He shuffled the advertising proofs together and returned them to the folder they had arrived in. At home tonight he would reconsider them and he would hear a second opinion, h e realized probably a strong one from Margot. Margot.
The thought of her melded with the memory of Ben Rosselli's disclosure yesterday. What had been said then was a reminder to Alex of life's fragility, the brevity of time remaining, the inevitability of endings, a pointer to the unexpected always close at hand. He had been moved and saddened for Ben himself; but also, without intending to, the old man had revived once more an oft-recurring question: Should Alex make a fresh life for himself and Margot? Or should he wait? And wait for what? For Celia?
That question, too, he had asked himself a thousand times.
Alex looked out across the city toward where he knew Celia to be. He wondered what she was doing, how she was. There was a simple way to find out.
He returned to his desk and dialed a number which he knew by heart. A woman's voice answered, "Remedial Center."
He identified himself and said, "I'd like to talk with Dr. McCartney."
After a moment or two a male voice, quietly firm, inquired, "Where are you, Alex?'
"In my office. I was sitting here wondering about my wife."
"I asked because I intended to can you today and suggest you come in to visit Celia."
"The last time we talked you said you didn't want me to."
The psychiatrist corrected him gently. "I said I thought any more visits inadvisable for a while. The previous few, you'll remember, seemed to unsettle your wife rather than help."
"I remember." Alex hesitated, then asked, "There's been some change?"
"Yes, there is a change. I wish I could say it was for the better."
There had been so many changes, he had become dulled to them. "What kind of change?"
"Your wife is becoming even more withdrawn. Her escape from reality is almost total. It's why I think a visit from you might do some good." The psychiatrist corrected himself, "At least it should do no harm." "All right. I'll come this evening."
"Any time, Alex; and drop in to see me when you do. As you know, we've no set visiting hours here and a minimum of rules." "Yes, I know."
The absence of formality, he reflected, as he replaced the telephone, was a reason he had chosen the Remedial Center when faced with his despairing decision about Celia nearly four years ago. The atmosphere was deliberately non-institutional. The nurse s did not wear uniforms. As far as was practical, patients moved around freely and were encouraged to make decisions of their own. With occasional exceptions, friends and families were welcome at any time. Even the name Remedial Center had been chosen intentionally in preference to the more forbidding "mental hospital." Another reason was that Dr. Timothy McCartney, young, brilliant, and innovative, headed a specialist team which achieved cures of mental illnesses where more conventional treatments failed.
The Center was small. Patients never exceeded a hundred and fifty though, by comparison, the staff was large. In a way, it was like a school with small classes where students received personal attention they could not have gained elsewhere.
A modern building and spacious gardens were as pleas ing as money and imagination could make them.
The clinic was private. It was also horrendously expensive but Alex had been determined, and still was, that whatever else happened, Celia would have the best of care. It was, he reasoned, the very least that he could do.
Through the remainder of the afternoon he occupied himself with bank business. Soon after 6 P.M. he left FMA Headquarters, giving his driver the Remedial Center address, and read the evening paper while they crawled through traffic. A limousine and chauffeur, available at any time from the bank's pool of cars, were perquisites of the executive vice-president's job and Alex enjoyed them.
Typically, the Remedial Center had the facade of a large private home with nothing outside, other than a street number, to identify it.
An attractive blonde, weari ng a colorful print dress, let h im in. He recognized her as a nurse from a small insignia pin near her left shoulder. It was the only permitted dress disti nction between staff and patients .
"Doctor told us you'd be coming, Mr. Vandervoort. I'll take you to your wife."
He walked with her along a pleasant corri dor. Yellows and greens predomin ated. Fresh flowers were in niches along the walls.
"I understand," he said, "that my wife has been no better."
"Not really, I'm afraid." The nurse shot him a sideways glance; he sensed pity in her eyes. But for whom? As always, when he came here, he felt his natural ebullience desert him.
They were in a wing, one of three running outward from the central reception area. The nurse stopped at a door.
"Your wife is in her room, Mr. Vandervoort. She had a bad day today. Try to remember that, if she shouldn't…" She left the sentence unfinished, touched his arm lightly, then preceded him in.
The Rem edial Center placed patients in shared or single rooms according to the effect which the company of others had on their condition. When Celia first came she was in a double room, but it hadn't worked; now she was in a private one. Though small, Celia's room was cozily comfortable and individual. It contained a studio couch, a deep armchair and ottoman, a games table and bookshelves. Impressionist prints adorned the walls.
"Mrs. Vandervoort," the nurse said gently, "your husband is here to visit you."
There was no acknowledgment, neither movement nor spoken response, from the figure in the room.
It had been a month and a half since Alex had seen Celia and, though he had been expecting some deterioration, her present appearance chilled him.
She was seated if her posture could be called that on the studio couch. She had positioned herself sideways, facing away from the outer door. Her shoulders were hunched down, her head lowered, arms crossed in front, with each hand clasping the opposite shoulder. Her body, too, was curled upon itself and her legs drawn up with knees together. She was absolutely still.
He went to her and put a hand gently on one shoulder. "Hullo, Celia. It's me Alex. I've been thinking about you, so I came to see you."
She said, low voiced, without expression, "Yes." She did not move.
He increased the pressure on the shoulder. "Won't you turn around to look at me? Then we can sit together and talk."
The only response was a perceptible rigidity, a tightening of the position in which Celia was huddled.
Her skin texture, Alex saw, was mottled and her fair hair only roughly combed. Even now her gentle, fragile beauty had not entirely vanished, though clearly it would not be long before it did.
"Has she been like this long?" he asked the nurse quietIy.
"All of today and part of yesterday; some other days as well." The girl added matter-of-factly, "she feels more comfortable that way, so it's best if you take no notice, just sit down and talk."
Alex nodded. As he went to the single armchair and settled himself, the nurse tiptoed out, closing the door gently.
"I went to the ballet last week, Celia," Alex said. "It was Coppelia. Natalia Makarova danced the lead and Ivan Nagy was Frantz. They were magnificent together and, of course, the music was wonderful. It reminded me of how you loved Coppelia, that it was one of your favorites. Do you remember that night, soon after we were married, when you and I…"
He could call back in memory clearly, even now, the way Celia had looked that evening in a long, pale green chiffon gown, tiny sequins glittering with reflected light. As usual, she had been ethereally beautiful, slim and gossamer-like, as if a breeze might steal her if he looked away. In those days he seldom did. They had been married six months and she was still shy at meeting Alex's friends, so that sometimes in a group she clung tightly to his arm. Because she was ten years younger than himself, he hadn't minded. Celia's shyness, at the beginning, had been one of the reasons why he fell in love with her, and he was proud of her reliance on hind Only long after, when she continued to be diffident and unsure foolishly, it seemed to hire his impatience surfaced, and eventually anger.
How little, how tragically little, he had understood! With more perception he would have realized that Celia's background before they met was so totally different from his own that nothing had prepared her for the active social and domestic life he accepted matter-of-factly. It was all new and bewildering to Celia, at times alarming. She was the only child of reclusive parents of modest means, had attended convent schools, had never known the leavening propinquity of college living. Before Celia met Alex she had had no responsibilities, her social experience was nil. Marriage increased her natural nervousness; at the same time, self-doubts and tensions grew until eventually as psychiatrists explained it a burden of guilt at failing snapped something in her mind. With hindsight, Alex blamed himself. He could, he afterwards believed, have helped Celia so easily, could have given advice, eased tensions, offered reassurance. But when it mattered most he never had. He had been too thoughtless, busy, ambitious.