Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 3 and 4)
Angie’s young. I’m seeing her as she was in high school. Her hair is black and curly, relaxed ringlets that someone not knowing her might think were permed. Her face is round. She’s Italian, but her face has strong oriental qualities: faintly epicanthic eyes, bud lips that when she paints them bright red resemble a Geisha’s mouth. She’s my height, but not nearly as slim as I am, more zaftig—busty and hippy. Back then my mother was after me about being skinny. Now she’s after me to lose a few pounds, drop the baby fat because the babies are here, been here for a long time now.
It’s the winter Richard and I started dating. Angie and I are walking along Main Street shopping, dashing in and out of stores as much to warm up as to eye, caress, but rarely buy, the merchandise. Creek Falls is a cold and snowy patch of earth, just on the north side of a weather line that separates it from downstate’s slightly milder winters. It’s a damp freeze, too, the penetrating kind that seeps into my bones until it requires an entire night by the radiator to restore me.
The day I’m remembering was fierce and I know I was trembling visibly. As we strolled on Main, Bobby McFarlane pulled up beside us and paced us in his Belair. Richard rode with him often, but not that day. Bobby lunged across the front seat and cranked down the passenger window.
“Get in,” he yelled, as if being Richard’s girlfriend bestowed upon him power to command me.
Angie, who already had hold of my arm, tightened her grip. She raised her free hand and wagged her gloved middle finger at Bobby. He reciprocated and roared off, not bothering to close the window.
“I hope he freezes his ass off,” she said.
“A possibility,” I told her.” Richard says the heater’s busted.”
“Serves him right.”
She was shivering and her eyes were tearing.
“Let’s get a tea,” I said.
The coffee shop was a short order joint, rich with the scent of burgers and french fries and coffee, alive with the soft chatter of locals perched on stools at the counter. It was comfortable, and comforting. We hadn’t said anything to each other since entering and seating ourselves in the back booth. We were too busy warming up, relishing the heat, and squirming out of our coats when we were, finally, too hot.
“This is good,” I said, sipping my tea, holding the cup under my face to savor the steamy fragrance.
“What’s with Richard?”
It was an abrupt question.”What do you mean?”
“Richard seems like a nice guy. I mean, he’s got to be a nice guy. You like him. But this thing with Bobby?”
I shrugged.”Richard says it’s because Bobby has a car.”
“No, Richard says it’s just easier to get around with a car. He can’t afford his own. Bobby’s got one. Or something like one.”
“He hangs around with a guy just because he has a car, to hitch an easy ride? Doesn’t that sound, I don’t know, kind of shallow to you?”
“I suppose. But we’re not married. I can’t demand Richard not see Bobby.”
She smiled.”Not yet you’re not.”
I didn’t want to talk about Bobby and Richard or Richard and me.”What kind of guy are you hoping to marry?” I asked.
“Certainly nobody from Creek Falls,” she said.” You can bank on that.”
If Richard or the girls were around now, they’d want to know why I’m weepy. Irony is the reason, but the girls are too young to comprehend and Richard is emotionally dense.
My tea has cooled, but I don’t mind. It’s time to retrieve Emily, then make her lunch, and find a way to entertain her, because I can’t impose upon Carol everyday. Then it’s resume packing.
I dump the tea dregs in the kitchen sink. It is an odd sink for a kitchen. It’s not the shape. It is a double and large and perfectly fine. It’s the color. It is blue, a particularly bright shade, close to sky, celestial, that shade. It matches the kitchen.
I wash and dry the Limoges set, handling it with the care it deserves, pausing to admire it and trace my finger along the rim of the saucer, quivering with sensual pleasure. Placing it in the rack to dry, the realization strikes me that I’ve caressed the cup and saucer more, been more intimate with them, than I have with Richard in the past month, maybe longer.
We’ve had our bad patches previously, several of them, most when I succumbed to my suspicions about his faithlessness. The incident with Angie, however, was different, much more affecting. Another woman’s not involved, unless I count Angie. It was a betrayal I couldn’t fully forgive. I’ve tamped down my feelings to gray ash from the inferno they were when he revealed the marriage of Angie and Bobby, and his secret visits with them.
I put the Limoges on the rack to drain safely.
But the sink, I am mulling over the blue sink, the matching blue kitchen. It’s a mystery, really. I don’t recall how the sink or the kitchen got blue. I don’t remember them as blue when we bought the house. I can’t recollect redecorating and selecting blue. Of course I redid the house, loaded it with expensive things, some treasures I loved, but most just things bought in reprisal for Richard uprooting and dropping me in the middle of an alien world—his realm of work, travel, and deceit. But the kitchen, if I did redecorate it, I’m sure I would have done it in white, a polar tone to keep it bright and efficient, or a traditional yellow, maybe a rich ocher. Blue, though?
However, I have no time to waste on what I did or didn’t do. The clock, a circle ringed in celestial blue—how extraordinary, too, that the kitchen is blue and yet monochromatic at the same time—tells me I am cutting it close. Emily hates when she is the last child picked up and extracts a price with recalcitrance that either I have to deal with or, too often, assuage with a treat.
Traffic is light and I arrive ahead of release time. I park behind a few early birds, mothers occupied with phone calls. I wait and a line builds behind me. I’m amazed at how much time I spend, toss away is more like it, waiting on Samantha and Emily. Once I moaned about it to Richard.
He said, “I don’t understand you, Babe?”
“You don’t understand what, Richard? That I find it mind-numbing to sit in a car half the day waiting for the girls?”
“I doubt you spend anything near half a day,” he rebuked.”The point is, it’s your job. It’s in the job description of ‘mother.’ That’s why you’re home. I know women who would trade places with you in a second.”
We were in bed early. Richard had expectations for the night. But his demeaning remarks enraged me and I bolted into the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and vented my anger in tears. Ten minutes passed and I returned to bed. Richard was sleeping. I slipped in quietly and positioned myself toward the edge, eliminating any possibility of touching him. In a dumb way knowing his desires were left unfulfilled satisfied me. It wasn’t much, possibly nothing. However, Richard was a man who usually got what he wanted on the job and at home and not much was a triumph of sorts.
Emily trots from the building, smiling, delighted to be one of the happy crowd whose mother loves her enough to fetch punctually. I climb out and greet her with a huge hug, hoisting her skyward and thrilling her with a swing from side to side.
In the car, she chatters endlessly about her day, her friends, rivals, her activities, and her achievements, stellar among them a magnificent drawing of a cow. She holds it up to me, demanding I study it, as if it is a Matisse, not an authentic Matisse, not a woman or a still life, yet fanciful, a commentary on canvas, or in Emily’s case, construction paper. I divide my gaze, switching cautiously between drawing and road.
“Sweetheart, but why’s the cow red?” It certainly is fauvist, at least in color, and in that the cow, bloated like a balloon, floats above a bright blue landscape.
“She’s a mad cow.”
A distempered female, so what else is new?
“Why’s she mad?”
“She’s fighting with the daddy cow.”
I’m surprised and stricken with guilt. It’s impossible not to fight with Richard sometimes, but some arguing is naturally built into marriage. I am amazed that Richard and I argue infrequently. I’m mad at him plenty, usually with cause. However, I respect my daughters. I love them. I want them to feel that love and the security of a calm and ordered home. Nothing would undermine this more than incessant battle royales with their father. Obviously, though, scrupulous as I am, as pained as I may find myself caging the vituperation engendered by some careless, thoughtless, or premeditated transgression of Richard’s, Emily has seen enough, and it’s made an impression.
“What’s the fight about?” I ask her.
“Oh,” she says, delineating the cow with a long, slim finger, “the daddy cow says she has to move to a new place.”
Well, I wouldn’t say the mommy cow is mad about moving from her comfortable home in Cranbury, green, lush, seasonal Cranbury, to a place that is brown, dusty, and monotonous; leaving a clutch of acquaintances requiring years to establish; forfeiting schools, doctors, contractors, and shops she’s come to like and rely on; but she’s certainly not thrilled. And she has told the daddy cow as much. Maybe I’ve expressed my unhappiness a little too often for the good of the girls. I strived for circumspection, discussing my concerns with Richard in the privacy of our bedroom, in brief conversations, because lately I’ve been able to garner only snippets of Richard’s time and attention. Yes, the move represents a wonderful opportunity; it means great things for Richard; and it will reward our family with . . . well, with more stuff, which is important to him, perhaps to the girls too, but less so to me. I’ve conceded all this to him. But Samantha and Emily are people, I’ve said. They have friends and things they like about Cranbury. Besides, Cranbury is their entire world; it is everything they have known since they were born. These pleadings did not impress Richard, who is of the opinion children adapt, and ours aren’t the first children who’ve ever moved. They’ll survive. True, I yielded, but not without anguish.
“Well, I don’t know about the mommy cow’s new place, but ours is going to be wonderful,” I say.”It’ll be sunny and warm all year. You can play outside every day, if you like.” This is my big gun. Emily loves the outdoors; loves running; loves anything physical.
“I know,” she drones.
“I bet you’ll meet someone as nice and fun as Seth almost the minute the moving men put your things in your room. Maybe even sooner.” Well, perhaps not someone exactly like Seth, but close enough. I chose the area and the house because I saw lots of children, big and small, and as close as next door.
She grunts.”The mommy cow’s still mad.”
We drive the rest of the way, which isn’t very far, in silence, with Emily resting her head on the door window and staring out. At home, we eat. After, I deposit her in Richard’s home office that he hardly uses as he is seldom home. Regardless, he’s managed to accumulate an assortment of business bric-a-brac—awards, photos, paperweights, a desk set, pens promoting the company’s various drugs, and lots more. I let Emily help by giving her a box, clean newsprint, and instructions to clear and pack Richard’s desk.
I return to the kitchen and resume packing. It isn’t long before I’m wondering about Angie’s baby, asking myself if Richard hadn’t lied about it.