- A Man From Zagreb
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All that summer in New York she had a special glow. People said things like "Motherhood really suits you!" Or "The baby's done wonders for you!" But her friend Marta didn't buy it. Marta already had four children and was planning one or two more.
"What have you been up to?" Marta asked, holding a squealing child in either arm, when the husbands were out of earshot.
"I'll tell you later."
She looked at herself in the mirror. She didn't see any glow, only a storm leaping out. Almost in shame, she turned away. [End Page 64] [Begin Page 66]
Her husband wasn't home from work yet. Sitting at the kitchen table staring at her dirty plate, an untouched place setting opposite, she pulled over a pile of books. Each one had a Columbia University Libraries stamp. She looked at the title pages, the contents, the indexes. She'd planned to use the summer to get ahead on the reading for her research project. Closing the last book, she pushed the whole pile over to the edge of the table. Just a fraction more and all the books would fall over.
Then she put her hand under her T-shirt, on naked flesh.
One day she finds disturbing photos from that summer. She sees the glow people talked about. In the photos she wears large hooped earrings and bangles (she still hears them clanging) and a choker with a pendant of Isis. Her hair is loose and long and curly. In some of them she wears tight red jeans and a leopard-spotted top with a deep V-neck. (Recently she watched a woman her age in a store try on a dress with a low-cut neckline that revealed her cleavage. Her breasts quivering, the woman walked up and down in front of the mirror inspecting herself, first on one side, then on the other, and then she stood with her back to the mirror and twisted right around as if looking for something.) The photos flood her with memories. She remembers rendezvous in playgrounds, baby cries ignored. Lies.
She once knew a South American musician who was gay and who played the tenor sax like a god. The first thing he'd do when he got up in the morning was snort cocaine. Only then, he said, could he start the day. "I know I'm not addicted," he told her, "because I still enjoy things. But you have to know when to pull out; otherwise, it'll all cave in on you." She'd long ago lost touch with him, and she never saw announcements in the Village Voice of him playing anymore. Had he pulled out in time?
She'd always regretted he wasn't around for her "summer of love," as she called it, only half humorously. She'd have confided in him, and he'd have approved. He approved of forbidden things, especially if they undermined a husband. He was quite sentimental about mothers, and mothers making sacrifices for the good of children. But he didn't like husbands—he lumped them all together. "Like grim sentinels," he said, "keeping their women from real pleasure."
She hasn't thought about that summer for years. But for some reason, ever since the woman in the store, it keeps coming back to her.
In all the photos she has a dark tan. [End Page 66]
That summer she went up to the roof every day at noon while the baby slept in the apartment down on the seventh floor. She undressed. The harsh sun penetrated her pores until she was wet all over, and tickling trickles of sweat collected at the tops of her thighs, suddenly running down. She moved her hand over the oily sweat in soft, lingering movements. She didn't lie on a towel, just on the burning cement and gritty tar, and when she stood up, the markings of her hot agony remained.
If guilt about leaving the baby alone overwhelmed her...