Working on a screenplay about a Jamaican pigeon blown from his tropical paradise by a Category 5 hurricane and dumped into New York City’s Upper East Side. Writing in garage still. Have grown accustomed to the flimsy card table “desk” wedged between the lawnmower and the stacked washer/dryer. Lately, been considering a more personal screenplay about a laid-off investment banker whose wife returns to work. Ex-investment banker becomes Mr. Stay-at-Home Daddy. Tragedy, comedy, romance, horror?
Through the garage window, see a gray, mud-smeared pick-up truck across the street. Been there all night. Somebody inside. A shadowed figure. Strange. Will call the police if the truck is still there tomorrow.
Vanessa leaves. Tap-tap of stiletto heels on porch. Her note on kitchen counter says:
It’ll be a late night. My team’s finalizing the presentation for next year’s fiscal strategy. I can taste the promotion! Remember, Zoe needs more lean protein, and no sugar for Skyler. And only give them sandwiches on sprouted-wheat bread!!!!!!! Don’t forget their gummy vitamins, either.
P.S. I can’t wait to get a piece of your furry ass when I get home.
Wad the note into a tight ball and punt it across the kitchen. For breakfast, make the kids hash browns, bacon, and scrambled eggs with Hollandaise sauce. Hollandaise recipe Jill gave me. Will tell her how the kids greedily licked the sauce from their plates and fingers.
Check my email to see if playgroup is still at McCambridge Park. See an email from Jill. Might be the deviled eggs recipe she promised. No.
Nolan told me last night that he doesn’t like us hanging out together, even if it’s just playdates for Zoe and Madison. Not that he thinks you aren’t trustworthy or have bad intentions. He just wants me to hang out with women when he’s not around. Sorry.
P.S. Thanks for the crème brulee recipe. Amazing!
P.S.S. Actually, Nolan’s really pissed off at you.
Shocked! Email all I think about as we head out the door for playgroup. And just as we pile into the minivan, the shadowed figure steps from the gray pick-up truck across street. Nolan!: 6’5’’, steel-toed boots, muddy jeans, fluorescent orange construction vest, hardhat, three days stubble on his face. He wields an axe handle. “You stay the hell away from my wife,” he shouts, stabbing the axe handle in my direction. “You hear me, Donaldson?”
Nolan’s back in the truck, gunning the engine, spinning the tires, throwing out a grayish pall of diesel smoke and vaporized rubber that lingers around us. He’s halfway down the block before I turn to kids. My heart pounds against my shirt. Terrified but ready to comfort these tender souls, ready to explain the brutal adult world to these innocent minds, ready to tout the nobility of a higher moral road and the unsung glories of pacifism. But Skyler’s giggling wildly, jumping up and down and making engine noises, screaming for more “vroom-vroom” and smoke. Zoe stands there with a sad face and weepy eyes. I kneel to console her, to wipe away the tears. She says, “Why can’t you have a cool truck like Madison’s daddy?” And then she stomps into the van and gives me the stink-eye all the way to the park.
Playgroup mommies chat about childbirth, cookie recipes, self-help books, and handsome vampires. In no mood to talk. Just swing Skyler and think about Jill and her brutish husband. Does Nolan know Jill’s dream of becoming a trapeze artist and a lion tamer? Does he know she’s writing a young-adult novel about a girl who flees a dead-end Midwestern town to join the circus? How will I reply to Jill’s email?
Gay Steve, the other playgroup daddy, is at the picnic tables talking with mothers, telling some story about how his adopted daughter Emily barfed into a potted plant at a family funeral last summer. All the mothers laugh. Steve laughs. He puts his hands on their shoulders, touches their elbows, gives hugs. I envy Steve, how he goes out for coffee with these women. Not a threat. No bad intentions. Lucky Steve.
Phone buzzes. Text from Vanessa. Says:
Don’t forget to give the kids their teaspoon of flaxseed after lunch. I can’t wait to nibble your ankles tonight.
Run errands: kids’ dentist appointments, pick up dry cleaning, wash van, buy worm pills for Buttons, get Skyler’s ear medicine. Home for lunch and naps.
Grocery store. Push kids in a cart shaped like a cartoonish racecar. No lean meat and veggies for dinner tonight. Vanessa has an irrational fear of simple carbohydrates. Believes a single bite of refined pasta will turn her thighs into lardy blobs. Grab two boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and a package of Ballpark Franks. Kids cheer loudly.
At the end of the aisle, I’m surprised to see Jill. Follow and call her name. She doesn’t turn. I follow her to the dairy aisle. Nervous. Don’t know what to say, but must say something. Touch Jill’s elbow. She turns. It’s not Jill! It’s some college kid with long hair and a goatee. Apologize and keep walking.
Make dinner. Skyler grabs my leg and giggles. He says, “Daddy, you comfy and toasty.” Zoe draws a picture of me smiling in what looks like a billowing, sequined prom dress and a sparkling tiara. Still, a good picture. Hang it on the refrigerator and tell myself: These are the moments. This is what I would miss.
Bath. Pajamas. A bedtime story about an ambitious rooster who dreams of flying south for the winter, but learns to accept his flightless life. The end.
Clean kitchen. Bury macaroni and cheese box and hotdog package in the bottom of the trashcan, under some mushy cantaloupe rinds and coffee grounds.
Sit at the computer. How to reply to Jill’s email? I type:
Time will pass, but I will never forget. So sad, this parting, so sad.
Farewell, my beloved friend. Farewell! Farewell!
Delete the draft, then shut down the computer. Won’t reply to Jill’s email. Can never speak to Jill again. Will only and always stare at her from a distance at ballet and piano recitals, tee-ball games and school carnivals.
My head and lower back ache. Take Ambien and crawl into bed. Think of Jill. Know I love Jill. Yes, I love Jill. But will never reveal my fantasy of us living at high altitude in a rustic log cabin, baking bread, churning butter, and curing hams in a smoke house. I imagine our children frolicking in homespun clothes, smiling as they swing in pine trees and skip through flowered mountain meadows. Never to be.
Front door lock turns. Hold my breath and listen to the tap-tap of stiletto heels on the wooden floor. The sound terrifies me. The bedroom door opens. Vanessa’s there, looming, backlit by the hallway light. I feign sleep and make sleepy sounds. Only want sleep.
“Where’s my little man?” Vanessa says. “Is my little man ready for some yum-yum?”
Try to imagine serrated, snow-dusted peaks, pure mountain air, and clear water boiling over smooth stones, but only see a lost pigeon, a laid-off investment banker, and a sad, flightless rooster staring at the sky. And then as Vanessa ravages me, I think: Jill, Jill, Jill.