Another quick look at the Frank Nagler work in progress, this one with his wife Martha.
For a deeper look at what they mean to each other, read A GAME CALLED DEAD, the award winning second book in the series. The end is a heart-breaking scene in which the meaning of Frank Nagler love for his wife is crystalized.
The new piece:
“A staggered breeze could not shift the molasses air as the heat settled. The open windows filled with the rattling death songs of insects, born for a moment of breeding, then crushed to the welcoming soil.
Frank Nagler had left the office that afternoon in disgust. Walked away, done with the Chris Foleys and Charlie Adams of the world, done with the web of chatter that had engulfed the investigation and the city; every step was across a sticky strand that grabbed at his heels, the city ground to a dark and silent stop.
He and Martha had spent the afternoon out of the city at the lake, where white sails captured the sunlight and plumes of spray behind water skiers rainbowed the water; then dinner lakeside as the sun settled behind the green, soon darkened hills.
The effect of the treatment was evident. She was paler and at times lethargic. She had trimmed her hair.
Leonard had taken on a role as caregiver and companion. Nagler would come home on a quick break during the day to find them sitting in the backyard shade laughing, and his heart would turn, glad for Leonard’s company for Martha, but jealous of the time he could not offer.
She had settled into their bed under a thin sheet, hugging him.
“Do you remember the first time we kissed,” she asked with a grin.
He laughed and kissed her forehead. “We were like seven.”
“Right, Einstein. Outside the school after Miss Kalan had basically yelled at me for not paying attention because I was drawing doodles of your name on the math test.”
“She was angry, wasn’t she? You were her best student.” He stared at the ceiling and recalled that day. “But there you were, crying in the playground.”
“And you came over, called her a silly old bat, and kissed me.” Martha pushed up to an elbow and touched his face. “You were so embarrassed, Frank. You barely let me thank you. You stood there as stiff as a board when I hugged you. Silly boy.”
“I didn’t want you to be hurt, especially over something so silly as a math test.”
Martha smiled and giggled.
“And then the first time we Frenched. I thought you were going to fall over.”
“Yeah. We had been kissing every day we were together, Little pecks, baby smooches. I had just really loved walking home with you and holding your hand. Then, what we were eleven, and you stuck your tongue in my mouth. Man.”
“You got the hang of it pretty quickly,” she laughed and rolled back to her pillow. “Then we spent the next five years lusting after each other. I couldn’t wait to kiss you. And then I couldn’t wait for you to touch me and kiss my skin.”
“Then we stopped for six months, some stupid fight.” He leaned back and closed his eyes against that broken-hearted-teen-age pain.
“I stood outside this house staring at the light in your window. You wouldn’t take my calls. I remember standing in the doorway of that old shed across the street, trying to stay out of the rain. I would get home after midnight and my mother would just kiss my forehead silently because she saw how it all hurt.”
Martha ran a finger down his jawline.
“And then it stopped. You were across the street on a night like this, hot, miserably sticky, and I walked over, and we just fell back into each others’ arms. That was the sweetest kiss, like the first one ever. None of the others, and nothing else mattered. It wasn’t lust although I was aching for you. It was just you and me, bodies pressed together, lips soft and lightly brushing each other’s mouth. A little peck, then a long, electric kiss I didn’t want to end.”
“I was trying to figure out how much you had been hurt, so much that you wouldn’t even talk to me.” He reached over and kissed her forehead. “Trying to figure out that I’d done, because I’d had to have done something.”
She kissed his palm, and then licked it, smiling.
“Sometime distance is just distance, nothing really, a gap, that makes a wall.” She looked up and smiled softly. “We had to push through it.”
She sat on his lap and took his face in her hands. He tried to speak. “Hush,” she said. Then she kissed him for just a second or two, then again. Their lips not parting, but resting together. Then deeply; she drew a breath from him. Then she smiled.
“That’s what it was like, Frank. Just like that.” Her voice was wet. “Every one since. At the hospital at nineteen, then home in granny’s old room. Giving you want I could, taking what I wanted.” She kissed him again, and he relaxed into her embrace. “That’s what they will be like until I can no longer give you any.”
The Frank Nagler books are available at the following New Jersey libraries: