A Storyby Tom Barbash
A week after my mother died, my father and I went to a series of holiday parties. We lived in a sixteenth-floor apartment just off Central Park West, and in our building alone there were four different gatherings at which you could see my father surrounded by an infield of swooning women. He had become, in the wake of my mother’s death, desirable real estate, a handsome fifty-eight-year-old with money. He was testing the waters, and you could see it bringing him back to life.
One of the women he met brought him to her gym and introduced him to her personal trainer; another took him clothes shopping to stores like Kenneth Cole and Hugo Boss “to raise his spirits.” He returned home weirdly pleased with himself, as though he’d regained fluency in a language he hadn’t studied since high school. I’d borrow a new leather jacket of my father’s when I went out for the night, and I’d find business cards in the pockets, or a napkin with a phone number. Before long the women were dropping by our house, and I’d see them late at night drinking coffee in my mother’s kitchen, moving in or out of the bathroom or my parents’ bedroom, where they’d often stay over.
There’d be a scarf or a purse left out on a chair. I’d hear a woman whispering as she snuck out, for my sake, early, before seven. My room was next to the front entryway, and I was having trouble sleeping in those days.
For the first few weeks of February, my father dated a chatty frizzy-haired woman named Leanne who worked at the mayor’s office scheduling press conferences and talking to reporters. They ordered in Chinese food, and they’d leave the half-empty containers lying out on the counter. They watched movies in his room, and then at some point his door would close. I pretended a few times that it was my mother in there, that she’d slipped in without my knowing, but usually I put my earbuds in to keep from hearing anything.
One night toward the end of that month, he brought home a woman from Los Angeles named Chloe who owned a string of boutiques and wore sparkly eyeliner, low-waisted jeans, and a belly button ring, in winter. She flirted with me when he left the room, quizzing me about my personal life and once touching my knee. She gave me her business card, which listed the address of her New York store. “Come by sometime,” she said, with a predatory softness in her eyes. When my father walked back in, there was music I knew he hated booming from the study.
“This okay?” he asked.
“Oh, Steve,” Chloe said, “we can do better than that.” She went and turned the tuner to some kind of lame diva dance music. She started grooving on her way back. She was about forty, I’d say, but she tossed her hair and gyrated like an extra on a music video.
My father glanced at me and raised his eyebrows. I wrote ABSURD on a piece of notepaper and flashed it quickly so she wouldn’t see.
“Both of you come here and dance,” she said from the dining room.
She looked misplaced vamping next to the long oak dining table and under my grandmother’s crystal chandelier. My father moved his shoulders tentatively to the beat. Chloe yelled, “Show your father how to dance, Andy.”
“He does just fine for himself,” I told her.
I went and hid in my room. When I ventured out an hour later, his door was closed, and I saw her satin jacket and a shiny red purse draped over the reading chair in the living room.