“Ritalin?” Didn’t she have the right to feel a little crazy now and then?
“I’m serious, Kate. What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing, dear,” she said, pouring milk into his cereal.
Husband. Physician. Jack Dear. He was all those things and more.
“I could write you a prescription. Nothing to it.”
Kate glanced at the counter underneath the medicine cabinet, where the thirteen-inch deluxe lazy Susan that Jack’s mother had given them three years ago sat overflowing with maroon-orange bottles filled with medicines and vitamins. There were bottles for her, for him and smaller bottles for the children.
“No thank you, dear,” she said. “Have you seen the children?”
Jack let a sigh fall from behind his newspaper.
“Mike left early this morning because he’s taken extra hours at the garden center and Anne spent the night at Jessica’s house. Remember? Are you sure you wouldn’t like a something for your nerves?”
“A Christmas tree,” she blurted.
Jack dropped his paper and almost upset his coffee.
“What?” he asked.
“It’s the sixteenth and we still don’t have a tree. We’re probably the only family on the block without one. I saw the Majors bring home theirs yesterday.”
“Have you picked up your refills yet?”
“I’m serious, Jack.”
“The kids are almost grown up. They probably won’t even want to stick around Christmas day, much less stay in on a Friday night to trim it. I’ll pull the old fake tree out of the attic tomorrow.” He picked the newspaper up. “Any cream, dear?”
She poured the cream from a tiny white ceramic pitcher, the kind she’d dreamed of owning as a little girl holding tea parties with sets of matching cups and saucers, into his coffee and stirred.
“But what if the children do want one?” she asked.
“It’s settled,” he answered, and so it was.
Kate sat down to her own cold coffee and cereal, which had long since gone soft and inedible.
“I’m going to the butcher’s today,” she said.
Somewhere, from behind the paper, she heard Jack’s mumble of assent.
Eight frankfurters and a London broil usually meant a ten-minute wait, but Kate, checking her watch and then rechecking against the clock on the wall, had been standing in front of the butcher’s counter for a good eighteen minutes while the butcher dilly-dallied on the phone, his voice hushed just around the corner. She tapped her foot, watching the little puffs of sawdust cloud around her shoe. Twenty minutes.
Kate jumped, startled by his voice. It was dark like rocks tumbling in a closed bucket and it made her insides ripple. Her hands went involuntarily to her stomach, just as they had every other time he’d caught her unaware. She would have called the feeling erotic if she’d had the vocabulary.
“Please tell me that you’re really standing behind me,” she whispered without turning around.
“I just wanted to see what dress you were wearing today.”
“Light blue with a belt.”
“You know those dresses drive me insane.”
“And you know that my husband picks these out for me. I hate them.”
“That drives me crazy, too. Come home with me. Right now in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. We can spend the rest of the day in bed, I’ll cook you lunch, and we can share some wine. How about it?”
“You really must be crazy.”
The butcher, finished with his call, prepared and wrapped Kate’s meat while she stood facing the counter and he stood only a foot or so behind her. When the butcher handed her the paper package, she placed money on the counter and left without waiting for her change. Outside, in the cold, she watched her man through the window as he went through the motions of looking over the selection in the display and finally making up his mind that, no, he didn’t want any meat today.
He, black clad with slick hair and strangely rolling eyes, joined her, a demure person in a demure dress and coat, on the street. They walked like opposites attracting, long stride and her great many tiny footsteps carving a path downtown.
“How are the kids?” he asked.
“I’ve stopped taking the pills and I want us to try it again,” she said.
His apartment was on the second floor, over a video store and a bodega, both of which had signs adorned with old-fashioned round lights that blinked in patterns before going still and then starting all over again just like Christmas lights. It made her feel like she was inside of the world’s biggest Christmas tree. In his bed, in his arms, with his weight keeping her in the world pushing her body into the mattress, Kate couldn’t tell if she felt more or less crazy than before she’d met him.
“I feel wild,” she said.
“You feel great,” he corrected, pushing into her.
She waited, her hips bucking back at him without her having to think about it, instinctual movement, wondering when she was supposed to start feeling something. There were differences. She was more slippery, not just between her legs, but everywhere. She felt like a soaking animal, grabbing and sniffing at warmth, blind to everything else but finding it.
She found what she was looking for at 2:06 p.m., in a moment so profoundly moving she felt the need to check the clock so she could make it official.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, stopping.
“Don’t stop,” she said.
He didn’t and the heat she’d been searching for turned on as if someone had finally flipped her switch.
“What was that?”
He smiled down at her.
“Merry Christmas. You did it.”
She also smiled, without focus.
Aren’t these sorts of things supposed to make you feel a little nervous, a little giggly and fresh, she wondered, maybe even a little sick? On the road, the route home, however much it meant, her heart was still thumping out its coital tune. The car was cold, having sat in the butcher’s lot for hours saving it up to thwart the heaters, even on high. She knew that cold was the lack of feeling.
“Where have you been? I didn’t get to have any lunch because I was waiting for you. And you missed your pill,” Jack said, as soon as she opened the door.
Kate, ignoring him but wondering which one, which pill, stepped into the house, where she shivered and took off her coat, deftly keeping the butcher’s package under one arm. She walked past the living room. He was sitting, reading with his stockingfeet on the coffee table.
“Is this still about the tree, Kate?” he called. “If it’s that important to you go out and buy one. I don’t care.”
She opened the package of meat on the counter and tied her apron around her waist, accidentally knocking the cream pitcher off the counter. It shattered on the floor. She stopped what she was doing, stepped over it and turned toward the living room.
“It’s not about the tree, dear,” she said.
Jack shoved the newspaper to the side and, for the first time, Kate wondered why he never seemed to be finished reading the damned paper.
“Then what? What is it you want from me?”
She stood in front of him, over him, with her feet shoulder width apart and her hands behind her back loosing the strings that kept her washing apron tight around her waist. She kicked off her flats and let the apron fall to the floor.
“I want you to give me an orgasm, Jack.”
He dropped the paper entirely and it landed by Kate’s bare feet.
“You want me to give you a what?”
“An orgasm. A doctor like yourself should know what an orgasm is, though, to be fair, I didn’t.”
“This is something you read in one of those women’s magazines, isn’t it? You know those rags are full of garbage. Get back in the kitchen, the kids will be home soon and it’s almost time for dinner.”
“I don’t think so, Jack,” she said quietly.
He stood up and brushed past her, then turned around in the doorway.
“You’re nuts, you know that?”
She nodded. Watching Jack creep up the stairs, Kate thought she’d never seen him look so small and she felt something she’d never felt before, a glimmer of power or possibly greatness. She couldn’t put it to words but she didn’t have to. Shoving her shoes out of the way, she sat down on the couch, spread her legs wide open and put her feet up where her husband’s had been.