Good Reading : July 2001
bookbites ‘Well, but sometimes they were happy,’ Rebecca said, because she was thinking, just then, of her twentieth- birthday party, all those people singing to her around the table. ‘And then Aunt Alma, his father’s sister,’ Tina said, ‘forever checking into Sheppard Pratt for little rest cures. Or how about Cousin Ed! Walking in front of that bus.’ Rebecca hated it when Tina showed off her inside knowledge of the Davitches. She herself had never heard of Cousin Ed, and she had thought Aunt Alma’s rest cures were a secret that Mother Davitch had confided to her alone. She said, ‘Yes, but in any family -’ ‘And the way Joe drove: those crazy left turns. Tell me those weren’t suicidal! Directly into the path of oncoming traffic. More than once I ducked under the dashboard; I bet you had that experience. Or did he do that only with me.’ about the other person? (The inner meaning of that sudden hitch to the shoulders, or that flicker in one temple.) Once or twice, after a party, she had found him slumped in the darkened front parlor, staring into space. ‘Joe?’ she had asked. ‘Aren’t you coming to bed?’ and he’d given his head a sharp shake and struggled to his feet. She had felt at certain moments – but not always! not for long stretches! – that she was dragging him through an invisible swamp, and Joe was hanging back while she herself, to compensate, grew quicker and more energetic. See how easy it is! We’ll get through this in no time! The inner meaning of that sudden hitch to the shoulders, or that flicker in one temple No, he had done it with Rebecca. When they were courting, it hadn’t alarmed her. She had been so trusting, back then. She remembered riding blissfully next to him, cradling his right hand in her lap as he made a dashing one-handed swerve across two lanes of speeding cars. But later she grew more anxious – especially after Min Foo was born. They had even had a couple of quarrels about it. ‘Who’s behind the wheel, here, you or me?’ he had said, and she had said, ‘Yes, but my life’s at stake too, after all; mine and the children’s. I have a right to object!’ ‘You don’t think that’s the behavior of someone who wanted to do himself in?’ Tina asked now. For once there was a question mark, American- style, at the end of her sentence. But even so, Rebecca didn’t answer. Through Mother Davitch’s stroke, and Aunt Joyce’s death, and Poppy’s moving in with them. Through the constant threat of financial failure – blank squares on the appointment book, painful calls from creditors. Through Mother Davitch’s death, too, and the time they nearly lost Patch to appendicitis. But through the good things, as well. Min Foo’s birth. The older girls’ gradual adjustment to Rebecca. Zeb’s admission to medical school. The little pleasures of everyday life, like a perfectly weightless snowfall on a clear December night, or the sound of the children’s jump-rope chants outside on a summer evening. ‘Yeah, sure, sweetheart,’ Joe said when she pointed these out, and he would sling an arm around her and draw her close. Even then, though, she might catch a certain clouded look in his eyes, as if he were listening to some private voice that Rebecca couldn’t hear. She did believe he loved her. But she Had she been a disappointment to him? That was her greatest fear. ‘In any event,’ Tina said finally, ‘at least he didn’t take you along the night of the accident.’ She glanced around the table. ‘ I don’t suppose there’s orange juice.’ ‘I may have some in the fridge,’ Rebecca said, not moving. ‘Ah.’ Tina waited for a moment. Then she said, ‘Why don’t I fetch it,’ and she slid back her chair and stood up. Her dressing gown made a sound like sand running through a sieve as she crossed the linoleum. It was true that Rebecca had sometimes sensed some 58 other quality, a glimmer of something like desperation, lying just beneath the surface of Joe’s exuberance. On occasion she had thought she detected a hollow note in his voice, a forced heartiness as he welcomed guests. Or was it just that in any marriage, you end up knowing more than you should couldn’t help feeling, sometimes, that he loved that private voice more. Had she been a disappointment to him? That was her greatest fear. Consider how he had first seen her: the girl enjoying the party more than anyone else in the room. He had clung to that image obstinately, no doubt hoping that her happiness was contagious. And it hadn’t been. And besides, she was really no more or less happy than most other people she knew. ‘This place is like a time machine,’ Tina said out of the blue. Rebecca started, wondering if her head was so transparent. But Tina was drifting obliviously around the kitchen. ‘Same old round-edged sink as when I was living here, only maybe a mite yellower. Same sticky wooden cabinets. Same scummy little plastic drinking glasses.’ She raised her glass of orange juice, demonstrating. ‘Same baggy, rusty screen door,’ she added, turning to gaze through it. ‘Why! It appears that some young man is carpeting your backyard.’ ?