Vector a Modern Love Story; Book Excerpt

My first novel published this month is a love story set in New York City. I’m sharing a preview here with you:

“…Michael heard the prolonged, high-pitched tone in his right ear that meant a migraine was coming within twenty-four hours. It was one thing to feel a state of health or disease on the inside, physically—and it should be understood that Michael’s health was by now in steep decline—it was another thing to see the reflection of light bounce back from the mirror through the retina and to the brain as an image. He was pleased with the image. This was not about feeling; it was about physics: absorption, reflection and the path of the light. Michael enjoyed that train of thought. He loved beautiful things. He loved himself. He thought of self-love as an asset, a bolster, a support—something necessary in order for him to keep going, doing the things he had promised to do.

He went to the kitchen area of the apartment and poured himself a Campari, bitter and strong, to help with his appetite. It was partly for the lack of a normal sense of smell that he had so much trouble eating. Without scent, taste was also impaired and food became less meaningful. He stood and scanned the shelves and refrigerator but could not bring himself to think of eating. Slowly, a cold feeling crept from his fingers up his arms and throughout his entire body as he realized he could not remember whether he had already had a drink earlier. And it was not the first time that evening that Michael wondered, Where is my mind?

It was nearly time to leave for the party, if he was to help out at all with the setup at the hotel. First he checked a spreadsheet on his laptop and then laboriously went over a stack of business mail on the desk. He had to be sure that he hadn’t missed any of the gifts that were scheduled to come in this week from the Foundation’s major donors. Have to keep on top of things, he thought. Reading had become increasingly difficult for him; he had to get that checked—definitely something new going on with his eyesight. He pushed aside the mail, searched under letters from donors, health screening test kit mailers and drug purchase orders, deliveries to and from South Africa for the Foundation, bills and invoices from Bellevue Hospital in New York. One important thing remained for him to do before he left, something that could not be neglected, not even for one day: keeping up with his prescriptions. Under the Foundation newsletters, he found his medication.

He went through the necessary motions: Open the bottle, shake a pill out, swallow it, finish off the drink—the routine actions that kept him alive. He returned to the mirror. It had become a ritual for him to ask, How do I look? Who am I? What am I doing? He performed for himself, gave the confident smile. He concentrated on being there, on being present.

“Michael,” he heard Eva’s lilting, young voice sing his name from the apartment building hallway. He startled but didn’t turn around. He was not expecting anyone to come by that night, not that he remembered.

Eva Moscona waltzed into his room. She fluffed the front of her long, curly hair, damp from the rain. She swung her backpack, excessively heavy with the books from her University classes, to the floor, leaving a wet trail on the polished wood. “Smells good in here. What is that, eucalyptus? Were you cleaning?”

Michael continued getting ready. He looked back at her from the reflection in his mirror. She was dwarfed by her billowing golden overcoat. He loved that coat on her. It was a vibrant shade of yellow and had an iridescent sheen that almost seemed to glow when the light played on it. And undeniably, Eva was beautiful. Michael noticed a vintage lace camisole under her gray hooded sweatshirt, her long, black curls down to her waist tucked under the coat. Her skin-tight, ripped jeans were wet at the bottom and her black Converse sneakers were soaked.

“I left the door open?”

Eva kicked off her sneakers and took out her earphones so she could hear him better. “No, no don’t worry. You locked it. You didn’t forget. I just followed an old lady into the building—I think she lives upstairs.”

“Oh, God. What a relief. It’s getting bad, you know. Sometimes I get lost even when I’m on my own block. I don’t recognize a thing around me at all. I look for the street sign and then I’m alright again—odd. Yesterday I left the door unlocked all night.”

“It’s stress. You work too much. Stress does that, fatigue. You can be walking around and not even see. It’s psychological. Stress. Take a vacation.”

Michael turned from the mirror to look at her; he knew she loved him when she said things like that, and he knew she would want to stay. “Don’t get too comfortable, Eva. I’m on my way out.”

She mocked surprise.

He laughed and softened. She was so young. “How was class today?”


“Don’t speak like that. It doesn’t suit you. A beautiful woman, a beautiful voice. Everything you say should be like…” Michael studied her. Eva: What should she sound like? The opera student, the blossom of youth, the short curvaceous diva, “…a bird. A songbird.”

He put his medication and related papers in the desk drawer, concealing them from her, and he closed his laptop. “What are you singing now at school?”

“Singing?” She was vague and indifferent.

“Don’t you have a show coming up in a few days? What does your esteemed teacher have you working on today?”

“My ‘esteemed’ teacher?”

Michael remembered the first time he heard her voice instructor, Rosa Fioreli sing. It was in Italy, Rome, in a historic old cathedral in the center of town for an evening of operatic performances with an organist and one soloist. That was years ago, before she joined the music school here in New York City. Yes, Rosa was really something. “You’re lucky to have your Miss Rosa Fioreli. The school is lucky to have her too.”

Eva waved off his comments dismissively. She did not share Michael’s belief in luck, but she did adore her teacher on a personal level. “We’re doing La Bohème, you know. I told you that last week. It’s tomorrow, Michael. You forgot. It’s for a showcase. Agents will be there and all. Pick up new talent. Hope they pick me up. Have to start working.”

“I love La Bohème. It’s…beautiful. You’re too young to have seen the modern version, the musical Rent, probably, when it was here in New York.”

“Huh? Rent? No, didn’t see it. Thank God I don’t have to worry about that, living at school, right? Guess I will soon. Rent. Wow. Money. No, I’m not ready. I’m seriously not ready to pay rent.”

Michael neatened his desk top, absorbed in thoughts of that tragic opera, La Bohème. Love of opera was a passion he shared with Eva. He had learned the stories and the melodies of the more popular operas so many years ago that he thought the memories would not fade from him now. The memory of music was a pathway the human brain preserved the longest; he knew that, and he was grateful for it.

“Could be depressing working on that particular story, the bohemians, the artists, what happens to them because of living like that, in poverty.” He suddenly felt that a chill had entered the room, possibly from the hallway with Eva. He covered a cough, turning away from her to take a drink.

She watched him closely, “Are you alright? You have a cough again and you’re not taking care of it. You’re going out? It’s going to be cold tonight. Think about it. If you don’t feel well, don’t go.”

“Out, out, out” he said, and turned to continue getting ready.

She frowned sullenly as he prepared to leave. She had hoped they would have some time alone together. She thought Michael seemed to be addicted to action, to working. It seemed clear to her that the incessant working would have to stop soon.

He passed by Eva and touched her cheek lightly. “I can’t take you tonight.”

“You smell good; what are you wearing?” Eva looked at him warmly.

“Don’t look at me like that. I just took you somewhere last weekend. You enjoyed it.” He hesitated. Where had he taken her?

“The play,” it came to him, and he smiled.

Eva groaned, “Iphigenia. Right. That poor, cursed daughter. That wicked father. Who sacrifices their children? We’re supposed to respect the ancient cultures, right? But look at them. Just look at them. Barbaric.” Realizing that watching the performance of Iphigenia was one of the things he thought of as pleasure, she suddenly felt genuinely and deeply sorry for him.

Michael said simply, “You enjoyed yourself.”

“Right. I did. I did, Michael, because you were with me. You’re right.” She knew he had developed an inexplicable forgetfulness. He told her it was short-term memory loss, something like the dementia in the elderly, which made no sense to her at all since Michael was only in his forties—but she did not want to confuse him. She was thrilled to spend time with him, any time at all.

She smiled at Michael, confirming his interpretation of their night out together. “I loved it.”

From Vector a Modern Love Story, J.J.Brown published 2011,

Copyright 2011 J.J.Brown

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