I looked up at him, everything now falling into place. Closure. Yeah, right. This was Dexter’s little revenge scheme, his way of poking me back when I wasn’t even protecting myself. Suddenly I was so mad I could feel the blood rising in my face, hot and flushed. “You asshole, ” I said.
“What?” His eyes widened.
“You think this is some little game?” I snapped, throwing the picture at him. It hit him in the chest, the corner poking, and he stepped back, letting it fall to the floor. “You want to get back at me and you do this? God, I was trying to leave things right, Dexter. I was trying to be beyond this!”
“Remy,” he said, holding up his hands. Behind him Lucas had pushed his chair back and was just staring at me. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, yeah, right,” I said. “All this talk about faith, and love. And then you do something like this, just to hurt me. And not even me! My family-”
“Remy.” He tried to reach out and grab my hand, to calm me, but I pulled back, my wrist smacking wildly against the register, as if it wasn’t even under my control. “Come on. Just tell me-”
“Fuck you!” I screamed, and my voice sounded so shrill.
“What is the problem?” he yelled back, then ducked down, picking the picture up off the floor. He stared at it. “I don’t-”
But I was already walking across the store, toward the door. I just kept seeing my mother in my mind, floating toward me on a wave of perfume and hopefulness, trying so hard to make this, of all marriages, work. She’d been ready to settle, to give it all up, even her own voice, just to stay with this man who would not only commit adultery but save the evidence on film. Bastard. I hated him. I hated Dexter. I had come so close to wanting to be wrong about the possibilities of what the heart could really do. Give me proof, I’d said, and she had tried. It’s not tangible, she’d said, you can’t mark it so clearly. But against love, the case was solid. Easily argued. And you could, indeed, hold it in your hand.
Finding out about Don pretty much ended my party. Which was fine, actually, since Amanda had already fallen asleep on the table in the waxing room and Lola and Talinga were finishing off the cake and bemoaning whose love life was more pathetic. We said our final good-byes, and then I left, carrying the envelope they’d given me, a freebie case of my favorite conditioner, and the burden of knowing that my mother’s latest husband was the worst of the lot. Which was saying quite a bit, considering.
My head was clear as I drove home, blasting my air conditioner and trying to calm down. The shock of seeing Patty on my mother’s bed, in my mother’s room, had sobered me up quick, the way only bad news can. I was so mad at Dexter for showing me the picture, and as I drove I wondered why I’d never seen this duplicitous, petty, evil side of him. He’d hid it well. And it was low-down, bringing my family into it. Hurt me, fine. I could handle it. But my mother was different.
I pulled into the driveway and cut the engine, then just sat there as the A/C whined to a stop. I was dreading what I had to do. I knew that someone else might not have said anything, just letting the marriage, sham that it was, take its course. But I couldn’t allow that. I wouldn’t have been able to leave knowing that my mother was stuck here, living with that kind of deception. As a firm believer in the rip-it-off-like-a-Band-Aid school of bad news, I had to tell her.
As I walked up the driveway to the front porch, however, something was off. I couldn’t say exactly what: it was more of a hunch, unexplainable. Even before I came upon the Ensure cans, which were scattered across the front walk, some in the grass, some rolled under the bushes, one just sitting upright on the steps, as if waiting to be retrieved, I had a feeling I was too late.
I pushed open the front door, then felt it hit against something: another can. They were everywhere, scattered across the foyer as I crossed it, going into the kitchen.
“Mom?” I said, and listened to my voice bounce off the countertops and cabinets, back at me. No response. On the table, I could see the food stacked for our big family dinner: steaks, corn on the cob, most of it still in the plastic bags from the supermarket. Next to them, a stack of mail, with one envelope, addressed to my mother in clean block writing, ripped open.
I moved across the room, stepping over another Ensure, to the doorway of her study. The curtain was hanging down, the old busy-don’t-bother-me sign, but this time I pushed it aside and walked right through.
She was sitting in her chair, in front of the typewriter. Sticking out of it was a copy of the picture I’d thrown at Dexter. It was positioned the same way a sheet of paper would have been right before she rolled it in.
My mother, strangely, seemed very calm. Whatever fury had caused the explosion and scattering of Ensure cans had obviously passed, leaving her sitting there with a stoic expression as she considered Patty’s face, so pouty and posed, staring back at her.
“Mom?” I said again, and then I reached out my hand and put it over hers, carefully. “Are you okay?”
She swallowed, and nodded. I could tell she’d been crying. Her mascara was smeared, black smudgy arcs underneath both her eyes. This, I thought, was the most disturbing thing of all. Even in the worst of circumstances, my mother always looked put together.
“They took it in my own room,” she said. “This picture. On my bed.”
“I know,” I said. She turned her head, looking at me quizzically, and I backtracked, knowing it was best to keep the fact that yet another copy existed to myself. “I mean, that’s the quilt, right? Behind her.”
She turned her gaze back to the snapshot, and for a second we both just looked at it, the only sound that of the refrigerator ice machine cheerfully spitting out a new batch of cubes in the next room. “I missed him,” she said finally.
I put my hand over hers and sat down, pulling my chair closer. “I know,” I said softly. “You came back from Florida feeling really good, and then you find out he’s such a rat bastard that he-”
“No,” she said distractedly, interrupting me. “I missed him. All those Ensures, and not a one made contact. I have terrible aim.” And then she sighed. “Even just one would have made it better. Somehow.”
It took a second for this to sink in. “You threw all those cans?” I asked her.
“I was very upset,” she explained. Then she sniffled, wiping her nose with a Kleenex she was gripping in her other hand. “Oh, Remy. My heart is just breaking.”