Miranda and Her Daughters

A Fairytale for Grownups

Cate Garrison

Miranda and her Daughters
Prologue

T

he ballroom of the Boston Harbor Hotel is aflame with light. Miranda catches her breath at the doorway, less, she tells herself, because she is overwhelmed at the sight of the gleaming, white-and-gold drapes that shimmer against the polished, deep mahogany paneling of the walls and ceiling, than because her favorite brother John, her elder by five years, has grabbed her hand and made her run all the way from the water-shuttle landing through the grand-arched, golden-domed pavilion of the entrance and up a full flight of stairs, and all in the high-heeled shoes in which, at the best of times, she wobbles. “Come on, Freckles,” he urges her now. “Let’s show some of these upper-crust classmates of mine we wily old Irish can cut a rug or two.” She hits him playfully on the shoulder for his use of the dreaded nickname, but follows him happily to the dance floor. She knows she is his companion for this special night--his law school graduation ball--only because he is, as he puts it, “between girlfriends.” But she has always hero-worshipped him, and rightly so; despite the teasing, he is kind and chivalrous to this beloved little sister. And as to dancing? They have practiced together for years. Within minutes, she has doffed the stilettos and, her long, red, curly locks whirling around her laughing face, is a wild blur in her pale green shift as John pulls and pushes her back and forth, around in circles, up in the air and over his shoulder, to the rock and roll rhythms of The King himself. They stop only when the band takes a well-earned break. “Come on, kiddo, I’ll buy you a lemonade,” says John, “since you’re way too young to drink with the grownups. How are you holding up anyway? It must be past your bedtime.” Miranda punches her brother merrily on the arm again. He grabs his shoulder in pretend pain.

“Ouch! Steady on, there. You pack a powerful punch for one so young. Be careful, Freckles. You are surrounded by potentially successful attorneys here, all looking for likely lawsuits. And speaking of potential, nay, inevitable success, let me introduce you to my good friend Rich. And Aylin, of course.” They have reached the bar, where a handsome, friendly-looking young man with blond hair and a wide, welcoming smile holds out his hand in greeting. His companion, a tall, slim woman whose long, straight, almost platinum locks lie smooth against the bare back exposed by her elegant black cocktail dress, sips a Martini and looks Miranda up and down through narrowed, piercing, ice-blue eyes. “So you are the famous little sister,” says the man, who must be Rich. “John has told me all about you, in glowing terms, I might add, though even then he has failed to do you justice.” He raises Miranda’s hand to his lips and brushes the back of it with a kiss, looking up at her through thick, black, curling lashes as he does so. His warm, twinkling eyes are a deeper blue than his companion’s; where Aylin’s gaze freezes, his melts. “Lay off that, Rich. We don’t want that head of hers to get even bigger than it is.” But John looks down at his dancing partner with pride as he speaks, and puts a protective arm around her shoulder. At the bar, Aylin’s eyes are narrower and cooler than ever. “Ignore him, Miranda,” says Rich. “We’ve all heard of sibling rivalry. I hear you are a brilliant linguist, while your brother here occasionally fails to string two coherent words together, particularly in oral argument.” He grins at his friend, who knows he is teasing. Miranda, flushing slightly, laughs at this turning of the tables, a warm, full-throated chuckle that makes Rich turn to her again, with a look of approval. “John says you are planning to go to Europe this summer. I hope you can prove to the natives that not all Americans abroad are as dumb as they’re painted.” “I’ll do my best.” Miranda, still blushing at the compliment, smiles even wider at the realization that her brother really has talked her up. “Though I’ll be back-packing most of the time. You tend to meet other foreign students that way, rather than actual Europeans, unfortunately. But I love Europe. I’d like to live there some day.” “Back-packing, eh,” says Rich. “That sounds like fun. I’ve always fancied trying it.” “Nonsense, Rich.” Aylin speaks for the first time; her voice is as cool as her gaze, her consonants clipped and precise, her tone level, almost monotonous. “You’d be miserable. You know how much you like your creature comforts.” She unwinds her long, perfectly proportioned legs from the bar-stool and turns to her escort. “Come on. Let’s go. We have a lot to do.” “Wow, Aylin.” John steps backward slightly, with an air of mock surprise. “Don’t tell me you’re heading for the dance floor. I hear the band’s just struck up again.” “I hardly think so.” Aylin throws the supercilious comment over her shoulder, as she moves away from the group and heads for the exit. “I saw you both out there just now, gyrating. I hope you’ll show a little more decorum at our reception, John.” She emphasizes the young man’s name as she leaves; Miranda is left in no doubt that this reception is an event from which she personally is excluded. She can’t quite understand why this provokes such a pang of regret. “I thought that looked like fun, too, actually,” whispers Rich, conspiratorially. “Maybe another time? You could show me how?” And then he follows his companion

towards the door, with a lingering, backward glance and an almost unobtrusive, secret wave. “What kind of a reception does she mean?” Miranda watches him go, and waves, equally secretly, back. “Oh, they’re getting married next week,” says John. “Poor guy.” Miranda’s heart misses a beat. “Married? To each other? And why ‘poor guy?’” “Yes, married. And yes, of course--somewhat obviously, I’d have thought--to each other. Seems way too soon to me, but obviously it’s what Aylin wants. And what Aylin wants, she gets, by all accounts. And I shouldn’t have said ‘poor guy,’ I guess. He must want her too, I suppose. She’s beautiful, as you can see, and absolutely brilliant. But there are other beautiful and brilliant women in the world. Heck! There are many of them in this very class. I say ‘poor guy’ because she wouldn’t be my choice. No way, no how. Even though I once had the impression she was giving me a bit of a second glance, right after they’d obviously had a row of some kind. She’s kinda cold.” “Then why is he marrying her, if she’s cold?” Miranda feels such an inexplicable sense of anxiety about these people she has only just met, she does not even leap at the chance to tease her brother, as she usually would, about this notion that some woman fancied him. “I guess he knows her better than I do. There must be something. Hey, maybe she’s just good in the sack! Though of course you shouldn’t know about such things, child that you are.” He pauses as he notices his little sister’s face has suddenly turned pale. “Sorry, Miranda. I didn’t mean to offend. Though lord knows I’ve heard you say worse things. Seriously, though, he must know what he’s doing, even if I don’t. He’s a good sort, Rich. I mean, I really like him. He’s kind and friendly and bright. He’s helped me out a million times with one thing and another; quite honestly, I’d trust him with my life. But I think he’s what our dear psych-major sister Molly would call a bit ‘emotionally lazy.’ I suspect Aylin has suggested marriage and he hasn’t managed to come up with a good enough reason why not, if that makes sense. And he probably loves her, in his way, or thinks he does. Or thinks he should, perhaps. And now I’m sounding like Molly myself. Jeez, Miranda, you know I don’t understand my own relationships, let alone anyone else’s. Come on, Freckles, let’s hit the dance floor bopping while they’re still playing these Golden Oldies! See if we can’t shake off those imaginary extra pounds you’re always fretting about. Yeah, how about it, Fatso? You ready?” He drags his sister by the hand again to a place mid-point between two amps; her questions are drowned out by the news that the warden threw a party in the county jail, while her emotions are held prisoner in her heart, and her brother whirls her round and round in circles until the clock strikes midnight and beyond.

Chapter One Once upon a time, there was a rich man…

“G

oddamn it!” splutters Rich, forcing his size thirteen foot through the unexpectedly narrow opening at the end of his silver and purple spandex running tights. “Hey, Ayl!” He turns his head to call from his perch on the topmost front step, back through the open door, to his tall, blonde, loose-limbed wife, who stands by the black granite worktop in their streamlined kitchen, smoothing off the container of justground, Palermo blend coffee she is preparing to insert in their gleaming brass and copper La Pavoni espresso machine. “Maria must’ve shrunk my goddamned running clothes. Did you tell her to run them through the cold water cycle, like I asked? Do you suppose she can read the goddamned label? Goddamned housekeepers. Shit!” His wife, whose closest friends would never dream of using the diminutive she has come to despise, and who corrects her husband with an “Aylin, actually,” whenever he makes an introduction, crosses the shiny, fir floorboards of the wide hallway, its walls painted a warm, welcoming terra cotta, and stands over her fuming spouse, who is presently wrestling with the other leg of the recalcitrant garment. She dangles an identical but larger version over his head, pinching the shiny fabric between thumb and forefinger as if repelled by the touch. “I think you’ll find these are yours.” Her voice has not changed over these many long years; her modulated tones are still as cool as the pale blue of her eyes, a color she inherited from her immigrant Scandinavian grandfather, just as she inherited her first name and her blond hair from his wife. “Furthermore, I would advise you to complain less and participate more. There is nothing I recollect from our prenuptial contract that indicates I should be in charge of laundry. You should be grateful for the constant supply of clean clothes with which Maria--whose English is excellent, incidentally--and I provide you.” “Furthermore,” along with “heretofore” and “notwithstanding,” are words that pepper not only the carefully worded prenup that binds Rich and Aylin together and guarantees the latter somewhat more than half her husband’s worldly goods, they also crop up frequently in the many successfully prosecuted cases she has won for her upscale law firm’s clients and thereby, for herself, an early partnership in that same entity. Though none of the bosses in his slightly more middle-of-the-road legal practice has ever doubted his brilliance, Rich’s more frequent “goddamneds” and “shits” have kept him lower on the corporate ladder and his salary inferior to his wife’s by one whole digit. He

tells himself and his friends, sometimes convincingly, that this is a matter of no concern to him and that, indeed, he is proud of Ayl’s achievements. Pride is not his present emotion, however, as he takes the proffered running gear from his helpmeet’s hands. He stands, the better to wriggle his way out of the narrow tights that must be hers, muttering grumpily as he twists and wiggles. “I know, I know. Maria’s wonderful. I didn’t mean to cast aspersions. But I don’t know what possessed us to get all this ‘his and hers’ stuff in the first place.” He hands over the oddly distorted garment. “It’s just confusing.” “People do strange things when they are in love.” Aylin takes off her silk bathrobe to don the now overstretched tights that clearly fit her slender limbs and perfectly proportioned extremities. “They act in haste and repent at leisure, as the saying goes.” Rich hears the thinly veiled implication, despite his wife’s flat delivery. “Look, I’m sorry, honey. I’m grouchy until I’ve had my run and my coffee. You know that, don’t you? And you know I’m still in love with you. Just look at you! Even at seventhirty in the A.M., you’re gorgeous.” Aylin flashes her wide-mouthed, white-toothed smile as she pulls her long, straight hair back into a pony tail. “You’re not too shabby yourself.” She believes such understatements are good for this man whose looks only improve with age. It could be risky, after all, to remind a man that his tanned, lean, six-foot-three-inch body and his sun-bleached hair remind her girlfriends of a younger Robert Redford, but even handsomer. She has seen the way even these girlfriends smile at him when they think her back is turned. The couple kiss, then stretch, then set off together through the bramble-filled back yard of their four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom, cedar-clad residence in Portland Heights that leads them directly onto the switchback trails of Forest Park. There they run the Wildwood Trail for two or three miles, as they do each morning, she out in front, he panting a little behind, until their cardiac rhythms are pumped up to perfection. Then, cooling off sensibly, they walk back to their desirable residence with its views of both Mount Hood and Mount St. Helen’s, to where their scalding black coffee awaits them. Mens sana in corpore sano thus jointly and individually restored, they shower in their luxuriously appointed double bathroom and prepare to head downtown to fight for truth and justice on behalf of those less fortunate--not forgetting, of course, to charge their respective firms’ exorbitant fee. “Make sure you pick up the right car keys,” shouts Aylin as Rich heads out through the door a minute or two before her. “Yup!” he calls back, with a half laugh, wishing she could sometimes just let a matter drop. And in truth he is unlikely to make that particular mistake. Though they both have Porsches, hers is pearly gray and comfortable, with heated seats and a cat-like purr, while his is white, spare, and racy, and roars indignantly when forced to wait at traffic lights. He feels that in this one respect at least he has the upper hand. His morning is not particularly busy. He sorts through papers and begins to acquaint himself with the facts of his next case, a company takeover enlivened by the fact that the Mom and Pop owners of the smaller firm are currently enmeshed in an acrimonious divorce. As he ploughs through the details, his thoughts turn naturally to the morning’s conversation and his own marriage.

On the surface of things, he knows that he and Ayl seem happy. No, more than that, he thinks, they certainly are happy. He surely is in love with his wife, isn’t he? Why wouldn’t he be? She is beautiful, and intelligent. She graces his arm at dinner parties and entrances wealthy clients with her charm, her looks, her wit and repartee. True, he is reduced to the role of smiling butler for dinner parties she arranges at home to impress her senior colleagues and their powdered wives. But then, she doesn’t give him endless grief when he wants to down a brew or two, or play tennis, or shoot a few hoops at the Multnomah Athletic Club with the guys. In fact, her pride in her independent spirit means she doesn’t bug him much at all about where he’s going, or what he’s doing, and that’s been useful on more than one occasion. And truth to tell, despite their independent spirits and the so-called “personal space” they appear to grant one another, they spend a great deal of time together. In winter, they ski at Timberline and Mount Hood Meadows, where she takes on double black diamonds while he goes for slightly more scenic routes, or they stay at home to light a log fire in their wood-burning stove and listen to Pavarotti on their state-of-the-art DVD player. In summer, they often barbecue a salmon on their environmentally friendly gas-fired grill and invite a few compatible acquaintances round to wash the whole thing down with a glass of well-oaked California Chardonnay or fruity Oregon Pinot. Weekends, depending on the season, they hike at Gleneden Beach, or whale-watch at Yaquina Head, followed by dinner, bed and breakfast at Salishan Lodge. Or, with an extra day or two to spare, they rent a condo in the High Desert at Black Butte Ranch or Sunriver, where he takes to the greens, while she dons her whites, and volleys her way to victory over all and any opponents. For longer vacations, they thumb through lawyer magazines to find convenient and mutually beneficial conferences in Hawaii, Palm Springs, or Europe, extend their stay by a week or two, and write off the trip on expenses. All and all, he reflects, it is an exceedingly good life. So why, he wonders, does he sometimes feel so miserable when he thinks about it? He wishes, almost, he could talk about his situation with a friend. But he knows the conversation would only disintegrate into a backslapping disquisition on showing one’s partner who wears the pants. He suspects he knows already what the result of any attempt to play Lord and Master over Ayl would be. He sighs, and picks up the telephone. There is a pert young secretary who works down the hall and who lives just five minutes from the office. He has visited her apartment before and knows he can count on a welcome. Though his sex life at home is efficient and adequate, he longs for something a little softer, an encounter where he might feel free to direct some of the action. He is tired of listening to complaints that orgasm has not been equally traded for orgasm. He feels that life should not feel like an endless competition. Yes, he loves his wife, but-“Hi there, Pat,” he says to the perky voice at the other end of the line. “I have a few free hours after work this evening. Do you feel like a drink or something?” Rich is not sure, after he sets the phone down, whether he feels better or worse. * * * * * *

This being Thursday, Aylin is spending her lunchtime with her therapist, as she has done for the past many years. The woman she talks to is about her age and, given the

slight formality of each interlocutor’s natural manner, their conversation could almost pass for an exchange between friends. Like her husband, Aylin, too, is thinking of their marriage and its deceptive façade of contentment. She sighs, slightly, as she speaks. “I have absolutely nothing to complain of. Except perhaps in some general sense that we married too young. But, even had I waited, I probably couldn’t have done better, at least in theory.” “And, tell me again, Aylin, why you suppose you felt the need to marry so early,” murmurs the therapist, though she has heard it all before. “You have returned to this theme so often recently, I feel there is still work to be done. So, tell me--you had only just finished law school--let’s take it from there again, shall we? Why so young?” “Oh, in his case, I feel sure he realized he needed someone to take care of him in the cooking, cleaning and sexual gratification departments so he wouldn’t have to take time off from his studies. Except for basketball, tennis, skiing and golf, of course.” A caustic note has crept into those measured tones, despite Aylin’s lawyerly attempts to sound dispassionate. “Yes, Aylin,” corrects the therapist, making a brief note on her yellow legal pad. “But I’m asking about your need, not his. Why did you want to marry so young?” “I’m not really sure.” Aylin pauses briefly, before continuing. “I think, if I’m honest, that I had a sense of now or never. Rich and I had met back in college, so we’d been together quite a while; we seemed compatible. Sexually, of course, but in other areas too. For me, I knew how passionately I planned to devote myself to my career. I was always a very ambitious person, even as a small girl. My parents were both successful lawyers before me, as I know I’ve mentioned. And they naturally encouraged me, their only child, to break through all perceived ‘feminine’ molds, as my mother had done before me. But perhaps deep down I was afraid I would look up from my legal briefs one day and find myself a career spinster.” There is a moment’s silence in the room. Aylin wonders fleetingly whether the other woman has ever married. Over the four or five years of their acquaintance she has never thought to enquire. She wonders whether she should ask the question now, or whether such interrogation of doctor by patient would be improper. She feels slightly closer to this shrink than to previous incarnations, so perhaps--But before she has time to open her mouth, the therapist quickly scribbles another pencil note and the moment passes. Aylin does not, however, discuss with her therapist today the issue that has recently begun increasingly to bug her. That particular item she reserves for the group of girlfriends, professional, baby-boomer women like herself, with whom she goes, also every Thursday, for a dry Martini (up, slightly dirty, two olives) at the Heathman bar after work. There are four of them, all married, all brilliant, all overachievers, all unable to let their hair or their guard down except now, together, once a week, for one sweet session of alcohol and girl talk. Today, Aylin is the last to arrive. The other three are already into their second cocktail when she sits down to join them. They are flushed with laughter at the bravado of the repartee they only half believe but that, induced less by their strict “two-drinksonly” rule than by the camaraderie born of years of friendship, gives them welcome relief from their daily responsibilities. More immediately, they are warming to a discussion of the tightness of their waiter’s buttocks, and drawing imaginary comparisons between his

imagined sexual prowess and that of their equally high-powered husbands, to whom, despite their occasionally racy chatter, they are largely devoted. “I swear to god--” Diane, the red-headed CPA from Isler and Co., gives a mischievous wink and a grin, “--we were putzing around in the garden last Saturday and I told Jim, deliberately, that I was thinking of growing a great big clitoris over the front porch where nobody could miss it, not even him. He just looked at me and said that would be very nice, did I want pink, white or blue. I mean, what do you do?” “That would be hilarious,” says Kathleen, the brown-haired advertising director who’s a mainstay at Weiden and Kennedy, “if only it were true. I speak as a professional who constantly has to hold wildly imaginative copywriters back from overstretched puns, you understand. No, Diane, no use protesting! That one’s way O.T.T. Not that I don’t agree our men often seem anatomically ignorant, mind you. I firmly believe we owe it to womankind in general to raise a glass to the sister who invented the vibrator.” “Amen to that, girlfriend,” says Clara, the frizzy ’fro-ed software developer who practically runs the newly opened Oregon branch of Intel. “To vibrators and the long-life batteries that power them!” The three young women giggle and clink. “The usual, please,” says Aylin to the tight-buttocked waiter himself as she takes her place. “And just pass the vermouth lightly over the shaker.” Her friends are clearly merry; she feels she has some catching up to do. “That sounds pretty serious, Aylin.” Kathleen raises her half empty glass of Prickly Peartini. “You look grim. Bad day at work?” The other two smile and nod their heads sympathetically. “Not really. No more than usual.” Aylin takes a quick slurp--rather than her usual, elegant sip--from the icy, beaded glass that the speedy waiter has set before her. “I guess I just have issues to deal with.” “Aha,” says Clara. “It’s Thursday, right? There speaks a woman who’s just spent an hour with her therapist. I know the signs.” Aylin smiles wryly. “You’ve got me there. But I don’t even talk to her about what’s really bothering me.” “Why not?” asks Clara. “Isn’t that why we pay these people?” “I don’t know,” says Aylin. “I suppose I have such mixed feelings myself I hardly know how to start.” “Come on, girl!” says Kathleen. “You can’t string us out like this! What’s up?” She grins, and rubs her hands together in anticipation. “Tell all! Does gorgeous Rich want you to try out some deviant sexual practices? Has he started dressing in women’s clothes and asking you to spank him? What’s the big deal? Or the issue, if we’re into Thursday shrink-speak.” The other women smile at the idea of virile Rich in women’s clothes, even as they warm to the idea of giving him a spanking. But Aylin is not to be amused. “Actually,” she says, “I may as well tell you. I’ve been thinking about telling you all week, as it happens. The issue, frankly, is one of, well, issue. Not to put too fine a point on it, I kind of feel it’s time to have a baby.” The four friends, all of them childless, observe a moment of silence. They are each somewhere in their thirties. In the suddenly sober quietness that now envelopes them, a casual observer might imagine the sound of a biological clock ticking its way towards a wake-up call.

Kathleen is the first to smack down the snooze button and break the mood. “Will someone please ask my learned friend if she has always had these peculiar urges? Or did they suddenly come upon her, perhaps as a sign of early Alzheimer’s?” “Don’t listen to her, Aylin,” says Clara. “I’ve felt that way more and more recently too. And never mind what she says, so has Kathleen.” She turns to the woman in question. “Come on, confess, Kay. You told me just last week you’d thought of coming off the pill. We both admitted we were tempted. I just don’t quite know if I’m up to it right now. We’re so busy at work. But some day. Some day soon, I hope.” “Not me,” says Diane, with a little shudder. “I’ve never countenanced the thought at all, as I told you yesterday on the phone, Kathleen. Yes, come on! Tell Aylin the truth, now! You told me you had secret yearnings too! Now who’s got whom?” She smiles and wags her finger at their mutual friend, who has adopted a look of mock-guilt as she mouths a silent “Touché!” “Though Jim would like a kid, I suspect,” Diane continues, after taking a quick sip. “I sometimes catch him looking a little bit longingly at the bellies of pregnant women, and I don’t think he has sex on his mind. But frankly I couldn’t stand to deal with dirty diapers. Scooping Millie’s poop is bad enough for me.” The other three try briefly to conjure for an instant the image of their Chanel-clad friend bending to retrieve the feces of her tiny toy poodle; all fail to summon up the unlikely picture. “Well, I admit I’m tempted, okay?” says Kathleen, all seriousness again, after a moment’s pause. “But what would it do to our careers? You know it’s still much harder for women than for men; sometimes I wonder how I manage to juggle all those balls as it is--and no, for once, I’m not being funny! Surely we haven’t come this far just to give it all up for the sake of a few years of maternal bliss. Kids grow up and leave home, don’t they? What do we do then? Careers are what we have left. Our jobs, not our kids, not even our husbands, bless their sweet, little hearts--and no matter how dearly we love them--make us what we are.” Aylin notes that Diane, not she herself, is in a minority of one, which surprises her slightly. She also wonders briefly why she has been excluded from previous conversations about motherhood, or why her friends have had so many conversations, even by telephone, of which she is unaware. But she makes no mention of the fact, as she carries on. “I don’t want to give up my career. Of course I don’t. But I’m at a point where I think it could simmer for a while, instead of being in a state of constant boil. And I could easily afford a full-time nanny. I don’t think nannies do children any harm, as a general rule. And as to whether this has come upon me suddenly, or whether I’ve always felt that way, I don’t really know. I suppose in the back of my mind I’ve always thought that Rich and I would have a child sometime. Just one, you note. I’d want a son or daughter of mine to have the advantages I did as a singleton. I’m sure that’s why I’ve done better at work that Rich has; his parents were too busy with all those siblings to push him as much as he needed. Though he has many other assets, of course.” She smiles knowingly at her girlfriends, as she has learned, in this playful social setting, that she should. As they smile back, and roll their eyes, however, she wonders momentarily whether she subconsciously chose her husband for his genetic make-up, which seems to complement her own. They are both blond and blue-eyed, which she likes, though he is even better-looking than she is. They are both highly intelligent,

though in that respect she knows she has the edge. But where she is analytical, he is instinctive, and where she is cool, he is distinctly warm. She cannot help but believe their offspring would be perfect. “And what of dreamboat Rich, the other half of the equation?” asks Kathleen, interrupting Aylin’s train of thought almost as though privy to its content. “How does he view the prospect of fatherhood?” “I don’t know. I haven’t mentioned the idea to him yet.” Aylin gathers up her car keys from the glass-topped table in preparation for leaving. “Perhaps he’s the one I should be talking to about all this, not you three. Or even my therapist.” The women air-kiss their goodbyes and head for home, each of them feeling slightly more serious than is usual on Thursdays. Even the determinedly childless Diane pauses for thought in the driveway of her meticulously tended, mock-Tudor residence, before she turns off the engine of her Saab. She sighs a little as she stretches her legs, then walks slowly down the pathway of her manicured garden where Jim (who is far less anatomically or horticulturally ignorant than his wife sometimes, for fun, pretends), is dealing, as he always does, with Millie’s regular, well-formed stools. * * * * * *

Back at home before his partner, Rich is chopping garlic, onions and tomatoes to make pasta sauce, his one and only culinary specialty. After the physically satisfying but intellectually and morally disquieting hour he has spent with the compliant Pat, he feels less of a post-coital afterglow than a fug of faintly irritable guilt he hopes to expunge by preparing dinner. As he cleanses his conscience with this act of domesticity, he washes away the aftertaste of Pat’s inferior red wine with a generous glass of Aloxe-Corton, château-bought in Burgundy during the previous year’s trip to France. He fills the second, empty glass he has set out on the granite counter that Maria, their twice-weekly, invisible Mexican maid, has earlier polished to perfection, as he hears his wife arrive. “Hi there, hon,” he calls to her as she hangs up her jacket. “How’s your day been? I’ve got just the very thing you need here, waiting for you.” He holds out the deep red drink. “And dinner will be ready in a moment. Why don’t you take this up with you while you shower and I’ll set the table?” He notes that, despite his good boy act, Ayl is unsmiling as she enters the kitchen. He hopes, as he always does on such occasions, that this is not the day his sins have found him out. Instinctively, he furrows his brow like a child caught red-handed in midmischief. “What’s wrong, Ayl? Something happened?” His wife sighs. “Not happened, not exactly. In fact, I suppose I’m more upset about something that hasn’t happened. Not yet, anyway.” Rich feels the warm flush of relief. At least his imagined sin is one of omission. “Sorry, honey.” He always feels, on these occasions, that the better part of valor is to offer the apology in advance of the accusation. “What have I forgotten now?” “Nothing, really.” Aylin is only slightly suspicious--also as always--at her husband’s willingness to shoulder blame before any has been cast. “Maybe a youthful conversation or two, but frankly I’m not even sure of that.”

“Uh-oh,” says Rich. He is beginning to feel more defensive than conciliatory. “This is getting a little deep for me. Wait, it’s Thursday, isn’t it! What’s that therapist of yours been saying this time?” “Nothing, really. Nothing at all, in fact. It’s just that I’m thirty-five this year.” Rich is nonplussed. He is sure he has not forgotten a birthday. His secretary is instructed to remind him of such occasions faithfully, under pain of death, or at least dismissal. And he knows the numbers; he and Ayl are mid-’fifties-boomers, both. He tries conciliation: “I know you are, sweetheart. And you are every bit as beautiful to me as when you were twenty-five, or twenty. Even more, perhaps.” As they speak, they have drifted with their respective wine glasses into their oakbeamed, minimally but elegantly furnished living-room, where they now sit side by side on their mahogany-colored leather sofa. Aylin turns to look her husband squarely in the eye. “You said just now you had the very thing I needed. And I think you do.” Rich feels hot under the collar. What can she mean? She is looking at him in a way he has never seen before and which he finds rather thrilling. Is she about to reveal some secret perversion? Does she aspire to be a true dominatrix in the bedroom rather than merely a dissatisfied boss? Will she wear leather corsets and high-heeled boots? Will she crack a whip? He is unsure about the latter prospect, though the boots hold a certain appeal. The image is shattered as he perceives his wife is still talking. “I only have a week’s supply of birth control pills left. I’m thinking that this month I might fail to renew the prescription.” There is suddenly no air left in the room, at least in the part of it where Rich is sitting. If indeed he is still in his place on the sofa. Rather, he feels, he is hovering slightly above the pair of them, his wife and himself, in some out-of-body experience that enables him to observe both the tiny physical distance between them and the yawning chasm that actually separates their souls. Time stands still. But he can see his wife is waiting for a response. He pinches himself, metaphorically at least, in an effort to regain his grip on reality. Back in his own skin, he sniffs the air. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he says. “I think the pasta sauce must be burning. Can we talk about this later?” He runs to the safety of the kitchen where the marinara bubbles gently on the stove. They eat their unburned dinner in silence. Over the next few evenings, Aylin, who is nothing if not dogged once a subject has been broached, returns with accelerating frequency to the subject of the dwindling supply of pills. Each time she does, Rich squirms a little, changes the subject, tries to avoid eye contact. Finally, when she asks him outright whether or not they should have a baby, he replies, “Can we wait a little longer, honey? I’m not quite sure I’m ready.” Aylin begins to suspect that ready is something Rich will never be, that he is too spoilt, too selfish, too comfortable in his ways to give up one iota of his easy life-style for the sake of rearing, however remotely, the offspring she increasingly desires. In this opinion her three best girlfriends and, ultimately, her therapist, all concur. She remembers with irony the precise financial details of the precious prenuptial contract she once thought watertight and bitterly regrets the lack of a “must-have-a-baby” clause. She is too comfortable herself to consider leaving her marriage, finding a sperm donor and branching out alone. Besides, she has convinced herself that Rich is the only donor she

desires. As she renews her supply of birth control pills for that month, the next, and for the foreseeable future, she curses herself for a fool.