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Authors: Roberta Latow

A Rage to Live

BOOK: A Rage to Live
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A Rage to Live

Roberta Latow

Copyright © 1997 by Roberta Latow

For
Sue Fletcher

I close my eyes and see again
that body that I loved, naked
and sensual.

Memories hot and burning
as the sun
that melted my wings and
singed my soul.

The Epic of Artimadon

Chapter 1

The good-looking, unaccompanied woman walking down New Cobham’s main street was obviously a stranger, and, to judge by her big city chic – the wide, black linen trousers, sand washed black silk shirt with its dropped shoulder, balloon sleeves and collarless neck – a lady a long way from home. Or so it would appear, though in fact that was not the case at all.

Cressida Vine had strictly personal reasons for taking herself home to New Cobham, Cape Cod. It was family business, her return, a matter of looking for still greater fame and fortune than she already had, more wealth, more power. She was a woman greedy with ambition, and a mission: to transport herself from being always a stranger in a strange land to reclaiming her kingdom. Here was a woman who wore a tiara but was looking for a crown to place upon her head.

She was a woman used to the cloistered solitude of a small, staid New England town on the Massachusetts Cape. That, too, was obvious in every stride she took. There was something in the way she moved, her walk: a sureness in each step, a sensuality in the sway of the hips, how she used her shoulders and arms. Hers was a walk with a lot of living and laughter in it, provocative. The sort of walk that turned heads to take a second glance. She was not a raving beauty but something far more exciting, dangerous even. A handsome woman, tall and slender, with an intelligent face: fiercely attractive with its high cheekbones, elegant Roman nose, seductive laughter in green eyes, a luscious mouth. Everything about her seemed to emanate from a sureness of herself.

Shimmering in the sunlight, her long blonde hair moved from side to side joyously with every step she took. Here, it appeared, was a woman who understood well the other side of many worlds, a stranger looking for paradise when all the time she knew that paradise was where she was at any given moment.

It was unusually hot for mid-April on the Cape. The sun felt good, the air carried the faint scent of the ocean and the strong aroma of blossom
– apple and cherry and chestnut – and new leaves, maple and oak, needles of pine. Cressida felt incredibly happy. She wanted to fling out her arms and embrace it all. She had always known how lucky she was to be born in this place, to have grown up in New Cobham.

The tree-lined Main Street ran the length of one side of the town square: a green with a pond in it inhabited by bulrushes and ducks. Cressida remembered that later on in summer there would be clumps of bearded iris in full bloom sporadically fringing the pond. That was the first memory she had of New Cobham in her youth. But Cressida was not one to carry the baggage of the past with her; too heavy, too cumbersome to tote around when you have a rage to live in the present.

Another side of the square housed the church of spanking white clapboard, famed for its fine spire, the sound of its bell, its age and pilgrim past. Behind it stood a churchyard where all the Vines and the Brewsters and the Cabots and the other original settlers and successive generations were buried.

The First Universal Meetinghouse, another lovely period building impressive for the purity of its architecture, painted white and with its windows framed by black shutters, sat precisely on the side of the square opposite Main Street. The final side was a row of three-hundred-year-old houses built and lived in by the wealthiest of the settlers, and where their descendants still lived, except for the largest and most beautiful. The Vines had given that in trust to New Cobham as a museum when at the turn of the century they moved several miles away to a new thirty-room shingled house between Portnimicut Road and the Atlantic Ocean.

There were few people in town the afternoon that Cressida Vine returned to New Cobham, but those she passed on the street were given a smile and a crisp but charming ‘Good morning’ by her.

She received a ‘Mornin” from the postman. Mrs Nickerson and her daughter, a woman of about Cressida’s age, responded with a hint of a smile, a nod of their heads.

Few strangers turned off Route 6, the main road down the Cape to its tip and Provincetown, to visit New Cobham. No reason to. The town was devoid of all tourist life, night-time or daytime. Strangers were usually someone’s house guest, or some quiet traveller staying at the New Cobham Inn. And very few women who looked like Cressida Vine were guests at the inn.

Sam Peabody’s response to her was a second glance that did not go unnoticed by the two Nickerson women. ‘Good morning, Sam,’ said Martha, a sharpness in her tone.

‘Morning, Martha, Evelyn.’ The three stood on the pavement watching Cressida window shopping. ‘That young woman reminds
me of someone. The walk, I think. There’s something proprietary in that walk.’

‘I would have said confident, Mother,’ added Evelyn Hare, Mrs Nickerson’s daughter.

‘No, dear, confident is one thing, proprietary is another. This young woman walks as if she owns the very ground she walks on, the whole world. What’s she doing here in New Cobham? You don’t know who she is, do you, Sam?’ asked Martha Nickerson.

‘Not a clue.’

‘Too bad. She’s left me with an itch, a curiosity. I sense she does that to a lot of people. Well, never mind an old lady’s nosiness.’ Martha Nickerson laughed good-naturedly at herself, and told the doctor, ‘See you at the country club tonight, Sam.’ She knew he would be there. No member missed the Spring Dinner Dance, the very first social event of the season. Was that why that attractive woman in black was in New Cobham? Martha Nickerson slipped her arm through her daughter’s and together they walked down a side street to the butcher’s shop, having put the stranger firmly out of their mind.

Cressida walked into Jane Alden’s ice cream parlour and ordered a maple walnut ice cream sundae. It arrived in a tall tulip-shaped pedestalled glass: scoops of vanilla ice cream with rivulets of maple syrup streaming over them, and topped with a copious swirl of whipped cream frosted with crushed walnuts and a bright, shiny maraschino cherry. It amused Cressida to be sitting in Jane Alden’s. It had hardly changed. The world had, considerably, but not the parlour, nor the ice cream delight. The mere sight of it brought a smile to her lips. She tried to suppress laughter. How strange that an ice cream should be, in some abstract way, a symbol of her success. Cressida had come down a long hard road to taste the Jane Alden Special again. The attempt to compose herself didn’t work. She raised her chin, ever so slightly, and a smile broke across her face to be followed by a burst of throaty laughter, one of her more endearing mannerisms. Having an ice cream again in Jane Alden’s. She hadn’t felt so young, so carefree, in a very long time.

At another table, the only other one to be occupied, two pretty teenagers dressed in jeans and cotton shirts kept stealing glances at Cressida; small town girls seeing her as a glamorous stranger, someone exciting from the big city. It was very odd for Cressida to see that in their faces and yet to feel nothing of the sort herself. Quite the contrary. From the moment the four-seater Cessna had landed several miles away and she had stepped into the taxi that had brought her to New Cobham, she had felt nothing but a sense of belonging, of having returned home after a very long journey.
To begin with – how thrilling. A change of place, a change of life. And somewhere where she had always wanted to be.

Cressida looked at her watch and rose from the table, smiling at the girls who seemed quite awe-struck at having been acknowledged by the stranger. She walked to the service counter, reached into her trouser pocket and withdrew some folded bills, presenting one to the waitress.

‘Everything to your liking, ma’am?’

‘Delicious, so delicious. I wonder why you’re not swamped for ice cream on a day like this?’

‘The after school crowd has been and gone, and most of our regulars, well, they never come in when they’re going to the country club dinner dance.’

The country club. She’d forgotten all about the country club. Her grandfather had been one of the founding members, had actually designed it, and Byron, her father, its worst golfer. An inverted snob, Byron Vine had been incredibly pleased to hold that distinction. What fun to go to the dance. Would she recognise anyone? Twenty-one years is a long time. Would anyone recognise her? She did after all leave New Cobham a plain though precocious, moony-in-love, mischievous adolescent with a certain sexual charisma that boys liked and girlfriends envied.

‘Tonight?’ she asked.

‘My name’s Tracy and this is Shirley,’ the waitress offered with a smile. ‘Yeah, the first of the season,’ she said.

‘Great,’ offered Cressida. ‘Could I possibly use your telephone, girls?’

The two waitresses looked at each other. Phone calls were evidently out of bounds to customers but not, it seemed, to Cressida. Somewhere in the look that passed between the two girls a joint decision to break the rules was made and Tracy placed the telephone on the counter top and shoved it towards Cressida. ‘Not supposed to, but OK, just this time,’ Cressida was told by Shirley. Then both girls retreated, but not out of hearing distance.

On the pavement again, Cressida turned to wave to Tracy and Shirley through Jane Alden’s window, only to see the two teenagers rush from their table to join them, gossip-guilt on their faces. Cressida applauded the inquisitiveness, the lack of inhibition of the young, with a smile and a wave. The four waved back and chatter commenced.

Cinderella, you
shall
go to the ball. But not without a dress, Cressida, not without a dress. She walked rather more swiftly down Main Street now and turned into Great Oak Lane. How perfect. It was still there, just off the corner: Josephine Smith’s. Cressida stood for several
minutes in front of the dress shop. The one that had clothed her mother and every New Cobham lady who dressed in Paris, New York, or London couture. The wealthy travelling New England women who gave Bonwit’s in Boston, and Bergdorf’s and Saks in New York, a miss because no one could compete with Mr Smith’s taste and his ability to turn out the best dressed women. He and his elderly mother had parcelled out clothes to Cressida at Byron’s request all through her finishing school and Yale University years.

Did he still go to Paris for the collections twice a year? wondered Cressida. Was he even still alive to dress New Cobham’s elite? The shop remained frightfully elegant, as chic as any she had seen anywhere, with its small mahogany bay window of panned glass, the grey velvet covering on the raised display floor, the three-foot-high polished screen of mahogany closing off the window from the shop’s interior. The same subtlety that had been drawing custom from up and down the cape and the islands – Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket – for generations. The shop windows on either side of the black lacquered door displayed nothing more than a large cut glass bottle of Dior perfume, an Hermès handbag, a glamorously draped Yves Saint Laurent scarf. Teasers to tempt the discerning clientele.

Cressida pushed the door open and the scent of Diorissimo and cedar, the lining inside the mahogany-fronted wardrobes fitted against the shop walls, enveloped her. There was not a garment in sight – her second memory flash from the past, the familiar. It made her smile. The man looked like Mr Smith but much younger. His son? Whoever he was, he rose from the small mahogany desk where he had been sitting reading the
International Herald Tribune
, folded it neatly as he rose from his chair, and placed it on the desk.

‘May I help you?’ he asked, his manner polite and pleasant.

‘Mr Smith?’ she enquired.

‘Yes.’

‘Junior, obviously. I knew your father and this shop a very long time ago.’

Mr Smith walked around the desk to offer his hand. ‘Then welcome back to us,’ he told her, his smile indeed welcoming.

A tall, plump, pleasant-looking man in his mid-forties, he had a twinkle of kindness in his eyes, a quiet charm, a certain elegance, and was impressively clothed in a light grey Armani double-breasted suit.

The two shook hands. Someone entered the salon from the rear of the shop. The middle-aged and smartly dressed woman asked, ‘Is it something special you are looking for, Madam?’

‘Yes, something to wear to the country club dance this evening.’

‘Oh my,’ said the woman, seeming very concerned. ‘You’ve left it a bit late.’

Mr Smith looked at the saleswoman reprovingly. ‘For extensive alterations maybe, Carrie, but I think we might make a good attempt at pleasing an old customer. It is Cressida Vine, is it not?’ he asked her.

There was something very continental in the way he spoke, possibly a little old-fashioned. No, not that. She realised he had been educated in England, at a guess Cambridge, and had probably studied in Paris as well. She was therefore not surprised when he broke into perfect Parisian French to his assistant, suggesting several frocks she might bring out to show madam.

When he turned back to Cressida, she told him, ‘Yes, I am Cressida Vine.’ And then asked, ‘How did you know?’

‘That
Vogue
interview on you and the retrospective of your work at the Museum of Modern Art last year.’ He ushered her to an antique cane-backed settee and they sat down together next to one another. ‘Can I offer you a cup of coffee? A glass of white wine?’

‘Coffee, I think, black no sugar.’

‘It’s a very long time since we’ve seen you in New Cobham. When your father was here in residence I would, on occasion, play chess with him. He often spoke of you and your travels together.’ Archie Smith did not miss the look of surprise on Cressida’s face. He sensed an explanation was wanted. ‘I had once been a philosophy student of his when he was teaching at Cambridge. He was always very kind to me though he thought me dull, unable to be free enough to live in the brave new world he preached. Enough of all that. It’s a delight to see how that gangly, flirtatious tomboy, the leader of the laughter and fun pack, has turned out.’ He began to laugh.

‘I suppose I was a bit of a wild thing,’ she told him with a smile of her own.

‘The despair of many a New Cobham matron trying to hang on to their sons. The frustration of many a young boy, even five and six and seven years older than you. Some of my very own friends were smitten. You always did promise much.’

BOOK: A Rage to Live
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