All these years he had submitted, willingly. He had accepted the domestic jobs she had appointed for him—bills, garbage, bimonthly food shopping, maintenance of the house and the lawn, babysitting—even without notice, when she had dinner with friends. She had made all the social plans, scheduled the doctors’ appointments for the kids, decided which schools they would attend, their extracurricular activities, when the Christmas tree went up and when it came down. On the occasions when Hebert had contradicted her recollection of a current event or a shared experience or when he had simply disagreed on a family issue, Sylvia often pushed her point to such excess that he had ultimately backed down with a futile shrug and with the phrase “It doesn’t really matter.” On the rare occasions when he had objected to a particular statement of hers (that his job wasn’t exactly brain surgery; that she’d had to do everything around the house) she’d fought back hard, discounted his claims. Then she’d closed down to him for a week or more—no talks after dinner, no sex, no weekend walk on the path along the river.
And now, he felt enormously tired and yet, agitated.
He was not an impulsive man. At the beginning of each year, he planned a budget, vacation dates, and quarterly work goals. He took the same commuter train every weeknight, changed from his work clothes to sweats upon arrival home, drove his younger son to baseball and soccer practice, showered every night with the same soap his father had used. So it was a surprise, especially to him, when he acted outside of all routine and the bounds of kindness and propriety that were the hallmarks of his life. He reached over to his wife, yanked the chain from her neck upon which hung a gold locket Sylvia had inherited from her mother, and threw it out the window, where it hit the hood of a car two lanes over, bounced onto the divider, and then landed on the blacktop before oncoming traffic.
“Herbert!” Sylvia exclaimed in a horrified whisper. It was just like her, Herbert thought, to become more controlled, more solid, in the face of trouble. He couldn’t bear it any longer.
“What’s going on?” she demanded through clenched teeth.
“I don’t know,” he said, resigned. “I’m sorry.”
“Pull over,” she said.
“No,” he said. “I want to go home.”
“You scared me,” she said. “How could you do this? You’re completely out of control.”
“Please don’t tell me what I am.” He stared at the road, then at the speedometer. He didn’t want to exceed the speed limit.
“How could you do something so violent, so selfish?” Her lips trembled. She laid her hands in her lap, set her chin, placed both feet on the car floor, did not look at him.
“You’re lying,” he said, staring at the road. “The turnovers. Your mother.”
“What are you talking about?” She darted a look at him. “Tell me.”
His hands quaked. He gripped the steering wheel. The shaking reminded him of the way the old car fell out of alignment, how the steering wheel had shaken under his palms. She had been a steady, competent force in his life for so long. But it was no longer enough.
“Herbert,” she said. “Tell me what is going on.”
He was crying. He could not say it again.