A spring evening in New York and here, once again, piled into Alexander Amesâ€™s bed were Clyde Foreman, Paul Loopy, Phil Owen, Eve Hecht, Emma Beckmanâ€”as well as Alexander himselfâ€”together now like on most days where they occupied the lunch-table, a corner of the classroom or the steps outside their high school. Emma lay to the right of Alexander, her right arm resting on his leg, her hand opened over his knee. A frail girl with dark hair and a crooked nose, she had on a perfume smelling of sunflowers that her mother had brought home for her just yesterday. She wore a black cashmere sweater and a white skirt, the length of which would have resulted in her dismissal from school. Actually, all the boys, save for Alexander whoâ€™d returned home before the others and changed into jeans and a T-shirt, more comfortable attire, were still dressed in their Friday uniforms, navy jackets with red kerchiefs tucked in the front pockets, ties, now hanging loose at the neck and beige slacks. Paul, a sallow-faced, sunken-cheeked boy, had removed his tie, though, and was wearing it proudly around his head. Taking a bottle of vodka from Eve, he raised his chin, drank, then said, â€œSoâ€¦whereâ€™s your Mom, Alex?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Clyde said, coming up on his elbow. â€œWhere is she?â€
â€œIn Vermont. Sheâ€™ll be gone till Sunday.â€
Clyde blinked both his eyes. â€œHmmphâ€”I can stay till she comes back?â€
â€œYou can. Actuallyâ€¦everyone should.â€
And where Alexander meant these last remarks, the comment was, in fact, said explicitly for Emmaâ€™s sake. Alexander had been looking for his moment to kiss her for months. What was taking so long, anyhow? Nerves? Yes, nerves and the lack of opportunities. As far as Alexander was concerned, heâ€™d had only a single chance thus far, and that had come one day after school. They were alone together, just one block from the subway; Emma had stopped under an awning to ask Alexander if she could borrow train fare. Alexander agreed; but in his head, there was no way to kiss her afterwards. Maybe she wouldnâ€™t have read into the matter as Alexander had, and so heâ€™d missed his chance. But still, he swore, to himself and to all his friends, that reaching into his pantâ€™s pocket and opening his wallet had cheapened the moment, cooled it of the romance heâ€™d been fantasizing about for so long. He figured heâ€™d just have to wait a little longer. No matter, heâ€™d heard good things from Eve just the other day. As it was, Emma had told Eve she was pleased with Alexanderâ€™s recent growth spurt; the way his thick hair, both dark and curly, hardly moved when he jogged around the track during gym class; sheâ€™d also said sheâ€™d never seen eyes so dark, â€œlike coalâ€¦but in a very good wayâ€¦a very very good way!â€ Alexander felt optimistic about his chances.
â€œWell,â€ Phil said, taking thumb and pointer finger to his chin, â€œif you mean it, Alex, Iâ€™ll call my mother this second, tell her I wonâ€™t be home.â€
Alexander said, â€œI mean it, yes. Give her aâ€”â€
But here, the phone began to ring. Alexander looked around, touched Emmaâ€™s hand and stood, crossing the bedroom to the phone. Picking up, he said, â€œHello?â€
A voice familiar to Alexander, and eager, said, â€œSoâ€¦is your mom up?â€
â€œMy mom?â€ he said, motioning for everyone to quiet down with his free hand. â€œNo. No actually, sheâ€™s still asleep.â€
â€œYes. Sheâ€™s still in bed.â€
It was William Avery, his motherâ€™s fiancÃ©e, on the line. Heâ€™d already called twice to see if Jean, Alexanderâ€™s mother, was awake and feeling well enough to come to the phone. Of course, she wasnâ€™t even home. She was with Peter Feldman, a man sheâ€™d been seeing for two month. Sitting in Peterâ€™s car some four hours earlier on her way to Vermont, sheâ€™d telephoned home and asked Alexander to explain to Williamâ€”if he calledâ€”that she was sick and couldnâ€™t come to the phone.
Her words were these:
â€œListen honeyâ€¦Iâ€™m in a bit of a rush. Now, if William calls, I want you to tell him I donâ€™t feel well, that Iâ€™m asleep and that Iâ€™ll call him in the morning. And, if he says anything, if he asks to wake me up, I want you to walk away from the phone, then come back and tell him youâ€™ve spoken with me and that Iâ€™ve got a migraine, Iâ€™m throwing up, and weâ€™ll speak in the morning.
â€œNow I know, I knowâ€¦I donâ€™t like to lieâ€”and I donâ€™t plan on raising a liar. But Peter and I are driving up to Vermont and I wonâ€™t be back till Sunday. Iâ€™ll call William in the morning. Iâ€™ll handle him, donâ€™t worry. Just, for now, tell him Iâ€™m not well, that Iâ€™m asleepâ€”and nothing else. You understand, honey?â€
â€œYes, I think so. Let me make sureâ€¦sickâ€¦migraineâ€¦throwing up, call in the morning.â€
â€œIs that all?â€
â€œWell, okay, Mom.â€
â€œI love you, Alex.â€
â€œI love you too.â€
And that was it. Now William was calling for the third time, intent on speaking to Alexanderâ€™s mother. He would call all nightâ€”Alexander was sure of itâ€”until he reached her directly.
â€œSo sheâ€™s still asleep,â€ William said, a laugh petering out into a sigh. â€œCould you wake her?â€
â€œWake herâ€¦I donâ€™t know.â€ Alexander here pressed the phone to his stomach, just as his mother would, and addressing his friends, said, â€œEveryone, quiet.â€
William said, â€œIs she that ill? Maybe I should come over.â€
â€œNo, I mean, noâ€”she came home and looked really sick. Itâ€™s just that itâ€™s hard to tell with her. But, she said she didnâ€™t want to be disturbed. She said she didnâ€™t want to talk to anyone. I mean, youâ€™re notâ€¦you know…itâ€™s just that thatâ€™s just what she said: â€˜I donâ€™t want to be disturbed by anyone.â€
â€œHmmâ€¦I have something important to tell her. I have to speak to her tonight.â€
Alexander set his gaze on Emma, her legs, and then more specifically the dimple she was forming in her right knee by folding the skin inward. The fold resembled a monkeyâ€™s lips, or so he thought to himself, and this made him smile.
â€œAre you there, Alex?â€
â€œYesâ€”Iâ€™m here, but I donâ€™t know what else to say. Iâ€™m sorry. Iâ€™ll have her call you when she gets up. Iâ€™m sure she will. She canâ€™t sleep all night.â€
â€œOkay, yes. Youâ€™re right.â€
Alexander hung up the phone and returned to his seat beside Emma. Everyone stared at him, silent; Alexander, discomfited by the many eyes, said, â€œWhat?â€ and settled his shoulders back against the headboard, putting a cigarette between his lips. Then he said, â€œWhat?â€ again, and lit a match. â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œWell who was that?â€ Clyde said, taking a swig of vodka.
Paul looked at Phil and said, â€œDo you know who that was?â€
Phil said, â€œNope, no idea.â€
â€œWhoever it was,â€ Eve said, â€œyou told him your mom was sick in bed. Sheâ€™s not sick in bed, Alex.â€
Clyde said, â€œThatâ€™s for sure. What gives?â€
And here, a clamor fueled by both youthful curiosity and vodka shot up in the room.
Alexander said, â€œOkay, okay, okay, quiet,â€ and lowered his head downward from the neck, taking a slow, heavy breath, his shoulders rising. â€œWell, you see,â€ he said, smiling with half his face, â€œwhat can I say, guysâ€¦my motherâ€¦sheâ€™s cheating on William.â€
â€œCheating on William! But theyâ€™ve been together three years,â€ Clyde said, incredulous.
â€œI know and they were supposed to get married last summer. It didnâ€™t happen. I donâ€™t know why. I mean, my mother doesnâ€™t tell me these kinds of things. I remember, she just came in one day and said that they were going to get married, eventually, but that it just wasnâ€™t the time. Now, of course, sheâ€™s up in Vermont with some guy, soâ€¦â€
Phil said, â€œWhat? Sheâ€™s where, with who?â€
â€œSome guy. I donâ€™t know,â€ Alexander said, crossing his arms over his chest. â€œYou know, this isnâ€™t the first time sheâ€™s cheated on him, either. Itâ€™s happened a few times, Iâ€™d say. Ten times, yes. Thatâ€™s probably right. I donâ€™t knowâ€¦I donâ€™t know if sheâ€™ll marry William. Iâ€™m starting to think she doesnâ€™t want to,â€ he laughed. â€œShe says she does, but then sheâ€™s always finding other men to be with. She even called this afternoon and asked me to tell William that she was sick, in bed. Thatâ€™s what she said. Thatâ€™s what she asked me to do. I said I would, but, I know itâ€”heâ€™s going to call all night and Iâ€™m going to have to tell him sheâ€™s asleep, or, throwing up in the bathroom or something. Itâ€™s never happened like this before. Iâ€™ve never had to lie for herâ€¦not like this.â€
And here, Alexander stopped. The only sound now was that of a fan which had been put beside the door to keep smoke from passing from the bedroom out into the rest of the apartment. All the children were silent, yes.
But then, for no child was this silence meant to express the sorrow or concern each one might have felt for Alexander. Actually, everyone in the room was thinking of their own parents and the way in which they included them in their respective infidelities. Both Emma and Clyde had caught their fathers with other women; Emma, while standing in one of the four quarters of a revolving door at the entrance of the Plaza Hotel, her father and his lover standing pressed together and kissing between the adjacent doors. Hiding under her coat, Emma managed to go undetected; but still, sheâ€™d been plagued by guilt ever since, unsure as to whether she should confront her father, inform her mother, or, just stay silent about the incident. She woke in the morning to her grief. At night, she couldnâ€™t sleep. This had been going on for more than two years and she had told no one.
Eveâ€™s mother had left her father, and the rest of the family, for one year and moved in with her lover in his midtown apartment. When meeting him for the first time, Eve realized her motherâ€™s lover was none other than the rabbi from the Hebrew school her mother forced her to attend three times a week. Not that this resulted any kind of religious crisis for the young girl, then eleven years old; no, she later told one of her classmates, â€œI was grateful. I didnâ€™t ever have to go back there again. It was that easy.â€ And this was true. Eveâ€™s mother didnâ€™t put up any fight when her daughter stopped attending classes. She said, â€œMomâ€¦if youâ€™re sleeping with the rabbi, then it must not be the place for me.â€ Her motherâ€™s response to this was: â€œIâ€™m shocked you recognized the rabbi. I thought you hated Hebrew school. You told me you hated it!â€
Paulâ€™s situation was somewhat different. His mother and father agreed to an open relationship. Paul then, the second of three sons, was made the go-between for his mother and father, who were nosy about each otherâ€™s liaisons, but hadnâ€™t the courage to ask anyone other than their son. Thus, Paul spoke for both mother and father, keeping them current about their recent lovers, or, the lack there of; he informed his parents as to the otherâ€™s doubts, their joys, their travel plans, even their wishes to be together again. Paul eventually had to consult lawyers for each party about divorce proceedings, though; and, in the end, he decided heâ€™d never tell either of his parents about the other for as long as they lived.
Clyde had come home once in the middle of the day to find his father and a prostitute having sex in the kitchen. His father, seated at the breakfast table with a woman on top of him, stared at his son a moment, then turned away and continued on just as he had been, signaling for Clyde to leave the room with a wave of the hand. And yes, he did leave the room, at once. In fact, Clyde left the apartment immediately and didnâ€™t return for three days. His mother, some eight months later, was still asking for an explanation as to why he â€˜ran away that one night.â€™
Phil had never caught either of his parents doing anything like those of his friends, but, he was the result of his fatherâ€™s fourth marriage and his motherâ€™s third. He had stepbrothers and sisters who were more than thirty years older than himself and this, as well as many others fact about his parentsâ€™ marriage, confused him as a young boy. Once recently, when asking his mother why she and his father had been married so many times before, she answered: â€œBecause your father canâ€™t keep his thing in his pants. And me, for some reasonâ€¦Iâ€™ve always been attracted to men with this problem,â€ and that was all she said. Phil hadnâ€™t thought about it since.
â€œWell so this is a problem,â€ Alexander said, â€œbut what do you all think I should doâ€¦let the phone ring for the rest of the night, not pick up? I mean, weâ€™re all here. Who do I need to speak to?â€
Clyde said, â€œWell you have to pick up the phone. You have to lie for your mother. Itâ€™s important. She asked you to and you said you would. Sheâ€™s expecting you to keep your word, Alex. And whether or not you want to, a son has a responsibility to…â€
â€œNo, no, no!â€ Eve said, pulling a rubber band from her wrist and taking her hair back into a ponytail. â€œYou do not have to lie for your mother, Alex. Donâ€™t listen to him. He doesnâ€™t know what the hell heâ€™s talking about.â€
â€œOh really!â€ Clyde shouted. â€œHow do you know I donâ€™t lie for my parents every day! How do you know I donâ€™t?â€
Eve came forward on the bed, her hands out, and said, â€œI donâ€™t care if you do, Clyde! That doesnâ€™t make a difference. Who knows whatâ€™ll happen if Alex keeps lying to William, thoughâ€¦he could come busting through the doorâ€”tonight!â€
â€œHeâ€™s not coming over here,â€ Clyde said.
Alexander said, â€œHe better not.â€
â€œBut he could,â€ Eve said. â€œYour mother is putting you in a dangerous situation. Just wait. My mother says where women kill themselves, men are liable to kill anyone when they learn theyâ€™ve been cheated onâ€”the person standing next to themâ€”anyone!â€
â€œAch,â€ Clyde said, letting his chin drop. â€œYouâ€™re so stupid!â€
â€œDonâ€™t call me stupid! Youâ€™re stupid!â€
Paul and Phil then leapt to their feet and, Paul, speaking for both of them, said, â€œYou know, this isâ€”this is silly. Weâ€™re going to go out, guys. Weâ€™ll be back. We just, we want to go, be outside, and wellâ€¦weâ€™ll be back soon, we promise.â€
They then left the room.
The sound of the front door being unlocked, opened and closed, could be heard inside the bedroom.
Eve shrugged and said, â€œThey left in a hurry. Wonder what got to them?â€
â€œWho knows?â€ Clyde said.
â€œAnyway, everyone should justâ€”calm down. Weâ€™re just talking, right?â€ Alexander then turned to Emma, bringing his hand up beside her leg so that they touched. â€œEmma,â€ he said, â€œâ€¦what do you think about it?â€
â€œYes. What do you think?â€
Emma, resting on her side, lifted the end of her skirt and let it fall back to her thigh. Then, looking down towards her navel, she said, â€œI think you should do whatever you want to do, Alex.â€
â€œWhatever I want to do?â€
â€œYes,â€ she said.
â€œWell what do I want to do? Hmmâ€¦you know, I donâ€™t know.â€ Alexander sat at the edge of the bed, one hand on his hip, the other pulling at the skin of his neck. â€œI guess, what Iâ€™d really like to do is this: the next time William calls, Iâ€™d like to tell him my motherâ€™s cheating on him. Iâ€™d like to tell him to come over and see for himself. Yes, Iâ€™d like that. Iâ€™d like to see him come through the door. Iâ€™d point down the hallway to my motherâ€™s bedroom and say, â€˜Sorry, butâ€¦sheâ€™s not here. Sheâ€™s with
another man. Donâ€™t you know? Arenâ€™t you wise to her! Open your eyes, you shmuch! Come on, itâ€™s obvious!â€™â€
Emma said, â€œOh quiet, Alex,â€ and sat up.
â€œYeahâ€¦Iâ€™d like to do that! And then, and thenâ€¦to my mother, when she calls in the morning, Iâ€™d like to tell her, â€˜Oh momma, itâ€™s all over. He knows everything.â€™ â€˜Everything?â€™ sheâ€™d say. â€˜Yesâ€¦everything!â€™ I mean, she wouldnâ€™t know what to do with herself. Sheâ€™d be completely stunned. Iâ€™d say, â€˜But pleaseâ€¦youâ€™ve got to figure out a better plan next time, Mom! You need a better plan if youâ€™re going to fuck around!â€™â€
â€œDonâ€™t say that!â€ Emma shouted.
â€œBut thatâ€™s her language. On the phone with her friends, itâ€™s â€˜Iâ€™m fucking around!â€™ â€˜Heâ€™s fucking around!â€™ â€˜Sheâ€™s fucking around!â€™ Everybodyâ€¦just fucking around! Whatâ€™s wrong with these people, they canâ€™t stopâ€¦â€™â€
Emma, here, slapped her hand against the headboard and said, â€œShut up, Alex! Iâ€™mâ€”Iâ€™m going home. I want to leave. I donâ€™t want to be here.â€
Alexander looked back at her, in awe.
Eve and Clyde, who had been screwing up their lips and making faces at each other, paused a moment and stared, bewildered, at Emma.
â€œYouâ€™re leaving?â€ Clyde said. â€œOh, come on. Donâ€™t worry about it. This is nothing.â€
Eve said, â€œEmmaâ€¦this isnâ€™t any reason to go home. Come on.â€
But Emma stood and left the room. Alexander followed after her in a hurry. They were, at once, beside the front door, Emma with her coat on and a schoolbag hanging over her shoulder, Alexander now impetuous and desperate, pulling at her bag, insisting that, if it were in any way important to her, he would tell William the truth when he called again. Yes, he would explain everything to him. He would end the situation, immediately.
She said, â€œIâ€™m sorry, Alex. I donâ€™t want to be here.â€
â€œBut why! I donâ€™t get it.â€
â€œBecause,â€ she said, â€œI donâ€™t like any of this.â€
Then the phone started to ring and Emma wagged her finger in the direction from which the sound was coming. â€œThere it is again. Iâ€™m sorry. Iâ€™m going home.â€
Alexander said, â€œNo, wait, please. Donâ€™t leave. Not yet, okay.â€ Alexander turned and went along through the hallway into the kitchen. His heart was beating so that he heard the thump-thump in his ears. He was hot in the neck, in the shoes, his scalp itching. â€œShit,â€ he said, aloud; and then, â€œHello.â€
â€œHi, Alex, hi. Is your Mom up?â€
â€œWilliam,â€ he said. â€œAhh no.â€
â€œWellâ€¦I need you to wake her then.â€
â€œWilliam, Iâ€™m not going to wake her. Sheâ€™s not well. Why donâ€™t you just wait and sheâ€™ll call you when sheâ€™s up. Itâ€™ll be soon,
â€œBut thatâ€™s what she wants, William.â€
â€œWell,â€ William huffed into the phone, â€œI donâ€™t care. I donâ€™t. You know, you say your momâ€™s not feeling well and that sheâ€™s asleep. But that doesnâ€™t explain why she canâ€™t answer the phone! I mean, just put her on for a second. I have to tell her something. I doâ€”and I tried her all day at work, she didnâ€™t get back to me. Now Iâ€™m calling her at home and I still canâ€™t get her on the line.â€
Alexander said, â€œWell,â€ and peered out of the kitchen to check on Emma. She hadnâ€™t moved.
â€œYou told her I called, yes?â€
â€œNo, I havenâ€™tâ€¦Sheâ€™s been asleep, William.â€
â€œOkay, well, again I donâ€™t know. I really donâ€™t. Iâ€™m going out to walk the dog. Tell your mother Iâ€™ll call back in twenty minutes and that she better answer, okay? Tell her that.â€
â€œYou want me to tell her that?â€
â€œFine, William. Iâ€™ll tell her.â€
Alexander slammed down the phone and said, â€œEmma?â€ walking out the kitchen and back through the hallway. When he got to the front door, Emma was still there; she had removed her schoolbag, as well as her coat, though, and she was sitting cross-legged on the floor, her hands to her face and hiding tears.
â€œHeyâ€¦whatâ€™s the matter?â€ Alexander said. â€œYou all right?â€
She said nothing.
Alexander sat down beside her. â€œWhat? What is it?â€
â€œNothing,â€ Emma said. â€œItâ€™s nothing.â€ And then she stood up, said, â€œExcuse me,â€ and went directly into a nearby bathroom, closing and locking the door behind her.
Alexander stood outside the bathroom door, calling Emmaâ€™s name, then waiting and calling to her again; she didnâ€™t respond. He knocked and asked if he could come in, if she wanted to talk; but still, she remained quiet. He next asked her if he should go away; this seemed to be the right question, because, right then, the door opened and Emma took Alexanderâ€™s hand, leading him inside. She sat on the closed lid of the toilet, Alexander resting himself down just beside her on the lip of bathtub. Emma had stopped crying and she was looking up, then away at Alexander, laughing, before turning her attention back to the floor.
Was this, Alexander wondered, his moment to kiss her? He was more uncertain now than heâ€™d been on the day outside the train station; after all, she had just been crying. She was upset. To all of a sudden embrace her, raise his lips to hers, could prove himself the wrong boyâ€”insensitive, dense, too forward, sexually speaking. He leaned forward anyway, though; and, with Emmaâ€™s head turned slightly away from his, he puckered his lips and landed them just above her ear, pulling away with a long, black strand of hair in his mouth.
She seemed not to notice. She didnâ€™t look at him or say anything.
So, Alexander, taking Emmaâ€™s hair out from between his lips, kissed her again, this time on the hand. Yes, he took her hand and kissed her just above the knuckles. It would have been impossible for her to miss this gesture.
But still, Emma gave no sign affirming his kiss. Instead, she said, â€œDoes this happen often to you, Alex?â€
â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ he said, letting go of her hand.
â€œYour motherâ€¦does she have you tell lies to her fiancÃ©e while sheâ€™s off with other men?â€
Alex thought about it a moment and said, â€œNo. Not often. I mean, I lie to family and friends all the time, on the phone, tell them sheâ€™s in another country, or, you knowâ€¦dead.â€
Emma seemed disappointed. â€œWhy would she have you do that?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. I mean, my mother doesnâ€™t want to come to the phone sometimes. She doesnâ€™t always have the energy for it.
So, she asks me to do it for her.â€
â€œThatâ€™s terrible, Alex.â€
â€œMaybe. I donâ€™t mind it…â€
And Alexander tried kissing Emma again. This time she stopped him.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t want to.â€
â€œBecauseâ€¦I donâ€™t. I donâ€™t want to kiss you.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Alexander said. And, to avoid any further awkwardness, he launched quickly into: â€œHey, tell meâ€”you know, if you feel comfortable sayingâ€”I mean, if you do then, wellâ€¦did you ever catch one of your parents cheating on the other?â€
â€œWhat?â€ Emma said.
â€œA parent, you know? Did you ever catch one cheating on the other?â€
â€œNo!â€ Emma shouted. â€œOf course not!â€
â€œWhat would make you think that!â€
â€œNothing, itâ€™s justâ€¦â€
And Emma ran out the bathroom.
For the next ten minutes, Alexander tried convincing Emma to stay at his apartment. And though she refused him, it was at the very moment she attempted to unlock the front door and make her exit that Paul and Phil returned from their outing, picked Emma up off her feet and carried her over their shoulders back into Alexanderâ€™s room, there interrupting Clyde and Eve from further undressing each other. Alexander then asked Clyde and Eve to put their clothes back on or seek privacy in his motherâ€™s bedroom. Embarrassed at being found with their tops off, they declined, inviting everyone to sit around once again, to talk, to drink and be at ease, then slid their shirts back over their heads. Paul and Phil were not finished restraining Emma, however. Paul had blocked off the bedroom door and Phil was holding both pointer fingers in the air, as if to say he would tickle her if need be; but now Emma had a smile on her face and was happy to be wanted. She forced them to back away from her and promised not to leave, swearing at the same time that they couldnâ€™t hold her prisoner and that they would be advised to keep an eye on her. Alexander watched quietly from a seat on the floor beside the bed, feeling, at once, rejected, but pleased that someone was able to keep Emma from leaving so soon. Clyde had brought six small glasses from the kitchen and was pouring shots of vodka. He passed the glasses around and raising his own in the air, ordered everyone to drink at once. All did as they were told. Clyde then began going about the room and pouring more for those who wanted. To Alexander, Clyde seemed to be stomping a bit too loudly on the floor and he asked him to quiet down. Clyde obliged his friend, but he didnâ€™t hide his contempt, asking out and to the room, â€œWill someone give that boy a knock in the head or something! Jesus, someone please!â€ Then, an empty glass, which was resting on a nightstand, was kicked to the floor. Eve raised her head up from a pillow on the bed and apologizing, ran off to get a broom and dustpan to sweep up the broken glass. Phil didnâ€™t even flinch when the glass hit the floor, but continued after Emma, forcing her back with his hands.
Alexander watched Paul and Emma a moment, then returned his gaze to his lap. He stayed like this a while, sadly rubbing his hands. Eve finished cleaning up the glass and she patted Alexander on the cheek and said, â€œItâ€™s all good now, honey,â€ taking the bottle of vodka and drinking. â€œJust watch your feet.â€
â€œYes, thatâ€™s rightâ€¦everyone watch your feet!â€ Alexander shouted. â€œThereâ€™s probably some glass on the floor stillâ€”watch your feet;â€ and realizing his spirit had risen with Eveâ€™s touch and that, moreover, he had the attention of the room, Alexander said,
â€œHey quiet! Everyone, please. Quiet! Quiet! Quiet! Just for a second, I have to ask youâ€¦let me ask all of you, pleaseâ€”for a moment, pleaseâ€¦â€ The room became silent. â€œBecause I was asking Emma about it not too long ago and her answer was no. I want to ask the rest of you, pleaseâ€¦I want to know if anyoneâ€™s, wellâ€¦if anyoneâ€™s ever caught their parents cheating on each other?â€
Confusion appeared on all faces.
Alexander repeated his question. He said, â€œI mean, or has anyone ever had to lie for a parent about their cheating on each other?â€
Clyde laughed and said, â€œYouâ€™re an idiot.â€
Alexander said, â€œBut I mean it.â€ Alexanderâ€™s voice became strained. â€œIs this such an unusual thing?â€
â€œYes,â€ Phil said. â€œIt is.â€
Paul said, â€œI agree,â€ and clapped his hands.
â€œSo no one hereâ€™s ever caught their parents cheating?â€ Alexander opened his palms to the ceiling. â€œI mean, if you havenâ€™t, you havenâ€™t. Butâ€¦maybe you have. I donâ€™t know.â€
Again, the room fell quiet. No one said a word. Alexander looked around and said, â€œWell I mean, if you havenâ€™t, you havenâ€™t. Butâ€¦okay then.â€
And the phone began to ring.
Alexander said, â€œIâ€™ll get it,â€ and rushed across the room, answering.
â€œIs she up?â€ were Williams first words. â€œDid you tell her I was going to call?â€
â€œYes, William. I did.â€
â€œAnd she doesnâ€™t want to talk.â€
â€œNo, William. Iâ€™m sorry. Sheâ€™s asleep.â€
â€œTell me, Alexâ€”tell meâ€¦is she even there?â€
â€œYes, she is!â€
â€œWell, I donâ€™t believe you,â€ he said. â€œNoâ€”I can tell youâ€™re lying to me,â€ and he hung up.
Fifteen minutes later, Alexander heard the front door unlocking from inside his bedroom and stood and ran out to see William entering inside his apartment. With his hand on the knob, William stopped, then leaned forward towards Alexander. He offered no greeting, made no immediate demands about Jeanâ€™s whereabouts, remaining, instead, beside the front door, his feet still beyond the threshold of the apartment. He was neither tall, nor thick-limbed; hadnâ€™t any extra weight to carry; wasnâ€™t wiry, nimble, nor someone who would intimidate others by sheer physicality alone. Actually, seen from across an avenue, William appeared almost old, the little hair remaining on his head, gray and thinning, his back crooked from an auto accident. His eyebrows were thick and white and he wore a neatly trimmed, gray mustache. Still, it was in his dark, brooding eyes, in the veins that stood up from his forehead when his face flushed with anger, as it did now, that he appeared menacing. Alexander had never feared William before; but he had watched others experience Williamâ€™s explosive temperâ€”and he thought it coming.
Closing his bedroom door, Alexander said, â€œIâ€™m sorryâ€¦sheâ€™s not here, William. Sheâ€™s gone.â€
William came forward, the front door shutting behind him. â€œWhat do you mean!â€ he said. â€œWhere is she? Did she go out to get milk?â€
â€œNo,â€ Alexander said.
â€œWhere is she then?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. Sheâ€™s with someone.â€
William then wiped his eyes and left his hand bent above the brow. â€œWith someone! Who! Sherry! Denise!â€
â€œNoâ€¦sheâ€™s not with any of them.â€
â€œThen who the hell is she with!â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t know!â€
â€œI mean, I know. I know sheâ€™s with someone.â€
â€œWhat do you meanâ€”a man!â€
â€œI mean sheâ€™s with another manâ€¦his nameâ€™s Peter. Sheâ€™s seeing him.â€
William lowered his head and began rapping the tips of his middle and pointer fingers against his forehead
â€œIâ€™m sorry, William, butâ€¦thatâ€™s the truth.â€
â€œSo you were lying Alexander!â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t my fault. I was told to lie,â€ and Alexander stepped out from the wall on which he was leaning and around William to
the front door. â€œMy mother sheâ€™s…â€
â€œI know your mother, okay. I know what sheâ€™s like, butâ€¦I canâ€™t believe this!â€
â€œHow longâ€™s this been going on?â€
â€œYesâ€”how long!â€ William said, his face now pale.
â€œMonths!â€ Williamâ€™s hand raised above his shoulder and he appeared ready to strike Alexander.
â€œOh, god! Ach! Oh, I haveâ€”I have to go. Iâ€™m sorry. This isâ€¦this is justâ€¦Iâ€™m sorry. Iâ€™m leaving.â€ Then William pocketed the keys heâ€™d used to enter Alexanderâ€™s apartmentâ€”his personal setâ€”and left.
Soon heard were the voices of Alexanderâ€™s friends calling to him from the bedroom. They wanted to know if it were all right to come out.
And yes, it was. William was gone. There was no need to hide anymore. They came to Alexander in a collective fever, eager to know what had happened. All stood around him and began asking every kind of question, interrupting each other, pressing Alexander for answers.
He would tell them nothing.