As promised, here's the (short) first chapter of EULOGY. And yes, I'm a firm adherent of the Oxford comma. Enjoy. Ridicule. Comments welcome. It's a free web.
Nina had an ingénue's instinct for make-up, lighting, and blocking. She knew how to stand, to angle her head, to drape her hair just so, to shade her damaged features for best effect. More than once I had come upon her lurking in front of a mirror—in our apartment of many mirrors, framed and bare, among the paintings and photographs and playbills—in various lights, cocking her head first left then right, swiveling her shoulders, mussing her hair. "Don't sneak up on me," she would snap, stiffening though not averting her gaze, pretending to adjust the frame, or swiping at a speck on the glassy surface.
Now we were facing off, Nina and I, in a still, daring silence. Even the dust motes in the apartment's first faint sunbeams seemed suspended in the air between us. Her face bared toward me, her limpid green eyes, sometime springs of dancing light, muddied with anger—or hate or hurt, I could never tell.
"You don't touch me anymore," she said, breaths bittered by sleep and coffee. Her stare never wavered, her eyes having forgotten how once they would flit back and forth, searching out each of mine in turn as if they were afraid my gaze might wander, and with it my affections.
Without looking away, I looped and tucked my tie in one deft motion. "I've hardly slept." The front of my head, the backs of my eyes, pounded. I buttoned down the collar flaps on my shirt and slid up the knot of my tie. "Besides you’ve been so busy with your play."
"You can go now, if you want." Her left hand flew up as though she were swatting at the hum of a gnat or, more likely, wiping me from her sight. A faint pinch of skin in the corner of her better eye, an arched eyebrow—sarcasm—flickered across her face.
Go where? To work? Away? And then, with the electronic chirping of the phone, the moment evaporated, her words still bristling in the morning air. I started, she perhaps for an instant sniffing triumph by virtue of flinch.
"Joshua? Son?" My father's voice, frailer than I remembered, more tentative, crept through the wires: my mother had been taken to the hospital. Then allowed to return home. There was no hope. "That's not what she wants," he said. "She wants to be here at home." He hated to bother me, he said, but would I possibly care to see her this one last time?
"I think I can get away today," I said. "I'll have my secretary call you with the flight."
"Nina, I have to go. It's Mother." I stared down at the phone. "She's dying."
"It's just like her to pull a stunt like this." I felt the sting in her voice, her eyes lasering precise holes in the back of my neck.
"What'd you say?" Not sure I was meant to hear her. Then sure.
"What about Saturday night?" her exasperation growing.
"There's never a good time," I said. "For death, I mean. I haven't seen them in like ten years, since the wedding. Dad thinks this will be my only chance to say goodbye. I need to go. I owe them that. But I'll be back in time. I promise."
"As if this weekend weren't bad enough already," she said. She turned and hunched her back, her head down, clasping her arms across her breast as if to shield something vital.
"Like I have the time for this," I muttered, whipping my jacket through my arms and over my head. "I've got that damned hearing tomorrow afternoon, too. Look, I'll get the earliest flight I can this morning, go down and get this over with, say my goodbyes or whatever, and be back tomorrow first thing. It’s no big thing." I stepped across the space that separated us, caressed her shoulders, and kissed the crown of her head. Her body was still soft and warm with sleep. I wanted more. "This isn't over yet." It was a question.
She turned and seemed to nod, sliding back a strand of liquid black hair to unveil the puckered, discolored skin that was the left side of her face. She looked up only as far as my chin. "Do what you have to," she said, patting the lapels of my jacket, then collapsed against my shoulder.
It wasn't. Yet.
More later. Or not.