Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 11)
On the bed, time has eluded me, when the phone rings. I pick it up.
“Babe, I’m really sorry. I’ve been locked in a training class the entire day. How’s Samantha?”
He sounds harried and worried. However, feigning emotions is an art Richard has practiced and perfected. It’s a useful illusion in his briefcase of sales tricks. If he were in front of me where I could see his eyes, I could judge his sincerity.
“Fine,” I say, clipped.
“Fine. What does fine mean?”
“You’d know if you’d been at the hospital.” Regret instantly consumes me. I can’t stand an argument now, not with Samantha asleep, not with the situation: moving, accident, philandering, betrayal.
“I explained about the meeting. I’m sorry. Christ, I’m heartsick about it.”
“You have a phone.”
Dead air, absolute silence. It’s a waiting game, another of Richard’s tactics. Wait for the other person to move first, blunder, while you marshal your thoughts; counter with force. He employs the tactic expertly. I know the rules but I’m not a gamester. I always surrender, followed by Richard reminding me that I would never succeed in business, and that we are fortunate he’s the one earning the living.
“Minor bruises and a couple of cuts,” I say, to stop the emptiness from expanding between us.
“Good, good,” he says. After more silence, he says, “I’m sorry about this, Babe.”
“I understand, Richard,” I say, unhappy with myself for giving into him.
“No,” he says, “sure I’m sorry about not getting back to you sooner, sure. But I’m really sorry I can’t get home tonight. We’ve got a dinner, and after we’re doing another session. It’s a fantastic new product. We’re going to make millions. But it’s complicated, and we’ve got to get up to speed fast.”
“Oh, sure, I understand.” But I don’t. Since our move to Cranbury and his elevation to district manager, work is the axis of his conversation—the breadth and quality of his sales territory, his sales force, the strategies they employ, and the products they sell. Since we’ve been married, he’s worked on the introduction of two new drugs, and in both instances he talked about them interminably. He studied them and attended training for weeks. He described the intensity of his activities in detail, until I was ready to scream at him to stop, to show me a modicum of mercy. But now he is lying; I am convinced.
He declares me the best and testifies to his good fortune having me as his wife; and he hangs up, free to pursue whatever has captured his attention.
I relocate my packing operation to the living room. I’ve saved it for last, as I enjoy taking my tea here, wishing to maintain the room for as long as I can. It represents comfort and normalcy.
I’ve been working for a while when Samantha walks in rubbing her eyes.
“How are you feeling, honey?” I glance at the regulator clock on the wall. She’s slept for two hours.
“Sore? Anything hurt?”
She shrugs.” No, not much.”
“Ump,” she grunts, another shrug.” Maybe.”
I have an ulterior motive as I suggest we retrieve Emily from next door and go out.” How’s pizza sound to you? Jerry’s?”
“Yeah, Jerry’s.” She’s perky now. The pizzeria’s name is magic. The girls adore the place. Jerry’s saucy, square pizza, tomato pies they call them, is the attraction, as well as the kitschy murals, vistas of Venice, Rome, and Naples’ harbor. They always ask, “Can we go there?” and “Will it look like the pictures?” Neither Richard nor I like Jerry’s; we were raised on cheesy pizzas. Tonight the attraction for me is simple: Jerry’s is in Princeton and five minutes from Richard’s office. I doubt even he would be so stupid as to campout in his office with whomever. But I allow myself the dread.
We pick up Emily, who expresses squeaky delight at our adventure and cruise over to Princeton. Along the way, I have doubts about lurking in the parking lot of Richard’s office building. What if his car is there and his office light on? What can I do with Samantha and Emily with me, except bake in the pizzeria and on the drive home?
Near Jerry’s, the girls, Emily first and Samantha right behind her, say, “Let’s see if Daddy wants to come with us.”
I equivocate. “I don’t know. He’s at an important meeting. I don’t think he’ll have the time.” For good measure, “And then he’ll feel bad he can’t join us.”
I observe them in the rearview mirror. Samantha is quiet and impresses me as contemplative. Maybe she understands. But, no, she can’t; she’s still too young. Without hesitation, Emily pleads, “Let’s see. Let’s see, please.”
I’ve only half persuaded myself swinging by Richard’s office is the wrong thing to do and Emily’s begging provides me with an excuse to act on my motive. I pass the little strip mall where Jerry’s is, and continue the short distance to Richard’s. I drive through the front and back lots. The girls press their noses against their respective windows, searching.
“Too bad. It doesn’t look like Daddy’s here.” I attempt a cheeriness that I betray with a grimace; though, thankfully, they can’t see my face.
We go to Jerry’s and later leave with a small pizza for Richard. It’s not my idea; Samantha and Emily insist.
We arrive home before nine and I put them to bed straightaway.
I’m alone in the living room, a cup of tea on the coffee table, the room dim, lit by light seeping from the kitchen, staring at myself mirrored in the window. I’m not happy with me. I appear haggard. My countenance is a scowl. As the clock ticks away to ten, then eleven, I watch myself deteriorate into a crone. By now, too, my mood is foul; it’s as dark and cold as the night beyond the glass that reflects back the wretched me.