Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.
Somewhere in the tunnels of my left ear, I hear my car alerting me to the fact that my door is open. I take vague notice of my brain accepting the message, then I quickly ignore it. The dinging, to which I am now immune, as if someone were pinching me on my arm over and over again until that same spot becomes numb, continues.
I run my hands over the cool wood of the steering wheel, then onto the buttery leather seat below, flicking my hands underneath the sweat-basted backs of my thighs. The brochure to this car— the one that was filled with a couple who so closely resembled Barbie and Ken that my daughter actually pointed to them and said, “Barbie,” which my husband and I applauded to the point of revelry (such that people in the dealership craned their necks to see if we’d been given a free car or something), because my daugh- ter’s vocabulary consisted of, to date, approximately seventeen words, so “Barbie” was another milestone—actually made you believe that if you bought the car, you could also buy the life. As if on the weekends, we’d be careening down sides of mountains or hurtling through white-water-filled rivers or picnicking in a dewy, crisply green meadow at sunset with a field of sunflowers just behind us.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.
I run the list of Katie’s words over in my mind. I have them down cold, of course, because I was the mother who knew these things. I was the mother who dutifully jotted down every milestone (“4 months, 3 weeks: Katie rolled over today! Far ahead of the 6-month target!”), who nursed her until her first birthday exactly, per the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation (“I’m so sad to give it up,” I told friends as wrinkles washed across my forehead to note my air of sincerity), and who, as I have mentioned, tallied up Katie’s vocabulary to ensure that she was on track to fulfill her potential. Seventeen words. A gasp ahead of other eighteen-month-olds.
And now, we also had “Barbie.”
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Splat.
My eyes whip over to the upper corner of the windshield, where mildew-colored bird shit slowly oozes down. Great, I think. Just fucking great. There’s never any bird shit in the goddamn brochure. I inhale and try to release the stress, as my Pilates teacher had taught me to do every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from 10:00 to 11:00, after my nanny had arrived, and just before I went to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner. I feel the air fill my chest, and it expands like a helium balloon.
I count to five and try not to gag. It’s hard, after all, to clear my mind when the scent of fetid milk is wafting from the backseat. On the way home from a playdate yesterday, Katie had dumped her sippy cup on her head, for apparently no reason whatsoever, and since I’d already exhausted myself pretending to dote on the kids at this seemingly never-ending excruciatingly boring playdate, during which all the moms discussed diaper changes and nanny problems and potential preschool applications, I opted not to clean her car seat. Fuck it, I told myself, as I pulled my darling daughter and her crisp near-black curls from her saturated seat and called her a “silly willy” for dousing herself despite knowing better. Just fuck it.
And so I did. Which is why my Range Rover, which should have still smelled like a fine blend of lemon cleaner and shoe polish, now reeked like petrified puke.
The bird shit is snaking its way into the crack between the windshield and the side of the car when I notice that Mrs. Kwon is waving at me from inside of the dry cleaner. She is frantically, frantically flashing her hand through the air, with an alarmed, toothy smile that she wears just about every time I see her. Sometimes the alarm fades into cunning, but the toothiness remains the same.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.
I heave myself from my car and make the steep step down to the pavement. I turn and look at the backs of my legs: They glisten from the perspiration and are pocked with marks from the seat, such that they form the perfect illusion of sheeny cellulite. I slam the door shut.
Suddenly, there is quiet. I couldn’t hear the dings. But now, I do hear the quiet.
“You no look so good,” Mrs. Kwon says to me. The rack of clothes that hangs across and throughout the ceiling is snaking its way forward until she presses a button, and it stops abruptly. She grabs a pole and reaches up to unhook Henry’s, my husband’s, shirts. “You not sleeping? Because you really no look so good.”
I press my lips together and morph my face into something like a smile. I can feel my cheeks digging into themselves, my dimples cratering.
“No,” I say, and shake my head. “Not sleeping too much, I guess.”
“What wrong?” Mrs. Kwon asks, as she wrestles the shirts down to our level.
“Nothing.” I shrug. My face muscles are starting to tremble from the weight of the forced smile. “Nothing at all.”
“You not being honest,” Mrs. Kwon chastises. “When you no sleep, something is always wrong.” She lands the shirts, much like how I imagine a fisherman lands his catch, and splays them across the counter.
I don’t answer. Instead, I sift through my purse for my wallet.
“Have you talk to husband about it?” Mrs. Kwon is relentless. “You always picking up his things, but I never meet him. Why? Where is he? Why he never pick up his own shirts?”
“He’s working,” I say.
“Eh,” she responds. “Men always working. They not realizing that the women are working, too.” She gestures behind her. “My husband think that because I am wife, I have to clean, cook, and still do dry-clean business. What does he do? Nothing!” She shimmies her hands even more exuberantly than normal.
I smile with what I hope to be sympathy and wait for my change, as she punches the cash register with fervor.
“You know what you need?” she asks, as the drawer to the register bounces open. “More sex.” I feel myself turning a hue of purple, which she quickly detects. “Don’t you be embarrassed! Every woman need more sex. You sleep better. Your marriage better. Sex make all things better.”
“Well, unfortunately,” I say, trying to swallow the mortification that comes with your dry cleaner giving you advice on your carnal activities, “Henry is in London. And will be for at least another week.” I don’t mention that Henry is nearly always in London or San Francisco or Hong Kong or somewhere that isn’t our quaint, homey suburb tucked away thirty miles from Manhattan, where people flee from the city life like fugitives who aren’t sure what they’re outrunning. Henry’s constant travel was the price we paid for his success as the youngest partner at his boutique investment bank.
“Oooh, that too bad.” Mrs. Kwon’s eyes grow small. “You do look like you need some good sex.” She shrugs and flashes her teeth again. “Maybe next week you look better!”
Maybe, I think, as I plod out to my sure-to-make-my-life-rosy new car. But, then again, probably not.
Right there, I nearly moaned out load. Yes, harder right there.
Garland must have intuited my angst because at that very moment, I feel his fingertips knead into my upper shoulders like a baker might bread.
“You’re spasming here,” he whispers just loudly enough so I can hear him over the Enya. I feel my muscle involuntarily clench up and resist the very relief that I’m trying to offer it. “This entire section of your back is in deep spasm,” he repeats. “We’re going to have to do a lot of work on this today.”
I grunt and rearrange my face in the donut cushion so that I, ideally, won’t look half-alien when Garland is done. Not that he hasn’t seen me at my worst before: once, on my worst day, I devolved into sputtering sobs as his hands worked their way down my torso, releasing what he later told me was “disturbed energy” that came unjiggered through the power of massage. But still. It wasn’t a look to which I aspired. Not least because, as my friends from Pilates informed me, Garland, with his sinewy forearms and espresso-colored hair, would occasionally put his hands in places where, perhaps, management wouldn’t approve. But where my friends very much did.
But I’d been seeing him every other week for nearly four months, and as of yet, nothing inappropriate at all. Which, in some ways, was a relief. Henry and I had met at twenty-seven, and for the past seven years, there had been no one else. Nor had I truly wanted there to be. I was a wife. I was a good wife, and fantasizing about your masseuse, no, fantasizing about anyone was outside the bounds of what I characterized a “good” wife to be. I attended the requisite cocktail parties for Henry’s firm. I washed our ivory damask sheets every Saturday. I ironed Katie’s gingham dresses so that there wasn’t a literal thread out of place.
Of course, despite my best and most public efforts, my subconscious occasionally led me down paths that my current consciousness couldn’t control. So while Garland worked his delicious finger magic on me, I couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel if those fingers wound their way beyond the acceptable parameters of what they teach you in massage school.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch. Copyright © 2008 by Allison Winn Scotch. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.