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Death Knell

by Kathleen Maher

literarymagazine
literary magazine
When Jeanne, a recently widowed young mother, moves halfway
across the United States to Lawrence, Kansas, she hopes to
escape a troubled past and start a new life with her two-year-old
daughter. Instead she finds she has traded one set of troubles for
another. Bereaved and lonely, she plunges headlong into an affair
with a married man, Kevin, and tries to befriend Kevin's troubled
friend Hal. But Kevin's passion for her and Hal's jealousy create a
volatile mix.

Kathleen Maher is a fiction writer based in New York City. A regular


contributor to The View From Here, she notes that the term "death knell"
interests her because it has two distinct meanings: It may be the sound of a
bell tolling after a death, or it can be an omen presaging a death.

The Magazine on-line:


http://tvfhmag.com

Kathleen on-line:
http://diaryofaheretic.blogs.com

Copyright: Kathleen Maher

Death Knell originally appeared in issues 30 to 36 of The View from Here


Cover images for these issues of the View From Here: Diego Cupolo

All people, places and events depicted therein are fictional and not meant to resemble any actual people, places, or events
unless otherwise specified.
Death Knell
Death Knell
by Kathleen Maher
by Kathleen Maher

death was awful. But when it came to


switching from video art to dental art,
Kevin didn‟t skip a beat. The way he
explained it to me, an outside profession
would make his videos real. While if he‟d
followed his first plan and climbed the
art-school ladder, he‟d just get stuck.
I had no plans after college except to
get away from my mother, who started
every day by vacuuming my insides out,
leaving not one jot of confidence. Not
one jot. So I asked Kevin if he‟d mind me
following him to dental school in Kansas
City.
“Why not,” he said, “providing we‟re
not roommates.”
I knew that; we‟re not normal friends.
He aced double courses and
interned all four years so he‟s certified
for dentistry, oral surgery, and endontics.
I barely graduated. Not only did Kevin
prep me for every test; he met with the
teachers and vouched for me.
Once I was finally certified, he urged
me not to stay in KC, but to start a
practice in Lawrence. He‟d already
When Jeanne, a recently widowed heels, waiting to help the young widow in opened his and of course, being partners
young mother, moves halfway across distress who will pull into his parking lot was out of the question. But he said,
the United States to Lawrence, soon. This whole, full-service dental “Lawrence is familiar with you, Hal,” and
Kansas, she hopes to escape a center, the best in Lawrence, with its he would refer patients to me.
troubled past and start a new life with floor-to-ceiling windows and huge, So why did I stay in KC? I didn‟t want
her two-year-old daughter. Instead she tranquil waiting room, is all his. to go back to Lawrence because of my
finds she has traded one set of He loves rescuing people. He‟s been mother. She was still living in the senior
troubles for another. Bereaved and rescuing me since sixth grade. residence but I was always happier when
lonely, she plunges headlong into an Kevin was one of five black kids in out of immediate range. And—this is the
affair with a married man, Kevin, and our class of two hundred, and the last guy main reason—I had a girlfriend, or
tries to befriend Kevin's troubled you‟d want to mess with. His mother thought so. For years this librarian and I
friend Hal. But Kevin's passion for her Rebecca is from Jamaica. While we were met at Starbucks. We laughed, walked
and Hal's jealousy create a volatile growing up, Kevin ruled. But unlike the around, and always enjoyed a few hours
mix. Death Knell is a short novel in stereotype coolest dude in school, together after work. One night she talked
twelve parts, which will run each Kevin‟s off-the-charts-smart. No apology about making out (that means kissing a
month in the magazine throughout necessary. He‟s a natural artist everyone lot) with her old boyfriend. But when I
2011. took seriously. Nobody laughed at Kevin. tried to kiss her (I‟m a patient man—up to
Kathleen Maher is a fiction writer He‟s one of a kind. People here don‟t a point), she panicked. After that when I
based in New York City. A regular talk about someone being black or white phoned, she screamed; when I stopped
contributor to The View From Here, or Asian. At least, not around me; but by the library, she called the security
she notes that the term "death knell" then I‟m one of a kind too: “Hapless Hal guard.
interests her because it has two Albertson.” Yet even while this thing with the
distinct meanings: It may be the sound Kids called me Dumbo—until Kevin librarian was becoming a problem, I
of a bell tolling after a death, or it can made them stop. When they picked on managed to do what everyone assumed I
be an omen presaging a death. me all Kevin had to do was stare. If couldn‟t: open my own office in downtown
someone was beating me, he pointed his KC. The loan officer at the bank (where I
Chapter One finger. He stuck up for me so often that by have a mountain of student loans)
the time we were in high school, people extended my credit as far as I wanted.
Everyone loves Kevin; even people who had lost interest in me. Problem is, my practice never had a
hate dentists love Kevin. He‟s good and After college, he‟d planned to get a prayer. First, the building housed four
generous and “easy does it.” I‟m watching Masters in media arts but switched to well-established dentists. Second, the
him through a wall-size, one-way window. dentistry because his dad, who died of economy crashed. Third, my mother got
(I can see out; he can‟t see in.) He‟s stomach cancer really fast, willed it; kicked out of the senior residence for
under a cypress tree, rocking on his tuition included. Of course, his dad‟s threatening people. The doctor says it‟s
Alzheimer‟s. He says she‟s dangerous— fine. When he asked where they were on her seat, she jumped around. “Is this it,
mean to me or not—she‟s my mother. I‟ve I-70, Jeanne lied, claiming they were Mommy? Are we home?”
got to be on hand, not two hours away. about to stop in Blue Springs, Missouri, “Yes. Isn‟t it pretty? Say hello to Dr.
Kevin rallied for me as always. By and would arrive tomorrow about two. O‟Meara.”
now he‟d married Patrice, a pretty, light- Jeanne lied all the time now without “Hello. Is there a back yard?”
skinned dancer. In fact, by now, their thinking; maybe because since Paul‟s “There sure is.”
baby girl was walking. I was lying flat on death, the truth—any truth—seemed Colette ran around the side of the
my mat and staring at the ceiling and he impossible. But no more: for they had house. Kevin and Jeanne followed,
invited—invited!—me to join his clinic as reached their destination after running walking across the lawn at arm‟s length
an associate pediatric dentist. Nobody away from grief and the house where the from each other. He opened a chain-link
knows my limitations better than Kevin, walls closed in. gate and they found Colette giggling,
but he said not to worry about my huge The next morning she watched her wrapped inside a striped hammock strung
hands and the tykes‟ tiny mouths and daughter splashing in the kiddie pool and between purple ash trees.
tinier teeth. Their cavities are superficial. another thirty-pound suit of steel “Now you‟re stuck,” Jeanne said.
And you know what? I really am great vaporized. She felt light and free enough “Not me.” Colette flipped the
with kids. They like my jokes and love my to dive and swim a few lengths. hammock and landed in a crouch.
coin tricks. “Beautiful, Mommy.” “Are you a gymnast?” Kevin asked.
Things were just settling down until a They checked out late because they “I‟d like to be.” She‟d turn three the
few months ago when Kevin‟s personal both had to shower and shampoo and dry thirtieth of September.
assistant Patti announced she was their hair again. It had been worth it, “You and my daughter Annabelle
moving to Denver with her boyfriend. though. Colette watched Jeanne apply have the same birthday.”
Glad hands all around; Patti was the lipstick and mascara. They were going to “Really? Like twins, but, I know, not
world‟s worst bitch: like my mother in be fine. real twins.”
training. Then she got a phone call from In the parking lot, however, she “Colette, has anyone told you that
her sister that was so sad I was sick panicked: why was she staking you talk very well?”
about it; so sad that hating Patti seemed everything on Patti‟s friends—a group of “Yep. All the time. I‟m good at talking
stupid. Her sister‟s husband had crashed people she had never met? and pretending.”
into a concrete highway barrier at ninety Colette climbed into her car seat on “Do you want to go to nursery
miles an hour. My petty setbacks were her own. “Let‟s go, Mommy.” school?”
nothing; I couldn‟t get the image out of my In no time, Jeanne spotted the glass “The sooner the better.”
head. building shimmering in the heat. Her Kevin laughed. “You‟re sure she‟s not
Then Patti‟s sister Jeanne—with the sister had said Kevin was a good dentist thirteen in disguise?”
whole office coaxing her from the and a good boss—but not that he was a Stepping close to him and
background—decided to move halfway tall, sleek, black man who was absurdly whispering, Jeanne said, “She‟ll be a
across the country. Start over, we said, handsome. Under a cypress tree, he challenge, but right now she pats my
here with us. But selfish, bitchy Patti moved as if trying not to dance to some back and says, „Everybody misses Dad,
didn‟t even stick around to help Jeanne rhythm that kept getting to him. but don‟t worry. You and me are still
adjust, because Kevin will do that. Stepping from the car and removing here.‟”
He‟s outside, eager to rescue the her sunglasses, she saw with dismay that Kevin didn‟t move away but couldn‟t
young widow. He owns a bungalow, his despite the air-conditioning, she‟d think how to respond. He stuffed his hand
home before he married Patrice. He was sweated through her summer dress in his pocket and retrieved the keys.
renting it to Patti and her lawyer boyfriend during the brief ride. Damp rings “Ready to go inside?”
and now he‟s going to rent it to Jeanne. descended from beneath her breasts The back door opened to a utility
Last week he hired painters and down to her hips, and she could feel that room with a washer, drier, and a rack of
carpenters to fix it up. her seat was the dampest of all. It gardening supplies Patti and her
A new-looking Taurus just pulled up. seemed every day her anguish presented boyfriend had never used.
The twenty-five-year old widow eases out some new embarrassing symptom. The bungalow was pretty inside:
of the car and takes off her sunglasses. Kevin bounded from the shade and smooth white walls, arched room dividers,
She resembles Patti—except she‟s introduced himself. Jeanne shook his and pale, polished louvered blinds. The
beautiful. The middle of her blue dress is hand and lifted her hair, a diversion from two bedrooms, one small, the other
dark, damp from the heat. She steps trembling. He was reassuring. Up close larger, and the living room were carpeted
toward Kevin and lifts her long hair off her his good looks didn‟t intimidate her, in pale green.
neck. Kevin says something, his because of a pronounced gentleness. Colette ran to her bedroom and they
eyebrows lift, and he gestures toward his Patti had said Midwesterners were heard her jumping on the bed, and
car. Jeanne nods. obnoxiously friendly, but Kevin was singing.
merely encouraging. He invited them to “Don‟t, Colette. You know better.”
Yesterday, having arrived a day early, lunch, but she said Colette was excited “It‟s all right; Annabelle jumps on
Jeanne and her two-year-old Colette about the new house. He peered through everything.”
checked into the Hampton Inn. In the the car window and winked at the little Jeanne looked at him. Her husband
cool, spacious room Colette jumped on girl, who gave him a thumb‟s up. Pointing had hated it when Colette jumped on the
one of the double beds and watched a to his car, he asked them to follow and furniture; certain she‟d grow up
cartoon. Jeanne stretched as if released his soft baritone filled her with relief. dismissive of rules. Since his death,
from another psychic suit of armor, one of Jeanne‟s car pulled alongside his and Jeanne and Colette‟s personal behavior
many. Her cell phone sounded from he motioned for her to roll down the involved only the rules that mattered.
inside her backpack; she knew it was window. “I‟ll keep you in the rearview Kevin suggested they sit in an alcove
Patti‟s former employer, Dr. Kevin mirror because the house is nearby but separate from the kitchen.
O‟Meara; he‟d called twice before while the streets are like spaghetti.” They sat across from each other. He
they were on the road. Jeanne sat upright The bungalow was a sunny yellow. stretched a long arm behind him for a
before speaking. He asked how they When Colette got out, unstrapped from briefcase stashed in a cabinet. “No need
were doing, she and the child. She said
to sign a lease until you‟re certain you meant more to Jeanne than all the things sympathetic sorrow.
want to stay.” she‟d ever had or wished for. She had “There‟s a job available if it appeals to
Jeanne laughed and Kevin counted wept until: nothing to do but throw into you, Jeanne: overnight emergency
three lovely notes. “It‟s an oasis. I‟d like to knapsacks things she and Colette might dispatcher—you‟ll either like it or hate it.
sign a lease before you rent it to pack for a long weekend. But you‟d be paid during the training
someone else.” “I was afraid to ask how you were phase. And after that, the money and
“No need to worry about that.” He doing. It‟s a terrible tragedy.” He stood up benefits are good.”
pulled from the briefcase forms and to keep from holding her. “You‟ll want a She placed her palm over his hand
papers and handed her a pen, fighting TV and a DVD player. The cable with instinctive gratitude—and drew it
the urge to sit closer to her. “Can I help installers are coming tomorrow when I away. “That‟s just what I want: a night job,
you carry boxes inside?” can be here.” so I‟m free to spend the days with
She pressed her hand along her She started to protest but he Colette. I don‟t sleep much anyway.”
slender neck. “No, thank you. We‟re continued: “My wife runs a nursery Something shifted and roared inside
starting fresh.” She turned away—to cry. school. She‟s held a spot for Colette.” him. Her eyes met his and she smiled,
Kevin found a packet of tissues, sat in the “Thank you.” Jeanne smiled slightly; again in gratitude, stirring more fear and
closer chair, and pulled it even closer. and they both drew back. Bending her desire than he‟d ever known.
She stared at her lap; unburdening head, scanning the document, she asked,
herself wasn‟t right. But too late—she “Are you charging me half the rate?”
was already telling him: How, preparing to Kevin pretended to rifled through his
move, she‟d put half of Colette‟s books, briefcase. “You‟re Patti‟s sister. ” Chapter 2 next issue.
toys, and puzzles in a box when she “You noticed that, did you?” This bit
noticed drops falling on them, her own fat of teasing brought joy to her face, which
teardrops. Colette‟s books and games moments ago had filled him with

next month’s issue out: 4 th February


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between their bedrooms and found it was
neatly arranged with Colette‟s extra
bedding on top; Jeanne‟s in the middle;
and freshly laundered towels below.
So Kevin O‟Meara had gone to great
lengths before he‟d laid eyes upon her.
Unaccustomed to such thoughtfulness,
Jeanne in her loneliness had imagined a
romantic attraction to divert herself from
grief. Suddenly parched, she downed a
full glass of water at the kitchen sink.

Kevin had drawn maps with numbered


directions to the grocery store and a strip
mall with a Target and J.C. Penny‟s. She
bought entire wardrobes for herself and
Colette without either of them trying
anything on. If the clothes weren‟t right,
Jeanne would return them. But they were
fine; she could tell. Passing an electronics
store, she bought Apple‟s newest laptop
on impulse. At Hy-Vee she bought
enough groceries to overflow two
shopping carts.
For dinner she and Colette ate
toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches
and fresh dark cherries. Afterwards, they
When Jeanne, a recently widowed the floor, embarrassed. Perhaps she just swung together in the hammock,
young mother, moves halfway across wasn‟t used to men being so sensitive but watching the sunset stream through the
the United States to Lawrence, forthright. trees.
Kansas, she hopes to escape a He dipped his head in apology. “I‟ll Before bed, Jeanne read her
troubled past and start a new life with stop by early tomorrow afternoon to daughter a book she had just
her two-year-old daughter. Instead she oversee the cable installer. Don‟t buy a repurchased, a beautifully illustrated story
finds she has traded one set of DVD player or a television. I have extras.” about a mouse living in a cathedral.
troubles for another. Bereaved and “Extra TVs and DVD players?” Colette turned the pages and pointed to
lonely, she plunges headlong into an “From my dental office.” the mouse as if it were hidden, which it
affair with a married man, Kevin, and Jeanne thanked him again, relieved wasn‟t.
tries to befriend Kevin's troubled he was leaving. Tomorrow she‟d be ready “I like motels where your bed is next
friend Hal. But Kevin's passion for her for the effect he had on her. If only her to mine,” she said.
and Hal's jealousy create a volatile sister Patti had warned her how “That was fun, Colette, but this is our
mix. Death Knell is a short novel in handsome he was, how caring and home. If you need me, my room is right
twelve parts, which will run each compelling…Oh, what was she thinking? across the hall. I bought four Angelina
month in the magazine throughout Patti wouldn‟t say that about anyone. Ballerina nightlights. One for your room,
2011. Alone in their new home, she and one for the hallway, the bathroom…”
Kathleen Maher is a fiction writer two-year-old Colette wandered through “And one for your room, too?”
based in New York City. A regular the rooms. Jeanne described what their “Yep. So if you get lonely or scared,
contributor to The View From Here, day-to-day life would be like. Pretty white wake me up in my new bedroom. I‟ll leave
she notes that the term "death knell" shades covered the little girl‟s bedroom the door open.”
interests her because it has two windows but Jeanne offered to buy dimity
distinct meanings: It may be the sound curtains like the ones she used to have. Immediately after Paul‟s death, the urge
of a bell tolling after a death, or it can “This is our home, Colette. You can fix to flee had tormented Jeanne. She had
be an omen presaging a death. your bedroom however you want.” avoided their old bedroom at all cost. In
“I don‟t know what to want though, the room they had called “the study,” she
Chapter Two Mommy.” tried to sleep but could not. Every night
“You could have a little desk and she stared at the ceiling, her knees
chair, a mirror, and maybe big letters on pressed to her chest. Throughout that
On his way out, Jeanne‟s new landlord the wall spelling your name.” sweltering July, she had felt chilled to the
Kevin stopped and looked at her. His “I still don‟t know.” Colette sat on her bone. And beneath a pile of blankets, her
eyes searched hers several beats longer bed and sulked. teeth chattered the second she
than was comfortable and she stared at Jeanne looked in the linen closet unclenched her jaw.
Paul‟s lawyer found that her late something to drink. He thanked her for a “You were wondering…So tell me: just
husband had left her a good deal of beer and almost imperceptibly touched how many marigolds did you plant at your
money, most of it revealed in his will. She the back of her hand. Then, excusing own house, Hal?”
bought a new car and talked about himself, he left the room. “My mother doesn‟t like flowers. But I
moving somewhere far away, across the Naturally, the cable installer was late. like them and thought the young widow
country. Jeanne was standing by the bookcases might, too.”
“Any place in specific?” the lawyer when Kevin asked to see her new laptop. “You stay away from her, Hal.” He
asked. Her face kept bobbing too close to held a finger in front of Hal‟s face and
Without thinking, Jeanne had said, his. She grew elated looking at him until waved it—a threat, not a scold. “I mean it.
“Kansas, close to my sister,” although she she realized what she was doing. You and your flowers and all your peculiar
and her sister Patti had never been close. Abashed then, she inched away from him tendencies are the last things she needs.
Of course she didn‟t tell him or anyone and stared at her hands. Except Kevin She‟s grieving.”
else how desperate she was to escape soon slid back into view. Her eyes kept “You could still introduce us.”
the lingering death and unspoken blame; drifting toward his full, sculpted mouth. “Haven‟t you been listening, Hal?”
how her friends either avoided or Colette asked if she could play by Kevin grabbed the flowers and dumped
smothered her. And she couldn‟t think herself in her room, as she often did— them in the Toyota. “Stay out of trouble
who on earth would understand how Jeanne pushed too many projects and and you might meet her on Thanksgiving.
determined she was to be a good puzzles on her daughter. Until then, goddamn it, do not go near
mother—not one full of grief and shame. Finally, a pimply faced man knocked her!”
Paul had worked long hours and his on the door. Kevin wanted Jeanne to He stood planted in the street until
attention to Colette was dutiful, not have the gamut of channels—he‟d pay for Hal drove away. Jeanne watched Kevin
doting. He had routinely said he loved it. pat his pockets and look behind him. She
them. Eventually, their lives would get No, she would. winced at how much she liked watching
better. Don‟t let regrets trip you up, Jeanne didn‟t watch much television him.
Jeanne—he said that often, despite the but couldn‟t argue. The pretense of “Jeanne!” he rapped on the screen
fact that at twenty-five, Jeanne had no normalcy was too exhausting. door. “I‟m sorry to keep bothering you, but
regrets. It was a mistake, he told her, to So she let Kevin pay for the full cable believe it or not, I left my cell phone here.”
think so much. Just live your life; that‟s company‟s package. While the installer Without hesitating, he stepped lightly
what it‟s for. snaked the cable through walls, he told into the alcove and picked up the phone
Possibly he was groping for ways to her about the job interview he‟d arranged from beside her laptop. “No idea why I‟m
convince himself, because Jeanne had for her at the emergency dispatch center so absent-minded. It‟s all right; I know my
never suspected him of despair. He had tomorrow afternoon. “Or is that too soon way out.”
phoned to say he‟d be working late— for you?” Turning away, he glanced at her with
expect him about eight-thirty. Jeanne had “Not at all; I need to work.” She obvious fondness. It wasn‟t her
kissed Colette good-night, and stared out nervously tapped her collarbone. “I‟m imagination.
their bedroom window, watching the sky awake most of the night anyway.” Jeanne should rejoice in her new life
darken. Then, eager for her husband, she “My wife will call you with our favorite that was falling perfectly into place. But
had dropped her shift and lay naked on babysitter‟s phone number. Giselle has along with the promise ahead, she
their bed. When the phone rang, she had already agreed to stay overnight with recognized in the pristine air traces of
drawled, “Hello,” and listened to an awful Colette, that is, if you really like the job.” flickering betrayals.
pause swell into an official hesitancy until “I know I will; thank you.” Later when the day started to cool, she
finally a man on the phone cleared his Jeanne was flustered—he was just and Colette ran in the backyard through
throat. too much for her. Yet Kevin apologized for the water sprinkler. After they had dried
And ever since, she slept leaving so soon. He had patients waiting; off and dressed, Jeanne let Colette watch
intermittently if at all. Although, her first it seemed that lately he was working “Dora the Explorer.” She found her iPod
night in a motel, having left everything, every Saturday afternoon. She followed so she could listen to Chick Corea‟s
even Colette‟s baby photos, behind (a him to the door but he slowed or stepped “Light as a Feather” while organizing the
realtor would sell the house), she had backward, laying a supportive palm flat kitchen.
dreamed about her husband. In the final between her shoulder blades. If it weren‟t
minutes before she rose, woke Colette, for Colette and the cable installer, she Patrice, Kevin‟s wife, phoned after six
and drove another four hours west before might have sunk to her knees. p.m. “It was so hot today we couldn‟t
checking into another motel with a pool, enjoy the pool or I would have invited
Paul had hovered. Through the screen door, she watched you. Are you and your little girl free for a
“Our life was so awful,” he said. “Still, his expensive dark car pull away. picnic dinner?”
I‟m surprised I had the nerve. Aren‟t Seconds later a white Toyota with a faulty “Thank you, yes,” Jeanne said. “That
you?” muffler parked across the street. A sounds wonderful.”
Not so much; the surprise was cumbersome man with dark hair and “Kevin suggested a playground near
wearing off. doughy skin opened the hatchback. Kevin you. He says you probably haven‟t
must have been turning around in the cul- discovered it yet.”
Her first night in Lawrence, Kansas, she de-sac, because coming from the other “That‟s true. We haven‟t. Will, ah,
dreamed again. This dream, however, direction, his car screeched to halt, Kevin—be joining us?”
involved a Chick Corea song that almost pinning the other man to his “No, he‟s playing tennis. The
proceeded slowly, coming from several Toyota. Jeanne crouched behind the playground‟s set in a tangle of little
directions, piano chords landing deep screen door, eavesdropping before she streets. Best if we all walk there from your
inside her body. realized it. place.”
As agreed, Kevin returned the next “What the hell are you doing, Hal?” From the moment Jeanne answered
day to direct the cable installer. It was his He presented a flat of marigolds. “I the door, she was struck by Patrice
house to rent and he knew where the was wondering if your tenant might like O‟Meara‟s buoyancy. Kevin‟s wife
cables should go. Colette was sucking on these extra flowers.” radiated a sense of uplift and resiliency,
a blue Popsicle. Jeanne offered Kevin “Is that so!‟ Kevin sounded angry. feelings Jeanne must have experienced,
but not often, not steadily—not with the mothers called them back. “Drink your If the girls weren‟t so tired, their
bright certainty coming from Patrice. milk, please.” mothers could have talked all night. When
Colette said “hi” to little Annabelle Patrice had brought chicken salad, Patrice left, Jeanne realized she hadn‟t
and pulled her hand. “Wanna see my fresh bread, and cold peach cobbler. gotten the babysitter‟s phone number.
bedroom?” “Dancing,” she said, “isn‟t a lifelong art or She had asked first thing, but almost
Jeanne and Patrice peeked in. The profession. Not even for the best. But I‟m immediately they had both forgotten
little girls were talking and laughing and still not ready to admit I‟ve given up. about it.
jumping on the bed. Maybe I‟ll teach a class—after I take a Considerate Patrice phoned right
“I hear they share the same birthday,” refresher course. after breakfast with the number. “Sorry
Patrice said. Her voice lilted rhythmically. “So what about you, Jeanne? Is it about that. Would you and Colette like to
She had lighter skin than Kevin and was contentment? Or do you hold out for your come over and swim? You can relax
a few inches shorter than Jeanne with real hopes and risk disappointment?” before your job interview. And oh, Kevin
almond-shaped eyes. She wore her hair Jeanne laughed. “I worry about that has to accompany you.”
pinned in a tight knot like the dancer she all the time! But everybody acts like I‟m “Is he an interviewer? I thought it was
was. asking something rude.” the police chief and a supervisor.”
“Emphasis,” Patrice laughed, “on “I know,” Patrice said. “Bad enough “No, if Kevin had his way, you‟d
was. In real life, I teach and run a pre- when it was just me, but now I‟m already be running the place. He‟s
school but Kevin always says I‟m a Annabelle‟s example, good or bad.” supposed to accompany you to the secret
dancer. He‟s never seen me dance. I For once Jeanne wasn‟t alone: a location. He‟s an emergency deputy, and
guess he likes the idea.” pouch of constant loneliness closed tight authorized to escort you to the building.
“Patrice, how about a glass of and disappeared. Standard procedure. ” Patrice laughed.
lemonade before we leave? Or white At dusk, preparing for home, Colette “And to tell the truth? The man‟s
wine?” threw a tantrum. She cried and kicked supremely delighted to have the
“A little white wine right now sounds sand at Jeanne. When she finally quieted privilege.”
inspired.” down and they walked back, Jeanne
At the playground the little girls ate confided in Patrice. “Colette has not so
three bites and ran off to crawl through much as whined since Paul died. She
brightly colored plastic tunnels. The says, „Don‟t worry, Mommy, we‟re still
here. And we‟re together.” Chapter 3 next issue

next month’s issue out: 4 th March


interview with Brunonia Barry

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LU3 1BS ENGLAND
(0044)-0208 1234 036
the popes, Momma, have always had
menservants—friendly brutes whose only
job is to sponge them off before bed.”
“You‟re a damn liar, Hal.”
She swore and cursed, pounded and
scratched but after I washed her feet, I
slid a soapy wash cloth over her
speckled, wrinkled body. (She refused to
remove her underwear, which, as ever,
was fine by me.)
While she watched her “Funniest
Bloopers” show, I rinsed off the soap. But
when I brought out the lotion, she got out
of her chair, and stooped and stiff as she
is, tossed it at me. I got out of the way, of
course; I‟m not that slow. But we
struggled through the whole maddening
process of getting her butt back in the
damn vinyl chair. She kept screaming F-
this and F-that and F-the day I was born.
So okay, Momma, no moisturizer.
Finally, I manhandled her into her
cotton housedress. When I dabbed
lavender-water on her hair and neck,
you‟d think I was dousing her with lighter
fluid.
She won‟t even wear dentures. Of
When Jeanne, a recently widowed “tops. And Bill, anytime you or your family course she thinks I‟m lying about being a
young mother, moves halfway across want free dental care, I‟m your man. Free, dentist. But hey, hurray for me! I got
the United States to Lawrence, not barter.” Momma clean, cooled off, and smelling
Kansas, she hopes to escape a He nodded and smiled—perfect fine.
troubled past and start a new life with teeth. “Maybe someday. Right now we‟re By the next morning she‟d found
her two-year-old daughter. Instead she busy. I got that scholarship, Hal. Thanks paperback books to throw at my head.
finds she has traded one set of for the recommendation.” But at noon, just as promised, Bill arrived.
troubles for another. Bereaved and I was real sorry Bill had to wait for his Since it was Sunday, I went to Kevin‟s
lonely, she plunges headlong into an money. The world needs more guys like office and lay on his waiting-room floor
affair with a married man, Kevin, and him: big, strong, and able to tame the with its thick, clean carpeting. Before
tries to befriend Kevin's troubled wildest old ladies. So I raced to this long, I calmed down.
friend Hal. But Kevin's passion for her particular ATM inside a gas station that Kevin and I play tennis more nights
and Hal's jealousy create a volatile so far has taken every credit card I‟ve than not. He gives me a handicap but still
mix. Death Knell is a short novel in tried. My Toyota‟s got a worn-out muffler wins. I can‟t give him a real game but he
twelve parts, which will run each and needs a quart of oil every day. But doesn‟t complain. So just forget that thing
month in the magazine throughout luckily I made it there and back. Bill with the marigolds. Kevin O‟Meara is and
2011. thanked me without counting the money always has been my only friend.
Kathleen Maher is a fiction writer and promised he‟d look after Momma My brother Lincoln was also a great
based in New York City. A regular again tomorrow. tennis player. In fact, he‟d joined a
contributor to The View From Here, Early September is still summer and traveling league right before he got sick.
she notes that the term "death knell" the heat this week was serious. Either My mother thought Lincoln was God. If
interests her because it has two way I needed to wash my mother, which only we‟d buried him right, he would have
distinct meanings: It may be the sound is never pleasant but really bad when the pushed the stone away.
of a bell tolling after a death, or it can temperature hasn‟t dropped below ninety. I loved Lincoln, though. He said our
be an omen presaging a death. Naturally, she bitched and fussed. mom‟s love for him was just another
“Pretend I‟m Jesus,” I said, soaping version of her bullshit cruelty to me. And,
between her toes. Lincoln said, he for one knew I was better
Chapter Three “That‟s a laugh, Hal. Like I‟m St. than him, because I was for real.
Peter.” “No idea why everyone loves my shit
My mother‟s attendant, Bill, asked if I “Why not, Momma?” so much. But they expect it and I‟m too
could pay him the fifteen hundred dollars I She let loose a barrage of disgusting wussy to stop faking it. And the more you
owe him. “Give me half an hour,” I said, reasons why not. But I soldiered on. “All fake it, Hal, the more you lose track of
what‟s not fake. You end up totally She made iced tea and I planted the for a second that when his hands
ignorant about who the hell you even flowers in big clay pots. She even had encircled her waist, it seemed tactful and
are—except fake. Whereas you? You potting soil. “You must have met Colette‟s necessary to keep them from falling into
couldn‟t fake it to save your life.” mother.” each other. She tucked her chin, certain
Lincoln said this when he wasn‟t sick “Jeanne‟s more beautiful than anyone that if she looked up, they‟d start kissing.
and then again after the bone-marrow I‟ve ever met,” Patrice said, “and not just His hands squeezing and lifting her aside,
transplant when he was dying of because of her looks. There‟s something he slid outside the car door, his hand
leukemia—fifteen years ago. And I‟ll tell wonderful about her. Just talking to her already on the door handle. But in that
you this: I will never forget him saying makes me happy.” second when he was holding her, Kevin
that. “I‟ve wanted to tell her ever since I undressed her. She was wearing a short
After calming down at the dental heard what happened that it‟s enough to flowered dress and her worn-out sandals
office, I parked around the corner from break your heart. But Kevin says, don‟t go with ankle straps, but in a flash, she stood
Kevin‟s, because Patrice, who‟s always into that. And I can meet her at your naked, the dress blown off her body,
treated me kindly, probably likes Thanksgiving dinner.” flying away as she fumbled for her keys.
marigolds. Whenever I visit, Kevin spends “You‟ll meet her before that, Hal.” Kevin wore jeans and a burnt-orange polo
five minutes with me before retreating to “Today, you think? After the job shirt but in that same flash she had felt
his home office. He leaves the interview?” his all sleek naked strength. Collapsing
entertaining to Patrice, so it‟ll be easy to Patrice shook her head and I knew into the car, she trembled while fastening
ask her about the flowers. what she was going to say: “Kevin will be her seatbelt.
When I rang the bell, she called to me snappish if you‟re here when they get His hand still on the door handle, his
from the fenced-in backyard. “Hold on, back.” face came so close she felt his breath on
Hal. I‟ve got to get these girls out of the “I know. The emergency center‟s her cheek. “I won‟t ask what your errands
pool first.” serious and Jeanne will be focused on are, Jeanne. But come here a little before
She answered the door wearing a that. Kevin says I have boundary issues. three. The center isn‟t far but it‟s hidden.”
long, wet skirt. Annabelle and a little girl But so what? Where‟s the harm in me?” His smile when he closed the door was
with dripping blonde hair giggled at me. “Next week,” Patrice said, “maybe the gentle and as she started the car his
“You‟re looking good,” Patrice said. four of us can have a picnic before or expression turned wistful and vaguely
“Have you lost weight?” after tennis.” apologetic.
“Maybe. Kevin‟s working me hard on At home she took a long, cool shower
the tennis court. And I‟ve got a new Earlier that day, when Patrice had invited and lay on her bed with a washcloth
exercise DVD.” Jeanne to relax by their pool before her covering her eyes. She dressed carefully,
“I should do that.” Patrice laughed. “I interview, she wasn‟t ready for it. If she covering herself despite the heat. She
want to start dancing again, but not until knew Kevin was away, she‟d love twisted her hair up. Her linen slacks and a
I‟m leotard-ready.” spending time with Patrice. That long-sleeved pink blouse looked
I hadn‟t noticed how plump she‟d buoyancy and uplifting grace—even her appropriate for overnight work. She put
gotten—still pretty, but pretty fat. voice on the phone conveyed a on a necklace she‟d bought at J.C Penny
“Come inside, Hal.” reassuring brightness. She thanked and took it off—better without it. With
Somehow I could tell Kevin wasn‟t Patrice but claimed she had too many bright pink flats on her feet, she arrived at
home; the house felt really soothing. “I‟ve errands. the O‟Meara‟s right on time. She walked
got extra marigolds, Patrice.” “Wouldn‟t Colette rather come and around and opened the backyard‟s gate.
“Do you? Kevin‟s „landscaped‟ the play in the pool?” From the deck surrounding the turquoise
garden, so we can‟t put them in the Jeanne laughed. “Of course, she pool, she called to Annabelle and Colette
ground, but they‟ll be pretty in pots.” would. Thank you.” She packed a change who splashed and kicked wearing
Annabelle‟s tiny, soaking-wet friend of clothes for Colette and helped her into floaties. Patrice smiled from her perch on
offered me her hand. “How do you do? her bathing suit. In time she would the diving board.
I‟m Colette.” establish a bond with Patrice so tight that “I don‟t want to get wet.”
“My name is Hal; glad to meet you, any nonsense about Kevin wouldn‟t exist. “Stay there then. I‟ll see you after
Colette.” The energy overload he‟d caused was a you‟ve become the new crisis dispatcher.”
“Hal, my pal. My mommy‟s getting a fluke—lightning striking twice. It wouldn‟t Kevin appeared, sliding open the
job.” happen again. glass divider, his manner calm. Leading
“And your daddy?” And yet she steeled herself in case her through the house, he seemed
“My daddy‟s dead.” he, and not Patrice, opened the door. As cautious. In the driveway he suggested
Leave it to me to say the worst thing it happened, he swept open both double- she ride with him. The place was only a
possible. Why hadn‟t I connected this doors at once. Unwittingly, she stared at few blocks away.
child with the young widow? him as Colette ran inside. Recovering in a “I‟d better follow in my own car, or
Patrice was kneeling beside Colette, heartbeat, she waved good-bye without else no matter how close it is, I‟m likely to
whispering. looking. get lost next time.”
“I‟m sorry, Hal,” the child said. But during a mysterious interval, His fancy metallic black car was a
“There‟s no need to tell people about my Kevin had invited her inside for a minute. Honda Accord, not the BMW she had
daddy first thing.” “Don‟t tell me you don‟t have a minute, assumed. She followed it around two
“It‟s okay,” Patrice said. “No need to Jeanne.” corners and down a straight, unpaved
apologize either, right Hal?” “I really don‟t. You know how it is…” road. Kevin parked beside a vast stand of
“Absolutely. No need,” I said. The two She backed away, hands cupping her flowering oleander. Jeanne parked
little girls ran off, holding hands. “Patrice, mouth as she spoke. behind him.
you must be a great nursery school Light and swift, Kevin reached her car “The crisis center,” he said, “is around
teacher.” in time to open the door for her. Jeanne this hedge and down the road. Ordinarily,
“Well,” she sighed. “I‟m better at that paused. His eyes found hers as he you should park in front of the building.
than I ever was at dancing.” stepped around the door so they were But,” he touched her hand, “do you mind
I asked, “So what do you say about both between the open car window and walking a bit? I want to apologize for
those marigolds in my car?” the driver‟s seat. He stood so close to her coming on so strong.”
Without realizing it, Jeanne sighed This made her giggle. She held a He smiled an amused, besotted
and arched her neck, taking in the vivid hand to her face, apologizing. Once smile. “You‟re right; don‟t ask Patrice. But
blue sky. Eyes back on earth, she started, her nervous giggle was difficult to it proves my point. I can‟t think straight
squared her shoulders, facing the stop. since I met you.”
moment. “And I thought it was just me. He shook his head for being an idiot. Her skin burned. “You are married to
But it‟s unfair, Kevin, and,” (she balked at “Men tell you this all the time, don‟t they? the nicest woman I‟ve ever met. But it
saying “wrong”) “…and not right.” I‟m not like that, Jeanne. I‟m different and doesn‟t make a bit of difference.” She
Staying arm‟s distance, he stepped in what‟s happening between us isn‟t closed her eyes for a moment. “Think
front of her and gently pressed his index ordinary.” about Patrice, Annabelle, Colette. Kevin,
fingers on her covered shoulders. She was still laughing, hands you have to stand back.” She shuddered,
“Jeanne, I don‟t believe it‟s wrong. It‟s too covering her mouth. fighting tears.
extraordinary; I have never felt so “You‟re not angry,” he said, “that‟s “This was supposed to be an
overwhelmed.” His fingers glided down to good. I have never strayed from Patrice. apology. But I can‟t do it; I‟m not sorry,
hers. “I want you more than I imagined it Ask her. Ask anyone. Before you, Jeanne. I‟ll stand back, just as you ask. I‟ll
was possible to want someone.” Jeanne, I was a devoted husband. wait in the shadows until I find a way for
When she didn‟t take his hands, his Patrice will vouch for me.” He lifted his us, a good way. You‟ll see.”
fingers fell away, but he stepped closer to arms and dropped them.
her. “Kevin, do you really want me to ask
She couldn‟t look at him. Patrice if you fall for other women? Until
Chapter 4 next issue
“My heart‟s all torn up over you,” he now—until me?”
said. “You‟ll kill me if you laugh.”

next month’s issue out: 8 th April


interview with Brunonia Barry

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“Not really. Your little girl is off the
charts, Jeanne. She‟s already starting to
read and already starting to work with
numbers.”
Jeanne knew that, but not how
advanced Colette‟s imagination
supposedly was. Babysitting her while
she and Annabelle played did sound like
fun—enough fun to soothe Jeanne‟s
distress over Patrice‟s huge, continual
favor.
One afternoon—Indian summer—
Jeanne arrived in time to watch through
the door hinges. Colette spied her mother
right away and led her to “the dungeon”
across the hall.
When released, Jeanne and Patrice
drank sparkling lemonade in the kitchen.
“Did you bring bathing suits?”
“I did.” Jeanne patted a large tote
bag. “And towels and sunscreen.”
“We have those,” Patrice said. “Come
on. I‟m ready for the pool.”
The mothers crept toward the slightly
open door—something Patrice insisted
on; the girls were too little to spend hours
without any supervision. They were
curtseying. Stepping back, Jeanne
explained that Paul had taught Colette to
curtsey before his mother visited. But
then it turned out she had to visit early,
for Paul‟s funeral. Patrice took Jeanne‟s
When Jeanne, a recently widowed Jeanne easily adjusted to working hand for a second. “Don‟t feel as if you
young mother, moves halfway across overnight. And why not? After nursery can‟t talk about it with me,” she said. “I
the United States to Lawrence, school, Patrice often (or no—almost don‟t have any idea how hard it is, but I
Kansas, she hopes to escape a always and soon routinely) took Colette do know how fast people shut you out if
troubled past and start a new life with home for lunch with Annabelle, allowing your words frighten them.”
her two-year-old daughter. Instead she Jeanne to sleep an extra hour or two. Jeanne nodded. “That‟s why
finds she has traded one set of Patrice said the little girls entertained therapists get paid to listen. I‟m doing all
troubles for another. Bereaved and each other, which meant she could relax. right, though. Between Colette and the
lonely, she plunges headlong into an Jeanne doubted it was effortless, but was job…Of course, having you for a friend
affair with a married man, Kevin, and grateful nonetheless. doesn‟t hurt.”
tries to befriend Kevin's troubled “They play this fabulous game,” The girls claimed their mothers were
friend Hal. But Kevin's passion for her Patrice told her. “In class, I offer prompts spying again but Patrice said, “Last call
and Hal's jealousy create a volatile for imaginary play but they go nowhere. for swimming. Last call of the year.”
mix. Death Knell is a short novel in Colette, however, remembered one: She Changing in the powder room,
twelve parts, which will run each and Annabelle play fairies every Jeanne wished she‟d brought her other
month in the magazine throughout afternoon. They catch me spying and bathing suit. The athletic two-piece
2011. throw me into the dungeon—that is, the squashed her breasts so they rose like
Kathleen Maher is a fiction writer powder room. They fly around looking for half moons over the top. Slinking into the
based in New York City. A regular constantly changing safety areas. bright sunlight, she felt embarrassed, her
contributor to The View From Here, Otherwise people like me will break the slender body as pale as milk. Seeing
she notes that the term "death knell" spell. Loud enough so I can hear them, buoyant, light-brown Patrice in the pool,
interests her because it has two they beg the ceiling for magical powers. she tightened the bathing suit‟s straps
distinct meanings: It may be the sound Often a wild animal kills one of them. And and tugged at the back. Patrice said,
of a bell tolling after a death, or it can the other one throws Annabelle‟s blanket “Stop fussing. It‟s just us.”
be an omen presaging a death. over the dead fairy and whispers to her After making sure the diving board
until she wakes up, restored.” was safe, Jeanne dived cleanly and
Chapter Four Jeanne laughed. “You contributed swam two fast lengths before floating
more than a prompt, Patrice.” beside Patrice. “Oh, that feels good.”
“Did you swim in school?” Patrice Jeanne and Colette walked to the park So he began asking, “What happened
asked. during the late afternoons and played. today? What did you do?” It turned out
“No, just as a kid, and then again After dinner, Jeanne read to her. Then he really did sense whether they‟d spent
when I was pregnant.” they prepared for Giselle, Colette‟s time here or met somewhere else, a
“I tried swimming for exercise but babysitter, who arrived at eight p.m. playground or shopping mall. On those
didn‟t stick with it. I‟ve gained so much Jeanne chatted with her a few minutes days, despite his bluster for Patrice‟s
weight this year I put away the scale. and kissed Colette, who squirmed out of sake, he‟d already registered a kind of
Last week I had to buy even bigger her arms, declaring she wasn‟t a baby. gloom.
clothes to replace the first bigger clothes.” Jeanne drove to the secured building, One Sunday driving home from
“Are you doing all the same things?” passing the O‟Meara‟s before the turn. visiting Kevin‟s mother, Patrice hit upon a
Jeanne asked. “Maybe it‟s your thyroid.” From eight-thirty p.m. to six-thirty a.m., solution for spending time with Kevin and
Patrice laughed. “Not a chance. It‟s she answered emergency phone calls Jeanne—and Hal. “If Jeanne and Hal
my cookie, cupcake, candy bar, and and participated in an online certification liked each other, even a little,” Patrice
milkshake habit. I hate getting fat. But class. Her supervisor, who had disliked said, “the four of us could go on a picnic,
ever since January, I‟ve felt the need to her initially, softened during the second see a movie, I don‟t know…it might bridge
eat lots of sweets.” week. Jeanne fixed her cocoa the way the gap.”
They swayed waist-deep, watching she liked it; never asked for a different TV Without answering or glancing at his
their daughters bobbing about in water show; and never bothered her after she wife, Kevin exited the turnpike and pulled
wings. “Maybe there‟s something going fell asleep in her lounge chair. to the side of the road. “Patrice, do not
on with your blood sugar,” Jeanne said. Before seven a.m., Jeanne returned introduce Hal to Jeanne. You think he‟s
“In any case, you‟ll exercise when you‟re home and woke Giselle. After asking how awkward. But he‟s mentally ill-equipped.”
ready.” the night went, she invited her to Annabelle in the backseat asked,
“An aerobic step class; that‟s Kevin‟s breakfast but Giselle always declined and “Why are we stopped?”
mother‟s plan. Rebecca from Jamaica is dashed off. “Your daddy and I are talking.”
what Kevin calls „a darling tyrant.‟” Jeanne woke her little girl and they “Talk but keep driving.” She kicked
“You must like each other or she ate breakfast together. At eight-thirty she the car seat.
wouldn‟t say anything.” brought Colette with bows in her wavy Taken aback by Kevin‟s tone, Patrice
“Rebecca? I love her. But she blonde hair to nursery school. Patrice, didn‟t think to correct Annabelle‟s
certainly would say something. Kevin is while greeting the other children and rudeness.
always telling her to butt out, much as he parents, always managed to squeeze “Apparently,” she said, “this talk is too
loves her.” Jeanne‟s hand. important for driving.”
Jeanne said she had married Paul “Enough!” Kevin yelled. “Not another
because his love had felt friendly and There was no good reason Kevin should word!”
safe. “I had a hot-tempered boyfriend in disapprove of Patrice‟s friendship with Patrice could hardly believe it. Kevin
high school. I never guessed Paul was Jeanne. At first, Patrice recalled, he had never lost his temper. He was famous for
depressed. Although, near the end, he raved about the beautiful, bereaved being nice. Everybody liked him;
was not friendly.” young widow. He‟d rented her the everybody loved him. Kevin loved helping
Patrice said, “Well, I married Kevin bungalow and gotten her the job, which people. Life came to him so easily that he
because here was a man who could go fulfilled Jeanne‟s primary hope—to spend always donated a few minutes, offered a
anywhere and be anything.” most of the day with her child. But now name and number—no big deal.
Jeanne suppressed a catch in her Kevin grimaced whenever Patrice But as the car hummed along in
breath. Just in time, she said, “Patrice, mentioned her new friend. silence, she realized that when Kevin
you‟re both like that.” “She makes me happy,” Patrice said, helped Hal, an attitude sneaked in. She
“You know that‟s not true.” explaining their everyday, including hated detecting this, but couldn‟t deny it.
“It certainly is true. You can obviously Saturday, get-togethers. Kevin couldn‟t With Hal, Kevin‟s generosity wasn‟t
do anything you want.” be bothered. On Saturday afternoons, he casual. Rather, he exerted subtle
“Thank you, Jeanne. I consider fixed Hal‟s botched dental cases and pressure.
myself lucky that Kevin decided to stay later, he and Hal played tennis.
here and be a dentist. Except lately he‟s It disturbed him to think of Jeanne in Sitting on a swing, Patrice said,
pulling ahead of me. It‟s almost as if he‟s his home—moving and laughing through “Yesterday I wondered about you, me,
got his arm out blocking me.” She shook these very rooms—when he was Hal and Kevin going on a picnic and
her head. “Listen to me to complain when elsewhere. Kevin acted like I had committed a crime.
I‟ve got no reason. He‟s says he loves “What about your other friends?” he Seriously, I‟ve never seen him like that.
me, come what may.” asked Patrice. “Lila and Nikki?” He‟s been rotating dental patients to give
Annabelle was wailing, “Stop!” “I don‟t know. Jeanne and I—it‟s a girl Hal work. But Hal gets on everybody‟s
Colette had splashed water in her eyes. thing. But I‟ll try not to report every little nerves. Maybe Kevin‟s especially,
“We should go. The girls are tired.” thing we do.” although they certainly play enough
“Tomorrow then?” Patrice asked. What was he supposed to say? Kevin tennis together.”
“If you‟re certain. You can‟t wanted nothing more than to hear every Jeanne moved from the playground‟s
supplement my sleep every day, Patrice. little thing they did. And once he learned swings to a springy climbing platform and
And you shouldn‟t. Next month, I‟ll take why entering his home was so rummaged through her purse. “I don‟t
them for lunch and you can take aerobics. disquieting—Jeanne had been here and need to start seeing anyone, Patrice. It‟s
Or we can start tomorrow.” now was gone—he anticipated hints of mean of me, thinking this guy Hal would
“No, thank you,” Patrice said. “I‟ll tell her in the air. In the entranceway, he be good because I‟d never take him
you when I‟m ready.” listened for a chime that had just seriously.”
Jeanne packed up quickly. Leaving ceased—an outlandish notion. He Patrice watched her twist her hair up
was a relief. Just hearing about Kevin suspected he knew where Jeanne had with a clip and swing her feet in the air.
stirred up too much guilty pleasure. She sat, where she had walked. He
might love Patrice more than herself and envisioned her smile, her face lit with Colette and Annabelle wanted a double
still do wrong. pleasure. birthday party. Patrice loved the idea. It
might be the girls‟ first clear memory. Of within arms‟ reach. Kevin was beside the could swear she smiled over her shoulder
course the party would be at the sliding glass door, but outside. He pulled straight into the camera. The lens
O‟Meara‟s big, beautiful house. it open and turned, standing in front of focused close on her breasts for several
Jeanne had to stop being ridiculous her. seconds, and she was gone. Until—she
about Kevin. It was inevitable they‟d see She stepped into the autumn twirled out of the dining room, followed by
each other. Although, it would certainly afternoon and he said, “Don‟t worry, a bright chinging sound. He paused,
help if other people were present—lots of Jeanne. We‟re doing fine.” But then he confused, until he realized his mother had
them. gathered her hair in one hand and let the given her finger cymbals.
The three-year-olds each invited four other mold the back of her neck. “Maybe,” She twirled and twisted across the
playmates. For the main activity, they he whispered in her ear, his mouth room, cymbals ringing—pure, sensuous
chose freeze dance, freeze dance, and brushing her cheek. rhythm in motion. The performance was
more freeze dance. And for lunch, Jeanne skittered away. “Don‟t tease for the children. The camera focused only
hamburgers with lots of ketchup. me, Kevin. Please.” on her. She sat on her heels, adjusting
Kevin‟s mother Rebecca arrived “I‟m not teasing.” His voice was soft the cymbals on the children‟s fingers.
before the party with two pink leotards, but stern. “I forgot myself. But we‟re fine; After the girls blew out the candles,
matching tutus, and magic wands filled don‟t worry.” Jeanne arranged little pieces of cake on
with sparkles. After helping the girls Inside, he looked around the room paper plates. The lens zoomed in when
change into magical fairies, Rebecca told that was filling with children; he looked she licked her fingers. The three women
them, “Don‟t point your wands at people. past his wife and past his mother and saw ate two bites each off plastic forks. Kevin
Use them only when necessary. And nothing. recorded Jeanne‟s lips opening and
never hit anyone.” Jeanne squatted by the mini-pool and closing. He recorded her sipping tea, her
Annabelle and Colette skipped set the toys adrift. Returning inside, she eyelids fluttering when she swallowed.
around, so excited that Patrice made opened the glass door herself; Kevin was People dispersed. Jeanne stepped
them wait in Annabelle‟s bedroom. almost hidden behind his camera and outside to collect the left-over toys and
Jeanne had made a three-tiered tripod. Kevin followed. Half hidden by the house,
white cake with raspberry filling and He recorded the children as they he scooped her into his arms and kissed
chocolate icing. In the living room, Kevin arrived and gave the girls presents, which her like his life depended on it. His mouth
adjusted his new video camera. “It has Patrice whisked away for later. The lens was moving down her long, beautiful neck
more memory than most computers. The found Jeanne crouched beside a small when his mother called from the living
girls‟ third birthday is a guaranteed boy. Her silky, honey-colored hair fanned room: “Kevin, God only knows what
keeper.” in the air. you‟re doing out there! But Patrice needs
Jeanne kept busy in the kitchen. She wore loose, light-blue jeans, you in front, to say good-bye to the
She‟d barely seen Kevin—a brief glance rolled above her ankles, the left pants‟ leg children and their parents.”
caught his smooth dark forehead. rolled slightly higher. Kevin‟s mother
Holding a basket of miniature called her into the dining room. And
Chapter 4 next issue
sailboats and rubber ducks, she came Jeanne flowed—fluid as a stream. He

next month’s issue:


6 th May
June 03 2011:
our last issue
(although playing tennis for love costs a
lot of money if you‟re playing indoors at
night at a country club.) But that‟s not why
we play—not for love, not for fun, but to
save me from going home to Momma.
In the locker room I tell Kevin that I
really appreciate it—and I do—but I can‟t
afford any more evening tennis. I‟ve timed
the whole thing so that when I thank him,
I‟m ready to go but he‟s slipping into a
nice shirt. Kevin always takes the time to
look good, which in his case is pretty
much perfect. While in mine? The best
I‟m ever going to do is—keep clean. This
should give me a few extra minutes to get
away before he discovers any more
details about my present status. And yet,
he does so much for me, so much, it
would be rude if I didn‟t reiterate: “You
know how much I appreciate you
teaching me tennis, and all the work you
give me at the dental clinic. But, Kevin, I
don‟t have the money for Momma‟s
evening nurses; just covering her daycare
is killing me.”
He nods; he knows and I push the
door, hoping to get to my car, before he
can ask (again) about Kansas City. Have
I auctioned the dental equipment? Who
took over my office? Did I sell the condo?
But my get-away wasn‟t fast enough
and we‟re in the parking lot where my car
won‟t start. I turn the key and pump the
gas, praying: Dear Lord, please start my
car. Good thing my prayer is private,
because Kevin would scoff at an average
guy‟s plea: Come on, baby. In fact, his
disgust for my Toyota might make it to
burst into flames.
When Jeanne, a recently widowed No such luck: the balky engine died in
young mother, moves halfway across Chapter Five its sleep.
the United States to Lawrence, He taps on the window. “Pop the
Kansas, she hopes to escape a If Kevin‟s in a good mood when we‟re hood,” and after one look says, “All right,
troubled past and start a new life with playing tennis at his country club, he Hal. Get your stuff and come with me.”
her two-year-old daughter. Instead she says, “Hal, let‟s hear your running joke.” In his car he phones Kenny on
finds she has traded one set of “What joke?” The subtleties go over Twenty-Ninth Street and asks him to stay
troubles for another. Bereaved and my head and Kevin knows it. open late. On the way to an ATM, he
lonely, she plunges headlong into an We play tennis almost every evening says, “I‟ve been sweet-talking Kenny all
affair with a married man, Kevin, and after he eats dinner with his family and I month to trade my lease on this noise-
tries to befriend Kevin's troubled eat pizza across the street from the maker for an Acura with a decent sound
friend Hal. But Kevin's passion for her dental clinic. The so-called joke has to do system. Last week when I was over there,
and Hal's jealousy create a volatile with my obsession regarding zero in I noticed a used Honda Civic that would
mix. tennis equaling “love.” I still don‟t get it be perfect for you, Hal.”
Kathleen Maher is a fiction writer and sometimes forget and ask him for the I shake my head. “Kevin, no matter
based in New York City. A regular zillionth time what love has to do with how sweet the deal…”
contributor to The View From Here, missing the ball. “I know that; don‟t worry.” He‟s
she notes that the term "death knell" If he‟s in a good mood, he tells me it‟s stopping at one ATM after another and
interests her because it has two because the French word for egg sounds finally hands me a lot of cash. “Don‟t let
distinct meanings: It may be the sound like the word love and an egg supposedly anybody know. I mean nobody. Do you
of a bell tolling after a death, or it can looks like a zero. Or, it could refer to understand? ”
be an omen presaging a death. playing tennis for love, not money “Of course. But Kevin, I‟ve no idea
when I can pay you back.”
“That‟s okay. First things first: Count “From me?” Kevin clutches his been kinder than kind to me. But she
out fifteen thousand for your mother‟s heart—wounded. They pull punches and disapproves of Kevin fixing my problems.
nurses. Otherwise, I‟m afraid you‟ll turn to pop hoods until Kevin turns thoughtful It‟s good he‟s good. But with me,
burglary. And Hal? You would be the and waves a finger. “Remember that Rebecca says, there‟s more going on
worst burglar.” metallic blue you showed me?” than meets the eye. And she‟s convinced
We laugh at that. “I‟d knock stuff over, Kenny says just a minute, and steps Patrice that he manipulates me so much
turn on lights—and unless there was a into his office where he strokes his that good could turn bad. They want
pile of money in plain sight I wouldn‟t computer. Tomorrow he‟ll have the Kevin to leave me alone.
have a clue what to steal.” metallic blue Acura and Kevin can trade But if he did, really? Where would I
“You have no choice but to earn an the lease on his Accord, same terms and be?
honest living,” Kevin says. “So use the conditions. “But only because it‟s you,
fifteen thousand for your mother. That Kevin.”
leaves you eight thousand for Kenny‟s They do some more knuckle The night of Colette and Annabelle‟s
Civic.” bumping. “All right, my man,” Kevin asks, birthday party, Jeanne worked her first
Several months ago, when I pretty “what have you got for Hal? Is that beige shift alone, having finally earned her
much moved back here from K.C. Honda still available?” accreditation. Hour after hour, she
because of Momma, Kevin‟s mother It is—pre-owned with only thirty-eight banished the memory of Kevin kissing her
Rebecca had arranged a place for her at thousand miles on it. Kenny makes an in the afternoon shadows. But anytime
the Wichita Memory Center. But Momma exception and lets Kevin go with me her concentration relaxed, every
shrieked and cried so bad I didn‟t have instead of him on the test drive. “Fifteen sensation returned in full. He had held her
the heart. I have it now, but the open minutes, though. Don‟t drive around all so close his spirit coursed through her.
place is long gone. night.” And now an endless wave crested inside
When we were kids, the only person It‟s almost eleven and we‟re cruising her. Eventually, she knew waves
in town who didn‟t lay off me when Kevin along when Kevin says, “Drive over to crashed. Her moral failing would
glared was Momma. When we were in Third Street. Or, no, I forgot she‟s devastate them. But until then she would
high school and her mind was okay, just working. It was our kids‟ birthday today.” do anything for Kevin: betray her best
mean, he told her she was evil to call me I know he means Jeanne. And while I friend; abandon Colette.
names. And you should have been there. may never figure out whether to ask No, wait! Abandon Colette? How
Everything stopped. Momma turned someone if they‟ve lost weight, I know could she? But the unthinkable had been
around and walked away! exactly how Kevin feels. He‟s flying on his thought. Sometime after three a.m., a
Kevin called after her, “Hal, let‟s own generosity, which you‟ve got to woman called 911. Her twenty-year-old
watch the Royals game.” admit, is amazing. Kevin‟s the only son had slit his wrists. Jeanne asked if
We drank beer and watched TV in the person who has fun with me. Of course, I he was alive. He was, and she quickly but
living room. Of course, Kevin wasn‟t annoy him and certain topics are off gently told the mother how to staunch the
allowed in the house after that. But still, limits. Jeanne and Colette are off limits. I blood. “Press hard.” She continued
that afternoon was a cosmic wonder. can‟t ask about the little girls‟ birthday speaking, asking about vital signs, until
At the car dealership Kenny and party. the ambulance arrived.
Kevin do this fist over fist thing that All I can say is thank you. Half an hour later a hospital official
Kevin‟s told me is something white guys “What you need to do, Hal, is phoned to commend her: The young man
do when they‟re trying to act cool with capitalize on your niche as a pediatric had survived. Jeanne wept violently and
black guys. specialist.” then in spurts, finding her composure just
“Hal, long time!” Kenny starts to “I don‟t know how to „capitalize,‟ before the morning dispatcher was due.
pump his fist but for me an ordinary Kevin. But kids like me and I usually do She washed her face in cold water. Her
handshake is a challenge: squeeze hard, okay on their teeth.” hands ached.
real hard, one shake, two… “So we‟ll start marketing that. Turn The nights had grown longer. Turning
“Hal,” Kenny says, “have you lost left ahead. And Hal, remember—you onto her street, she saw Kevin‟s car in the
weight?” can‟t tell anyone about this. My wife and dimness. Having thought the unthinkable
I wish I could ask Kevin if weight loss mother don‟t even approve of you and then forestalled a suicide, she vowed
is the new-style greeting. But I know he‟d working for me. Fond of you as they are, to betray no one but herself.
say, “Don‟t be stupid.” But first Patrice they‟re seriously against me lending He was out of his car and taking her
asked me and now Kenny, and in reality money. They don‟t say it to my face but hand. He touched her face, and sensing
it‟s impossible. My body type is what my they think I put subtle pressure on you. some trauma, asked what happened.
Momma calls “lumbering.” Combine that What they don‟t know is that I‟d do that to She shook her head. He whispered
with me calming my nerves by eating you, working in my clinic or not; loan or something like, “It‟ll be okay,” and Jeanne
three or four pizzas a day. no loan.” resisted falling into him because just
Once I asked the woman in K.C. I “Kevin, do you want to drive? You‟re Kevin‟s presence relieved her dread.
thought was my girlfriend if she had lost a better judge than me.” They stood on the stone path leading
weight. She had returned from vacation “No, I‟ve checked; it‟s a steal. Just go to her front door—which was his front
looking trimmer. But when I asked how inside and negotiate.” door.
many pounds she had lost, she got angry. “I can‟t.” “Did you get the rent? I mailed it last
Was I implying she needed to lose ten “Yes, you can. Paying in cash gives week.”
pounds—or twenty? Was I, lumbering you leverage. Besides, I‟ll exert my subtle “Jeanne, please.” His arm was behind
Hal, spending my time thinking about how pressure.” her if she wanted support. But he didn‟t
fat she was? Within half an hour, I get the car for press her. Together they stood in front of
“Hiya, Kenny, how are you?” eight thousand, including tax. Outside, the yellow bungalow, watching its
We look at the cars. Kevin and Kenny Kevin reminds me to keep it secret. We windows reflect the brightening day.
are joking around. Ordinarily, Kenny both know I‟ve got to take special care to Assuming a perfect stillness, Kevin said,
doesn‟t trade leases, like switching an hide it from his mother. Rebecca looks at “I love you.”
Accord for an Acura. “The only time the you askance and knows more about you Without turning her head, she
dealer gets a bad deal.” than you know yourself. She‟s always whispered, “You don‟t know me.”
“I do, Jeanne. But if I didn‟t, I would think he is. He does his best and hopes chrysanthemums I‟ve brought and kisses
love you just the same.” for the best.” my cheek.
Her eyes brimmed and he asked if he Jeanne would shudder over this “Happy Thanksgiving, Patrice. You
had intruded. conversation after she got home. “Have look really nice.”
“If you know me,” her voice gave her you told Hal that I‟m his Thanksgiving “Thank you, Hal.”
away, almost teasing, “you know that‟s date?” Kevin stomps off. His mother
impossible. Kevin, what if—?” She looked Patrice passed one hand over the Rebecca takes the flowers while Patrice
at him in confusion and his eyes sent a other like an umpire. “No way. You heard hangs up my coat. When she turns
rush of light into hers. He touched her the girls. Kevin says ten times a day that around, I‟m positive it‟s safe to ask her,
cheek and she trembled, ready to do Hal is all wrong for you.” “Have you lost weight?”
anything. But he said, “All right, Jeanne, Jeanne bent her head so Patrice “I have,” Patrice says. “Thanks for
I‟ll keep waiting.” wouldn‟t see her deceitful face. “Why?” noticing.”
She turned around and watched him “Well, he‟s not in your league. But “Are, um, Jeanne and her little girl
walk to his car. In the street, he smiled at why not have a little fun in the meantime? coming?”
her and his slow, sweet, sad expression It makes Kevin furious if I suggest Hal “Yes, but remember what we talked
suffused her with loneliness. could be fun. He gets tired of fixing the about on the phone.” Patrice raises her
teeth Hal has botched. But he sure plays eyebrows. “Don‟t act overeager.”
Kevin spent the morning locked in his a lot of tennis with the man.” “I won‟t.”
office watching the birthday video he had Jeanne carried their tea cups into the She casts her eyes upstairs, where
made. He stared at his diagnostic kitchen and asked Patrice what she could Kevin is presumably locked in his office.
monitor, transfixed as Jeanne danced bring for the Thanksgiving dinner. “Pies “He‟s not himself today. I think he‟s
across his living room floor. He‟d been and what else?” frustrated by this new video software he
watching her for hours when Hal pushed “Rebecca does all the cooking. Oh, bought. So hold back on Jeanne, Hal,
open the door. And yet even Hal‟s bulk and I should have told you sooner: We‟d and don‟t be offended if you have to
and bluster in no way affected the spell love it if Colette spent the night. I know watch the ballgame alone.”
cast by Jeanne‟s bare, high-arched feet you have to work, and Giselle will be on “I won‟t be offended. Can I help with
stepping one around the other. Bells her semester break.” anything?”
sounded over muffled voices and the “You know that? You know “I don‟t think so. Why don‟t you watch
picture swirled out from her feet to follow everything.” Without thinking, Jeanne TV in the den?”
her shifting hips before zooming in on her bent down and kissed the top of her best She brings me a beer and a bacon,
breasts and neck and face. friend‟s head. lettuce, and tomato sandwich, same as
“Wow! Who‟s that?” every year. I carry in my dishes during a
“Dammit, Hal!” Kevin simultaneously commercial. Rebecca is drying her hands
clicked off the monitor and switched on and waves me toward the table. I‟d rather
the lights. not sit down but I certainly don‟t want to
“This lady‟s cavity is a deep pinpoint.” Chapter Six dismiss Rebecca O‟Meara. Kevin‟s
“I‟ll take her. You take Mrs. Vickers. mother is beautiful and cheerful like
We‟re watching her gum line.” Patrice, but much tougher: no nonsense
Before lunch, Kevin said the video and no hoping for the best instead of
was part of an online tutorial. “Digital taking charge. We sit at a big old-
video art is time-consuming and fashioned farmhouse table and she
expensive. I‟d rather you didn‟t mention it clasps her hands. “A new facility for
to anyone.” elders is opening in Eudora, Hal. As an
“Okay. But who was that?” advisory, I‟m pushing for Alzheimer‟s
“I don‟t know. It‟s an assignment.” programs.”
“You know I regret not following
The Monday afternoon before through on the Memory Center.”
Thanksgiving, Jeanne and Patrice were “You‟re not the only son who couldn‟t
drinking tea while Colette and Annabelle move his parent out of her lifelong home
played with a dollhouse on the dining on the first try. I see it all the time, and not
room table. many have to confront anyone as angry
Annabelle spoke for the brown plastic as your mother. But be prepared early
man of the house. “Hal isn‟t right for next year. It will be better for both of you.”
Jeanne.” Patrice zips downstairs, shaking her
Colette, holding the brown woman, head. “I don‟t know what‟s wrong with my
imitated Patrice‟s lilting voice. “How do Mr. Nice Guy husband. We‟ll be lucky if
you know, honey?” Kevin even eats with us.”
“Do not question me, Patrice. I‟ve “Patrice, he sees me all day every
known him since high school.” day at the dental clinic and coaches me
The real Patrice giggled and leaned “How many years have you been coming through tennis lessons at night. He
toward Jeanne. “Guess we better mind to Thanksgiving, Hal? Dinner is at four. probably needs a break.”
what we say.” Usually you show up at two. But Christ, She offers me another beer, which I
Jeanne laughed. “I think it‟s too late.” it‟s not even noon.” gladly accept before returning to the
The girls threw the plastic dolls inside “That‟s not true. It‟s closer to one- football game. Ever since Kevin handed
the dollhouse and ran off to play Princess thirty.” me twenty-three thousand dollars in cash,
Annabelle and Princess Colette. “Don‟t listen to him,” Patrice says. he‟s had two pieces of advice for me.
“I know it‟s silly of me to keep pushing She‟s wearing a soft orange dress and One, I should use Thanksgiving
you and Hal together,” Patrice said. “He looks considerably thinner than the day weekend to settle my accounts in K.C
has every reason to feel lonely, but I don‟t we planted marigolds. She takes the before I end up in foreclosure and
repossession. I don‟t tell him I‟m already
there; no way out; it‟s just a matter of on a rack to cool. Patrice dribbled supervisor isn‟t watching me, I can cat-
time. But I‟m surprised Kevin hasn‟t vinaigrette dressing on the salad, nap between emergencies.”
figured that out already. arranging portions on little china plates. “Good enough,” Rebecca said. “I
Two (and this is very strange), if And Annabelle was calling, “Grandma, suppose it‟s my turn to interrupt Kevin
instead of taking care of business in K.C., can you help us?” from whatever he‟s doing upstairs.”
I‟m stupid enough to spend all “In a minute, child.” She rinsed and Patrice said, “Thanks.” And to
Thanksgiving day at his house, I must dried her hands before going to Jeanne: “I don‟t know what‟s wrong with
promise not to get into a conversation Annabelle‟s bedroom down stairs. him. Something‟s worrying him but he
with Jeanne—even though Patrice has “Is it all right with you,” Patrice asked, won‟t say what. Oh, hurray for Rebecca.
said I might invite her to the movies or “if the girls wear the tutus Rebecca gave Here he comes.”
something. them? I know that‟s why Annabelle called Kevin descended the stairs whistling,
He continually warns me against for her grandmother—to help her change his mother behind him. He didn‟t seem
talking to her at all. “Are you serious, clothes.” worried to Jeanne, but streamlined and
Kevin? No talking?” “Better than all right,” Jeanne said. relaxed. Except when his gaze fell on her,
“Forget it, Hal. Talk whatever fool shit “Anything to save Colette‟s best dress it shifted from happy to sad and to such
you want.” from stains.” emotional intensity, her face stung.
Without realizing it, he lays down the Sitting down, Patrice held one of He carved the turkey, whistling again,
law about Jeanne every time he sees me. Jeanne‟s folded fans. “Look how lovely. while the women carried different things
I shouldn‟t bother her, he says, because From now on we can‟t have Thanksgiving to the table. Rebecca said, “Wash your
she‟s a new widow and new to Kansas, unless the napkins look like elegant little hands everyone,” and Hal waited in line
and like, why can‟t I get this? She and hats.” with the little girls who had been showing
Patrice are best friends. Pretending to be sneaky, she said, him how fairy princesses fly.
Yeah, but still: “You mean I‟ve not “Let‟s have an aperitif before Rebecca After setting a platter of sliced turkey
even supposed to say, „hello?‟” can disapprove.” She retrieved a corked on the table, Kevin rearranged the place
He opens his mouth, shuts it, and bottle from the refrigerator and poured settings: Hal next to him; then Patrice
shakes his head. “What the hell. She‟s sherry into two little glasses. and Jeanne, with his mother and the girls
smart. She‟ll know how to deal with you.” “Beautiful dress, Patrice. I‟m relieved on the opposite side.
It takes Kansas two hours to lose to that even the cooks dress up.” He said grace, and when he poured
Michigan. Kevin still hasn‟t come “Oh, I don‟t cook. Rebecca does. the wine, Jeanne thanked him at half-
downstairs. The doorbell rings and How did you know to make mincemeat glass, her voice sounding like a faint
Patrice answers it while Rebecca and I pie? It‟s Kevin‟s favorite.” chime. His anger and concern dissipated
wait in the wide-open entranceway. “My father likes it.” Jeanne sipped the as he filled his own glass. Now that Hal
Jeanne steps into the house with two strongest driest sherry she had ever and Jeanne were in the same room he
pies, which Rebecca takes into the tasted and confessed, “I tried on three decided Hal posed no real threat, at least
kitchen. Patrice tells Jeanne, “Make outfits before settling on this.” She wore a not now: the sublime and the ridiculous.
yourself at home,” and goes upstairs full skirt, a wide black belt around her Hal asked, “What‟s this purple stuff in
again, probably after Kevin. The little girl small waist, and a silk top. Her long hair the salad?”
Colette jumps out of her jacket and was twisted up and held in place by a “You mean the radicchio?” Patrice
mittens and runs off with Annabelle, who I sharp clasp. said. “It‟s a little spicy.”
haven‟t seen until just now. Patrice smiled in disbelief. “I can‟t When Colette said she liked it, Hal
So it‟s me and Jeanne in the imagine you looking less than perfect no and Annabelle agreed.
entranceway. She smiles. “You must be matter what you wear.” Patrice asked Kevin why he wasn‟t
Hal; I‟m Jeanne.” “Yeah, right. Patrice, now that I‟m making a Thanksgiving video. “I thought
And ding-dong: I‟m standing there as certified, let me take the girls after since you erased the girls‟ birthday party
if a movie star has climbed out of the nursery school.” by mistake, we might have a holiday
screen to meet me. Except she‟s not like Having told the fairy princesses to series.”
a movie star at all; not in my experience play quietly, Rebecca returned in time to Hal craned toward Jeanne,
anyway. I once saw Cate Blanchett in a hear this and agree. “Then you can join recognizing her from Kevin‟s diagnostic
hotel lobby: beautiful, yes, but not unreal. the gym, Patrice.” monitor. “So you‟re—?” Kevin stomped
Jeanne has her hand out for me to “She‟s been after me for months. You hard on Hal‟s foot. “Ouch!”
shake but I don‟t notice until she gives up keep us honest, Rebecca.” He complimented his mother‟s
and takes off her coat. “How did Kansas “Somebody has to.” She held her cooking and explained to Patrice that
do?” daughter-in-law affectionately by the “Thanksgiving‟s too static for video.
“What?” shoulders. “You‟ve lost most of the weight Talking heads and a lot of chewing.”
“Patrice said you watched the game.” you gained but not all of it. Besides, if you When they each named what they
“That‟s right. I watched the game. don‟t exercise you‟ll gain it back by New were grateful for this year, Hal said, “I‟m
Kansas lost.” Year‟s.” thankful you guys lock your toothbrushes
This incredible being Jeanne closes “See?” Patrice turned to Jeanne. in a cabinet. So they don‟t pick up germs
the closet door and says she‟s glad to “What are you drinking?” Rebecca whenever someone flushes the toilet.”
meet me; she‟s heard so much about me, asked. Colette and Annabelle giggled.
while I‟m sucking in my stomach so hard I “Tio Pepe, want some? One little “Nice dinnertime sentiment, Hal.”
stop breathing. She breezes past me into girl‟s mother gave it to me for the “Kevin,” Rebecca said, admonishing
the kitchen, having knocked me flat. holiday.” him.
“You don‟t need to play games with He pushed his food around and kept
While Hal watched TV and Kevin me, Patrice. In fact, yes, please pour me his wine glass full.
remained upstairs, Jeanne folded white a bit.” The little girls asked to be excused
napkins into fans, an eight-step The three women clinked sherry until dessert.
procedure she had learned working glasses: “Here‟s to us.” Patrice took requests. “Pumpkin or
summers at a resort in Vermont. Rebecca “And,” Jeanne said, “I‟ll take the girls mincemeat, with or without ice cream.”
declared the turkey was done and set it for lunch starting Monday. Now that the
Everyone wanted pumpkin and ice “Jeanne‟s only twenty-five?” watching Japanese dancers at the Lied
cream except Kevin. Jeanne served him Why hadn‟t he known that? Ever Center.
a dark slice of mincemeat pie. He waited since Thanksgiving he had been Patrice was talking as if no beat were
until the rest were eating before tasting it indulging a strange fantasy that skipped. “Jeanne practices yoga on a mat
and then leaned past his wife to ask, “You somehow, if Hal dated Jeanne, just once, that she keeps at the emergency center.
made this pie for me, Jeanne?” a door would mysteriously open through She says yoga simultaneously keeps her
“Patrice said it was your favorite.” which she and Kevin could become alert and helps her rest. That alone would
Kevin said it was excellent. After two lovers without hurting anyone. But, at be worth the effort.”
bits he had to shut his eyes; it tasted like twenty-five, Jeanne might be too young to Unaware, Kevin shook his head. Why
love, or rather like making love. cope with Hal‟s unpredictable should he suspect that Hal posed a
After loading the dishwasher (for the temperament. During Kevin‟s long, danger? Clumsy Hal might cause trouble,
first of three loads), Jeanne said, “I can‟t peculiar friendship with Hal, he had nothing more.
believe it‟s already time for work.” She always thought of him as a bear he Annabelle had left her seat. “Jeanne‟s
kissed Colette good-bye. “Be good, couldn‟t outrun. teaching me and Colette yoga. Look!”
honey, and I‟ll see you in the morning.” But then, Jeanne wouldn‟t need to She lay on the floor and flung her legs
Kevin fetched her coat from the closet run. Any interaction between her and Hal over her head.
as his mother talked to Hal in the den. would be brief, one date. One night “Wow, honey,” Patrice said, and
Patrice was arranging left-overs in the
kitchen.
Standing behind her, Kevin adjusted
her coat collar and whispered, “Don‟t give
up, Jeanne.”
She turned her long neck, which
Kevin stroked. He quickly kissed the nape
and stepped in front of her, his hands
clasped her wrists. “I mean, don‟t give up
on me.”
Walking her to her car, he wrapped
an arm around her, sheltering her from
the cold night. She touched his mouth
with one finger. No kiss good-bye or she
might not be able to live her life. Did he
know that?
Kevin watched Jeanne‟s car drive
away and as he approached his house
Hal was holding the door open a crack.
Once he was inside, Hal said, “Secrets,
secrets. Kevin‟s got a secret. “Kevin
shook his threatening finger in Hal‟s face.
“Don‟t say that again, Hal.”

Chapter Seven

For a week Kevin wondered at the awful


disquiet whenever he came home. He no
longer heard the ringing silence well after
Jeanne‟s bell-like voice had fallen away.
He no longer sensed how she had moved
through different rooms.
Then at dinner Annabelle announced
that Jeanne made the best toasted
cheese sandwiches. And he remembered
that now Jeanne was taking the girls after
nursery school, while Patrice took an
exercise class with his mother.
Jeanne hadn‟t graced his home since
Thanksgiving.
Patrice had fixed red beans and rice
from one of his mother‟s Jamaican
recipes. Kevin wasn‟t interested in the
meal, normally one of his favorites.
Patrice didn‟t notice because she was too
busy talking. “I had a dancer‟s body until I
turned thirty. Jeanne‟s only twenty-five
but Rebecca says if she keeps practicing
yoga, she‟ll stay fit her entire life. I‟d love
to do yoga with Jeanne. Step class with
Rebecca is exhausting.”
turned toward Kevin, “Did you know that want to invite you to the Lied Center upstairs. “Hal, is that you? Hal! Hal, come
Jeanne was amazed you lived in the Saturday evening.” here!”
bungalow before we were married?” “Oh, Hal, I‟m not sure…” He turned on the living room lights,
“Amazed? Surprised, Patrice. Not “Kevin gave me the tickets. He‟s put on Eric Clapton, volume high, and
amazed.” curious to know what you think of the excused himself.
She stopped and surmised him. dance.” Five minutes later he sat beside her
“What‟s happened to my sweet, easy “Really?” on an orange couch and took her hand. “I
going husband?” “Saturday‟s your night off. So can I hire nurses to control her. And I just
He leaned back in his chair, still not pick you up at seven-thirty?” asked Bill to keep her locked up awhile.
hungry but genuinely apologetic. “I‟m “Why not? I‟ll get a babysitter. Thank She‟ll still scream but she can‟t get out.”
sorry, darling. Hal gets on my nerves. I‟m you, Hal.” “How awful for you.”
thinking of bringing in another dentist.” The “big date” delighted Colette. “For now, Jeanne, let‟s be quiet.”
Jeanne suspected her daughter must Being quiet was just what Jeanne
Friday afternoon, Hal knocked on Kevin‟s have seen something on TV to get such wanted. Or, actually, one of several
office door with clammy hands. If Kevin ideas. things she wanted. Anxious but
ever cut him loose, if they ever stopped At first, Jeanne put on a black skirt determined, she touched his shoulder. It
being friends, Hal didn‟t know what he and a white blouse. had been too long. After Jeanne
would do. Nobody else was going hire But Colette said, “Don‟t wear that, exaggerated every visual cue she knew,
him as a dentist. Let alone lend him Mommy.” Hal finally, tentatively kissed her. When
money when working as an associate She lifted Colette into her arms. “Why she responded, he said, “Hey, wait a
dentist he couldn‟t still afford the nurses not? Don‟t I look nice?” minute,” and walked away.
his raving mother needed ‟round-the- Colette wriggled down and opened Not for the first time she worried if this
clock. Not to mention buy him a car. Jeanne‟s closet. She tugged at a new might be new to him. But soon he
Sometimes Hal thought he could put dress Jeanne had bought on impulse, returned, lifted her in the air, unzipped her
his mother in an institution and be done thinking vaguely of Thanksgiving although dress and slipped it off.
with her. But when it came down to it— she knew it was too fancy for that. “Wear Jeanne sat naked on her heels
even in his mind—it simply wasn‟t in him, this one.” Colette pulled it off the watching him prepare, protection and
whether she had always treated him hanger—fitted dark blue silk with an inset everything. He patted the space next to
mean or not. And even if some people slash of deep pink that started low on one him on the couch. But she was beyond
thrived in the Memory Center, as hip and wrapped around to encircle her foreplay and lowered herself directly on
Rebecca maintained, having gone to the waist. top of him—nearly laughing at the intense
trouble to save a space, Hal still couldn‟t Inside the dress, which Colette pleasure suffusing her body.
put Momma in storage. zipped, Jeanne felt light and supple She grabbed his head. “Sit still, Hal.
He knocked again on Kevin door, because of the graceful way the garment Let me do it.”
harder. moved. She slipped on high heels and All the while, from above they heard
“Come in, Hal,” Kevin said, half a practiced walking in them until Hal his mother screaming: “Hal! Hal, come
second before switching off the video of showed up. Giselle, Colette‟s babysitter, here! Hal!” Jeanne didn‟t care. Eric
Jeanne dancing with miniature cymbals. was right behind him. Clapton played. Jeanne clamped tight
He flicked on the lights and said, “Have a In Hal‟s car, Jeanne started to ask around him and plunged.
seat.” him more about the program. But he said,
Hal‟s tongue stuck to the roof of his “Maine is the toothpick capital of the Jeanne‟s the one—the other beat of my
mouth. Sweat beaded along his body‟s world.” heart.
crevasses. “I was wondering if I could She asked if his car played CDs. All my life I‟ve known she was waiting
invite Jeanne on a date. If it‟s okay with “I‟ve got Eric Clapton‟s Greatest Hits.” for me. Same as I‟ve waited and
you.” He set the volume for listening, not searched for her. Someone who would
“You‟re asking permission? I‟m not talking. put up with my social awkwardness.
her father, Hal.” They hurried into KU‟s Lied Center. Everyone has flaws, after all. I‟m not
“No, but you might get angry.” The Japanese Warriors wore red and saying this is my only flaw. But when I
“Naw. I never get angry.” Kevin gold costumes that swirled with every feel nervous talking to people, which is a
opened the desk drawer above his lap. “I precise gesture. In big black wigs and lot, I interject trivia, apropos of nothing.
have Saturday evening tickets to the Lied opaque white make-up, they executed Most people hate it so much they just
Center. The dance program is thrilling sword-work on shadow figures. shut me out.
spectacular but Patrice and I have seen it The rhythm and spectacle brought Not Jeanne. She puts a finger to my
before.” Jeanne to tears. lips and said, “Let‟s be quiet, Hal.”
“Thanks Kevin,” Hal said. “I hope Then women warriors entered the So different from my girlfriend the
Jeanne accepts.” stage and intensified Jeanne‟s every librarian in K.C. I hadn‟t met Jeanne then,
“Do me a favor. Tell her the dancers sensation. On stilts, the women and so my imagination deceived me. For
were my idea and then tell me how she manipulated brilliant ribbons that arced years we met at Starbuck‟s. We laughed,
likes the Japanese Warriors.” and twined together. Light and energy walked around, but no dinner and no
coursed through Jeanne‟s body as if weekends. I told you how after I tried to
Jeanne heard Colette on the phone. “Hiya Kevin had kissed her. kiss her, she started calling security if I
Hal. Hiya, my pal Hal. Mommy‟s resting.” So that afterwards, when Hal even showed up at the library.
“No, I‟m not. I‟m right here, honey. Is suggested coffee or drinks, she asked, But then a few times I saw her at the
the phone for me?” “Would we disturb your mother, if you grocery store. I went to the bank and
“It‟s Hal.” showed me your house?” there she was. The hardware store—
“Hey, Jeanne,” he said. “Did you The dancing, spiraling momentum still same thing. I have no idea how many
know an average person can survive surged inside her. A porch light welcomed drug stores there are in K.C. but suddenly
eleven days without water? No, that‟s not them to a ranch house devoid of grass or every time I bought allergy pills or
why I called.” He cleared his throat. “I bushes. Inside, a voice raged from laxatives—for Momma—there she was.
Before long she got a restraining buzz: How do you live with yourself? terrible thing you did to Hal.”
order against me for stalking her, when distract her from her work. “Because he‟s so attractive,” Jeanne
really she was stalking me. I found The next morning, however, she was said and laughed. “See what a meanie I
another grocery store, another bank, et still appalled by what she had done. am? We watched the dance and
cetera. But I was always worried she Driving back from the pre-school, Jeanne, suddenly I was so lonely and sex-starved
would pop up, until of course I had to who usually slept until noon, couldn‟t that I took advantage of someone even
move back to Lawrence. sleep for the second day in a row and lonelier.” Her face went red with shame
That‟s how it was before Jeanne. I resumed her guilt-ridden, never-ending and her eyes filled.
interpreted random patterns as cleaning until it was time to retrieve the Patrice found a tissue somewhere
messages. But Jeanne‟s set me free from girls. After car seats, giggling, and sing- and waited until Jeanne recovered.
all those coded tugs at the bedroom song, they were back at the yellow “Disgraceful for a woman. When all over
curtains or hastily scrawled notes under a bungalow. Jeanne had prepared their the world, since the beginning of time,
windshield wiper. Jeanne saw past my lunch and watched patiently as Colette men use women for sex night and day.
shit and that was enough. She and Annabelle each poured milk. She sat They have sex with women whose names
recognized me and then: My own one in the living room with them while they they don‟t know. Men don‟t care one whit
love made love to me. ate. about us.”
Even my mother didn‟t bother her. “Are we excused, Mommy?” “It‟s still wrong,” Jeanne said.
Noise and complications were light years They played in Colette‟s room and Patrice tapped the back of her
away. Our love was the only reality. Jeanne washed their dishes before friend‟s hand. “Yes, but you‟re gonna pay
When I phoned the next day, she emptying the refrigerator and freezer, for your mistake. No matter how clearly
said, “Please, Hal. Let it go. That was a ready to clean both. you explain it to him, Hal‟s not going to
moment in time that cannot be repeated.” Patrice arrived early from her leave you alone till who knows when.”
After all, our shared ecstasy requires exercise class without her mother-in-law,
us to deal with the outside world carefully. who was tending to a new resident at the
There‟s little Colette, who loved me the senior center.
moment we met. She calls me, “My pal “What‟s wrong?” Patrice moved Chapter Eight
Hal,” and hugs my legs. plastic containers off the chair.
At Thanksgiving, she said, “Hal, my “You mean the cleaning?” Kevin wanted details about Hal‟s date
pal,” and asked me to swing her upside “Jeanne, I do the same thing when with Jeanne. But when he slapped Hal‟s
down. Right there, in the O‟Meara‟s living I‟m panic-stricken. Or I‟ve hurt someone.” back and asked if she had liked the
room. “Really?” dancing, Hal cringed and looked away.
First I need to clean up the mess in “I start cleaning like a maniac,” “We both liked it.”
Kansas City so it‟s completely in my past: Patrice said. “So what‟s your crime?” “Did you tell her I gave you the
Negotiate with the lawyers over the “You don‟t want to know.” tickets?”
remnants of my business: X-ray “If you don‟t tell me, I‟ll guess.” “Yes.”
machines, monitors, chairs, Jeanne‟s voiced quavered. “I did a “And?”
instruments—all that debt I‟ll never be terrible thing. Promise not to tell Kevin or “And what, Kevin? Thanks. It was
able to pay. But with Jeanne in my soul Rebecca or anyone.” nice.”
all my failures seem trivial. Jeanne‟s true “Tell Kevin? Do you think I‟m crazy? “Shit, Hal, don‟t be like that. I‟m
love has redeemed me. He wasn‟t always running ahead of me, curious, that‟s all.”
Jeanne. Now he‟s anxious to get away.” Hal walked away, which shut Kevin
Sunday morning, Jeanne opened and Jeanne closed the refrigerator door up—until he had to know: “Hair up or
closed her eyes several times, unable to and sat down. “Have you asked him down?”
see herself using Hal like that. And yet, about it?” “Up.”
she couldn‟t see anything else. “We‟re talking about you. And the “Did you go out for drinks?”
Driving her home, he had said, “I
have waited my whole life for you.”
“No,” Jeanne said. “What I did to you
was unfair.”
“It will take time and patience,
Jeanne. I have the bankruptcy in KC. And
my mother.”
Inside, she had slipped out of the silk
dress, looked at it carefully, hung it on a
hanger, removed the hanger, and stuffed
the dress into the garbage. She changed
into jeans and a sweater and began
scouring invisible stains in the sink. When
Colette woke up, Jeanne was scrubbing
pans and rearranging the drawers. So
she set up a little table in the living room
and allowed her to eat breakfast while
watching TV. But Colette walked away
from cereal and the alien puppets to ask,
“Did Hal tell jokes?”
Jeanne smiled and described the
Japanese Warrior dance.
That night she realized she liked her
job. Only once or twice did the punishing
“I offered, but no, Kevin, we didn‟t.” But Kevin was too confident to think Jeanne hung up; just like that. I called
“What did she think of the Japanese twice; instead, he had tried to help, her back because I had forgotten about
warriors?” thinking he was being big, as in—what a the charm bracelet. The lawyer said if the
“She liked them.” great guy. charm bracelet was pure gold, it was
Kevin sighed in frustration. Before things got worse, because valuable. Not that Jeanne only wants
The rest of the week, Hal continually they could always get worse, Kevin said, what‟s valuable, but a bracelet might be
barged in while Kevin was watching the “Find out how much a good bankruptcy less awkward.
video of Jeanne at the girls‟ birthday lawyer costs and I‟ll lend you the money.” Little Colette answered. “Hal? My pal,
party. By now they no longer pretended Hal extended his hand—brothers. Hal?”
he was editing a “tutorial.” Rather, Kevin I‟m not sure if I hung up first or
spent hours locked in his darkened office, Seems like everyone keeps asking me: Colette did. Jeanne doesn‟t think it‟s
zooming in on Jeanne dancing with tiny What was I thinking? The bankruptcy appropriate for me and Colette to chat.
cymbals. Clicking off the monitor, he lawyer said he‟s seen some sad cases, And after what happened with her first
didn‟t need to ask: Did Hal have a but I have “Doctor” in front of my name. husband? No wonder she needs time.
question? “So doctor, what were you thinking?” He But patience is the best and truest thing
Because, no, he did not. And if he means the condo I bought on top of about me.
did, he would realize that Kevin had good student loans and opening a dental
reason for doing whatever he was practice. When Jeanne picked up the girls at noon,
doing—possibly even an honorable Kevin wonders what I was thinking, Patrice said, “Wait until everyone leaves.”
reason. too, because the bankruptcy lawyer told When the last straggler left, she said,
But Kevin also saw, suddenly and him my business was still viable when I “Turns out Rebecca has to work this
certainly, that his mother‟s opinion—doing left. But it wasn‟t. You can‟t prove it either month. So I‟m done exercising till New
good for Hal could, in truth, sometimes be way. Okay, but then why didn‟t I come to Year‟s. It‟s all bon-bons and lazing about;
doing bad—was no joke. And yet where Kevin sooner? Godiva chocolates, and made-for-TV.”
Jeanne was involved, he had no intention Why does anyone do or not do Jeanne tsked-tsked. “Such a bad
of straightening things out. anything? The day comes and you can‟t girl.”
Wednesday when Hal returned from run and you can‟t hide. I‟m half a million “You better believe it, darling. Come
the pizzeria, the receptionist said, “A in debt. But I‟m patient. over and we‟ll celebrate.”
man‟s waiting for you in Kevin‟s office.” Kevin cursed me out. “Don‟t let me Inside the O‟Meara‟s home, the crisp
He tapped the door, noticing the hear you say that again, Hal.” fragrance hit Jeanne first thing. Stepping
lights were on high. A gray haired man We have a complicated relationship, into their living room, she said, “Your
stood up and Kevin said, “Meet Detective Kevin and me. He doesn‟t know how Christmas tree‟s gorgeous. Where did
Olmstead, Hal.” complicated, because on top of you get it?”
Hal and the detective sat in chairs everything—he has no idea about Jeanne “Fitzgeralds‟. Best place for trees,
facing Kevin‟s desk. and me. lights, ornaments, and stuff.”
“I‟m a private detective, employed by If he finds out, I don‟t know what he‟ll The girls refused home-made soup
your bank—not the police. But you‟re in do. He‟s desperately lovesick over so Patrice fixed peanut butter
real trouble, dude.” The man droned Jeanne. I‟ve never seen him like this and sandwiches. After two bites, they were
through a list of debts, liens, and back it‟s scary. He‟s obsessed with her. ready to play princesses.
taxes Hal owed on his condo and defunct But I‟m in love with her. Huge “I like my job, Patrice. Last night I
practice with its still leading-edge difference. Once things settle down and dispatched three ambulances and three
equipment and skyscraper rent. “Chapter Jeanne‟s ready, I‟m going to marry her. people who were dying—lived.” Jeanne
Seven for sure: Get a bankruptcy lawyer.” Kevin can‟t do that. He already has a bit into a hunk of rye bread and winced.
After the detective left, Kevin said, wife. All week intermittent pangs had stabbed
“They‟re gonna take everything you‟ve One reason losing all my material her left jaw.
ever had.” wealth doesn‟t worry me is that it doesn‟t “You have a bad tooth.”
“Even if I‟d done everything right, seem to bother Jeanne. Yesterday, I Jeanne shook her head but a quick
though, exactly as you said, I‟d still be phoned because I wanted to give her a sip of water brought another wave of
bankrupt.” gift. She said no. It would be wrong. pain. “I‟ve never had a cavity in my life.”
“I know that, Hal.” Kevin snorted, I said, “Jewelry. There‟s quite a “Until now.” Patrice scrolled through
masking his sympathy. It wasn‟t Hal‟s handful.” It was my mother‟s but before I her cell to reach Kevin. “Jeanne‟s here
fault; it was his mother‟s. All his life, she sell it, I want her to pick something for and has such a terrible toothache that
had humiliated him. Hal wasn‟t as herself. tears fill her eyes.”
handsome and athletic as his brother “I can‟t accept jewelry from you, Hal. “What tears?” Jeanne protested.
Lincoln, who died. But he was decent and You know that.” “And you‟ll fix it,” Patrice said, “not
kind and people took advantage of him, “It won‟t hurt to take a look. Like, you one of the other dentists.”
starting with his mother. might like this gold seahorse pin. It‟s got Jeanne stood up and Patrice was
Kevin was kind, too, and he used to an emerald for an eye.” holding her coat open. “Let Colette stay
be decent until falling in love with Jeanne. “Hal, I don‟t want a seahorse pin. And here.”
“If you want, I‟ll put you down for extra if I did, we‟d be different people.” “No, it‟ll be easier if she comes with
hours with Dr. Ahn.” “There‟s a gold necklace with a heart me. Kevin will fix the tooth, we can go
“It can‟t hurt.” in the middle.” home, and I won‟t miss work.”
“Won‟t help much either.” Nobody “Please, Hal, I‟ve already explained Driving to his office, Jeanne felt
had bothered to tell Hal that dentistry this to you. We don‟t have a relationship. anxious and foolish. Colette whined in the
wasn‟t the right career for him. Why You have to realize—I am no one special back seat.
hadn‟t that occurred to Kevin until now? to you.” “Please, be good, honey. Play with
He should have told Hal to reconsider “How could a gold necklace change the toys in the waiting room. It will take an
before they enrolled in dental school. If he us?” hour.”
had thought twice, he could have saved “I would feel awkward,” she said. “I “An hour!” Colette wailed. “I‟ll have a
Hal time, money, and maybe bankruptcy. feel awkward now.” tantrum, Mommy. I really will.”
“Stop it.” Jeanne parked and lifted she laughed when she had promised not clothes. “I have to go now. Colette‟s in the
Colette from her car seat. “I have a rotten to. Some rules cannot be imposed. waiting room.”
tooth, sweetheart.” “Is your lip numb yet? Open wider.” The office door opened and shut and
They entered the waiting area and In her mind, Kevin had discovered a Kevin listened for chimes in Jeanne‟s
Jeanne heard urgent whispering. People serrated part of her just under the skin. It wake.
with appointments filled the chairs but the was a layer without a name. She closed He phoned the next afternoon, a
receptionist came out from behind her her eyes while he worked and wiggled Saturday. She and Colette needed a
counter to play with Colette. that layer loose, until suddenly he slid it Christmas tree. His new Acura included a
Kevin was waiting in the doorway, out from under her like a slip. He waved it rack on top. “And,” he said, “Annabelle‟s
wearing a white smock. He led her to the in the air and folded it into a little square, been asking for Colette.”
cubicle closest to his office. while in the distance something clinical “And Patrice?” Jeanne loved Patrice
The chair faced a glass wall. In the and unpleasant ended. too, and feared how adept she was in the
distance she watched bare trees “Rinse and spit, Jeanne.” He put a unspoken.
shimmering orange from the winter sun strip of blue paper between her teeth. “She‟s shopping with my mother.”
already setting. “Bite down hard. Again.” They arrived in a metallic blue car.
“Jeanne, I am gentle and skillful, but After washing his hands, he said, Kevin said. “It‟s quieter, better brakes,
this will be maddening for me. Drilling “Rest a minute. Then meet me in my and a great sound system.”
your tooth.” He lifted her curtain of hair office.” Kevin and Jeanne in the front seat,
and rocked backwards to keep from She closed his office door and stood and behind them, Annabelle and Colette
kissing her neck before cinching the beside his desk. She expected him to strapped into car-seats, they arrived at
paper bib. embrace her. Kiss her and stroke her so Fitzgerald‟s, where on Saturdays Santa
“Maybe it‟s nothing,” Jeanne said. gently she would forsake her best friend, Claus held court surrounded by a plastic
“Why should I get my first cavity at abandon her child. winter wonderland. Annabelle asked for a
twenty-five?” Instead, Kevin tapped a keyboard. doll named Addie. Colette said, “I‟ll
Kevin washed his hands, his eyes “Avoid eating or drinking anything hot or appreciate any present you give me,
riveted on her. “I‟ve run out of assistants, cold for a while. Call me if there‟s any Santa.”
which means it‟s just you and me.” pain.” Kevin chose trees that were much too
His face appeared upside down in Crestfallen, she eyed him sidelong big. Jeanne selected a well-shaped blue
front of her, and their eyes locked. No and nodded. “I will. Thank you.” fir. Inside, they filled a shopping cart with
rubber gloves with Jeanne. His finger The second she turned away and a stand and skirt, lights for the tree and
pressed her lips and that touch became without rising from his seat, he grabbed other lights for inside and for outside.
everything. Nothing else existed. the stretchy hem of her skirt. Kevin selected dozens of individual
He rested a hand on her shoulder, ornaments.
pointing to the X-ray. His other hand Her new life in Kansas required vigilance. He insisted on paying for everything.
moved near the screen. “See that? It Jeanne couldn‟t prevent disaster, but she Jeanne protested quietly, eying Colette
must have been bothering you for weeks, could stand ready. A love affair with and Annabelle as they played with stuffed
Jeanne.” Kevin O‟Meara would end in calamity— elves.
Because this was new to her, he she didn‟t pretend otherwise. But she “If you won‟t let me pay, Jeanne, I‟ll
chose three pediatric needles. If he could not escape. She had searched her buy you jewelry for Christmas.”
administered the Novocain in stages, it heart for exit ladders or tunnels but found With a smirk, she told him about Hal
would take longer to make her numb but none. and his mother‟s jewelry.
hurt less. Using Hal as a substitute had so He pulled Jeanne along with the cart
Almost immediately Jeanne said she appalled her that she arrived at Kevin‟s off to a corner, giving up their place in
was starting to feel strange. Her tongue office prepared to lure him from the line. He explained how extreme Hal‟s
was uncontrollable. Kevin said most shadows, where he claimed to be waiting. bankruptcy was. “Swear to me that you
dentists didn‟t allow enough time. He sat Well, wait no more! won‟t talk to him again. He‟s unstable.
on a rolling stool and raised the recliner‟s He had guessed Jeanne might finally And with you?” Kevin shook his head.
arm rest. “Give me your hand. Let‟s see if be ready for him. Her cavity meant she “But I feel sorry for him.”
acupressure does anything for you.” needed him. But he had struggled, doing “Don‟t.” Kevin sounded angry. “Don‟t
He squeezed the skin between her the work. Secluded in his office he was befriend a man out of pity. Especially not
thumb and index finger. “Believe it or not, able to assume a professional Hal.”
some people swear by this.” demeanor—for two minutes. Without
He smelled like cloves and cinnamon, looking, he told her to make a follow-up
different here than anywhere else. Laying appointment. Only when she pivoted,
her hand on his thigh, he pressed the turning away, did his body react to how
pads beneath her fingerprints. He lightly close she was standing—standing right
scratched her inner wrist down to her there beside him.
fingertips. In his mind he cast various Spontaneously, he pulled her into his
reasons why they must honor their lap and whispered, “When, Jeanne?
passion for each other. Ideas he might Where?”
say out loud—but later and only if she “Monday morning.” She pressed her
promised not to laugh. face against his neck and he
He squeezed her wrist and tapped understood—while Colette was at nursery
the tender center. Specious questions school.
arose to support him. Wasn‟t denying Pressing her into his lap, he caressed
their feelings like lying? You might try so her and kissed her—Jeanne who
hard not to cheat on others that in the constantly preoccupied him. When he
end you cheated on yourself. One unbuttoned her sweater and felt her
betrayal was as bad as the next…There, breasts through her lacy bra, she moved
away. “Monday,” she said and fixed his
pavement, pulling a blue cardigan tight
against the wind, because she hadn‟t
bothered with a coat.
They sat in his car a second, holding
hands. Kevin expected the neighbors to
see them together most mornings. He
had owned the bungalow for six years
and so felt entitled.
“Entitled to what, Kevin? Me?”
He smiled, shaking his head. “Hmm,
not like that. I‟m right to love you, though.”

In bed, they made cascading discoveries.


In unison, their breath and heartbeats
rushed unlike any earthbound energy.
They made love without restraint—and
shared crescendo and climax now, and
now, and now again.
Jeanne had set an alarm so she
could prepare before retrieving Colette
and facing Patrice. Kevin shut it off. She
drifted in phases, laughing through tears,
before settling into her regular self, and
then they had to dress quickly.
“Don‟t be afraid,” Kevin said.
“Patrice reads my mind better than I
do.”
“Everything will be fine,” he said,
kissing her until tomorrow.
She arrived as the others were
leaving and noticed first thing how
Patrice‟s hand rested, protecting an
unmistakable roundness.
“Remember when Rebecca warned
me about gaining weight before New
Chapter Nine mostly so he could watch Jeanne making Year‟s?” Patrice grinned. “She didn‟t
it. know how right she was. Except now it‟s
Colette climbed into her chair. “We‟ve not me demanding chocolates and lazing
got to wait,” she told Kevin, “until it‟s hot around; it‟s this little guy in here.”
Kevin stashed the tree and decorations in enough to melt the marshmallows.” Without hesitating, Jeanne hugged
the laundry room. It was late and one of While they drank the cocoa, she her friend. “How far along?”
the Saturdays nights when Jeanne had to asked, “Where‟s Annabelle?” “Four months.”
work. “Go home,” she said, backing away “She‟s busy with her grandmother, “So you must have known ever since
from the currents pulling her toward him. honey.” we met. And, does…?”
From the kitchen window, he watched The tree tipped in its stand. “Apparently, no. He and Annabelle
Annabelle and Colette chasing the Simultaneously, Jeanne and Kevin are both getting the announcement
season‟s first glittering snowflakes in the leaped to catch it. Colette turned from the tonight. I had an ultrasound yesterday
twilight. “All right, but I‟ll be back TV a second and then back to its glow. and it‟s definitely a boy. Just imagine: a
tomorrow to put everything up.” By the window Kevin stroked Jeanne‟s miniature Kevin.”
“Wait till Monday,” Jeanne said. arms. He moved close and crouched near Jeanne smiled, thinking, uh-oh. “Can
“Tomorrow would be better for your the floor only to slowly stand, his hands I take Annabelle so you can rest?”
landlord.” not touching her as they rose in line with “Thanks, but Rebecca‟s not working
“Is that right?” her body, which burned and shivered. this month after all. She has plans for us.”
He looked at her, his dark eyes bright Eyes on Colette, whose eyes stayed Jeanne was wondering if Patrice had
and unblinking. “I need to see you. Just on the TV, he held Jeanne, moving a already guessed, when she said, “You
long enough to set up the tree.” knuckle gently down her spine. know, Jeanne, this means we won‟t be
“Colette will be here, remember. She swayed and stepped back. “You seeing each other…things change.”
Unless we decide to go to the mall.” better go,” she whispered. “They don‟t have to, Patrice.”
“Jeanne, please, be here for me.” “All right then. Good-bye.” Driving home with Colette, she
Then he left, calling Annabelle. “Time to Colette didn‟t seem to be listening, wondered if it were possible Patrice
go, sweetheart.” but as Kevin left, she said, “Bye,” and meant only that she‟d be busy. Because,
Sunday morning, Jeanne slept past blew kisses. despite her betrayal, Jeanne loved her
noon. Colette fixed her own milk and Finally, Monday dawned. Jeanne friend. Patrice might even refuse to
cereal. She was coloring in a coloring showered and dressed carefully, believe the worst about her and Kevin,
book of wild animals when her mother including lipstick so that she looked like because really it was inconceivable.
woke up. the other mothers with pre-schoolers. Since sex with Kevin seemed
Kevin phoned at two. It took him more After dropping off Colette, she drove unreal—unreal meaning two separate
than an hour to attach all the outside slowly, afraid in her eagerness she‟d modes—Jeanne chose both. Was she a
lights. Inside, he asked for hot cocoa, speed. The Acura was parked across the bad person? God knows, she had
street. She hopped on the snow-crusted resisted him for as long as she could.
After lunch, she asked Colette, “Do surged. I love my family, of course. But I him, he‟d make love to her more ardently.
you mind if Mommy rests?” love you more.” He‟d discover a more potent spell.
“No,” she said. “You should take a “Don‟t say that.” Wednesday night through Sunday, they
nap, Mommy.” “It‟s true.” would vaporize.
Jeanne lay down only to measure her She toweled dry but he took over, That evening Patrice and Rebecca,
guilt and regret. What if she never did it excited by her warm, damp body. “Our who would stay side-by-side now that
again? What if she were resistant? Cool love exists separately. It could come from Patrice was pregnant, were baking
headed? another time. It‟s no threat to them.” He gingerbread men. Annabelle knelt on a
That night at work only one man called her darling. chair, pressing raisin into cut
phoned; unsure if he had been robbed. Jeanne questioned his “other time” dough. Kevin asked if he could eat one.
Jeanne contacted the police. But during rationale. But she certainly wasn‟t a threat “What about that broken one?” He bit
most of her shift, though, she dozed to his family; come what may. into a warm head. “Why didn‟t you tell me
without dreaming. Her replacement, Again and again, they loved each Jeanne‟s father had a heart attack?”
Marjorie, was late, and by seven, an hour other right out of this world. They made “We didn‟t know.” Patrice sounded
late, still no word. She called the flames dance inside each other. Air indignant. “So how do you know?”
babysitter, who could stay until eight but rushed in and lifted them just enough so “When Sam and I were playing tennis
no longer. At eight-fifteen a skinny, that they touched only each other. All else this morning, he said she needed three
hunched man with a high-pitched voice vanished. days off while he undergoes bypass
arrived. Jeanne left fast and sped Until Jeanne‟s alarm demanded they surgery.”
unconcerned about traffic. The babysitter return to ordinary life. Patrice and Rebecca exchanged a
was waiting at the door while Colette ate long, obvious glance, agreeing.
scrambled eggs. Thursday Kevin was scheduled to give a “Colette cannot go with her; she‟ll
“Thanks, Giselle. It won‟t happen presentation at the American Dental stay here,” Patrice said. “Jeanne was
again.” Association‟s regional conference. probably reluctant to tell me. Because
Jeanne didn‟t bother showering and Holding a December session in Chicago even if she didn‟t ask, the question would
changing. Whenever she hurried Colette, was typical of the Midwestern group. hang in the air.”
her daughter balked. She had inviolate Kevin always attended, though: gave
opinions about what outfit to wear…and lectures and served as toast-master at The next morning, Kevin parked near the
always took longer than necessary. the banquet. His implant seminar was an bungalow and waited for Jeanne. Head
Kevin‟s car was already parked acknowledgment of his growing back, he listened to Bach.
across the street when they finally reputation in the field. If you were lucky you married
stepped outside, late for nursery school. Monday when Jeanne left to get someone comfortable and easy, who
Colette recognized Kevin and asked to Colette, Kevin meandered through the almost certainly was not your most
say hi. bungalow. If he listened carefully, he profound love. But if you were truly
Jeanne agreed, and whispered to caught an intimation of bells above. What blessed, you might also meet an
him, “Please wait for me, so we can talk.” a fright then—Hal bellowing through a astonishing person, a lover who left you
Colette in her car-seat asked why speaker: awestruck. Describing that love trivialized
Kevin was there and why Jeanne needed “Hi Jeanne, sorry to bother you. Is it. Out loud it sounded silly. But between
to talk to him. Kevin still there? A lady who came in for a Kevin and Jeanne it was boundless.
“You know he‟s our landlord.” check-up needs an emergency root That‟s what he was thinking when the
“What do you need to talk about?” canal. For real. Call me back. Or tell flaw in his get-away plan hit him. He shut
Jeanne said, “Both faucets in the Kevin to call.” off the music. With the other mothers and
bathroom leak. He‟ll fix them.” At the office, Kevin demanded a children rushing in, Patrice would ask
When she returned, Kevin crossed word. “What the hell were you thinking? Jeanne, How‟s your father? Why didn‟t
the street. “Don‟t you answer your cell? Leaving a message for me on Jeanne‟s you tell me? And: Let Colette stay with us
When you were an hour late, I got home answering machine?” so you can be at the hospital during the
worried.” “That I‟d reach you.” operation.
“Do you park out here that long?” “Why?” What‟s the worst Jeanne could say? I
“Yes, I do.” “I just did.” Hal shrugged. don‟t know what you‟re talking about. If
Inside he held her so her feet “You didn‟t reach me, though. Don‟t she said that, Kevin better have a good
hovered above the rug. “I can‟t believe try that again, Hal.” explanation: Two explanations, one for
you asked me to wait. Don‟t you know I While attending to the root canal, Jeanne and one for Jeanne to give
will always wait for you, Jeanne?” Kevin decided to bring Jeanne with him to Patrice.
She had been hungry but no more. Chicago. Short notice but within the next As it happened, Patrice asked just
And they did not need to talk—Jeanne‟s hour he arranged plane tickets; a suite at what Kevin thought she would.
cool head was a chimera. As long as she the James Hotel (cancel the Hyatt); and a But Jeanne said, “My father? Patrice,
could feel Kevin‟s arms around her, she call to Sam, the police chief, arranging a there must be some mistake. But, well,
would lie till she died. She did want to three-night leave of absence for Jeanne. you‟d really take Colette for me in an
shower, though. Work at the emergency So she couldn‟t say no. emergency? If my father were… So we‟re
center left an oily residue on her skin. His ADA presentation was Thursday still friends?”
Kevin wanted to watch. morning. Kevin knew implants better than “What are you talking about? We‟re
“There‟s nothing to see.” any specialist. After years of going to best friends.”
“Let me peek.” these meetings and glad-handing Jeanne‟s hands fluttered. “Yesterday
Scrubbing herself, she stole a glance thousands of dentists, he‟d conduct the you said we wouldn‟t be seeing each
at him where the curtain gaped. Kevin seminar and then just…leave. other anymore…things change.”
leaned straight and strong against the He no longer mused upon Jeanne‟s “Honey, I meant Rebecca has me on
sink. He tapped his foot. “You heard presence being a miracle—it was. this regimen. She‟s monopolizing me—in
about my son,” he called over the spray. Although by now, he loved her so much the nicest way possible.”
“When Patrice told me, my love for you he was honored to lie, cheat, and steal for Outside, Jeanne laughed with relief.
her. If she didn‟t feel the same way about She didn‟t know what was going on
exactly, but chances were Kevin had upstairs, he heard Patrice, Rebecca, and father,” he said. “You‟ll let us know when
fabricated some terrible subterfuge. Jeanne indulging in feminine call and he‟s out of danger.”
He didn‟t wait for her to park but response where they praised and “Oh, yes. We‟ll know sometime
jumped from his car, waving. Before she repeated each other. tomorrow evening. I can‟t thank you
had both feet on the ground, he was He hesitated to join them. His father, enough. Both of you.”
kissing her deeply where anyone could were he alive, would avoid them. But “Don‟t thank Kevin,” Patrice said. “It‟s
see. Here he was trampling what meager friendly Kevin, who everyone liked, did me and Rebecca. Kevin‟s going to
standards she had left! well with women in groups. Unless Chicago for a conference.”
Yet it still took her several beats, to Jeanne was among them. Jeanne shifted in her seat. “I get
break free, catch her breath, and put her He carried his things downstairs and anxious about the traffic. Let me say
hands on her hips. “Kevin, did you put my stood still. Jeanne and Patrice stared at good-bye to Colette.”
father in the hospital?” him, unabashed. He was wearing blue She spent several minutes telling
“Damn, Jeanne. I wanted it to be a jeans, a yellow shirt, and a sleek grey Colette, “Best behavior, honey.” Then she
surprise.” sports coat. thanked everyone again and left. Once
“Isn‟t he−fine?” Patrice rose heavily to her car was gone, Kevin carried his bags
Just before leaving for Chicago, Kevin run a finger down his shirt. “This Dr. outside.
tinkered with his “Mastering Implants” O‟Meara of mine is such a fine looking Unexpectedly, Rebecca threw on an
video, which was excellent. The seminar man.” overcoat and followed her son outside.
was a big deal whether he mocked it or At the dining room table Jeanne He stowed his bags in the car,
not. But now he just wanted it to distract watched them together. “He certainly is, wishing she‟d stay out of this.
him—from saying good-bye to his family Patrice. You‟re one lucky woman.” She blew on her long, worn fingers.
and going away with Jeanne, no Patrice turned to Jeanne and “Don‟t pretend you can control this, son.”
questions asked. whispered, “Every now and then, I really “Control what, Mama?”
Her flight from Kansas City was the am.” “What you‟re doing with Jeanne.”
same as his, information he intended to Her belly preceding her already, Rebecca looked hard at him. “Do you
keep quiet. But should anyone check— Kevin held almond-eyed Patrice and bent think I‟m dumb?”
there was a connecting flight to Vermont. to kiss the tip of her nose. “Will you stop?” Kevin laughed. “Why
Annabelle and Colette embodied the Then head down, he moved slowly even say something like that?”
shared delight of perpetual motion. From toward Jeanne. “I‟m sorry about your
number. Remember, though, that Jeanne
answers emergency calls all night, almost
every night. With that in mind, I call after
she‟s gone to work but before Colette‟s
gone to bed.
“Hiya, my pal Hal! How was your
day?”
How was my day?
I cannot remember anyone else ever
asking me that. They ask: how am I and
what‟s new; what‟s going on, et cetera.
But they don‟t hear me if I‟m stupid
enough to answer. The question‟s
protocol. Three-year-old Colette hasn‟t
learned that yet. She‟s sincere.
How was my day? After Colette asks
me about it, my day is very, very sweet.
Whenever Jeanne hears about this,
however, she threatens to make a formal
complaint at the police station.
“Don‟t be mean,” I tell her. “One day
you‟ll see that you and I belong together,
Jeanne.”
“No, we do not! And we never will,
Hal. Never! You‟re confusing Colette and
I‟m warning you: Leave me and my
daughter alone!”
Considering Jeanne‟s emotional
state, I sneak about the neighborhood
like a spy.
Every morning I park in the cul-de-
sac a block west of the bungalow, hurry
down Third Street, and hunker behind a
large tree stump. Jeanne takes Colette to
nursery school, comes home, and goes to
sleep after working all night. Sometimes if
Whe Jeanne, a recently widowed I set the binoculars to high zoom, I can
young mother, moves halfway across Chapter Ten see her walking through different rooms
the United States to Lawrence, until she closes the blinds and turns off
Kansas, she hopes to escape a Nothing‟s wrong with using binoculars to the lights.
troubled past and start a new life with ensure the love of your life is safe. Except now, suddenly, Kevin parks in
her two-year-old daughter. Instead she Although, God knows, Jeanne better not front of the bungalow every morning. And
finds she has traded one set of catch me. She insists the night we found instead of going inside, Jeanne gets into
troubles for another. Bereaved and each other was a cruel mistake she his Acura where they listen to music. (I
lonely, she plunges headlong into an made, and regrets terribly. But she‟s still discover what music by asking Kevin
affair with a married man, Kevin, and grieving for her husband and that kind of when he‟s too distracted to automatically
tries to befriend Kevin's troubled pain clouds your judgment. It‟s probably say, “Shut up, Hal.”) In an absent-minded
friend Hal. But Kevin's passion for her worse because the shock has worn off. way, he mentions Bach and “Art of
and Hal's jealousy create a volatile Of course, her grief is much different from Fugue.” My phone app defines a fugue as
mix. anything I felt due to my brother Lincoln an unconscious pathological act; maybe
Kathleen Maher is a fiction writer dying. But I know this: nothing‟s gonna Bach was crazy.
based in New York City. A regular help Jeanne except lots of time and While Jeanne‟s sitting in Kevin‟s car, I
contributor to The View From Here, discovering that I am her one true love have to scurry away for my first patient,
she notes that the term "death knell" everlasting. driving the long way around so they don‟t
interests her because it has two If only she knew: Our day will come see me.
distinct meanings: It may be the sound and we‟ll get married—after I‟m financially Kevin isn‟t working in the mornings
of a bell tolling after a death, or it can back on my feet. anymore. The afternoons and evenings
be an omen presaging a death. She‟s still suffering so much that are better for his difficult cases. He works
when I call her, she threatens to block my weekends, too.
Today, I have an early cancellation, window on Michigan Avenue. “La Perla, Meanwhile he keeps filling my glass.
giving me extra surveillance time. Kevin near the Water Tower.” “Are you still shy, Hal? Or are you getting
and Jeanne get out of the car and go “Oh? And what was it you liked, action now?”
inside. The blinds close; the lights go off Kevin?” “There‟s a woman I want to marry.” I
and I imagine Kevin watching her sleep. He shrugged, embarrassed. “I‟ll like don‟t talk about Jeanne, though; not
That‟s what I would do: trance out looking whatever you like.” when my speech is slurred. “Guess I‟m
at her slightly parted lips, her hair on the During his ADA presentation, Jeanne not much of a drinker.”
pillow, how her body shifts while she found La Perla and knew instantly what “You‟re doing fine.”
dreams. she liked: Iridescent dark blue bra and I‟ve gotta call Bill; he‟s been with
The night Jeanne and I became panties so comfortable that she handed Momma since noon. But my phone‟s out.
lovers, her heart answering mine, she over Kevin‟s credit card from the Jay doesn‟t have one, let alone a charger.
said, “Let me do it, Hal,” because from changing room and wore them under her “Hal, you‟re drunk,” Jay says. “No
being married, she knows what works. sweater and slacks, coat, hat, mittens, way you‟re driving anywhere tonight.” He
Several times she laughed or cried— and scarf. hands me a refill before we play murder
either way, she sounded like altar bells. Having finished with the mystery.
You bet I‟m jealous of Kevin. He conventioneers, he met her at the hotel. “Ever play the French maid, Hal?”
owns the bungalow and if Jeanne lets him Jeanne suggested sandwiches for lunch. The frilly dress or whatever it is won‟t
watch her sleep, I can‟t stop him…until “Without crusts and cut into triangles.” even fit over my feet.
things change. “Room service?” “Strip poker then.” When I‟m down to
Thursday morning, her house is dark. “Someplace in public.” my briefs, he steers me to a bad-smelling
No Jeanne; no Colette; and then no He found a casual café with checked couch. We drink and watch a scary DVD.
Kevin sitting in his car. Every second I get table cloths. Then he wants to wrestle. I‟m not feeling
more and more worried. She asked about his presentation. well but Jay strips to his briefs and
“Did they appreciate it?” manhandles me.
In First Class seats, twenty-eight He smirked, “They always do,” and The next day I‟m so sick, I can‟t drive
thousand feet above the earth, Jeanne took her hand. “Did you have fun until after noon. Bill‟s been nursing
and Kevin were lovers for all to see. They shopping?” Momma more than twenty-four hours!
stayed at a fancy little hotel where the Her face brightened. “I did.” She sat He‟ll probably quit, and good luck trying to
city‟s limelight fell away. The cold and straighter. “Can‟t you see the difference?” get a replacement; Momma‟s got a bad
wind weren‟t a surprise, but the air was. “You know? I think I can.” He flagged reputation.
Jeanne loved the feel of Lake Michigan, the waitress: “Check, please.” When I finally get on the highway, a
which they could watch from their top- teenage girl is hitchhiking. She sees me
floor suite‟s eastern windows. Long story short: Jeanne‟s in Vermont, worrying about how cold and alone she
Kevin basked in her happiness: from because her father survived a heart is, the wind blowing her hair straight up.
now until Sunday morning, they could attack but needs an operation. Kevin‟s at In a fugue, I guess, I slow down and the
please each other without stopping, the ADA conference in Chicago, which is girl jumps in.
except for his three-hour seminar where I should be—my one chance to “Thanks, Mister. My daddy‟s waiting
tomorrow morning. network. Except Friday I have to go to in Tulsa at the bus station.”
During their time apart, he wanted her K.C. The bankruptcy lawyer insists we go
to shop along Chicago‟s “Magnificent over the terms, even if I have no choice Jeanne slipped off her clothing,
Mile.” except to sign what they say to sign. unclasped her hair, and modeled the
“Buy anything you like,” he said. From there, things get worse. In the sleek lingerie that shimmered whenever
The lustrous sound of her laugh lobby, I run into my ex-roommate Jay, she moved.
prompted him back to bed, her long hair who‟s filing for personal bankruptcy. “You are spectacular, Jeanne.
still dripping from the shower. Later she “You‟re in much worse trouble, Hal.” Enough show, sweetheart. Come here.”
showed him an ice-blue silk dress styled To change the subject, I ask, “Do you After a fancy dinner, they walked
like a short Chinese cheongsam. She still have murder mystery nights? Re- south on Michigan Avenue. Kevin showed
didn‟t tell him she had bought the dress enactments, costumes, and stuff?” her Chicago‟s “blue beehive” on top of the
the day after disposing of the one she “First time I got laid,” Jay says. “Lady Metropolitan building: a huge, cobalt blue
had worn for Hal. But because she never of the manor, no less. I live nearby if you glass honeycomb lit with 1000 watt light
knew when she might need a good dress, wanna have a drink.” bulbs. And beneath it, Kevin said, were
Jeanne had returned to the boutique. The Why I don‟t tell Jay: “Thanks but I‟ve four gigantic bells.
modified cheongsam cost twice what she gotta run; maybe next time...” That‟s the They ate in restaurants and danced in
had ever paid for a dress, but it fitted her real mystery. clubs. They made love day and night.
perfectly, and when she walked and sat Jay‟s apartment is cramped and dirty. And when Jeanne wore her ice-blue
and stood to peer into the mirror, she felt “Gin and Amaretto,” he says, handing cheongsam, Kevin was overcome by a
beyond reproach. me the first of countless gin and Amaretto stunned reverence unlike anything else.
“I don‟t need anything, Kevin. We cocktails. “It‟s better with cola but I‟m out.” Saturday Jeanne wanted to walk
already have everything.” It tastes terrible. “I bet your work‟s along the lake where ice rafts floated and
“My darling, Jeanne, please, buy creative.” (He lives like a starving artist.) waves crashed. She enjoyed the cold; it
yourself something frivolous and costly.” “Very creative and very difficult.” He slowed time.
“That‟s silly.” In the hotel‟s vast white writes cabaret songs and sings them Kevin swung her mitten-covered
bed they made love with greater abandon when he can get gigs. To make rent, he hand. “That‟s Jeanne, all spirit, no cold
than ever before. The next morning he drives a cab, and tells me the intimate flesh.”
stroked her long, pale thigh. “While I‟m at and disgusting things “babes” do to him “It can‟t last, you know.”
the conference, if you can‟t find anything after he picks them up. When I shake my “Yes, it can. There‟s a reason we‟re in
you want, buy something for me.” head, he says he never even asks these love.”
Last year, he told her, he had women—it‟s more or less protocol. She wavered near crying. The wind
especially admired the lingerie in a store overpowered her protest. He heard only:
“Patrice…deceit…ends the same way.”
“No,” Kevin searched her face.
People get divorced and remarry all the
time. They would be wonderful parents to
their respective children, and to their own.
Of course, it was still too soon to say this.
“Please, don‟t be afraid, Jeanne. We‟re
fine.”
Before their flight home, she turned
on the television.

“In Lawrence, Kansas, police


discovered the dead body of a
seventy-five year old woman,
gagged and bound to her bed.” The
TV reporter thrust a microphone at
a supposed neighbor. “„Her son‟s a
big guy who comes and goes.
Totally random.‟”

Kevin reached the police chief.


Jeanne curled on the bed and covered
her face.
“…Sam, you know Hal. He‟s my best
dentist.” …” Kevin sat where he could
stroke Jeanne‟s legs. “I‟ve known him all
my life. He hired nurses because the
mother refused to go the Alzheimer‟s
center.”
Preoccupied by Jeanne‟s body “Don‟t joke about us. What we have is “That‟s not from my step-mother‟s
moving from tense to languid as he a blessing.” shop,” Jeanne confessed. “But it‟s
resolved things, Kevin slowed and Still amused, Jeanne said, “A genuine, not a knock off.”
lowered his voice. blessing now. What happened to, „I love “It‟s charming. Thank you.” Rebecca
“No, the old woman was tied to her you so much I‟m glad to be bad.‟” gripped Jeanne‟s wrist, imparting full
bed because she was a danger to herself They collected their luggage and he certainty of what her son and Jeanne
and everyone else…” He pressed his drove her to the mechanics where her car were doing and shuddered at their
palm against Jeanne‟s bottom, clad in the had been tuned while they visited culpability.
new iridescent, indigo panties. “Thing is, Chicago. Jeanne felt lost in the fading
Sam, I‟m in Chicago…No, I don‟t need to light. Ordinarily, she left him to fetch During dinner in the bungalow‟s kitchen,
talk to him…Oh, all right. Put him on.” Colette—he never left her. Colette teemed with strange, silent
Jeanne, lulled by Kevin‟s touch, The auto repair center‟s glass front indignation.
slipped out of reach, and held a pillow. competed with the ghostly reflection of “Don‟t you want to know how
“I‟m sorry about your mom, Hal,” the highway. The blinking holiday lights Grandpa is?”
Kevin said, watching Jeanne‟s eyes. made her head ache. “Patrice said he‟s fine.”
“What the—? You drove a girl to Tulsa...I Kevin shifted into reverse. “Jeanne!”
see, she asked you to…put Sam back His voice rescued her from dread. Chapter Eleven
on.” Through the open window, he asked for
Quietly and deliberately—not rushing another kiss. Holding the back of her They lock me in a dun-colored,
like his blood—Kevin convinced the neck, he pressed his dark, sculpted windowless, smoke-filled room. Two
police chief that Hal was hapless, not mouth into hers, his lower lip bolstering detectives interrogate me: they‟re nice
negligent. “He‟s incapable of violence, her; his sweeping upper lip giving her and they‟re not-nice; they‟re here and
Sam.…Mind if I speak with him again?” confidence. they‟re gone, like a real-life cliché. All I
“Stay away from your house, Hal. Go know is I‟m locked up and Momma‟s
to the office and I‟ll meet you there later Jeanne asked Patrice and Rebecca to dead. Eventually, I need the toilet and
tonight. But don‟t go home until the open their thank-you gifts, “They‟re not kick the door (because—handcuffs). I yell
authorities are done investigating.” Christmas presents.” Colette kicked her and yell; I scream and nothing. At some
Tossing the phone aside, he curled overnight bag upstairs and then to the point the big cop shows up, “What?” And
around Jeanne and dropped his head in door, where she sat on it. Jeanne was this is embarrassing: I absolutely cannot
her lap. If she was once capable of about to reprimand her when Patrice said, do it while he watches. It‟s another
resisting him—no more. If Kevin said, “Ooh, a necklace.” She slipped her head reason to berate me but to avoid a mess,
“We have time,” they had time. through the long, strong cord weighted by he stands aside, rattling the cuffs.
Still, she kissed his head. “We‟ll miss a large, orange disk made of translucent Not too much longer and: hoo-ray!
our plane.” resin. Jeanne showed her the length was Kevin watches the morning news in
“No, we won‟t.” adjustable. Chicago, phones the Chief of Police,
Halfway through their flight to Kansas “It‟s from my step-mother‟s art store whereupon I‟m sitting pretty in the wide-
City, he gathered her hair in one hand. in Burlington,” Jeanne lied. open station. A lady cop brings me coffee
“Steer clear of Hal. He‟s not a threat in Patrice kissed her friend‟s check. “I‟m and donuts. The police chief‟s laughing
general. But he‟s obsessed with you, never taking it off.” on the phone with Kevin: “Well, if you‟re
Jeanne, which, frankly, terrifies me.” Rebecca opened a large, red silk sure you‟re sure.”
She smiled. “So Hal‟s obsessive and square scarf, the border patterned with Then I‟m talking on the phone with
we aren‟t?” greenish gold hummingbirds. Kevin, who says he‟s sorry and death is
awful—I‟m probably gonna be way more blow-job but he‟s gonna worry about her “Untrue.”
upset than I ever would have guessed. unless she takes all the money he‟s got.” Patrice sank onto to a bench,
The police chief retrieves his phone and Kevin‟s the greatest guy on earth. unwrapping more chocolate. “Rebecca is
tells Kevin a joke or vice versa. Everybody agrees. But for me it‟s no joke. not wrong. I weigh more than I can
Then Kevin thinks of one more thing However, he has one fatal flaw: Even believe, with four uncontrollable months
he needs to tell me. “Hal, don‟t go home now when Patrice is pregnant with his to go.” She puffed her cheeks. “Oh and
until they‟re done investigating. Go to the son, he‟s lovesick over Jeanne. More here‟s another of Rebecca‟s little
office and rest. I‟ll meet you there late lovesick than ever. kindnesses: Can you and Colette help me
tonight.” He never used to act like: I own you, and Annabelle decorate Hal‟s house?”
Great: I‟m not only “free to go,” but Hal. But now he has that attitude
the police chief is friendly enough to walk whenever he says, “Stay away from her, These days I stake out the bungalow
me to my car. He‟s sorry about Momma Hal.” earlier and leave later. Of course, Kevin is
and admits his detectives go overboard. Of course, he doesn‟t know Jeanne also watching Jeanne—from a cozy
“No hard feelings?” and I are lovers. No point in telling him armchair. Monday, he walks out the door
I shake his hand. “Of course not, either: he has to see for himself that and almost catches me behind the tree
chief.” Jeanne and I are for real—not sick. stump. I scramble away and hide inside
“Sam.” the hammock, which Kevin should have
“Of course not, Sam.” At two in the morning she was wandering put away for the winter. He hisses my
The dental office smells so clean, so through the dark, warm bungalow in name and shakes the bushes. After a
welcoming: I remove my shoes and coat nameless distress. And Kevin, after long time, I hear him drive away and
and drop onto the waiting room‟s pale leaving Hal—who had been such a good topple out. I teeter on the picnic table and
green carpeting. I nap and wake and nap. son to his abominable mother— zoom in through Jeanne‟s curtains. No
In the afternoon I find a tuna-fish desperately needed to be with his sweet, armchair it turns out, but my Jeanne is
sandwich in the office fridge. It tastes young lover. While his wife Patrice had sleeping like an angel.
okay. I make coffee. said, “Don‟t rush; stay overnight with The next day, just before daylight,
Without thinking about it, I start Hal—he needs you.” Kevin hurls me against a van. I‟m fifty
poking around Kevin‟s office—until I do From his car, Kevin called Jeanne, pounds heavier, but Kevin‟s very tall and
think about it, and switch on his expecting voicemail. Instead, she super-strong and gets me in a choke
diagnostic monitor. The video pops right answered before the first ring. “Hello?” hold. “What‟re you doing, Hal?”
up. There‟s my Jeanne with the finger Her voice rippled with anxiety. “Making sure my girls are safe.”
cymbals. Every other time I get to see “I‟ll be there in five minutes.” “Your girls? If we get restraining order
barely a second before: “Dammit, Hal!” Slipping inside the bungalow, he against you, with your stalking history,
The video goes off and the lights go on. caught his breath as she stood naked, you‟ll go to jail, which is probably where
Now I linger over Jeanne licking staring out the moonlit window. Seized by you belong!”
frosting off a fork. Slow that down and her ethereal, solitary beauty, he said her Then he shoves me. After I stand up,
take it frame by frame. The video has a name. She turned and smiled and before I tell him: “One, that librarian was stalking
few minutes of overexcited little kids but long he was spinning her in his arms, me and you know it. And two, you stalk
otherwise it‟s two hours of Jeanne. I delirious with joy. Jeanne more than I do.”
watch it all day: slow motion, fast forward, When he had to leave her, though, he “Don‟t say that, Hal. Don‟t go there.
reverse. When it starts to get dark passed Colby Circle. Outlined in the gray Anything between Jeanne and me is
outside, though, I put everything back the dawn was a parked car—Hal‟s goddamm utterly beyond you! And if you mention it
way it was. Everything. Honda. again, I‟ll kill you.”
Suddenly I‟m exhausted again, and “Fine,” I say. “If you‟re watching her
fall asleep again, in the waiting room— The next afternoon on the phone Jeanne night and day, why should I?”
again. said she hated Christmas shopping. “I Apparently, those are the magic
Kevin flicks on the lights. “Hey, Hal. never know what to buy.” words because now he throws a friendly
How‟re you doing? I‟m sorry about your “Yes, you do,” Patrice said. “I wear arm around me. “I heard that your mother
mother.” that necklace every day. But let‟s go died fully hydrated and well nourished—
“Oh, yeah…thanks, Kevin.” I rub my together.” Rebecca would watch the girls. no fault. And so you can finally restore
eyes, stand, stretch, and fall onto the “You are the best friend,” Jeanne that house.”
couch. “Could be the best thing that even said. After hanging up, she sat at the “Yep. Bill left about twenty voice
happened to me.” kitchen table and wept. Colette asked, messages. He had to leave to enroll in
“Possibly.” He gives me a tight, long “Do you hurt, Mommy, or are you just Iowa‟s geriatric program. But then he felt
hug, which makes me feel so good. The sad?” awful: Visited with flowers and
last time someone hugged me was She wiped her eyes and brightened. everything.”
Jeanne, a month ago. And before that? “I‟m fine, honey.” Jeanne‟s unhappiness
Maybe never. was nothing compared to the sorrow she Be gentlemanly but forthright, romantic
We eat at the pizza place and Kevin was dealing Patrice, Annabelle, and her but not desperate. I spend hours on this
can‟t stop laughing about Jay, his god- own beloved daughter. dating forum for men. The others approve
awful cocktails, the French maid outfit, et At the mall her friend‟s appearance of cueing Clapton‟s, “Wonderful Tonight”
cetera. We‟re the only customers and shocked her. Patrice had grown very big halfway into the visit. On the right note
laughing like crazy. I tell Kevin about the very fast. While selecting a cashmere during the refrain, kiss her long and hard
hitchhiker and driving to Tulsa and he scarf, a ceramic tea set, and embossed so she can‟t resist you.
laughs so hard he starts banging the sheets, Patrice ate chocolate nonstop. Kevin‟s mother sets it up so that any
table. He can‟t get a word out without “Rebecca acts like I‟m supposed to have minute now Jeanne, Colette, Patrice, and
bursting out laughing again. this big boy without gaining a pound.” Annabelle are visiting me. Here‟s what
I‟m still not sure about the joke. But Jeanne shook her head. she does: Right after Momma dies, she
Kevin says, “That girl just couldn‟t believe “You better not talk to me, now. Not calls the office, asking for Kevin. I answer
here was a guy saying no thanks to a when a man can fit his hands around your his line. “Hi, Rebecca. Kevin‟s „out of
waist, Jeanne.” pocket‟ in the mornings.”
“I‟ll bet he is!” Rebecca asks if I have “You noticed the song, though, right? She moved Kevin‟s hand and
a few minutes and arrives at the office Remember the last time we listened to pressed. “Feel that?”
with home decorating magazines and it?” “Next time.”
catalogs. “Now Hal, your home should “I was terrible to you that night, Hal. “That?”
reflect the real you.” I‟ve apologized. But you‟ve got to forget “Almost.”
And within an hour Rebecca O‟Meara it—that‟s what people do!” Whatever the worst was, it had
finds the right ambience for this guy who The little girls sneak upstairs. Why nothing to do with his unborn son.
becomes manifest out of thin air—the real not five minutes earlier when I was about
me. to kiss Jeanne? Last night after the women spruce up my
Kevin gives this new real me the Patrice suggests angling the other house—it‟s my house now, mine and
afternoon off, and for refreshment I buy couch across a corner. Jeanne‟s—guess who calls me?
apple pie; for the girls, reindeer head- “The place looks nice, Hal.” Jeanne‟s “Hiya, my pal, Hal,” Colette says.
bands. But of course I‟m nervous as hell: smiling and twisting a lock of her hair. “Honey, who are you talking to?”
Kevin‟s wife and daughter and my future Two definite signals. If only I hadn‟t Jeanne‟s voice is lovely even when she‟s
wife and daughter are marching toward embarrassed her. The smile? Twisting stern. I imagine her getting ready for
the door. her hair? Both mean she‟s interested. work: adjusting a slinky little belt.
Sweating, stammering, I call, “It‟s my pal, Hal, Mommy. At his
“Welcome,” and “Merry Christmas.” Anytime Kevin‟s mind wandered, a house, he showed us tricks with his
They‟re inside and suddenly—I‟m okay. I chilling tintinnabulation resounded at the gyroscope. And if he wants to get me a
lift Colette and then Annabelle over my edges of perception. The metallic notes Christmas present, that‟s what I want.”
head. “Why are you girls so big since didn‟t circle around his home or work or First Jeanne yells at Colette. Then
Thanksgiving?” his intention to divorce Patrice. Yet the she takes the phone and yells at me. If
When I‟m really wondering about ringing foretold: expect the worst. Past only I could see her face—I have never
Patrice, who‟s twice her size. But the that, however, whatever the worst might seen her angrier than after I kissed her,
advice forum is unanimous: Never be was cloaked in black. Kevin heard the but her spirit and passion were beautiful. I
mention how big a woman is—never! intimations of the worst possible fate, but know this much: animated or still, Jeanne
Annabelle hands me evergreens tied he couldn‟t fathom it. radiates pure…purity. Maybe that doesn‟t
with elaborate red ribbon. “It‟s for the front Patrice was upstairs watching TV. make sense to you but if you saw her, it
door. Wreathes are out of style.” Kevin surprised her. would. If you saw her, your heart would
Colette pipes up. “Mine goes with it, His elbow above his head, hitting the melt.
Hal! Jingle bells.” door frame, he said, “Hello stranger.”
Jeanne reaches for wire and pliers Frantically, she hid chocolate Kevin worked late throughout
but Patrice takes over. “I know how to wrappers under a pillow. After clicking off December—the twenty-third was a
twist it, honey.” Bells secured, Patrice the TV, he kissed the top of her head and marathon—so he could spend all day on
sets a tin box on the coffee table. “My sat beside her. Christmas Eve with Jeanne. Abby Gold
best ever Christmas cookies, Hal.” “Don‟t let my mother make you feel would keep Colette until dinner.
The love of my life is standing on a guilty.” Kevin held her hand. And after his divorce, he would marry
ladder, hanging curtains. Patrice is “Rebecca—” Jeanne as soon as possible. But Kevin
plopped on the couch, eating chocolate. “Meddles. Don‟t you remember your realized, even given all the time in the
Jeanne lowers her arm and waves a cravings with Annabelle?” world with her, he would want more. And
finger, no. “No.” why not? The warning sounds of the
Patrice sighs, “You‟re right,” and puts “All summer you gobbled up all the worst thing possible had fallen silent,
the chocolate in her purse. “It‟s not me; blueberries we could buy.” meaning—all was well.
it‟s this boy.” “Blueberries? Maybe I can switch
Draperies up, Jeanne‟s off the ladder from chocolate to apples.”
and standing by the window: the time is “By August you were sick of
now. “Wonderful Tonight” fills the room. I blueberries.” Chapter Twelve
hold Jeanne tight and kiss her long and She laughed, resting her head
hard—except not long, just hard. She against his chest. “I still am.”
pushes me away hard. He spread his hand on her belly. “By The salesman at the Army-Navy store
“Shit, Hal! Never do that again! ” next month you‟ll hate chocolate.” assures me this deer-hunter suit keeps
“It‟s Christmas.” “When we were at Hal‟s this baby you warm for a full watch. The
“Did that look like a Christmas kiss to was kicking like mad. And Hal is so weird. camouflage pattern makes me practically
you, Patrice?” Jeanne lost her temper.” invisible.
The little girls giggle and shriek. Kevin should have asked why but Not so. Kevin hauls me out of the
“Not really,” Patrice says, “with the didn‟t, because he needed to stay calm. hedge, ready to beat me to pulp. Luckily,
girls watching.” “What‟s new with Lila? Or Nikki?” Jeanne‟s car is returning from the nursery
“Hal, if you touch me again, I will “You know? I have no idea. I guess school. Kevin doesn‟t want her to see him
refuse to see you. Christmas or not.” I‟ve ignored them−favoring Jeanne.” beating me up.
“Jeanne,” Patrice says, “we need you “Patrice, you need more than one “Get in your car, Hal, and wait for me
at Christmas. Apologize, Hal.” friend.” at the pizza place.”
“I forgot the kids were watching. “With Jeanne there‟s no social effort.” After about twenty minutes, Kevin
Sorry.” “What if she moves?” Kevin asked. storms in. I put down my slice and wipe
“Not good enough,” Jeanne says. “Or−gets married?” my chin.
“What you did was wrong.” “She won‟t. And the more time “Have you lost your fucking mind?
“Why?” Annabelle spends with Colette the better. Look at yourself!”
“Because I say so and I‟ve warned That baby girl understands numbers. He means the camouflage suit.
you before.” Write down eleven digits and Colette can “Are you an idiot or a full-blown
make a phone call.” psychotic? Because I‟m torn, Hal. Set you
what Annabelle wanted for Christmas
and Patrice was giving in.
“Addy was my favorite,” Jeanne said.
“My sister Patti had one when we were
little.”
“She did? I always forget you‟re so
much younger than I am. Those
American Girl dolls didn‟t exist when I
was a child.”
“I loved braiding Addy‟s hair. But Patti
was a mean big sister.”
They both bought Addy dolls,
because Jeanne knew Colette would love
one.
Patrice ate apple slices instead of
chocolate.
“That‟s will power.”
“Not really, Jeanne. One craving is
the same as another.”
“Oh.”
Patrice stared at her—Jeanne damn
well should feel uncomfortable.
“Remember when I said it was like Kevin
was pushing past me? Now he‟s lapped
me and is onto hurdles. He says „Hello
stranger,‟ like I‟m the one running away.”
Jeanne shivered while Patrice
waited for a response.
She didn‟t know what to say. What
came from her mouth was: “How so?”
Patrice stepped close, her expression
fierce. “How the hell do you think, how
so?”
Jeanne said, “Patrice, I‟m sorry. I‟m
really very—”
“Of course you are.” She squeezed
Jeanne‟s fingers hard.
“I tried—”
“Shut up, Jeanne. Don‟t you dare say
a word because I don‟t want to hear it
now.”

Christmas Eve morning as Kevin headed


for the front door, carrying a gym bag,
free for the zillionth time or make sure sweater. She‟s smiling and dreamy. Her Patrice waylaid him. “Be home by five.
you‟re locked up for good?” sweater‟s unbuttoned. Kevin takes her When Hal called me yesterday—you got
It looks like the pizza guy is gonna hand, pulls her into the bedroom, and the message: he wasn‟t coming in?”
come over; the waitress is that scared. closes the door. “No. And he didn‟t come in on
Kevin stands up and shows both palms to Thursday either. Why did he call you, not
the guy, like okay, he‟ll keep it down. Maybe I throw up. Maybe I get in my car. me?”
Then he puts his face a millimeter from All I know is—I‟m home upstairs, staring “He sounded despondent.”
mine. “If you ever even think about at the ceiling. “With his mother dying just before
Jeanne again, I‟ll kill you, Hal.” Christmas? I suppose he has his
I pay the check and call the office Last year Jeanne and her husband had reasons.”
because I‟m late for a patient. But—get danced at a Christmas party. She had no “He does have reasons, Kevin, but
this—two cancellations! I don‟t need to be idea he was morbidly unhappy while they have nothing to do with his mother.
there until ten-thirty. I park at Colby Circle waltzing her around. But he was or he Anyway, he‟ll be here tonight and so will
and spot Kevin‟s car in front of the soon would be. That‟s what she was your mother. Please, be here and be
bungalow first thing. dreaming when the phone rang. nice.”
If Kevin‟s spending hours with her, Patrice said, “Sorry, did I wake you?” “Patrice, I‟m the nicest guy in the
why shouldn‟t I check? So I get out my “No,” Jeanne yawned. “Not at all.” world.”
binoculars. Would Jeanne brave the crowds with “Used to be.”
In the living room they‟re kissing. her while she bought Annabelle an Addy “I suppose you‟re the nice one now.”
He‟s carrying her under the archway. doll? “I‟ll drive. Rebecca and the girls are “Don‟t bet on it. I‟ve never pretended
Jeanne‟s stroking his head. And they‟re planning to watch The Grinch.” to be nice and I‟m not about to start.”
still kissing. They shift sideways. Kevin In the car, Patrice said Addy was too And yet, Patrice really was so nice
lifts her off the ground and they‟re still expensive and Annabelle was much too that Kevin anticipated a bittersweet
kissing! He holds her bottom and presses young to appreciate the doll‟s divorce, more sweet than bitter. He must
it up, and up. She slips free and Kevin Underground Railroad story. But it was spend more time with Annabelle, though,
slides his hand inside her little black and with his son once he was born. He
called his daughter and she appeared in a hat. Kevin asked, “How do you feel? I
full fairy princess regalia. Saxophone music instead of Bach want to sip you for hours.”
“I‟ve got to get going, honey. But if lulled them during the drive. Every time Jeanne came, her bell-like
you help me wrap Mommy‟s present, it “We‟ve got a room at the Gabriel. laughter circled the ceiling. She had
can be from both of us.” Lunch reservations at Le Grill.” He pulled never felt so giddy, so hilariously
In his office, he showed Annabelle her hand into his lap. “I hate that you‟re rapturous.
the necklace Patrice had asked for, of working tonight.” Kevin gave her a white gold ring.
graduated blue beads. In the box, “I don‟t. Tomorrow, you and Patrice, “You know I can‟t wear this, Kevin. I
Annabelle found a paper listing the me, Hal, and your mother will all make love you but—”
stones‟ powers. nice during a long meal.” “Maybe not now but soon.” He slid
“Will you read it to me, Daddy?” “Not easy.” He meant to caution her the ring through a long, slender chain and
Lapis lazuli and blue topaz combined then that Hal was acting strange. But her fastened it. The ring fell between her
this way unleash hidden angers. fingers ran along his thigh in time to Ben breasts.
“It says Merry Christmas. Do you Webster‟s “Soulville.” “This scares me,” she said, but when
want to hold the paper together or tape “Should we skip lunch?” she saw it in the mirror, she smiled.
it?” “No, Jeanne. We need our strength.” Driving home, he meant to warn her
“Tape.” They ate oysters and drank about Hal, the camouflage outfit and
Annabelle put the tape-decorated champagne. Her entrée was salad with binoculars. And she considered telling
present under the tree. goat cheese. Kevin ordered rib eye. They him that Hal phoned Colette after she
drank white Bordeaux, which made went to work. But every time they tried to
Kevin found Jeanne wearing a low-cut, Jeanne giggly. speak, their minds slipped back into that
green dress with a sash that crisscrossed “You didn‟t eat enough,” he said. fast, seductive current where they drifted
beneath her breasts and had half a mind She grinned. “I‟m drunk.” together.
to make love to her now. But she was In their hotel room she spun around At seven (despite Patrice‟s request
already buttoning her coat and putting on in her bare feet. that he be home before five) Kevin and
Jeanne entered the empty, dark I keep shaking her and squeezing
bungalow, alarmed when no note or At some point, I stop staring at the ceiling her—squeezing her neck and squeezing
voicemail explained where Colette and and call Patrice, because I don‟t have it in it while yelling, “I love you, Jeanne!”
Abby were. me to talk to Kevin. “Tell him I‟m not And then something‟s wrong. She
“I‟m sure they‟re on their way.” Kevin working today or tomorrow.” stops fighting back.
kissed her lightly and smoothed her hair. Patrice said all right but no promises.
Jeanne paced the kitchen, unreasonably “He‟s hardly ever home.” Jeanne tried to turn off that infernal
panicked, but unable to do anything Well, yeah. But can she track him Clapton CD, but Hal grabbed her arm. “I
about it. down and tell him for me? I‟m not up to it. love you more than anybody else ever
She changed into narrow slacks, Because guess why. Or no, don‟t. You will.”
boots, and a blue sweater for work. They don‟t want to know. “I don‟t love you, Hal, and never will,
drank beer and reassured each other until She says, “All right,” and invites me not like you want.”
finally Abby and Colette burst in, excited. for like the third time to their Christmas He pinned her shoulders against the
“We went sledding, Mommy.” Eve party. “It won‟t be a party without seat.
“Sorry, we‟re late,” Abby said. “But I you, Hal.” “Don‟t touch me.” Jeanne tried to pry
knew she‟d love this place. Artificial hills; Like I‟m the life. his hands away, but he was too strong for
artificial snow.” But she‟s right about two days being her. And seeing how furious he was
Kevin paid her and said, “Thank you, too long to stare at the ceiling. Because terrified her. “Take your hands off me.”
Abby. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukah.” pretty soon a mirage wavers on the His hands pressed her throat. Jeanne
Front door closed, with Colette in her horizon: I‟ll convince Jeanne I love her tried to turn her head but he grabbed it. “I
room packing her overnight things, Kevin the most. She owes me a chance. Think am your lover—not Kevin.” He shook her
held Jeanne‟s face. “I wish you were about it, Jeanne. You owe me. so hard that her head throbbed red
spending the night too.” Colette‟s spending Christmas Eve at inside. She thrashed one way and then
“Wish for more,” she said. “Not the O‟Meara‟s while Jeanne works. She‟s the other. His face burst into view, huge
tonight. Many other ones.” She held his mad about me and Colette, but the little and angry. “Give me a chance, Jeanne.”
coat and whispered, “Now go.” girl calls me, not vice versa. I don‟t care She couldn‟t breathe or hear but as if
Colette had changed into a red velvet anyway, because out there where the to convince her, he pressed his thumbs
dress. mirage is hovering I‟m a much better man into her windpipe and she plummeted into
“That‟s for tomorrow, honey.” than Kevin. darkness where time slowed and
“But tonight‟s the party. Hal told me. Like, no comparison, babe. stopped. And would soon stop forever. In
Tomorrow‟s just dinner.” As if, right? a last gasp, she fought against losing
“Hal told you? You‟re not allowed on But love makes you God and the Colette. And at losing Kevin, who in her
the phone, Colette. Wear the snowflake Devil incarnate, and won‟t take no for an last curl of consciousness really did
outfit.” answer. belong to her—they would have been
“Tonight‟s the party.” At the Christmas Eve party, I happy.
They argued: “No!” “Yes!” “No!” “I‟m entertain them. Hal choked her as winter unfurled
serious!” “Me too!” I am the man while Kevin stays backward into autumn. Blood vessels
Tears filled Jeanne‟s eyes, not upstairs. burst and her mind leaped back to late
Colette‟s, who got to wear the red velvet His mother asks him to come summer. Leaves fluttered outside the
dress. downstairs—he‟s the host. But Kevin bungalow, while she and Kevin made
Outside the O‟Meara‟s, Jeanne claims he‟s sorting through a financial love. A wave washed over the trees,
reminded her to play with Annabelle. hornet‟s nest. Nobody believes that. which glimmered, becoming young and
“She‟s your friend. Not Hal.” Patrice starts upstairs but Rebecca says, green, their buds growing smaller and
Inside, Patrice embraced her. “Merry “If he doesn‟t want to celebrate with us, smaller until every last nub closed.
Christmas, sugar.” it‟s his loss.”
“You too. Very Merry.” The three women and two little girls Jeanne‟s like stone. Here‟s this vibrant,
Rebecca greeted her, distantly. and I hang up stockings and drink hot incredible, too good to be true woman
Everyone gathered around the tree cocoa. I read “‟Twas the Night Before sitting in my car—and then, she‟s gone.
except Kevin, who Patrice said was Christmas,” with Colette and Annabelle It‟s not Jeanne sitting here. Just a body.
upstairs working on his finances. cuddling on either side of me. Patrice lets I‟m screaming, “Kevin, Kevin!” The
Hal dragged Jeanne aside. “I have me right into Annabelle‟s bedroom to kiss O‟Meara‟s door swings open and there‟s
things to say to you.” the kids good-night. a second when he sees my face. He
“And I want to talk to you, Hal. You Another drink and I thank Patrice and knocks me out of the way and runs to the
crossed the line with Colette.” Rebecca, wish them Merry Christmas, car.
“You hurt me, Jeanne. Being sorry and they say the same to me. Outside I It‟s barely dawn and freezing. Kevin‟s
isn‟t enough.” park around the corner and play Eric wearing underwear and nothing else. He
“I‟m late, Hal—tomorrow, okay?” Clapton‟s Greatest Hits. At five a.m. I pull carries Jeanne‟s body from the car into
into the O‟Meara‟s driveway and wait for the middle of their frozen lawn. On his
Usually, Christmas Eve at the emergency Jeanne. knees, he‟s bent over her and I can‟t hear
center was hectic. Not as bad as New She pulls into the driveway and I what he‟s saying because he‟s sobbing
Year‟s Eve but: Lonely people felt jump out before she can get away. I yank so loud. And then he raises Jeanne‟s
lonelier; cars crashed; couples fought; her out of her car and into mine. Because body above his head. He‟s sobbing and
neighbors sought revenge. that mirage is so clear and simple, where reaching higher and higher, holding her
At three a.m., when she had received I am her only one. I‟m ready to prove it no up as he turns around and around.
no calls, Jeanne checked with the police. matter what. Patrice fills the doorway, huge in a
Was the system down? “Stop it, Hal. You‟re hurting me.” red robe and slippers. “What on earth?”
Nope. All was well. But I think: Love hurts. So if I hurt And I know. I know exactly what he‟s
Except it wasn‟t. Her trepidation grew you, maybe you can feel what I feel. Her doing. He‟s begging the universe to return
and grew. She counted her blessings but hair‟s up the way she does it and I shake Jeanne, give back her ecstatic laughter
a surreal fear plagued her. her. “Why won‟t you believe me?” that sounds like altar bells.

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