By this time Shelly had become involved with a man named Toby, who stood on corners in Silver Lake and Echo Park handing out pamphlets about the Socialist Workers Party. He was a quiet man who wore thick-framed glasses and collared shirts, which he tucked into his jeans. When he spoke to people he listened carefully as if they were giving him directions. He had gone to a very good college back East, and when he talked fervently about his political beliefs, Vivian admired his seriousness and his self-restraint, and the prominent tendons of his forearms. Shelly grunted a lot while having sex on the pullout, and in the mornings Toby left quickly, a ream of freshly printed flyers stuffed under his arm.
The couple whom Vivian had considered unsuitable for adoption had come back for a second interview. When Vivian turned on the tape recorder, the sound of the mans voice was so vivid that she looked over her shoulder thinking he was behind her. Instead of starting to type she pressed the headphones tightly to her ears and just listened to what was being said.
Maybe we didnt make the right impression, the man said.
There was a pause, and then the wife said, We have a lot of love to give. Right, Paul?
But thats what everybody says, of course, the man said. Vivian could hear the tension in his voice. He must have stood up at that point because as he continued his voice grew distant and full of air. You must hear stupid, obvious things like that every day, he said. We have a lot of love to give. Its probably meaningless to you. But what else can we say? We want a child. We have enough money to offer a child a good life, all the advantages. Were decent people with decent values. But it feels like were paying the price for some biological glitch we have no control over.
The director of the agency assured them that they had done well in the interview process, but that it was her job to match the right children with the right parents and this effort could take time.
Some people dont test well, the man said. Is that it? His voice was louder, as if he were seated again.
The director told them that it wasnt a test.
Sure it is, the man said. Everything is a test.
When the interview was over Vivian sat listening to the sound of empty tape winding through the recorder. She rewound it and listened to the entire interview again. Some people dont test well. The way he said it made it sound like a kind of attack. It was as if he could open up the directors head, peer into her brain, and see all her prejudices and value judgments. When he talked about the stupid, obvious thing his wife had said, Vivian imagined the woman looking at her lap, embarrassed that the compromises of her marriage were being exposed to a stranger, and that it was she who would be considered weak for accepting these insults, rather than her husband for hurling them.
Vivian rewound the interview once again and began to input it into the computer. The words were familiar to her now and she tried to visualize the couple. She saw the man with dark, neatly cropped hair, muscular from hours at a gym. He was the kind of man who, when he was inside, wore his sunglasses on the back of his head like a pair of upside-down eyes. She imagined the woman as delicate and fair, clasping her hands as if they were wayward children who might break something if she let them go. She was beautiful, but rusted, as if her beauty had been abandoned, exposed to the elements. Vivian knew that she could be completely wrong about the couple. They might be fat. They might be Chinese. They might be the warmest people in the world who would lavish on their adopted child the sort of palpable love advertised in greeting cards or on the collars of stuffed puppies. How could anyone know what kind of love another person had to give?
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