If You Only Knew(10)

By: Kristan Higgins


So I could live here forever, and why not? It’s elegant and cozy at the same time, a four-story brick town house painted dark gray with black trim and a cherry-red front door. Iron window box holders curl up in front of all the windows, and I immediately picture planting trailing ivy and pink and purple flowers in a few weeks. The trees along the street are dressed in green fuzz, and the magnolia across the street is in full, cream-and-pink glory.

My apartment consists of the middle two floors of the building—living room, dining room, tiny galley kitchen and powder room on the first level, then three small bedrooms and a full-size bath up the wide wooden staircase. The Victorian claw-foot tub was impossible to resist. There’s a tiny backyard with a slate patio, which I get to use, and a tiny front yard that belongs to the super, who has the first floor—the pied-à-terre, the Realtor called it, which made it sound very fabulous and European. The fourth floor is being used by the owner for storage. With the three dormered windows up there, the light would be fantastic. If I owned the place, I could use the entire floor as a home studio. Or a nursery for my attractive and cheerful babies.

A man comes down the street, walking a beautiful Golden retriever.

He looks my way, and our eyes meet. He lives right next door in that gorgeous brownstone, and he’s single, go figure, a chef who’s just signed a contract to let his name be used on a line of high-end French cookware. His sister is engaged, and guess who’s making her dress? Jenny Tate, that’s who! What a small world! The Christmas wedding is at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and I wear a wine-red velvet dress to the reception and he’s in a tux, and as we dance together, he slides an engagement ring onto my finger and drops to one knee, and his sister—in her gorgeous satin modified A-line dress with green velvet trailing sash—is all for this. In fact, she’s in on the proposal and is already crying happy tears. We get married and buy a charming old farmhouse with views of the Hudson so our twin sons and little daughter can run and play while we harvest vegetables from our organic garden and we’ll breed Jeter, our faithful Goldie, and the kids will all be valedictorians and go to Yale.

The man fails to make eye contact. Instead, he’s yelling something into a phone about “your bitch of a sister,” so I regretfully cross him off my list of potential second husbands.

Owen never yelled. One of his many qualities. I never, ever heard him raise his lovely, reassuring voice.

I wait till the guy is safely past—just in case he’s a serial killer, as my mother would no doubt assert—and get out of the car, swing my cheerful polka-dot purse onto my shoulder and check myself out in the window. Eesh. Andreas and I killed the last two bottles of Owen’s wine last night while watching Thors 1 and 2 for the eye candy. Part of my divorce was that I got half of Owen’s small but wonderful wine collection, and I didn’t object.

An image from our marriage flashes like lightning—Owen and me, on a picnic in Nova Scotia a few summers ago, holding hands. He picked a daisy and tickled my ear with it, and the sun reflected off his shock of black hair so brightly it almost hurt my eyes. His hair was—is—adorable, standing up in a way that defied gravity, perpetual bedhead that made him instantly appealing and almost childlike. No wonder his patients love him instantly.

The bewilderment is the worst part. That’s what they don’t tell you in divorce articles. They talk about anger and loneliness and growing apart and starting over and being kind to yourself, but they don’t tell you about the untold hours in the black hole of why. Why? What changed? When? Why was I the one you chose to marry, but all of a sudden, I’m not enough anymore?

But I’m not about to start off this phase of my life bewildered. Fuck you, Owen, I think, and it’s oddly cheering.

The super is supposed to meet me here and give me my keys. I tighten my ponytail, summon a smile and go through the iron gate to the super’s door. This courtyard could be adorable with some plants and a little café table, but right now, it only holds a ratty lawn chair that’s seen better days... It’s the aluminum-frame kind, the seat woven from scratchy nylon fiber. The image of a fat, unshaven man wearing an ill-fitting bowling shirt, scratching his stomach with one hand and nursing a Genesee with another, a mangy dog by his side, leaps to mind with unfortunate clarity.

But no. No negativity! In ten minutes, I’ll be unpacking in my beautiful new place. I can put the kettle on, even though I don’t like tea, but the image of tea is very cozy on this cool, damp day. Red wine is even cozier.

Maybe I’ll invite the super to have a drink with me. Or not, if he looks like the guy I just envisioned. Did the Realtor say if it was a man or a woman? I can’t remember. Better yet, a neighbor will come over—not the angry Golden retriever man, but a different neighbor. An older man, maybe, someone who has a good bottle of wine in one hand. I saw the moving truck, he’ll say, and wanted to welcome you to the street. I teach Italian literature at Barnard. Are you free for dinner? I happen to be cooking a roast. Then again, what kind of single man cooks a roast? Scratch that. I’ll come up with something better.

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