Dr. Vance makes the referral to a psychiatrist and gives me the shrink’s business card, but I have absolutely no intention of going. I have no idea why he thinks I’m crazy. I bumped my head in a car accident and now I have memory loss. Why is that so unexpected?
So for that reason, I “forget” to mention the referral to Walt, Jill, and my mother. Plus I “accidentally” rip up the card and throw the pieces in the trash. I’ve already forgotten so much, what’s one more thing? I just tell them that Dr. Vance said my memory loss is probably from the concussion and he expects it to improve over the next few weeks. Which I’m sure it will. Even though I still can’t remember a damn thing from the last three years.
I’m so convincing that everything is fine that my mother kisses me goodbye, and drives back to Cincinnati, which she constantly annoys me by calling “Sin City.” And everyone seems totally on board with the idea that I’m going back to work in a couple of days. Just a little brain damage—no big deal.
Since my car is under repair from the accident and I probably shouldn’t be driving now anyway, what with my brain injury and all, Walt drives me home. He’s fretting over me the whole way, which is very sweet. “Are you feeling sick?” he keeps asking me. “Do you want me to slow down?”
Walt always drives much too fast, but frankly, I’m eager to see where we live, so I tell him he’s not making me sick with his crazy driving. It turns out that our house is in New Albany, which is an upscale suburb northeast of Columbus. I know they have a swanky country club out here, and I’m willing to bet that Walt is a member.
He pulls off 161, and less than five minutes later, he’s slowing down in a residential neighborhood. I look around at the large, luxurious houses, feeling more and more intimidated. I can’t live in a place like this. I’m just an instructor—I make crap. But then again, I’m married to a lawyer with a thriving practice in the city. So maybe I can afford to live here.
When Walt pulls in to the driveway of the largest house on the block, I feel my stomach seize up. I really can’t live here. This house is three stories high, painted white with pink trimmings, and has a perfectly groomed lawn, surrounding a glistening blue swimming pool. As beautiful as it is, I can’t help but think, “There should be kids living in this house.”
Walt kills the engine, and when he gets out of the car, he races around to the other side to help me out. I’m perfectly capable of getting out of the car on my own, but it’s sweet that he does it. My husband is a great guy. Maybe everything didn’t work out perfectly for me, but I’m pretty lucky in that regard.
The inside of the house is as intimidating as the outside. I can’t identify the furniture by brand, but I can tell the pieces are expensive, with a light blue color theme in the living room. Our television screen is massive, and I detect surround-sound stereo. I try to identify my own tastes in the house’s decorating, but I can’t. This place doesn’t seem like me at all. Then again, I don’t seem like me.
“Like it?” Walt asks me, raising his eyebrows.
He seems very confident, as if he’s asking as a formality because he knows I must like it. I mean, who wouldn’t?
“Yes, very much,” I say obediently.
“Well, make yourself comfortable,” he says. He checks his watch. “I hate to do this to you, Margaret, but I have a client coming in about an hour and I really should be there. He’s a big cheese and I can’t let one of the junior partners handle him.”
“Oh,” I say. I look around and my stomach clenches up at the thought of being in here all alone. I don’t even know how to turn on the lights. There are literally no light switches to be seen. I wonder if I have to clap my hands to get them to turn on, or call out, “Lights on!”
Well, it’s the middle of the day. I probably won’t need the light switch.
“This will entertain you,” Walt says, handing me a little rectangular device.
I take it from him and eye it with confusion. “What is it?”
Walt starts laughing like I just said something absolutely hilarious. “It’s your iPhone. I’ve never seen you without it. I took it home so it would be safe.”
“An… eye phone?” I hold it up to my eye, trying to figure out how it must work. Does it scan my retina?
Walt roars with laughter. “No, an iPhone. Like the letter ‘I’.”
“Oh,” I say, feeling a little embarrassed. I put it down on the coffee table and push it away from me so I don’t have to deal with it.
Walt is still grinning. “Trust me, you like it a lot.”
He shows me how to turn the thing on and I guess it seems relatively easy to use. Apparently, I liked it before, so I must like it now. If I’m even the same person I was a week ago, which I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not.
Walt kisses me on the cheek, and then rushes off to his meeting, leaving me holding my iPhone alone in this giant house. Unsure what to do, I take the phone and sit down on the big couch on the living room. It’s light blue in color, and when I sit down, it feels like I’ve sat on a cloud. It’s probably the most comfortable couch I’ve ever sat on. I give my former self a little pat on the back for picking it out.
The iPhone apparently has all my old text messages and emails saved up on it. I click on my sent mailbox, and then click on the first email. It’s written to Jill and says, “Are you going next week? What are you going to wear?”
It’s really surreal looking at an email that I wrote myself, yet have absolutely no memory of having written. What’s going on next week? Well, at least I can ask Jill about it.
I put down the phone and go in search of the bathroom. I feel a little ridiculous having to find the bathroom in my own damn house, but here we are. I open up like five doors before I locate a bathroom under the stairs. It’s fairly large and smells sort of like pine needles.
After I pee, I spend a good ten minutes staring at myself in the mirror. I still can’t get over how awful I look. I’ve never been a beauty queen, but I’ve always managed to take good care of myself. I don’t understand how I would have let myself go this way. I always promised myself if my hair got this much gray, I’d start dying it. This weekend, I’m going straight to a salon and take care of this problem. And get my contacts back. And I’m going on a serious diet. There’s going to be a whole new Margaret McDaniels.
My skin is all splotchy, so I check the drawer under the sink to see if my make-up is down there. Instead, I find something else.
In the next few seconds, I relive my entire fertility struggle. I see a bottle of prenatal vitamins, two different kinds of thermometers, and dozens of discarded boxes of ovulation kits and pregnancy tests, some opened with one or two tests missing. There’s a thin layer of dust over all the boxes in the drawer, signifying that it has been a while since I gave up my dream.
Years ago, before I became engaged to Walt, I desperately wished for a baby. Whenever one of my friends would announce a pregnancy on Facebook, I’d start blocking their updates because it was too painful. Then when Walt and I were about to get married, I unblocked everyone again. I figured that as soon as we tied the knot I’d get pregnant right away. I was sure of it.
I imagine myself month after month, peeing on a stick, feeling the disappointment of seeing only a single blue line. Knowing with each passing year, my chances of being a mother grew smaller and smaller. Until I just gave up.
No wonder I let myself go so badly.
I’m still staring into the drawer when I hear a banging noise coming from the back of the house. My heart starts pounding in my chest and I press my lips shut, listening hard. Is it a burglar? It’s the middle of the day and I’d imagine anyone would suspect the house would be empty. And we have all this great stuff that would appeal to any burglar.
I slip out of the bathroom to look for a possible weapon. My eyes fall on the fireplace. There’s a fire poker that looks sort of dangerous. I might be able to poke the burglar with that, or hit him over the head. I grab it, and head in the direction of the banging noise.
I go through a door, and end up in the kitchen. Now I see a whole array of knives, which actually are good weapons. I pick up the biggest carving knife from the rack, but I hang on to the poker as well. I feel pretty safe now. I’m sure nobody would attack me with two weapons.
The noise seems to be coming from the back of the kitchen, and I discover we have a back door. And someone is knocking. The shades are partially closed, but when I pull them away, I see Riley is the culprit. Sighing, I open the door for him.
Riley’s eyes widen when he sees my knife and fire poker. “Christ, Maggie, what’s going on here?”
“You scared me,” I say irritably. “I thought you were a burglar.”
Despite everything, Riley chuckles a little bit.
“Why are you sneaking around through the back anyway?” I ask him, trying to still sound irritated although I’m actually oddly pleased to see him.
“In case you haven’t noticed, you’ve got a flight of stairs at the front entrance,” he says. “Only one step back here though. Can I come in? I saw Walt’s car is gone.”
After a hesitation, I nod, and step back. Riley’s hands rest on the pushrims of his chair, and he pushes them back so that the front wheels of his chair lift off the ground. Then he moves forward to let them rest on my kitchen floor. He gives the pushrims a good shove and he bumps up the one step, tracking soil into my kitchen with the wheels as he goes.
“You’re getting dirt all over the floor!” I yell at him. I start looking around the kitchen for a mop.
“In the closet by the refrigerator,” Riley says.
I flash him a look, then yank open the wooden cabinet by our giant brand new fridge. There’s a mop, a vacuum, and several other cleaning devices in there.
“How’d you know that?” I ask him, pulling out the mop and pail to go with it.
“You said the same thing to me first time I came here,” he explains. “Finally you bought a huge welcome mat and made me run over it a bunch of times before you’d let me in. But it’s gone. I guess Walt tossed it. Sorry.”
I start mopping up the track marks on the floor, wondering if it would be poor etiquette to ask him to clean off his wheels a little more. But fortunately, he grabs some paper towels off the kitchen counter and starts doing it without asking. “I know it bugs you,” he says.
“Sorry,” I say, feeling a little embarrassed now about my reaction. I balance the mop against the kitchen counter. “I just can’t stand a dirty floor.”
“No problem, I know you’re nuts,” he says, grinning at me. I’m nuts? Look who’s talking. This guy is practically stalking me. “Hey, I brought you something.” For the first time, I notice he’s got a Styrofoam cup tucked between his knees. He frees it and hands it over to me. “I brought you a coffee. Considering you need a PhD to work the automatic coffee machine that Walt bought, I figured you’d appreciate it.”
“I have a PhD,” I remind him, gratefully taking the cup of coffee from his hands and removing the lid.
He winks at me. “Not in making coffee.”
I take a sip of the coffee and I have to admit, it’s perfect. It’s just how I like it—one cream, one sugar. I guess I must have told him at some point.
I peer at Riley over the rim of my coffee cup. Even though he’s had a night to pull himself together, he still looks a little disheveled, and I’m beginning to think that’s just how he always looks. He’s wearing a dress shirt, which I guess means he’s working today, but it’s all wrinkled and the collar is half sticking up. I kind of want to reach over and straighten it out, although I sense that would be inappropriate. At least he’s shaved today, but his short dark hair is still sticking up every which way.
He seems to notice me staring at him, and self-consciously runs his hand through his hair, which only makes the situation worse. He’s not bad looking or anything. I can imagine certain women finding him attractive, at least from the neck up. From the neck down, it’s a different story though. I’d guess most women don’t go for the wheelchair look, although he does seem to have some pretty nice muscles in his arms and shoulders. And he’s managed to tuck his shirt in this time, although that only emphasizes the fact that he’s got a paunch in his belly.
Not that I should talk about belly paunch. I don’t want to look in my closet, for fear that I’ll discover that I’ve been dressing in circus tents for the last two years.
“I’m sorry to drop in on you like this,” Riley says. “But I couldn’t talk to you at the hospital and… we need to talk.”
I take another swallow of coffee. I have some idea what he’s going to say to me, and I have only one goal: to set him straight. “Listen,” I say. “Can I start?”
Riley raises his black eyebrows at me. “By all means.”
“I know you feel like we’re great friends,” I say. I feel warmed up from the coffee and it’s giving me energy to go on with my speech. “And maybe... I’m getting the feeling that you think something happened between us. I don’t know what, maybe... I don’t know, some moment you misunderstood.”
“A moment I misunderstood?” Riley looks almost amused.
“Like, I don’t know...” Damn, this is harder than I thought it would be. “Maybe I touched your shoulder or... kissed your cheek or... complimented your outfit… in any case, I wouldn’t want you to misinterpret that and think that I—“
“Christ, Maggie. Just stop.” Riley shakes his head, adjusting his body again in his chair. “You and I, we’ve been having an affair for the past year. Okay?”
I’d finished about half of the coffee and it suddenly threatens to come back up the way it came in. What Riley’s saying makes no sense at all. There’s no way I’m having an affair with him. No way. Not physically possible.
“You’re lying,” I say.
“I’m absolutely not lying,” he says. “We started up about thirteen months ago. And... it’s pretty fucking awesome, to be honest.”
“It’s not possible!” I hear the volume of my voice elevating, but I’m not sure I can control it anymore. I don’t know why he’s saying these things. Obviously it’s to trick me, to take advantage of me in some way. Maybe he thinks he can actually fool me into having sex with him. Lord knows, it’s clear he’s not getting any. I mean, look at the guy.
“Well, it’s obviously possible,” Riley argues.
“No, it’s not.”
I hold up a single digit in his face. “First of all,” I say, “I would never cheat on Walt. Never. I’m not a cheater. I would never ever do that.”
Riley snorts and I shoot him a look, which quiets him down.
“Second of all,” I add. “If I were going to have an affair, it wouldn’t be with you.” I look him up and down. “No offense, but you’re not my type. At all. You’re pretty much the opposite of my type in every single way.”
“Right,” Riley says. “You prefer blond and balding to tall, dark, and handsome.”
Tall, dark, and handsome? Is he shitting me? Riley may have dark hair and... well, it’s possible he might be tall, but I don’t think any woman in her right mind would refer to him that way. I’d guess he’s shorter than Walt, definitely under six feet, maybe 5’10” or 5’11” if I had to estimate, but the fact that he’s sitting negates any height he has. In any case, this statement proves to me that he’s completely deluded.
“Relax, Maggie,” he says, smirking at my expression. “I’m aware that I’m not tall, dark, and handsome. I was just making a joke. You know, to lighten the mood.”
“Oh, you think this is funny?”
“I really don’t,” he says. “But it’s interesting that even though you don’t remember it, you said pretty much the exact same thing to me, verbatim, when I first told you I was falling in love with you. You said I wasn’t your type, I’m ugly as an elephant’s butt, you’d never have an affair, especially with me, et cetera.”
“So this is something you do a lot?” I retort. “Tell married women you’re in love with them?”
“I’d never done it before.” He pulls at his collar. “But I was head over heels for you, and you were married to the biggest asshole on the planet, so I decided to go for it. And you did come around pretty soon after.”
I grit my teeth. “Walt is not the biggest asshole on the planet. How dare you say that?”
“Your words, not mine, Maggie.”
“Stop calling me Maggie!”
Riley blinks his hazel eyes at me, taken aback. “What?”
“I told you that’s what people who are important to me call me,” I say through my teeth. “You’re not important to me. You’re nothing to me. So you can call me Dr. McDaniels... or Margaret, if you’d prefer.”
Riley frowns at me. “You mean like your asshole husband calls you, who barely knows anything about you or gives a shit about you?”
That does it. I look down at the cup of coffee in my hand, and before I can stop myself, I toss the drink right in his face. Luckily, it isn’t very hot anymore. Riley reacts... well, the way I’d expect someone to react after having coffee thrown in their face. At first, he looks utterly stunned. Then pissed off. Then stunned again as he pulls off his glasses and looks down at his wrinkled dress shirt covered in coffee. I can see little droplets of coffee on his long eyelashes.
“Sorry,” I say, feeling suddenly a little guilty. That was a little immature of me, I guess.
To my surprise, he grins at me. “Wow, that is definitely something you have never done to me before. I like the passion. You’re expanding your horizons... Margaret.”
“I’ll get you a towel,” I mumble.
Except I have absolutely no idea where I keep the towels. Naturally, Riley knows. He directs me to my own linen closet, which is inside the bathroom. He already knows his wheelchair doesn’t fit through the bathroom door, so he waits by the entrance while I retrieve a white towel for him, which he uses to dry off his face, hair, and shirt. He’s got brown stains all over the front of his shirt.
“This sucks,” Riley comments. “I’ve got a class to teach in less than an hour.”
“I’m sorry,” I say again.
He shrugs. “Oh, well.”
Somehow I’m not surprised that Riley is unconcerned by the idea of teaching a class in a shirt covered with coffee stains. Still, it bothers me. Even though I don’t care about him at all. I only care because it makes the university look bad. “Do you want to borrow one of Walt’s shirts?” I offer.
“Please, no,” he says, shaking his head vigorously. “It’s fine. Really.”
He hands me back the towel, and I squeeze it between my palms. It’s damp from coffee. “Listen, Riley,” I say. “Maybe something did happen between us, but even if it did, it’s in the past. You need to forget about it.”
Riley rubs at a new spot of coffee he discovered on his knee. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
“Because I love you too much.”
He says it so matter-of-factly. I could imagine if he were describing himself to someone, he’d say, “My name is Riley Samuels, I have black hair, and I am in love with Margaret McDaniels.” Like it’s some unchangeable fact about himself, something that’s always been true and will always be true. Which is completely ridiculous. “People fall out of love,” I remind him.
“I won’t. Not with you.”
I think he’s being a little melodramatic. Moreover, after glimpsing myself in the mirror, it’s a little unclear to me why anyone would be in love with me, even Riley.
“I think you should go,” I finally say.
He nods. “Fair enough. How long are you taking off from work?”
“I’m going back tomorrow, actually.”
Riley’s jaw drops open. “Tomorrow? Are you kidding me, Mag… er, Margaret? You just had a major head injury!”
My cheeks burn. I did not have a major head injury—I’m just insane, that’s all. “It’s none of your business.”
“But you…” Riley begins, then he seems to think better of it. “Fine, go back to work. Knock yourself out.”
I don’t know what he cares anyway. I guess since he thinks he’s in love with me, he feels he has to look out for my best interests. But I think it’s in my best interest to make sure I don’t screw up my career like I screwed up the rest of my life.
Riley heads for the door. “Sorry again about the coffee,” I say.
He shrugs. “No, I pretty much deserved it.”
I watch him bump down the one step off the back door and head down the path to his car. The things he said to me are still echoing in my ears. You and I, we’ve been having an affair for the past year. It must be a lie. There’s no way I was having an affair with Riley. I’m not even the slightest bit attracted to him. Like I told him, it just isn’t possible.
But he sure tells a convincing lie.
By the end of the night, I’m even more convinced that Riley’s story is a lie.
I find his name as a contact on my phone. But in like a year’s worth of text messages, I can’t find a single text from him to me or vice versa. Same with the emails. He’s not even my Facebook friend. Clearly I haven’t been communicating much with Riley.
Of course, the more I think about it, the idea of my having an affair with him is completely preposterous. Not that it ever wasn’t, but he did throw me off a little bit, the way he seemed to know my house so well. And he just somehow seemed like he knew me. But that doesn’t mean we were sleeping together.
Seriously, me and Riley? Why would I sleep with a guy in a wheelchair, who apparently lectures in coffee-splattered clothing, when I’ve got a gorgeous, considerate, brilliant husband at home? Do you know how crazy that is?
Walt gets home on the late side tonight, and we decide to order in from a restaurant in the center of town that delivers. Unfortunately, the fact that I’m on a diet completely slips my mind, and I end up ordering a bacon cheeseburger and fries.
We’ve got this enormous mahogany dining table which seats about ten people, which makes me all the more sad that it’s just me and Walt eating at the table. I wonder if when I picked it out, I had imagined two kids sitting here with us by now. It’s a depressing thought, which makes me all the more hungry for the burger and fries that I shouldn’t have ordered in the first place.
“Walt,” I say, as I settle down at the table with a bottle of Diet Coke that I discovered in the fridge (as if that will make things any better). “Why did we stop trying to have kids?” I need to know the answer to that question. It’s haunting me.
Walt frowns and the new wrinkles on his face deepen. Like me, he seems like he’s aged more than three years since our wedding. “I don’t know, Margaret,” he says.
And as he says my name, I can’t help but remember Riley’s comment about how my husband doesn’t know me or care about me. Goddamn Riley.
“You must know,” I insist. “We were trying so hard and then we just… stopped. Why?”
Walt shrugs. “I guess you decided you were happy with it being just the two of us.”
No, that’s not possible. But I feel like maybe it would be insulting to say that to Walt. Oh well.
I open the Styrofoam container with my cheeseburger inside and Walt’s eyes widen when he sees what I ordered. It’s enough to make my cheeks go red. “I thought you were going on a diet,” he says, a note of accusation in his voice.
I grab a handful of ketchup packages and start ripping them open one by one. “I was just in a serious accident. I think I’m entitled to eat one cheeseburger.”
“Yes! With bacon!”
Walt still looks very disapproving. “You had been doing pretty well with your diet before the accident. It would be a shame to lose all the progress you made, wouldn’t it?”
“For Christ’s sake, Walt,” I snort. “It’s one cheeseburger.”
“I was hoping,” he says, “that this hospitalization would be a wake-up call for you.”
“It was a car accident, not a heart attack!” I stare at him. “You think I’m too fat, don’t you?”
“What?” Walt’s neck turns red, which is his form of blushing. “I didn’t say that. I think you look great, Margaret. I just want you to be healthy.”
“So that’s what you’re concerned about?” I retort. “My health?”
Walt rubs his temples. “I don’t want to fight with you right now. Can we forget I said anything? Just… eat your cheeseburger.”
I wish I could say that my argument with Walt made me lose my appetite, but unfortunately, it did nothing of the kind. I polish off that cheeseburger and fries in five minutes flat. I’ve always been the kind of person who eats when I’m depressed, and that makes me wonder more about what my life has been like for the last three years.