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The night Paul left he threw a scene of broken bottles, smashed picture frames, a scattering of pills flung across the bathroom floor like tiny teeth, white, yellow, red — in general the typical rubble that flows in the wake of any kingdom’s collapse. The night Paul left, after he left, after she turned back on all the lights she’d already that night flicked off and sat there, at the kitchen table, waiting, not knowing what but knowing something, Laura posted the first listing she had made in the over eight years that she’d been married to Paul. At the bottom of the listing she typed her phone number, Laura Oswald, and, below her name, Welcome Home At Last — a stupid phrase she remembered using, a kind of slogan she had intended to develop before Paul said her work was interfering with their lives and that was it. But she couldn’t remember if “at last” was part of the slogan, if maybe she was just making it up now. Or was it Home At Last? Welcome Home, which is here, where you are. Home, at last.
The enamel cameo pendant of a lady hung from a gold-plated chain that was threaded through a narrow halo angled just over the enamel lady’s head. Etched, likely done by a machine, identical to hundreds, maybe thousands of others — who knew how many of these things were pumped out? — the pale oval face, Laura judged, was an achievement of modern art. Not that it was a great beauty, we didn’t deserve great beauty, not now. Great beauty couldn’t exist now, or if it could and did exist it only existed in the shadows. We wouldn’t even recognize it, not that beauty ever wants to be recognized. No, but it couldn’t be called ugly, either. It was the conventionality of the face, that it was perfectly unremarkable, which Laura found remarkable in and of itself, that set it apart from the leafs, the whales, the Saturns, and everything else on the rack she chose disdainfully to ignore. It was the kind of face Paul would have liked her to have — one that didn’t demand anything for itself but just quietly gazed. Like the lovers you hear about in songs. Gazing at sunsets, at stars. At things. Content only to gaze forever into each other’s eyes, knowing, and this is the crucial part, that the other’s are gazing back at you. This was Paul’s idea of what it meant to be loved. Being gazed at his entire life, so that somebody besides himself was there to see it all happen. “It’s the love of a fucking tree,” Laura told him. And when her mother showed up to find out why her daughter wouldn’t answer the phone, Laura could barely get a word out between sobs. “He was going to make a tree out of me,” she said. “Mom. A fucking tree! What else could I do?”
Laura decided against the necklace, scrutinizing the arrangement of her outfit. First tilting her head to one side, then trying the other, as if she could hear, if she only listened close enough, the remarks her clients would be making in their heads as she led them down the halls of the house the way a school teacher walks her class towards the gymnasium, or the way a doctor walks the family of a patient towards the operating room. She was the white rabbit leading anybody who would follow her to that nasty little Victorian cesspit. It would be useless to present her clients with the property’s details, the tedious particulars she’d filled her brain with regarding dates, structural foundation, wiring, the previous owner’s renovations and half-materialized intentions — all would be lost to the ceiling fans in the strained attempt to hold still in each of their squirrelly minds what pointless thing they couldn’t say in her presence.
To be sure she had her lipstick right she watched her lips as she spoke to the mirror: “Home at last.” They looked as if she’d been sucking the grenadine out of the world’s plumpest maraschino cherry.