Jerome Turken

Libby was arranging the cheeses on the cutting board when Anita came into the kitchen and gave Libby’s back a little circular rub and asked if there was anything she can do.

“You can keep me company a while,” Libby said.  She felt comfortable with Anita.  Mel was so wrong in his objection to her use of mascara.  Yes, she does use a bit, and a smidgeon of eye shadow, but on her face they somehow seem to accent a gentle quality.  Again Libby noticed the marriage band Anita was wearing, a narrow one of white gold, or was it platinum?  When she and Nat first arrived Libby had admired the simple elegance of its time‑worn engraving and subdued luster. She glanced at her own, one of those wide, yellow ones with cross‑slash marks that were in fashion at the time.

“That’s such a nice band,” she said.  “Can I have a closer look?”

Anita smiled and held the band to her own eyes a moment, then extended her hand to Libby. “It’s a nice old one, isn’t it?”

Libby took Anita’s fingertips to study the band.  What was claiming her attention was the way it and Anita’s hand, with its fine, delicately shaped fingers, complimented each other.  Plain, direct, honest.  It evokes …  what? A certain tenderness.  And something else, something to do with devotion.  She gave Anita’s fingers a little squeeze before releasing them.

“It was Simon’s mother’s.” Anita said, again holding her hand out to regard the ring.  “Just before he died he told me he wanted me to marry again.  He said I was still young enough for another good marriage and it saddened him to think I might live the rest of my life alone.  And now with Nat … I don’t know, I just wanted a little link to Simon.  Nat agrees.”  A little smile brightened her face.

Yes, devotion.  “That’s a nice gesture,” Libby said.

Bebe came into the kitchen.  She had on a light blue dress with white trim and white knee socks and black patent leather Mary Janes.

“My, how pretty,” Anita said.  “Oh, I like your barrettes.”

“They’re a little fancy,” Bebe said.  “They’re doves.  Daddy got them for me.  He’s your step‑son now, isn’t he?”

“Well, yes, I guess he is,” Anita said.

“And I’m your step‑granddaughter.”

Anita extended her arms.  “Oh, you can leave out the step!”

A big smile formed on Bebe’s face.  She approached Anita and they kissed and caressed.

“I’m so happy you’re going to be my grandma,” Bebe said.

“So am I,” Anita said, drawing Bebe in again and giving her a second hug.

The telephone rang.

“I’ll get it!” Bebe said, dashing to the wall phone. “Hello?  No, Bebe.  Here’s my mother.”  Then she listened for ten seconds.  “All right, Aunt Myra.”  She hung up.  “Aunt Myra says they’re just leaving, they might be a little late.  They had to finish up some business.  Do you want me to do anything, ma?”

“Did you look in on Eric?” Libby said.

“Yes, he’s sleeping,” Bebe said.  “His forehead is cool.”

“Was he running a fever?” Anita said.

“He was up to 101,” Libby said.  “I gave him some aspirin about an hour ago.  I’m waiting for an antibiotic to be delivered.”

“I know all about those throat infections,” Anita said.  “Rachel got at least one a winter until she was about eight.”

Mel came from the basement carrying a small brass ice bucket.  “This is the only one I could find, Libby,” he said.  “Didn’t we have a bigger one somewhere?”

“The large blue ceramic one is in one of the cabinets,” she said.  So helpful today.  He really is good with company.  Picking up the groceries, opening the extra tables and chairs for the patio, asking what else he can do. And dark suits suit him, so handsome he looks. All afternoon while running around arranging things she’d been feeling stirs of desire for him. And how he was going to act with his father and Anita, she’d been concerned about that; he was dead against the marriage.  But when they walked in he kissed and hugged them so affectionately.  And he meant it, she could tell by his eyes.  That was nice to see.

“Well I couldn’t find it,” Mel said.  “Did you loan it to someone?”

“I don’t think so,” Libby said.  “Give me a few minutes, and I’ll go down and take a look.”

“We’ll use this one in the meantime,” Mel said.  “Hey, Bebe, Rachel and Pete went for a walk on the path.  It would certainly be nice if they had someone to keep them company, you know, show them around.”  He tilted his head and raised his brows and narrowed one eye and gave Bebe that little smile that said, ‘why don’t you do it’.

“Okay, I’ll go,” Bebe said.

What a way he has with the girls, how he can charm them.  You can almost see them melt.

“Take the cheeses and dips with you,” Libby said.  “Put them on one of the tables on the patio.”

“All right,” Bebe said.  She took the board from Libby’s hands.

“Come, I’ll go out with you,” Anita said.

Mel put the bucket on the counter.  As he stepped past Libby he took

hold of her hips and slid his hands inward and caressed her buttocks deeply; then, as he sidled past her, rubbed his body across them.  A thrill ran through Libby, then a lightness.

“You look good today, you know?” Mel said.

“Today, eh?” Libby said.  “So do you.”

“You always look good,” Mel said, “but what I meant was, today you really look—”  His eyes narrowed and gave her a long smiling look.  “—I don’t know.  Sexier.  I like the way you’re dressed.”

That smile.  Charmer.  “Oh my,” Libby said, reaching into the cabinet for a batch of paper napkins.  When she turned Mel was standing behind her just staring at her.

“What?” she said.

“I was just admiring the way your neck extends so elegantly below the cut of your hair,” he said.  “It has a combined look of girl‑ness and woman‑ness that’s very appealing.”

“You find something in me appealing?” Libby said.  “Really?  You’d never know it from the way you’ve been passing up chances of taking advantage of it.  The only thing we seem to do in bed lately is sleep.”

Mel smiled.  “Oh, come on, that’s not true.”  With the bucket in one hand he approached Libby with his lips pursed, then maintained the kiss for a long moment.  Her breathing quickened.

“Did Eric’s prescription come?” he said.

“Not yet,” Libby said.  “It’s ready, but Mr. Feld is waiting for his delivery boy to come in.”

“I’ll go get it,” Mel said.  “Is there anything else we need?”

“I don’t think so,” Libby said.

What do we make of Mel today with his sudden little approaches.  So? I’ll mark it down.  Admiration without consummation, a nice combination.

She rinsed and dried her hands and went out to the patio.  Nat, a tall lean man with well groomed gray wavy hair, was slumped in a deck chair holding a glass with whiskey.  He sat up when he saw her.

“Don’t get up,” Libby said.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have done this,” Nat said.  “I mean, all this fuss. We could have gone to some—”  He saw something in Libby’s eyes and smiled at her with a face full of pleased resignation.  “But of course you would do it.”

“Oh, please, Nat,” Libby said.  “I have a girl coming in to help.  This is an important occasion.”  She stooped to kiss his cheek.   “I have to go find an ice bucket.”

She could still feel Mel’s probing fingers insinuating around her buttocks and a little shiver ran up her spine.  A magic touch.  She was about to go down the stairs to the basement when the chimes rang.  It was Karen,

a well-developed young girl of about sixteen.  She put out her hand.  “Hello.”

Her handshake had a little too much enthusiasm in it — is she trembling?  She was dressed in a purple cotton skirt and a white cotton polo shirt with IMPEACH printed in red across already prominent breasts. A nice look in her face.  Pretty.  Dark eyes with a flash in them.  Libby had taken an immediate liking to her, with those strange gestures and movements of hers while packing her bags at the FoodFair check‑out, the way she was so earnestly trying to think out the best arrangement.  When she decided to have someone come in to help with the dinner, she immediately thought of her.

“I guess you can start with setting up the table,” she said.  “We’ll use all three of these inserts.  The table cloths and napkins are in the sideboard on the bottom shelf.  And we’ll use the new set of dishes with the pink border on the top shelf.  We’ll be ten people.”

In the basement she found the large blue ceramic ice bucket in the first cabinet she opened, behind the lobster pot.

“Karen, would you fill this with ice and put it on the patio?” Libby said.  “Rinse it first.  And you can put some of the round wine glasses out, about eight of them.  I’m going up to check on my little one.  He has a throat infection.”

Eric was still asleep.  Are you uncomfortable sweetheart?  She took the thermometer from his cabinet.  No.  Wake him when I give him the antibiotic.  She put her lips gently to his forehead then looked closely at his sweet face, so wan and depressed.  She felt an urgent burst of love for him, and her chest sprung at the thought that she almost did away with him.  And Mel adamantly opposed, his violent reaction.  My intruder once.  Who I decided to keep.  The wrecker of my plans kicking around inside of me, part of me.  Loving him one minute, hating him the next.

I’m going to do it, Mel.

Libby, I’m telling you right now.  If you go through with that abortion it’s the end of this marriage.

So aborted a career instead.  A housewife for another five years.  It’s all in a day’s work, eh, God?  “Aah, don’t worry about it, tootsie.  You’re my favorite guy just the same.”  She looked closely into his face again.   Poor Eric.  She went to the bedroom to change.

“How is he, ma?” Elly, her twelve year old was standing just inside the threshold.  She had on a cute white dress with a colorful floral design, nylon pantyhose and white low‑heeled pumps.

“I think his fever went down,” Libby said.

“How do I look?” Elly said.

“You look beautiful.”

Elly looked into the dresser mirror.  “I think these earrings are a little too small.  I tried on the ones with the little dangling rubies.  I think I like them better.”

“You look pretty with those.”

“I think I’ll stick with them,” Elly said, swiveling her head to get a view of each.  “Is Rachel really an actress?”

“Yes.  She’s in an Off Broadway play.  Maybe we’ll go see it.”

“What’s her son’s name again?” Elly said.


“How old is he, thirteen?” Elly said, taking another look into the mirror.

“Yes.”  Self‑admiration and self‑doubt, all in one expression.

“Is he nice?”

“Why don’t you go down and see for yourself,” Libby said.

Elly started out, then paused at the threshold.  “Where did daddy go?”

“He went to get Eric’s medicine.”

“I want to ask him how I look.”

The last word on how we look.  She put on the earrings with the pendent rubies that Elly liked and looked at herself in the mirror on the closet door.  How do I look?  You look sexy today.  Dress tightish around the hips.  My trademark: I could always use a little makeup and lose a little weight.  Mel speaks: Pantyhose and pants are the curse of modern womanhood.  She lifted her dress.  Nice legs still.  He still has the power to put me into motion.  He says a few words, does a few things, touches here and there and the sky is blue, the sun is shining, trees are blossoming and birds are on the wing.  He’s my weather.  She felt a lightness.  She held her hand out.  Her fingers were trembling.  She removed her pantyhose and put on a pair of stockings and a garter belt.  Her head went suddenly hot with an acute awareness of how much she desires Mel.  We have to have a talk; she felt a little quiver in her chest.  Going down she felt light‑headed, a bit off balance almost; she had to keep her eye on the stairs.

Karen was on the kitchen ladder, reaching far into the top shelf of the cabinet for the cups.  She was standing on the top step on one foot, her other leg stretched backward, and her skirt somewhat upreared, revealing the dimples behind her knees and a stretch of her thighs above.

Libby reached up and put her hand on Karen’s hip. “Careful, Karen.  If they’re too far in let me do it.”

“I’m all right,” Karen said.  But she wasn’t all right.  She was straining on her toes and the back legs of the ladder were tipped off the floor.  Libby held her with one hand and the ladder with the other as she stepped down.

Mel came in with Eric’s medicine and handed it to Libby.

“This is, Karen,” Libby said.  “Mr. Sandler.”

Karen took Mel’s outstretched hand and shook it with the same enthusiasm as she had Libby’s.

He gave her a smiling nod then looked at the newly washed wine glasses standing on the counter.  “I’ll get the wine.”  He went down to the basement and came back up carrying two bottles of red wine and a corkscrew. Libby put the wine glasses on a tray to carry them out to the patio.

“You know,” Mel said, “I don’t like the idea of that IMPEACH shirt she’s wearing.  What if someone’s pro‑Nixon, or something?”

“I’m sure no one will be offended.”

“Well, I can do without a Watergate discussion today.  How old is she anyway?”

“She couldn’t be more than sixteen,” Libby said.

“You’re kidding,” Mel said.

“She doesn’t look much more than sixteen, if you watch her face.” Libby said.  “She’s just very well developed.”

Mel put both bottles in one hand and massaged Libby’s ass with the other.  “You’re pretty well developed yourself, kiddo.”  He took Libby around the shoulders and gave her a hug.

“Is that right?” Libby said.  “Myra called.  They’ll be a little late.”

Mel shook his head.  “That sister of mine is one big pain in the ass,” he said.  “She can’t let a day go by without doing business.”

Elly came in and took Mel about the waist then stepped back and did a little twirl.  “How do I look?”

“You look so pretty, I can’t stand it,” Mel said.

“Come on, dad, I mean really.” Elly said with a pleased smile.

“I mean really too,” Mel said.  “You look just like a Hollywood starlet.”

“Sure,” Elly said with a wide smile.

Mel took her around the waste .  “You don’t believe me?  Come on out and watch Pete’s eyes light up when he catches sight of you.”

Mel put the wine on the table with the dips and cheese and proceeded to uncork them.

“Excuse me,” Libby said.  “I’m going up to give Eric his medicine.”

Karen was nowhere in sight downstairs.  She was in Eric’s room sitting in the rocking chair with Eric in her arms wrapped in a light blanket.  She was humming and he was staring at her face.

“He started crying while you were on the patio,” Karen said.

“Is he wet?” Libby said.

“I changed him.”

“You did?”

“Yes.”  Karen made a move to rise.

“No, don’t get up,” Libby said.  “You hold him like that while I give him his medicine.”

Eric’s arms were outstretched for Libby to take him.

“First we have to give you your medicine, baby,” Libby said.  She filled a teaspoon and gently tried to nudge his mouth open, but he turned away and gave out a yowl, holding his arms out for her to take him.  Some of the liquid spilled to his nightshirt.

“If you pour it back into the bottle and just let him taste what’s left on the spoon,” Karen said, “he’ll want more.”

That was what Libby was about to do.  “Where did you learn that?” she said.

“When my brother was a baby I took care of him when my mother was working.”

“Do you live far?” Libby said.

“On Templeton Street, right off Main,” Karen said.

“Near GE Appliance Service?”

“Four doors away, above Adrian’s Bakery.”

“My husband will drive you home,” Libby said, taking Eric out of Karen’s arms.

“I have my bicycle,” Karen said.

“Bikes could be dangerous around here after dark,” Libby said.

Karen looked at Libby a moment then dropped her eyes and before turning to leave the room she looked up again with a certain goofy intensity.

Before putting Eric back into his crib Libby caressed him for a long moment, as if she could not get enough of his closeness.   He was looking     up at her weakly, his eyes little moist blue slits.    “Were you worth the five years, tootsie?  Sure you were.”  Came along and spoiled it for me.  She cringed.  Spoiled!

It’ll be all right, Mel.  I can get flexible hours.  I’ll be home before the girls get out of school three days a week.  And the woman will be here the other two days, she’s very dependable. The girls are good that way, Mel.  They can make phone calls, do some shopping.  At nine you can do things.  I’m getting restless, Mel.  I have to do this.

I just don’t understand it. So you get your Masters, then what?

I don’t know.  Continue maybe.  An adjunct or lecturer.

Ah, I just don’t see it.  But it’s your decision.  It just happens to be my humble opinion that the girls are too young to be left without their mother all day is what I’m trying to say, that’s all.  Bebe’s only six.  But as I said, it’s your decision.

So I made my decision.  “Then look who came along and nullified it for me,”  She said that aloud, leaning toward Eric and touching his cheek with hers. “You went and nullified all my plans just by coming along, didn’t you, you little funnyface?  Stop everything, here comes Eric.”  She stooped to put her cheek to his.  A bit warm.    “The medicine is soon going to make you feel better, tootsie.”  She rocked the crib gently.  “Hey, you know something?  Your dada is noticing me today.  He likes the way I look.  Isn’t that nice?  Maybe he woke up finally.”

Passing the book room on her way to the bedroom she noticed Karen sitting at the table looking through one of the art books. “Which one are you looking at?” she said.

“Matisse,” Karen said.  “I hope you don’t mind.  The library is always so crowded and the art books I want aren’t on the shelves half the time.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” Libby said.  “There won’t be much more to do until food arrives.”

I like her.  Has that certain honesty that goes along with strangeness.

That was me too at her age, a big bodied oddball with my head buried in a book half the time.  I was going to be the next Emily Dickenson.  Lives over a store.  A small apartment probably.  When her mother was working.  And her father?

On the patio Bebe was lying back with Nat on his deck chair.   Mel poured Libby a glass of wine and moved his chair closer to her.

Libby sat down and sipped her wine.  Elly went behind Nat’s deck chair and put her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder.  Nat smiled and nudged his head against hers.

“Am I lucky or am I lucky?” he said.  “Two such pretty granddaughters.”

Anita, Rachel and Pete came back up the path.  Anita moved a chair next to Nat and sat down and rubbed his knee.

“I’m so impressed,” Rachel said.  She was wearing denim knickers with black stockings, black pumps, a Hawaiian‑style parti‑colored blouse and strings of colorful beads. She sat down on the floor of the patio next to the table with the wine and poured herself a glassful and took a large sip.  “What a lovely walk.  Those fruit trees are so lovely.  And that little path with the benches.  It’s so peaceful the way the sun comes through the leaves.”  She looked up and rolled her eyes.  “My God I kept imagining I was in one of Chekov’s copses.”

“It’s our little orchard,” Mel said, putting the corks back into the bottles.  He moved behind Libby and put his free hand on her shoulder and gently squeezed it.

“What kinds of trees are they?” Rachel said.

“Pear, cherry and plum,” Libby said.

“Are they edible?” Rachel said.

The chimes rang.

“Most of the time,” Libby said, giving Mel’s hand a little tap and rising.  “Excuse me.”

At the front door a Federal Express man was waiting with three boxes of flowers.  As she passed the stairs on her way back to the patio Karen was on her way down.

“Oh, Karen,” she said.  “There are some vases in one of the big cabinets in the basement.  Would you get three large ones and fill them with water half way?”

On the patio Anita was already beaming with pleasure.

“For you,” Libby said, putting the three boxes on one of the tables.

Anita opened one of them.  They were long stemmed roses.  “Oh, how beautiful,” she said, holding them at a distance to admire them.  She read the card aloud.  “Love and kisses and loads of happiness and good times together.  Congratulations.  Libby, Mel, Elly, Bebe and Eric.”

Elly and Bebe came over to see.  Anita kissed each on the cheek, then went to Libby and Mel and kissed them.  The second bunch was a small collection of varicolored wild flowers.

“Oooh, how pretty,” Anita said.  She looked at the card then at Libby, smiling.  “These are for you.”

Libby read the card aloud.  “We love you, we appreciate you, we need you.  Elly, Bebe, Eric and Mel.”  Mel took her around and Elly and Bebe gathered close.  She bent to kiss them.

“They’re lovely, Mel,” she said.  Knows exactly what I like.  When was the last time?  In the hospital when Eric was born.  She examined and smelled the flowers.  He does love me, he does appreciate me, and he definitely needs me.  Mel, it’s really time we had a talk.  Yes, tonight after everyone leaves and the kids are in bed.

The third was from David, Anita’s youngest, and his wife, Valery.  There were carnations, tulips, lilies, azaleas, and those two delicate white ones, are they orchids?

Anita was beaming.  “To mom and our new dad.  Mazel Tov.  We’re so happy for you.  Looking forward to seeing you in July.  Love.’“

Karen had put two vases half filled with water on one of the patio tables and now came out with the third one.  She stood watching Libby arrange her bouquet, then glanced at the roses Anita was still holding, pursing her lips and popping her cheeks.  That goofy look, like a little girl thinking.

“I think the stems are going to have to be cut,” she said.  She looked at Libby and her face opened with that intense smile.  “What?”

Libby had been staring at her.  She smiled and dropped her eyes.  “Nothing.  There’s a pair of scissors in one of the drawers in the kitchen,” she said.

Watching her jog across the patio, her tush waggling with a kind of laboring movement, Libby had the strangest feeling that she was watching herself at sixteen.

Karen came back out, now walking in a goofy, lilting way. “I couldn’t find the scissors,” she said.  “I looked through every drawer and cabinet in the kitchen.”

“I may have left them up in our bedroom,” Libby said. “I was using them to trim the backing of the rug.  I’ll go look for them.”

As Karen turned she almost collided with Mel, who was standing behind her.  “That girl sure does take up space,” he said, watching her recede to the kitchen.

“I took up a lot of space too when I was her age,” Libby said.

They were on the windowsill where she had left them.  Beautiful weather, nice company, wine.  And pretty flowers.  And Mel’s amorous gestures.  Hugs, massaging fingers.  Joy rules the day.  Then in bed at last: I have something to discuss.  Heavy drama.  Aah, but what if love rules the night?  Better afterward.  Better moods beget happier outcomes.  Yes.  What to say?  Been rehearsing for three months, and you still don’t know what to say?  Just say what’s on your mind.  She felt a sweet calmness, like the silence when noise stops suddenly. Yes, afterward.

She looked in on Eric.  Still sleeping?  How quickly those antibiotics work.  Is he wet?  The way Karen changed him, no questions asked.  Definitely a little strange.  Some of her movements, her gestures.  That abrupt way things just pop out of her mouth.

On the patio Bebe was holding the bouquet of roses with both hands like you’d hold a banner on a pole as Anita picked them to cut the stems. Elly was standing by to watch but her eyes kept shifting toward Pete, who was sitting with Mel in the two‑seat lawn swing at the side of the patio steps talking about the Little League.  Establishes rapport with kids right away, always admired that in him.

Mel called Elly over and engaged her in the conversation, then excused himself and approached Libby and stood close behind her and put his hands gently on her shoulders.  “It was nice of you to do this,” he said, then leaned over to whisper, his lips grazing her earlobe in the way she liked. “Look, she sat down.  They’re talking.”

A car pulled into the driveway.  Bebe ran to see who it was and came back immediately.

“Ma, the food is here,” she said.

In the kitchen Karen was already emptying the first two bags the man from the Anatolian Kitchen had brought in.

“Hello, hello,” the man said.  “Two more trips.”  He was a short, heavy set man with a prominent nose and that dark Eastern European look.

Libby went to the dining room to get her check book.  Her body was still tingling.  His signals; he has something in mind.  Just like the old days, when our thoughts were never too far from each other.  Calling me a few times during the day.  Signals were the rule in those days.  You’re like another pulse in my body, Libby.  Waiting for him to get home.  Then waiting for the day to end, time for bed.  Making love, then lying there with serene smiles on our faces talking about this and that.

“Each dish is written what it is,” the man said.  Libby made out the check and offered the man five dollars for a tip.  He wagged a finger.

“No, no, not necessary, misses.  I am the owner.  If you just enjoy the food, good enough.  Tell your friends.”

“Karen, put the appetizers in bowls and put them out on the patio,” she said.

Let’s talk, Mel.  He will turn into a refrigerator and his serene smile will freeze and crack and fall off his face.  He’ll look at me with an expression like I was crazy.

There were voices in the driveway.  She went outside to see what was going on.  Myra and Norman had just pulled in right behind the man’s station wagon, blocking it.  Myra was behind the wheel backing their car out and Norman was standing behind it.

“Well, Norman!” Myra was yelling.  “You’re not telling me.  Am I going straight?”

She waited to greet them, but the way Myra was handling the car it looked like it would take a while to clear the way for the station wagon and get back in, so she went to see how things were going with the food.  On the patio everyone had already gathered around the appetizers, spreading them on crackers and taking bites with hands cupped below to catch the droppings.

“These are delicious.”  “A real treat.”  “Mmmm.”

Beside each dish were little identification cards folded like tents, on both slants of which were written the Turkish name of the dish, its phonetic pronunciation and, in English, what it is.

“Try some of this—” Rachel bent to read the card, “—arnavut cigari,” making a show of pronouncing it with her idea of a Turkish inflection.

On her way out front again to see how Myra and Norman are doing Libby stuck her head into the kitchen.

“Those little identification cards were a good idea,” she said.

“I took it off a menu in one of the bags,” Karen said.

Libby smiling, dipped her head.  Karen smiled back shyly.  The way she’s looking at me.  Seems I have an admirer.

“You can light the oven now,” Libby said.  “You remember the man’s instructions?”

Myra and Norman had their heads bent closely to one of the fenders of their car.

“A brand new car and it’s already scratched,” Myra said.  Her hair, died the color of honey, was teased and stiff with hair spray.  Her makeup, applied with the sharp precision of a sign painter, made her features look as though they were carved out of wood.  Libby went up to her and touched cheeks.  Stone cold, like a statue.  Norman, his hands at his sides, bent to peck her cheek.

“Come,” Libby said.  “Everyone’s out on the patio.”

“You know, you really ought to put in a circular driveway,” Myra said.

“Maybe we will one of these days,” Libby said.  She ushered Myra and Norman through the living room.  Just before reaching the patio Myra held her back and whispered.

“You had this catered?”

“Oh, I just had food delivered,” Libby said. “Turkish.”

“Oh,” Myra said.  She leaned closer to Libby.  “We should share the cost.  How much was it?”

“Oh, forget it, Myra,” Libby said.  “It wasn’t that much.”

“I insist,” Myra said.  “We’ll talk about it later.  Don’t let me forget, Norman.”  As soon as she stepped on to the patio a toothy, gape‑eyed smile flashed on her face and she headed for Nat.  “Hello, daddy.   Congratulations!”

“Hello, Myra, Norman,” Nat said.  He started to rise, but before he could get upright Myra reached him and bent to peck him on the cheek, and he slunk back down again.  Norman shook hands with him and said, “Mazel tov.”  Anita joined them.

“You have no idea how happy I am for both of you,” Myra said.  Her eyes seemed to be directed at someone standing slightly to one side of Anita. She brushed cheeks with her stiffly then stepped aside to give Norman his turn.

“Mazel tov,” Norman said.  He stood at attention for a few seconds looking at Anita with a silly smile, then stiffly angled his torso toward her like a toy man worked with gears and gave her the identical peck on the cheek he had given Libby.

Anita turned to Rachel and Pete, who were standing politely aside, waiting to be introduced.

Karen came out to tell Libby that the food was on the table.

“Dinner is ready,” Libby announced.

“Let’s eat,” Mel said, stretching his arms out as if to herd everyone to the dining room.

First he’ll deny it.  He won’t even know what I’m talking about.  I am not distancing.  How can you even think … Then what?  Her face went hot.  I think the wine is going to my head a little.  “I’ll be right back,” she said.  She went to the bathroom and dabbed her face and neck with cold water.  When she came back all were seated at the table and Mel was in some sort of wrangle with Myra.

“There’s such a things as freedom of expression in this country, Myra,” he was saying.

“I’m not against freedom of expression,” Myra said.  “I’m just against stupidity.  Young people who make these judgments about things they know nothing about are just plain stupid.”

“Oh, I see,” Mel said.  “People who make judgments.  How about a president who okays a break‑in of the Democratic headquarters, and then tries to cover it up.  What would you call that, Myra?  Smart?  It’s not even stupid, it’s plain wacky.  He deserves to be impeached.”

But Myra had already turned her attention to the food, her eyes roving from dish to dish to select what to take first.  “What’s that, fish?” she asked Elly, who was sitting beside her.  “Is it good?”

“It’s delicious,” said Norman.  “What kind of fish is it?”

Libby sat down on her usual chair near the kitchen entrance.  Bebe left her chair and came over to her.  “Ma, what’s quail?” she whispered.  “They’re so small.  They look like birds.”

“They are birds,” Libby said.

“How can you eat birds?” Bebe said.

“Chickens and turkeys are birds,” Libby said.

“Chickens and turkeys are different,” Bebe said. “They’re big.  You always eat chicken and turkey.  You don’t eat robins or blue jays, do you?”

“Oh, Bebe, a quail is just a little smaller than a young chicken.” Libby said.  “They’re delicious.”

“Well I’m not eating a quail,” Bebe said, and went back to her place.

“This food was a good choice, Lib,” Mel said. “Everything is delicious.”

All concurred.  “It is.”  “Very tasty.”  “Umm.” And they continued to eat, their knives cutting, forks rising to lips and lowering to plates again, reaching for more bread, passing food, filling glasses, drinking and talking.

Mel, I want to talk something over.  I want to ask you something.  Are you satisfied with the way our marriage is going?  I mean, if  you’re not satisfied—if


“Henry George.  He was a late nineteenth century American economist.”

We’ve been drifting farther apart, Mel.  We don’t have an enjoyable relationship anymore, Mel. Do we? What do you think?

“—and he advocated the abolishment of private property.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

We’ve been strangers, passing each other by twenty times a day. It’s like we don’t recognize each other anymore.

“You know, the American Indians believed the land doesn’t belong to people, people belong to the land.”

“If they believed that they’re stupid too.”

It’s a terrible way to live.  And we used to be so close.

“What do you mean, everything is upside-down?”

“It is.  The optical system of the eyes takes the upside-down image it senses and makes it right-side-up.”

Aah, what happened to … Come on, Mel, we can’t go on living this way, hello, goodbye, nice day.  What happened to good times?

“For instance when something falls it’s actually going up.”

“There’s something wrong with what you’re saying.”

Just plain everyday good times, Mel.  What happened to laughing  together?  What happened to romance?  What happened to  passion?  Things changed, haven’t they?  Well?  Do you have  something to say?  We have to get closer, Mel, we have to  spend more time together.  We drifted apart.  Do you agree?  I mean, do you agree?  Tell me.  All right, let me ask you  something.  Are you satisfied with our relationship the way it is?

“Six weeks?  That’s some honeymoon.”

“A villa in Tuscany.  Or on one of the Greek islands.  Mykonos maybe, then we’re going to charter a small cruiser to tour the islands for a few more weeks.”

“Charter a cruiser?  That must be very expensive.”

Say something.  Because if we can’t enjoy each other I really think …I think …I don’t know what I think.  I don’t want to live a life with a stranger looking in on me once in a while.  She felt a crick in her throat.  Aah,  I sound like a lawyer.

Karen started to clear the table.  As she reached over to collect Myra’s, dish Myra leaned aside, giving the IMPEACH on Karen’s shirt a sidelong glance of exasperation.

Libby went to the kitchen to prepare some warm milk and toast for Eric.  Bebe came in behind her.  “Can I make the fruit arrangement, ma?” she said.

“All right,” Libby said.  “Don’t forget to rinse everything.  But wait till Karen cuts the rind off the melon and slices it.  Don’t try to do it yourself.”

“She already sliced it,” Bebe said.

“She did?” Libby said.  She put a teaspoon of honey into some milk and spread a thin layer of jam on the toast.  “Karen, would you come upstairs with me?  Let’s see if Eric will let you feed him, maybe I can sneak out.  I don’t want to stay up there too long.”

Eric extended his arms as soon as he caught sight of her.  She picked him up.  “Hi, honeybunch.  You’re smiling.  You feel better, eh?  It’s the medicine made you feel better.  How about a little something to eat, now?”  She gave him a little peck on the tip of his nose and handed him to Karen.  “You hold him and I’ll start feeding him, then you take over.”

The switch‑over was easier than she thought.  Eric was hungry.  He got so involved in eating that he hardly noticed her leaving the room.  And Karen, she has a magic touch with him.  She really is a find.

Everyone was waiting to pick from the platter of fruit that Bebe was just placing on the table.  Upon catching sight of Libby Mel went around the table re‑filling wine glasses.  He took three clean ones from the sideboard and poured an inch of wine for Elly and Pete and a half inch for Bebe.

“Don’t drink too much wine, Norman.” Myra said.

Norman took a gulp and widened his eyes and puffed his cheeks in and out like he was rinsing his mouth.  Myra glared at him like she was glaring at a worm.

Mel tapped a wine bottle with a spoon and held his glass in front of him.  The others followed suit.  Anita, pleased, moved closer to Nat and put her hand behind his shoulders and gently rubbed his back.  All were waiting with pre‑toast smiles.  Mel paused a long moment, then looked up at Anita and Nat.

“What can I say?” he said.  “Dad, you got yourself a winner.  A beautiful, gracious, lovely lady.  Welcome to our family, Anita.”  He looked at Elly and Bebe.  “And grandpa got you two a terrific grandma, didn’t he?”

“Yes!” said Bebe.

“You got yourself a great guy, Anita.  What can you say about a father I’ve respected, admired and loved all my life?  A grandfather who is absolutely adored by his grandchildren?  We think he’s pure gold.”  He raised his glass.  “Anita, dad, all join me in wishing you a long, happy, loving, wonderful life together.  Which it looks like you’re well on your way having. And we love you.”

After all drank Mel nodded to Elly, who had moved to the front of the stereo.  She pushed a button, and Always came on.  Rachel began tapping her glass and then everyone chimed in, and the clamor didn’t stop until Nat and Anita rose and kissed and went hand in hand to the center of the living room to dance.

I’ll be loving you


             With a love that’s true


Mel took Libby’s hand and escorted her to the living room.  Elly remained beside the stereo dancing in place.  Her eyes kept shifting to Pete, who was still sitting at the table.  Bebe went over to him and whispered something to him through cupped hands.  He looked at Elly a few seconds then got up and walked toward her and asked her to dance.

              Days may not be fair,


              That’s when I’ll be there,


Mel kept finding little ways to slow down and draw Libby close between turns.  “How about tonight?” he whispered into her ear.  She held him closer.

Not for just an hour,

              Not for just a day,

              Not for just a year,

              But always, always..

When it was over Mel led Libby to the sofa and took her around and ran his fingers through her hair.  How about tonight.  It’s the way I’m dressed.  I could look sexy when I get dolled up.  Maybe I should get dolled up every morning for breakfast.  How about tonight.  Sure, and afterward go say we drifted apart go say Mel how can we live this way not really enjoying each other go say you’re getting older I’m getting older what do you say we get old a little closer together, with a little more intimacy, go say—until he finally puts his head back on my pillow and falls asleep on top of me like a contented baby.  Go say.

Elly and Pete walked out to the patio with Bebe tagging along.

“Bebe, can I see you a minute?” Mel called out.

Bebe came in and stood waiting for her father to say what he wanted.

“What were you saying to Pete before he went to ask Elly to dance?”

“Nothing,” Bebe said.  “I just told him Elly is waiting for him to ask her to dance.”

“Boy, you are a meddler,” Mel said.

“Well he asked her, didn’t he?” Bebe said.  “Can I go now?  I have to catch up to them.”

“Why don’t you stick around for a while?” Mel said.

Bebe looked at him a moment.  “All right,” she said.  “I get what you mean.”

And then, let’s talk.  Oh, how can I get through something like this?  I’m going to be a coward, I know it.  Rehearse, rehearse and then I’m not going to say anything.  I’m going to lie there like a lump with lockjaw.  Or else I’m going to break down crying.  Then what?  Accommodating for the rest of my life?   Back to where I was yesterday.

“Is there a good motel nearby?” Myra said

“There’s a Holiday Inn in Melville,” Mel said.  “Fifteen minutes from here.”

Maybe not tonight.  Maybe leave tonight alone.  Better tomorrow.  Maybe I can get Karen for another two hours in the afternoon.  We’ll go for a long walk and talk things over, that’s the way we have to do it.  Just talk, let things come out.  Maybe there’s something about me he wants to get off his chest.

“I hope it doesn’t rain, that’s all I need,” Myra said.  “We have tickets to Sunday matinee at the Edison, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.  Then Monday we’re seeing some friends in Riverdale, then the ballet on Tuesday, then …  “         “Is anyone else chilly?” Rachel said.

“I’ll close the patio door,” Libby said.

“Wait,” Mel said.  “Stay.”  He went to the fireplace and lit it.  He had already prepared it with logs, twigs and paper, she hadn’t noticed that.

“Oh, he’s lighting the fireplace!” Rachel said.  “I love a working fireplace!”  She scooped up her coffee and cake and went into the living room and parked herself on the floor in front of it.  One by one the others followed.  Mel tended the fire until the logs caught then he put out the lamps and sat down next to Libby, and all sat quietly, absorbed in the crackling fire and the shifting and merging red hues on the walls and ceiling.

Bebe went over to Nat, who was sitting with Anita on the sofa and clasped his hands and leaned into him.

“Grandpa, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, sweetheart.”

“Does grandma Milly have a soul?”

“She picks her spots to ask about my mother’s soul,” Mel said.

“Aah, what’s the difference?” Nat said.  “Sure grandma Milly has a soul.  Everyone has a soul.”

“My friend’s mother told me souls are like invisible butterflies in the air touching those they love.”

“Who’s this?” Mel said.  “Mrs. McGinty again?”

“Mrs. McGrory,” Bebe said.

Mel turned to Libby.  “You hear this?”

“You’re going to make a big thing over it?” Libby said.

“The soul comes into play only when you pass away,” Norman said. “God puts it in escrow in the meantime. Then the exact instant the heart stops beating He gives it a release, then it goes up to heaven and lives there forever.”

“You don’t have to think about heaven right now, Bebe,” Mel said.  “Everyone has a soul, but in bad people it very rarely shows itself, if at all. It’s the inner part of a person that is not concerned with the usual stuff, you know, like making money or power or prestige, or anything like that. The part of a person you love and admire and get attached to.”

Bebe nodded with open-mouthed understanding.

“Does anyone want more coffee?”  Libby went to the kitchen to get another small pot going.  Karen was alone loading the dishwasher with the soiled plates.  She looked at Libby hesitantly then spoke.  “You have a marvelous collection of art books in your book room.”

“Are you interested in Art?” Libby said.


“You can borrow a few if you want,” Libby said.  “Or if you want you can come look them over any time.  Just give me a call beforehand.”

“Oh, thank you, I will,” Karen said.

A little mother taking care of the kids and doing the housework.  Working after school to bring a few bucks into the house.  Already with a burden, a striving young cutie in a purple skirt.  I like her.

On her way upstairs to see what was doing with Eric a feeling of elation took hold of her.  She had the feeling that today, on this occasion, a stifling formality that she and Mel had somehow gotten all knotted up in lately had been loosened.  Finally.  Such a pleasure today, so affectionate.  His advances.  And tonight.  And tomorrow.  We’ll see.

Eric was fast asleep.  Nat was just coming up the stairs as she started down.  “How is he?” he said.

“Fine,” Libby said.  “He’s sleeping.”

“I just want to take a look at him before we leave.  It’s all right, isn’t it?”

About to pour herself a cup of coffee she changed her mind.  Feel like having a bit more wine.  Yes, something in her did revive, she could feel it coursing through her veins all day, that old excitement.

Anita approached Libby.  “Where’s Nat?”

“He went up to take a look at Eric.”

“Oh, I’m going up too.”

Libby stepped out to the patio.  Bebe was questioning Rachel about acting.

“Well, I was in my first play when I was about your age,” Rachel said. “I was the cruel mother who beat her poor, virtuous little daughter and made her go out and beg,” Rachel said.  “But she grew up and married the handsome prince and I was banished from the kingdom.  Oh, look at that big orange moon!  And my God, look at the stars, they’re so clear and bright!  In Manhattan you look up and all you see is this haze.  I almost forgot there are stars in the sky.”

“Without the patio lights you can really see them,” Libby said.  “I’m going in, I’ll put them off.”

She started giggling, she didn’t know why. Every four years I get giddy.  Let’s go someplace quiet and romantic for a week or two, just the two of us.  Oh, Mel, let’s do it.  Remember the warm night breezes, the tropical smells we loved?  The walks we took on the beach at dusk, the pelicans skimming the water looking for fish.  And those nice little restaurants in town, romantic dinners, and then that night on the beach, making love naked, remember? Or maybe one of those little fishing villages on the west coast of Mexico you’re always talking about.  Sailing.

“We’ll be leaving,” Anita said.  “Nat’s very tired and we have to drop Rachel off.”

“Where’s Pete?” Rachel said.

“I’ll get him,” Bebe said, running out through the patio.

Anita picked some cups and saucers from the coffee table and brought them into the kitchen.

“Do you have some Windex?” Myra said.  “I want to clean my rear window.”

“Mel, there’s some in the cabinet under the sink,” Libby said.

“I want to thank you for a lovely evening,” Rachel said.  “It was nice.  I enjoyed everything.”

“I enjoyed doing it,” Libby said.  “And I enjoyed your company.”

All were moving out to the front porch.  Nat lagged behind and took her hand in both of his.  “Thanks, Libby.  I just wanted to—I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your doing this.”

She kissed him on the cheek, and as they separated she turned and almost bumped into Anita gathering the used chinaware and leftover cake on a tray.  Stepping aside, Mel came into her view just beyond the kitchen door jamb, kneeling in front of the sink cabinet beside Karen, who was rinsing something.  But he was not looking into the cabinet.  He was looking up—at the climbing hem at the back of Karen’s skirt.  Libby saw his hand rise and his fingertips graze the back of her knee then move half way up her thigh.  Karen glanced down at him, but—is that a smile on her face?  Mel was smiling up at her, his lips shaping, “Oh, excuse me.” As he rose with the Windex in his hand Karen mouthed something.  B…  b …  Ba baw …  You bad boy, is that what she said?  My God, you bad boy!  With that funny, intense smile.  She turned to the guests leaving.  She felt as if she were vibrating; she could almost hear a sound emanating from her body, a low, droning hum.  How dare he!  Such a stupid—such an ugly thing to do.  What now?  How can I—

As she stepped on to the porch Mel came down to the driveway from the kitchen deck holding the Windex and a clump of paper towels and started to clean the rear window of Myra’s car.

“Good night.  Good night, it’s been marvelous.  Thanks for everything.”

“Pete took my phone number, ma” Elly said.  “We have a date for Saturday, June 30.”

“That’s nice,” Libby said.

“Can he come that Friday after school and sleep over?”

“We’ll discuss it.”

“Can’t you tell me now?  I have to give him an answer.  Please?”

Pete was standing outside the car waiting for Elly.

“All right,” Libby said.

“Are you going to hit a few home runs for me next Saturday?” Mel said.    “Mel, do me a favor and back the car out for me after you finish with the window.  Norman, you get in, I’m driving. The Melville exit then a quarter of a mile in the same direction, right?  All I need is for it to start raining now.”

Anita took Libby’s hand.  “It was so good of you to do this.”  Her delicate ring.  Tenderness, devotion.

Waving.  “Good night!”

“Good night!”

Bebe was sitting on the porch steps with her eyes half closed, holding the little food identification tents from the table between two fingers.  Elly climbed past her.

“She’s going to call Madeleine to tell her about Pete,” Bebe said.

Elly grit her teeth and looked up at the sky.  “I don’t know what’s the matter with you.  In fact I’m sick and tired of you.”

“Elly, it’s almost eleven,” Libby said.

“Aah, ma.  I promised to call as long as it’s before eleven.  She’s waiting for it.  We made a compact.  And tomorrow’s no school anyway.”

“Everything has to be right now?” Libby said.  “I don’t see why you can’t wait until tomorrow morning.  All right, make your call.  But please make it short.”

“Look at Bebe,” Mel said.  “She must be drunk.”

“I am not!”

“I saw you take some more wine.”

“It was only a little bit.”

“It was this much.”  Mel spread his fingers an inch. “And you had this much for the toast.  That’s a lot of wine for you.”

“Something tells me I’m going to sleep,” Bebe said. “Goodnight.”

“Come on, Karen, I’ll drive you home,” Mel said.

Libby’s chest sprang.  “I think—”  But she could go no further.

“What?” Mel said.

“Nothing,” Libby said.

“I have my bicycle with me,” Karen said.

“It’s too dark for a bicycle,” Mel said.  “I’ll put it in the back.”

After they left she warmed some apple juice and filled Eric’s bottle and brought it upstairs.  He was still asleep.

“Time for your medicine, toots.”

He woke up cranky.  She picked him up and sat rocking him until he quieted down.  After he finished the apple juice she gave him his antibiotic and another teaspoon of aspirin.  What now?  Confront him?  He’s going to turn the whole thing around.  You’re making a big thing out of nothing, I just wanted her to move aside so I could open the cabinet, what’s the matter with you?  You’re seeing things now?  That bastard, that bastard.  That—oh, she couldn’t stand an argument right now.  Oh, Mel.  Oh, Mel.

When she heard him return she went rigid.  His approaching footsteps on the stairs were like a slow, low tom‑tom in some ominous ceremony.  She wished she could say some magic words that would hold him back.  Stop!  Stop!  She couldn’t look him in the face right now without either yelling at him or going totally dumb.  Or breaking down crying altogether.

“How’s Eric?” Mel said in the doorway.

“He’s all right,” Libby said.

“I’m tired,” Mel said.  “Can I do something for you?”


“Should I put the lights out downstairs?”

“I still have a few things to do.”

“I’m taking a shower.  I’ll see you in bed.”

“Go to sleep, Mel, your eyes are closing.  I’m very tired too.”

“All right.”

All right, how quick.  She rocked Eric until he fell asleep again then put him back into his crib and went downstairs.  She sat back in the recliner and closed her eyes.  Relaxing her face she realized how tense it had been.  She tried to take deep breaths but her lungs felt too shallow to get enough air in.  Touching that girl’s leg.  Sixteen years old.  She pictured his hand, his fingers climbing farther, farther up, up.  Like a crab to a beached fish.  That smile on his face.  Excuse me.  You bad boy.  How am I going to get through tonight, him beside me?  Facing him at breakfast.  And the next day and the next day? Oh, did you sleep well?  I think I need a new toothbrush.  Did you see that picture of Nixon playing the piano in the Times today?  Little remarks.  Dead‑end responses.  Tactics.  Someone’s going to have to do something about something.

I should compete for him.  I should wear flimsy dresses and heels and stockings and garters to keep his eyes on me instead of on twenty‑two year old Suzys and sixteen year old Karens.  Dear Miss Landers: Until what age do you suggest I wiggle my ass around to hold my husband’s interest?  Forty? Fifty?  Sixty?  Such a wonderful prospect.  Is this where I live?  This house looks so sad.  The room took on a strange aspect, like a room in some historic house where you’re not allowed to sit on chairs or touch anything, or a room on display in a museum with a chain across the threshold.

She went out to the patio and gazed at the sky.  Even the moon and the stars had a strange, rigid look.  The big orange moon was white now, back to its regular size, as if it had hardened and shrunk.  Silence makes a strange sound; she could hear the hush.  When I was little I used to imagine the moon and stars were an audience of friends looking down at me from a huge, dark auditorium and I’d talk to them.  Hello, ladies and gentlemen, I was so good today and Mrs. Silverstein gave me a gold star for arithmetic. And the moon would smile and the stars would wax brighter and twinkle, but if I did something bad they’d know it and they’d wane and frown and sulk.  But they’d stay friends anyway.

She went back inside and poured herself a bit of wine. The ashes in the fireplace were still glowing.  She put out all the lights except a dim lamp beside the staircase and sat on the rug in front of the fireplace and leaned back on the sofa cushion sipping the wine and watching the embers.

You can erase and erase and erase, then you wake up in the morning and it’s still there.  It just won’t go away.  You can’t even trick it away.  You can lock your jaws and grit your teeth and try to squeeze it out of your head but it’s no use, it’s there still knocking back and forth like a ping‑pong ball you can almost hear it.  I once had a marriage and now it’s not a marriage.  Go trust someone.  It’s so sad.

There was a sudden crackle in the fire and a little spark burst out of the dying embers.  Stirring.  Bebe appeared half way down the stairs and leaned over the banister.

“Ma, I don’t feel good,” she said.

“What’s the matter?”

“I feel nauseous.”

“You feel like throwing up?”

“No, I just feel nauseous.”

“Come down and sit with me a while.  The fire is still glowing.”

Bebe came down and sat on the rug next to her and leaned into her.  She took Bebe around and hugged her and they sat like that in front of the fireplace watching the glowing embers.  Excuse me excuse me excuse me you bad boy.  Bebe sighed and opened her eyes.

“How do you feel now?” Libby said.

“A little better.  I was dreaming.”

“What were you dreaming about?

“I forgot.”

“You want to go back up to sleep and continue it?”

“You can continue a dream?”

“Sometimes.  Sometimes you have the same dream over and over again.  Come on, I’ll go up with you.”

Upstairs she could hear Elly’s voice, speaking low not to be heard.  She tucked Bebe in and kissed her sleepy eyes.

“Ma, I had such a good time today,” Bebe said.

“That’s nice,” Libby said.  “So did I.”

“Everyone enjoyed themselves, except Aunt Myra.  Why doesn’t she ever enjoy herself?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe someone will teach her how to one of these days.  Good night, boops.”

Mel was asleep.  He was breathing heavily, just short of snoring. With his you look good today and his hand in my ass and his flowers and his how about tonight.  Then that hand up that leg.  He’s going to say is there anything wrong you have that look on your face.  Then more you look goods and more hands in my ass and more flowers.  Then he’s going to say there’s definitely something wrong did I do anything?  What did I do?  Oh, forget it, you bad boy.  You just pawed a young girl’s leg.  It’s inconsequential.

She got undressed and took a shower.  Coming and going through life speaking different languages, looking for solutions.  Oh, solutions.  Better you run away from them, it’s easier and takes a lot less time.  Won’t go to bed now. Because I’ll never fall asleep again.  She got a blanket from the closet in the hall and went downstairs and wrapped it around herself and sat in front of the fireplace again.  Excuse me.  You bad boy.  She watched the dimming embers until her eyes lost focus.

Hidden in shadowed Central Park bushes waiting for dusk.  Below us the East Meadow awash in a dim reflection of the set sun.  All leaving except scattered couples lolling in the darkened grass.  The sky through the foliage dusky purple. Earthsmell.  Grasssmell.  Along Fifth Avenue luxurious windows already lit. My head on the ground, pillowed by his jacket.  His hand under my nape the other in my blouse struggling to unclasp my brassier. My nipples erect, savoring his tickles, my fingertips grazing his face.  Hot tumescence, throbbing.  As never before my juices ran.  His eyes desiring, his breath halting, his lips open and tender, mine open to receive.  Oh, how I wanted to feel him inside me, more than anyone before.  Barking.  Rustling.  A dog.  It gave us a long, tail‑wagging look, sniffed about, then went on.  Wildly he lay above me.  His lips grazed my eyes, my face, my neck, shoulders, breasts, his tongue delighted my nipples.  Little lunges his hand made.  Wait, not yet.  I held him.  And then it was dark enough and I let him and he played with me so gentle so nice and panting I arched my body for him to

Elly beside her.

“I didn’t hear you come down,” Libby said.

“Why are you sitting here all by yourself like that?” Elly said.

“Oh, I’m just trying to slow down a little before going to bed,” Libby said.  “I had a hectic day.”

“You were staring at the fireplace like you were in a trance, or something,” Elly said.

“I was,” Libby said.  “A fire always does that to me.  When I was your age we’d take potatoes from home and bake them in a little fire we’d make on one of the lots.  We called them mickeys.  You put the potato right in the fire and let it bake for about a half hour.  They came out all charred on the outside, but the inside was so delicious.  Then after we ate them we’d just sit around the fire a while and watch it until it went out.”

“I’m so sleepy,” Elly said.  “I just came down to kiss you goodnight.”  She put her cheek to Libby’s and held it there a while and hugged her with rare affection.  “You looked so pretty today, ma, prettier than usual.  I like you with earrings.”

Libby rocked back and forth with her like when she was little.  “Good night, dear,” she said.

Prettier than usual.  I felt prettier than usual, until that hand on that leg. She looked at the embers a long moment.  He got my pants off one leg but they got hitched on my other heel and he couldn’t get them off quick enough so he just left them and got on top of me.  My foot brandishing a pink flag of passion.  My real first time.  Tears of appreciation in my eyes afterward.  Are you crying?  No.  No.  Not crying.  And he dabbed my eyes so gently with his handkerchief, his careful eyes almost touching mine.

Me.  And me now.  A little orange flame rose softly out of the dimming embers then died down again.