“Nothing. I’m just moving her to the basement.”
“You’re bored with her already?”
“I’ve outgrown dolls, Mama,” the girl rolled her eyes.
With her diminutive frame, large blue eyes and delicate features, Michelle herself looked like a doll. “You’re only nine years old. How could you have outgrown dolls already?” Ana objected.
Her daughter’s eyes suddenly clouded. “I’ve grown up faster this year, I guess.”
Ana blushed at the allusion. “You never let us know you were so upset.”
Michelle placed the doll on the living room sofa. She sat down next to her, a little doll and a bigger doll side by side, both with blond hair and blue eyes, only Michelle’s gaze was so much more expressive than Kitt’s. “I saw how you and Daddy were upset. I didn’t want to make you feel even worse. Besides, you were sure you wanted to leave us. There was nothing I could do about it.” Her usually sparkly voice trailed off with sadness.
The girl shook her head. “Not just him. Me and Allen too. I don’t think that man would have ever cared about us. He wouldn’t have liked us coming by his house.”
A few weeks earlier, Ana would have insisted that Michael’s house would have been theirs as well. But now she was much more inclined to agree with her daughter. “Maybe. But he couldn’t dictate my actions. And I’d choose to be a good mom to my kids.”
“You say that now. But before, you chose him,” Michelle retorted. She approached her mother to give her a conciliatory hug.
“It’s okay, Mama. You made the right decision in the end. That’s all that counts.”
“Yes, but I’m afraid I’ve hurt everyone too much. Especially your father,” Ana replied.
Suddenly, Michelle’s face lit up with an impish smile and she became a child again: “I have only one thing to say to that,” she replied, then paused for dramatic effect.
“Build a bridge and get over it!”
“Easier said then done.”
Michelle once again assumed a more grown-up demeanor. “Think of it this way: at least things are better now between you and Daddy. Before all this happened, I used to pray that you wouldn’t get divorced. You and Daddy were so cold to each other. But now I don’t have to pray about that stuff anymore. My wish came true.”
“What do you pray for now?”
“For Allen to stop bugging me,” Michelle replied. Then she suddenly remembered that she was about to take Kitt to the basement, where she kept all the toys she had outgrown, unwilling to make the more decisive move of giving them away to charity. She glanced evaluatively at the doll. Kitt’s demeanor seemed pretty mature. After all, the doll was older than she was, being eleven already. She also dressed okay, considering her clothes were almost a century out of date. “I might keep her in my room for a few more months,” Michelle reconsidered her decision.
Ana knew better than to approve too enthusiastically. “It’s up to you,” she said. But deep inside she was glad that her daughter was holding on to her childhood for a little while longer.
That evening, when they were all sitting down to dinner, Michelle said a brief prayer for her reunited family: “Dear Lord, thank you for this meal, for keeping us healthy and for getting my parents back together. Amen.” Then they all dove into the chicken alfredo.
“Chew with your mouth closed,” Michelle advised her brother.
“I am!” Allen objected, as bits of chicken burst out of his mouth like fireworks.
Ana could hardly believe that only days after her break-up with Michael, life was beginning to return to normal. Only this was a new, more normal normality, one which they never really had: with all the conventions like eating together as a family and sleeping with one’s spouse and nobody else’s, which they had skirted before, since after all, Ana was a subversive artist and Rob was too busy to be conventional.
But later that night, when she and her husband lay side by side in bed, there was an aura of tension around their bodies, shielding them from physical intimacy. Rob wondered when he’d be able to make love to his wife again. Ana still emanated another man’s touch, another man’s scent and another man’s kisses. Would he be able to touch her without thinking of him? When he looked at his wife, Rob saw a desirable woman who still looked attractive and youthful. But the difference between finding her desirable and desiring her wasn’t yet bridged. The other man continued to lie between them.
For her part, Ana felt surprisingly at ease given the tension that still vibrated in the air. It was nothing compared to the tension of remorse and regret, of hurting those she loved. The thought of Michael made her think once again about Rob, by a kind of juxtaposed association. Ana sensed that it was still too early to show any overt signs of physical affection towards her husband. It would seem fake after everything we went through, she speculated. When he’s ready to make the first move, he’ll make it, she decided.
She nonetheless appreciated the comfort of lying in bed next to a man who hadn’t bedded hundreds of women and who wasn’t plotting whom to seduce next. A man who didn’t manipulate her or ask guilt-inducing questions like “Don’t you trust me?” or “Who was that man I saw you with the other day at the gallery?” A man who allowed her space and freedom, maybe to a fault. With Rob, it’s the real deal, Ana told herself. No bells and whistles, no ideal promises, no romantic gifts, no public displays of affection or wild declarations of love repeated dozens of times a day. But whatever he says or does, I can always count on it to be true and real. And that, she thought as she began falling asleep soothed by the warmth of her husband’s presence, is what now matters to me most.
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