"I thought you weren't coming home until about seven," Mark said after he hung up his coat and walked into the kitchen. "Did that gold digging bitch give you a hard time?"
Gold digging? Yes, Mark, she dug up some gold jewelry for me. I had a hard time not crying over it, it was so beautiful. Why the hell are you applying for a job in Michigan? "I actually didn't see any gold digging bitches while I was there, Mark," Emily replied to him, a low anger lurking in her soul like shreds of fog. "Welcome home to you, too."
From peripheral vision, she saw his jaw clench, and she knew that he was about to grind his teeth. She turned on the water in the sink to drown out the sound, and tore a paper towel from the holder to dampen and clean up the crumbs and smears he'd left on the counter while she was gone. "I'm making Chinese noodles. Do you want me to put some more on for you, too?"
"Trash food, no thanks. I just had a sandwich down at Serenity's -- met Phil and Moersgard there for drinks and chitchat. I think Moersgard lives there."
Trash food. I hate it when he says that. Trash food was Mark's appellation for not only ramen noodles, but also boxed macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, chili, canned soups, any kind of chips, grilled cheese sandwiches, and oddly enough, anything involving tortillas. Different people had different tastes, Emily knew that quite well. But she didn't call what he was having for dinner "trash." How rude did he have to be within five minutes of seeing her again? Thoughts that he had tired of her and was conducting an affair began to assail her once more.
"Did Moersgard have his girlfriend with him?" Emily automatically said to steer him away from any more comments about her choice in food.
"No, for once. The only good thing about him dating a girl young enough to be his granddaughter is that he's not dragging that damned Renoir bitch along with him anymore."
Middi's a bitch, Renoir's a bitch, the lesbian from the Psych Department's a bitch. Am I going to be a bitch, too, when I tell him about his Schroeder collection? Oh, but both the counterfeiter and I can be bitches together, then. Emily turned the burner off under the cooked noodles and used chopsticks to lift them into a bowl. "The last time I talked to Margaret, she said that Dr. Renoir was receiving flowers every Monday from a new beau."
"I pity him, whoever he is." Mark drummed his fingers on the counter as Emily sipped a little of the broth.
She put down her spoon. "Mark."
"You know you hate watching me eat Chinese noodles, and I don't want to try to eat to the sound of your tapping. Why don't you go have a drink in front of the fire until I'm done eating?"
"You're pretty critical of your own husband tonight, aren't you?" he said accusingly.
He can call my food trash, but I'm critical. He can call Middi a bitch, but I'm critical. He can secretly apply for jobs in god forsaken Michigan, but I'm critical? Suddenly the behavior was transparent. He had something to hide, something he didn't want her to know, and so he went on the offensive. She had spoken out of line, and told him not to annoy her, and so the next step was to take her down a peg. She was not allowed to not want to be annoyed; she was not permitted to not want to hear his teeth grinding; it was an infraction for her to want to chow down on something that she enjoyed and was sloppy. That's it, I'm done. The rest of the evening may be hell in a handcart, but my dinner will not be. "No, I'm not. But I have no interest in hearing you tell me again that I'm a pig because of the way I eat ramen noodles." There was no polite way in Western society to eat the long, tangled noodles. They were made to be slurped and gobbled, and they were fun to eat that way. "If you want to sit in the kitchen, that's fine, but I'll take my bowl to my office."
He ground his teeth, and that was the last straw for Emily. From the ugly sex scene on New Year's to the terror about breaking Mark's statuary to the horror of finding the thing to be a fake to the outrage of finding that he'd applied for a job far, far away, it was all too much. In silence, with no rancor or anger, Emily stood up and walked away with her bowl of noodles. She mounted the steps of the back staircase, took refuge in her bedroom and locked the door.
She turned on the radio to the classical music station and cranked it up so loud the fish were probably waltzing to it in the pond. She ate her noodles in great chopstick-loads, allowing herself the luxury of saying, "Mmmmm" with every big bite.
In order to postpone the evening's misery, she fantasized while she ate. She was the youngest daughter of Tei Lao, the silk merchant, whose phenomenal silk cloth brought the highest prices in the markets of the Eastern world. They were so rich that she could eat ramen noodles every day. After her meal of noodles, her Amah would come to her and unpin her long, black hair and brush it until it shone. Amah would rebraid the hair for the night, and set out her pink silk pajamas. She would sleep on a kang bed, one heated from beneath by the furnaces, comforted and in comfort all night long.
And then the noodles were done, the broth gone. China, her Amah, the comfort of the kang bed. The pink silk pajamas were still in the closet, and she still needed to talk to her husband about serious matters.
Entering the hallway, she noted that there was a light on under Mark's bedroom door. She rapped on the door and leaned her ear close to listen. "What?" said his muffled voice.
"Come downstairs by the fire, we need to talk."
"About what?" his voice asked irritably.
"About the police," said Emily, and continued on to the front stairs. On her way to the kitchen she stopped and put more wood in the fireplace.
"What do you mean, 'about the police'?" Mark asked from the top of the stairs, tying the belt of his robe.
She waved to him to come on down as she took her soup bowl to the kitchen. From the long sideboard, she got the Jack Daniels, and poured a couple shots over ice for her husband. He was about to need a stiff drink to wrap himself around her news. For herself, she poured a stem glass of white table wine. Both she carried to the hearth. "Sit down, Mark, and have a sip." In her head, she was channeling Middi and her take-charge manner. Middi would have thought to provide drinks to cushion the blow. Middi would be able to tell about this whole incident in just a few sentences. Middi would just say, "Bring it on" if she was expected to say things she never expected in her life to have to say.
"What's going on, Emily?" Mark said, squinting at her, although he did accept the drink, sip it, and sit down in the other chair in front of the hearth.
"Put your drink down, now," Emily instructed sternly, and her husband, his face furrowed with concern and confusion, complied. "What do you think of when you hear the word 'counterfeit'?"
"What's this about?" he said angrily. "Funny money? What are you talking about?"
"Funny Schroeder dwarves."
His glance darted to the back door. "No."
"Yes. The stein-carrying dwarf is a fake. We were robbed." Good move, to say "we" instead of "you."Way to go, Em!
"How? Why are you saying this?" Mark's face whitened, from his temples to his nose, to his lips.
"I fell in the garden on New Year's Eve after I saw Marl Bloch's hairy, hairy ass in the laundry room. I went out there to recover from the sight, and I fell, and knocked over the dwarf. He broke, and I was afraid to tell you, so I took him to Carmel to an art dealer, who refused to repair him because he's a fake."
"But -- but -- we had a notarized letter of authenticity, and Edith Weber had information about her family all the way back to the original purchase of the set from Schroeder!" Mark's hands gripped the arms of the chair.
"Apparently she was a con artist, not a desperate old woman ex-lawyer as she said she was, Mark. She took us to the cleaners, and the art dealer, Clive Harker, said to take the case to the police immediately." Emily swallowed two big gulps of wine, and felt the heat of them in her stomach.
Mark also fortified himself with a loud slurp of his whisky. "This can't be true. My God, this can't be happening. Are they all fake? How did he know they were fake? Could he have been mistaken? Why the hell didn't you tell me right away?" He stopped shouting abruptly.
He's just realized he's not the only one who keeps things under wraps. Come on, Mark, tell me why you're trying to find a job in Michigan. "The plaster mix wasn't from the Schroeder craft works. The paint was latex. I don't know if all the dwarves are fake, but the Stein Dwarf is. He's in a box out on the workbench in the garage." Emily finished the wine in her glass.
"Who the hell is this Clive Harker, anyway? How did you know to go to him?" Mark's voice was loud, and his hurt and anger gave it a shrill timbre.
"Middi knew of him. He has a gallery in Carmel."
"That fucking bitch?" Mark shouted. "What were you thinking, going to that goddamned gold digger to get any kind of information? How fucking stupid do you have to be?"
He made the mistake, but it's my fault. He bought the ugly little fake set, but I'm the one who's stupid. And I'm not surprised by this accusation. Not at all. Emily had a flashing cascade of memories, all of them instances in which she was the dummy, the naïve one, the inexperienced one, the sucker, the lackwit, the pinch hitter who failed the team, the woman who couldn't teach a cat not to climb a Christmas tree, the wife who couldn't produce children, the daughter who couldn't keep her father from falling in love again. You know, I can read and write, so I'm not stupid. I can teach fish and skunks to trust me, so I'm not stupid. I can manage a household, plan parties, balance our budget, not buy forty thousand dollar fake dwarf collections -- so I'm not stupid, Dr. Fatzer.
"The dwarf is in the garage, in the box on the workbench. Get your own expert. If someone actually knows more than Clive Harker and can prove him wrong, I'll gladly eat my words, and humble pie, and crow, or whatever you do when you've been humiliated. But calling me 'fucking stupid' is just unacceptable, Mark. You just crossed the line. I don't want to talk to you any more tonight." She stood up.
"Well, I can sure tell that you were hanging out with that titsy whore all weekend," he said nastily.
She stopped in her tracks and looked back at him. There were furrows between his eyebrows from frowning, and lines in his forehead from worrying, and lines from his nose to below his mouth from scowling. She's a titsy whore because I don't want to be cursed at? But he had received a bad blow, and Emily knew how that could feel. Everyone reacts differently. In the morning, he might see his reaction tonight and shudder, and apologize. She could understand that.
And if he didn't, well, she could understand that, too. Embarrassment was really hard to deal with.