Chapter 5


Alina hustles into the waiting room of a doctor’s office. The secretary recognizes her: “Hi Ms. Elgin. She’s in with Doctor Hanson now. Should be done any minute; why don’t you take a seat?” // “Can I go in?” // “Not now, sorry. She’ll be done any minute.” Alina finds a chair. Thirty minutes go by before Helene emerges. She looks upset; Alina rises to receive her: “Honey, is everything…” Helene cuts her off: “How could you be late to this one? What could possibly be more important?” // “The publisher lunch, you know, Helene. You didn’t have to change the appointment at the last minute… I tried to be here. Is everything OK?” // “Everything is fine. I’m fine.” // “Wait, like… fine with your lungs? Or with us?” // “With my lungs. It’s done. It’s over.” // “Honey. WOW…” Alina starts to cry, and then Helene breaks ever so subtly. “I can’t believe it,” Helene manages to say. “Me either,” Alina adds. “Thank God.”


In the taxi home, Alina takes Helene’s hand as they both stare out the windows. “Let’s go somewhere,” Alina says. “To celebrate. To clear our minds for a while. You’re between seasons, I’ve got the draft in, we could escape for a few weeks. You’ve earned it.” Helene doesn’t miss a beat: “I’ve already booked something.” // “Oh…? Where are we going then?” // “Just me. I’m going alone.” // “Sorry, what?” Alina pulls her hand away from Helene’s. “That’s not like you. Why would you go someplace without me, without even telling me, or asking me how I would feel? Because suddenly I feel like shit.” // “I need some time alone, Alina. Badly.” // “At the doctor’s office, when I asked if things were fine with your lungs, or with us… you just said that your lungs were OK.” A pause. “Are things not fine with us?” // “They haven’t been, and you know it.” // “Yeah, well I’ve been under the belief that we could rebound from it, once you got your energy back. Once we got you back. I’ve been waiting for you this whole time, patiently.” // “I suddenly feel very free, Alina dear. And I want to be free. I want us to be divorced.” Alina asks the cab driver to pull over. “Get out,” she says to Helene. “Be free, if that’s what you want. You’re healthy now, you can walk fucking home. Don’t inhale any smog, you ungrateful louse.” Without a word, Helene does as she is told.


Alina sobs in the bathroom as we hear the front door open and shut. She covers her mouth with a towel to mask the deep breaths, and she listens intently as Helene crosses the living room and enters the bedroom, which is attached to the bathroom. The footsteps stop just outside the door. Then, Helene speaks: “The apartment is mine, as you know. I spoke with Ward just now, and he’ll let you stay with him, as long as you need. You cannot stay here tonight; I don’t want a drawn-out goodbye, so I’ll arrange someone to send you your things as soon as you decide where to receive them.” Alina changes direction: “What if you had stayed sick? Was I just here as your caretaker? My career took a very significant hit; I risked professional relationships, and helped you sew buttons on your goddamn blazers. The number of nights I couldn’t fall asleep…wondering why our marriage seemed to be falling apart, despite my loyalty and selflessness toward you. And I even gave you the benefit of the doubt, like ‘Oh, she thinks she’s going to die soon, this is excusable behavior. I’ll just be a good wife, and wait it out, knowing she’ll survive, knowing we’ll survive.’ You’re so old now, Helene. Who’s going to take you? Take care of you if you get sick again? How can you do any better? You own half my life, all my focus, and…all of that is disposable to you. Are you fucking proud of yourself?” She’s done yelling, and she opens the door to face Helene. Her wife stands there, poised. No tears. She looks like a portrait, a painting. After a few beats, she speaks: “I am very proud of myself.” Alina slams the door.


Ward opens his front door. “Hi my babe,” he says to a sullen Alina. “I’ve got dinner on the way, and wine. Lots of wine. And a chocolate ice cream cake in the freezer, since it’s your favorite.” “All that sounds like we’re celebrating something,” Alina says as she sets her bags down inside. “Maybe take them to Helene, celebrate her freedom, her new lease on life.” // “Maybe, uh, maybe this is YOUR new lease on life too, Alina. Er, um, I won’t go down that road yet. You need time. I should know that better than anyone.” // “Do you suppose it’s easier to lose a spouse to death or to selfishness?” // “Sorry?” // “Not to be a prat. But I hate knowing she can go out there and make herself happy while she juxtaposes it all against me, like I’m the thing that brought her down. At least your wife can’t make you miserable by searching for your replacement…by quote unquote LIVING.” // “I can call a hotel if you like…” // “Sorry. Jesus, sorry. I’m processing, Ward. I’m sorry. Let’s get the wine? And the cake….”


Alina can’t sleep, for obvious reasons. She sniffles, then gets up and teeters toward the kitchen. She fills a glass of water. As she drinks, she hears Ward’s voice coming from his bedroom. Alina tiptoes over to the door, and listens carefully. It’s like he’s carrying on a conversation with someone else, except he’s very clearly alone: “I have to sell it. It’s too big…. Well, yes, Alina’s here for a little while, but I can still put it on the market. Then find a one-bedroom in the city, try the bachelor thing again…. Oh, stop being so sensitive. What good is this place to me? This is the first time the kid’s room as been used. Do you want me sulking here? I need to get on with things, try to be happy. For me. … Yes I still want you around but… No, Amanda, listen… Listen! That’s what I would have wanted for you…. Oh, don’t give me that. Bull shit. Bulllll shit….” Alina’s eyes are wide, but she feels bad for eavesdropping, and for Ward. So, she slinks back to her bedroom, none the happier.

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