- At Home
Heather reads to her husband from the flight magazine. “Santa Fe is dry but prone to weather changes.” Michael nods. “We should move there when the kids are grown,” Heather says. “Sounds like the perfect place for a menopausal woman.”
“Now we are discussing retirement,” Michael says. “I guess you really did need to spend the night away.”
“That’s an understatement,” Heather says. The holidays are over. Ornaments packed away in plastic boxes. Holiday cards in the recycling bin. Batteries for toys need replacements. When Michael asked if she wanted to join him on an overnight trip to San Francisco she didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
“I have at least three meetings,” he said. “I hope you won’t be disappointed.”
Time spent in one of her favorite cities would be anything but disappointing. As a young journalist she’d imagined herself moving to San Francisco. A Carrie Bradshaw of the west coast. She’d wear fashionable clothes, write witty chronicles but have lots of gay men as her loyal friends. But then she got married and pregnant. She thought she could put her career aside and it would just wait for her like a well-trained dog. Boy, was she wrong. The opposite side of thirty-five with three active children makes everything seem impossible. But at least she has this adventure. She’s grateful to Michael for including her and to her mother for babysitting.
A flight attendant hands her a plastic cup of Diet Coke.
“What happened to your resolution?” Michael asks as she sips the soda.
“Today doesn’t count,” she says. Her drink is cold and falsely sweet. It’s going to be a great day, she thinks. She’ll visit her childhood friend, Tracey and explore the city. The plane begins to descend. Heather looks out the window at the water below as they land.
“I’ll meet you at our hotel at five,” Michael says.
“Don’t worry about me,” Heather says. “If you’re running late, I can find plenty of things to do on my own.” She kisses him goodbye in the taxi line and climbs inside a cab. “29176 Franklin Street in Pacific Heights,” she says.
The driver speeds through the city. Heather looks out of the window imagining where she might live if she had moved here. Each passing neighborhood is increasingly appealing. It seems that Tracey’s life has fallen into perfect place: a successful career as a top Xerox executive, a supportive husband and now a healthy baby. And she lives in an affluent area, Heather thinks while studying the beautifully restored Victorians on either side of the street. Maybe it had been a mistake to send Tracey the box of Ava’s old baby clothes.
It was the best of times. Summer 1983. Tracey and Heather wore matching Dolphin shorts and slip-on Vans. They rode bikes to the community pool and swam every day. When Tracey’s parents planned to move to New Jersey, Heather was devastated. They’d promised to be pen pals but after a few years they each got busy with school and boys. Two years ago they were reunited on Facebook. Tracey immediately came from San Francisco to visit Heather in the Palisades. They took Heather’s three kids to the beach and dipped their toes into the cold Pacific Ocean.
“I can’t believe we’re all grown up,” Heather had said.
“Speak for yourself!” Tracey said and then ran head first into a wave. Heather watched as her fearless friend swam through the sea. She hasn’t changed a bit, Heather thought and smiled.
Now it’s my turn, Heather thinks as she emerges from the cab. Tracey’s home is another impressive Victorian. Tracey greets her at the door wearing an old sweat suit, her long blond hair pulled into a ponytail. She’s heavier and seems to take longer to smile. Pregnancy has aged her in all the normal ways.
“It’s great to see you!” Heather exclaims and throws her arms around her friend. “Where’s Madeline?” She peers around the corner, expecting to see a baby swing or portable crib. Instead she’s lead into an immaculate, well-lit room filled with luxury antiques and a skyline view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“She’s taking her morning nap,” Tracey says in a whisper. “It’s important that she sticks to her schedule.”
Heather nods and finds herself tip-toeing through the house as a maid in a pink apron follows behind silently with a dust mop.
“The flight was easy,” Heather says, as they arrive at a spacious yellow kitchen. Tracey turns the levers on a complicated looking coffee maker.
“That’s wonderful,” Tracey says, with her back to Heather.
“Your home is beautiful,” Heather says as she pulls out a small blue box from her bag. Inside is a small silver rattle that she’d engraved for Madeline. It had felt superfluous, when she’d purchased it at Tiffany’s but now she felt confident that it was the right choice.
“Please take a seat,” Tracey says formally, gesturing to the breakfast table, which she has set for coffee. There’s platter of blueberry scones. Heather still feels like stretching her legs from the plane and taxi ride but feels inclined to sit at the carefully made up table. Tracey places a cup and saucer formally beside Heather and then sits in the opposite upright chair.
“I can’t wait to meet her,” Heather says and hands her friend the gift. Tracey sets it aside and reaches for a scone. “Homemade and gluten- free,” Tracey says.
Heather reaches for one, sips her hot coffee and makes small talk. There are long awkward pauses where she notices Tracey looking out the window.
“Maybe after Madeline wakes up, we can take her for a walk in her stroller?” Heather suggests, remembering the cagey feeling she had the entire first year after the birth of each of her children. It was as if life was leaving her behind. She wonders if Tracey is feeling the same.
“Oh I’m afraid not,” Tracey says. “After Madeline’s morning nap, she must be fed, properly burped and then explore her toys. I am using the RYE method and they strongly encourage floor time every morning.”
Heather nods, trying to feign understanding. She didn’t know much about RYE. She’d used the survival method with each of her own three kids. Do what keeps us all sane for the first year. It mostly worked.
“There’s a farmers market at Alta Plaza Park,” Tracey says. “You can easily walk from here and then your hotel is just a few more blocks away.” It becomes clear that Tracey’s plans for the day do not include Heather.
A staticky cry from the baby monitor fills the airy kitchen. Tracey jumps from her seat. “Can I help you get her?” Heather asks, suddenly missing the powdery smell of a baby. She wonders if Ava’s at gymnastics this morning and how Dylan and Kaitlin are doing at school. Maybe she’ll take an earlier flight home tomorrow.
“No, thanks,” Tracey says. “Madeline gets fussy if she wakes to a stranger.”
And that’s what I am, Heather thinks, feeling surprisingly homesick. She wonders if Michael’s free for lunch. It’s going to be a long day in the city all by herself. For a reason she can’t yet name, she feels like she might cry.
“It was so nice of you to stop by to visit for coffee,” Tracey says as she walks down the hallway toward what Heather imagines is a nursery equipped with all of the latest gadgets. Tracey turns back at the end of the hall and offers a false smile. “And thanks for the box of hand-me-downs,” she says. “I’m sure I’ll have use for them one day.”
Heather doubts it, as she stands and Tracey’s maid escorts her to the front door. As it closes behind her she looks back and notices that the house looks actually rather cold and intimidating. She walks down the stone steps and checks her watch. Maybe she’ll head to the hotel and make plans for a romantic dinner with Michael. She hopes that his meetings are going well and that he’ll finish early. She’d told him that she’d be fine on her own but, now it seems that five o’clock won’t come soon enough.