“When do we tell the children?”
He said it without feeling, without emotion, without giving weight to the words. He said it as though he
was asking the latest stock price for Microsoft or Google. These were his first words after nearly twenty minutes in the car together. On our anniversary.
“After Christmas,” I said, matching his evenness, his coldness. “Not tonight or tomorrow.”
“Don’t you think they know by now? At least that something’s up?”
“Not David, he’s too young. Justin asks questions and just looks at me with those doe eyes, but he keeps it in. Becca is the one I worry about.”
“Kids are resilient. If they don’t know, they’ll under¬stand. It’s for the best. For all of us.” I hope he’s right. “Now they’ll have two Christmases,” he said.
The windshield wipers beat their own rhythm as wet snow fell like rain. The landscape had retreated under the white covering, adding to a previous snowfall that hadn’t fully melted. The roadway, where you could see it, shone black with treachery from the moisture and fall¬ing temperatures. Cars inched along ahead of us on an incline as Jacob drove faster, crowding the car in front of us, looking for a chance to pass.
“Are you sure he’ll be at his office?” I said, looking out the window, bracing for impact. “In this weather? On Christmas Eve?”
“He’s still there. I called before we left. The papers are ready.”
“Does he have a family?” I said.
“What?” He said it with a healthy dose of condescen¬sion, and added a look I couldn’t stand. The look I could live the rest of my life without seeing.
“Does he have a family. A wife? Kids?”
“I have no idea.” More condescension. “I didn’t know
that was a prerequisite for you.” “It’s not. I was just wondering. Working on Christmas Eve. No wonder he’s a divorce lawyer.”
So much for a congenial discussion. The silence was getting to him now and he flipped on a talk station. I was surprised he hadn’t done that earlier. The clock showed 3:18, and a delayed Rush Limbaugh was going into a break. A commercial about an adjustable bed. Local traffic and the forecast. Snarled intersections and cold weather reporting. Expect an even whiter Christmas. Several inches whiter. Maybe more. A cold front moving in and more precipitation at higher elevations.
“Can we listen to something else?” I said.
He suppressed a huff and pressed the FM button. This was his car so nothing on the FM dial was pre-set. He hit “scan.”
He frowned. “Punch it when you hear something you like.”
I passed on Gene Autry and Rudolph. The song brought an ache for the children. Especially David who still believed in Santa and reindeer. At the next station, José Feliciano was down to his last Feliz Navidad. On the left side of the dial, the local Christian station played yet another version of “Silent Night.” I couldn’t stay there because of the guilt of what we were doing.
Paul McCartney said the mood was right and the spirit was up and he was simply having a wonderful Christmastime. I wished I could say the same. The band Journey sang “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but I had stopped long ago, at least concerning our marriage. This was not how we planned it twenty years ago, though the snow¬storm felt similar. Twenty Christmas Eves after I walked the aisle in a dress my mother and I had picked out, I was wearing jeans, an old T-shirt, and an overcoat, cruising in sneakers down the slippery road to a no-fault divorce.
Three children and the bird would live with me (a dog made too much mess and Jacob is allergic to cats), and he would move into an apartment after the New Year. Jacob promised to stay involved. There wasn’t another woman, as far as I knew, as far as he would let on. That wasn’t our problem. The problems were much deeper than infidelity.
I hit the button on singer Imogen Heap. Nothing at all about Christmas. Just quirky music and a synthe¬sized voice that took my mind off the present, which is supposed to be a gift, I know. I’ve heard that.
“I’m done with this road,” Jacob said. “I’m taking the shortcut.” “Over the hill? In this weather?” Two interrogatives to his one statement of fact. “It’ll cut the travel in half. Nobody takes County Line anymore.” “Don’t you think we should stay where they’ve plowed?”
He ignored my entreaty and turned left sharply. The rear of the car slid to the right. I grabbed the door handle instinctively as he corrected. He gave the Jacob head shake, and with shake you get eye roll and a sigh on the side.
“Trust me for once, will you?” he said.
I wanted to bring up a million little ways I’ve tried to trust him. A million little ways I’ve been let down. For twenty years I’ve searched for reasons to place my trust squarely on his shoulders. But how do you trust some¬one who has failed at the life you wanted? There were flashes of caring, a dozen roses to say “I’m sorry,” but the roses wilted and died. And then we started on this direction, him on the Interstate and me on the Frontage Road, separate but still traveling in a semblance of the
same direction. Two moons orbiting the same planet, rarely intersecting. “I don’t want the kids going to our funeral,” I muttered.
He slammed on the brakes and I yelped as we went into another slide. Passive-aggressive driving is his spe¬cialty.
“Fine, I’ll turn around.”
Both hands to my head, tears welling, I hit the power button on the radio and heard myself say, “No, just keep going.”