“Could you take out the ice before you get dressed?” asked Gom, opening a cupboard and then closing it again. “I seem to be running a little late.”
“Just relax,” said Adrianne. Gom always ran a little late. “No one will care if you’re not quite ready.” She took out the ice, pounded it and dumped it in the ice bucket. She left Gom making a second attempt on the cupboard.
Melvin was in the bathroom. Adrianne went to his room and laid out a fresh outfit on his bed, then took Paula to the room they shared and started to change her diaper. Opening the closet for the Pampers, she got sidetracked by the batiked cotton dress Gom had given her for Christmas the year before, the one she could never have worn in Cleveland. She would suppress her eye-roll reflex and wear it tonight.
Adrianne laid it on the bed next to Paula, who was right where she’d left her with her pants half off, her legs akimbo, one arm bent behind her back. She stared fixedly at the bedside table lamp as if it were the cosmic riddle laid bare. “You silly,” said Adrianne, coming out of herself. “What are you staring at?” She freed Paula’s arm and tickled her before attending to her diaper. She hoped Paula would outgrow her strangeness. Melvin had been inward too, to a lesser degree, and now he was about as extroverted as they come – until recently.
She couldn’t get used to changing for dinner alone. She resented Dale’s absence, and resented vesting him with that much power over her feelings. It didn’t help that, thanks in large part to her, he was much better off now than when they had met – more self-assured, more relaxed, more handsome and successful – whereas she was back to ground zero, faced with rebuilding her life as an aging single mother with no particular skills. Visiting Gom was a kind of buffer between the life they had left behind and the life they would return to. It was pleasant enough, but it felt a little like a fairy tale that you know ends badly.
A commotion erupted in the living room, a barrage of greetings. Adrianne dressed Paula hurriedly and made herself up in the mirror. As soon as they entered the living room Paula was surrounded by bending figures, and Adrianne found herself, sherry in hand, engaged in conversation with a local widower who had been a successful advertising executive in his former life. The town was full of successful men and women who had escaped from their success as from some unspeakable horror. This ex-executive was now an avid gardener with a passion for grafting cuttings from fruit trees too delicate for the region on to hardier strains.