Monday, September 5, 2011

It’s Not Your Body

On the shuttle Zach recalled the challenges of off-trail hiking. A man could take every precaution and still run into trouble: the weather; shifting elevations; swamps; rock face; even animals. His solo treks had always rewarded him with a sublime mental clarity, which he tried to summon now.

(Click here for the first episode;  here for the previous one.)

As the jet began its descent, he vowed to honor Vida’s needs and his unborn twins’—yet remain loyal to Beth and his two adolescents, Matt and Rosalind. The wheels hit the runway and the thud jolted through him.

By the time he was sitting at his and Vida’s usual table at The Palm, his phone rang. Vida was talking before he said hello.

“After my doctor’s appointment this morning, I don’t feel like eating. You can stop by if you want.”

“I’m flagging a cab now, Vida.” 

She answered the door in a snug, stretchy black dress with a crisp white collar and wide, white cuffs. The hem skimmed her knees. Her lower legs were clad in black footless tights. Vida’s bare feet were pretty, and she knew it, lacquering her toenails deep red or a translucent white. Now they were plain. Her shiny, reddish-blonde hair, which swung in loose waves, was pulled tight and clamped in back.  It looked darker and…well, lackluster. He kissed her round cheeks and pulled her closer for an ardent kiss on the mouth. She pushed him away and reclined on her white leather couch.

Her brownstone on Hopkins Street, built in 1910, was huge. Zach hadn’t really looked closely before; he was always busy with Vida; the excitement from the night before and what awaited them at the Institute.  They slept in her bed with silk curtains tied behind it, on the second floor with its bathrooms, library, and music room. They sometimes ate in her kitchen or beneath a great shimmering chandelier in the dining room. But mostly they slept here and hurried to work at the Institute.

Now Zach registered the expanse of light and luxury: Early twentieth century art decorated the walls; mirrors brightened and altered the space; gold-leaf or mahogany trimmed the tall ceilings and arched doorways; Persian rugs; marble counters, and fine antiques. She had stretched her long legs on the couch, leaving him an adjacent wing chair covered in navy twill. He sank uncomfortably into it, certain it must be an antique. “How are you feeling, Vida?”

“I’m fine. How are you?”

Her darker, duller hair showed white roots when she dipped her padded chin. As he noticed this, it struck him that her hair had been darker and duller for a couple of months. His thoughts must have shown on his face.

“Safer for the babies if I don’t dye my hair,” she pushed back a stray strand. “Or paint my toenails,” she wiggled her bare toes and explained that this morning’s sonogram indicated she hadn’t been still enough. “In another month, complete bed rest will be mandatory.” 

“You’ll need someone to shop for you, and everything else.”

“My sister’s coming next week.”

“You have a sister?”

“Samantha’s a freelance graphic designer. Her son was accepted at Columbia. And no, I didn’t pull strings for him.” 

“Who said you did? I’m happy about this, Vida.”

“You’re scared, Zach.”

“I’m half the equation.”

“No, you’re not. It’s not your body. You don’t need bed rest. No worrying about food additives, diabetes, or high blood pressure. You don’t need to quit working or drinking or traveling.”

“Vida, please. Trust me.”

She lifted her feet in the air and hooted.

“Go ahead, laugh.”

“Stop saying every laughable line, Zach. I don’t need you, and no longer want you. True, you have rights. We can get a lawyer to sort them out or play them by ear.” 

Uneasily, he managed to move from the arm-chair to the couch and held her feet in his lap. “So fine. Don’t trust me.”

“That’s the mistake your wife made.”

“Not anymore.” He took her hands and looked at her large pale brown eyes. “Vida, will you marry me?”

She pulled her feet away. “Zach, if you had asked me earlier?” She shrugged. “But it wouldn’t have worked. I know that now.”

He asked if he could get a glass of water from the kitchen and one for her.

“Thank you.”

Setting two clear glasses on the coffee table, he felt enormous, shifting his overweight body among the antique furniture. He resumed sitting at her feet, delaying a sip from the delicate water glass.

“Vida, if you tease me about every word, of course I’ll sound insincere. But I don’t know how else to say I love you. I want to be with you and our daughters.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Why not? What if I visit once a week; you can’t say no to that.”

“Call me on the phone. I doubt I’ll be in the mood to entertain you.”

“I want to take care of you.”

She didn’t laugh but rolled her eyes. To distract from his embarrassment, Zach offered to make lunch and then Vida did laugh. “When was the last time you made lunch, Zach? Even just for yourself?”
She withdrew her feet, disappeared into the kitchen, and returned with a tray of sharp cheddar, sesame crackers, and a blue bowl of green grapes. “Everything affects me differently now. I always thought I had no interest in having children. At the last minute, it seems it’s all I ever wanted.”

Zach massaged her feet. “I know you’re having twins. But are there other complications? Women have babies in their mid-thirties all the time now.”

She smiled wryly. “How old are you, Zach?”


“I’m forty-five and if these babies are born in their third trimester, which is the goal, I’ll be forty-six.”

He masked his surprise. But getting up, doing anything like sorting through his briefcase, felt risky. A terrible awkwardness had invaded him. So all afternoon he remained still and silent. Finally she suggested a swim in the brownstone’s basement—another surprise.

“Even with complete bed rest, the doctor suggested a little swimming would be good as long as I don’t get too tired.”

“You have a swimming pool in your basement?”

“Yes, well, I’ve made very good money in my time. Enough so that I can raise two girls with every privilege they might want—on my own.”

(click here for the next episode)


Dan Leo said...

Oh, well, there's always the Boy Scouts...

Unknown said...

Maybe. He's broken many of their rules. And will end up breaking a few more. He's got a few more turn-arounds coming up.

Michael J. Kannengieser said...

I love the way you write dialog, well done.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Mike. I'm trying to improve. So often, and not only in my rough drafts, characters sound like the writer. Mine do; I know that. But I have been trying to match the voice with a character's role and natural traits.
I'm not the kind of writer who can pull off a gorgeous, rolling sequence of characters saying, "Yeah, right."
"I know."
"It happens."
"I know."
That's a pitiful example, but you know what I mean. When it works it's smooth and funny and in its best form reveals intelligent, even brilliant characters that are laconic types.