“Everyone’s trying to live the same life and no one is doing it very well.” – Carlton Erskine
Patrick couldn’t get to sleep the first night in his new house. He lay next to Julia in their richly decorated bedroom, with its green, salmon and yellow fabrics, a French day bed and cushioned window seat, stylish duvet and an Edward Hopper lithograph of New York City over the chest of drawers. She breathed steadily beside him.
A large bank of restored leaded glass windows overlooked the pool to the west with another bank looking across the street to the country club and the row of sleeping room windows on the second floor that had been his weekday home.
Being in bed with Julia felt like a sleepover, as though they had decided living together wasn’t all it was held out to be, simply not for everyone. For six years they had only shared a bed and benefits on weekends when he traveled home to New York. A commuter marriage. He had never known any other way his entire married life with children.
During his work week in Cincinnati, a manageable sized city that he loved, Patrick lived as a childless bachelor, now nearly running his mother-in-law’s family’s medical products company, a business which had grown quite large under his father-in-law’s direction.
This was a lifestyle he had never had to get unused to and as a result, mostly unnoticed by him, he had grown much more fond of his absentee life than he’d ever thought to understand.
Now, the bed felt crowded, and he was claustrophobic. He wished that Julia had remained in New York. Her mother, Grace Applebaum, from whose family wealth their lifestyle derived, had insisted Julia come back to Cincinnati to take a company board seat.
Patrick thought he would relish Julia’s move, want more of it. But there was suddenly too much of her, and now the children would be too often heard and seen. The full-time togetherness that had appealed as a dream or as a once far off ambition was blighted up close.
Patrick thought often of his grandfather, and that era of men who would have lived in this very house when it was first built in the 1920s, with nannies and staff to look after the children, who would be presented for visits during the day, then be swept away. His father-in-law had lived an updated version of this same life.
That life was a Turner Classic movie in black and white. The life he wanted was lived in scenes of Julia’s favorite painters from her work at Christies: Sargent, Whistler and Twachtman. Patrick always assumed he would have children. It’s what you did. He’d never given much thought, though, to being a full-time father.
Patrick sat up, careful not to disturb the covers, and looked over toward the clubhouse. The night desk attendant would have gone home by now, 11:30. The night guard would be patrolling the grounds, going in and out of buildings, checking locks. Any grand party that had taken place in the main rooms was concluded by now. The clubhouse was shut up, whether or not there were guests in the sleeping rooms. But he had a key to the building, as well as a key to 2-11.
Julia was a solid sleeper. He would tell her he had insomnia and went to the club for an early workout, then bring her a cup of the club’s excellent coffee as a peace offering.
He quietly pulled out workout clothes and dressed in the bathroom, then stole out the mud room door onto the driveway apron. He slipped down the drive to cross the empty street and walk up the main road to the clubhouse, where he immediately felt a sense of calm and peace. He was back on his campus, and felt entirely alone in this carefully tended world.
He let himself in a side door only he and the staff knew about—he was very friendly with them all, almost like he was one of them—then mounted the front staircase to the second floor. If rooms were occupied, and they were often as not empty, a name card was placed on a placard on the door. There were none.
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