How To Be a Man
The latest installment in Tablet’s monthly original fiction series
“She had to talk to those men about England.”
We watch the bags not come out. Martha is fidgeting and slipping out of my arms. I have to tell Sarah four times to stay still. She keeps inching away. She wants to know if the bags have fallen yet, if she can help more by getting a cart, if she can get a soda, or a candy bar, if she can go down the hall and look for mom.
“Sit,” I say.
“On the ground?”
She sits down, and I put Martha on the floor in front of her, and Sarah tries to teach her a new hand-clap game. I feel stiff from the plane, from holding Martha, and from the waiting. I stare at the baggage carousel: Bags fall but none of them are ours. If Libby were here, somehow it would be better. I’m having trouble focusing, my eyes blurring. For a moment I think about what it would be like if Libby were gone. If she were not just in a room down some mysterious hallway, but if she disappeared—even died—and I was alone. I look down at the girls on the dirty airport floor. I think about how it was on the plane, as if it were a far away memory. We had three seats in a row. Sarah was at the window so she could see the ocean. Martha was on my lap. People were nervous as they passed—a baby on the plane—but then they saw little Martha’s big gray eyes, her silent smile. Sarah sat, looking out the window, with her little hands folded in her lap. What beautiful children, people said as they passed. What a lovely couple! Now Libby is gone, and our baggage is floating somewhere in the ocean. I miss her clothes. I would be the type of widower to roll around in Libby’s shirts and socks, to want to breathe her smell.
Our bags fall down the conveyor belt. I’m left watching them go around the hall and back out again because I can’t bring myself to lift the girls up, carry them over to the bags, find a cart, have them stand still while I get the bags and inevitably turn my back on them, just for a second, while I lift the overweight suitcases off the carousel—the impossibility of even moving from this very spot is overwhelming. There’s a tightness in my chest. Indigestion, or worse.
Then, like light, Libby is in front of us.
“What a load of tossers,” she says.
“Oh, Mommy said a bad word.”
“I’m sorry, bunny,” Libby says, patting Sarah’s head. “American bureaucracy at it’s finest.”
I kiss Libby, my nose hitting her glasses as I push myself onto her face. I pick up Martha but before I give her to Libby I squeeze her between us—a family hug—and Sarah grabs my leg and hugs too. Martha laughs her wonderfully sweet baby laugh.
“Everything OK?” I ask Libby.
“Right as rain,” she says.
“Dad, the bags have gone around three times!” Sarah says. She takes my hand and we run to the baggage carousel. She hunches down until she sees the bags coming around the corner and then springs up. I lift the bags off the conveyor belt like they’re made of air. I pile them together like Tetris pieces so I can wheel them at once.
My family is whole again. We head for home, relaxed and happy. In the taxi I decide I’ll cook a big pasta dinner. We’ll all watch a Princess Pony movie and get the kids to bed early. And I decide that tomorrow I’ll definitely break it off with Diane. After that, I’ll tell Libby. I’ll come clean about the whole thing.
My boss, Ronald, has a habit of blowing up at everyone. One time after he got chewed out at a board meeting, he pushed over a filing cabinet in the middle of the office. I had a really good line telling him to calm down, something I came up with the last time he’d yelled at all of us, and I said it, the way I’d practiced, in the silence of the office after the bang of the falling cabinet. Ronald was embarrassed. We all laughed and he eventually bent down, in his three-thousand-dollar suit, and picked up the papers. I was a hero that day. A lot of people came up to me afterwards and actually thanked me. Diane had been getting the brunt of his yelling since she was his secretary, so she was especially appreciative. She organized the whole office to take me out for drinks.
A couple of months before, at the Christmas party, I had made out with Diane in the mailroom by the fax machine. I don’t remember how we got there, but it was dark and I was full of good vodka and mini quiche. There was a knock at the door and we quickly straightened ourselves out. It lasted less than a minute. She turned on the lights, and I stood by the soda machine and tried to push in a twenty-dollar bill. When she opened the door, it was someone from Accounting.
“That’s weird, why did that door lock?” she said as she walked back out to the party.
We never talked about it; she never smiled shyly at me or blushed. We went on working through the winter as if nothing had ever happened. So, I wasn’t thinking about it while we all walked downtown. I was excited and talked loudly to everyone at the bar, repeating my line to anyone who had missed it. I accepted drinks. At some point, late in the night, it was just me and Diane, putting back shots. She touched my leg and ran her spidery fingers around my knee. When she stood up suddenly she had to steady herself on the bar. She said it was past her bedtime and that I had two choices—I could go with her, or I could go home.
I went with her.
We took a cab back to her place. I kept my eyes closed; the jostling of the taxi made me queasy. In bed I was very quick and she was loud. I barely got it up before I came. Then my chest hurt. Like heartburn made of needles, a stabbing pain. I waited for my left arm to go numb, but it didn’t.
“I have to go,” I said, even before I got dressed.
“I know,” she said.
I was attracted to Diane. She wasn’t prettier than Libby; she had a small, thin body and brittle blonde hair. Pretty, but plain. I knew it at the bar, and when I was undressing her, and in bed, after. Plain. But there was something about her, and seeing it everyday awakened whatever it was that made me attracted to her. I didn’t not want Libby; I just also wanted Diane. So, in bed that first time, I reached for her cheek and held it in my hand for a moment, and knew that I had started something.
Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki is trying to overturn Jesse Friedman’s 1989 Great Neck molestation conviction