See Ben's Family

See Ben now, browsing The Family of Man, nestled on his mother’s couch under an afghan (his sister’s got the A/C on full blast). What a hopeful title: The Family of Man. Did many households like theirs own the book? If not, what possessed them—his parents—to buy the catalog of a photography exhibition and keep it on their coffee table, permanently? In Ben’s memory it’s as prominent as the Bibles were in his Christian friends’ houses. His family must have had one of those, too, an Old Testament, maybe even a New for reference, somewhere in the house, but it wasn’t on the coffee table, nor under it where a shelf held other books that were too big and, Ben the boy perhaps thought, too canonical to be consigned to an ordinary bookshelf. Of those coffee table books, only the collection of New Yorker drawings occupied as many hours of a contemplative boyhood as this one did. The two books together, he supposes, constitute his intellectual parentage. He’s the product of Edward Steichen’s photographic choices and the cynical commentary of an elite coterie of cartoonists.

The corners of the room are in darkness, his face in shadow as the lamp above his head illuminates little more than those black and white pages and the blanket’s knit pattern of blue and gray waves. He recollects most of those pages as he turns to them; many he could have described without opening the book. Before asking what he’s doing here, awake in Mom’s apartment at 3:49 in the morning, two thousand miles from home, take a moment, if you will. See Ben at the age of nine or eleven or thirteen, in the fortress-like cubic armchair or sprawled on the floor of the four-bedroom house in Rogers Park, the northeast corner of the city of Chicago, half a mile from Lake Michigan, continent of North America, turning the same pages and contemplating these same pictures. What’s going on here? Could the several images of Ben span time, in some way akin to that in which the photographs were/are linked across six continents? Where is the wool that knits those images into the patterned fabric of a man? It might be true that the family of Ben, which is to say the person of Ben, the man himself, consists of snapshots from different ages, each equally a moment in the making of him. One could even say that the middle-aged sociologist whom we “now” see reading the Prologue by Steichen’s brother-in-law Carl Sandburg, reviewing this textbook of human connections, rediscovering the old young men women children like long lost friends, one could say that this adult shaped the boy Ben’s experience with the either widely or distinctively owned treasured book as much as did the hours of boyhood exposure, maybe alone in that living room, or while one of his sisters practiced the piano, or when relatives visited and he had to sit there because it would be rude to go upstairs and watch TV. Yes, the man-to-be could have shaped the boy. The photojournalists’ images (and the cartoons, too, and the television of course) told what growing up would entail, signposts for the kid’s journey to manhood. The photographer for the high school paper. The college student who switched from pre-med into sociology. First job: a teacher of all grade levels in a boys’ detention center. Graduate school at Berkeley. Junior faculty appointment at San Jose State. Marriage. Tenure. One child, Eliza, now twenty. Family encounters with sisters and their boyfriends, husbands, children. Illness and deaths of in-laws, then father. Now, mother. All prefigured in this book that’s lived in his parents’ living room for nearly fifty years.

Ben’s going to sleep on the couch because his sister Sharon is in the guest room. She offered to help him change the rumpled sheets on Mom’s bed, but it didn’t seem right to sleep there while their mother’s cooling her heels in the hospital morgue. So he tucked a sheet around the cushions, and he’ll try to get a few hours’ sleep here before Rebecca (winging her way on the red-eye from Portland) shows up to complete what his wife calls the four ring circus.

His other sisters’ tears—Ann’s and Sharon’s—seemed excessive. Mom would have been 87 next month; it’s not as if she were in the prime of life, or as if they were children. He wanted to tell them, be realistic. Ben’s wife, Carolyn, lost her mother thirty years ago, to breast cancer at 53. And they’ve all been through their father’s slower, painful death. Sure, Mom’s death was a surprise; but she’d had a full life. Ann and Sharon acted like it was a tragedy.

Ann, who lives nearby, in Wilmette, was the one who ten days ago took Mom to the doctor complaining of shortness of breath. Sharon came in from Minneapolis a few days later. After a week in the hospital, efforts to stabilize her heart having failed, Mom contracted pneumonia. When Ben flew in yesterday, his appearance at the bedside elicited her last words: “Oh for God’s sake.” Then she closed her eyes. For hours Ann and Sharon kept saying, “Open your eyes, Mom,” and “Can you hear us, Mom?” as her breathing slowed and the cardio monitor above their heads took its determined course from erratic, to weak and slow, to the unambiguous flat line. At the end, it was Ben who removed the plastic mask from over her nose and mouth, releasing her face from the strain of living.

His eyes won’t close.

The Family of Man tells a story, scenes flowing from sex to pregnancy to birth to childhood, work, play, religion, aging, death. A full page shows a boy in an ill-fitting suit standing on a fallen tombstone in an old cemetery. On the next page, among funerals in Mexico, New Guinea, Korea, a younger boy looks up at the weeping faces of three Austrian women in black.

Ann and Sharon seemed okay with each other tonight. He imagines the craziness once Rebecca hits town and the three of them start pushing one another’s buttons. There’s danger that these next few days could become more of an unearthing than a burial. After Dad’s funeral, he can’t remember what it was Sharon said that made Rebecca start screaming at her, “You’ve been killing him for twenty years! You’re the cancer in this family!”—until Ben pushed her out of the room and Ann went in the bathroom with Sharon and didn’t reappear until Rebecca was gone. Rebecca and Sharon didn’t communicate for a few years, but eventually, for Mom’s sake, they resumed their former relationship—adolescent sniping.

Rebecca’s 56, three years older than Ben. Ann, next in line, refers to Rebecca as “the law” (she’s a labor lawyer). Sharon calls her “the control freak.” Rebecca does tend to be the self-appointed circuit judge of the family, riding into town. Ben doesn’t think she’s all that bad. The time Rebecca visited his family in San Jose, she busted them for improper recycling. He said, “I think we’d know better than you what our town’s requirements are.” Later she made a point of lecturing Carolyn, his wife, why they should have a separate category for plastic bags and if the city doesn’t require it, you should call someone and get it looked into. Alone with Ben later, Carolyn laughed it off; one needn’t take it personally. But it’s not so easy for Ann. When their mother had the heart attack a year and a half ago, Rebecca didn’t fly in until after Mom got home from the hospital. Then she was full of ideas how they should have handled it differently, what Mom should tell (not ask) her doctor, how much help she needed in the apartment. Last night, by the bedside, Ann was already planning what she’d say when Becca starts issuing orders. Ann takes it personally, because she’s the one who does the most for Mom. Did the most.

Ann quit teaching high school in her first pregnancy and never resumed, even after her kids grew up and her husband left. She’s the insecure one, whose life hasn’t reinvented itself after divorce. She lacks both their older sister’s imperious rigidity and Sharon’s provocative flakiness. Not long ago, Ben’s wife remarked, “Ann’s investing too much of herself in your mother. Mom’s not going to be around forever.”

Both of them, Rebecca and Ann, have been divorced for years. Mom’s death has spared Ben from having to break the news that he and Carolyn separated. Then there’s the youngest, Sharon, with a string of men in her wake, two of whom she briefly married. She calls herself “Your crazy sister,” waggling her hands above her head (or, to her niece and nephews, “your Auntie Mame,” a reference lost on them). She thinks she’s crazy in a fun way. She left for New Mexico twenty years ago on the back seat of a Harley. Somewhere between Santa Fe and St. Paul she lost the biker and found the Lord. Ben had no problem with her professed Christianity, nor with the Buddhism she claims now; he understands the need for community, wherever it’s found. But she wears it as an element of her quirkiness. She’s not crazy funny, she’s crazy annoying. When she called from Puerto Rico last year “on a retreat” to ask him for an emergency payment on her credit card—only a loan, she’d pay him back—he refused. It sounded fishy; she may or may not have been in Puerto Rico, but if she was, he doubted that the word retreat properly applied. Later Ann told him she responded to the plea and loaned Sharon five hundred dollars. She’ll never see it.

The other problem with Sharon is, she’s paranoid; Ben is more or less professionally qualified to use that term, though the rest of the family does too. She’s convinced they conspire to avoid her. This is true. She’s told them, “I’m not paranoid, you do leave me out of things.” “That doesn’t mean you’re not paranoid.” “If I am, that doesn’t make it okay to be mean to me.” Then she laughs, as if she weren’t serious. Sharon can get the rest of them fighting with each other when they don’t even know why. A harsh reaction to her shenanigans by either of her sisters, or Mom, would lead one of the others to counterattack on Sharon’s behalf. She’s impossible, but they tend to make allowances, thinking she really is crazy. Which, as she says, “is more than I can say for the rest of you.”

Ben has invested many an hour with therapists discussing the psychodynamic history of his family. How did they turn out so different? The Family of Man book, hymnal to universality and diversity, offers no clues tonight. The bossy one, the insecure one, the sensible one (how he sees himself) and the crazy one, all from the same parents. Parents who were solid citizens, married over fifty years. All but Sharon got college and higher degrees: a lawyer, a teacher, a college professor. Why, then, the lingering feeling that Mom, Dad, or the family itself held them all back in some inchoate way?

Thoughts about tomorrow intrude into his nostalgic book-browsing: Should I tell them we’re separated before Carolyn gets here? Now I’m like her in having both my parents gone. Should I change my return flight from Friday to Sunday?

How she looked: toothless, irritated, wired to a computer, tubes dripping from the clear plastic bag above her bed and out between her legs into the dark amber bag below. Her hair, always clean and brushed in elegant white waves, was matted in gray curls against her scalp. He has barely admitted this once in a lifetime snapshot into his mental album.

This is the place for a portrait of his mother: Not to speak ill of the dead, let’s say she was difficult to communicate with. She didn’t listen. Conversation with her consisted of you starting to say something and being interrupted by whatever association your first words triggered. If Ben reported that he just sent his new book off to the publisher, she’d start talking about a lady in her building who used to work at Barnes and Noble. This conversational trumping had nothing to do with being old—she’d done it all their lives. Consequently, she was oblivious to what concerned them, but that was no bar to her giving advice. On his last visit, he witnessed this exchange about Ann’s ex-husband, Howard:

Mom: “How are the boys?”

Ann: “I just had a letter from Danny, he ...”

Mom: “Howard wrote me a lovely letter.”

“You told me. A birthday card, three weeks ago.”

“Well, all I have to say …”

“You don’t have to say anything. I’ve asked you—repeatedly—to stop bringing him up.”

“Maybe he realizes he made a mistake. Do you ever think he might want another chance?”

“Goddamn it! Don’t you ever think about how you make me feel when you …”

“It should make you feel I care about you.”

“You don’t! It shows me that I don’t matter to you at all, if you …”

“Why do you bother to come visit me when you’re in a bad mood? If you’re going to yell at me in front of your brother, you’d better leave.” Turning to Ben: “She’s sick of me still hanging around, with the rest of you too far away to help.”

He believes that he, unlike his sisters, immunized himself with a healthy sense of humor about Jewish mothers. Long ago he gave up hoping for any validation from her. He learned not to agitate for what she’d never deliver; nothing expected, nothing lost.

In hopes that the book will settle him for sleep, he’s thumbing through it as he did decades ago, transfixed by its paean to the life cycle. The boy pored over the photographs until he could tell each person’s story. He made up what they’d been saying just before the camera caught them, and how the people in each frame felt about each other. Where the couples in the courtships and weddings first met. What circumstances weighed on the lives of the poor or lonely; how the well off made their money. Here is the section on childhood. A two page spread of boys playing is captioned by a Kwakiutl chant:

When I am a man, then I shall be a hunter,
When I am a man, then I shall be a harpooner,
When I am a man, then I shall be a canoe-builder,
When I am a man, then I shall be a carpenter,
When I am a man, then I shall be an artisan,
O Father! ya ha ha ha.

So what did he grow up to be? A college professor. When he was a boy, did he think he’d be a salesman like his father? He told Dad once, at ten or twelve, that he was going to be a Congressman like Jimmy Stewart. He had barely heard of sociology before he found himself majoring in it. O Father! Ya ha ha ha.

Ben asleep: He’s back in Mom’s hospital room with his sisters. It was like a logistics command center, with the calls to Rebecca, to various children and friends and cousins, to his wife. Talking about Mom as if she weren’t there.

When he hears Rebecca let herself in, he starts to open his eyes, but they rebel against the first light of dawn. His sister goes to survey the bedrooms, then returns for her bags. She says, “Thanks for leaving the bed for me—would it have killed you to change the sheets?” He hears her luggage roll over the carpeting into Mom’s room.

Later, the sun still low in the sky, beams of gold fill the high rise apartment and shimmer off the case of a clock that presided over the mantelpiece of their old house; a brass wall fixture; the glass on a framed print Ben doesn’t recognize. Near his head, studio pictures of himself and his sisters stand on the end table. He reaches for the one they’re all in, nested one two three four like bobsled racers, Rebecca’s hands gripping little Sharon’s shoulders. Was it like that? Were they a team, barreling through life? At ten, did they rely on Becca? Pamper Sharon? Or was he the pampered one, the boy? Did he wear that merry gleam every day? And was Ann’s brow once wrinkle free, or did the airbrush lie?

Sitting up, he stands the portrait back in its place, retrieves the book from the floor and slides it into his suitcase, under his clothing.

The little bottles on Mom’s bathtub shelf—hotel souvenir shampoos, conditioners, body lotions—appear unused. It seems she made do with an economy sized bottle of shampoo and a jar of bubble bath, on the floor beside the tub. Think of Mom luxuriating in a bubble bath, like Eliza, his child, when she was little. Ann had sent her handyman to install grab bars on the walls. Mom’s only other accommodation to age was an emergency call button she wore around her neck, when she remembered to. She didn’t use a walker, or a cane. As he showers, he pictures her as if through frosted glass—stepping into the tub with one hand on the grab bar, lowering herself into the bubbles. Afterward she’d have to stand and rinse under the showerhead, climb out of the tub and dry herself.

Shaved, he comes out dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt: San Jose Girls Softball 1999. Sharon’s door is still closed but Rebecca is up, in Mom’s room, looking older than he remembers her. She’s going through the drawers of Dad’s old desk. She stands up perfunctorily to accept his hug. He asks what she’s doing.

“Starting to get organized. I’m the executor, you know.”

“Mom’s not even …”

“I’ve got to go home in two days, Ben. I have a job. Not that you don’t, but I know you can take off whenever you want. I’m just saying. We’ve got the funeral tomorrow.” Her white jeans don’t flatter her. She’s put on weight around her belly and butt—as has he. Her hair is pulled back in a scrunchy like his daughter used to wear in middle school. “I’ll probably have to come back at least once but I want to take Mom’s will with me, and a list of her assets so I can get started with …”

“I think it can wait, Rebecca.”

“I don’t.” Her tone recognizes his objection and overrules it. “If you want to be helpful, figure out which of these is her current policy.” She hands him the folder marked health insurance in Dad’s rounded block letters. “Throw out everything that doesn’t pertain to her current HMO and major medical. There’s old dental bills and all kinds of irrelevant stuff in there.” She pulls out another thick folder: taurus. They sold Mom’s car two years ago. “Just make sure nothing important got stuck in here. Then toss it.” She’s already filling a second waste basket, setting some kind of record for efficient executorship.

Ben and Rebecca at the kitchen table. He’s made coffee; she has tea. His sister says she’s too jet lagged to eat anything. He pours himself a bowl of Cheerios. She says, “I would have been here two days ago, you know.”

“If … what?”

“If they’d have told me the truth.”

“Come on, Rebecca. Don’t start blaming …”

“It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Sharon gets here, you get here, but Ann doesn’t manage to tell me how serious it is until it’s too late for me to get a flight out.”

“Believe me. There was no conspiracy. I didn’t know, Ann didn’t know Mom was going to die. It’s just I was able to get away, so I wanted to come and help.”

“And see Mom before she died.”

“I told you … no one expected her to die. This wasn’t …”

“All I know is she had everybody there except me. Did she ask where I was, even?”

“You sound like Sharon. Mom didn’t ask where anybody was. You know what she said when I walked in? ‘Oh for God’s sake.’”

“That’s great,” she laughs, the outburst of a jumble of emotions. “I can just hear her saying that.”

He thinks, the whole day was bizarre. He was awake for twenty-four hours: rose before dawn in his not yet furnished studio apartment, flew across the country, watched his mother die, and curled up on her couch amid the furnishings and books of his childhood.

Rebecca is looking past him, out of the kitchen, at the dining table eight feet away. “That’s odd.”

He turns to follow her gaze. “What’s odd?” Something has changed, though he wouldn’t be able to say what.

“Where’s the fruit bowl?” Mom kept a large ceramic bowl full of ceramic fruit; ugly semblances of fruit, in dull shades that clashed with the deep blue glazed bowl she bought at the art fair. (She used to say “I bought it at the Old Town Art Fair” as one might say “I bought it in Paris.”) Almost fifty years ago, Ann and Rebecca laughed at Ben’s thinking it must be terribly old because of the crackles in the glaze. He doesn’t remember Mom ever using the big bowl for anything but decoration. He does remember her getting mad one time when she found it on the floor in front of the TV, with potato chip crumbs.

The bowl’s gone, but the fruit isn’t. A few pieces, a banana, peach, and a bunch of grapes form a centerpiece on a straw placemat. Beyond the table, the rest of the ersatz fruit is arranged along the sideboard.

Rebecca says, “Ann took it, I bet.”

“Naw, it must be around somewhere.”

“I wonder what else she’s helped herself to.” She opens the doors of the sideboard. It’s empty except for a folded tablecloth and set of napkins. “The Passover dishes,” she says. Not being kosher, Mom used them for all holiday meals, but they always called them the Passover dishes. Gone. Now Rebecca’s fuming. In the corner cabinet, only a pair of silver candle holders stand, one framed in each glass door. Even Ben knows those two top shelves held matched sets of rose-colored champagne glasses, wine glasses, and water goblets. Eight or ten of each, delicate, with twisted stems. More special than the Passover dishes, they must have been a hundred years old, because they belonged to grandparents—Dad’s mother gave them to Mom as a wedding present. He doesn’t recall the glasses being used, ever.

“Fuck,” his sister hisses.

That shot of Ben and Rebecca in the recessed dining area is snapped from the perspective of the living room, where Sharon comments, “Nice language for a lawyer.” She appears in a tank top and a pair of men’s boxer shorts; whose, he wonders. She comes around the dining table to hug Rebecca—holding her long enough for Ben to see, over Sharon’s shoulder, the storm brewing in their older sister’s face.

From Sharon’s face, the puffiness and smeared eye shadow are gone. That was yesterday; this is today. She says, “You missed all the drama yesterday. Just came for the fun part, eh?”

“I came when I got through to the doctor and he told me what was going on. Did you take my Passover dishes?”

“Whose Passover dishes?”

“The Passover dishes Mom was giving me. Did you take them?”


Although the tone sounds so much like an offended teen that Ben thinks Sharon’s probably guilty, Rebecca says, “I didn’t think so. It’s obvious who did. What about the stemware?” She nods toward the corner cabinet.

“No-o,” says Sharon, catching Ben’s eye.

“And the bowl?”

“What bowl? The fruit bowl? Mom gave it to me. Hey, I noticed the bedroom, Becca. What’s going on with Mom’s desk? Are you ransacking the place?”

Rebecca retreats to the bedroom, ignoring the question. Sharon shakes her head. “We’re looking at some serious OCD there. You think she’ll make it through the next few days?”

“I don’t know,” Ben says, as if agreeing that it’s touch and go.

“I need thirty minutes of quiet time out here, okay?” She has to perform her twice-a-day yoga/meditation ritual.

The picture in the living room, when Ben goes in to get his cell phone, is of tranquility itself: his sister, cross-legged in front of the window. It faces the lake, across which the morning sun shimmers, backlighting Sharon’s loose, golden hair.

Last night, as Ann drove them here from the hospital, Sharon reminded them that she’s Buddhist. “Couple years ago, I’d have said Mom was going to burn for all eternity. She wasn’t saved. Now I know we only change forms. I don’t believe in hell.”

When neither Ann nor Ben responded, she added, “Aren’t you glad I saved your parents from the fires of everlasting hell by converting to Buddhism?”

Back at the kitchen table, he calls his colleague about a research meeting he forgot to cancel. “How’s your mother?” the man asks.

“She died last night.” He’s impressed with how dispassionately he can say that, and accept condolences.

Next he dials Carolyn to find out when she and their daughter are coming. Their flights will arrive at around the same time, Carolyn’s from San Francisco and Eliza’s from Newark. “Don’t worry about it,” she says, “we’ll get a cab. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine,” he says, with a defensive edge for no reason. “How are you doing?”

“I’m sad about Mom. I’m thinking you are, too.”

“Of course.” It was easier with the colleague.

She asks, “How are your sisters?”

“Rebecca got in this morning and went right to work in Mom’s files. Sharon’s meditating in an unspecified man’s boxers. I’m expecting sparks when Ann gets here.” In a low voice, he tells how Rebecca found the bowl and dishes missing, suspecting Ann, but then Sharon owned up to taking the bowl.

“Look,” she says, “make it easy on yourself. Keep your mouth shut.”

“I am.” He wonders whether she means he shouldn’t let them draw him in to their sparring, or shouldn’t say anything about himself and Carolyn. Or both.

She adds, “I’m glad I’m not there. I could skip it, couldn’t I?” He knows she wouldn’t; his family is part of her, too, notwithstanding what’s dying between them. “Did you tell them about us?”


“It doesn’t actually have to come up at all, if you want to hold off …”

“Yeah, let’s.”

“Rebecca’s taken her share of stuff, too, you know. She took all those old framed pictures of your Mom’s and Dad’s families.”

He didn’t step all the way into the bedroom before, or he’d have noticed them missing. They’re half a dozen formal family photographs, some from nineteenth-century Russia, which he hung for Mom when they moved her here from the house after Dad died. Those, too, were formative images in his childhood: the men’s trim beards and stiff collars distinguishing them (perhaps falsely) as men of business rather than peasants; the toddler standing in the ankle-length white dress, identified as his grandfather. “Wait a minute,” he says. “How do you know they’re not there?”

“I saw them when I was in Portland in April.”

“You didn’t mention it.”

“I forgot. Or maybe I thought you’d be better off not getting involved.”

The picture of Eliza in his wallet is of the two of them, father and daughter, in her prom dress, in a playful tango dip. Eliza, his best hope, chose to stay in Princeton as a professor’s summer nanny instead of coming home. Her parents’ marriage breakup news must have prompted that decision, though she didn’t say so. Ben and Eliza have talked by phone more these past few months than during the five years before that. She told him she felt bad for his having stayed with her mother so long, unhappily, for her sake. He should have assured her it wasn’t like that, she shouldn’t feel responsible. Yet her saying it meant so much to him that he let it stand.

Who might his other daughters have been, the ones he didn’t have? By the time Carolyn accepted the fact that she couldn’t get pregnant again, Eliza had started school and Carolyn was more interested in the challenges of a new career than those of adoption. Luckily, as they used to tell Eliza, they hit the jackpot the first time.

Ann arriving, not the oldest but the largest, filling the narrow hallway to the living room. Sharon has disappeared into her room, maybe to put on some pants, maybe to go back to sleep. Ann is dressed for a hot day in a cotton skirt, lime-colored Polo shirt, and sandals. Despite the cool attire she looks haggard; she’s had a long ten days, or is she always haggard? Except for her reddish blonde hair like Sharon’s, she is the sister who most resembles Ben, round-eyed and round-faced. Before she can plop herself in an armchair, Rebecca charges in like a prizefighter from her corner.

“You took the Passover dishes, didn’t you? And the antique glasses.”

“Hello, Becca.” But Rebecca shows no sign of submitting to a normal greeting. Ben feels he’s seen this picture before. Finally Ann responds, “I didn’t take anything. I was given them.”

“I told you Mom said I could have those. I’m the only one who has a seder.”

“You’re not the only one who has Thanksgiving, are you. She didn’t say anything about promising them to you, when she gave them to me. But if you want them that much, ...”

“I do. And the matching glasses.”

“They’re not matching glasses.” He can tell Ann’s determined not to raise her voice. “It’s a whole different pattern. I’d really like to have those. And they may be antiques, but they’re not worth a fraction of that china. Plus you’ve already taken the old family pictures …”

“It sure as hell is worth as much, or more than the china. If it’s not, why do you want it?”

“Because I like it. Shall we get everything appraised, including the jewelry? I knew you’d nickel and dime me, Becca, so I already took the glasses in to find out what they’re worth—about two hundred bucks, total.”

“No way.” They’re in high school, Ben in eighth or ninth grade, Mom pleading Don’t you three ever have anything nice to say to each other? Rebecca says, “I’ve seen wine glasses like those going for thirty or forty bucks apiece. There’s how many—the wine, champagne and water glasses—five or six dozen pieces?”

“You better come over and count them, if you think so. They didn’t all survive the last fifty years.”

“All right, why don’t we just split them between us?”

“Between you?” Ben hears himself speak up, though he doesn’t even care about the glasses.

“Four ways, then, if you want.”

“You going to do that with the Passover dishes?” Ann challenges her.

“No. Of course not. They’re a set.”

“And the glasses aren’t?”

“We’ll talk about it later. We have a lot to do now.”

Good, he thinks. Let’s just do it.

Ann and Rebecca in Mom’s room, choosing what she’ll wear to her funeral. In sisterly accord, they’re pulling a plastic garbage bag down over a hanger holding a blue dress. In Rebecca’s hand are a bra, underpants, and panty hose.

“Does she need underwear where she’s going?” Ben asks. “Not to mention panty hose?”

“Of course,” Ann says. She sounds giddy. “You think Mom would go out without underwear?”

“Is it like the Egyptian kings needed to take their thrones and beds and stuff?” They ignore this. He remembers Carolyn’s advice: keep his mouth shut. When Ann takes the dress bag, Rebecca hands her the underwear and then a pair of navy blue pumps and a red and white silk scarf. Mom was famous for her scarves. He wonders how many her daughters filched over the years.

“Make sure you get at least ten copies of the death certificate,” Rebecca says. “They’re supposed to give you as many as you need. They can copy them right there.”

Ann says, “I think I can handle it,” throwing him a look that says their eldest sister is impossible. “Quit bossing us around.”

“I’m not bossing anybody. Ben, go with her.”

Outside, it’s scorching—and humid, with barely a breeze. She drives with all the windows open until the A/C gets cool. Ben says, “I hope they have her in the icebox.”

She whacks him playfully on the leg, laughing, “That’s awful.”

“I’m surprised Becca didn’t put that on the list of things for you to remind them.”

“She probably told them, herself, when she called them this morning.”

He shakes his head, bonding with this sister over what a piece of work the other is.

“Like I told you yesterday, I’m not taking any of her crap this time.”

“Okay,” he says. “So you’ll ignore her when she says you deliberately didn’t tell her Mom was going to die.”

“No, I’ll tell her ‘Fuck you.’”

“Oo-kay …”

Sharon, too. She’s driven me up the wall this past week. Like she’s the patient. She insisted on staying here instead of my house, so I’d have to come out of my way to pick her up and bring her back every day. So she can sit there and hold Mom’s hand. What a good daughter. Meanwhile I’m chasing after the doctors, …”

“I should have come back sooner. I’m sorry.”

“Do you have any idea how much of Mom’s jewelry she’s taken in the last couple of years?”

Sharon? No idea.”

“Most of it. You know the antique stuff Mom inherited from Grandma? Every time Sharon left after a visit, Mom went right to her jewelry case to see what left with her.”

“Is it valuable?”

“I don’t think so, not in dollars. She just wanted to make sure she’d get more of it than me or Becca. Or Carolyn, or Eliza. It’s not enough that Dad supported her for thirty years.”

“He did?”

“Where have you been? How do you suppose she lives? Alimony, like me?”

Neither of Sharon’s husbands was ever in a position to support anyone. “I thought maybe from you lending her money.”

“Very funny. Anyway, how are you?”

“You mean, other than being an orphan?” Has she sensed something about his marriage?

“Yeah, other than this—how’s life? Do you still like lecturing?”

“Yeah.” He hardly ever lectures; he teaches seminars, directs research, writes and edits; but no one in his family has the remotest idea of his work. “How are you?”

“Mixed. I got too caught up with her needs, the last few years. It should be a relief, in some ways, but it doesn’t feel like that right now.” She shakes her head.

“You were doing a lot for her, weren’t you?”

“Is there such a thing as a love-hate-guilt relationship? Where you hate your mother only because you’re knocking yourself out for her, so then you feel so guilty about that, you knock yourself out even more? I told my therapist she was a loyal, good, person and I loved her but if she didn’t kick the bucket this week I just might strangle her myself.” After a moment she adds, “He gave me permission.”

It’s his turn to laugh. “Your therapist gave you permission to strangle her.”

“Yeah, he said when you’ve had a reciprocal kind of adult relationship, you don’t resent having to be their parents at the end of their lives. But if you never …” She trailed off.

Ben says, “I know what you mean.” But what he thinks is, we know Mom was a pain, there’s no point dwelling on that. As he learned when Dad died: Try to hold onto the affectionate memories, let the frustrations go. He was a good man who did his best. Mom was a good woman who did her best. She loved us. We loved her. That should be it, period.

In Pizer’s parking lot, he waits—his Grateful Dead t-shirt deemed by Ann inappropriate for a funeral parlor—while she delivers the final outfit. She’s taking longer than expected. Rebecca wrote out the vital newspaper facts for them to give the funeral director, as if he and Ann wouldn’t have known them: date and place of birth, maiden name, deceased spouse, children, number of grandchildren. But Rebecca omitted Mom’s one distinction, which he added: she studied at Hunter in New York City, the only one of her brothers and sisters to go to college. He’s not sure she graduated, so he wrote “attended”.

Apparently Ann has more to do inside than just dropping off the stuff. Insulated by the Toyota’s purring engine and air conditioning, he watches two men arrive for a funeral. Tomorrow, that will be him, in the suit Carolyn reminded him to bring. He needs to polish his shoes this afternoon. The men are carrying their jackets, too hot to wear outside. The bereaved must be inside already. These tricklers in are the bereaved’s friends or co-workers, attending as a courtesy. Last to come is a couple in a Lexus. Striding quickly through the parking lot, as they pass Ben the woman—the wife—says something that makes the man turn on her angrily. His lips form the words “Stop it! I’m not” … telling you again, or something.

Ann back at the wheel, they’re five minutes from the apartment when she asks, “Everything okay with you and Carolyn?”

“What makes you ask that, out of the clear blue sky?”

“When we talked on the phone yesterday, she didn’t sound … I don’t know.”

So he tells her—“just between us”—about the separation.

“That’s terrible.” She’s at a loss for words, obviously. “Is it a bad one?”

“Not really. We’re very civilized.”

“Were you seeing someone else?”

“What?” The question astonishes him, until he realizes it’s just what his sisters would think. Not that he’s the type, but that’s how they explain their own husbands leaving. He recently became involved with a graduate student who has a four-year-old child, but Carolyn doesn’t know about her and it’s not why he moved out. He doesn’t share this detail, saying only, “We came to the decision mutually, as a result of counseling. Our therapist gave us permission.”

From the apartment door, the view he sees is Sharon in a black kimono, with her foot in the bathroom sink. He and Ann stopped at Subway for sandwiches, after phoning home to ascertain each sister’s requirements. (Vegetarian for Sharon, turkey for Rebecca.) His first thought: Sharon is limber for a 49-year-old. His second thought: she’s posing. Ann takes the Subway bag to the kitchen because Sharon has a request for Ben: “Will you run out to White Hen and get me a razor? I think Mom’s been using this one for twenty years. Ouch.” She has nicked herself in a couple of places. Notwithstanding the request for a new razor, she presses a Kleenex on the blood and goes on nicking. He won’t respond. See, he’s keeping his mouth shut.

Actually, Sharon’s got something more urgent to discuss with him. She pulls him into the bathroom and closes the door. Her breasts sag under the kimono—his wife’s don’t, though she’s older. Is it Sharon’s genetic bad luck, or is she paying a price for all those years not wearing a bra? “Listen,” she says. “This is confidential, okay?”

He should say no before letting her go on, but he’s rattled by this tête à tête in the bathroom. For all she ostensibly distanced herself from the family, Sharon’s never been one for boundaries. He has no idea what secret she’s about to lay on him.

Outside the door, his older sisters’ voices are raised—he’s half listening for the promised fuck you. Sharon confides, “Mom had a few necklaces and bracelets, and a couple of pins, that are really old but still fashionable? She gave them to me for safekeeping because she didn’t trust Maria or Ann.” Maria’s the lady who comes—came—for half a day on Tuesdays and Fridays. Ben is sure Mom would have trusted her or Ann before Sharon any day of the week. Mom was no fool. Catching himself and his sister in profile in one of the mirrored medicine cabinet doors, he can’t believe she doesn’t see the skepticism on his face, but she hasn’t paused. “I know she’d want Carolyn and Eliza to have some things. So I’m going to take them aside when I get a chance tomorrow or whenever, and find out what pieces they want, okay? I just don’t think it would be smart to leave it up to certain other members of the family, right? Enough said?”

“I’m not going there, Sharon. I didn’t hear that, and I’m not getting involved between you and Ann and Becca, in any way.”

“You always take their side,” she says, turning back to work on her legs.

Rebecca looks somber. “Come here, I need to ask you something.” Is this about Sharon, the missing jewelry? Or what she and Ann were shouting about? She leads him into the bedroom and closes the door. “You’re getting divorced?”

“Jesus! She told you?” He makes a face toward the absent Ann. “Carolyn and I wanted to wait until … with everything else …”

“Just tell me this. Did you cheat on her?”

“Rebecca ...”

“Did you?”

“How would that be your business?”

Now, on her face he does see something like genuine concern. As though it’s crossed her mind that she shouldn’t sit in judgment, she manages to express the appropriate feeling. “Sorry to hear about it,” she says.

“Thank you, Rebecca. Let’s not tell anybody else, okay?”

As he says this, Ann is opening the door. Sharon’s in the hall behind her. Ann says, “Come and have lunch.”

Sharon says, “What aren’t you telling anybody else?”

“He’s getting divorced,” Rebecca says.

“Omigod! You’re kidding! What happened?”

He looks from one sister to another, shaking his head. “Thank you, Rebecca. Thank you, Ann. And thank you Sharon for not asking me if I was cheating on Carolyn.”

“You’re welcome,” Sharon says. “Were you?”

He groans. “Wouldn’t that be a simple explanation?”

In the kitchen, unwrapping the sandwiches. Rebecca cross-examining Ann about her trip to Pizer’s. “Did you tell them we might be as many as fifty? Did you show them how she’d wear the scarf?”

“I told them tie it like a babushka.”

“What?” Rebecca jumps out of her skin.

Ann giggles delightedly. “What do you think, I’m an idiot?”

“I won’t answer that.”

“They asked me where to announce we’re sitting shiva. I told them only the one night, tomorrow night, at my house.”

“No,” Rebecca says. “Too hard to give everyone directions. I get lost every time, the way those streets curve around.” That’s not it, of course. She just doesn’t want Ann to look like the lead daughter. As if having the cousins and Mom’s few surviving friends come by your house to pay condolences is a status thing. “We’ll do it here. The turkey’s mine.” Ben’s stomach is too tight to eat anything; he feels like it’s tied in a knot. He thinks Ann deserves to have them sit shiva at her house if that’s what she wants. But she doesn’t press it.

In Mom’s room, the wall that held their ancestors’ portraits is, as Carolyn reported, bare. He can visualize where each picture hung: there, the great-great-grandparents in Russia; here, Mom’s mother’s large family; to the left, Dad’s young grandparents with their three daughters in matching ruffled dresses. The newest photograph, taken eighty or ninety years ago, was of a big family reunion at the side of a lake somewhere in New Jersey. Their father appeared in the front row, in knee pants.

Ben peers at the ghosts of those ghosts and sees what the photographs never showed. It was missing from the Family of Man pictures, too: the domestic struggles that are the real stuff of human development. A posed family group is a lie—a good lie, full of hope. Steichen chose lies for his postwar exhibition of global hope, showing brothers and sisters and parents and spouses making common cause against nature, weather, economics, racial and ethnic subjugation, foreign wars. As though they didn’t aggravate the hell out of each other on a daily basis. Literature tells us of family feuds, but in photographs couples and families appear as solid bulwarks against the world. As the cameras flatten the noses and distort the perspectives, they crop conflict out of the frame.

“Where’s The Family of Man?” Sharon calls from the living room. “Did one of you take it?” His sisters ignore her, so Ben does, too.

Ann’s sitting on the edge of Mom’s bed, picking through the wastebasket to sample the papers Rebecca discarded. “What are you doing? Throwing away every record of Mom’s existence?”

“Bickering as usual,” Sharon observes, joining the crowd in the bedroom. To herself or an invisible companion, she mutters, “What else is new?” Then, to Rebecca, “Did you take my Family of Man? To go with our grandparents’ portraits and our Passover dishes?”

“ ‘Your’ Family of Man,” Rebecca says. “Excuse me, but we had it before you were born.”

“So what? I loved that book. It’s why I took up photography in high school. As a little kid I used to read that book for hours. I made up stories for every picture.”

“It’s a book, for God’s sake,” Ben says. “I’ll buy you a copy.”

“It must be out of print,” Ann says.

Sharon says, “That’s not the point. The one I want is the dog-eared, soft-covered copy that used to be on the underneath shelf of the coffee table when we were little. Last time I was here it was in the living room, middle of the second shelf, next to the ...”

“I have it,” he confesses, like an idiot. “You got the fruit bowl, dishes, jewelry, whatever. I got the Family of Man.

Suddenly all three of them want the book. “It has special meaning for me,” Rebecca claims. “I was with Dad when he bought it.”

“Bullshit,” Ann remarks.

Sharon insists, “Mom always said I could have it.”

“No, actually,” Ann says, “Mom promised it to Danny”—her son—“who’s feeling bad enough because he can’t make the funeral.”

“Actually,” he says, “It’s the only thing you guys haven’t already cleaned her out of that I would really like to have.”

“Shut up, Ben,” Rebecca says. “You got Dad’s Army medals and his watch.”

“Only because you all said I ...”

Sharon says, “Ann, you take the Atlas. You like to travel. Becca can have Dad’s joke books. Ben take any other books you want, but I want that one.”

“Bloody hell.” He should have kept his mouth shut. He goes out to the living room to get the book out of his suitcase. This cramp in his abdomen is grief. The more he fights it, the more it’s there, screaming to be heard. There’s a lump in his throat, too. Not that he’s about to cry if he can’t have the book, but it’s just too much. When he comes back, though, they’re already arguing about something else. Rebecca is saying, “You can’t not tell him. At least make sure the boys tell him.”

Sharon reaches toward the book in his hand. Rebecca appeals to Ben, “Ann isn’t planning to tell Howard. I’m sure he’d want to come tomorrow.”

“He might, that’s why I’m not telling him,” Ann says. “He’s not a member of this family, hasn’t been for six years.”

“Eddie’s flying in all the way from Los Angeles,” Rebecca retorts. “Carolyn’s on her way.”

“Well, that’s your business,” Ann says. “In my case, if the boys happen to tell Howard, that’s between them. It’s not my responsibility to call him. And it certainly isn’t yours.”

This is it—one squabble too many. So suddenly that he surprises himself as much as them, Ben erupts. He hasn’t relinquished The Family of Man to Sharon’s outstretched hand. “Look at this!” his voice breaks as he brandishes it in his sisters’ faces, open at the middle of the book. “Satisfied?” He tears it apart through what happens to be a two-page procession of African women with baskets on their heads. He throws the second half on the floor and rips the first half into two quarters, throws them down and picks up the other half and rips that apart. The book lies in four pieces at their feet. “Take your share,” he says.

His sisters look at him, speechless. Ben returns their stares, torn between laughing and crying. Both his parents are dead. Gone. In their place, out of the past, a hundred episodes come swirling around him and the girls like a covey of dead ancestors. Do his sisters feel their presence, too? Fiercely trying to exact from their mother’s treasury what they never got from her mouth, don’t they see how the room is filled with holographic snapshots of themselves at eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, twenty, thirty, forty—the family they were, and are, and are doomed to be, into eternity?

Read continuation ...



She knew they’d manage to spoil this day, too, as they’ve already soured every day of what could have been the best vacation of their lives. The drive is gorgeous—the curvy road keeps dropping to beach level and climbing again to cliffs high above dangerous looking rocks—but the children have retreated into their shells. From time to time Jack calls out, or she does, “Kids, look at those goats up there!” or “Hey guys, did you ever see such intense blue water?” When Jack offers, “Homer called the sea wine-dark,” Danny and Margie condescend to a brief glance and a grunt. Kevin, fourteen-year-old Mr. Cool, doesn’t bother to attend at all. He has his music turned up so loud his head’s giving off percussive tinny noises.

Her head is fuzzy. Two Advils only half suppress the pain behind her eyes. The kids’ sullenness doesn’t help.

This morning she suggested almost half seriously, “Let’s leave them here at the beach and if they drown, they drown.” Because he’s not insensitive to her frustration, Jack acknowledged the crack with a half smiling roll of his eyes. Now they haven’t driven an hour and Margie’s started whining she’s hungry (having refused breakfast because she insists an empty stomach keeps her from getting sick on the winding roads), while Kevin gripes about the little Nissan’s cramped back seat and Danny asks if this day is going to be as boring as the drive to Delphi was.

After Delphi, Jack chided her, “Isn’t the idea for everyone to have a good time and only incidentally learn something about the ancient Greeks?”

“Don’t you see?” she said. “They’re refusing to have a good time.” The Oracle had revealed it to her: Beware your children, Janet, they’re Harpies sent by the gods to torment you. She hates them for hating Greece. Naturally Jack takes their side.

The few beach concessions they’ve passed were boarded up, their owners on vacation somewhere else. Margie asks, “Isn’t it lunch time? Aren’t those restaurants we keep passing?” She’s chewing on the end of her braid, a habit she has, hungry or not.

“I told you, we’ll eat when we get to Kabos,” she says. Here she is fighting them again, while Jack says nothing. “It’s a ‘colorful fishing village,’ ” she reads from the book on her lap, “‘unspoiled by any modern buildings.’ It’ll be great. And it does have a restaurant.”

“Ancient Greek sea food,” Kevin says. “Oh goody.” His Discman is no impediment to hearing any opportunity for sarcasm.

“You guys will like this,” Jack assures them, the same prediction he made fifty times during four days in Athens. He’s been wrong every time.

“All right,” she sighs. “Stop at the first goddamn place that’s open.” She can almost hear Hebe, goddess of youth, hissing Yesss!

As the car rounds the next curve, a white structure appears above the coastal road. At a distance it looks more like a farmhouse than a commercial establishment, but a disproportionately large sign on its roof says

εστιατόριο ΗΡΑΚΛΗΣ -- RESTORANT.

Jack stops on the gravel shoulder. There are no other cars, just a small sign with the words GEOFFNET – OUVERT – OPEN – ABIERTO. Driving with the car windows part way open they had a breeze, but it’s as hot as their Chicago summer now, no shade in the midday sun. An arrow constructed out of driftwood points up a flight of concrete steps. Kevin and Danny lead the way, her oldest invoking the god Jordan across the back of his Bulls jersey and her youngest in a Cubs t-shirt. The terrace above the road looks neglected, but it offers a glorious view of the cove below, blue-black water dappled with sunlight, and the whole coastline they’ve just driven. The five outside tables are empty. Each is furnished with a candle holder carved from wood, some still holding wilted stumps of wax.

“We’re a little early for lunch,” Jack says. Danny opens the door and leads the way in, waking a ragged old man who rises from a soiled cot in the corner of the restaurant, rubbing his eyes.

Bringing up the rear, she stops in the doorway. The man hasn’t shaved or bathed for days. If she takes charge now, tells them “wrong place,” turns and flees, Jack will have no choice but to troop the kids back down to the car. The car in the empty parking area—which should have warned them. But the children are already seating themselves around the best table in the room, next to a picture window that looks like it hasn’t been washed since Socrates ate his last meal here. Through streaks and smudges, the window frames a gorgeous view, like a poster, of the ivory sand beach below.

She sees Jack hesitating, suspended between the children’s enchantment and her veto. She might be quicker to flee if she were wearing sneakers or at least walking shoes, as she did in Athens. For this excursion around the island she chose her platform sandals and a navy, mid-calf, cotton skirt that buttons down the front. She has a denim jacket thrown over her shoulders. Still, she could bolt and scurry down the steps. They could all be in the car before the old man crosses the room.

Is it really a restaurant? With a bed in the dining room? Averting her eyes from that corner, she assesses the greasy plastic tablecloths strewn with black dots. For a moment she pretends to herself they might be cinders from a wood stove, but she knows flyspecks when she sees them. She won’t allow her children to eat in such a place.

Jack is more adventurous—she used to think she loved that about him—but surely he, too, must see they have to go. Is the creature a wino, a satyr, or what? The children are gaping as if this were theatre. If she insists they get back in the car, it will mean an argument. She knows them: With the moral certainty of fourteen, twelve, and eleven-year-olds, they’ll say she’s a snob for judging unsanitary this poor, strange man who’s probably no more hung over than she is, whose restaurant is his bedroom because he hasn’t seen a customer in ages. Never mind that they’ve been making an Olympic sport of disapproval and rudeness all week; suddenly, when disapproval is called for, they’re lambs.

The creature shuffles sluggishly toward them. His hair is thin, gray, and untended. He could be seventy or eighty—or ageless. He surveys her blond, pink lambs. “Iraklís,” he says, patting his chest. He extends a paw to Jack, who repeats the word as a question.

“Iraklís? How do you do? You speak English?”

Englisch, nein. Deutsch.”

Deutsch. Ah. Nicht sprechen Deutsch, ich”. Jack can’t speak German. The man reverts to Greek, rapid and loud. He’s desperate for them to stay and order lunch. Yet it’s hardly what they had in mind. “Actually,” Jack turns to her, “I don’t know, what do you think?”

“We’re not staying,” she says.

“Mom, you can’t do that,” Margie hisses. “We’re here.” Her usually fastidious daughter got them into this and now won’t risk her brothers’ ridicule.

“Those are flies.”

“But they’re dead,” Jack says, as though that makes a difference. “I don’t see any live ones, oddly enough.”

“Oh, God,” she groans. “Jack, come on.”

Iraklís walks with a stoop; from an injury, perhaps, or scoliosis. She sees now that he isn’t so old. He just needs a bath and a shave. A dermatologist. Some clean clothes. And a dentist. Then his restaurant needs a busboy to clean the tables—and the floor, and the walls. Actually, what it needs is a good arsonist.

She had such hopes for this trip. Jack’s conference in Athens the week before the children’s spring vacation, when they could meet him—the timing was perfect for their first foreign travel as a family. In the years ahead, she said, we’ll shift westward, retracing in our family vacations the march of civilization.

In another life, she came to Greece as a college student, exhilarated. It inspired her thesis on Aristophanes and the decision to go to graduate school, where she met Jack. She hoped the country would captivate Kevin, who used to obsess about ancient and medieval weaponry, and Margie and Danny who are avid readers. She spent months planning the trip, put off remodeling her kitchen to save the money—and it’s all wasted on them. Their clearest memory of Greece will be this dump, and whatever diseases they contract here.


He knows Janet is right, they should look for a cleaner place. But her controlling has spoiled this whole vacation for the kids. He’s for letting them make the decision. They probably won’t find anything they like on the menu, but if they want to stay, it might turn out to be all right. Maybe it’s time for Mom to chill, as Kevin would say.

They’ve disappointed her every day, and he’s sorry; most of the time she’s a great mother. She hasn’t tried to force any more gods, heroes, or architectural wonders on them than the ones they’ve already met in comic books and Bugs Bunny cartoons. Janet came down from Olympus years ago, when she shelved her MFA in stage design in favor of part-time work as a decorator. She only insisted they tour the two or three high spots of Athens, with excursions to Delphi and the magnificent theatre at Epidaurus. The rest of their trip, on this Aegean island with its sunny beaches and traditional villages, is pure vacation.

In Athens, they tried to accommodate the sightseeing to the children’s ages and interests by booking a private guide. Daria met them at the Hotel Akropolis each morning with a small van and an even smaller driver. The kids thought the driver was funny as he railed at his fellow Greek motorists almost to the point of apoplexy. They reserved their antipathy for the effusive Daria, deliberately running ahead and falling behind so as not to hear the poor woman’s spiel. They didn’t want to learn anything. Their fun was in ignoring her, staging battles across the fallen walls, and mocking their parents’ fervor.

They did like one or two things. At Epidaurus, they took turns up in the highest row, hearing each other whisper on the stage. And they thought the motorcycles in the center of Athens were cool, darting between the lanes of jammed taxi traffic. Kevin loved the flea market in the Plaka, until they refused to let him buy an army pistol. The rest of the time, when their behavior ranged from uninterested to insufferable, Jack tried to inspire the enthusiasm Janet wanted in them. He’s read to them each night from Graves’s Greek Gods and Heroes. But he couldn’t help laughing when they declared a strike, refusing to look at any more ruins, the only time they’ve agreed about anything.

Even Margie, who loves school, said, “This vacation is too much like school.”

“Come on,” he said. “In school you’d hear about the Parthenon. This is the Parthenon.” Then he promised that when they got to the island there’d be no guides and no lectures. But it turns out there isn’t much to see or do here, with or without a guide. The native son, Pythagoras, apparently left for school on the mainland and never came back. The sea is still too cold for swimming, the hotel half empty. It would help if Janet would lighten up. It isn’t their fault they’re bored. She’s over-organizing all of them.

Last night was the worst of his seventeen-year marriage. Janet had her Scotch on the plane from the mainland; she’s always been a nervous flyer. But then, while unpacking, she took a vodka from the minibar—pretending it was a glass of water, but she didn’t manage to conceal the small bottle under tissues in the bathroom waste basket. When she realized she’d drunk too much on an empty stomach, she identified a good restaurant, but the kids weren’t hungry.

“If you don’t come out now,” he said, “you won’t get anything else until morning. No room service.”

“Fine, whatever,” Kevin said.

“I saw a McDonald’s,” Margie said, “where we got off the ferry.” Janet suddenly flung her Fodor’s out the open balcony door, toward the sea.

“Screw it!” she shouted, and slammed back to the parents’ room. He followed. There was no reasoning with her. She would go to the recommended place alone. “You take them to fucking McDonald’s!” He went back to appeal to the kids, but Kevin argued they shouldn’t give in to her tantrum. In the end only Danny came out to dinner with him. They found the Fodor’s in a flower bed and went to the restaurant she’d marked, but Janet didn’t show up.

Later, while the wind came up and waves splashed below, he gave the kids a vivid rendition of the twelve labors of Hercules. “The two headed dog leaped for his throat,” he condensed Graves’s stylish prose, “but Hercules was too quick for the two headed dog and bashed both brains out with his mighty club. Splat!” Danny wanted to know if only one head leaped for Hercules’s throat, or both at once, one baring fangs from the left and one from the right? Did he bash both heads of the dog with one blow?

“Great stuff,” he reported after finding Janet back in their room. “They loved it. A three headed monster with a two headed dog.” She was re-reading The King Must Die in bed with a refilled glass, with four rollers in her hair.

“I think I know a three headed monster,” she said. “Its names are Kevin, Margaret, and Danny.” She looked up at him, saw his irritation. “And you know the two headed bitch, you’re thinking.”

He felt her reaching out, for a moment at least—she didn’t want him angry at her, wanted him on her side—but he knew it wouldn’t last. Anything might bring her rage to a boil. And she probably feared he’d say something about the glass of water that wasn’t water.

“You’re not a bitch,” he assured her. “I understand. You’ve been looking forward to this so long.”

Seeing tears, he sat on the edge of the bed and tried to put an arm around her. She pushed him away, as she’d done too many times before, with increasing frequency over the past year.

“It’s been a disaster!” She sobbed, “I’d like to kill them.”

“No it hasn’t. And no you wouldn’t.”

“I’m telling you how I feel, don’t tell me no it hasn’t. You’re no help, you’re on their side.”

“Okay, okay, it’s been a disaster for you. The rest of us are having a pretty good time.” The rest of us, he heard himself say. It’s true. He is on their side.

From there, Janet escalated. “You’re so fucking reasonable, aren’t you? Mr. Reasonable. God help anyone who blows their top.” The look she gave him was one of contempt. She wasn’t merely angry; she despised him. “So judgmental. Yes, it’s my third vodka tonic. Who’s counting? I’ll have three more if I goddamn please. After all, I have to drink for both of us, don’t I?”

She had silenced him. There was nothing he could say that wouldn’t incense her more. She added other ugly things, all of which she’s said before, sometimes without the spur of alcohol. When Janet gets like that, she doesn’t mean any of it, and she means every word of it. “You have turned me into a bitch,” she screamed.

He closed the door to the balcony, but her voice surely penetrated the walls to the kids’ room on one side and any unfortunate guests on the other. “Tell me how I turned you into a bitch.”

“By the way you talk: ‘Tell me how I turned you into a bitch.’” She got up then and locked herself in the bathroom. Her sobbing sounded like she was gasping for breath, then throwing up.

He muttered, “You are an insufferable bitch”—and turned off the light. In the night, he heard her get up several times. Finally, she dressed and left the room. It was still dark.

Some time after sunup, she returned with a carafe of coffee and two cups and saucers on a tray. “Sorry I was horrible last night. I don’t know what I said, but it isn’t true. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I took it out on you.”

He felt the retraction was sincere. He wishes it could have erased last night.

“Never drink to escape,” she said. “It only makes things worse.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Are they okay?”

“They love you. You didn’t help the cause last night, let’s put it that way.” What else could he have said to her? Last night was only the second or third time he’s seen her demons raging in such ferocity. No, he won’t abandon her; and yes, he can change, be less reasonable if that’s what it takes to hold his family together and spare the children seeing their mother throw books out windows and yell obscenities.

At breakfast she semi-apologized to them, promising she’d try not to be a grump today. But here she is, scanning the dirty tables and unswept floor. “Jack, come on. It’s filthy,” she says. At the same time, she lets go the door handle, puts her arms into the sleeves of her jacket and buttons it.

He tries not to ask himself if he still loves her. Of course he does. Her intellect attracted him first, her verbal quickness—they were avid Scrabble players—and her dry humor. But she’s beautiful, too, to him, especially naked and without makeup. It isn’t a great body—a little too full in the belly and hips, not much in the bust—but he loves the way she loses inhibition when she takes her clothes off. She didn’t need a drink to relax, in those days. His few lovers before her were more conscious of their bodies, nudity making them vulnerable. He never told Janet that she was different. When she stepped out of her lingerie she seemed to revert to a primitive world. Like Eve, pre-fig leaf.

In the two minutes they’ve been in the restaurant, the sky has grown darker, clouding over. The pines along the road below the window are swaying in a gusty wind. Iraklís is readying his kitchen at the other end of the room, talking nonstop, roused from dormancy by the first customers he’s had, it appears, in days. The man flips a light switch, but nothing happens. He says something in Greek and steps out the back door. Jack sees there are no lights at all; the power is out. He hears the man start a gasoline engine—a generator—and the two bare bulbs above the kitchen area begin to glow half-heartedly.

“I’ll have a gyro sandwich,” Danny says.

“They don’t have it,” Kevin says.

“How do you know?”

“It’s not on the menu, stupid.”

While they look for English words on the menu, Janet asserts control. “Come, kids,” she says.

Kevin protests, “We can’t walk out! Dad?”

He shrugs. “It’s up to the Tour Director.” She glares at him.

“We’re staying,” Kevin says. “You can wait in the car if you want.”

Her behavior contradicts her pretended wish to do away with them. She overprotects them. No child of hers—however undeserving of her care—is going to eat off a flyspecked table. He’s seen this before, never more clearly: She’s furious with them because she cares so much for them.

To his surprise, she approaches the table and calls out, “Please clean it off.”

“Eh?” Iraklís replies.

“The table?” she points, smiling with patient condescension. “It’s dirty. Clean it off, please. And the chairs?” She makes wiping motions. Iraklís hustles over with a cloth whose gray belies its value for this purpose. He wipes the table and all six of its chairs, apparently oblivious to the rest of the room’s filth. Jack sees Janet staring at the man’s cot with its grubby sheet and blanket. He doesn’t imagine a wiped table will satisfy her.

He himself is pleased to see his sons and daughter sympathize with this old man. Iraklís’s face and whole body welcome them to his home with an urgency that they don’t need to know Greek to appreciate. They must feel intuitively that haughty American tourists have no right to interrupt a person’s nap and then treat him like an untouchable. Good for them.


This is what we get, she thinks, for fostering their creativity. The truth is they’re not bored with Greece, they’re not against learning stuff. They’re mad at her for being uptight all the time. What she needs is a drink. And not to be scrutinized. Not only Jack—she’s seen the children’s eyes every time she refills her glass. At home, Margie asked her point blank why she had to have one before Dad got home. She told her, “because none of you like me when I’m restless.” Jack, most of all, wants her sober and relaxed—an oxymoron. When they’re all together like this, morning till night, how could she not be irritable? Jack pretends to mediate between her and the kids while he makes himself look like a fucking angel. She resents his patience. She hates needing him, hates him for being necessary.

Her headache’s coming back. “How about if we just have Cokes,” she says. Compromise.

Kevin picks up a menu. Does he see this unkempt, gap-toothed, red-eyed old man as the real thing, the true descendant of heroes and gods? Kevin must be thinking, at last we escaped from that phony world of art and “the birth of democracy” into the real home of a real Greek, and now this isn’t clean enough for Mom? She knows her son: Iraklís’s sign said OPEN, they got out of the car and came up the steps and woke him up. So they’re obligated to eat a meal. Besides, they’re hungry, isn’t that the reason they stopped? Cut and dried, like his father.

“I’ll have an omelet,” Kevin says. He taps the greasy plastic menu. She looks at hers. It’s in four languages. Under Englisch she sees Kalamari, Musaka, and the word Ommlett. The only real English word is Chips.

“Me, too,” Danny says. “And chips.”

Omelett!” Iraklís echoes. “Chips no.” Thank God; she can imagine how old the deep fry oil would be. “Zwei Omelette?” For confirmation he holds up two fingers. His hands then indicate the rest of them—her, Jack, Margie—what would they like?

“Jack?” she presses.

“Mom!” Kevin says through clenched teeth, “We’re not leaving! He’s nice. Don’t be so American. You don’t always have to eat in fancy restaurants.”

Jack’s letting them defeat her again. “Look, sweetie,” he says, “as long as we’re here? You know how it’ll be if we get these guys back in the car without giving them anything to eat. An omelet wouldn’t kill us, would it?”

“Eggs are the last thing you should eat out of that kitchen. They could have been there for weeks.” She points to the counter, where a cluster of eggs sits in a bowl, unrefrigerated. Iraklís, misunderstanding, nods eagerly, says a word that might be Greek for eggs, and then omelette again, then the word frisch.

“He says the eggs are fresh,” Jack says with confidence.

“Sure he does,” she says.

Heute Morgen frisch gelegt,” Iraklís reassures her, and her husband, suddenly locked into the man’s brain, translates: “They were laid fresh this morning.”

She shakes her head, but the man takes her hand—touches her—and begins to lead her through the kitchen. Then, before she can pull away, he releases her. Jabbering incomprehensibly, he reaches up to a shelf on the wall and takes down two wooden puzzles. He carries them back to the children’s table. They’ve seen that type before, a cube and a sphere, each made out of a dozen pieces interlocked in such a way that it’s a challenge to deconstruct and put them back together. Iraklís touches a spot on the cube’s surface and pushes one piece, the key, all the way through. He shakes the block and it falls apart. Meanwhile the man continues chattering, in what sounds to her like a mixture of German and Greek. “Oh,” Jack says, “you made these? Both of them? He says all the crafts on the walls are things he made himself. So—you’re a wood carver? He’s saying eucalyptus—same word in English—this one’s carved from eucalyptus.”

The kids are impressed with the man’s craftsmanship, but it’s a dubious vocation for a restaurant owner as far as she’s concerned. “For all you know, he’s saying he bought them on eBay. Since when do you speak German?”

“There’s a lot of overlap between English and German. Did you hear him say ‘Meine Frau starb drei Jahren’ ? His wife did something for three years.”

“She left him, obviously”—tipping her head at the room’s ambience. From where Iraklís left her standing near the kitchen, she sees the pan on the stove, covered with the same flyspecks as the counter and empty tables.

Tot,” Iraklís calls. “Sie ist tot, drei jahren.”

“Taught!” Margie suggests. “She’s a teacher.”

“Dead,” Jack says. “She died three years ago.” This the man confirms with a sad-eyed nod.

The bent satyr again grabs her, this time by the elbow. Caught by his determination, she calls “Goodbye, family!” with artificial gaiety as he leads her through the kitchen and out the back door. Behind her she hears Margie ask Jack, “Where’s he taking Mom?” To a bar, with any luck. If he happens to have a bottle stashed back here, she wouldn’t refuse a slug of ouzo.

The wind has come up, and it’s cooler. Litter blows across the ground behind the building. There’s a cinder block structure with two doors, carved silhouettes of a man and a woman. They need to leave now, she thinks, before Margie asks for the restroom. Beyond the outhouse is a steep trail, studded with rocks and small pine trees, switchbacks leading up past a stone shed. Iraklís indicates the shed; he wants her to climb there with him, on the dirt path. Even in sneakers she’d have to use branches as hand holds; to do so in platforms is an invitation to break an ankle. But he pushes past, finds a firm footing and reaches down to help her. She catches an animal odor, not repugnant, but embarrassing because it comes from the man. She hesitates, but then what the hell, she bends and opens the three lowest buttons of her skirt. She hitches it above her knees and takes his hand. Where is he taking her? Why is she letting him? They scale the path together. He’s as sure-footed as a goat: The baggy flannel trousers are his fur, and his slippers are hooves.

Inside the shed, rusted broken equipment litters the floor. Straw is everywhere. Sunlight filters through the walls and roof. Her grandmother kept chickens in a place that smelled just like this: earthy, the air hot and close but not unpleasant. The only occupant is a single red hen, sparsely feathered, perched sleepily on a straw-covered wooden ledge, one eye closed.

Iraklís lifts the bird, revealing a clean brown egg. She picks it up. One chicken, one egg per day, at most. So the eggs in the bowl cannot, in fact, be fresh. Nonetheless Iraklís’s grin seems to say, You see? Now he’s talking to the hen, smoothing her tail feathers. As Janet’s eyes adjust to the dark, she sees what crunches under her feet: dry, gray feces.

She hears the wind whistling distinctly though distantly. The henhouse smell is like that, too: sharp and strong, yet through a fog as though she were remembering rather than actually breathing it. The man is still talking to the chicken. The chicken replies; they have a conversation about eggs and children and women, which she seems to understand. She feels oddly lightheaded, relaxed—more drowsy than faint. She imagines sleeping here, in the straw; but her eyes are open, and she hears and sees and feels everything: the whispering wind, the shafts of sunlight, the clucking man and bird, the crunch of chicken shit under her feet. His hand is dry, warm and firm. He goes on stroking its feathers. They’re safe with him.

Grandmother kept half a dozen hens, maybe more. Janet seems to remember on her visits fetching eggs each morning for Grandpa, her uncle, Mom, herself—but did she ever, really? Was life ever simple? Did her grandparents converse with their chickens?

The man beckons her to come closer and watch the hen. He moves aside to make room for her. The bird is squatting, pushing. Then she stops, stands, clucks and shakes herself, and steps away. There’s a second egg. Presto. No episiotomy, no epidural, no anesthetic needed. Iraklís gestures, take it, let’s go. He pushes open the door. Both eggs are warm. Where the path starts down steeply, he reaches to help her. She tries to hand him the eggs. He takes her wrist instead, but she pulls free. She uses the branches and rocks to steady herself, cradling the eggs in one hand. At the steepest point she has to sit down and slide, but she arrives at the bottom without a fall.

Her headache is gone. More than gone: She sees clearly now, like the Oracle. She sees her family’s journey home, and what lies ahead for them, and the rest of her life. They’ll be back in Chicago in three days, and she knows what she needs to do.


He doesn’t suppose Janet will come to any harm, though in a fleeting thought he sees her turned into a statue, or carried off to the nether world. He occupies the time with Danny, working on the pieces of the cube. Margie leaves the table to explore the carved figures that hang on the walls and shelf. “Don’t touch anything,” he says, as she goes through the kitchen area to look out the back door. Danny gets the cube back together. Kevin is trying to reconstruct the sphere, but now that Danny has solved his, Kevin pushes all the sphere pieces over to his little brother, as not worthy of his own effort.

Just as Margie is asking again, “Where did Mom go?” Iraklís opens the door.

Janet’s comb is falling out of her hair. There’s mud on her sweater and skirt. She holds up two eggs. “Fresh from the hen,” she says. “These two, at least.”

“There you go,” he says. “Let’s do it. Omelets for everyone, then?”

“Having seen the frying pan,” Janet says, wiggling her eyebrows, “I’ll pass.”

“I’m not hungry,” Margie says—the one who was starving. “I just want a Coke.”

Drei Omelette,” our host says.

“That’s right, three, drei.”


Fünf Coca-Colas.” The children look at him as though he’d sprouted wings. “Pretty impressive, eh?” he rolls his eyes. “I can count to five in German.”

He sees a few tomatoes and an onion on the counter. In English augmented by chopping signs, he asks Iraklís to use those in the omelets.

“Do you have any sausages?” Danny asks.

“No!” Jack says firmly. “No sausage. No, thank you. Danke. Nein.

Janet rubs dirt off her hands. He wonders, where did the man take her? She starts to brush her clothing as well, then gives up and sits at the end of the table. She folds her arms on the plastic cover, puts her head down and closes her eyes. Through the window behind her, in the rocky cove, waves foam silently along the beach. The sea looks dark and dense, more like blueberry jam than wine. As far as Jack can see along the coastal highway, there isn’t a single car or truck.

Iraklís brings a basket of rolls, somehow oven warm. He sets it down and puts on a big face of astonishment at the fact that they solved his puzzles. Bowing deferentially to Danny’s genius, he takes a fifty drachma coin from his pocket as if to pay the boy. Danny refuses, embarrassed. Iraklís puts the coin down and covers it with a paper napkin, crumples it in his left hand and makes it vanish. He finds it a moment later in Margie’s hair. The kids laugh. “We know how to do that,” Margie says. “It was in your other hand.” Baby stuff—they can do that trick themselves. Fine, his gestures say, whatever.

Jack looks at his sons. Even Kevin, the jaded teenager, is charmed by the good soul. From a cooler near the back door the man brings cold bottles of Coke, with clean glasses from a cupboard. Janet sits up, lets him pour the first one for her, and drinks a third of it at once.

Iraklís is pointing to the puzzle again. “He wants to see you do it,” Jack says. Margie begins to look for the key piece in the sphere, with the boys telling her what to do and the rest of them watching expectantly. Nothing budges. Kevin takes it from her. He picks up the cube, but can’t make that one come apart, either. Some parts jiggle a little against each other, but the boys can’t find the trick release. They’ve pressed every piece; nothing budges.

“How’d you do that?” Danny demands. Iraklís shrugs and withdraws to the kitchen.


She’s given herself over to what will come—flies, lice, goats, whatever. Three more days. Margie uses her fingers to steal a bite of Danny’s egg. “I guess I’ll have one, too,” she says.

She exchanges a smile with Jack. He calls Iraklís back. “One more?” he points.

Iraklís nods happily. Suddenly he snaps his fingers over the top of the puzzle cube without seeming to touch it. It falls to pieces. Go ahead, he indicates; put it together again. He snaps his fingers at the sphere and it, too, falls apart. This time neither Danny nor any of them can fit the pieces back together. The kids all try, and Jack tries to help, while Iraklís goes back to his kitchen.

When he brings Margie’s omelet, he feigns surprise that they’ve forgotten how to solve the puzzle. He shrugs, scoops up all the pieces of both puzzles, dumps them into his jacket pocket. Then he goes back to the shelf and reaches into the pocket to pull out, magically, a cube and a sphere again.

No one says a word. Danny’s eyes widen. Jack whispers, “Ooh.” She expects Kevin or Danny to run over and check the man’s pocket, but something stops them. They turn quietly, as Margie does, to the plates in front of them.

“How is it?” she asks.

“Good. Have some,” her daughter offers.

She tears off a piece of bread and uses her fingers to put a bite of the omelet on it. “It’s good, you’re right.”

She is going to quit drinking. But first she has to do the harder thing.


Her mood has changed. He was surprised she’d go out to the man’s chicken coop like that. How did her hair and clothes get so mussed? He doesn’t recall the buttons at the bottom of her skirt being open when they arrived. It’s conceivable the old man would try to grope her, but surely she’d have screamed, and slugged him.

“We should hit the road,” he says, thinking: while we’re all in a good mood.

Iraklís beckons to Margie to come with him. Pointing to the carved figures all around the room—and to himself, saying again that he made them all—he takes a shoe box from a cupboard. Open it. Inside is a doll in traditional Greek folk costume; not wooden like the ones he made, but a porcelain antique figurine. Janet gasps. “Be careful with it,” she says as Margie lifts it out admiringly. “That’s not a toy.”

Now Iraklís indicates he has something to show him and the boys. He leads the way out the door and points up a path. Herded before him, they hike about fifty yards, past what must be the chicken coop, to the top of the cliff above the restaurant. In the ground, partly hidden by low brush, are four walls of cracked concrete. Jack recognizes it immediately. “Do you guys know what that is?”

“A bunker?” Kevin says.

Deutsch.” Iraklís is indicating the outlines of a German gun emplacement. Here, a tripod. He mimes a machine gun. There, a cannon of some kind.

“Did you fight?” Jack asks. “You?”

Iraklís shakes his head. He points to himself, then to Danny’s height: He was only a boy then. His hand sweeping the island, he says: Italiener, Deutsche.” Then, pointing to the sea: “Engländer.”

“Cool,” Kevin says.


She looks down at waves breaking on the rocks, white foam against blue and black and the alabaster sand. Margie is smoothing the dusty skirts of Iraklís’s porcelain doll when the boys come back. Jack says, “Finally, some archaeology they said was cool.”

They’re ready to leave. Iraklís opens a drawer and digs out five printed cards with his address in Greek characters, except for the word GREECE in the last line and a little drawing of an ancient warrior with a club—“Iraklís,” he says.

“Hercules! Oh, of course,” Jack says.

The man shows them postcards tacked to the wall near the cash register. That’s the point of the address cards; he wants a postcard from Chicago for his collection.

Margie lays the folk dancer carefully in the box and places it on the counter. But the man says something that clearly means, It’s for you. Janet looks at Jack and shakes her head. “That must have belonged to his wife. It’s worth a lot. We can’t accept that gift, honey.”

Margie understands, but Iraklís places the box firmly in her hands, with the same beseeching look he had when they arrived. He writes the amount they owe for lunch on a slip of paper: five thousand drachmas. Jack gives him six thousand. “That’s only, what, about fifteen dollars, Jack?” she whispers. “And he wants to give us that figurine, which is worth … I have no idea how much, but it’s French and a hundred years old. If he insists on Margie taking it, give him at least … I don’t know.” She’s flustered, unwilling to take advantage of the man, yet reluctant to spend much for an antique that Margie will play with as a toy.

The encounter with Iraklís ends as it began, awkwardly. Jack peels off thirty thousand drachmas, but the man won’t take the money. He is adamant. It’s a gift. From my heart, his gestures make the Greek words clear, I want her to have this. Remember Greece. Remember Iraklís.

“That we will,” Jack says.

She repeats, “We will.”

“Thank you!” Margie says, and the boys: “Thank you.”

“Efharistó,” Iraklís says.

The kids learned that word in Athens. “Efharistó,” they say in unison.

His artwork spills out onto the terrace—she didn’t notice it when they came up. Every tree, every niche in the hillside, every windowsill displays Iraklís’s virtuosity. Here is a shrine made of driftwood and parts of old garden tools. A string of electric lights encase a low, fat olive tree in the midst of the tables. The terrace would look festive at night with those lights as well as candles on every table and all the way down the path to the parking lot. There’s a whale—she wonders what inspired that. There are three or four signs in Greek, each letter carved out of wood. And the piece de resistance: Iraklís turns on a fountain, which he built with cement poured into the hillside so water spills down runways all tiled with shells. “This is beautiful,” she says. He beams proudly. His style is all his own. If these random organic materials fashioned into functional but superfluous objects seem kitschy, it’s only because the whole ensemble is like a gift shop stuffed with too many cuckoo clocks. You have to study each piece individually to appreciate its ingenuity. A magician or an artist or a dirty old man, whatever he is, there’s nothing he couldn’t do.

The cloud cover has passed. It’s still breezy and far from hot, but the sun feels warm again. Danny and Margaret are petting a dog, a healthy looking German shepherd that lies in the shade of a table. A chicken walks between Jack and her. If it’s the same hen, her feathers are fully fluffed out now. Everything is all, somehow, magically, right. Addressing the bird as much as Iraklís, Janet says “Goodbye” as if leaving a friend she might not see for a long time.

“Andío sás.”

Andío sás,” Margie carefully repeats.

Kevin says, slowly and in two distinct syllables: “Good bye.”

Gud. Baí,” Iraklís says. “Andío sás, gud baí.” He laughs with them.

Kevin takes the middle seat without argument—it’s his turn. She waves to Iraklís, who stands on his terrace and nods to her as Jack shifts gears and pulls out onto the road. When she turns to look back at the Greek, she sees Margie waving too.

“See, Mom?” Danny says. “That wasn’t a bad place, was it?”

Kevin says, “We made his day.” Before disappearing into his Discman, he reaches forward to give her Iraklís’s card. “Keep this for me. I want to send him a postcard from Evanston.”

As Jack drives on toward the fishing village, she catches Danny looking at the farms they pass. “I wonder,” he says, “if there’s other Iraklíses inside those houses.”

Jack and she both smile. “I doubt if there are many quite like him,” Jack says.

She watches the island scenery slip by. A man who looks like Anthony Quinn. A flock of goats. A half-finished villa, abandoned in mid-construction. Near a cluster of houses she sees widows in black dresses and black stockings, and men standing by the road with no other purpose than to watch them drive past without stopping.

Jack lays his hand on her knee, gives it a pat, then takes her hand and squeezes it. The divorce will hurt him—maybe more, in the long run, than it will the children. She gives him an answering squeeze, thinking, three more days.

© 2007, Ken Kaye

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