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Vol. 3, No. 2

The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine
by Melissa Bank

III

I once read that no matter how long an alcoholic was sober, as soon he went back to drinking he would be exactly where he was when he'd left off. That's how it was with Archie and me.
    I filled his closet with my clothes. My shampoos and conditioners lined the ledge of his tub. He stocked his refrigerator with diet root beer and carrots.
    We ate dinner together every night, out or in.
    Before bed, from the upstairs bathroom, he'd announce, "I'm taking my Antabuse!"
    I didn't know what to say. I tried to think what the right answer might be. Then I'd call out, "Thanks," as though I'd sneezed and he'd blessed me.
    I knew he wanted to have sex if he put on aftershave before bed. I called it his forescent. The sex itself was manual labor. I was there for what happened afterward--the tenderness that didn't come any other way.
    Sometimes, we slept face to face, with our arms around each other; one night I woke up and his mouth was so close to mine I was breathing his breath.

 

~

The only friend I told at first was Sophie, the anti-Archiest of them all. I was afraid to, but she didn't even seem surprised. She said, "Does he make you feel better?"
    I said he did.
    "He's not drinking?" she said.
    I told her about Antabuse and the poker chip from AA.
    She looked over at me, and thought. Finally, she said, "But don't give up your apartment, okay?"
    I told her that my aunt's apartment wasn't mine to give up, and that it hadn't occurred to me to move all the way in with Archie.
    She said, "Call me if it does."

 

~

Archie asked if I'd told my parents about him, and I said I hadn't. "How much longer are you going to keep me in the closet?" he said. "It's dark in here. And I keep stepping on your shoes."

 

~

I was going home to the suburbs for the weekend, and Archie gave me a copy of Loony for my father. Then he said, "Let's go."
    "Let's go?" I said.
    He carried my bag around the corner to Hudson Street and hailed a cab. He actually got in and rode with me to Penn Station. He acted like I was a sailor, shipping out.
    While I stood in the ticket line, he went to Hudson News and got Tropical Fruit Life Savers and goofy magazines-- DogWorld, True Confessions, and Puzzler--for my train ride. We held hands walking to the staircase for my track. It was hard to go. I said that I worried he'd be lonely. He kissed me and told me not to worry. He said, "I'm the last person you should be thinking about."

 

~

That weekend looked just like the ones I'd spent at home before finding out about my father. But I knew now what was underneath. We had lunch out on the patio. We talked and read. Puttered. We ate dinner by candlelight. We acted like we might go to the movies and never went.
    When I woke up on Sunday, my mother had been up for hours, gardening. Over breakfast, she told me she was having the house painted in a few weeks. She showed my dad and me the paint chips, all varying shades of white, and pointed out which white was for which room.
    "Alabaster seems too formal for our bedroom," he said, joking.
    "It is sort of pretentious," I said. "And coconut for the bathroom? I don't think so."
    My mother was good at being kidded; she rolled her eyes in pretend annoyance. Then she said, "I want the house to look its best," with a fervor that stopped me.
    My dad heard it, too. "The house looks good now, Lou," he said, to the tune of, This is paint we're talking about.
    I went with him to do errands, and we stopped for fruit and vegetables at what had once been the Ashbourne Mall. Lord & Taylor was now a farmer's market, and the department where I'd bought my first bra now sold organic produce.
    In the parking lot, I saw the Ashbourne Witches, a mother and two daughters, who still had long shags and still drove a rusted red Rambler. They'd terrified and thrilled me as a child, when my friends and I spied on them; the lore was that the Witches returned clothes they'd worn.
    He thought it was as funny as I did. He said, "I guess that's the worst thing a suburban girl could imagine."

 

~

It wasn't until just before I left that I remembered to give him Loony. I didn't mention that the book was from Archie.
    My dad seemed pleased, reading the jacket. He flipped through the first pages, and I saw at the same moment he did that Mickey Lamm had inscribed the book to him. "That was the reading I told you about," I said.
    He drove me downtown to the train station. He kept the top down on his convertible but rolled up the windows, so it wasn't too blowy for us to talk. Mostly, he wanted to know about my life in New York. Was it getting any easier with Mimi? What did I like about my job? Was I still considering getting a dog? How was Sophie? Had I met anyone interesting?

 

~

When I got to Archie's that evening, he said, "How'd it go?" I told him that my father seemed pretty good, a little tired maybe, but otherwise his usual self.
    Archie was still waiting, and I realized just before he said, "You didn't tell your dad about us?" that he'd expected me to.
    That's why he'd had the book inscribed.
    I thought aloud why I hadn't; I said something like maybe I was trying to protect my father as he'd protected me.
    Archie glared at me. "You're equating me with a fatal blood disease?"
    "That's not what I mean." Then I realized the truth: "I wasn't thinking about you," I said. "I was just being with my dad."
    He gazed at me. "You've grown up, honey."
    It felt good to hear it. I thought maybe he was right. Then it occurred to me that if I really had grown up, I wouldn't want to be told.

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