I recognized Jack’s wife immediately from the wallet-sized
photo I’d found one afternoon, tucked behind his
MasterCard. Yes, I’d rifled through my lover’s
wallet while he’d lain napping on my bed, naked
and defenseless. Now, stepping into the reception area
my psychiatrist shared with a colleague, I identified
the demure visage of Jack’s wife. I’d memorized
her face during that soporific tryst, studied it carefully
while lounging nude and sweaty on my rumpled sheets with
Jack sprawled beside me, long-legged and bare-assed, snoring.
Jack Shore was pale-skinned and oval-faced, her brown
hair rippling down to her shoulders. She sat straight-backed
in a beige-upholstered chair, her hands folded in her
lap. Not reading a magazine, or even pretending to, her
brown eyes looked up. Could Jack’s wife be stalking
toward the coffee table, my breath caught; my gaze lowered.
Could this possibly be a coincidence? I studied the display
of outdated magazines, feeling Emma Shore’s gaze
follow me in violation of shrink-waiting-room mores. During
the last two years—since the insane highway pile-up
that had stolen my husband’s life and left me a
widow at 28—I’d seen Dr. Klein often enough
to learn the protocols of shrink-dom. Here in the reception
area, quick glimpses were tolerated; brief, grim smiles
got exchanged, but staring was definitely out.
Emma said, as my hand reached for a four-month-old New
Yorker. Her tone was artless, as if we were at the hairdresser.
I shot back, turning away, sucking my cheeks in. I’d
have rolled my kohled, blue eyes if there’d been
anyone to appreciate the contempt that only a Manhattan
female can feel toward another just for acting friendly.
think my watch stopped,” she announced, as I scanned
the room for a seat that offered the most distance. I
chose a chair five feet away, which was as far as the
limited space allowed.
Turning toward me, tapping her watch, Emma asked, “Do
you happen to know the time?”
My gold Movado was a gift from her husband, celebrating
our recent three-month anniversary. “11:20,”
you.” Emma gave me a smile, soft-lipped and shiny.
Her gaze felt unbearable.
if our meeting was an accident? I wondered. What if this
event was just another random twist in a universe that
had already proved meaningless? A simple, ordinary kink
in the arbitrary world I’d inhabited since the crash
that took Danny. Only a chaotic cosmos could have allowed
that drunk to traverse the grassy partition between north
and southbound traffic, smashing into the driver’s
door of our rented car and killing my husband on impact.
Yes, I’d recognized the monstrous, impersonal nature
of destiny the day it shattered Danny’s body and
the life we’d spent seven years building. It had
been a glorious, sunny morning, the beginning of our summer
vacation, and we’d finally agreed it was time to
have a child. Then fate, like some hideous octopus, had
flailed its slimy arms, slaying Danny, but flinging me
back out into an empty world with a just small wound on
tiny Frankenstein gash had inspired my metamorphosis to
Goth, a style I felt just young enough to get away with
at 30. When Danny was alive, I’d looked sweet like
Emma Shore in her sky-blue sweater and pleated slacks.
But since the accident, I’d dressed in black and
hennaed my hair redder than blood. I’d pierced six
holes in the tender cartilage along the rim of one ear
and displayed six spiky, silver studs.
would Danny think—in his polo shirt and khaki pants—if
he could see the way I look now? My light blue eyes were
heavily lined with black, my complexion whitened by make-up.
I crossed my legs, shifted in my chair, and reflected
that Danny’s opinion was something I no longer had
to worry about. Taking a deep breath, I threw Emma’s
face a quick, hard look, noting her high cheekbones, brushed
peach with blush, her mouth tinted pink with lip gloss
similar to the color Danny had liked on me.
husband would probably have liked Jack’s wife, I
thought, swinging my foot back and forth in its high-heeled,
black leather boot. He’d have sympathized with Emma,
sensed the brittle courage crackling through her straight
spine and seen the weight of her problems in the set of
her narrow shoulders.
Shore might be here for her own issues, I told myself.
For all I knew, she could be consulting the shrink who
shared Klein’s waiting room about her relationship
with her parents. It might have nothing to do with me
and Jack. In this bizarre world, anything was possible.
Raising the New Yorker up in front of my face, I shot
a glance at my watch. One hundred and twenty seconds had
passed; it was now 11:22 a.m.—eight more minutes
until my session started.
never seen a psychiatrist before,” Jack’s
wife confided from across the room into the back of my
time for everything.” Behind the pages, my tone
came out guttural.
only spoke to the doctor once.” Her voice quavered.
“On the phone he sounded nice.”
over the top of the magazine, I saw Emma’s eyes
darken as she glanced down the short hallway at the closed
doors of the shrinks’ private offices.
sure he’s nice,” I replied in spite of myself.
she murmured, rendering the word meaningless.
swallowed hard, thinking, she doesn’t know who I
am. Suddenly, I felt certain. To Jack’s wife, I
was nothing more than some patient in a psychiatrist’s
waiting room, albeit an unusual-looking one, with kohl-lined
eyes and chin-length, hennaed hair.
Emma Shore was checking me out, but many people did. My
appearance was striking. Dr. Klein had suggested—more
than once—that I take responsibility for my facade.
My Goth make-up, tight jeans, and clingy black tops made
my mesomorphic body look much bolder than I felt. But
that didn’t stop me from scorning other people’s
negative reactions. Raking my fingers through my wine-red
hair, I examined Emma’s expression over the top
of my magazine.
on my rival’s smooth, oval face—I had to admit
she had lovely skin—I saw neither fear nor disapproval,
but the rosy tinge of excitement, even respect. It was
the kind of response I rarely evoked in slender, delicate-boned
women wearing soft, sky-blue sweaters and slacks ironed
stiff in the front. The kind of person who dressed that
way—as I had before losing Danny—usually didn’t
appreciate the glamour of Goth. Oh, a woman like that
might have a hidden tendency, a secret desire to go crazy
now and then. But most of the sweet-and-wholesome set
cloaked any esteem of my current style with ladylike disdain.
certainly what I’d done before Danny died. Two years
before, my hair had been brown instead of burgundy; I’d
worn pastel sweaters and peach blush like Emma Shore.
I’d been a different person then, before black became
my wardrobe staple and “Fuck it!” my philosophy
back in my chair, regarding Emma Shore through my heavily
mascaraed lashes, I reflected that—given our current
situation—the advantage had to be mine. The question
was: what strategy should I adopt in response to the irony
of Jack’s wife reaching out? What gesture should
I offer this woman whose hopelessly naïve gaze still
clung to me?
gave her a dip of my hennaed head, pursing my reddened
lips. I checked my watch before turning back to the New
Yorker—five minutes left.
look so at home here,” Emma pursued me. “But
I feel terribly awkward.” Raising her finely-plucked
eyebrows, she shrugged an apology. I couldn’t help
noticing the movement was dainty.
get used to it,” I allowed, feeling the words sucked
out of me, feeling my cheeks grow warm.
probably shouldn’t bother you,” she continued
as—without deciding to—I half-lowered my magazine.
“It’s just that you look so together, so strong
let that fool you.”
I had your courage . . .” Jack’s wife showed
me a bright smile.
don’t know me.” My fingers pinched the magazine
pages; the crinkling noise was much too loud.
know some things.” Her tone was soft as mine had
been curt. Her voice wafted toward me like a fragrance.
I tensed. What did she know? The air in the room seemed
your hair.” Emma wound a lock of her own hair around
one finger. “I wish I had the nerve to chop mine
off and dye it some bright color.”
kidding.” I was flattered, despite myself.
Her tone was wistful. She let the shiny brown strands
fall back onto her shoulder. “I’d never have
the guts to do it.”
not?” Unbidden, a spark flared in my chest.
don’t know.” She shrugged again, another dainty
one. “That’s part of why I’m here.”
I tried to be flip while something electric rippled through
my arms, causing my hands to drop the New Yorker into
I peered openly at the pretty woman whose wallet-sized
photo hadn’t done justice to her brown eyes’
depth and shine. Between us, the air thickened. I was
drawn to this woman—in spite of everything—how
opposite we were. Not only our clothes, but our attitudes
were antithetical. Where Emma was open, I’d shut
down. Where she was friendly to strangers, I was mad at
the world. Her emotions obviously flowed close to the
surface, but mine had been buried deep with Danny two
long years ago.
passion, but cheap thrills—the junk food of relationships—was
all I’d lately dared to indulge. Why else would
I be sleeping with Jack Shore? A married man whose seductive
smiles and smooth come-on lines had been used too many
times before. Yes, he was safe enough for a woman who
scorned attachments and strong feelings.
two years of sessions, I hadn’t even let Dr. Klein
see me cry. The time for deep sharing had passed, I told
myself; too much had died with Danny. My emotions had
been purposely frozen—a cryogenic project, awaiting
the unlikely, distant-future discovery capable of healing
my numbed self. Yet today, sitting across from my lover’s
wife, something besides my usual disdain began to stir
inside. What if I’d met Jack Shore instead of Danny
Littman when I was young? Would I have seen through the
thick-lipped compliments and too-quick intimacies? Jack
had said he’d married Emma right after she graduated
college. What would have happened to me, if—God
forbid—I’d met Jack Shore in place of Danny
Littman at 21 years old?
stared at Emma; her gaze held mine. We were about the
same age. In college I’d been shy, not dating as
much as I’d hoped until senior year with Danny.
Emma’s head tilted; her pink lips parted. An unasked
question hung in the air. Maybe I’d have fallen
for Jack, I admitted to myself, the way that Emma had.
I could have married him as innocently as I had Danny
and be sitting where she was today.
moved in the center of my body. Thank God, Danny Littman
had come into my life early, I thought. Thank God, he’d
loved me. A glance at the Movado sent a pang through my
chest. One more minute until Dr. Klein appeared in his
office doorway; I’d never looked forward to seeing
leaving my husband,” Emma Shore announced in a voice
that was low and flat.
reception area went still; the air felt electric. Did
Jack know? Were things going to change between us? Jack’s
full lips that made snappy remarks flashed through my
head. He was so cavalier, I reflected, compared to his
wife whose sincere face shone before me. Which was worse,
I asked myself then, chronic infidelity or a car crash?
Who had been betrayed more?
was loss, I decided after a moment, beyond comparison
or measurement. Then I watched Emma Shore hug her shoulders,
keeping her spine straight. Her eyes searched mine and
the room blurred; I lost peripheral vision. A fiery melting
began in my chest as we shared something deeper than thought.
Not information or even emotion, but a substance more
essential flowed through us. My eyes stung, seeing our
shared humanness; my cheeks burned with an intensity that
belonged to both of us. My skin was the skin of Emma Shore;
my blood, newly-thawed, was hers too. The current we stood
in ran below the surface of our particular life stories;
it ran deeper than race or gender.
truth of our connection flamed through my body as the
door to Dr. Klein’s private office swung open. My
shrink’s previous patient shuffled past, and I realized
my time with Emma Shore was ending. Then something like
longing welled up in my chest; I felt unable to move.
My blue eyes scanned Emma’s oval face, and I wondered
how an event so unlikely as our meeting could have occurred
in a meaningless universe.
of the countless, chaotic possibilities, why had our encounter
constellated? I’d been convinced there was no guiding
force, no pervasive intelligence infusing the world. Yet
I had to admit that mercy had brought me to Emma Shore
and given me a glimpse of the vital connection that lay
just below my ordinary awareness. And I realized that
connection was always there and never ceased, whether
or not I recognized it.
had Emma and I told each other during our short time together?
I wasn’t sure, but the welling in my chest was insuppressible,
and I wanted to make her a gift.
from my chair, I removed the Movado. “Take this.”
I held it out.
raised a palm between us. “Oh, no.”
much had Emma guessed in the last few seconds? I wondered.
What would be best for both of us now?
My tone was urgent. Pressing the watch into her hand,
I knew I’d never see Jack Shore again.
Klein appeared in his doorway; walking toward him, I let
tears fill my eyes. At the entrance to my therapist’s
private office, I paused to glance back over my shoulder.
In the reception area, I saw Emma’s fingers close
around the Movado while her mouth gave way to wonder.