he phone wakes Opal and even half caught in slumber she thinks: Zack. She rolls over and grabs the receiver.
It's Ty. Before her mind can fully waken, her body softens, opens to desire.
"Hi." She sits up, tents the sheet around her nude body.
"How are you? How's Zack?"
"I'm fine. We're fine." She doesn't tell him that Zack is visiting Billy. That she misses her son so much she can barely eat, that she has lost five pounds, that she can count her ribs just looking in the mirror. If she loses Zack, really loses him--impossible, her mind shrieks--she will shrink and die.
"I've been thinking of you."
She catches her breath, releases it in a long exhale.
"Hardly a day goes by when I don't," he says.
No sense following that line of conversation. It's a dead end. Over. Done. Her mind knows this. Her body just hasn't gotten the news yet. "How did the taping go in Cambridge?"
"Not bad." He inhales, pauses. "Opal, I want to see you. Can I? Can I see you?"
She closes her eyes. Just once--once--she wishes something wonderful could happen to her without cost. Something perfect that she doesn't have to pay for. "Not possible."
"Why? Because I was arrested years ago? Because I made a mistake? Christ, Opal, even the judge didn't take that seriously. I mean, he denied the restraining order, didn't he? He wasn't the one who said I can't see you."
Opal wonders where he got this information. Ned, she supposes. Shit. Ned. The hospital. "Have you heard about Ned?"
"Ned? No. What about him?"
"He's in the hospital. Heart attack."
"Christ, is he all right?"
"He's in the coronary unit. He's--" What do they call it? Stable? "He's stable."
"Rose is okay." As okay as anyone could be, Opal supposes.
"Is anyone with her?"
"I'm going over as soon as we hang up."
"And Ned's in the hospital? Can he have visitors?"
"I don't think so. Just family."
"Tell Rose I asked, okay. Tell her to call me if there's anything I can do. Tell her not to worry about the garage. I'll go down and open up, finish up the jobs. Have her tell Ned not to worry about that stuff."
"I'll tell her."
"Will you call me sometimes? Let me know how things are going?"
"What's the point?"
"The point is I care. The point is after everything is settled, maybe there'll still be a chance for us. So will you? Call me?"
Will she? Can she? "I don't know. Maybe."
Rose isn't dressed. Her glasses are smudged. She looks awful, like she didn't get much sleep.
"Am I too early?"
"No. Come on in." Rose looks down at her bathrobe, starts to say something and stops. "Coffee?" she asks.
"I'll get it," Opal says. She fills a cup, holds the pot up toward Rose in question.
"Thanks. Milk's in the fridge."
"Ty called." Opal pulls up a chair. There are only two at the table. She must be sitting in Ned's. "He said not to worry, he'll take care of things at the station. He said to be sure and tell Ned that. So he won't worry." Rose has the dazed look of someone who's been in an accident. Opal is not certain she's listening. "Have you heard anything this morning?"
"I called the hospital about an hour ago. They said he was resting comfortably. visiting hours start at ten."
"I'll bring you," Opal says.
"You don't have to. I've got Ned's truck."
"I want to."
"You've got work."
"I don't go in until one. Please, let me."
"I don't want to be a bother."
"No bother. It will help take my mind off Zack."
Rose looks up, eyes alive. "How is he?"
"Who the hell knows?" Opal feels anger rise. "Half the time I phone there's no answer. It's driving me crazy. I don't know how I'm going to get through another week of it. I keep wondering, does Billy know he likes macaroni for breakfast? Or that he can't sleep without his Tigger? Or that you have to read him a story every night before he goes to bed? Or that he worries about things like where birds go when they die? Shit, I'm sorry. You've got enough on your mind without hearing about my problems."
A thunk sounds on the porch. "The paper," Rose says. She crosses to the door and retrieves the Daily News. "Ned loves the sports pages. He has to read them every morning. It's like a religion with him." She stops short. "Do you think they'll let me bring it in to him?"
"Sure," Opal says. The coffee is making her have to pee. "Can I use the bathroom?"
"Upstairs. Second door on the left." Rose opens to the sports page. "The Red Sox won," she reports. "That will make Ned happy."
From the small window in the upstairs bath, Opal looks down on her house. There's a good view from here. You can see everything. Suddenly she remembers that day she and Ty had been making out on the lawn. Him on top, straddling her. Rose sure must have gotten an eye full that day. She turns from the window, wishing it were that easy to excise memories of Ty from her mind.
She pees, washes up, then retraces her steps down the hall. As she passes a doorway, she peers in. Todd's, she guesses. It looks like he still lives here. A shell of a room. Waiting for a ghost.
This is what it would be like if she lost Zack. An empty room waiting. A space there's no way to fill.
There must be a sign she has missed. Or misread. How else could Billy be laying claim on her son? How else could something so catastrophic have happened to her? She hadn't been prepared.
"Want some toast? An egg or something?" Rose asks when she returns to the kitchen.
"Nothing. I'll just finish my coffee, then I'll go and change. Visiting hours are at ten?"
"Ten. You sure you don't mind driving?"
"I want to," Rose says.
As she is leaving, she hesitates then grabs Rose's hand and gives it a quick squeeze. You could have knocked her over with a whisper when Rose slips an arm around her and tightens it in a hug, holds on.
She is stepping out of the shower when she hears the phone. This time it's Zack.
"How you doing, sugah?" Her stomach aches. She cups the receiver close to her head so his voice won't escape. So she can hold as much of him as possible.
"Guess what?" he says.
"Daddy's taking me to Disney World."
"We're going to Disney World. Tomorrow. And Melvama, too."
"Well, that's a big surprise," she says. So why is she not surprised? "Listen, Bud, is Billy right there? Let me talk to him, okay."
"Hi, Raylee." He's using his cocky, I won tone of voice which just sets her off.
"What the hell's going on? What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Like Zack told you. We're taking a trip."
"You can't do that?"
"Yes, I can, Raylee. Check with that lawyer of yours. It's perfectly within my rights to take a vacation with my son."
"We'll see about that." She knows Billy. The first time Zack throws a tantrum he'll be looking for a way to ship him back. Billy doesn't have staying power. "I'm calling my lawyer as soon as we hang up."
"You do that. You go ahead and do that. I know my rights, Raylee, and I'm on solid ground here."
"It's Opal, you stupid fuck. My name is Opal." She slams down the phone and turns to see Rose at the screen door.
"What's wrong?" Rose asks.
What's wrong? What isn't? Opal stands in her towel, dripping water on the kitchen floor and wonders how everything got so mixed up. "It's Billy," she says. "He's taking Zack to Disney World. For five years he's a for-shit, no-show daddy and now he's trying out for father of the year."
What happens next absolutely amazes Opal. Rose crosses to her and takes hold of both her hands.
"Don't worry," she says. "He won't get Zack. We won't let him take Zack away from you."
Excerpted from Entering Normal by Anne D. LeClaire. Copyright © 2001 by Anne D. LeClaire. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.