She was thinking of ways to kill her husband.
Martha Hart, called Mattie by everyone but her mother, who regularly insisted Martha was a perfectly lovely name — "You don't see Martha Stewart changing her name, do you?" — was swimming back and forth across the long, rectangular pool that occupied most of her spacious back yard. Mattie swam every morning from the beginning of May until mid-October, barring lightning or an early Chicago snowfall, fifty minutes, one hundred lengths of precisely executed breast stroke and front crawl, back and forth across the well-heated forty foot expanse. Usually she was in the water by seven o'clock, so that she could be finished before Jake left for work and Kim for school, but today she'd overslept, or rather, hadn't slept at all until just minutes before the alarm clock went off. Jake, of course, had experienced no such trouble sleeping and was out of bed and in the shower before she had time to open her eyes. "Feeling all right?" he'd asked her, already dressed and out the door in a handsome blur before she was able to formulate a response.
She could use a butcher knife, Mattie thought now, pushing at the water with clenched fists, slicing the imaginary foot-long blade through the air and into her husband's heart with each rise and fall of her arms. She reached the end of pool, using her feet to propel herself off the concrete, and made her way back to the other side, the motion reminding her that a well-timed push down a flight of stairs might be an easier way to dispatch Jake. Or she could poison him, adding a sprinkle of arsenic, like freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to his favorite pasta, like the kind they had for dinner last night, before he supposedly went back to the office to work on today's all-important closing argument for the jury, and she'd found the hotel receipt in his jacket pocket - the jacket he'd asked her to send to the cleaners - that announced his latest infidelity as boldly as a headline in a supermarket tabloid.
She could shoot him, she thought, squeezing the water as it passed through her fingers, as if squeezing the trigger of a gun, her eyes following the imaginary bullet as it splashed across the pool's surface toward its unsuspecting target, as her errant husband rose to address the jury. She watched him button his dark blue jacket just seconds before the bullet ripped through it, his dark red blood slowly oozing into the neat diagonal lines of his blue-and-gold striped tie, the boyish little half-smile that emanated as much from his eyes as his lips freezing, fading, then disappearing altogether, as he fell, face down, to the hard floor of the stately old courtroom.
Ladies and gentleman of the jury, have you reached your verdict?
"Death to the infidel!" Mattie shouted, kicking at the water as if it were a pesky blanket twisted around her ankles, her feet feeling unexpectedly heavy, as if newly attached to large cement blocks. For a second, Mattie felt as if her legs were foreign objects, as if they belonged to someone else, and had been grafted haphazardly onto her torso, serving no other purpose than to weigh her down. She tried to stand, but the bottoms of her feet couldn't find the bottom of the pool, although the water level was only five feet high and she was almost eight inches taller. "Damn it," Mattie muttered, losing the rhythm of her breathing and swallowing a mouthful of chlorine. She gasped loudly, throwing herself toward the side of the pool, her body doubling up and over the edge of the pool to rest against its border of smooth brown stone, as invisible hands continued to pull her legs, trying to drag her back under. "Serves me right, " she muttered between painful coughing spasms. "Serves me right for having such evil thoughts."
She wiped some errant spittle from her mouth, then burst into a fit of hysterical laughter, the laughter mingling with her coughing, one feeding off the other, the unpleasant sounds bouncing off the water, echoing loudly in her ears. Why am I laughing? She wondered, unable to stop.
"What's going on?" The voice came from somewhere above her head. "Mom, Mom, are you okay?"
Mattie brought her hand up across her forehead to shield her eyes from the sun's harsh rays, focused on her like a flashlight, and stared toward the large cedar deck that extended off the kitchen at the back of her red-brick, two-story home. Her daughter, Kim, was silhouetted against the autumn sky, the sun's glare rendering the teenager's normally outsized features curiously indistinct. It didn't matter, Mattie knew the lines and contours of her only child's face and figure as well as her own, maybe better: the huge blue eyes that were darker than her father's, bigger than her mother's; the long straight nose she inherited from her dad; the bow-shaped mouth she'd gotten from her mom; the budding breasts that had skipped a generation, moving directly from fifteen, already a force to be reckoned with. Kim was tall, like both her parents, and skinny, as her mother had been at her age, although her posture was much better than Mattie's had been at fifteen, better, in fact than it is now. Kim didn't have to be reminded to push her shoulders back or hold her head up high, and as she leaned against the sturdy wood slats of the railing, swaying like a young sapling in a gentle breeze, Mattie marveled at her daughter's easy confidence, wondering whether she'd played any part in its development at all.
"Are you all right?" Kim asked again, craning her long, elegant neck toward the pool. Her shoulder-length, naturally blonde hair was pulled tightly back against her scalp and twisted into a neat little bun at the top of her head. Her 'Miss Grundy' look, Mattie sometimes teased. "Is someone there with you?"
"I'm fine," Mattie said, although her continued coughing rendered the words unintelligible, and she had to repeat them. "I'm fine," she said again, then laughed out loud.
"What's so funny?" Kim giggled, a slight, shy sound seeking inclusion into whatever it was her mother found so amusing.
"My foot fell asleep," Mattie told her, gradually lowering both feet to the bottom of the pool, relieved to find herself standing.
"While you were swimming?"
"Yea. Funny, huh?"
Kim shrugged, a shrug that said, 'Not that funny, not laugh-out-loud funny,' and leaned further forward, out of the shadow. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. I just swallowed a mouthful of water." Mattie coughed again, as if for emphasis. She noticed that Kim was wearing her leather jacket, and for the first time that morning, became aware of the late September chill.
"I'm going to school now," Kim said, then didn't move. "What are you up to today?"
"I have an appointment this afternoon with a client to look at some photographs."
"What about this morning?"
"Dad's giving his summation to the jury this morning," Kim stated.
Mattie nodded, not sure where this conversation was headed. She looked toward the large maple tree that loomed majestically over her neighbor's back yard, at the deep red that was seeping into the green foliage, as if the leaves were slowly bleeding to death, and waited for her daughter to continue.
"I bet he'd really appreciate it if you were to go to the courthouse to cheer him on. You know, like you do when I'm in a school play. For support and stuff."
And stuff, Mattie thought, but didn't say, choosing to cough instead.
"Anyway, I'm going now."
"Okay, sweetie. Have a good day."
"You too. Give Dad a kiss for me for good luck."
"Have a good day," Mattie repeated, watching Kim disappear inside the house. Alone again, she closed her eyes, allowing her body to sink below the water's smooth surface. Water immediately covered her mouth and filled her ears, silencing the white noise of nature, blocking out the casual sounds of morning. No longer were dogs barking in neighboring yards, birds singing in nearby trees, cars honking their impatience on the street. Everything was quiet, peaceful, and still. There were no more faithless husbands, no more inquiring teenage minds.
How does she do it? Mattie wondered. What kind of radar did the child possess? Mattie hadn't said anything to Kim about her discovery of Jake's most recent betrayal. Nor had she said anything to anyone else, not any of her friends, not to her mother, not to Jake. She almost laughed. When was the last time she'd confided anything to her mother? And as for Jake, she wasn't ready to confront him yet. She needed time to think things through, to gather her thoughts, as a squirrel stores away nuts for the winter, to make sure she was well-fortified for whatever course of action she chose to follow in the long, cold months ahead.
Excerpted from The First Time by Joy Fielding Copyright © 2001 by Joy Fielding. Excerpted by permission of Seal Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.