Excerpt: 'Now You See Him'

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Now You See Him
By Eli Gottlieb
Hardcover, 272 pages
List Price: $22.95

Rob walked toward her from the bedroom door, before stopping at the foot of the bed. That much we can surmise. Seeing him appear before her first thing in the morning, Kate doubtless greeted him calmly and began to chat. The habit of calmness was deeply ingrained in her, but she also would have quickly realized the situation was dangerous, and that in such circumstances it was important to keep talking, to keep time expanding, to maintain the fiction that everything was tranquil, and that the sight of your ex-lover entering your apartment at dawn due to a key you'd never bothered to get back from him and standing before you now unshaven, stinking, and with a suspicious pistol-shaped bulge in his pocket, was just another casual event in your day.

We know that three months had gone by since he'd moved out of their apartment, shouting that she'd betrayed him for "Mammon." In that period, she'd seen him only once, for a drink at a bar. It was an evening that had ended badly, according to eyewitnesses, with Rob "raising his voice and pointing his finger a lot." She'd subsequently received three e-mails from him. These were later read out loud at the trial. The first, in its entirety, ran, "Cruelty is not a religion, even when practiced diligently and with faith." The second contained simply the word "darling" in the subject box and as message bore a repeating cascade of x's and o's. The third, sent not long before Rob's morning visit, had a video attachment of the ritual slaughter of a lamb by Hindu Muslims.

Accompanying the attachment were the simple words, "There will be consequences." Kate always gave the impression of being as organized as a Filofax, and beneath whatever conversation she was able to make just then she was surely already calculating the percentages and working up a plan. As she got out of bed, that plan was already in place. In the summer heat, she slept without clothes, and the first part of her plan would have been to face Rob with the full-frontal effect of her nudity.

What was running through his mind just then as she came toward him, unafraid? What was he thinking as he looked into the eyes of the woman who had dropped him hard, grown successful and then stomped on the hurt by hooking up with the man who'd helped make her famous? In the tragedy of what followed, I think all of us were struck by the fact that no one ever talked about how much he loved her through it all; no one spoke about how deeply attached to her he was, or how he began to feel himself literally shrinking as her literary celebrity began to grow. Artists live powerfully in their own imaginations and sometimes have problems believing they actually exist.

Most likely, as she grew more concretely successful, Rob felt himself becoming ever more physically insubstantial.

Mostly likely, as he lay in his miserable Chinatown apartment day after day, hemmed in by four walls and the crash of the crazy city traffic, he felt himself leaving his own body inch by inch, dematerializing from the floor up. By this logic, he was finally driven less by the desire for vengeance than to save himself from quite literally disappearing off the earth.

Dr. Purefoy sat perfectly poised and erect in front of us. He swept his coolly compassionate gaze around the air over our heads. Sporting a deep winter tan, he was wearing a brown cashmere suit and low-slung bifocal glasses.

"Go on," he said.

"The thing is" –– ;Lucy looked at him, blinking with intensity –– ;"he has begun making efforts. But it doesn't cure the larger problem, which is that in a fundamental way, he's simply not there and hasn't been for a while."

The doctor gave a quick compassion-flex of the underside of his mouth, and nodded.

"Not there," he repeated gravely.

In the half hour or so we'd already been there, Lucy had monopolized the conversation in a fluent diagnostic aria about the state of our marriage. Her color was high, her posture was erect, and I'd soon realized that she was enjoying it; that it was fun for her.

"I thought that in a way we had both made our peace with our respective roles in the marriage. We'd buried a lot of our differences for the sake of the children. Maybe we even had an unspoken contract to let the spool run out until the kids left home and then take stock. Is that," she asked, a bit plaintively, "really so unusual?"

But Dr. Purefoy was not about to be drawn into a direct response.

"Go on," he said.

"But then what happened is, a few months ago, right around the time of Rob Castor's death, Nick seemed to enter a new phase of being distracted. I was used to it up to a point, but not this. It wasn't even gradual, Doctor. It was like the husband I'd known was body-snatched one night while I slept. In a very real way, things haven't been the same since."

I knew that Lucy had been seeing Purefoy alone for several weeks, and sitting there, I had the highly unpleasant sense that this conversation was something prearranged between the two of them in a subtle way, and that I had, in so many words, walked into a trap. Holding the doctor's measuring gaze, I said, "Excuse me, but how common is it for a therapist such as yourself to begin with a single person and then, after having worked with that person awhile, begin seeing that person's spouse in couples therapy?"

"You're questioning my methods," said Purefoy amiably, looking at me.

"No, I'm just asking."

"There is no 'just' about it, Nick," the doctor replied, his cheerful expression falling with a rapidity that was, it occurred to me, a therapeutic technique of some sort.

"You are posing a challenge to my authority to be here. Is there something in this situation you find uncomfortable? Are you perhaps threatened by the candor of this discussion?" Quietly, unobtrusively over the previous half hour, I'd been studying Dr. Purefoy. The fake gravities of the face; the stylized sympathetic shrugs of the shoulders; the way he shook his head heavily from side to side to indicate the depths, the chambered profundities of his heart –– ;I thought Purefoy was a hack. I thought he was a bad actor playing a role. In his mind, no doubt, my hostility toward him was the simple side effect of how much I had to hide. But for the most part, sitting there for a half hour had reinforced the opinion I'd formed from my experience with him ten years earlier: I didn't like the man.

I knew exactly where I was going. I cut through the woods along the trails I remembered more or less by heart, even twenty-odd years after the fact. It was high summer, and the green-leaf smell was strong. After about ten minutes, I made it to the brushy covert where Rob and I had first talked about breasts, and I had watched his foxy, sea green eyes open and close as he instructed me on the ways of the world. Dozens, maybe a hundred times total we'd gone there, and crushed the grass, and hung out in that essential enclosed space of childhood, auditioning our adult selves with each other. I stood there a long moment, remembering. Over the years, other people had found their way into our sanctuary, clearly, because there were crumpled cigarette packs, bits and pieces of old flaking food packaging, and even a rain-pulped paperback novel, its pages swollen in a rigid flower.

Off to one side, I could see the blackened remnant of a campfire. Self-consciously, laughing inwardly to myself, I touched the darkened stones, but they were cold.

At a certain point I ambled across the clearing, wondering what it was they'd taken in an evidence bag. I was standing there, musing to myself, smiling slightly and totally lost in thought, when out of the sighing, wind driven mix of forest sounds there came a strange call. Low and insistent, it came again.

I froze.

For about two years, when we were kids together, Rob had been big into birding. He'd carried field guides in a backpack, along with a pair of rubber-sheathed Leitz Trinovid binoculars, and often, a grubby life list rolled into his pocket. I enjoyed birds, but in the amateur way of someone simply relishing their designer good looks, though I did remember Rob's skill at mimicking their calls. I also remembered, years later, standing with him stoned one night in a park in Washington, D.C., deep in my unemployed pop-physics phase, and marveling at the shivering liquid notes of a particularly ambitious mockingbird.

The call came again, high, fluting on the air. It was a mournful sound, equidistant between a hoot and a bleat.

It was coming from not that far away, somewhere in the woods on the other side of the clearing. I took a careful look around myself, and saw absolutely no one. For a long time I stood there, listening to the sound, the hair stirring on the back of my neck. Then I started slowly walking toward it.

Excerpted from Now You See Him by Eli Gottlieb. Copyright © 2008 by Eli Gottlieb. Reprinted with permission by William Morrow. All rights reserved.

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