Story — From the September 2016 issue

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Lee was the daughter of his mother’s hairdresser. Jim had been hearing about, but not really listening to, the saga of her troubles for what must have been a couple of years now, as he drove his mother from her every-Saturday-morning appointment at the beauty salon in the old neighborhood.

He had been told, but had not really listened to, the story of the girl’s elaborate wedding (something had gone wrong), her move to Phoenix (some training program for her husband) and then to San Diego. A house, a baby. His mother leaned across the table at the diner in Little Neck where he took her for lunch every Saturday before he drove home to Hauppauge. She looked better than she had when he picked her up this morning, her hair newly dyed and stiffly “done.”

Illustration by Shonagh Rae

Illustration by Shonagh Rae

She said, “So she told her daughter, ‘If he hits you again, you pack up the baby’s things and come on home.’ ”

They pulled up to her building — a high-rise retirement condo his father had purchased three months before he died. “Any man who would raise his hand to his wife . . . ” his mother said. Jim leaned to unfasten her seat belt, helped her move her bad leg out from under the dashboard. “Good for Lee for leaving him,” his mother said.

She walked through the marble lobby with regal condescension, bowing sympathetically to the other widows, who did not happen to be on the arm of a handsome son. “She just married too young,” his mother said. “Like you and Arlene.”

Inside her apartment, the few pieces from his childhood home had by now lost their nostalgic sting. There was the familiar china cabinet, an upholstered stool, an Easter photo of Jim and his brother with their missing teeth and big ears. His mother said coyly, “Now she’s looking to talk to a lawyer.”

He was going through the mail for her. “Not me,” he said.

The scent of dinner was already rising from the meals-optional dining room downstairs. Something melancholy, always, about leaving her here alone after the day’s outing. Some relief, too, when he got back into his car at the end of the tedious afternoon. He kissed her cheek, cool and smooth. She was fair-skinned and strong-jawed, his mother. In those years — this was the late 1980s — she still looked good for her age.

“Take her out to dinner, at least,” his mother said as he closed the door on her. “She’s a beautiful girl.”

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is the author of seven novels, the most recent of which is Someone.

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