The sun rose from the neighboring golf course, through the tiered, flowery window-treatment opposite the bentwood banister supporting Zach’s throbbing head. He woke remorseful and sour-smelling, hours before Beth and the children—lucky to escape a confrontation with anyone but himself before his morning shower, shave, coffee and toast.
(Click here for the first episode;here for the previous one.)
He drove to Columbia well ahead of the morning rush, closed the blinds to his office and shed the constrictive Boy Scout uniform, along with its chafing residue—the all-night slough of a guilty conscience.
The campus hadn’t risen for the day either, allowing him to work out at the gym free from hearty hellos and good-mornings.
After forty minutes on the elliptical machine and twenty on the recumbent bicycle, his pangs of conscience lost their sting. He felt as if a storm had passed. He showered, shaved, ate a small breakfast and returned to his office with a tall double latte, his usual composure restored. Mentally, he tested it. The ground felt as solid as if he had never stepped knee-deep in mire.
At nine-thirty, busy assistants and secretaries further solidified his position. He drew his office blinds open to blue sky and green grass and phoned Beth.
“Don’t hang up, baby. Let me apologize.”
“I’ve already called a divorce lawyer, Zach. The one Isabelle used last year.”
“Beth, let’s be calm. I’m asking you to forgive me. Can’t we try counseling first? I know you’ve pleaded with me for years. You’re always right. I’m sorry and want to make amends.”
“Ha,” Beth snorted, in part from physical pain. “I’m always right—you say that and treat me like I’m an idiot. You need to know, Zach, I’m seeing a doctor who’ll document the damage.”
“Beth, honey, how bad is it? God, I’m sorry. Bruises, swelling, what else?”
“I haven’t decided if I should go straight to the emergency room or to the dentist.”
“Beth, Jeez. Don’t do anything that can’t be undone until we discuss the next step. If I drive home right now, will you sit down with me?”
“Stay away, Zach. Call your lover and tell her you’re free.”
“If you say the word, honey, I’ll never see her again.”
“Beth. What I did makes me sick. But you have the reflexes of a pro. You turned your head—I barely clipped you.”
“I’ll call him.”
“Zach, don’t. Give us some time. Maybe I won’t show the bruises to a lawyer. But don’t fool yourself. I’m divorcing you for the best settlement—that is, the biggest settlement I can get.”
He hung up, closed his eyes, and gathered his books. At ten-thirty he met with his teaching assistants. At eleven-thirty, he called Vida. When the receptionist said she wasn’t there, he asked for Sally, her secretary, who said, “Didn’t she tell you she’s taking a leave of absence? She won’t be coming into the office for at least a year.”
“A year? Since when?”
“Since very recently. Call her mobile.”
He hadn’t made the trip to Washington last week because it was Rosalind’s fourteenth birthday. And last night was the ceremony for his undeserved twenty-fifth Eagle Scout anniversary. If Vida wasn’t working, something had happened.
“Hello, Zach.” She sounded even more matter-of-fact than usual.
“Sally said you’ve taken a leave of absence. What’s happened?”
“Something I’ve always wanted without realizing how much I wanted it until a few months ago.”
“If you’re not too busy to see me, I’ll tell you. But not over the phone.”
“Vida, I know I haven’t been as attentive lately as I should have been. But I love you as much as ever—more. All this extra time I’ve been spending in New York was so we could be together. And now it’s done: I’m divorcing Beth.”
“Tell me another one and maybe I’ll laugh.”
“No, I’ve been hammering this out all year. I’m divorcing Beth to marry you.”
“Too bad you didn’t say that a year ago. We might have made a happy family.”
“Why not now?”
“Because in the last several weeks, I’ve learned what I want in life—and what I don’t.”
“What? You’ve found religion?”
She laughed long and hard enough for him to realize that both Beth and Vida were laughing at him today. He stated critical intentions, wishes, and apologies and both women laughed. The sound echoed so that at the back of his mind, their mocking hilarity ran together, Vida’s duplicating Beth’s and Beth’s foretelling Vida’s.
Vida was still laughing. “I’ve dropped enough hints. I may as well tell you.”
“You’re sure you’re ready?”
“What is this? I’m always ready.”
“I’m pregnant, Zach. Both babies are healthy. The genetic tests came back two days ago. My doctor has given me the go-ahead, although I need to stay still. In another month, I’ll need complete bed rest.”
“How did this happen?”
She laughed louder than he could remember. “I can’t believe you actually said that. Do you want me to explain it to you?”
“All right, laugh all you want. I’m just surprised. Did you plan this?”
“Not really. I thought I’d missed my chance. By all indications, I was too old. It so happens, however, that last-gasp fraternal twins are not uncommon. I’m pregnant with two little girls.”
“Jesus, Vida! Twin daughters.”
“So will I see you at the Palm, twelve-thirty?”
“Maybe dinner would be better. I need to check on a few things.”
“Fuck you, then.”
“Vida, honey, cut me some slack. I’m beside myself here.”
“Take the shuttle. Be at The Palm by twelve-thirty.”
(click here for the next episode)