How can you eat animals? It’s disgusting,” Kim said then sunk back in her chair crossing her arms across her chest. Toner, our cat raced under the couch.
We looked at Kim as if she were a stranger. I noticed fine creases on her forehead and between her brows, a new, slight droop in her bird-like shoulders, crow’s feet extending out from her lively large brown eyes. All that must have happened in the past year while living in California finishing up yet another Masters Degree. Funny thing was that Uri; Kim’s husband hadn’t changed at all; still round and robust. Maybe all the sun aged Kim’s once delicate and tight skin. Maybe it was the anxiety that comes with trying to get people to justify why they ate meat.
I slowed my chewing down, trying not to think of what a single cooked thigh, or pair of thighs — people or animal — looked like, and yet I couldn’t help but see it.
“We celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey.” David said as he stuck a fork in the birds’ side. The plate slid forward, disrupting my decoration of shellacked mini pumpkins and gourds. I reached my hand past the breadbasket and pushed them back in a line.
“Me, I can’t commit like Kim can,” Uri said as he plucked a shiny amber piece of skin off the bird’s back and put it in his mouth.
“Uchhhh,” Kim said.
David kicked me under the table and gave me his “what is with this guy?” Look. Uri reached for more, Kim slapped his hand.
“Aren’t you a lawyer?” David asked.
“Yeah,” Uri said as he absentmindedly wiped his greasy fingers on the tablecloth looking adoringly at Kim.
“Seriously, nothing” Uri said. Kim stroked his half-shaved beard.
“Nothing?” Kim said teasingly.
“Not for lack of trying,” Uri said as he reached into the breadbasket, spun the top off a mini-cranberry muffin, popped it in his mouth, and put the bottom in the middle of Kim’s plate, like a gift.
“Not entirely true,” Kim said.
The tomato timer in the kitchen went off.
On my way to the kitchen to get the sweet potatoes I gulped the rest of my cranberry juice wishing it were red wine. I tore open a bag of mini-marshmallows, tipped the bag above the potatoes and let them land wherever then placed the pan back in the oven. I looked out the kitchen window. Large spike-y rust colored leaves stuck to the pale yellow cushions on the chaise lounges from the rain that morning. The branches of the azalea bushes shook. A thin body darted low across the patio towards the shed. It’s that kid from next door. Austin, he hid from his parents whenever he could. I reminded myself to leave a plate of food for him in the garage. The marshmallows were burning.
“Honey!” David yelled from his chair and in my direction.
“I know.” I said blowing out the small flames and waving the air with my hands.
“I know you do,” he said.
I wiped my hands on my apron then leaned over the sink staring at a thin layer of green scum at the base of the faucet. I felt hot. From outside I heard the shed door slam shut. I looked down at my I-haven’t-told-David-I-am-three-months-pregnant, stomach and yelled, “It’s chestnut stuffing.”
“What?” Kim and Uri said.
“What’s that?” David said.
“The stuffing, it’s chestnut,” I said again splashing my forehead with cold water.
“Chestnuts taste like meat, chopped meat,” I heard David say.
“It’s not just disgusting it is reprehensible,” Kim said.
“Mankind evolved eons ago in the same way that all creatures have, with no ultimate purpose other than to survive long enough to reproduce,” David said.
“It is just as immoral to kill and eat animals as it would be to kill a person,” Kim said.
“People,” David corrected.
“What?” Kim scowled.
“Person plural,” David wiped his mouth with a napkin.
I placed the pan of potatoes on a hot plate in the middle of the table, three mini-marshmallows rolled onto the tablecloth. Uri leaned forward inspecting the sweet-smelling food.
“We evolved in small bands of fellow humans, upon whose survival we depended, we are programmed to be deeply committed to those we perceive as “us,” and deeply suspicious of any “other,” David said. I dumped a dollop of stuffing on my plate.
Uri slid the hot plate of potatoes towards Kim and plopped some onto her plate then on his own. “Kim knows all about <I>that</I>,” Uri said.
“What? What do I know all about?” Kim asked as she delicately picked off flakes of burnt marshmallow with her thin fingers.
“We agree with the evolutionary psychologists who say that as humanity evolves, we are gradually expanding the circle of “us,” David explained through bites of dark meat. I crushed one of the mini-marshmallows on the table with thumb. Something outside caught my attention. I looked behind me into the yard. It took me a second to be able see into the gray mist. I saw a small light, like an ember at the end of a pole, floating across the yard.
“Viewed that way, it is clear that the circle eventually be extended to nonhumans,” Kim said blowing on a spoonful of steaming hot potatoes.
“We have never felt compelled to extend the circle of what we feel to be ‘us’ outside of Homo sapiens,” David concluded. I heard the metal patio furniture on the patio scraping the cement like it was being moved. I stood up and went to the kitchen. David followed me with his eyes. When I reached the door to the kitchen I explained myself.
“I need to check on the dessert,” I said standing within earshot of the dinner conversation.
“You should tell them,” Uri said to Kim, nudging her with his elbow.
“Tell us what?” David asked. Kim coughed. Her face changed color again and again, now pale, now pink.
“Are you OK?” Uri said patting her back.
“Yeah,” Kim said looking up from her doubled over position, her eyes reddened and watery, “I . . .” Kim said, pointing to her throat, “wrong tube,” then she inhaled in and out, loudly.
“Drink something,” Uri said. “No, I’m fine,” she said, “I think it was a pumpkin seed.” She straightened her back and fixed her gaze on the silver saltshaker. Like she was clearing up whatever was blocked in her throat, mentally. David looked at her like she was a Rubik’s cube.
I rubbed the frost from the kitchen window with a rag and looked out at the patio. The chaise lounge definitely had been moved.
“What’s she doing?” David asked.
“Taking inventory,” Uri said.
“Okaaaay,” David said. Kim broke her trance. “Phew,” she said smiling and refreshed as if she had just been awakened from a hypnotic trance. In one swift motion she pulled a gold hairpin that held her brown hair in a crescent pouf at the top of her head, out. Her hair toppled over her shoulders, she looked sixteen, then, as if by magic, it was back up again, but neater. The pin stuck up like an antenna.
“So,” Kim said loud enough to include me and looking straight at David who raised his eyebrows expectantly, “What are you guys doing for New Years?”
“Don’t change the subject,” Uri said. He took a cigarette out from a shiny ebony case, put the cigarette between his lips, leaned forward to the votive and lit it.
“I really think you should,” he said as he leaned back in his chair and exhaled.
“What are you doing?” David said evenly. Uri looked at his cigarette.
“Oh. Is it not OK?”
“No, it is not OK, Jesus, who does that anymore?” David said.
“Uri smokes,” I yelled from the kitchen reaching in the spice cabinet for cinnamon.
“No shit,” David said.
“Uri’s from Israel,” Kim said.
“So,” David said.
“David’s right,” Kim said, “You shouldn’t smoke, it’s disgusting.”
The phone rang.
“I’ll get it,” I yelled.
“Stay where you are,” David said. I stood still. He walked to the phone in the living room. Kim and Uri whispered to each other. I looked at the phone hanging on the kitchen wall and walked slowly towards it. I put my hand on the receiver.
“Need help?” Kim asked, standing in the doorway. “I think I’m OK,” I said quickly, recoiling my phone hand, curling a lock of fallen hair around my ear.
“You must be freezing?” I said.
“No,” Kim said. She looked down at her white baby-doll summer dress with black spaghetti straps, touched the seams of the thickly stitched hem, and looked up at me, “Yes. I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said.
I stood there, facing her with both hands by my side.
“It feels like it’s rained on Thanksgiving in New York for the past twenty years,” I said.
“I know, I should know by now, but I kinda didn’t want to, you know?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Can I put on some music?” Uri said from the dining room. Kim and I looked at each other and laughed.
“Of course,” I said loudly.
“You go,” I said, “you know where the music is, put on anything you want, we’ll catch up later, I want to hear all about school, your mother, your brother, your father, food, Uri … ” I said. Kim laughed and walked out. Toner jumped on the countertop and wove his way around the bowl of stuffing, the tray of uneaten appetizers and a box of unopened rice. He lay down on the dishwasher. I walked back to the table and took my seat.
Uri and Kim sat cross-legged on the carpet in front of the Ipod, choosing music, and giggling. David was in the sunken living room, standing with his back to me, his right arm extended out and leaning on the fireplace mantel.
He clicked the phone off, turned and looked out the living room window – at nothing, then sat down in the chair that just happened to be there and for just one second. Then he stood up. He had a nervous energy that I interpreted as litheness. He ran his hair through his thick wavy brown hair as he walked right past Uri and Kim, resuming his seat at the head of the dining room table.
“Everything OK?” I asked.
“Fudderman’s kid broke his … ankle … elbow … I don’t know, something, I forget what he said – skateboarding.”
“Oh,” I said looking at his face for more.
“I might have to go to the city and cover for him,” he said, finishing his glass of wine.
“Oh, sure, of course. Well, turkey’s always better the next day anyway,” I said.
“Hospitals are open today?” Uri piped in. David and I looked at each other like Uri was from Mars – a moment of solidarity.
“David’s a trader!” Kim yelled.
“Hey, I eat meat too,” Uri said.
“Trad<I>er</I>, not trai<I>tor</I>,” Kim said.
I reached my hand across the table to touch David’s soft hand and stroked his thin wrist. He gripped back.
“Oh! Oh! Oh! We’ve got music!” Kim hit the table and yelled. “Uri, has music,” she corrected herself. “Hold on, it’s in my bag,” she said as she dug in her cloth bag and took out her Ipod.
“They’re from Israel and they’re amazing,” she said, sorting through the selections.
The music was nice – acoustic with a soulful quality to it. David reached past his water glass, ripped off a long piece of crispy turkey skin and chewed it.
Uri groaned as he stood up from the carpet, rubbed his back then sat back down at the dining room table and sipped his wine. The two men sat across from each other, each with nothing to say.
“I’m going to go outside and smoke,” Uri said looking to David. David stared back, said nothing.
“Is that OK?” Uri asked. David gave him his ‘it’s <I>your</I> life,’ eye roll and hand gesture.
“I take it back,” Uri said as he opened the sliding glass door that opened out to a slate patio. The blast of fresh air felt nice.
“Take what back?” David asked.
“I am committed -” Uri said standing in profile, with his foot stuck in the door letting the cool air drift in, Kim opened the bathroom door.
“To smoking,” he said looking across the room at Kim with a smirk. Kim was undoing, then doing her hair as she walked to the table.
“Oh no. Keep it open,” I said just as Uri was about to shut the door.
“It’s raining,” David cut in.
“What’s that you said, Uri-bear?” Kim asked as she took her place at the table and quickly stuck a green bean in her mouth, crunching loudly.
“You’re hot,” Uri said. Kim smiled and threw him a kiss.
“It just looks like it’s raining, but really it’s not,” I said to David.
“The fresh air feels good,” Kim said. “LA is steeped in smog. Even if you can’t see it, you can <I>feel</I> it.”
“I’m going to get a sweater, David said placing his napkin in his lap.
“Oh look!” I said standing up in my chair, pointing to the sliding door.
“What?” David said panicky.
“It’s so perfect,” I said as a doe darted gracefully across David’s overgrown hedges and into his neighbors’ thickly wooded backyard.
“Oh, that,” David said, kicking Toner aside as he sat down.
“It is perfect” Kim said, “Uri, look,” Kim said loudly and pointed. Uri looked out into the yard and exhaled. He smiled and waved, to the doe. Kim and I cooed after the doe’s disappearance then took our seats. David threw a mini-cranberry muffin at the sliding door to get Uri’s attention. David <I>Brrrrrred</I>, loudly from his seat, miming like he was freezing. Uri took one last inhale, looked out into the yard, exhaled a long stream of smoke, then stepped on his cigarette, came back inside and slid the door shut.
“Did you see that?” Uri announced, standing.
“I think the answer is yes,” David said refilling his glass with wine. Uri grabbed a Pop’n’Fresh dinner roll from the breadbasket, stuffed half in his mouth and walked past the dining room table to the stereo. He chewed staring at the pastel drawing of neon triangles that David’s late wife Nancy drew. Below that was a photograph of Benjamin, David’s four-year old son and me at the zoo. Ben was with his grandmother. Holidays without Ben were hard for David, which was probably why he was acting like such a prick tonight. Uri leaned in to the photo to get closer look at the boy’s face, then he looked at me, then to David and then back to the picture. No resemblance. Seemed Kim hadn’t told him. Uri turned the music up, bopped up and down and swiveled his hips to the beat. Crumbs fell from his shirt and onto the carpet.
“I think you should tell them,” Uri said.
“Tell us what?” I asked.
“Well, I was going to wait until it was more . . .” Kim said
“Real, shmeal,” Uri said.
“Well, right after I graduate – “Kim said.
“Maybe before,” Uri cut in.
“Maybe before, <I>depending</I>,” Kim said pressing her hand down on Uri’s thigh. “I want to bring vegetarianism, to a new level in Israel.”
“Israel?” I said.
“Uri’s from there. We’ve been going there every break. He has a house, he has a job waiting!”
“Wow,” I said.
“I know, it’s crazy,” Kim said.
“It’s exciting, actually,” I said looking at David.
“They don’t even have fucking brown rice sushi there,” Kim said, “The stuff they sell on the shelves of the health food stores there are pathetic. The market is untouched. My tofu turkey recipe is killer. Everyone I’ve made it for loves it!”
“It’s true,” Uri said. Kim played with the dripping wax from the candle.
“I feel like I finally have something real to contribute. What am I going to do with a Masters in film theory and Art History? This is real. I’ll be helping people.”
“She’ll <I>really</I> be skirting her loans. They’ll never find her in Israel,” Uri said.
“Is that true?” I asked.
“That’s not the reason -” Kim said.
Something <I>pinged</I> against the sliding glass door behind me. I looked around at the glass and could only see the light from the Tiffany lamp and smudges of flesh and color from our faces and clothing. Toner brushed against my legs. I blindly took a piece of turkey meat from my plate and dropped it on the carpet.
“Do you have a backer?” David asked.
“God, she’s just getting started,” I said squashing two mini-marshmallows together with my thumb and forefinger.
“Well, she’s going to need a backer,” David said through a mouthful of stuffing.
“I have a backer, I have a backer,” Kim said sticking a small stack of string beans in her mouth, chewing and smiling secretively at Uri.
“To Kim and her new company!” I said, holding up my glass.
“Where’s your wine,” David asked. My smile froze. He got up from his side of the table holding the bottle of wine.
“It’s not a true toast unless it’s alcohol,” he said as he put his hand on my arm and pressed it down so that my glass of cranberry juice rested on the table. He watched my face as he took my empty wine glass and poured wine into it. He knew, I thought.
That’s a myth actually, Kim said as she intercepted, brought up my glass of cranberry juice and clinked. Uri followed. David had to as well. I looked at Kim from the corner of my eye. She must have known too. Twenty-eight days together in an eating disorder rehab – I couldn’t hide anything from her.
“This time next year we all might be in Israel celebrating with tofu instead of that,” Kim said proudly and pointed with disgust at the half-eaten turkey.
<I>Ping ping ping</I>. It sounded like berries being thrown, hard, against the sliding door directly behind me. I lifted the bowl of gravy from the table.
“I’m going to refill this,” I said then turned and walked it to the kitchen.
I leaned over the sink and pushed the curtain window aside and my forehead pressed against the glass. The light from the living room was dull light but it was enough so I could see him. That kid, Austin, he was out there, curled up on the chaise lounge wearing black pants, a black hoodie and black sneakers. Snatches of his white-blonde hair stuck out from a combat hat worn crookedly, on his small head. It was plastic, like the ones I constantly picked up after Benjamin during his long afternoon games of War. His gripped a tall, thin round stick, that had smoke trailing from the tip. He swatted the air with his free hand. I waved. He looked up at me, big round eyes, like an owl. He hoisted himself upright on the chaise and stretched out his long thin legs. The bottoms of two very long sneakers stuck up. He crossed his legs at his ankles and waited, as if expectantly, for me.
“Honey?” David yelled. I flinched. I turned the kitchen faucet on full-blast.
“What?” I said loudly.
“Apple Cider,” he said.
“Yup,” I yelled back.
With his index finger, Austin instructed me to come.
“Honey, I’m going to the garage . . .to get the dessert, I put it there to stay cool,” I said.
The air was thick with moisture, tropical. My hand held the metal doorknob tightly. I stood half-in and half-out of the doorway.
“Hey,” I said. Austin looked up.
“Home wrecker,” he said with a beautiful smile.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I know what you did, everyone around here does,” he said.
Wife has cancer. Husband sleeps with nanny. Wife dies. Nanny replaces wife.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said. I looked at his clean-cut face and shiny blonde-white hair and thought he might be a religious fanatic or part of a Christian Youth Group that turned cultish or some twisted Amish sect, something. Who knew what. What went on in the suburbs during the day and night was more frightening than New York City, at its worst. Thank god we only came out on the weekends.
“Look, I’m sorry if … ” I said, regretting it the moment it slipped out of my mouth.
“Are you? Sorry? She would, have a hard time believing you.”
“What are you talking about? ” As I said this I realized he was repeating the lyrics to a song I heard on the radio driving up.
I looked above our fence to his house. One light on in the living room, one light on in the upstairs bedroom and a light coming from the kitchen. I couldn’t tell though if that meant his parents were home or if they were away and those light were on a timer to make it look like they were home.
“We all make mistakes,” Austin said changing course. The way he said “all” made me think of his mother, Helen. I had met her, in the Stop n’ Shop two years ago. She was talking the ear off of Nancy in the Frozen Foods section. Ben and I played hide and seek in the aisles waiting for them to finish. Helen’s face was tanned and ragged with wrinkles. She could have been Austin’s grandmother. She was bone-thin and her blue eyes darted like a rabbit’s. Her gray hair was pulled back in a bun and she had an unlit cigarette in her mouth that dangled wildly as she spoke rapidly about . . . I don’t remember.
Austin put his feet on the ground and sat at the end of the chaise and spoke softly with his head down, palms together and looking at his sneakers.
“Nancy would … ”
“Nancy!” I said.
“Mrs. Dawson,” he corrected himself,
“Yeah?” I said impatiently.
“She … ” he drifted.
“Ever since you -”
“I didn’t <I>do</I> anything,”
“You think you can replace her but you’re not good enough,” he blurted.
“I’m not – ”
“I got that.”
“She was the only one I could … She would know what to do.”
“I did something bad,” he said.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I can’t say. Not yet. Right now, I really, really, really need you to help me out,” he said.
“What is it? What did you, look, I don’t know what went on between you and Nancy but whatever it is —”
“It has nothing to do with me.
“Bullshit,” he said angrily.
“I don’t know what you want, but … ” As I spoke what ran through my head was: Was this some weird after school — lonely housewife — fucked up kid — sordid suburban relationship that started out benign — she giving him art lessons or he helping with a random chore like bringing in firewood, and then it got out of hand. Is that was this was all about?
“Honey!” David shouted.
“Look —” I said.
“Shhhh… Quiet,” Austin said as he heard my thinking. “It’s all right. I’ve decided to forgive you. Jesus would forgive you. See this,” he said, pointing to his lit stick.
“Is that … a mop handle?” I asked holding back a smile.
“Yes,” he said.
“And! And, I just spiked a doe with it, that’s what.”
It took a second to register. I scanned his face. I looked around the patio for evidence-no carcass. I looked over our fence to his parent’s house – lights were on, good. I stared hard at his face for clues. He stared back, blankly.
“Are you serious?” I said, “The one that was just —?”
“Slow down, you’re making me nervous,” he said trying to sound calm.
“You didn’t?” I said. He didn’t answer. “Why?” I asked.
“Target practice,” he said desperately or was it nonchalantly. I couldn’t tell. I looked at him in complete disbelief. Hate actually. Then I remembered, I’d never met, but I’d seen his father. Like his mother, he was older than I’d expected. They must have been in their seventies. They must have had Austin when they were what, sixty? Adopted? A nephew? His father was tall and pear shaped and had thinning yellow hair. His skin was pale and dotted with age spots. He wore silver-rimmed glasses. He stood on their porch on the morning I moved my stuff in. He was wearing a pair of khakis and a white buttoned-down shirt and a green tie and a belt. On a Saturday? I thought: why’s he so dressed up on a Saturday? I remembered he was a scientist. A professor at the college nearby.
“OK, look, I have to go,” I said.
“NO!” he said. His voice cracked. Puberty. Totally unreliable.
“I’m sorry,” he said with true, I thought, sincerity.
“What do you <I>want</I>?” I asked nicely even though I was growing impatient.
“Dinner?” he said quietly. I raised my eyebrows, gestured with my hand and gave him David’s “<I>AND</I>” look.
“<I>And</I> nothing, I’m starving,” he said.
“Why didn’t you just say that — why did you say that about the doe?” I asked.
“I just … I didn’t think you’d … I needed to hear myself talk. There’s nobody left who understands. Nobody listens to me,” he said.
“Honey!” David yelled.
“I have to go back in,” I said, turning to the door and stepping in.
“Turn around,” Austin said in a tone not unlike David’s.
“What?” I said with my back to him, resisting the urge to do as told.
“Don’t go,” he pleaded, vulnerably. I hesitated. I didn’t like having my back to him. I turned sideways and spoke over my shoulder.
“I’ll leave a plate for you,” I said. “You should probably go home,” I said quickly. Before I closed the door I heard, I swear I heard this: “Just stand there and watch me burn.”
“You OK?” Uri stood facing me in the doorway. Nicotine on his breathe.
“Oh Uri, it’s you,” I said, confused, taking a step forward, practically against his belly, trying to nudge us both back in the kitchen away from the door, “I’m fine, where’s Kim?” I asked.
“She asked me to get you,” he said as he backed up, trying to look over my shoulder to the patio.
“She’s alone with David, oh!” I said, shadowing him.
“What’s going on?” Kim said, she was bent over, foraging in the refrigerator, the door covered most of her except her bare feet
“Nothing,” I said, holding my stomach.
“Who was that?” She asked wide-eyed, steadying a gallon of apple cider with her thin arms and hands.
“Out there,” she lifted her chin to the kitchen window.
“Oh, you saw him? He just lives next door, he was out there in the rain, I don’t know him, I mean I know the family, sort of,” I said trying to sound casual.
“He moves like the wind,” Uri said leaning against the counter, scooping two fingers of leftover stuffing from a silver bowl on the counter and into his mouth.
“What? You… saw him?” I asked, completely surprised. In that moment I realized where I had heard Austin’s last words before I closed the door on him. They were lyrics from a song I heard playing on the radio on our drive up.
“You all saw him — all your cooing,” he said, chewing. Kim and I stared at him. “The doe you said you saw,” he said reminding us, as if we were out of our minds.
“The <I>deer</I>, it most likely was a deer,” Kim said eager to point out his mistake, even if it wasn’t one. She raised her glass of apple cider in the air, “And may it live a long life. May it not end up grilled in a pan at some asshole hunter’s kitchen,” Kim said.
I was glad they were lyrics instead of a passage from some cult he was a part of. Still, I couldn’t quite figure him out.
“Oh, no,” Uri said. “I didn’t see either one — a doe or a deer. I saw a … actually, I thought I was hallucinating, it was a kid, I thought he had stripes on his face,” Uri said.
“Stripes? Wait, I think we saw different things,” I said.
“Kim and I saw a deer, you must have seen the kid from next door, he was out there — ”
“Actually it’s completely possible,” Kim said picking out the cashews in a bowl of mixed nuts I forgot to put out for drinks before dinner.
“It is totally possible,” I said. “There’s a kid who lives next door who was probably outside. You weren’t hallucinating,” I said.
“It is going to smell like gasoline.” David screamed from the dining room. Kim and I looked at each other laughed. I pulled the pie out of the oven and set it by the sink to cool.
“It’s an apple pie!” I yelled back.
I sat at the edge of our bed with my legs crossed in my nightie, thinking. David was back in the city. I usually I sleep better alone, his snoring usually keeps me up. But I was too anxious. I stood up and took a circuitous walk to our bedroom window, avoiding the actual window. With my back leaned against the wall I delicately parted the sheer curtains, and looked sideways out to the patio, like a criminal. I didn’t want Austin to see me, just in case he was out there looking in. Water rushed through the pipes behind the wall. Kim or Uri must be taking a shower. I went to my dresser, ran a comb through my hair.
I closed our bedroom door quietly. Toner walked like a guard dog next to me as I walked down the hallway, stopping outside of Ben’s room and put my ear to the door.
“What did you say?” Kim asked Uri. Uri was in the bathroom brushing his teeth.
“This bedroom is a kids room, but no one talks about a kid,” Uri said, “Was that their kid out there in the yard, some kid they pretend they don’t have, or was it the one in the photo, and is that why you two were giggling?” Uri asked.
“No. I don’t know who — or what — was out in the yard. David’s wife died I thin it’s been two years already, from cancer, and Ben, David’s kid, is at his grandmother’s for the weekend,” Kim said.
“Oh,” Uri said.
“Thanks for not giving me a hard time about us spending the night here. I think something weird is going on and I didn’t want Leslie alone in the house.”
“For you, anything,” Uri said.
“Why do you do that, it is disgusting,” Kim said.
“What?” Uri said.
“Rinse out then spit in the toilet,” Kim said. “Promise me you’ll try to stop doing that, please?”
“I promise,” Uri said, tickling her under the blanket, “This little piggy went to the market. And this little piggy went …”
Kim shrieked with laughter.
Toner wove in-between my legs as I walked down the stairs in the dark. If I were to trip over him I’d be flung down the staircase headfirst, landing splat on the marble entranceway and then that would have been that. I stopped short, bent down, picked Toner up and carried him into the kitchen. Once there, crumbs from dinner stuck to the bottoms of my bare feet, I wished I had swept it before going to bed. There was an empty bottle of red wine and a glass left out on the counter top. David must have had a drink or four before he left. Driving drunk on a holiday weekend with all the police out — great. The refrigerator hummed quietly. I opened the door to the garage and looked directly to the hood of the car. The plate of food I left for him wasn’t there. Good. Just as I turned to leave, I looked down. The plate was in front of my feet, on the welcome mat, untouched. I looked all around me before I picked up the plate, brought it into the kitchen and locked the door.
I sat down on the floor with my back against the sink cabinet so I couldn’t be seen from outside, just in case anyone was looking in even though I hadn’t turned the lights on. Toner purred loudly as he chomped mightily, as if he’d never seen food before, from the plate.
This confirms it, the kid is harmless, just a drama queen. I thought
“Hey,” Kim said. I looked up. She stood sideways in the kitchen doorway: razor-thin, still. She was wearing a pair of boy’s boxers with retro-style pink and grey teacups, saucers and spoons on it and a white Transformer tee shirt from Ben’s drawers that I lent her.
“Watcha doin’ down there? She asked. I watched her as she looked at the plate of food. I felt guilty, as if I was caught sneaking food at night.
“Get down,” I whispered loudly and waved my hand. Kim’s knees popped as she sat down Indian style in the middle of the kitchen floor with her back straight. A light from the patio, or maybe it was from the moon, illuminated half of her face with a soft glow, highlighting her long neck, brown eyes and dark dimples. She leaned in whispering.
“What’s going on? Did David do something to you?” she couched her body closer to mine, she smelled like Noxzema. “I’ll kill him. What’d he do? Tell me everything that happened. To be honest, I’m not surprised, from the moment I met him I had a feeling he would do something jerk-y. If figures. It’s just disgusting the things we have to put up with.”
“Noooo. Quiet. Nothings happened, not yet,” I whispered.
“I was right! I knew it!”
“No, not him — it’s — honestly, it is nothing like that. It’s that kid from next door,” I said, “I think he’s —”
“Watching,” Kim said excitedly.
“No,” I said then paused, “Well, I don’t know, maybe.” We sat in silence, wondering. “No, definitely not,” I said, “I just, think he’s a little … lost.”
“Him and the rest of the world,” Kim said twirling her hair, “I can’t sleep,” she said leaning against the sink cabinet next to me, “Uri snores.”
“Uck, so does David.”
“If you think about it, it’s disgusting,” Kim said.
“Tell me about it. I’m drowsy twenty-two hours of the day,” I said. Toner was chomping so forcefully on the food that the plate scraped forward against the tiled floor. He was all black so he blended in with the night. We both looked at the moving plate.
“What did he say to you?” Kim asked.
“Just a bunch of nonsense but if you read through the nonsense, I think he’s reaching out. I think Nancy was some kind of mother figure for him and he can’t deal with her death, or me — so he’s acting out.”
“Whatever you do, do NOT invite him into your house. Does he know that you are pregnant?”
“No, how could he?” I said shocked at hearing the word that I had up until then only said to myself. Kim looked at me like I was naïve.
“But then again, I did have this feeling — the way he was looking at me, when I was at the door earlier, when I was turned sideways, to go, I felt like he knew.”
“DO NOT invite him over to your house. You’ll be sitting at the kitchen table eating soda crackers because of morning sickness, he’ll offer you some lemonade and next thing you know, you’ll be on the floor just inches away from leftover white powder, crawling for your life while he’ll be hiding in this,” Kim hit the sink cabinet door behind us, I jumped, “giggling quietly as he listens to your last gasp of air.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Spoonfuls of it will be in your lemonade. They’ll find that out, later.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said.
Toner’s licking pushed the plate clear across the kitchen and was now bumping up against the dishwasher. We both stared at him and listened to the bumping.
“It’s like he’s never seen food before,” Kim said. I wrapped my arms around my legs and rested my chin on my knees. The low hum of the refrigerator had stopped humming and shifted into a louder gear.
“I’m so tired, ” I said.
“When are you going to tell David?”
“Every day I wake up and say, today is the day — today I am going to tell him. ‘<I>David</I>,’ I say, ‘<I>guess what, I’ve got great news, I’m pregnant!</I>’ The thought of telling him gets me all worked up, but as the day progresses there’s always some reason that prevents me from saying it and so I don’t. I wake up the next day promising myself that today will be the day, but then the whole thing repeats itself.”
“I don’t know, he’s got so much on his mind – and it wasn’t exactly “planned.””
“You think he’s going to try to get you not to have it?”
“Well, it’s too late for that, and actually no, I don’t think he would that. I just think he’s going to resent me and he’ll be even more unpleasant than he’s been, lately. It’s been only a year and half.”
“He’ll get used to it, but you really have to tell him,” Kim said.
“I guess. I love David. I do. I just always imagined this was going to be – a really happy occasion.”
“Right? It is! You’re right. I just pray I have room.”
“This house is huge!”
“In me — sharing my body with another person is — well, it’s, I feel like I only just got good at feeling confident and capable of taking care of myself, and now, I don’t know, I’m not sure there’s any space left in me to do that for someone else. How did my mother do it?
“Times were different,” Kim said.
“Imagine housing five babies, then have them pass through your body — ”
“No fucking way.”
“Knowing, or at least thinking that each one of those babies has taken away a piece of you, never to be had again, from you, along the way.”
“Hmmm,” Kim said staring at her toes.
“And then who’s going to take care of David and Benjamin.”
“And the nut next door,” Kim said looking up at the light from the kitchen window.
“And the nut next door,” I repeated. Kim let her hair down, then twisted in up in a French twist that she pinned with a bobby pin that she had on the sleeve of the tee shirt.
“I do want one. A baby,” I said.
“Yeah, me too, not yet though.”
“Uri?” I asked.
“Davka Turkey. That’s going to be the name of my company, I only have room for that, right now, and then, if that doesn’t work out, I’ll have a kid, I guess. I have to give this a shot first.”
“I wish I had something like that. Are you really going to move to Israel?”
“I do better in war-torn countries. I need to be surrounded by oppression. It gives me something to work against. If I stay in California or even if I move back to New York, it’s too easy, my mother says she’ll buy me a house or an apartment – which of course <I>sounds</I> great, but only, <I>of course</I>, if she lives in it with me! Then I’d have to deal with my stepmother and father and brother. Oy! I feel like the only way I am ever going to grow up is if I am six thousand miles away from my family.”
“It’s like Arsenic and Old Lace.”
“Yeahhhh. They seduce me with nice things that I can’t get for myself but the reason I can’t is because they’ve treated me like I’m an invalid my whole life and OK, it’s true, I was a bit of a fuck-up, but that was like a million years ago, but I believed them and that was then, and now … oh, you know. Anyway, I want to give it a try.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“You should come.”
“Kim,” Uri whispered very loudly from the upstairs bedroom. Kim and I looked at each other and laughed.
“The natives are calling, I have to go,” Kim said as she stood up. “Are you going to come up?” She asked.
“No,” I said, as I stood, looking out through the kitchen window at the coral colored sky with dark grey streaks. At least it wasn’t raining. I picked up Toner’s empty plate and rinsed that and David’s wine glass in the sink.
“No, I can’t sleep, I’m going to wait in the living room for David to come back,” I said. We stopped at the bottom of the staircase. I looked up then sat on the bottom step. Kim sat down next to me.
“Everything’s going to be all right,” she said, “Remember, don’t invite that kid next door over!”
“OK,” I said following her as she sprinted up the stairs. “I am going to leave the bathroom light on so you can see when you come up,” Kim said at the top of the stairs.
“G’night,” I said walking to the front door, testing it to make sure it was locked.
I stood in the middle of our sunken living room. It was quiet and so still. The room looked like a diorama I used to make in grade school — everything so perfectly placed. The air felt too close. I went to the living room window and opened it a crack. If I stayed up all night worrying I’d be a mess tomorrow so I curled up on the brown velvet couch and waited for the numbing buzz of the late night silence to lull me to sleep. I stared at the ceiling and counted my breath like they taught us in my yoga class. I placed my hands on my stomach, listening for what, I didn’t know. The heat clanged in short spurts, as if there were tiny men hitting the pipes with their tiny wrenches. When David comes home tonight, I am going to tell him. I promise I promise, I promise. Why shouldn’t I, it <I>is</I> a happy occasion.
— <I>Suzanne Dottino is an author and a playwright. Her work has appeared in Portable Muse, The Brooklyn Rail, KGB Bar Lit, The Brooklyn Review, Heeb.com, Esopus.com, Bloomsbury Review and others. She is editor of <a href=’http://www.kgbbar.com/lit’ target=’rf’><b>KGB Bar Lit</b></a> and lives in New York City.</I>