Play for Me, Chapter One

Lily watched her son walk away, the loose, jaunty shamble of him, the brave uptilt of his head, and felt just as she had when she abandoned him to kindergarten what seemed such a short time ago.

“Oh, sweetheart,” her husband said. Around them families bunched, kissing and parting in kaleidoscopic movement. Stephen touched her sleeve. She looked into his impish eyes and saw he felt none of her pain. In that moment she resented what she had always loved: his good cheer, his emotional maturity, his security in himself. Men!

But her son, walking into his future, he was a man now, too.

“Ready to eat?” Stephen clasped her hand.

What was there to say? A son leaving home, starting college, a mother grieving—a cliché. But it was her cliché. And what she felt was not so much bereft and sad and teary, though it was all that. What she felt was drained and ugly, as if she’d been turned instantly into an old woman—sagging breasts, spindly legs, crooked back—well, it would all happen soon enough, wouldn’t it?

Still. It was a storybook campus with beautiful, dove-gray stone buildings around a key lime–green quad. Colby would get a good liberal education here; he would be happy.

Stephen swung her hand back and forth as if to cajole her into better spirits. “That sophomore at orientation mentioned a restaurant,” he added.

Lily’s stomach felt as if she had consumed the contents of her sock drawer.

“It will pass,” Stephen said, in that way he had, sometimes, of reading her mind.

They jostled through people crisscrossing like random molecules, behind a couple in matching khaki slacks, blue fleece pullovers, jaunty cotton hats, the kind of couple she and Stephen—independent, strong—knew they would never be. But right now she wished they were more entwined, alike. Right now she hated feeling so alone.

“My life is empty,” she said as they reached their car.

Stephen stopped short and guffawed.

“I’m serious.” She didn’t look at him as she unlocked the door and slid behind the wheel.

“You’re always complaining you’re too busy.”

Her mind scrolled through images: her office, meetings of the block association, lunches. It suddenly seemed like nothing. She shook her head.

“You’ll feel better in a few days.”

They pulled up to a small timber-frame building with fading purple trim that must once have been a private residence. A hostess who didn’t make eye contact seated them far from the bar, where body-pierced youths were making phenomenal amounts of noise.

“In fact, you’ll feel better in a matter of minutes,” Stephen said.

He was not taking her seriously. In a matter of minutes, she was going to go from teary to cranky, and if this kept up she’d be picking a fight in the car. She’d make a wrong turn and they’d be lost in the Bronx, just like in Bonfire of the Vanities, yelling at each other. In fact, if she weren’t careful, they’d be filing for divorce by morning.

“They have croque-monsieurs,” he said and folded his arms. Case closed.

He knew her too well.


Illustration by Anne Gibbons