Authors: Claire Lombardo
Violet looked uncomfortable. “Oh, God, you guys, I— That’s really nice of you but I—”
“We have the room,” David said, running with it. “And we’re— I’m free a lot of the time, Viol; I’ve got—you know, odds and ends.” Her heart broke for this, for his
odds and ends,
which were not the official doctorly miscellany he made them out to be but projects that he imposed grudgingly upon himself. “But we can certainly
for him, in whatever ways he—”
“He’s actually moving in with Wendy,” Violet said.
David’s grip loosened and then tightened again. “What do you mean,” he said, “he’s moving in with—”
“How can he move in with
?” she interrupted, heart up near her tonsils.
“She’s got the room,” Violet said. “And the—you know, the time.”
“Dad’s retired,” she said rudely, forgetting her husband’s pride. “Dad was dusting the picture frames when I got home today.”
” David said. “I was reinforcing the plaster behind the painting of the—”
“We have room
time. And we have considerably more experience than
“Kid, hey,” David whispered to her. She extracted her hand from his.
“Wendy’s your first choice?” she said. “Over— For God’s sake, Violet, I—I was home with you girls until Gracie started
dergarten, I— You don’t think that we’re—”
“Just—courtesy,” Violet said, her face blooming red. “Just because I thought you guys were—you know, done. Relaxing. Enjoying your—”
“I work full-time, you know,” she said, muddling her own argument. Was it possible that she’d always been such a terrific failure of a mother? Was it possible that the bonds she’d always felt with her children had been in her imagination all along? That these luminous, freestanding girls in fact had no idea who she really was, saw her as a woman who lived her life ignorant of all of their misgivings?
“I thought it might be nice for him,” Violet said. “To spend some time in the city.”
“Well, River North’s not exactly the
is it?” David asked. She felt a surging of love for him. “He’ll not exactly be slumming it, will he, being taken by Wendy’s driver from the nicest part of the city to one of the most comfortable suburbs in the tristate—”
“What he’s saying is why not have him living where school is within walking distance? With people who have actually—people who know how—people who under
“She offered,” Violet said helplessly, and Marilyn felt a momentary empathy for her daughter; she had been known to cave to Wendy similarly, to the particular slant in her eldest’s eyebrows, the specific downward bow of her mouth. “Mom, she’s really— Anyone can
that Wendy hasn’t been having the greatest time since…I think that if she had an extra person in her house she might start to look at the world differently.” Violet set her lips in a firm line like David sometimes did. “I think we can all agree that children change our perspective on life.”
And what a smug little trump card it was—
parent to parent
from the girl who’d once complained that her lack of Gap jeans was inhibiting her social progress, from the baby she’d carried around in a sling on her chest while helping Wendy learn to walk.
David forged ahead before Marilyn could emote. “Of course they do,” he said. His hand again on her thigh. “You really think that this is what’s best for him now?” David, so open and credulous and respectful. She could have killed him.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Violet said. “But she’s willing and he’s desperate and I—
desperate and I want to give her a chance, if she feels like this is something that she can—”
“Why don’t we all calm down,” David said. He followed with the question Marilyn should have asked first, the question that had been so far from her mind, pushed aside by her indignation: “Can you tell us what he’s like?”
She hadn’t even thought to ask what color his eyes were.
Maternal Blunder Number 429. She set the count back to zero at the start of each year.
e failed them,” Marilyn said. Violet had left and they were sitting together on the back stairs, splitting a bottle of wine and watching the sunset as Loomis was being taunted by a squirrel in one of the oak trees.
“All the things we’ve worried about, and this never would have even—
He put his arm around her, though he wasn’t feeling particularly comforting at the moment. He had in his mind a nagging miniature memory of a conversation he’d had with Wendy at Violet’s wedding. Nearly a decade ago, his daughter had mentioned
nonsensical, but of course he’d disregarded it, dismissed it out of hand. Because Wendy was unpredictable. Because she’d been drunk at the time, and grieving, and had seemed determined all day to overshadow Violet’s joy. Because he’d never quite understood the ironclad bond between his two eldest girls—their Irish twins, the double helix—except that it was fueled by equal parts love and envy, and made them behave in unpredictable ways toward each other. He’d always assumed it was one of those mysteries of womanhood that he’d simply never be able to comprehend.
“I just don’t understand it,” she said. “How she— I mean, God,
It was nice, in a way, to have his wife’s company in this bubble of ignorance, a space where he was so frequently alone.
“I guess the important thing is that he’s safe and healthy,” he said. “Despite—you know. And Violet—she’ll be okay, right? She’s always found her way.”
“I think that might be part of the problem, though,” she said. “It’s not always such a good thing to be so resilient.”
“Well, I don’t—”
“God, we have a
Loomis trotted over, as though to remind them that they also had a dog that they
met. Marilyn scratched his ears and David his hindquarters.
“Doesn’t it feel like we should’ve known?” she said. “Like if we were doing what we were supposed to, we would’ve been
of this somehow?”
doing what we were supposed to,” he said gently. “We were living our lives. Doing our jobs. Raising four children.”
She was quiet for a long time. “Do you ever think that we didn’t focus on them enough?” Her body was tense beneath his arm. “Were we focusing too hard on each other?”
“No,” he said, disagreeing with both statements.
“What are we supposed to do with this?”
“I’m not sure,” he said. “Just—keep on, I guess.”
She smiled faintly. “You and your stubborn peasant stock.”
“The girls have it too.”
“Uh-huh.” She let her head rest on his shoulder. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Are you sure this is okay?” he asked.
Both of them half-naked under the ginkgo tree in her father’s backyard: the house on Fair Oaks, mid-December, the leaves mostly shed but a few dangling due to a late first frost, creating shadows on the lawn that made David jump every time he noticed the movement in his peripheral vision. Their current activity was a scandal by his standards, if not by hers, but her bar would always be slightly higher.
“Would you relax,” she said—her voice startling him anew—and the hand she spread across his chest was cold only at the fingertips. She worked her way to his nipple, kneading. She was tucked against his side. He could feel the movement of her smile against his arm. “Look who’s worked himself into a
“Coyotes,” he said.
“Yes, here we are”—her hand moved downward—“watching the death toll rise.”
He still couldn’t get over the fact that she was now a fixed part of his life. That when they were apart, he could close his eyes and conjure the smell of the crook of her neck, citrus shampoo spiked with a salty humanness. That he sometimes imagined the way he would describe their first meeting—
Yeah, I just found her on some stairs
—jokingly, to future friends, to their future
? He was aware of the fact that his fantasies outpaced the normal course of events. They’d yet to sleep together. A shock, still, the warmth of her next to him.
” she said. “For God’s sake.” There was a light on in the kitchen of her father’s house, the pale bulb over the sink. She squirmed, easing her weight onto his left side, and produced a graying husk of milk thistle from behind her back.
“Woman of the wilderness.” But in fact this part of her scared him: the part of her that seemed to derive a thrill from clandestine exhibitionism.
“He’s not going to come out here,” she said.
“Denying the possibility makes it all the more likely.”
“Oh, this logician, all of the sudden.” Her breath stirred the hair on his chest. “If you were really that scared, you’d be wearing a shirt.”
“You’re the one who took it off.”
“The martyred saint.” Then, more softly: “Hey. Come on.” She took his hand and rolled onto her back. “Come keep me warm.”
Being with Marilyn felt a little bit like standing in a rainstorm. But like it was with rainstorms—if you had nowhere to be, nobody to whom you had to present your dry form—it was not the least bit unpleasant. He wanted to disintegrate to the sound of her voice. He’d begun to see by then that with her you got a package deal, not only the woman herself but an entire caravan, boxcars full of her love and disdain and expectation. He would not understand the magnitude of this for another year or so—would never fully understand it, if he was being honest—but at that moment, beside her on the ground beneath the ginkgo tree, he had never wanted anything more. He moved tentatively over her, and she lifted her face to kiss him.
“Relax,” she said. “You won’t crush me.”
He almost asked her
how can you be sure,
but he remembered, as he opened his mouth, that he knew how, and that to bring it up would only remind him of her experience, and her of his lack thereof. He eased his weight further. “Still fine?”
“Mm.” She kissed him again, wrapped her legs around his thighs. “See? Isn’t this nice?”
He was unsure of the next expected move—was he supposed to continue to undress himself? To undress
? Was this how it was going to happen, outdoors, under a tree? But she seemed unconcerned with making anything
anything beyond what they were currently doing, which he had to admit felt pretty great—the heat of her against his chest, the feline familiarity of her tongue, the vise grip of her legs, her hips bucking slightly against his. She guided his hand downward. She was wearing a skirt, and she wriggled her nylons to her ankles. Her underpants were damp, and then, beyond them, a surprising slickness.
“Am I—should I—” It seemed ludicrous that you weren’t allowed to stop and ask questions. It had always been his biggest fear that when this moment finally arrived his instincts wouldn’t take over—that he would just flop like a fish, show his hand of cards, activate the woman’s maternal instinct so she’d walk him through it like a docent at a museum:
Feel this? This is the clitoris.
His face burned, and he was distracted, as ever, by his thoughts, by the thought that if he lost her he wouldn’t know what to do with himself.
“Hey.” She pressed his hand there, squeezed it once with her fingers, and then left it, like a child at kindergarten, to entertain itself. “You’re doing great. My fate is in your hands.” She pressed herself against his hand. “A little faster, if you don’t mind.”
He complied, and he felt her breathing begin to quicken. He opened his mouth to inquire about his progress, but decided to try to trust himself. She didn’t seem uncomfortable. She seemed, frankly, ecstatic, head tilted back exposing her throat, eyes closed, a smile playing on her lips. He kissed her, still working, and she reached to squeeze his buttocks. She whimpered.
“Okay,” she said, “okay, now you just— Good; I’m— Here, take off your—” She made quick work of his pants. “Here, roll over. I’ll be on top.”
He realized later that she was doing him a favor, that this position required the least blind navigation on his part. She straddled him, and when she’d gotten comfortable she smiled down at him for just a second, eyes glinting in the dark like a wolf’s.
“Feel okay?” she asked him, and he nodded, and she lowered herself onto him—her weight no longer avian but muscular and confident. She kissed him: his chest, his neck.
Neither heard the telltale rusted
of the back door. Neither, despite his earlier vigilance, clocked the footsteps down the worn wooden stairs, the crunch of the frosted grass.
Marilyn yelped. She clung to David’s chest, her legs pressing down on his crotch. “Stay calm, all right?” she whispered to David. Then: “Dad,” she said. “This isn’t—”
“I thought there was a goddamn animal out here. Oh for— Oh, if your mother could see you like this. Who the hell’s there?”
“Hi, sir.” He scrambled for his pants, pitied Marilyn for having to navigate her nylons. “It’s David, sir.” He rose slowly. “Sorenson, sir.”
“He’s not a
” Marilyn said. “You don’t have to talk to him like—”
“This is my goddamn house,” Marilyn’s father said, and as he lurched forward, David could see that he was drunk. Marilyn had mentioned, idly, that he’d begun to drink much more since her mother died, but he somehow hadn’t been expecting this. “You think you can just have my daughter on my goddamn lawn like you’re some kind of—”
“Daddy.” Marilyn had forgone her nylons and was taking hold of her father’s arm. “Daddy, everything’s fine. We’ll talk about this in the morning, all right?”
He was surprised that the man wasn’t putting up more of a fight. Marilyn was guiding him back to the house. David heard him mutter something about
but he was allowing Marilyn to lead him inside without protest.