“Mom, the moving van is here!” yells my daughter, Elender, as she runs up the stairs to me.
“It’s here!” echoes my son, Marcus, downstairs.
Elender tries to catch my eye as I look in the mirror, brushing my hair, unable to untangle words or anything else.
To disguise my silence, she continues. “Daddy says we’ll love his new place.”
Chatterbox, oh beautiful little chatterbox. Blending into the blue of her eight-year-old eyes, I see the trust she has in me, and I dig the bristles deep into my scalp. She almost smiles, a pouty lip flutter, until my jagged panic snags her.
For a second, we are caught in the glass, our eyes locked, unable to blink.
Then, as if by a flipped switch, the connection is broken and her eyes dodge mine, her mouth sets in a thin line. She swirls around, long hair flying, and runs fast down the stairs.
A madwoman couldn’t have a saner daughter.
I need a habit. The cool drag of a menthol, some froth on a mug of Guinness, or sweet cream swirling into Kahlúa would feel right just now. But I don’t take potions for solace. I can’t count one that truly works.
I had warned my husband, Tobin. “If we move to the States, we’ll get divorced.”
“Ach ne,” he said. “It could never happen.”
But here we are, in Evanston, Illinois, border of the Windy City, and today’s gusts are blowing him away.
I put the brush down, wood on wood, apply four or five lipsticks—the perfect shade is attainable—and walk like a windup mannequin downstairs to the living room.
Someone’s watching as I approach the Bösendorfer grand. Tobin? No, I’m wrong.
Nothing is here but the light of a March afternoon. I sit at the piano, and my hands summon Bach. The ordered partita calms my breathing.
From nowhere, Tobin’s head appears at the end of the concert piano’s sweeping curve. Tall and looking decidedly Aryan today, he bows a soldierly adieu. Ironic. This is his first overture to me in six months.
My fingers glide across the ivory; my foot flattens the brass pedal, then my hands bang wildly. He turns his back, walks out the front door.
From the piano bench, I strain to reach the phone and call my lover of six months.
“Come over,” Christopher whispers in my ear.
I hang up the phone, and as I run to my car, Tobin shouts from the dark of the van, “I’ll be gone in an hour.”
Like little Santa Clauses bumping Tobin’s stuffed bags down the front steps, Elen and Marc are helping their daddy. “I’ll be right back,” I tell them.
As I speed off into the bright street, scenes of Tobin jump out at me.
In the kitchen years ago: boiling a pig’s head in a pan so small, its snout is sticking out.
More recently in the bedroom: throwing back the curtains, jettisoning my clothes out the window onto the muddy lawn.
On our ninth anniversary: tossing a bag of gifts from me out the sunroof of our Mercedes as we drive home from a tapas restaurant—scattering the tie and book and CD on the road, narrowly missing a child on a bike.
Just today: grabbing a jar of peanut butter with only enough left for a teaspoonful and handing it to our seven-year-old son, Marcus. “I bought this; pack it in the van.”
The images reflux like lava until I arrive, fully lipsticked, at Christopher’s apartment.
Christopher, legal, but still too young, opens the door in boxers.
We kiss into a large leather chair, fall to the floor.
I have thirty-six minutes until I have to be back home.
When I return, the moving van is panting in front of our town house. We were safe there: four secure walls with a tiny yard and one evergreen tree.
I look into the van’s cavernous interior, notice my personal things mixed in with Tobin’s: paintings from artist friends, cookware, a science book with an inscription to me from my dad, even my robe.
I stevedore a ceramic bowl, made by my best friend, Nina, and run into the house.
The walls are shaking; I hold on to chairs and shelves to go from one room to the other, looking for the children. They are tired and whimpering.
Tobin is balancing the last solid wood bookshelf on his back; he leaves us the sagging, pressboard variety. He is Atlas and we could be squashed under his feet.
Slice the air. Wait. I still love him.
I scan the living room. Books are scattered like tiles on the floor. In the corners, dirt streaks the walls. And this from a man who would make a better hausfrau than I.
I wander the house. The kitchen: spoons and forks scattered across countertops, a veil of sugar over my cookbooks, and a pristine square, like a pulsating Mondrian, where he took the phone off the wall. My bedroom: clothes on the floor in orgiastic twists, tangled sheets stained with oil and his footprints from where he unscrewed the bulb from the ceiling light.
I rush to the children’s room, afraid to open the door. Exhalation. This one room is spared. Against the lavender walls, their two small beds—with sheets flat and white—make peace.
I drift downstairs again, find a chair upside down, a desk half in the hallway. ‘Spass Tag’ für Möbel. “Fun Day for Furniture.” Could this be a hallucination?
I grab a box of pastels, hand it to Elen, who, followed by a silent Marc, flees to the basement for paper and an easel.
I stand in the front door and watch Tobin climb into the cab of the loaded van.
The plaster statue of Bach, an engagement gift from him, is in my hands. I hurl it at the door of the van as it pulls away from the curb. Fugal blow, final chord. It shatters with a percussive thud as my body would have, had I tried to stop him.
Before dinner, the children and I sit outside on the cold front steps. As the sun is setting on our broken home, Elen and Marc take bits of plaster from the statue, use it as chalk on the sidewalk. They write:
I LOVE MOMMY
I LOVE DADDY
I LOVE OUR FAMILY
Sometimes the worst is just the beginning.
Copyright © 2007 by Anastasia Royal. All rights reserved