“MRS. WHITMAN, are you awake? There’s a call for you at the nurse’s station.” A soft-spoken orderly had poked his head into the room and was trying to wake me up
without being held responsible for doing so. Sadly I awoke to see that I was still in the
hospital and Benjy was still asleep, yellowish liquids draining into or out of him from the
hanging plastic bags. It was all too real, and I had genuinely thought it was all a dream.
“Thanks, I’ll be right there,” I said taking a moment to compose my thoughts. I hurried to the phone hoping it was Carl, but instead it turned out to be a clever reporter who guessed
correctly that I would take the call.
“Mrs. Whitman, is there any truth to the rumor that you shot your son on the porch of your home earlier this evening? And is it true that a nude photograph of you appears on the Internet? Can we get a statement from you?”
“A statement? Sure. How about, bridges ice before highways,” I said, slamming down the receiver. “No more calls, please,” I said to the nurse at the desk, “unless it’s Mayor Whitman. And where is the doctor? I’d like information on how my son is doing.”
“Certainly, I’ll track him down for you,” she said, her eyes filled with pity. She touched my sleeve tentatively. “And Mrs. Whitman? May I say that my cousin used your catering for her daughter’s wedding last summer, you know, it was out at the gazebo on the lake, they had a big crowd out there, and I do believe that was the best darned meal I ever had, if I may say so. And that fabulous chocolate wedding cake was almost sinful, it was so good!”
“Really, you liked the cake? You didn’t think it was too rich, with the raspberry filling alternating with crème fraiche between the layers?”
“Not at all, but of course I do like my sweets, as you can probably tell. And may I also say that I voted for your husband, and I’ll keep on voting for him, no matter what folks say. Besides, I don’t believe a word of any of it.”
Any of what, I wondered. What had she heard? Was it about me, or Carl? Is it out there on the streets already? That damned Belle Grossman, I guessed she woke up pretty quick and started making phone calls. This was big news; in fact, there had hardly been any crime in Cove Harbor for as long as Carl had been mayor, and now, ironically, his wife had gone on a shooting spree!
“Oh goodness, look at me chattering and nattering on. Like I always say, I talk too much. Can I get you anything?” the nurse asked.
“A cup of tea would be nice, thanks,” I said, and hurried back to Benjy’s bedside. I wanted to be there when he opened his eyes. To apologize. For what? Was it my fault he turned out badly? They say it’s the mother who has the greatest influence—had I given him too many Hanukah presents? Carl always said, “One gift a night is enough—after all, it goes on for eight nights!” But Carl wasn’t even Jewish, so what did he know? After years of getting everyday necessities like underwear for Hanukah—one year my mother even gave me a six-month supply of Kotex pads– I was determined that Benjy would not grow up with a severe case of Christmas envy, and so I started getting him two gifts for each night, one teeny one and another “real” present. By the time he was eight, he would tear through those gifts hardly looking at them, asking, “What else is there? Can I have the ones for tomorrow night?”
I should have stopped it back then, but his greed knew no boundaries. He always wanted more of everything: bigger toys, a new bike, better skis. And because he was so beautiful, I always caved in, and then later it was another beer, another cigarette, and another drug. And now this. But he was going to be fine, that doctor had said so. Except for the limp. But that doctor could be wrong, maybe Benjy was worse than he knew. Maybe he was in a coma! I reached over and squeezed his hand. Nothing. Oh God, what had I ever done, before the shooting I mean, to have my son hate me so? I thought back, but not that far back, and remembered: Beau Jenkins.
Okay, so there is a skeleton in my closet, way in the back, and now it was clattering out, demanding close inspection. A secret, I had once read, is the kiss of death for a family. And Carl and I had a few, any of which could have set Benjy on a course of self-destruction. At least I was discreet, I thought, but then I recalled a day two years earlier when Benjy cut school and came home in the middle of the morning. He had called to see if anyone was home, but I hadn’t answered the phone because I was otherwise engaged.
Beauregard Jenkins arrived at the Harbor High School from Savannah, Georgia, when Benjy was in the seventh grade. By then it had been obvious for several years that Carl and I were drifting apart. As for sex, it had been months since I had experienced even a bad orgasm. Finding masturbation more depressing than fulfilling, I was resigned to a life of celibacy and barely even fantasized about men anymore, so my attraction to the new soccer coach, who I met at a team picnic, was a surprise. At our first meeting he had held onto my hand a bit too long, telling me I looked more like one of the students than somebody’s mother. That did it. That and his brawny physique, masculine smell, Southern drawl and overtly sexual flirting. Inside of a month the Coach, as I always called him, and I were playing our own games, orchestrating casual meetings after school to discuss Benjy’s impressive soccer skills. We graduated to lunch at a Mexican restaurant where we talked about Carl’s political aspirations and the Coach’s ongoing custody battle with his ex-wife. Maybe it was the spicy food, but our innocent flirting gave way to the admission on both our parts of an increasing mutual attraction, and we boldly planned a tryst for a day when Carl would be out of town on business.
I was pretty nervous when the Coach arrived at my home at ten in the morning, but he was barely inside the front door before we rushed up to the bedroom. Thinking back, I can still hear the phone ringing, which of course I ignored. By then I had flung my bra across the room, offering my considerable breasts to the Coach for his pleasure. He gasped at the sight of them—since I always wore a “minimizer” bra, which took off at least a cup size, he was understandably surprised, and pushed me backwards onto the bed, covering my breasts with his big bear hands. “Jesus Christ, Mrs. Mayor, I am one lucky bastard,” he said. Fortunately my breasts occupied him for some time, and so it was well before any technical definition of “sexual relations” had occurred that we heard Benjy come in the house and run up the stairs.
“Oh Jesus, someone’s in the house,” I said as the Coach lunged at me, licking my nipples.
“You’re imagining things, “ he mumbled, intent on his prize.
“No, stop! It must be Benjy!” I jumped up and threw on my robe and went out to the hall. There was Benjy, looking guilty.
“Mom, I called, but there was no answer,” he said, furtively hiding something behind his back.
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“Why aren’t you at work?”
“Benjamin, I do not have to explain myself to you. You do, however, have to explain yourself to me.”
“I needed to pick up my science project. I left it home. I called to see if you could bring it to me, but then I just got a ride home from one of the kids. In fact, I gotta go right back. See ya,” he called, running down the stairs and out the door, with no sign of a science project in sight.
“Well, that was a close call,” said the Coach, coming out of hiding and grabbing me. “Now, where were we?” But I couldn’t go on. Benjy’s arrival had brought things into focus, and I was appalled at my behavior. Imagine, cheating on my husband in my own home, and with my teenage son just a few miles away! I was the lowest of the low! I was pond scum! The Coach bit my neck and stroked my stomach. “Really, Coach, I can’t do this, I feel too guilty.” He opened my robe and it dropped to the floor.
“Just this once, nobody will ever know,” he said, pushing me down right there in the hall. It was the first time I really appreciated our wall-to-wall carpeting.
“Okay, but just this once,” I said. I was wrong; that day we did it twice, and God, it was good. I had no idea that people even did such things, except perhaps in pornographic movies. Later that night, when Benjy and I were having dinner alone, he said, “Mom, why were you home today, in your bathrobe? Are you sick or something?”
“No honey, I was just feeling tired and so I stayed in bed this morning.”
“Was someone here with you?”
“Benjamin, what does that mean? Why would you say such a thing to me?”
“I was just wondering. Sorry,” he said. “Anyway, I wouldn’t blame you because I know Dad’s gay.”
“Benjamin, that’s a terrible thing to say about your father. Where would you get such an idea?”
“From Jasmine Levy. Her uncle is mad gay, and she says he hangs out with Dad sometimes.”
“Well, I have no idea who Jasmine Levy is, or her uncle, but I promise you she is absolutely misinformed. Besides, just hanging out with a homosexual does not make you gay. It’s not contagious, you know.”
“Yeah, well according to Jasmine they do a lot more than hang out. She says her uncle is, like, dating Dad.”
“That is preposterous.”
“You’re not kidding–her uncle is a pizza delivery guy who’s maybe twenty years old,” said Benjy, shaking his head in disgust. “You’d think the mayor could do better than that.”
“Your Jasmine is misinformed, and you can tell her I said so.”
“Yeah, well I think you’re misinformed! You know, you guys think you can keep secrets from me, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a dumb little kid anymore!” And with that he pushed away from the table and ran upstairs.
Even after that conversation, I kept seeing the Coach, but we were much more careful about where we met. Usually it was far out of town at his brother’s summer cabin, and I
was confident that our secret was safe. We always went in separate cars, arriving about
an hour apart, and after an afternoon of intense lovemaking, the likes of which Carl and I
had never engaged in, we took different routes back into town. Despite my unusual good
mood on those days, and a certain high color in my cheeks, Carl had never noticed anything at all out of the ordinary. But now, I started wondering, had Benjy known about
it all along?
Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid.