LAINIE SMITH MORRIS:
Ethereal, elegant, talented. She is an artist on the fringe of the New York art scene, the mother of four children, Tom, Matilde, Claire and Jack, and the wife of Charles, a successful surgeon. Lainie loves life in the city and summers in Cape May. She is stricken when she gives it up so she and the children can follow Charles to a suburban life for his career move.
Excerpt – Part 1
The selkies are sea creatures, half woman, half seal. They wiggle out of their seal skins on the rocks to lie in the weak winter sun. One fisherman watched with his binoculars from his fishing boat and waited.
He loved the prettiest one!” Claire interrupts.
“That’s right, darling girl,” I say.
Jack sticks out his tongue. “Who cares about some stupid sealy lady?” he shouts.
I stop the story. “Jack, please sit down.”
Jack returns to the couch beside Tom, his big brother, who is on his iPad. Jack yawns and props his eyes open wide with his fingers. “Boring, Mom!”
“More! More!” Claire screams. She jumps off the chair and starts dancing around the den, waving her hands like flippers in her crazy water dance on land. “More!” she screeches.
Matilde, my solemn child, interrupts, “Mom, are you a selkie?”
I laugh and look out the den window that faces west. It is too dark to see anything. “No, darling girl, I’m not a selkie.”
“But you love the water and you swim every day. When we go to Cape May you lie on the jetties just like the selkies. You never answer us when you’re on the beach . . . it’s like you’re not even there. . . . Remember last February when—”
“Matilde, I am not a selkie.”
“Mommy,” Claire cries, “the sealy skin! The fisherman! Finish the story.”
Perhaps Charles is right and I ought to quit this tale. It isn’t Cinderella or Snow White; there is no prince with whom to live happily ever after.
“Mom?” Matilde is waiting.
“Okay . . . well . . . the beach is empty in December when the fisherman sees his chance. He sneaks up near the rocks and comes close to the prettiest selkie.”
“He takes her skin, Mommy! The man takes her seal skin!” Claire begins to sob as she always does at this part in the story.
“That’s true, Claire darling. The man takes her seal skin while she is in the icy sea. When she comes back to the shoreline, frantic to find her sealy coat, he is holding it in his hands. He tells her she has no choice but to go with him, without her coat she will drown. But he promises to love her forever, that they will marry and have a family. That’s the deal.” The “forever” part gets to me.
“And she marries him!” yelps Claire. She begins to dance again. “She marries him and they have babies!” Claire is the cheerful one; she bounces from one side of the room to the other. She passes Tom and Jack, who watch her as if she were an alien creature. I wonder if Jack and Claire will ever share a thought, an interest. Fraternal twins are not a matched pair.
“Until one day . . .” I look up. “Jack, are you listening?”
Jack covers his ears. “I don’t care about seals and babies. It’s gross!”
“A dull story for the boys,” says Charles. He is in the doorway, appearing out of nowhere, as usual. He is so stealthy, Charles, more burglar than surgeon.
The children race to him and grab at his arms and hands, his legs, anything that is their father. Except Matilde, who stays close to me.
“Lainie, how about another story? Something more realistic? You could read to them from Tom Sawyer.”
Matilde leans in toward my ear. “I know why you like the story. I know you’re a selkie. I saw your sealy skin.”
Stunning, stylish, chic. Jess is the wife of William, the CEO of the hospital where Charles takes a new position, and mother to two children, Liza and Billy. She is socially ambitious, popular and well respected in the community. Jess presents herself to Lainie as her rediscovered friend with a flair for suburban life. But with Jess there is always another motive.
Excerpt – Part 2
Just my luck, a newbie at the front desk and Stacy is taking her own sweet time registering her. Why this transaction, which is more the Stacy Power Show than anything else, has to affect me is beyond my belief.
“ Is it possible to get a locker and to leave my things here?” the newbie asks, holding a gym bag that appears dreadfully dense—possibly loaded down with a blow dryer, soap—filched from five-star hotel bathrooms—John Frieda shampoo, and two accompanying conditioners, Nivea—the extra-rich version—and La Mer for her face. A brew of immaculate and high maintenance. She shifts her weight and the gym bag thuds to the floor. Beyond the desk, by the snack bar, sits a bevy of young mothers who have purposely arrived early for their toddlers’ ten o’clock swim class. They chat it up—the complexity of motherhood is riveting and perhaps unique to them.
I turn back to the raven-haired woman and her narrow body, the profile people always thought was the result of a plastic surgeon. Without having this glimpse or having heard her voice, I’d know her anywhere. The high pitch, the slightly pleasing tone, the confidence. Lainie. A wave of nausea ripples through me. There she is, standing in front of me, and as usual, doesn’t notice that I’m here. What the hell is she doing in Elliot? For twelve years I’ve built it into my turf. My husband is a big man in town, my soirees are the coveted invitation. Lainie the righteous, Lainie the beautiful, whose mere actuality trumps the rest of us.
“No, not right now.” Stacy, with her downturned mouth and weak chin, is and always will be behind the desk. Her eyes fall upon Lainie and her bulky gym bag. “I can put you on the waiting list for a permanent locker.”
Stacy will do nothing of the sort. Who acclimates to such abuse but the locals? No surprise that transplanted New Yorkers fall into a quick and deep depression when they relocate. Voilà, the latest of the batch. Lainie. The one who constantly wins while feigning she isn’t in the game. I would leave immediately and get my swim in at noon if I could work it into my day. Besides, why should I move aside for her—those days are long gone. I watch anyway, mesmerized as Lainie is handed a small key while Stacy files her check away in the drawer and gives her a membership card, handwritten, not computerized.
I flash my own card and walk on Lainie’s heels into the locker room, which has the aroma of clean soap and Lysol. An unfriendly locker room that is more sterile than the one she left behind in the city. How I know without exchanging a word, let alone a glance, is easy. When you’re married to William and ensconced in Elliot, you’ve seen everything. New York women expecting the same level as the Y buddies they left behind. That would be the camaraderie of women, young, middle-aged, old, rich, and poor, those who complain constantly, others who give unsolicited advice on any topic. It comes back to me, that kind of mix that is not possible in Elliot, the crème de la crème capital of New Jersey. Lainie takes small key to locker 74 and begins to strip out of her black Theory pants, white button-down shirt, and jean jacket into a Speedo swimsuit.
Odd how she hasn’t so much as glanced in my direction. Is she kidding?