Today's Reading

With Carrie elated and Alice quieted, but my body still pumping with adrenaline and my boys still screaming, we made our way to 820 Fifth Avenue.

Our doorman, Sam, a transplant from the Dominican Republic, rushed over to us and took our bags, ignoring the food glop oozing out of mine. He reached for Gerrit, who took his hand without even considering biting it. Sam slipped Gerrit and Alice candy wrapped in yellow cellophane and led us all toward the beige awning of our limestone building. Even if you were drunk and disorderly and tumbling out of a taxi, Sam would dote on you. He treated all residents of 820 as if they'd just stepped out of a brushed-up Bentley.

"Are you all right, Mrs. Edgeworth, Mrs. Kirkland?" Sam asked. "Can you believe that hail? I thought the sky was falling."

"Oh, we're all right," Carrie said brightly. She and Alice were all smiles now that they could see the luxurious building they called home. Alice may have been only two, but she already seemed to sense the transformative power of money.

"I've been better," I murmured, and thanked Sam for taking Gerrit in hand.

Sam walked us through the lobby and whisked us into the elevator, where he chatted with Ronald, the elevator man. Like Sam, Ronald's black hair was perfectly slicked back, with a maroon cap perched on top. When the elevator dinged, Sam stepped out to accompany each of us to our apartments—Carrie first, as she lived on the fourth floor. In 820, there were only twelve apartments, ten of them full-floor sprawls. "Tomorrow, let's just go to the zoo across the street," Carrie said with a grin as she stepped out.

"I may never go to Central Park again," I said dryly.

Carrie laughed, evidently sure that I was kidding. She tossed her red hair, patted the baby on the head, and gave me a kiss on the cheek before the door slid shut. Ronald pushed the button and we shot up to our private world on the seventh floor.

"Sam, I can't thank you enough," I said as he put my bag down on the kitchen counter and helped take off Gerrit's coat while I kept rocking the whimpering baby. "I am not made of the same stock as Carrie," I admitted. "I was about to give up."

"No," Sam said, smiling. "I don't believe it. You're different from Mrs. Kirkland, but you're not the type to throw in the towel. And I'm happy to help. Anytime." He slipped Gerrit another piece of candy. I should have protested, a vision of Gerrit with one wobbly yellow tooth and a mouth full of gray gums flashing through my mind, but I was too tired. And I liked Sam too much to ever embarrass him.

Instead, I walked over to my handbag, found my wallet, and handed Sam a few dollars, which he protested, I insisted upon, and he finally tucked into the pocket of his gray wool pants.

"See? You never give up," said Sam, smiling and inching toward the elevator.

"Repaying someone for their kindness is a lot easier than being hailed on while holding a baby," I said.

He pushed the button, then turned to look at me again, his dark skin seeming to glow in the late afternoon sunlight, which was finally winning out over the clouds. "In this city, you'd be surprised."

I nodded as Sam stepped into the elevator.

Exhausted, I put the baby on the floor and leaned against the counter for a minute, trying to find my strength. I closed my eyes until I felt small hands pawing at my legs, then opened them again and picked up both children. I bathed us, fed us, dried tears, changed diapers, kissed bumped knees, scolded Gerrit, apologized for scolding Gerrit, dried more tears, and then let the boys watch hours of television—The Funny Bunny, The Adventures of Danny Dee, the evening news—before they fell asleep on top of me, a pile of puppies on my marital bed. The same was certainly not happening three floors down. Carrie was always playing educational games with Alice. Flash cards with Impressionist paintings, Greek poetry, Polynesian fruit. And she had her housekeeper, Mrs. Flores, to help her. She had certainly not made baked chicken with shaking hands, tears mixing into the marinade, muscles exhausted from carrying a baby for nearly an hour.

I extracted my body from the pile and looked at the time. It was ten o'clock, and my bed was as it usually was, minus one husband. Tom Edgeworth. Chief of pediatric surgery at Lenox Hill. The nature of his work—surgeries were usually scheduled, after all—should have allowed him to make it home for dinner with his wife and children, but Tom Edgeworth was not choosing steak, potatoes, or family. He was choosing the hospital. It had run in operating debt for years, never saying no to the sick who could not pay, but it could no longer survive that way. They wanted to add an intensive care unit, and Tom wanted to be able to admit children to the intensive care unit. He wanted to help raise money for the hospital. And one day, he wanted to lead the whole place. So every night, his dinner was made and put into the refrigerator, not consumed until midnight.

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