Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 15)
It is morning. I don’t remember getting into bed next to Richard, but obviously I did. He stirs when I do. I slip from the covers carefully to avoid waking him. It’s not consideration; I don’t want to confront him.
I dress and attend to my morning chores. As I’m preparing Samantha’s lunch, Richard saunters into the kitchen. He’s cheery and wishes me good morning. He looks around.” Got an early meeting. No time for breakfast,” he says, leaving. Just as well, I think, as I’ve made nothing for him
I walk Samantha to the bus stop with minutes to spare. Later, I drive Emily to her preschool and we set a record for earliness. I’m more efficient than ever this morning, and I know why.
At home, I prepare my tea and carry it into the living room, along with my cell phone. On the coffee table next to my Limoges I place the note. I stare at the phone number. I really don’t need the paper. I can see the number etched on the backs of my eyelids. Even with my eyes averted from the note, directed out the window to admire the morning, the phone number is visible, dominate, obscuring my view.
I would never call the number. Never. I would imagine, yes, but never.
I call the number. It rings twice, and on the third a woman answers.
The lithe of her voice arrests me, its freshness, its pleasing equanimity, as if I could converse with the voice about the most distasteful events, and it would remain calm, clear, bright, almost musical. What must be connected to this magnificent voice?
“Can I help you?” she prompts.
Now the voice registers impatience, but mildly. I’m displeased with myself for trying the woman’s patience. How can I be so inconsiderate? By the tone, she impresses me as nice, maybe someone who could easily become a friend. But, she isn’t the least bit nice, or considerate, or respectful. Yet, she might not be aware of Richard’s situation, another victim.
“I’m Richard’s wife,” I say.
The woman is silent.
My chest tightens. I’m afraid she’ll hang up and I don’t want her to.
Finally, she says, “He told me about you.” The lithe has vanished, replaced by sharpness tinged with anger, and a dash of wariness.
“Oh,” I say. I don’t know how else to answer. I’m howling inside. You’re Richard’s girlfriend, mistress, a little something on the side. Richard is cheating on me. Not a surprise, not the least bit shocking; he’s done it before; you’re not the first. But, still, I am flabbergasted. More, I am hurt, wounded mortally. Richard has talked about me with another woman he may prefer, a substitute for me, perhaps a replacement. What has he said? That’s what I want to ask: What has he said about me?
“Oh,” she repeats.”yes. He calls you the ‘silent bitch.'” She laughs. Why? My misery amuses her? She finds the idea funny? She thinks Richard is a wit; silent bitch is sharp phrasing?
“I don’t understand,” I falter.
“Look, you’ve got to be pissed right now. Hell, I’m pissed at him now, all the time. I don’t like sharing him with anybody, especially not his mousy wife, some little frou-frou thing who couldn’t tell somebody to go fuck herself if her life depended on it.”
“What are you talking about?” I am insensible, dizzy, nauseated by her assault, knowing Richard finds her, finds this alluring. This cannot be real. People don’t behave this way.
“You. I’m talking about you. Mrs. Goody Two-Shoes.”
“He called me—“
“No, he called you a frump. Mrs. Goody Two-Shoes, that’s mine.”
“Cruel, I know. I’m the regular run of the mill bitch.”
“He’s talked to you about me?” I shouldn’t announce I’m an enfeebled mess. But I can’t stop myself.
“What else would we talk about? You’re the most interesting subject between us. He loves telling me the dumb shit you do. I love to listen to him tell me.” She pauses. “And I give him his little rewards for the stories. He loves them, like a dog loves his treats.”
If I wasn’t sitting, I would collapse. I know Richard cheats. He’s circumspect. He rarely criticizes me directly about my appearance, my conversation, my cooking, or child rearing . . . nothing. However, I have no illusions he is not entirely pleased with any of these. What strikes me with the force of a highballing truck is this woman. More, that Richard would discuss me with her. Still more, that he would reveal his true feelings about me to her, to her and not me.
And she herself shocks me. Is she what Richard wants, wishes me to be? Intentionally abrasive, brash, crude, filthy, and completely open to a total stranger. Though, on reflection, maybe she figures she knows me well enough, confidentially, like a girlfriend, companion, concubine in Richard’s harem.
I must have drifted for a long time, because she says, “Cat got your tongue? Hello? You still there?”
“We should meet,” I say. I don’t know why. I don’t want to see her, where she lives, where Richard goes. I don’t.
I am searching, grasping, examining, and discarding reasons. I settle on, “I want to know what he likes.”
“What? You’re crazy!”
“Yes, I am,” I say, “crazy with jealousy.”
“Jealous? What? Of me?”
“Well,” she hesitates. “Well, I guess it’s okay.”
“Good,” I say.” Thank you. What’s your address?”
I am not violent but I must admit I have murder in my heart. The conundrum, however, is who should be the object of my vengeance? Richard? The woman? Maybe both.
The address is nearby, on the route to Emily’s preschool, right under my nose, in my back yard practically. Checking the clock, it’s all I can do to contain my rage. I have nearly two hours before release time.
She lives near Hightstown, in a row house in Twin Rivers. I find her place easily and am ringing her doorbell within a half-hour of our phone conversation.
She greets me in a housecoat, blue chenille, a little ratty, an embarrassment really, nothing I would wear; certainly nothing I would meet anyone in, anyone. She’s slapping around in flip-flops. She has a mop of bright red hair, the real thing that looks fabricated.
“The wife,” she says. “Welcome.”
She steps aside and I enter into her living room. It is blue: carpeting, walls, furniture, monochromatic in its single-mindedness.
I wait for her to invite me to sit, and then I take a chair near the window. She sits on the sofa facing me.
“You want something? Coffee, maybe?”
I shake my head. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“You’re a little different,” she says.
“Richard calls you a mouse. Mousy all over. Hair, face, plain Jane. So?”
“I wanted to meet you.”
She scrutinizes me. Her gaze is like an x-ray, penetrating and exposing. “What do you think?”
I glance around the room. I notice photos on the parsons table behind the sofa. She’s in one with a man and two children.
“You’re married,” I say, my surprise undisguised.
She swivels, acknowledges the photos, and turns back. “What did you think?”
“I don’t know. The way you acted . . . I don’t know.”
She harrumphs, as if her behavior should have been obvious. “His name’s Mike. He’s okay. One of those good guys everybody talks about. One of those good guys woman claim they want. You like the good ones?”
I nod. “I thought Richard was one.”
She regards me skeptically. “Sure.”
“No, in the beginning—“
“Please, Richard’s bad. They don’t get as bad as he is overnight.” Her eyes flit over me head to toe. “And don’t credit herself. You might be exactly what Richard says you are. Doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with him being bad. It’s who he is.”
I’m ranging over Richard’s friendship with Bobby and his mentor episode with Julie in the Rider University library basement, my incessant fretting about the women under him on the second floor of Olsen A, the episode in the Howard Johnson’s.
“You with me?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, distant, as if comatose. “I guess you’re right.”
“No guessing about it. Takes bad to know bad and I’ve been a bad girl all my life. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Doesn’t bother me a bit. I was the school slut. Not the only one, but the most popular. Richard was probably banging somebody like me at that high school of yours.”
“Yeah, good old C. F. He has fond memories of it.”
“What do you mean?”
“He had a good time is what I mean. The same kind of good time he has with me. That’s the way these guys are. Not like true blue Mike. Mike has plenty of good times with me. And it’s enough for him.” She pauses to rub her hands on her robe. “I’m dying here for a cigarette. Gave them up in January for the family. They want me to live to ninety. But, Christ, my lungs are sweating for a smoke.”
“I don’t smoke,” I say.
“I didn’t think you did. Oh well, the suffering mom,” she says. “Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy with Mike. In fact, I couldn’t be happy with any other kind of husband, not with what I know.” She smiles and it appears sincere. “I think you’re probably the kind of wife Mike deserves. Luck of the draw, I guess.”
“I guess,” I say.
“What else do you want to know? Some of the gory details maybe. How we met, what we do, where, that sort of stuff?” She softens. “But you’re not the type.”
It’s enough, I think, as I stand. “Thank you.”
She’s up and at the door ahead of me.” Anything for Richard’s wife,” she says.
I’m outside when she touches my arm.
“I’m not really a horrible person.”
“No,” I say, “not everybody is.”
I pull out of the row house parking area and drive around the corner. I stop and idle while I cry. Richard has deceived me for years, since high school. I wonder who it was, who he was seeing besides me in Creek Falls. I wish I had Angie and Rosemary in the car with me. Three speculating heads are better than one. I laugh hard at my idiocy and the tears roll into my mouth, hot and bitter. I know some of the others. Julie in college, and maybe another. The woman at the Howard Johnson’s. A sales associate who had long been a suspect, who he transferred to California, to San Francisco. I wonder how far it is from San Diego and make a mental note to check a map. And this woman in Twin Rivers. What’s her name? I didn’t ask and she didn’t volunteer. The wife of Mike, the nice guy. Wife and mother like me. I don’t know what to make of my situation, whether to confront Richard, have it out, tell him I know everything, demand he shape up, reform, or I’m walking with the girls. We’ll move back to Creek Falls. I’ll find something to do. I’m capable. Really, I am.
The dash clock tells me I have fifteen minutes before Emily’s release time. I turn onto Twin Rivers Drive and take it to Route 33, where I stop behind a yellow Volkswagen waiting for the traffic light. I cringe at the sight of the car, shudder, replaying how Richard tormented me with it, comparing me, claiming it was a joke, that I couldn’t take a joke after he had hurt me, after he was sure I was suffering. It was his way on those occasions when he wanted to be cruel, to strike at me with words, looks, inferences. Never anything physical, but always as painful, perhaps more.
To avoid the Volkswagen, I raise my eyes and look beyond it, across 33 to where Twin Rivers Drive picks up again. Sitting there at the light is a blue car, sky blue, a shade to bright, absolutely wrong for a car; appropriate for the sky, but not for transportation, ugly; and I raise my eyes to the traffic light.
I tend to anticipate the changing of a traffic light. I watch the light signaling in the opposite direction. If I can’t see the light, I can usually see the color reflected in its shade. I never jump the light; nor do I charge ahead the instant the light changes. I just like to know when the light will change, to be ready, to not hold up those behind me.
So I am prepared for the light when it changes, as is the driver of the Volkswagen, who immediately darts into the intersection.
Unfortunately, yellow now means step on the gas, which is what the tractor-trailer driver racing through the light is doing, sounding his air horn frantically.
I clench the steering wheel and shout senselessly at the windshield for the Volkswagen to watch out, watch out, the truck is running the light. In an instant, the Volkswagen vanishes. Billows of black smoke flare behind the truck as the driver applies the brakes. The trailer reacts by jackknifing. But the driver is able to regain control and bring the truck to a stop two, maybe three hundred yards down 33.
Already weepy from my encounter with Richard’s latest girlfriend, I am crying uncontrollably. I’m sure I’ve just witnessed someone’s death.
But have I? Through the film of tears, warped and hazy, I see the Volkswagen. Miraculously, it is intact, for the most part, at least distinguishable as a Volkswagen. The rear end is sheared off. It’s nowhere in sight, probably crushed under the carriage of the truck cab. A man climbs out of the front portion of the Volkswagen, the door opening and he exiting almost as if nothing has happened, as if he’d just pulled into a parking slot at Target. Out, standing, though wobbly, he surveys the damage to his car. Then, as if overwhelmed by the sight, he slumps to the pavement.
Automatically, I’m climbing out of my car clutching my cell phone. I charge into the intersection, heedless of danger, intent on helping him. As I trot, I punch 911. The dispatcher comes on as I arrive at the side of the prostrate diver. And it is then I see that the blue car is moving rapidly, straight at us.
In a panic, I yell into my phone, “Help! He’s heading right for us! Help!”
Of course, the dispatcher can’t help. She can send somebody to pick up the pieces, but miles away, there is nothing she can do to aid us. She calmly asks for my location.
I wish I could be as calm, but I’m facing two thousand pounds of savage blue metal seconds from launching me into the hereafter.
I drop the phone on the collapsed man and lurch left, away from the man and his Volkswagen. As I jog, I regret it and think I should have lunged behind the Volkswagen. Maybe it would protect—I’m thinking as the blue car strikes me. My legs snap, loud, like the crack of a timbering tree. But it doesn’t out decibel my scream, which strikes me as magnitudes higher than had been the screeching brakes of the truck. I slide up the hood and smash against the windshield, breaking it, decorating the glass with spider web cracks. Through them I see the driver. It is a man dressed in blue, including a blue fedora. The blue matches the car and as I slide up the windshield and onto the roof and along it, and bounce on the trunk lid, and land on the blacktop, I laugh, inside, at the oddity, the coincidence, the bizarreness of the blues; he is wearing exactly the blue his car is painted.
I lay still. I cannot move. I should be in agony, but here I lie immobile and pain free, comfortable if pressed to describe the sensation, as if lounging in my bed or reclining on my beloved sofa affording me my wonderful view of our front yard, the trees, our street, the delightfully almost colonial neighborhood in Cranbury. But, no, I am not entirely without discomfort. My throat is raw, dry like I’ve been in a desert for weeks. My arms are sore, heavy and punctured, like maybe I’ve been stung by wasps. But all in all, considering what has just befallen me, I feel remarkably well.
I’m lying and waiting for someone to help. I think someone, perhaps a team of people, is approaching. I hear shuffling, muted, softened as if they are treading on carpet. I hear voices, low, mumbling, with an occasional piercing bark, but subdued, as if what they are saying is secret, only for their ears.
I close my eyes. I should be at peace. But I am not. Dread overwhelms me, until there is nothing.