“Now, why don’t you collect yourself, and start again,” he says. He is looking at me over his reading glasses, with arched eyebrows, which sprout so luxuriously from his brow that I wonder if, somehow, he has been cultivating them to counterbalance the barrenness of his bald pate. He has been looking down at that little pad, you know, where he writes his notes — are they about my state of mind? The words seem to roll out from his pen onto the paper, longhand, in complete sentences, paragraphs. Is he writing a story about me, or recounting a dream, or writing his own name over and over again — I will never know. “Why do you think you felt like striking Mr. Dubelstein?”
I did strike Mr. Dubelstein, I start to protest, not just think about striking him. But of course, that is not the point, not why we’re here. It’s the thinking that matters, my brain. Mr. Dubelstein, my son’s elementary school principal, had just been saying something like, “Now, Mrs. Abbot,” the way he pronounced my name with a kind of sneer always bothered me. Bothers me now. “Now Mrs. Abbot, if everyone is special,” obviously talking about Robbie, “then no one is special.” I’m not sure exactly what he was getting at, other than he couldn’t make an exception for my son this time. Mr. Dubelstein never could make an exception. You know the type.
That’s when I felt that my knuckle had hit the firm jelly of his eye. He’s not a tall man, and I’m not particularly tall. My fist found his eye pretty easily. It hurt my hand, to hit him, a lot. I don’t have much of experience, any experience, really, other than this, of punching people. Through the pain, I punched him again, in the neck this time, and then his stomach.
“Jesus Christ!” he shouted. I think he started to blubber like a child.
There was blood on his eye, and he was flailing out at me. I felt the sides of his hands slapping my body, like a child’s imagination of a karate chop.
I had really snapped.
To my therapist, I say, “I wanted to strike him because I was tired — tired of everyone pushing along in their own selfish rut, refusing to bend toward compassion, toward sense, toward understanding. I guess I looked at him, listened to him, and thought of all the children who would be warped by this view into becoming just like him. Little men.” I realize my therapist is not very tall either.
Actually, I have no therapist. Sometimes I like to sit in a chair at my home, feel the warmth of the sun on me like a cat, and let my mind wander. Surely interrogating yourself is just as good, or better than a stranger doing it. Certainly costs less.
I have read, somewhere, that, if the universe is infinite, and there’s a lot of reasons it could be, or that our idea of a universe is just one universe in an infinite cluster of them, growing in and out of each other like knobs of cactus, poking their spines forever upward and outward, that everything must be repeated over and over again. That what we see here, our life, the very configuration that ties us all together, my hand to Mr. Dubelstein’s neck, the miniscule droplets of blood, the nerve impulses that spark pain, is happening somewhere else, again, exactly the same. In fact, happening exactly the same and happening in every possible slight variation in between. At least, that’s what I take it to mean.
It’s not something I took much stock of, but it did stick with me. I didn’t believe it for a second, at least until recently. You see, I have developed a kind of power. You laugh, but don’t we all believe we have some inner power, somewhere, that comes out at times. It may be through prayer. You have heard the stories of twins who sense the other’s pain, or the wife who got the strength to lift the overturned car off of her babe, or hundred-thousand other miracles we call on, without much hope of success, but yet some, like the way you wish the bus would just come.
My son likes comic books. I used to read them too, as a girl. I’d buy Thor comics from the rack in the drug store, when I was in my teens. I loved the impossible romance of crippled Donald Blake hiding the incredible power of a god, and the contrast between drab Manhattan, and the fantastic cornucopia of wonder and magic that was Asgard. Whenever I saw a rainbow, it formed a bridge in my mind.
Things with my son’s principle had gone too far. My hands were bruised, he recovered from his initial shock and struck me back. He hit my shoulder, without any kind of aim, cursing because he had never really hit anyone, to know how much it hurt to inflict pain.
I scratched his face, under my nails were flecks of blood. But my mind had already signaled somehow that this had been enough. Then I felt myself convulse, my eyes rolled back a little and the room filled with a spectrum from red through oranges, yellows, greens, blues, indigo, violet. I felt a shaking in my stomach, sweat, and everything was back to how it had been, Mr. Dubelstein saying again that he couldn’t tolerate giving special treatment to any one child, no matter how high his test scores. Didn’t I understand?
I blinked a few times. For a moment, as it always is, I wondered if it had happened at all, what I’d envisioned, but looked down and saw bits of blood still on my hands. Mr. Dubelstein was fine, though there was the hint, only, of a bruise as if he’d received it weeks ago. He winced in unconscious pain.
I felt a wave of remorse shiver through me, like those waves that tumble before an earthquake that only animals can still feel. And then, as if blot out the remorse, I imagined how small and sad his penis must be, from looking at him, and how his wife must hide her flinch every time she saw him naked. And then I felt bad again.
“Are you alright, Mrs. Abbot?” he said.
I said, “Yes.” but I know I shook my head.
Dr. Donald Blake found Thor’s hammer, disguised as a walking stick, in a cave in Norway, and tapping the stick on the ground, became “The Mighty Thor,” transformed from weak, but brilliant doctor into the somewhat simpler-minded, but good-hearted, and incredibly powerful god. Peter Parker was bit by a radioactive spider. Superman simply came from another planet, special only in his relation to those around him. I discovered my power, if you can call it my power, while pregnant, as I think many women do.
It’s already said by the superstitious that pregnant women have powers. That they can dull your knives. I’ll tell you why the knives dull, because it’s harder to get to housework, and you find that you let things soak in the sink like a man. Or your husband will take over the duties, fail to do them well, and slyly blame it on you.
I am sure it has something to do with the brain. Because my thoughts were all muddled when it happened. I felt these feelings fall around me like a net. I was at the sink but turned slightly because it was easier than pressing my belly into it. A stray thought made me throw the plate.
Its happening was a surprise to myself. The plate hit the wall, and split (and I almost felt that I could see it, though it happened far faster than that), then shattered with a white hiss, the shards spraying out everywhere, skidding across the linoleum. I heard my husband grunt from the other room. I’d never done anything so emotionally charged, and it scared it me. I must have let out a kind of animal yelp.
And then, as quickly as it had happened, it had not happened. I held the plate in one hand, the wet sponge in the other. In the far room the sound of the TV went on, the hush of golf, the muted claps. My husband grunted (again? For the first time?) andI and began to cry. I set the whole plate down into the grey sudsy water, and it went under, like the moon occulted by a confluence of clouds.
I’m sure you’ve experienced it too, though, that vision in the mind’s eye that flashes so real you can almost feel the heat of it on your palms. I stifled myself, and took a deep breath. Perhaps I was going crazy. Obviously I was full of hormones. Later, sweeping the kitchen, seeing the dirt and bits of dust crawl up the long straight plastic bristles of the broom, I wondered at the filth of modern living, how outside of the house in a field, on the blanketed forest floor, nature cleaned itself, bringing life up out of the bits of life shattered over the giving ground, when the bristles splayed against a sliver of porcelain.
I shivered, though it could have come from anywhere, from anywhen, I knew it had escaped from a happening that had, somehow, unhappened.
It’s strange, but to be expected, things that haven’t happened impact your life and feelings as much as things that have.
I love my husband. We’ve been married for so long, it seems, that he’s become a part of the landscape, and part of me. So much so, that I forget to introduce him. Alan. He’s a few years older than me. I think his brother was in my class at school.
One day, some friends and I were taking her parents’ car to the mall. I was sitting in back, brooding, when I glanced through the station-wagon window, and saw Alan, on a road crew. It was his summer job from college. He was shirtless, and I could see the sweat on him shine in the sun. They were shoveling asphalt to fill a wide crack in the pavement.
As the car turned I realized I had been staring, and that he was looking straight into me. That look. My teenage self was struck by an epiphany. I was desirable, and I desired him. The story of how we got together is a convoluted one, but I’m not sure it matters. From the moment we locked eyes, I knew we were fated to be together.
Or at least that we would fuck. In my mind I relished the word, and almost understood it.
Alan’s always been handsome, then, now.
I used to joke about robbing the cradle, even though he’s older than me. He was always good to me too, though something changed after that first pregnancy.
Robbie came later, a gift, or cosmic recompense for — well, if you believe in that kind of stuff.
That evening I thought of something. Imagine going back to the dawn of time, rewinding the tape of life. Some people say it’s such an accident that people came about that if you replayed the tape of those billions of years over a billion times, you’d only get us and this once. Perhaps the little uni-cells would never even merge. Perhaps the most intellectual species would be a kind of tree.
We were sitting, apart, me resting one hand on the life growing inside me, while Alan half turned from us. On the television, in those sad, grainy phosphors, I saw the first lotto ball go up, a shocking, solid white, while pixels jumped and balls jumped, and the forced jollity of the host, a too-tan Ken doll with bigger things in his eyes, my eyes rolled back, and the rainbows came. It had been a five. I held my breath. Five came again.
Was the same ball guaranteed to whip itself up each time, or did this power just not stretch so far. Even if the number had changed, would it have been just the pattern on the screen I had twisted around, would the number posted at the convenience store be the same? For a while tried to probe these mysteries, but life just kept getting in the way. I had a mouth to feed. I found myself turning back the clock on life’s little misfortunes, another chance and not dropping my wallet at the bank, not turning the wrong way in a store and running into someone I didn’t want to see.
“Where’s your mind?” asked Alan. We were sitting, together, on the couch. I must not have responded, lost in thought, because Alan turned bodily to me, and repeated his question.
Alan is the polar opposite of my imaginary therapist. Not just in that he’s tall, rugged, no glasses, a full head of hair. But he looks into you (or not at all), and gives you all of him, it’s enough to make you want to tell the truth. Say, what, exactly? But it’s incredible, and impossible.
I still had a faint bruise on my knuckles from striking the principal. I started to tell him about it. “I got into — a disagreement, with that Dubelstein, you know, he really doesn’t understand Robbie.”
“Robbie needs a little tough love,” Alan said. “He’s so moody now. He needs to snap out of it.”
No, it’s my fault, I thought. No reason for it otherwise. Robbie didn’t have any trouble with school, maybe it was a bit too boring for him. But I’ve been distant, too preoccupied with my own precarious standing in the universe. Too preoccupied with myself. I flexed my aching hand.
“What happened to you?” Alan asked, resting his thumb gently against the small bruise on my face. It felt good, this surprising touch, considering how little we did touch now.
“Can you believe it,” I lied, “I tripped, fell yesterday.”
I was woozy. I wondered if time was going to walk back and give me another chance at lying, better this time. But it didn’t.
There were meetings all week at work. I had to give a presentation on Wednesday, and left it to the last minute. Up late Tuesday night, like a college student again. Alan went to bed without me.
You know those late nights, your body isn’t used to it anymore, and you wonder how you ever did anything you used to do, go out all night, work the next day. Of course I forgot everything I had printed out. I should have just e-mailed it to myself, but I hadn’t been thinking. If it had just been outside the door that I noticed, I’d have blinked myself back to the desk where I left it. Sometimes I wondered if blinking back time had bored holes into my head, or if it was just age.
I had the key in my office door when I stopped.
I stood there, frozen. Then I marched back to the car.
Forty minutes back to the house, I’d make it just in time for my go at the podium.
The sky was white, but wisps of mist and heavy clouds poked through or loomed overhead. Every horizontal surface weeped with the remnants of the late rain.
Everything was dull but car lights, which pierced yellow or going the other way sparkled and teased like casino cherries on the drab highway.
Something was wrong.
I felt it tugging on me like someone had tied a long strand around my middle, and it was anchored off in the mist.
Our house is on a cul-de-sac, right where the arc begins to shift back to the highway.
Alan’s car was still there.
Running late, I thought.
I put my key in the lock, and pushed open the door.
There was just that unmistakable sound, the low moan and one more frequent and higher pitched. Then the rainbows scattered my view, and I was holding the key into the lock again. My heart thumped into my neck. I opened the door again.
Alan’s ass was in front of me, a pair of legs, our deep green couch.
I blinked back to the door.
I clawed it open and started toward the pair, something sent me back.
I yelled at the closed door. Heard noises.
I got right up to them, saw her face, a stranger, in real or feigned ecstasy before they tumbled away from me, and the rainbows warped me back.
How many times did I try to come through that door, begin to vomit, slam my fists, yell, cry, hear him cry my name in shock, grunt hers in pleasure, start to stammer an excuse. I tore through myself, and always found myself back on the other side, hand bringing key to lock, the doorknob the only solid thing? A hundred? A thousand?
Did days pass? Months? — Am I still standing there?
At last I stopped. I felt the sun which had begun to burn off the clouds, warm, firm, like a hand holding my shoulder, keeping me back.
I could hear their moans now, that I knew them. Every roundness of them, every ripple. I scraped the walkway with my shoes as I turned back to the car. I sat, shaking, and then drove toward the office again. Without my presentation. Without — I don’t know, maybe myself?
That night, I came home. Alan’s car was gone. He showed up a half-hour later. I opened the door, uncharacteristically to meet him.
“How did it go?” he asked. And then, after a long, silent, pause, “Is something wrong? You — you look so old.”
I looked at his face. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, he did too.
“Now,” the voice goes, “why don’t you collect yourself, and start again.”