About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Jane walked out of her apartment building and saw the Christ Child. She was on her way to the gym when she saw a baby of such breath-stopping beauty she had to remind herself to inhale. He had gray-blue eyes, Nestlé cocoa hair, and was destined to have thick eyebrows after puberty. He had no pores. He had bliss. His mother held him on her hip in a swaddling sling that matched his eye color almost perfectly. She looked pretty happy, for a virgin mother, not that Jane noticed her. This glowing god-baby was the reason wise men traveled across deserts and little drummer boys drummed. He blinked, and Jane, a reasonably calm person as a rule, nearly wept. She had to talk herself down. She pretended to check her watch, and then she walked away. She only looked back at him four times. But he had already turned to perform other miracles.
Jane moved on. She really did. She was a grown-up, after all, so she went to the gym and climbed the Stairs to Nowhere. She showered. She tried to do something with that hair of hers, and why did it seem to have a mind of its own? And those roots. They were an evil announcement of her lack-of-youth. Jane was morally superior to her lack-of-youth, but she still hid her roots, as best she could.
Jane’s life was pretty good for an almost-thirty-seven-year-old. She lived in New York City. She was of medium height and had pale skin, because she was afraid of skin cancer, and reddish-brown hair, of the Nice ’n Easy #110 variety. Her hair had given up being red all by itself years ago. At her age, it needed help. She still wore size six pants. She looked tense all the time, but she didn’t know it. She walked fast, but always gave directions to tourists trying to find Broadway below Fourteenth Street.
Jane was lucky. She had a cool apartment with more sunlight than most people might expect in the East Village. The small extra bedroom used to serve as a darkroom, when she had been dabbling in photography. These days it was a makeshift office/storage closet/ place to stash things when parents came to visit. She still took photos, but only on vacations or at family events where someone had to say, “I wonder when we’ll all be together like this again?” And she had the Indian guy on Bleecker Street develop the pictures. He was nice, and always found one shot in the roll to praise as “Oh, very pretty, very good! You should take more pictures!”
Her family was in New Jersey, the exact right distance away. Different area code, so she could feel separate, but the same time zone, so they could all feel close. Perfect. Her friends envied her out loud.
So why was there an ache in her life? Why did it feel like there was a hole in her middle? Most of the time, she walked too quickly to feel it, but sometimes it howled, and when it did, she walked faster.
After all, Jane’s life was pretty good for an almost-thirty-seven-year-old. The other side of the last cute decade of her life. She was starting to be not young anymore. Thirty-seven sounded old. Older. Agatha old. Too old to change her ways, find a husband, and make babies. Too late for that.
So Jane moved on. She really did. She had only twenty-three minutes to get to work, but she bypassed the subway and opted to walk. After all, it was a postcard of a morning in early May. Stray New Yorkers even smiled with late spring giddiness. She hit her stride and got a lucky stretch of green lights to keep the momentum. Nineteen minutes later, she would have just enough time to overpay for a double latte, smile as her elevator stopped at every floor, and then dive into the madness.
Jane always forgot to factor in the line at Starbucks for people who wanted to get brownie-coffee. And there he was. That same guy was there again. She had seen him last week, thinning blond hair, capped teeth. She noticed him noticing her. Why did she think he was an actor? And, even though Jane was going to turn thirty-seven in less than a week, he flirted with her anyway.
“Are you stalking me?” He grinned.
“Hey, a girl’s gotta have a purpose in life. Or a hobby. Or . . .”
She grimaced. Her answer was too long. The Christ Child sighting was still visible in her head, and still so distracting. And could she still legally call herself a girl? She didn’t schedule any time for a flirtation. The city was full of handsome, capped-teeth smiles, and here was another one, but she shouldn’t be late for the Monday morning meeting.
The actor looked pleased and settled in to flirt with her. Did he know that he was blocking the door? He was smooth.
“This is, like, the third time I’ve seen you here. Do you live around here?”
“I work here. Not here, upstairs. In the building. I work in the building.”
Oh, my God, she sounded like an idiot! His grin turned condescending, like he was George Clooney and he always had this effect on women, like he was taking pity on a stammering female fan. For Jane, it was time to move on. Really.
“My name’s Richard. What’s yours?”
“Jane. And I—”
“Really? Are you giving me a fake name or something?”
Did lots of women give him fake names?
“No. I’m Jane. Really.”
He took her hand, nearly scalding it with his own latte.
“Look at us! We’re Dick and Jane! We’re, like, I don’t know, something out of a baby book or something.”
Jane smiled. This was no George Clooney, just a guy blocking the door when she had less than two minutes to get to her meeting.
“Me Dick! You Jane!” And he pummeled his chest Tarzan style. Jane smiled.
“See you in school!” she said and ducked around him.
But she didn’t wait. Instead, she took long ballet leap-steps to the elevator, into the conference room, and the workday took hold.
Jane had seven employees and nine consultants on her team. She liked to take care of them. She bought them zinc when they had colds, she held birthday celebrations and baby showers, and she listened to love life sagas. Nice work and she got it. She ran IT Support for the high-profile investment bank Argenti. Wall Street. The Street. The nerve center of the city, the country, the world. Decisions here reverberated throughout the universe, and Jane had to handle their latest Microsoft upgrade. And handle the eternal complaints about her Help Desk. And find a way to supply cheaper laptops to senior management. And phase out the old contact database. And integrate technology with the London firm Argenti had just acquired. And answer the e-mails she’d been ignoring. And make birthday plans. And get the latte stain out of her skirt. It was almost noon when Jane noticed that the actor had missed scalding her hand, but he had stained her skirt. Look at that . . .
Jane wrote lists all the time. In the middle of a conference call, she’d add a stray item to the list. She lived by her lists and her schedules. She upgraded PDAs twice a year and had entirely too many opinions about them. Lists brought her order and comfort. Maybe lists could fill that hole in her middle. When it howled, she fed it lists. See? See how much you have? Why are you greedy for more? Be happy. Stop aching and howling.
“Do you want anything from A.J.’s?” Her staff was always diligent about including her in their lunch plans, and she was equally diligent about declining. No one was going to intercept her almost-break at lunch. Outside, in the absence of fluorescent light, there were no PCs, or at least, not as many. When she felt brave, she ate from the local food carts, and when she felt braver, she ate at the expensive delis.
“Mommy! Mommy, please? I want fries! Please? I can have fries, please?”
It was a technicolor Shirley Temple, ringlets and all. Jane watched and listened. How did little girls get that bell-quality to their voices? And why does it disappear? Jane wanted to be some beautiful fries godmother and make the girl happy, but she suspected that the mother might have a minor objection or two. Jane moved on to the deli line.
You may not believe it, but the Dick-Richard-Actor was there. Same deli.
“Are you temping too?” he asked. “I’m at Sloan. I told them I smoke, so I get, like, five breaks a day. Hey. You got something on your skirt.”
“Yes. Your coffee.”
Richard overflowed with apologies, with seltzer, with salt. He betrayed no trace of enjoying himself as he pulled her out of line and attempted to rub the stain out of her skirt. He was all business, but Jane was still not taking him seriously.
She wished she had stayed in line. Just then, a pregnant woman entered the deli. Very pregnant, carrying her pregnancy so casually with an arched-out baby belly. This would have been unremarkable, but she was followed by a similarly pregnant woman. And then another. And another. In the end, there was a string of six pregnant women, waddling up to the counter for chicken salads, bagels with vegetable cream cheese, and soup. Jane had lost her place in line. Dick-Richard was still babbling. He had a flier for a play—was he in it? Hah! He was an actor after all. She had been right. She was puffed with pride, and now it was time to move on. Again. Really.
“Would you look at that?” Dick asked as he pointed to the school of pregnant women. “What’s in the water around here? I hope you’re not drinking it!”
He was no George Clooney, remember? There was no call for stammering here. She just needed to tell him she was busy and she had to go now.
“Look. I’m really busy and I have to go now. It’s Monday—it’s a crusher day. You seem really nice, but I’m too busy to talk to you. I’m due. At work. I’m past due. I mean, I have to go now. Thanks for this.”
She left the flier on the table and left the actor and the pregnant women in the deli, late for another meeting. Kendra, her manager, didn’t speak English. She spoke only Corporate Speak, and though it took twice as long to say anything, she seemed to love it.
Kendra gave a five-minute speech about “levels of granularity as we ramp up the London integration” and suggested that Jane could “add value to this critical process.” Jane translated it in her head and smiled: “We have programs, they have programs. Make them work together.”
“I’m on it,” Jane said, and it was true.
Kendra seemed confused by the brief reply. Didn’t Jane know that she was at work? Why wasn’t she using Corporate Speak?
Kendra talked about “server maintenance” and “time-sensitive issues.” Jane sifted through the words and realized that Kendra was saying: server maintenance. Why the delays? It was a big issue, and they were going to have to schedule a power outage over the weekend. Saturday night? Jane, can you supervise? Of course she can. Jane’s a team player. Go, Jane, go.
As the group shuffled out of the conference room, Kendra pulled Jane aside.
“You know, London offers lots of growth opportunities. If you’re interested, I can escalate.”
“Of course,” Jane said before she finished translating. All it meant was “Wanna work in London?”
Jane phoned The New York Times where her best friend, Ray, would be stumbling into work right about now.
Ray was a theater critic, but people loved him anyway. He recently became a second-stringer for the Times, but still published in lots of tourist publications. Tourists loved his ability to identify which audience was right for which show, and publishers loved his ability to beat a deadline. His career expanded to include hosting seminars at the New School, where he interviewed the very people he had skewered in print. Lots of people attended just to see if there would be an ugly scene. Once in a while, they got their wish. Philip Seymour Hoffman spat at him, but Madonna hugged him. Go figure.
Jane loved Ray’s broad appetite for the arts. Seated next to him, Jane saw gems and rip-offs. She shared his dislike of all those microphones, and she wondered aloud why there were always naked people on stage at The Public Theater. Ray explained that everyone calls it The Pubic.
“Hey, Ray. I have to work Saturday night. How did I let that happen?”
Silence. Why wasn’t he clucking in sympathy, or trying to outdo her?
“Are you listening? Are you multitasking? No e-mail when you’re on the phone with me. That was the deal, remember?”
“Janie. I’m not multitasking. I’m barely tasking. Auntie Mame’s hung.”
No one likes to say “Again?” when they hear that a friend is hung- over, and no one likes to hear it. But Ray’s latest boyfriend lived in a Ketel One world, and Ray wasn’t up to the challenge.
“He’s young. He likes to party. I try to keep up.”
“He has more brain matter to spare.”
“He had a gig at Arlene’s Grocery, and it didn’t go well. The audience wanted something more . . .” Ray couldn’t finish that sentence. He didn’t understand his boyfriend’s music, so he really didn’t understand his boyfriend’s music’s audience. So he said, “. . . else. They wanted something else. And then, there were all those sorrows to drown. Tell me about your wonderful, normal life, Principessa.”
“They want me to go to London.”
She could hear Ray sit up straighter.
“When? For how long?”
“Soon, I think. For forever, maybe. I don’t have any details.”
“Who needs details? Go. The London theater scene is so much more interesting than New York’s. Go, and take me with you.”
Ray described the last seven plays he had seen in London, while Jane multitasked and read e-mail. Ray could tell, and he interrupted her.
“Let’s continue this conversation next week at that Alice in Wonderland we’re going to see. Saturday night. No e-mail. You’ll have to pay attention.”
“Ray. I told you. I’m working Saturday night.”
“Next Saturday. Pay attention, you dope.” ...
From the Hardcover edition.