Novel Excerpt: The Woman In the Taxi
Four million dollars.
The number floated through my mind, drowning out the pounding notes of Chopin that filled my ears while I ran. The number woke me every morning. It skittered across my computer screen in ghost letters when I was at work. It had hugged my brain during most of the fourteen-hour flight home from visiting Tess in Australia.
I’d never put a number around my desire to have a life of freedom, a life that wasn’t handicapped by thoughts of what I could and could not afford. I’d never constructed a budget around the vague image forming in my mind of the beautiful home I wanted to own someday. Someday.
How could I? So far, I had no idea where this marvelous home that would satisfy me for decades might be located. I loved Sydney with its laid back culture and semi-tropical atmosphere. I was growing quite connected to the energy of New York City, and I couldn’t forget the nearly constant mild weather of Southern California or the fog and funkiness of San Francisco. But there’s also a rather large world with thousands of cities I hadn’t even visited.
Occasionally, I wondered whether a solid location was what I truly wanted. Maybe I liked moving around, experiencing different people and a variety of scenery. Maybe I didn’t really want to own a house or an apartment or a secluded piece of property. Maybe I didn’t want responsibility. Or maybe, I was still figuring it out.
I liked my current job more than any I’d had before. It was fun taking photographs. I was thrilled by the challenge of capturing people when they weren’t posing. I liked hearing Diana’s analysis of their micro-expressions, and I liked listening to Trystan sell our clients on a better version of themselves.
But I did not like going into an office. I did not like meetings unless they involved fantastic food, and I did not like sitting behind a computer.
So what did I want?
And what was the number? Four million dollars was a lot of money. Was it enough to do everything I wanted? I thought it might be. But eight million would make me feel even more comfortable. Would ten million mean I never had to think about money again? Or was more required? The next time I flew to visit Tess, did I want to feel like a rabbit stuffed inside a magician’s hat, or did I want to spread out my limbs in a first-class seat that turned into a real bed?
It used to be said that a woman could never be too thin or too rich.
Obviously, a woman can absolutely be too thin. It’s a horrifying ideal—pushing women to decline dessert and eat un-dressed greens while men savor herbs and spices softened by oil, taste chocolate and whipped cream and a hundred other sweet and savory flavors. That kind of thinking has pushed too many women beyond the effort of restricting themselves to an apple and yogurt, into degrading, punishing habits. The drive to be too thin actually distorts the chemistry of some women’s brains until they look at a mirror and see a woman with too much flesh, when everyone else sees nothing but tendons and bones, forcing them to turn away from the horror of it.
But too rich? I don’t think so.
Four million dollars was the amount of money coming to Eileen Cook from the estate of her former fiancé and tormenter—Jim Kohn.
Eileen was still shocked by the acknowledgment in his will and equally excited and uncertain about how she was going to revise her life based on an amount of money she’d never dreamed of possessing.
I wasn’t jealous. Jealousy isn’t in my DNA. I’m focused on getting what I want, not fixated on what other people have. I don’t possess many common feelings—jealousy, sentimentality, self-doubt.
And the last possible way I ever wanted to acquire money was by having a man give it to me.
Eileen had no idea why the money had come to her, but she wasn’t going to let it stop her from enjoying what it offered. She and I agreed it was some kind of expiation for what he’d done to her psyche with his humiliating photographs. But if he had enough respect to regret it later, why had he done it to begin with? Why hadn’t he begged forgiveness from her while he was alive? What made him break off their engagement and then hand over a large check from beyond the grave without explanation?
The answers to those questions died with him.
I didn’t want money the way she’d gotten money—a handout from a guilty man. I had no desire to share in her good fortune. But there was no doubt in my mind, I wanted money, and if that was going to happen, I needed to give it more focused attention than just a dreamy desire for some undefined pathway to my future.
Killing people who deserve to die had taken precedence in my life. To a large extent, it dictated who I associated with and where I lived. In some ways, it had taken over my life entirely.
I wasn’t sure I was happy with that. At the same time, I was fairly confident it wouldn’t stop. Not as long as I had a strong, healthy body capable of getting the upper hand, and a steady mind that wouldn’t let go of trying to bring a bit of balance into the world, evening the score for women I hardly knew.