NOW AVAILABLE / HARPER COLLINS
In this beautifully crafted novel from the author of the critically-acclaimed Two Sisters, comes the story of a woman who retreats into a fantasy world on New York City’s Upper West Side as she slowly loses her once whip-smart husband to dementia—perfect for fans of Still Alice.
When life falls apart, a little fantasy goes a long way…
It started as a dream vacation in Spain, with Fay and Paul Agarra enjoying all the delights of a European holiday. A respected New York City judge, Paul has always been the man Fay can rely on, no matter what. When he inexplicably disappears from a Barcelona street corner, Fay knows something is terribly wrong. Once reunited, Paul shrugs off the episode as a simple misunderstanding—but Fay suspects her almost perfect life has taken a dark and sudden turn.
Soon there are more signs that Paul is beginning to change. Bouts of forgetfulness lead to mistakes in the courtroom. Simple tasks cause unexplainable outbursts of anger. Fay’s worst suspicions are realized when she learns her husband—her rock, her love, her everything—is succumbing to the ravages of dementia.
As her husband transforms before her very eyes, Fay copes with her fears by retreating into a fantasy life filled with promise instead of pain. In Fay’s invented world, she imagines herself living a glamorous life free from heartache, with a handsome neighbor she barely knows rescuing her from a future she can’t accept.
Poignant and beautifully crafted, Left is an unforgettable tale about life’s aching uncertainties—and a woman who discovers that somewhere between hope and reality, an unexpected future will find its way forward.
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I’d pushed for sightseeing. Of course. Málaga—the birthplace of Picasso—is an artist’s dream. Color everywhere. The Persian blue Mediterranean Sea, butter yellow high-rises, marmalade rooftops, basil green mountains, air the color of honey. Paul would have been happy relaxing at the cottage, puzzling over words like “spork” in the New York Times crossword. Not me. I needed to see color the way other women needed to eat chocolate.
“Orange.” It’s what John—Paul’s teenage son—had answered when I’d asked him what color he wanted to paint his bedroom.
“Carrot, pumpkin, or cantaloupe?” My face was as inscrutable as Mona Lisa’s. Back then, John was in a Trainspotting phase. Peroxided hair, black turtlenecks, Lou Reed, heroin
chic. He liked to test us. In those early days, I was a young stepmother learning on the fly.
Stupidly, Paul and I bought a run-down duplex apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side when we were newlyweds. Marriage, I learned quickly, was hard enough without Sheetrock dust all over your clothes. Still, the moment I set foot in that space, I knew it was my home. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a bricked garden on the ground floor. And, its own special gift: a sunny nook for my easel. It was everything I ever wanted. Worth our sweat and tears.
Every other weekend, Paul’s son lived with us. When it came time to paint his room, he smirked when he replied,
Paul weighed in from behind a newspaper. “N.O.”
“It’s my room!” All teenage grimace and pimply flush, John stamped his foot like a child.
“In my apartment,” said Paul.
“Our apartment,” I gently reminded him. “And it’s John’s room. Why not let him pick the color? It’s only paint.”
Paul shot me a dark look; I helped him lighten up.
In the paint store, John chose a sickening nacho color. Paul opened his mouth to protest, but I silenced him with a tented brow. What did it matter? John was a good kid. A teenager, yes—moody, slouchy, occasionally reeking of hormonal funk—but tolerable. He chuckled when I said, “We should get two dogs named George and Ringo. You know, round out the band?” I loved him for not groaning. When John was with his dad, Paul, I’m sure he heard comments like that all the time.
Seriously, I could have done worse. Paul could have had a daughter.
“It’s not like he’s doing heroin,” I quietly told my brand-new husband.
In the screech of a Primal Scream CD, the three of us painted the walls—and ceiling!—of John’s bedroom. Afterward, sitting on the floor eating pizza, Paul’s son looked around and said, “This is the ugliest room I’ve ever seen.”
We all got a good laugh out of that.
John is a coder now. He lives in Boston with a beautiful wife and amazing daughter. Like I said, it was only paint.
“Fay is wise beyond my years.” It’s Paul’s favorite quip. Or was. Whenever he said it, he threw his head back and howled at his own cleverness. My husband’s laugh was an invitation to join his party. What I wouldn’t give to hear that sound one more time.
“Grilled sardines on the beach in El Palo?” I suggested on our cottage patio, in Spain’s afternoon light.
“Too many Speedos.”
“A trek up Gibralfaro?”
“So darn uphill.”
“How about a stroll along Calle Larios in central Málaga?”
“Watch every Latin lover ogle my wife?”
“Spoon and fork!” he yelped, filling in the crossword. Then he set the puzzle aside and joined me in touring Málaga. Because he loved me.
I loved that city. It felt like warm bread to me. Irresistible. The sort of city a person could devour when she felt cold or empty.
Each day, Paul and I strolled the avenidas. Leisurely, like Spaniards. We left our New York pace at home. In the nave of La Manquita, we blessed ourselves with holy water and sat in dark pews to soak up the angelic rays slanting down from the heavenly stained glass windows. My husband lassoed me into the crook of his arm, pressed a kiss on my temple, and whispered, “Seeing you in this light is worth the trip.”
I grinned, blissful. Wrapping my arm around Paul’s soft waist, I quietly leaned in to kiss the baby skin under his chin, the spot I owned. My body fit so snugly into his I almost heard a click as we interlocked. In Paul Agarra’s devouring hug, the world and its perils were safely caged away.
Our life is a postcard, I thought, clueless. With a contented smile, I rested my cheek against my husband’s strong shoulder.
Love as it should be.
Not once, not ever, did I regret my choice. Not after our first anniversary or our last one: our twenty-second. In the early days of our marriage, I raised my right hand in the air and vowed, “I, Fay Agarra, do solemnly swear to allow my husband to be exactly who he is.” Paul promised, too. Our word to each other. We’d never expect the other to be older or younger. Paul wasn’t my dad; I wasn’t his midlife crisis. In the shower, Paul sang obscure blues songs about somebody doing somebody wrong. I danced the Macarena in our living
room. I added blond streaks to the front of my brown hair; Paul let his temples go peppery gray. I tolerated his Tom Selleck mustache (for a while); he patiently waited for me to blow-dry my “Rachel.”
After two miscarriages, my husband consoled an inconsolable me. He softly said, “Okay, love,” when I refused to try again. After my mother, my brother, my dad, I couldn’t bear to lose anyone else.
Men my age seemed like boys, heads bent over their cell phones as if the present moment was never riveting enough. Eyes roaming the other tables in a restaurant; brows cocked when a woman asked a waiter, “Do fries come with that?”
Paul is different. He’s a grown man. Words of commitment never get trapped behind overly bleached teeth.
I love you. You’re mine. We’re us.
Yeah, it shouldn’t have worked. Yet it did. Until it didn’t.