Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 6: TRENTON, NEW JERSEY (Part 1, 2, and 3)

1

I am alone in our Cranbury house, on my bed, crying uncontrollably. I’ve just devoted the past half-hour to emptying my closet. I was searching for myself, littering the bedroom with reminders of who I had been. Remnants of me ornament the floor, dresser, chair, and my bed; and I am sitting amid every bit of who I was, fingering articles idly, but mostly staring at the dresser mirror, framing me, hardly able to see my reflection through my filmy eyes, really not wishing to look at me, but drawn by the compelling necessity of liking me again.

Hatred consumes me. I hate Volkswagens. I don’t actually despise the car, but what it symbolizes—me as I am now. I am huge. My belly protrudes and I can’t avoid seeing it no matter what I am doing, whether standing, sitting, or lying. It always looms below me and depresses me. I’ve been pregnant for seven months and happy in my state until now, because today I know how Richard really feels about me.

2

This morning, I made his breakfast, as I always do. He appeared at six, as he always does. I sat across from him, as usual staring at the newspaper, which has become a fixture over the past month, as much a part of the kitchen as the clock on the wall, the tick-tock of which was, as usual, the sole sound.

Finally, finished, he rustled the paper, folded it precisely, and set it carefully on the table. He regarded me. He smiled, a cool, mechanical curving of his lips.

He said, “Babe, you know, you’re beginning to remind me of a Volkswagen.”

I replied, startled, “What?”

Rising, he clarified, “Your girth.”

He may as well have bashed my head with the toaster for he could not have knocked me into more of a daze. I sat stock still, aghast. I watched him walk with his plate to the counter, where he set it next to the sink. It was simply too much trouble, or maybe too considerate, or a breach of his definition of duties, to rinse the damn thing and put it in the dishwasher.

Wearing a robotic grin, he strolled to the hall, to the closet for his overcoat. “Come on,” he said, not bothering to look at me, to check my reaction, “I’m joking, Babe.” Then, “You’re not losing your sense of humor, too, I hope.”

Had he glanced my way, he would have seen me reddening, the outward sign my blood pressure was straining my poor tired veins and arteries, already roughed up badly by my pregnancy. He was gone, the door slammed behind him, as I gasped for air and tottered on my chair, fighting to regain control of myself, afraid I’d soon sprawl on the floor, baby injured, maybe fatally, and mother-to-be helpless for hours until the malefactor, my husband, returned to the scene of his insult.

3

Here I am, then, in my bedroom, in my bed, amid my debris.

I am the size and weight of a small car. I am not even flesh and blood, but a machine laboring at one task, presenting Richard with a child. Here, there, and everywhere is who I was. The sweet, adoring newlywed who capered around Hawaii in coral shorts. The jazzy little girl who danced summer parties in Creek Falls in a red sun dress, staying awake all night talking up gales with Angie and Rosemary. Why did I keep the dress? To remain in touch with myself, my girl self. Maybe I’ve always been this way, a person who lives in the past. With me on the bed is my charcoal suit, remembrance of the teacher I thought I might be, until Richard declared I shouldn’t work, that I had another job ahead of me, more important: wife, nurturer of his career, mother, diminishing myself for the good of the nascent family.

I’m crying over sacrificed ambition, but I am on the verge of laughing, too, at my plight, at Richard, who has inflicted it on me, at myself for allowing him to. I am there in full, the relics of a life hoped for, a story written in department store couture.

Reclining on pillows against the headboard, hiding from the mirror, I ponder Richard’s degradation of me: I am a Volkswagen. But Richard is not joking, for when I review the past several months, the truth is apparent. He has treated me like a car he sometimes tinkers with. He doesn’t make love to my anymore. He works on me. He sees I’m out of tune and he rectifies the problem with a quick fuck. He sees I’m a bit sluggish and he compliments profusely, falsely; it’s like an oil change at the quick lube: efficient and fast, the job done in record time, and cheaply too. I seem dull to him; he buffs with a little gift, dime store jewelry, supermarket flowers, little considerations that aren’t, not really, just items to make him feel good about himself; they have nothing to do with me. For what am I but a machine, a not very cute bug.

My little motor is chugging hard and sending current through the wires of my body, sparking my belts and pulleys, my muscles, and I shift in bed, and I glance unavoidably into the mirror, where I gratefully don’t glimpse myself but, frightfully, see, instead, a nemesis from the past. Julie gloats at me with obscenely red lips, with a lascivious wet tongue clucking against artificially white teeth, head bobbing, eyes wide and bright and moist, mirthful at my expense. I rub my own eyes hard and red and am sick again at myself now reflecting back, a sad, miserable case of blotched skin and snotty nose and bloodshot eyes and rampaging hair. My crimson eyes speak to me and confirm what I know: Richard is cheating on me. I’m not a woman, not the girl he has known since Creek Falls, not a wife, not the soon-to-be mother of his child; I am inanimate, a hunk of matter, blind, he believes, to the obvious.

What a pitiful situation. I’ve suspected him for months. You can’t live with a man like Richard and not know his foibles, especially in the department of sex. Richard is omnivorous and insatiable. Before my pregnancy, I could not keep out of bed, or off the floor, or the dining room table, or the backseat of the car, or any flat surface that presented itself. Indoors, outdoors, Richard craved me. He is—was—a generous lover, a lover of long, lingering kissing and licking and stroking and languorous undulation. He wanted me to be happy, to be filled; he seemed deliciously unselfish, champion of my satisfaction: He wasn’t sated unless I was. Sometimes, I admit, it was simply too much for me, too much of a good thing. I couldn’t keep up, but I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t deprive him of his pleasure, the duality of release and pleasing me. But sometimes I just had to fake satisfaction to keep him happy. There was much I could complain about, but never that Richard did not or would not please me sexually. Until I announced my pregnancy. And even then sex went on and did not diminish until I changed physically. When my belly blossomed, my breasts enlarged, the veins in my legs thrust to the surface; when I metamorphosed into the Volkswagen, sex drove away. And the question plaguing me, the question I work very hard at dodging, the question is: What is Richard doing for sex?

Once, we discussed masturbation. We were at Rider in the student union drinking coffee and talking about everything and nothing. A loud conversation broke out at the next table and vulgarities flew, among them jerk-off artist. It was purely friendly argument and Richard and I laughed along with the debaters. Later, as he walked me to my dorm, as I worried about him in Olsen A atop the coeds on the second floor, I asked, timidly, “Have you ever, you know?”

“Know what?” he asked, innocently, like a fresh-faced who stumbles in on his parents in the throes.

I heat with embarrassment. How could I have asked such an indelicate question, the answer to which I really did not wish to know?

Before I finished the thought, he was following on with, “You mean beat my meat, stroke my pole, whack off, jerk off, pull the putz, that sort of thing?” I had to stop walking and throw my hands over my face to hid from him and his words.

Gently, he tugged my hands from my face. He was smiles and cheer. “You wanted to know.” I couldn’t decide if he was purposely crude or wickedly funny. I chose to believe the latter. “I learned from the old man the minute I walked in the house with a hard-on, don’t waste the seed.” He observed me closely and my already hot face flamed. “Consequently, Babe, I’ve been a very frustrated young man.”

It hit me like an accusation.

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 5: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY (Part4)

4

I’d set the oven timer and its ding rouses me from my reverie; and as I revive, the front door opens and I hear the familiar call, “Babe, I’m home.”

My call is rote, already perfunctory from hundreds of repetitions. “In here, Richard.”

I’m placing the plates and utensils on the table and it occurs to me that in many ways my life is like a play: It’s scripted morning to night. Everything we say is like precast dialogue. We have memorized our lines well and spiel them, unvaried, every hour of every day. Like actors, we’ve worked at nuance; each common phrase packs meaning for us—well, for me at least. “Babe, I’m home” is more than a simple, pleasant greeting; rather, it is Richard’s announcement for me to prepare myself for any number of things: He will relate the important events of his day and I should be prepared to listen with rapt attention; he will inquire about how I have spent my day and I should answer with the correct amount of detail, not so much that I bore him, but enough so I assure him I haven’t frittered away my time; he will ask for a progress report on Samantha, sort of like a status update from an employee on the growth of an account. Babe, I’m home alerts me to be on my ready, and tightens the cord of tension in me to the limit of its tensile strength.

I remain in the kitchen taking care of the finishing touches: the salt and pepper (I never seem to season his food to his liking), the napkins (I learned early cloth only when he declared paper low class, though paper is acceptable for breakfast), and our beverages (iced tea only, as he complains soda bloats him and water is tasteless).

In he strolls and I turn. Reacting to the surprise on my face, he quickly says, as if he means it, “I should have called, but it was last minute.”

Last Minute stands next to him, still and expressive as a statue. He is a tall man, thin and angular, his hands bony, his Adam’s apple prominent and protruding offensively. I want to ask Richard if the man is a circus act: He wears bright blue from head to toe. He is in a shirt and tie and they are blue. A hat, a fedora, covers his head, and it is blue. As if this is not sufficiently bizarre, every article of clothing is exactly the same shade. I am confounded as much by the consistency of the man’s blues and as I am at the man’s presence. I want to demand of Richard what he is thinking, why he would invite a stranger into our house unannounced, how he could expect me to accommodate his guest without notice.

Richard focuses on the man and snickers. “Oh-oh, I believe I have committed a grave error.”

The man in blue acknowledges nothing. He appears not to be present in any manner but physical, in my kitchen in form only.

I am unhappy and distressed, and I am waiting for Richard to introduce us. Time passes and Richard’s behavior strikes me as unlike him. For all his faults, he is at least superficially considerate and a keen observer of social form. Yet, the clock ticks away two minutes without introductions.

Finally, I introduce myself; but the man in blue doesn’t acknowledge me.

“He’s the quiet type,” Richard says. “He can talk okay, but he chooses to keep to himself. What’s for dinner?”

“Tuna casserole,” I answer, going to the oven and removing the baking dish. “I hope there’s enough.”

Richard and the man in blue seat themselves at the table. I ask what they would like to drink.

“The usual,” Richard answers.

I serve them ice tea, set the man’s place, and sit. Richard dishes up the tuna casserole. Richard and I eat. The man in blue eats or drinks nothing. Richard and I eat in silence for a few moments, until I can’t stand the quiet any longer.

“Are you from here?” I ask.

He ignores me. In frustration, but nicely, I ask Richard, “Who is your friend?”

Richard praises my tuna casserole profusely, as if I’d fished for a compliment instead of inquired about the mysterious man.

I ask again.

Richard, finally, tells me the man is a job candidate.

Ignoring the man, I ask, “But he doesn’t talk. He hasn’t said a single word since he’s been here.”

“No,” acknowledges Richard, “but he’s an authentic closer. Best closer I ever met.”

Closer scares me.

Richard detects the fright in my eyes. “I mean, Bleu ,here—that’s his name, Bleu, Belair Bleu—Bleu can sell up a storm. He’s a very persuasive fellow, when he wants to be. Isn’t that right, Bleu?”

Belair Bleu remains as he has been the entire time, impassive, the anomalous closer.

Richard clamps an arm around Bleu, who has stood in unison with him, and they start for the doorway. Bleu stops abruptly and Richard falters. Bleu leads Richard to the stove. He whispers in Richard’s ear. Richard nods, and I hear him breathe, “Yes, gas.” Bleu twists a knob. They whisper again. I can’t understand them, until Richard shakes his head and says, “I don’t know.” I can’t control myself. I’m shivering and I form horrid ideas about Bleu, and about Richard, who I find I distrust immensely. I suspect the two of hatching a plot, something evil. I flash on Samantha in her crib, helpless.

I envision her in a roasting pan, and I bolt from the kitchen, by way of the living room to avoid the pair, on my way to the stairs and up to her. But what I see parked in our driveway through the panoramic living room window stops me. It’s an old car, which I assume must belong to Bleu, and it’s familiar. I’ve seen Bleu’s car, but as hard as I try I can’t recall where. I should remember, because the car is distinctive. It is bright blue, like his clothing, the color of the sky on a clear summer’s day. The hood is badly dented in two places in the front and on its surface near the windshield. And the windshield, it’s cracked, fine spider threads spreading from the center where something has struck it. I’m reduced to cold tears partly from fear, and partly from my inability to recall where I have seen Bleu’s car. I know the car. I know remembering is important. But my memory is erased.

I gallop up the stairs and into Samantha’s bedroom and I fall into another world; I cannot comprehend the change. Samantha is there, but not in her crib. She is in her big girl bed, the very bed I sometimes imagine her in when she is older. There she is, now grown, in the bed. The cover, a ubiquitous saccharin princess counterpane, is pulled up to the middle of her stomach, and she is upright, reclining against the backboard. She appears to be eight. She sees me and smiles and hides her mouth with her hands and giggles manically. I watch her and I struggle to breathe. Unexpectedly, the cover near her feet writhes and I hear a squeaky roar.

Samantha reacts to my expression of deepening terror. She squeals, “Mommy, it’s not a real lion. Look.” She yanks the cover to reveal the lump.

A little girl with dark hair in princess pajamas pops up. She exclaims, “Surprise, Mommy, it’s me.”

I blurt, “Me who?”

“Me, Emily,” she shouts, jumping up and down on the bed, to the consternation of Samantha.

My confusion consumes me and instantly I’m afraid I will collapse. I can’t remain a second longer in Samantha’s bedroom, yet I am reluctant to leave for fear Bleu may harm her. But I can’t stay, and I bolt the room to the hilarious shrieks of the girls.

As I cross the threshold into the hallway, the chorus merges into one sustained wail. 

Samantha, infant Samantha.

Her cry compels me to return and scoop her up and flee, but I see Richard and Bleu climbing the stairs. I’m rooted and can only watch them step into the hallway. Richard smiles, but without an ounce of warmth or kindness, like burning ice; it is more grimace, engendered not by worry or concern, but anger. I know Richard’s moods. He is adept at disguising his anger, but I know; I read it in his eyes, in the way he narrows them to reptilian slits; the way the whites grow redolent and slowly blink at me like tired warning lights. He disguises their intent with patter, pretty and soothing.

“Babe, you’re tempting when you are like this. What’s wrong with you, anyway? Let me take you into the bedroom, lie you down. You look like you need to rest.”

I feel naked, exposed, vulnerable, trapped. I turn my head around, swiftly, beyond its normal arc until the strain hurts, hunting for an escape route from Richard and Bleu, who is standing directly behind Richard, inscrutable under his bizarre fedora, yet still managing to transmit rays of menace, like in the old comics, visible, pulsating vectors of threat that vibrate me, rattle me top to bottom with terror.

I have no alternative but to back into Samantha’s room. It’s infant Samantha’s room again and I’m relieved, but terrified too, because I know she is in danger. I must save her and me. She is sleeping. As panicked as I am—my arms and hands tremble, my legs wobble, clammy sweat drenches me, I reach down and tenderly lift her, and she comes to me without a hint of stirring. I can’t decide what to do, so I do what I can, and that is back into the corner farthest from the door and pray for the best.

And I begin to believe my prayers are answered, for the door remains closed, the room empty, except for us, and silent.

After a long while, I creep to the door and, with Samantha settled in the crook of an arm, I open it. I peer out, up and down the hallway. It is clear. I tiptoe into the hallway and over to the stairs. I look down and see nothing. It occurs to me Richard and Bleu could be in our bedroom or Richard’s home office, waiting for me. I decide my best course is down the stairs to the main floor, where I can escape to the outside.

I retreat into the family room, where Samantha has a playpen. If I have to act, I want my arms free—though I have no idea how I will use them, not an inkling of how I will repel their assault. I gently place Samantha in her playpen. She mutters, but remains asleep, for which I sigh with relief.

Now I hear footsteps. They are in the kitchen. I hear a voice buzz. Richard, I assume, is whispering to Bleu. I presume the worst. For reasons I can’t fathom, Richard wishes me harm, just me. What is my offense? Loving him beyond good sense? Bearing him a beautiful daughter? Relinquishing control of my life to him? What crime have I committed against him?

The whispering stops. What are they planning? I am tempted to peek in the kitchen, but I know I can’t, not safely. I find myself staring at Samantha. I know my little girl. She’ll sleep for at least another hour, maybe two. I decide my best option is to flee the house. I hate leaving her, but now, inexplicably, my heart changes and I’m convinced Richard will not hurt her, or allow Bleu to. I am the victim, only me.

I tiptoe to the slider. I pause and listen. I flip the lever to unlock the door. Slowly, I slide it open. Again I wait. The house is silent. I stand and gingerly step outside. I’m sweating into my eyes, and they sting. My muscles are taut. I expect one of them to materialize in front of me and grab me, and the other to seize me from behind.

But neither happens and I dart across the patio. I turn and race down along the side of the house toward the front. Just as I clear the house I see them. Richard and Bleu are loitering near the bright blue car. I stop abruptly and twist my ankle. I yelp in pain. Like somnolent retiles aroused, their heads pop up and they swivel and spot me. I should flee into our neighbor’s house. But what if they aren’t home? Instead, I hobble straight ahead, down our front lawn, across the sidewalk, and into the street. I’m limping as fast as I’m able, but the injury hampers me; the pain increases; I’m grunting and mewling like an animal.

I don’t know where I’m headed. I’m just moving, getting away, when I hear a strange whir behind me. At first it’s low and hardly penetrates the thumping in my ears, the rattle of my chest, the ragged whoosh of my breath. I turn back to see what it is, and I see the unnaturally bright blue car swing out of the driveway and plunge forward after me. I can see Bleu behind the wheel. Richard is on our front lawn. He’s holding Samantha and watching. I want cry out for him to protect our daughter. But I can’t. I have to turn and concentrate on the road and my escape. I must move fast, faster, or Bleu will catch me, and I will add to the dents on the hood of his car.

I hobble until I can’t take another step, until I think my heart will explode. But I don’t have to go any farther, because Bleu has overtaken me, and he is slipping the hood of the blue car under me, and he is scooping me up, and I am bouncing on the hood, into the dents, and skidding into the windshield, adding a new crack, sliding up and over the roof, and bounding off the trunk lid, and landing, crumpled and broken, on the payment. I’m nearly dead but still alive enough for a last vision of my house and Richard with Samantha cradled in his arms entering through the front door.

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 5: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY (Part3)

3

Richard wants to live on a grand scale, and the christening party is a manifestation of his desire for a showy life. He dictated what he wanted, painting his vision in broad strokes, and delegated me to execute it.

Samantha is down and I can get on with my tasks: Arrange for the tent and meet with the caterer.

I phone Rent-All that, as the name advertises, rents everything, from trucks and forklifts to furniture and tents. A man answers. I ask about tents, chairs, and tables, informing him we are holding a christening party in our backyard. I ask about the tent colors. He asks the size, and I am stumped. I want to say, “Big.” But I judge it too vague. I tell him for a party of one hundred or so adults. He advises I rent their extra big tent. I’m happy too, and what colors are available? White and more white is his answer. I know Richard will be unhappy. He wants color, brightness, big and bold; he wants to make a statement; he wants the entire neighborhood to know we are throwing a party and maybe if they are fortunate he will invite them next time; he wants the flyovers to realize they are missing something as they head to or away from New York City. My tone must convey my dissatisfaction, because the man says, “Sorry, white’s it. It’s the season.” I should say I’ll get back to him and check other places. But if it is the season, I might risk forfeiting the big tent.

I panic at the catastrophic prospect. I know Richard will find no tent unacceptable. A plain white tent will upset him, but no tent will infuriate him. He will stare at me, scrutinize me head to toe. He will not utter a word, but his criticism will as pointed as if he’d screamed in my face.

I order the white tent and ask about round tables. Richard specified round tables, as these are more conducive to conversation. However, the man informs me that he has no round tables. It’s the season, you know. Rectangular tables only. I have no choice but to order them. Fortunately, he has chairs. I wonder why, since it is the season for everything else. “Always got plenty of chairs, season or no season.” It’s a small blessing, I guess.

The caterer is easier. It’s the season, but he can accommodate me, if I’m throwing an evening party. I am relieved. Richard wants an evening party; he says it is more sophisticated.

Mercifully, Samantha has slept through the morning and is waking as I finish with the caterer. I go up to her and bring her down to the kitchen. I feed her. I spend the afternoon reading to her, watching her play under her gym. She bats the black and white objects suspended from the bar over her. Then it’s time for her to sleep again. I return her to her crib and return myself to the kitchen to prepare dinner for Richard. When Richard is not on the road, he likes dinner at six. He prefers Samantha sleeping during dinner and for an hour or so after. He explained his reason after Samantha and I had been home a week from the hospital. He felt an awake and sometimes wailing child would not allow us to talk and, later when I was able, to make love after or before dinner. It seemed sensible to me and I agreed. In the beginning, it proved the correct thing to do. The problem came when I discovered Samantha would not always cooperate with what Richard and I wanted, and when Richard startled me with his unreasonable inflexibility. He wanted it his way and nothing less would do. It was his job to earn the money and mine to ensure a peaceful, accommodating home life.

I am shaking my head in disbelief as I finish assembling my tuna-noodle casserole. This is especially for Richard. Casseroles are among his favorites. I have mastered many varieties of the species, employing tuna, chicken, beef, and vegetables; he doesn’t particularly care about the main ingredient, or even the taste I suspect, as long as it is moist, gooey, and salty.

I’m panicked and angry. The panic is transitory, related directly to Samantha’s presence in the house that I’d had all to myself before she arrived, and to the pressure of planning the party to Richard’s specifications. The anger predates Samantha. It has been building and intensifying until it nearly engulfs my days, dampening the love, what had been my hot and irrational passion, for Richard.

How can I permit Richard to rule me as he does? Richard earns the money, and through his efforts is responsible for what we have. I understand and grant him that. But he is inflexibly dominating. It’s not only me he controls; his employees receive the same treatment. To remain Richard’s employee, a person has to perform exactly to his expectations. Deviate a little and he will transfer you, or worse, fire you. He is remorseless and vicious. He admits to it. Conversation with Richard consists of him talking and me listening. And what he talks about, almost exclusively, is work. His work possesses him. He might be home, but he is never away from work; it is in him, there like an extra organ. He expounds constantly on his business philosophy and his method of training and handling his employees. At first, after we had moved to New Jersey, I loved that he would confide in me. But after a short while, listening to him transformed into agony. It’s difficult to bear the repetition; Richard repeats himself terribly. Once I mentioned this tendency of his to him. He regarded me with his disdaining stare for a long, disquieting time. His expression conveyed I was naïve, I knew nothing about business, and it was good I didn’t work. Finally, he said, you have to state what you expect again and again; his experience taught him most people didn’t get it the first time, many not even the second, and those who couldn’t grasp his point the third, those people were gone. For a moment, I thought he was referring to me. But he smiled and I reassured myself it was just more of his business mentality spilling over.

I am angry because I am Richard’s prisoner. True, I can come and go as I please, physically. I can hire a sitter for Samantha, if I choose. I can ask either of our parents to visit us, leave her with them, and takeoff for a weekend, even without Richard. However, I cannot escape him, for he has entrapped my mind. He is in me every minute. What he likes and dislikes. His demands. His voice. He drones in the background, maddening and distracting, like a dull, incessant headache. I believe he is deconstructing me and reassembling the parts of me into a robot, accepting and acting on his command; an automaton striving to execute his orders to his ideal of perfection; but I fail because I am human and I commit errors. Yet, I don’t feel human. Organic is what I am. Living, sentient, capable of low-level thinking, a delta. But not full fledged human, not like Richard.

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 15)

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.

“Yes?”

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.”

“You are—“

“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.

“Why?”

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

“Different?”

“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.”

“Creek Falls.”

“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.

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.

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 5 and 6)

5

It was the night he shocked me with Angie’s marriage to Bobby; that Bobby was a doctor, in residency; that they lived in New York City and he had seen them many times. No, seen them isn’t right: He called them; visited them; ate dinner with them at their place; he’d been social with them without ever uttering a word. Worse, he claimed he’d been secretive at Angie’s urging.

I was distraught, when I said, “I suppose they have a family, too.”

Richard can be maddeningly indifferent, painfully cruel, brutally insulated from feelings, mine specifically. He said, “You suppose c-o-r-r-e-c-t-l-y.”  A slap would have stung less than his snide exaggeration.

I collapsed on the floor in our bedroom. I think that is a real recollection, me prostrate on the floor, he perching on the edge of the bed, observing me, cocking his head, inspecting me as if I were a curiosity, a zoo specimen that should have no feelings but, oddly, against all zoological laws, seemed to possess them; hurry up with the dissection kit, Charlie, here’s the missing link.

“It’s not exactly a family, yet,” he said.

I choked on a dry sob, as if he had suctioned everything from me, even my tears.

“She’s pregnant. Not too far along, about three months. Now,” he said, rising, “if you’ll excuse me, I have to get into the bathroom.” 

Pain pierced me, inflicted agony in every part of me, my head, my eyes, my chest, but most viciously, my heart. It was like everybody I knew, I loved, I believed loved me, had surrounded me and were jabbing me with daggers: Richard poking with a degree of malice too great even for him; Rosemary, the nun, the celibate, stabbing, as if to enforce Paul’s Corinthian admonishment, reminding me that I was a fool for putting my life in the hands of any man, especially Richard’s; and Angie, the Brutus, running me through with a sharpened, greasy screwdriver forged in the union with Bobby, the devil, one of the few people who I could unequivocally declare I despised, twisting the fouled steel on the fulcrum of her pregnancy. I wanted to scream and beat the floor with clenched fists; but I couldn’t. Samantha and Emily would have heard and wakened; and fabricating an excuse, containing my anguish, carrying on normally, would have intensified the torture immeasurably.

When Richard emerged from the bathroom, I was still on the floor, in a fetal curl, whimpering and jerking spasmodically. He glanced down at the wreck that was me. He shook his head in mock pity.”Got to go,” he said.

6

Richard is a list maker, an annotator, and a note taker. He’s fully electronic, but he also resorts to pen and paper. His pen of choice is a Mont Blanc, a bulky black tube large enough to be a weapon. It’s self-aggrandizing, his personal award for a promotion, or maybe it was for driving his office to achieve a nearly impossible goal; Richard calls these Olympian efforts “stretching” and he delights in devising “reach” goals, more of his deceptively benign nomenclature. He lugs the pen in the inside pocket of his suit jacket, along with his small leather notepad. His notes are mostly reminders to himself. He files them in his pants pockets, but often, more often than not, forgets them the second he yanks them from his pad. I asked him about his habit early on, why he bothered when he immediately forgot about the notes, and I was left to snatch them from his pockets before the dry cleaner bonded them where he’d filed them. The notes themselves weren’t important, he’d informed me; it was the act of writing that seared the messages to be remembered permanently in his mind. Inadvertently, while caring for him and his clothing, I found the address of Bobby and Angie McFarlane.

Emily skips into the kitchen.

“Finished already,” I say, not a question, but a skeptical declaration.

She nods vigorously and requests a glass of milk. After she drinks it, fast, gulping loudly, as if she’s munched a desiccant packet, which once she did as a toddler, she asks if she can go next door. I call across the way, clear an afternoon of play at Carol’s, and send her out the backdoor. I watch as she runs through our yard into Carol’s and disappears into the house. Carol pops her head out and signals Emily’s safe arrival.

I decide to check Emily’s work, always a good idea with her. I find she has removed every object from Richard’s desk. They are in the box. But she has clumped everything together in a single piece of clean newsprint, sort of like dead soldiers in a mass grave. I sit on the floor and settle into the task of doing the job right.

I’ve properly wrapped half the items in Emily’s clump, when I stop. What the hell am I doing? Taking special care of Richard’s ridiculous testaments to his ego. Serves him right if the things show up in San Diego as broken meaningless garbage for dragging us away from Cranbury, for lying, for cheating, for taking me hostage and locking me in a velvet prison. And me, what’s to be said of me, who abets him?

I promptly unwrap the items I’d meticulously wrapped. I bunch them in Emily’s fashion and drop them in the box. My daughter was right.

My small act of vengeance improves my disposition and I go down to the kitchen to pack things that hold meaning for me.

I’ve put most of the dishes and silverware in boxes. I’ve held back four of everything we use daily. Miscellaneous platters and bowls and the like remain and I set to work on them. I remove them from the cabinets and stack them on the table in the breakfast area. I sit, begin, and stare into the backyard.