Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 11)

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.

“Good.”

“Sore? Anything hurt?”

She shrugs.” No, not much.”

“Hungry?”

“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.

The Dangerous Life of an Art History Major

Unbecoming

By Rebecca Scherm

Rebecca Scherm has written an intricately plotted thriller that compels readers forward with curiosity about how Grace ended up exiling herself to Paris, and how she transformed herself from a Tennessee girl who wanted to please the boy and his family that she loved into a young woman who betrayed them as she turned into a pretty good, though neurotic, art thief, specifically of jewelry. It’s as much plot-driven as it is a very good psychological character study (with interesting insight into jewelry and the counterfeiting of it), both admirably accomplished and polished for a first novel.

Grace and Riley grow up together in the small town of Garland, where his family has some prominence and her family leaves her wanting. In her young teen life, she sets herself to beguiling Riley into loving her as much as she loves him and all that comes with him. She’s so successful that she even gets her own room in his house, where she is treated nearly as a daughter, particularly by his mother. More, Riley falls deeply and inseparably in love with her, seemingly what she wants.

Riley fashions himself into a painter, but of limited horizons, satisfied to chronicle the buildings of Garland, not as commentary on small-town life, but purely representational. An art student herself, his ambitions, or lack of them, disappoint Grace. While her romantic attraction to him remains solid, her passion strays.

Riley has two best buddies, Alls and Greg. Eventually, Riley, the buds, and Grace room together in a shared house. Student poor, with Riley and Grace conversant in art, and an old, artifact-filled estate, the Wynne House, practically next door, they hatch a plot to rob the place. Grace subtly takes over as the ringleader, based on the knowledge she picked up while employed in New York City, and from this springs the ever-growing tentacles of duplicity that reach to Prague and Paris.

Paris is where we find Grace at the opening of the novel, working in a jewelry restoration shop, using the name Julie. Naturally, in a world with a foundation of lies and deception, the shop is more a den of thieves. Grace, as Julie, has fled there after romantic and robbery fiascos in Garland, and an even harsher incident in Prague, seeking distance and anonymity for fear the boys will find her after they finish their prison terms. How all this transpired, how Grace changed from a girl who wanted love to a femme-fatale nervous all the time, and how she forges a life of crime, well, that’s the fun of the novel. w/c

For Those Who Enjoy Melancholy Stories

The Sunken Cathedral

By Kate Walbert

How to describe Walbert’s short novel of interlaced lives of people living in New York City under the pall of sad memories and impending doom? Something like being confined to a single room in gloaming caused by an unending rain storm seems about right. This isn’t to say the novel isn’t good, for it is in its own special way; it is to say the novel is not for everybody and certainly not for those who like a soupçon of joy in what they read.

Walbert opens with three elderly women–Helen, Simone, and Marie–seeking to occupy their time and share by participating in a painting class led by the disheveled and not very successful artist Sid Morris. In time, readers meet Elizabeth, a renter in Marie’s brownstone burdened with an incubus from her childhood, and her husband and teenage son. Later, along come the leaders of Progressive K-8, the school Elizabeth’s son attends, and then Jules, son of Marie, and his partner Larry. Periodically, readers also learn about the women’s deceased husbands and their lives together, much of this related in extensive footnotes. Not really ancillary to the stories but integral to understanding the melancholy of the women’s lives, these are an unusual and interesting but not always welcome way to expand upon the backstories of the characters. Death and longing play a large part in the stories, as does the fear of destructive natural forces.

In case you’re wondering, the title refers to the inspiration for Helen’s painting in Sid’s class, Claude Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie piano prelude, an impressionistic piece attempting to evoke the sense of the legend of the mythical city of Ys built off the coast of Brittany by King Gradlon. He built it for his daughter Dahut who ultimately opened the gates to flooding in a besotted fit of possession by the devil himself and destroyed it.

In fact, you might say, Walbert’s novel is much like Debussy’s aural attempt, except Walbert’s is an impressionistic piece in words of lives in a city that will eventually sink into the ocean. It may work for some but certainly not all of us. w/c

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 9 and 10)

9

The temptation to confront Angie and Bobby almost overpowered my good sense. It would be easy, I thought. I could bump into them, casual as you please, just in town for a pleasant afternoon of culture and lunch, as they came out of a curio shop. Imagine, you two, together! Oh, no Richard had to work. He’s always working. The girls? Yes, it would have been delightful if you could have met them. But they had things to do, children to play with, can’t drag them out of Cranbury it seems.

However, I was sensible. Our meeting would have been, at best, awkward. Angie wouldn’t have known what to say, realized the sight of her with Bobby stunned and enraged me, and the result would have been blistering acrimony in the doorway, for I doubt either of us would have contained ourselves. And Bobby was anything but the exemplification of self-control. Though maybe he had changed. So much of him was different, on the surface, superficially improved. Maybe his temper and his perpetual indignation, especially in the presence of people like me, had mellowed or dissipated altogether.

Too, I could not have said anything to persuade her that Bobby was poison for her, that he was as evil now as he had been in Creek Falls High. She would have been deaf to the fact that bared itself on the street. Bobby was deceiving her, using her for a purpose known only to him. What else would I have said, the person who hated Bobby? She probably would have attributed my attitude, my accusation, as the very reason she had not called me about the wedding, had not invited me to their place, and had forbade Richard from disclosing anything of Bobby and her to me.

10

I reach for a platter and there isn’t one. I’ve wrapped and packed everything on the table, everything in the kitchen. In another week, the movers will arrive and shortly after we will reside in Rancho Bernardo.

The doorbell rings. I glance at the clock. It will be Samantha. She could enter through the garage by simply punching in the code she’s memorized. But she prefers the front door. She claims it is the only civilized way to enter your home. I walk through the hall past the family and living rooms. I think how sad the house is; as if already it is empty, no longer mine, its heart gone elsewhere.

I open the door, hardly treating the action as anything but routine. I begin my chant, “Samantha, it would be much easier if you just let yourself in through —“ 

But it is not Samantha. It is a Cranbury community service officer. He smiles. His smile is wan, the official projection of the police as your friend.

“Mrs. DeSantis?”

I nod. “Is there something wrong?” Of course there is. Police do not show up at your front door to deliver good news. No, Mrs. DeSantis, nothing wrong. Just showing appreciation for your safe driving record. Not likely.

“Mrs. DeSantis,” he intones, “I’m sorry to report there’s been a school bus accident.”

I have been gripping the doorknob and now I am glad for it, for it is the reason I am not falling.

“Samantha, my daughter, she’s not —“  I’m imagining fearsome things, terrible injuries, Samantha screaming and dying.

“No, Mrs. DeSantis, she’s a little banged up, but nothing serious. All the children have been transported to Princeton Hospital. I’m here to offer you a ride, if you don’t have one, or don’t feel you can drive.”

“Banged up?” I believe I’m in control but by the expression of concern on the officer’s face says I may not be. My voice tightens, my eyes enlarge, and my skin grows clammy. “What’s banged up mean?”

“Sorry, Mrs. DeSantis, cuts and bruises. They, the paramedics, they tell us nothing serious. The children are at the hospital for observation, just to be sure.”

I’m tempted to accept his offer of a ride, but I have Emily at Carol’s, and there’s Richard.

“I’m fine. I can drive. I have to pick up my other daughter. Did anybody call my husband?”

He tells me Richard has been notified, but hasn’t responded. It’s likely the reason the officer is here, to be helpful. Cranbury’s that kind of town and another reason I hate leaving.

I’m closing the door, when he asks, “Are you sure about the ride?”

I smile. I know it’s exaggerated. “I’m good, really.”

I close the door. It latches, and I can’t budge. I’m shaking and crying. I’m thinking it was a narrow escape; thinking anything can happen anytime; thinking how little power we have over our lives, over when we are to die; remembering Samantha as a baby; seeing her as grown woman. I cannot stop the thoughts; they flood my brain and paralyze me.

I don’t realize I’ve been planted in front of the door for five minutes until I uproot myself and bolt into the kitchen and glance at the clock. I phone Carol. She puts Emily on the line and I’m explicit. She cannot go the front way. She can’t go in the street. Though, of course, Emily’s route is always through the backyards. I might be hysterical.

I punch in Richard’s cell number. His voicemail greets me. I leave a detailed message as I watch Emily dash across the yard to me.

“I want to play more,” she pouts, once inside.

I am tense and edgy and I know I should think before I speak. I know what to do but I can’t do it. I snap, “We’ve got to go. Your sister’s bus had an accident.” The words sound horribly urgent, I know, because they feel just dreadful on my lips.

Emily begins whimpering.

I scoop her up and reassure her, brushing her tears with my thumb. “She’s fine, Emily. Just a few bumps and dings, like the time you tripped and fell down the stairs. Remember?” She shakes her head. “Okay, let’s go and see how many bumps Samantha has.”

I put her down. She swipes her cheeks with her shirtsleeve. “I bet not as many as me,” she says, cheering at the prospect of a contest with Samantha.

I drive faster than normal for me. I’m a cautious driver, especially when the girls are in the car, which is pretty much always. Emily is in the back humming; she likes fast, everything fast.

We arrive at the hospital and rush into the emergency room. Parents pack it. Most are completing forms. At the desk, the nurse informs me Samantha is nearly ready to be released and asks me to fill out forms. I know Richard hasn’t been here; otherwise, I wouldn’t be scribbling insurance information on forms fastened to a clipboard, anxious to see my daughter. Many of the parents have brought their other children and Emily occupies herself with them. After I return the forms, the nurse allows me to see Samantha. I grab Emily and hustle us into the treatment area.

We find Samantha balancing on the edge of a gurney in the hallway. She has a band-aid above her right eye and another on her right knee but otherwise appears fine. In fact, she’s happy.

When she spots us, she starts to bound off the gurney, but we are quicker than she is. Emily and I hug and kiss her, and she kisses us back.

“What happened?” I ask, touching her hair, her face, her arms.

“A car hit us.”

“Where?” I ask.

“Outside school.”

“I mean, what part of the bus did the car hit?”

“The back.”

I envision children whiplashed. Reflexively, I ask, “Does your neck hurt?”

She shakes her head no, and I say, “Don’t move your head.”

“Did you bleed a lot?” asks Emily.

Samantha shakes her head.

“Please keep your head still,” I urge.

“Anybody bleed a lot?” persists Emily.

Samantha starts to shake her head, stops, says, “No.”

“What kind of accident is that?” says Emily, clearly puzzled and disappointed.

“A lucky accident,” I say, and laugh nervously.

“What’s funny?” demands Emily.

“Oh,” I say, “it’s something of an oxymoron.”

“Huh?”

“Words that mean the opposite used together, “I explain.

“That’s silly,” she huffs.

“Exactly.”  I pause, then ask Samantha, “Do you see the doctor who cared for you?”

She surveys the room and gestures.

“You two wait right here,” I say. Pointing at Samantha, “And you stay on the bed.”

The doctor is a man. He’s remarkably tall, six-five if I have to guess. He has black, curly hair, a mass of long unkempt locks. He’s younger than me, but already worn in the face. He wears blue scrubs that, idly I note, coordinate with the ER. I intercept him before he’s occupied with another patient.

I introduce myself. “You treated my daughter,” I say, indicating Samantha perched obediently on the edge of the gurney.

“She’s fine,” he says, “bumps and bruises. Nothing internal. She’ll probably be sore for a day or so. Aspirin will do it.” 

I’d like to quiz him but I don’t have a question at hand and he doesn’t have time to wait. “Thank you,” I say, and he’s gone.

I round up Samantha and Emily. As we exit the parking lot, Samantha complains she’s hungry and Emily choruses. Under duress, I stop at a McDonald’s. We use the drive-thru. It isn’t until we’re on the road again and they are eating in the back that I remember I haven’t yet heard from Richard. I don’t know if I truly expected to see him at the hospital. Maybe I did. His office isn’t far. But he may not be in his office today. I’m angry. He could phone at the least. His daughter is in an accident. He doesn’t know whether it is serious or minor. He should be concerned, worried, frightened, like me. He should call. I know he has listened to my message. Richard is fanatical about keeping on top of his messages and dedicated to responding immediately. Maybe his own daughter’s accident isn’t interesting business.

From the back, Samantha whines, “Mommy, my head hurts.”

“Only a few minutes and we’ll be home. I’ll give you a couple of aspirin. Then you can lie down.”

She utters a feeble, “Okay.”

The girls are quiet until we are in Cranbury, within a block or two of our house, when Samantha remarks, “It looks like the car that hit my bus.”

Her words, what she sees passing us, nothing registers with me for a second or two. Suddenly, as if the car has rear-ended us and I am trying to recount the collision, I spin my head around and catch the back-end of the receding auto. It is extraordinary, a throwback to the sixties, roughed up by time and use, and sun-dulled—but still blue; it is the color of a clear sky; the color of the ER doctor’s scrubs; the color my kitchen that’s very strange to me.

“What?” I say, on the verge of shouting. “A car like that hit your bus. Did you tell the police?”

Samantha adopts a schoolgirl primness. “Yes, Mother. They asked all of us if we saw who hit our bus.”

“Did they arrest the person driving the car?”

“No.”

“No. Why not?”

“The car didn’t stop. It hit us and passed us and drove away.”

“That’s outrageous,” sputtering, glancing at Samantha in the rearview mirror.

She shrugs. I wonder what she means. So what? Do people ever stop these days? Or maybe, why are mothers surprised when they should know, should have asked the police or the doctor or somebody other than a child about the details of an accident that sent a bus load of children to the hospital?

We arrive home with me upset that Samantha could have suffered a terrible injury, furious at Richard for demonstrating not an iota of concern for his family, and vexed by my own failure to probe the assembled about the accident.

Emily wants to return to Carol’s to play. She announces her desire before we can climb out of the car. Fortunately, Carol spied us pulling into the driveway and she meets us. Carol peppers me with endless questions and, though anxious, I am grateful someone cares, and think this is exactly what I expect of Richard, exactly what Richard can’t seem to deliver—authentic concern and involvement.

In the house, Samantha says she wants to nap and I agree rest is best. On our way to her bedroom, I ask, off-handedly, “The blue, what do you think of it?”

“What blue?” she asks.

“The kitchen.”

She shrugs.” Yeah, it’s okay.”

“Not odd. Maybe different.”

She shakes her head and walks up the stairs, and I’m behind her. She pauses, turns, and stares at me, a hint of surprise in her expression.

“It looks like the car,” she says.

“What?”

“The kitchen. The blue in the kitchen looks like the car.”

“Oh,” I say, turning my head toward the kitchen.

“The doctor, too,” she adds.

“The doctor?”

“His clothes.”

She’s right.

“What a coincidence,” I say.

In her room, she stretches out on the bed, and I cover her with a blanket. She shifts onto her side and is asleep before I’ve left to get her aspirin.

In our bedroom, I check the answering machine for messages. There are a few, but nothing from Richard. I cannot believe he has not received my call. He is, doubtlessly, avoiding me. I sit down on the bed. We’re wrapping up our life in Cranbury, New Jersey. The girls are saying their goodbyes at school. Their father is saying his goodbyes in places like the Howard Johnson’s. I know it.

The Outlaw’s Daughter Grows Up

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

By Hannah Tinti

Hannah Tinti merges two genres, coming of age and crime thriller, into a powerful tale of a daughter learning about her often absent outlaw father, then bonding with him, accepting him for the imperfect man he is, and discovering her own inner strength. Though filled with violence and plenty of death dealing, it ultimately finishes on a hopeful note, and stands as a testament to the goodness and love within even the most ruthless people.

The novel alternates between Loo, the daughter, growing up from age twelve to just shy of eighteen and the nomadic life of her father, an outlaw who freelances in crime. You have Loo and Hawley living together, learning about each other and Hawley’s criminal life centered around how he came to acquire eleven gunshot wounds. How he received these and curiosity about how he will get his last, the twelfth, plus how Loo will react when she discovers what Hawley really is, provide the propulsive drive of the novel.

Hawley has been a criminal nearly from the time he was a teen. He hooked up with Jove, an older man who claimed to be a doctor. Maybe he was, because he teaches Hawley quite a bit about field treating injuries, especially gunshot wounds. Hawley travels with a well stocked medical kit. Bad guys, after all, can’t just present themselves in emergency rooms. He and Jove see each other when they are working on a job for a kingpin named King. King deals in rare artifacts, which Hawley and Jove retrieve for him. When contractors steal from him, King dispatches Hawley and Jove to collect and mete out the criminal version of justice.

King’s a man who lurks in the shadows. Hawley meets him for the first time in a diner, where he also mets Lily, a memorable pairing. Eventually, he marries Lily. They have a baby, Louise, nicknamed Loo. Something terrible happens to Lily, reported back in her hometown as a drowning. This leaves Hawley with Loo. Hawley, though, has business to take care off, so he leaves Loo with Lily’s mom, Mabel Ridge, an eccentric and crusty character, in the coastal New England fishing town Lily grew up in. Hawley returns after four years and takes Loo back. With her, they traverse the country, dodging whatever Hawley believes wants to find them.

Finally, when Loo is older, they settle in the New England town. When she turns twelve, the start of the novel, he teaches her how to shoot. Let’s just say her upbringing bears not the remotest resemblance to that of Anne of Green Gables. She’s odd girl out at school, terrifically strong-willed, constantly rebellious, and sometimes given to violence. Marshall, a student in her school, develops a crush on her. When he kisses her, she responds by breaking his finger. He’s odd, too, and slowly they fit together.

Time passes and we readers she her relationship with Hawley change and deepen. We learn more about her mother, Lily, whom in spirit she bears a striking resemble to. And we feel a certain amount of tension, because it is quite clear Hawley lives an edgy life, waiting for something to happen, waiting for somebody to catch up with him. Then Jove reappears, surprising Hawley and Loo. And then we slid into a climax that calls on all the knowledge Loo has acquired, the astronomy she knows, what she’s learned about the ocean, and, of course, her shooting skills. The ending proves very cinematic.

While the novel contains copious amounts of crime and violence and the ending brings these together in the ultimate test of father-daughter bonding, it’s at its heart a story of girl growing and discovering herself and a father learning again how to love, this time his daughter. Tinti’s writing and mastery of criminal life, weapons, the outdoors, the sea, the sky, and human motivation will impress you, and are another reason to read the novel. w/c

Coming of Age in Crisis

The Girl Who Slept with God

By Val Brelinski

In Val Brelinski’s well done and often moving debut novel, readers see the world through the eyes of a girl (Jory) just reaching puberty (13 turning 14), raised with two sisters (little Frances and older Grace), in rural Idaho, as a member of a small evangelical church, by parents who eschew the modern world of the 1970s. As she comes of age, she has to deal with 17-year-old Grace’s return from a mission in Mexico pregnant and claiming it to be the work of God, with parents (Oren and Esther) in turmoil and at odds, and with an older man (Grip, in his 20s), of dubious background, who befriends her, a relationship not a few may find creepy (though Grip reveals himself to be a noble character).

You’ll find the strengths of the novel in Brelinski’s gently melodic tone, upon which you’ll find yourself drifting, as if on the Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” (Pure Moods, Vol. I), and the change in Jory, both in her maturation, her personal strength, and the world beyond her church and insular religious school. In other words, this is a novel not so much about the mystical, which you might expect from the title, but one grounded firmly in the experiences of families dealing with crises and young women grappling with their new roles as young, social women. Read with this in mind and you’ll find it an impressive first effort. w/c

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 7 and 8)

7

The address was on a Post-it, scratched hurriedly, almost indecipherable. It was an address without a name, just 96th Street, NYC. I had slipped it into my purse.

It was a Saturday when I arranged with Carol a twenty-four hour play date for Emily and one for Samantha with another neighbor. Richard, as usual, was working and left the house before eight. I was on the Turnpike by ten, through the tunnel by eleven-thirty, and parked in the Port Authority by noon. Forty-first Street was deserted and I easily caught a cab. I asked the driver to drop me a block east of where Angie and Bobby lived. I didn’t want to chance running into them, for I didn’t really know my purpose. Perhaps I did want to confront Angie, reveal my knowledge of her marriage to a man I loathed, and my discovery of it in spite of her determined deception. Then again, maybe I was there simply because I could not trust Richard; that I suspected him of manufacturing the tale for no other reason than to torment me.

I walked around the block. It was a pleasant neighborhood, neat, expensive, gentrified into contrived quaintness. Angie and Bobby’s address was a six-story gray stone that looked as if it dated back to the Twenties. A small garden separated it from the street and a wrought iron fence formalized the boundary between private and public property. A Starbucks was on the corner and it afforded a direct view of their entrance.

I ordered a plain black coffee and sat at the counter that ran along the window. Over the next hour I observed three couples exit. Seeing them released a tension mounting in me. It seemed unlike me and I realized some of Richard’s competitiveness had rubbed off on me. I fretted that Angie and Bobby owned or rented the penthouse. Perhaps it was a bit more than misplaced competitiveness, and maybe it had nothing to do with keeping a step ahead. Maybe, instead, it had everything to do with my fear that Angie and Bobby were a perfect match; in Bobby McFarlane Angie had found the successful and possibly devoted man she’d dreamed of back in Creek Falls. On the stool in Starbucks allowing my overpriced black coffee to grow cold, I suffered pangs of jealousy, and then self-recrimination for begrudging Angie happiness, and then a reluctant appreciation of why she asked Richard not to reveal her marriage to me.

It was around two when I saw them come out. I would have overlooked them, not recognized Bobby, if it hadn’t been for Angie, who, in spite of for her pregnancy, appeared very much as she had in high school. But Bobby, he wasn’t himself. It was like a “Twilight Zone” episode, the one where the old couple try to trade their worn bodies for new models, though in the case of Bobby the exchange is from a grimy runt to an elongated, polished clean, and well dressed—expensively in a sky-blue shirt and black slacks, and gleaming black shoes, shining so brightly in the sunshine I saw them glint from half a block away—image of success. I remember my disbelief; that I must have been in a nightmare.

I sat frozen, my coffee forgotten, the only thing filling my mind and my vision, the improbable couple. Angie walked on Bobby’s right, close to him, gripping his arm with both her hands. He bent into her several times as they ambled toward Starbucks and me. He kissed her, and how repellant the act seemed to me. She spoke to him, smiled, and he kissed her again; and she laughed in response, threw her head back, and laughed as if he actually pleased her. They were yards distant, and a window was between us, too, yet I believed I could hear her from where I sat, as if she had fired her roaring laugh directly at me, and it plunged into me, a flaming arrow of searing sadness.

I slid off the stool to ensure they did not see me and stood to the inside of the front door until they passed. I waited a moment, not much more, until they turned the corner, when I left Starbucks and fell in behind them. They zigzagged over to 5th Avenue, where they hailed a cab. I dashed to the curb and flagged my own cab. I was breathless and a good-humored fare, explaining to the cabby this was something like the movies; I wanted him to follow that cab a few cars ahead of us.

We traveled down 5th for several minutes. They stopped on the park side, across from the Guggenheim, and I asked my driver to pull over at 89th Street. I slowly walked toward where their cab had deposited them. They had the light and crossed to the museum and entered it. There was a bench on my side of the street and I sat down. I admit the sight of Angie and Bobby entering the Guggenheim surprised me. I didn’t know Angie was fond of art, but I credited her with the intelligence to have developed an appreciation. But Bobby, his transformation from a grease-smeared bum, startled me. He had gone from fixing cars to repairing people, and now this. I began to doubt myself, to wonder if I had terribly misjudged him. Perhaps Richard had been right about Bobby when he claimed he was smarter than I imagined, and possessed more ambition, far beyond cars and a predictable existence in Creek Falls. What had I accomplished compared to Bobby? I’d married Richard. My ambition had been to marry Richard and have a family, and, maybe, if I could manage it and Richard would agree, to teach when the girls where in school full-time. And here was the boy I’d detested, who I had banned from my wedding, from whom I had attempted to separate Richard; here he was successful, apparently cultured, married to my best high school friend, who herself was accomplished. How could I have been so wrong? Maybe Angie and Bobby were right inviting only Richard to their place, keeping their marriage and where they lived from me.

It seemed they were in and out of the Guggenheim in minutes, but my watch indicated that two hours had passed. I was startled and a little worried my own mystification and, maybe too, envy so engrossed me I’d lost track of time and location.

We taxied again. We weaved down and across town to Seaport Village. It was a beautiful day, sunny and pleasantly warm. They strolled arm in arm, with me close behind. They circulated through the shops and accumulated bags that Bobby carried. Frequently, he leaned into Angie and whispered to her. She laughed. I knew she laughed because I saw her shoulders shake. Sometimes he kissed her, usually on the cheek, but once he stopped her right in the middle of a gaggle of sightseers and kissed her on the mouth. It wasn’t a peck; he wrapped her in his bag-festooned arms and kissed her with a passion that embarrassed me, and aroused my jealously. How long had it been since Richard kissed me like Bobby kissed Angie? I couldn’t recall. Maybe not since Samantha was born. Maybe not since his work, his drive to achieve, replaced me as the passion of his life.

It seemed too much to me, their attraction to each other. Was it possible two people whom I was certain disliked each other, that a woman I believed I knew, that a man I detested, that these two could meld into the embodiment of the hallowed couple?

My afternoon of surveillance persuaded me it was. Stupid twists of trite sayings whizzed around in my mind: A tiger could change his stripes. Birds of totally different plumage do flock together. Instead of warmth and happiness at the sight, the encouraging good cheer that if this then what more: the end of religious war, or racial hatred, for what wasn’t possible? Instead, I was exhausted, aching, ready to return home, unhappy with my lot, and pining over my predicament.

And then it happened, what I suspected, and, truthfully, what I had hungered for, my subliminal motive for shadowing the two up and down Manhattan—Bobby affirmed the immutability of his character; that his stripes were still black and repugnant, the color and sentiment of his heart. We were in the financial district at the site occupied by the new World Trade Center. There we stood, though not together, but close enough for me to see tears glistening on Angie’s cheek. Bobby did the expected. He enfolded her, gazing on the enshrined site and comforted her, until he looked away, and his eyes latched onto a woman passing behind them. She was tall, lithesome, and beautiful by any measure. She was with a man. He wasn’t nearly as young or attractive as she. She was on his arm, but I could see she was detached, in a world to which she had closed the portal, at least to her companion. Bobby, still clutching Angie, swiveled his head and revealed to me, to anybody who was paying attention, an unmistakable expression of boredom. It could have been the time of day, the endless sightseeing, the hard labor of it all, and the exhaustion it engendered. But he wasn’t tired, simply bored with Angie, for in the second it took the woman to pass, Bobby’s face flashed pleasure, excitement, and desire, and he seemed to pull away from Angie, as if the passing body possessed an irresistible attracting force, a seductive gravity.

The expression struck me, disturbed me, and dissuaded me instantly from reversing my opinion of Bobby McFarlane. It highlighted more, too. It announced Bobby did not love Angie. Why he was with her, what his purpose was, I didn’t know. Love, however, was not it. For, I understood marriage without love, marriage with a man who regarded everything and everybody as better than his wife and home. And in that instant, I was afraid for Angie . . . and for myself.

8

The crash startles me. It’s loud and reverberates off the hard walls and surfaces of the kitchen. For a frightening second, I can’t place where I am or what is happening, until my foot strikes something. I step back and the something crunches under my foot. I look down and see my largest serving platter, a white, oval stoneware server decorated around the edge with grapes in relief, broken at my feet.”Shit,” I hear myself exclaim. The platter was a bit of the Richard booty I liked. I used it only once, as Richard wasn’t much for having people over; he preferred entertaining in restaurants. It’s better, he said. It saves you work. I’m only thinking of you. I didn’t believe him. I’ve always been a nervous party planner, always worrying whether a dish would turn out, concerned that the house was neat and clean enough, that sort of thing. Richard said your trepidation is aggravating; I am aggravating. Restaurants aren’t aggravating.

I pick up three large pieces and dozens of shards. I consider repairing it, but finally concede it is unsalvageable. I sweep up the smaller shards and toss the shattered platter in the garbage. I check the clock. Plenty of time before Samantha comes home. I resume packing and admonish myself to pay closer attention to what I am doing.