Mark stepped out of the elevator and crossed the lobby, where a black concierge dressed in a grey suit was speaking into a wireless headset. As he pushed his way through the tinted glass door, Mark saw Catherine’s husband and their son walking toward him. The boy was holding a wad of bloody tissues to his nose. “You have to wait until the blood coagulates,” the father sounded calm, “then you can put your head down,” while looking dutifully concerned. Mark signaled a cab idling by the curb, then opened the rear door, sat down and closed the door. He caught a glimpse of the driver in the rearview mirror—wire frame glasses, bearded, dark brown eyes—as he related his destination. A green and white sticker in Arabic and English, There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the last messenger of Allah, was affixed to the Plexiglas partition.
“This is from last year,” Catherine passed Mark her phone, “or the year before,” over pre-dinner drinks, “I guess it has been two years.” He regarded the image of mother, father and son sitting around an oval table. She stated that the boy’s biological mother lived in southern Ohio. Three unguarded smiles projected the appearance of a happily sunburned family vacationing somewhere near the equator. Mark handed the phone back with a flattering observation about Catherine’s youthful beauty.
Mark wanted to be with Catherine, so why did he tell the driver to take him home? A Saturday afternoon tryst in her Yorkville apartment was a perfect example of the obsessive, “Let’s fuck on my living room floor,” passion that governed their lust, and although she was being deliberately reckless, they both knew that would never stop him from turning up.
“I took this last year,” Mark scrolled through the images on his phone, “when we were up at the house in Vermont,” then presented Catherine with a picture of his wife and daughter standing beside each other on a weathered wooden balcony that overlooked a tree-covered hillside in autumn. Catherine claimed, “They say you’re more aware of time passing once you’ve had children,” while studying their faces. He was expecting a compliment about his daughter, “That’s when it seems like,” or bracing for a cutting observation about his wife, “time begins to move so quickly,” who insisted that the picture, “although you just have a lot less of it for yourself,” now in the left hand of the woman who would be partially responsible for upending his seventeen-year marriage, “once you’ve had children,” made her look old and matronly. “They are very beautiful,” Catherine returned his phone, “your daughter…” she added. “Rebecca,” Mark offered. “Rebecca,” Catherine nodded, “has your eyes and her mother’s mouth.” Mark powered off his phone, “Her name is Janice,” and slid it into his jacket pocket, “Rebecca was nearly an angel until last summer.” Catherine placed her elbows on the table before asking, “Then she turned sixteen?” Mark leaned back in his chair, “Exactly.” Their waitress reappeared and told them about all of the organic vegetables the chef was proudly featuring on the farm-to-table tasting menu.
Mark removed his phone—no new emails or missed calls—then muted the taxi commission spiel on the video monitor before his knees. Rows of buildings pressed on the windows as they pulled onto the FDR, where a metallic East River mirrored the winter sun.
Their waitress paired a fruit-driven Pinot Blanc with a rustic heirloom tomato tart and artisan goat cheese puffs. Catherine smiled over her wineglass.
The mastectomy Janice underwent in the summer got all of the cancer, according to the last round of tests, but how had she contracted Chlamydia? Mark attributed his regrettable lapse in judgment to a long buried self-loathing. Janice dismissed his claim as a premeditated and feeble attempt at appeasement, then asked him to elaborate on other manifestations of this supposed self-loathing, and Mark found himself at a loss for words.
Catherine’s blue eyes caught Mark’s attention while he was perusing profiles on an adult dating site. Throughout the fall they met for sex, mainly in boutique hotels around Midtown, once and sometimes twice a week. This sensual married brunette seeking discreet adventures with an older, well-endowed gentlemen had moved to NYC from an affluent Atlanta suburb in her late twenties to get away from her first husband and finally finish college.
The traffic slowed on the ramp leading to the bridge when Mark noticed the football behind the driver’s seat. He unclasped his seatbelt and leaned over to reach it. Gripping the ball by the laces, “I think someone forgot this,” Mark held it up so the driver could get a look. The driver nodded, “That boy with his father,” then pressed his foot on the gas, “that’s how he hurt his nose.” Mark reached over the seat, “In Central Park?” and placed the football beside a blue thermos and an open pack of tissues. Turning the wheel, “I picked them up by the park near the river,” as the cab driver steered them onto the bridge, “right around the corner from where I picked you up.” Headlights drifted along the Plexiglas partition and splintered into rainbow-colored prisms. Mark closed his eyes and a bright red crescent appeared. Rubbing his eyes caused the crescent to throb—the familiar onset of a migraine—and in a few minutes the pain would begin in earnest. When he looked again the interior of the cab was silver streaked with orange.
The lamb chops Mark devoured in a few minutes had been marinated in olive oil, garlic and rosemary then grilled over mesquite coals to a dark shade of pink. Catherine picked at the Sole Meuniere, pushed the grilled circles of zucchini around the oversized plate. Although the food was outstanding, she simply wasn’t hungry, and suggesting that they skip dessert was her way of implying that it was time for the evening to take a more intimate turn.
Mark woke up on the couch just as Janice entered the living room. The pain in his head had finally subsided. He moved the quilt away before sitting up. She presented him with a hot mug of chamomile tea while asking if he was feeling better.
After Janice moved out with Rebecca but before Mark sold the house, that memory of his wife entering the living room to sit beside him on the couch returned to him occasionally, like a hollow reproach.
Donald Breckenridge is the fiction editor of The Brooklyn Rail, editor of The Brooklyn Rail Fiction Anthology (Hanging Loose Press, 2006), co-editor of InTranslation and the managing editor of Red Dust. In addition, he is the author of more than a dozen plays, the novella Rockaway Wherein (Red Dust, 1998) and the novels 6/2/95 (Spuyten Duyvil, 2002), You Are Here (Starcherone, 2009) and This Young Girl Passing (Autonomedia, 2011). The Brooklyn Rail Fiction Anthology 2 (Rail Editions) was published in the spring of 2013.