#Blog Tour The Weighing of the Heart
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The Weighing of the Heart
by Paul Owen
Genre: Crime, thriller
Following a sudden break-up, Englishman in New York Nick Braeburn takes a room with the elderly Peacock sisters in their lavish Upper East Side apartment, and finds himself increasingly drawn to the priceless piece of Egyptian art on their study wall – and to Lydia, the beautiful Portuguese artist who lives across the roof garden.
But as Nick draws Lydia into a crime he hopes will bring them together, they both begin to unravel, and each find that the other is not quite who they seem.
Paul Tudor Owen’s intriguing debut novel brilliantly evokes the New York of Paul Auster and Joseph O’Neill.
Excerpt from Chapter 5 of The Weighing of the Heart by Paul Tudor Owen
They had met through her uncle. Her uncle and Hector’s parents had gone to school together, decades ago, back in the old country, and when she moved to New York her parents had insisted she look them up. She didn’t for a while. She didn’t really know them and the seemingly inexhaustible excitement of New York was taking up all her attention and all her free time. But in the end her parents gave the Soareses her number instead and they called her, and at that point she knew she couldn’t say no. The first time she went across to Jackson Heights for dinner it was just the three of them. But the second time they invited their son.
Hector called her up a few days later and asked her if he could take her to the top of the Empire State Building. I know you’ll think it was cliché, she told me. It was cliché. But because it was so cliché she’d never actually been up there before. And it was thrilling to see how it all fitted together: the streets and the grid, the rivers and the park. The enormous country was spread out behind her and New York was leading it like the prow of a ship. Her lips were chapped and sticky in the cold air; the wind caught her hair as she leant her head through the barriers. Down there, in the X of Broadway and Fifth, the cabs were roaring off their marks when the lights turned green and switching lanes with terrifying abandon. Hector was wearing a baseball cap low over his face and watching her as much as he was watching the streets. The decaying warehouses of Queens and Brooklyn. The Chrysler Building delicate and gleaming like a champagne flute. The ragged silhouette of the buildings in front of the park, windows sparkling, plate glass reflecting the wintry blue sky, the sheets of offices hanging high above the rushing streets. The fire escapes clinging on to whole blocks for dear life. The empty space where the towers of the World Trade Center should have been. It was still not long since they had come down, and she felt suddenly that they were both remembering them then, those huge grey slabs peeking over the rooves and water towers, as if the roads had suddenly taken a ninety-degree turn and decided to flow straight up. “You know my mother still won’t fly,” said Hector.
“No, like— I had to get a plane to Philly on September – nineteenth, I think it was, and I mean I’m not a panicky person – 2001, this is – but even I, I just froze up,” he said. “I couldn’t do it.”
“No way,” she said.
“For days you didn’t see a plane in the sky,” recalled Hector. She remembered it herself. It had felt as though America had come to a standstill. Like it was frozen to the spot in shock.
She tracked the progress of a car down Fifth, looking deep into the wells of the city streets. It was a small city, in size. But it packed so much in. Her gaze travelled out into the bay, to the Statue of Liberty. “I had an idea for a joke,” she told him. “But I couldn’t think of a punchline.”
“How does it start?” asked Hector.
“It starts: Statue of Liberty walks into a bar.”
“Hmmm,” said Hector. He gazed out over the rooftops, thinking. “OK, no, wait—” he said. “Something about it’s green… green around the gills…?”
“It’s hard, isn’t it?”
“It seems like it would be so easy… Something about the torch…?”
“Maybe he thinks she’s trying to bring her own drink in…”
“Open container… Yeah… I don’t know, I don’t know. Hold on, I’ll think.”
She suggested the restaurant, a place over in Dumbo tiled like an old public swimming pool, dark and monochrome, mirrors and round tables. It was cramped; she and Hector were knee-to-knee, and whenever she pulled back her hand to cut her pork chops she almost bashed another diner in the back. But the other diner was oblivious. “What the fuck do they care?” he was saying to his companion. “Over in Sicily?”
She watched Hector eating, and he saw her watching. “I like those lines you get, by your eyes, when you’re concentrating,” she said. He leant over and kissed her on the cheek, and she moved away slightly, not quite ready to accept, not yet, and smiled and said: “I hope you’re thinking about the Statue of Liberty.”
“I tell you what I’m thinking. I’m thinking: if I ask for another side is she gonna think: ‘This is the greediest man on planet earth and I’m never gonna go out with him again for as long as I live,’” said Hector. She laughed. They waited in the doorway of the restaurant for a long time for a cab, and it was cold. “Now I know why they call it Dumbo,” said Hector genially; “it’s because you’d have to be a fucking idiot to live here.” They both laughed. They couldn’t hear themselves over the noise of the trains thundering across the bridge above them.
“That is one noisy bridge,” said Lydia.
The taxi took them back to her apartment – she was living on the Lower East Side then – and Hector asked her, very politely, if she might want some company, and she said no, that time, but the next week, after she had spent the whole evening talking to him about the new artwork she had just started, a painting of the sky goddess Nut stretched out across the horizon, blending into the sunset above the desert, he had responded with such enthusiasm that she had wanted to show him what she’d done so far, wanted to know what he thought of the real thing, wanted to know what he thought of her artwork, what he thought of her as an artist, not just as a pretty girl, or a charming girl, or whatever it was that had first attracted him to her, so she let him come up to her studio apartment, where canvasses were piled against canvasses by the walls and doors, under the windows, beside the bed, which she deliberately hadn’t made because she had promised herself before going out that evening that she wasn’t going to let him come up, and which she now quickly threw the bedspread across as they entered the room. He sat down on it as soon as the bedspread was down, so to divert him she said they should go up to the roof for a cigarette. “What about the painting?” he said.
“We’ll look at it when we come back down.”
The Williamsburg Bridge rose up beside them as their breath froze in the night air. “It’s quieter than the other one,” said Hector, watching the cars. Faintly, from the apartment below, they could hear the bass and vocals of a Stevie Wonder song, and Hector softly moved towards her, and held her at her waist, and they began to dance. She dropped her cigarette. He was quite a good dancer. Relaxed. She wondered if it came with age. “I’m glad I met you,” she said, almost without realising it.
“Me too,” he said softly, and she suddenly became nervous.
“I love this neighbourhood,” she said, looking out over his shoulder at the crosswalks and awnings of the streets below. “At art school I took some credits in video installation and I had this idea for a Martin Scorsese version of The Stone Raft, I don’t know if you know Saramago’s The Stone Raft, where Little Italy and the Lower East Side would break off from the rest of Manhattan and start floating away into Upper New York Bay, and you’d change the character of the dog to make him a pimp or a drug dealer wracked with doubts about his Catholic faith. I mean the Catholic stuff just reads straight across… What do you think?”
He laughed. “I think it’s great,” he said. And she kissed his shoulder through his shirt.
It was sunny and warm when she woke up next to him, her paintings stacked beside the bed, but out on the streets under the shadows of the buildings it was cold as they walked around the block to get breakfast, as if it were only sunny above a certain floor. Lydia put on an extra sweater under her coat, and even Hector, who normally seemed happy in a T-shirt whatever the weather, pulled his jacket around himself more tightly than usual. “If it’s burnt, I’m gonna send it back,” an old lady was saying to the counterman as they bundled into an Italian diner. “What am I gonna do, eat it?”
They waited for their breakfast, facing each other across the booth, both keeping pretty quiet. She wasn’t sure what he was thinking. She was thinking about him. She was thinking about last night.
“Do you feel at home here, in New York, now?” he asked her.
“I don’t,” she said after a little while. “And I don’t feel at home at home, either.” She smiled, but he didn’t smile.
“I don’t want you to feel that way,” he said. “I want you to feel at home.”
They were quiet, and then he smiled and shook his head. “Statue of Liberty walks into a bar,” he mused. “It’s a great image…”
About the Author
Paul Tudor Owen was born in Manchester in 1978, and was educated at the University of Sheffield, the University of Pittsburgh, and the London School of Economics.
He began his career as a local newspaper reporter in north-west London, and currently works at the Guardian, where he spent three years as deputy head of US news at the paper’s New York office.