Still stinking of beer, with blood crusted on my jeans, I pull into the driveway of the pale green Victorian house on Pearl Street where Elaine and I have lived since 1982. We bought it for $125,000, fingers crossed and breaths held; Bert Birch had offered me a partnership with privileges at Round Hill Medical Center, and even though Elaine and I both thought, privately, No, not here, we don't know anyone, how will we afford this? we kept our doubts entirely to ourselves and moved in. As soon as Joe was finished with his ob-gyn fellowship in Baltimore, we persuaded him and Iris to move to town, and they did, and we let out our breaths a little. But we'd been isolated and nervous that whole first year, and for some reason trying to get pregnant, too.

I put the Escort in park and look up at our house. Elaine's Jeep is in the driveway, and so is Alec's Civic. I wonder if they're spending the afternoon together, maybe sharing last weekend's crossword, a simple pleasure for them both. I know how happy Elaine is to have our son back. To be honest, he's a better housemate than I've ever been, neater, more considerate, and, unlike me, he enjoys most of the things his mother does. At night, from the studio, I can hear them play their favorite music: that Cuban band from the movie, some African chanting Alec picked up from a friend who went in for the Peace Corps. It all sounds like high-end restaurant music to me, but who cares what I think? Not these two. No reason to.

Does Roseanne's brother come here? I wonder. Does he know where my wife and child sleep? Does he care about them, or is his rage only directed toward me? I reach down and wipe my bloody leg, pull out a tiny piece of gravel. I was a coward, but so was the kid. Throwing beer cans. Screaming obscenities.

I roll down the window but the house is quiet, although I see lamplight burning from behind the living room shades. Reproduction Tiffany lamps that we bought in Bedford during our marital renaissance, six years ago now. She's done the crossword by them ever since. If Craig has come to the house, if he's stood outside, maybe he's watched her complete the Sunday. If he touches her, even thinks of touching her, I swear to God I'll kill him without a blink.

Elaine and I have known each other for more than half our lives. She's watched over me. She still watches over me, despite the doubts about me that she regrettably holds. As I watch, the Tiffany lamps go dark, and a minute later, after she's fetched her jacket, her purse, and her keys, my wife stands at our front door, looking out at me in my little white Escort. I wave at her. She blinks, smiles sadly, and waves back. She's kept her hair short in recent years, and she's put on forty pounds, but I can remember her clinging to my side back in college, eating cinnamon rolls in Rehoboth, and if I could only scroll back time and do it again, every day would be a renaissance.

"You coming in?" she calls from the top step of our porch.

"You going out?" I ask.

She pulls her jacket around her shoulders and nods.

"I think I'll sit here for a while," I say.

Elaine has grown used to what could kindly be called my eccentricities. She shrugs, descends from the porch, and steps lightly to her car. She swings her purse at her side. It breaks my heart to see her go.

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein Read O 's review


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