I found my husband in the kitchen making an espresso and I held up the condoms, a strip of three, and I said, “Give me three thousand dollars.”“What?” He held the tiny cup between two fingers and leaned up against the countertop. “But you said you didn’t want to get pregnant again. . . .They’re not for me, they’re for us.” I watched my husband pull a bank envelope out of his bag and count out the bills. “Now, I’ll have to make another stop at the bank,” he said. “Hundreds? Or twenties?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. I walked to the stove and fished three hard-boiled eggs from the pot of boiling water.
After the taxi had come, I sat in the living room with my children and half listened to the din of cartoons. I was a good wife. Every night I made dinner. The laundry was always folded. The babysitters paid. The lunches packed. The hearth swept.
My mother arrived a couple hours later. She’d come to help with the children but really she just wanted to bitch about my father. “He’s such an asshole,” my mother said.
“Did Dad ever cheat on you?”
“I don’t know,” she said. She stared up to ceiling. “It might even have been a relief if he had.”
I said, “I’m going to the city for the night. Will you watch the kids in the morning? Give them cereal and pack their lunches?”
My mother turned to me offended. “I just came from across the country and you’re taking off?”
“Look,” I said, “If you watch the kids tonight I’ll give you five hundred dollars.”
I bathed the kids and laid them in their beds. I read, Blueberries for Sal and loaded the toothbrush. I pinned the littlest one to the bed. “Say, eeeeeeeeee,” I said swiping at his glittering row of spotless teeth.Then to the oldest boy’s bed where I crawled in beside him, and kissed his silky hair. I rubbed that spot on his chest that tightens up with anxiety before birthday parties and T-ball games.
“I’ll take the train into the city,” I told my mother, who glared at the television. “I’ll be back tomorrow before they get home from school.”
“Doesn’t matter. When they get off the bus I’ll just turn on the cartoons. They love their old Grandma,” my mother said. She poured herself a glass of wine from the box she’d set up on the coffee table. “You go on. Get a break. Wish I could have gotten away a night or two when you were small.”
I drove over to the train station and parked my car, then boarded the train for Manhattan. Once in my seat, I texted an old boyfriend who’d recently found me on the social media:
Meet me for a drink for old time’s sake, I wrote.
Let’s get a room.
All right, I texted. Where?
The Standard Hotel overlooked the High Line, near the Chelsea cafe whereNick and I had had met the year before to catch up. Since then, we occasionally sent flirtatious texts, a flurry of them and then silence, a flurry of texts and then more silence. But we’d never said what we might have said which is that we meet again.
When we dated, years ago, I used to tell people he was so big he needed an extra hinge just to fold it back into his pants. He was nearly six and a half feet tall. His hands were as big as dinner plates. When we were young, he would spin me around on it like a top. He could be cruel and heartless, but he was exactly what I’d wanted.
A familiar grouping of numbers needled at the screen of my phone.Politely I declined. It was my husband calling from the airport business lounge. I held the phone in my hand and watched out the scratched glass of the train window. The landscape passed backwards in a blur of green trees and urban cement. I felt the tiny ping of a text message.
Let’s go to the room first, Nick wrote.
No, let’s get a drink.
Let’s go to the room first.
What do you think I am, a slut? My fingers, unused to tiny keyboards, began to cramp.
Yes, he wrote. As a matter of fact I do.
I took a cab from Grand Central to Chelsea. It was fashion week and fragile alien bodies tottered all around me on the cobblestones. The sun settled across the river. Mini studios had been set up in white tents up and downGreenwich Avenue. Everywhere there were cameras and flashes and gawkers and suits. People shouted into headsets, or held their phones in front of their mouths as they jostled one another on the sidewalks. Large black SUVs idled loudly in the street. I spotted him first in his clean white button-down shirt, opened at the neck. He was looking up at the windows of the hotel and sucking hard on a cigarette. Beads of sweat glistened along his hairline. He greeted me with a cloud of smoke and a kiss on the cheek, his hand casually rested on my hip. I asked him what he was looking at. “Article in the Times said the hotel got in trouble for encouraging guests to have sex in the windows.” I looked up at the blank dark glass windows. They reflected the clouds. The hotel was a hulking box that squatted inelegantly over the High Line. “Do you remember?” he asked. “When this area was completely desolate?”
I nodded, yes, I remembered. I remembered how we used to walk across town to the Lamp Light, through the old Nabisco factory, and the bakery in the back where workers dressed in white passed out fresh bread at four in the morning. The transsexuals who taunted us from the street corners. We’d carry a flask of vodka and get drunk and then stumble over to the meat warehouses where heavy carcasses hung from chains. Some nights we’d disappear down 7th Avenue basement stairs into Small’s for jazz, graham crackers and vodka-spiked apple juice in plastic cups. Or Nuyorican to hear the combative sputtering poets. I would go anywhere with him. To all stretches of Manhattan and all ends of the boroughs. He told me about his father’s affairs and his mother’s passivity. There were boarding schools and nannies. His first few years in NewYork and the Indian girl he’d been in love with, who back then still lived with her parents and how they used to meet in the Bowery flophouse hotels and have sex and he