THE CIRCLE LEADS HOME
@ 1998 by Mary Anderson Parks
International Standard Book Number 0-87081-488-5
Published by The University Press of Colorado
IN GRATITUDE TO
Terry Sherf, publishing consultant and inspiration
Berkeley writing group
Tio’s writing practice
All the people I have worked with and been guided by in the Indian community
All my ancestors
All my friends
All my relations
I run plum gloss over my lips and press them together, savoring the feel and taste. As I replace the gloss in my middle desk drawer, Pride and Prejudice stares up at me. Monday I’ll finish it during lunch, then on Tuesday I can swing by the library and get books for Tony, too. I switch off the computer and cover it with its plastic protector, then slide the scotch tape into a neat row with the stapler and paper clip holder. Leaning forward from the hips, I shake my head so my hair swishes against my cheekbones.
Allen stands in the doorway to his office. He looks harried, as usual, but there is something else in his eyes, something that makes my back muscles stiffen.
“I wondered . . .” He pauses and scrunches his mouth, a habit he has.
“I’ve got tickets to a concert. I know this sounds corny, but somebody gave them to me at the last minute. A violin concerto? Would you be free tomorrow night?”
Asking that, he looks like a little boy. He reminds me of dozens of men and boys asking such questions. He does have his own style, though. He is thirty-eight, only six years older than I am, but bending over law books has given him a permanent stoop.
“It was just a thought,” he says. He must see something in my face that stops him. Maybe he sees me thinking I know where this is heading and I don’t want to go down that path. But that’s not what I tell him.
“Allen, you’re forgetting,” I say. “I’ve got a thirteen-year-old and girls have discovered him. I don’t dare leave him alone.” It’s not quite the truth, but close. I smile, knowing he’ll forgive me if I smile in just that way.
He ducks his head and looks sheepish, maybe even relieved. “Ann’s still at her sister’s.” He sighs. “I have no idea when she’ll be back.”
“It’ll work out, Allen,” I tell him. I get up, go to the coat tree, and pull down my green suede jacket. “Whatever’s supposed to happen.” I want to change the subject, get away from all this that takes us right to the edge. “I wonder if it’s still raining.”
His expression takes on more confidence, more energy. “Who knows! This crazy spring weather switches on us every ten minutes. He grins at me. “Someday we’ll get us an office with windows, babe, and we’ll know what’s happenin’.” He sails smoothly into the Bogie style he often hides behind. He actually does resemble Bogart: intelligent face so ugly it fascinates, and a kind heart. I brush past him, careful not to pass too close, as he holds the door open. It makes me laugh inside, knowing he likes being several inches taller than I am. All my life I’ve wished I were tall and slim and model material, but I’m barely three inches over five feet and I have to watch my weight. I push away the image of my mother, even shorter, and round and bristling as a hedgehog all those years ago when we last saw each other. At least I haven’t slept with Allen. And we’re alone together in this tiny office all day except when clients come in. No married men, that’s one standard I’ve kept to!
There’ve been close calls, like the time he surprised me when I was writing a poem. “What’s it about?” he asked, and I could feel the pull I exerted on him, an electric connection that wasn’t only physical, it was my mind drawing him. I lifted the sheet of paper for him to take and saw his white hand tremble when it touched my brown fingers. So I started talking in a way that would keep a distance. “I read in the paper,” I told him, “about an Indian tribe that worked thirty years to reestablish claim to their land and be recognized by the feds.” “You wrote about that?” He sounded surprised. “No,” I told him. “I wrote about growing up on my reservation and how my bare, five-year-old feet knew the earth under us belonged to my tribe.” I watched him read the lines. I watched his face to see if he understood anything of what I was trying to say. He laid down the poem. “I’m from the tribe that’s wandered the earth for centuries,” he said, “and I haven’t made it to Israel yet. So I wouldn’t know the feeling. I think you’ve got it, though. I think you’ve got the feeling right there in those eight lines.” I wondered if the sudden moisture in his eyes was from emotion, or if his allergies were bothering him again. Then he asked me, “Remember that writing sample you submitted when you applied for this job?” “Yes,” I told him, “and I felt embarrassed after I gave it to you – I wanted to grab it back.” He flashed me a grin. “My only worry was you’d turn my legalese into poetry and have judges in tears. Maybe not a bad idea, hey?”
He knows so little about my life, though I’ve worked for him four years, and during those years Larry wasted away and died. He doesn’t even know my husband was black. Or would Larry be calling himself African American?
“Have a good weekend, Allen.” The words are meaningless, but make him feel cared about. He’ll come back and work on the weekend. There are times he needs me to work on a Saturday, but this morning I finished the appellate brief and sent it off. He’ll find some reason though, to come back and work. I take the steps for the five flights down, feeling agile despite high heels, enjoying the movement in my calves and thighs, glad not to be a workaholic. I feel a smile touch my face, relaxing the muscles. It is cool, Seattle-gray daylight outside, a couple of hours yet before dark. My bus to Beacon Hill comes right away, and I find a seat by the window. A good feeling to be on the bus, away from both my lives, in blissful suspension.
A huge figure looms over me. “Mind if I sit here?” He seats himself as he asks, and presses his thigh against mine. I edge closer to the window, but the man moves with me. He is white, pasty-complexioned, with scraggly hair and a soiled shirt that doesn’t quite cover his bulging belly. “You’re too good-lookin’ to be alone on a Friday night, squaw girl,” he says. “Yuh know that?”
It’s best to move quickly. I get up and force my way past the bumpy knees that stick out, blocking me. The bus lurches, and I catch hold of a pole. Finally I make my way to the front, where I squeeze into a small space on the bench behind the driver. You look like an Indian Jessica Lange, Allen told me the morning after he and his wife saw “Blue Skies.” He’d responded to my questioning glance with an embarrassed flush. “Something in your eyes. Maybe the shape of them.” Remembering his words almost blots out the sound in my ears of “squaw girl.” I yearn to be home.
I step aside to let an ancient Asian woman exit ahead of me. I reach out to steady the woman. Her elbow feels bony in my hand. I stay close behind as she creeps down the steps of the bus and onto the curb. The tiny old woman’s acknowledgment is like an elder’s of my own tribe might be, a slight inclination of the head. Then she darts her sharp beetle eyes from side to side and scuttles off, impervious to the heavy mist and the young gangster-types lounging amid discarded food containers and flattened beer cans. They barely give the woman a glance. Maybe, if I ever get that old, maybe the reward will be peace in the midst of danger.
The marijuana stench fills my nostrils with a sweet-sour sting as I approach the knot of black teenagers, eight or ten of them, leaning on the bus shelter and somebody’s fence. To avoid their notice I try to walk with a minimum of movement though the cloud of smoke, which gets denser as I near the heart of the knot. I keep my eyes straight ahead and shift my shoulder bag to the street side. Then I wonder if this is a mistake. Will they take it as a sign of fear?
The muscles tighten in my back and legs. I quicken my steps.
One of the boys detaches himself from the mob and grasps me by the shoulder. “Hey, bitch. I’m talkin’ to you!”
“Leave her alone, man. She’s Victor’s mom.” The second voice cuts in and thwarts the move. Even as my breath comes easier, I feel a new fear take hold, twisting my insides. How do they know Victor? The color blue waves in my mind, seizing my attention. I remember dashing out last week to give Victor his lunch money that he’d forgotten on the kitchen counter. I reached the sidewalk on the run, in time to see him disappear around the corner, the blue thing streaming out of his hip pocket. It hadn’t been there when he left the house. I hurry on, not taking the chance of slowing to confirm what I glimpsed, the flashes of blue showing from pockets and waistbands. Neighbors have been talking about gangs moving in. It would be great if once in a while two and two didn’t add up.
I approach our house, feeling eager to get there, and find a pile of dog shit on the front walk. A laugh wells up inside. The perfect symbol! It is huge, obscene, a thing that been hidden from view, rotting away inside. Then it comes out and you have to deal with it because there it is in your face. Should I laugh or cry? I insert my key in the lock. Automatically, I’ve been holding it in readiness all the way from the corner. I let myself in and close the deadbolt, then hang my bag and damp suede jacket on the hook by the door. Coffee would help. A thick oily brew sits on the stove, left over from morning. I turn the electric on under the metal pot, then totter into the front room and collapse on the couch, careful to avoid the spring that has popped through the upholstery. My high-heeled pumps clunk one by one onto the wood floor. It is heaven to be home early and have some quiet. The boys will come in and turn on the television. Will I have the energy to tell them to turn it off until their homework is done? I’m drifting off into a sweet, still, dreamy space, floating there, when an indignant yell claims me back.
“Mom, you burned the coffeepot!”
“Put hot water in it!” I’ve done it so often the bottom has worn thin. At work there is a nice glass coffeemaker and somehow, there, I remember to turn it off.
“Hey, Mom, I brought a friend. We want to watch TV.”
Careful to pull my short, straight skirt over my knees, I sit, rub my eyes, and swing my feet to the floor. Then I look at the boy standing by my son in the doorway and wish I were sill dreaming. Victor is tall for thirteen, but this boy towers over him by a good five or six inches. An expensive designer jacket accentuates his broad shoulders, and he wears a smile I don’t trust. I steel myself against the easy charm in his eyes, flashing there appraising me. I’ve seen it before. I know to be careful and put up my guard. But how to tell Victor any of this? Victor saunters into the room, trying to look cool, walking that way a lot of the guys do, a way I have never seen him move before.
“Victor . . .” I catch myself. I want to bring whatever gentility I can to this encounter. “What’s your friend’s name?”
“Rodney, ma’am. Pleased t’meet yuh.” The boy has a deep voice one could be reassured by, lulled. It has the Deep South somewhere in its depths.
“Hi, Rodney. Do you live around here?”
“No ma’am. I live over the other sida the hill.” He means the project, he doesn’t want to say so. Neither did I when I lived there.
“You boys met at school then?”
“Sorta.” Victor ducks his head away from me.
“And what does that mean, Victor?” I am learning to ask the hard questions, the ones to which I’m not sure I want the answers. At least Rodney isn’t wearing blue anywhere. My mind pockets the observation, taking comfort from it. So Victor’s probably just a wannabe. I’ve read about that in the papers. Kids who want to be in a gang but aren’t. How long can that last?
“We met near the school ground, Mom. Rodney’s older. He don’t go to school anymore.”
“You don’t have homework then, do you, Rodney, that you have to get done on time? Like Victor does?” I feel my senses sharpening. Mother fox, foxy lady, am I both in one? I really don’t like the look in this boy’s eyes.
“I sure don’t, ma’am.” He laughs. It isn’t insolent. It is something else, not all that far from insolent. He turns to Victor suddenly, locking me out. “Hey, man, let’s go someplace, okay? I don’t want to be botherin’ your family.” Then, in a lower voice, “You said she wouldn’t be home.”
Victor scuffs his tennis shoe against the base of an armchair. “Mom, we’re goin’ out for a while, okay?”
“Where are you going?”
“Oh, just hang out. You know.”
Do I have a choice? Could I say “No” and be obeyed? I feel terribly alone.“Be back at six, Victor. I’ll have dinner ready. Then you can do your homework. You’ll have to miss those shows you watch in the evening.”
“Hell, Mom. I don’t care about those shows.” The way his body turns away from me as he speaks, the twist to his mouth, the rolling of his eyes to the side—all are new, all speak of his embarrassment with every word that comes out of my mouth.
Stubborn, I persist. “What do you do, Rodney? I mean, if you’re not in school. Do you work?”
“Oh, I make good money, ma’am, that I do.” Rodney aims an evil grin at me. “We’ll be on our way now. Nice meetin’ yuh.” I hear his voice faintly as they go out the front door. “She’s a looker, your mom.”
For a long time after they leave, I stare at the stain on the wall where I threw a pot of coffee three days after Larry and the boys and I moved here. That’s how long it took the losers who called themselves his friends to find Larry in his new home and come, just as before, night after night, and take him away. Tony’s footsteps on the porch cut into the memory. I hear the door open and call out to him.
“Come in here, baby!”
“Hi, Mom. Who’s that with Victor?”
“Are they still out there?”
“Kind of. They were sort of leaving . . .” From the way Tony looks in every direction but at me, I guess they must be smoking. I hope it isn’t pot. If I weren’t trying to cut down, I’d light a cigarette right now.
“Tony, make some coffee, will you? Clean the pot out first. I fell asleep and it burned to the bottom again.”
He throws down his bookbag and runs to the kitchen, eager as always to help. A good age, nine. A teenager is new territory. When we moved here, two years ago, I never expected to do it alone. Four months later, Larry was dead. It’s the good side of the hill. I held up a lot of hopes based on that. No crack houses, no dealers in doorways, a neighborhood of families living in houses with yards, most with dogs. The knot of boys at the bus stop intrudes into my thoughts, then the pile of dog shit. It has to be the Doberman. He’s the biggest dog around. We haven’t been broken into, though, and the house with the Doberman has. The burglars threw him meat and went right past him. I stare through the coffee stain at memories that feel more real than anything in the present. Sometimes I have the weird sense that truth comes right out of this wall and hits me between the eyes. Larry started heavy into drugs when Victor was ten. Was it that he couldn’t bear to see his own youth leaving him? To see his son become a man, because then how could he justify not being able to get a job?
“Tony, come and tell me about school when the coffee’s ready. And get yourself some pop.”
“I’ll have orange juice, okay?”
“Sure. We’ve got enough. I go to the store tomorrow.” Saturday. When I was a kid Saturday was a happy day. All the kids on the reservation ran around in packs and felt free to go to any house to use the bathroom or ask for something to eat or drink. Most everybody was related, or close to it. Now I’ve come to fear Saturdays. Sundays, too. All that free time and kids . . .Wanting to shut off my mind, I switch on the television, then turn it off. We should talk, Tony and I. He loves it when I take time to listen. Somehow I have to find the secret to keeping the lines between us open. I remember sitting on the lap of my father’s mother, Ferntree. You could tell her anything and she would smile or grow sad with you but never pass judgment. Maybe if Ferntree had still been alive when I came into my teens, I could have told her about seeing my father with the blonde woman, about seeing the blonde woman lay her hands against his cheeks. It would have helped to have someone I could tell. Even though it concerned her own son, Ferntree would have listened, not judging. Why then do I, the daughter, presume to judge? I back off from that.
Victor has quit talking to me about school. In my dreams even, I worry about what goes on there, where he still has four more years, and then I wake to read in the paper worse things than I dreamed. Mainly, I can tell how it is by the change in his eyes. The hope has gone out of them. A tight ball of frustration boils up in me, thinking of the flatness in his eyes. My brother Harry was about the same age as Victor when he had the hope driven out of him, too.
Tony comes in with a steaming mug of coffee and a glass of orange juice. He hands me the coffee and sits down on the couch, careful not to bounce. The spring sticks up right in the middle, between us, like an old friend.
“So how was school today?”
Tony stares at the wall. Is he too thinking about his father? Larry shielded him from the drug craziness to a point that hardl seemed possible, but Tony heard and saw my rage when I threw the coffeepot.
“Tony?” I say his name gently, trying to pull him back.
“I won’t be going to school that much longer, Mom, probably.”
“What on earth?” I choke on the hot coffee. “What do you mean?”
Mrs. Jorgenson told us today most Indian kids drop out by ninth grade, or even sooner.” His eyes travel down the wall. “She said it’s a real tragedy.”
“Well what the fuck does she know about it, the old bag!”
The words burst out. I make an effort, try to grab control of thoughts bouncing off walls like a slammed ping-pong ball. “Tony, that lady is not in touch. That’s kids who don’t have anybody who cares about them.” I search his face, trying to gauge if I am reaching him. I mean some Indian kids do drop out of school, but it won’t be you because you like school. You know how important it is to get an education, so you’ll have choices of what to do with your life.” Who can I point to as an example? “That man, Nighthorse, who got elected to Congress, remember?” Thank God I thought of him!
“I’ll never be in Congress, Mom.” Tony looks at me as if I just landed from the moon.
I take a sip of coffee, holding onto the mug with both hands, to stop them from quivering. “The point is, with an education you’ll be able to do whatever you want. You’ll have choices.”
Tony’s mouth tightens into the stubborn line that means he feels thwarted, pushed around, confused. I stare at his fine-boned, handsome profile.
“Anyway, I’m not Indian,” he says. “I’m black.”
Hysterical laughter threatens to break from some reservoir deep inside me and, without knowing I am going to, suddenly I am hugging him, pulling his thin body up close. He does look something like his father, though only slightly, and several shades lighter. It is Victor who looks like Larry, with his wide eyes and generous mouth and nose, and dusky black skin color. Tony’s more chiseled features are those of my own father, jumped down a generation. Big Jim Jack, descendent of Canadian Indian carvers, handsome and doomed. And again I see the blonde woman, her soft plump white hands up against Big Jim’s lean brown cheekbones.
“Well, get after that homework, Tony. You show that Mrs. Jorgenson who the hell is a good student.” I take my coffee to the kitchen and stand drinking it until the cup is drained, then I get out the twenty-pound bag of rice and scoop some into a saucepan. I add water and swish it around with my hand to wash it. The grains are like time running out, they are the minutes Victor is out there doing whatever he is doing with Rodney, learning whatever he is learning. I check the clock. Five-fifteen.
After dinner, when there still is no sign of Victor, I tell Tony I’ll read him another chapter of Treasure Island before he goes to sleep. He loves that.
“Two, Mom, read two! Please!
I smile. “Maybe two. We’ll see.”
The phone rings. I answer on the second ring.
“Baby?” At the sound of the huskiness in Red’s voice, something in me that has lain dormant lurches into life. My free hand smoothes its way down over my left hip, sculpting the shape of it.
“Yeah, it’s me. Who else?” So suddenly there is a man. I allow the rush of need for him, the wish to have him take over my body and ease away thought, push worry about Victor into some place deeper inside.
“You free tonight?”
“I guess.” I smile at Tony, who is watching steadily, soberly. “I was just going to read to Tony—maybe in an hour or two?”
“Can’t he read to himself?”
“That’s not the point, Red.” I feel a stir of anger, but with Tony listening to every word, I am careful what I say. “I’ll expect you around nine.” As I hang up, I know I should be remembering something, there is something I need to be careful about, but worry over Victor has merged into the need to forget, to be with a man and forget.
I follow Tony into his room, not much bigger than a large closet but a place he can call his own. It is comforting to lie down on his bed and gaze at the walls covered with baseball posters. It feels safe and right to be here on Tony’s soft bed, and for a moment I wish no man were going to intrude on us.
“Tony, honey, go take your bath. I’ll rest here and wait for you.”
“Okay, Mom.” He pulls out Treasure Island from his bookcase and lays it next to me, then scampers off, sliding in his socks on the bare wood floor of the hallway. The baseball players’ familiar faces, larger than life, spin around me and close in as I drift away from thought.
Tony returns in a small rush of excitement, dressed in his Batman pajamas, thin wrists and ankles sticking out from sleeves and pant legs that have grown too short. He needs new pajamas. I rouse myself and try not to hurry through the reading. I fight to give it my full attention. Tony always senses if I don’t and elbows me in the ribs. We sit up side by side in his narrow bed, propped against pillows. Part of my mind is planning a long, hot bath, so I’ll be ready by the time Red arrives. Victor can let himself in with his key. If Red and I are shut away in my bedroom, he’ll go straight to his own room, or the kitchen. He knows what it means when my bedroom door is shut. But he is never out this late without my knowing where he is. I finish the last of the chapters, kiss Tony and cover him up, then head toward the front door to look out and see if Victor is coming.
“Why isn’t Victor home yet?”
“I guess he’s still with that Rodney.”
“Yeah. You don’t like him, do you?”
“No, I guess I really don’t.”
“He’s too old for Victor to be hanging with. He seems trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?” Tony’s voice awakens, becomes anxious. I sigh.
“I’m not sure. Goodnight, Tony. I’m shutting your door now. Okay?”
“Because that man Red is coming?”
“Well, in a way, yes, so we’ll have some privacy, and so we won’t bother you.”
“Leave it open a crack, please, Mom?”
“No, Tony, I’m shutting it.” I run back and give him another quick kiss on the forehead. “It won’t matter. You’ll be asleep in a minute.”
“I like it open though, best.”
Feeling guilty, I shut the door behind me as quietly as I can. Then I go to the front door, unbolt it, and step out into the chilly night air. The dampness of the cement porch penetrates the thin nylon of my stockinged feet. A light rain is falling. There are no people on the sidewalk, only dark shadows between cars parked along both sides of the street. Everything seems to be happening far away. A siren fires up, then comes to an abrupt stop. Tires screech on wet pavement. For a moment I think I hear someone yelling in the distance, and I stop breathing, straining to listen, but all that comes to my ears is the moan of a far-off train whistle. A gust of wind sweeps across the porch. My sense of isolation, of removal from the action, makes it hard to imagine Red striding up this walk, a big, solid man with reddish-brown hair held back in a ponytail. He once told me his mother was Welsh and his father was black and Indian and Chinese, with a wee bit of Irish. I stare into the shadows, shivering, remembering his moods, how unpredictable he can be, then shut off my mind before it travels farther down that trail. Quickly I go back in, lock the door, and escape into the luxury of a hot tub of water perfumed by bubble bath. The confrontation with Victor can wait till morning.
I am in my black, lacy nightgown with my old green chenille robe over it when I hear Red’s heavy step on the porch and then his loud knocking. I hope the noise doesn’t wake Tony.
When I get the locks unbolted and see him there, his trademark red bandanna wound around the long post-hippie tail of hair, I feel a tightening in my groin and then a loosening all over, a kind of giving way, a caving in to his masculinity. He senses it, of course. He’s always been tuned in to that side of me.
“You’ve missed me, eh?” His grin, a little lopsided, and his eyes, too close together, are familiar and mysterious. I feel the excitement all the way to my toes.
I guess you’re not afraid of being mistaken for a gang member. Wearing that red bandanna.” My voice comes out shaky.
He pulls my robe open, to fondle my breasts. “Nice nightgown.”
“Wait! Let’s go to my room.”
“Whatever you say, baby.” Red strides past, towering over me, his boots heavy on the wood floor.
I follow him into the bedroom and press my back against the door to close it firmly. He doesn’t ask about the kids.
Watching him pull off his boots and unfasten his jeans and let them drop to the floor, I feel my throat go dry. Quickly, I shrug out of the robe. “Come on over here, baby. It’s been too long, hasn’t it?” His voice is deep with longing, and his eyes glimmer and pierce right into me and connect to my own desire deep down in my womb, pulling me to him until we are belly to belly, feeling each other’s need pulse between us, and we fuse together in a timeless rhythmic thrusting, a rise and fall that builds on its own momentum until we are both riding on it and finally w spill out into each other, clinging onto each other until we fall away, satisfied. And I am already wanting something else.
I want to talk. A grown-up to talk to is not something I have every night of the week. I prop myself against a pillow and pull my knees up. The short black nightgown is silky on my skin. I am glad we didn’t have time to take it off. It hides the purplish bruise I got on my hip from bumping into a table edge, roaming the house on a sleepless night. Bruises on my brown skin don’t last long but I’m anxious to be free of it. Conscious of creating an effect, I shake my hair so it fans out behind me, black on the white pillow. But Red is already bringing a bottle out from the pocket of the jacket he flung over the chair next to the bed. It’s not a good sign, to start drinking so early. Usually we make love again before we take our first drink, and once, the best time ever, he forgot to bring the bottle out at all and I didn’t think of it either.
He takes a long swig straight from the bottle and hands it to me as he eases back into bed.
“Remember how I used to be a milk drinker?”
“Yes, I remember,” I say. I tip the bottle and take a long swallow. “That’s what attracted me to you. When Larry was doing more and more drugs, it felt so good to be with you then.” I stop speaking, aware that the whiskey has gone straight to my head. Too late I sense the dangerous ground I tread. Larry was the bond that brought us together. Red was Larry’s one friend who didn’t use drugs or alcohol. And Red always stayed faithful to Larry, except for the one thing. The thing of fucking his wife. If Red gets drunk enough he’ll remember how he hates himself and me, for that. Sex and alcohol work their effect, loosening my mind and body and almost against my will I remember what I have blocked. I told him the last time he was here not to come back. We were both drunk, and maybe he doesn’t even remember, but if he does, he must remember, too, that it wasn’t the first time I said it. He left me with bruises and a black eye. The bruises I could conceal with makeup, but I had to wear sunglasses when I recovered enough to go back to work. Allen had looked sad. He understands now what these unexplained absences mean. I make up for the lapses by turning out even more perfect work, and we both slide around the subject. In my mind, too, I slide around it, trying to believe Red and I can still have nights when the drinking and the remembering won’t pull us down.
Already, Red is halfway through the bottle. I take it from him and drain down as much as I can, wanting to forget the worry running through my brain, not wanting him to get ahead of me too much in the drinking. If I drink some, there’s less for him, right? He never has more than the one bottle with him and I don’t keep any in the house.
He takes the bottle back again and puts it to his mouth. Then he holds it off and looks at it with eyes that are no longer focused.
“That’s what started me on this fucking stuff, him dying.”
I feel the room go out from under me. It spins in whirling circles. Trying to clear my head, I yank on handfuls of hair. It was a mistake to drink so fast. He pushes the bottle at me.
“No. I don’t want any more. Just let me be.”
“Let you be?” His voice is thick and mocking. “Why would I do that?” He butts his heavy head against my throat. I move away but he is on top of me, crushing me with his entire weight, thrusting deep inside me, and I try to feel nothing until finally he rolls off.
“You’re a fuckin’ whore, you know that, don’t you?” He grabs the bottle from the floor and finishes it in one steady, long gulp that stuns me into clarity. I want to pull on my robe and cover myself, but I hesitate to move and draw his attention. “You always were a whore. Larry never knew, poor slob. Sleepin’ together right under his nose and him so zonked out he never knew.”
“It wasn’t under his nose. It wasn’t like that.”
“Oh, what was it like?” He shakes the empty bottle in my face. There is a mad, lost look in his eyes. “Huh? What was it like? You tell me that!”
“It was good for a while. I thought you were my salvation.”
“Well, we sure as hell weren’t Larry’s salvation. Were we?” He thrusts his face closer. “Were we?”
“Nobody could have been, Red.” I force gentleness into my voice to try to calm him.
He begins to cry. There is a whole predictable series of reactions that will follow. How could I forget? Did I need a man that much?
He burrows his head into his hands, sobbing. “He was my friend. How could we do that to him? It was one time in my life I felt good about myself, helpin’ him kick drugs.”
I sit next to him, rigid, the nightgown pulled tight around my knees. There is no room for my own feelings. My mind tells me that as I wait for him to pass through the stages. His face emerges, his eyes bleary, his mouth twisted.
“It’s you! You were his wife. How could you let me sleep with you?” His eyes circle the room. He picks up the bottle.
“Bitch!” Red yells the word. “How could you?” He throws the bottle and it crashes into the lamp. Glass explodes with a popping sound.
“I’m going to sleep.” I say it low and quiet, in the silence that follows. “You try to sleep, too, Red.” Sometimes that works. I turn over and bury my head in the pillow. I hear him crying. He won’t hit me now. I am safe from that. If he’s crying, it means the danger has subsided. My heart is pounding. I am glad to have something to focus on, the fear of my heart beating out of control, something to live through other than the past. Then, in one unguarded moment, I feel anger at myself so intense I imagine it driving me from the bed and over to the broken glass to clench it in my hands, to puncture my wrists and see blood spurt out. Another image comes of Tony in the morning, walking in and finding my body in a pool of thickening blood. I roll out of bed. It takes a moment to find my robe and pull it tight around me and tie the sash. I go to the wall switch and flick on the overhead light.
From the doorway, I speak to him. “Red, I’m going to lock myself in the bathroom and when I come back, you be out of here.” My voice surprises me with its calmness.
In the bathroom I stand swaying at the sink, unsteady on cold, bare feet. Irony washes over me with a wave of nausea. He’ll be gone because he’s gotten what he wanted.
It is a relief to cleanse myself and wash my hands and face and brush my teeth. I avoid looking in the mirror. Finally I come out and check to be sure the house is empty of Red. Then I lock the front door behind him, sweep up the broken glass, and pour it from the dustpan into the garbage. All these things I do very carefully, with the deliberateness of intoxication, not allowing thoughts to pass through my mind. I lie down, staying on my side of the bed, facing away from the lingering male smell of him, and pull the covers up high.