Home > Commonwealth(4)

Commonwealth(4)
Ann Patchett

In truth, Bonnie had already managed one dance before enlisting Father Joe Mike, though in the end it wound up being not even half a dance. She had pulled the hardworking Dick Spencer away from the oranges for a minute, telling him he should take a break, that union rules applied to men who juiced oranges. Dick Spencer wore thick horn-rimmed glasses that made him look smart, lots smarter than Fix’s partner Lomer, who refused to give her the time of day despite the fact that she had twice leaned up against him, laughing. (Dick Spencer was smart. He was also so myopic that the couple of times his glasses had gotten knocked off while wrestling with a suspect he had been as good as blind. The thought of fighting a man who may well have a gun or a knife he couldn’t see was enough to make him sign up for night school, then law school, then ace the bar exam.) Bonnie took Spencer’s sticky hand and led him out to the back patio. Right away they were making a wide circle, bumping into other people. With her arms around his back she could feel how thin he was under his shirt, thin in a nice way, a thin that could wrap around a girl twice. The other deputy DA, Cousins, was better-looking, sort of gorgeous really, but he was stuck on himself, she could tell. Dick Spencer was a sweetheart in her arms.

That was about as far as her thoughts had progressed when she’d felt a strong hand gripping her upper arm. She’d been trying very hard to concentrate on Dick Spencer’s eyes behind his glasses and the effort was making her dizzy, or something was making her dizzy. She was holding on to him tight. She hadn’t seen the woman approaching. If she’d seen her, Bonnie might have had time to dodge, or at least come up with something clever to say. The woman was talking loud and fast, and Bonnie was careful to lean away from her. Just like that Dick Spencer and his wife were leaving the party.

“Going?” Fix said as they sailed past him in the living room.

“Keep an eye on your family,” Mary Spencer said.

Fix was on the couch, his older girl Caroline stretched out across his lap, sound asleep. He mistakenly thought Mary was complimenting him on watching his daughter. Maybe he had been half asleep himself. He patted Caroline lightly on the small of her back and she didn’t move.

“Give Cousins a hand,” Dick said over his shoulder, and then they were gone without his jacket or tie, without a goodbye to Beverly.

Albert Cousins hadn’t been invited to the party. He’d passed Dick Spencer in the hallway of the courthouse on Friday talking to a cop, some cop Cousins didn’t know but who maybe looked familiar the way cops do. “See you Sunday,” the cop had said, and when he walked away, Cousins asked Spencer, “What’s Sunday?” Dick Spencer explained that Fix Keating had a new kid, and that there was going to be a christening party.

“First kid?” Cousins had asked, watching Keating retreat down the hall in his blues.

“Second.”

“They do all that for second kids?”

“Catholics,” Spencer said and shrugged. “They can’t get enough of it.”

While Cousins hadn’t been looking for a party to crash, it wasn’t an entirely innocent question either. He hated Sundays, and since Sundays were thought to be a family day, invitations were hard to come by. Weekdays he was out the door just as his children were waking up. He would give their heads a scratch, leave a few instructions for his wife, and be gone. By the time he got home at night they were asleep, or going to sleep. Pressed against their pillows, he found his children endearing, necessary, and that was how he thought of them from Monday morning all the way to Saturday at dawn. But on Saturday mornings they refused to keep sleeping. Cal and Holly would throw themselves onto his chest before the light of day had fully penetrated the vinyl roll-down shades, already fighting over something that had happened in the three minutes they’d been awake. The baby would start pulling herself over the bars of her crib as soon as she’d heard her siblings up—it was her new trick—and what she lacked in speed she made up for in tenacity. She would throw herself onto the floor if Teresa didn’t run to catch her in time, but Teresa was up already and vomiting. She closed the door to the bathroom in the hall and ran the tap, trying to be quiet about it, but the steady sound of retching filled the bedroom. Cousins threw off his two older children, their weightless selves landing in a tangle on the bedspread folded at the foot of the bed. They lunged at him again, shrieking with laughter, but he couldn’t play with them and he didn’t want to play with them and didn’t want to get up and get the baby, but he had to.

And so the day went from there, Teresa saying she needed to be able to go to the grocery store by herself, or that the people who lived on the corner were having a cookout and they hadn’t gone to the last cookout. Every minute a child was howling, first one at a time, then in duet, with the third one waiting, then the third one joining in, then two settling down so as to repeat the cycle. The baby fell straight into the sliding glass door in the den and cut open her forehead before breakfast. Teresa was on the floor, butterflying tiny Band-Aids, asking Bert if he thought she needed stitches. The sight of blood always made Bert uncomfortable and so he looked away, saying no, no stitches. Holly was crying because the baby was crying. Holly said that her head hurt. Cal was nowhere in evidence—though screaming, be it that of his sisters or his parents, usually brought him running back. Cal liked trouble. Teresa looked up at her husband, her fingers daubed in the baby’s blood, and asked him where Cal had gone.

All week long Cousins waded through the pimps and the wife-beaters, the petty thieves. He offered up his best self to biased judges and sleeping juries. He told himself that when the weekend came he would turn away from all the crime in Los Angeles, turn towards his pajama-clad children and newly pregnant wife, but he only made it to noon on Saturdays before telling Teresa that there was work at the office he had to finish before the first hearing on Monday. The funny thing was he really did go to work. The couple of times he’d tried slipping off to Manhattan Beach to eat a hot dog and flirt with the girls in their bikini tops and tiny cutoff shorts, he’d gotten a sunburn which Teresa was quick to comment on. So he would go to the office and sit among the men he sat among all week long. They would nod seriously to one another and accomplish more in three or four hours on a Saturday afternoon than they did on any other day.

But by Sunday he couldn’t do it again, not the children or the wife or the job, and so he pulled up the memory of a christening party he hadn’t been invited to. Teresa looked at him, her face bright for a minute. Thirty-one years old and still she had freckles over the bridge of her nose and spreading over her cheeks. She often said that she wished they took their kids to church, even if he didn’t believe in church or God or any of it. She thought it would be a good thing for them to do as a family, and this party might be the place to start. They could all go together.

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