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EXCERPT II (Page 1 of 5)

Chapter 28

Bounding through the museum halls in her new sneakers, Maya feels as if she is playing hooky. In a way, she is: she's run out of the house, leaving many translated pages unread.

When she awoke this morning, the film over her eyes was as thick as mucous so that the numbers of the clock bled into smudged blobs. Her magnifier, close by on the night table, would clarify a little. But she didn't reach for it. What she needed wasn't more grim facts, she decided. What she needed was something beautiful and alive.

Ergo: the Metropolitan Museum. She starts for the escalator, then veers back toward the majestic staircase. She knows the second floor intimately. Ambles by The Thinker, with its arrow-straight gaze, exquisitely sculpted arms and legs; continues to the muscular perfection of The Three Shades. Where she stops. The Rodins usually elate her, cry out to be touched. But today they are smug and aloof, emitting only reproach.

She moves to a wood and glass case, which she normally flits by. Stares in at a small bronze figure. Far from inviting touch, the wrinkled old woman with bulging, flaccid stomach and sunken breasts half-turns away, as though cringing from view. Maya tilts her head to follow the curve of movement, pressing in closer.

Certainly, the piece is not beautiful in the conventional sense. Yet it holds her rapt. How muscular the calves are. And the hands: they're as large and powerful as a man's. Maya dips her knees, half-squatting to the statue's level, when a sudden shadow falls across the glass, barring her view.

She whips around, squinting up at a tall solid man planted beside her. Something familiar about the red hair, the large black-rimmed glasses, the small crocheted skullcap. Yes! An anomaly here in the Met, but it's definitely Sam's orthodox friend, Gerry.

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