Benjamin Theodore Silver wasn’t the youngest runner at the track, not by thirty years, but he was a quietly humming machine with a rare grace that turned your head: long legs, fluid movement, a stride that spoke of confidence. Most men his age galumphed around the track—oxen, winded, and hairy. If you passed them, you heard them gasp like a pair of old bellows as they cursed their knees. Ben ran without sound effects, a dancer, barely sweating. His hair was well-cut and graying at the sideburns; his jaw, still strong. Ten years ago, someone once said he resembled a young Jeremy Irons. He liked that.
Today Ben was wearing broken-in shoes and plain black running clothes. He was opposed to logos, although he made an exception for Apple. Ben looked open and approachable, a man you’d cast in a Cialis commercial even if he needed no such drug in real life—or, according to his doctor, statins. Ben Silver took sweet pride in his cholesterol number.
He was a guy who knew a little about a lot. If you were a stranger who sat next to him on a flight to, say, New Zealand, where he traveled last year with his family, his conversation wouldn’t be too frequent, too dull, or too lengthy. You’d chat about whatever sport was in season, the latest rumble in the Middle East, the play he saw and no one else knew about that would be sold out in three weeks, about where to buy leather in Milan, and whether or not you should drink barrel-aged bourbon with oysters. Then he’d bury his head in a biography or a civil war history. The year he and Georgia married, he was the best man in six other weddings. Today he was the emergency contact on nine phones, not just Georgia’s and the family-plan phones he covered for Nicola and Louisa, daughters on whom he doted as much as Rhett worshipped Bonnie Blue.
Most people didn’t begrudge Ben Silver his enviable life—the law practice, the apartment on Central Park South, the house at the beach, the club memberships, even the urban hedonist’s wardrobe of suits and electronics. He had a lot, but not so much that you felt disgust for an avaricious nature, which wasn’t the first trait, or even the eighth or ninth, that came to mind when you got to know Ben—to the degree that was possible. He worked hard for his money, some of which he donated to obscure microfinance programs and worthy candidates’ campaigns. He was a solid A-minus/B-plus attorney practicing independently—corporate, criminal, matrimonial law. Ben had degrees behind him, educated at Brown on a scholarship rounded out by tending bar at a Providence saloon beloved by the pols, after which a state senator pulled strings to get him into Columbia School of Law, where he graduated with honors. Ben seemed like the last man in the world who’d ever need to cheat at poker, or anything else.
Other men loved Ben, with the exception of Georgia’s brother, Stephan Waltz. He had his suspicions, which Ben reciprocated. Dogs loved Ben. Cats? Not so much, but women especially loved Ben, and the woman who loved him the most was his wife. Georgia Waltz clung to her maiden name as some women do to the hairstyle they wore at the time of their beauty’s peak. Georgia was just fifty and adverse to needles and scalpels, so there was the faintest, softest droop to her face, which hung on fine trestlework. Over the years, at least one close friend had brought a picture of Georgia’s genetically sculpted nose to their surgeon, saying, “I want what she’s got.” In Georgia’s battle for that comely face and a tiny butt, her face was winning, and this upped her appeal. Women like a woman who has at least as much padding as they do.
Georgia hadn’t gone aggressively blonde. Her hair was the color of clover honey, almost the brown of years ago. Ben was tall; Georgia was tall enough. A nearsighted nurse once recorded her height at five foot five. Ever after, Georgia respected this error and exaggerated by three-fourths of an inch. That was all she lied about, and this quality attracted people whom, after scrutiny, she’d allow one by one past her velvet rope. Georgia had countless acquaintances and admirers—more than she knew—gathered from heading up school and volunteer committees and years as a docent at the Met. She had buddies from her gym, and women friends with whom she took current affairs classes at NYU and Italian at the New School. Of course, there was an obligatory book club. But the role of First Friend was reserved for Ben, who took greedy pride in the honor. His understudy was Daniel Russianoff, the partner of Georgia’s brother, Stephan.
The New York City marathon was on Sunday, three days from now. For Ben, a Philadelphia native, this would be the first in his adopted hometown, though he’d run the twenty-six-mile endurance test in Boston, Chicago, and, most memorably, Honolulu. For next year, he was flipping a coin between Amsterdam and London. Running emptied his soul of the trivial. As soon as he started, he felt an internal engine turn over, and solutions to problems appeared in boldface, anxiety sluiced away.
Today was one of Ben’s favorite times of the year to run—to be alive, damnit— because by now the international runners had gathered in Central Park for warm-up sprints. The sun cast a copper glint and the November air hummed with Japanese, Italian, French, Swedish, and tongues that Ben couldn’t identify. They blended in a universal language of goodwill: in this gathering of outsize fitness, nothing bad could happen.
Yet, something did. Ben had finished the third of what he had planned to be four laps around the reservoir, a well-groomed path jogged, back in the day, by Jackie O. He had passed the sign bearing her name, pacing himself behind a round-rumped redhead whose ponytail bounced with every footfall. As he ran by the steps of Engineer’s Gate he started to pant. His first emotion was embarrassment. Unless he was having sex, Ben never panted. Was he pushing too hard? He hadn’t planned on getting old.
He slowed a bit, and then considerably, letting runners from a Korean team pass. By the time he’d reached the north side of the path, he halted and swiveled to take in the midtown skyline and catch his breath. In the haze, the fountain, equidistant between east and west, looked a mile away.
That’s when a blistering pain crept from his chest like a hot poker heading for his neck. Ben grabbed his left shoulder and started to crumple. When he opened his eyes, two of the Koreans hovered above him. One looked as if he could be his daughter Nicola’s twin brother. He thought of the day he and Georgia met their Mi Cha, whom they renamed for his mother. His mind bounced to Louisa coming home a year later, how full and happy he and Georgia were in that Mount Sinai delivery room. He pictured his wife, a beauty at twenty and a beauty now. My God, Ben thought, I am a lucky man, albeit one who at this moment is having one helluva panic attack.
He was beyond mortified, skidding toward terrified. The sun was in his eyes and as he shut them, he heard, “Appelez un auxilliaire médical!” He damn well hoped that meant, “Call a paramedic.”
But who would call her? He reached into his pocket. There was his iPhone, but his smaller phone was missing, most likely gone flying when he fell, probably resting now among the weeds beyond the iron fence or sunk to the bottom of the reservoir.
A minute passed, or it could have been ten. A gurney arrived. The Frenchman and the Koreans stepped aside for the husky, red-blooded American EMTs, full of kindness and McDonald’s. They loaded him fast but gently, taking his pulse, asking questions he was too out of it to answer.
His last thought was of how she looked in Hawaii. Like a woman half her age . . .
The Widow Waltz