But glass can. I stare at my almost-perfect table setting—I even nestled votive candles in crystal holders around the centerpiece and in front of each place setting. Just call me Martha Stewart. I wonder what I should wear tonight? Here, in the land of expensive designer purses and shoes, most women blend in, their monochromatic coolness anchored by jeans, topped by their perfectly smooth, porcelain faces. I remember my first dinner party at The Cove: me from the South, them from Southern California. I'd worn a yellow silk cocktail dress, my biggest pearls and wrapped a white cashmere pashmina around my shoulders. I was as out of place as a Twinkie at a Weight Watchers meeting. But you know what? All the husbands approved, tired of the sameness they endured in their wives. Back then, David was proud to have me on his arm, proud I stood out like a beautiful flower in a meadow of boring grass. It's ironic, really: I gave up my dreams to move here, to become the perfect Orange County housewife. I could have been so much more.
This ocean view is why we bought this home all those years ago, scraping together every last dime and tapping into David's trust fund to move into The Cove, the best community in Southern California. We were young parents, and so madly in love. The ocean was romantic, beautiful then. Not deadly and dark and cold. I feel the rush of heat as my hands clench into fists.
Anger and loss, did you ever notice how those emotions mix together? It's a toxic combination. I swallow. I need to focus on the table, the first step of my coming-out party. All that's missing from this perfect setting is the fourth wineglass. I have another one, of course. It's almost symbolic. It was Mary's spot at the table, Mary's wineglass that fell to the floor.
Mary who dropped into the sea. I shake my head to quiet the voice.
My therapist, Dr. Rosenthal, assured me at our last session that it would be a step forward to eat together as a family in the dining room. She wants us to reconnect, and I most always do whatever she says. At our next session I'll happily tell the doctor all about tonight. I am committed to reenergizing my life, reconnecting with my family. I tell her what I want her to know, what she wants to hear. Sure, she's the one with the PhD, but I'm the one with life experience. I'm the heart of this family.
That's a mom's place.
Perhaps I won't mention the broken glass during our session, although it is emblematic of all that has happened this year since Mary left us. Nothing is right. My husband has thrown his energy into work, he tells me. He's gone all the time these days. Betsy is focused on graduating high school in four short days. I swallow. I push away the silly fear, the nagging sound of my mom's voice telling me Betsy will leave me. It's nonsense. Betsy loves me, would never leave me. I mean, it's not like she's brilliant like Mary was, or smart like Mary was. No, Betsy is average. She'll be dependent on me forever, and that's just fine. And David, well, he's buying us a new home. Everyone is getting in line.
The hair at the back of my neck tingles on alert. Someone is watching me. I look out the window and see the five-year-old cherub next door, his round face pushing through a partially open window, his eyes bright and curious. He's up too high. He must have climbed onto a chair. Where is the nanny? Twenty children under the age of eleven die each year because of falls from windows, and another five thousand are critically injured. Tragic accidents happen all the time. That's why I watched my daughters every moment of their lives, never letting them out of my sight, one way or another, ever. They were like extensions of my arms, a hand for each of them. My little mini-mes.
I glance at the boy next door and then to the ground two stories below. There is nothing to break his fall if he topples out, just a thin strip of cement between his house and ours. I shudder at the thought. We pay astronomical prices to live on top of each other at the coast. Proximity and privilege means it's hard to keep secrets here. Turns out it's also hard to keep friends, and family. The child is waving at me. I try to help him, pointing and mouthing the word down like I'm commanding a dog. I know all of the tragic things that can happen to him. Children who land on a hard surface, such as concrete, are twice as likely to suffer head injuries.
I can't witness this tragedy. Glass or no glass, I tiptoe away from the table, waiting for the sharp sensation of a shard slicing through my foot. I'm almost out of the minefield of glass when I realize I have company.
"What are you doing?" Enter stage right: my handsome husband, David, thick brown hair, blue eyes, dimpled—a model WASP—is in the kitchen and assessing the scene. He could have been an actor, he's perfectly typecast as the successful businessman, 1950s to today. "I made a mess of things," I say before covering my face with my hands. I can't resist leaving a small space between my fingers to peek at him. His smile fades as he drops his briefcase on the kitchen
counter. Poor dear.