Sunday, May 13, 2012
Chapter Two. Rome, Day One.
While Jacob and his friend George were having their conversation downstairs, upstairs in a tiny, high-ceilinged room, May Perl sat down on the bed. Then she stood up again. Now that she could rest, all she wanted to do was stand up, half-asleep, swaying like a sapling in the wind. Her husband, Darren, came over to her and pulled her tense, tall body into an embrace. She tried to soften into his arms but felt that her sticks of limbs wouldn’t relax. He held on awhile and then let go, saying,
“You’re way too tired. I know you didn’t like hearing about Marianna being pregnant. Neither did I.”
She had nothing to say. It seemed ungracious to resent another couple’s happiness, but of course they did, given their own long struggle.
“I brought the sleeping pills,” Darren said. “You should take two. Jet lag is hard to overcome, and by our internal clocks geared to California, it’s about time to get up.”
“I don’t even want to be here,” she said. “You know I didn’t want to come. It was a really bad idea. These fertility drugs don’t mix with traveling. Or with sleeping pills.”
“You need rest. Take the pills. Come on, May, you have to sleep.”
May looked up at him with her wide gray eyes. To Darren, she looked as fresh as only a twenty-six-year-old can look, having skipped an entire night’s sleep. He wanted to loosen her long blonde braid that hung loosely down her back, but he could see she was not in a mood for being held much.
“I might go out for a walk,” she said illogically.
Darren decided that she was beyond knowing what she needed. “Okay, we can take a walk,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t know.” She slumped on the bed, long legs sprawling, leaning back to let her long, straight hair fall behind her like a curtain.
“May, just take the pills.”
“Quit bossing me!”
“You’re being impossible. Do what you want then. I’m going to sleep.”
May watched Darren go about his business with a speed and inefficiency she found more at home to his history department office than a room in the most ancient city in the Western world. He pulled his pajama bottoms out of the drawer he had already rumpled clothes into and closed the drawer, leaving a corner of a shirt caught outside. She felt the usual mix of surprise, annoyance, and attraction, watching his husky arms, covered with dark, curly hair, moving quickly. His thick head of hair and handsome face appealed to her as much they had when they met six years ago, but now his carelessness tempered her response. He wasn’t thinking about her needs.
She had annoyed him. Suddenly she relented. “I know I’m being impossible. I just feel so claustrophobic in this room. It’s got odd proportions. And those tall drapes.”
He came back to where she stood and put his arms around her again.
“Why don’t you call room service and ask for a glass of milk or some mint tea? That always helps you.”
She let the embrace pillow her fatigue and clasped his muscular back with fingers too tired for more than a couple of squeezes. What she really wanted was to talk. He should have been willing to stay up with her, because after all he did owe her for making her come on this trip.
Once again, she wished she had studied something other than architecture—English would have been useful at the moment. She was speechless, her arms as heavy as if holding bags of fatigue. “I don't even like pasta,” she had said in a club meeting when they broached the idea of going to Italy. “Roman ruins and popes are depressing. All I could possibly like there would be the properly proportioned columns.”
She remembered how the middle-aged college teachers had laughed. They didn’t understand why anyone would pass up a trip to Italy. Their jobs were tedium relieved by departmental infighting. They could not grasp the problems of a young, recession-downsized, infertile architect.
“Darren, what do you think Norman’s going to do about the guide?” she asked as she let go of him. “We really can’t pick up just anyone, it’s an art and architecture tour.”
“Well, you could do the architecture part, judging from all the books you bought on Bernini, Borromini, Michelangelo, and Brunelleschi.”
“I can’t. You heard what Norman said about needing a license. I can’t remember half of what we studied, and I sure didn’t bring any architecture books.”
“Your suitcase feels like you did.”
“Thank you for lifting it, my back really is out. I’d have left it in the airport and bought everything here, from the skin out.”
Darren smiled. He knew when he was being teased, at least by the time a smile had dawned on May’s face.
“I might as well have sold those books. What good is knowing about architecture now that no one’s building anymore?”
It wasn’t just their hopes of starting a family that were slowly being defeated, but also May's career. It also crumbling after barely launching her fourth year in a firm that designed production houses. When California’s building economy had suddenly turned off new housing like a hard-twisted tap, she was relegated to computer-drafting electrical wiring for school remodels. Everything she touched turned into Epic Fail.
Darren finished getting ready for bed and said, “I’m turning out the light, unless you want to read.”
“Try to get some sleep, May. Take a pill. Take two. You’ll need to be rested for tomorrow’s tour.”
He was asleep so quickly she wanted to shake him. She lay in bed, fully dressed, contemplating Darren’s faults. Her husband was really very willful. He had joined The Renaissance Club to add a line to his résumé and then told her it was that she needed a vacation. What she needed was a break from the doctor’s graphs and tables, the six-month course of drugs, and the surgeries he promised lay ahead. They could have signed up for adoption, but Darren was so stubborn he didn’t want a child that wasn’t “their own.”
More than wanting a child, Darren said, he wanted to see her happy again, but he ignored the fact that adopting would make her happy. He said he hoped a country full of art and history would restore the woman and the architect, but after she had studied the Renaissance, overflowing with Madonnas and cherubs—Italy seemed to promise only abundant reminders of their childlessness. And it was an embarrassing place to a woman brought up as an atheist, not to mention to a designer trained in a deconstructivist esthetic. True, her feelings could be a chemical brain warp caused by the drugs.
She wished she could stop being angry, but as she lay in the dark, she couldn’t imagine how. There was only one thing to do. May went to her suitcase and rummaged around noisily enough to wake Darren, if he had been a normal human being. At last she found what she was looking for, her stash of chocolate bars. Italy surely had fabulous food, but could it be counted on to have chocolate dark enough? She pulled out a bar, unwrapped it, ate a third, and crawled into bed in her clothes, feeling lonely, dizzy, and wretchedly confused.
At some point, she fell asleep. She woke up wide awake a few hours later, her jet-lagged system proclaiming it daytime. She took the sleeping pill.