Chapter 2: RANCHO BERNARDO, CALIFORNIA (Part 15)
“Mommy, I’m home. Why weren’t you at the bus stop? Why are you in bed? Are you sick?”
The voice and gentle shaking by a little hand awakens me. Emily is on the bed, kneeling over me, staring at me. I blink. I sit up. I rub my arms. I feel fine, a little groggy from sleep, but otherwise perfectly normal. Nothing hurts. Nothing burns.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I guess I was tired.”
I kiss her.
“Can I have my snack?” she asks.
“Sure,” I answer, rolling off the bed, surveying the room, to reassure myself that all is as it should be. The walls are celery green. The room is bright with sunshine. There are no shadows lurking anywhere.
“Sure,” I say, veiling my disquiet with verve and brightness. “What about a banana and a glass of milk?”
Emily detects when I am troubled, like now. She manipulates me and isn’t a bit shy about it. “Twinkies,” she says, “and chocolate milk.”
The Twinkies are Richard’s reserve stock. That’s what he calls them, as if they are a vintage wine or rare and precious foods. I don’t usually allow the girls junk food, though they crave the stuff, a bad habit they’ve inherited from Richard.
“Milk and a banana.” I have to negotiate with her and I hope to gain half a victory.
“A Twinkie and milk.”
I know she can’t be deterred without effort, and today I lack the strength.
Emily can be adorably prim and proper, an old woman in kid’s clothes, and often she exhibits this trait when she eats; that is when she eats and pretends she has company, which is the case now. Before her are two place settings replete with dishes, knives, and forks. On another plate is a Twinkie I’ve halved. She offers her imaginary guest a half and serves it when the friend accepts her invitation, after which she serves herself. She eats the Twinkie slowly, slicing small pieces with a knife, forking them into her mouth, chewing studiously, savoring each. I observe her without revealing my interest until the doorbell summons me away.
I open the door and what I see overwhelms and astonishes me. It is Bobby McFarlane, dressed like a Vegas act in a ceil blue sharkskin suit, iridescent in the early evening sun. Even his shirt is blue, matching his suit, and his shoes, too, blue pointed suede loafers. He’s a bizarre and frightening apparition.
“I’m here for Ritchie’s gear,” he says.
I back away from the door, speechless, and he enters.
“Where’s the suitcase?”
I point at the ceiling.
“In the bedroom?” he says.
I nod. He climbs the stairs and I follow.
“I just want the suitcase,” he says, glancing back at me.
“Why are you here?”
“Helping my best friend,” he answers.
In the bedroom, I watch him extend the handle of the roller case. “This it?”
“Yes,” I say. “Is Karen with you?”
“She’s in Bayport.”
He lugs the suitcase downstairs and as we reach the foyer. Samantha walks in. She’s about to announce herself, when she sees us. Her eyes jump from Bobby to the suitcase to me and make the circuit again. She doesn’t speak but I can see she’s consumed with questions, as Emily joins us from the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” Emily asks.
I don’t answer, and Bobby is silent too, for a minute.
“That’s Daddy’s,” Emily says.
I can’t decide between revealing the truth or buying a few more days by lying that Richard was called away on a business trip. Doubtless Emily and Samantha would believe me, given their father’s frequent absences.
Bobby beats me. “Your father’s moving out.”
He sneers gleefully. For a doctor pledged to ameliorating suffering, he enjoys inflicting pain too much for my taste.
“But don’t worry,” he adds, departing, “he wants to see you two.”
“What about Daddy?” Emily asks.
Samantha is crying softly; she knows.
I can’t bear to answer Emily, so she goes to Samantha. She touches her sister’s blouse sleeve, a little tug, a gentle, subtle plea.
The scene is heartbreaking. I can’t stand it. I despise Bobby more than ever, if that’s possible. I want to charge after him and beat him down, kick him into a bloody ball on the pitiful patch of grass that passes for our front yard.
I wrap my arms around them. I hug them to me. I urge myself to show some nobility.
“Daddy and I decided it was best if he lived by himself.”
“Why?” Emily asks.
Samantha talks over her. “For how long?”
I hate Richard for imposing this situation on me, having to explain our breakup to our daughters in the foyer in the wake of damage done by his imbecilic, vicious friend, his high school buddy.
“We don’t know exactly right now,” I lie. I feel I have no choice but to push the reality into an indistinct future. I can’t deal with it in the foyer on the night Richard is gone, the night the failure of my marriage is consummated.
I’m fortunate. Samantha and Emily accept my explanation. I send them to their bedrooms to do their homework and I retreat to the kitchen to prepare dinner. I’m working at putting together a simple meal for us when the phone interrupts me.
I look around and into the family room to be sure the girls haven’t wandered downstairs. Samantha’s good about staying in her room and doing her work, but Emily’s not much on schoolwork, not that she has much. The family room is empty and I am free to speak.
“What the hell is Bobby doing here, and where do you get off sending him for your suitcase?”
“He’s my friend, Babe, something you’ve never understood.”
I’m fuming, struggling to contain my anger, or at least keep it to a low simmer. “He’s scum, and you know how I feel about him.”
“He’s a doctor, if you’ve forgotten, and a damn good one, top guy. He’s standup, too. I can always count on Bobby. Christ, he’s three thousand miles away, and I can still count on him.”
The inference ignites my hurt, anger, and desire for revenge. I don’t like myself venting these emotions, but he has provoked me.
“Richard, you’re an idiot. You’re praising someone who tricked my best friend into marrying him—”
“Angie wasn’t tricked. Unlike you, she saw Bobby for who he really is. He’s a good guy. A real friend. A big success.”
“He killed her, you asshole.”
“He didn’t kill her. He tried to save her. And don’t call me an asshole. This asshole’s been taking care of you since college.” He pauses. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe that does make me a supreme asshole.”
As always, Richard, you are the suffering hero. It’s what I want to say to him, but I can’t, or else we will be battling interminably over the phone, and the girls will come down, and my life will descend to an even lower ring of hellishness, and Richard will have won another victory over me.
“Okay,” I say, “enough. But tell Bobby I didn’t appreciate his comments to the girls.”
“What did he say?”
“You might not be back for a long time.”
“Well, I guess it’s up to you, isn’t it?”
Fuck you, Richard, you bastard. I can think it, but I can’t say it. I hang up and slam the receiver to demonstrate my anger, which I know is a mistake; it’s what he wants from me, his signal the torture is effective. Double bastard for that.
Emily is downstairs first. It might have been the phone; noise like that is enough to attract her with loads of questions.
“Can I play outside?”
But, no, thankfully.
“You’ve finished your homework?”
“Everything,” she says.
“Sure, then. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.” And before I finish she’s in the backyard.
I return to preparing dinner and glance at the clock. I’ve gone from sad, verging on self-pity, to rage, to just plain spent in five minutes. It feels much longer.
I’m cutting open a bag of frozen peas when I hear Emily’s piercing scream. At first, I freeze. It’s that second of realizing your child is in danger, she might be injured, the injury might be severe, your life might change horribly and irreversibly. In the next second, I’m dropping the bag and bolting through the kitchen door onto the patio, swinging my head frantically searching for her. She’s not in the backyard.
She shrieks again. I charge around the corner of the house, down the side yard, toward her cry. As I emerge into the front yard, I see her. She’s frozen on the curb. I think this habit of hers of tightrope walking on curbs has got to stop before she hurts herself. Then I think this cannot be. Touching her at her waist is the rusted chrome bumper of a car. It’s a sky blue Belair pocked with cancers. It’s Bobby’s car, Bobby’s car from Creek Falls, from high school, from the past. I’m racing toward her and the Belair and I see Bobby, Bobby in his iridescent sharkskin suit, his ceil blue garb, behind the wheel, a big grin cracking his face. He’s gunning the engine menacingly. He laughs—I see his head bob as he watches me approach.
I grab Emily’s shoulders and twist her around. She’s crying from fright but otherwise unhurt.
“Go into the house right now.” I have to shout at her as Bobby revs the engine at high throttle; the Belair growls and roars like a living beast, a manifestation of his hatred and cruelty.
I see Emily dart to the house and through the front door, where she bumps into Samantha, who was about to open it. I don’t hear what they say, because I turn my attention to Bobby.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I shout over the engine.
I stride angrily toward the driver’s door, but Bobby doesn’t wait for me. He backs up rapidly, announcing his reversal with shrieking tires and the acrid stench of scorched rubber. Furious and irrational, I chase him up the street but quit after I cover half a block. The commotion has brought neighbors from their houses and a few clot together on the sidewalk in front of their homes.
I turn my back on Bobby, who is at least a half block away. I’m walking back, mumbling deprecations, when screams and flailing arms attract me.
“Watch out,” I hear, a chorus of cautions.
I spin around and see the blue Belair pop from a black cloud of tire smoke straight at me.
Cars can move very fast, I know. But I don’t believe any car has ever moved as fast as Bobby’s jalopy Belair. Before I can utter even a cry, it is upon me. The car strikes me at my knees with such force and speed at first I think they are sheared off me. They aren’t, though, as the whole of me, knees and legs included, bounce on the hood. Anything hurting as much as they are must still be attached to me. In an instant, I slide up the hood and flatten against the windshield. The windshield blossoms red with my blood and through quickly spreading spider cracks I see Bobby staring intensely, laughing still, observing with x-ray eyes like he doesn’t want to miss a single agonizing minute of my demise, like he can’t allow himself to miss the moment I expire.
The satisfaction isn’t to be his for I am not dead on the hood. I am flying up the windshield and flopping onto the roof, denting it as I bounce off and down across the trunk lid and onto the pavement. And it is there on pavement cooling in the setting sun; there were neighbors, most of whom I don’t know, approach murmuring; there where howling tires announce Bobby is reversing to be certain I am history; there where the wails of Samantha and Emily arrive to torment me; it is there where I sigh a deep wet painful breath, and close my eyes.