"You'll like my daughter," Peter told Emma, "no matter what she does to you. If she bites you."
Emma looked at him, to see if she was meant to laugh, but Peter was driving, and did not turn. Emma considered his profile, looking for clues: the long straight nose, the sober deep-set blue eye. The line of Peter's mouth was stern, and his tone had suggested not mirth but reproval. Disturbed, Emma turned away to face the road herself.
"I'm sure I'll like her," she said politely.
But it was an alarming announcement. She wondered what Peter meant: was he warning her that his daughter was difficult? Was he reminding Emma that she had no choice? In either case, Emma didn't need to be told. She knew it was important that she like Peter's daughter. She knew his daughter was difficult. But perhaps Peter meant neither of these things, perhaps this was an awkward joke, heavy with anxiety. Emma did not quite dare ask him what he meant.
Emma and Peter had been seeing each other for four months. Often Emma felt she knew him well, but still there were moments of complete confusion for her, dark silent pools set unexpectedly in an open rolling landscape. It took so long to know someone, Emma thought, to know easily, at once, what was meant by a comment, a tone of voice. Married, you took this ease for granted. Starting all over again, learning someone new by heart, seemed so slow. To Emma, it seemed at times impossible.
Emma was always afraid that Peter would discover something about her that he had never imagined, something that would turn him utterly against her, forever. She had seen him once, taking off a pair of wet gloves, peeling them off his fingers, ridding his flesh of them and flinging them in a crumpled mass onto a chair, where they hung for a moment and then fell to the floor. This was what she imagined would happen to her if she disappointed him.
Emma looked out the window. They were driving down Park Avenue, through the seventies. The big apartment buildings rose on either side, solid and immutable, with their clean stone facades and crisp canvas awnings. Uniformed doormen, brisk and authoritative in braid-trimmed hats, stood guard at each doorway. It was a neighborhood Emma knew well: Park Avenue, with its narrow, sooty, dignified strip of green, had, until now, run down the center of her adult world. When she had first come to New York, six years ago, she had lived with friends of her parents, in a tiny maid's room in a big duplex at Park and Eighty-first. When she was married to Warren, she had lived between Park and Madison, on Ninety-second. Peter's wife and daughter -- and once Peter -- lived at Park and Sixty-eighth.
Peter and Emma were on their way to pick up Peter's seven-year-old daughter, Amanda. Peter had lunch with her every Sunday, but this was the first time Emma had been included. She had been pleased and flattered when Peter asked.
"You know I've met Amanda before," Emma reminded him now.
"You have? When?" Peter asked.
"When I met you. At your cocktail party."
"I didn't know that," said Peter.
"It was very brief. She won't remember me," Emma said. "But I remember her."
They had stopped for the light at Sixty-eighth Street. The avenue sloped broadly down before them, diminishing toward the handsome Beaux Arts silhouette of Grand Central Station, which was backed by the cold blunt rectangle of the Pan Am Building. The narrow beds of earth that divided Park Avenue held neat evergreen trees, regularly spaced like musical notations, green chords struck evenly between the high stone-faced buildings. It was a clean and orderly vista, and the February sky overhead was a high pale blue.
Crossing the avenue in front of their car was a middle-aged black woman in a too-long overcoat. She held the hand of a small white girl. The girl, in a bright pink parka, green corduroy pants and scarlet boots, hung sulkily back, her body jammed into a stubborn angle of resistance. She wore no hat, and her hair blew in a wild halo around her head. The woman paid no attention to her reluctance, pulling the girl steadily along behind her. In the middle of the street the woman turned and said something, her face threatening. The girl stuck out her lower lip. When they started again the girl gave up her leaning, but each step was sluggish and resentful. Her boots slid reluctantly along the pavement, her head was down. The woman plowed ahead without looking back.
Children have no choice: they are at our mercy, Emma thought. She was glad to see, at least, that the little girl had refused a hat.
"What did Amanda do? When you met her," Peter asked, turning to Emma. One eyebrow was raised, and Emma felt the full strength of his blue gaze. He was a lawyer, and there were times when Emma felt she was being cross-examined.
"Oh, not much," Emma said. "Caroline was taking her around the party to be introduced. Amanda wasn't keen on it."
"Sounds like Caroline. Sounds like Amanda," said Peter. The light changed, and he turned the car onto his street. They pulled up in front of his old door. The doorman, short, dapper, militant, in a long buff overcoat, with heavy corded epaulets, stepped at once to the door of the car.
"Hello, Sam," Peter said
"Good morning, Mr. Chatfield," said the doorman loudly, touching his big cap. He had bright black eyes, and the stiff overcoat nearly enveloped him
"I'll be right down," Peter said to the doorman, and closed the car door. The doorman looked at Emma and nodded, brisk but neutral.
Emma, left sitting in the car, wished that Peter had spoken to her instead of to the doorman. She watched Peter walk into the building, where he still owned an apartment, Through the heavy glass of the door she could see the elevator man step forward to greet him. All the people here knew Peter; he would meet an old neighbor in the elevator. Emma watched, pressing her forehead against the window like a child, as Peter stood before the elevator door. His figure, tall and solid in his worn corduroys and old raincoat, turned vague and began to vanish. Emma blinked, focusing, but Peter turned steadily to smoke. She pressed closer to the window, staring intently, to retrieve him. But she could not, and drew back from the pane, perplexed. She saw it was her own anxiety that had made him vanish; her breath had steamed a widening circle of mist across the windowpane, a pale film of obscurity that blotted him out. When she drew back, she watched the window dry, and clarity spread across it.
The elevator doors reappeared, but now Peter had gone. The doors had glided somberly shut behind him, and he was now inside the hushed vault of the elevator, rising deliberately toward his wife, his daughter, his apartment, his past life. For nine years he had been part of Mr. and Mrs. Chatfield on the eleventh floor. What would he do up there, what would he say? How much could you trust a man who was in the middle of divorcing his wife? Taking back all the promises he had made to her?
The doorman stood like a small belligerent statue: chin raised, legs planted wide beneath his huge coat, one gloved hand on his taxi whistle. He ignored Emma. She felt like a trespasser, illicitly parked before this building. She turned away, wondering what was happening upstairs.
Emma had been in the Chatfields' apartment only once, a year earlier, when she was still married to Warren. Warren had been on a board with Caroline, Peter's Wife, and she had asked them to a cocktail party. That night, Warren and Emma had stepped off the elevator into the foyer with its black marble floors and yellow-and-white striped walls. The front door was open, and the rooms beyond were full of noise and color. The spaces were big, the ceilings high. The surfaces shimmered: the porcelain figures on the mantelpiece, the satinwood tables, the Venetian glass mirror over the fireplace. The great satin curtains were fringed with dull gold, and held back with heavy tasseled cords. On the mahogany sideboard were twisting silver candelabra.
They stood for a moment in the front hall. A white-jacketed waiter came up, holding a silver tray of goblets, filled with pale wine. Emma and Warren each took one.
"This is quite something," said Emma, looking around.
"I told you," said Warren. He sounded smug, as though he were taking credit for the apartment. He turned. "Hello, Caroline," he said, as a woman in brilliant blue came toward them. His voice was loud and jovial, his manner somewhat unctuous. Emma could see he was awed by Caroline.
"Warren, how nice to see you." Caroline Chatfield was handsome, rather tall, and somewhat fleshy. She moved with authority, kissing Warren briskly on both cheeks. She then drew back, with a professional smile, to meet Emma.
"This is my wife, Emma," Warren said. He turned to Emma and looked at her appraisingly, as Caroline did. Emma felt them both examining her.
Caroline at once held out her hand. She set her feet neatly together and gave a little comic-opera bow over the handshake. Her hair was shoulder length, blond streaked. She had very pale blue eyes and a pointed nose. She wore gold earrings, and a strand of pearls lay neatly against the yoke of her dress. The dress was patterned indigo silk, long sleeved, high necked, and full of discreet details: small neat tucks, stitched-down pleats.
"How nice of you to come," Caroline said energetically. "Do you have a drink? I see you do." She looked again at Warren and turned serious. "Now, you and I have to have a talk. The plans for the spring fund-raiser are foundering."
Warren raised his eyebrows, smiling, conspiratorial. "Are they?"
"Have you spoken to Cynthia?" Caroline asked.
Warren shook his head. He was enjoying this,
"I wouldn't look forward to it, if I were you," Caroline said, and shook her head forebodingly.
"I think we'll be able to deal with Cynthia," Warren said.
Caroline turned to Emma. "Do forgive us for all this business," she said charmingly. "Your husband is a treasure. We're so thrilled to have him on the board." Warren beamed. "He's really stirring things up."
Emma smiled. "I'm sure he is," she answered, refusing to enter into the listing of Warren's merits.
"But you know that about Warren, I'm sure," Caroline said, withdrawing her attention. "Now there's Serena, I want to tall to her before she leaves. It's so nice to have met you," she said to Emma. "Please excuse me, I hope I'll see you later." She moved off through the crowd, the silk pleats on her long skirt swaying briskly.
Warren watched her go. He stood visibly straighter, preening, exhilarated. "She is really something."
"She is," said Emma, noncommittal.
"She's so elegant," said Warren. "She always looks like that. Really beautifully turned out. Hair, dress, jewelry."
Emma, who understood that this was a criticism of her, said nothing. She had grown up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where vanity was frowned upon, and attention to appearance was considered vulgar. Beauty, like jewelry, was a matter of inheritance: either it came down in the family or you did without.
Emma was wary of women like Caroline who put such energy and concentration into their own presentation, who took such obvious pleasure in it, who looked so sleek and glowing and expensive. Emma felt both disapproving and envious: Caroline made it clear just how sure of yourself it was possible to appear.
"I want you to meet Peter, too," said Warren. "He's right up your street, actually. He has a wonderful art collection. You'll love him." He sounded bossy and proprietary: he clearly felt in charge.
Emma said nothing. She did not always love people who had wonderful art collections: they often became peculiar when they discovered that she worked at an art magazine. Their voices took on a certain urgency, they leaned too close as they spoke. The acrid smell of self-promotion began to permeate the atmosphere. They insisted on showing her their whole collection, every piece of it. They mentioned prominent museum curators who had, they claimed, said glowing things about the collection. They mentioned prices they had paid; often they lied about prices they had paid. They demanded praise, recognition, respectful attention. Sometimes Emma felt that collectors were what she liked least about art.
Emma had looked vaguely at the pictures in the front hall. Without her glasses she could see only that they were drawings, in heavy European frames. Now she entered the big living room and looked around: it was full of splendor. The walls were covered with leopard-skin paper, and there were high white wooden bookcases: A bank of great French windows opened onto a terrace. Big low overstuffed sofas and curious chairs stood about on the huge Persian carpet. It looked as though the room had been there since 1890: rich shawls hung over the backs of the chairs, and small collections -- old ivory objects, burnished fruitwood boxes -- were spread out on the tabletops, On the walls were paintings, and Emma narrowed her eyes and moved toward the one nearest her, a still life.
The picture was, in fact, quite nice, unpretentious and handsome: an early nineteenth-century composition of vegetables, probably American. The shapes were solid, the forms precise, the colors lucid.
"That's a favorite of mine," someone said behind her, and Emma turned to see a man looking at the painting with affection. He was big and blond and very handsome, with bushy eyebrows and intense blue eyes. Emma was skeptical of him at once: he was too glamorous, too polished, too rich to be interesting. And anyone so handsome couldn't be smart. Someone must have told him these were good pictures.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
"I do, actually," Emma said.
Now he would tell her why it was so important, according to a famous scholar or a sycophantic curator. Or he would tell her where he got it. Emma hoped he wouldn't tell her how much it cost.
"I love the red," Peter said, reconsidering the painting. "It's so bold, don't you think. And I like all these interlocking curves. I like the way it all holds together," He looked now at Emma, still smiling. He seemed completely relaxed, She looked back at the painting.
"Yes "she said, "I like the red. Is it American?"
"As far as anyone can tell,"
Emma paused, still waiting for important people's opinions, but none came.
"I also like the eggplant," she offered. "I don't think I've ever seen an eggplant in an American painting."
"Have you in any European ones?" Peter asked.
"Well, no," said Emma. "They lust seem more likely in European painting. Americans were so genteel. They painted fruit and biscuits and teacups. Europeans were earthier. They painted vegetables and dead rabbits."
Now he would ask her how she knew about paintings.
"It's true, isn't it," said Peter. "Europeans painted kitchen food, and Americans painted dining-room food, Now, what do we conclude from that?"
"Oh, the usual, don't you think?" said Emma. "Americans were always afraid of looking provincial. It was too risky for them, painting kitchen food: they might have been taken for cooks."
"The old problem: poor self-image," said Peter. "The anxious American. Now," he said, moving firmly closer to Emma, "tell me something."
"Yes?" sam Emma. She was fixed in the beam of his attention by the clear blue eyes set beneath the thick eyebrows. He didn't seem aware of his looks, he seemed to have none of the narcissist's arrogance. In fact he seemed to have no arrogance about him at all: only ease. He seemed to enjoy himself. This interested Emma; she waited for his question.
"Do you have what you want to drink?" he asked.
"Yes," said Emma. She felt let down: evidently she did not interest him. Didn't he want to know more of her opinions on art?
"Because I need a refill," he said. "Are you sure I can't get you something?"
"No, thanks," she said, and drew away. He gave her another friendly smile and turned, moving off through the crowd.
Emma felt disappointed, and chagrined by her disappointment, He was much nicer than she had expected, and amazingly wonderful looking. She watched him stepping among the people, smiling at his friends. He moved past a satinwood table, she saw the back of his head reflected in the Venetian mirror in the front hall. He moved among the polished surfaces easily.
Warren found her then, and a moment later Caroline appeared again. Behind her was an elderly woman in a gray uniform with a white apron.
"Warren," Caroline said to him, "I want you to meet my daughter, Amanda!" In front of Caroline stood a small girl, four or five years old. She had Caroline's face, the wide cheeks, pale skin and pale blue eyes. The girl looked sulky and belligerent; her legs were slightly spread apart beneath the ruffled dress, her arms were crossed adamantly on her chest. Her shiny hair, light brown and flyaway, was cut severely. The bangs were too short, and went straight across her forehead, unbecomingly, with hard right angles at the temples -- an uncompromising chop.
Amanda stared challengingly at Warren, saying nothing. Caroline put her hand behind her daughter's back and Amanda's stance shifted. She tilted slightly backward, the feet in their black patent Mary lanes braced against the carpet. Emma Could see that, while Caroline was smiling at her friends, her hand was set against Amanda's spine. Amanda crossed her arms more firmly across her smocked pink chest, her straight dark eyebrows gathered in a frown.
Caroline looked down at her daughter. "Say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, Amanda," she said, smiling, very energetic. There was a fraction more emphasis on the last word than on the others, and there was a trace of warning in her voice. Amanda looked up grimly at Warren. She did not uncross her arms. Caroline leaned over, now clasping her hands demurely behind her back, tilting her head to one side as though this were fun.
"Aman-da," Caroline said, and looked up at Warren and gave him a conspiratorial wink. The little girl tilted her own head, ducking into her neck as though something unpleasant had brushed against her. She did not speak or put out her hand. For a moment nothing happened, and the circle of grown-ups Was held, mute and motionless, by the mute and motionless child.
Now, Emma could not remember what had happened afterward, but she didn't think Amanda had given in. Later Amanda, arms still crossed, had been led away by the tight-lipped nanny, who spoke to her in a low severe voice. Caroline stayed, talking with her friends, animated, the gold bracelet glinting with her gestures, the smooth pleats in her skirt swaying as she moved.
Afterward, Warren told Emma, "Amanda is famously difficult. The headmistress at Nightingale told Caroline that if Amanda is going to stay there she has to see the school shrink. She's completely intractable. And Caroline is the most perfectly ordered woman in New York. It drives her crazy, as you can imagine."
Sitting now in the car, waiting for Amanda, Emma remembered that watchful, sullen face, those tightly crossed arms. She wondered if Amanda ever actually had bitten anyone. She wished Peter had not used that phrase. She wondered unhappily why he had chosen it.
Emma looked away. A wire mesh trash container stood at the corner, and trash littered the street around it. What was the impulse, Emma wondered, that drew people to throw trash near, but not in, a trash basket?
On the sidewalk, two women walked past in mink coats, their orange hair curled, their mouths disagreeable in bright lipstick. Emma wondered if there had ever been a city without these sharp contrasts, the rich, co-cooned in entitlement, stepping blindly past the squalor on the streets. Maybe New York in the fifties? That seemed now, in retrospect, to have been quiet and romantic. The urban landscape was made up then of modest brownstones, the skyline low and manageable, a small clean grocery store on every other block, optimism and politeness the common language. Now, in the mid-eighties, squalor seemed to be winning, and resentment was the reigning emotion.
A bulky balding man passed Emma, wearing an expensive camel overcoat and walking a fat self-absorbed cocker spaniel. The dog wandered in a complicated pattern, sniffing exhaustively. He found the right place on the sidewalk and stopped abruptly, squatting. He hunched his back into a high arch, flattened his ears and concentrated, staring into space, avoiding gazes. The man looked around with furtive urgency. Emma could see his criminal plan: he was not going to clean up after the dog. When the cocker was finished with his task he straightened, lifting his nose in a dignified way. He stepped briskly away, kicking powerfully backward, dissociating himself from his act. The man did the same, his manner turning supercilious. The two of them moved off together, self-satisfied, aloof, ponderous. White-collar street crime, right in front of me, thought Emma. People justified doing whatever they felt like. She wondered what the man would say, if accused. That he hadn't known the law included cocker spaniels? But his dog was so small? Were people now really more arrogant and contemptuous than in the past, or was it just more evident now?
Emma watched them walk away. She wondered what was taking Peter so long. She wondered what she would do if Peter did not come back. Perhaps Caroline was causing a scene. She wondered what sort of scene Caroline would make. Caroline, with her smooth hair, her pearl earrings, her neat shoes: Emma could imagine her angry, but not distraught. What would she wear for passion, anguish, intemperance? Emma thought of how Caroline must feel, waiting, in the apartment they had shared, for Peter to arrive. Seeing him appear in the door, knowing he no longer wanted her.
But what if Peter changed his mind, what if he simply fell back into his old life? What if he decided just to stay? Suppose the doorman came out to her with a message: "Mr. Chatfield says for you to go on without him." What if he decided to abandon her, Emma, instead of Caroline, leaving her illegally parked at the curb? If he did not come back, Emma would simply get out of the car and walk away.
Emma had been with Peter for the weekend. Her three-year-old daughter, Tess, was with her father until Sunday night. Emma thought of going off alone, of solitary browsing in secondhand bookstores. She would buy something old-fashioned and comfortable to read, a novel by Elizabeth Taylor. She would sit with it over a bowl of soup in a small restaurant. Imagining this, the rest of her weekend, by herself, Emma gazed out the side window again, her eyes unfocused, leaning against the cold glass.
A face was looking at her through the window: the brutal chopped-off line of light brown bangs, the heavy eyelids, the closed and recalcitrant mouth. Amanda stared in at Emma through the glass, nose to nose, bullyingly close. Beyond her, Emma knew Peter must be standing, but Amanda blocked him; Amanda's blank staring face blocked everything else from Emma's view; instinctively Emma drew back. Then Peter squatted, and his face, smiling, appeared next to Amanda's, Emma rolled down the window, now smiling too.
"Hello, Amanda," she said. "How are you?" Amanda did not answer. She looked sideways, and moved her jaw back and forth without opening her mouth.
"Amanda, this is Emma," said Peter in a loud managerial voice. Standing behind her, he could not see Amanda's face. His own face looked concerned.
"Hello, Amanda," said Emma again, leaning forward, smiling energetically. She opened the door, wondering if she should kiss her. She wanted this to start off well. She thought of her own ingenuous Tess, meeting Warren's future girlfriends. Oh, please, she thought fervently to the unknown women, be nice to my darling. Emma held out her hand to Amanda to shake, but Amanda kept her hands in her pockets and looked at the ground. Without pausing, Emma altered her gesture, reaching to the car door and resting her hand on it. She hoped Peter hadn't seen. He was squatting behind Amanda, his face tense. Emma smiled at both of them. "Come and get in the car," she said to Amanda, and turned, awkwardly opening the door behind her. Peter took Amanda by the hand, but she balked.
"What is it?" he said, bending over. Emma couldn't hear what she was saying. "What's the matter?" Peter asked. "Amanda, get in."
A pause, then Emma heard him say, "What? What is it? Oh, no sweetie, not now. Another time. There isn't room now. You sit in the back."
"What is it? Would she like to sit in front? Here, Amanda, come and sit in my lap," said Emma, smoothing her skirt.
"There, Amanda," Peter said, pleased. "Would you like to sit with Emma?"
Amanda gave Emma a long stare and slowly shook her head.
Peter's mouth grew stern, but Emma smiled at them both.
"Another time, then," she said easily.
Sternly Peter handed Amanda into the backseat, and Emma twisted to smile at her again. Peter shut the door, and while he was walking back around to the driver's seat the two were alone in the silent car.
Amanda, in a dark red wool coat, slumped at once against the seat back, her head turned toward the building she had just left. Her hands beat a noisy irregular rhythm on the seat. She did not look at Emma.
She's been forced to do this, Emma thought, watching her. Why wouldn't she hate it? Emma turned again toward the front. Peter got in beside her and pulled the door shut hard, his face closed and angry.
As he started the car, he spoke, low, under cover of the engine. "There was a firestorm upstairs."
"I thought you took a while to come down."
"There was a scene. Caroline's going to call her lawyer. She says she didn't realize this, she didn't realize that."
"She didn't realize about me," said Emma.
"Well," said Peter, "yes."
"I can go home," Emma said at once.
"No, no. It had to happen sometime. She asked me if I was going to be alone today. I said no and she blew up. She says she's going to go back and see what the agreement says about visitation rights."
"She can't have thought you'd be alone forever."
"She hasn't thought, period."
It was that Caroline didn't believe her marriage was really over, thought Emma. She didn't believe Peter had really left. He had moved out in September; Caroline still thought it was temporary. She thought Peter would come to his senses, and they could return to their real life.
Emma imagined herself in Caroline's place: it would be so bewildering, as well as painful. As far as Caroline was concerned, the marriage had carried on normally, well enough, until one day Peter had announced it was over. Caroline had been just as she always was. It was Peter who had changed, who had decided that what he wanted in a wife was someone else. He had never given warning, never said they needed to change things, or work them out, he had simply told her he was leaving. If Peter hadn't given Caroline a second chance, why would he give Emma one? How could you trust a man when the very things he was telling you were the same things he was telling his wife that he had never meant?
In downtown Manhattan the streets were almost empty. People and cars moved slowly, at a weekend tempo. Peter parked in an open lot, and the three of them walked to the South Street Seaport. On the sidewalk, Amanda hung back, waiting, until Emma took one side of Peter. Then Amanda took his hand on the other side, keeping her father between them.
Peter had planned the excursion; they went first to a small marine museum. "Ship models," he explained, pleased, looking around the room. Lighted cases, each containing a tiny vessel, stood against the walls. "Aren't these neat?" he asked Amanda, full of enthusiasm.
Emma looked dubiously at a miniature ship, the intricate rigging, the tiny coiled ropes. It was ingenious, but boring. The colors were dead grays and browns, and there were no figures, no sense of life. The only energy was implied: wind and water, abstract forces. The models were like math equations, symbols of a theoretical Struggle. Intellect against nature. Suddenly Emma started to yawn. Guiltily she closed her mouth, feeling the telltale flare of her nostrils.
"They are neat," she said. "Like dollhouses," she offered.
Peter looked offended. "They're not remotely like dollhouses," he said. "Dollhouses are boring."
"What do you think, Amanda?" Emma asked.
"I like them," said Amanda staunchly, allying herself with her father. But she barely glanced at the models, and kept looking restlessly around the room. She was never still. Sliding from case to case, she was constantly in movement, lifting a shoulder, tilting her head, jogging her knee up and down, jittery, unquiet.
Beside them appeared a man and a little girl, younger than Amanda. The girl lunged suddenly toward the glass case.
"Don't touch that, Hilary," the man said sharply, tugging her back by the hand. Sulkily, the girl subsided, without answering. The man was dark haired and heavyset, with horn-rimmed glasses. His face was locked, his mouth stiff and determined. He looked indignantly at his daughter, antagonistic. He's divorced, thought Emma. She looked around the room at the little knots of people, wondering if all the single parents here were divorced. Moving sullenly past these handsome cases, each parent, each child waiting for the other to make a wrong move, to do something that would justify the anger they felt at the separation, the resentment they would never lose, the resentment at the great failure.
They went afterward to lunch, at a nautical restaurant that seemed a cross between a sailors' tavern and the interior of a ship. Thick ropes hung in ponderous loops against the walls. Within each loop, slightly off center, hung a lifesaver. The windows had thick round panes, like bottle bottoms. The oak tables and chairs were machine carved and heavily varnished.
Peter picked up the big menu and leaned back in his chair.
"Now, Amanda," he said expansively, "what are you going to have? Your favorite onion soup?" He looked at Emma and explained, "Amanda likes the onion soup here."
Emma smiled at Amanda. "I love onion soup," she said. "If you say it's good I think I'll have some myself."
Amanda shifted back and forth in her chair, frowning at the menu. She would not commit herself to an alliance with Emma. There was a pause.
"Amanda?" Peter said. "What about it? Your F.O.S.? Favorite onion soup?" There was another pause, lengthy. Amanda frowned at the menu and her mouth twisted slowly, as though she were thinking hard.
"Amanda?" Peter said again, and this third time his voice held impatience.
Still she waited. When her father opened his mouth for the fourth time, she spoke.
"No," she said, her upper lip curled meditatively. She stared at the menu, not lifting her eyes.
"No, what?" Peter said. "And stop twisting your mouth around."
"No onion soup, I bet," said Emma. "Not today. Right?" She waited. Amanda raised her eyes to Peter and nodded.
"All right," said Peter. "What would you like, then? How about a grilled cheese sandwich? That's another favorite of yours, if I recall correctly."
Again Amanda waited. This time Emma said nothing.
"Yes," said the child, looking up at her father. She had not looked at Emma once since she had first peered in at her through the car window. She closed her eyes now and shook her head self-consciously, as though a fly had landed on it. She opened her eyes and gazed fixedly at her father. There was a silence. Peter's face looked ominous, he seemed ready to speak: Amanda slowly gave him a wide, ingratiating smile, utterly false.
She doesn't like me, thought Emma, but why would she? How could she like the woman in her mother's place? Why would Amanda ever like another woman smiling at her father? She would have the wrong face, the wrong smile, the wrong smell. There would be nothing right about this woman at all. It was bad enough for her, having her father leave, without a stranger intruding into her private life.
Emma waited until the food had come, until they had eaten, to speak again to Amanda. Then She smiled at the child. "So," she said. "Do you and your daddy come here often?" As she said the word, "daddy," it sounded wrong. She wondered if that was what Amanda called her father. Any error would produce disdain.
"'Daddy?'" said Amanda, wrinkling her upper lip, as though this were a word in a strange and distasteful language. She looked near Emma's midriff, then away. She shook her head.
"Yes, you do," said Peter. "What do you mean, no, Amanda? We come here all the time." Now, having eaten, he was relaxed. "Who do you come here with often, if it's not me? I'm getting a little suspicious, here. Who is taking you around town if it's not your loving old dad?"
Amanda leaned back against the curved chairback, putting her arms along its arms and threading her fingers in and out of its rails. She buttoned her mouth firmly closed, but a smile leaked out along the edges. Against her will, her face began to soften.
"I'm going to have to look into this," said Peter, buttering a piece of his roll. He sounded firm and efficient. "I'm going to have to get my secretary onto this right away. 'Oh, Miss Jacobs,' "he said authoritatively in a gruff bass, his eyebrows knitted, "'would you find out who is taking my daughter to the restaurant at the South Street Seaport, please?'" His voice changed to a ridiculous falsetto, and he folded his hands tightly in front of him on the table. "'Certainly, Mr. Chatfield. Right away at once. On the double. Chop chop.'"
Amanda's face smoothed out entirely. Her smile was wide and delighted. She began to laugh out loud.
"Miss Jacobs is not what you call her," she said to her father firmly, "and she doesn't sound like that."
"She doesn't?" said Peter, lifting his eyebrows, astonished.
"Chop chop," said Amanda, and giggled uncontrollably. "She doesn't say that."
"Miss Jacobs says 'chop chop' almost without pause," said Peter solemnly. "There's hardly a sentence she completes that does not contain 'chop chop.'"
"Daddy," said Amanda, giggling. She flapped her hand at him once, admonitory, flirtatious.
"What?" asked Peter. "Didn't you know that about poor Miss Jacobs? It's a kind of speech impediment. 'Good morning, Mr. Chop Chop Chatfield.' That's what she says when I come in every morning. It's sad but it's true. I don't want you to mention it to her because it would be rude."
Amanda was sitting on her hands, and she rocked back and forth happily. She laughed, her body loose.
"Daddy," she repeated, shaking her head. "Mr. Chop Chop Chatfield." she said, and lapsed into giggles again, rocking deliciously in her chair, her body full of delight. Peter leaned back, smiling, easy, the tension between them suddenly gone.
Emma could see how things would be for them, driven by blame, guilt, rage. Amanda would blame her father, for leaving her, for abandoning her mother, the darling of her world, for placing this wound at the center of her life. Peter would feel guilty, he would resent Amanda's accusations. The love between them would be fierce and strangled.
There would be moments, like this one, when calm suddenly moved across them, like the eye of a hurricane. The gales and roaring would stop, and they would be blessed with silence and peace, and allowed to act out of love alone. But the storm would recommence; this would never be easy, they were embattled. Emma's heart went out to them.
Excerpted from This is My Daughter © Copyright 2005 by Roxana Robinson. Reprinted with permission by Touchstone, an impring ot Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.
This is My Daughter: A Novel
- paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Touchstone
- ISBN-10: 0684864363
- ISBN-13: 9780684864365