Nothing, Darling, Only Darling, Darling
“Who died and made you boss,” Sadie asked Jack, and he answered, “Nobody. Everybody. How do you make somebody boss when you’re dead, anyhow?”
Not everybody was dead, just a handful of significant people. Sadie’s parents; Jack’s sister Fiona; most recently, Jack’s nephew, blond Thomas of the passions, who’d gone to study piano in Poland and had stepped off a building at half past ten in the morning. He was twenty-seven.
It was Thomas’s death that convinced Sadie that she and Jack should finally marry. Without marriage, what was Thomas to her? She’d known him since childhood, a wiggling, insinuating, wonderful boy, a puppy, a darling; she’d known and loved him in every incarnation. As a small child, he liked to be tickled; as a teenager, he hated haircuts and wore his daffodil hair like a veil he intended to never lift; as a young man, he developed a love of organized runs in which you had to crawl through mud and allow yourself to be shocked with live wires. It was not so much to know about a person, though enough to recognize a taste for obliteration. But without marriage, he was, at his death, Jack’s nephew, not hers. So they would marry at last, and Jack would arrange everything, because Sadie, while not a reluctant wife, was—at thirty-nine—a very reluctant bride.
Twenty years, or nearly. She had grown stout, and he furious; but to be fair, they’d tended in those directions all their lives. She would have been happy to marry at City Hall, but Jack’s parents, Michael and Irene Valert, astonishingly alive in their grief in Sussex, had suggested a ceremony in the church at the end of their drive. “Does your family have money,” Sadie had asked the first time she’d seen the former rectory his parents lived in. “Used to,” Jack answered. But this was more than residual money. In America, if you used to have money, you probably had a relative or a former accountant in jail, and you lived in a two-bedroom apartment miles from the city of your dreams. The Valerts’ house was the sort of place you’d rent in America for a single day in order to have that vulgar thing, a storybook wedding, to prepare yourself for the reality of married life.
Why not? Sadie had no relatives left to horrify with a church wedding. The Valerts had lost a child and lost a grandchild, and this was something that could be given. She thought of it in a practical way—she didn’t even plan to invite friends to come over from the States—not knowing how Jack would take to it, the sentimental asshole, how much he wanted an English wedding. His parents had lived seventeen years in America, during which time they’d had him, their last child, and developed a hatred of the country. Not developed, it wasn’t brand new, but now their hatred was expert. They’d repatriated when Jack went to college, and seemed like zoo animals stymied by the offspring they’d had in captivity.
She always forgot how some aspects of England were so English, so very Masterpiece Theatre: in order to get married in the village church, Sadie had to live with the elder Valerts for three weeks so that she might be registered as a Spinster of the Parish. Then the banns would be read, whatever that meant. Jack, on the other hand, could be where he pleased. What pleased him—“I have to,” he said, apologetically—was to go to Coventry, to an academic conference on Puppetry in Medieval Mystery Plays. So for the first week of Sadie’s parish spinsterhood, she slept alone on one of the twin beds of the Valerts’ guest room and was woken every day at 3:30 a.m., which was, perversely, when dawn broke in Sussex in July. It wasn’t the light that woke her but the birds that saw the light and began laughing. Screeching. Saying in avian syllables designed to lacerate the eardrum, Well, you wanted to get married!
By the time Jack returned, his father was not speaking to Sadie for obscure reasons. Or not obscure: she didn’t plan to change her name, or to wear a white dress, or to promise (as the outdated copy of the Book of Common Prayer he gave her suggested) to be “sober, quiet, and obedient.”
“I might manage two of those at a time,” she said. “But never all three simultaneously.” He didn’t think that was funny. She hadn’t known what a wedding meant in England: hats and child attendants and a dinner party to celebrate their engagement at which the women had to actually leave the dining room before the port was passed. No doubt they’d all voted for Brexit. “You don’t have to obey,” said Michael Valert, “but I hope you’ll consider children, I hope you’re not so liberated as all that.” Then, with a depth of feeling that startled her, he said, “I think we could all use something to look forward to.”
They were joined in the church by a young rector with the booming voice of an old prophet, or actor, or train conductor, or possibly rector—Sadie had no experience with rectors. She knelt before him and thought of how much her little Yiddishe mama would have hated to see her do it. Then she stood and they were married.
A month later, they were in Holland, in Amsterdam. Jack and Sadie, honeymooners, newlyweds, middle-aged. Jack’s phone said aloud, in its sexy English accent, “Prepare to turn right.”
“But are you?” Sadie asked. “Prepared.”
“I didn’t think so.” She hooked her arm in his. With his free arm, he pulled along their thunking suitcase.
They were staying in a houseboat across from the Anne Frank House.
“Does it move?” she asked.
“Does it move?” He’d always had a way of repeating her questions back, sometimes with love and sometimes with contempt and sometimes with wonder at the question itself. That was the case now. “No, I don’t—it must be moored.”
“Prepare to turn right,” said the phone. Then, “Turn right.”
Canal after canal, bakery after souvenir shop. You couldn’t deny it: Holland was Dutch.
“Looks good,” said Jack, examining a menu outside a café, “we should come back,” but Sadie was looking at the canal in front of them.
“I like a canal,” she said.
“You hated Venice.”
“Yes. True. Let Venice sink! Are we almost there?”
“Nearly. Prinsegracht. That’s our address.”
Houseboats all along the canal. Jack had asked his Dutch brother-in-law, Piet, for advice on where to stay, but Piet was from Rotterdam, had gone back there after his wife’s death, insisted that Amsterdam was a Mickey Mouse city. “Come to Rotterdam,” Piet said, and they would, after Amsterdam.
There it was: a white houseboat. It looked good, but you never really knew till you got in. Jack texted the landlady, and they went to a nearby bar to wait for her. When you fly overnight to Europe, you’re allowed to have beer for breakfast. That was one of their inviolable rules.
Beer for breakfast was what they had instead of children: trips to Europe every three years, indulgence. In nearly twenty years, they had lived through the varieties of international practicalities: traveler’s checks, phone cards, Internet cafés—how devoted they’d been to Internet cafés!—paying for wireless in coffee shops, cheap burner phones they topped up in shady convenience stores, and now: nothing. Their phone company offered unlimited data, even abroad. Their debit cards conjured euros from an ATM at the airport, and their credit cards had no international transaction fees. They would never be lost. They still could be cheated.
Occasionally, Sadie thought about the life they might have had with children. No better, probably. She was nearly forty. A child was unlikely but, yes, you elderly Valerts, technically possible, none of your business. Jack was forty-six, his possibilities undimmed, except for those that involved fame and fortune. They’d chosen Amsterdam so that they could see Piet afterward, and because it was a city they had no memories of. They lived in America and wished they lived elsewhere. They’d always thought they might someday. Now elsewhere, geopolitically speaking, was narrowing to England, which was, according to Jack, as bad as where they were. Surely not, said Sadie. “I wish it weren’t,” said Jack.
Another reason to be legally married: the despots of the world still cared about things like that. She and Jack might need proof they belonged together.
The landlady was a tall woman in her fifties, in a black, crocheted cap shaped like a riding helmet. “Welcome!” she said as they crossed the street to the quay, pausing for a woman in a business suit on a bicycle, a dreadlocked white man on a bicycle, the handsomest old man Sadie had ever seen on a bicycle. “I am Cari. Your first time in Holland?”
“Yes,” said Sadie.
“Yes,” said Jack. “Well, I was here as a kid.”
“Goot!” said Cari. “The lock!” She brandished a key on a small block of wood, cupped the padlock on the boat’s hatch, fit them together, looked first at Jack and then at Sadie to see if they understood this mystery: key, lock, access. They nodded.
She pulled up the hatch to reveal a small ladder down and announced, “You must always go backwards,” while descending forward. “Two hands. Here we go.”
The inside of the boat was beautiful, painted in thick, white, blurring paint. The sofa was white, the floor, the cabinets. The room was bigger than their living room at home, though low ceilinged, with a line of square windows on either side. The decorative pillows were pony patterned. Cari began to open cupboards.
“You have a dishwasher, refrigerator. At night, you put the padlock on the inside of the hatch; when you leave, on the outside. Garbage, you deliver to the bridge—well, at any rate, it is all here.” She patted a binder.
“It’s lovely,” said Jack.
“Yes, it is,” said Cari. She looked around the room. “It is very lovely.”
She shook their hands, and then went up the ladder and out the hatch. “Shall I close?” she called down. “You have the lock!”
“Yes, please,” said Jack.
The rules: Beer for breakfast. Stow your passports. Unpack immediately. Sadie sat on the sofa.
“Don’t fall asleep!” Jack said.
The bed was beneath the wheelhouse, king-size, on a shelf. Jack reckoned he would only just be able to sit up in it, though Sadie would have no problem. Another rule: in any bed, in any part of the world, they took their habitual sides, no matter how splendid or miserable. In this case, Sadie would face the water, and he the stone wall. That was all right.
He climbed the little ladder to the right of the bed up to the old wheelhouse, now a sitting area with benches and a tiny bar and a framed picture of Anne Frank. Windows all around. To his right, people walked along the quay and dodged cyclists; ahead, a huge church; to his left, the Anne Frank House, or the buildings surrounding the Anne Frank House, the front building that had always hidden it, the modern addition for admissions, with its gift shop and café.
Life was rotten, he thought, but happily, because Amsterdam was excellent, cold, the sky blue, his wife-by-law beer-sleepy in a boat, he in a glass box, ready to be admired. Look at that man! He rented a boat for his wife!
You might change your life at any moment; they had. They could continue to. Before they’d met, Sadie was unpassported, untraveled: Europe, Jack thought (grandly, accurately), was a present he’d given her. To move is to change. Even if they had a child—this was his secret, that he’d begun to dream of children—they could tuck the kid under one arm and keep going. What could ever stop them from traveling, in this wide world? Plenty, it turned out: themselves, the world itself.
Downstairs, Sadie had already taken off her shoes and was reading a book on the elegant sectional sofa.
“How is it?” he asked.
“What’s it about?”
“Not sure about that, either.” She put it aside. “Nice boat. Deluxe. Good job.”
“It is nice, isn’t it? Wait till you see the wheelhouse. Well done, me,” he said.
“Well done, you,” she answered.
He began to unpack the suitcase, putting his shirts in one little cupboard and Sadie’s dresses in another. He stepped into the bathroom to set out the cosmetic case—“Heated floors!” he said delightedly, unsure whether that was something one should take delight in—and returned to her.
“Here,” he said.
“You packed my slippers!” They were gray and lined with artificial fur of a nearly malign softness. He knelt and slipped them onto her feet with pantomime uxoriousness.
“I thought you might be happy to have them,” he said. “I like your hair.”
“What color would you call that?”
“Amethyst,” she said. She’d had it done once they were married, once nobody could disapprove. “That’s what the girl called it. I thought I was too old.”
“You’re not,” he said severely. “Maybe I’ll dye my hair amethyst. Carnelian. Agate.”
That was a joke. His hair was the sort of thick, silvery gray that made people say, of men, He’s aged well. He said again, “You’re not too old.”
“And yet here I am in my bedroom slippers.” She closed her eyes in pleasure. “You’ve been here before?”
“When I was a teenager.”
“Oh. You didn’t say.”
“My father accidentally walked us through the red-light district. It was a traumatic experience. We should probably go out,” he said. “So we don’t fall asleep.”
“But it’s so nice on our boat,” said Sadie, stretching like the housecat she was. “How’s the bed?”
“The bed is also nice.”
“It’s our honeymoon,” she said. “Let’s go to bed.”
They woke up—an hour later? three?—daylight out the window by Sadie’s head. Porthole, she thought. But square: did portholes have to be round? Her feet were hot. She was wearing her slippers and nothing else. She felt—glad. She wasn’t sure gladness was an emotion she was familiar with. Happiness and joy, yes, durable, recognizable; gladness was thinner than that, historical, but useful. A shim to even out a wobbly, sad table. She was glad they were in Amsterdam. She was glad they had married.
“That’s the Anne Frank Hoos,” said Jack, pointing across her body.
“Hu-ees. I don’t speak Dutch.”
“You certainly don’t.”
“We should go out in the world,” he said, and kissed her shoulder.
He wore a green shirt that she’d ordered for him off the Internet, intended for a Norwegian cheesemonger, and a pair of corduroys of a color he’d favored since he was four, brownish red. She wore a flowered, Swedish dress bought in New York City.
“Quite picturesque for a bridge where you leave garbage,” he said as they stopped at its peak. They looked down at the moored barges on the margins of the canal and the tourist barges gliding down the middle.
“Where are the pot dealers?” said Sadie. “Where are the sex workers?”
“In the red-light district.”
“Poor kid,” she said, a cheek on his bicep, he was so much taller than she, “were you scarred for life?”
“You tell me, doctor,” he said.
“What time does the Anne Frank House close?” she asked. “Maybe we could go there now.”
“Not sure. Let’s see.”
But it turned out the Anne Frank House sold tickets only online, it said so on the doors around the side; and when Jack checked on his phone, he discovered it was booked up for two weeks. “Dammit. But it says they release some tickets every day. We’ll try tomorrow. I guess we should have done some research.”
“Never,” she said, because they never did, not ahead of time. Never consulted a guidebook, combed through a website (except for accommodation). They were exactly the same in this respect: one of the pleasures of their life together, their love of happenstance. How, when traveling, they congratulated themselves on their luck.
They got a free tourist map from a nearby souvenir shop and examined the spiderweb of blocks and canals of central Amsterdam.
“We avoid this,” said Jack, pointing to the center.
“But what if we want to go to a sex show?” she said.
But what if? she thought.
Sadie had somehow not bothered to imagine the city at all, beyond bicycles and picturesque houses, though she had an image in her head of the red-light district left over from high school: a friend said she’d passed the prostitutes in their windows, which Sadie had imagined as ordinary residential windows, with sashes; she could see women in lingerie resting their breasts on the sills.
They walked along the canal, past little design stores and more souvenir shops. The sunset was peachy, blue, a parfait, perfect. Every bar was their ideal bar. They went into a lit-up grocery store for supplies and walked out, swinging the white plastic bags on their wrists. They crossed again in front of the Anne Frank House.
“We’ll crack you!” said Jack, and then, “Jesus, listen to the man.” He stopped. “Do you feel different?”
“Oh, that. No,” she said.
“That’s because your parents are alive.”
He didn’t say anything to that.
“Poor Thomas,” said Sadie suddenly. “Poor Robin.” Robin was Thomas’s twin brother.
“Poor all of us,” said Jack.
There was a liquor store around the corner, selling mulled wine from the sort of stainless-steel, suburban samovar that she remembered from elementary-school functions. “This is very good,” the shopkeeper promised them, working the spigot. He was in his forties, with a saddlebag goatee, wider at the bottom. “This will make you love each other truly.”
“What if we already love each other truly?” asked Jack.
“Why, I don’t know,” said the shopkeeper. “You’d be the first in my shop.”
The walls were lined with bottles. Jack pulled a Dutch liqueur from a shelf. “My father would appreciate this place,” he said, and just then an American man walked in, looked around, and said, “Do you sell bread?”
“Do I sell bread?” the shopkeeper said. “Do I sell bread? Look around you, man! What sort of place do you believe you have found yourself in? No, no, don’t go away, you’re in luck—we have here on exhibition a mythical creature: the man and wife in truly love with each other. Look!” said the shopkeeper. “Marvel!”
“I love my wife,” said the bread-seeking American.
“No,” said the shopkeeper, “you don’t.”
In the middle of the night, Sadie jolted awake. It took a moment to realize that the dark, dazzled field she was looking at was the surface of the canal. Nobody was on the street in front of the Anne Frank House. Wait. Here came a man and woman, walking along, no idea that Sadie was watching. She felt like a character in a European movie: Perhaps the couple would dance. Perhaps one would murder the other, then toss the body in the canal. They kept on without talking. She looked at the water. A glittering something floated winkingly along, sparkling, Tinker Bell gone for a dip—no, a slowly turning plastic bottle.
She’d lied: she did feel different married, in an entirely practical way. For all the years of their life together, they’d never fully merged their finances—she’d arrived with debts, student and credit card, which she’d felt ashamed of, and burdened by—and she’d had a series of jobs, never particularly lucrative: working at oddball magazine after oddball magazine, writing for an alternative alternative newspaper—the actual alternative newspaper, the good one, had folded years ago—and lately she was teaching editing at Bunker Hill Community College. Jack had tenure at BU, and was kindly, and paid for most things. She hated the kindliness. Perhaps they would apply for joint everything, but no matter: now, if they divorced, she could get some of his money. She had no plans to, but she wondered at the thought of it. They were family. She could demand things of him, because they were also hers.
“Goddammit,” said Jack in the morning, sitting in a white chair in the white kitchen, peering at his phone.
“What’s the matter?”
“Fucking Anne Frank,” he said to be funny, then thought better of it, “House. I’m about the thousandth in line to buy tickets for today.” He showed her the screen, the animation of a stick figure walking.
“That doesn’t sound promising.”
“It doesn’t. I already bought tickets for the Van Gogh Museum. Everything’s timed. Shall I make you a coffee, darling?”
“Yes, please.” She read her book while Jack stared at his phone and made a coffee in the little humming coffee maker. The book had been recommended by a friend, and Sadie found it simultaneously fascinating and boring, a near and mere transcript of life. She wasn’t sure she hated the book, but she hated books like it, though she’d never read any of them—they were international, these books, Norwegian and English and Irish and Canadian, novels in which people bought coffee and had long conversations and felt sorry for themselves and reached no conclusions. How we live now, if by we you meant white people without much in the way of money problems. She, Sadie, was one of these people. Perhaps if she’d read it at home, she would have been riveted. Or perhaps she was riveted: she kept picking it up to read it, to see if anything had happened while she’d been away, she missed it in a way she didn’t miss other books.
“You want milk in this?” Jack asked.
“I got cream,” she said.
“I am sorry to report,” said Jack, “that you got buttermilk.”
“Oh. I should have known. Milk’s great, thank you.”
“Goddammit,” said Jack, looking at his phone.
“This whole building is pitching,” Sadie said to Jack, of the Van Gogh Museum. It was a new, shining building, crammed with people, near the Rijksmuseum. The houseboat did move, it turned out, a gentle rocking from side to side, barely noticeable onboard, that got into your inner ear and knocked you off-balance later.
“I think we were lucky to get tickets,” said Jack.
“I might have to sit down. You don’t feel it?”
He tilted his head, to think, to recalibrate. “No.”
They hadn’t realized that the paintings were displayed in chronological order, and they accidentally started at the top, at the very end, not at Van Gogh’s death but at his brother Theo’s, which followed months after Vincent’s suicide, in an asylum.
“I hadn’t known that,” said Sadie. “I thought he was the steady one.”
“Me, too,” said Jack. He thought of Thomas—it seemed foolish to have come here, all things considered—and also of Thomas’s twin, Robin, who’d attended their wedding but had left before the meal; a nice man, Robin, ordinary, as Thomas had never been.
Everyone had been so devastated by Thomas’s death that Jack felt he should lock up his own sorrow. There was something in him that always deferred to other people in this way, he measured his own grief and found it smaller, something that could be tended to later: he had a cactus soul, he sometimes thought, it needed water, too, but it could wait. When Sadie’s mother died, of course, he deferred to Sadie; when Fiona died, to his parents, and to Piet; when Thomas died, to everyone in the family, but then, too, to Sadie. His own grief was larded with helplessness, with the certainty that he was wrong to live so far from his family, that he had abdicated his position accidentally. The wedding had helped with that, but it was past, and he felt now with the force of a premonition worry over Robin, Robin the ordinary, Robin the sturdy. He worked for an estate agent in the Cotswolds, and Jack wanted to pull up Robin’s Facebook page, to check in. He got his phone out.
“Not here,” said Sadie. “Let’s just look at the art for now. Do you think we should start at the beginning?”
“No,” said Jack. “Let’s fight the current.”
Stick to your mistake. They rewound Van Gogh’s life. The colors got more ordinary. A certain, uninteresting prettiness asserted itself. A child was born, and then another.
There was nothing alarming on Robin’s Facebook page, once Jack checked, but also nothing recent. He tried the Anne Frank House again. He was 276th in line, better, even hopeful, though soon enough he got the same message, that tickets were sold out and he should try again later. He waited in line for the Anne Frank House at the Monday Market; at the Café de Prins, where they drank beer and ate bitterballen. He waited as they accidentally walked into the edge of the red-light district, he hadn’t even noticed: they were going to see the Oude Kerk and passed by a bunch of women in their windows, a whole row curving around the back of the church. Not the ordinary, second-story windows that Sadie had imagined, the women leaning out as though in kissing booths, but plate glass windows at ground level, so you could see all of them in their platonically ideal lingerie, bustiers, stockings, garters, human women, just like her. Once, she had seen a pigeon at a zoo, looking at an emu. Jack was poking at his phone. He waited in line at dinner at a café devoted to the memory of a 1930s singer who had clearly been very famous in the Netherlands: every wall covered in pictures of him, black and white, his mouth open, his eyes sorrowful at his words but filled with pleasure at the sound of his voice; below, on the checked tablecloth, little wooden boats of mayonnaise sailed to the edge of the map. Jack waited in line at breakfast, at the Rembrandt House—where you could just walk in, and which, like all of dry land, heaved around Sadie. She wanted to go back to the boat, to read, to drink wine, to peer out at Amsterdam.
The way Jack looked at his phone reminded her of the bad few years, a decade before, when he’d suddenly become obsessed with scratch tickets, a dedicated, niche, problematic gambler. What he liked was to hold the ticket in one hand, a quarter in the other, and concentrate. Suspense, but not too much. Occasional reward, enough to keep you going, to reinvest. He spent thousands of dollars, two bucks at a time. His money, his money entirely, she couldn’t say anything, but she did. “You have to stop!” “I know.” “This isn’t like you.” He might remember to throw away the spent tickets—though first he had to check them again, to make sure he really had, he had lost—but the material he scratched off (What was it called? What was it made of? Was it safe to inhale? On the tickets, it looked silver; but rubbed off, it was gray.), it was everywhere, excretory, snotty.
Now he looked at his phone with the same arrogant hope, the same handsome panic, as though whatever happened would prove his worth, at least for the next twenty-four hours.
So many shopwindows in Amsterdam were pleasing at a distance but dizzying close up, whole windows of Delft: tiles, mugs, clogs, towering tulip vases, figurines. There was no better blue, but even it couldn’t make everything classy.
“I like the rabbit,” said Jack.
“The rabbit with the x-ed-out mouth,” she said.
“Those’re whiskers, surely.”
“Miffy,” she said. “That’s the rabbit’s name.”
“You don’t like it.”
“It’s twee,” she said.
“You’re an American. You don’t even know what twee is.”
“You’re an American,” she said. Then, “OK, what does it mean?”
“It’s—it’s like wet,” he said. “To describe somebody who’s dim. Americans don’t know what wet means because you’re all wet.”
“You’re all wet,” she said. “You’re all twee. Prezzies. Sammies. Mozzies. The English are twee,” she said suddenly and with passion. She’d never believed in anything so deeply. She’d hated tweeness her entire life, the cutesy, the sweet, the things that couldn’t wound you. She’d rather be dull than twee. “You have to be from a small country to be twee. I’m from a large one. You like puppets.”
“All right,” he said. “OK. It’s all right.” He put an arm around her, and they started walking. “I don’t want to go back to America.”
“Me, neither. I have work Monday.”
“God,” said Jack, whose semester didn’t start for weeks. “I wish I knew what to do. Where to live.”
“Live where you live,” she said. “With your wife.”
“Yes, with you,” he said. He got his phone out again. He thought about calling his sister Katie, the twins’ mother, but he couldn’t figure out what to say: she didn’t need his premonitions. He pulled up the website for the Anne Frank House—they were passing in front of it, maybe there would be a last-minute, end-of-day ticket.
“Can we sit a moment?” he said.
“It might not happen,” said Sadie.
“You have to believe it will.”
“It’s OK if it doesn’t.”
“It’s not!” he said. He looked at the grand, modern entrance built onto the nineteenth-century, Dutch one. A glass front with heavy doors, the new and pristine lobby visible. Anything Anne Frank had touched hidden.
There was nobody waiting in line with their timed tickets, just a young, bespectacled guard with a walkie-talkie strapped to her shoulder. A father approached with his daughter. The daughter was ten, perhaps, or eleven, and dressed in a way that would in a few years seem louche but now seemed like a costume: mismatched socks, Mary Janes, black pants, a piebald cardigan falling off one shoulder, a beret. She looked bookish and doomed; she was just coming into glamour. The guard shrugged and smiled.
The father was speaking English. Jack could just hear him, gesturing to his daughter, Little girl, end of day, any chance? The guard hesitated, then held up a single finger and began to talk into her walkie-talkie. You could see the man and child take one another’s hand, to silently tell each other, Hold still. It might happen. It could happen. We only had to ask.
Jack said it aloud, “No,” and then he stood. If it were possible, if exceptions were to be made—
The guard glanced up and saw Jack and turned to the father. With great regret, she shook her head.
“I’m sorry.” She gestured at the encroaching Jack. “You understand.”
“Oh no!” said the little girl. Already, she was assembling a stoic expression, the sort that takes muscle, to hold back her tears. She was a well-brought-up child. She straightened her crooked cardigan, took off her hat, examined the inside. For God’s sake, she even had a notebook under her arm.
“Thanks for ruining it,” the father said to Jack.
“I didn’t ruin it!” said Jack.
“You ruined it,” the man said darkly. “You did. You ruined it.”
Sadie and Jack crossed the garbage bridge in silence. He fidgeted with the key on its wooden block. “You did ruin it,” said Sadie quietly.
The liquor store was shut up. The Cheese Museum was in full swing.
“Let’s go to dinner,” said Jack.
“I want to read my book.”
“You hate that book.”
“That’s right, I do.”
“We can try again tomorrow. You have to see it.”
“Hand to God, the way you want me to see the Anne Frank House is starting to feel anti-Semitic.” Instantly, she regretted saying it, which was how she knew it was true. Not his feeling, but hers.
“That’s not funny,” he said.
“I know,” she said, with a dreadful smile.
“Sadie, I want to have a child.”
At first, she thought he meant, I’m leaving you. But it was more preposterous and heartbreaking than that. He’d always been more bourgeois than she.
“Let’s do it,” he said. “Let’s just—let’s get carried away on our honeymoon.”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“Human biology. It’s not—I’m about to get my period.”
“So let’s stop it.”
“Do you know anything about women’s bodies?”
“You’re mean,” he said. “It’s not too late. For a child. We’re at a fork in the road.”
They began to walk toward their boat. They were holding hands. She felt, with great certainty, that the road had already forked. She could not back up. Two roads diverged in a wood, and she had missed the divergence, gone bumbling on, and that was fine.
“You don’t want a baby,” she said. “Your parents want a baby. You’re too old to care so much about what they want.”
He released her hand and strode ahead. All week, he’d slowed his pace to hers, she realized now.
When she caught up, he was unlocking the hatch, but furiously—she worried he’d drop the key in the canal. “That is not fair,” he said, “that’s not fair, that’s not fair.” There had to be a better phrase. “That is so not fair.” He pulled the hatch up. “Go ahead,” he told her, and she went down the little ladder the forbidden way, facing forward, so that she wouldn’t have to look back at him.
She went straight to the bedroom, slid into the bed, turned on the lamp with its elf-cap shade, and began to read in her usual state of irritation—good God, nothing would ever happen in this book, maybe she should chuck it in the canal—so she was at first only dimly aware of the sound of the hatch lowering, and the padlock clucking shut, but with a different cluck than usual, because it was clucking from the outside.
Jack had locked her in.
Well, he thought, once he’d closed the hasp and slid the shackle home, that, maybe, maybe that is anti-Semitic.
His phone rang. He assumed it was Sadie, realizing what he’d done: He’d locked his wife in a boat as punishment for being insufficiently interested in Anne Frank. For being insufficiently interested in his feelings. It was a malady of marriage. His malady, he understood. Maybe he could give the boat a kick and send it down the canal, off to the Low Countries, whatever those were. The phone was ringing. He answered it.
“It’s Katie,” said his youngest older sister. She was crying.
He hoped it was one of his parents, knew it was not.
Inside the boat, Sadie told herself, I am not a vengeful person, but—
It was six o’clock, the evening before they were to depart. How could they salvage this trip? This honeymoon? She could see people across the canal. Eventually—if he did not come back (he would come back)—she could open the window, the porthole, and call for help. The very thought of it made her feel shy, and the shyness turned to anger. I am not a vengeful person, she told herself, and she opened the porthole. She decided to send a message.
The first thing would be his underpants, striped orange, knit, she was very fond of them, pants, Jack called them, there were certain things he could call only by their English names, things essential to childhood, pants and trousers and biscuits and pudding. Should she throw out his things piece by piece, or all at once? Do your best, she told herself.
But then there was Jack at the foot of the bed, phone in the flat of his hand. She could not interpret the look on his face. “You’re kidding me,” she said, because what else could the phone mean? But he shook his head. She let go of the underpants. She went to her husband.
She loved puppets, too, of course she did. Before, and during, and even after, she loved them, those dear beings—twee, of course they were, which was what made them dear—who died of abandonment over and over. And then were resurrected.