Chapter

1

I barely have my coat off before the phone rings. “Hello, Howard. I’ll be there in a moment,” I say, the old-fashioned receiver cradled between my chin and my shoulder as I move around the desk to my chair.

“This isn’t Howard.”

“Oh, Marcy, sorry.” It’s my wife. “What’s up?”

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“Did you see the story about the kid who drowned in the pond this morning?”

“I saw it,” I say, struggling with the phone headset, the cord and the conversation. “Hold on a minute. I have to fix the cord.”

“You know whose kid that was?” she continues without missing a beat.

I sigh a bit. My head isn’t in the right place for this yet. “No, how could I? You gonna tell me?” I say. I continue my obsessive behavior with the phone cord.

“Whitman’s.”

I stop fidgeting with the cord. “Whitman? Who used to work with

Stealing a Summer's Afternoon

you? The in vitro kid?”

There’s silence for a moment. “Yep.”

“No way.”

The funeral was, well, funereal. Not to be trite, but while I felt for the parents, I didn’t know them well. The father worked with my wife for a few years and I had met them both. My heart went out to them. There’s nothing worse than burying a child. My wife doesn’t drive and the funeral was in Westchester. So I took her, which got me out of the office for a few hours, always a blessing.

The service ends and we walk back

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to the car. Neither of us says a word. That lack of communication is nothing new. Things have been like this between us for a long time now. It just seems to be the normal progression of marriage. The longer you’re together, the less you say to each other. An optimist might describe that as closeness so deep that you don’t need to speak to each other, you can read each other’s minds. A pessimist might advise you to see an attorney. A realist, which is what I consider myself to be, wouldn’t dwell on it, would just accept it the way you accept everything else that doesn’t pan out the way you plan.

I take the Saw Mill River Parkway home. There’s never much traffic on the lower reaches of the Parkway, which is why I like it. I’m a bit of an

Stealing a Summer's Afternoon

impatient driver and don’t like having to maneuver around other people’s bad driving habits. On a deserted stretch of road like this, I can cruise along and think. Normally I would be listening to the Latin music station La Mega, 97.9 on your FM dial, but I have on KTU to placate my wife. She’s not a big salsa fan. I hate popular American music.

Approaching the Westchester/Bronx line, I glance over at Marcy. She’s staring straight ahead, hands clasped in her lap. The tear tracks and smudged makeup are still obvious on her cheeks. I make no effort to comfort her, either physically or emotionally. “You mind if I make a stop?” I ask.

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“No? Why?” she says, turning toward me.

“My mother’s moving into that new assisted living place today. I want to make sure things are going OK.”

“You said you were going to let your sister handle this for once,” she says, her expression a look of utter incredulity. “I can’t deal with your mother and especially your sister today. Take me home first, please.”

I sigh in a combination of frustration and disbelief. I understand her reticence and the stress the funeral has put on her, but I also expect her to understand the position I’m in relative to my mother. “Sorry, can’t do that,” I say.

Stealing a Summer's Afternoon

She takes her iPhone out of her bag, throws me a look of disgust and turns back toward the window. “Fine,” she says.

The prior silence resumes. As I round off the exit of the Henry Hudson, I see a parking space a block from the building. It’s small, but what the hell. I can maneuver into it. Parking is never easy to find here. Why pay if I don’t have to?

As I back into the space, I notice the low drone of the radio. The hourly news report has just hit the airwaves, interrupting the uninspired pop format. On my second attempt into the spot, I half hear the announcer: “Philip Bukovsky, investment advisor

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to many of the city’s movers and shakers, has been arrested on charges of…”

“Maybe I’ll just wait in the car,” Marcy says over the report.

“What?” I reach for the knob to turn up the volume. “What did he say?”

“I said maybe I’d wait in the car.”

“Not you, the radio announcer,” I reply, but it’s too late. The station is already back to its music program, more details in an hour. “Shit,” I mumble.

“What?” Marcy says.

“I was talking about the radio announcer. What did he say? Were you listening?”

Stealing a Summer's Afternoon

“No, I was looking at my news feed on Facebook,” she answers, continuing to stare hypnotically at her iPhone. “I said I think I’ll wait in the car.”

“I don’t think so,” I say, turning off the ignition.

The assisted living facility speaks of old money and elegance. Outfitted in classic Anglophile style, it has long awnings leading to elaborate front doors attended by uniformed doormen. Once inside, you get the feel of an old hotel with too many high-backed couches that are none too comfortable, which is what these guests like. Oil paintings hang on the walls, always realist, never abstract.

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Then you notice the people: old, really old, sitting barely conscious on the sofas, and more often than not, attended to by large black women from the Caribbean. Frightening doesn’t even come close to an accurate description.

I’ve seen a lot of assisted living facilities in my more than twenty-five years in real estate finance. It’s the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of real estate. Chocolate (nursing home) plus peanut butter (hotel environment) and you have a whole new product, a line extension at a premium price.

As we enter the building, I hear my mother weeping from some room off to the right, accompanied by the never

Stealing a Summer's Afternoon

melodic tones of my sister ordering her to stop crying and threatening the management at the same time.

I knew this move would be a disaster. My mother never bought anything she didn’t return except my father, so I fully expected that her entrance into this facility would come with a demand to be taken to another one. She never stayed in the first hotel room we were given, anywhere, ever.

All we need to do is follow the noise. Turning the corner, I take in the whole picture through the window to the administrator’s office: three plump Jewish women of varying ages in varying states of agitation. The scene is reminiscent of an opera, three divas

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singing a great tragedy in unison.

“I cannot stay here!”

“You have no choice!”

“I’d rather die!”

“Give it a chance!”

“They lied to me!”

“No we did not!”

“That’s not the room I saw!”

“It most definitely is. We have no other vacancies!”

“Don’t speak to my mother in that tone!!”

And then together, “I can’t take this anymore!!!!” And so on.

“Hi,” I say, entering the office, “I’m Elliot. This is my wife, Marcy. What’s going on? I could hear you all the way

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down the hall.” The administrator offers her hand, attempting to introduce herself.

“We have a real problem here,” my sister says in her most demanding, authoritative voice, stepping between the administrator and me.

Meanwhile, my mother weeps in the background. “How could this happen to me? How? How? Please take me somewhere else. Please, God help me.”

Sadly, and I don’t feel too good about this, all that’s in my head is what I think I’ve just heard on the radio: Philip Bukovsky has been arrested.

“My name is Rosalie Greenwood,

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the chief administrator. Sorry I wasn’t here last week when you brought your mother by to see the room. I was on vacation.” She extends her hand again.

I take it, an act I will be roundly criticized for later. “Nice to meet you,” I say. “OK, can we all calm down here?”

My mother’s weeping escalates, intermingled with sobs and a commentary on my inability to be empathic. My sister’s voice continues to rise. “I have had enough of this,” she says. “I am not going to be badgered, railroaded or misled by anyone. I am here to protect my mother’s interests.”

“Yes, Jennifer, I’ve got that part,” I

Stealing a Summer's Afternoon

answer, leaning against the administrator’s desk. I catch my wife rolling her eyes. “I know that you’re Ma’s best advocate. You’re working too hard at it too.” Sometimes I can’t help myself when the histrionics reach this octave.

“The hell with you,” she says, her face reddening, her fists clenched, her feet stomping as she retreats behind my mother’s wheelchair.

“I will do whatever is necessary to make your mother comfortable,” Rosalie says, “but I won’t suffer this kind of verbal abuse from anyone.”

At this juncture, Marcy exits the war zone, ostensibly to get a coffee. No one has said one word to her so far, not even hello. The cacophonous

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battles continue. I sit down on a hard chair next to the desk and wait for them all to finish. Finally, I say, “Perhaps someone could explain this to me, please?”

They all jump in at once, again.

“One at a time, please,” I insist.

My sister takes the floor first by brute force, speaking loudly and authoritatively. She has adopted my mother’s argumentative style. She tells you what she won’t do, what she can’t do and what she has to have. She lays out her demands up front. There’s no room to negotiate. Her physical presence doesn’t leave much room for negotiation either. She gives the clear impression that if you don’t capitulate

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quickly, she will pound you into submission and then sit on you just for good measure so that you’ll remember it for next time. “I will not leave Mom here under these circumstances. I cannot bring her to my house either,” she continues, “because she cannot maneuver the stairs, which means she will have to go back to the nursing home.”

My mother is crying again and mumbling. “Sure,” she says, gesturing to whomever she is telling this to in her mind. “Why did she buy that house? She knew I couldn’t walk up the stairs, but she bought it anyway.”

“I have to have a room that she can move into today where she can maneuver her wheelchair and access

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the bathroom,” my sister demands. “She cannot do that in the room you want to give her.” Jennifer apparently has an intense dislike for contractions.

I really want to be here, to try to help here, to focus on my mother’s problem, but I can’t get Bukovsky out of my mind. I need to resolve my mother’s housing mess quickly so I can get back to what may be a much more urgent matter. Focus, focus, I tell myself. “I brought her here to see her options last week. She chose that apartment over the studio because she wanted a separate bedroom. She picked it.”

“But now she wants the other one,” Jennifer barks back at me, slamming

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her hand down on the administrator’s desk. “She cannot maneuver the doorway into the bathroom. She needs the studio.”

“But the studio isn’t available,” pleads Rosalie. “I rented it out yesterday.”

“Well, un-rent it,” shouts my sister. “They have not moved in yet!” Still no contractions.

“I can’t do that,” Rosalie shouts back. And so it goes for the next forty-five minutes or so. Ultimately, the crying slows to whimpering. My mother agrees to try it out for a week. We take her upstairs. After much drama, she collapses onto her bed in her new apartment. She is exhausted

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and is threatening a heart attack.

“I gotta go now,” I tell her. “But I’ll stop by when we get back from London to see how you’re doing.”

“You’re going to London?” I hear both of them shout as I make my way down the corridor to the elevator.

“Yes,” I reply, escaping into the elevator. I scan the lobby for Marcy, nowhere to be seen. I really don’t want to have to run all over this creepy facility to look for her. Perhaps they have a paging system? I realize, no, I’ll just call her on her iPhone. “Where are you?”

“I’m standing by the car.”

“I’ll be right there.” As I approach at the car, I see she’s holding a brown

Stealing a Summer's Afternoon

paper bag in her hand. “What’s that?” I ask as we get in.

“What’s what?” She pulls a bottle of Corona out of the paper bag and takes a swig.

“Now I know,” I say, turning the key in the ignition. The radio resumes its low drone. I look at the clock. It’s three minutes after the hour. Maybe I can still catch the top-of-the-hour news.

“Weather details next,” I hear, turning up the volume.