, the one thing no tenant could ever alter was the inherent charm and grandeur of the building. Like the superb restaurant off the main lobby, the original atmosphere remained intact.
Janice's first act upon entering the apartment was to double lock and bolt the door. After pouring Ivy's Coke and sending her upstairs to do her homework, she poured herself a straight scotch. The man at the school had really rattled her. This was a new sensation for Janice. She realized that life was filled with pockets of danger, but thus far she had been spared.
She carried her scotch into the living room and sat in her favorite chairan overstuffed antique rocker that had belonged to her grandmother. As she sipped the drink, her mind reformed the face, the expression in the man's eyes as he stood looking down at Ivy. There was nothing sexual in his look, or depraved; it was more a look that spoke of great losssad, hopeless, desperate. That was it, desperate.
Janice shivered visibly and took a large swallow of scotch. She could feel the spreading, soothing, warming sensation of the alcohol throughout her body as she rose and walked to the window. Her eyes ferreted among the antlike figures scurrying about on the sidewalks far below. Might he be down there? Watching? Waiting? She would tell Bill about it as soon as he came home.
Sipping the last of her scotch, Janice turned from the window and gazed at the long length of the living room in the soft, waning light of the autumn afternoon. The thirty-eight- foot expanse of dark-stained pegged floor led the eye to a huge stuccoed walk-in fireplace, a practical, wood-burning, marshmallow-toasting fireplace that warmed their souls on cold winter evenings. Next to the fireplace was a narrow flight of carpeted stairs leading up to two bedrooms and a small study. The banister and rail posts harkened back to the days of the artists and were fancifully carved; the newel post featured the bulbous head of a Viking chieftain.
Janice's eyes lovingly moved across the treasured corners of her world and, as always, finally came to rest on the pièce de résistancethe one item that had plunged them recklessly ahead on the perilous course of buying the apartment; the ceiling.
Deeply paneled in a variety of rare woods, varnished to a high luster, the ceiling was a magnificent work of art. Two large paintings, wrought by the brush of a true master, had been set into the woodwork, dividing the ceiling into two parts. Janice discovered, after much research, that the paintings were in the tradition of Fragonard, featuring woodland nymphs cavorting licentiously in cool, shaded glades. It was a stunning, breathtaking sight that literally startled new guests, and Bill and Janice loved playing it down, pretending to accept the ceiling as a matter of course, sometimes even expressing slight irritation at its gaudy vulgarity.
But alone, they would lie together on the hearth rug, holding hands and gazing spellbound at their ceiling museum, themselves stunned at the fantastic luck of having found and acquired such a treasure so soon after their marriage. They had rushed into buying the apartment just as they had rushed into marriage, impatient to get started on their lives together.
Devoted opera fans, Janice and Bill first met at a matinee of La Traviata in San Francisco. Both were in school at the time, Janice completing her senior year at Berkeley and Bill doing graduate work at San Francisco State. Each was potlucking for a single that blustery Saturday afternoon, hovering about in a throng of waiting enthusiasts for a cancellation. Asecond before curtain, a pair of the best seats became available. More expensive than Janice could afford, she quickly grabbed one ticket. Bill took the other.
Strangers, they sat together during the first act in perfect silence, drinking in the dolorous Verdi strains like two parched souls at a desert oasis. During the first intermission Bill offered Janice a cigarette. They smoked and talked opera. During the second intermission Bill bought Janice a drink at the Opera Bar. That night they had dinner on Fisherman's Wharf.
Seven days later they spent the weekend together in a motel in Sausalito and made love. They were married upon Janice's graduation and immediately went to live in New York.
Eleven years of perfection, Janice thought, in a setting unmatched.
Janice was feeling beautifully relaxed as she walked to the liquor cart and poured herself another scotch. She'd let Bill have his martini before telling him about the man.
She was dicing a carrot in the tiny kitchen when she heard the sound of a key fiddling with the lower lock. It was a tentative, groping sound. It wouldn't be Bill at this hour; it was much too early.
Janice stood rooted, clutching the small paring knife, hardly breathing as she heard the soft, scratching noises of metal against metal. She knew she was safe, really; there were two locks plus a chain bolt to protect her. Still, she felt vulnerable and in terrible danger. If the man had the nerve to sneak past Mario and the elevator men and find his way to their door, then he was capable of doing anything.
Suddenly, the tumblers turned with a noisy click. Janice froze. She heard the key move up to the second lock and find its way home with much less trouble. The tumblers turned. Janice took a step back toward the kitchen wall. The skin of her hand clutching the knife was white. The chain tightened across the narrow opening with a sharp clatter.
"Oh, c'mon, open up." Bill's voice.
With a cry of relief, Janice sprang to the door, undid the chain, and flung herself into his arms as he crossed the threshold.
"What is it, hon?" Bill asked gently. "Nothing," she whispered. "I'm just surprised to see you." Then, pulling herself together, she smiled and added, "I've got a glass chilling for your martini."
Bill gently disengaged himself from her and in a voice that seemed to trip delicately over eggshells, quietly said, "Do...not...mention...that...word...please."
He and his assistant, Don Goetz, had entertained a new client at 21, and their lunch had been mainly liquid. The client, president of a thriving health food chain, obviously didn't practice what he preached and kept Bill and Don chugalugging doubles until they both could hardly stand on their feet.
Walking gingerly and with care, Bill started up the stairs to conk out for a while before dinner.
"You've got about an hour," Janice called after him with forced cheeriness. "And don't forget the Federicos tonight for bridge."
Bill's response was a groan of agony.
Janice returned to the front door and locked it again, including the chain bolt. She saw her empty glass on the butcher's block in the kitchen, picked it up, and carried it back into the living room. As she poured her third drink, soft, unintelligible voices penetrated from the floor above. Bill's gentle-gruff baritone. Ivy's light laughter. Loving, comfortable sounds.
Carole Federico studied her hand, biting her lips.
Bill laughed aloud, seeing her blunder. Russ Federico glared at his wife angrily.
"Are you out of your mind, didn't you see my jump bid?"
"But we've got a partial, and that gives us game," protested Carole.
"Damn it, I gave you a jump shift. I indicated we've got enough points for slam!" Russ threw his cards on the table. "Of all the goddamn stupid things to do!"
The Federicos took their bridge seriously, and the Thursday night sessions generally wound up in a fight. The game would get going at eight sharp but would never continue beyond ten. By that time, after a series of minor faux pas, Carole would always pull the granddaddy of them all, sending Russ into a towering rage and cuing Janice to put on the coffee.
The Federicos were slightly younger than the Templetons. Bill and Russ had come to know each other on the elevator, going down each morning. Occasional smiles and good-mornings had gradually ripened into conversation and then friendship. They would often walk to work together.
Russ and Carole had moved into Des Artistes in '70, having purchased one of the smaller apartments. They were married five and a half years and were childless. Russ owned a small sound recording studio on Fifty-seventh Street. Like Bill and Janice, they couldn't abide TV, loved bridge, and, best of all, were passionate about opera and owned a fabulous library of records, many of which were collectors' items.
Their first evening together was at the Templetons'. Janice had spent the entire day preparing a cold veal tonnato, celery aspic, and a creamy chocolate mousse spiked with Grand Marnier. The Federicos were impressed and adulatory, proposing toast after toast from the jeroboam of Mouton Cadet they had contributed to the meal. Afterward the relationship was firmed with one of Russ' rarest discs, a 1912 Victor recording of Alma Gluck singing selections from Faust, Aida, and Manon Lescaut.
The forceful combat of the lieder singers worked the opera toward its tragic conclusion. Janice sat in the rocker watching the others as they intensely savored the concluding strains. No one spoke, ever, during these musical sessions. Russ' eyes were half closed in an expression of deep appreciation. Carole stared at the floor. Bill lounged sideways in the big club chair, his hand covering his eyes in a keenly listening attitude; however, Janice suspected he was dozing.
As the clash of cymbals punctuated the final orchestral crescendo, Janice glanced up and saw Russ gazing intently toward the opposite end of the room, a glint of mischief in his eyes. She turned her head and saw Ivy coming down the steps, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. The effect she had on Russ was anything but subtle. Twice in one day, men had noticed her. Pained and puzzled, Janice wondered where the childhood had gone and why so fast.
"I don't feel well, Mom," Ivy yawned tiredly and walked across the room toward her mother. A floor lamp in the corner backlit her progress, turning the gauzy nightgown into a transparent veil.
Russ stood up and greeted her with a sultry smile.
"Hey, you're really getting there, kid," he said, his eyes shifting fleetingly to her breasts, peeking impudently through the sheer material.
Ivy smiled wanly at Russ and put her arm around her mother's waist. Carole joined them, having caught the by-play.
"Okay, buster." Her tone was mock serious and a touch too casual. "Take me home before you get into trouble."
Bill had been sleeping after all, for he remained in the same position, draped across the club chair, his hand shielding his eyes.
After the Federicos gathered their records and left, Janice gently shook Bill awake, then sent Ivy upstairs. Janice followed her with a cup of warm milk and took her temperature. It was normal.
By the time Janice undressed, creamed her face, and slipped into her nightgown Bill was sleeping soundly. His soft, rhythmic breathing, not quite a snore, enveloped the room. It was a safe, comfortable sound and often lulled Janice to sleep.
She turned off the lamp and crawled into bed beside him. Raising her nightgown to her waist, she gently snuggled up to him, fitting her body into the curvature of his warm nakedness.
Like everything else in their marriage, their sex life was perfect. Nothing between them was taken for granted. Both were experimenters, and every session brought with it something new and liberating. Bill bought books on the subject to widen their knowledge. "Bioloop," "biocurve," "mutual concentration," "intimacy spiral" were expressions they knew and used.
Janice smiled as she remembered the Orissan posture book that Bill had brought home one evening. It contained drawings of more than one hundred intimate positions practiced by sixteenth-century Arabians. Over the course of several weeks they tried a number of them, the more possible ones, which were mainly unrewarding. They were forced to give this up when Bill hurt his back trying the number seventeen, or cartwheel, position.Her smile deepened with the memory of the joy, the fun, the perfect sweetness of their life together, high in the center of Manhattan, in the dreamy duplex they owned.
How perfect their life had been. How safe and protected. No frights, no miseries, no sudden shocks. Except for that spate of crazy nightmares that had come to plague Ivy when she was a toddler and that lasted almost a year, not sickness, or want, or fear, or desire for others had come to challenge the perfect order of their lives.
Until today, Janice thought, with an aching stab of regret. Until todayin front of the school.
Janice was certain, and had been certain since three ten that afternoon, that life as they knew it was coming to an end. That even now, as she lay beside the warm, breathing form of the man she loved, forces were gathering to shatter their dream. She didn't know how it would come about, or why. Only that it would happen.
That afternoon, in a flash of instant prescience, Janice had seen their doom reflected in the eyes of a perfect stranger.
Excerpted from Audrey Rose , by Frank De Felitta . Copyright (c) 1975 by Frank De Felitta . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top