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Vol. 3, No. 2

The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine
by Melissa Bank

XIX

Archie was elated that I felt better.
    On our way up to the Berkshires, he asked me to think about moving in with him.
    I didn't speak.
    He forced a laugh and said, "I didn't mean you had to start thinking about it right this minute."

 

~

Saturday morning, I felt the way I had as a child, waking up in the summer and sensing what I could expect that day in the suburbs: the dry cleaner at the back door to drop off my father's suits, the damp smell of the changing room at the public pool, the dusty shade in the garage.
    Maybe Archie could sense it. He suggested we go to the swimming hole, a muddy pond he'd called the Butthole and had refused to go to in our last life. We swam in old sneakers.
    On the way home, we stopped at the farm stand for vegetables and fruit. He made dinner and we had a picnic underneath the apple tree in back. He read Washington Square to me by flashlight.
    When he got into bed and I smelled his aftershave, I said, "Can we just fool around for a while?"
    "What does that mean?"
    I couldn't think how to say it without hurting him. "Not be so focused on The Problem. You know," I said, "less goal oriented."
    "Goal oriented?" he said. "What kind of talk is that? That's like interact and lifestyle." He turned his back to me. "You know I hate that kind of talk."
    In the morning, he wouldn't speak to me. I said, "You're mad just because I used the expression goal oriented?"
    He said, "I don't like the way you talk to me."

 

~

We drove back to New York in silence.
    "Harrisburg, Pennsylvania," I said finally.
    He said, "What?"
    I said, "I'm willing to play one of your stupid road games, if you want to."
    "I don't feel much like playing one of my stupid road games," he said. "But thanks."
    On the West Side Highway, he said, "What street are you on?" It didn't seem strange to him that he didn't know.
    When he stopped at my building, I said, "I tried to talk to you about something important."
    He leaned over me and opened my car door.
    I went upstairs into my apartment. It had that unlived-in feel. Dust on my aunt's pictures. No diet root beer in the refrigerator.
    I got a bottle of scotch from her liquor cabinet and one of her crystal glasses. I went out to the terrace. It was raining a little. After a few minutes, though, I heard voices coming from the terrace below mine; I saw a tall woman and a shorter man. I couldn't make out words, but they seemed to be having an argument, and I didn't want to hear it.
    I went into my aunt's study and sat at the desk where she'd written her novels. I thought I might write something myself. But I wound up just writing what I'd said to Archie and he'd said back.
    I got into bed and turned off the light. Lying there, I felt like Archie had sent me to my room.
    Then I heard my father's voice saying his usual phrases:
    Life is unfair, my love.
    I can't make the decision for you.
    Don't take the easy way out, Janie.
    Then he was gone. The quiet sounded loud. I got dressed and walked to Seventh Avenue for a cab. I let myself into Archie's.
    Upstairs, I got into bed with him. He turned away from me. I put my arms around him.
    "I'm here about the apartment," I said. "You advertised for a roommate? A smoker who can't name the capitals?"
    "I can't talk to you about our problem with sex," he said. "I can hardly talk to myself about it."

 

~

I asked him to tell me the truth about drinking, and he did.
    He'd been drinking all along. He told me all the times he could remember. I went back over each one. Then I asked about other times when I'd sensed something was wrong, and went back over the years to the first time--when I'd gone over his house to tell him that Jamie and I had broken up.
    This was how I'd felt finding out about my father; it was like getting the subtitles after the movie.
    Archie tried to reassure me. He told me that he was not drinking now, and he swore to me that he wouldn't again. He took Antabuse and kept the poker chip in his pocket. But these had failed him before--or he'd failed them. He would drink again, I knew that. It was part of who he was.

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