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Domestic Violets(5)
Matthew Norman

“She’s got school tomorrow.”

“School? What? She’s like four years old.”

“Close, Dad. She’s seven.”

As promised, I look in on Allie before heading to bed. I find her half dozing against a stuffed panda the size of an acoustic guitar. Her reading lamp is on, a picture book across her chest. It’s about a boy who helps a lost penguin get back to the North Pole. It’s one of those books that if you read in a certain mood you’ll end up whimpering in front of your confused daughter like a mental patient. She senses me there at the door and cracks her eyes. “Hi, Daddy.”

“What are you doing up? It’s tomorrow already.”

“Is Grandpa still here?”

“Yep.”

“I don’t like his beard. It makes him look like an old man.”

“I agree.”

She pauses, thinking for a moment. “How come Ashley doesn’t want to live with him anymore?”

I suspect she’s been spying after all. “Well, sweetie, your Grandpa Curtis can be . . . an emotionally tiring man. It kinda wears some people down after a while. Especially his wives.”

“Are they gonna get divorced, do you think? Grandpa’s been divorced a lot, hasn’t he?”

“I think he’s going for a record.”

She looks at her hands, playing a silent tune with fingers. “Can I tell you a secret?” she says. “I don’t like Ashley very much. She’s not very nice to me.”

I pull the covers up over her chest. “Well then, you’re definitely your mother’s daughter.”

“I’m your daughter, too.”

“That you are,” I say, turning off her lamp. With just the nightlight in the corner, the room is all shadows. I stand up to leave her, but I’m not sure I want to yet. There are responsibilities outside this little yellow room that I’m not quite ready for.

“Mommy said that you guys will never get a divorce. She said you love each other too much.”

“Oh yeah, when did she say that?”

In the dark I see the whites of her eyes as she thinks. “I don’t know. A while ago.”

“Well, she’s right. And we love you very much, too.”

She nods, acknowledging this fact politely. She’s very blasé about our love for her, which I suppose is a good thing. I can tell that she’s trying to come up with something to say, a topic to keep me here. She hates bedtime, and if it were up to her, she’d roam the house all night, a wide-eyed little girl specter fiddling with the television and reading about penguins. “Are you still writing your book, Daddy?” she asks.

“Shoosh, honey,” I say. “Remember what we said about Daddy’s book, right?”

“Yeah. It’s a secret book?” she whispers. “It’s a secret from Grandpa.”

“That’s right.”

“I can hear you typing sometimes after dinner. You’re a fast typer, you know. Does it have pictures in it? Your book?”

I’m walking backwards, inching away. “No. But maybe you can draw some for me.”

“Maybe. I’m pretty busy with school though. Are you as good a writer as Grandpa Curtis?”

“Good night, sweetie.”

“I bet you are. Probably even better. I bet you’re the best writer in the world.”

“Hey, thumbs aren’t for sucking, remember?”

She takes her hand from her mouth and hides it under the covers. “I wasn’t. I don’t do that anymore.”

“Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

“Do bedbugs suck blood, like vampires?”

“Good night,” I say, closing the door behind me.

In our bedroom, Anna is lying beneath the covers, and I go look out our window at this street, tucked away in Georgetown. It’s a neighborhood that Anna and I would never be able to afford in real life. A few blocks over is the townhouse that John F. Kennedy lived in while he was here for law school. He probably couldn’t have afforded that house on his own, either, at least back then. Thank God for wealthy fathers.

In our thin little driveway sits my dad’s Porsche, parked at a drunken angle, one tire run up onto the grass. It’s the same silver 911 that he’s had since his third novel, The Time of Their Lives, won the National Book Award. It’s pristine and beautiful and subtle and classic and it elicits a physical response in me, like it always does, glowing in the streetlamps, watching the front of our house with its frog’s eyes. If a car can represent something, this one represents contradiction. For most of his life, my dad has been able to have any woman he wants. In response, he’s gone through as many as possible, betraying each for someone younger and more absurd. Conversely, for most of his life he’s been able to have any car he wants, too. In response, he’s remained married to this, a 1982 Porsche with a tricky clutch.

I can hardly blame him though. It’s as cool a car now as it was when I was a kid and he’d let me shift gears from the passenger seat as we cruised down the GW Parkway like we were being chased.

“Maybe you should get one of your own,” Anna says.

I strip back down to my boxers, and I feel all dreadful and ashamed again. “Maybe someday.”

For a while we lie together in silence. “The Pulitzer Prize,” I say, because that’s the first non-penis-related thing that comes to mind. Perhaps she was waiting for me to say something, because the moment I do, she rolls on top of me, her strong legs hugging me from either side. Her finger, more thoughtful than sexual, runs up my chest, stopping firmly on my mouth. “Hush,” she says. Anna’s hair falls, hanging down from the sides of her face. “I ran six miles on the treadmill today, you know.” She takes my hand and sets it on her left thigh, which is smooth and long. Her muscle is grainy and hard just below the skin. “And then I did my abs class. Look.” She slides her T-shirt up, stopping below her breasts, and there’s her bare stomach. “Do you like it?”

“You know that I think you’re beautiful,” I say. “I think maybe there’s just, I don’t know, something wrong with it.”

“Or maybe there’s something wrong with this.” She taps my forehead between my eyebrows. I can smell the slightest traces of wine on her breath. She has questions for me, I can see them scrolling across her eyes like a teleprompter, but she doesn’t ask them. She doesn’t ask why things are difficult now when they weren’t before, or if I realize that by tomorrow she won’t be ovulating because that strange biological little window will have closed again.

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