How To Be a Man
The latest installment in Tablet’s monthly original fiction series
“Did your father have affairs with stupid women too?”
“Well, actually,” she says, “he did.”
I feel bad. I feel bad for her, and for me, and of course for Libby. It’s a shitty situation. I messed up. I go to the window and look out at the traffic. Diane asks what I’m doing, and I say I’m looking for the delivery truck.
All of a sudden I am thinking not about Libby or Diane but about Sarah. I wonder if she’ll be able to piece it together in a few years. Maybe she already has. The phone call this morning could be one of those memories that is burned upside-down and backwards in the deepest part of her brain, so that when she thinks hard and long about me and her childhood it will unravel. It will fall into her lap that her father was a cheater and a liar.
“Does she know?”
“Your wife, does she know?”
“No, thank God. But this needs to end. I want to be a good husband.”
“You’re not, you’re an adulterer.”
Diane puts the tea down and comes to stand by the window with me. I realize I don’t know what she’ll say because I don’t really know this woman. She’ll probably cry, softly. Maybe she’ll kiss me on my cheek and then we’ll part, and in work she might say something small and acerbic to me, but in time we’ll loosen, and maybe even forget, just like at Christmas, and then this part of my life will be over.
“You can’t do this,” she says, taking my hand.
“I won’t let you.”
“We said this was casual.”
“What is this, actually? We’ve been seeing each other for almost five months. I told you I loved you. And now this is casual? What are you? My boyfriend? My lover? Who do I tell people I’ve just been dumped by?”
“I have a fever! Why are you doing this when I have a fever?”
“And what happens when the couch comes?”
Diane opens the glass sliding door with a sweep of her arm and walks out onto the balcony. A gust of warm wind blows in and rattles everything that’s not secured down. We are high up and the wind is strong, so she has to push into it to get outside. The sound of traffic fills the apartment. At this moment I miss Libby in my bones. My knees ache to see her again. I want to put my face in her wiry black hair and inhale her sweet, almondy smell.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to quit my job to get away from Diane. I’ll probably have to be unemployed for a while, with the economy the way it is. But there’s only so long we can exist on Libby’s income. I’ll have to send out applications tomorrow. I’ll tell Libby; I’ll be honest and explain everything, and my honesty will save us. I think back to our vacation in snapshots—holding her hand as we walked down the beach, the girls running into the ocean; staying up on the balcony and sharing the one cigarette I got from the street-hawker, the horrible cough that reminded us we were adults now, with children.
Diane turns around and looks at me, backs up against the balcony railing.
“You’re a jerk,” she screams.
Her hands are wrapped tightly around the railing, the whites of her knuckles glowing.
“I’m sorry. It was wrong.”
“Of course it’s wrong. Doing the secretary is always wrong.”
I reach for her arm to pull her back inside but she pulls away. She kicks at me.
“Diane, please. I’m going now,” I say.
“If you go, I’m going to jump.”
She switches back and forth, from tears to laughter. I don’t know if she’s crying or laughing anymore. All I know is that this other, mixed emotion is much more serious and much more dangerous.
Diane leans out over the balcony and looks at the highway. I think about telling her I need to do it for my daughters, to use my girls against this woman, their sweet faces. I have pictures in my wallet.
I start crying. I feel the tears before I know what they are. They fall down my cheeks, warm then cool as they slip off my neck and onto my shirt. I look at Diane and I hold my hand out to her and I know I’m crying in front of a stranger. She’s still backed up against the railing, but the tightness in her face is gone. My eyes keep getting full and I stop wiping them and then I can no longer see Diane’s expression, and I can only make out her silhouette against the white sky.
The door buzzes. I wipe my face with the back of my hands and then the bottom of my shirt. It rings again, but Diane doesn’t move from the balcony, so I answer it.
“Sit On Us.”
“We got your couch,” a man says.
“Third,” I say.
I open the door and look down the staircase at two Hispanic men in blue jeans with matching white T-shirts. They’re wearing those thick mustard-colored belts weightlifters wear. They look up and wave.
The couch is wrapped in plastic. The movers lift it with careful ease. They hold it at chest level pushing it out towards the middle of the building as they turn the corners of the landing. Their agility amazes me.
“That was quick,” I say as they approach the front door of the apartment.
“Yeah,” one of them says. He has gray hair and the other is bald. They look like boxers, both of them; they’re not big men and I can see the lines of their smooth muscles on their hairless arms. They don’t smile.
I move out of the way and they put the new couch down in front of the old one. I wonder if my face is red, if I look like I’ve been crying. I clear my throat, noisily swallow a wad of mucus.
“This one going?” the bald deliveryman asks.
We all look out the window at the same time. Diane is sitting in the corner of the balcony and her flannel pants are flapping in the wind. Her hair is wild like a storm.
“Women,” I say.
The deliverymen look at each other and then the one going gray hands me a receipt to sign. I sign Diane’s name and he folds the paper up and puts it in his back pocket. I go to the old couch and take off the blanket and put it on top of the plastic of the new couch. It slides off and onto the floor.
The deliverymen are still standing there. I realize they’re waiting for a tip. I reach into my pocket and pull out a $10 bill—it’s all I have.
“I’m sorry. Can you split it?”
They take the old couch and I close the door.
“Can you bring me my tea?” Diane asks.
I bring her the cup of tea, now cool. She takes it from me, coughs, and takes a sip. Then she leans over the edge of the balcony. I pull her away from it but she shakes me off and throws the mug down towards the street. I go to the edge of balcony and lean over, next to her now, and see the mug shatter on the front of my car, her tea splashed against the windshield, a giant crack in the hood.
“Fuck, Diane. Fuck!”
“Wow,” she says.
“What the hell?”
“I didn’t think my aim was that good.”
She pulls me back from the balcony and kisses me. I make my lips tight and don’t breath or open my mouth.
Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki is trying to overturn Jesse Friedman’s 1989 Great Neck molestation conviction