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.

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.

New Novel in the Raw

Dear Readers,

What the heck is a novel in the raw?

Simply, it’s a novel inchoate, inchoate even though it has undergone several revisions and still isn’t there. And maybe it will never be there. That is, unless you read along and offer up your own suggestions for improving it, for bringing more cohesion to it.

So with that in mind, over the next several weeks we will post small sections. Read them. Comment on them. Or hold your comments until you have a better sense of the novel.

To help you put the novel in focus, here’s the briefest of summaries as to what it is about. And note that even the title Flipped is but a working title. Nothing here is cast in concrete, not even the title.

Flipped is about a woman with children in distress because she comes to believe that for some reason unknown to her, her husband is trying to kill you. Why and how reveals itself by the end.

Feel free to comment as you see fit. Recommend the project to your friends and have them comment as they like. Of course, most appreciated would be constructive criticism. As those of you who have written novels know, it takes a while to write a long piece. Who wants to chuck such an effort if there’s even a glimmer of life in the manuscript?

That said, look for it to begin appearing next Monday, February 6, and on every subsequent Monday throughout the year 2017.

Thanks in advance for taking part in what we hope will be a fun and productive project. w/c

New Novel in the Raw

Dear Readers,

What the heck is a novel in the raw?

Simply, it’s a novel inchoate, inchoate even though it has undergone several revisions and still isn’t there. And maybe it will never be there. That is, unless you read along and offer up your own suggestions for improving it, for bringing more cohesion to it.

So with that in mind, over the next several weeks we will post small sections. Read them. Comment on them. Or hold your comments until you have a better sense of the novel.

To help you put the novel in focus, here’s the briefest of summaries as to what it is about. And note that even the title Flipped is but a working title. Nothing here is cast in concrete, not even the title.

Flipped is about a woman with children in distress because she comes to believe that for some reason unknown to her, her husband is trying to kill you. Why and how reveals itself by the end.

Feel free to comment as you see fit. Recommend the project to your friends and have them comment as they like. Of course, most appreciated would be constructive criticism. As those of you who have written novels know, it takes a while to write a long piece. Who wants to chuck such an effort if there’s even a glimmer of life in the manuscript?

That said, look for it to begin appearing on Monday, February 6, and on every subsequent Monday throughout the year 2017.

Thanks in advance for taking part in what we hope will be a fun and productive project. w/c

New Novel in the Raw

Dear Readers,

What the heck is a novel in the raw?

Simply, it’s a novel inchoate, inchoate even though it has undergone several revisions and still isn’t there. And maybe it will never be there. That is, unless you read along and offer up your own suggestions for improving it, for bringing more cohesion to it.

So with that in mind, over the next several weeks we will post small sections. Read them. Comment on them. Or hold your comments until you have a better sense of the novel.

To help you put the novel in focus, here’s the briefest of summaries as to what it is about. And note that even the title Flipped is but a working title. Nothing here is cast in concrete, not even the title.

Flipped is about a woman with children in distress because she comes to believe that for some reason unknown to her, her husband is trying to kill you. Why and how reveals itself by the end.

Feel free to comment as you see fit. Recommend the project to your friends and have them comment as they like. Of course, most appreciated would be constructive criticism. As those of you who have written novels know, it takes a while to write a long piece. Who wants to chuck such an effort if there’s even a glimmer of life in the manuscript?

That said, look for it to begin appearing on Monday, February 6, and on every subsequent Monday throughout the year 2017.

Thanks in advance for taking part in what we hope will be a fun and productive project. w/c

New Novel in the Raw

Dear Readers,

What the heck is a novel in the raw?

Simply, it’s a novel inchoate, inchoate even though it has undergone several revisions and still isn’t there. And maybe it will never be there. That is, unless you read along and offer up your own suggestions for improving it, for bringing more cohesion to it.

So with that in mind, over the next several weeks we will post small sections. Read them. Comment on them. Or hold your comments until you have a better sense of the novel.

To help you put the novel in focus, here’s the briefest of summaries as to what it is about. And note that even the title Flipped is but a working title. Nothing here is cast in concrete, not even the title.

Flipped is about a woman with children in distress because she comes to believe that for some reason unknown to her, her husband is trying to kill you. Why and how reveals itself by the end.

Feel free to comment as you see fit. Recommend the project to your friends and have them comment as they like. Of course, most appreciated would be constructive criticism. As those of you who have written novels know, it takes a while to write a long piece. Who wants to chuck such an effort if there’s even a glimmer of life in the manuscript?

That said, look for it to begin appearing on Monday, February 6, and on every subsequent Monday throughout the year 2017.

Thanks in advance for taking part in what we hope will be a fun and productive project. w/c