Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
Elaine takes the boys to Florida and drops them off like they’re dry cleaning.
“See you in ten days,” she says as they wave good-bye in the American terminal. “Be nice!”
She kisses her mother-in-law’s cheek and, feeling the tough skin against her own, thinks of this woman literally as her husband’s genetic map, down to the beard.
“Go,” her mother-in-law says, pushing her towards the gate.
It is the first time she’s left her children like that. She gets back onto the plane thinking there’s something wrong with her, that she should have a better reason or a better vacation plan, Europe not Westchester.
Paul is waiting at the airport. He’s been there all day. After dropping them off this morning, he took over the west end of the lounge and spent the day there working. She knows because he paged her at Miami International to remind her to bring oranges home.
He seems younger than she remembers. His eyes are glowing and he looks a little bit like Charlie Manson did before he let himself go. Elaine is sure he’s been smoking dope again. She imagines Paul locking himself in an airport bathroom stall with his smokeless pipe and some guy who got bumped off a flight to LA.
She wonders why he doesn’t find it strange, pressing himself into a tiny metal cabinet with a total stranger. He once told her that whenever he got stoned in a bathroom with another guy it gave him a hard-on and he was never sure if it was the dope or the other man.
She can’t believe that in all these years he’s never been busted. She used to wish it would happen; she thought it would straighten him out.
“Let’s go home,” Elaine says.
“We don’t have to go home, we can go anywhere. We can …” He winks at her.
“I’m tired,” Elaine says.
* * *
They drive home silently The car is so new that it doesn’t make any noises. Paul pulls carefully into the driveway. Branches from trees surrounding the house scrape across the car. Elaine thinks of campfire horror stories about men with hooks for arms and women buried alive with long fingernails poking through the dirt.
“Got to cut those branches back,” Paul says and then they are silent.
Paul follows her up the steps, talking about the steps. “If we’re going to paint them, we should go ahead and do it before it snows.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” she says, but honestly she doesn’t want to do anything else to the house. She’s given up on it. It’s too much work.
She feels like she’s been having an extramarital relationship with their home. It isn’t even an affair, an affair sounds too nice, too good. As far as she’s concerned a house should be like a self-cleaning oven; it should take care of itself.
The last time she was happy with the house was the day before they moved in, when the floors had just been done, when it was big and empty, and they hadn’t paid for it yet.
Elaine pushes open the front door.
“I wish you’d remember to lock the door,” she says. “In the city you never forgot to lock the door.”
It is dark inside. Elaine stands in the front hall, trying to remember where the light switch is. In the six months they’ve lived there, she and Paul have never been alone in the house. It’s nice, she thinks, still feeling the wall for the switch. She turns on all the lights and begins picking up things, Daniel’s clothing, Sammy’s toys. She straightens the pillows on the sofa and goes upstairs to take a bath. The phone rings and Paul answers it. She falls asleep hearing the sound of voices softly talking, thinking Paul is a good father; he is down the hall, reading a story to Sammy.
As usual they both wake between six-thirty and seven, listening for the children. They are alone together, trapped in their bed. They don’t have to get up. They don’t have to go anywhere. They are on vacation.
Eventually, between seven-thirty and quarter-to-eight, when there is no more getting around it, she looks at him. He is balding. She thinks she can actually see his hairline receding, follicle by follicle. He has told her that he can feel it. He says his whole head feels different: it tingles, it gets chilled easily, it just isn’t the way it used to be. She thinks about herself. Her face is caving in. She has circles and bags and all kinds of things around her eyes. Last week she spent 40 dollars on lotion to cover it all up.
When she comes downstairs, he has already eaten breakfast and lunch.
“Maybe we should go to a movie later?” he says.
Paul doesn’t really mean they should go to a movie; he means they should make a time to be together, in some way or another. Usually they have to get a sitter for this.
“Pick you up around four,” he says.
“Does that mean you’re taking the car? I have things to do.”
“We can go together,” he says.
In his fantasy about suburban life the whole family is always in the car together, going places, singing songs, eating McDonald’s. He loves it when they pull up in front of a store and he goes in while she waits in the car for as long as it takes.
“Forget it,” she says.
Late in the afternoon, Paul comes into the bedroom where Elaine is resting.
“I brought you something,” he says, handing her a porno tape he rented in town.
“For me?” she says.
She can’t imagine that he brought this for her. If he was going to bring her a present she’d like flowers, a scarf, even a record. Porno is not a gift.
He puts the tape in the VCR. They are so used to each other that it doesn’t take long, and after a short nap they decide to actually go to the movies.
The marquee isn’t lit and Elaine has to put on Paul’s glasses in order to see what’s playing. He says something about smoking a joint in the theater, but she reminds him that they both have professional reputations.
“You never know where your clients might be,” she says. “Besides,” she whispers in his ear, “this isn’t Manhattan.”
She puts her hand on his crotch and squeezes. She knows he likes it when she does things like that in public places.
In the darkness of the theater they fall in love. They fall in love not so much with each other, that’s history, but in love with the idea of being in love, of liking someone that much. She puts her head on his shoulder and he doesn’t say anything about it hurting his tennis arm.
After the movie, they walk down the main street. Paul walks with his hands in his pockets and Elaine keeps her arms wrapped tightly around her chest like she’s protecting herself from something. It’s as if in the dark theater they swore they’d be in love for the entire week, but outside in the fresh air, neither is sure it’s viable.
Elaine and Paul cut across the street and go into the only restaurant in town where they can both eat without getting sick. Paul orders a bottle of wine. He orders fettuccine alfredo without checking with Elaine. She doesn’t say anything about his cholesterol. It’s part of their love agreement. They are for the moment Siamese twins separated. They are off-duty parole officers. They are free. Their sons are in Florida being overfed by his mother.
In the car on the way home they smoke two joints. She tells Paul to drive by the sound before going back to the house. He parks at the edge of the water, turns off the engine, and they sit looking out, across to whatever it is that’s out there, maybe Connecticut.
“Did you think we’d ever be here, like this?” Elaine asks.
“Here like what?”
“Here, in a house, with a station wagon?”
A light flashes across their car, and instead of going on it freezes on Elaine and Paul. There is a knock on Paul’s window and the flashlight shines in.
“Roll down your window, sir?” the police officer says. “Can I help you? Are you looking for something?”
“Just taking in the view,” Paul says.
Elaine thinks they’re being busted, the cop smells the dope. She can’t believe she’s in the car and this is happening, now, to her. She hardly ever gets stoned.
Even though it’s early October, Paul is beginning to sweat. Elaine thinks he’ll turn them in. He’s reminding her of Dagwood Bumstead.
“We just moved here six months ago,” Elaine says.
It’s always her job to take care of things. To deal. If they are arrested, they will have to move, immediately, before the boys come home. There will be a picture of her on the front page of the local paper, NEWCOMER UP IN SMOKE
“Do you have any identification? May I see your license, sir?”
The cop looks like he’s 12 years old. If he ever shaves it’s not because he has to, but because it makes him feel older.
“Is this your current address?”
“No, we live here at three-four-three-three Maplerock Terrace,” Elaine says.
She smiles at the cop. He doesn’t ask for her license. She’s the wife.
The cop’s whole head is inside the car, but he doesn’t seem to smell anything. Elaine decides that either he’s retarded or has a serious sinus problem.
“You’re new here,” he says.
“That’s right. I’m even a member of the newcomers club, meets once a month,” Elaine says, determined to keep them out of jail.
“Well,” the cop says. “Why don’t you go on home now.”
“We were just taking in the view,” Paul says, nodding towards the sound.
“We don’t do that here, sir,” the cop says. “Have a good evening, sir,” the cop says.
He turns off his flashlight and walks back to the squad car.
Paul doesn’t start the car right away. He doesn’t seem able to. He’s covered with a slimy film of sweat. His skin is glow-in-the-dark white.
“Are you in pain?” Elaine asks.
She turns on the map light so she can get a better look at him.
“Are you having a heart attack?”
She wishes she hadn’t let him order the fettuccine. “Should I take you to the hospital?”
“Drive home?” he says.
She opens her door and goes around to the other side. The cop is parked down the block, lights off watching them.
Paul crosses over inside the car. His legs get stuck on the gear shift and it is a few minutes before Elaine can get in. She stands in the street, waiting. She thinks about what would happen in an emergency, if Paul really had to stand up to something, a burglar maybe.
During the night Paul’s stomach starts in and toxic clouds billow silently from his sleeping body. Elaine goes into Sammy’s room and buries herself among the stuffed animals, using the big bear for a pillow and a husband.
At around seven Paul wakes Elaine by trying to fit himself next to her in the twin bed.
“You smelled terrible,” she says.
“Why did you let me have the fettuccine?”
She doesn’t say anything. It’s too complicated. She let him eat it because she doesn’t like him and doesn’t care what he does and wishes he would die soon. She let him eat it because she loves him and can’t deny him his pleasures and is determined not to act like his mother.
He starts to make love to her.
“Not here,” she says, thinking it’s an incredibly perverted thing to do in their child’s bed.
He stops and curls next to her. She rolls in towards the wall, pulling the Mickey Mouse blanket up over her head. Without the children, with nothing absolutely required of her, she is exhausted. She is more tired than she ever remembers being.
She dreams that her children have been attacked by a shark. She hears her mother-in-law telling her the story, long distance.
They’re fine, that’s the most important thing. In the history of Miami Beach, it never happened before. Sammy was lying at the edge of the water, not really even in the water, and a shark, a very small shark, washed up on top of him. And Daniel, what a big boy, what a man, reached down and pulled the shark off Sammy, but then the shark got Daniel by the arm. It wasn’t a big shark. It must have been dying because why else was it on the beach? Daniel just shook it off. No skin broken. It’s here now, in the bathtub. The boys want to have it stuffed. I said it’s up to you. You’re the mother.
At noon Elaine gets out of bed, and pulls on the same clothing she wore yesterday. She doesn’t bother to brush her teeth. She isn’t going to run into anyone she has to talk to. Elaine takes the car to the grocery store. She sits in the parking lot staring at the store. She hates it, but figures that since she’s already there, she’ll be a good sport, she’ll run in.
Elaine picks out items that are strictly for adults only, foods her children would never let her buy: smelly cheese, pate, crackers with seeds, wine. It adds up to thirty-nine dollars and somehow fits into one bag.
“My mother called,” Paul says as she walks into the house.
He is on a ladder in the hallway, changing a bulb that burned out three months ago.
“Is everything all right?” She asks, thinking of the shark dream.
“Sammy misses you. They’ll call back.”
She crosses under the ladder and goes into the kitchen.
“Bad luck, under the ladder,” he says.
She makes herself a huge plate of food, takes a bottle of wine, and crosses back under the ladder on her way upstairs.
“Are you planning to share?”
She doesn’t answer him. She knows he can’t imagine her eating all that. She hates food, and yet she is hungry; she is so hungry that she can’t wait to get upstairs where she can be alone with the food, where she can dig in without an audience.
“I’m changing the bulb, didn’t you notice?”
She knows she’s supposed to think he’s wonderful for finally doing something. But as far as she’s concerned, he’s wasting time. Elaine throws a grape at him. It hits his chest and falls into his shirt.
“Grapes cost three dollars a pound,” he says. “I thought we agreed not to buy them. The boys just squish them between their fingers and leave them on the table.”
“The boys are away,” she says, and continues up the stairs.
She sits in the middle of their bed with her plate. Something is missing: olives, onions, garnishes. She carries the plate back downstairs.
Paul is sitting in the chair in front of the TV, in broad daylight, with a glass of Hawaiian Punch in his hand. He looks like a demented version of the suburban man, the Playboy man, the man in his castle.
She takes a sip from his glass. It is tainted. There is something wrong with the punch. She thinks about supermarket tampering, murder in the suburbs, and how much she hates food. She thinks she’s going to die.
“There’s something wrong with the punch,” she says, coughing.
“There’s vodka in it,” he says, taking the glass back from her.
She takes her plate and goes into the kitchen, planning to pile it higher, then go back upstairs and never come down. She stands inside the refrigerator door, snacking. She hates eating in the kitchen. It makes her think about cleaning up and then she loses her appetite.
She carries her plate into the living room.
Paul is on the floor two feet from the TV, sitting cross-legged, his drink in his crotch, playing with Daniel’s Nintendo. There’s a driving game on the screen. He crashes again and again. Paul’s been driving for more than 20 years. He should be able to get through a game; she’s seen Daniel do it a million times.
In a way it’s cute, Paul playing like a little boy, falling into the TV. But there’s also something incredibly pathetic about it.
“Could you turn it down a little?” Elaine asks.
Paul’s car slips off the road and crashes into a billboard. The car bursts into flames and Game Over, Game Over flashes across the screen.
“Can’t you see I’m doing something?” he screams, pushing the restart button.
“You’re playing a game.”
“Leave me alone.”
* * *
Elaine goes back upstairs. She can’t stand him. She can’t stand anything about him: the way he thinks, talks, looks, all of it. She knows he hates her too and that makes it even worse. It makes her nuts. She should be able to hate him without any backlash.
She sits in the middle of their bed with her plate and turns on the TV. She sits in front of it, staring at it, and then gets upset when she realizes that she’s been watching golf for at least a half hour.
She pours herself a glass of wine, puts a piece of cheese on a cracker, and leans back on her pillow. She drinks the wine and then pours herself another glass. It’s so nice, she thinks, to lie in your bed and drink and not worry about drinking too much, about having to be on duty, like a nurse in a ward, so fucking responsible.
She feels like she’s floating. She feels wonderful. She wishes she could do this every day. It would make her life so much better. The phone rings and she ignores it. It rings and rings, and finally she has to pick it up.
“Mommy,” Sammy’s small voice says. “Mommy, why did you leave me here?”
She sits up in bed, spilling the glass of wine all over her shirt.
“I didn’t leave you there, sweetie, I brought you there to be with Grandma, to go to the beach, to swim. You’re on vacation, honey.”
She can’t believe how drunk she is; she’s trying to be normal, to sound like herself.
“I don’t want to be on vacation,” he says.
There’s a silence and then nothing. She wonders if her child has hung up on her. She wonders what kind of a mother she is.
“He’ll be fine,” her mother-in-law says. Her voice is deep from smoking and she sounds like Milton Berle. “I gave him some chocolate milk and cookies. I told him he has his brother and me. We’ll see how it goes.”
“If he’s not hungry don’t make him eat,” Elaine says.
She doesn’t want her child growing up with an eating disorder. She doesn’t want him fat or thin. She wants him just right.
“Make him eat? How could I make him eat? I put it on the plate. If he wants it, he eats it, my little prince. And Daniel, I think he’s starting to like girls. All around the pool, they crowd around him. Hold on, I’ll get him that misses his mother so much.”
Elaine is nauseated. Her mother-in-law is too much, too strong. She waits on the world hand and foot. Compared to her, Elaine is nothing.
“Mommy,” Sammy says, “why did you bring me here and leave me?”
“I just told you, baby, you’re on vacation.”
“When are you coming to take me home?”
“Grandma is bringing you home next week. You’ll be tan and beautiful.”
“I want to come home now. Come and get me now.”
“I can’t do that, sweetie. I’m here with Daddy. Have a good time with Grandma and I’ll see you soon.”
He starts to cry. She is annoyed. She’s annoyed, and then she can’t believe how selfish she’s being. This is her child, her baby. How could she be angry? How could she have gone to the grocery store and not bought anything for him, no animal crackers, Ho-Ho’s, nothing he likes?
“Oh, baby, it’s all right. I miss you too, you’re my boy, I’ll call you again later. Tell Grandma to give you another cookie.”
In the background Sammy is crying and Daniel is laughing. Mixed messages. She hangs up the phone, takes off her wine-soaked shirt, and tries to remember what you do to get wine stains out. She drops the shirt onto the floor, lies back on the bed in her bra, and pours herself another glass of wine.
Paul comes upstairs and asks what’s for dinner. She hands him a cracker with cheese. He lies down next to her on the bed.
“Did you take a shower today?” she asks.
He looks insulted. “I’ve been working all day.”
“You didn’t take a shower. You smell.”
He kisses her.
“Your face hurts,” she says. “I can’t kiss you when you don’t shave.”
In the old days when they were on vacation, they would shower together, make love, and then change into good clothes and go out for dinner. Now Elaine is lying half-naked on a crumb-covered bed, smelling like cheap rosé. Paul pulls off his shirt and sticks his nose into his armpit. “It’s not so bad,” he says.
“You must have a blockage in your nose. Maybe you should see an Ear, Nose, and Throat man.”
He lies down next to her. She picks up the platter from the floor and puts it between them. They eat and pass the wine glass back and forth. When the plate is empty and the bed scratchy with cracker crumbs, they roll over and fall asleep.
In his sleep Paul knocks the empty glass off the bed and onto the floor. The stem snaps off.
At ten o’clock Paul gets out of bed and steps on the glass. Elaine spends the next half hour pulling pieces of glass out of Paul’s foot. She presses gauze pads soaked in peroxide against his wounds, and he yells into her ear. She feels like Florence Nightingale.
There is blood on the sheets, and on the floor. Little pieces of broken glass are everywhere.
Her wine-stained shirt is still on the floor. The empty plate is on the floor. They pull off the rest of their clothing, and curl up next to each other for warmth.
The television is still on, but they can’t find the remote control. They end up watching a special half-hour report on crack.
As they’re watching it, they’re both thinking it looks great. It looks fun.
When the report is over, they are quiet for a minute, uncomfortable, and then he turns to her and says, “I think I can get some?”
“When?” she asks.
“Tomorrow,” he says.
She turns away from him, puts her head down on the pillow, and falls asleep, looking forward, for the first time in a long time, to tomorrow.
“When are you getting the crack?” she asks, as soon as she wakes up.
“I’ll make some calls,” he says.
“This morning?” she asks.
“It’s going to take hours just to find someone who knows a crack dealer,” he says.
Elaine tells Paul she has errands to run. She gets in the car and spends two and a half hours driving around—practically in circles because she doesn’t want to go too far, she doesn’t want to get lost.
By the time she gets home the crack is there. Somehow Paul found a dealer who delivers.
It has been forever since either of them did anything new. Buying the house, moving out there was new, but it was also something they were expected to do. It was destiny.
There are six vials on the dining room table.
“Is that a lot or a little?” she asks.
Paul shrugs. “I dunno,” he says. “It’s too new for me.” He pauses. “Remember me?” he says “Remember when I was young and had hair and knew about things?”
She nods. She remembers him 12 years ago, when he was young and brilliant and there was no one else like him.
“At least you knew where to get it,” she says.
“We may not like it,” he says.
“I like it already,” Elaine says.
Paul puts the crack into a pipe he also bought from the dealer and Elaine begins to get nervous. It is too exciting. She can’t believe they are actually going to do this. It’s so not like them, not the way anyone would expect them to be.
Paul lights the pipe and draws in. The dining room fills with a smell that is at the same time familiar and completely unfamiliar, something vaguely like a doctor’s office or the house late on Thursday afternoon just after the maid’s gone home. She is not sure if it is the crack burning or the pipe melting. Paul scrunches his eyes closed, tilts his head back, and hands the pipe to her. She puts a little more of the crack rock in and nervously lights it.
Elaine has the sensation of being a fountain. She herself is the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel. Sparks pour out of her and bounce across the ground before dying out. She is a Roman candle. It is so good that she almost can’t stand it. She has to sit down. She has to lie down on the living room sofa. She has to smoke again as soon as the sensation starts to fade.
“This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” An image of a fried egg on television. A commercial. Sammy had looked at the TV and said, “No it’s not, that’s my breakfast,” and then collapsed laughing onto the floor.
Between then and midnight they go through four vials. When they stop it is only because they have the sensation that their bodies can’t stand anymore. They are sweating profusely. Paul starts taking his pulse every five minutes and writing it down.
“I’m making a graph,” he says. “Let me take yours too. Me in blue, you in red.”
Elaine doesn’t answer him. She goes into the kitchen, opens the freezer, and digs out a spoonful of ice cream It feels like velvet in her throat.
“What are you doing?” Paul yells from the living room.
“Nothing,” she says.
She smells the crack burning again.
“My pulse is a hundred and eighty,” Paul says.
“Isn’t that aerobic?” Elaine yells in to him. She is pleased that she can be witty and stoned all at once.
Suddenly, in the kitchen, she gets nervous that someone will call, the parent of one of her children’s friends, someone in a carpool, and on the phone she’ll say something that will ruin her life or at least her future. She turns on the answering machine.
Paul screams from the living room. He doesn’t say anything, he just screams as loud as he can. Elaine runs in and tells him to stop.
“You have ice cream on your face,” Paul says, and then starts screaming again.
“You’re upsetting me,” she says. “I felt so good before, and now I feel as if everything is strange, everything is ruined.”
Paul stops screaming and holds his wife. He holds her and hands her the pipe. “Just do a little more,” he says. “And then we’ll stop. Just get it good again.”
And so she does one more, and it is good again, and the living room looks so nice and their halogen lights are so bright and modern. They are alone together in their house.
They lie on the sofa, having silent conversations with each other. The voices in their heads are so loud that neither realizes that they aren’t actually talking.
Finally, at about three in the morning, they begin to unwind, the lights seem too bright, and Paul gets up and turns them off then picks up the two leftover vials and puts them in his pocket.
They go upstairs to bed, but neither sleeps. They turn the television off and on and fight about who should have control of the remote and how often they should change channels. At five in the morning, Elaine gets out of bed and brings them each a Valium. It’s like a party favor. They pop them into their mouths and swallow without water.
Elaine wakes up, dying of thirst and craving sugar. She can’t remember if they ate dinner last night. Walking down the steps she feels uncoordinated, spastic, as though she has a neurological disease. She feels the age of her body and the weight of gravity. Everything pulls towards the ground.
Elaine stands naked in the kitchen, sucking the last drops of Berry Red from a cardboard box of Hawaiian Punch. She shifts the straw around and for a second it slips out of her mouth. A little bit of the bright red drink rolls down her neck.
The doorbell rings and then rings again. She freezes. She thinks it’s the police. The neighbors smelled the crack burning.
Elaine is naked in the kitchen. There is no way to get anywhere without passing windows. There is only a dishtowel too small to cover anything.
There is a knock at the door and a man calls her name.
“Misses?” She crouches down so that if he comes around the side of the house, he can’t see her. Elaine slides across the floor and checks the calendar. It is written in that someone is coming to measure for carpet. She creeps over to the door, reaching up to check that it is locked. He knocks on the front door again.
She is afraid he will try the knob and it will open. The carpet man will find her on the floor naked. Everyone knows that in a house you’re supposed to wear a bathrobe. People will talk about it. They’ll say she’s an alcoholic, she must have passed out like that. They’ll ask each other if she walks around naked when the children are home. They’ll stop letting their kids sleep over.
On her stomach she crawls across the linoleum towards the coat closet in the hall. When she gets there she opens the door and stands up inside the closet. Her stomach and breasts are covered with lint and dirt. She puts on Paul’s black cashmere overcoat and opens the door.
The police officer is there. It is the same police officer from the other night.
Elaine wonders if you can bust someone retroactively.
“Is there a problem?” Elaine asks.
“Somehow, I didn’t give your husband back his license. It took me a while to find you. The old address and all,” he says.
She takes the license from the cop. “Thank you.”
The cop nods. “No problem.”
She wonders if he knows that she’s naked inside the coat. She wonders what he thinks of that. The phone rings.
“Telephone, ma’am,” the cop says.
“Oh, right, thanks again,” Elaine says.
“I’m bringing the boys home early,” her mother-in-law says. Her voice is amplified by the answering machine. It sounds like God is talking.
Elaine turns off the machine and picks up the phone. “Is something wrong?”
“The baby is too young to be without his mother.”
She doesn’t understand what is going on. She wonders if maybe her mother-in-law is slipping, getting too old to deal with children.
“Daniel came to me early, but that was different,” her mother-in-law says. “You put him in day care at eight months. He didn’t know you. He didn’t need you.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing, just that Sammy is different, it’s always that way with the youngest.” Her mother-in-law doesn’t say anything for a minute. “The plane gets in at five.”
Mother is coming, Mother is here, everything is going to be all right, Elaine thinks.
Elaine goes upstairs, wakes Paul and tells him. They are both silent. They are protective of their freedom. There are other things they want to do. They want to go further. They want to be alone with each other, and alone with themselves.
Paul and Elaine stand in the center of their bedroom, undressing. Paul pulls the bandage from his foot, and strips off his underwear. Elaine strips the sheets off the bed, goes down the hall, strips the sheets in her son’s room, and stuffs everything into the laundry chute. They smile at each other. They shower together. In the shower, Paul shaves and Elaine scrubs the tiles with the fingernail brush, not getting out until the whole wall is done.
Elaine combs her wet hair back and Paul tells her she looks beautiful.
“It was good,” Elaine says.
Paul puts clean Band-Aids on his foot. They dress. In a way they are relieved. Together they put clean sheets on the beds, puff the pillows, vacuum the bedroom, empty the trash, and load the dishwasher. Downstairs as they are cleaning, Elaine and Paul look at each other and as if they’ve each had the same thought at the same moment, as if they’re sharing a secret, they go into the living room and carefully check the cushions on the sofa making sure there’s nothing there, no empty vials.
A.M.Homes is the author of The Safety of Objects, a collection of short stories published by W.W. Norton and a novel, Jack, published by Vintage.
Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.