“Natan, you’re pinching me.” When I pressed her against me like that, her body bounced pleasantly. She’d plumped up a bit lately, not necessarily to her detriment. I put the back of my hand against her cheek. ‘Give yourself a nice glow.’ A hot flash. She felt her face herself. “In the past va-banque, now vapeur,” she said. “I’ve reached peony age.”
Such a fast-rising blush gave her back a youthfulness. The aftereffect of a compliment that had hit its mark. The glow that betrayed a mischievous thought. My father had only teased her about it the first time, when he still wouldn’t realize that the menopause had set in. ‘You’re turning red, Bekka. Bad conscience?’
“Say that again, and I’ll make sure you get a bad conscience.” That happened a few years ago. “If you don’t like it, Pat, we’ll just go find you a mistress.” She was now fifty-four, he sixty-two. Her climacteric was irregular. At times she looked gray and worn out, as I had never really known her. Those were precisely the periods when menstruation returned, ‘frugal and unpredictable’ according to her, and with unpleasant side effects such as headaches and abdominal pain. When ovulation finally seemed to be over, she blossomed all the way down to the peony glow. I got the impression, but of course I didn’t say it out loud, that the blood clots under the skin were not limited to the buttocks, and that she would like to have another night of love, a short one if necessary.
Muted swearing came from the bedroom behind her. My father knelt in front of the bed, on which lay a large nylon suitcase. He had slid his left arm under the lid, crushing the piles of clothes, trying to close the long zipper with the other hand. Each time his fingers reached the protruding elbow with the trigger, Patrick was forced to let go of it well – which lifted the lid again. He supported. “I don’t want to go to China at all.”
If Freud wasn’t spouting nonsense, and every little boy had to go through an Oedipus complex, what would I have done to overthrow my father and win my mother, the second perhaps as a reward for the first?
“Even with shoes on, another hero in socks.” I had never heard Rebekah say anything worse about her husband, at least in front of me. He stood heavily tipsy at the top of the stairs, swinging precariously at his then overweight body, and the noses of his loafers a few inches over the edge of the landing. His laces were loose. Mama and I were all the way down the hall with the marble floor. Halfway through the steps, the steps curved. Patrick stooped, narrowly falling forward, then knelt to tie his shoelaces. He couldn’t manage it, and straightened up again, groping his foot for the top step. The loose lace shuddered above the red carpet.
“Hold still, you idiot,” Mom called. ‘You’ll be thundering down like that. “Natan is coming to help you.” I was about six years old, and I climbed the stairs quickly and nimbly like a mountain goat. I still heard him lisp with a swollen tongue: ‘Today on the edge of the abyss, tomorrow a step further. Always keep thinking ahead.’
Half standing, half kneeling on the top steps, I tied his shoelaces. I almost gave in to the urge to cross-link them, as we had secretly done at school with a classmate, who had badly chafed his elbow as a result. With his laces tied, my father would almost certainly have fallen down the high stairs in his condition. The turn might have broken, not prevented, his tumble down.
It had been no more than the unclean shadow of a thought, the quickly dodged pinprick of a dirty plan. I made neat loops on the insteps of his shoes, but for weeks I felt miserable that such a half-resolution, which betrayed perhaps my deepest desire, could have crossed my mind.
I squatted down next to him and helped him close the suitcase. “Whoever sees you doing this,” I said, “would marvel that you are technologically advanced enough to handle an electric typewriter.”