As my brother came up the stairs
I put my finger to my lips
and waved him to our parents’ door.
This was a blowout not to be missed.
Where you been? I whispered.
I wanted to ride around last night.
Reservoir, he said.
It’s almost ready.
Nice, I said. I paused.
I missed you.
I leave for school again on August 3.
Let’s make sure we—
Then Dad cut me off.
What do you mean,
you’re taking the semester off?
I’ll be in the studio to the end
of September, then I’m on the road
till the week before Christmas. Jesus,
Sarah, we’ve been over this: if I stay on top
of Susan, I’m sure she can get me
a meeting with Michael Banford;
he’s already shown an interest
in graphic collections—
Oh, I’ll bet you want to get on top
of Susan! And so what if she gets finally does
get you into Banford’s office?
What if he even gives you a contract
right there, that afternoon,
and the advance is enough to cover
travel for the season? Let’s even say
he wants to give you an outrageous royalty,
and send you back on tour to support it?
Then I go on tour to support it!
And what about me?
You’ll be here.
Exactly. I’ll always be here,
Ruben. I’ll always be here.
Oh, come on. You love teaching
at the College. And just another year
of this and the kids will all be graduated
and we’ll have more options.
So what if I enjoy teaching?
That’s not the point. You’ve enjoyed
a care-free work life almost 20 years
while I’ve held this house together.
That’s not fair. I work hard every day.
And you think living out of motels is enjoyable?
No, Ruben, I don’t. I think it’s probably
uncomfortable. Frankly, I don’t see
how you could have done it so long
without carrying on
with at least one other woman.
What?! I’ve never been unfaithful to you!
There was a long pause.
What’s her name? Really?
The one in the drawings.
The one the kids call The Woman.
She doesn’t have a name. She’s a drawing.
After 13 years? Come on. Who is she.
Is she a Samantha? A Margaret? A goddamn Amelia?
She’s not real. If you have to know,
sometimes I call her Sue.
My mother roared.
Sue?! Real e-fucking-nough!
I’ve seen your studio.
She doesn’t have to walk the Earth.
You go right to her.
I’d never heard her cuss.
Not in 19 years.
But that’s not even the point.
Then what’s the point? Dad seethed back.
You know it’s precisely the point.
This! This arrangement!
You can disappear
into your work, into her,
whenever you want. You bring in one-fifth
of the money we need, in a good year.
Oh, come on, Sarah. That’s not fair.
Let me finish, Mom snarled.
When you make a big deal, we don’t sweat
the mortgage for a few months.
And it should be nice. It should be a blessing.
But I don’t feel a blessing, Ruben.
I feel a shot in the back. Every time
I catch sight of a week I don’t have to work
60 hours, and summers, sometimes,
to keep this goddamn ship over water.
This never would have happened
if you’d waited to leave that goddamn
agency until you had enough clients
to pull your weight. She paused.
Actually, I’ve been thinking about this.
If you hadn’t quit, I wouldn’t
have needed to take those extra classes,
and I could’ve stayed on that Journalism Department
steering committee. I could’ve been teaching
what I love the last 20 years.
Don’t you put that on me, Dad started.
You chose to pick up those classes.
Please, Mom scoffed. Don’t demean yourself.
You know plain as I do
I only had to because without them,
we’d have had to sell the house.
Neither of them spoke for a long time.
My brother and I looked at each other.
Then Mom continued, quietly:
Our children are about to graduate from high school
and you hardly know them.
That’s not true. That’s not true
and it’s not fair.
No? She started yelling again.
Well, why don’t you think about it
surrounded by the visage of your imaginary girlfriend
through the end of September,
or while you’re spending quality time
with your kids before they disappear for parts unknown
when you’re in Nowhere, Arizona
till the week before fucking Christmas?
We could hear her taking deep breaths.
But you got me off the point again.
Soon as summer classes are over,
I’m taking the next five months to live
like my husband has
for the last twenty years.
There was a long silence.
Then Dad made a noise
I’d also never heard before:
Okay, fine. I’ll spend less time
at the studio, and I’ll cancel the last leg
of the trip. I’ll be here. I’ll pick up
more housework. Will you please
just keep working?
We’ll see, she said.
And before we knew it,
Dad was opening the door.