“Which dress you going to wear Momma?”
Kira was way too into helping Myra pick out an outfit, while sulky Sasha stood in the doorjamb to the bedroom with arms crossed over her budding chest.
“Why do anything special for Dad?”
“Sasha, I just want to look nice.”
“So I can feel good.”
Myra did feel good. Surprisingly good. When her ex-husband had called she’d been shocked almost speechless. A stretch for her, she had to admit. Nothing kept her from talking and her kids were gonna turn out the same. Gotta love genetics. The divorce had gone through almost two years ago. Their last conversation had been about having the girls travel with Stan on a business trip to Miami. “I’ll take them to Disney Land,” he’d said. “World. You mean Disney World, Stan. You’re an idiot, you’re not taking my kids away for a month in the middle of summer.” He’d eventually relented. Myra had won custody easily. Stan had wandered away like a lost puppy. There was no other woman, no nothing. Stan was capable of taking the kids to Disney World but capable of walking away from them, too.
“Why dress up?”
“Why not?” Myra couldn’t believe some of the clothes that were in her closet. “No Kira, not the purple velvet dress.” Why did she keep some of these things? A good closet purging was in order.
“I mean,” Sasha said in her most annoying wiser than an adult voice, “why dress up when you know Daddy’s just going to talk about accounting.”
* * *
Dinner was Italian. Accounting came up. Two points for Sasha.
“Would you like me to handle your taxes?” Stan asked, his mouth full of salad.
Like she wanted him to know how much her freelance editorial consulting business was earning. “No Stan, I don’t want you to handle my taxes. My accountant will handle it.”
“Your accountant?” He looked hurt, and then he smiled. “Oh, you mean your mother.” He speared some more ravioli. “I’m still amazed the IRS hasn’t audited your mother yet.”
What had she ever seen in this man? He made small talk about his condo, about his landlord. An overflowing toilet upstairs had run down into his place and he’d had to have the carpets replaced. The wood floors hadn’t been damaged, blah blah blah.
Myra glanced at her watch. Her calamari and noodles was really good but Stan was boring her to death. Oh screw it; she pulled her date book out of her purse.
“What are you doing?”
“We need to compare calendars. Sasha has a cello recital coming up next month. And Kira is going to be a mouse in The Nutcracker. And what are you doing about Thanksgiving?”
“Do we have to talk about this now?”
“Well, when else?”
Stan looked mortified. “I don’t have my date book on me, Myra.”
“Well, I’ll tell you the dates and you just write them down on a napkin.”
“Can’t you just email them to me tomorrow?”
* * *
Dessert was tiramisu and then over coffee Stan offered a movie. He hadn’t asked about the girls. Hadn’t complimented her clothes, her hair. But here he was pushing for a movie. A place where they wouldn’t be able to talk at all.
So what the hell, Myra wanted to see the new Almodovar film. Stand argued for the new Bond thriller.
Myra couldn’t believe he pressed her on what movie to see. This man, this man she’d loved, this father of her two children, wasn’t going to make even one concession, and he expected what? To get laid, ever? It was appalling.
“Look Stan, let’s blow the movie off. I’m not really into it, and I want to get home.”
“Oh, really?” Stan hesitated. “Okay. It was great to see you.”
They walked along R Street back toward the car. It was getting dark earlier and the trees had that look she always associated with Halloween. Spooky looking. Leaves were just beginning to fall. Myra kept expecting a moment of passion. A plea. A kiss. Some effort on Stan’s part. That’s not completely fair. He’d dressed for the part. She always liked him in a gray suit. His red power tie a smooth fit at La Tomate.
But Myra got pissed when she realized he was just testing the waters to see if maybe she’d rush back into his arms, ask him to deliver her from her single motherhood. Not bloody likely. And she was mad at herself for getting sucked into even believing for one second that Stan had somehow evolved and now understood what a real flesh and blood woman actually wanted to hear, wanted to feel, and most of all wanted to believe. Needed to believe. Particularly if she was going to reconsider a marriage that hadn’t worked in years.
Myra sat in the front seat of the forest green Buick, the car bequeathed to Stan by a benevolent Uncle, also an accountant, and marveled at this man. She’d loved him once. Hard to believe. She realized he’d always been incapable of rising to the occasion.
Still, Myra was lonely. Damned lonely. But no way Stan was going to get another chance. He’d burned his bridges. Sealed his fate. What on earth had she been thinking? He hadn’t changed one iota. And she’d gone against her better judgment and worn the black bra with the underwire lift and the scratchy black lace panties to match. God, she must be out of her mind. She was well rid of him. Why would she want the loser back?
* * *
Cleaning off the eye shadow she almost never wore, with Kleenex because she couldn’t find any cotton balls in the entire house, Myra had to marvel at her husband’s ability to disassociate from reality. Myra unhooked the black bra, shrugged it off, and dropped it into the rattan trash basket by her dresser. The panties soon followed. Stan could have won her back with a minimum of effort. And the pity was he’d never ever know.
In a tiny part of her, the part that was tired of living alone, raising two kids, Myra really did like the idea of romance, of Stanislav making this attempt to put things right. The fact that he never charmed her, romanced her, told her she was beautiful, said I love you, tried to kiss her, or woo her in any way, shape, or form, was all the more baffling considering that this outing was his idea.
When she peeked in on the girls, she was surprised to find Sasha missing. Kira had kicked off the blankets and had her face pressed into the wall. Myra covered her youngest and gave a little chuckle as Kira kicked the blankets right off again. Stubborn and agitated even in her sleep.
Sasha was in the master bedroom. Myra crawled into the King-size bed that dwarfed the room and plumped the pillow.
“I was right, wasn’t I?” Sasha said.
She looked woozy. Like she was the mother waiting up for the daughter and not the other way around.
“Go back to sleep, honey.”
“I knew it,” Sasha said, and was instantly asleep, a smile plastered to her lips.
Sasha was getting to be right way too often. What on earth am I going to do with this child?
The bedroom door creaked open, and Kira came running and jumping onto the bed.
“Mommy, you’re home.”
Myra kissed her, and hugged her.
“Let’s go to sleep now, pumpkin.”
Kira folded herself like a spoon into her mother’s belly, and was out in seconds.
Myra focused on the wind that was beginning to shake the shutters a little, adding a ghostly quality to a true horror show of a night. At least the calamari had been worthwhile. Maybe she’d avoid the bad dreams seafood sometimes gave her. Maybe she’d get enough sleep so she wouldn’t be a zombie when she dealt with her staff tomorrow. Maybe she’s even think about hiring H&R Block to do her quarterly taxes this year? Maybe she’d even break down and buy some black lingerie that didn’t itch.
Richard Peabody is the founder and co-editor of Gargoyle Magazine and editor (or co-editor) of 25 anthologies including Mondo Barbie, Conversations with Gore Vidal, and A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation. The author of a novella, three short story collections, and seven poetry books, he is also a native Washingtonian. Peabody taught fiction writing at Johns Hopkins University for 15 years. His most recent book is The Richard Peabody Reader (Alan Squire Publishers, 2015).