| By Richard Schwarzenberger
THE TIME FOR GETTING OUT was pretty much over. She still had a lot to offer, she didn’t need a therapist to tell her, but she had to face facts; 50 is not a pretty number, even if you are the wife of the illustrious man, some say the power behind the illustrious man, certainly about the only thing that keeps the knobby bit of gristle upright.
Neither is 50 a start-over number. Besides, if she made even a teensy move, his lawyers would land on her like caffeinated ferrets. She wasn’t a Sound of Music Maria and she didn’t exactly cover her tracks; the semi-annual Tantric workshops in the Sierra, the designer pharmaceutics, the high-heel $4,000 boots. They turned heads, they did. The old man got his money’s worth out of that investment; she could put on a show.
She’d get something if she walked out, of course, but nothing near what she’ll get when he kicks.
Kicking would be the best thing, given how he gets more crablike every day, his arms grasping like pincers, without joy in any living thing, including his grandson, whom he treats like his slave. The grandson came in spring to study for his bar exam, and help take care of Grandpa. The exam is long over. He passed. He can go home, and she doesn’t understand why, given the abuse, he doesn’t. She wonders if he’s doing what she’s doing, waiting. Maybe the old man bribes him, slipping him cash, making him promises.
At first, she resented having him around, a mock innocent like an actor in a cigarette commercial. Over the last months he changed, or she got to know him better. Probably both. She misses him when he is out, hating to be in the house alone with the old man. She has grown comfortable with him. She doesn’t put on her satin robe over her nightie when she comes downstairs in the morning to make coffee. If it bothers him, he can stay in his room. If she chooses not to get dressed before noon, that is her business.
Is he bothered, as in hot and bothered? It’s fun to imagine, but she can’t tell, and it’s confounding. She has begun to understand what taboo is about; she is his step-grandmother, for God’s sake. Is there a more hideous designation? That was how he introduced her to his buddy night before last, and he did it intentionally, a jab. Yesterday morning, to get even, she wore her lacy nightie, the rose tattoo on her breast nicely framed. Framing is everything. That was the first time he couldn’t hide his blush.
He’s upstairs this moment. “Cold water, dammit, cold water. Put some ice in it,” the old man barks over the sound of the TV. There isn’t any ice in the trays. It has evaporated; that happens. The empty silver trays are upside down on the counter.
Footsteps sound on the stairs; she anticipates his entrance.
Richard Schwarzenberger is a writer living in San Francisco. He also teaches swimming to adults who are afraid in water.
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