Death Knell

by Kathleen Maher


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:
Kathleen on-line:
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

by Kathleen Maher

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. Death Knell is a short novel in
twelve parts, which will run each
month in the magazine throughout
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.
Chapter One
Everyone loves Kevin; even people who
hate dentists love Kevin. He‟s good and
generous and “easy does it.” I‟m watching
him through a wall-size, one-way window.
(I can see out; he can‟t see in.) He‟s
under a cypress tree, rocking on his

heels, waiting to help the young widow in
distress who will pull into his parking lot
soon. This whole, full-service dental
center, the best in Lawrence, with its
floor-to-ceiling windows and huge,
tranquil waiting room, is all his.
He loves rescuing people. He‟s been
rescuing me since sixth grade.
Kevin was one of five black kids in
our class of two hundred, and the last guy
you‟d want to mess with. His mother
Rebecca is from Jamaica. While we were
growing up, Kevin ruled. But unlike the
stereotype coolest dude in school,
Kevin‟s off-the-charts-smart. No apology
necessary. He‟s a natural artist everyone
took seriously. Nobody laughed at Kevin.
He‟s one of a kind. People here don‟t
talk about someone being black or white
or Asian. At least, not around me; but
then I‟m one of a kind too: “Hapless Hal
Kids called me Dumbo—until Kevin
made them stop. When they picked on
me all Kevin had to do was stare. If
someone was beating me, he pointed his
finger. He stuck up for me so often that by
the time we were in high school, people
had lost interest in me.
After college, he‟d planned to get a
Masters in media arts but switched to
dentistry because his dad, who died of
stomach cancer really fast, willed it;
tuition included. Of course, his dad‟s

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
“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
opened his and of course, being partners
was out of the question. But he said,
“Lawrence is familiar with you, Hal,” and
he would refer patients to me.
So why did I stay in KC? I didn‟t want
to go back to Lawrence because of my
mother. She was still living in the senior
residence but I was always happier when
out of immediate range. And—this is the
main reason—I had a girlfriend, or
thought so. For years this librarian and I
met at Starbucks. We laughed, walked
around, and always enjoyed a few hours
together after work. One night she talked
about making out (that means kissing a
lot) with her old boyfriend. But when I
tried to kiss her (I‟m a patient man—up to
a point), she panicked. After that when I
phoned, she screamed; when I stopped
by the library, she called the security
Yet even while this thing with the
librarian was becoming a problem, I
managed to do what everyone assumed I
couldn‟t: open my own office in downtown
KC. The loan officer at the bank (where I
have a mountain of student loans)
extended my credit as far as I wanted.
Problem is, my practice never had a
prayer. First, the building housed four
well-established dentists. Second, the
economy crashed. Third, my mother got
kicked out of the senior residence for
threatening people. The doctor says it‟s

Alzheimer‟s. He says she‟s dangerous—
mean to me or not—she‟s my mother. I‟ve
got to be on hand, not two hours away.
Kevin rallied for me as always. By
now he‟d married Patrice, a pretty, lightskinned dancer. In fact, by now, their
baby girl was walking. I was lying flat on
my mat and staring at the ceiling and he
invited—invited!—me to join his clinic as
an associate pediatric dentist. Nobody
knows my limitations better than Kevin,
but he said not to worry about my huge
hands and the tykes‟ tiny mouths and
tinier teeth. Their cavities are superficial.
And you know what? I really am great
with kids. They like my jokes and love my
coin tricks.
Things were just settling down until a
few months ago when Kevin‟s personal
assistant Patti announced she was
moving to Denver with her boyfriend.
Glad hands all around; Patti was the
world‟s worst bitch: like my mother in
training. Then she got a phone call from
her sister that was so sad I was sick
about it; so sad that hating Patti seemed
stupid. Her sister‟s husband had crashed
into a concrete highway barrier at ninety
miles an hour. My petty setbacks were
nothing; I couldn‟t get the image out of my
Then Patti‟s sister Jeanne—with the
whole office coaxing her from the
background—decided to move halfway
across the country. Start over, we said,
here with us. But selfish, bitchy Patti
didn‟t even stick around to help Jeanne
adjust, because Kevin will do that.
He‟s outside, eager to rescue the
young widow. He owns a bungalow, his
home before he married Patrice. He was
renting it to Patti and her lawyer boyfriend
and now he‟s going to rent it to Jeanne.
Last week he hired painters and
carpenters to fix it up.
A new-looking Taurus just pulled up.
The twenty-five-year old widow eases out
of the car and takes off her sunglasses.
She resembles Patti—except she‟s
beautiful. The middle of her blue dress is
dark, damp from the heat. She steps
toward Kevin and lifts her long hair off her
neck. Kevin says something, his
eyebrows lift, and he gestures toward his
car. Jeanne nods.
Yesterday, having arrived a day early,
Jeanne and her two-year-old Colette
checked into the Hampton Inn. In the
cool, spacious room Colette jumped on
one of the double beds and watched a
cartoon. Jeanne stretched as if released
from another psychic suit of armor, one of
many. Her cell phone sounded from
inside her backpack; she knew it was
Patti‟s former employer, Dr. Kevin
O‟Meara; he‟d called twice before while
they were on the road. Jeanne sat upright
before speaking. He asked how they
were doing, she and the child. She said

fine. When he asked where they were on
I-70, Jeanne lied, claiming they were
about to stop in Blue Springs, Missouri,
and would arrive tomorrow about two.
Jeanne lied all the time now without
thinking; maybe because since Paul‟s
death, the truth—any truth—seemed
impossible. But no more: for they had
reached their destination after running
away from grief and the house where the
walls closed in.
The next morning she watched her
daughter splashing in the kiddie pool and
another thirty-pound suit of steel
vaporized. She felt light and free enough
to dive and swim a few lengths.
“Beautiful, Mommy.”
They checked out late because they
both had to shower and shampoo and dry
their hair again. It had been worth it,
though. Colette watched Jeanne apply
lipstick and mascara. They were going to
be fine.
In the parking lot, however, she
panicked: why was she staking
everything on Patti‟s friends—a group of
people she had never met?
Colette climbed into her car seat on
her own. “Let‟s go, Mommy.”
In no time, Jeanne spotted the glass
building shimmering in the heat. Her
sister had said Kevin was a good dentist
and a good boss—but not that he was a
tall, sleek, black man who was absurdly
handsome. Under a cypress tree, he
moved as if trying not to dance to some
rhythm that kept getting to him.
Stepping from the car and removing
her sunglasses, she saw with dismay that
despite the air-conditioning, she‟d
sweated through her summer dress
during the brief ride. Damp rings
descended from beneath her breasts
down to her hips, and she could feel that
her seat was the dampest of all. It
seemed every day her anguish presented
some new embarrassing symptom.
Kevin bounded from the shade and
introduced himself. Jeanne shook his
hand and lifted her hair, a diversion from
trembling. He was reassuring. Up close
his good looks didn‟t intimidate her,
because of a pronounced gentleness.
Patti had said Midwesterners were
obnoxiously friendly, but Kevin was
merely encouraging. He invited them to
lunch, but she said Colette was excited
about the new house. He peered through
the car window and winked at the little
girl, who gave him a thumb‟s up. Pointing
to his car, he asked them to follow and
his soft baritone filled her with relief.
Jeanne‟s car pulled alongside his and
he motioned for her to roll down the
window. “I‟ll keep you in the rearview
mirror because the house is nearby but
the streets are like spaghetti.”
The bungalow was a sunny yellow.
When Colette got out, unstrapped from

her seat, she jumped around. “Is this it,
Mommy? Are we home?”
“Yes. Isn‟t it pretty? Say hello to Dr.
“Hello. Is there a back yard?”
“There sure is.”
Colette ran around the side of the
house. Kevin and Jeanne followed,
walking across the lawn at arm‟s length
from each other. He opened a chain-link
gate and they found Colette giggling,
wrapped inside a striped hammock strung
between purple ash trees.
“Now you‟re stuck,” Jeanne said.
“Not me.” Colette flipped the
hammock and landed in a crouch.
“Are you a gymnast?” Kevin asked.
“I‟d like to be.” She‟d turn three the
thirtieth of September.
“You and my daughter Annabelle
have the same birthday.”
“Really? Like twins, but, I know, not
real twins.”
“Colette, has anyone told you that
you talk very well?”
“Yep. All the time. I‟m good at talking
and pretending.”
“Do you want to go to nursery
“The sooner the better.”
Kevin laughed. “You‟re sure she‟s not
thirteen in disguise?”
whispering, Jeanne said, “She‟ll be a
challenge, but right now she pats my
back and says, „Everybody misses Dad,
but don‟t worry. You and me are still
Kevin didn‟t move away but couldn‟t
think how to respond. He stuffed his hand
in his pocket and retrieved the keys.
“Ready to go inside?”
The back door opened to a utility
room with a washer, drier, and a rack of
gardening supplies Patti and her
boyfriend had never used.
The bungalow was pretty inside:
smooth white walls, arched room dividers,
and pale, polished louvered blinds. The
two bedrooms, one small, the other
larger, and the living room were carpeted
in pale green.
Colette ran to her bedroom and they
heard her jumping on the bed, and
“Don‟t, Colette. You know better.”
“It‟s all right; Annabelle jumps on
Jeanne looked at him. Her husband
had hated it when Colette jumped on the
furniture; certain she‟d grow up
dismissive of rules. Since his death,
Jeanne and Colette‟s personal behavior
involved only the rules that mattered.
Kevin suggested they sit in an alcove
separate from the kitchen.
They sat across from each other. He
stretched a long arm behind him for a
briefcase stashed in a cabinet. “No need

to sign a lease until you‟re certain you
want to stay.”
Jeanne laughed and Kevin counted
three lovely notes. “It‟s an oasis. I‟d like to
sign a lease before you rent it to
someone else.”
“No need to worry about that.” He
pulled from the briefcase forms and
papers and handed her a pen, fighting
the urge to sit closer to her. “Can I help
you carry boxes inside?”
She pressed her hand along her
slender neck. “No, thank you. We‟re
starting fresh.” She turned away—to cry.
Kevin found a packet of tissues, sat in the
closer chair, and pulled it even closer.
She stared at her lap; unburdening
herself wasn‟t right. But too late—she
was already telling him: How, preparing to
move, she‟d put half of Colette‟s books,
toys, and puzzles in a box when she
noticed drops falling on them, her own fat
teardrops. Colette‟s books and games

meant more to Jeanne than all the things
she‟d ever had or wished for. She had
wept until: nothing to do but throw into
knapsacks things she and Colette might
pack for a long weekend.
“I was afraid to ask how you were
doing. It‟s a terrible tragedy.” He stood up
to keep from holding her. “You‟ll want a
TV and a DVD player. The cable
installers are coming tomorrow when I
can be here.”
She started to protest but he
continued: “My wife runs a nursery
school. She‟s held a spot for Colette.”
“Thank you.” Jeanne smiled slightly;
and they both drew back. Bending her
head, scanning the document, she asked,
“Are you charging me half the rate?”
Kevin pretended to rifled through his
briefcase. “You‟re Patti‟s sister. ”
“You noticed that, did you?” This bit
of teasing brought joy to her face, which
moments ago had filled him with

sympathetic sorrow.
“There‟s a job available if it appeals to
you, Jeanne: overnight emergency
dispatcher—you‟ll either like it or hate it.
But you‟d be paid during the training
phase. And after that, the money and
benefits are good.”
She placed her palm over his hand
with instinctive gratitude—and drew it
away. “That‟s just what I want: a night job,
so I‟m free to spend the days with
Colette. I don‟t sleep much anyway.”
Something shifted and roared inside
him. Her eyes met his and she smiled,
again in gratitude, stirring more fear and
desire than he‟d ever known.

Chapter 2 next issue.

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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.

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. Death Knell is a short novel in
twelve parts, which will run each
month in the magazine throughout
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.
Chapter Two
On his way out, Jeanne‟s new landlord
Kevin stopped and looked at her. His
eyes searched hers several beats longer
than was comfortable and she stared at

the floor, embarrassed. Perhaps she just
wasn‟t used to men being so sensitive but
He dipped his head in apology. “I‟ll
stop by early tomorrow afternoon to
oversee the cable installer. Don‟t buy a
DVD player or a television. I have extras.”
“Extra TVs and DVD players?”
“From my dental office.”
Jeanne thanked him again, relieved
he was leaving. Tomorrow she‟d be ready
for the effect he had on her. If only her
sister Patti had warned her how
handsome he was, how caring and
compelling…Oh, what was she thinking?
Patti wouldn‟t say that about anyone.
Alone in their new home, she and
two-year-old Colette wandered through
the rooms. Jeanne described what their
day-to-day life would be like. Pretty white
shades covered the little girl‟s bedroom
windows but Jeanne offered to buy dimity
curtains like the ones she used to have.
“This is our home, Colette. You can fix
your bedroom however you want.”
“I don‟t know what to want though,
“You could have a little desk and
chair, a mirror, and maybe big letters on
the wall spelling your name.”
“I still don‟t know.” Colette sat on her
bed and sulked.
Jeanne looked in the linen closet

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
swung together in the hammock,
watching the sunset stream through the
Before bed, Jeanne read her
daughter a book she had just
repurchased, a beautifully illustrated story
about a mouse living in a cathedral.
Colette turned the pages and pointed to
the mouse as if it were hidden, which it
“I like motels where your bed is next
to mine,” she said.
“That was fun, Colette, but this is our
home. If you need me, my room is right
across the hall. I bought four Angelina
Ballerina nightlights. One for your room,
one for the hallway, the bathroom…”
“And one for your room, too?”
“Yep. So if you get lonely or scared,
wake me up in my new bedroom. I‟ll leave
the door open.”
Immediately after Paul‟s death, the urge
to flee had tormented Jeanne. She had
avoided their old bedroom at all cost. In
the room they had called “the study,” she
tried to sleep but could not. Every night
she stared at the ceiling, her knees
pressed to her chest. Throughout that
sweltering July, she had felt chilled to the
bone. And beneath a pile of blankets, her
teeth chattered the second she
unclenched her jaw.

Paul‟s lawyer found that her late
husband had left her a good deal of
money, most of it revealed in his will. She
bought a new car and talked about
moving somewhere far away, across the
“Any place in specific?” the lawyer
Without thinking, Jeanne had said,
“Kansas, close to my sister,” although she
and her sister Patti had never been close.
Of course she didn‟t tell him or anyone
else how desperate she was to escape
the lingering death and unspoken blame;
how her friends either avoided or
smothered her. And she couldn‟t think
who on earth would understand how
determined she was to be a good
mother—not one full of grief and shame.
Paul had worked long hours and his
attention to Colette was dutiful, not
doting. He had routinely said he loved
them. Eventually, their lives would get
better. Don‟t let regrets trip you up,
Jeanne—he said that often, despite the
fact that at twenty-five, Jeanne had no
regrets. It was a mistake, he told her, to
think so much. Just live your life; that‟s
what it‟s for.
Possibly he was groping for ways to
convince himself, because Jeanne had
never suspected him of despair. He had
phoned to say he‟d be working late—
expect him about eight-thirty. Jeanne had
kissed Colette good-night, and stared out
their bedroom window, watching the sky
darken. Then, eager for her husband, she
had dropped her shift and lay naked on
their bed. When the phone rang, she had
drawled, “Hello,” and listened to an awful
pause swell into an official hesitancy until
finally a man on the phone cleared his
intermittently if at all. Although, her first
night in a motel, having left everything,
even Colette‟s baby photos, behind (a
realtor would sell the house), she had
dreamed about her husband. In the final
minutes before she rose, woke Colette,
and drove another four hours west before
checking into another motel with a pool,
Paul had hovered.
“Our life was so awful,” he said. “Still,
I‟m surprised I had the nerve. Aren‟t
Not so much; the surprise was
wearing off.
Her first night in Lawrence, Kansas, she
dreamed again. This dream, however,
involved a Chick Corea song that
proceeded slowly, coming from several
directions, piano chords landing deep
inside her body.
As agreed, Kevin returned the next
day to direct the cable installer. It was his
house to rent and he knew where the
cables should go. Colette was sucking on
a blue Popsicle. Jeanne offered Kevin

something to drink. He thanked her for a
beer and almost imperceptibly touched
the back of her hand. Then, excusing
himself, he left the room.
Naturally, the cable installer was late.
Jeanne was standing by the bookcases
when Kevin asked to see her new laptop.
Her face kept bobbing too close to
his. She grew elated looking at him until
she realized what she was doing.
Abashed then, she inched away from him
and stared at her hands. Except Kevin
soon slid back into view. Her eyes kept
drifting toward his full, sculpted mouth.
Colette asked if she could play by
herself in her room, as she often did—
Jeanne pushed too many projects and
puzzles on her daughter.
Finally, a pimply faced man knocked
on the door. Kevin wanted Jeanne to
have the gamut of channels—he‟d pay for
No, she would.
Jeanne didn‟t watch much television
but couldn‟t argue. The pretense of
normalcy was too exhausting.
So she let Kevin pay for the full cable
company‟s package. While the installer
snaked the cable through walls, he told
her about the job interview he‟d arranged
for her at the emergency dispatch center
tomorrow afternoon. “Or is that too soon
for you?”
“Not at all; I need to work.” She
nervously tapped her collarbone. “I‟m
awake most of the night anyway.”
“My wife will call you with our favorite
babysitter‟s phone number. Giselle has
already agreed to stay overnight with
Colette, that is, if you really like the job.”
“I know I will; thank you.”
Jeanne was flustered—he was just
too much for her. Yet Kevin apologized for
leaving so soon. He had patients waiting;
it seemed that lately he was working
every Saturday afternoon. She followed
him to the door but he slowed or stepped
backward, laying a supportive palm flat
between her shoulder blades. If it weren‟t
for Colette and the cable installer, she
might have sunk to her knees.
Through the screen door, she watched
his expensive dark car pull away.
Seconds later a white Toyota with a faulty
muffler parked across the street. A
cumbersome man with dark hair and
doughy skin opened the hatchback. Kevin
must have been turning around in the culde-sac, because coming from the other
direction, his car screeched to halt,
almost pinning the other man to his
Toyota. Jeanne crouched behind the
screen door, eavesdropping before she
realized it.
“What the hell are you doing, Hal?”
He presented a flat of marigolds. “I
was wondering if your tenant might like
these extra flowers.”
“Is that so!‟ Kevin sounded angry.

“You were wondering…So tell me: just
how many marigolds did you plant at your
own house, Hal?”
“My mother doesn‟t like flowers. But I
like them and thought the young widow
might, too.”
“You stay away from her, Hal.” He
held a finger in front of Hal‟s face and
waved it—a threat, not a scold. “I mean it.
You and your flowers and all your peculiar
tendencies are the last things she needs.
She‟s grieving.”
“You could still introduce us.”
“Haven‟t you been listening, Hal?”
Kevin grabbed the flowers and dumped
them in the Toyota. “Stay out of trouble
and you might meet her on Thanksgiving.
Until then, goddamn it, do not go near
He stood planted in the street until
Hal drove away. Jeanne watched Kevin
pat his pockets and look behind him. She
winced at how much she liked watching
“Jeanne!” he rapped on the screen
door. “I‟m sorry to keep bothering you, but
believe it or not, I left my cell phone here.”
Without hesitating, he stepped lightly
into the alcove and picked up the phone
from beside her laptop. “No idea why I‟m
so absent-minded. It‟s all right; I know my
way out.”
Turning away, he glanced at her with
obvious fondness. It wasn‟t her
Jeanne should rejoice in her new life
that was falling perfectly into place. But
along with the promise ahead, she
recognized in the pristine air traces of
flickering betrayals.
Later when the day started to cool, she
and Colette ran in the backyard through
the water sprinkler. After they had dried
off and dressed, Jeanne let Colette watch
“Dora the Explorer.” She found her iPod
so she could listen to Chick Corea‟s
“Light as a Feather” while organizing the
Patrice, Kevin‟s wife, phoned after six
p.m. “It was so hot today we couldn‟t
enjoy the pool or I would have invited
you. Are you and your little girl free for a
picnic dinner?”
“Thank you, yes,” Jeanne said. “That
sounds wonderful.”
“Kevin suggested a playground near
you. He says you probably haven‟t
discovered it yet.”
“That‟s true. We haven‟t. Will, ah,
Kevin—be joining us?”
“No, he‟s playing tennis. The
playground‟s set in a tangle of little
streets. Best if we all walk there from your
From the moment Jeanne answered
the door, she was struck by Patrice
O‟Meara‟s buoyancy. Kevin‟s wife
radiated a sense of uplift and resiliency,
feelings Jeanne must have experienced,

but not often, not steadily—not with the
bright certainty coming from Patrice.
Colette said “hi” to little Annabelle
and pulled her hand. “Wanna see my
Jeanne and Patrice peeked in. The
little girls were talking and laughing and
jumping on the bed.
“I hear they share the same birthday,”
Patrice said. Her voice lilted rhythmically.
She had lighter skin than Kevin and was
a few inches shorter than Jeanne with
almond-shaped eyes. She wore her hair
pinned in a tight knot like the dancer she
“Emphasis,” Patrice laughed, “on
was. In real life, I teach and run a preschool but Kevin always says I‟m a
dancer. He‟s never seen me dance. I
guess he likes the idea.”
“Patrice, how about a glass of
lemonade before we leave? Or white
“A little white wine right now sounds
At the playground the little girls ate
three bites and ran off to crawl through
brightly colored plastic tunnels. The

mothers called them back. “Drink your
milk, please.”
Patrice had brought chicken salad,
fresh bread, and cold peach cobbler.
“Dancing,” she said, “isn‟t a lifelong art or
profession. Not even for the best. But I‟m
still not ready to admit I‟ve given up.
Maybe I‟ll teach a class—after I take a
refresher course.
“So what about you, Jeanne? Is it
contentment? Or do you hold out for your
real hopes and risk disappointment?”
Jeanne laughed. “I worry about that
all the time! But everybody acts like I‟m
asking something rude.”
“I know,” Patrice said. “Bad enough
when it was just me, but now I‟m
Annabelle‟s example, good or bad.”
For once Jeanne wasn‟t alone: a
pouch of constant loneliness closed tight
and disappeared.
At dusk, preparing for home, Colette
threw a tantrum. She cried and kicked
sand at Jeanne. When she finally quieted
down and they walked back, Jeanne
confided in Patrice. “Colette has not so
much as whined since Paul died. She
says, „Don‟t worry, Mommy, we‟re still
here. And we‟re together.”

If the girls weren‟t so tired, their
mothers could have talked all night. When
Patrice left, Jeanne realized she hadn‟t
gotten the babysitter‟s phone number.
She had asked first thing, but almost
immediately they had both forgotten
about it.
Considerate Patrice phoned right
after breakfast with the number. “Sorry
about that. Would you and Colette like to
come over and swim? You can relax
before your job interview. And oh, Kevin
has to accompany you.”
“Is he an interviewer? I thought it was
the police chief and a supervisor.”
“No, if Kevin had his way, you‟d
already be running the place. He‟s
supposed to accompany you to the secret
location. He‟s an emergency deputy, and
authorized to escort you to the building.
Standard procedure. ” Patrice laughed.
“And to tell the truth? The man‟s
supremely delighted to have the

Chapter 3 next issue

next month’s issue out: 4 th March
interview with Brunonia Barry

Buy an annual subscription today and save up to 25% off the cover price.
UK: £45 USA & Canada: $73
order online: with options to pay monthly
Or complete the form and post to us ( UK only )
Prices include FREE P&P. Make all cheques payable to Blam Productions.
68 New Bedford Road

(0044)-0208 1234 036

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. Death Knell is a short novel in
twelve parts, which will run each
month in the magazine throughout
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.
Chapter Three
My mother‟s attendant, Bill, asked if I
could pay him the fifteen hundred dollars I
owe him. “Give me half an hour,” I said,

“tops. And Bill, anytime you or your family
want free dental care, I‟m your man. Free,
not barter.”
He nodded and smiled—perfect
teeth. “Maybe someday. Right now we‟re
busy. I got that scholarship, Hal. Thanks
for the recommendation.”
I was real sorry Bill had to wait for his
money. The world needs more guys like
him: big, strong, and able to tame the
wildest old ladies. So I raced to this
particular ATM inside a gas station that
so far has taken every credit card I‟ve
tried. My Toyota‟s got a worn-out muffler
and needs a quart of oil every day. But
luckily I made it there and back. Bill
thanked me without counting the money
and promised he‟d look after Momma
again tomorrow.
Early September is still summer and
the heat this week was serious. Either
way I needed to wash my mother, which
is never pleasant but really bad when the
temperature hasn‟t dropped below ninety.
Naturally, she bitched and fussed.
“Pretend I‟m Jesus,” I said, soaping
between her toes.
“That‟s a laugh, Hal. Like I‟m St.
“Why not, Momma?”
She let loose a barrage of disgusting
reasons why not. But I soldiered on. “All

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 Fthis 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
She won‟t even wear dentures. Of
course she thinks I‟m lying about being a
dentist. But hey, hurray for me! I got
Momma clean, cooled off, and smelling
By the next morning she‟d found
paperback books to throw at my head.
But at noon, just as promised, Bill arrived.
Since it was Sunday, I went to Kevin‟s
office and lay on his waiting-room floor
with its thick, clean carpeting. Before
long, I calmed down.
Kevin and I play tennis more nights
than not. He gives me a handicap but still
wins. I can‟t give him a real game but he
doesn‟t complain. So just forget that thing
with the marigolds. Kevin O‟Meara is and
always has been my only friend.
My brother Lincoln was also a great
tennis player. In fact, he‟d joined a
traveling league right before he got sick.
My mother thought Lincoln was God. If
only we‟d buried him right, he would have
pushed the stone away.
I loved Lincoln, though. He said our
mom‟s love for him was just another
version of her bullshit cruelty to me. And,
Lincoln said, he for one knew I was better
than him, because I was for real.
“No idea why everyone loves my shit
so much. But they expect it and I‟m too
wussy to stop faking it. And the more you
fake it, Hal, the more you lose track of

what‟s not fake. You end up totally
ignorant about who the hell you even
are—except fake. Whereas you? You
couldn‟t fake it to save your life.”
Lincoln said this when he wasn‟t sick
and then again after the bone-marrow
transplant when he was dying of
leukemia—fifteen years ago. And I‟ll tell
you this: I will never forget him saying
After calming down at the dental
office, I parked around the corner from
Kevin‟s, because Patrice, who‟s always
treated me kindly, probably likes
marigolds. Whenever I visit, Kevin spends
five minutes with me before retreating to
his home office. He leaves the
entertaining to Patrice, so it‟ll be easy to
ask her about the flowers.
When I rang the bell, she called to me
from the fenced-in backyard. “Hold on,
Hal. I‟ve got to get these girls out of the
pool first.”
She answered the door wearing a
long, wet skirt. Annabelle and a little girl
with dripping blonde hair giggled at me.
“You‟re looking good,” Patrice said.
“Have you lost weight?”
“Maybe. Kevin‟s working me hard on
the tennis court. And I‟ve got a new
exercise DVD.”
“I should do that.” Patrice laughed. “I
want to start dancing again, but not until
I‟m leotard-ready.”
I hadn‟t noticed how plump she‟d
gotten—still pretty, but pretty fat.
“Come inside, Hal.”
Somehow I could tell Kevin wasn‟t
home; the house felt really soothing. “I‟ve
got extra marigolds, Patrice.”
“Do you? Kevin‟s „landscaped‟ the
garden, so we can‟t put them in the
ground, but they‟ll be pretty in pots.”
Annabelle‟s tiny, soaking-wet friend
offered me her hand. “How do you do?
I‟m Colette.”
“My name is Hal; glad to meet you,
“Hal, my pal. My mommy‟s getting a
“And your daddy?”
“My daddy‟s dead.”
Leave it to me to say the worst thing
possible. Why hadn‟t I connected this
child with the young widow?
Patrice was kneeling beside Colette,
“I‟m sorry, Hal,” the child said.
“There‟s no need to tell people about my
daddy first thing.”
“It‟s okay,” Patrice said. “No need to
apologize either, right Hal?”
“Absolutely. No need,” I said. The two
little girls ran off, holding hands. “Patrice,
you must be a great nursery school
“Well,” she sighed. “I‟m better at that
than I ever was at dancing.”
I asked, “So what do you say about
those marigolds in my car?”

She made iced tea and I planted the
flowers in big clay pots. She even had
potting soil. “You must have met Colette‟s
“Jeanne‟s more beautiful than anyone
I‟ve ever met,” Patrice said, “and not just
because of her looks. There‟s something
wonderful about her. Just talking to her
makes me happy.”
“I‟ve wanted to tell her ever since I
heard what happened that it‟s enough to
break your heart. But Kevin says, don‟t go
into that. And I can meet her at your
Thanksgiving dinner.”
“You‟ll meet her before that, Hal.”
“Today, you think? After the job
Patrice shook her head and I knew
what she was going to say: “Kevin will be
snappish if you‟re here when they get
“I know. The emergency center‟s
serious and Jeanne will be focused on
that. Kevin says I have boundary issues.
But so what? Where‟s the harm in me?”
“Next week,” Patrice said, “maybe the
four of us can have a picnic before or
after tennis.”
Earlier that day, when Patrice had invited
Jeanne to relax by their pool before her
interview, she wasn‟t ready for it. If she
knew Kevin was away, she‟d love
spending time with Patrice. That
buoyancy and uplifting grace—even her
voice on the phone conveyed a
reassuring brightness. She thanked
Patrice but claimed she had too many
“Wouldn‟t Colette rather come and
play in the pool?”
Jeanne laughed. “Of course, she
would. Thank you.” She packed a change
of clothes for Colette and helped her into
her bathing suit. In time she would
establish a bond with Patrice so tight that
any nonsense about Kevin wouldn‟t exist.
The energy overload he‟d caused was a
fluke—lightning striking twice. It wouldn‟t
happen again.
And yet she steeled herself in case
he, and not Patrice, opened the door. As
it happened, he swept open both doubledoors at once. Unwittingly, she stared at
him as Colette ran inside. Recovering in a
heartbeat, she waved good-bye without
But during a mysterious interval,
Kevin had invited her inside for a minute.
“Don‟t tell me you don‟t have a minute,
“I really don‟t. You know how it is…”
She backed away, hands cupping her
mouth as she spoke.
Light and swift, Kevin reached her car
in time to open the door for her. Jeanne
paused. His eyes found hers as he
stepped around the door so they were
both between the open car window and
the driver‟s seat. He stood so close to her

for a second that when his hands
encircled her waist, it seemed tactful and
necessary to keep them from falling into
each other. She tucked her chin, certain
that if she looked up, they‟d start kissing.
His hands squeezing and lifting her aside,
he slid outside the car door, his hand
already on the door handle. But in that
second when he was holding her, Kevin
undressed her. She was wearing a short
flowered dress and her worn-out sandals
with ankle straps, but in a flash, she stood
naked, the dress blown off her body,
flying away as she fumbled for her keys.
Kevin wore jeans and a burnt-orange polo
shirt but in that same flash she had felt
his all sleek naked strength. Collapsing
into the car, she trembled while fastening
her seatbelt.
His hand still on the door handle, his
face came so close she felt his breath on
her cheek. “I won‟t ask what your errands
are, Jeanne. But come here a little before
three. The center isn‟t far but it‟s hidden.”
His smile when he closed the door was
gentle and as she started the car his
expression turned wistful and vaguely
At home she took a long, cool shower
and lay on her bed with a washcloth
covering her eyes. She dressed carefully,
covering herself despite the heat. She
twisted her hair up. Her linen slacks and a
appropriate for overnight work. She put
on a necklace she‟d bought at J.C Penny
and took it off—better without it. With
bright pink flats on her feet, she arrived at
the O‟Meara‟s right on time. She walked
around and opened the backyard‟s gate.
From the deck surrounding the turquoise
pool, she called to Annabelle and Colette
who splashed and kicked wearing
floaties. Patrice smiled from her perch on
the diving board.
“I don‟t want to get wet.”
“Stay there then. I‟ll see you after
you‟ve become the new crisis dispatcher.”
Kevin appeared, sliding open the
glass divider, his manner calm. Leading
her through the house, he seemed
cautious. In the driveway he suggested
she ride with him. The place was only a
few blocks away.
“I‟d better follow in my own car, or
else no matter how close it is, I‟m likely to
get lost next time.”
His fancy metallic black car was a
Honda Accord, not the BMW she had
assumed. She followed it around two
corners and down a straight, unpaved
road. Kevin parked beside a vast stand of
flowering oleander. Jeanne parked
behind him.
“The crisis center,” he said, “is around
this hedge and down the road. Ordinarily,
you should park in front of the building.
But,” he touched her hand, “do you mind
walking a bit? I want to apologize for
coming on so strong.”

Without realizing it, Jeanne sighed
and arched her neck, taking in the vivid
blue sky. Eyes back on earth, she
squared her shoulders, facing the
moment. “And I thought it was just me.
But it‟s unfair, Kevin, and,” (she balked at
saying “wrong”) “…and not right.”
Staying arm‟s distance, he stepped in
front of her and gently pressed his index
fingers on her covered shoulders.
“Jeanne, I don‟t believe it‟s wrong. It‟s too
extraordinary; I have never felt so
overwhelmed.” His fingers glided down to
hers. “I want you more than I imagined it
was possible to want someone.”
When she didn‟t take his hands, his
fingers fell away, but he stepped closer to
She couldn‟t look at him.
“My heart‟s all torn up over you,” he
said. “You‟ll kill me if you laugh.”

This made her giggle. She held a
hand to her face, apologizing. Once
started, her nervous giggle was difficult to
He shook his head for being an idiot.
“Men tell you this all the time, don‟t they?
I‟m not like that, Jeanne. I‟m different and
what‟s happening between us isn‟t
She was still laughing, hands
covering her mouth.
“You‟re not angry,” he said, “that‟s
good. I have never strayed from Patrice.
Ask her. Ask anyone. Before you,
I was a devoted husband.
Patrice will vouch for me.” He lifted his
arms and dropped them.
“Kevin, do you really want me to ask
Patrice if you fall for other women? Until
now—until me?”

He smiled an amused, besotted
smile. “You‟re right; don‟t ask Patrice. But
it proves my point. I can‟t think straight
since I met you.”
Her skin burned. “You are married to
the nicest woman I‟ve ever met. But it
doesn‟t make a bit of difference.” She
closed her eyes for a moment. “Think
about Patrice, Annabelle, Colette. Kevin,
you have to stand back.” She shuddered,
fighting tears.
“This was supposed to be an
apology. But I can‟t do it; I‟m not sorry,
Jeanne. I‟ll stand back, just as you ask. I‟ll
wait in the shadows until I find a way for
us, a good way. You‟ll see.”

Chapter 4 next issue

next month’s issue out: 8 th April
interview with Brunonia Barry

Buy an annual subscription today and save up to 25% off the cover price.
UK: £45 USA & Canada: $73
order online: with options to pay monthly
Or complete the form and post to us ( UK only )
* based on UK pricing

Prices include FREE P&P. Make all cheques payable to Blam Productions.
68 New Bedford Road

(0044)-0208 1234 036

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. Death Knell is a short novel in
twelve parts, which will run each
month in the magazine throughout
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.
Chapter Four

Jeanne easily adjusted to working
overnight. And why not? After nursery
school, Patrice often (or no—almost
always and soon routinely) took Colette
home for lunch with Annabelle, allowing
Jeanne to sleep an extra hour or two.
Patrice said the little girls entertained
each other, which meant she could relax.
Jeanne doubted it was effortless, but was
grateful nonetheless.
“They play this fabulous game,”
Patrice told her. “In class, I offer prompts
for imaginary play but they go nowhere.
Colette, however, remembered one: She
and Annabelle play fairies every
afternoon. They catch me spying and
throw me into the dungeon—that is, the
powder room. They fly around looking for
constantly changing safety areas.
Otherwise people like me will break the
spell. Loud enough so I can hear them,
they beg the ceiling for magical powers.
Often a wild animal kills one of them. And
the other one throws Annabelle‟s blanket
over the dead fairy and whispers to her
until she wakes up, restored.”
Jeanne laughed. “You contributed
more than a prompt, Patrice.”

“Not really. Your little girl is off the
charts, Jeanne. She‟s already starting to
read and already starting to work with
Jeanne knew that, but not how
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
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
hand for a second. “Don‟t feel as if you
can‟t talk about it with me,” she said. “I
don‟t have any idea how hard it is, but I
do know how fast people shut you out if
your words frighten them.”
therapists get paid to listen. I‟m doing all
right, though. Between Colette and the
job…Of course, having you for a friend
doesn‟t hurt.”
The girls claimed their mothers were
spying again but Patrice said, “Last call
for swimming. Last call of the year.”
Changing in the powder room,
Jeanne wished she‟d brought her other
bathing suit. The athletic two-piece
squashed her breasts so they rose like
half moons over the top. Slinking into the
bright sunlight, she felt embarrassed, her
slender body as pale as milk. Seeing
buoyant, light-brown Patrice in the pool,
she tightened the bathing suit‟s straps
and tugged at the back. Patrice said,
“Stop fussing. It‟s just us.”
After making sure the diving board
was safe, Jeanne dived cleanly and
swam two fast lengths before floating
beside Patrice. “Oh, that feels good.”

“Did you swim in school?” Patrice
“No, just as a kid, and then again
when I was pregnant.”
“I tried swimming for exercise but
didn‟t stick with it. I‟ve gained so much
weight this year I put away the scale.
Last week I had to buy even bigger
clothes to replace the first bigger clothes.”
“Are you doing all the same things?”
Jeanne asked. “Maybe it‟s your thyroid.”
Patrice laughed. “Not a chance. It‟s
my cookie, cupcake, candy bar, and
milkshake habit. I hate getting fat. But
ever since January, I‟ve felt the need to
eat lots of sweets.”
They swayed waist-deep, watching
their daughters bobbing about in water
wings. “Maybe there‟s something going
on with your blood sugar,” Jeanne said.
“In any case, you‟ll exercise when you‟re
“An aerobic step class; that‟s Kevin‟s
mother‟s plan. Rebecca from Jamaica is
what Kevin calls „a darling tyrant.‟”
“You must like each other or she
wouldn‟t say anything.”
“Rebecca? I love her. But she
certainly would say something. Kevin is
always telling her to butt out, much as he
loves her.”
Jeanne said she had married Paul
because his love had felt friendly and
safe. “I had a hot-tempered boyfriend in
high school. I never guessed Paul was
depressed. Although, near the end, he
was not friendly.”
Patrice said, “Well, I married Kevin
because here was a man who could go
anywhere and be anything.”
Jeanne suppressed a catch in her
breath. Just in time, she said, “Patrice,
you‟re both like that.”
“You know that‟s not true.”
“It certainly is true. You can obviously
do anything you want.”
“Thank you, Jeanne. I consider
myself lucky that Kevin decided to stay
here and be a dentist. Except lately he‟s
pulling ahead of me. It‟s almost as if he‟s
got his arm out blocking me.” She shook
her head. “Listen to me to complain when
I‟ve got no reason. He‟s says he loves
me, come what may.”
Annabelle was wailing, “Stop!”
Colette had splashed water in her eyes.
“We should go. The girls are tired.”
“Tomorrow then?” Patrice asked.
“If you‟re certain. You can‟t
supplement my sleep every day, Patrice.
And you shouldn‟t. Next month, I‟ll take
them for lunch and you can take aerobics.
Or we can start tomorrow.”
“No, thank you,” Patrice said. “I‟ll tell
you when I‟m ready.”
Jeanne packed up quickly. Leaving
was a relief. Just hearing about Kevin
stirred up too much guilty pleasure. She
might love Patrice more than herself and
still do wrong.

Jeanne and Colette walked to the park
during the late afternoons and played.
After dinner, Jeanne read to her. Then
they prepared for Giselle, Colette‟s
babysitter, who arrived at eight p.m.
Jeanne chatted with her a few minutes
and kissed Colette, who squirmed out of
her arms, declaring she wasn‟t a baby.
Jeanne drove to the secured building,
passing the O‟Meara‟s before the turn.
From eight-thirty p.m. to six-thirty a.m.,
she answered emergency phone calls
and participated in an online certification
class. Her supervisor, who had disliked
her initially, softened during the second
week. Jeanne fixed her cocoa the way
she liked it; never asked for a different TV
show; and never bothered her after she
fell asleep in her lounge chair.
Before seven a.m., Jeanne returned
home and woke Giselle. After asking how
the night went, she invited her to
breakfast but Giselle always declined and
dashed off.
Jeanne woke her little girl and they
ate breakfast together. At eight-thirty she
brought Colette with bows in her wavy
blonde hair to nursery school. Patrice,
while greeting the other children and
parents, always managed to squeeze
Jeanne‟s hand.
There was no good reason Kevin should
disapprove of Patrice‟s friendship with
Jeanne. At first, Patrice recalled, he had
raved about the beautiful, bereaved
young widow. He‟d rented her the
bungalow and gotten her the job, which
fulfilled Jeanne‟s primary hope—to spend
most of the day with her child. But now
Kevin grimaced whenever
mentioned her new friend.
“She makes me happy,” Patrice said,
explaining their everyday, including
Saturday, get-togethers. Kevin couldn‟t
be bothered. On Saturday afternoons, he
fixed Hal‟s botched dental cases and
later, he and Hal played tennis.
It disturbed him to think of Jeanne in
his home—moving and laughing through
these very rooms—when he was
“What about your other friends?” he
asked Patrice. “Lila and Nikki?”
“I don‟t know. Jeanne and I—it‟s a girl
thing. But I‟ll try not to report every little
thing we do.”
What was he supposed to say? Kevin
wanted nothing more than to hear every
little thing they did. And once he learned
why entering his home was so
disquieting—Jeanne had been here and
now was gone—he anticipated hints of
her in the air. In the entranceway, he
listened for a chime that had just
ceased—an outlandish notion. He
suspected he knew where Jeanne had
sat, where she had walked. He
envisioned her smile, her face lit with

So he began asking, “What happened
today? What did you do?” It turned out
he really did sense whether they‟d spent
time here or met somewhere else, a
playground or shopping mall. On those
days, despite his bluster for Patrice‟s
sake, he‟d already registered a kind of
One Sunday driving home from
visiting Kevin‟s mother, Patrice hit upon a
solution for spending time with Kevin and
Jeanne—and Hal. “If Jeanne and Hal
liked each other, even a little,” Patrice
said, “the four of us could go on a picnic,
see a movie, I don‟t know…it might bridge
the gap.”
Without answering or glancing at his
wife, Kevin exited the turnpike and pulled
to the side of the road. “Patrice, do not
introduce Hal to Jeanne. You think he‟s
awkward. But he‟s mentally ill-equipped.”
Annabelle in the backseat asked,
“Why are we stopped?”
“Your daddy and I are talking.”
“Talk but keep driving.” She kicked
the car seat.
Taken aback by Kevin‟s tone, Patrice
didn‟t think to correct Annabelle‟s
“Apparently,” she said, “this talk is too
important for driving.”
“Enough!” Kevin yelled. “Not another
Patrice could hardly believe it. Kevin
never lost his temper. He was famous for
being nice.
Everybody liked him;
everybody loved him. Kevin loved helping
people. Life came to him so easily that he
always donated a few minutes, offered a
name and number—no big deal.
But as the car hummed along in
silence, she realized that when Kevin
helped Hal, an attitude sneaked in. She
hated detecting this, but couldn‟t deny it.
With Hal, Kevin‟s generosity wasn‟t
casual. Rather, he exerted subtle
Sitting on a swing, Patrice said,
“Yesterday I wondered about you, me,
Hal and Kevin going on a picnic and
Kevin acted like I had committed a crime.
Seriously, I‟ve never seen him like that.
He‟s been rotating dental patients to give
Hal work. But Hal gets on everybody‟s
nerves. Maybe Kevin‟s especially,
although they certainly play enough
tennis together.”
Jeanne moved from the playground‟s
swings to a springy climbing platform and
rummaged through her purse. “I don‟t
need to start seeing anyone, Patrice. It‟s
mean of me, thinking this guy Hal would
be good because I‟d never take him
Patrice watched her twist her hair up
with a clip and swing her feet in the air.
Colette and Annabelle wanted a double
birthday party. Patrice loved the idea. It

might be the girls‟ first clear memory. Of
course the party would be at the
O‟Meara‟s big, beautiful house.
Jeanne had to stop being ridiculous
about Kevin. It was inevitable they‟d see
each other. Although, it would certainly
help if other people were present—lots of
The three-year-olds each invited four
playmates. For the main activity, they
chose freeze dance, freeze dance, and
more freeze dance. And for lunch,
hamburgers with lots of ketchup.
Kevin‟s mother Rebecca arrived
before the party with two pink leotards,
matching tutus, and magic wands filled
with sparkles. After helping the girls
change into magical fairies, Rebecca told
them, “Don‟t point your wands at people.
Use them only when necessary. And
never hit anyone.”
Annabelle and Colette skipped
around, so excited that Patrice made
them wait in Annabelle‟s bedroom.
Jeanne had made a three-tiered
white cake with raspberry filling and
chocolate icing. In the living room, Kevin
adjusted his new video camera. “It has
more memory than most computers. The
girls‟ third birthday is a guaranteed
Jeanne kept busy in the kitchen.
She‟d barely seen Kevin—a brief glance
caught his smooth dark forehead.
Holding a basket of miniature
sailboats and rubber ducks, she came

within arms‟ reach. Kevin was beside the
sliding glass door, but outside. He pulled
it open and turned, standing in front of
She stepped into the autumn
afternoon and he said, “Don‟t worry,
Jeanne. We‟re doing fine.” But then he
gathered her hair in one hand and let the
other mold the back of her neck. “Maybe,”
he whispered in her ear, his mouth
brushing her cheek.
Jeanne skittered away. “Don‟t tease
me, Kevin. Please.”
“I‟m not teasing.” His voice was soft
but stern. “I forgot myself. But we‟re fine;
don‟t worry.”
Inside, he looked around the room
that was filling with children; he looked
past his wife and past his mother and saw
Jeanne squatted by the mini-pool and
set the toys adrift. Returning inside, she
opened the glass door herself; Kevin was
almost hidden behind his camera and
He recorded the children as they
arrived and gave the girls presents, which
Patrice whisked away for later. The lens
found Jeanne crouched beside a small
boy. Her silky, honey-colored hair fanned
in the air.
She wore loose, light-blue jeans,
rolled above her ankles, the left pants‟ leg
rolled slightly higher. Kevin‟s mother
called her into the dining room. And
Jeanne flowed—fluid as a stream. He

next month’s issue:
6 th May
June 03 2011:
our last issue

could swear she smiled over her shoulder
straight into the camera. The lens
focused close on her breasts for several
seconds, and she was gone. Until—she
twirled out of the dining room, followed by
a bright chinging sound. He paused,
confused, until he realized his mother had
given her finger cymbals.
She twirled and twisted across the
room, cymbals ringing—pure, sensuous
rhythm in motion. The performance was
for the children. The camera focused only
on her. She sat on her heels, adjusting
the cymbals on the children‟s fingers.
After the girls blew out the candles,
Jeanne arranged little pieces of cake on
paper plates. The lens zoomed in when
she licked her fingers. The three women
ate two bites each off plastic forks. Kevin
recorded Jeanne‟s lips opening and
closing. He recorded her sipping tea, her
eyelids fluttering when she swallowed.
People dispersed. Jeanne stepped
outside to collect the left-over toys and
Kevin followed. Half hidden by the house,
he scooped her into his arms and kissed
her like his life depended on it. His mouth
was moving down her long, beautiful neck
when his mother called from the living
room: “Kevin, God only knows what
you‟re doing out there! But Patrice needs
you in front, to say good-bye to the
children and their parents.”
Chapter 4 next issue

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
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.

Chapter Five
If Kevin‟s in a good mood when we‟re
playing tennis at his country club, he
says, “Hal, let‟s hear your running joke.”
“What joke?” The subtleties go over
my head and Kevin knows it.
We play tennis almost every evening
after he eats dinner with his family and I
eat pizza across the street from the
dental clinic. The so-called joke has to do
with my obsession regarding zero in
tennis equaling “love.” I still don‟t get it
and sometimes forget and ask him for the
zillionth time what love has to do with
missing the ball.
If he‟s in a good mood, he tells me it‟s
because the French word for egg sounds
like the word love and an egg supposedly
looks like a zero. Or, it could refer to
playing tennis for love, not money

(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.
No such luck: the balky engine died in
its sleep.
He taps on the window. “Pop the
hood,” and after one look says, “All right,
Hal. Get your stuff and come with me.”
In his car he phones Kenny on
Twenty-Ninth Street and asks him to stay
open late. On the way to an ATM, he
says, “I‟ve been sweet-talking Kenny all
month to trade my lease on this noisemaker for an Acura with a decent sound
system. Last week when I was over there,
I noticed a used Honda Civic that would
be perfect for you, Hal.”
I shake my head. “Kevin, no matter
how sweet the deal…”
“I know that; don‟t worry.” He‟s
stopping at one ATM after another and
finally hands me a lot of cash. “Don‟t let
anybody know. I mean nobody. Do you
understand? ”
“Of course. But Kevin, I‟ve no idea
when I can pay you back.”

“That‟s okay. First things first: Count
out fifteen thousand for your mother‟s
nurses. Otherwise, I‟m afraid you‟ll turn to
burglary. And Hal? You would be the
worst burglar.”
We laugh at that. “I‟d knock stuff over,
turn on lights—and unless there was a
pile of money in plain sight I wouldn‟t
have a clue what to steal.”
“You have no choice but to earn an
honest living,” Kevin says. “So use the
fifteen thousand for your mother. That
leaves you eight thousand for Kenny‟s
Several months ago, when I pretty
much moved back here from K.C.
because of Momma, Kevin‟s mother
Rebecca had arranged a place for her at
the Wichita Memory Center. But Momma
shrieked and cried so bad I didn‟t have
the heart. I have it now, but the open
place is long gone.
When we were kids, the only person
in town who didn‟t lay off me when Kevin
glared was Momma. When we were in
high school and her mind was okay, just
mean, he told her she was evil to call me
names. And you should have been there.
Everything stopped.
Momma turned
around and walked away!
Kevin called after her, “Hal, let‟s
watch the Royals game.”
We drank beer and watched TV in the
living room. Of course, Kevin wasn‟t
allowed in the house after that. But still,
that afternoon was a cosmic wonder.
At the car dealership Kenny and
Kevin do this fist over fist thing that
Kevin‟s told me is something white guys
do when they‟re trying to act cool with
black guys.
“Hal, long time!” Kenny starts to
pump his fist but for me an ordinary
handshake is a challenge: squeeze hard,
real hard, one shake, two…
“Hal,” Kenny says, “have you lost
I wish I could ask Kevin if weight loss
is the new-style greeting. But I know he‟d
say, “Don‟t be stupid.” But first Patrice
asked me and now Kenny, and in reality
it‟s impossible. My body type is what my
Momma calls “lumbering.” Combine that
with me calming my nerves by eating
three or four pizzas a day.
Once I asked the woman in K.C. I
thought was my girlfriend if she had lost
weight. She had returned from vacation
looking trimmer. But when I asked how
many pounds she had lost, she got angry.
Was I implying she needed to lose ten
pounds—or twenty? Was I, lumbering
Hal, spending my time thinking about how
fat she was?
“Hiya, Kenny, how are you?”
We look at the cars. Kevin and Kenny
are joking around. Ordinarily, Kenny
doesn‟t trade leases, like switching an
Accord for an Acura. “The only time the
dealer gets a bad deal.”

“From me?” Kevin clutches his
heart—wounded. They pull punches and
pop hoods until Kevin turns thoughtful
and waves a finger. “Remember that
metallic blue you showed me?”
Kenny says just a minute, and steps
into his office where he strokes his
computer. Tomorrow he‟ll have the
metallic blue Acura and Kevin can trade
the lease on his Accord, same terms and
conditions. “But only because it‟s you,
They do some more knuckle
bumping. “All right, my man,” Kevin asks,
“what have you got for Hal? Is that beige
Honda still available?”
It is—pre-owned with only thirty-eight
thousand miles on it. Kenny makes an
exception and lets Kevin go with me
instead of him on the test drive. “Fifteen
minutes, though. Don‟t drive around all
It‟s almost eleven and we‟re cruising
along when Kevin says, “Drive over to
Third Street. Or, no, I forgot she‟s
working. It was our kids‟ birthday today.”
I know he means Jeanne. And while I
may never figure out whether to ask
someone if they‟ve lost weight, I know
exactly how Kevin feels. He‟s flying on his
own generosity, which you‟ve got to
admit, is amazing. Kevin‟s the only
person who has fun with me. Of course, I
annoy him and certain topics are off
limits. Jeanne and Colette are off limits. I
can‟t ask about the little girls‟ birthday
All I can say is thank you.
“What you need to do, Hal, is
capitalize on your niche as a pediatric
“I don‟t know how to „capitalize,‟
Kevin. But kids like me and I usually do
okay on their teeth.”
“So we‟ll start marketing that. Turn
left ahead. And Hal, remember—you
can‟t tell anyone about this. My wife and
mother don‟t even approve of you
working for me. Fond of you as they are,
they‟re seriously against me lending
money. They don‟t say it to my face but
they think I put subtle pressure on you.
What they don‟t know is that I‟d do that to
you, working in my clinic or not; loan or
no loan.”
“Kevin, do you want to drive? You‟re
a better judge than me.”
“No, I‟ve checked; it‟s a steal. Just go
inside and negotiate.”
“I can‟t.”
“Yes, you can. Paying in cash gives
you leverage. Besides, I‟ll exert my subtle
Within half an hour, I get the car for
eight thousand, including tax. Outside,
Kevin reminds me to keep it secret. We
both know I‟ve got to take special care to
hide it from his mother. Rebecca looks at
you askance and knows more about you
than you know yourself. She‟s always

been kinder than kind to me. But she
disapproves of Kevin fixing my problems.
It‟s good he‟s good. But with me,
Rebecca says, there‟s more going on
than meets the eye. And she‟s convinced
Patrice that he manipulates me so much
that good could turn bad. They want
Kevin to leave me alone.
But if he did, really? Where would I
The night of Colette and Annabelle‟s
birthday party, Jeanne worked her first
shift alone, having finally earned her
accreditation. Hour after hour, she
banished the memory of Kevin kissing her
in the afternoon shadows. But anytime
sensation returned in full. He had held her
so close his spirit coursed through her.
And now an endless wave crested inside
her. Eventually, she knew waves
crashed. Her moral failing would
devastate them. But until then she would
do anything for Kevin: betray her best
friend; abandon Colette.
No, wait! Abandon Colette? How
could she? But the unthinkable had been
thought. Sometime after three a.m., a
woman called 911. Her twenty-year-old
son had slit his wrists. Jeanne asked if
he was alive. He was, and she quickly but
gently told the mother how to staunch the
blood. “Press hard.” She continued
speaking, asking about vital signs, until
the ambulance arrived.
Half an hour later a hospital official
phoned to commend her: The young man
had survived. Jeanne wept violently and
then in spurts, finding her composure just
before the morning dispatcher was due.
She washed her face in cold water. Her
hands ached.
The nights had grown longer. Turning
onto her street, she saw Kevin‟s car in the
dimness. Having thought the unthinkable
and then forestalled a suicide, she vowed
to betray no one but herself.
He was out of his car and taking her
hand. He touched her face, and sensing
some trauma, asked what happened.
She shook her head. He whispered
something like, “It‟ll be okay,” and Jeanne
resisted falling into him because just
Kevin‟s presence relieved her dread.
They stood on the stone path leading
to her front door—which was his front
“Did you get the rent? I mailed it last
“Jeanne, please.” His arm was behind
her if she wanted support. But he didn‟t
press her. Together they stood in front of
the yellow bungalow, watching its
windows reflect the brightening day.
Assuming a perfect stillness, Kevin said,
“I love you.”
Without turning her head, she
whispered, “You don‟t know me.”

“I do, Jeanne. But if I didn‟t, I would
love you just the same.”
Her eyes brimmed and he asked if he
had intruded.
“If you know me,” her voice gave her
away, almost teasing, “you know that‟s
impossible. Kevin, what if—?” She looked
at him in confusion and his eyes sent a
rush of light into hers. He touched her
cheek and she trembled, ready to do
anything. But he said, “All right, Jeanne,
I‟ll keep waiting.”
She turned around and watched him
walk to his car. In the street, he smiled at
her and his slow, sweet, sad expression
suffused her with loneliness.
Kevin spent the morning locked in his
office watching the birthday video he had
made. He stared at his diagnostic
monitor, transfixed as Jeanne danced
across his living room floor. He‟d been
watching her for hours when Hal pushed
open the door. And yet even Hal‟s bulk
and bluster in no way affected the spell
cast by Jeanne‟s bare, high-arched feet
stepping one around the other. Bells
sounded over muffled voices and the
picture swirled out from her feet to follow
her shifting hips before zooming in on her
breasts and neck and face.
“Wow! Who‟s that?”
“Dammit, Hal!” Kevin simultaneously
clicked off the monitor and switched on
the lights.
“This lady‟s cavity is a deep pinpoint.”
“I‟ll take her. You take Mrs. Vickers.
We‟re watching her gum line.”
Before lunch, Kevin said the video
was part of an online tutorial. “Digital
video art is time-consuming and
expensive. I‟d rather you didn‟t mention it
to anyone.”
“Okay. But who was that?”
“I don‟t know. It‟s an assignment.”
Thanksgiving, Jeanne and Patrice were
drinking tea while Colette and Annabelle
played with a dollhouse on the dining
room table.
Annabelle spoke for the brown plastic
man of the house. “Hal isn‟t right for
Colette, holding the brown woman,
imitated Patrice‟s lilting voice. “How do
you know, honey?”
“Do not question me, Patrice. I‟ve
known him since high school.”
The real Patrice giggled and leaned
toward Jeanne. “Guess we better mind
what we say.”
Jeanne laughed. “I think it‟s too late.”
The girls threw the plastic dolls inside
the dollhouse and ran off to play Princess
Annabelle and Princess Colette.
“I know it‟s silly of me to keep pushing
you and Hal together,” Patrice said. “He
has every reason to feel lonely, but I don‟t

think he is. He does his best and hopes
for the best.”
Jeanne would shudder over this
conversation after she got home. “Have
you told Hal that I‟m his Thanksgiving
Patrice passed one hand over the
other like an umpire. “No way. You heard
the girls. Kevin says ten times a day that
Hal is all wrong for you.”
Jeanne bent her head so Patrice
wouldn‟t see her deceitful face. “Why?”
“Well, he‟s not in your league. But
why not have a little fun in the meantime?
It makes Kevin furious if I suggest Hal
could be fun. He gets tired of fixing the
teeth Hal has botched. But he sure plays
a lot of tennis with the man.”
Jeanne carried their tea cups into the
kitchen and asked Patrice what she could
bring for the Thanksgiving dinner. “Pies
and what else?”
“Rebecca does all the cooking. Oh,
and I should have told you sooner: We‟d
love it if Colette spent the night. I know
you have to work, and Giselle will be on
her semester break.”
“You know that? You know
everything.” Without thinking, Jeanne
bent down and kissed the top of her best
friend‟s head.

Chapter Six

“How many years have you been coming
to Thanksgiving, Hal? Dinner is at four.
Usually you show up at two. But Christ,
it‟s not even noon.”
“That‟s not true. It‟s closer to onethirty.”
“Don‟t listen to him,” Patrice says.
She‟s wearing a soft orange dress and
looks considerably thinner than the day
we planted marigolds. She takes the

chrysanthemums I‟ve brought and kisses
my cheek.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Patrice. You
look really nice.”
“Thank you, Hal.”
Kevin stomps off. His mother
Rebecca takes the flowers while Patrice
hangs up my coat. When she turns
around, I‟m positive it‟s safe to ask her,
“Have you lost weight?”
“I have,” Patrice says. “Thanks for
“Are, um, Jeanne and her little girl
“Yes, but remember what we talked
about on the phone.” Patrice raises her
eyebrows. “Don‟t act overeager.”
“I won‟t.”
She casts her eyes upstairs, where
Kevin is presumably locked in his office.
“He‟s not himself today. I think he‟s
frustrated by this new video software he
bought. So hold back on Jeanne, Hal,
and don‟t be offended if you have to
watch the ballgame alone.”
“I won‟t be offended. Can I help with
“I don‟t think so. Why don‟t you watch
TV in the den?”
She brings me a beer and a bacon,
lettuce, and tomato sandwich, same as
every year. I carry in my dishes during a
commercial. Rebecca is drying her hands
and waves me toward the table. I‟d rather
not sit down but I certainly don‟t want to
dismiss Rebecca O‟Meara. Kevin‟s
mother is beautiful and cheerful like
Patrice, but much tougher: no nonsense
and no hoping for the best instead of
taking charge. We sit at a big oldfashioned farmhouse table and she
clasps her hands. “A new facility for
elders is opening in Eudora, Hal. As an
advisory, I‟m pushing for Alzheimer‟s
“You know I regret not following
through on the Memory Center.”
“You‟re not the only son who couldn‟t
move his parent out of her lifelong home
on the first try. I see it all the time, and not
many have to confront anyone as angry
as your mother. But be prepared early
next year. It will be better for both of you.”
Patrice zips downstairs, shaking her
head. “I don‟t know what‟s wrong with my
Mr. Nice Guy husband. We‟ll be lucky if
Kevin even eats with us.”
“Patrice, he sees me all day every
day at the dental clinic and coaches me
through tennis lessons at night. He
probably needs a break.”
She offers me another beer, which I
gladly accept before returning to the
football game. Ever since Kevin handed
me twenty-three thousand dollars in cash,
he‟s had two pieces of advice for me.
One, I should use Thanksgiving
weekend to settle my accounts in K.C
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
time. But I‟m surprised Kevin hasn‟t
figured that out already.
Two (and this is very strange), if
instead of taking care of business in K.C.,
I‟m stupid enough to spend all
Thanksgiving day at his house, I must
promise not to get into a conversation
with Jeanne—even though Patrice has
said I might invite her to the movies or
He continually warns me against
talking to her at all. “Are you serious,
Kevin? No talking?”
“Forget it, Hal. Talk whatever fool shit
you want.”
Without realizing it, he lays down the
law about Jeanne every time he sees me.
I shouldn‟t bother her, he says, because
she‟s a new widow and new to Kansas,
and like, why can‟t I get this? She and
Patrice are best friends.
Yeah, but still: “You mean I‟ve not
even supposed to say, „hello?‟”
He opens his mouth, shuts it, and
shakes his head. “What the hell. She‟s
smart. She‟ll know how to deal with you.”
It takes Kansas two hours to lose to
Michigan. Kevin still hasn‟t come
downstairs. The doorbell rings and
Patrice answers it while Rebecca and I
wait in the wide-open entranceway.
Jeanne steps into the house with two
pies, which Rebecca takes into the
kitchen. Patrice tells Jeanne, “Make
yourself at home,” and goes upstairs
again, probably after Kevin. The little girl
Colette jumps out of her jacket and
mittens and runs off with Annabelle, who I
haven‟t seen until just now.
So it‟s me and Jeanne in the
entranceway. She smiles. “You must be
Hal; I‟m Jeanne.”
And ding-dong: I‟m standing there as
if a movie star has climbed out of the
screen to meet me. Except she‟s not like
a movie star at all; not in my experience
anyway. I once saw Cate Blanchett in a
hotel lobby: beautiful, yes, but not unreal.
Jeanne has her hand out for me to
shake but I don‟t notice until she gives up
and takes off her coat. “How did Kansas
“Patrice said you watched the game.”
“That‟s right. I watched the game.
Kansas lost.”
This incredible being Jeanne closes
the closet door and says she‟s glad to
meet me; she‟s heard so much about me,
while I‟m sucking in my stomach so hard I
stop breathing. She breezes past me into
the kitchen, having knocked me flat.
While Hal watched TV and Kevin
remained upstairs, Jeanne folded white
napkins into fans, an eight-step
procedure she had learned working
summers at a resort in Vermont. Rebecca
declared the turkey was done and set it

on a rack to cool. Patrice dribbled
vinaigrette dressing on the salad,
arranging portions on little china plates.
And Annabelle was calling, “Grandma,
can you help us?”
“In a minute, child.” She rinsed and
dried her hands before going to
Annabelle‟s bedroom down stairs.
“Is it all right with you,” Patrice asked,
“if the girls wear the tutus Rebecca gave
them? I know that‟s why Annabelle called
for her grandmother—to help her change
“Better than all right,” Jeanne said.
“Anything to save Colette‟s best dress
from stains.”
Sitting down, Patrice held one of
Jeanne‟s folded fans. “Look how lovely.
From now on we can‟t have Thanksgiving
unless the napkins look like elegant little
Pretending to be sneaky, she said,
“Let‟s have an aperitif before Rebecca
can disapprove.” She retrieved a corked
bottle from the refrigerator and poured
sherry into two little glasses.
“Beautiful dress, Patrice. I‟m relieved
that even the cooks dress up.”
“Oh, I don‟t cook. Rebecca does.
How did you know to make mincemeat
pie? It‟s Kevin‟s favorite.”
“My father likes it.” Jeanne sipped the
strongest driest sherry she had ever
tasted and confessed, “I tried on three
outfits before settling on this.” She wore a
full skirt, a wide black belt around her
small waist, and a silk top. Her long hair
was twisted up and held in place by a
sharp clasp.
Patrice smiled in disbelief. “I can‟t
imagine you looking less than perfect no
matter what you wear.”
“Yeah, right. Patrice, now that I‟m
certified, let me take the girls after
nursery school.”
Having told the fairy princesses to
play quietly, Rebecca returned in time to
hear this and agree. “Then you can join
the gym, Patrice.”
“She‟s been after me for months. You
keep us honest, Rebecca.”
“Somebody has to.” She held her
daughter-in-law affectionately by the
shoulders. “You‟ve lost most of the weight
you gained but not all of it. Besides, if you
don‟t exercise you‟ll gain it back by New
“See?” Patrice turned to Jeanne.
“What are you drinking?” Rebecca
“Tio Pepe, want some? One little
girl‟s mother gave it to me for the
“You don‟t need to play games with
me, Patrice. In fact, yes, please pour me
a bit.”
The three women clinked sherry
glasses: “Here‟s to us.”
“And,” Jeanne said, “I‟ll take the girls
for lunch starting Monday. Now that the

supervisor isn‟t watching me, I can catnap between emergencies.”
“Good enough,” Rebecca said. “I
suppose it‟s my turn to interrupt Kevin
from whatever he‟s doing upstairs.”
Patrice said, “Thanks.” And to
Jeanne: “I don‟t know what‟s wrong with
him. Something‟s worrying him but he
won‟t say what. Oh, hurray for Rebecca.
Here he comes.”
Kevin descended the stairs whistling,
his mother behind him. He didn‟t seem
worried to Jeanne, but streamlined and
relaxed. Except when his gaze fell on her,
it shifted from happy to sad and to such
emotional intensity, her face stung.
He carved the turkey, whistling again,
while the women carried different things
to the table. Rebecca said, “Wash your
hands everyone,” and Hal waited in line
with the little girls who had been showing
him how fairy princesses fly.
After setting a platter of sliced turkey
on the table, Kevin rearranged the place
settings: Hal next to him; then Patrice
and Jeanne, with his mother and the girls
on the opposite side.
He said grace, and when he poured
the wine, Jeanne thanked him at halfglass, her voice sounding like a faint
chime. His anger and concern dissipated
as he filled his own glass. Now that Hal
and Jeanne were in the same room he
decided Hal posed no real threat, at least
not now: the sublime and the ridiculous.
Hal asked, “What‟s this purple stuff in
the salad?”
“You mean the radicchio?” Patrice
said. “It‟s a little spicy.”
When Colette said she liked it, Hal
and Annabelle agreed.
Patrice asked Kevin why he wasn‟t
making a Thanksgiving video. “I thought
since you erased the girls‟ birthday party
by mistake, we might have a holiday
recognizing her from Kevin‟s diagnostic
monitor. “So you‟re—?” Kevin stomped
hard on Hal‟s foot. “Ouch!”
He complimented his mother‟s
cooking and explained to Patrice that
“Thanksgiving‟s too static for video.
Talking heads and a lot of chewing.”
When they each named what they
were grateful for this year, Hal said, “I‟m
thankful you guys lock your toothbrushes
in a cabinet. So they don‟t pick up germs
whenever someone flushes the toilet.”
Colette and Annabelle giggled.
“Nice dinnertime sentiment, Hal.”
“Kevin,” Rebecca said, admonishing
He pushed his food around and kept
his wine glass full.
The little girls asked to be excused
until dessert.
Patrice took requests. “Pumpkin or
mincemeat, with or without ice cream.”

Everyone wanted pumpkin and ice
cream except Kevin. Jeanne served him
a dark slice of mincemeat pie. He waited
until the rest were eating before tasting it
and then leaned past his wife to ask, “You
made this pie for me, Jeanne?”
“Patrice said it was your favorite.”
Kevin said it was excellent. After two
bits he had to shut his eyes; it tasted like
love, or rather like making love.
After loading the dishwasher (for the
first of three loads), Jeanne said, “I can‟t
believe it‟s already time for work.” She
kissed Colette good-bye.
“Be good,
honey, and I‟ll see you in the morning.”
Kevin fetched her coat from the closet
as his mother talked to Hal in the den.
Patrice was arranging left-overs in the
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
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.”

“Jeanne‟s only twenty-five?”
Why hadn‟t he known that? Ever
since Thanksgiving he had been
indulging a strange fantasy that
somehow, if Hal dated Jeanne, just once,
a door would mysteriously open through
which she and Kevin could become
lovers without hurting anyone. But, at
twenty-five, Jeanne might be too young to
temperament. During Kevin‟s long,
peculiar friendship with Hal, he had
always thought of him as a bear he
couldn‟t outrun.
But then, Jeanne wouldn‟t need to
run. Any interaction between her and Hal
would be brief, one date. One night

watching Japanese dancers at the Lied
Patrice was talking as if no beat were
skipped. “Jeanne practices yoga on a mat
that she keeps at the emergency center.
She says yoga simultaneously keeps her
alert and helps her rest. That alone would
be worth the effort.”
Unaware, Kevin shook his head. Why
should he suspect that Hal posed a
danger? Clumsy Hal might cause trouble,
nothing more.
Annabelle had left her seat. “Jeanne‟s
teaching me and Colette yoga. Look!”
She lay on the floor and flung her legs
over her head.
“Wow, honey,” Patrice said, and

turned toward Kevin, “Did you know that
Jeanne was amazed you lived in the
bungalow before we were married?”
“Amazed? Surprised, Patrice. Not
She stopped and surmised him.
“What‟s happened to my sweet, easy
going husband?”
He leaned back in his chair, still not
hungry but genuinely apologetic. “I‟m
sorry, darling. Hal gets on my nerves. I‟m
thinking of bringing in another dentist.”
Friday afternoon, Hal knocked on Kevin‟s
office door with clammy hands. If Kevin
ever cut him loose, if they ever stopped
being friends, Hal didn‟t know what he
would do. Nobody else was going hire
him as a dentist. Let alone lend him
money when working as an associate
dentist he couldn‟t still afford the nurses
his raving mother needed ‟round-theclock. Not to mention buy him a car.
Sometimes Hal thought he could put
his mother in an institution and be done
with her. But when it came down to it—
even in his mind—it simply wasn‟t in him,
whether she had always treated him
mean or not. And even if some people
thrived in the Memory Center, as
Rebecca maintained, having gone to the
trouble to save a space, Hal still couldn‟t
put Momma in storage.
He knocked again on Kevin door,
“Come in, Hal,” Kevin said, half a
second before switching off the video of
Jeanne dancing with miniature cymbals.
He flicked on the lights and said, “Have a
Hal‟s tongue stuck to the roof of his
mouth. Sweat beaded along his body‟s
crevasses. “I was wondering if I could
invite Jeanne on a date. If it‟s okay with
“You‟re asking permission? I‟m not
her father, Hal.”
“No, but you might get angry.”
“Naw. I never get angry.” Kevin
opened the desk drawer above his lap. “I
have Saturday evening tickets to the Lied
spectacular but Patrice and I have seen it
“Thanks Kevin,” Hal said. “I hope
Jeanne accepts.”
“Do me a favor. Tell her the dancers
were my idea and then tell me how she
likes the Japanese Warriors.”
Jeanne heard Colette on the phone. “Hiya
Hal. Hiya, my pal Hal. Mommy‟s resting.”
“No, I‟m not. I‟m right here, honey. Is
the phone for me?”
“It‟s Hal.”
“Hey, Jeanne,” he said. “Did you
know an average person can survive
eleven days without water? No, that‟s not
why I called.” He cleared his throat. “I

want to invite you to the Lied Center
Saturday evening.”
“Oh, Hal, I‟m not sure…”
“Kevin gave me the tickets. He‟s
curious to know what you think of the
“Saturday‟s your night off. So can I
pick you up at seven-thirty?”
“Why not? I‟ll get a babysitter. Thank
you, Hal.”
The “big date” delighted Colette.
Jeanne suspected her daughter must
have seen something on TV to get such
At first, Jeanne put on a black skirt
and a white blouse.
But Colette said, “Don‟t wear that,
She lifted Colette into her arms. “Why
not? Don‟t I look nice?”
Colette wriggled down and opened
Jeanne‟s closet. She tugged at a new
dress Jeanne had bought on impulse,
thinking vaguely of Thanksgiving although
she knew it was too fancy for that. “Wear
this one.” Colette pulled it off the
hanger—fitted dark blue silk with an inset
slash of deep pink that started low on one
hip and wrapped around to encircle her
Inside the dress, which Colette
zipped, Jeanne felt light and supple
because of the graceful way the garment
moved. She slipped on high heels and
practiced walking in them until Hal
showed up. Giselle, Colette‟s babysitter,
was right behind him.
In Hal‟s car, Jeanne started to ask
him more about the program. But he said,
“Maine is the toothpick capital of the
She asked if his car played CDs.
“I‟ve got Eric Clapton‟s Greatest Hits.”
He set the volume for listening, not
They hurried into KU‟s Lied Center.
The Japanese Warriors wore red and
gold costumes that swirled with every
precise gesture. In big black wigs and
opaque white make-up, they executed
thrilling sword-work on shadow figures.
The rhythm and spectacle brought
Jeanne to tears.
Then women warriors entered the
stage and intensified Jeanne‟s every
sensation. On stilts, the women
manipulated brilliant ribbons that arced
and twined together. Light and energy
coursed through Jeanne‟s body as if
Kevin had kissed her.
So that afterwards, when Hal
suggested coffee or drinks, she asked,
“Would we disturb your mother, if you
showed me your house?”
The dancing, spiraling momentum still
surged inside her. A porch light welcomed
them to a ranch house devoid of grass or
bushes. Inside, a voice raged from

upstairs. “Hal, is that you? Hal! Hal, come
He turned on the living room lights,
put on Eric Clapton, volume high, and
excused himself.
Five minutes later he sat beside her
on an orange couch and took her hand. “I
hire nurses to control her. And I just
asked Bill to keep her locked up awhile.
She‟ll still scream but she can‟t get out.”
“How awful for you.”
“For now, Jeanne, let‟s be quiet.”
Being quiet was just what Jeanne
wanted. Or, actually, one of several
things she wanted. Anxious but
determined, she touched his shoulder. It
had been too long. After Jeanne
exaggerated every visual cue she knew,
Hal finally, tentatively kissed her. When
she responded, he said, “Hey, wait a
minute,” and walked away.
Not for the first time she worried if this
might be new to him. But soon he
returned, lifted her in the air, unzipped her
dress and slipped it off.
Jeanne sat naked on her heels
watching him prepare, protection and
everything. He patted the space next to
him on the couch. But she was beyond
foreplay and lowered herself directly on
top of him—nearly laughing at the intense
pleasure suffusing her body.
She grabbed his head. “Sit still, Hal.
Let me do it.”
All the while, from above they heard
his mother screaming: “Hal! Hal, come
here! Hal!” Jeanne didn‟t care. Eric
Clapton played. Jeanne clamped tight
around him and plunged.
Jeanne‟s the one—the other beat of my
All my life I‟ve known she was waiting
for me.
Same as I‟ve waited and
searched for her. Someone who would
put up with my social awkwardness.
Everyone has flaws, after all. I‟m not
saying this is my only flaw. But when I
feel nervous talking to people, which is a
lot, I interject trivia, apropos of nothing.
Most people hate it so much they just
shut me out.
Not Jeanne. She puts a finger to my
lips and said, “Let‟s be quiet, Hal.”
So different from my girlfriend the
librarian in K.C. I hadn‟t met Jeanne then,
and so my imagination deceived me. For
years we met at Starbuck‟s. We laughed,
walked around, but no dinner and no
weekends. I told you how after I tried to
kiss her, she started calling security if I
even showed up at the library.
But then a few times I saw her at the
grocery store. I went to the bank and
there she was. The hardware store—
same thing. I have no idea how many
drug stores there are in K.C. but suddenly
every time I bought allergy pills or
laxatives—for Momma—there she was.

Before long she got a restraining
order against me for stalking her, when
really she was stalking me. I found
another grocery store, another bank, et
cetera. But I was always worried she
would pop up, until of course I had to
move back to Lawrence.
That‟s how it was before Jeanne. I
messages. But Jeanne‟s set me free from
all those coded tugs at the bedroom
curtains or hastily scrawled notes under a
windshield wiper. Jeanne saw past my
shit and that was enough. She
recognized me and then: My own one
love made love to me.
Even my mother didn‟t bother her.
Noise and complications were light years
away. Our love was the only reality.
When I phoned the next day, she
said, “Please, Hal. Let it go. That was a
moment in time that cannot be repeated.”
After all, our shared ecstasy requires
us to deal with the outside world carefully.
There‟s little Colette, who loved me the
moment we met. She calls me, “My pal
Hal,” and hugs my legs.
At Thanksgiving, she said, “Hal, my
pal,” and asked me to swing her upside
down. Right there, in the O‟Meara‟s living
First I need to clean up the mess in
Kansas City so it‟s completely in my past:
Negotiate with the lawyers over the
remnants of my business: X-ray
instruments—all that debt I‟ll never be
able to pay. But with Jeanne in my soul
all my failures seem trivial. Jeanne‟s true
love has redeemed me.
Sunday morning, Jeanne opened and
closed her eyes several times, unable to
see herself using Hal like that. And yet,
she couldn‟t see anything else.
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

buzz: How do you live with yourself?
distract her from her work.
The next morning, however, she was
still appalled by what she had done.
Driving back from the pre-school, Jeanne,
who usually slept until noon, couldn‟t
sleep for the second day in a row and
resumed her guilt-ridden, never-ending
cleaning until it was time to retrieve the
girls. After car seats, giggling, and singsong, they were back at the yellow
bungalow. Jeanne had prepared their
lunch and watched patiently as Colette
and Annabelle each poured milk. She sat
in the living room with them while they
“Are we excused, Mommy?”
They played in Colette‟s room and
Jeanne washed their dishes before
emptying the refrigerator and freezer,
ready to clean both.
Patrice arrived early from her
exercise class without her mother-in-law,
who was tending to a new resident at the
senior center.
“What‟s wrong?” Patrice moved
plastic containers off the chair.
“You mean the cleaning?”
“Jeanne, I do the same thing when
I‟m panic-stricken. Or I‟ve hurt someone.”
“I start cleaning like a maniac,”
Patrice said. “So what‟s your crime?”
“You don‟t want to know.”
“If you don‟t tell me, I‟ll guess.”
Jeanne‟s voiced quavered. “I did a
terrible thing. Promise not to tell Kevin or
Rebecca or anyone.”
“Tell Kevin? Do you think I‟m crazy?
He wasn‟t always running ahead of me,
Jeanne. Now he‟s anxious to get away.”
Jeanne closed the refrigerator door
and sat down. “Have you asked him
about it?”
“We‟re talking about you. And the

terrible thing you did to Hal.”
“Because he‟s so attractive,” Jeanne
said and laughed. “See what a meanie I
am? We watched the dance and
suddenly I was so lonely and sex-starved
that I took advantage of someone even
lonelier.” Her face went red with shame
and her eyes filled.
Patrice found a tissue somewhere
and waited until Jeanne recovered.
“Disgraceful for a woman. When all over
the world, since the beginning of time,
men use women for sex night and day.
They have sex with women whose names
they don‟t know. Men don‟t care one whit
about us.”
“It‟s still wrong,” Jeanne said.
Patrice tapped the back of her
friend‟s hand. “Yes, but you‟re gonna pay
for your mistake. No matter how clearly
you explain it to him, Hal‟s not going to
leave you alone till who knows when.”

Chapter Eight
Kevin wanted details about Hal‟s date
with Jeanne. But when he slapped Hal‟s
back and asked if she had liked the
dancing, Hal cringed and looked away.
“We both liked it.”
“Did you tell her I gave you the
“And what, Kevin? Thanks. It was
“Shit, Hal, don‟t be like that. I‟m
curious, that‟s all.”
Hal walked away, which shut Kevin
up—until he had to know: “Hair up or
“Did you go out for drinks?”

“I offered, but no, Kevin, we didn‟t.”
“What did she think of the Japanese
“She liked them.”
Kevin sighed in frustration.
The rest of the week, Hal continually
barged in while Kevin was watching the
video of Jeanne at the girls‟ birthday
party. By now they no longer pretended
he was editing a “tutorial.” Rather, Kevin
spent hours locked in his darkened office,
zooming in on Jeanne dancing with tiny
cymbals. Clicking off the monitor, he
didn‟t need to ask: Did Hal have a
Because, no, he did not. And if he
did, he would realize that Kevin had good
reason for doing whatever he was
doing—possibly even an honorable
But Kevin also saw, suddenly and
certainly, that his mother‟s opinion—doing
good for Hal could, in truth, sometimes be
doing bad—was no joke. And yet where
Jeanne was involved, he had no intention
of straightening things out.
Wednesday when Hal returned from
the pizzeria, the receptionist said, “A
man‟s waiting for you in Kevin‟s office.”
He tapped the door, noticing the
lights were on high. A gray haired man
stood up and Kevin said, “Meet Detective
Olmstead, Hal.”
Hal and the detective sat in chairs
facing Kevin‟s desk.
“I‟m a private detective, employed by
your bank—not the police. But you‟re in
real trouble, dude.” The man droned
through a list of debts, liens, and back
taxes Hal owed on his condo and defunct
practice with its still leading-edge
equipment and skyscraper rent. “Chapter
Seven for sure: Get a bankruptcy lawyer.”
After the detective left, Kevin said,
“They‟re gonna take everything you‟ve
ever had.”
“Even if I‟d done everything right,
though, exactly as you said, I‟d still be
“I know that, Hal.” Kevin snorted,
masking his sympathy. It wasn‟t Hal‟s
fault; it was his mother‟s. All his life, she
had humiliated him. Hal wasn‟t as
handsome and athletic as his brother
Lincoln, who died. But he was decent and
kind and people took advantage of him,
starting with his mother.
Kevin was kind, too, and he used to
be decent until falling in love with Jeanne.
“If you want, I‟ll put you down for extra
hours with Dr. Ahn.”
“It can‟t hurt.”
“Won‟t help much either.” Nobody
had bothered to tell Hal that dentistry
wasn‟t the right career for him. Why
hadn‟t that occurred to Kevin until now?
He should have told Hal to reconsider
before they enrolled in dental school. If he
had thought twice, he could have saved
Hal time, money, and maybe bankruptcy.

But Kevin was too confident to think
twice; instead, he had tried to help,
thinking he was being big, as in—what a
great guy.
Before things got worse, because
they could always get worse, Kevin said,
“Find out how much a good bankruptcy
lawyer costs and I‟ll lend you the money.”
Hal extended his hand—brothers.
Seems like everyone keeps asking me:
What was I thinking? The bankruptcy
lawyer said he‟s seen some sad cases,
but I have “Doctor” in front of my name.
“So doctor, what were you thinking?” He
means the condo I bought on top of
student loans and opening a dental
Kevin wonders what I was thinking,
too, because the bankruptcy lawyer told
him my business was still viable when I
left. But it wasn‟t. You can‟t prove it either
way. Okay, but then why didn‟t I come to
Kevin sooner?
Why does anyone do or not do
anything? The day comes and you can‟t
run and you can‟t hide. I‟m half a million
in debt. But I‟m patient.
Kevin cursed me out. “Don‟t let me
hear you say that again, Hal.”
We have a complicated relationship,
Kevin and me. He doesn‟t know how
complicated, because on top of
everything—he has no idea about Jeanne
and me.
If he finds out, I don‟t know what he‟ll
do. He‟s desperately lovesick over
Jeanne. I‟ve never seen him like this and
it‟s scary. He‟s obsessed with her.
But I‟m in love with her. Huge
difference. Once things settle down and
Jeanne‟s ready, I‟m going to marry her.
Kevin can‟t do that. He already has a
One reason losing all my material
wealth doesn‟t worry me is that it doesn‟t
seem to bother Jeanne. Yesterday, I
phoned because I wanted to give her a
gift. She said no. It would be wrong.
I said, “Jewelry. There‟s quite a
handful.” It was my mother‟s but before I
sell it, I want her to pick something for
“I can‟t accept jewelry from you, Hal.
You know that.”
“It won‟t hurt to take a look. Like, you
might like this gold seahorse pin. It‟s got
an emerald for an eye.”
“Hal, I don‟t want a seahorse pin. And
if I did, we‟d be different people.”
“There‟s a gold necklace with a heart
in the middle.”
“Please, Hal, I‟ve already explained
this to you. We don‟t have a relationship.
You have to realize—I am no one special
to you.”
“How could a gold necklace change
“I would feel awkward,” she said. “I
feel awkward now.”

Jeanne hung up; just like that. I called
her back because I had forgotten about
the charm bracelet. The lawyer said if the
charm bracelet was pure gold, it was
valuable. Not that Jeanne only wants
what‟s valuable, but a bracelet might be
less awkward.
Little Colette answered. “Hal? My pal,
I‟m not sure if I hung up first or
Colette did. Jeanne doesn‟t think it‟s
appropriate for me and Colette to chat.
And after what happened with her first
husband? No wonder she needs time.
But patience is the best and truest thing
about me.
When Jeanne picked up the girls at noon,
Patrice said, “Wait until everyone leaves.”
When the last straggler left, she said,
“Turns out Rebecca has to work this
month. So I‟m done exercising till New
Year‟s. It‟s all bon-bons and lazing about;
Godiva chocolates, and made-for-TV.”
Jeanne tsked-tsked. “Such a bad
“You better believe it, darling. Come
over and we‟ll celebrate.”
Inside the O‟Meara‟s home, the crisp
fragrance hit Jeanne first thing. Stepping
into their living room, she said, “Your
Christmas tree‟s gorgeous. Where did
you get it?”
“Fitzgeralds‟. Best place for trees,
lights, ornaments, and stuff.”
The girls refused home-made soup
sandwiches. After two bites, they were
ready to play princesses.
“I like my job, Patrice. Last night I
dispatched three ambulances and three
people who were dying—lived.” Jeanne
bit into a hunk of rye bread and winced.
All week intermittent pangs had stabbed
her left jaw.
“You have a bad tooth.”
Jeanne shook her head but a quick
sip of water brought another wave of
pain. “I‟ve never had a cavity in my life.”
“Until now.” Patrice scrolled through
her cell to reach Kevin. “Jeanne‟s here
and has such a terrible toothache that
tears fill her eyes.”
“What tears?” Jeanne protested.
“And you‟ll fix it,” Patrice said, “not
one of the other dentists.”
Jeanne stood up and Patrice was
holding her coat open. “Let Colette stay
“No, it‟ll be easier if she comes with
me. Kevin will fix the tooth, we can go
home, and I won‟t miss work.”
Driving to his office, Jeanne felt
anxious and foolish. Colette whined in the
back seat.
“Please, be good, honey. Play with
the toys in the waiting room. It will take an
“An hour!” Colette wailed. “I‟ll have a
tantrum, Mommy. I really will.”

“Stop it.” Jeanne parked and lifted
Colette from her car seat. “I have a rotten
tooth, sweetheart.”
They entered the waiting area and
Jeanne heard urgent whispering. People
with appointments filled the chairs but the
receptionist came out from behind her
counter to play with Colette.
Kevin was waiting in the doorway,
wearing a white smock. He led her to the
cubicle closest to his office.
The chair faced a glass wall. In the
distance she watched bare trees
shimmering orange from the winter sun
already setting.
“Jeanne, I am gentle and skillful, but
this will be maddening for me. Drilling
your tooth.” He lifted her curtain of hair
and rocked backwards to keep from
kissing her neck before cinching the
paper bib.
“Maybe it‟s nothing,” Jeanne said.
“Why should I get my first cavity at
Kevin washed his hands, his eyes
riveted on her. “I‟ve run out of assistants,
which means it‟s just you and me.”
His face appeared upside down in
front of her, and their eyes locked. No
rubber gloves with Jeanne. His finger
pressed her lips and that touch became
everything. Nothing else existed.
He rested a hand on her shoulder,
pointing to the X-ray. His other hand
moved near the screen. “See that? It
must have been bothering you for weeks,
Because this was new to her, he
chose three pediatric needles. If he
administered the Novocain in stages, it
would take longer to make her numb but
hurt less.
Almost immediately Jeanne said she
was starting to feel strange. Her tongue
was uncontrollable. Kevin said most
dentists didn‟t allow enough time. He sat
on a rolling stool and raised the recliner‟s
arm rest. “Give me your hand. Let‟s see if
acupressure does anything for you.”
He squeezed the skin between her
thumb and index finger. “Believe it or not,
some people swear by this.”
He smelled like cloves and cinnamon,
different here than anywhere else. Laying
her hand on his thigh, he pressed the
pads beneath her fingerprints. He lightly
scratched her inner wrist down to her
fingertips. In his mind he cast various
reasons why they must honor their
passion for each other. Ideas he might
say out loud—but later and only if she
promised not to laugh.
He squeezed her wrist and tapped
the tender center. Specious questions
arose to support him. Wasn‟t denying
their feelings like lying? You might try so
hard not to cheat on others that in the
end you cheated on yourself. One
betrayal was as bad as the next…There,

she laughed when she had promised not
to. Some rules cannot be imposed.
“Is your lip numb yet? Open wider.”
In her mind, Kevin had discovered a
serrated part of her just under the skin. It
was a layer without a name. She closed
her eyes while he worked and wiggled
that layer loose, until suddenly he slid it
out from under her like a slip. He waved it
in the air and folded it into a little square,
while in the distance something clinical
and unpleasant ended.
“Rinse and spit, Jeanne.” He put a
strip of blue paper between her teeth.
“Bite down hard. Again.”
After washing his hands, he said,
“Rest a minute. Then meet me in my
She closed his office door and stood
beside his desk. She expected him to
embrace her. Kiss her and stroke her so
gently she would forsake her best friend,
abandon her child.
Instead, Kevin tapped a keyboard.
“Avoid eating or drinking anything hot or
cold for a while. Call me if there‟s any
Crestfallen, she eyed him sidelong
and nodded. “I will. Thank you.”
The second she turned away and
without rising from his seat, he grabbed
the stretchy hem of her skirt.
Her new life in Kansas required vigilance.
Jeanne couldn‟t prevent disaster, but she
could stand ready. A love affair with
Kevin O‟Meara would end in calamity—
she didn‟t pretend otherwise. But she
could not escape. She had searched her
heart for exit ladders or tunnels but found
Using Hal as a substitute had so
appalled her that she arrived at Kevin‟s
office prepared to lure him from the
shadows, where he claimed to be waiting.
Well, wait no more!
He had guessed Jeanne might finally
be ready for him. Her cavity meant she
needed him. But he had struggled, doing
the work. Secluded in his office he was
demeanor—for two minutes. Without
looking, he told her to make a follow-up
appointment. Only when she pivoted,
turning away, did his body react to how
close she was standing—standing right
there beside him.
Spontaneously, he pulled her into his
lap and whispered, “When, Jeanne?
“Monday morning.” She pressed her
face against his neck and he
understood—while Colette was at nursery
Pressing her into his lap, he caressed
her and kissed her—Jeanne who
constantly preoccupied him. When he
unbuttoned her sweater and felt her
breasts through her lacy bra, she moved
away. “Monday,” she said and fixed his

clothes. “I have to go now. Colette‟s in the
waiting room.”
The office door opened and shut and
Kevin listened for chimes in Jeanne‟s
He phoned the next afternoon, a
Saturday. She and Colette needed a
Christmas tree. His new Acura included a
rack on top. “And,” he said, “Annabelle‟s
been asking for Colette.”
“And Patrice?” Jeanne loved Patrice
too, and feared how adept she was in the
“She‟s shopping with my mother.”
They arrived in a metallic blue car.
Kevin said. “It‟s quieter, better brakes,
and a great sound system.”
Kevin and Jeanne in the front seat,
and behind them, Annabelle and Colette
strapped into car-seats, they arrived at
Fitzgerald‟s, where on Saturdays Santa
Claus held court surrounded by a plastic
winter wonderland. Annabelle asked for a
doll named Addie. Colette said, “I‟ll
appreciate any present you give me,
Kevin chose trees that were much too
big. Jeanne selected a well-shaped blue
fir. Inside, they filled a shopping cart with
a stand and skirt, lights for the tree and
other lights for inside and for outside.
Kevin selected dozens of individual
He insisted on paying for everything.
Jeanne protested quietly, eying Colette
and Annabelle as they played with stuffed
“If you won‟t let me pay, Jeanne, I‟ll
buy you jewelry for Christmas.”
With a smirk, she told him about Hal
and his mother‟s jewelry.
He pulled Jeanne along with the cart
off to a corner, giving up their place in
line. He explained how extreme Hal‟s
bankruptcy was. “Swear to me that you
won‟t talk to him again. He‟s unstable.
And with you?” Kevin shook his head.
“But I feel sorry for him.”
“Don‟t.” Kevin sounded angry. “Don‟t
befriend a man out of pity. Especially not

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.”

Chapter Nine

Kevin stashed the tree and decorations in
the laundry room. It was late and one of
the Saturdays nights when Jeanne had to
work. “Go home,” she said, backing away
from the currents pulling her toward him.
From the kitchen window, he watched
Annabelle and Colette chasing the
season‟s first glittering snowflakes in the
twilight. “All right, but I‟ll be back
tomorrow to put everything up.”
“Wait till Monday,” Jeanne said.
“Tomorrow would be better for your
“Is that right?”
He looked at her, his dark eyes bright
and unblinking. “I need to see you. Just
long enough to set up the tree.”
“Colette will be here, remember.
Unless we decide to go to the mall.”
“Jeanne, please, be here for me.”
Then he left, calling Annabelle. “Time to
go, sweetheart.”
Sunday morning, Jeanne slept past
noon. Colette fixed her own milk and
cereal. She was coloring in a coloring
book of wild animals when her mother
woke up.
Kevin phoned at two. It took him more
than an hour to attach all the outside
lights. Inside, he asked for hot cocoa,

mostly so he could watch Jeanne making
Colette climbed into her chair. “We‟ve
got to wait,” she told Kevin, “until it‟s hot
enough to melt the marshmallows.”
While they drank the cocoa, she
asked, “Where‟s Annabelle?”
“She‟s busy with her grandmother,
The tree tipped in its stand.
Simultaneously, Jeanne and Kevin
leaped to catch it. Colette turned from the
TV a second and then back to its glow.
By the window Kevin stroked Jeanne‟s
arms. He moved close and crouched near
the floor only to slowly stand, his hands
not touching her as they rose in line with
her body, which burned and shivered.
Eyes on Colette, whose eyes stayed
on the TV, he held Jeanne, moving a
knuckle gently down her spine.
She swayed and stepped back. “You
better go,” she whispered.
“All right then. Good-bye.”
Colette didn‟t seem to be listening,
but as Kevin left, she said, “Bye,” and
blew kisses.
Finally, Monday dawned. Jeanne
including lipstick so that she looked like
the other mothers with pre-schoolers.
After dropping off Colette, she drove
slowly, afraid in her eagerness she‟d
speed. The Acura was parked across the
street. She hopped on the snow-crusted

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
“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
Year‟s?” Patrice grinned. “She didn‟t
know how right she was. Except now it‟s
not me demanding chocolates and lazing
around; it‟s this little guy in here.”
Without hesitating, Jeanne hugged
her friend. “How far along?”
“Four months.”
“So you must have known ever since
we met. And, does…?”
“Apparently, no. He and Annabelle
are both getting the announcement
tonight. I had an ultrasound yesterday
and it‟s definitely a boy. Just imagine: a
miniature Kevin.”
Jeanne smiled, thinking, uh-oh. “Can
I take Annabelle so you can rest?”
“Thanks, but Rebecca‟s not working
this month after all. She has plans for us.”
Jeanne was wondering if Patrice had
already guessed, when she said, “You
know, Jeanne, this means we won‟t be
seeing each other…things change.”
“They don‟t have to, Patrice.”
Driving home with Colette, she
wondered if it were possible Patrice
meant only that she‟d be busy. Because,
despite her betrayal, Jeanne loved her
friend. Patrice might even refuse to
believe the worst about her and Kevin,
because really it was inconceivable.
Since sex with Kevin seemed
unreal—unreal meaning two separate
modes—Jeanne chose both. Was she a
bad person? God knows, she had
resisted him for as long as she could.

After lunch, she asked Colette, “Do
you mind if Mommy rests?”
“No,” she said. “You should take a
nap, Mommy.”
Jeanne lay down only to measure her
guilt and regret. What if she never did it
again? What if she were resistant? Cool
That night at work only one man
phoned; unsure if he had been robbed.
Jeanne contacted the police. But during
most of her shift, though, she dozed
without dreaming. Her replacement,
Marjorie, was late, and by seven, an hour
late, still no word. She called the
babysitter, who could stay until eight but
no longer. At eight-fifteen a skinny,
hunched man with a high-pitched voice
arrived. Jeanne left fast and sped
unconcerned about traffic. The babysitter
was waiting at the door while Colette ate
scrambled eggs.
“Thanks, Giselle. It won‟t happen
Jeanne didn‟t bother showering and
changing. Whenever she hurried Colette,
her daughter balked. She had inviolate
opinions about what outfit to wear…and
always took longer than necessary.
Kevin‟s car was already parked
across the street when they finally
stepped outside, late for nursery school.
Colette recognized Kevin and asked to
say hi.
Jeanne agreed, and whispered to
him, “Please wait for me, so we can talk.”
Colette in her car-seat asked why
Kevin was there and why Jeanne needed
to talk to him.
“You know he‟s our landlord.”
“What do you need to talk about?”
Jeanne said, “Both faucets in the
bathroom leak. He‟ll fix them.”
When she returned, Kevin crossed
the street. “Don‟t you answer your cell?
When you were an hour late, I got
“Do you park out here that long?”
“Yes, I do.”
Inside he held her so her feet
hovered above the rug. “I can‟t believe
you asked me to wait. Don‟t you know I
will always wait for you, Jeanne?”
She had been hungry but no more.
And they did not need to talk—Jeanne‟s
cool head was a chimera. As long as she
could feel Kevin‟s arms around her, she
would lie till she died. She did want to
shower, though. Work at the emergency
center left an oily residue on her skin.
Kevin wanted to watch.
“There‟s nothing to see.”
“Let me peek.”
Scrubbing herself, she stole a glance
at him where the curtain gaped. Kevin
leaned straight and strong against the
sink. He tapped his foot. “You heard
about my son,” he called over the spray.
“When Patrice told me, my love for you

surged. I love my family, of course. But I
love you more.”
“Don‟t say that.”
“It‟s true.”
She toweled dry but he took over,
excited by her warm, damp body. “Our
love exists separately. It could come from
another time. It‟s no threat to them.” He
called her darling.
Jeanne questioned his “other time”
rationale. But she certainly wasn‟t a threat
to his family; come what may.
Again and again, they loved each
other right out of this world. They made
flames dance inside each other. Air
rushed in and lifted them just enough so
that they touched only each other. All else
Until Jeanne‟s alarm demanded they
return to ordinary life.
Thursday Kevin was scheduled to give a
presentation at the American Dental
Holding a December session in Chicago
was typical of the Midwestern group.
Kevin always attended, though: gave
lectures and served as toast-master at
the banquet. His implant seminar was an
reputation in the field.
Monday when Jeanne left to get
Colette, Kevin meandered through the
bungalow. If he listened carefully, he
caught an intimation of bells above. What
a fright then—Hal bellowing through a
“Hi Jeanne, sorry to bother you. Is
Kevin still there? A lady who came in for a
check-up needs an emergency root
canal. For real. Call me back. Or tell
Kevin to call.”
At the office, Kevin demanded a
word. “What the hell were you thinking?
Leaving a message for me on Jeanne‟s
home answering machine?”
“That I‟d reach you.”
“I just did.” Hal shrugged.
“You didn‟t reach me, though. Don‟t
try that again, Hal.”
While attending to the root canal,
Kevin decided to bring Jeanne with him to
Chicago. Short notice but within the next
hour he arranged plane tickets; a suite at
the James Hotel (cancel the Hyatt); and a
call to Sam, the police chief, arranging a
three-night leave of absence for Jeanne.
So she couldn‟t say no.
His ADA presentation was Thursday
morning. Kevin knew implants better than
any specialist. After years of going to
thousands of dentists, he‟d conduct the
seminar and then just…leave.
He no longer mused upon Jeanne‟s
presence being a miracle—it was.
Although by now, he loved her so much
he was honored to lie, cheat, and steal for
her. If she didn‟t feel the same way about

him, he‟d make love to her more ardently.
He‟d discover a more potent spell.
Wednesday night through Sunday, they
would vaporize.
That evening Patrice and Rebecca,
who would stay side-by-side now that
Patrice was pregnant, were baking
gingerbread men. Annabelle knelt on a
dough. Kevin asked if he could eat one.
“What about that broken one?” He bit
into a warm head. “Why didn‟t you tell me
Jeanne‟s father had a heart attack?”
“We didn‟t know.” Patrice sounded
indignant. “So how do you know?”
“When Sam and I were playing tennis
this morning, he said she needed three
days off while he undergoes bypass
Patrice and Rebecca exchanged a
long, obvious glance, agreeing.
“Colette cannot go with her; she‟ll
stay here,” Patrice said. “Jeanne was
probably reluctant to tell me. Because
even if she didn‟t ask, the question would
hang in the air.”
The next morning, Kevin parked near the
bungalow and waited for Jeanne. Head
back, he listened to Bach.
If you were lucky you married
someone comfortable and easy, who
almost certainly was not your most
profound love. But if you were truly
blessed, you might also meet an
astonishing person, a lover who left you
awestruck. Describing that love trivialized
it. Out loud it sounded silly. But between
Kevin and Jeanne it was boundless.
That‟s what he was thinking when the
flaw in his get-away plan hit him. He shut
off the music. With the other mothers and
children rushing in, Patrice would ask
Jeanne, How‟s your father? Why didn‟t
you tell me? And: Let Colette stay with us
so you can be at the hospital during the
What‟s the worst Jeanne could say? I
don‟t know what you‟re talking about. If
she said that, Kevin better have a good
explanation: Two explanations, one for
Jeanne and one for Jeanne to give
As it happened, Patrice asked just
what Kevin thought she would.
But Jeanne said, “My father? Patrice,
there must be some mistake. But, well,
you‟d really take Colette for me in an
emergency? If my father were… So we‟re
still friends?”
“What are you talking about? We‟re
best friends.”
Jeanne‟s hands fluttered. “Yesterday
you said we wouldn‟t be seeing each
other anymore…things change.”
“Honey, I meant Rebecca has me on
this regimen. She‟s monopolizing me—in
the nicest way possible.”
Outside, Jeanne laughed with relief.
She didn‟t know what was going on

exactly, but chances were Kevin had
fabricated some terrible subterfuge.
He didn‟t wait for her to park but
jumped from his car, waving. Before she
had both feet on the ground, he was
kissing her deeply where anyone could
see. Here he was trampling what meager
standards she had left!
Yet it still took her several beats, to
break free, catch her breath, and put her
hands on her hips. “Kevin, did you put my
father in the hospital?”
“Damn, Jeanne. I wanted it to be a
Just before leaving for Chicago, Kevin
tinkered with his “Mastering Implants”
video, which was excellent. The seminar
was a big deal whether he mocked it or
not. But now he just wanted it to distract
him—from saying good-bye to his family
and going away with Jeanne, no
questions asked.
Her flight from Kansas City was the
same as his, information he intended to
keep quiet. But should anyone check—
there was a connecting flight to Vermont.
Annabelle and Colette embodied the
shared delight of perpetual motion. From

upstairs, he heard Patrice, Rebecca, and
Jeanne indulging in feminine call and
response where they praised and
repeated each other.
He hesitated to join them. His father,
were he alive, would avoid them. But
friendly Kevin, who everyone liked, did
well with women in groups. Unless
Jeanne was among them.
He carried his things downstairs and
stood still. Jeanne and Patrice stared at
him, unabashed. He was wearing blue
jeans, a yellow shirt, and a sleek grey
sports coat.
“Isn‟t he−fine?” Patrice rose heavily to
run a finger down his shirt. “This Dr.
O‟Meara of mine is such a fine looking
At the dining room table Jeanne
watched them together. “He certainly is,
Patrice. You‟re one lucky woman.”
Patrice turned to Jeanne and
whispered, “Every now and then, I really
Her belly preceding her already,
Kevin held almond-eyed Patrice and bent
to kiss the tip of her nose.
Then head down, he moved slowly
toward Jeanne. “I‟m sorry about your

father,” he said. “You‟ll let us know when
he‟s out of danger.”
“Oh, yes. We‟ll know sometime
tomorrow evening. I can‟t thank you
enough. Both of you.”
“Don‟t thank Kevin,” Patrice said. “It‟s
me and Rebecca. Kevin‟s going to
Chicago for a conference.”
Jeanne shifted in her seat. “I get
anxious about the traffic. Let me say
good-bye to Colette.”
She spent several minutes telling
Colette, “Best behavior, honey.” Then she
thanked everyone again and left. Once
her car was gone, Kevin carried his bags
Unexpectedly, Rebecca threw on an
overcoat and followed her son outside.
He stowed his bags in the car,
wishing she‟d stay out of this.
She blew on her long, worn fingers.
“Don‟t pretend you can control this, son.”
“Control what, Mama?”
“What you‟re doing with Jeanne.”
Rebecca looked hard at him. “Do you
think I‟m dumb?”
“Will you stop?” Kevin laughed. “Why
even say something like that?”

Whe 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
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.

Chapter Ten
Nothing‟s wrong with using binoculars to
ensure the love of your life is safe.
Although, God knows, Jeanne better not
catch me. She insists the night we found
each other was a cruel mistake she
made, and regrets terribly. But she‟s still
grieving for her husband and that kind of
pain clouds your judgment. It‟s probably
worse because the shock has worn off.
Of course, her grief is much different from
anything I felt due to my brother Lincoln
dying. But I know this: nothing‟s gonna
help Jeanne except lots of time and
discovering that I am her one true love
If only she knew: Our day will come
and we‟ll get married—after I‟m financially
back on my feet.
She‟s still suffering so much that
when I call her, she threatens to block my

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
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,
“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!”
state, I sneak about the neighborhood
like a spy.
Every morning I park in the cul-desac 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
I set the binoculars to high zoom, I can
see her walking through different rooms
until she closes the blinds and turns off
the lights.
Except now, suddenly, Kevin parks in
front of the bungalow every morning. And
instead of going inside, Jeanne gets into
his Acura where they listen to music. (I
discover what music by asking Kevin
when he‟s too distracted to automatically
say, “Shut up, Hal.”) In an absent-minded
way, he mentions Bach and “Art of
Fugue.” My phone app defines a fugue as
an unconscious pathological act; maybe
Bach was crazy.
While Jeanne‟s sitting in Kevin‟s car, I
have to scurry away for my first patient,
driving the long way around so they don‟t
see me.
Kevin isn‟t working in the mornings
anymore. The afternoons and evenings
are better for his difficult cases. He works
weekends, too.

Today, I have an early cancellation,
giving me extra surveillance time. Kevin
and Jeanne get out of the car and go
inside. The blinds close; the lights go off
and I imagine Kevin watching her sleep.
That‟s what I would do: trance out looking
at her slightly parted lips, her hair on the
pillow, how her body shifts while she
The night Jeanne and I became
lovers, her heart answering mine, she
said, “Let me do it, Hal,” because from
being married, she knows what works.
Several times she laughed or cried—
either way, she sounded like altar bells.
You bet I‟m jealous of Kevin. He
owns the bungalow and if Jeanne lets him
watch her sleep, I can‟t stop him…until
things change.
Thursday morning, her house is dark.
No Jeanne; no Colette; and then no
Kevin sitting in his car. Every second I get
more and more worried.
In First Class seats, twenty-eight
thousand feet above the earth, Jeanne
and Kevin were lovers for all to see. They
stayed at a fancy little hotel where the
city‟s limelight fell away. The cold and
wind weren‟t a surprise, but the air was.
Jeanne loved the feel of Lake Michigan,
which they could watch from their topfloor suite‟s eastern windows.
Kevin basked in her happiness: from
now until Sunday morning, they could
please each other without stopping,
except for his three-hour seminar
tomorrow morning.
During their time apart, he wanted her
to shop along Chicago‟s “Magnificent
“Buy anything you like,” he said.
The lustrous sound of her laugh
prompted him back to bed, her long hair
still dripping from the shower. Later she
showed him an ice-blue silk dress styled
like a short Chinese cheongsam. She
didn‟t tell him she had bought the dress
the day after disposing of the one she
had worn for Hal. But because she never
knew when she might need a good dress,
Jeanne had returned to the boutique. The
modified cheongsam cost twice what she
had ever paid for a dress, but it fitted her
perfectly, and when she walked and sat
and stood to peer into the mirror, she felt
beyond reproach.
“I don‟t need anything, Kevin. We
already have everything.”
“My darling, Jeanne, please, buy
yourself something frivolous and costly.”
“That‟s silly.” In the hotel‟s vast white
bed they made love with greater abandon
than ever before. The next morning he
stroked her long, pale thigh. “While I‟m at
the conference, if you can‟t find anything
you want, buy something for me.”
Last year, he told her, he had
especially admired the lingerie in a store

window on Michigan Avenue. “La Perla,
near the Water Tower.”
“Oh? And what was it you liked,
He shrugged, embarrassed. “I‟ll like
whatever you like.”
During his ADA presentation, Jeanne
found La Perla and knew instantly what
she liked: Iridescent dark blue bra and
panties so comfortable that she handed
over Kevin‟s credit card from the
changing room and wore them under her
sweater and slacks, coat, hat, mittens,
and scarf.
conventioneers, he met her at the hotel.
Jeanne suggested sandwiches for lunch.
“Without crusts and cut into triangles.”
“Room service?”
“Someplace in public.”
He found a casual café with checked
table cloths.
She asked about his presentation.
“Did they appreciate it?”
He smirked, “They always do,” and
took her hand. “Did you have fun
Her face brightened. “I did.” She sat
straighter. “Can‟t you see the difference?”
“You know? I think I can.” He flagged
the waitress: “Check, please.”
Long story short: Jeanne‟s in Vermont,
because her father survived a heart
attack but needs an operation. Kevin‟s at
the ADA conference in Chicago, which is
where I should be—my one chance to
network. Except Friday I have to go to
K.C. The bankruptcy lawyer insists we go
over the terms, even if I have no choice
except to sign what they say to sign.
From there, things get worse. In the
lobby, I run into my ex-roommate Jay,
who‟s filing for personal bankruptcy.
“You‟re in much worse trouble, Hal.”
To change the subject, I ask, “Do you
still have murder mystery nights? Reenactments, costumes, and stuff?”
“First time I got laid,” Jay says. “Lady
of the manor, no less. I live nearby if you
wanna have a drink.”
Why I don‟t tell Jay: “Thanks but I‟ve
gotta run; maybe next time...” That‟s the
real mystery.
Jay‟s apartment is cramped and dirty.
“Gin and Amaretto,” he says, handing
me the first of countless gin and Amaretto
cocktails. “It‟s better with cola but I‟m out.”
It tastes terrible. “I bet your work‟s
creative.” (He lives like a starving artist.)
“Very creative and very difficult.” He
writes cabaret songs and sings them
when he can get gigs. To make rent, he
drives a cab, and tells me the intimate
and disgusting things “babes” do to him
after he picks them up. When I shake my
head, he says he never even asks these
women—it‟s more or less protocol.

Meanwhile he keeps filling my glass.
“Are you still shy, Hal? Or are you getting
action now?”
“There‟s a woman I want to marry.” I
don‟t talk about Jeanne, though; not
when my speech is slurred. “Guess I‟m
not much of a drinker.”
“You‟re doing fine.”
I‟ve gotta call Bill; he‟s been with
Momma since noon. But my phone‟s out.
Jay doesn‟t have one, let alone a charger.
“Hal, you‟re drunk,” Jay says. “No
way you‟re driving anywhere tonight.” He
hands me a refill before we play murder
“Ever play the French maid, Hal?”
The frilly dress or whatever it is won‟t
even fit over my feet.
“Strip poker then.” When I‟m down to
my briefs, he steers me to a bad-smelling
couch. We drink and watch a scary DVD.
Then he wants to wrestle. I‟m not feeling
well but Jay strips to his briefs and
manhandles me.
The next day I‟m so sick, I can‟t drive
until after noon. Bill‟s been nursing
Momma more than twenty-four hours!
He‟ll probably quit, and good luck trying to
get a replacement; Momma‟s got a bad
When I finally get on the highway, a
teenage girl is hitchhiking. She sees me
worrying about how cold and alone she
is, the wind blowing her hair straight up.
In a fugue, I guess, I slow down and the
girl jumps in.
“Thanks, Mister. My daddy‟s waiting
in Tulsa at the bus station.”
Jeanne slipped off her clothing,
unclasped her hair, and modeled the
sleek lingerie that shimmered whenever
she moved.
“You are spectacular, Jeanne.
Enough show, sweetheart. Come here.”
After a fancy dinner, they walked
south on Michigan Avenue. Kevin showed
her Chicago‟s “blue beehive” on top of the
Metropolitan building: a huge, cobalt blue
glass honeycomb lit with 1000 watt light
bulbs. And beneath it, Kevin said, were
four gigantic bells.
They ate in restaurants and danced in
clubs. They made love day and night.
And when Jeanne wore her ice-blue
cheongsam, Kevin was overcome by a
stunned reverence unlike anything else.
Saturday Jeanne wanted to walk
along the lake where ice rafts floated and
waves crashed. She enjoyed the cold; it
slowed time.
Kevin swung her mitten-covered
hand. “That‟s Jeanne, all spirit, no cold
“It can‟t last, you know.”
“Yes, it can. There‟s a reason we‟re in
She wavered near crying. The wind
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
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
Preoccupied by Jeanne‟s body
moving from tense to languid as he
resolved things, Kevin slowed and
lowered his voice.
“No, the old woman was tied to her
bed because she was a danger to herself
and everyone else…” He pressed his
palm against Jeanne‟s bottom, clad in the
new iridescent, indigo panties. “Thing is,
Sam, I‟m in Chicago…No, I don‟t need to
talk to him…Oh, all right. Put him on.”
Jeanne, lulled by Kevin‟s touch,
slipped out of reach, and held a pillow.
“I‟m sorry about your mom, Hal,”
Kevin said, watching Jeanne‟s eyes.
“What the—? You drove a girl to Tulsa...I
see, she asked you to…put Sam back
Quietly and deliberately—not rushing
like his blood—Kevin convinced the
police chief that Hal was hapless, not
negligent. “He‟s incapable of violence,
Sam.…Mind if I speak with him again?”
“Stay away from your house, Hal. Go
to the office and I‟ll meet you there later
tonight. But don‟t go home until the
authorities are done investigating.”
Tossing the phone aside, he curled
around Jeanne and dropped his head in
her lap. If she was once capable of
resisting him—no more. If Kevin said,
“We have time,” they had time.
Still, she kissed his head. “We‟ll miss
our plane.”
“No, we won‟t.”
Halfway through their flight to Kansas
City, he gathered her hair in one hand.
“Steer clear of Hal. He‟s not a threat in
general. But he‟s obsessed with you,
Jeanne, which, frankly, terrifies me.”
She smiled. “So Hal‟s obsessive and
we aren‟t?”

“Don‟t joke about us. What we have is
a blessing.”
Still amused, Jeanne said, “A
blessing now. What happened to, „I love
you so much I‟m glad to be bad.‟”
They collected their luggage and he
drove her to the mechanics where her car
had been tuned while they visited
Chicago. Jeanne felt lost in the fading
light. Ordinarily, she left him to fetch
Colette—he never left her.
The auto repair center‟s glass front
competed with the ghostly reflection of
the highway. The blinking holiday lights
made her head ache.
Kevin shifted into reverse. “Jeanne!”
His voice rescued her from dread.
Through the open window, he asked for
another kiss. Holding the back of her
neck, he pressed his dark, sculpted
mouth into hers, his lower lip bolstering
her; his sweeping upper lip giving her
Jeanne asked Patrice and Rebecca to
open their thank-you gifts, “They‟re not
Christmas presents.” Colette kicked her
overnight bag upstairs and then to the
door, where she sat on it. Jeanne was
about to reprimand her when Patrice said,
“Ooh, a necklace.” She slipped her head
through the long, strong cord weighted by
a large, orange disk made of translucent
resin. Jeanne showed her the length was
“It‟s from my step-mother‟s art store
in Burlington,” Jeanne lied.
Patrice kissed her friend‟s check. “I‟m
never taking it off.”
Rebecca opened a large, red silk
square scarf, the border patterned with
greenish gold hummingbirds.

“That‟s not from my step-mother‟s
shop,” Jeanne confessed. “But it‟s
genuine, not a knock off.”
“It‟s charming. Thank you.” Rebecca
gripped Jeanne‟s wrist, imparting full
certainty of what her son and Jeanne
were doing and shuddered at their
During dinner in the bungalow‟s kitchen,
Colette teemed with strange, silent
“Don‟t you want to know how
Grandpa is?”
“Patrice said he‟s fine.”
Chapter Eleven
They lock me in a dun-colored,
windowless, smoke-filled room. Two
detectives interrogate me: they‟re nice
and they‟re not-nice; they‟re here and
they‟re gone, like a real-life cliché. All I
know is I‟m locked up and Momma‟s
dead. Eventually, I need the toilet and
kick the door (because—handcuffs). I yell
and yell; I scream and nothing. At some
point the big cop shows up, “What?” And
this is embarrassing: I absolutely cannot
do it while he watches. It‟s another
reason to berate me but to avoid a mess,
he stands aside, rattling the cuffs.
Not too much longer and: hoo-ray!
Kevin watches the morning news in
Chicago, phones the Chief of Police,
whereupon I‟m sitting pretty in the wideopen station. A lady cop brings me coffee
and donuts. The police chief‟s laughing
on the phone with Kevin: “Well, if you‟re
sure you‟re sure.”
Then I‟m talking on the phone with
Kevin, who says he‟s sorry and death is

awful—I‟m probably gonna be way more
upset than I ever would have guessed.
The police chief retrieves his phone and
tells Kevin a joke or vice versa.
Then Kevin thinks of one more thing
he needs to tell me. “Hal, don‟t go home
until they‟re done investigating. Go to the
office and rest. I‟ll meet you there late
Great: I‟m not only “free to go,” but
the police chief is friendly enough to walk
me to my car. He‟s sorry about Momma
and admits his detectives go overboard.
“No hard feelings?”
I shake his hand. “Of course not,
“Of course not, Sam.”
The dental office smells so clean, so
welcoming: I remove my shoes and coat
and drop onto the waiting room‟s pale
green carpeting. I nap and wake and nap.
In the afternoon I find a tuna-fish
sandwich in the office fridge. It tastes
okay. I make coffee.
Without thinking about it, I start
poking around Kevin‟s office—until I do
think about it, and switch on his
diagnostic monitor. The video pops right
up. There‟s my Jeanne with the finger
cymbals. Every other time I get to see
barely a second before: “Dammit, Hal!”
The video goes off and the lights go on.
Now I linger over Jeanne licking
frosting off a fork. Slow that down and
take it frame by frame. The video has a
few minutes of overexcited little kids but
otherwise it‟s two hours of Jeanne. I
watch it all day: slow motion, fast forward,
reverse. When it starts to get dark
outside, though, I put everything back the
way it was. Everything.
Suddenly I‟m exhausted again, and
fall asleep again, in the waiting room—
Kevin flicks on the lights. “Hey, Hal.
How‟re you doing? I‟m sorry about your
“Oh, yeah…thanks, Kevin.” I rub my
eyes, stand, stretch, and fall onto the
couch. “Could be the best thing that even
happened to me.”
“Possibly.” He gives me a tight, long
hug, which makes me feel so good. The
last time someone hugged me was
Jeanne, a month ago. And before that?
Maybe never.
We eat at the pizza place and Kevin
can‟t stop laughing about Jay, his godawful cocktails, the French maid outfit, et
cetera. We‟re the only customers and
laughing like crazy. I tell Kevin about the
hitchhiker and driving to Tulsa and he
laughs so hard he starts banging the
table. He can‟t get a word out without
bursting out laughing again.
I‟m still not sure about the joke. But
Kevin says, “That girl just couldn‟t believe
here was a guy saying no thanks to a

blow-job but he‟s gonna worry about her
unless she takes all the money he‟s got.”
Kevin‟s the greatest guy on earth.
Everybody agrees. But for me it‟s no joke.
However, he has one fatal flaw: Even
now when Patrice is pregnant with his
son, he‟s lovesick over Jeanne. More
lovesick than ever.
He never used to act like: I own you,
Hal. But now he has that attitude
whenever he says, “Stay away from her,
Of course, he doesn‟t know Jeanne
and I are lovers. No point in telling him
either: he has to see for himself that
Jeanne and I are for real—not sick.
At two in the morning she was wandering
through the dark, warm bungalow in
nameless distress. And Kevin, after
leaving Hal—who had been such a good
son to his abominable mother—
desperately needed to be with his sweet,
young lover. While his wife Patrice had
said, “Don‟t rush; stay overnight with
Hal—he needs you.”
From his car, Kevin called Jeanne,
answered before the first ring. “Hello?”
Her voice rippled with anxiety.
“I‟ll be there in five minutes.”
Slipping inside the bungalow, he
caught his breath as she stood naked,
staring out the moonlit window. Seized by
her ethereal, solitary beauty, he said her
name. She turned and smiled and before
long he was spinning her in his arms,
delirious with joy.
When he had to leave her, though, he
passed Colby Circle. Outlined in the gray
dawn was a parked car—Hal‟s goddamm
The next afternoon on the phone Jeanne
said she hated Christmas shopping. “I
never know what to buy.”
“Yes, you do,” Patrice said. “I wear
that necklace every day. But let‟s go
together.” Rebecca would watch the girls.
“You are the best friend,” Jeanne
said. After hanging up, she sat at the
kitchen table and wept. Colette asked,
“Do you hurt, Mommy, or are you just
She wiped her eyes and brightened.
“I‟m fine, honey.” Jeanne‟s unhappiness
was nothing compared to the sorrow she
was dealing Patrice, Annabelle, and her
own beloved daughter.
At the mall her friend‟s appearance
shocked her. Patrice had grown very big
very fast. While selecting a cashmere
scarf, a ceramic tea set, and embossed
sheets, Patrice ate chocolate nonstop.
“Rebecca acts like I‟m supposed to have
this big boy without gaining a pound.”
Jeanne shook her head.
“You better not talk to me, now. Not
when a man can fit his hands around your
waist, Jeanne.”

Patrice sank onto to a bench,
unwrapping more chocolate. “Rebecca is
not wrong. I weigh more than I can
believe, with four uncontrollable months
to go.” She puffed her cheeks. “Oh and
here‟s another of Rebecca‟s little
kindnesses: Can you and Colette help me
and Annabelle decorate Hal‟s house?”
These days I stake out the bungalow
earlier and leave later. Of course, Kevin is
also watching Jeanne—from a cozy
armchair. Monday, he walks out the door
and almost catches me behind the tree
stump. I scramble away and hide inside
the hammock, which Kevin should have
put away for the winter. He hisses my
name and shakes the bushes. After a
long time, I hear him drive away and
topple out. I teeter on the picnic table and
zoom in through Jeanne‟s curtains. No
armchair it turns out, but my Jeanne is
sleeping like an angel.
The next day, just before daylight,
Kevin hurls me against a van. I‟m fifty
pounds heavier, but Kevin‟s very tall and
super-strong and gets me in a choke
hold. “What‟re you doing, Hal?”
“Making sure my girls are safe.”
“Your girls? If we get restraining order
against you, with your stalking history,
you‟ll go to jail, which is probably where
you belong!”
Then he shoves me. After I stand up,
I tell him: “One, that librarian was stalking
me and you know it. And two, you stalk
Jeanne more than I do.”
“Don‟t say that, Hal. Don‟t go there.
Anything between Jeanne and me is
utterly beyond you! And if you mention it
again, I‟ll kill you.”
“Fine,” I say. “If you‟re watching her
night and day, why should I?”
Apparently, those are the magic
words because now he throws a friendly
arm around me. “I heard that your mother
died fully hydrated and well nourished—
no fault. And so you can finally restore
that house.”
“Yep. Bill left about twenty voice
messages. He had to leave to enroll in
Iowa‟s geriatric program. But then he felt
Be gentlemanly but forthright, romantic
but not desperate. I spend hours on this
dating forum for men. The others approve
of cueing Clapton‟s, “Wonderful Tonight”
halfway into the visit. On the right note
during the refrain, kiss her long and hard
so she can‟t resist you.
Kevin‟s mother sets it up so that any
minute now Jeanne, Colette, Patrice, and
Annabelle are visiting me. Here‟s what
she does: Right after Momma dies, she
calls the office, asking for Kevin. I answer
his line. “Hi, Rebecca. Kevin‟s „out of
pocket‟ in the mornings.”

“I‟ll bet he is!” Rebecca asks if I have
a few minutes and arrives at the office
with home decorating magazines and
catalogs. “Now Hal, your home should
reflect the real you.”
And within an hour Rebecca O‟Meara
finds the right ambience for this guy who
becomes manifest out of thin air—the real
Kevin gives this new real me the
afternoon off, and for refreshment I buy
apple pie; for the girls, reindeer headbands. But of course I‟m nervous as hell:
Kevin‟s wife and daughter and my future
wife and daughter are marching toward
the door.
“Welcome,” and “Merry Christmas.”
They‟re inside and suddenly—I‟m okay. I
lift Colette and then Annabelle over my
head. “Why are you girls so big since
When I‟m really wondering about
Patrice, who‟s twice her size. But the
advice forum is unanimous: Never
mention how big a woman is—never!
Annabelle hands me evergreens tied
with elaborate red ribbon. “It‟s for the front
door. Wreathes are out of style.”
Colette pipes up. “Mine goes with it,
Hal! Jingle bells.”
Jeanne reaches for wire and pliers
but Patrice takes over. “I know how to
twist it, honey.” Bells secured, Patrice
sets a tin box on the coffee table. “My
best ever Christmas cookies, Hal.”
The love of my life is standing on a
ladder, hanging curtains. Patrice is
plopped on the couch, eating chocolate.
Jeanne lowers her arm and waves a
finger, no.
Patrice sighs, “You‟re right,” and puts
the chocolate in her purse. “It‟s not me;
it‟s this boy.”
Draperies up, Jeanne‟s off the ladder
and standing by the window: the time is
now. “Wonderful Tonight” fills the room. I
hold Jeanne tight and kiss her long and
hard—except not long, just hard. She
pushes me away hard.
“Shit, Hal! Never do that again! ”
“It‟s Christmas.”
“Did that look like a Christmas kiss to
you, Patrice?”
The little girls giggle and shriek.
“Not really,” Patrice says, “with the
girls watching.”
“Hal, if you touch me again, I will
refuse to see you. Christmas or not.”
“Jeanne,” Patrice says, “we need you
at Christmas. Apologize, Hal.”
“I forgot the kids were watching.
“Not good enough,” Jeanne says.
“What you did was wrong.”
“Because I say so and I‟ve warned
you before.”

“You noticed the song, though, right?
Remember the last time we listened to
“I was terrible to you that night, Hal.
I‟ve apologized. But you‟ve got to forget
it—that‟s what people do!”
The little girls sneak upstairs. Why
not five minutes earlier when I was about
to kiss Jeanne?
Patrice suggests angling the other
couch across a corner.
“The place looks nice, Hal.” Jeanne‟s
smiling and twisting a lock of her hair.
Two definite signals. If only I hadn‟t
embarrassed her. The smile? Twisting
her hair? Both mean she‟s interested.
Anytime Kevin‟s mind wandered, a
chilling tintinnabulation resounded at the
edges of perception. The metallic notes
didn‟t circle around his home or work or
his intention to divorce Patrice. Yet the
ringing foretold: expect the worst. Past
that, however, whatever the worst might
be was cloaked in black. Kevin heard the
intimations of the worst possible fate, but
he couldn‟t fathom it.
Patrice was upstairs watching TV.
Kevin surprised her.
His elbow above his head, hitting the
door frame, he said, “Hello stranger.”
wrappers under a pillow. After clicking off
the TV, he kissed the top of her head and
sat beside her.
“Don‟t let my mother make you feel
guilty.” Kevin held her hand.
“Meddles. Don‟t you remember your
cravings with Annabelle?”
“All summer you gobbled up all the
blueberries we could buy.”
“Blueberries? Maybe I can switch
from chocolate to apples.”
“By August you were sick of
She laughed, resting her head
against his chest. “I still am.”
He spread his hand on her belly. “By
next month you‟ll hate chocolate.”
“When we were at Hal‟s this baby
was kicking like mad. And Hal is so weird.
Jeanne lost her temper.”
Kevin should have asked why but
didn‟t, because he needed to stay calm.
“What‟s new with Lila? Or Nikki?”
“You know? I have no idea. I guess
I‟ve ignored them−favoring Jeanne.”
“Patrice, you need more than one
“With Jeanne there‟s no social effort.”
“What if she moves?” Kevin asked.
“Or−gets married?”
“She won‟t. And the more time
Annabelle spends with Colette the better.
That baby girl understands numbers.
Write down eleven digits and Colette can
make a phone call.”

She moved Kevin‟s hand and
pressed. “Feel that?”
“Next time.”
Whatever the worst was, it had
nothing to do with his unborn son.
Last night after the women spruce up my
house—it‟s my house now, mine and
Jeanne‟s—guess who calls me?
“Hiya, my pal, Hal,” Colette says.
“Honey, who are you talking to?”
Jeanne‟s voice is lovely even when she‟s
stern. I imagine her getting ready for
work: adjusting a slinky little belt.
“It‟s my pal, Hal, Mommy. At his
house, he showed us tricks with his
gyroscope. And if he wants to get me a
Christmas present, that‟s what I want.”
First Jeanne yells at Colette. Then
she takes the phone and yells at me. If
only I could see her face—I have never
seen her angrier than after I kissed her,
but her spirit and passion were beautiful. I
know this much: animated or still, Jeanne
radiates pure…purity. Maybe that doesn‟t
make sense to you but if you saw her, it
would. If you saw her, your heart would
December—the twenty-third was a
marathon—so he could spend all day on
Christmas Eve with Jeanne. Abby Gold
would keep Colette until dinner.
And after his divorce, he would marry
Jeanne as soon as possible. But Kevin
realized, even given all the time in the
world with her, he would want more. And
why not? The warning sounds of the
worst thing possible had fallen silent,
meaning—all was well.

Chapter Twelve
The salesman at the Army-Navy store
assures me this deer-hunter suit keeps
you warm for a full watch. The
camouflage pattern makes me practically
Not so. Kevin hauls me out of the
hedge, ready to beat me to pulp. Luckily,
Jeanne‟s car is returning from the nursery
school. Kevin doesn‟t want her to see him
beating me up.
“Get in your car, Hal, and wait for me
at the pizza place.”
After about twenty minutes, Kevin
storms in. I put down my slice and wipe
my chin.
“Have you lost your fucking mind?
Look at yourself!”
He means the camouflage suit.
“Are you an idiot or a full-blown
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
“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
Patrice ate apple slices instead of
“That‟s will power.”
“Not really, Jeanne. One craving is
the same as another.”
Patrice stared at her—Jeanne damn
“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
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

free for the zillionth time or make sure
you‟re locked up for good?”
It looks like the pizza guy is gonna
come over; the waitress is that scared.
Kevin stands up and shows both palms to
the guy, like okay, he‟ll keep it down.
Then he puts his face a millimeter from
mine. “If you ever even think about
Jeanne again, I‟ll kill you, Hal.”
I pay the check and call the office
because I‟m late for a patient. But—get
this—two cancellations! I don‟t need to be
there until ten-thirty. I park at Colby Circle
and spot Kevin‟s car in front of the
bungalow first thing.
If Kevin‟s spending hours with her,
why shouldn‟t I check? So I get out my
In the living room they‟re kissing.
He‟s carrying her under the archway.
Jeanne‟s stroking his head. And they‟re
still kissing. They shift sideways. Kevin
lifts her off the ground and they‟re still
kissing! He holds her bottom and presses
it up, and up. She slips free and Kevin
slides his hand inside her little black

sweater. She‟s smiling and dreamy. Her
sweater‟s unbuttoned. Kevin takes her
hand, pulls her into the bedroom, and
closes the door.
Maybe I throw up. Maybe I get in my car.
All I know is—I‟m home upstairs, staring
at the ceiling.
Last year Jeanne and her husband had
danced at a Christmas party. She had no
idea he was morbidly unhappy while
waltzing her around. But he was or he
soon would be. That‟s what she was
dreaming when the phone rang.
Patrice said, “Sorry, did I wake you?”
“No,” Jeanne yawned. “Not at all.”
Would Jeanne brave the crowds with
her while she bought Annabelle an Addy
doll? “I‟ll drive. Rebecca and the girls are
planning to watch The Grinch.”
In the car, Patrice said Addy was too
expensive and Annabelle was much too
Underground Railroad story. But it was

Christmas Eve morning as Kevin headed
for the front door, carrying a gym bag,
Patrice waylaid him. “Be home by five.
When Hal called me yesterday—you got
the message: he wasn‟t coming in?”
“No. And he didn‟t come in on
Thursday either. Why did he call you, not
“He sounded despondent.”
“With his mother dying just before
Christmas? I suppose he has his
“He does have reasons, Kevin, but
they have nothing to do with his mother.
Anyway, he‟ll be here tonight and so will
your mother. Please, be here and be
“Patrice, I‟m the nicest guy in the
“Used to be.”
“I suppose you‟re the nice one now.”
“Don‟t bet on it. I‟ve never pretended
to be nice and I‟m not about to start.”
And yet, Patrice really was so nice
that Kevin anticipated a bittersweet
divorce, more sweet than bitter. He must
spend more time with Annabelle, though,
and with his son once he was born. He

called his daughter and she appeared in
full fairy princess regalia.
“I‟ve got to get going, honey. But if
you help me wrap Mommy‟s present, it
can be from both of us.”
In his office, he showed Annabelle
the necklace Patrice had asked for, of
graduated blue beads. In the box,
Annabelle found a paper listing the
stones‟ powers.
“Will you read it to me, Daddy?”
Lapis lazuli and blue topaz combined
this way unleash hidden angers.
“It says Merry Christmas. Do you
want to hold the paper together or tape
Annabelle put the tape-decorated
present under the tree.
Kevin found Jeanne wearing a low-cut,
green dress with a sash that crisscrossed
beneath her breasts and had half a mind
to make love to her now. But she was
already buttoning her coat and putting on

a hat.
Saxophone music instead of Bach
lulled them during the drive.
“We‟ve got a room at the Gabriel.
Lunch reservations at Le Grill.” He pulled
her hand into his lap. “I hate that you‟re
working tonight.”
“I don‟t. Tomorrow, you and Patrice,
me, Hal, and your mother will all make
nice during a long meal.”
“Not easy.” He meant to caution her
then that Hal was acting strange. But her
fingers ran along his thigh in time to Ben
Webster‟s “Soulville.”
“Should we skip lunch?”
“No, Jeanne. We need our strength.”
They ate oysters and drank
champagne. Her entrée was salad with
goat cheese. Kevin ordered rib eye. They
drank white Bordeaux, which made
Jeanne giggly.
“You didn‟t eat enough,” he said.
She grinned. “I‟m drunk.”
In their hotel room she spun around
in her bare feet.

Kevin asked, “How do you feel? I
want to sip you for hours.”
Every time Jeanne came, her bell-like
laughter circled the ceiling. She had
never felt so giddy, so hilariously
Kevin gave her a white gold ring.
“You know I can‟t wear this, Kevin. I
love you but—”
“Maybe not now but soon.” He slid
the ring through a long, slender chain and
fastened it. The ring fell between her
“This scares me,” she said, but when
she saw it in the mirror, she smiled.
Driving home, he meant to warn her
about Hal, the camouflage outfit and
binoculars. And she considered telling
him that Hal phoned Colette after she
went to work. But every time they tried to
speak, their minds slipped back into that
fast, seductive current where they drifted
At seven (despite Patrice‟s request
that he be home before five) Kevin and

Jeanne entered the empty, dark
bungalow, alarmed when no note or
voicemail explained where Colette and
Abby were.
“I‟m sure they‟re on their way.” Kevin
kissed her lightly and smoothed her hair.
Jeanne paced the kitchen, unreasonably
panicked, but unable to do anything
about it.
She changed into narrow slacks,
boots, and a blue sweater for work. They
drank beer and reassured each other until
finally Abby and Colette burst in, excited.
“We went sledding, Mommy.”
“Sorry, we‟re late,” Abby said. “But I
knew she‟d love this place. Artificial hills;
artificial snow.”
Kevin paid her and said, “Thank you,
Abby. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukah.”
Front door closed, with Colette in her
room packing her overnight things, Kevin
held Jeanne‟s face. “I wish you were
spending the night too.”
“Wish for more,” she said. “Not
tonight. Many other ones.” She held his
coat and whispered, “Now go.”
Colette had changed into a red velvet
“That‟s for tomorrow, honey.”
“But tonight‟s the party. Hal told me.
Tomorrow‟s just dinner.”
“Hal told you? You‟re not allowed on
the phone, Colette. Wear the snowflake
“Tonight‟s the party.”
They argued: “No!” “Yes!” “No!” “I‟m
serious!” “Me too!”
Tears filled Jeanne‟s eyes, not
Colette‟s, who got to wear the red velvet
Outside the O‟Meara‟s, Jeanne
reminded her to play with Annabelle.
“She‟s your friend. Not Hal.”
Inside, Patrice embraced her. “Merry
Christmas, sugar.”
“You too. Very Merry.”
Rebecca greeted her, distantly.
Everyone gathered around the tree
except Kevin, who Patrice said was
upstairs working on his finances.
Hal dragged Jeanne aside. “I have
things to say to you.”
“And I want to talk to you, Hal. You
crossed the line with Colette.”
“You hurt me, Jeanne. Being sorry
isn‟t enough.”
“I‟m late, Hal—tomorrow, okay?”
Usually, Christmas Eve at the emergency
center was hectic. Not as bad as New
Year‟s Eve but: Lonely people felt
lonelier; cars crashed; couples fought;
neighbors sought revenge.
At three a.m., when she had received
no calls, Jeanne checked with the police.
Was the system down?
Nope. All was well.
Except it wasn‟t. Her trepidation grew
and grew. She counted her blessings but
a surreal fear plagued her.

At some point, I stop staring at the ceiling
and call Patrice, because I don‟t have it in
me to talk to Kevin. “Tell him I‟m not
working today or tomorrow.”
Patrice said all right but no promises.
“He‟s hardly ever home.”
Well, yeah. But can she track him
down and tell him for me? I‟m not up to it.
Because guess why. Or no, don‟t. You
don‟t want to know.
She says, “All right,” and invites me
for like the third time to their Christmas
Eve party. “It won‟t be a party without
you, Hal.”
Like I‟m the life.
But she‟s right about two days being
too long to stare at the ceiling. Because
pretty soon a mirage wavers on the
horizon: I‟ll convince Jeanne I love her
the most. She owes me a chance. Think
about it, Jeanne. You owe me.
Colette‟s spending Christmas Eve at
the O‟Meara‟s while Jeanne works. She‟s
mad about me and Colette, but the little
girl calls me, not vice versa. I don‟t care
anyway, because out there where the
mirage is hovering I‟m a much better man
than Kevin.
Like, no comparison, babe.
As if, right?
But love makes you God and the
Devil incarnate, and won‟t take no for an
At the Christmas Eve party, I
entertain them.
I am the man while Kevin stays
His mother asks him to come
downstairs—he‟s the host. But Kevin
claims he‟s sorting through a financial
hornet‟s nest. Nobody believes that.
Patrice starts upstairs but Rebecca says,
“If he doesn‟t want to celebrate with us,
it‟s his loss.”
The three women and two little girls
and I hang up stockings and drink hot
cocoa. I read “‟Twas the Night Before
Christmas,” with Colette and Annabelle
cuddling on either side of me. Patrice lets
me right into Annabelle‟s bedroom to kiss
the kids good-night.
Another drink and I thank Patrice and
Rebecca, wish them Merry Christmas,
and they say the same to me. Outside I
park around the corner and play Eric
Clapton‟s Greatest Hits. At five a.m. I pull
into the O‟Meara‟s driveway and wait for
She pulls into the driveway and I
jump out before she can get away. I yank
her out of her car and into mine. Because
that mirage is so clear and simple, where
I am her only one. I‟m ready to prove it no
matter what.
“Stop it, Hal. You‟re hurting me.”
But I think: Love hurts. So if I hurt
you, maybe you can feel what I feel. Her
hair‟s up the way she does it and I shake
her. “Why won‟t you believe me?”

I keep shaking her and squeezing
her—squeezing her neck and squeezing
it while yelling, “I love you, Jeanne!”
And then something‟s wrong. She
stops fighting back.
Jeanne tried to turn off that infernal
Clapton CD, but Hal grabbed her arm. “I
love you more than anybody else ever
“I don‟t love you, Hal, and never will,
not like you want.”
He pinned her shoulders against the
“Don‟t touch me.” Jeanne tried to pry
his hands away, but he was too strong for
her. And seeing how furious he was
terrified her. “Take your hands off me.”
His hands pressed her throat. Jeanne
tried to turn her head but he grabbed it. “I
am your lover—not Kevin.” He shook her
so hard that her head throbbed red
inside. She thrashed one way and then
the other. His face burst into view, huge
and angry. “Give me a chance, Jeanne.”
She couldn‟t breathe or hear but as if
to convince her, he pressed his thumbs
into her windpipe and she plummeted into
darkness where time slowed and
stopped. And would soon stop forever. In
a last gasp, she fought against losing
Colette. And at losing Kevin, who in her
last curl of consciousness really did
belong to her—they would have been
Hal choked her as winter unfurled
backward into autumn. Blood vessels
burst and her mind leaped back to late
summer. Leaves fluttered outside the
bungalow, while she and Kevin made
love. A wave washed over the trees,
which glimmered, becoming young and
green, their buds growing smaller and
smaller until every last nub closed.
Jeanne‟s like stone. Here‟s this vibrant,
incredible, too good to be true woman
sitting in my car—and then, she‟s gone.
It‟s not Jeanne sitting here. Just a body.
I‟m screaming, “Kevin, Kevin!” The
O‟Meara‟s door swings open and there‟s
a second when he sees my face. He
knocks me out of the way and runs to the
It‟s barely dawn and freezing. Kevin‟s
wearing underwear and nothing else. He
carries Jeanne‟s body from the car into
the middle of their frozen lawn. On his
knees, he‟s bent over her and I can‟t hear
what he‟s saying because he‟s sobbing
so loud. And then he raises Jeanne‟s
body above his head. He‟s sobbing and
reaching higher and higher, holding her
up as he turns around and around.
Patrice fills the doorway, huge in a
red robe and slippers. “What on earth?”
And I know. I know exactly what he‟s
doing. He‟s begging the universe to return
Jeanne, give back her ecstatic laughter
that sounds like altar bells.

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