The House on Olive Street (7 page)

BOOK: The House on Olive Street
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Sable held the letter against her heart. She read it again and then held it against her cheek. She covered her face with it, breathing deeply, hoping to get a whiff of Gabby’s scent. But it smelled like paper. Then she laid it on her lap, smoothing it slowly with loving hands.

Thank you, Gabby, she thought. I know you were always proud of me. But not everyone would be impressed with the life I led and the terrible mistakes I made. Not everyone would admire the willpower required to change from Helen into Sable. In fact, most people would gasp in horror. Some would even be delighted to know I wasn’t such a big damn deal but really just a poor, stupid girl with unforgivably bad judgment. Gabby, Gabby, I wouldn’t feel better unloading the secret. How to face the snickers from people who’ve always felt so inferior to me—though I never invited that—and have been waiting for
years
for my comeuppance! Or their pity? Or the sly, superior smiles of all the writers who have been asking themselves what’s so goddamn special about Sable Tennet? No, no, no.

There was one thing Sable had understood from the beginning—people think that if you have money and success, you can’t suffer pain and humiliation. She knew; she had believed that once herself.

She slept through the night without waking—for the first time in days. When she woke, the letter was under her cheek and the ink was badly smeared, but still legible. Upon rising and looking in the mirror, she found ink on her cheek and chin and temple. She had cried in her sleep.

SIX

I
t was already 9:00 p.m. and the dinner she’d gone to such lengths to prepare was drying out when Beth heard the sound of the garage door sliding open; her husband was finally home. She didn’t let the lateness of the hour discourage her. She was married to a pilot and all kinds of things, from mechanical problems to bad weather, could delay flights. He was supposed to have been home at four and she
wished
he had called, but maybe he couldn’t.

Of course,
she
had checked on his flight. It had arrived on time.

But never mind all that. She quickly lit the candles on the dining-room table just as she heard Jack come in. He dropped his brain-bag, suitcase and hang-up right inside the door. “Oh, Christ. What’s all this?” he asked, looking through tired, reddened eyes into the dining room.

“Just a nice dinner,” she said. “Would you like a drink first?”

“Yeah, why not. Sure. I stopped off for a drink, but I could always use one more.”

He hung his jacket on the doorknob and pulled off
his shiny black boots while Beth fetched glass, ice and scotch. His tie and epaulets had already disappeared and his shirt looked the worse for wear. She caught a whiff of perfume. Sometimes the flight attendants were squashed into the van with the pilots and their perfume clung to Jack’s coat. She ignored it. The sight of him, his tall handsomeness, never ceased to make her shiver with desire. He had a boyish look for a man just over forty. With his tall frame, solid chest and legs, drop-dead smile and full head of thick brown hair, he was more man than she thought she’d ever have a crack at. And he was so playful—that was one of the best things about him. Of course, she wished he’d play with her more than with all his pilot pals. Or whomever.

“I hope this candlelight dinner isn’t all about a prelude to hot sex, babe, ’cause I’m shot. My body doesn’t know what day it is or what time it is. I could fall asleep without food, really, but…”

“No, it’s all ready, Jack. And don’t worry, I’ll let you catch up on your sleep. Then once you’re well rested…”

“It isn’t our anniversary or anything, is it?” he asked, joking. He sipped his drink and suddenly the smell of perfume mixed with scotch and something musky made her nauseated. It seemed like a lot of perfume for just one van ride over five hours ago. And a lot of scotch for
a drink.
She knew that to bring up the subject would only delay the discussion she had in mind; she dare not make any accusing remarks. It’s just that it bothered her so. To have another woman’s smell on him, however innocent.

“Would you like to change?” she asked. “Get comfortable? And I’ll get the food on the table.”
Maybe get that slut’s stink off you?

“I guess,” he shrugged. He grabbed one of his bags,
pushed his hat back on his head in that sexy, devil-may-care way he had, and took his drink with him to the bedroom.

He’d been gone for six days and hadn’t even kissed her when he came in the door. He was five hours late, had stopped off for a drink—or six?—and hadn’t even bothered to call her. But Beth wasn’t discouraged. She couldn’t
let
herself be discouraged.

There were a few things Jack could almost always do. Eat, drink and make love. Even when he said he wasn’t very hungry and was probably too tired to get it up. Beth assumed by the way he dug into his dinner that if she didn’t waste too much time in the kitchen cleaning up afterward, she might catch him before he fell asleep. It could be one of the best ever, by her way of thinking. Because Beth had something on her mind.

“What’s that sneaky little smile about?” he asked her.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve missed you, that’s all.”

“You have? Well, I’m all yours for the next few days. I’m going up to the lake a couple of times—but you’ll be working then anyway. Except for honey-dos, I should be pretty much hanging around here.” Jack always referred to his chores as “honey-dos” but in fact, they had nothing to do with Beth. She did everything around the house except bill paying; Jack’s “chores” would consist of upkeep on his Mercedes sports car, boat, lake lot, investments, et cetera.

“Maybe I could go to the lake with you?” she suggested.

“Naw. I’m just going to change the oil on the boat motor, maybe cut down the shrubbery on the lot, stuff like that. This is really good, babe. You sure are good at screwing up a chicken.”

“I wouldn’t mind going with you even if you’re just
doing that stuff. Jack, I’ve been so lonesome lately. Since Gabby died.”

“Who? Oh, you mean that woman you knew?” He shoveled in another mouthful.

Beth had become a master at overlooking all the little painful things Jack did or said, but on this subject it was hard. Could he really not remember who Gabby was? Or how important she’d been to Beth? “Gabby was a very, very close friend of mine. I loved her very much.”

“Oh-ho, careful, babe. You’re starting to sound a little, you know, lezzie….” He laughed at himself. Beth was insulted. Hurt. And it caused her to be a bit reckless.

“You know, I’ve been thinking. I’m ready to have a baby.” His fork stopped moving but he didn’t look up. Beth forged ahead bravely. “I’ve decided it doesn’t really matter much that
you’re
not ready. What difference does it make? I’m alone here all the time anyway. I can’t even go to the lake with you. All I want is to be a little less alone. I want to have a baby.”

“We’ve been over this,” he said. The humor and playfulness was gone from his voice.

“You knew when we got married that someday I’d want a baby. You said we’d talk about it later and we’ve been putting it off for seven years. I’m thirty-two. I’m an aunt more times than I can count. I’m—”

“Not now, Beth. I’m tired.”

“I’ve always gone along with what you want so we can have all this time to ourselves, but there’s no
we.
No
our.
It’s you going places, having fun, having friends, and I don’t do anything but stay home and write. I’m almost a total recluse. Gabby was one of my only friends. And she’s dead. Can’t you even imagine how I might be feeling?”

“Look,” he said, putting down his fork, picking up his
drink. “I’m sorry about your friend, but it doesn’t mean it’s time to have a baby. That won’t help you get over it any faster. And I’m not ready.” He drained his drink.

“You’ll never be ready,” she said while he was drinking. “You can’t control everything, you know.”

He lowered the glass to the table with threatening slowness. When Beth looked into his angry eyes she jumped, but she kept telling herself not to back down this time. She was going to get what she wanted for once. It was her money, after all, that paid for most of his expensive toys. And trips. And hobbies. And probably friends.

“Just what do you mean by that?” he asked.

“I could stop using birth control and you’d never know the difference,” she told him. “I’m getting a little tired of working all the time, never having any family life, never having any fun, never having any… I could have a baby and he’d be here six months before you even noticed!”

Jack pushed himself away from the table. “Didn’t I tell you I was tired? Didn’t I tell you I hardly had the energy to eat a meal? But you have to yammer at me about this now?”

Seeing such anger in his eyes caused her own to well up with tears. It was hard to stop and start things with Jack, especially when she never knew what to expect from him. She’d been planning this discussion for days, precisely because he was due home at four and should be rested. He’d been flying a San Francisco-New York-London pattern with a long layover in New York before the last day of flying. That should help him unscrew his body clock and get on U.S. time again. Then, after a five-hour flight in the midday from the East Coast, he should be able to sit down to a good dinner and have a pleasant evening with his wife.

He wasn’t too tired because of his job. He was too tired because he didn’t come home from his job. He’d stopped off somewhere, had several drinks and probably a large meal, maybe a few other activities, and wasn’t in the mood for this discussion because he was
never
in the mood for this discussion.

There was nothing she could do about it. She’d just have to try again some other day, sometime when he appeared to be a little less testy.

“Sorry,” she muttered. Her eyes downcast, she picked up her plate and flatware and headed for the kitchen. It tasted bad anyway; she wasn’t going to get anywhere with Jack tonight.

As she passed his chair she tripped over his foot. The plate sailed across the kitchen floor, bits of chicken and rice and peas scattering everywhere. The wind was knocked out of her with a loud
whoosh
and she couldn’t breathe. She’d hit her chin on the floor and it began to throb instantly. Before she could even think about getting up she felt the unmistakable pressure of his foot on her back. He pressed down hard between her shoulder blades. She was afraid she’d never get another breath.

“But you’re not going to do that, are you, Beth?”

“Ugh-ugh,” she exhaled. He bent over and grabbed a handful of hair, pulling her head up. He banged her face against the floor a couple of times. Hard.

“We have bills!” he barked.

All bills for his boat and property and sports car….
She pinched her eyes closed. She was afraid of what he’d done to her face.

He let go of her hair, removed his foot from her back and with his stocking-foot in her ribs, he rolled her over. It took a second before she could take a breath; she wheezed air into her lungs. Her eyes were glassy with
tears, her head throbbing and her nose bleeding. “I’m thorry,” she said in a coarse whisper. “All I wanted wath to talk about it.”

“But I’m not ready!”

Crying soundlessly, she crawled out of the dining room and into the kitchen. Still on her hands and knees, she gathered up pieces of the scattered food and scooped the debris onto the plate. Drops of blood from her nose fell onto the floor as she cleaned. Drops of tears fell as well. She was a pathetic little cripple. Defeated. Again.

“I’m going to bed,” he said. “I’m going to
sleep.
Don’t wake me up and don’t pull anything. You hear me?”

He didn’t wait for a reply; he just left her there. Then in a moment he was back, standing over her, staring down at her. “I don’t know why you have to take a perfectly nice evening and fuck it all up,” he said. “Things were just real nice and then you had to start pushing all my buttons again. Jesus, sometimes you are such a stupid bitch.”

He left for good that time.

Things were just real nice,
she thought miserably.
Real
nice…. Let’s see, what does Jack consider nice? He comes home five hours late, the stench of his last woman still on him, he’s half-drunk, completely insensitive, planning what he’s going to do with his days off, spending my hard-earned money, making it clear I’m not included….

Beth held ice on her nose and chin for a while until the throbbing and bleeding stopped. She didn’t think he’d actually broken either one. She didn’t want to look at herself until the initial redness and swelling had gone down. This was something she’d learned—if you looked at your injuries too soon, you could really scare yourself.

She sobbed while she cleaned the dishes, but quietly, noiselessly. Her expectations were shattered. She cried at her own foolishness because she never should have had expectations in the first place. Jack wasn’t going to give her
anything
she wanted. He wasn’t going to ever want a family, and he’d knocked her around so many times on even less provocation, she should have expected this reaction. But somehow she hadn’t. Somehow she’d allowed herself to think that this time he would say, “Okay, you’re right, it’s time to have a family….” Where had such insanity come from?

This was Beth’s shame, that he abused her in every possible way and she still wanted him, still believed in him. Oh, not right away after a beating—she wasn’t that far down the tubes. But by the end of the week she’d be thinking like a woman who had never been slapped. He was as predictable as a sunset and yet she couldn’t see that he would do it again and again and again. It still crushed her that he had other women, still surprised her when he failed to act like a loving husband, and still amazed her each time he did some horrendously selfish or brutal thing with no regard at all for her feelings. And if all that was not insane enough, she still loved him. How in the world could that be?

Because I am mentally ill,
she thought as she wept through her kitchen chores.

Earlier that evening she had talked to her mother on the phone and learned that one of her sisters-in-law was pregnant. “This will be grandchild number twenty-one,” Elba Sherman pronounced. “Deborah, the career woman. Here she is, thirty-six, spoiled rotten, and now she’s throwing up every morning. Remember when she used to get so mad at me for asking when the babies were coming? She called them ‘Catholic’ questions!”

Beth wanted a baby so bad she thought she would die from it. Her entire family thought she and Jack had been trying for years, but the truth was that Jack forbade her to stop using her birth control. Her little secret was that she’d been flushing her pills down the toilet for the past four months. If she could just get pregnant, she’d leave him and go back to her family in Kansas City, Missouri. The Sherman clan—Mama and Daddy, three married brothers, three married sisters and one brother-priest—would enfold her and her child into their lives and protect her.

Elba Sherman couldn’t understand having a daughter who would have such trouble having a baby. “I was afraid to wash my unders with your daddy’s, I was that fertile. God will bless you soon, sweetheart. Maybe you should go to one of those, you know, getting-pregnant specialists. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Lots of women go to them.”

Mama, Mama, why do I hang on? Why do I stay with him, letting him hurt me like he does? What’s wrong with me?

Beth’s greatest quandary was what to do about the baby once she got herself secretly pregnant. She couldn’t bear the thought of telling her family that Jack was abusive, but if she didn’t, they would naturally encourage her to reconcile with him. No, she couldn’t stay with him! Could she? It had been a long time since she’d suggested counseling. Maybe he was more agreeable to an idea like that now. Maybe—

BOOK: The House on Olive Street
12.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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