Issue 201, Summer 2012
John decided to leave for the wedding on Thursday night in order to avoid the Friday traffic. They’d encounter it on their return, no way around that, with thousands of cars on I-95 regardless of the high price of gas.
John’s brother, Randolph, was remarrying after seven years living on his own at the family summer house, which absolutely no one was pressuring him to vacate, as none of the children who’d inherited it wanted to sell it or inhabit it, and they weren’t contentious people, anyway. But in his telephone call to John on John’s April Fool’s birthday, Dolph had told him that he’d been seeing a woman for a year—not a local woman; a journalist, who traveled—who lived twenty minutes from the lake house. Ruth had a son in boarding school in Massachusetts, her husband had died prematurely from wounds he’d gotten in Vietnam, and she was fifty-four, which made her several years older than Dolph. John was surprised by the information: his wife had convinced him his brother was a real loner, not interested in women because they were too dangerous. He himself knew his brother to be shy, inordinately bitter about the breakup of his marriage, and he’d come to agree with Jen. No one in the family except—it turned out—their daughter, Bee, had ever met Ruth, who had gone with Dolph to visit Bee when she got into Harvard. Apparently, Ruth had not only recommended several books Bee might like, but had taken them, after dinner at an Indian restaurant (Dolph?!), to the Harvard Bookstore, where she was able to purchase two books as gifts for her. At the end of her freshman year, Bee had moved in with her boyfriend in Somerville, behind Porter Square. In the fall she would start her second year of college. Bee gave Ruth a thumbs-up: intelligent, restless in a good way, cryptic in a funny way, and totally devoted to Dolph. (This devotion, too, she might have said was “in a good way”—one would not want “in a funny way”; since childhood, Bee had offered such elaborations. A third-grade teacher who had urged her to always be specific had really made an impression on his daughter.)
Bee and her boyfriend, George, would be flying to Portland—these kids: too lazy to drive!—where John and Jen would pick them up for the drive north to the wedding. But tonight John and Jen would be in a Portland hotel; they’d check out the good used bookstores and some antique stores, then have dinner at one of Jen’s favorite restaurants, Back Bay Grill. Maybe there would be something good at the movies. Or some music. In any case, he didn’t want to fight Friday-morning traffic heading north, then Saturday-night traffic returning to Boston. The wedding would be at two o’clock on Friday. The couple planned to honeymoon in Virgin Gorda. Dolph would board up the lake house during the winter and move into his new wife’s house. They would go out on weekends to make sure it was okay. In retrospect, Dolph had told him more about the family house than about his fiancée.
“I find it hard to believe Dolph would have sex outside of marriage,” Jen said. “He’s such a prude.”
“Well, we don’t know that they have had sex,” John said. “Let’s try to share one suitcase, and I’ll put our wedding things in a garment bag and lay them flat in the trunk. Don’t pack your big jar of wrinkle cream.”
A joke: Jen did not use wrinkle cream. She cleaned her face with Neutrogena and used Kiehl’s moisturizer.
“Don’t pack extra jock straps,” she said, disappearing into their bedroom. A joke: he’d had testicular cancer and—after the double orchiectomy— most certainly did not need a jock strap. Nor did he play tennis anymore. When he’d stopped smoking, he’d gained fifteen pounds, which showed in his face and in his ass, of all embarrassing things.
“Who would go all the way to Virgin Gorda and not have had sex?” she called. He could hear the closet door sliding back.
“What do you mean? No virgins in Virgin Gorda, because it would be too ironic?”
He stood watching his wife push hangers aside, looking perplexed and preoccupied. This August, they would be married twenty-four years. His wife’s first marriage, to a harmonica player, had “ended in divorce,” as the New York Times wedding column would say. Jen was John’s only wife, though he’d lived with two women, each for about six or seven years, and the last one he’d had to pay to go away. Actually, his father had paid her to go: a not-insignificant amount of money. His father had had a lawyer draw up an agreement. The woman had brought a fountain pen to the lawyer’s office and had—as the lawyer told him—deliberately made a big splotch where she was to sign, so that the contract had to be redone. Her name was Violet, an English girl he’d met at a photography workshop in Santa Fe when he’d been under the delusion he might change careers and become a photographer. In addition to money, she also got the Edward Curtis. The earlier girlfriend’s name had been Bonnie, just simple Bonnie, even Bonnie Smith. She had become adamant about a wedding ring and a baby, though not necessarily in that order. He had opted, instead, for a sports car and a cat. A kitten, actually, an abandoned kitten that showed up one night at his back door, though he’d soon realized he was allergic to it and took it to the SPCA when he moved from Michigan. Things had worked out so that not only was there no baby, but any lunatic could have adopted the cat. His sports car had broken down as cosmic punishment, no doubt. He’d had to spend three days in Ohio, on the way back to his parents’ house in Boston, getting it fixed. He remembered those frustrating days in a motel much more distinctly than he remembered Bonnie.
“Green isn’t my color. Why do I buy so many green things?” Jen said. “Wear that blue dress. You look great in that,” he said.
“I do?” she said. “Are you just saying it because you hate to watch me flip through clothes?”
“I don’t mind watching you flip through clothes unless I’m in a store,” he said.
She took out the dress he’d pointed to, hung by two narrow blue ribbons from the neck of the hanger. She put the hanger on a hook, tugged lightly at both sides of the waist. “I’d be lucky if it fit,” she said. She pulled down her shorts and pulled her T-shirt over her head. She stepped out of the shorts and tried on the dress, braless. Those weird Frisbee pads would be sticking over her breasts if she wore the strapless dress, he remembered: little white circles that looked like they’d as easily hold falafel as breasts. How did the things adhere to flesh? He realized that she realized that he was staring at her nipples. “There’s a special bra,” she said matter-of-factly.
“It’s great. You look great,” he said. She handed him the dress and began rummaging through her dresser drawer. He went to his own closet and took out the garment bag, hung the dress inside it. He had only one summer suit, a nice Bilzerian linen one, so he found that hanger and put it into in the same bag.
“Don’t forget grown-up shoes,” she said. “That was ridiculous, that time we went to Jennica’s wedding and we had to stop and buy you oxfords.”
He liked his clogs, had worn them everywhere for years, even to work. His surgeon had been wearing red clogs encased in bags the day he operated. Surgeon’s choice, Mozart, had already been playing as he was wheeled into the OR.
“I’ll wear those new high-heeled sandals,” she said, mostly to herself. “Don’t paint your toenails some color that makes you look like a whore.” She turned and threw something that fell far short of striking him. It was a sachet in blue netting, he discovered. Filled with lavender. He closed his eyes as he sniffed. Just a few seconds of nothingness were needed: giving no advice, making no jokes, remembering nothing, anticipating nothing. He told himself to inhale deeply.
“It was a good idea to avoid the traffic,” she said. “I’ll call the restaurant before we leave. Seven-thirty, eight?”
He handed back her sachet without answering. It wasn’t really a question, and it didn’t really matter what time they ate dinner. And though his wife wasn’t frantic at the moment, he turned and left the room because he knew she would be soon: Where were her new reading glasses? Should she take her book or leave it as something she’d be dying to get back to? No lipstick would be right: she’d look at them as if she’d never seen such colors before, as if none of them could even exist on the color spectrum, each one very wrong. The sandals . . . who, but a woman as stupid as she, would not place their new sandals on the closet floor with every other pair of shoes. At their own wedding, mercifully, they had worn blue jeans and been married on the beach. Now, his wife had become rather materialistic, but back then the few guests had stood around in shorts, each with their own kite, the coolers holding champagne bottles and plastic glasses resting on the sand, seagulls spreading their big wings, circling for a handout, the JP’s gold bracelet sparkling in the sun. (“Is he under house arrest?” Jen had said wittily, after they visited the JP several days before the event.) Worry was the price Jen paid for materialism.
His shoes were where he’d stepped out of them in the entranceway days before, coming in from the rain. He took them, with the garment bag, out to the car. The neighbor’s strange son was headed down the dirt road with a butterfly net. The young Nabokov, off to capture—and in this case, probably squish—the butterflies that rose like champagne bubbles from the dust at the shoulder of the road.
John had asked Jen not to tell Bee the details of his surgery, but of course she had—no doubt also cautioning Bee to lie if he asked her directly what she knew. White lies: as prevalent in this family as white noise on the highway that drifted across the meadow toward their house. He had wanted a more secluded house; Jen had said she liked to be nearer what she called “civilization”—the same environment she now damned as being filled with “idiot tourists and Maine-iacs in their tortoise-shell SUVs, driving like lunatics because they can’t imagine they’d ever go belly-up.” Just the week before, someone had died, not at all protected by his SUV as it rolled.
“Have you seen that red box that came last week with my sandals in it? Bright red, no one could miss it, but it is not . . . ” She realized mid-sentence he knew nothing. She went back into the house. He tilted his head, studied the cloudless sky, which almost immediately began to shake—the sky!—as his neck twitched, reacting to the cell phone’s vibration in his pants pocket. But it would be a missed call. He liked that concept. As if by missing a call, you could shape your destiny.
Lately, he wasn’t interested in talking to anyone. He’d listen if Bee called him, specifically, but if he were around when she called her mother, he’d catch Jen’s eye and move his hand sideways. Had they been at an auction—which had been the way they’d bought so much furniture for their house, way back when—he would have been bidding by half-step increments. The phone had stopped vibrating, the sky was safe. Into the house went Chicken Little, silent, as Jen had pointed out he now so often was.
“Shall I call the restaurant?” he called. “I already did, thanks. Eight o’clock.”
“Should I double-check with Bee and make sure she knows not to call until the plane actually lands?”
“You know I hate screaming between rooms,” Jen said, coming out of the bedroom with a patent-leather purse he’d never seen before dangling from one hand. “What?”
“I said, ‘Fantastic weather for what I hope will be a perfect wedding.’ Whatever ‘a perfect wedding’ means.”
“Remember when an interviewer asked Prince Charles if he loved Diana and he said he did, ‘whatever love means’?”
“Prince Charles?” he frowned. “What would make you think of him?” “I suppose because William just got married.”
“We’ll bang around for hours if you don’t pack,” he said. “And while you’re at it, would you put in my pajamas and two pairs of socks?”
“I’m wearing patent-leather pumps,” she said. “I’m not looking for those stupid sandals any longer.”
As she turned, he thought, She assumes I can always concentrate enough to drive; she’s always up for an adventure, even if that only means leaving a day early; she’d act like she was playing Russian roulette and sweat bullets if her phone vibrated and she didn’t even look to see who was calling. She thinks that if she, personally, is orderly, things will be fine; she’d get implants if, God forbid, she had to have a mastectomy, then she’d tell everyone about every minute of it, holding nothing back. Though if that really happened to her, it might make her look at the sky more often. It certainly might.
The Portland Superior Hotel looked out over downtown. Their room had a king-size bed, both blinds and curtains, and a walk-in shower on one side of the entranceway and another room with a door and a toilet and a sink on the other side. He picked up the soap and smelled it. It smelled like a field in France. He thought that he would prefer to be buried in France, then corrected his thinking : he wasn’t Jim Morrison. They wouldn’t want him. But she could scatter his ashes. She could be the sad, lovely widow, the ashes disguised as something clever, something that would make it through security. The surgeon in the red clogs emphatically did not think he would die. The chemo had been bearable, as the doctor had said. It was an advantage to have been almost bald for ten years. His hair, what he had of it, had now grown back rather coarse and curly. It had pleased him to let it grow until he could make a ponytail that protruded an inch from the rubber band. It could have turned into a horse’s tail for all he cared, but his hair simply grew no longer.
He regularly picked up the antidepressant the doctor had ordered, but threw it away and put multivitamins in the bottle in case Jen might pick it up and wonder. He thought he deserved to feel sorry for himself and also that he deserved to realize that he had pretty much made a mess of his life, even if he had earned good money. He was amused to wear the rubber bracelet Bee had given him that said whatever. This was his little joke, though it had no particular point. His wife had said, “Why don’t you get another one that says you say, and make me happy?” Now, his wife was having a scotch from the minibar, sipping from the bottle, looking out over Portland. Was she thinking about the wedding? If he hadn’t married her so many years ago, would she want to marry him now? The vitamin pills did not lead him to think she necessarily would. But it was his plan to pretend to be taking the pills, to pretend to be less depressed, so he said, “Shouldn’t we go to the bar upstairs and look out over the city? Or do you really want to drink that here?”
“Both,” she said, shooting him a sly smile.
So he flipped through the free USA Today as she stood and sipped—by mutual agreement, neither of them went into a hotel room and automatically turned on the TV—then turned and extended her hand. He smiled, genuinely, seeing how bright her eyes were, how lovely her hair. He grabbed the keys and they went out, walked to the elevator, and got on, pushing the button for the top floor. And as the elevator door opened, who should be standing smack in front of them but Dolph and his bride-to-be, who had decided to spend the night at the same hotel. The bride-to-be, Ruth, had been expecting her sister to emerge from the elevator. She’d called—as they learned—from the parking lot to say they’d arrived. Ruth was tedious about details, John could tell from her first minutes of gushing, as if every action needed to be explained or she might be found guilty of something. She wore a miniskirt and had not-bad legs. She was tall, with those over-plucked eyebrow arches everybody had now, wearing frameless glasses and what turned out to be a rather impressive diamond engagement ring (Jen’s was modest; it had been a “dinner ring” that belonged to his grandmother). Jen, at least, had the sense to throw herself into Ruth’s arms, while he stood back as if they were being ambushed. He finally gave his brother a man hug, slapping his back, along with a knowing glance about the two squealing women, already exchanging information.
The sister did not emerge from the next elevator, or the one after that. “Honey, she knows where we are. They’re probably freshening up. Come, let’s sit at a table,” Dolph said. The only “honey” to follow him was John, who was glad that the two women had met and gotten along so well, but really . . . or did only drag queens say really? Drag queens imitating actresses in old movies, who had cigarette holders and fox stoles. He thought of drag queens because he was used to passing them by, when he and Jen went to their little Key West house, just down the street from the 801 where the “girls” gathered every night. Yes, they’d shriek things like, “Re-ah-llllly!” pointing their big hands with their long red fingernails at any mom-and-pop tourist who walked by in a tropical shirt. John they left alone, except for sometimes asking for a light or giving some perfectly pleasant greeting; they knew he was local.
He made the magnanimous offer of ordering a bottle of Cristal—in their instant bonding, Jen and Ruth had run off to the ladies room—but Dolph said it was an unnecessary extravagance, there would be plenty of bubbly (as he called it) the next day, and he was a bourbon man himself. Yes, of course he knew what his brother drank, but on the eve of his wedding . . . even John had thought Dolph should simply have said yes, because the women would have liked it so much. But he was not about to order a whole bottle just for the two of them, and especially not in their absence. He, too, might have a Maker’s Mark, he supposed. To him, it was indistinguishable from Irish whiskey, but if you ordered that, the bartender would pressure you to try some boutique malt, a hundred years old and packed in cow flops or something, and it was exhausting, protesting that you didn’t want it and knowing the bartender just wanted the big tip, he didn’t care if you drank liquid peat moss from Dingle Peninsula or not. To hell with the now-suffering Celtic Tiger and its single malts. He’d have a Maker’s, straight up. Dolph ordered a Jim Beam with water on the side.
He almost said the obvious—that who could imagine such a coincidence?—but it seemed lame, a girly thing to say, and anyway, it wasn’t that much of a coincidence, since the Portland Most Exemplary (as Jen called it) was a big hotel not far from where the wedding would take place the next day. Why shouldn’t Dolph have thought of the same hotel? Yet he wouldn’t have thought Dolph would stay at a new, glitzy place. They were different: Dolph drank Jim Beam; he ordered Maker’s Mark. Their parents had always pointed out how dissimilar their two sons were. If they had more similarities, they probably kept the lid on them because their parents seemed to be so taken with what different people they’d given birth to. Their older sister, from whom both were estranged, had not figured in this equation at all. She was simply, to the parents as well as to the brothers, “troubled.”
Where were Jen and Ruth? Peeing a waterfall?
“Last night of freedom!” John smiled, raising his glass. “To your joining the ranks of the sorely oppressed.”
“That is an idiotic toast,” Dolph said. “I know you’ve been depressed, but don’t take it out on me, and especially none of that sexist stuff when Ruth gets back,” Dolph said, adding a trickle of water to his glass and stirring with the plastic stirrer before sipping tentatively.
This remark surprised him, it certainly did. But he thought it would be best to sidestep the whole issue, to change the subject.
“Will you go to the lake house after your trip, or—”
“Ruth’s son, who is a senior in high school, will have been there for a week by the time we get back. They’re in Switzerland now, on a class trip—couldn’t make the wedding is the official story, but I happen to know he’s showing up tomorrow as a big surprise. Nice kid. He’s something of an athlete. Very good values, nobody to worry about in the lake house. The father was an alcoholic, and it made both of them supercautious.”
“I wasn’t worried about the house.”
“We have so little to say to each other. I know. I know how it is.” “What? Dolph—I have never felt we had very little to talk about.”
“I called you three times through your whole ordeal. I didn’t know what to say. Can you still fuck? That was what I wanted to ask you, and I might as well ask now, so you can’t blame it on my drinking.”
“Yes, Dolph, I can. I’m not much inclined to, though. But since you’re reaching out for some male bonding, I think it’s sissy to take antidepressants, so I put vitamin pills in the bottle so Jen won’t find me out, and approximate a contented human being as best I can. Not that you care about that, apparently—only whether I can fuck.”
“I’m very relieved to hear it,” Dolph said, taking a big sip of his drink and pushing the glass away. “Okay, important business settled before the ladies get back.”
“You know, Jen didn’t think you’d have sex without being married. So can I tell her she’s wrong?”
“You most certainly can. My relationship with Ruth is based on sex.”
“Dolph—is this your first drink?”
“It is, and it’s my last. She’s always worried every man is going to boomerang her back to the kind of life she had with her husband. I’m going to prove her wrong, but she doesn’t know that yet.” Dolph looked up, but it was Ruth’s eyes he met across the room: Ruth, Jen, and some woman who was a shorter, fatter version of Ruth but who otherwise looked very much like her. As they arrived at the table, John saw that Ruth’s sister was wearing cornucopia earrings. The 801 drag queens would have loved them. She was introduced as Belle. Her husband had a headache from so much driving and was lying down. “But that won’t stop me!” she said. John scanned Jen’s face, which was rigidly set in a smile. Where had they been for so long?
An attentive waiter brought first one, then a second chair to the table, removing the salt and pepper shakers and giving them every inch of table space he could. Jen sat in a chair next to him, which he was glad of, and Ruth sat next to Belle, who sat—stupidly—next to Dolph. It would have been a grand gesture to insist on Cristal, but he doubted Belle would know what Cristal was, and he’d have to explain himself—how would he?—to Jen, later. She was materialistic, maybe, but Korbel was good enough for her.
He listened as they placed their drink orders: a white wine, a glass of prosecco (so, really, Jen might have appreciated champagne), and a rum collins “with extra cherries” for guess who. Dolph still had most of his drink. John ordered another. “Please, no toasts,” Dolph said flatly. Now Jen was searching Dolph’s face—what a remark to make, sotto voce but quite audible. What could it mean?
John paid the bill on the sly as he and Jen were leaving—but that grand gesture would probably be lost, because Dolph, Ruth, and Belle remained. Belle, it seemed, meant to make it a night of drinking. “Oh, we have reservations at eight,” Jen had suddenly said—and how good she’d remembered! She’d stood immediately and John had sprung up beside her.
“They’re going upstairs! That’s their ‘dinner reservation,’” Belle joked. He couldn’t wait to be out of there, away from the conversation about
Dolph’s replacing pipes in the lake house. And something about a guy who reached in the woodpile and was bitten by a snake, Dolph having to get him in the truck and race him to the hospital, and people in the emergency room seeming to think he should just wait his turn . . . crazy. But why would there have been a woodpile, when the chimney had needed to be fixed for years—rebuilt, really—and they couldn’t light a fire? Dolph seemed to be on very good terms with the man who’d gotten the snakebite, but all the information about how inefficient the emergency room was . . . and all the while John could have been checking his watch secretly, if he’d even remembered their reservation. Which was a reservation to eat dinner. During which he planned to drink a very good bottle of wine with his wife.
Except that no more had they been seated—a lovely table in the front of the restaurant, and to his surprise, the waitress remembered them from the one dinner they’d had there the year before—than Jen took a call, during which she looked more and more concerned. At one point, while he was considering the wine list and thinking about a California Zinfandel versus the more usual Pinot Noir, she rolled her eyes at him. Those times she even answered her phone in a restaurant she always told whoever was calling that she was eating and would call them back later, but she was not doing that, nor did she respond when he held up the wine list and pointed to the Zinfandel. In fact, it looked like she was about to cry. “I don’t understand,” she said quietly. It wasn’t Bee; this was not the way conversations went with Bee. Something pertaining to Jen’s mother? One of her clients? He meant to order the Zinfandel, but the waitress had good manners and was staying away from the table while Jen hunched over her phone. Then, after many murmurings from which he could only make a few words of phrases, Jen said something he could not hear at all and flipped the phone shut. “George turns out to be a total beast. He’s left her a note; he’s taken off even though he got that summer job in the chemistry lab. He left her a joint and—this is ironic—a bottle of wine, saying she should lighten up and then wise up, I think that was what she said: that she needed to wise up and realize that she needed to get her act together, but that whether she did or not, he’d be in California with his former girlfriend. She thought he’d be getting on the plane with her tomorrow—how idiotic, anyway, that they were flying—and she’s devastated. A joint and a bottle of wine, and he goes back to his girlfriend and sticks her with the rent and his cat and breaks her heart without even a conversation?”
He raised a finger and, when the waitress came quickly to the table, ordered the Pinot Noir. “Good decision,” she nodded, and went away. She couldn’t have been much older than their daughter—their brilliant daughter who had chosen not so brilliantly her first great love. From this vantage point, though, he thought he would advise smoking the joint and drinking the wine.
He took Jen’s hand and shook his head ruefully. Maybe, just maybe, Jen would recover after a glass of wine. He withdrew his hand. “Is she still coming ?” he asked.
“Yes, but John, she’s in a very bad way. She said horrible things about herself that are completely untrue. Go outside and call her.” She reached in her purse and brought out the phone. “She doesn’t want to upset you, because of everything, you know, but you’re not going to be that upset, are you? Call her. Say something to console her.”
He crossed paths with the waitress, carrying two enormous stemmed, bowl-shaped glasses to their table. The Pinot Noir was from a vineyard they’d once toured. It was sure to be excellent. But he continued out the door, into the humid evening. Except for the restaurant, it wasn’t a great neighborhood. Still, he liked the old architecture, the easy parking. He opened the phone and looked at it, looked at someone just around the corner having trouble parallel parking, felt the urge to go to their car and do it for them—such a good guy; such a humanitarian. He held the phone to his ear but did not make the call. It was even possible he might not get found out. That Bee would show up the next day, or call again, and his not talking to her wouldn’t even be a subject of conversation. He had some curiosity about how cheap the wine was that George had left her. Some dreadful bottle from Trader Joe’s, or had it been a meaningful bottle of wine? A lovely, fresh Fleurie? The mere name danced on your tongue. An earthy Sancerre? Two very pretty young women got out of their now-parked car, the wheels too far from the curb, closed their doors, and teetered in the opposite direction in their high heels.
Into the phone, he said, “Now, follow Daddy’s advice and sip your wine until you feel better, then light the joint and feel even better, but leave some of the wine until later, in case you wake up in the middle of the night. Tomorrow you’ll alight from the plane and still be our princess, and your mother will say vile things about men she’d forgotten she thought until now, and your daddy will write you a big check for the summer’s rent but make it very clear that you can always come home, you’re always welcome, you’re the point of everything, the reason for living . . . because by then Daddy will have had a good meal and a bottle of wine and escaped his strange brother and all the goings-on that don’t really matter because everything is just a little bit too contrived, isn’t it? A little too superficial, symbolic in a way that assures others, maybe, but not Daddy.” He shut the phone, dropped it in his pocket, and went back into the restaurant, where two glasses of wine had been poured. His wife looked up expectantly.
“She’s decided that not only can she live through it, she’s glad she found out now how unstable he is. She was already having a glass of wine.”
“Really?” Jen said. “But even that’s awfully odd, don’t you think?”
“We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be nineteen. Let’s have a sip of wine and no toast, in honor of my brother.”
Jen giggled. She said, “You have to wonder what would make someone say a thing like that.”
Ah, his dear wife had ventured out onto the first crossing stone, stepped onto the erratic path that passed through the river of life’s confusion. There would be another stone, an easy distance away, the one that referred to earlier in the evening, then the even more reassuring, flat, Isn’t-the-wine-good? stepping stone, and soon enough she’d have arrived at the final, non sequitur stone, then scurry up the bank into his arms.
She ordered salmon. He ordered steak. Reassured by the pretty, thin young waitress (who probably lived on crackers and water with lemon) that they had chosen well, each sank a bit deeper into the comfortable seats. The smell of fresh flowers reminded him of inhaling the soap earlier, his seconds of respite. As second best, he broke off a bit of bread and breathed in its yeasty aroma; he pushed the point of his knife into some sunflower-yellow butter, well tempered, and smeared it over the bread’s pocked surface. Even the touch of the wine stem in his fingers was lovely, let alone what the glass contained. Which, as he swirled and sipped, would be reassuring. Because really: what could he say to his daughter, who believed her life to be over? That she should see a doctor and get medicine that would alter her mood, and if that worked, dump it out and imitate her improved behavior? She was at Harvard. She would be fine. Her best friend was at BU. Of course Bee would call her, and she would come like the Red Cross nurse. It would all be fine, a lot of talk trashing men but what else was new ? Daddy was exempt.