Authors: Nancy Thayer
Tags: #Contemporary Women, #Fiction
When she’d finished her helping, Ruth set her plate down. “Sherry,” she said brightly, “did I ever tell you about my husband? He taught science in high school. He was as smart as Albert Feinstein, but he loved teaching more than research. We spent so many happy hours together, making peppermints for our students. We taught them to build sweeping nets, aquarium tanks, insect traps . . .”
Shirley smiled encouragingly as she listened to Ruth, but what she heard was the melody of Marilyn’s sorrow.
WAS SHE HAPPY, OR NOT, WAS LIFE EASY, OR HARD?
It’s all relative,
Polly reminded herself on Thanksgiving Day, then laughed at her pun.
Hearing her laugh, Hank, seated on the sofa next to her, cast a puzzled glance her way. Everyone gathered here at Carolyn and Hank’s for Thanksgiving dinner had been discussing world affairs, which were certainly nothing to laugh about.
Polly thought quickly. “Elizabeth,” she mouthed to Hank, who looked over at his daughter. His face softened with adoration. The toddler, in pink padded corduroy rompers Polly had sewn for her, sat on the floor, concentrating very hard on putting a rectangular block of wood into a round hole.
They were having drinks before they went in to dinner. Polly tossed hers back like a private dick in a tough-guy novel. She wished she
a private dick in a tough-guy novel, or at least had some of his guts.
She had just come from an afternoon Thanksgiving feast with David, Amy, little Jehoshaphat, and Amy’s parents, Buck and Katrina. Their wine was homemade and so sweet Polly felt little crystals of sugar clinging to her teeth like barnacles on oyster shells. The “turkey” was tofu, shaped, flavored, and baked into a curdled mass resembling, in texture and taste, a rubber rug pad. The conversation revolved around the farm, which was fine, but no one bothered to ask Polly one single question about her life. In fact, no one had particularly talked to Polly at all.
David was distracted. He’d kissed her when she arrived, then immediately run out to the barn. His favorite Border collie was having her pups today, so throughout the meal, David excused himself to check on her. Amy was also preoccupied; Jehoshaphat was coming down with a cold. He was irritable and fussy. Nothing Amy did could keep the little boy from whining, writhing, squirming, and now and then bursting forth in a full-scale tantrum. Amy looked frustrated and embarrassed by her son’s behavior but allowed no one else to interact with him.
Polly left before dessert—pumpkin pie served with a homemade dessert wine, which Polly was sure would be even sweeter than the syrupy swill they’d had during dinner. It pleased her to tell them she had another dinner party to attend—proof that
wanted her company!
But as she drove away from the farm, her body had sagged with disappointment and with fatigue from keeping a forced smile on her face for two hours. How different it would have been if Hugh had been with her just now! He would have lifted an eyebrow or twitched his mouth in silent humor or commiseration. As they drove away, he would have said, “Well, we’ve done our duty at the Bumpkin Banquet, now let’s go to my house and treat ourselves to my best brandy!”
But Hugh was having Thanksgiving with his children and his ex-wife, and Polly was here at Carolyn’s, where she was very much wanted, but where she didn’t especially want to be.
Carolyn, sweeping around the room in a saffron cashmere dress that made her blond beauty glow, was beaming. Her little family was here—Hank and baby Elizabeth, Aubrey, and now Polly. Faye was safely on the other side of the continent. Carolyn didn’t bother to ask about Hugh.
Am I getting to be a cantankerous old biddy, or am I
allowing myself to be pushed around?
Polly wondered. The Bible said to love one another. The Beatles said love is all you need. Stephen Stills said love the one you’re with. She did love Carolyn and Elizabeth, but she loved her son more, and would certainly have loved her grandson if she’d had half the chance.
Perhaps the solution was tangled up in the definition of love. Perhaps, like sins, there were loves of commission and loves of omission. You did lots of committing when your child was a baby—nursing, rocking, feeding, bathing, sheltering, soothing. Later, attending recitals, driving to soccer practice, holding the line on disciplinary rules about curfew. But with a grown child, so much of love involved omission. Letting go. Shutting up. After all, if David had become an Air Force fighter pilot or, like his father, a wild adventurer who disappeared into foreign countries for years at a time, Polly would have gotten on with her own life and been grateful for an occasional sighting.
she admonished herself, she should just stop sniveling and enjoy the day. Here she was, in a gorgeous home, with people she cared for deeply. She hadn’t been part of her grandson’s birth, but she had been right there for Elizabeth’s. The little girl’s paternal grandmother, wealthy, batty Daisy, lived far away, and when she came to visit, she never put down her bug-eyed little dog long enough to hold Elizabeth—which was probably a good thing, because Daisy, adorable as she was, was also so scatterbrained she might forget whom she was holding. Maybe, Polly thought, when she was really old, she’d look back to see that she’d been absolutely essential in Elizabeth’s life.
And maybe the fabulous Champagne Carolyn was serving was blissing Polly out.
“Dinner’s ready,” Carolyn announced.
Polly went with the others into the dining room. Carolyn had set out place cards. Polly was not surprised to find her place next to Elizabeth’s. She helped Hank establish Elizabeth safely in her handsome wooden highchair.
“Yummy-yummies for our tummies,” Polly babbled to Elizabeth.
“Lolly yummy!” Elizabeth shrieked gleefully, and threw her hands up over her head, waving her fat little fists in the air. Elizabeth had a name for Polly—
while Jehoshaphat, four months older, hadn’t seen his grandmother often enough to give her a name.
The table had gone quiet. Polly looked around. Everyone was smiling, waiting.
“What?” Polly said.
Carolyn inclined her head toward a gold foil packet lying at the head of her place.
“Oh! A present? What fun! When can we open them?”
“No time like the present!” Carolyn punned, beaming.
Polly picked up the packet and untied the golden bow, aware of Aubrey, across the table, performing the same act.
Inside was a British Airways round-trip ticket to London and a printed itinerary. Ms. Polly Lodge had reservations at the Ritz in London, from December 20 to December 31. Polly looked up, baffled. “I don’t understand.”
Carolyn clapped her hands with glee. In her highchair, Elizabeth mimicked her mother.
“We’re all going to spend Christmas in London!” Carolyn announced. “We’ve booked tickets for the best plays, and we’ll have Christmas dinner at the Ritz! I’ve made reservations—”
Polly couldn’t hear the rest. From deep within her belly, a cyclone of sizzling intensity swirled, so furious and powerful, Polly couldn’t tell whether it was a hot flash or her own pure indignation. She took a drink of water to calm herself, but her pulse flared in her neck and her heart pumped so hard she could feel it shake in her chest.
“—so divine!” Carolyn said. “If it snows, it will—”
“Carolyn.” As if she’d been body-snatched, Polly looked down from the ceiling to observe herself rising from the table. “Forgive me, but I can’t accept this. I
accept this. I am dating Hugh Monroe, and
is the person with whom I want to spend my Christmas holiday.” Interesting, how the words came from her boiling body with cold, clipped clarity. “My best friend, Faye, has been dating your father for over a year now, and if anyone should accompany your little family to London, it is she. Faye is a wonderful woman, as you would know, if you ever gave her a chance.”
“Oh, Polly, silly,” Carolyn trilled, laughing. “Sit down. Don’t be so dramatic.”
Polly met Carolyn’s eyes. “It seems the only way I can get through to you about this, Carolyn, is by being dramatic. You should know by now, it’s not in my nature. But you’ve ignored every kind of hint I’ve given about my relationship with your father.” She turned to Aubrey. “Aubrey, you are a charming, handsome, wonderful man. I don’t know, however, how intelligent you are, because you let Carolyn walk all over you. If you want Faye to be with you, you’ve got to be forceful with this beautiful daughter of yours.” She looked back at Carolyn. “I’m going home now. And I hope the next time you invite me to your house, you’ll tell me to bring Hugh.”
“Oh, Polly!” Carolyn seemed more amused than upset.
Hank jumped up and followed Polly to the door. As he took her coat from the closet and slid it over her arms, he said, “Polly, you’re trembling. Are you sure you want to drive right now?”
The conflagration had reached Polly’s face; she knew she was crimson. “I’ll be fine.” She was verging on tears and needed to get out of the house.
Wanting to run to the car, Polly forced herself to walk, keeping her back straight, her head high. She settled into her little gray Volvo, grateful for its nestlike snugness. The amiable vehicle smoothly rolled out of the driveway and onto the road even though Polly’s foot quaked on the pedal.
She looked in the rearview mirror. Carolyn’s house grew smaller, then disappeared as other houses came into view.
“HA!” Polly expostulated triumphantly.
Then she burst into tears. Then she burst out laughing. As she stopped for a red light, she imagined people in the car next to her looking over to see a madwoman, laughing and crying at the same time. Oh, well, she thought, who would be surprised? It was Thanksgiving, after all, another family holiday!
Really, she was proud of herself. She had put her foot down firmly to Carolyn and it was about time. For if Carolyn really wanted Polly to be godmother to Elizabeth, she’d better welcome the
Polly; she’d better allow Polly to be herself.
“And now, Missy,” Polly asked herself aloud, because if she was already laughing and crying, why not talk to herself as well? “What would the real Polly Lodge like to do right now?”
The answer came fast and certain.
She wanted to be with Hugh. She was proud, overwhelmed, excited. Her body was enormously
She wanted to use this energy; she wanted to make love. She wanted to grab Hugh Monroe and kiss him like he’d never been kissed before.
So she headed toward his place. The daughter who was hosting the Thanksgiving meal had small children, so their plan was to eat early. Hugh might not be home when Polly arrived, but he might be, and if not, Polly had the key. She could slip in,
and surprise him when he arrived. Ah, what a delicious plan!
Since his divorce from Carol, Hugh had lived in an apartment on elegant Commonwealth Avenue, near the Boston Public Gardens. The magnificent building, staid and formal, was part of a block of row houses with marble stoops and neoclassical friezes and gargoyles above the doors. Parking was often a problem, but this evening the streets were empty and Polly easily found a spot.
No lights shone from Hugh’s windows on the second floor; he wasn’t home yet. Good. That would give her time to get ready.
Her key ring jingled as she opened the street-level outer door. She climbed the wide, curving stairs to the second floor and let herself into his apartment. It could have been a formal, stultifying place, with its acres of walnut paneling and its marble or parquet floors, but during his divorce, Hugh had given all his parents’ antique furniture to his children or Carol. This new home he’d furnished with simple, expensive, modern pieces.
The front door opened into the enormous living room, dominated by a chocolate leather sofa facing a huge plasma television. Most of the walls held shelves of books, and one wall was almost entirely windows looking out onto the street.
Polly hung her coat in the closet. Humming, she crossed the expansive living room and closed the drapes. She didn’t want the neighbors to see what she was about to do. Some logs were laid in the fireplace, so she knelt to light them. As the flames caught hold and grew, they threw out a romantic golden glow.
In the kitchen, she lingered at Hugh’s wine rack. Did she want wine, or Champagne? Champagne. She had a lot to celebrate. Hugh always kept some cold in his refrigerator, and she opened it now, laughing when the cork exploded across the room. She poured herself a glass.
She emptied ice into a silver bucket and set it on the living room coffee table, nesting the bottle in the ice to keep it chilled. She brought in a flute for Hugh and a little bowl of nuts for herself, since she had eaten little at her vegetarian son’s, and nothing at Carolyn’s.
Sipping Champagne, she went into the bathroom and undressed. She was quite satisfied with her body, she decided, studying it in the mirror. The dieting she’d done in comradeship with Alice had indented her waistline, and with her full hips and heavy breasts, she had a luxurious hourglass shape. Her bulging belly made it clear that time and gravity had sifted most of the sand to the bottom, but because Hugh always made it clear that he loved every ounce and inch, she tried to carry her ass like an asset.
She brushed her teeth. Carefully, she redid her makeup. She brushed her hair. She considered wrapping a towel around her—she couldn’t remember when she’d last, if ever, walked naked around her house, let alone anyone else’s—but decided to go
In the living room, the fire was crackling and gleaming, throwing out so much heat she was quite comfortable in her naked state. Sinking onto the sofa, she tried several poses, imagining which would be the most seductive.
“Here I am,” she will say. “Your dessert.”
Plumping up a couple of throw pillows, she established them under her head, then reclined on her side as if posing for a portrait. Her breasts hung low. So did her belly. When she heard the door open, she would rearrange all her bits. For now, she picked up the remote control and flicked on the television.
Polly waited an hour, fed two more logs to the fire, ate all the peanuts, drank half the Champagne, and peed twice.
she heard Hugh’s key scratch the lock. Quickly she ran her hands through her hair, mussing it. She positioned herself just so, head on hand, smiling at the door, one leg lying against the leather, the other bent at the knee, providing Hugh with a glimpse of what he privately called her “honey-well.” The firelight danced. The room had grown hot, but that was fine. It made her nipples expand. Hugh liked that look.