Chapter Eight

One day when my mother was out at a meeting my father picked me up at school.

“Max, I want you to meet someone.”

We drove through the suburban streets to larger thoroughfares, quite a long way. I didn’t know this part of the city, so I was excited. We stopped in the driveway of a small two-story house surrounded by identical houses in different colors. There was a small foreign car in the driveway.

Dad rang the doorbell. The door was opened almost immediately by a woman dressed in slacks and a loose silk shirt.

“Max!” she cried. “I’m so glad to meet you at last.” She pulled me to her and hugged me. “You’re every bit as handsome as everybody says you are.”

I didn’t know what to do, so I smiled. She led us into a living room which seemed surprisingly spacious, given the small size of the house. It was decorated in a way I had never seen before and couldn’t understand.

“He’s looking at my antiques,” she said to my father. “They must look strange to him.”

Without kissing her or shaking her hand my father sat down on one of the couches.

“Those are antiques, Max,” he said. “Furniture from a long time ago. Nancy is an antique dealer.”

“That’s me, Max. Nancy,” she said, sitting down beside me. “Would you like something to drink? Water? Coke?”

“He likes coke,” my father offered.

Nancy got up and held out her hand. “Come on, Max, I’ll show you the kitchen.”

She had a crisp, professional air that charmed me. She was wearing sandals with low heels. Her toenails were painted. I liked that. You know how much I like girls. I like women just as much. Her hair was frosted in some way, and looked very sleek. I noticed her make-up, which had obviously been applied with a lot of care.

I didn’t draw the obvious conclusion that she made herself up this way for my father. I just thought this was a lady he knew.

She let me get the ice cubes. I put them in a tall plastic glass. She handed me the coke can. “Can you open that?” I took it and opened it.

She brought two glasses of what appeared to be iced tea into the living room.

“Max, look what I’ve got for you,” she said. She pulled a coloring book and a box of crayons from the drawer of the end table. “I know you’re a champion crayon artist. Why don’t you draw a picture?”

I sat down on the floor with my coke and began drawing.

“He has your eyes,” she said to my father.

“So did Bethany,” Dad said.

“Yes. Yes, I know,” she said, a note of commiseration flowing smoothly through her voice. I looked up to see that her welcoming smile had also faded tactfully as my dead sister was mentioned.

“He’s very handsome,” she said.

“He knows it,” Dad said. “The girls are wild about him.”

“And smart.”

“Oh, yes,” my father agreed.

There was a silence. I could feel their eyes on me. Something about the situation was funny, but I couldn’t figure it out. I liked her already, and I liked the strange, exotic appearance of her house. I decided not to think too much about any of it.

They talked quietly of what seemed to be business matters, using expressions like “IRA,” “401K,” — which were Greek to me. My father looked much more relaxed than at home. But not the way he looked when he took me to the park. There was something guarded about his friendliness to Nancy. Something divided.

I drew a picture of her and her antique couch, with its mahogany wings and brass-studded cushions. When I finished I handed it to her. She was sitting forward on the edge of the couch, looking alertly, cheerfully at me.

“That’s beautiful, Max!” She held the picture respectfully, then showed it to my father. “He’s quite an artist.” I had captured her frosted hair and painted nails, as well as the odd shape of the couch.

“How about some popcorn?” she asked me. “I know you love popcorn.”

“We’d better go,” my father said. “Karen will be getting home.”

“I’m so glad you stopped by,” she said, standing up. “It was good of you to introduce me to Max.”

She shook my hand gently. I got a closer look at her eyes, which were greenish-grey, surrounded by an eye make-up calculated to highlight their color. Her scent was interesting. Not like what my mother wore, or the teachers. There was something foreign about it, something exotic.

She stood in the doorway waving as we drove away. I waved to her. My father didn’t.

“Well, Max,” he asked, “what did you think of Nancy?”

I can’t talk, so I didn’t say anything. He glanced at me briefly, then looked back at the road.

“She’s a nice lady,” he said. “I know she liked you. I could see that.”

I had seen it too. I hoped I would see her again. She was very attractive, and I love attractive women.