I was mad at Harold and he was exasperated with me. This morning, before we picked my mother up, he had said, “You should pay for the exterminators, because Mirugai is your cat and so they’re your fleas. It’s only fair.” None of our friends could ever believe we fight over something as stupid as fleas, but they would also never believe that our problems are much, much deeper than that, so deep I don’t even know where the bottom is. And now that my mother is here . . . we have to pretend nothing is the matter.
I love my work when I don’t think about it too much. And when I do think about it, how much I get paid, how hard I work, how fair Harold is to everybody except me, I get upset. So really, we’re equals, except that Harold makes about seven times more than what I make. He knows this, too, because he signs my monthly check, and then I deposit it into my separate checking account. Lately, however, this business about being equals started to bother me. It’s been on my mind, only I didn’t really know it, I just felt a little uneasy about something.
But now, how could my mother not notice that we were living together, that this was serious and would not go away even if she didn’t talk about it. She would have to say something. I went to the closet and then came back with a mink jacket that Rich had given me for Christmas. It was the most extravagant gift I had ever received. . . . “This is not so good,” she said at last. “It is just leftover strips. And the fur is too short, no long hairs.”
I worried for Rich. Because I knew my feelings for him were vulnerable to being felled by my mother’s suspicions, passing remarks, and innuendos. And I was afraid of what I would then lose, because Rich Schields adored me in the same way I adored Shoshana. His love was unequivocal. Nothing could change it. He expected nothing from me; my mere existence was enough. And at the same time, he said that he had changed—for the better—because of me.
When I offered Rich a fork, he insisted on using the slippery ivory chopsticks. He held them splayed like the knock-kneed legs of an ostrich while picking up a large chunk of sauce-coated eggplant. Halfway between his plate and his open mouth, the chunk fell on his crisp white shirt and then slid into his crotch. . . . And then he had helped himself to big portions of the shrimp and snow peas, not realizing he should have taken only a polite spoonful, until everybody had had a morsel.