copyright 2011/all rights reserved
a novel by
CHAPTER EIGHT (a)
Sonia would have regretted accepting the dinner invitation had it not been for her mother’s usual effervescence. They holed up in the kitchen chatting amiably about how the baby’s imminent arrival would change things between Sonia and Hart, about the wisdom of getting a dog before mother and child were sleeping through the night, and, of all things, wine.
“Oh for Godsakes, Sonia. The kid’s not going to get shnookered off half a glass. I drank one every night when I was pregnant with you. I even smoked an occasional cigarette, but they started making me sick so I quit.”
“What were you thinking?” Sonia asked, horrified.
“Nobody told us anything then. I never got loaded. It helped me sleep.”
“Yeah, but didn’t you at least think it might not be good? For me, I mean.”
“You’re not a dim-wit.” Kitty squeezed Sonia’s shoulder. “A half a glass of wine is not going to drop his I.Q. Not at this late date.” Kitty shoved a Cabernet into her daughter’s hand. Sonia set it down and rubbed her finger up and down the delicate stem of the glass.
“Actually, I’d rather have a Guinness,” she laughed. “I’ve been craving one for weeks. You got any?”
“I don’t drink the heathen brew.” Kitty said, peeking in the oven. She donned double mitts and hauled the roasted pheasant out for closer inspection, her slender muscles obliging her. Kitty weighed a hundred and six pounds. The pheasant had more body fat. “Check with your father.”
Sonia frowned. “Really, Mom. How have you done it all these years?”
“It’s one of my greatest joys,” Kitty replied.
“I’m not talking about cooking. I’m talking about living with him.”
“You do it for the baby, Sonia. It’s all for the babies.”
Sonia raised her glass and spoke to her belly. “Here’s to you, baby.” She took a small sip, shuddered and poured the rest of the wine in the sink.
Kitty rolled her eyes and prodded the bird lightly with a fork. “Go tell your father dinner’s ready.” Kitty said.
Sonia sighed and left in search of an audience.
She blew into Bicky’s sitting room like a sudden wind blasting through a broken window. A low fire crackled away in the hearth, emanating a warmth that offset the chilly October air. The curtains had not yet been drawn and the last rays of the sun’s daily trek left streaks across the western horizon like an early Picasso, all color and angle. The surreal light coming through the floor to ceiling windows cast odd shapes about the room. Sonia grabbed the armrest of Bicky’s chair and sank to her knees, staring out at the beauty of it.
Bicky chose that exact moment to return to the sitting room and, his seat. In the dusky light, Sonia’s inert figure was practically invisible. Bicky tripped over his daughter and, unfurling like a flag, fell headlong, ending with a thud on the slate surrounding the hearth.
“Oh my God,” Sonia said, and jumped up to turn on the light.
Bicky sat up wincing and rubbed at the red welt, already the size of a walnut, forming above his right eye. He glared at Sonia for a moment and grimaced.
“Oh, geez, Dad, I’m so sorry, I….” She snickered, then cleared her throat to cover the faux pas. “Can I get you some ice or something?”
Bicky motioned with his head toward the wet bar.
Sonia fixed her father a Chivas and water and handed him the glass. “Mom said it’s time for dinner,” she said, and left.
Using a fire poker for balance, Bicky hoisted himself up, turned off the light, and sank into his armchair. His long slender fingers probed the delicate area. He could hear Sonia rummaging around in the kitchen, sense the lowered voices of mother and daughter, feel the muffled laughter like a poker in the ribs. Bicky was scowling at the fire when Sonia returned a minute later with a plastic bag full of ice wrapped in a dishtowel. He sniffed the towel before applying it to the walnut-sized lump on his forehead.
“What, you think I’d give you a used towel?” Sonia said reading his mind.
Bicky smiled and busied himself with the ice. He didn’t say thank you, just sat in silence, recalling the many non-lectures of Sonia’s youth, willing the words to form on his tongue, yet unable to manage a syllable, for either a tongue lashing or executive pardon. Before Sonia was born he had joked that if the baby were a girl he’d throw it in the river. His first glance at Sonia was rife with disappointment, and not just because of her sex. Something deeper was at work, something Bicky couldn’t put his finger. His wife hoped that in time, he’d turn a favorable eye toward his daughter, but infants do little else but sleep and eat and poop and cry, and Bicky, the mover and shaker, didn’t have the time to invest in that kind of nonsense.
As a result, Kitty chose Sonia over him, pushing her sulking husband even farther away. Soon after Sonia’s birth, their sex life began its precipitous decline which probably would have been reversible, but for one unfortunate evening when Bicky came home, quite intoxicated, and when his advances were declined, slapped his wife in the face. Kitty never willingly slept in the same bed with her husband again. In Bicky’s mind, the two events – the birth of his daughter and the loss of a willing, companionable wife — were inextricably intertwined. Had he been able to see beyond the prominent, handsome nose on his face, he would have realized that in her inimitable southern style, Kitty was using sex, the only weapon she had in her arsenal at the time, in the hopes of bringing Bicky around to loving his daughter.
But truth often remains hidden until one trips over it – literally – and even then it’s hard to face. So Bicky sat, sullen and craggy, staring at the fire while Sonia waited patiently for a tirade that wasn’t coming. What Bicky didn’t know was that Sonia was in her early teens when she concluded that a parent who couldn’t rouse sufficient anger to correct a guilty child was a parent who didn’t give a damn.
Sonia cleared her throat and rose to go. “It’s time for dinner. If you feel up to it.”
The sun had set; the only light in the room came from the fireplace and Bicky could barely make out Sonia’s shadowy figure walking away. “Where is it?”
“Where is what?” Sonia stopped, but did not turn around.
“You know what,” he hissed.
“No… I don’t,” she said coyly.
And so went their game, and only now did Bicky give her his undivided attention. “I’m not going to ask why you took it. Although I suspect it has something to do with gaining leverage to bring your husband home.”
Bicky flicked on the lamp next to the arm chair and stood to look at his daughter. Sonia’s countenance and bearing were regal. She had her mother’s high cheekbones and slender figure. Even pregnant, her face retained its sculptured look. From the back, he would have been hard pressed to say she carried the extra weight.
Sonia stood still, head facing Bicky, body facing the kitchen, refusing to turn to him.
“I had hoped you and I could find some common ground,” Bicky said, his business voice taking over. “With this baby and all, it might be the thing we need to get past our…differences.” He strolled over, squeezed her shoulder, flashed a tight-lipped smile, meant to convey warmth.
She flinched. He lowered his hand and patted her arm. He felt her relax almost imperceptibly into the arms – arms which had withheld their support for most of her life – and then constrict again.
“I know you can’t wash years away in an evening,” he said. “But maybe we can start.” Bicky’s eyes were wide and sincere.
Sonia dropped her head to Bicky’s shoulder as if she were trying it on for size. He stiffened, but didn’t recoil. She reached up a hand to touch the knot on his forehead. He squeezed an eye shut, but allowed the invasion. She smiled, a small, tentative thing, and he squeezed her arm in response.
“Shall we dine?” he asked. Sonia nodded.
Without releasing his grip, Bicky steered his daughter into the dining room.
to be continued. . .