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Discipline and Will

ISSUE:  Spring 2001

Two weeks after Eric got the lead in the ballet, “The Prodigal Son,” he began to worry. His voice on the phone sounded tight and jittery. Everything was going wrong. He and the girl who was the lead ballerina were working at cross-purposes. A certain cold manipulativeness was required for her part, a headstrong abandon for his; neither one could quite bring it off. Moreover, he couldn’t convey the contrition that was required for the emotional ending.

His voice grew loud and cruel as he imitated his teacher. “Contrition, Eric! I want to see you crawling on your hands and knees! Crawl, Eric!”

In a telephone call a couple of days later, he said, “Mom, what do I know about contrition? I never had to crawl in my life.”

I assured him that he wouldn’t have gotten the part if his teacher had any doubts about his ability to do it: a mother’s heartfelt sentiments.

“You’re so naive,” he said disparagingly. “Politics enters into who gets the big parts. You wouldn’t understand. . . .”

“I understand “politics”,” I argued; “after all, I work for state government.” For almost five years I’ve worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, in solid waste management, only recycling garbage, to be exact. Working for the state is politics.

“End of discussion,” Eric mumbled.

At the point when Eric felt more confident, a few weeks later, he wanted all of us to attend the performance—his father and his father’s young wife, Marianne; and his father’s mother, Grandma Belle; and his sister, Matina, of course; and my boyfriend Rick, and me. And we all wanted to go. We were captivated by Eric’s ascent to excellence. He wasn’t a Baryshnikov, and perhaps never would be—but he was getting better than anyone ever thought he would. His father loved his stamina, and his sister loved the muscles of his thighs and the power that was unleashed from them, and I loved his fine posture.

Discussing arrangements with Eric, I said, “You know that if your father and Marianne come, the baby comes too, and what’ll happen during the performance?”

“No prob,” he said, a lilt in his voice. “I’ll find a student who’ll babysit.”

I realized that he saw the baby as a bundle of entertainment, saw his father as a father again and not simply as Marianne’s attentive husband. But the baby tipped the balance for me. I was a far-off moon to new, more radiant planets.

Phillip, my ex, and I spoke several times and worked out the complicated plans, a process we were quite good at for a divorced couple. I’d drive my car to North Carolina with Rick, Matina, and Belle, who was afraid of flying, and Phillip and Marianne and the baby would fly. For the sake of convenience we’d all stay at the same motel.

Then the night before leaving, late, Rick called. He couldn’t go. His five-year-old daughter had come down with a hard-hitting virus and a fever of 103.6. “I can’t go without you,” I pleaded. “You’ll be fine,” he said, but I didn’t feel fine. The journey to Eric would be all effort and arrangements, trying to keep everyone happy. Everyone needed to be handled with care.

For part of the trip Matina sat in the backseat of the Toyota with her grandmother discussing big-name designers—Isaac Mizrahi and Carolina Herrera and Franco Moschino. I always had trouble understanding Matina’s love for Belle, who was prouder that her granddaughter occasionally did fashion-modeling than she was that Matina was a medical student. For hours, it seemed, as we drove down the Atlantic seaboard, Matina and Belle talked the right shape for fingernails, the comeback of loose face powder, and the scandals of the world of fashion. “I think my favorite designer is Giorgio Armani,” I offered, but my favorite designer—the fact that I even had one—didn’t impress them. According to Matina I was too “spartan” to have a feel for fashion. “I’m not at all “spartan,”” I said.

“In order to like fashion,” Matina explained, “you have to be able to tolerate conspicuous waste and rapid obsolescence, and let’s face it, Ma—you don’t like waste. Your work has to do with eliminating it.” “Transforming it,” I corrected, and Matina laughed. “We’ll have to find you a designer who re-cycles second-hand clothing,” she said good-naturedly, and went back to talking with her grandmother. When she began enumerating brilliant designers who had died of AIDS, Belle grew quiet. AIDS was confusing and terrifying to her; it didn’t happen to people she knew.

AIDS terrified me also. I had my concerns about Eric who’d told Matina he wasn’t gay but that being a dancer, a lot of his teachers and friends were. His favorite male ballet teacher was dying in a hospice in Washington, D.C. His modern dance teacher from last year had recently tested HIV positive. In due time Matina leaked bits of these conversations to me. Perhaps Eric wasn’t gay, I told myself; perhaps he experimented only once or twice, or gave in to the overtures of one of his teachers, a person who might use flattery and promises to tempt him.

I could hear Belle snoring now and I pulled into a rest area so that Matina could get in the front with me. Washington was behind us and we were whizzing south through Virginia, and being in Virginia made me remember those years Phillip and I had lived in Richmond, years when the children were small and we weren’t thinking about the environment or AIDS, when we took nighttime walks and tried to nose out whether the nearby spice factory was producing cinnamon or cloves that day. Having small children helps you see the world in a kindly way: you have to keep making sense out of it; it’s your duty; and so in a way, you benefit from the sunshiny picture you’ve colored for them.

Try as I did not to have illusions about Eric’s dancing, it was sunshine for me. I’ve watched Eric stretch and mold his body into a dancer’s body, with that miraculous dignity that dancers have. Their perfection seems to defy human frailty.

I was speeding along thinking that things had reversed themselves, that some of the sunshine from Eric and Matina’s lives was shining on me, when Matina, who was doing a rotation on out-patient pediatrics, said, “Ma, did I tell you how I almost walked out of the clinic when Dr. Moss insulted the mother of a baby girl with an ear infection? I ask myself, Witt I be that way someday? Careless and insensitive?

I found myself wanting to defend Dr. Moss, wanting to protect myself from whatever disillusionment Matina was experiencing with medicine. “Try not to judge so harshly,” I said.

“The bottom line is that you owe it to your patients to be compassionate and respectful.”

How could I disagree? So I agreed, and fell silent.

“I wonder how the baby did on the flight?” Belle said softly, sighing and yawning herself awake. Once over the North Carolina stateline, even in the dark, I could feel Belle come alive and her energy pull up and out of the car and beam itself toward her son and Marianne and the baby.

At the motel, Belle immediately found out that her son and his new wife had already checked in, and she marched off to find them. Matina and I got settled in our room. Eric wouldn’t join us till the next day because he had an evening rehearsal.

“I need to do some studying,” Matina said after we had staked out our beds, and made ourselves comfortable.

“I’d like to read for a while too,” I said. I was in the middle of a 70-page pamphlet about new concepts in waste-to-energy incineration. However, Matina and I had no sooner started reading, when Phillip and Belle knocked at the door. Phillip was holding the baby over his shoulder, and Belle grasped her son’s free arm. The pajama-ed baby clung sweetly to my ex-husband’s shoulder, an elaborate epaulet. They entered the room slowly, like royalty. Phillip, in a coral-colored cotton shirt and gray linen trousers, sat down in the armchair, the baby in front of him against his stomach. He made the obligatory thank you’s for my driving Belle. No, that’s not fair. He was truly appreciative, truly happy we were all together. He kissed the baby’s head, and ran his fingers along the baby’s plump arm. I turned away but couldn’t stop a solid wall of seawater from rolling toward me, turning me weak and breathless.

“What do you think of this little guy, Harriet?” Phillip asked.

Another wall of seawater rolled toward me. I could see that Phillip was going to serve me up this baby. He rose out of the chair and lifted him onto one hand and carried him towards me as though he were a waiter carrying a tray with dinner.

“He’s adorable,” Belle said, watching her baby grandson sail across the room.

Matina glanced up from her book. “Hi Dad, hi Greg,” she said without fanfare, cheerful, I think, because Marianne had already gone to bed.

I had no choice but to take the baby from Phillip, or let him fall on the floor. For a moment I felt dizzy. My words were garbled. I tried cuddling the baby against my breasts and under my chin, but the baby’s back stiffened and he arced away from me. I made jolly clicking and cooing sounds but they didn’t come out sounding playful. They sounded like radio static.

Uncannily Matina stood up and took the baby out of my arms. I pretended I didn’t want to give him up but Matina knew. Like Eric, she seemed to get a kick out of Greg, or perhaps the baby meant she could more easily ignore Marianne, who had in the past required so much attention. Marianne’s efforts to be fair and reasonable with everyone in our family demanded more admiration than I wanted to expend. Matina jiggled Greg in her arms and then stretched him out flat on the bed next to me and undiapered him. She lifted his thighs up and back so that he looked like a fat little frog. She checked the rotation of his hips.

“Is he all right?” Belle asked. There were times when Belle mistook Matina for a full-fledged doctor.

I admired Matina’s competence and sweetness with Greg, aware that Phil was still waiting for me to say something about the baby. Even though I was the one who had officially left Phillip and was prepared for the fact that he would of course remarry, I was caught off-guard by the baby, that he was such an incredible magnet for everyone. A strange light-headedness overcame me, a blurry unsteadiness, and I explained that I’d left something essential in my car.

The night was hot, the air smelled of fresh tobacco. I took the long way around the parking lot. My car sat alone not far from the fenced-in pool area. I leaned against the hood and breathed the moist tobacco air and observed how the underwater lights illuminated the pool, changing the water into gold and turquoise swirls around the lone-lap swimmer. I stared at the pool and saw plum, silver, lavender, hyacinth, sky-blue. Color from where? I looked up to see if the water was reflecting lights from the sky, but the sky was uniformly dark and starless. I would never again have a baby.

The next day involved waiting; waiting for Eric to meet us at the motel after his last morning rehearsal, and waiting for the performance in the evening. The effort it took to be patient worked a spell on us all. We spread out on comfortable chaises around the pool. Belle parked herself under an umbrella mid-way between Phillip and Marianne and me, a move of surprising diplomacy. Matina had offered to take care of the baby so that her father and Marianne could have breakfast alone—which they had done, and now Marianne was knitting a complicated cable-knit sweater for Eric. In my heart of hearts I wanted Marianne to stay away from Eric. She was too young to be his stepmother; I’d seen her ogle Eric’s strong dancer’s body. I prayed for a sense of humor, a sense of proportion.

I reminded myself of several things that sunny June morning: that it had been my decision to leave Phillip, that Rick was turning into my lover and my friend—exactly what I believed would never happen, and that Eric’s dancing was his gift to himself, not to me or anyone else.

Matina was strolling around the pool area jostling the baby on her hip. I reached out my arms for him. Marianne glanced up from her knitting. Her hands rested on top of the bulky sweater and she was staring at me and beyond me, an expression I read as mistrust. I put the baby on my shoulder, against my bare skin, and he sucked my shoulder. I walked around with him, moving out of Marianne’s watchful gaze, knowing that that would make her uneasy, but I wanted to make her have to trust me. I walked around with the baby for a long time.

We were relieved when our star arrived for a big mid-day meal. Eric glissaded towards us, his arms outstretched as though he were going to crush us together in one gigantic embrace. He kissed his grandmother and then hugged me; I could feel my throat tighten and my eyes sting with tears. I hadn’t seen Eric since early January, and I didn’t want to let go of him. He pulled away from me so that he could greet his father and sister and Marianne. I had trouble watching Eric and Marianne hug, both of them so young and slim, so exalted in their new careers: Eric’s dancing; Marianne and her baby.

It was only later when I sat across from Eric in the restaurant that I realized how gaunt he’d become. His cheeks were slightly sunken and his nose had a razor-sharp reddish look, as though the cartilage was about to slice through the skin. He ordered a high carbohydrate dinner that would see him through the performance that evening, but when it came he ate slowly, without appetite. Very quickly the veneer of his warm greetings disappeared, and I felt his nervousness ticking away like a time bomb. He warned us that the ballet had never jelled, that it had been miscast and insufficiently rehearsed. Matina took issue with that. “Eric, that’s all you’ve been doing for months.” “Five and a half weeks to be exact,” Eric stated. His complexion had a dark, purplish hue, the color that raw cut potatoes turn when they’re exposed to the air for a long time.

Marianne made a reassuring comment about the evening’s event and moved the conversation into Matina’s court. Matina willingly launched into an amusing account of an eight-year-old boy at her clinic with a pain in his foot and how she finally diagnosed a fracture of his fifth metatarsal bone. Eric winced and told his sister not to mention foot injuries lest she jinx him. There was more small talk, but it was finally Belle who was the honest one. “Eric,” she said, “you’ve lost a lot of weight. Too much. You’re much too thin.” Eric put down his fork. “That’s how they like ‘em here, Grandma,” he said. “We’re MEAT.” His bitterness startled Belle who didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t know what being meat meant.

“Let’s let Eric eat his dinner in peace,” Phillip said, but Matina persisted in reporting recent research about the downward trend of ballet dancers’ weight. “We’re seeing serious malnourishment,” she lectured. “You know, starvation has complications—like death, for instance.” Eric wasn’t listening. He picked at his baked potato. I glanced at Phillip, whose good color and appetite were in cruel contrast to Eric’s. His hand was resting on the back of Marianne’s neck. I remembered when Phillip’s hand rested on the back of my neck, and how heavy it felt, but Marianne looked happy. She had withdrawn into the private oblivion of nursing, and I envied the fact that she could nourish her child.

The food was lovely. I ordered seared tuna. Matina had roasted veal with strips of red pepper and mushrooms. We ate quietly for a while and then I told a joke I had heard at work about garbage, and everyone laughed, a fact which inspired me to try another about recycling, but that one was too technical and no one caught on. We decided not to have dessert right then but to have it after the performance.

On the way out of the restaurant I overheard Belle say to Matina, “You know, Matina, they wouldn’t even let Eric be a model: He’s much, much too thin.” “You’re right, Grandma,” Matina replied, “except that Eric doesn’t need to be a model. He’s a dancer.” “He’s becoming a superb dancer,” Marianne added, and I could hear in her voice the same belief in Eric’s extraordinariness that I was feeling. It was as though his talent would make us all soar. We’d become lighter, full of grace, restored.

Alone with Matina later in the afternoon, I said, “Something’s going on with your brother. He looks emaciated. Is he on drugs? Cocaine?” Matina straightened and moved around in front of me, blocking my path. She didn’t say anything; she rolled her eyes. “I don’t care if you think I’m crazy,” I insisted; “something is wrong.” “I guess it’s possible,” Matina said, at which point I shivered.

In telephone calls from Eric during the preceding weeks, he’d mentioned certain demanding leaps that he had to perform in the first several minutes of the ballet, and the defiance and bravado those leaps has to convey. He’d referred many times to the terrible risk of falling flat on his ass in the opening moments of the performance. And so now, waiting for the curtain to go up, I could scarcely look at the stage. Nervously I rolled up my program, unrolled it, practically destroyed it. The family had filed into one row of seats, even Marianne who had cold feet about leaving the baby with an unknown sitter. The auditorium was packed: sparkling, attentive young people, parents on edge, faculty members trying to appear casual and confident.

The study orchestra began to play and the curtain went up. Within moments Eric bounded on-stage. I forced myself to keep my eyes open. He jumped. He jumped high in the air. He landed solidly on his feet and smacked his fists against his thigh with all the cockiness of youth. Jumped again. No problem. Fine. I exhaled. I sighed. Then, whatever fear I had left disappeared as I was drawn into the duet of Eric and his partner, the seductive siren.

I could hear how splendidly the students played Prokofiev’s music. I noticed the stage set, a luminous blue backdrop and a skyline of the biblical Near East, with its domes and minarets. And on my right, Matina was lovelier than I had ever seen her, in a summery floral print dress her father had given her, her hair pulled back off her face the way I like it—in a single thick French braid. And sitting on Matina’s other side was her father.

The duet continued, and the prodigal son was encircled and overcome by the siren, who twined her long legs around him, a spider encircling her prey. A gnome-like troupe of revelers whirl around Eric in a frenzy of drinking and wild camaraderie, and then they leave my poor son in a stupor; he’s a ragdoll, a sack of flour, a hopeless case. The revelers flip him upside-down and shake out his money, and the siren rips the gold medallion from his chest. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Phillip reach for Matina’s hand, and I was tempted to reach for her other hand but now I imagined a powerful current looping its way through us and jolting poor Matina out of her seat.

The ballet approached its finale. The prodigal son crawls back to his father’s home—in shame; yes, in a state of excruciating contrition. The music is funeral-like in its dark steady beat, and Eric’s suffering, as he crawls and pulls himself across the stage, is convincing. I can barely stand it, his nose and belly to the floor, the intensity of shame, his pathetic thinness, his almost-frightening concentration. His suffering is too real, his shame too real. Stand up, I want to shout. Eric, I beg you—stand up!

Lo and behold, the father comes forward to greet him. He raises him, and holds him cradled in his arms like a baby. The father cradles his almost-grown child in his arms and forgives him.

After the applause and the curtain calls, waiting for Eric, the five of us jammed the aisle, first swaying toward the stage, then toward the back doors, back and forth, searching for him all the while fielding compliments from Eric’s friends. Phillip and I veered into a kind of self-congratulatoriness that as divorced parents we rarely allowed ourselves. Our son is talented and disciplined, our eyes signaled. Even Marianne and I hugged, and I realized that the one thing Marianne admired me for was for encouraging Eric’s dancing. She was, I think, as mystified by his transformation as I was. None of us ever expected that not terribly graceful 14-year-old junk food lover to become so good. And Belle asked each one of us: “How did Eric get to be that advanced?” and Phillip kept repeating, “Discipline and will, discipline and will!” I had never seen Phil so vibrant. He was in love with Eric’s discipline and will, bowled over by it. Marianne also kept mentioning Eric’s discipline and talent. Belle nodded; she was as proud as the rest of us, but then she murmured, “Maybe it’s too much of a strain on the boy.” Matina was quick to say, “Grandma, of course work is a strain but it gives you something to sharpen your eye teeth on . . .it gives you your place in society.” Phil intervened. “I don’t think Grandma needs a lecture on the meaning of work right now.” Belle disagreed. She always liked hearing whatever Matina had to say—she had such interesting ideas. Matina flashed her father a malicious little smile, but I could see in that exchange of looks that something between Matina and her father had changed. She had relented. She had forgiven him for Marianne and the baby.

We met up with Eric at the reception in the theater lobby, and he looked jubilant. Traces of make-up remained on his forehead and jaw, his eyes sparkled. His teachers and friends were congratulating and hugging him, shaking his hand, touching him. I could see that this was a school where there was a lot of touching. I scrutinized the males to see if one of them was Eric’s lover. I observed a hug that went on too long. That was one of Eric’s dance teachers, I assumed. A few moments later Eric introduced me. Lewis. Lewis hugged me too long also. Perhaps Lewis and Eric weren’t lovers. Beautiful young girls with long swan necks glided by me, their bodies painfully thin and breastless.

“Mom, I did it!” Eric exclaimed, with his fine posture, his sweetness. I put my arms around him, kissed his cheek which was clammy. We all took turns congratulating him while he whispered, “It’s over.”

Matina linked her arm with his, and the two of them moved into the crowd of young people. They stopped to talk to a young woman with a cello case. She was Asian—Korean perhaps, with waist-length shining black hair. She gazed at Eric with admiration. With more than admiration. Phillip escorted Belle and Marianne to the table where a couple of students were serving fruit punch. I stood alone. Rick wasn’t there, but at this moment I believed that he cared about me. I pretended he was with me, his arm around my waist. I was liking him more and more. I glimpsed Eric pointing me out to the tiny Asian girl with the cello case. I waved, and shyly she returned the wave. Eric and the Korean girl hugged, their bodies melding. My fears about Eric receded. This was a joyful occasion. I felt calm and at ease.

When the celebration at the school died down, the family headed back to the motel. Eric drove with me, the others in Phillip’s rental car. Eric was no longer elated. I could feel his gathering gloom, and it frightened me all over again. “What’s wrong, honey?” I asked. He ignored me. We walked silently from the parking lot to the restaurant, past the fenced-in swimming pool. The night was humid and hot, and again the air reeked of fresh-cut tobacco. The parking lot was packed with cars that gave off a steamy heat, like a herd of jungle animals gathered to rest for the night. I tried to take Eric’s arm but he pulled away from me. That was unlike Eric; friendly physical contact was second nature to him.

It took a while for the family to gather. We waited for Marianne to return with the baby. Matina looked around the dining room impatiently. It was an unexpectedly pleasant room with colorful paintings on the wall and tables covered with crisp yellow tablecloths. Eric played with his spoon, silent, distracted, thin. The black shirt and pants he was wearing didn’t help. He sipped water and glanced around the table like someone who was preparing to make a public address. Or an announcement.

Marianne finally returned with the baby wrapped tightly in a flannel blanket. No one was in the mood for announcements. Our appetites had returned, and we wanted dessert.

When everyone had gathered, his voice barely audible, Eric said, “I have something I want to say.” I pretended I hadn’t heard him. No one wanted him to speak. We wanted to celebrate, we wanted to make toasts, we wanted to congratulate each other on various good performances. “Let me say this first, Eric,” Phillip said; “we were absolutely bowled over by your performance. You did an incredible job.”

“Everyone did an incredible job,” Eric said tonelessly.

“Yes, the orchestra too,” I said, thinking of the lovely cellist with the shining black hair. “I had no sense that the orchestra wasn’t as good as any professional orchestra anywhere,” I rambled, trying to take up time.

“No one wants to listen to me,” Eric said, sipping more water, whiny. “Of course we want to,” Marianne said. She shifted the baby to her shoulder and gave Eric her full attention, ready for his precious words as though he had good news to give us.

“Go ahead, Eric, shoot,” Matina ordered. “What’s the prob?” Eric was on the verge of speaking but the waitress appeared to take our orders. She enumerated what seemed to be an endless list of desserts—pecan pie and cheese cake and black forest chocolate cake and carrot cake—and finally jotted down our orders and left.

“So what’s up?” Matina repeated, aware that Eric was into serious business now.

“Are you having trouble with one of your teachers?” I asked. I wanted to ask questions, even silly questions, in order to take up more time. I was dreading the worst.

Eric shot me a look of disgust. “It has nothing to do with how I’m doing or how I’m getting along with anyone. I should’ve told you before you all came rushing down here; I’m sorry, my timing sucks. But here goes: First of all, I don’t want to stay at this school. . .”

“What!” Phillip screeched, then regained a measured calmness. “Are you kidding! It’s a great school.”

“I haven’t finished,” Eric said angrily.

“There’s more?” his father asked, with sarcasm.

“I don’t want to stay at this school and I don’t want to be a dancer.”

“I don’t believe it!” Phillip was shouting now.

“Isn’t it obvious why!” Eric said, and I was sure I knew why. “Because of your health,” I said knowingly, and Eric glared at me. Then he grew thoughtful. “I guess you could say that in a way. You see, dancing is great, that’s true—but it has a sick side.”

“So does everything,” I said, and Phillip nodded heartily in agreement.

Eric ignored us. “I’m tired of hating my body for what it won’t do. I’m sick to death of thinking about my body. The only relationship I’m allowed to have is with my own body.” His voice grew angrier and stronger. “I want more for myself than being a trained seal. I want to eat normally and party and play soccer on a Saturday afternoon without worrying that I’m going to hurt myself. I want to love my life. I want to . . . .”

I listened to him and sadly I didn’t believe a word he was saying. My mind played tricks. Instead of feeling relief that he wasn’t telling us he had HIV, I discounted what he said as though it were a preamble—and waited for the worst. I loved him so much.

He went on repeating himself, a well-rehearsed litany. He was sick of being treated like a piece of meat. He was sick of being hungry. Sick of pain. Sick of orthopedists. He knew nothing about history or current events. He had no idea where Bosnia or Serbia were. He didn’t know that much about the Vietnam War or how Germany got divided into East and West in the first place. He was sick of being a body that could dance. “I want an ordinary kind of life. I don’t want a career that ends when I’m 32.”

Belle turned to me and whispered in a voice loud enough for everybody to hear. “I never asked him to be a ballet dancer. In fact I never loved the idea. Why is he so angry?” “I’m not sure I know,” I answered, and noticed that Phillip was scowling. “You don’t need to scream this to the whole restaurant,” he told Eric, and a second later he said, “You were so incredibly good, you’ve had so much discipline. We’ve marveled at what you’ve accomplished in the last year or two. Let’s not come to any conclusions now.”

“Eric,” I said, “why don’t you tell us what’s really wrong? Is it something to do with your friend, the cellist?” I was secretly praying that she was pregnant.

I detected a melting look in Eric’s eyes, but he didn’t answer my question. Instead he accused me of being crazy. The melting look hardened to exasperation. “Dancing isn’t everything,” he hissed.

Phil took the baby from Marianne and starting patting him on the back, a trifle too hard. Marianne looked frightened. Belle leaned sideways staring at the floor, searching perhaps for a fallen napkin. No one could speak. Even Matina, who was never at a loss for words, was quiet. No one could say, Sure that’s perfectly okay, Eric, Stop dancing. Dancing isn’t everything. You don’t need to dance for us. It might have been the right thing to say, but no one could say it. We were splintered again, separate, united only by the table, and the glasses and silverware, and the half-eaten desserts. We loved Eric’s dancing, but the dance was over. And no one could say it was okay.

We were groping for some way to move beyond the moment. Matina was blank—no little lectures, no questions, no pertinent observations. Belle’s features had gone slack; perhaps she was drowsy, or maybe relieved. The baby stopped nursing and seemed to be staring at me expectantly with round, wide-awake blue eyes. Staring straight at me.

What did Eric want? His own life back, ordinary prerogatives? I took a deep breath and tried to signal my assent. I tried.


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