Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 13 and 14)
It’s midnight when I again see myself in the window. I must sleep, not just for the rest, but also to escape, no matter how temporarily, this spell of distrust and hate Richard has cast upon me. I know where he is and how he is occupying himself and he is slowly wearing me down to where the only thing I will be good for is the grave, like Angie. I tell myself I’m tragic, melodramatic; I am exaggerating. But I don’t believe me; it feels like Richard is shredding my heart and soul and no amount of reasonableness, no fumbling at sober rationality, nothing will salve the agony.
I am rising off the sofa when the front door lock clicks. I slouch back and watch Richard enter. He reacts to the light in the kitchen and doesn’t notice me in the living room. He reaches into his suit jacket and removes his BlackBerry. He thumbs it, irritating me but amusing me, too; to think this is how we choose to use the thumbs that supposedly set us above other animals. The device’s backlight illuminates his face, shining up, shadowing his features, all still very attractive, though ghoulish in the icy footlight of the BlackBerry, highlighting, I muse, his true soulless, hollow nature, at least as it relates to me. Isn’t his behavior absolutely typical of him? His wife awaits him; his oldest daughter lies upstairs injured from a school bus accident that probably got a couple of minutes on the evening news; and he lolls scrolling through messages, each more important than anything in his own home.
He finishes and returns the BlackBerry to his jacket pocket. Next he digs into his pants. His hand emerges gripping two notes. One he glances at and crumbles. The other he studies, devoting nearly as much time to it as he did to his BlackBerry. Something important. Something I don’t think involves me. He taps it with a finger. Very important. He pockets it and starts for the kitchen.
“I’m in here,” I say, a loud whisper.
“What—” he blurts, low and strained but disturbingly amplified in the dead quiet house.
“Shush,” I go. The last thing I want is Richard waking the girls, especially Samantha. Especially her, so he can play the forlorn father, steeped in regret over not being with her from the moment of her injury; so he can prove to her and me he is the loving father, selfless to the degree he will sacrifice time with his wounded daughter in order to provide for her.
“Quiet. I don’t want you waking the girls.” I pull my legs onto the sofa and stretch to occupy every square inch, in case he’s planning to assuage me with a little strategic affection, administering a slathering of business emolument he is so expert at.
He turns up the lamp near me, changes course, and flops on the opposite sofa.
“Rough day,” he says.
I don’t know if he’s referring to his or mine or Samantha’s.
“Where were you?”
“What do you mean ‘where’? You know I was hung up in training. You know how it can run on and on.”
“Sure, but where were you after?”
He blinks, either at the question or to see better in the dusky light, I can’t tell. He’s accomplished at maintaining a neutral countenance; that of the consummate negotiator whose face is burnished blank steel.
“I told you. I had a dinner.”
“Richard, you’re lying.”
He says nothing and reveals nothing. I wonder what it must be like, what emotions he must repress, how he is able to dam up in his feelings. What is it like to wear a disguise, a mask of indifference, like an ancient Greek tragedian, every minute of your life? Hiding your true desires from everybody, especially your wife, must be enervating.
He stands. He stretches. He consults his watch. He says, “Okay, Babe. I don’t have time for this. It’s been a long day.”
He leaves the room. He pauses in the hall.”You coming?”
I shake my head and watch him climb the stairs.
I know my face is ugly and I’m grateful no one is around to see it, for unlike Richard, mine fully shows my emotions of pain, hate, and betrayal, my sense I count for little, perhaps for nothing, in Richard’s world; that something we shared is lost; that someone else is replacing me; or worse, I fear, the absolute worse, that something, inanimate, now substitutes for me. My only thought for a long time is, “You are a bastard.”
There’s no hope; I can’t sleep. I sit up. I stare at the window. And I wonder what is on the note he put in his pocket.
I’m in the kitchen checking the clock. How much time has passed since he went upstairs? Is Richard sleeping? Probably. Richard falls asleep instantly. I’ve never known him to toss and turn, never to suffer a night of insomnia over anything. What does it mean? Nothing weighs on his conscience? Or is it that he has no conscience?
After I spitefully dispose of the pizza, I shamble up the stairs and quietly enter our bedroom. It’s dark, but my night vision is acute. I step quietly to the closet, open the door slowly, and find his suit in the dry cleaning basket. I reach into the right pants pocket, finger around, and there it is. I extract the note and tiptoe into the hallway and down the stairs into the kitchen, where I can safely turn on a light.
The blue of the room distracts me; blue everywhere. Are my eyes deceiving me? Is the kitchen bluer than it had been earlier in the day? Or maybe it is the night; everything assumes deeper, darker tones at night. My eyes roll over the clock, pause, reverse, and I stare at the face, at the time, almost one a. m. I should be sleeping. Emily and Samantha will be up in a few hours, and I’ll be useless.
For a scrap of paper, it is heavy, a pound, for sure, as it is weighing my arm down and resisting my attempt to raise it. It’s thick in my hand. My fingers touch swirled reliefs, Richard’s scribble. I try reading them with my fingertips, as if they are brail. Nothing. I’m like the blind without training. But it’s all avoidance, isn’t it? I really don’t want to read what Richard jotted.
And this thought is enough to release me from my paralysis. I lift the feathery scrap, open it and read. It is a telephone number. I don’t recognize it, but I know it is local. I glance at the telephone. I am tempted. I am sorely tempted. I’m resisting from fear. But, oh, the temptation is palpable in the core of me, like a wriggling worm in my gut. Though I’ve memorized the number, I am also a careful person; I write the number on the pad by the telephone and remove the sheet. Upstairs, I return the note to Richard’s pocket. I’ll sleep on the number.