now is a good time

19

DETECTIVE ALVAREZ IS TAKING UP A NEW POSITION since lunchtime, a stakeout in a cul-de-sac in the Silverado community, one that gives him a good view of the Reagan home. The laptop screen shows a failed-trace message on a number that is Doctor Reagan’s cell phone. The files he got from Elaine are on the passenger seat and he reaches over the console and retrieves a folder. On its intake form he finds the information he’s after, a name that he types into his laptop, the name of the surviving father of the deceased twins and mother. No priors, no records. His current address is hundreds of miles away. Not the type for foul play.

He picks up a second file, this one indexed with the name Esposito. Steve knows this name. He knows the given name on the cover sheet as well. He turns the cover sheet to the patient’s history and reads more. He cannot read fast enough as the words therein make a connection he had no idea existed. “Call home,” he says, and the hands-free device in his vehicle executes the call. There’s a ring and connection and she answers. Steve speaks while he continues to read the file, “Hey, is it too late to get a sitter tonight?”

Down the street from the cul-de-sac of Detective Alvarez’s stakeout is Elaine’s red sedan that has just pulled to the curb in front of the Reagan home. She pops an Altoid to cover up her vomit breath and is summoning enough courage to get out of her car. Despite emptying her stomach, she is still driven from her core, reaching a desperate level in trying to limit the momentum of damages put in motion so many years ago. She pulls the handle on her door and steps out. She walks up the drive that curves toward the home intent on the front door, but one of four garage doors begins to lift with the sound of a well lubricated screw-drive garage door opener revealing the Mercedes. Pam walks around the rear of the car making her way to the driver’s door but catches a surprised Elaine walking up her driveway. She stops, just as astonished as the office manager she hired years ago. Pam changes her direction, stepping with purpose toward Elaine yet bracing for whatever reason she might be paying this visit. They meet and stop in the driveway about ten feet in separation.

“Where’s Gray?” says Pam, her query is even with an undertone of a foregone conclusion. Elaine cannot respond. Pam waits for an answer long enough for her to not quite lose her decorum and she turns back to the open garage.

“Pam, we need to talk.”

Pam stops. She looks into the garage, the Mercedes, and up over to the house before her and then she turns around back to Elaine, her keys in hand imprinting their cut in the recesses of her clenching palm. “About what, Elaine? About the affair you’ve been having with my husband?”

Alvarez watches the standoff from his vehicle. “Steve? Are you there?” is heard on its audio system. “I’ll call you back,” he says and he disconnects. These two women before him, both of whom he knows only because of this investigation, are now engaged in a standoff. They’re rigid, squared off at each other, hands down at their sides. The door to the red sedan on the street is open and a neighbor, the woman who lives across the street has exited her house and is pretending to weed an immaculate bed of peonies. High clouds and humidity dull the colors of the scene that unfolds in front of the detective.

The rehearsals for this moment have failed Elaine. There is no justification, no reason to her actions. Pam is rehearsed as well, much longer than Elaine, which is to her advantage.

“I appreciate the fact that you never treated me like I was stupid.” The grace of Pam’s prologue. “And all these years not a soul in the office ever suspected, at least no one ever owned up to knowing.” Pam pauses for rebuttal, but Elaine isn’t stupid either and says nothing. “I’ve lived since then in this marriage of convenience. I got everything I ever wanted with some solace knowing that you didn’t.” Elaine finally breaks her gaze and looks down at the driveway. “It was excruciating for the first two years.”

Elaine sees Pam’s feet step closer and she brings her stare back to Pam’s eyes in her own instinctive defense, yet she holds her ground on the driveway.

Detective Alvarez sees the advance. No question what is happening here. His inference to Gray’s disappearance was not in vain after all.

“I could smell you on his breath, on his fingers,” says Pam. At this proximity Elaine cannot avoid Pam’s eyes.

“Overnight he likes blue cheese dressing. We’d been married a dozen years and suddenly he likes blue cheese.”

Elaine interjects, “Pam, there’s more-”

“Elaine, there is nothing you can say to me that will make me feel any different about you or about Gray.”

“Please, just listen-”

“No. Stop,” says Pam, a bit louder. And Elaine does. “Just tell me this, is he with you now?”

“No.”

“Has he left me for you?”

“No.”

“Are you in cahoots with that man in the white truck?” This out of nowhere. Elaine fails completely at masking her reaction, her eyes widen, her lips part, her right foot turns.

“Did he help you two make your little escape?” asks Pam, who is still, remarkably, without indignation.

“It’s not that all!” Elaine sees the pieces that Pam has put together and as plausible as it all might seem, Elaine’s nonverbal reaction is indicative of something far worse. Pam had not rehearsed for this.

“Where is he?” demands Pam.

“I don’t know!”

Alvarez sees Pam slap Elaine. Right handed, open palm with a wind up from Pam’s waist hitting Elaine on her left side hard enough to take her out of her position on the driveway. Confirmation. Case closed. He speaks into the mic on his radio, “Control.”

“Control Highland,” reports the radio.

“Alvarez. Ten-seven.” He starts his SUV and pulls out of the cul-de-sac leaving Silverado.

Pam and Elaine are oblivious. The weeding neighbor has her payoff as Elaine gets her footing. Her left cheek is flushed. “The man in the truck knows where he is,” Elaine says, though not in her defense. This is what she came to say.

“I want to see him. I’ve had papers for two years now, waiting for the time when this would be rational rather than emotional.”

A hand-sized welt raises on Elaine’s cheek. “Now’s a good time,” she says. “Maybe tonight or tomorrow morning. Wait for me to call you.”

Pam stands by, waiting for anything else Elaine might say and in her silence she turns and walks back into the garage and mounts in the Mercedes. It starts, the reverse lights glow and the car backs out of the driveway past Elaine.

*****

NOW IS A GOOD TIME. It is a good time to wash out the tub. There is a certain olfactory link to the powdered cleanser in the green can for Ian that takes him back, that pine and bleach mix of Comet that brings anything dirty back to a baseline of cleanliness, stripping anything from the surface and leaving it white and sanitary. Clean. He is halfway around the tub that now sits in his driveway this evening. He got it out of the house without Bill’s help or anyone else. The subtle slope of the ramp that leads from the front door was helpful.

To clean the tub, Ian started at the deep end where the hardware were for the clean-out and drain, and he is still on his knees prone over the enameled steel scrubbing with a green pad, dousing it with the powdered sanitizer and rinsing away the build up with the garden hose. It has been running the whole time he’s been at it, streaming down the driveway into the gutter, each rinse starting out a mix of burgundy and grey until it dilutes to mostly water. More scrubbing and another rinse and with it another flush. The front of the tub looks brilliant compared to the rest. He has removed the loose material, the chips of drywall and dust, splinters from the bearing frame, the gloves and gauze and packaging from the failed rescue efforts, even the wine glass that eventually tipped into the tub and shattered leaving pieces of the base, the stem and part of the bulb intact. Ian demolished it all with his boot right after he knocked it in, ground it all down to flakes and dust of glass.

Wet the surface, douse with Comet, scrub, rinse. Repeat. This is nothing new to him. He worked at domestic chores as much as Linda, not by compulsion or cajoling. Like laundry and feeding and respiratory therapy and diapers, cleaning the tub was something that needed to be done to continue on with the quotidian quality of life he and Linda worked so hard to maintain for Virginia. If anything was not taken care of, nothing else could progress in the day. They created a system of if-this-then-that and if this was left undone, that would have to wait. The tub was critical to this process, the anchor of every day to bathe and clean Virginia in as sterile an environment as possible, and there on Glacier Drive that meant this stamped enameled bathtub was scrubbed with Comet and rinsed completely clean every morning in a round-the-clock effort not to hurt Virginia’s compromised immune system. The smell of bleach and pine never left his hands.

Another gush goes down the driveway, crimson diluting to grey, to clear, the stream of which flows now down the block to the storm drain on the corner. Ian watches as he rinses with the hose, the deep end of the tub angled down the slight descent of the driveway, the water swirls with its burden around the hole where the stainless steel drain was once set. He’s worked up a sweat and takes a drink from the hose.

NOW IS A GOOD TIME for a glass of wine, a pinot noir for Pam, breathing in the large bowl of her glass intended for wines this strong and dense. Tonight’s salute has not been done with iced tea. To risk was just sanctified by her first swallow from this glass instead, this time in her favorite restaurant. Risk is a word that elicits its antithesis – reward – a causal relationship, something compensated for its venture, but that is not how Pam feels. All that is going on this instant is not a reward – Gray’s disappearance, Elaine’s confession. The latter is the fruition of Pam’s daring questions and her risk of staying with Gray without certainty.

There is no reward here except for the feeling in Pam’s soul, her identity, the confirmation of her intuition in how to be with uncertainty.

She has yet to order dinner, does not have the stomach for it just yet with the driveway confrontation still smoldering in her core, though much of that burn has since been doused by that slap. That was unrehearsed. That, like Ian’s thrown elbow into Gray’s face, was instinct. The difference between her and Ian is that eventually she will feel bad for having done it.

NOW IS NOT A GOOD TIME to draw skeletons from the cupboard, but the detective cannot help himself. It is his nature. It is what makes him good at what he does for a living and terrible at what he does with love.

Serena found a sitter, and her and Steve have found a spot to talk on the cement rim of a water feature in a small park downtown. She is curious about the file folder in his hand despite his conspicuous efforts to keep it out of sight. He has never been any good at keeping anything out of sight or mind from Serena because very little if nothing gets past her, and not just because she is the wife of a detective.

“How long can a guy keep an affair like that hidden away?” he says. Serena knows this approach, his bait-and-switch to broaching something with the potential to be sensitive if not explosive. “You know, for Mrs. Reagan’s sake, I was really hoping it was something else.” For the detective the case is closed, for Steve it is a segue to the reason they have a sitter for the evening. Serena is being very patient.

She got caught up with Steve Alvarez shortly after he transferred to the suburbs of Highland. He was burning out investigating child abuse cases in a retirement community where he could no longer pass a grandpa pushing a little girl on a swing in the park without staking him out. She was working as a preschool teacher finishing up her degree in Early Childhood Development when she had to get background-checked and fingerprinted to apply for a district position. Detective Alvarez happened to be in the office when Serena Esposito showed up to do the paperwork and get her fingers inked, an embedded conflict of interest, but it has always made for a good story.

“That’s not all he’s kept quiet,” he says.

There it is, his tease. She could just sit there and play dumb and let him come up with another way to get to the business of being there, but she resists.

“What do you mean?” she asks. He brings a file folder from his side on to his lap.

“Out of all those files I saw today in that storage shed, this was one of the three that I pulled.” he says. Serena looks at it on his lap. She sees Esposito, S on the tab. The trauma that folder represents to Serena has not diminished.

“You read it?” she asks. He nods. “You didn’t have to keep this from me,” he says in his best apologetic tone.

“No, Steve, I’ve had to keep that away from me. You will throw it away.”

Steve stares at the folder on his lap. He knows this is a threshold of some sort and something on the side of reason is telling him to shut the hell up and do what she asks. But something on the side of his ego will not leave it alone, like a scab with a lifted edge.

“I had no idea.” he says.

“I didn’t want you to have an idea – it doesn’t matter now.” She speaks in tones now all too familiar to him, escalating along with the punctuation of certain vowels and syllabic rhythms that betray her efforts in eliminating her accent. All this notwithstanding, Steve presses on.

“Look at you. It does matter.”

“A minute ago I was fine. I’ve been fine for ten years now. And you want to make this matter?” she says.

“I just want to know one thing and then that’s it.” His ego is now balls-to-the-wall.

“What?! What do you want to know? What is so goddamn important that you can’t just let this be?”

There’s no turning back for Steve. Had this been an interrogation, this is exactly where the detective would want to be, knowing the next question is going to bust it all open. But all the training and experience he has had along these lines of questioning failed to cull certain sensitivities he should be calling on at this point as a husband.

“Who was the father?” he asks.

The question drives Serena to her feet and her tone at an attention-getting volume. “You want to know who fucked me? That’s what’s so important to you now?”

Serena walks away letting her husband bask in the shame of his question, but she does not get far when the primer of his query detonates inside her and in less steps it took her to get away from him she is back in his face and furiously attacks him, beats him, landing her closed fists on the sides of his head. The file falls to the ground spilling its contents and she lands another punch on the bridge of his nose. He has to defend himself at this point, standing, crossing his arms and taking her by each wrist, spinning her around, tucking her arms now behind her. He releases her wrists and brings his arms around her body holding them now to her side. Her knees buckle, her shoulders ride up and she slips his embrace and falls to her knees on the ground while her meltdown goes into its most heartbreaking phase.

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