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It was more like a plaintive howl than a scream. Visceral and primitive, the sound filled the small room and echoed down the hall, but she did not hear it as it emanated from somewhere deep in her soul. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that she asked her good friend, as they sat at the dining room table writing “thank you” notes, “Did I scream that night?”

“Well, like I said, I slapped her the first time when she was pregnant with Timmy. She must have been about six months or so along. It just . . . happened. Before I even knew what I was doing, I heard the sound of my hand slapping her cheek.” He sat for a moment, breathed heavily. “I’ll never forget that sound as long as I live. Which, according to the doctors here, won’t be much longer. And brings me to my first question.”

He stared out the window, considering the cloudless blue sky. From the bed in his third-story hospital room, he could see the tops of the trees in the parking lot below swaying softly with the light summer breeze. He wished that he could return to the marina, hose down the decks of his small vessel, and point its bow toward the San Francisco Bay. He would sail out to sea, allowing the wind to carry him and his boat in any direction it wished for as many days as he had left on earth.

He sighed deeply as he shifted his gaze back to the I.V. pole from which hung several plastic bags containing clear liquids. Three separate tubes carried the substances from the bags to his veins. He winced as he moved his left arm. Looking down, he noticed that a new bruise had developed where the nurse had unsuccessfully tried to reinsert the needle earlier in the day.

She entered the reception area, and warmly greeted the young woman stationed at the front desk.

“Hello, Angie,” she said. “How’s this semester going?”

“Great. My classes are hard, but I love my professors and I’m learning a lot,” Angie enthused. “They’re doing an art project right now.”

“Thanks,” she said as she initialed the logbook, noting the time — 3:15 p.m. Luckily, she did not have any parent-teacher conferences, teachers’ meetings or other obligations today, so she was able to leave school immediately after dismissing her students, tidying up her room, and posting tomorrow’s assignments on the blackboard. She glanced at the clock and smiled slightly as she resolved to prepare pork chops for dinner that evening. She was looking forward to a leisurely Thursday evening at home with her family.

As she walked down the hallway, she passed several brightly decorated classrooms. In one, the children were sitting in a circle on the floor, singing — or, in some cases, shouting — along with a recording. She stopped in the doorway for a moment and watched their wildly animated hand movements. The teacher turned and waved as she continued leading the enthusiastic chorus.

“So how does it really feel to be a published author?” Dana asked, as they lounged on the grassy lake shore. The mid-day sun was warm and a soft breeze occasionally rustled the water’s surface. The sky was a perfect mixture of the kind of searing blue tones that young children use in crayon drawings and randomly-scattered, soft, thin clouds.

“I’m not a published author yet,” she laughed in response.

“O.K. Fair enough. You’re a purchased author,” was Dana’s jolly retort. “I want to know all the details about how it feels to know that your novel is going to be on the shelves of all your favorite bookstores . . . all over the country, no less . . . in just a few . . . weeks?”

“I’m not sure exactly how long it will be,” she explained. “They said it should be a few weeks, but their lawyers are pouring over every word, checking all of my research. So it depends on how long that process takes to complete.”

“Blood-sucking lawyers,” Dana snorted. “Why do they have to be involved in publishing a novel, anyway?”

“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said. Not one.” He sighed deeply, completely exasperated and exhausted.

“Yes, I have. I understand what you’re saying. I do,” she responded. “I told you — I agree with you. We’ve gotten into a rut. A lot of couples go through this after they have kids. We just need to work harder at being a couple — the way we used to be.”

She ran her fingers through his hair as she spoke. He did not reciprocate, sitting perfectly still, his expression a mixed of astonishment and bewilderment.

“We just need to try harder to carve out time for ourselves,” she continued as she tried to wrap her leg around his under the small square table at which they were seated in the window of the Barnes and Noble store.

“Why do you think I asked you to meet me here?” he asked quietly.

“So that we could get out of the house by ourselves for a while, of course,” she replied. “I think it was a great idea, too,” she gushed as she sipped her latte. “It’s nice to be here without the kids for a little while, sitting on the grown-up chairs and not having to read to someone else. We’re not in a hurry, right? You got Andrea to babysit for the whole evening, didn’t you? Because I would really like to pick up the new selection for Oprah’s book club. Margie says she has already read it and it’s wonderful. And then I was hoping we could have dinner and maybe later . . . ” her voice trailed off as she reached for his hand, but he pulled away, pretending to search for something in the pocket of his jacket.


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