Friday, May 30, 2014

Chapter 26 / Neanderthal

Being self-reliant does not mean being empowered. Kathleen said that. Some days, thought Annie, Kathleen is brilliant. Every day, I wish we could get her elected. 
June, and Kathleen was campaigning to get 1,000 signatures on the required designating petitions in the Assembly District, which snaked through parts of three counties. 
“Are you working tomorrow?” It was Jaime, calling on Saturday. Annie and Andrew had just come in from Andrew’s driving practice, and he was washing strawberries. You start them off with easy things, Kathleen had said: will you just rinse these strawberries; the colander is in that cabinet. If necessary, you tell him what a colander is. 
“We’re having a meeting of Kathleen’s Kitchen Cabinet to hear about her Listening Tour,” said Jaime. “Four o’clock.” 
“I’m working in the morning, then Andrew’s practice driving. He’s going to take the road test soon, to get his license.” 
“Well! Another step up in the relationship. Have him drive you to Kathleen’s.”
Andrew was surprisingly familiar with cars—an early interest, he said, that he had pursued, of necessity, in CuscĂștlan—and he also knew what a colander was, though he approached the kitchen more carefully than a car engine; here, he seemed to think, something might explode in his hands. 
“Who did you tell I was on the road?” he asked. He paused. “Whom.”
“Jaime. Maybe we could end our driving tour at Kathleen’s tomorrow, at four ‘o’clock. She’s reporting on her meeting in Troy.” 
“Sure. How’s the Neanderthal doing?”
“Beautifully. He’s chiding her for starting the ‘silly season’ early.” 
“You have such a fiendish grin, Annie, when you talk about that guy. Is his stupidity translating into money for Kathleen?”
“Ask her tomorrow.”
“Small contributions,” Kathleen said Sunday, a sunny day on which the four-member Kitchen Cabinet had become the Deck Cabinet. “No one wants to get rid of him except people who care about people, and they don’t have any money.” 
When Kathleen started to clear dishes Andrew helped her, and then stood with her at the sink.
“Any skeletons in the Neanderthal closet?” he asked quietly.
Kathleen turned on the water. “—I think he drinks. But they all drink.” 
“That’s a start,” said Andrew. “I don’t know anybody in his home town. But maybe I can find someone who knows someone, and—”
“Andrew, I want to keep this clean.” Kathleen, who always listened, had interrupted him. 
“You will,” he said promptly. He looked at her directly with his pale blue eyes, and Kathleen practiced looking straight back at him as she knew she had to, with everyone, even when she found them unnerving, at once guileless and cunning. 
“This is your Kitchen Cabinet speaking,” he said. “Not your Campaign Committee. And he won’t keep it clean, right? Once he feels you nipping at his heels, he will turn around and bite you. Are you ready?”
“Yes.” Kathleen turned off the water, hating to waste it. “If he brings it up, I am prepared to talk about flying to Puerto Rico in 1969 for a legal abortion, and about my parking ticket last year in Schuyler.” 
“Good. And are you willing to do this for cash—no debt—and name recognition?”
“You mean lose, and run again in two years.” Kathleen did not sound happy about this. 
Andrew nodded. “Run to win. But keep your day job.” 
At the train station in Schuyler that evening, Andrew and Annie sat on a bench outdoors. They would not let Chloe sit between them, so she curled on Annie’s lap with her chin on Andrew’s thigh. He found that he didn’t mind, that he could sit quietly, an arm around Annie, a hand alongside her dog’s head, admiring the sunset and confident that he could sneak a smoke between cars once the conductor had gone through. 
But he found also that he had to ask: “Did you ever fly to PR for an abortion?”
“No,” said Annie. “Abortion became legal in New York State in 1970. Kathleen just missed it . . . I didn’t.”  
“Damn . . . you’d have a kid? 
“A grown kid, Andrew, not Zach, not someone you could throw a softball to in Kathleen’s yard. I was 20. It was a mistake. And later, when I had a scare, I thought, this is ridiculous. And I had a tubal ligation. At twenty-five.”
She liked his pale blue eyes, and she watched them now, to see if they were retreating. 
“You were that sure,” he said, at once mystified and impressed. 
“Yes. I’ve never regretted it.”
“Ed didn’t want kids either.” 
“No, he didn’t. Well, looking back, he treated the dogs like kids.” 
“You could have adopted.” 
“I never changed my mind, Andrew. You can’t go to an adoption agency and say ‘one of us wants a kid and the other doesn’t, so we’d like to adopt.’ 
“But that’s not the point. Should I have told you sooner? I didn’t realize . . . I’m too old to have a child, Andrew.” 
“No you’re not, forty-year-old women have children all the   time—” Andrew stopped, having surprised himself. “Sorry,” he said. “None of my business.” 
“—Does it make a difference?”
“—You’ve exploded my fantasy. Fantasies can be dangerous. They can also be important.” 
He had taken to calling her when he arrived in New York; he would walk ten of the sixty blocks between the two stations, Penn and the radio, as they talked. Tonight he didn’t; for the first time since he had covered the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, when he couldn’t always call, Andrew didn’t call Annie that evening, and she was acutely aware of it, every minute. She was also acutely aware that if they broke up over this, it was her doing; he had not left her. 
Some weeks, they wrote to each other; if you mailed a note on Monday, it usually arrived on Wednesday. Jaime had started printing her fruit postcards again this year, and on the back of a postcard that showed one single strawberry, Annie wrote, “I am in charge of nothing. Except this.” She put the card in an envelope but didn’t do anything more with it.
Andrew called at six o’clock Monday morning, knowing Annie would be up, drinking coffee on the deck. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was punishing you. I’m a Neanderthal.” 
“I wrote out an explanation for you. Eight words. I’ll mail it on my way to work.” 
*  *  *
“I’m in love with a woman who had her tubes tied,” Andrew told Warren later that day, as soon as he sat down for his appointment. 
Warren blinked his surprise, nodded. “And,” he said.
“And I’m sad. You know I hate to have paths cut off. Yes, I am an unlikely father, the progenitor of chemical imbalance and capable of forgetting my kid at the gas station.” 
“But . . .”
“The train came in, and I wouldn’t have given up my side then anyway. In Penn Station I learned that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman had been murdered, probably by OJ, so I went to the radio station and hung out there for a while. And then I walked around. Wandered around. Pitying myself because the women I love always have control of me. People think I’m this cad, but Polly did it her way, refusing everything but the needle. Elena left me, who adored her and her kid, and went back to the husband who beat her. Annie . . . 
“OK, you’re thinking, Annie is forty, she lived with a man for fifteen years and she doesn’t have children. There’s a pattern there that I should have been able to observe.” 
“That you might have observed,” Warren said gently.
“Instead of assuming she was just waiting for me. I called her this morning. She said she had written out an explanation. Eight words. She’s mailed it.” 
Warren considered this. “Her newspaper training, I guess.”
“Annie always seems to think she has a lifetime word limit.” 

Copyright © 2014 Debby Mayer