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Domestic Violets(6)
Matthew Norman

“Maybe,” I say.

She touches my forehead again, more tenderly this time, pushing my hair away. “Sometimes I wish I could see in there. I just wish I knew what you were thinking.”

I ease her off of me, and she settles back under the covers. No you don’t, I think, and we turn our backs on each other for the night.

Chapter 4

The next morning, I’m at work, and, thanks to my dad, I’m hungover.

Most people would be afraid to research erectile dysfunction at the office—but not this guy. My penis complications are more important right now than the stack of arbitrary tasks piling steadily in my in-box, and I rarely do anything constructive before 10:30 anyway.

We had a “lunch ’n’ learn” about the proper use of our computers a few weeks ago, during which Janice Stringer from HR reminded us that our online activities can be monitored at any time without our knowledge. But I’m not scared. The team of mouth-breathing goons in IT couldn’t monitor the broad side of barn. I could be buying plutonium from the Libyans on www.jihad.org right now and no one would know the difference as long as I kept staring straight ahead like a good, hardworking employee.

There are six hundred thousand initial hits for “erectile dysfunction” on Google. The first one that gets my attention is for a device called a PenizPump. I click on a more official-looking link halfway down the page and a drug company’s site pops up on my screen. There’s a handsome man with gray hair in a denim jacket standing next to a motorcycle.

YOUR PROBLEM DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A PROBLEM ANYMORE, reads the headline, as if the man himself is saying it. But he’s not real. He’s a model, maybe a part-time actor, hired to pretend to have boner problems, and I find myself picturing him having sex with Anna right here in my office. This is one of the benefits of no longer working in a cube. Let’s face it, there’s just not enough room in a cube for you and your wife and the guy she’s having sex with in her dreams.

My phone rings, and I cringe. Ringing phones often lead directly to one having to do work, and I’m in no mood for that today. “Tom Violet,” I say, all impatient and short, because this is how people answer phones in offices, like we’ve all been interrupted in the middle of performing impossibly dangerous surgery on a toddler’s brain.

“Tom Violet, you sound so official on the phone, like a real professional.”

“Hi, Sonya. I am a real professional. I have a BlackBerry and Post-it notes and everything.”

Sonya Ross is my dad’s literary agent in New York, and I’ve known her for as long as I can remember. She’s got this great voice, all urban and sophisticated, like Meryl Streep. I scroll down the page a bit and read that erectile dysfunction is often caused by health problems, like heart disease and colon cancer. That’s just what I need right now.

“Isn’t it a little early?” I ask. “I didn’t think literary agents got to work before noon.”

“Well, normally you’d be right, dear. But it’s a big day for us. I’m sure you’ve heard the news about the prize. It hit the press this morning, and the phones are ringing. Everyone wants to talk to the man of the hour.”

The prize. Only a person truly used to accolades would refer to the Pulitzer as the prize—in all lowercase letters.

“Yeah, he told me last night. I thought Nicholas Zuckerman had it in the bag.”

“Nicholas is one of the finalists. But it was Curtis’s year— finally. I thought I was going to have to start boycotting.”

The handful of people on earth who still sit around comparing writers are often comparing my dad and Nicholas Zuckerman. Zuckerman’s about fifteen years older, but neither is young, and they’re both very white, male, and experienced at failed marriages. As much as Curtis hates to admit it, Zuckerman is more famous. He puts out something new every eighteen months, at least, and his most recent is a brilliant, devastating little masterpiece about an old man reunited with his teenage love who is now dying of a brain tumor. To make matters worse, Zuckerman’s a recluse—like cabin-in-the-wood recluse—which makes him more interesting than my cocktail-party-loving father.

“Can I ask you something?” I ask. “Isn’t it a little weird that they’re giving him the Pulitzer now, for his collected stories? He’s written what, sixteen novels? The newest story in that book is more than seven years old. Not to sound harsh, but I always kinda thought the book was just a way to distract everyone from the fact that he hasn’t had a new novel in five years.”

There’s a pause and I can imagine Sonya in her long black skirt and sensible shoes looking out over Union Square. “Think of it like any other big prize, Tommy. Like an Oscar. Sometimes it goes to the best of the year, and sometimes it’s like a makeup award for past slights. Remember when Russell Crowe won it for that Gladiator thing? Besides, collections win all the time, like Cheever in ’seventy-nine.”

“But Cheever was a short-story god, Sonya. Dad hasn’t even been in the New Yorker since the eighties.”

There’s a phone ringing in the background, maybe even two, and I can hear people chattering in Sonya’s office. “I don’t think I need to remind you of the extraneous circumstances at the New Yorker, dear. Your father isn’t even allowed in the building, and it has nothing to do with his writing.”

I concede her point, glancing at another online penis testimonial. “But enough about Curtis,” I say. “I’ve actually been meaning to call you. I wanted to ask you about your kid.”

“Brandon? Oh, you should see his new boyfriend.”

“A new one, huh?”

“The boy looks like he just got out of prison. Tattoos running up each arm, like sleeves. I swear, he finds these guys to spite me.”

“Our little Brandon. He’s always liked the rough ones. Is it true he’s an agent now, too?”

“Yes. And a damn good one, if you can believe it. He just sold a big memoir last week. It’s by a refugee from Afghanistan. Whole family was killed by the Taliban and now he’s an artist in Soho—designs scarves and blankets. Already sold the movie rights.”

My head spins at all of this, memoirs and movie rights and the Taliban. My novel is finished, although I’ve told virtually no one this—including, for some reason, my wife. I could give it to Sonya, of course, who happens to be one of the most powerful agents in New York. But then that would derail Operation Secret Novel.

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