Vulnerable

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I recognized Jack’s wife immediately from the wallet-sized photo I’d found one afternoon, tucked behind his MasterCard. Yes, I’d rifled through my lover’s wallet while he’d lain napping on my bed, naked and defenseless. Now, stepping into the reception area my psychiatrist shared with a colleague, I identified the demure visage of Jack’s wife. I’d memorized her face during that soporific tryst, studied it carefully while lounging nude and sweaty on my rumpled sheets with Jack sprawled beside me, long-legged and bare-assed, snoring. 

Mrs. Jack Shore was pale-skinned and oval-faced, her brown hair rippling down to her shoulders. She sat straight-backed in a beige-upholstered chair, her hands folded in her lap. Not reading a magazine, or even pretending to, her brown eyes looked up. Could Jack’s wife be stalking me?

Walking toward the coffee table, my breath caught; my gaze lowered. Could this possibly be a coincidence? I studied the display of outdated magazines, feeling Emma Shore’s gaze follow me in violation of shrink-waiting-room mores. During the last two years—since the insane highway pile-up that had stolen my husband’s life and left me a widow at 28—I’d seen Dr. Klein often enough to learn the protocols of shrink-dom. Here in the reception area, quick glimpses were tolerated; brief, grim smiles got exchanged, but staring was definitely out. 

“Hello,” Emma said, as my hand reached for a four-month-old New Yorker. Her tone was artless, as if we were at the hairdresser.

“Hey,” I shot back, turning away, sucking my cheeks in. I’d have rolled my kohled, blue eyes if there’d been anyone to appreciate the contempt that only a Manhattan female can feel toward another just for acting friendly. 

“I think my watch stopped,” she announced, as I scanned the room for a seat that offered the most distance. I chose a chair five feet away, which was as far as the limited space allowed.

Turning toward me, tapping her watch, Emma asked, “Do you happen to know the time?” 

My gold Movado was a gift from her husband, celebrating our recent three-month anniversary. “11:20,” I said.

“Thank you.” Emma gave me a smile, soft-lipped and shiny. Her gaze felt unbearable. 

What if our meeting was an accident? I wondered. What if this event was just another random twist in a universe that had already proved meaningless? A simple, ordinary kink in the arbitrary world I’d inhabited since the crash that took Danny. Only a chaotic cosmos could have allowed that drunk to traverse the grassy partition between north and southbound traffic, smashing into the driver’s door of our rented car and killing my husband on impact. Yes, I’d recognized the monstrous, impersonal nature of destiny the day it shattered Danny’s body and the life we’d spent seven years building. It had been a glorious, sunny morning, the beginning of our summer vacation, and we’d finally agreed it was time to have a child. Then fate, like some hideous octopus, had flailed its slimy arms, slaying Danny, but flinging me back out into an empty world with a just small wound on my forehead. 

That tiny Frankenstein gash had inspired my metamorphosis to Goth, a style I felt just young enough to get away with at 30. When Danny was alive, I’d looked sweet like Emma Shore in her sky-blue sweater and pleated slacks. But since the accident, I’d dressed in black and hennaed my hair redder than blood. I’d pierced six holes in the tender cartilage along the rim of one ear and displayed six spiky, silver studs. 

What would Danny think—in his polo shirt and khaki pants—if he could see the way I look now? My light blue eyes were heavily lined with black, my complexion whitened by make-up. I crossed my legs, shifted in my chair, and reflected that Danny’s opinion was something I no longer had to worry about. Taking a deep breath, I threw Emma’s face a quick, hard look, noting her high cheekbones, brushed peach with blush, her mouth tinted pink with lip gloss similar to the color Danny had liked on me. 

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