But I did not call Charlie that night. I still feel such rage toward him, I don’t think I could articulate an intelligible word if we got on the phone. Instead I called my father.
“Matt Wrightson!” Dad was speechless for a full five seconds. “Where…?”
Whenever I’m with my father or his wife, we pretend that Laura and her family never existed, that there never was a group marriage. We always talk as if Dad, Mom, Darby and I had lived in a regular nuclear family for a while, and then had a regular nuclear divorce like everybody else — as if Dad had gone straight from his marriage with Mom to his marriage with Betty.
It’s only when an old photo crops up, or some question forces him to refer to what he was doing from 1971 to 1976, that you can hear in his silences how much he misses Laura. There are sentences he can’t finish. It isn’t embarrassment that stops him, though I think the sex would be difficult for him to discuss, especially with his daughter. It’s not just deference to his wife, Betty, either. It’s a great lake of disappointment he can’t get around. Only a couple of times in my adult life had the subject come up, and both times he ended up crying.
I filled him in on Matt’s life and adventures. Then he had to get the news of Ivor and Leif. I could feel him working up to the subject he really cared about, finding the courage. “And Laura?” The words came hoarsely, as if his throat were swelling.
“Living in Danville. And…”
“Alone? What? Tell me. Is she…?”
“Married! So!” He fell silent.
“Are you okay?” I wished I could put my arm around him, and at the same time I wanted to slap him. For once, why couldn’t I be the one in crisis?
“I’m okay. So.” He cleared his throat. “What does he do?”
“This new boyfriend of hers.”
“Husband. He’s retired from the furniture business.” I told him what I knew.
“So he’s a real k’nacker, eh? A big shot?” In recent years, he had taken to translating Yiddish expressions for me, newly conscious of the heritage he never imparted to his children.
“I don’t know if he’s a k’nacker, Dad. I never met him.”
“So does she…”
“Does she what?”
“Ever talk about me?”
I had to restrain a sigh of exasperation. “Oh, Dad, how would I know? I haven’t poken to her.”
The conversation ended fast after that. Dad welcomed me to come to him in Humboldt and, as he put it, “join the party.” It turned out a group of Betty’s quilter friends were visiting for most of the week. “It’s a schlep, I know, a long drive, but we’d love to see you.” The breath hissed out of me. Squeezing into Dad and Betty’s place with a retired quilting couple from Idaho and their local friends didn’t sound like the kind of refuge I’d envisioned. He even offered to get a room for me in town. But why would I drive three hundred miles to sleep in a hotel?
“You know what, Dad? Maybe I’ll just hang out another day or two here.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ll call you when I have things a little more sorted out.”
“Honey? Is Charlie going to leave you for this girl?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but the words jammed like broken gears.
“Do you want me to come there?”
The offer almost made me sob. It was the kind of sympathy I’d been waiting for, and for a second I was going to say yes. But I couldn’t. Miserable and lonely as I felt at that moment, it was worse to think of myself collapsed into such helplessness that someone had to come pick up the pieces. “No. No. Enjoy your party. I’ll talk to you in a day or two.”
After I hung up with him I sat at Matt’s desk staring at the phone as if there were clues written on it that I couldn’t decipher. There was nowhere for me to go, nothing for me to do.
Except take care of my kids. Thank god I still had them. I wiped my face on my sleeve and went downstairs. Dante was by himself, watching television. “Where’s Chloe?” I glanced around the room. “Dante?”
“Where’s your sister?”
He looked curiously at me. “I don’t know.”
“Here,” came Matt’s voice. He came up the stairs leading Chloe by the hand.
“She doesn’t get much warning, does she?”
“When she has to respond to nature. We had a little accident.”
I grabbed some clean clothes from my suitcase and took her back to the downstairs bathroom. I had just finished cleaning her, her clothes and the bathroom when a crash came from the living room. I rushed back up as quickly as I could with Chloe in my arms to find Dante standing on the back of the couch. In his hand was a two-foot temperature probe, on the floor a stained-glass lamp, shattered.
The lamp, it turned out, was an antique and irreplaceable. I could see I wouldn’t be able to stay much longer with Matt and Penny.
So here is my dilemma. Having snatched up my kids and fled across the country, I don’t know where to turn. Any suggestions?