If Not Today …



Jerome Turken

Evelyn was nibbling her lip again.  That habit of hers—she felt like biting right into it.  She scooped a bit of burnt sienna from her pallet and timidly applied a few dabs to the belly of the half finished nude on the her canvas.  As if she knew what she was doing!  In a moment Leo would be finished with the elderly woman on the easel next to hers and she still hadn’t decided.  Should she have coffee with him afterward or to go straight home? She so looked forward to these Monday evenings with Leo.  He was so vibrant, so stimulating to be with, her one bright day in the drab week.  But Tina.  She had no fever when she left, but the poor little thing had been sniveling all day.  And so cranky when she put her to sleep.  Of all days.  If only she was sure that Phil would keep an eye out in case she throws her blanket off or something.  But with Phil you never know.  When he gets caught up in that work he brings home he loses all perspective.  And more often than not he gets so sleepy after a while that he just stretches out on the sofa and dozes off.  He could be so thoughtless sometimes.  How many times had she talked to him about it?

On the edge of her vision she cold see Leo in an attitude of listening to the woman with that smile of his, the one laced with impatience.  What should she do?  She felt silly, sitting there dabbling with her brush like kindergarten child.  She looked at the plaster Aphrodite in the center of the room, trying to make it appear as though she were studying it, but her eyes couldn’t focus on it clearly.

“Forget the lines for now,” Leo was saying.  “Just pay attention to the light and shadow.  Didn’t I explain that?  If you close your eyes half way you’ll see it with more definition.  Try it.”

“Oh, yes!  Yes!  I see what you mean.”

Leo came up to her smiling and rolled his eyes to register the little ordeal he had just gone through.  What a deep smile he had; she loved the way it was accentuated by the two creases below his cheeks that bracketed his mouth like parenthesis.

“Listen, Evelyn,” he said.  “ I can’t go for coffee tonight. I have to get to my studio right after the class.  I have an appointment to show some people my work.”

Now she felt let down—she didn’t expect that.  She almost gave in to

an impulse to ask him if she could come along—it wasn’t as if she’d be alone with him.  But Tina …

Leo regarded her reaction a moment then abruptly extended both arms toward her canvas and put on a look of mock concentration as he backed away a bit to examine it.

“Now let’s see.  Mmm … this belly.” He took the pallet and brush from her hands and in a few seconds worked up a bluish mixture of oils.  With a few quick brush strokes he gave the belly of the nude another dimension, then returned the pallet and brush and, still smiling, looked at her.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said before moving to the next canvas.  His eyes were so alive she could almost feel his stare graze over her face.

“Oh my,” she said, in an effort to take the remark in stride.  “I’m swooning.”

“You are beautiful,” he said, then moved on to the next canvas.

She felt herself blush.  It happens every time an attractive man flirts with her.  Or even compliments her.  Every time.  Such a little girl she was still, such a chicken.  Married five years, a child almost a year old.  Every time.  Even with that good-looking kid in the playground who got her to play a game of handball with him.  What a rascal.  Making her chase the ball all over the court to watch her boobs bounce.  And Leo, those sharp, lively eyes, that confident, ready smile.  He breathes life.

When the session ended Leo came over while she was at the sink washing.

“I’ll walk you to your car,” he said.

Outside it was chilly for a mid‑June evening.  Did she move the crib away from the window?  She thought she did.  She took Leo’s arm.

“Would you like to come along?” Leo said.

A tingling wave flushed her scalp.  “I can’t,” she said.  “The baby has the sniffles and I’m not sure Phil will be too attentive.  He gets lost in whatever he’s doing.”  And she instantly felt a little twinge of remorse at having divulged a privacy.

The walk to her car was always a delight; to extend it she always parked a bit farther from the school than she had to.  She loved the streets, alive with people walking along or just standing around chatting—artists and writers she guessed—all part of what seemed to her some kind of vital fraternity.  Walking with Leo, holding his arm, she had the comfortable feeling that, for the moment anyhow, she too was part of it.  And she loved gazing into the windows of those smart Village shops where there were always two or three things she would have bought on the spot if they weren’t closed.

“Leo!”  A tall fellow in denim with a short jet black beard was approaching from the other side of the street.

Leo shook his hand and introduced her.

“Ivan, Evelyn.  Evelyn is one of my students at the school.”

Ivan nodded amiably, then addressed Leo.

“Did you get to see my show at Min and Poh’s?  I didn’t see you.”

“No, I missed it,” Leo said.  “But I read Welberg’s review.”

And they went into a discussion of Ivan’s show.  Evelyn was watching a boy and girl in playful banter near the door of one of the nice little coffee shops.  The girl had her back to the window and the boy was facing her and they were touching palms, she falling forward and he gently nudging her back.  Rocking back and forth like that, both were smiling largely, like two children at play.  The girl’s mouth was open and wet and the tip of her tongue was playing on the edge of her teeth.  How carefree.  How free.  And she thought, what if she hadn’t backed out of sharing that little apartment on Grove Street with Zelda after graduating college that summer?  How would things have turned out?  She certainly wouldn’t have run into Phil on the subway after work that day.  That fateful day.  There’s a destiny shapes our ends …  Who said that?

“If you’re going to Jan’s soiree Wednesday,” Ivan said, “I’ll probably see you there.”  He looked at Evelyn.  “Nice to have met you.”

How like an insider she felt just standing by while the two artists discussed their work.  Leo put his palm on her back and nudged her on.  At Sixth Avenue he tightened his arm on her hand and started to cross the street toward uptown instead of turning downtown toward her car.

“My car is parked near Fourth Street,” she said..

“Can’t we walk a little while longer?” he said.  “It’s such a beautiful night.”

“It’s a bit chilly,” she said.

“But beautiful,” he said.

“Where are we walking?”

“Oh, no place.  We’re just walking.”

She felt a little spring in her chest, but went along with Leo’s little masquerade.  “Oh yeah,” she said.  “Just walking.”

They walked four or five blocks downtown to Spring Street then east to the old factory district full of small loft buildings.  She felt a bit tired, but it was a nice kind of tiredness, and she could have walked with Leo this way the whole night.  It was like being shaken out of a trance when she heard him speak.

“Mr. and Mrs. Fenstock?”  He was addressing a middle‑aged couple who had apparently been waiting for him in front of one of the buildings.  “Maurice Sodero.”  He shook their hands.  “Evelyn is one of my pupils.”

Then she was shaking their hands.  She had to make an effort to smile.

“Have you been waiting long?” Leo said.

“Oh, we got here a bit early,” Mrs. Fenstock said, smiling.

“Well then, shall we?” Leo said, moving toward the entrance.

What now?  She thought about just saying goodnight and walking off.  But how silly that would look.  She found herself between the Fenstocks walking up a dimly lit stairway, the woman behind Leo, she next.

“I’m on the top floor,” Leo said.  “Another flight.”

Even before reaching the floor the smell of turpentine and pigments reached your nose.  When Leo switched on the light she was a bit disappointed.  For some reason she expected the place to be artfully decorated, with all kinds of interesting things, but it was all workaday.  There were three open easels, a large double basined tin sink, some wooden cabinets with very large drawers and some with very small ones.  A large wood-frame rack that took up the whole wall at one side.  For furniture there was a studio couch with a cocktail table in front of it, and two padded chairs, and a small round formica table with three chairs next to a tiny kitchenette recessed into a side wall.  On the ceiling were two lines of small floodlights. The windows in front and back were huge and had drab gray drapes that were open.

“Just sit anywhere,” Leo said.  “Would you like something?  I have some gin and tonic.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Fenstock.  “I’d love one.”

Mr. Fenstock just nodded.

“Evelyn?” Leo said.

When Leo mentioned the drinks the first thing that had come to Evelyn’s mind was, she doesn’t want her breath to smell liquor.  But right now she was shaky; she could use the drink.  Beside, she didn’t want to appear like a silly teetotaler.  So she nodded.

Mrs. Fenstock seated herself in one of the padded chairs.  Evelyn took a seat on one end of the couch, and Mr. Fenstock seated himself on the other end.  While Leo was preparing the drinks Mrs. Fenstock interrogated her politely. How long had she been studying art?  Had she been studying with Leo long?  Where was she born?  Oh, was she a native New Yorker?  And a lot of other trivial questions.  Her voice was high‑pitched and squeaky and barely audible.  She whistled through her s’s and her mouth seemed always full of saliva.  It seemed to Evelyn that her questions and remarks were at the bottom captious, that what she was really trying to get at was her real relationship to Leo, as if there was one.  She was glad when Leo came back with the drinks.

When they were settled with them Mrs. Fenstock pounced on Leo with a barrage of arty questions, ignoring Evelyn completely.  What did he think of impressionism and cubism and this movement and that movement?  Evelyn could tell from the tight expression on Leo’s face and from the way he was squeezing the words out of his mouth, that he was straining the limit of his patience to tolerate the woman.

“What effect do you think Picasso had on the younger contemporaries, Mr. Sodero?”

“Oh, he had plenty of effect on them,” Leo said.  “I believe there are a few books written on the subject.  Well! Would you like to see my work now?”  He switched on the floodlights and pulled five canvases of various sizes out of the rack and displayed them on the easels and against the wall with the windows, the only accessible one, arranging the floodlights to illuminate them.  All were non‑objective with intricate patterns and plenty of color; Evelyn went for them immediately. When Leo was all set up Mr. and Mrs. Fenstock started to scan them in silence, moving nearer and farther for the various effects.  After a while Mrs. Fenstock said:

“I like these two.”  And she began to examine them more closely.  Then she asked Leo their prices.

“This one is six hundred, that one twelve hundred,” Leo said.

“Oh,” Mrs. Fenstock said.  “That much.”

When they started to talk price Evelyn receded to the couch and sipped her drink. She raised the half empty glass to eye level.  She could just see the look Phil would give her—oh, not in disapproval, just surprised—and then hear him say, Did you have a drink?  What would she tell him?  Yes.  We were in the middle of a discussion and went to this nice little place on Christopher Street afterward to continue it.

“I like that painting, Mr. Sodero,” Mrs. Fenstock was saying.  “But to be quite honest I do think twelve hundred is a little too steep for us.  Don’t you think so, Harry?”

“Well, Stella,” Mr. Fenstock said, “it seems to me that if Mr. Sodero thinks it’s worth twelve hundred then that’s what it’s worth.  I  don’t see who else is supposed to set a price for his paintings.”

Mrs. Fenstock, nodding, looked at her husband a moment.  “Yes.”  She turned to Leo.  “Let us think about it.  We have your phone number.”

“Let me think it over too,” Leo said.

“Perhaps we can get together,” Mrs. Fenstock said.

With the Fenstocks getting ready to leave Evelyn placed her glass on the cocktail table and moved forward on the couch.

“Well, it’s been pleasant,” Mrs. Fenstock said.  “It was nice to have met you, Evelyn.”

Then there was the click of the door closing and she was alone with Leo.  And now he was going to make a pass.

She rose.  “I’d better be going too.”

Leo didn’t answer.  He walked directly over to her and took her by the shoulders and leaned into her.  She didn’t turn aside.  The kiss was long and passionate.  Then she was lying back on the couch and he was nuzzling her neck. Then her breast.  Then his hand was inching up her thigh and she was letting it, liking it.  Soaking herself in it.   But when it reached her crotch her mind blared STOP! and she nudged his hand away with unmistakable firmness and stood up.

“It really is late,” she said.  “Phil will be wondering what happened to me.”  How that sounded.  The words reverberated in her ears, as if it were the voice of some other woman already in an affair.  Calculating strategy.  She felt a sudden burst of affection for Phil.  He’s so pure, innocent almost.

“Did I offend you?” Leo said.  “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, Leo, don’t apologize,” she said.  “You didn’t offend me.  Is there a bathroom?”

He pointed to a door she hadn’t noticed.  She went in and looked at herself in the mirror of the medicine cabinet.  She used lipstick sparsely, but it was smeared a bit.  She took a tissue from her handbag wiped her lips and applied new lipstick.  Then she closed the door to pee.  Which for some reason, in this place, seemed a little too familiar.

Leo was sitting in one of the padded chairs, waiting for her.  He had put the floodlights out and had gotten rid of the glasses.

“Will you walk me to my car?” she said.

“Of course.”

The hallway stairs squeaked and groaned as they went down.  Coming up she hadn’t noticed it.  They walked to her car in silence.  Should she take his arm?  No, she decided; she felt a nervous, almost panicked urgency now to get home as soon as possible.

She paused beside her car.  How should she say goodnight?  “Goodnight, Leo,” she said simply, unable to keep a smile from forming on her face.

He looked at her a moment as if puzzled by it. “Goodnight, Evelyn,” he said.  “Will I see you next week?” Something in his face went counterfeit.  Oh, he was upset. That was the first time she had seen him act in any way other than sure of himself.  She was a bit surprised; she didn’t think she could still have that kind of affect on someone like Leo.  She couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.  As she was about to get into the car he took her shoulders from behind and pressed his lips to her nape.

“Come next week,” he said.  “Please.”

“I don’t know,” she said.  “I have some thinking to do.”

She put the car into gear.

“Please,” he said.

How all alone he looked, how vulnerable.  She kept that image of him in her mind as she pulled from the curb.  Driving on, the image suddenly switched, like in a movie.  She pictured Tina lying there in her crib all uncovered, a cool draft billowing the Mother Goose curtains on her window. She was chewing on her lip again.  Oh, she should have stayed home tonight. She pulled up to a phone booth just before reaching the Midtown Tunnel and called home.

“Where are you?” Phil said.

“I’m on my way,” Evelyn said.  “I went out with some of the people afterward.  Did you look in on Tina?”

“Yes.  She’s all right, didn’t wake up once.”

“Did I move her crib away from the window, Phil?’

“No.  But I did.”

“Oh, good.  I should be home in half an hour.”

All right.  That was settled.  Now she’d think of nothing, nothing, nothing all the way home.  That’s what she told herself.  But the whole trip home Leo kept forcing himself into her mind—his embrace, his kiss, the feel of his closeness, his touches arousing her.  That last kiss at the car, his fervor, his seriousness.  Please.  She kept clenching her teeth and thinking of Tina to force him back out.  Tina laughing, Tina crying, Tina kicking and slapping at her mobiles.  But he kept coming back, like a tide.  She was bad, bad, bad.  No, this has to end.  She really overstepped a boundary tonight—who knows how far she’d go next time.

She didn’t know how she got to the Queens Boulevard exit.  She couldn’t remember seeing a single familiar sight along the Expressway.  Continental Avenue, dark and deserted except for the cigar store at the subway entrance, gave her the impression it was later than the twelve‑thirty the dash clock showed.  Continuing to Dartmouth street she didn’t see a single soul.  Like living in a mausoleum, not a neighborhood.  As she pulled into the garage she noticed that her living room window was the only one lit in the entire front of the apartment building.

Phil, in his undershirt, was fast asleep on the sofa. A mess of papers were spread out on the open bridge table beside him.  His pants, twisted tight against his fleshy thighs, drove home to her just how heavy he had gotten since their marriage.  How could a man change like that in four years?  The bottoms of his black socks were mouse‑colored, a reminder that Katie hadn’t shown up to clean the house last week because her kid was sick.  Heavier men look so unattractive in undershirts.  She imagined how Leo looked in one.  She looked in on Tina, who was sleeping quietly and breathing nicely as Phil had said.  She leaned over the crib rail and barely brushed the child’s face as she kissed her. The smell of the child; how she loved her.  She felt mussy; she decided to take a shower before waking Phil.  Did her breath still smell of liquor?  She brushed her teeth.

Phil was sitting up now, his eyes still sleep‑filled. He looked at Evelyn as though he couldn’t understand what she was doing in her night gown.

“I just took a shower,” she said.

“What time is it?” he said.

“After one.”

“That’s kind of late to come home alone.  Did you have a nice time with the people?”

“Oh, you know, it was one of those conversations about art that gets tiresome after a while because no one knows what they’re talking about.  I had a drink.  It made me sleepy, you know me with alcohol.”

“I know you with alcohol.  And you were driving.  Not too smart.  Boy, is my throat dry.”  She watched him as he got up and went to the refrigerator. His features used to be so well defined.  Now he has a pudgy look.  Everything just spread out.

“I’ll see you in bed,” she said.

She was half asleep when she heard Phil moving around the bedroom, getting undressed.  When he got into bed he moved close to her.  She opened her arms so that he could cuddle into her.  He played his fingers over her back while she played hers through his hair.  It was a little love ritual established early in their marriage.  When did she stop looking forward to that?  Stop enjoying it?  Now it was a habit mostly.  But tonight he was up to something.  His breathing was quickening.  His hand moved under her nightgown to her buttocks, tickling around, then he moved her gently apart to get at her breasts.  Her nipples responded.  She felt herself getting aroused.  But after a while his hand lost energy and stalled on her buttock and his fingers brushed and twiddled a bit and she got the one‑spot blues. He’s going to fall asleep.  Two years ago we would already have been doing acrobatics.  You can’t find them?  What a klutz.  Wait.  Quick, my diaphragm.  His breathing turned snorey and his fingers began its fitful twitching.  His hand was dead weight.  When her arm got achy she disengaged herself and turned to her other side.  How was Leo in bed?

It was just after seven when she heard Tina burbling and prattling around in her crib.  She had gotten up at four to change her, then Phil’s alarm woke her at five‑thirty and she hadn’t been able to get back to good sleep.  She went to the bathroom to wash.  She stood still at the sink watching the water rinse her hands and her eyes relaxed and went out of focus.  How utterly self‑involved she was. What did she want from Phil?  He was working so hard at the labs—got two papers out this past year and a promotion to group leader.  Didn’t she want to see him get ahead?  Didn’t she want that house in Westchester?  She was the one who did the figuring and the budgeting.  And the pushing.  If only he’d be more attentive, that would be enough.  A little more playful.  Wasn’t he the same man who absolutely swept her off her feet that evening?  In just one evening.  Raising her eyes and seeing this big, handsome guy holding the handrail above her, looking straight down at her.  You’re Evelyn Backman, aren’t you?  Yes.  Do I know you?  What else did he say?  He laughed.  Then what?

Tina, sitting up in the crib making all kinds of flubby‑tongued noises, was all absorbed in trying to pick off one of the red plastic butterflies attached to the headboard.

“Tina baby want to eat breakfast?”

And the smile that popped into the child’s face made her bend over to take a bite out of the little tummy.

“Oh, my little pussy!”

The child, tickled, grabbed at her hair.

“Oh, sweetheart, how much I love you!”

She picked the child up and hugged her closely.  What a bundle of wiggly softness.  Into her mind popped Flo Gerson, who broke her in at Mainstay Press.  Childless at thirty‑four and still trying.  Poor Flo.  How many doctors and clinics she’d gone to.

What did we talk about?  The details were fuzzy, but he saw her one day walking along Avenue J and from then on had been watching out for her, looking for an opportunity to engage her.  All right, trying to work up the nerve.  And when he saw her walk into that subway car he just forced himself to approach her on the spur of the moment and introduce himself.  He was so witty, that she remembered.  He walked her from the station and had her smiling and laughing all the way.  They arranged to meet the next day in the playground for handball and that night he took her to Coney Island for the rides.  And it was one big romance from then until … when?  When did it stop being romance and become habit?  When she became pregnant?  Yes, she thought so. That’s what she missed.  The romance.  And the playing.  Oh psht!  maybe it was her.  Maybe she just had to grow up.

After putting up the coffee she fed Tina in her playpen on the terrace and tickled around with her a while, then let her flop around with a few of her favorite toys.  She went inside and had her orange juice and a bowl of Cornflakes then went back out to the terrace with her coffee and opened a deck chair for herself.  The smell of the air, sweet and grassy today, was exhilarating.  Yes, a picnic.  A drive to the country would do them both good.  She decided to call Phil to suggest it.  She had an urge to call him anyway; she wanted to tell him she decided to drop the Monday art course.  And she just wanted to hear his voice.

“A picnic Saturday?” he said.  “I might have to go in, hon.  How about Sunday?”

“It’s a deal,” she said.  “You were so tired last night.”

“Yes,” he said.  “We’re working like dogs.  We’re on the verge of something, Evelyn.  And when we’re on the verge of something we go.”

She didn’t mention dropping her course.  Her little diversion.  Why?  Oh, don’t be cute with yourself.  You better come to your senses and work up some willpower, lady.

Late in the afternoon Phil called to say he’ll be home a little late.  “We’re having some food brought in.  You don’t know how close we are to something big.”

She felt so close to him this moment.  We have to have a good talk, she decided.

It was after nine when he got home.  “Sure, hon,” he said.  “That’s a good idea, a picnic.  We need some time together out of here.  How about Harriman State Park?”

He took a shower and went right to bed.  “I’m zonked, honey.”

Wednesday he got home after ten, about the same time on Thursday and on Friday he worked until almost eleven.  And he did go in on Saturday.

“We’re so close we can smell it,” he said.  He was so excited about it that he tried to explain what was going on at the lab.  It had something to do with dysentery and amoebas and hostile and friendly cells and tryouts with fluids.

“You don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about, do you?” he said.  “Marty asked me to start thinking about a paper for lay consumption that he wants prepared for The Sciences magazine.  If we’re successful you can read the first draft.”

“Edit it, you mean,” she said.  “Your eyes are closing.  Why don’t you go to bed.  We have to get up early.”

She heard the rain even before opening her eyes.  She got up and went around the apartment closing windows.  She shook Phil.  “It’s raining, Phil.  What do you think?”

“I think you ought to come back to bed.  Is Tina up?”

“Let’s go anyway, what do you say?”

Phil turned to his other side and buried his head in the pillow.  “A picnic in the rain will be some picnic.”

Especially with Tina.  She felt a little ridiculous for suggesting it.  But she remembered a time during a weekend they spent together in the Poconos just before getting married.  They were walking through the woods looking for mushrooms and it started thundering and she wanted to turn back to the cottage but Phil was obsessed with finding a certain type.  They were lucky.  Just before the rain came down they found this deep rock overhang that sheltered them from the main thrust of the downpour.  They gathered up some dry twigs and branches and somehow Phil got a fire going with some notebook pages and they sat there feeding it for an hour after the rain stopped, entranced by the flame and the smells of the wet leaves and earth and wood smoke.  What a lovely moment it was.  Just the reverse of what she had expected.

She took care of Tina and had a cup of coffee and started Middlemarch and read until Phil got up at ten.  After breakfast he went out and got a New York Times.

“How about a movie tonight?” he said when he returned. “We’ll eat out. Can you go for some Italian?”

“That would be nice,” Evelyn said.  “If we can get a sitter on such short notice.”

She was lucky enough to get Shirley Linden, provided it would be all right to bring along her boyfriend.

They had a tasty meal with wine by candlelight at Portefino and got a bit gay.  Phil finished the veal and spaghetti she left over.

“You know, there have been a lot of articles about keeping your cholesterol down lately,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said.

The picture at the Midway was a bomb, something called Forgotten Enemy.  Half way through Phil started to snore; she had to keep poking him.  She was afraid he’d fall asleep at the wheel so she drove home.  He could hardly keep his eyes open to undress.  What happened to him?  How he used to rouse me.  That first time in the Poconos.  Are you in pain?  Oh, no, no, don’t stop.  You look like you’re in pain.  I unscrewed my face and opened my eyes and smiled.  Why did you stop?  That look of pleasure that came into his face.

The next morning Evelyn woke up edgy.  Something she looked forward to was taken away.  It was very like the feeling she had the first few days after she stopped smoking.  An empty feeling.  On the kitchen table was a note left by Phil:  Don’t worry, hon.  Be home by 5:30.

She didn’t tell him about dropping the class and now …  Oh come on, come on, you’re not going.  Case closed.  Now get busy busy busy.  After taking care of Tina she vacuumed all the furniture and the rugs and washed and waxed the kitchen floor.  Then she did the bathroom‑‑who knows when  that woman will show up.  She moved the playpen close to the bathroom door, played around with Tina for a while until she got her interested in her Alphabet Lumpies then took a fast shower.  Then she put Tina into the stroller and took Middlemarch with her and went down to the playground.

“Eh, eh.”  Tina pointed at the swings.

She lifted her into one and swung her gently and played their tickling game a while, then put her to play on the grass with some toys and sat down on a bench and opened her book.  But after a few pages she found herself going over the same paragraph again and again, grasping nothing of its meaning.  Seething at an inlet to her mind, ready to surge in as soon as she opened a gate, were the torrents of Leo.  The creases of his smile.  His beautiful lean body.  His closeness.  But it was more than Leo himself.  It was the arousal he could induce in her, that’s what she yearned for, the sensations he could give her.  Even the sight of Tina trying to wheel her toy cars along the grass couldn’t stanch her thoughts now.  She saw him, felt him.  On top of her, under her.  To take him between her legs.  To have a good orgasm, when was the last time?  What if she went tonight? She could …  It wouldn’t be as if … Oh, stop it!  Wake up!  She closed the book with a slam.  Sometimes she hated herself.  She practically leaped off the bench.  No!  She’s quitting that class!

“Come on, boopsy, let’s go back up a minute then we’ll go shopping.”

Upstairs she called Phil to tell him of her decision, so he needn’t come home early if he was caught up in work.  The girl who answered the lab phone came back to tell her that he couldn’t come to the phone right now, he’s in the middle of something.  He’ll call her later.

“I’m going out for a while,” she said.  “Would you tell him to call at four?  It’s important.”

Keep busy, just keep busy.  She made herself a longish shopping list.  She wanted to tire herself out, exhaust herself.  Instead of going to the A&P on Austin Street she took the long walk to Metropolitan Avenue where there were blocks of small shops.  She bought some lamb chops and a couple of ears of corn.  She strolled the avenue and stopped in at two antique stores and at The Bazaar.  Everything looked dull, ordinary.  She got back just before four.  But by four‑thirty Phil still hadn’t called.  She waited another fifteen minutes then called him again.

“He already left,” the girl said.

“Did you give him my message?

“Yes, I did.”

She knew it.  She knew it.  Why didn’t she tell him earlier, dammit.  She fed and bathed Tina and put her nightgown on and put her in her playpen. She peeled the corn and set up the broiler for the lamb chops.  She lit the range.  No.  Start it when he gets home.

The door opening startled her.  He looked tired as usual but also somewhat down at the mouth.  He kissed her mechanically and sat down on the sofa beside her.

“What’s the long face for?” she said.

“I’ve got a long face?  Aah, we had a little set‑back today.  Something we expected to happen didn’t.  We didn’t account for something.  Back to the drawing board.”

“I called this afternoon.  Didn’t you get the message?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “But then we got into a discussion, and it wasn’t until I was on my way home that I remembered. Oh, what’s the difference?  I’m home now.  How come you’re not dressed?”

“I had a hard day too,” she said.  “I did the house then took a walk to Metropolitan Avenue to do some shopping. What do you say we have a drink?”

“Evelyn, you’re driving,” he said.  “What’s the matter with you?  What’s going on anyway with this drinking all of a sudden?”

“I’m not going tonight.”  She opened the sideboard and took out the cognac and two brandy glasses.  “That’s what I called to tell you.  Tell me when to stop.”

“Wait a minute,” he said.  “Put the bottle down.  Why aren’t you going?”

“I just don’t feel up to it, Phil.”

“Boy, you are a hot sketch.” he said.  “You know, Evelyn, I don’t understand you.  You’re like a schoolgirl.  Just last week you were giving it to me for coming home five minutes late.  You know what you’re trouble is, Evelyn?  You have no staying power.  You get gung‑ho over something just like that and drop it again just like that.”  His face twisted into a sneer.  How ugly he looked.  “Now put that stuff away and let’s eat.  You have to get out of here.”

“Didn’t you hear what I just said?  I don’t—”

“Look, Evelyn, I really think you ought to go.  I won’t be good company tonight anyway.  Right now I’d just like to spend the evening alone. Can’t you see?  I’m so fucked up I can hardly talk.  I mean it  I just want to eat and sit down and watch television, or something.”

“So I’ll watch with you.”

He shook his head.  “I really think you ought to go.”

He’s sending me.  He’s sending me right into …  If he only knew where. God, if he only knew.  “All right,” she said.  “All right, I’ll go.”

“Look, you’ll hate yourself if you don’t go,” he said. “I’ll take care of the dishes.  And don’t worry about Tina. Was she fed?”

“Yes.”  She went to the kitchen and got the lamb chops and corn going then took a another shower.

“Evelyn and time,” he said while she was dressing.

At the table he was apologetic.  “Look, Evelyn,” he said,  “I’m sorry if I acted testy.  You have no idea how let down I feel about the work.”

“I understand,” she said, thinking, You fool, you fool.  Don’t you realize what you’re pushing me into?  She was on the verge of saying it, screaming it out.

“Tina didn’t take a nap today,” she said before leaving.  “If you feel up to it keep her up as long as possible.”

On the elevator going down to the garage she felt weak.  She didn’t know what was holding her together.  Her whole body felt as though it had lost its bones and that she was going to cave in any second.  She was dead, dead, and she wanted to feel alive again.  That’s all, just to feel alive.  She put the key into the ignition and started the car and backed out of the space.  She could hardly believe what she was doing.  She felt like such a slut.  Oh, so what?  If not today …