When Vivian was fourteen, her mother became sick and was on the verge of death. In her mothers hospital room, Vivians parents told her that she was adopted. As it turned out, her mother made a miraculous recovery, but the cat was already out of the bag. The information didnt have much of an effect on Vivian. She lay in bed trying to feel different, now that she knew that her parents werent her real parents, but she didnt feel different. The words father and mother were inextricably bound to the man and woman in the room down the hall, to her mothers Je Reviens perfume and her fathers top dresser drawer filled with collar stays and golf tees. She was not imaginative enough to associate any other meaning with the words. She watched a television news show about a famous singer whose daughter had tracked her down after forty years. The famous singer seemed happy to have been found, and the two sat with their arms around each other and took long walks on the bluffs above the ocean, hand in hand. The womens intimacy made Vivian uncomfortable. Her own mothers kisses were dry, soft things, her hugs unassertive and prudent, as if she didnt want to cause Vivian any harm. There was a moment during the show when the two women looked at each other as if to say, Now what? and Vivian had the sense that the mother had some misgivings about being found, that having given up a child had become part of her personal mythology, her idea of herself. Now, faced with the real person, she had lost some of the romance of her story. Driving across the desert on her way to Los Angeles, Vivian had seen a billboard announcing that this same singer, who had been very popular in the seventies, would be performing five nights at a casino on an Indian reservation. This strengthened Vivians decision not to explore her own adoption. You didnt always want to know everything.
Sometimes, when Vivian finished transcribing an interview at the adoption agency she would add a note to the bottom of the document offering her opinion of the interviewed couple. No one asked for her advice, but she felt compelled to give it since a life was at stake. Mostly she felt the couples should be allowed to adopt, because whatever flaws they had were no worse than the flaws of people who could have children effortlessly, even thoughtlessly, and she knew that children could survive almost anything. In one case, though, she felt strongly that the husband was unkind to the wife, and she noted this at the bottom of her transcript. She could not explain how she knew this, never having seen the couple. But the woman sounded frightened in a way that set her apart from the other women who were simply nervous during their interviews. She paused before each answer, as if waiting for the mans permission to speak, and at the end of her answers she always added, Right, Paul? The woman who ran the agency reprimanded Vivian for this insight and reminded her that her job was a temporary one. But Vivian kept track and she knew that the couple had not yet been matched with a child.
Shelly gave up looking for work. She said that she had too many projects of her own to concentrate on, and besides, she just wasnt the office type. This statement seemed slightly insulting to Vivian, who clearly was the office type, but she could not discount Shellys generositythe way she paid when they went out to dinner or brought home expensive wine for them to shareand Shellys rejection of such commonplace concerns as making a living seemed exotic to Vivian. Shelly spent most of her mornings wandering around their living space in a loosely tied mint-green kimono, her small, freckled breasts winking out from the material as she moved. For a time she took up painting and made large canvases on which she drew crude images of her face struck through with angry slashes of color. She organized a viewing of her work and a hundred strangers showed up at their home. Vivian wore one of Shellys beaded dresses and Shelly wore body paint. The guests ate the food that Vivian and Shelly had prepared and refrained from buying anything. Shelly didnt seem to mind. After a few months the canvases disappeared, though it was unclear to Vivian whether someone had finally bought them or if Shelly had just thrown them into the Dumpster behind the ribbon warehouse to be carted away along with the giant spools of badly dyed grosgrain.
Excerpted from Alone With You by Marisa Silver. Copyright © 2010 by Marisa Silver. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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