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Does She or Doesn't She?
By Alisa Kwitney
Harper Collins PublishersCopyright © 2003 Alisa Kwitney All right reserved. ISBN: 0060512377
Friday, November 30 8:30 A.M.
"I'm going to take my hand off your mouth if you promise not to scream. Do you understand?"
I nod my head, which bangs into the man's chin. He grunts in a low and manly fashion. I can't see him clearly, because we are both lying on the floor of my closet. Well, I am lying on the floor. He is lying on top of me, his hand braced to keep some of his weight off my chest, but there is nothing he can do about our lower halves, which are sandwiched together like peanut butter and jelly.
Something is digging into my thigh, but I can't tell if it's animal, vegetable or mineral.
"Excuse me, but I think your wrench is ..."
"Shh." The man puts his hand back over my mouth, a callused hand, I note, though whether from building birdcages or burying dead bodies I can only guess. Then I hear it, too. A kind of shuffle-thump, shuffle-thump. Somebody is dragging something just outside this closet. My heart kicks into a faster rhythm. I feel the tension of the man's long muscles all along my lower body. He has a quality of trained alertness, of coiled energy held in check. Like a Labrador about to seize a bird, I think, and suddenly realize that this thought holds insight as to the identity of the manwith his hand on my mouth.
Labrador, retrieving, the ability to hold something large in your teeth without biting down ... Something wet drips onto my hand and at first I think it is water from the broken pipe, but then I see that the liquid is dark, and draining from the man's shoulder.
"And you're talking." His voice is low and rough and suggests all manner of pleasurable punishments.
"Ford? Is that you?" I see his eyes glint with something - exasperation? Affection? And then his mouth comes down to cover mine and my mind goes blank ...
"Mommy. Mommmy. Mom!"
Hold that last thought. "What is it, Sadie?"
"You're making me peanut butter and jelly and I had that yesterday!"
I'll admit that school lunches are the sort of thing I prepare on automatic pilot, thereby freeing the rest of my mental faculties to wander where they will. Still, I thought I'd given her cheese. "I thought I gave you cheese."
Behind my daughter's purple spectacles, I see her eyes glint with something - exasperation? Amusement? Then she folds her arms together. "No, I asked you for cheese. You gave me peanut butter and jelly."
I look at the time. Eight forty. "Sorry, sweetheart. It's so late already, do you think you could just ..."
My husband wanders into the kitchen, tying his long hair back in a ponytail. That and the tiny gold hoop in his left ear are all that remain of a long-ago rebellious bohemian phase. Well, the ponytail, the earring, and me. "She's going to be late again," he comments, then wanders out with his habitual air of dissatisfaction.
I think of Turgenev's reference to middle age as that "vague, crepuscular time, the time of regrets that resemble hopes, of hopes that resemble regrets." I know better than to quote old Russian writers out loud, however. What is charming in a twenty-three-year-old who doesn't wear underwear and keeps vodka in her East Village fridge is less so in a thirty-five-year-old who keeps forgetting to buy the right brand of oat bran.
I go into the bedroom to get dressed and find my husband trying on a black cowboy hat. It conceals his receding hairline in a manner both attractive and sinister.
"What do you think?"
"Both attractive and sinister." I rummage in the laundry basket, which is filled with clean clothing I have not put away yet. At least I think it's clean.
"If you'd fold the clothes right away, it wouldn't take you half an hour to find a pair of underwear, and Sadie wouldn't get a stomachache because she needs another late pass."
I stop rummaging. "I'm taking Sadie today? I thought you said you were taking her."
My husband removes his hat and narrows his eyes. "I said I couldn't take her, Del. I have a big meeting today."
"Okay, no problem, I'll just throw on a long coat over my pj's." But my long coat, as it turns out, is at the dry cleaners. Dressed in a pea coat that only covers me down to my pajama-clad knees, I head for the door. "Sadie, we're ready now."
"Mom, did you put my lunch in my backpack?"
"Of course I did." Not. I slip it in while she's not looking. We find Jason holding the elevator for us.
"Hurry up," he says.
I touch Jason's shoulder. "It'll be better when Hilda gets back from vacation."
"You don't need a housekeeper. You need a schedule."
"Jason, there's no way I can keep house, volunteer at Sadie's school and work freelance without some outside help."
"Sure you can. You just need to plan ahead. Sadie's too old for a nanny, anyway, aren't you, punkin?" He ruffles Sadie's hair, which she detests.
"I like Hilda."
"Well, we can talk about this later."
We stand together silently, as the ancient elevator door shudders to a close. I imagine this as a scene from a movie: Probably something Swedish or German, black-and-white, the kind of film where the child begins to imagine a huge, invisible dragon of parental tension blowing brimstone. Atonal piano chords on the soundtrack.
I clear my throat. "So what are you doing today, Jason?"
"Big meeting today with this cowboy-hat company. They're looking to do a line of feminine hygiene products."
Excerpted from Does She or Doesn't She? by Alisa Kwitney
Copyright © 2003 by Alisa Kwitney
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.