Adrianne scanned the room as they talked. There was a small group in the kitchen and a larger one sitting around the fire, politely ravaging Gom’s dill hors d’oeuvres and handling Paula whenever she got restless. Adrianne did not see Melvin, whom she suspected of shirking his usual duty of taking the guests’ coats to the study, and soon excused herself to go find him. She found him sitting on his bed, scowling and putting on his shoes, his hair still uncombed. “You’re missing the snacks,” she said, taking his comb from the dresser and going to work on his part.
Melvin jerked his head away. “Go away,” he said and stared stonily at the wall.
“Melvin!” exclaimed Adrianne. She watched as his stony expression broke apart and he began to cry.
“How come you were so mean to me at the beach?” he asked in a high, thin, tremulous voice.
Adrianne rocked back involuntarily. “How was I mean to you?” Melvin was already drying his face on her dress, avoiding the lacquered driftwood pin that one of Gom’s friends had given her. “I’m sorry,” she said, recovering. “I know this is hard. It’s hard on everybody.” ‘Except for Dale,’ she thought, suddenly furious. Much as she loved the kids, they were an ineluctable conduit to her anger at him.
They reentered the party together. “Hello young man,” said the widower, bending officiously to shake Melvin’s hand.
A firm handshake while looking a grownup straight in the eye was one of Melvin’s favorite rituals, but tonight he shook the man’s hand lethargically, looking down at his shoes. “Mom,” he said loudly as the widower turned away to join the group in the kitchen. “How come that man’s hair is funny and his face is so long?”
Adrianne gave Melvin a disapproving look and pulled him back into the hallway. “It’s not nice to talk about people that way,” she admonished.
She watched several waves of anger and injustice play across his face before he blurted, “I don’t care! He looks stupid!” and stalked back into the party, his expression stubbornly set.
After Gom and the kids were asleep, Adrianne lay awake in bed. She’d had trouble sleeping since Dale left. She missed his snoring. She’d grown accustomed to poking him intermittently so that he’d shift positions. She remembered how once, after she’d poked him, he’d awakened long enough to threaten to smash her into the wall if she ever took his blankets again. He’d threatened in a gruff voice she didn’t recognize and then went promptly back to sleep, claiming to remember nothing of the incident in the morning. She told herself at the time that the need for sleep brought out the primitive urges.