But at home that night over dinner he tried not to think about that, dismissed it as psychobabble, only said something vague about feeling unsure, not having a gut sense that this was the right move to make. Introducing such a huge change into their lives. About it being a long- term commitment—a phrase that caused Ann to stare pointedly his way. Exactly what would you know about keeping commitments, Jack? Lila claimed to hate what she called "the whole geeky blind-girl thing with the dog who snarls at everyone but me." And Ann eventually confessed to having her own concerns, to a recent fear of large dogs, which caused Jack to throw his own exasperated look at her: Exactly what is it that you aren't afraid of, Ann?

In the home of a blind child, it turned out, a marriage could easily enough dissolve in unwitnessed pantomime. Ann and he could be giving each other the finger through every meal, for all Lila knew. And at times, they had come pretty close.

"It isn't the most important consideration, I understand," Ann said in her quiet, steady tones, so suffused with control that the effort itself was like a second, twining voice. "I probably shouldn't have brought it up."

"Poor Mommy." Lila reached across the kitchen table to pat her hand, and Ann moved it for her to find. "Who said parenthood wasn't hard?"

The college counselor at school was adamant, though, and ultimately persuasive. "It's the best way to do college," she said. "It's the best way to do adulthood, in fact," she added, reaching to pet the heavyset creature lying beside her feet on the gray carpet, as Jack watched Ann shift in her chair, away from the dog. "You don't want her living with her parents for her whole life," she stated—startling Jack— as though that were clearly true.

She handed Ann a card with two agency names, and Ann then passed it on to Jack, a move he recognized all too well. Everything from phoning for take-out to planning vacations to calling in someone to see if their lacy-leafed maples should be sprayed—all these were increasingly his to do, as his wife retreated ever more steadily into her phobic state.

"Would you like to compare coping mechanisms?" she'd asked him once, when he let fly his rapidly growing anger at her rapidly shrinking world. "Yours versus mine? What's her name, again? Amanda? Miranda? Would you like to have this conversation? Or should we just keep trying to help each other stumble through for a few more years? For Lila's good?"

Stumble. It was the obvious answer. They would stumble through, of course.

Jack picked one agency over the other by no more scientific means than the fact that the first one's phone was busy; and the agency whose phone wasn't busy put him onto Bess Edwards. "She has her own methods, but they work," the agency man said. "She's a dog woman through-and-through." Jack repeated the phrase to Lila just to hear her laugh and describe what she thought a through-and-through dog-woman must be like.

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