Saturday, August 19, 2006


This is a photo of Melissa at 37 weeks of pregnancy. Today, one week later, her water broke. It happened as her parents were pulling into the driveway.

So far, there have been no serious, regular contractions. We are hoping for a drug-free labor, but even midwives get nervous when there are no contractions after the water breaking. Holistic methods for inducing labor include drinking castor oil & manipulating the nipples. Hmmm, wonder which we'll try first.

Anyway, wish us luck.

In the meantime, read this story. It seems oddly appropriate.


Walt was trying to tell his wife, Clare, that it was over, but he couldn't get himself to say it. It was late at night, a sliver of a moon hanging in the trees. They were taking a walk around the lake.

"I've been thinking about counseling," Clare announced after a long silence. "Bob and Debra Ann went to see someone and it really helped them."

Clare had decided lately that she and Walt were "in a rut," nothing that a little professional help couldn't cure. There wasn't enough "communication," Walt was "distant," there were "intimacy issues."

"What do you think?"

"Maybe," Walt said, scratching his chin.

Bob had told him all about it, about how Debra Ann and the counselor had ganged up on him, and how they'd scolded him for not crying. He agreed with Bob that counseling was for those who need to tell themselves they've tried everything.

They'd left the house without a flashlight, which Walt now regretted. He could barely see the road, paved but narrow, with the occasional driveway branching off into darkness toward a lakeside home. The lake itself, silver in the night, lay to their left. They always walked this way, counter-clockwise around the lake, one of the many habits he was bored with.

"We need to get everything off our chests," Clare went on. "But in a safe environment, with a neutral observer, so we don't get hostile."

Walt hated this kind of talk. Ever since Clare had started individual therapy, her conversations were peppered with terms like "supervising ego" and "unconscious anger." All of a sudden she knew everything about him, why he said or did certain things, why he couldn't sleep at night. She knew that his "emotional unavailability" was due to his alcoholic father and cold, distant mother. She knew everything, it seemed, except that he'd been having an affair.

"They went to this amazing woman, Debra Ann told me. She really got Bob to open up and be honest about his fear of commitment."

But Walt didn't have a fear of commitment. It's just that, recently, he'd been more committed to somebody else.

He'd gone into the little bookstore on Main Street looking for a copy of Light Years and ended up getting into a discussion of James Salter with the owner. He had been in the store a few times but had never bought anything, had barely noticed the tall, slender woman behind the counter, but, as she talked with him about Salter's work, he could see how pretty she was. There was something captivating about the way her green eyes contrasted with her long, dark hair. They were like lamps in a far-off house in the middle of the night. She had no copies of Light Years in stock, she told him finally, but she would order it for him. He spent the rest of the week debating with himself about what to say to her when he went to pick up the book. In the end, he decided it couldn't hurt to have a friend in town, or at least that's what he told himself, and so he asked her to lunch. That was three months ago.

"Haven't you noticed how different they are?" Clare asked. "Bob used to be so mean to Debra Ann. All those cutting remarks."

"I haven't really noticed," Walt said. He didn't tell her the reason that Bob was so mellow these days, that he had also been seeing someone else, a nurse at Mercy Hospital.

"The ten-year mark is a milestone," Clare told him. "That's when it really sinks in that this is forever. It can be hard, especially for men."

Ten years. It seemed so much longer. Back then they were living in the city, in a small one bedroom in the Village, the center of the world. They stayed out late on weeknights, spent all day Sunday in bed, went through money as if hellbent on dying broke. Then came 9/11 and Clare all of a sudden developed a desire to live in the country. "Time to grow up," she'd said, though for Walt it meant, Time to run away from the place where everything is happening.

But, sufficiently swayed by Clare's post-attack anxiety, he gave in. They let go of their rent-stabilized apartment and bought their little house on the lake, he quit his full-time job to freelance and Clare found work at the local weekly newspaper, where she covered town meetings and the latest collision between deer and SUVs.

Leah could relate to his frustration. She'd moved out here with her ex several years back and started the bookstore just to maintain her sanity. When they divorced she thought she'd move back to the city, but she had grown fond of the store and decided to stay on instead.

She told him this over lunch. She'd dressed up for the occasion in a tight skirt that didn't quite reach her knees and a sleeveless blouse. Walt had surprised himself by also dressing up, putting on his expensive Italian suit coat for the first time since quitting his full-time job. He was up front about being married, bringing up Clare several times, though he couldn't seem to mention her by name, and found his tone veering toward a sort of embarrassed exasperation whenever he referred to her. "My wife doesn't read much," he said, rolling his eyes, and "My wife doesn't go in for spicy food." Leah seemed unfazed, even curious, about Clare. She asked what she was like, what she did for work, what she looked like. To Walt these questions felt intimate; she may as well have been stroking his cheek. At first he'd thought they could perhaps all become friends, the three of them going out for dinner or drinks every now and then, but then he decided he didn't want that. He wanted Leah all to himself. After lunch they shook hands and she encouraged him to let her know what he thought of the book, which he did a few days later.

"This is all very natural, sweetie," Clare told him. "There's no harder work than marriage."

They neared the Turner house, where a party was in progress. The Turner boys were a wild bunch, driving their souped-up cars too fast around the lake road's tight corners, smashing mailboxes with baseball bats, and, when their parents were out, throwing these notorious parties. One of the boys, it was rumored, had been sent away for a year or so for dealing drugs at school. As they passed the house, the usually placid night air was thumping with hip hop bass notes and peels of teenage laughter.

"Poor Mark and Carol," Clare said of the Turners. "Those kids are a real burden to them. If they can stick together through this, we should be able to."

"I suppose you think everything would be okay if we had kids," he said.

"Oh, Walt, that's not what I meant."

Walt couldn't help but take any reference to parenthood, no matter how oblique, as some kind of jab. Last year, after trying for months to conceive, Clare had talked him into having his semen analyzed. The whole experience had been humiliating, with the smirking receptionist handing him that plastic cup and escorting him to a small back room with a flimsy door. He could still picture it: the tiled walls, the chair covered with examination table paper, the cheap shelving unit stacked with pornographic magazines, the television with a built-in VCR. As he leafed through the old magazines, he could hear the people next door in the laboratory chuckling amongst themselves. Not since he was fifteen years old in his parents' house had Walt masturbated within earshot of so many people going about their business. Anxious to get it over with, he switched on the VCR and ejaculated into the cup while watching a black man with a huge phallus have anal sex with a young blonde. Then, on his way out, he had to endure the receptionist's insipid grin as he wrote out a check for the test. The results arrived three days later. His sperm, apparently, were not up to par—something about low motility. Now, every time Clare spoke about couples who had children, even the Turners with their delinquent teenagers, Walt experienced it as a thinly veiled personal insult.

Clare took his hand, the way she always did when she detected his frustration on this topic. But it only made him angrier.

One of the reasons Leah had split with her ex was that she didn't want to have children with him. "The world is so crowded already," she'd told Walt that first time, as she ran her long fingers lightly over his chest. A week had passed since their lunch. He'd stopped by the book store twice already, first to chat about Light Years, then just to say hello. During visit number three, she asked him if he'd like to step out for lunch. She told her assistant she'd be back in a couple of hours, then led him down the street and up a flight of external stairs to her large, one room apartment above Bissell's Pharmacy. She pulled leftover chicken from her fridge, which they ate cold with wine at her kitchen table. After lunch and a full bottle of Chardonnay she took his hand and escorted him to the bed at the back of the room. When she kissed him, parting her soft, wet lips, the hairs on his arms crackled. It had been forever since he'd felt that electric jolt that comes with the touch of a woman. Afterwards, with one long leg draped over his belly, she expressed her disdain for her ex and his need for a biological heir, and for self-absorbed suburban ladies like Clare, with their ticking wombs and SUVs. She was actually relieved, she said, that Walt was sterile. "That means no contraception," she'd told him with a mischievous grin.

"But I do think the adoption process could bring us closer together," Clare said as she squeezed his hand.

"I told you," Walt said, tearing his hand away, "I think we should hold off on that."

"Why? It takes so long, Walt—it wouldn't hurt to start on the paperwork."

He sighed. Paperwork meant lawyers, and lawyers meant money. If he was going to climb into that mud pit he may as well get what he really wanted out of it: a divorce.

They were on an especially dark stretch of road now, flanked by clusters of huge old maple trees, their full branches hanging overhead like a canopy. From somewhere around the next bend came the rumble of a souped-up engine.

"I've been doing some research," Clare said. "We could fly to China in about twelve or fifteen months if we start the ball rolling now. Sheena at work did it with her husband. They came back with an adorable little girl. They couldn't be happier."

Leah had also been talking about adoption lately. While she felt no need to give birth, she had decided that caring for an unwanted child would be a service to humanity. But instead of the predictable China--it seemed like every other couple in town had an adorable little Chinese girl in a state-of-the-art stroller--she was interested in Africa. "Have you ever met an Ethiopian?" she'd asked. She said they were absolutely gorgeous, with their smoky brown skin and neon smiles. For weeks now Walt had fantasized about raising such a child with Leah.

As they neared the turn in the road--a sharp left through the woods--Walt could hear the rapid approach of the speeding vehicle, its stereo turned up all the way. Headlights pierced through the trees. It looked like a pick-up, moving very fast.

"I just think we should figure out our problems," he explained, "before we add such a huge complication to the mix."

"A 'huge complication'? Is that what a child means to you?"

They had just reached the turn when the pick-up roared around the bend, nearly running them over. In the split second during which the vehicle passed by, a mere foot or two away, Walt saw into the cab where two boys flanked a pretty girl with blonde hair. There was something especially infuriating about the trio, above and beyond their rudeness and lousy driving, and before he could think about what he was doing, he lifted his middle finger. Even within that crowded fraction of a second, he detected that his gesture had registered. Then the truck was past them.

"Jesus!" Clare cried, nearly stumbling on the uneven shoulder of the road.

"Are you all right?" Walt grabbed her arm and helped her straighten.

"They could've killed us!" Clare said. After she'd dusted herself off, they continued along the road toward the sharp left turn. Walt glanced back to see the truck slow to a crawl, then stop. It was about fifty yards behind them. The brake lights glowed bright red in the darkness.

"Anyway," Clare said, fully recovered now, "I was going to say, it might do you some good to have a 'complication' in your life."

It was just like her to continue with her previous train of thought despite nearly getting run over. She hadn't even noticed that the truck had stopped. Walt looked back again. What if the driver started to back up, or turn around? Those kids were probably drunk and looking for a fight. They might even have a gun in that ridiculous truck.

Clare added, "I think we've both gotten so comfortable with our lives that we could use a little shaking up, you know?"

Yeah, Walt thought. How about a little shake-up tonight? They were around the bend now, but he could still make out the fiery brake lights through the trees.

"Are you listening to me?" Clare asked.

"Uh-huh," he said, his ears tuned to the truck's low rumble. He considered telling Clare that they may be in some danger, but he would then have to tell her about his obscene gesture, and she would berate him for being so adolescent. Still, if the truck returned he would have to do something. The options included dashing into the woods and hiding, or running to the next house and asking for help, or standing his ground and confronting the hoodlums. If only it were Leah here with him instead of Clare. Leah inspired him to be stronger, if mostly in dumb little ways—sending back an undercooked hamburger, or asking for directions from a stranger—but he could feel these small adjustments shifting, ever so slightly, the tectonic plates of his character.

"Every time I bring up the idea of adoption," Clare said, "you shut down. Do you even realize that?"

Leah's right, he thought. Clare is so self-absorbed she can't even see what's going on right in front of her. Could she not hear the growl of the truck less than one hundred yards away? Could she not detect the hyper-alert, anxious way that he was carrying himself? How would she protect her precious little Chinese girl from danger when she can't even tell if she herself is in peril?

"You're shutting down right now, aren't you?" she said.

He listened for the truck. He and Clare had continued along the road far enough that he could not see the tail lights through the trees anymore.

"What is it?" she asked.


The engine still rumbled, but it seemed quieter, either because the truck had moved on, or perhaps just because the distance was greater between them. He could not relax until he knew the truck had gone.

"What is your problem?" Clare asked.

"Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"I thought I heard a fox," he said.

"Where?" she whispered.

"In the woods."

Sometimes on these nighttime walks they heard the plaintive, ghostly wail of a fox. At first they'd thought the high-pitched cries were those of an owl, but then a neighbor told them that foxes sometimes roamed the area. Clare was fascinated, but had never sighted one. She stood with her head cocked a little, not making a sound.

"I don't hear it," she finally said.

Walt heard it, now that Clare had quieted down: the truck engine. It had not moved. He wondered what they could be doing there in the road. Were they debating their course of action, one boy wanting to go back and kick some ass, the other anxious to get to the party, with the blonde girl torn between the two?

"I hear a car or something," Clare said.

The truck engine grew louder. It was moving.

"Must be those Turner kids," she added.

"Will you shut up?" Walt hissed, holding up the palm of his hand for emphasis. Even in the dark he could make out the look of shock on her face.

The truck, still around the bend, was coming closer.

"Walt?" Clare moaned.

"Okay," he said as the truck's headlights shone through the trees, "I need you to run into the woods there."


"Just do as I say."

The truck was nearing the bend in the road. In a second or two, the headlights would be in their eyes.

"Please," he said, "go into the woods and wait for me."


"Trust me, Clare."

Even in the dark he could make out the confusion and fear on her face..

"Do it."

He pushed Clare toward the trees, but it was mostly the force of his voice that propelled her off the road and into the woods.

"Go on," he called out to her as the truck rounded the bend. "Keep going till you can't see me."

She had disappeared into the darkness but he could hear the crack of twigs as she ran. The truck was now on the straightaway, its bright beams shining in his eyes. He considered following Clare, but for some reason he was not afraid anymore.

Earlier today, he had parked in the lot behind Leah's apartment and waited in his car until he saw her climb the stairway. By the time he got out of his car, traversed the parking lot, and climbed the stairs, she had taken off all her clothes and lay in bed. This was their usual routine, two or three times a week. He thought now of her pale, smooth skin, her long legs wrapped around him, ankles locked and pushing him deeper inside her. Before she came she would go completely still, like a cat in a freefall, just waiting, breathlessly, for the impact. Then, when it arrived, she let everything go, including all decorum. It was like nothing he'd ever seen or heard before, the way she writhed, the filth that poured from her mouth, as if each word, each gyration, could prolong the sensation. It had horrified him at first, then he had to laugh, and now it turned him on like nothing else ever had.

He stood by the side of the road, blinded by the truck's headlights. The truck slowed, then braked to a stop ten yards away. The radio was turned up full blast, and Walt could feel the thump of the bass in the soles of his feet. Then the driver turned off the engine, leaving only the lights on. The night silence fell into place as if into a perfectly carved slot: crickets, leaves rustling in the breeze, the far-off barking of a dog.

Walt raised his hand to shade his eyes but could not see inside the truck. The occupants remained where they were, perfectly quiet.

This afternoon, when he'd announced that he was planning to leave Clare, Leah had not been as enthusiastic as he'd hoped. Not that she was displeased, exactly. Reserved was perhaps the best way to describe her reaction. There were no hugs and kisses, no tears of joy, but neither did she turn away. She continued to drape her long leg over him, but spoke in an unusually serious tone. She asked what he would do, where he would live. She wondered how Clare would react—would she be so angry that she'd make the divorce ugly? These were all good questions that he had not seriously considered. He had thought only of Leah and his life with her, the days and nights together, the trips to be taken, the sex. Even as she posed her thoughtful questions he glossed over them, declaring that he didn't care, that he cared only about her, about them.


There was a crackle of twigs in the woods.

"Stay there," he told Clare.

Then, when he left Leah's today, there had been something changed between them. Normally they would kiss, hold one another, sometimes even return to bed for a while. She would laugh, they would make plans to meet in a couple of days, both of them wishing out loud that they could get together sooner. This afternoon, there was a kiss, but it was without heat, and there was no laughter. And while they said they would meet up in two days, they both knew that if Walt went ahead with his plans--if he broke up with Clare--the meeting in two days would be consumed with a discussion of what had happened, and what it meant for their future. Everything would be different. No, he thought now as he stood here in the road with the truck's headlights burning his eyes—everything was already different.

There was some giggling in the cab, then a male voice: "I'm bored. Let's go."

The engine started with a bellow, followed by the roar of the radio. The truck rolled backwards. Still blind from the glare, Walt could barely make out the three occupants. A beer bottle shattered at his feet. The girl laughed and the truck tore off, smoke clouding the view of its taillights.

Clare emerged from the trees.

"Are you all right?" she asked, wrapping her sweaty arms around him.

He watched the truck's lights turn and fade into the trees, the rattling engine now a dull, far-off purr.

"What were they doing?" she asked. "Why did they come back like that?"

"I don't know," he lied. Suddenly he felt his head go heavy and his eyes fill with water.

"What's the matter?" Clare asked, touching the tears that rolled down his cheeks.

But still he could not tell her.

"Let's go home," Clare said, taking his hand. "You'll feel better then."

And, knowing she was probably right, he went with her.


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