I see now that I am in trouble — in trouble with Charlie and in trouble because I have no where to turn but this blog.
All the way back from California, I kept thinking that Charlie and I just needed more time together. In the midst of New York’s bounty, we hadn’t seen a movie together in months. At the airport, I picked up a copy of Time Out New York, and in the taxi home I circled a half-dozen performances I wanted to see with him.
I was still thinking of asking Charlie to pick up tickets to “La Traviata” as I turned the key in our apartment door. The first thing that struck me when I stepped in was that the air inside had changed. At first I thought that Lucia, our nanny, had baked something or that Charlie had lit up his old pipe. Then the kids rushed me, jumping and clutching. I unpacked my luggage to give them the baklava that my mother had sent home with me, and forgot what I’d been smelling.
Lucia’s sister had given birth, so Lucia had taken Dante and Chloe to visit. Chloe was in rapture about dinner from McDonald’s. Dante was full of stories about the TV shows he had watched – “Power Rangers” and all the other violent kiddie fare we try so hard to fend off.
Charlie rolled in a few minutes later, arms full of takeout, and for once, we all sat down together. But of all the possible foods you can order at a Chinese restaurant, Dante will only eat steamed dumplings and Chloe won’t eat anything at all. So I got up to cook some frozen peas and then again to peel apples, and Charlie got up to refill milk glasses and wipe spills. Once we were seated again, I reached for Charlie’s hand across the table.
I didn’t notice the scent again until I lay down: a kind of smokey apple smell. I turned onto my stomach, but still I smelled it, as if it had even saturated my pillow. It filled my head. Charlie was in the bathroom, fingers to his face and face to the mirror, removing contacts. I pulled the slip from my pillow and replaced it with another from the closet in the vestibule. The new one smelled of Tide and of Lucia. When Charlie had made it through his routine – the brush, the floss, the water glass, the pee, the light, he lay down next to me. “How’s Darby holding up?” he asked.
“Well, enough. She’s rewriting history.”
“I banged my knee today.”
“The bad one?”
“Naturally. Whose history is she rewriting?”
“Her own. She says she started drinking before our parents started their group marriage.”
“I was getting into a taxi. The pavement was wet and I slipped.”
“Where were you?
“Uptown. How about your mother?
“Seeing a client. Is she traveling again?”
“To Zimbabwe this time.”
In a few minutes we lay silent. That’s about when I would normally drop off, but instead I touched Charlie. It was hard to remember the last time – maybe in August, when circumstances got us both in bed before eleven and aware of each other. I’d learned long ago that the best way was not to speak but to communicate with my lips against his cheek, my fingers traveling across his chest and stomach.
Given enough time, every couple wears grooves in their route of lovemaking. But with Charlie and me, inhibited by our busyness and fatigue, the infrequence normally lent a flavor of novelty, a passion of surprise. That night was different. Charlie’s motions were so rhythmic, so regular, I felt as if I’d put money in one of those automatic rocking horses in front of a supermarket.
Finally he slid off me. “Sorry.”
“That we didn’t…”
Around one o’clock I woke up. A bottle had smashed somewhere on the sidewalk below our window. Light from the street lamps cast an oblong grid through the blinds onto the ceiling of our bedroom. Voices of pedestrians diminished as they passed. Away on Broadway a fire engine keened.
And I knew. I knew another woman had slept in my bed.