“How do you know?”
He shampooed his hair.
“You ever wonder why they hate us so much? The Communists?” she said. “Why can’t they leave us alone? The world’s going to blow up and I don’t even know why.”
“It’s not going to blow up.”
“It is. You read the papers and—“
“Stop reading the papers, then.”
Teddy rinsed the shampoo from his hair and she pressed her face to his back and her hands snaked around his abdomen. “I remember the first time I saw you at the Grove. In your uniform.” Teddy hated when she did this. Memory Lane. She couldn’t adapt to the present, to who they were now, warts and all, so she drove winding lanes into the past to warm herself.
“You were so handsome. And Linda Cox said, ‘I saw him first.’
But you know what I said?”
“I’m late, honey.”
“Why would I say that? No. I said, ‘You might have seen him first, Linda, but I’ll see him last.’ She thought you looked mean up close, but I said, ‘Honey, have you looked in his eyes? There’s nothing mean there.’ “ Teddy shut off the shower and turned, noticed that his wife had managed to get some of his soap on her. Smudges of lather splattered her flesh.
“You want me to turn it back on?”
She shook her head.
He wrapped a towel around his waist and shaved at the sink, and Dolores leaned against the wall as the soap dried white on her body and watched him.
“Why don’t you dry off?” Teddy said. “Put a robe on?”
“It’s gone now,” she said.
“It’s not gone. Looks like white leeches stuck all over you.”
“Not the soap,” she said.
“The Cocoanut Grove. Burned to the ground while you were over there.”
“Yeah, honey, I heard that.”
“Over there,” she sang lightly, trying to lighten the mood. “Over there...”
She’d always had the prettiest voice. The night he’d returned from the war, they’d splurged on a room at the Parker House, and after they’d made love, he heard her sing for the first time from the bathroom as he lay in bed—“Buffalo Girls” with the steam creeping out from under the door.
“Hey,” she said.
“Yeah?” He caught the reflection of the left side of her body in the mirror. Most of the soap had dried on her skin and something about it annoyed him. It suggested violation in a way he couldn’t put his finger on. “Do you have somebody else?”
“The luck are you talking about? i work, Dolores.”
“I’m touching your dick in the—“
“Don’t say that word. Jesus Christ.”
“—shower and you don’t even get hard?”
“Dolores.” He turned from the mirror. “You were talking about bombs. The end of the world.”
She shrugged, as if that had no relevance to this current conversation. She propped her foot back against the wall and used a finger to wipe the water off her inner thigh. “You don’t fuck me anymore.” “Dolores, I’m serious—you don’t talk like that in this house.”
“So I’ve gotta assume you’re fucking her.”
“I’m not fucking anyone, and could you stop saying that word?”
“Which word?” She placed a hand over her dark pubic hair.
“Yes.” He raised one hand. He went back to shaving with the other.
“So that’s a bad word?”
“You know it is.” He pulled the razor up his throat, heard the scratch of hairs through the foam.
“So what’s a good word?”
“Huh?” He dipped the razor, shook it.
“What word about my body won’t cause you to make a fist?”
“I didn’t make a fist.”
He finished his throat, wiped the razor on a facecloth. He laid the flat of it below his left sideburn. “No, honey. I didn’t.” He caught her left eye in the mirror.
“What should I say?” She ran one hand through her upper hair and one through her lower. “I mean, you can lick it and you can kiss it and you can luck it. You can watch a baby come out of it. But you can’t say it?”
“Cunt,” she said.
The razor slid so far through Teddy’s skin he suspected it hit jaw
bone. It widened his eyes and lit up the entire left side of his face, and
then some shaving cream dripped into the wound and eels exploded
DENNIS L EHANE
through his head and the blood poured into the white clouds and water in the sink.
She came to him with a towel, but he pushed her away and sucked air through his teeth and felt the pain burrowing into his eyes, scorching his brain, and he bled into the sink and he felt like crying. Not from the pain. Not from the hangover. But because he didn’t know what was happening to his wife, to the girl he’d first danced with at the Cocoanut Grove. He didn’t know what she was becoming or what the world was becoming with its lesions of tiny, dirty wars and furious hatreds and spies in Washington, in Hollywood, gas masks in schoolhouses, cement bomb shelters in basements. And it was, somehow, all connected—his wife, this world, his drinking, the war he’d fought because he honestly believed it would end all this...
He bled into the sink and Dolores said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” and he took the towel the second time she offered it but couldn’t touch her, couldn’t look at her. He could hear the tears in her voice and he knew there were tears in her eyes and on her face, and he hated how fucked up and obscene the world and everything in it had become.
IN THE PAPER, he’d been quoted as saying the last thing he told his wife was that he loved her.
The last thing he really said?
Reaching for the doorknob, a third towel pressed to his jaw, her eyes searching his face:
“Jesus, Dolores, you’ve got to get yourself together. You’ve got responsibilities. Think about those sometimes—okay?--and get your fucking head right.”
Those were the last words his wife heard from him. He’d closed
the door and walked down the stairs, paused on the last step. He thought of going back. He thought of going back up the stairs and into the apartment and somehow making it right. Or, if not right, at least softer.