Leave Me

Gayle Forman

Maribeth Klein was working late, waiting to sign off on the final page proofs of the December issue, when she had a heart attack.

Those first twinges in her chest, however, were more a heaviness than a pain, and she did not immediately think heart. She thought indigestion, brought on by the plate of greasy Chinese food she’d eaten at her desk the hour before. She thought anxiety, brought on by the length of tomorrow’s to-do list. She thought irritation, brought on by the conversation with her husband, Jason, who when she’d called earlier was having a dance party with Oscar and Liv, even though their downstairs neighbor Earl Jablonski would complain and even though keeping the twins up past eight upped the odds that one of them would wake in the night (and wake her up, too).

But not her heart. She was forty-four years old. Overtaxed and overtired, but show her a working mother who wasn’t. Besides, Maribeth Klein was the sort of woman who when she heard hoof beats did not think horses, let alone zebras. She thought someone had left the TV on too loud.

So when her heart began seizing, Maribeth merely excavated a bottle of Tums from her desk and sucked on them while willing Elizabeth’s office door to open. But the door remained shut while Elizabeth and Jacqueline, Frap’s creative director, debated whether or not to tweak the cover now that sex tapes of the famous young actress gracing it had emerged on the Internet.

An hour later, the decision was made and the last of the proofs were signed off on and shipped to the printer. Before leaving, Maribeth stopped by Elizabeth’s office to say good-bye, which she immediately regretted. Not just because Elizabeth, noting the hour, remarked how tired Maribeth looked and offered her a car-service voucher home—a kindness that embarrassed Maribeth, though not enough to decline it—but because Elizabeth and Jacqueline had been deep in conversation about dinner plans and had stopped talking as soon as Maribeth entered the room, as if they’d been postgaming a party to which she hadn’t been invited.

At home, she fell into a fitful sleep, waking up with Oscar sprawled on the bed next to her and Jason already gone. And even though she felt worse than she had the night before—exhausted and nauseous, from the poor night’s sleep and the Chinese food, she assumed, but with her jaw aching, too, for reasons she did not understand, though she would later learn that these were all actually signs of her ongoing heart attack—she dragged herself out of bed and somehow got Liv and Oscar dressed and walked the ten blocks to BrightStart Preschool, where she maneuvered the gauntlet of the other mothers, who regarded her with a cool condescension because, she suspected, she only did drop-offs on Fridays. Jason handled the other mornings (something the BrightStart mothers positively lionized him for) so that Maribeth could get to her desk early enough to leave by four-thirty.