119,302
07.03.2019

She grins. “Be strong.”

They leave and I lock the door behind them. For the next hour and a half, I play tea party with Mackenzie. And Barbie dolls. Then we build a block wall and take it out with her remote-control Humvee. Just before bed, we shoot some hoops with the Fisher-Price adjustable basketball net I bought her for her birthday.

Once she’s all tucked in, she asks me to read her a story and pulls a thin Disney book out from under her pillow.

Cinderella.

Mackenzie hugs her bear and regards me with long-blinking, sleepy eyes. When we get to the part about Prince Charming’s proclamation, she asks, “Uncle Matthew?”

“Mmm?”

“Why didn’t Cinderella go to the prince with her glass slipper? Why didn’t she say ‘It’s me’? How come she waited for him?”

I think about her question and can’t help but make the comparisons to Delores and me.

“Maybe . . . maybe Cinderella wasn’t sure how the prince felt about her. Maybe she needed him to be the one to come to her—so she would know he loved her.”

This is just f**king sad. Talking about my love life with a four-year-old?

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Mackenzie nods her understanding and I read on. Until . . .

“Uncle Matthew?”

“Yes?”

“How come da prince didn’t know it was Cinderella? If he loved her, he woulda bemembered what she looked like, right?”

I think of Dee’s teasing smile, her perfect lips, the warm tenderness in her eyes when she wakes up beside me, how it feels to caress her cheek with my fingertips—like touching a rose petal.

My voice is thick when I answer. “Yes, Mackenzie. If he loved her, he wouldn’t have forgotten what she looked like. Not ever.”

She yawns, long and wide. Then she turns on her side and nestles into the down pillow.

With a drowsy sigh in her voice, Mackenzie says, “I think Uncle Drew is right. Prince Charming really is a douche bag.”

And those are the last words she says before sailing off into dreamland.

Thursday at work, my father stops by my office and informs me my mother is expecting me for dinner that evening. Disappointing my mother is a capital offense, and the last thing I need at the moment is to have my name at the top of the old man’s shit list.

I arrive at five thirty on the button. My parents’ place is a four-bedroom multi-floor brownstone, originally built in the 1920s, with original molding, three ornate fireplaces, a sitting room, den, a music room, a butler’s pantry, and a spacious formal dining room.

Do they really need this much space? No. But they wouldn’t dream of moving. Especially once I was out of the house and, as my mother used to say, they could finally have “nice things” again.

I figure it’ll only be a few more years before we’ll need to install one of those cool automatic chairs to get them up the staircase.

After the housekeeper, Sarah, who’s worked for my parents for years, answers the door, I find my mom in the sitting room, enjoying a glass of sherry by the lit fireplace.

When she sees me, she smiles, stands up, and hugs me close. “Hello, darling. I’m so glad you could come tonight.” She peers up at my face. “You look tired. You must be working too hard.”

I give her a smile. “No, Mom, I’m really not.”

We sit and she tells me about the mums she’s growing and the latest goings-on at the country club. When my father exits his study, that’s the cue that dinner is served.

The dining room table’s not overly large—six chairs—but my father eats at one end, looking over the newspaper that he’s just getting around to reading, my mother dines at the other end, and I’m in between.

As she slices into her chicken cordon bleu, my mother asks, “Are you still seeing that young lady from the office party? I liked her very much, Matthew. So spirited. Right, Frank?”

“What?”

“The girl Matthew brought to the office party—we liked her, didn’t we? What is her name again? Deanna?”

“Delores,” my dad grunts—proving he actually is aware of what’s going on around him.

Sometimes I think he just acts clueless—and deaf—so he won’t have to participate in conversations that don’t interest him. It’s a handy trick.

I force the food down my suddenly tight throat. “No, Mom, Dee and I . . . we didn’t work out.”

Her tongue clicks in disappointment. “Oh, that’s a shame.” She sips her wine. “I just want to see you settled, dear. None of us is getting any younger.”

Here we go.

My mother is awesome—kind and gentle—but she’s still a mother. Which means any second now, she’s going to start talking about how I need someone to take care of me and about seeing her grandchildren before she dies.

It’s a discussion we’ve had before.

She leans my way, and in a conspiratorial tone whispers, “Was it . . . a sexual problem?”

My bite of chicken gets stuck in my esophagus. I pound my chest and dislodge it—but my voice is scratchy.

“What?”

She straightens back up in her chair. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Matthew. I used to wipe your bottom—there’s no reason we can’t have an adult discussion about your sex life.”

“Used to wipe your bottom” and “sex life” should never, ever, be used in the same sentence. Unless your name’s Woody Fucking Allen.

I clear my throat again. Still burns. “No, Mom. We were fine in that area.”

“Are you sure? Some ladies don’t always feel comfortable expressing their needs . . .”

No way this is happening.

“. . . communicate their desires. My book club is discussing a novel this month on this very subject. Fifty Shades of Grey. Would you like to borrow my copy, Matthew?”

I take a long drink of water. “No, I’m already familiar with it, thanks.”

The fact that my dear, sweet mother is familiar with it, however, will definitely be giving me nightmares.

She pats my hand. “All right. You let me know if you change your mind. That Mr. Grey is certainly creative with a necktie.”

Thankfully, the rest of the dinner conversation revolves around less nauseating topics.

After the plates are cleared, I stand up and kiss my mother’s cheek. “Good night, Mom. And . . . thanks . . . for your advice.”

She smiles. “Good night, darling.”

My father wipes his mouth then throws his napkin on the plate. “I’ll walk you out. Going to have a cigarette.”

❮❯