Friday, August 28, 2009

THE FIRST THING that comes into her mind at the news, ridiculously, is the question of how she will now deal with the immense space that his loss has created.

She stands in the middle of the room and remembers, of all things, to call the electrician so she can have another power outlet by the refrigerator. And then something catches in her throat. And then she can’t breathe. She tries to clear her throat and then starts gasping and struggling for air, her lungs immoveable, like an inviolate wall.

And then she feels her father’s arms go around her. “I’m here, sweetheart,” he tells her. “It’s going to be okay.”

Out of the corner of her eye she sees someone, a man, slip out the door.

“I HAD TOO little of him,” she said, her province of origin apparent in her diction. Her hair was short, and a blue plastic headband was keeping her hair off her face.

“You had his children,” she retorted, pushing her long bangs off her face with a graceful sweep of her manicured hand.

“You had his life,” she said.

“Not all of it.”

She averted her eyes as if stung by the words. “Still,” she said, “you did not have to know about me. But I knew about you since the very beginning.”

“And what good did that ever do me in this whole despicable situation?”

She was quiet. She was twisting a piece of tissue between her fingers, her nails short and her cuticles ragged. She was crossing and uncrossing her ankles, her feet in a pair of old loafers.

She stood up and walked away, her high heels clicking briskly on the polished wooden floor.

Hell hath no fury. But she did not even feel a whiff of anger. When she went to her father’s office that same afternoon she was so composed, even sitting on the couch at the waiting area outside his office for ten minutes while he spoke with someone inside. She remembered smiling sweetly at the man who walked out of his office with a bodyguard, and she remembered graciously thanking her father’s aging secretary when he waved her inside for her turn.

“The bastard,” she said as she sat down on the plush leather chair facing him.

“What is it, sweetheart?”

“He has two daughters.”

Her father stood up and then walked over to her to put his arms around her shoulders. “You don’t have to endure this, sweetheart. Just give me the word.”

Now it was her turn to be quiet.

“Think about it.”

She nodded.

SHE PACES THE floor carefully, contemplating the tiles, placing her feet squarely in the center of each, careful not to touch the grout line with her toes. Her bare feet look pale and thin against the dark and shiny granite finish, although only the lights on the kitchen counter are on. She hears men talking, and she glances over her shoulder, through the door that leads to the garage. She sees a few men, and then she sees her father, his back to her, an arm propped up against the hood of the station wagon. She strains her ears to make out his words, but she can’t make out anything, so she closes her eyes, content to hear his familiar rumble.

SHE TRIED NOT to cry too much, but could not help it. How can both sadness and joy bring the same reaction, tears?
“I want you to be happy, sweetheart,” her father told her. He kissed her forehead, and then gently dabbed under her eyes, wiping the tears away with a pristine white handkerchief that to her seemed even whiter than her wedding dress.

He traced a finger over a tiny scar just above her left eyebrow, a remnant of a larger scar that just would not go away no matter how many reconstructive treatments she had gone through for it.

“But if there’s ever anything here that hurts you,” he added, whispering into her ear, “just tell me, okay?”

She could only nod.

“SWEETHEART, WE’RE READY now. Just give the order,” her father says, sitting across from her on the kitchen table.

She closes her eyes, breathes deeply, breathing in the air that a while ago had seemed to abandon her. The air is back now.
She remembers finding the scribbled reminder tucked under some canceled checks inside a drawer in her husband’s desk, and going to the meeting place at the stated time. She remembers seeing him with her, her hair kept away from her face with a headband. She remembers the rush of cold air that had gone past her all of a sudden, and the immense weight that she felt being pummeled onto her shoulders, and it was as if all the air had been sucked from inside of her and she was rendered shrunken, tiny, miniscule, her entire body pushed in towards itself by gross weight.

She remembers being in this kitchen, on this night, right before midnight, poring over some cookbooks on the shelf because she could not sleep. She remembers her father walking in with another man, telling her that her husband had just slipped out of the house with a large traveling bag. She remembers thinking of space, and then something catching in her throat, and then not being able to breathe.

She opens her eyes and looks down at her wedding ring, glinting in the stark light of the kitchen. She looks at the refrigerator and her gaze goes over the spot in the wall where she will have a new power outlet for her laptop, so she can work while learning how to cook—perhaps while waiting for a dish as it simmers—or watch a DVD movie while dicing onions.

She breathes deeply and nothing catches in her throat. She feels fine, and she takes it as a sign. She opens her eyes and looks at her father. “Kill him, Daddy,” she says, and it is almost a whisper. “Kill him for me.”

He squeezes her hand, stands up, and walks to the door. Someone, a man, appears in the doorway. “It’s a go,” she hears her father tell the man.

“Yes, sir,” the man says, and then leaves quickly. She hears the strains of voices through a walkie-talkie.

And then she waits for the pain to come. And then she realizes the pain isn’t coming at all.