When did it, oh, that would have been last Monday, or the Monday before that, rather.
Yes, an utterly and unremittingly pissy day and Carson had called her “my dear” fully four times, so she had left just a little early and now her thoughts were “cab sauv” and bare feet aloft and nothing else. But those same feet were nailed to the front hall’s floor when Dominique heard the voice of her stepdaughter, who clearly knew no one was listening.
“It was, like, something you could do tenderly? Like a seal of love? Or maybe to embarrass or something, just a conquest, you know. Like he could be a lover or, like, attacking an enemy, depending. But he did it, he did it as, like scornful like. Not love, but you know, debasing? And this made her lie still and take it. If he had been tender like even a little bit she would have, I don’t know, just froze up, while he was doing that to her. But that’s the high, you know, the high she wanted, him owning and using her like that. Then she felt him shaking, like, even he couldn’t take it, and she knew that she had given that to him, like that it came from her, like from her body, and she bit her lips and she knew what he had wanted her to know.”
Her stillness showed none of the sudden shifts within her. Recognition of the voice. The usual fondness, the usual uncertainty, the usual ready for the defensive. Curiosity, nosiness, whichever. Recognition of the circumstances. Stupefaction. She had not told, who has she told, not even Pavel knew about. Shame outrage stupefaction.
“‘Call me a bitch,’ she told him, but he wouldn’t. He just wouldn’t.”
She was not sure whether her sudden flapping of arms and bags, the conspicuous making of noise to announce presence, was a decision or a reaction.
“Dany, hey. Is your father having one of his naps? Nice work if you can get it.”
Dany muttered, “I’ll call you later,” into her phone, thrust it into her back pocket, and said in an even flatter voice, “No, he’s out.”
She had never seen the girl blush and she did not, in the quick glimpse she allowed herself, see it now.
At dinner, Dominique had to make a show of eating, even as her insides methodically assumed complex knot forms undreamt of by sailors and handbooks. How could she, how could anyone know about that? It had been years ago. The shape of his wrists as he eased the new marble into the fireplace. What had seemed like a seduction turned inside out: she was, yes, not that but no, it turned out to be what she. Pavel asked her to pass the vinaigrette. She did. She had wanted him to call her, to use that very. But how on earth could Dany.
“I’m sorry, the vinaigrette, here you are. I’m sorry, it’s just been a very trying day at the office and I.”
Not her Yammer account, which she felt Pavel’s daughter had closely monitored since they began dating: she would never have so much as; but who did she ever tell, she could feel the headache winding up for its starting pitch; she could feel Dany’s eyes on her plate; there was Wanda, her therapist of years ago, maybe she, but that seemed so, well, I don’t know; just a coincidence, a coincidence of incredibly coincidental details kind of coincidence?
She changed all of her passwords.
She tried to forget about it.
She tried to really forget about it.
Then what, Thursday?
Yes, Thursday, lunch with a few people from the office, luckily not Carson. Good people. A fusion place recommended by Eva, but Eva couldn’t make it, her father was rushed to hospital, and the conversation while waiting for the food to arrive revolved around health and aging and parents and all that. But another conversation hooked Dominique’s ear.
“She’s pretty young, maybe seven or eight, when her mother takes her to her bedroom, right, and opens this dresser drawer.”
Now so far from seven or eight, she turned her head: two guys probably in their twenties, one shoveling in noodles while the other mimics pulling out a drawer with both hands.
“She is kind of freaked out by how serious her mother is. And the mother points and tells her, ‘When I die, I want you to burn all of this underwear. Burn it all before anyone can see.’
She’s staring hard at her. ‘I want you to promise me you’ll do that. It’s your responsibility.’”
“Zfucked up,” slurped the noodler.
“And it’s snowing outside right then, she can see through the window when her mother is closing the drawer. And she’s suddenly wondering how she could start a fire if when it is snowing like that, start it where, start it how. She’s never started a fire. But she just made a promise, right?”
“Totally fucked, you hear.”
I hear, Dominique’s lips said, and her eyes caught Jeanne watching her lips.
“I realize we’re not especially close,” Jeanne said to her that afternoon.
“I’m fine,” she replied, the pad thai revolt notwithstanding.
She changed all her passwords again. Then she called Wanda’s office, but a receptionist with a voice like a squeeze-toy told her that Wanda had taken early retirement, in fact, she’s sailing around the world, isn’t that nice? Nice work if you. Would she like to make an appointment with one of the other counsellors? No, no. But she said yes.
Pavel said, “You seem jumpy.”
Call me a bitch.
Pavel said, “I’d like to help if that’s possible.”
It’s your responsibility.
She said, “Wait.”
Awkward, that was what the weekend was, definitely.
Various attempts at intimacy checked, Pavel retreated, spending most of the time in his workshop. Dany hung around more than she otherwise would, watchful. When she displayed her newly dyed indigo hair one evening, she said, “Change, everything changes,” and gave her father the smile of someone encouraging a child to dive from the board.
These past lives, that she had tried to push offstage, what were they doing, rustling at the curtains?
Tuesday it was the antique market, looking for something for Pavel, something that might light up his eyes, slow the widening of the gap. But what a lot of junk to sift through, and in his company it might have been fun, but.
Stopping before a stuffed goat, Dominique opened her mouth to say hello.
“She was with some friends from school, all three girls with her at her house.”
Not the goat: the goat was stuffed but not treacherous. A couple of women just beyond, looking at scarves, maybe mother and daughter? Hard to tell.
“The mother, all the mothers had all gone out for a night together, and the four fathers were going to make dinner for the girls, which the girls decided probably meant Chinese food.”
“No,” Dominique mumbled to the goat as she caressed its muzzle. “They actually made the dinner themselves.”
“But when the girls came home from school they were told they would have to stay out of the living room, and the girls could see that the room was covered with plastic sheets, the couch and coffee table and all of the furniture pushed to the walls and covered in plastic sheets. Like there was some sort of renovating going on or something. The girls of course were too busy with themselves to think much about it.”
“Spaghetti,” she confided to the goat. A price tag behind his ear said Display only – not for sale.
“The fathers actually collaborated on pasta, and she was impressed but wasn’t sure about showing it to her friends. Not that it mattered, really, because the dads did most of the talking through the dinner, and the girls ate and listened though without much interest. But after dinner, this is the amazing part.”
“I’m listening,” said the listener, indigo-scarved, everything changes, it’s your responsibility.
“After dinner, the father asked, ‘Anyone for dessert? There’s pie.’ And you know what? They all went into the living room, all covered in plastic sheets, and the dads brought out trays of cream pies. Complete surprise. And they had a massive pie fight. Picture that wild scene. All the girls squealing, dads roaring, cream everywhere. Time of her life she had.”
“In my hair,” said Dominique, looking for the exit, zfucked up, call me a.
“Best moment in her life,” were the last words that reached her.
She called Pavel to cancel dinner, a migraine, but had to leave a message, sorry.
The appointment was the next day, Wednesday, when it was raining.
Dominique flipped through a magazine but wasn’t reading it, partly couldn’t focus on the words and syntax but also there was a fear preventing her from reading, the fear that she would get into an article on some celebrity’s troubles or skincare research or deforestation and suddenly in the midst of it would be some story of her unshared past, again, again. She looked at the waiting room a little more carefully and thought: someone has designed this room for people to wait in, that and nothing more. Once its pastels would have reassured her. Now what she really wanted was a can of spray paint, preferably of a most obnoxious colour.
She stood up reflexively on hearing her name spoken, or squeaked. The beaming squeaktoy receptionist pointed her down the short hall. All of the colours and fixtures were inoffensive. The carpet hushed her steps.
The blonde woman standing by the desk gave a short, delayed smile, and gestured for Dominique to sit.
“They told me that you weren’t working here anymore.”
“I’m not Wanda. My name is Andarilha, but everyone calls me Andy.”
“That’s really incredible. You look exactly like Wanda. My former counsellor.” When there was no immediate reply, Dominique added, “She’s sailing around the world now.”
They sat down. Andy ran her hands slowly through her hair, which struck Dominique as, well, unprofessional somehow. Wanda’s hands used to stay folded in her lap.
“Do you detect a lot of resemblances among people you know and meet?”
“I’m not sure what kind of question that is.”
For the following forty-five minutes Dominique heard her voice talking about Pavel, the man who made violins, the man whom she would not move in with, the man she trusted like no other, the man with whom she would not move in, the man. About her previous relationships, the last a long engagement with no marriage. About privacy. About how she couldn’t get on an even footing, or was it an even break, with Pavel’s daughter. About fear and about control and about how those two things circle around each other sometimes, like fighting fish.
Only after Dominique looked straight at her for a full minute without speaking did lookalike Wanda purse her lips and ask, “What exactly do you mean by ‘selfish’?”
Dominique hesitated. “I don’t think… did I say that?”
“I don’t remember using that word.”
“You said, ‘Maybe this selfishness is good.’”
“I don’t remember saying that.”
“What do you think you meant by it?”
“I don’t remember saying that.”
Andarilha gave another delayed, short smile. Her teeth, only briefly glimpsed, were not Wanda’s.
“If this is a good time for you,” she said, “we could pick this up in two weeks from now.”
It was still raining.
It sounded like voices.
Tim Conley‘s most recent fiction collection is “Collapsible.” He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, in Canada.