Wendy interrupted. "Mommy married her personal trainer! That's what she called to tell me. He's thirty-eight, she's sixty-four. Can you believe it?"
"Oh...Wow." Ruth was stunned. She pictured Mrs. Scott with a groom in a bow tie and gym shorts, the two of them reciting vows on a treadmill. Was Wendy upset? She wanted to say the right thing. What, though? About five years before, her own mother had had a boyfriend of sorts, but he had been eighty. Ruth had hoped T.C. would marry LuLing and keep her occupied. Instead T.C. had died of a heart attack.
"Listen, Wendy, I know this is important, so can I call you back after I drop off the girls?"
Once she had hung up, Ruth reminded herself of the tasks she needed to do today. Ten things, and she tapped first her thumb. One, take the girls to skating school. Two, pick up Art's suits at the dry cleaner's. Three, buy groceries for dinner. Four, pick up the girls from the rink and drop them off at their friend's house on Jackson Street. Five and Six, phone calls to that arrogant client, Ted, then Agapi Agnos, whom she actually liked. Seven, finish the outline for a chapter of Agapi Agnos's book. Eight, call her agent, Gideon, whom Wendy disliked. And Nine-what the hell was Nine? She knew what Ten was, the last task of the day. She had to call Miriam, Art's ex-wife, to ask if she would let them have the girls the weekend of the Full Moon Festival dinner, the annual reunion of the Youngs, which she was hosting this year.
So what was Nine? She always organized her day by the number of digits on her hands. Each day was either a five or a ten. She wasn't rigid about it: add-ons were accommodated on the toes of her feet, room for ten unexpected tasks. Nine, Nine...She could make calling Wendy number One and bump everything back. But she knew that call should be a toe, an extra, an Eleven. What was Nine? Nine was usually something important, a significant number, what her mother termed the number of fullness, a number that also stood for Do not forget, or risk losing all. Did Nine have something to do with her mother? There was always something to worry about with her mother. That was not anything she had to remember in particular. It was a state of mind.
LuLing was the one who had taught her to count fingers as a memory device. With this method, LuLing never forgot a thing, especially lies, betrayals, and all the bad deeds Ruth had done since she was born. Ruth could still picture her mother counting in the Chinese style, pointing first to her baby finger and bending each finger down toward her palm, a motion that Ruth took to mean that all other possibilities and escape routes were closed. Ruth kept her own fingers open and splayed, American style. What was Nine? She put on a pair of sturdy sandals.
Art appeared at the doorway. "Sweetie? Don't forget to call the plumber about the hot-water tank."
The plumber was not going to be number Nine, Ruth told herself, absolutely not. "Sorry, honey, but could you call? I've got a pretty full day."
"I have meetings, and three appeals coming up." Art worked as a linguistics consultant, this year on cases involving deaf prisoners who had been arrested and tried without access to interpreters.
It's your house, Ruth was tempted to say. But she forced herself to sound reasonable, unassailable, like Art. "Can't you call from your office in between meetings?"
"Then I have to phone you and figure out when you'll be here for the plumber."
"I don't know exactly when I'll be home. And you know those guys. They say they're coming at one, they show up at five. Just because I work at home doesn't mean I don't have a real job. I've got a really crazy day. For one thing, I have to..." And she started to list her tasks.
Art slumped his shoulders and sighed. "Why do you have to make everything so difficult? I just thought if it were possible, if you had time- Aw, forget it." He turned away.
Reprinted from The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 by Amy Tan. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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