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Somebody's Baby

Chapter 1

"I'm sorry I can't stay."

"It's all right."

"I love you."

"I love you, too."

"I'll call you tomorrow."

"Okay."

"I'd better run or I'll miss my train. I really am sorry."

"It's all right."

He grabbed his briefcase and made for the door. She followed.

"Call you tomorrow. Okay?"

"Okay, Mark."

He gave her a quick kiss, got the door open and hurried away.

She waited until the elevator door slid shut, then stepped back inside and closed and locked her door. Depressed and angry, she looked around the loft wondering—as she did every time this happened—why she didn't/wouldn't/couldn't put an end to the affair. It wasn't what she wanted or needed. And even though she obediently parroted the words each time he said I love you, she not only didn't love him, she actively wished either that there was someone she did love, or that she didn't give a damn about men at all.

In the shower, washing away the evidence of lovemaking only her body had enjoyed, she considered how she might spend her unexpectedly free evening. There were friends she could call to go to dinner or to take in a movie, even grab last-minute tickets to a Broadway show. But the idea of sitting down to go through her address book and phoning people only added to her depression. Toweling dry, she decided to work. She'd develop today's film and do the contact sheets. That would give her extra time tomorrow to do the printing of the Dunfield and Rubenstein sittings from the week before. With the finished prints ready for collection, she could go ahead and prepare the billings. Good idea. Work was always an answer. Her mood was improving already.

Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, socks and sneakers, she went into the studio area of the loft to retrieve the three rolls of film from Katie's to-be-done basket. After taking a minute or two to put the first disc of La Boheme on the CD player, she headed for the darkroom.

With the glorious Puccini music filling the loft, she had just inserted the three exposed films into developing canisters when the telephone rang. The film now safe from the minimal light exposure that would result from opening and closing the darkroom door, she ran to turn down the volume on the stereo before picking up the receiver.

"That you, Snow?" asked an elderly male voice.

"It's me, Rudy," she said, simultaneously recognizing her mother's next-door neighbor and undergoing a spasm of alarm. There was only one reason Rudy Howell could be calling: Something had happened to her mother.

"I think you'd better come on up here, Snow," he said apologetically. "Your mother's had a heart attack, and it doesn't look good."

"My God! When? Where is she?"

"Happened a few hours ago. Lucky thing I was out working on the garden, and saw. Thought she just took a spill, but when I went over to give her a hand, I knew right off what it was. Called the 911 people, then gave her the mouth-to-mouth before the ambulance came. She's in the intensive care thing over at the hospital, and she's asking for you."

"God! I'll leave right away." She glanced at the time: coming up for seven. "Depending on the traffic, I should be there by ten, ten-thirty. Thanks for letting me know. I'm on my way."

"I'll tell her. It'll ease her to know you're coming."

"Thanks, Rudy."

Shaky and agitated, she turned off the stereo, then ran to the living area of the loft to grab a jacket, her bag and keys. Uncoordinated, she fumbled the keys into the two pickproof locks of the metal-reinforced front door, then bolted down the four flights of stairs rather than waste time waiting for the elevator. Once on the street, she took off at a run toward the garage three blocks away where she kept her car.

Stomach lurching, hands trembling, she paced back and forth while she waited for Mario, the young, ever-friendly attendant, to get the Volvo.

"What's up?" he asked, studying her face as he slid out of the driver's seat and held the door open for her.

"My mother's had a heart attack," she explained, and thought how odd that sounded. An attack of the heart, the heart attacked. She was desperate to be on her way.

"Hey, too bad." He bent to look in at her as she settled behind the wheel. "Listen, Snow, don't go drivin' too fast. You'll have an accident. Take it easy, you'll get there in one piece. Where you goin' to, anyhow?"

"Rhode Island."

"She'll be okay. You'll see. Go easy now," he cautioned, backing away as she belted herself in, pushed the stick into Drive and pulled out into the street.

He's right, she told herself, hands damp on the wheel as she headed for FDR Drive. I've got to calm down. Stopped for a red light at an intersection, she pulled half a dozen cassettes from the pocket in the driver's door, got one open and pushed it into the player. In the fifteen or so seconds of silence before the music began, she took several deep breaths, trying to steady herself. The lights changed, Pavarotti began singing "Che gelida manina," and she drove on, the exquisite voice filling the interior of the nine-year-old car. Rather than soothing her, the man's emotionally loaded intonation brought tears to her eyes and created a frantic clutching in her chest.

By the time she reached I-95, the inner quaking had abated and dread had taken over. Her mother was only sixty-three, too young to die. God knows, they'd never been as close as her mother would have wished. But if Anne Cooke had been less obsessively attentive, less vigilantly overprotective, they might have had a better, easier relationship. She'd never been able to make her mother understand this, particularly during Snow's teenage years when she'd felt stifled, suffocated, and had taken to answering her mother's ceaseless intrusions, interruptions, interrogations with, "Yesmother." Privately, ruefully, she'd smiled to herself over this mild rebelliousness because what she was actually thinking and saying was, "Yes, smother." It was how she'd felt all her life: smothered, overwhelmed, deprived of sufficient air and space in which to grow. And that was why, periodically, she'd gulped down furtive mouthfuls of scotch or gin or vodka from bottles that remained otherwise untouched from one year to the next in the liquor cabinet; it was why she'd sneaked cigarettes down on the beach, getting dizzy and nauseated initially, and eventually hooked; it was why, at the age of sixteen, she'd gone to a motel in Providence with a local married man and spent that afternoon and quite a few subsequent ones indulging in sexual acts that were pleasurable primarily because of the distress they would have caused her mother, had she ever found out; and it was why, finally, immediately after graduating from high school, she'd left Rhode Island for the School of Visual Arts in New York.

They'd done battle over it, but in the end Snow had won out, threatening to work her way through school if necessary. Her mother at last conceded, but not before getting Snow's solemn promise that she'd phone home at least three times a week. A small price to pay for such a large victory. She'd kept her promise and, even now, at the age of thirty-one, was still in the habit of making those calls—just less often.

At a distance, she'd acquired an amused tolerance of her mother's eccentricities. However, within minutes of arriving home for a visit, she'd find herself becoming angry and defensive. It was an effort every time to maintain her equanimity when presented with incessant cautionary advice. "I hope you don't go out alone after dark." "Be sure to keep your car doors locked." "Are you remembering to put the chain on the door when you're home?" "Don't ever open your door to a stranger." On and on, endlessly, as if Snow's safety were the only aspect of her existence that was of any importance. Only incidentally did her mother ask about her work. Of far greater interest, and second only to her physical well-being, was the question of whether or not Snow had yet managed to find herself a decent man.

Her mother's face took on a glow at the thought of grandchildren, but Snow had as yet no interest in being a mother. She was the first to admit she hadn't managed to recover from the long-term effects of being her mother's child. And while she loved children, revered them, cherished their energy, their self-absorption, their completeness, she knew she had a way still to travel before she could even begin to contemplate parenthood. It was all she could do to restrain herself from surrendering to her ongoing exasperation, to stop herself from throwing the facts about her married lovers in her mother's face. There were moments when, as her mother rhapsodized about babies, Snow wanted to leap to her feet and scream that she'd never subject a child of hers to the kind of obsessive attentiveness that had wound up turning her into a soft-spoken anarchist prone to acts primarily self-punishing.

As well, given that her mother had been married only briefly—having been widowed when Snow was just a few months old—and given that in the intervening years she'd had almost nothing to say about her late husband—nor had she had so much as a single date—her abiding fear that Snow might wind up an "old maid" seemed not only disproportionate but also out of character. But fear it she did, vocally, and often. It was why, Snow reasoned, she had from the start of her sexual life taken up either with men who were set fairly permanently in their single ways, or who were married.

Mark was her fifth married lover. Unfortunately, he had from the outset embarked upon the gratuitous fiction that he would leave his wife for Snow. He seemed to feel it was what she expected, despite all her declarations to the contrary. It appeared to be beyond his comprehension that she liked him primarily because he was safely wed to someone else. He refused to accept this, even though it was to her mind fundamentally simple.

Being married, he couldn't leave sundry items of clothing in the loft, nor could he drop by unannounced at inconve- nient times. He wasn't free to stake any claims on her, and she had no wish to be claimed like some prize yearling at a horse auction. Granted, she had to accommodate him on occasional weekday afternoons and evenings, but never without warning and never for more than a few hours. And, in view of the stringent limitation on time, their involvement was almost entirely sexual. Which was perfect, because the majority of his values and viewpoints were diametrically opposed to her own. He was good in bed and didn't, couldn't, take up too much of her time. She was repelled by the idea of having someone around constantly, crowding her and diminishing the available oxygen supply in her home. She'd had more than enough of that growing up.

It was well after dark by the time she crossed the Connecticut state line, but I-95 was lit for a good long stretch and she was able to relax a bit, concentrating less fiercely on the road. But the instant the tension in her neck and shoulders eased, she was gripped by the fearful thought that her mother might be dead by the time she reached the hospital. It revived the lurching in her stomach and, seeing the signs for a rest area ahead, she decided to stop briefly.

After gassing up the car, she parked and went into the McDonald's to use the john before grabbing a coffee to go. As she was leaving with her coffee, she paused to glance at a "Have you seen these children?" poster. Three small smiling faces; family snapshots taken in happy times. God, she thought, heading back to the car. Where are you? What monster snatched you from the heart of everything happily secure? The posters, the milk cartons, the brown supermarket bags all emblazoned with those photographs were wrenching. Throughout the country there were grieving, terrified parents praying for the safety of their children. All Snow's life her mother had been ready, at a moment's notice, to join their ranks. She'd been so cautious that Snow had turned secretly reckless simply to balance things out. She was sometimes amazed to think of how lucky she'd been in escaping any real harm.

Before switching on the engine she organized the cassettes she wanted to hear: highlights of The Marriage of Figaro, duets by Montserrat Caballé and Shirley Verrett, Puccini and Bellini arias by Maria Callas, and The Best of Play Bach by Jacques Loussier. She felt a pang, aware that she'd inherited her love of opera and classical music from her mother, along with a passion for reading, and for visual images, particularly those of young children. Which was why she'd decided to focus on photography, eventually specializing in children's portraiture.

Rejoining the flow of traffic, she considered her work and the enormous pleasure it gave her. Those meticulously lit black-and-white studies literally thrilled her. She spent most of her time during a sitting arranging the lights and positioning the child or children if it was a group sitting. Because of the flawless purity of the faces she could use strong direct and indirect light to enhance the qualities she perceived. She especially loved the three- and four-year-olds—the rounded sweetness of their emerging features, their vitality and profound self-interest, as well as their tremendous curiosity. It was always difficult to get them to sit still while she and Katie kept up a stream of banter, encouraged them to listen to the bouncy music they played, and tried to get their clothes properly draped, the light and shadow balance perfectly attuned. In the six years they'd been working together, she and Katie had honed their techniques, moving quickly to complete the shoot before the children became bored and fidgety and their faces lost that wonderful inner light, shutting down with stubborn finality.

With a jolt, she realized she'd have to call Katie, let her know what was happening. And, damn it! She'd left those films in the darkroom. She'd ask Katie to finish the developing, print up the contact sheets, cancel the bookings for at least a week and reschedule them.

As she approached New Haven, she wished, as she had so many times, that she had a father, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, family members who'd rally around at a time of crisis. But there was no one. And it was why, she knew, her mother had made her the sole focus of her life. Anne didn't even have any close friends really, just the group of local women with whom she played bridge on Thursday evenings. Anne Cooke was an odd and solitary woman who had always claimed she had no particular need of other people. She was independent and self-reliant, financially secure, she'd explained early on to Snow, as a result of a carefully managed inheritance she'd come into in her late twenties.

One thing Snow had to concede: Her mother had been an emancipated female long before the majority of other women. She'd resumed her maiden name after her husband's death—hence their different surnames. "If you choose to be rid of your father's name," she'd told a ten-year-old Snow, "you may do so once you turn eighteen. I certainly won't object."

Because she felt it connected her in some nebulous way to the father she'd never known, she'd elected to keep the surname Devane. Besides, she'd always thought Snow Cooke didn't sound right. Bad enough to be called something as absurd as Snow—a name baby boomers automatically assumed had been chosen by stoned hippy parents. In any event, Snow Devane was becoming a well-respected name; she'd worked hard to establish herself, and couldn't see the sense of muddying the waters by changing her identity so late in the day.

Her thoughts returning to her mother, she felt guilty. She didn't visit often enough: It had been more than a month since she'd been home. When was she going to develop some genuine tolerance and stop responding so negatively to her mother's well-intentioned concern? Aside from the endless admonishments, Anne was a good person, well-read and generous, with a passion for movies. She'd acquired her first VCR in the late seventies and rented two or three films a week. She was one of the few people who could actually figure out how to program a VCR.

Anne Cooke was, Snow thought, forgivably vain. She took pride in her appearance and had a standing Wednesday morning appointment with Lillian, the Stony Point hairdresser. On her annual visits to New York, when she insisted on staying at a hotel rather than at the loft with Snow ("We both need privacy, dear."), she took at least two entire days each time to shop for clothes at Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel. Unlike her daughter who was five-seven, rail thin, brown-eyed, with a mass of wildly curling carroty hair and pale freckled skin, Anne was a rounded five-two, blue-eyed, with permed short blond hair and tiny size-five feet. Mother and daughter bore no resemblance to one another, and Anne had assured her that Snow strongly took after her father who had been a very good-looking man.

Anne had rarely spoken to Snow of Aidan Devane. She'd rarely spoken of him at all. "It was a painful time, and I'm sure you understand that I prefer not to discuss it."

The only father figure in Snow's life was Rudy Howell, the rather diffident but innately kind man who'd lived in the house next door since the year Snow turned eight. His wife had died the year before he moved in and, he quietly told her in the course of a back garden visit that first summer, since they'd never been fortunate enough to have children and had concentrated instead on each other, he'd had to get away from the life they'd lived together in Boston. "Too many memories," he'd said. So he'd sold his home and his business, and bought the cottage and a sailboat—"Something I'd always wanted," he'd admitted shyly, as if confessing to a character flaw—and embarked upon a determined course of small daily pleasures: sailing on Narragansett Bay, walking the half mile into town to buy the morning paper to read over his breakfast at the Stony Point Cafaae´. He'd chat with Lucy LeGallienne, the jolly and rotund, middle-aged owner who proudly claimed Acadian heritage, and who knew all the comings and goings of the three hundred-odd Stony Point residents and loved good gossip as much as she did cooking. After this leisurely meal, he'd stroll over to the market to buy the day's food before walking home. He'd work on his garden for the remainder of the morning, or sit reading a library book at the kitchen table in the winter; on mild afternoons he'd take the Bull's-Eye out for a sail. Later in the day, he'd cook himself a simple meal before settling in the BarcaLounger to watch a few hours of baseball or hockey or football on TV. Two or three times a month, he'd change out of the khaki pants, sports shirts and deck shoes he routinely wore, put on a suit, tie and well-polished oxfords, and come next door to have dinner with Snow and her mother. And after dinner, they'd play Chinese checkers or dominoes or Monopoly. Snow had loved those evenings when Rudy Howell came to visit; it felt, for as long as it lasted, as if they were a family.

Rudy had been allowed to take Snow sailing on the bay that first summer after specially purchasing a bright orange Mae West for her, and after vowing to guard the child with his life. Until leaving home, she had spent the majority of her summer afternoons on the water with Rudy. They'd shared hundreds of hours of companionable silence on the boat.

Once a week every summer for twenty-three years, Rudy had come to their back door with an offering of fresh flowers cut from his garden. And each Saturday, year-round, her mother made a trip next door to give Rudy some of the rather dry cake, or crumbling, overbaked cookies she'd just made. If Anne had one real friend—in the sense of someone who cared, quietly and unobtrusively, but who cared, nonetheless—it was Rudy Howell. And Snow could picture him pacing the hospital corridors, waiting anxiously until she arrived. For some reason, the image of the lanky, seventy-one-year-old pacing back and forth made her throat ache and brought tears to her eyes. She really didn't want her mother to die. Despite having fought long and hard for the right to her own life, unencumbered and free of her mother's oppressive concern, she couldn't bear the idea of losing the one person who had always loved her unreservedly. Resisting the impulse to press her foot down harder on the accelerator, she drove on, fearful of what she might find upon arrival.

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