The phone rings, but when she goes to answer it, the person has hung up. She has a brief, paranoid thought that someone is following her. A trickle of sweat makes its way down her spine. She opens the kitchen window, but its just as warm outside as it is in the house, so she closes the window again. Her heart still beats fast from hitting those tennis balls. She smacked one of the balls as hard as she could, clear over the fence and past the neighbors property. She did it for the fun of it, but it wasnt fun. She feels the energy funnel out of her, wrung from her as if from a sponge. Sometimes she feels as if she could die, that shed like to die; it would be better that way. He used to walk around with his laces undone. Remember? It was like he was daring you to step on them.
What do you mean who? Because in her life there is nobody else. And because for David there has been somebody else (there have been their girls; there have been his hobbieshe has taken up running and become devoted to opera; he stays up late poring over librettosthere has been this relentless chopping of vegetables), because hes been trying to make the best of an unspeakable situation, she hasnt been able to abide him. Is that why shes leaving him? All she knows is shes so very very tired. She looks at him once more and feels the rage burble inside her.
Onions, scallions, leeks, endive, cucumbers, jalapeño: he chops them all. It looks like a trash heap, like volcanic ash. Always the reasonable one. For years she counted on him to be like that. Now it assails her.
Did you call your mother? she asks.
You didnt tell her, did you? That was their agreementthe agreement, at least, that she extracted from him. No one is to know until after the memorial.
No, he says sharply. I didnt.
Then what did you two talk about?
Nothing, he says. Shes a woman of few words, Marilyn.
So what were her few words?
Shes not coming.
Are you serious? And she thinks: you told her not to come, didnt you? Except, she realizes, shes actually said those words.
My mothers been through a lot. Do you blame her for not wanting to go through it again? Shes ninety-four years old.
I know how old she is.
Shes ninety-four, and shell live to a hundred and forty. She has a stronger constitution than any of us.
Shes washing the dishes now, going at them furiously, while David is still chopping behind her, the percussive sound of him. He presses down hard on a carrot, and the top comes flying off and sails across the room. Jesus, he says. Fuck! I cut myself.
Is it bad?
Bad enough. Theres a gash in his thumb. It looks shallow at first, but now, studying it beneath the sink light, Marilyn sees its deeper than she realized. She takes a wad of paper towel and presses it to his hand. But the blood seeps through, so she goes to the pantry to get more paper towel, and when she returns his hands are shaking.
Are you all right?
I dont know. He sits down on the stool and shes above him now, attending to him. She runs his hand under cold water. The blood drips off him and into the sink, down into the garbage disposal along with the vegetable peel and citrus rind, swirling around like beet juice. She comes back with tape and a gauze pad and bandages him up.
Slicing and Dicing 101, huh? They should have flunked me out.
Excerpted from The World Without You by Joshua Henkin. Copyright © 2012 by Joshua Henkin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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