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The green flashing light on my cell phone caught my eye as I pulled my wallet out to pay for lunch at the museum’s café. I dropped my credit card on top of the bill and told my mom I’d be right back.
In the quiet of the marbled and mirrored anteroom to the ladies’ room, I sat on a maroon velvet tufted bench and read the chief’s email:
Good Mid-Day Jenna,
Just thinking about you and hoping you are enjoying your time with your Mom.
A woman with her two small children caught my eye as they exited one of the handicapped stalls and trundled over to the bank of sinks under a phalanx of naked lightbulbs limning the cavernous bathroom with a yellowish incandescent glow. As the boho-chic-clad mother balanced each of her children on the edge of the stone countertop, my body recalled the weighty feeling of my torso pressing against the back of a too-short-to-reach child of mine to help with handwashing. I missed those days when I was so relied upon by them that I had considered my early days of motherhood as something of a splendid burden. To be needed in such a corporeal way, even in the many years after breastfeeding had ceased, felt like a lifetime ago.
The young mother yanked a ream of paper towels from the dispenser and squeezed dry the plump hands of her babies, evoking the feel of my own children’s hands—all flesh and fat, boneless—in my grip. This distraction, this search for lost time, held my attention long enough for me to forget why I was in the cold, walled space until I felt the heft of my cellphone in my open palm.
While I’d last seen the chief two days before, only briefly, at the Lil’ Peach on my way to the yoga studio, the last conversation of any meaningful substance had been the day before, on Friday, when the chief had made his proposal to formalize an affair. But now, rereading the chief’s email, which was sterile and devoid of any reference to this latest proposition of his, I began to question if he’d changed his tune as he was wont to do.
In our brief history, I’d found myself, several times, alone in his audience where he staged a one-man play titled We Can’t Do This, only to find once backstage and no longer under the hot glow of a scrutinous spotlight, he went off-book and seemed to prefer the improvisation he sought in the wings.