The Washington Post
Happiness Sold Separatelyby Lolly Winston
"The marriage of a seemingly perfect couple dissolves into a complicated dance of affairs, lovers, and admirers"--Provided by the publisher. See more details below
"The marriage of a seemingly perfect couple dissolves into a complicated dance of affairs, lovers, and admirers"--Provided by the publisher.
The Washington Post
At the beginning of the story, the listener is prepared for another saga of quirky but charming troubles in the lives of a successful professional couple who seem to have made all the right choices for a nearly perfect life. This couple's troubles are not charming at all, as it turns out, but overwhelming and truly heartbreaking. Elinor, nearing 40 and unable to have a baby, and her husband, Ted, have become entangled in the fertility treatment machine that includes temperature-taking, long waits in clinics, consultations, and hope held out and then dashed. Ted is especially perplexed by this frustrating, fruitless process but willing to lend his support to help his wife with her dreams. At his gym, Ted falls for a beautiful but complicated young woman with a long history of falling for the wrong guy at the wrong time. She has a geeky, needy eight-year-old son who latches onto Ted when he offers his services as a tutor. Winston, skilled at revealing layers of conflicting, strong emotion and behavior, is definitely a writer to watch. Performer Melinda Wade has the perfect crystal-clear voice for the various characters; highly recommended for public libraries.
- Grand Central Publishing
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Read an Excerpt
Happiness Sold Separately
By Lolly Winston
WARNER BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Lolly Winston
All right reserved.
Chapter OneElinor Mackey is cleaning out her purse, trying to lighten her load, wondering how a broken sprinkler head wound up among the contents, when she first learns that her husband, Ted, is having an affair.
As she putters in the warmth of her dimly lit laundry room, she tries to gather the energy to sort more than a hundred work e-mails on her laptop. (Russian Teens with Tiny Tits! are stuck in her spam filter. Should she let them out? Do men consider this a good thing?) Maybe she'll make spanakopita for her book-club potluck. Yes, everyone should make Greek dishes, since they're reading The Iliad. Lately, Elinor's brain wanders like this-like the hand of a child who can't color within the lines, jerking across the page, making the trees blue and the sky brown. She squeezes the sprinkler head, remembering that she had planned on taking it to the hardware store to buy a replacement. This is a trick her father taught her: Take the broken part along, and usually a clerk will help you find a new one and explain how to fix the thing. Elinor picks up the phone to call her friend Kat to tell her about the Greek dinner. Then she hears Ted's voice on the line.
"Gina, Gina," Ted whispers. Elinor holds her breath. She looks up at theboxes of Bold and Cheer on a shelf above the washer.
"I miss you," whoever this Gina is says softly. Elinor drops the sprinkler head on the floor, stands up, turns off the dryer. Ted? An affair?
"What's that noise?" Ted asks. "I don't hear anything," Gina says.
Or maybe someone's borrowing the phone? It could be that weird phenomenon where you accidentally break in on a stranger's phone conversation. This happened to Elinor once. She started dialing, and the next thing she knew she was listening in on what sounded like a student bargaining with his teacher for a better grade.
"We can't see each other so often," Ted says. It is definitely Ted, talking to a sniffly Gina. Ted, who hates parties and meeting new people! Ted, who sleeps in torn flannel pajama bottoms that have cowboys and Indians on them.
Elinor exhales, tilting her mouth away from the phone, as though blowing out smoke.
"We should talk about this in person, tonight," Gina says. "I get off at six. I want to cook for you." She moans the word cook as though it's a lascivious act.
"Okay," Ted concedes. Elinor swears she hears dread in his voice. An affair. Elinor waits for jealousy to enrage her. Instead she feels pity. For Ted, for their marriage. And fatigue. It creeps up her spine, pushing her head forward.
She hugs her empty purse to her chest. The contents are spread across the dryer. In college, she carried a bag large enough to smuggle a six-pack into a rock concert. Now her big purse holds an expensive leather wallet bulging with charge cards and receipts, a Palm Pilot, reading glasses, a cellular phone, migraine medication, a tube of under-eye concealer touted as "forgiveness in a bottle," and a huge ring of keys, some of them mysterious.
Ted and Gina hang up. Elinor presses the phone to her sternum. Ted, an affair. Their marriage, unraveling.
Run and tell him you need to talk, she tells herself. Then schedule a session with the marriage counselor. This is the calm, take-care-of-business sensibility that carried Elinor through college, law school, and fifteen years as an employee relations attorney at various high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. But lately this competence has been replaced by an overwhelming urge to lie down. By an exhaustion that lingers in her bones like a flu.
The malaise seemed to come on after she and Ted stopped trying to have children. They tried for a year on their own with no luck, then succumbed to two years of tests and treatments, including three intrauterine inseminations and two in-vitro fertilizations. Elinor got pregnant once, but she miscarried early on. Still, this gave them the hope to continue. She longed for two boys-she loves boys. Instead she wound up with a diagnosis of "unexplained infertility"-probably due to her age, the doctor explained-twenty extra pounds, and hormone insanity. By the time her fortieth birthday rolled around, she felt like a malfunctioning farm animal that needed to be put down.
"Mind if I go to a testosterone flick?" Ted shouts down the hall, startling Elinor. She realizes she's just standing there, dumbfounded, holding up a stray sock.
"Uh," she says. Sometimes she and Ted go to the movies separately. She likes art-house movies and period films, while Ted prefers shoot-'em-ups. Confront him about the affair! The sock trembles in her hand.
"You there?" There's worry in Ted's voice. "A movie!" Elinor shouts back to him. "Sure. Have fun!" She sounds too enthusiastic, overly cheerful. "Wait," she says more softly. She hears Ted's footsteps as he ambles down the hall and through the kitchen. The garage door rumbles and creaks. Do something! She drops the sock and runs down the hallway. Follow him. Heading for the garage, she remembers that her car is in the shop. She turns and crashes through the back patio doors and between the bushes to her neighbor friend Kat's house to borrow her minivan.
"I'll explain later," she pants, grabbing the keys from Kat. "You're barefoot." Kat peers out from under a baseball cap pulled over her short black hair and points to Elinor's feet. Elinor appreciates the lack of judgment in her voice as she states this simple fact. Kat is the least judgmental person she knows.
Elinor catches up with Ted at the stop sign at the end of their street. She snatches Kat's sunglasses from the visor and ducks behind the steering wheel. The car is stuffy with August heat, and she punches on the air-conditioning. The Lion King plays on a little TV screen in the back of the van. Elinor can't figure out how to shut the damn thing off. "It's gonna be King Simba's finest fling!" the animals cheer as she jabs at the buttons.
Ted surprises her, turning into the parking lot of their gym. Elinor makes the turn too suddenly, thumping over the curb. A woman waiting on the sidewalk out front waves to Ted. Elinor recognizes her from her own infrequent trips to the club. The woman works there, as a trainer. She's in her early thirties, slim and fit, with long, light brown hair down to her ass-an ass that Elinor envies, small, hard, and round, like an apple. Sometimes the girl wears a coaster size pin on her tight black T-shirt that says ASK ME ABOUT THE ZONE! Elinor pulls to the back of the lot and watches the trainer climb into Ted's car, tossing her gym bag in back.
Elinor follows them onto the freeway ramp heading south. They turn off a few exits down, then wind through an unfamiliar neighborhood. Ted pulls into a Healthy Oats grocery store and parks. The woman-Gina, this must be Gina-jumps out and does a little leap, as though she's been taken to Tiffany's. As she squeezes Ted's hand in hers, he looks around furtively. Ted! Holding hands with your fling in broad daylight? Ted pulls his hand away, but Gina doesn't seem to notice. She bumps up against him as they head into the store. Elinor turns off the minivan and waits. There's a Healthy Oats in her neighborhood, too, but Elinor's only been there a few times, buying chalky protein shakes and balking at the produce prices. Maybe this would explain the flax. About a week ago, when she was fishing for an umbrella, Elinor found a one-pound bag of pungent grain in the backseat of Ted's car. It was from the health food store where they rarely shopped. Upon closer examination, Elinor saw that the mixture was tiny, honey-colored seeds, shiny and slippery through the plastic. Another bag was filled with a fine golden powder. WHOLE GROUND FLAXSEED MEAL.
"What're these for?" she asked Ted, setting the bags on the kitchen counter.
When Ted turned from the sink and saw the bags, he flinched with surprise. His face flushed red.
"It's flax," he stuttered. "Okay." Elinor laughed. "Didn't mean to pry." Sheesh. He'd reacted as though the bags were porn or cigarettes.
Ted launched into an unnecessarily long explanation of how flaxseeds and flaxseed meal were the healthiest way to get your grains. Flax was rich in fiber, omega-3 fats, and lignans, whatever those were. That's what Dr. Edmunds had said. If you were going to eat carbohydrates, they needed to be complex.
"That sounds good," Elinor replied. "When did you see Dr. E?" Again, she didn't mean to launch a flax inquisition; she was just trying to talk to her husband. They talked so little lately.
"Last week," Ted said. "While you were at the conference in Monterey?" A podiatrist, Ted had spent all of the previous week at a conference with his podiatry colleagues. But Dr. Edmunds was a GP.
"On the golf course."
Ted hated golf. Usually he managed to get out of it at conferences. Still, maybe he'd started playing again-and eating flax. "I'll make you some flax pancakes," Ted offered, finally turning off the water and drying his hands.
"Okay," Elinor said. "Flax jacks." Her head hurt. Now the relentless honking of a car alarm makes Elinor want to drive Kat's minivan through the serene pyramid of apples and strawberries just outside the store. Call the marriage counselor, she thinks, and schedule an appointment for tomorrow. But her cell phone's at home, with her wallet and shoes. She likes the cocoon of the counselor's sunny office, the Oriental carpets, the shelves of books, the dust motes floating lazily through the air. When she and Ted discussed how infertility had ruined their sex life, the counselor- Dr. Brewster-nodded sympathetically and insisted this was common. When Ted lamented how the treatments made Elinor angry and distant, Dr. Brewster explained that the hormones caused these mood changes. Elinor couldn't help it.
During those early months of procedures and doctor's appointments, Elinor had managed to fight off the hormone horrors. She practiced yoga and visualization, took watercolor classes. She imagined OshKosh overalls and tiny cowboy boots. The lab evaluated the quality of their two embryos during the first in vitro and gave them a grade A, the best you can hope for. Elinor wanted a bumper sticker: MY EMBRYOS ARE GRADE A AT STANFORD HOSPITAL! But that cycle didn't work.
"Something's wrong with me," Elinor insisted. "It's not your fault," Ted replied, taking her into his arms. "I love you. Let's take a break from all this. Let's go to Paris."
Elinor pushed him away. "Non, merci," she said glumly. During the second in vitro, somewhere around the twentieth injection Ted gave Elinor, the hormones engulfed her. She slammed doors and snapped at him. Everything was his fault. Raining? Flat tire? Tedious meeting at work? Chalk it up to Ted.
One morning Elinor tried to smash a home pregnancy test stick with a hammer, a task that's impossible, it turns out. She whispered to the stick, Just give me the second. Pink. Line. Setting the stick on a paper towel, she washed her hands, then closed her eyes. She opened them. Nothing. Then she flew to the utility room, yanked the hammer out of the toolbox, returned to the bathroom, and smashed the stick. Or tried to. One swift hit did nothing. The second blow chipped the sink, but barely dented the stick. She became a whirling storm of rage and sobs and repeated strikes with the hammer. Her face burned, and she saw a silvery strand of drool hanging from her mouth. Finally, she collapsed on the floor cross-legged, cradling the hammer. Ted pushed open the door. He gaped at Elinor on the floor as though she were a stranger on the street you'd definitely want to steer clear of. She'd never felt so unattractive. It was then that the fatigue draped her, as heavy as an X-ray smock.
The marriage counselor encouraged Ted and Elinor to take a break from the treatments: go on vacation, go out to dinner, get massages. They were supposed to take a break together, but Elinor has really been taking a break on her own, recoiling from Ted, retreating from the fury, into the laundry room. It's comforting to wash and fold clothes-a task that's easy to complete. She runs small, unnecessary loads, just to be lulled by the sound of the dryer. She especially likes the clinking of buttons and zippers-a metal-against-metal metronome that brings calm as she stares into the blue screen of her laptop, never actually doing any work. As her energy has waned, she's quit separating loads by color. Now all of their clothes are a purplish gray reminiscent of bad weather. Ted doesn't seem to notice. He's always grateful, never picky. "Let me help you," he'll insist whenever he finds Elinor in the laundry room. "You shouldn't be doing this."
"Why not?" Elinor will ask defensively. How did she get to a place where it's weird to wash her own underwear?
Ted brings flowers, fixes pots of homemade soup. Elinor doesn't thank him enough. Their sex life has faded to nil. Sex only leads to disappointment. Elinor obsessively does the laundry and reads novels, burrowing back into the comforting familiarity of the classics she read in college-Anna Karenina, The Age of Innocence. Meanwhile Ted obsessively works out at the gym. Or so Elinor has thought.
What's taking Ted and Gina-from-the-Gym so long? Are they in there kissing by the bulgur bin? SUVs clog the store parking lot, everyone shopping for dinner. Elinor's not sure what she'll do when they come out of the store. She tries to muster rage. Anorexic juicehead bitch!
Finally, Ted and Gina emerge, each hugging a bag of groceries. Paper, not plastic. For the first time, Elinor sees how much weight Ted has lost. He mentioned the fifteen pounds before, but now she notices how his pants hang at his waist. Her husband is aging-highschool-football-star handsome-stocky, with a broad chest, sloped shoulders, boyish face, endearing crow's-feet. Gina smiles up at Ted and blows a strand of light brown hair from her face. Elinor realizes that she has not let go of the steering wheel the whole time these two were in the store. She grips it as though turning into a sharp curve. Gina's black leggings outline firm calves and a circle of tanned skin above her white ankle socks. Elinor reaches in for the anger, tries to coax it. Hey, Sandy Duncan! Put some fucking pants on! For a moment she imagines a public scene, Ted's worst nightmare. Anything to avoid a scene. Ted, you jackass! she could scream across the parking lot. But that would only bring them both humiliation.
Elinor follows Ted and Gina through the winding streets of a strange neighborhood. Ted seems familiar with the route. He and Gina don't appear to talk on the way. She gazes out her window and Ted looks straight ahead, never checking his rearview mirror. Elinor manages to mute The Lion King, but the animals flicker on the back windows of the minivan. "Did I mention that I'm mortified by this car?" Kat, a stay-at-home mom, asks Elinor on a daily basis. The two became fast friends when they discovered that they share a dry sense of humor, and they're both former English majors who partied a little too much in college. Elinor thinks of Kat as her road not taken-the mother of three boys who love to play touch football with her in the front yard. Kat says Elinor is her road not taken-a successful lawyer whose husband beams when he talks about how good Elinor is at her job. Of course, most of their friends pull off both the well-paying career and the terrific kids. But Kat and Elinor have confessed to each other that they've never felt capable of both.
Finally, Ted pulls into a town-house complex. Elinor wonders what to do next. Until recently, she's been an ace problem solver-settling compensation disputes, fending off litigation, handling difficult employees. One employee who hadn't been taking his meds insisted that the CFO was talking to him through his car radio. Another woman tried to claim her wedding cake in her expense report. Now Elinor wants an easy solution to the Gina Problem. She imagines busting out a whiteboard in their living room at home, Ted sitting before her on the sofa. Gina, she'd write on the whiteboard, breathing in the chemical smell of the erasable marker. Then she'd draw an X through the name.
She drives past Ted and Gina as they park, observes which unit they hurry into, then pulls into visitor parking. The gravel walkway is cold and sharp under her bare feet. The whips of a sprinkler sting her calves as she makes her way between buildings to Gina's backyard.
Hunkering behind a low row of newly planted poplars, she peers out over the deck and through the sliding-glass doors, hoping Gina won't draw the curtains. The condo is a split-level deal with a combination kitchen/living room/dining room on the first floor. Ted sits at the kitchen table, drumming his fingers. Gina bounces down the stairs in a short kimono robe, wet hair slicked back. No makeup, no blow dryer necessary. Long sleek legs. Elinor runs a hand over the pooch of her belly.
Excerpted from Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston Copyright © 2006 by Lolly Winston. Excerpted by permission.
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