Allison blinked, set her cup of coffee on the
polished mahogany table and looked again out the kitchen window.
Nothing there except her beautiful but quite
prosaic rose garden.
What had she thought she'd seen?
A gleaming spiral horn dipping into the
goldfish pond, a flash of silvery white like a
reflection of the morning sun on the water.
That's all it had been.
A reflection from the unusually clear water
of the goldfish pond.
It sparkled as if it had been touched by
magic rather than the same sunshine that touched it
As if a unicorn horn with its legendary
cleansing powers had indeed dipped there for an
Allison frowned at her fanciful thoughts.
Just because her life wasn't a fairy tale was
no reason for her to retreat into one.
She turned from the window, lifted her coffee
to her lips and resolved to dismiss from her mind
the images she couldn't catalogue.
There were plenty of familiar, reality-based
things she needed to consider--what colors to use in
redecorating her daughter's room now that Megan was
married and gone; whether she could call her
husband's latest indiscretion an infidelity when
there remained so little to be faithful to; how to
amuse herself today and tomorrow and the day after
that; whether the roses still smelled as sweet as
when she used to tend them...
Allison slid her chair back from the table,
tightened the sash of her white satin robe and
headed for the door into the rose garden.
The heady, pink scent washed over her,
enveloping her in a world that seemed far away from
the house she'd just left.
She touched a flower, bending to study each
The early morning dew sat in trembling,
"Allison, what on earth are you doing?
You'll prick your finger on the thorns."
The voice was resonant, authoritative,
trained to carry well across a courtroom.
She lifted her gaze toward the sound and
forced herself to smile up into a familiar face that
suddenly seemed unfamiliar and far away.
He looked the same as he always had, still
handsome although his face was lined from years of
His gray temples set off the rest of his dark
hair and his stern expression to perfection.
Allison had always felt if his hair hadn't
grayed at the right time and in the right places, he
would have had his barber do the job correctly.
"Aren't the roses gorgeous?" she finally
managed to say, pulling herself regretfully from the
warm, scented other-world.
"I'd forgotten we had so many colors.
Remember when we put the garden in, how much
trouble we took to make sure every variety was
coordinated with the one next to it?"
Jerald gave no indication he heard her.
He turned and stepped over to the goldfish
I thought he came on Thursdays.
Good job on the pond, cleanest I've ever seen
He returned to Allison's side.
"I've got to run.
We're closing Steve's corporate buyout at , and I have a new client coming in
Don't expect me for dinner."
He bent and pecked her lips.
She pecked back, but her reaction was
Jerald was already gone.
She strolled into the house again,
disoriented, as if she were just returning from a
Okay, she thought, giving herself a mental
shake, roses and fantasy are nice, but reality is
that your husband is going to be out with his latest
Reality is that your daughter is gone and
Reality is a tennis match with Marcia this
Reality wasn't warm or scented or
colorful...or white and glistening.
Sweating, exhilarated with the way her body
still responded, Allison followed Marcia off the
"Got time for a drink, Allie?"
Yes, I'd say I have time."
"I suppose you do now that Megan's wedding is
What a hassle that must have been!"
I kind of enjoyed the hectic pace for a
I do miss her, though.
When you hold a tiny baby and worry about her
and she's completely dependent on you, it's hard to
realize that she'll grow into a separate person
who'll leave you one day."
The women sat down at a table on the
"Why, Allie, you sound positively emotional!
A vodka martini, please," Marcia instructed
"And a white wine spritzer?"
"So, Marcy, dare I ask what's new in your
Marcia giggled, and Allison felt a small
thrill that it was possible for a woman over forty
and graying at the roots to giggle.
In spite of the usual wrinkles from too many
tanning booths and too many years, Marcia's pert
face, surrounded by the soft, dark curls, didn't
look ridiculous when she giggled.
"Well, his name is Dave, and he's teaching me
He's tall and blond and tan and very well built, if
you know what I mean."
"How is it that all your lovers just happen
to fall into the porno-movie-proportions category?"
Marcia was unabashed.
Her dark eyes opened wide, innocent, and her
mouth quirked at the corners.
"You should try these young ones some time.
I can't imagine that Jerald is any more
amorous at home than my husband."
Marcia accepted her martini, ordering another
one before the waiter could leave.
"To put it bluntly, it's hard to imagine
Jerald getting a hard-on without an ironclad,
notarized agreement stipulating all the possible
problems that might arise and the remedies therefor
and, of course, a disclaimer.
In the event this hard-on fails to do the specified task, the party of
the first part shall not be held responsible."
Allison's laughter bubbled out, unexpected,
as a picture of Jerald obtaining such agreements
from his various mistresses flashed through her
"Marcy, you talk too much, you drink too much, you
have too many lovers, you never heard of euphemisms,
and I love you."
"And you're too repressed, you don't talk
enough, you don't drink enough, and you're going to
wither up and turn into an old lady from a
deficiency of sex."
"Well, it's too late.
You've already taken all the well-endowed
What's left for me?"
"Now, Allison--" Marcia accepted her second
martini and ordered a third-- "I'm being serious.
I know what your life is like, and I also
know what it used to be like years ago, back when we
You used to enjoy life.
Hell, you loved life!"
"Marcy, there is nothing wrong with my life,"
"Well, there's nothing right with it, either.
Jerald is a jerk."
She paused to smile.
"I like that.
Jerald the Jerk."
"Jerald is never unkind to me."
"He's never anything to you.
Look at you!
You're still gorgeous, disgustingly so.
A little thin, maybe, or maybe I'm just
And your hair is so light, you don't even have to
hide the gray."
She squinted, trying to focus through myopia
"You have hardly any wrinkles.
But maybe that's because you never smile.
You always look serene and aloof, but you're
not fooling me."
"I look serene and aloof and hardly ever
The waiter approached with Marcia's third martini.
"Please don't order another drink."
What have we got to do for the rest of the
Marcia ducked her head and gazed up through lush
"Golf isn't until tomorrow--unless you should
happen to know of a new tennis instructor here?
I seem to have used up all the old ones."
She allowed the waiter to leave without a
Allison sipped her spritzer and gazed at the
rose in the crystal vase on their table.
"Well, I'll tell you what I don't want to do
for the rest of the day.
I don't want to join another committee or
plan another benefit or attend another luncheon."
She stroked the rose petals.
"Why don't we go horseback riding?
How long has hit been since we did that?"
"Hey," Marcia exclaimed, "riding instructors!
Allison ignored the comment.
"Remember how we'd catch the horses in your
uncle's pasture and ride bareback through the woods?
Remember how the horse would smooth into a
run and all you could feel were his muscles rippling
and the wind streaming past?
We were always going to gallop off into the
sun, over the rainbow, leave school and homework far
Remember how Jerald the Jerk nearly had a
heart attack when he caught you doing that just
before he graduated from law school?
We're talking major
no wife of
mine temper tantrum.
I knew right then he was going to be a
He has intimidation down to a science.
Look how he pushed you into marrying him."
Allison picked up a menu.
"Let's order some lunch."
Twilight settled around her as Allison pulled
into her driveway for the second time that day.
After the events of the afternoon, she ought
to feel something...and she would as soon as she
could figure out what she should feel.
She turned the key in her front door, went to
the bar and poured blood-red burgundy into a crystal
Taking her drink to the table by the window,
Allison thought back over the afternoon, trying to
decide if she was reacting in a normal way.
She didn't think so, though she wasn't
exactly sure what normal would be.
It had begun with the telephone call shortly
after she returned home from lunch with Marcia.
The voice was young, female, uncertain but
The caller insisted on a face-to-face
meeting, then volunteered that her name was Heather,
as though that explained everything.
Allison was apologetic, reluctant to hurt the
"Certainly I'll be happy to talk with you in
person, Heather, but I must confess, I can't quite
"Jerald and I are in love."
She realized then her feelings were out of
Shouldn't that have provoked something-- anger,
Where had her emotions gone?
When had they left?
She and Heather met in a bar of the girl's
The place was large and empty, though the
smell of stale cigarette smoke gave silent testimony
that it was only resting between its nightly crowds
In a plastic booth in the corner Allison
sipped her wine and studied the girl.
Her long straight hair hung limply down her
back, and she wore no makeup.
She was pretty though not beautiful, but her
youth, vitality, innocence--yes, she would be
She wore a loose, cotton shirt and long
muslin skirt, and Allison in her linen suit felt
sleek, sophisticated and old.
Heather took a long drink of her beer, then
leaned across the table, forehead creased, blue eyes
"Jerald told me you found out about us and
threatened to ruin his career if he didn't stop
Allison stared in fascination at the girl, at
the sparks in her eyes, at one small, tanned hand
wrapped around her glass of beer, the other
clutching the side of the table as if for support.
Had she ever possessed so much passion?
Where could it have gone?
"I'm sorry," Allison finally said.
"There must be some mistake."
Heather's face contorted, the features
writhing; Allison wasn't sure whether the girl was
going to cry or rage.
Her face finally settled into an expression
of agony as she spread her hands on the table top,
palms up, pleading.
"Don't you know what it's like to be in love?
How can you be happy at the expense of
How can you be happy with a man who doesn't want
Detached, Allison studied the dramatics.
Effective, she thought.
With all the absurd cliches, vocal and
visual, it ought to be funny, campy, but this was
Laughter would be inappropriate.
She jumped as Heather leaned across the
Formica tabletop and grabbed her hand.
"He loves me!" the girl insisted.
"We've been apart for three weeks and four
days, and we can't stand it any longer.
He told me he only wants his law practice, he
offered you the house and the money.
It's all you have anyway.
You don't have him!"
Allison reclaimed her hand and wiped it on a
cocktail napkin, concealing the movement in her lap.
For a moment she toyed with the idea of
telling the girl the truth about Jerald's sudden
defection, about the new woman in his life.
Instead, she reached for her handbag.
"Well, Heather, I must go.
It's been a pleasure meeting you."
Rising from the table, she started to offer
her hand, restrained herself, realizing the
inappropriateness of the appropriate, laid money for
both drinks on the table and turned to leave.
"I'm having his baby!" the girl blurted.
Allison paused but didn't turn.
"Jerald had a vasectomy twenty years ago,"
she said quietly.
She left the restaurant hurriedly, wondering
at her impulse to return and comfort the girl.
Shouldn't I feel outrage or anger or
something besides pity? Allison asked herself as she
lifted her glass to the window, wishing for sunshine
so the crystal would refract.
She could use a rainbow.
When she and Jerald had first married, she
hung crystals in all the windows of their small,
Crystals were magic, she told him; you could
look all the way through them and never see the
rainbows that were hidden inside until the sun came
along and freed them.
The crystals and rainbows disappeared the
first time she and Jerald entertained the senior
partner from the law firm where Jerald was a
beginning associate. They were unprofessional, he
In the garden a firefly flickered, lighting
brief rainbows on a glistening white spiral almost
hidden in the bushes.
Allison set down her wine glass and walked
She was sitting in the garden, singing
softly, her linen skirt pulled up past her knees,
dangling her feet in the goldfish pond when Jerald
came in that night.
"There you are!
What are you doing out here?
Why aren't you in bed?"
Allison smiled up at him.
"Enjoying the evening.
I chased the fireflies until they went in."
frowned; even his ears seemed to turn down.
The frown deepened.
"Oh, stop scowling.
I'll come inside now that you're home."
She moved up beside her husband and took his
"Did you have a rough day, darling?
Such a long day.
You must be exhausted."
Jerald hesitated, his eyes searching her
Finally he allowed her to lead him toward the house.
At the door she turned back to the garden.
Jerald grabbed her shoulders, whirling her to
Horizontal lines creased his forehead.
"Who are you talking to?" he demanded.
"Is somebody out there?"
Allison's laughter tinkled into the night.
"The roses are out there, the goldfish, the
fireflies...there's a whole world out there I've
Suddenly she felt the need to try one last
time to reach him.
"I think I'll drag out our old lawn furniture
and have my coffee in the rose garden in the morning
like we used to.
Why don't you get up a few minutes early and
He didn't answer.
Deep inside she hadn't really expected him
Allison caught herself humming the next day
as she dressed for lunch with Marcia.
Pulling a sky blue silk dress over her head,
she luxuriated in the soft fabric sliding over
Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror,
she leaned forward, pulled the chin-length pale hair
away from her face and inspected the gray Marcia
professed not to see.
How, she wondered, did this eighteen year old
person ever get into this forty-three year old body?
And, more importantly, how does this eighteen
year old get out?
As she entered the restaurant, Allison saw
that Marcia already had an empty martini glass
before her on the table.
looked up, a smile crinkling her pixie face.
"Why, Allie, you're absolutely glowing!
Do you have a lover?
I'll never breathe a word!"
Allison laughed as she sank into the
cushioned chair the waiter held for her and accepted
the padded menu.
"No, Marcy, I don't have a lover.
You're as bad as Jerald.
You think I have a lover and he thinks I'm
Marcia set her second martini, only
half-consumed, on the white tablecloth.
"Why does Jerald think his perfect wife is
knew something was going on.
You could never play poker, my dear Allie.
It's all over your face, like a hundred-watt
You're in love.
That's the only explanation.
You must tell me all the details.
Don't I always tell you?"
"I promise, I'm not in love--unless it's with
my rose garden and the beautiful hummingbird I saw
Their wings move so fast, they're almost
Their little bodies just seem to float in
midair, bright red and green, just like the roses."
Marcia tossed down a substantial amount of
her drink, seriously depleting the contents of the
Allie, either you're not being completely
truthful with your old friend here or Jerald is
If you really are beaming because you were out in
the rose garden this morning, communing with the
hummingbirds, you are ready for the loony bin.
But don't worry.
I'll come to see you and smuggle in roses and
hummingbirds so you can keep glowing."
"I'm afraid the whole, lurid story is even
worse than that.
When Jerald came in last night, he caught me
sitting with my feet in the goldfish pond,
contemplating the moon.
I'd been chasing fireflies and--"
She looked up at the waiter who'd moved into
position beside Marcia's elbow, silently demanding.
"Marcy, by all means have another drink, and
let's order food.
Lots of food.
You know how we crazy people are.
We eat a lot."
"I didn't know that."
"You do now.
Let's have one item from every category on
the menu and three items from the dessert tray."
"Love," Marcia mumbled, reaching for her
Still pleasantly full from the voluptuous
lunch, Allison danced naked in the rose garden that
afternoon, luxuriating in the feel of the sun's heat
and the cool spray from the sprinkler system on her
He raised a navy blue-clad arm and pointed a
large, square finger at her.
"Get in the house this minute!
I've tolerated your eccentric behavior as
long as I can.
You've pushed me past my limits!"
Allison turned to him, smiled and retrieved
her yellow cotton dress from the edge of the
The furrows in Jerald's forehead attained new
"Suppose someone had seen you!
What is the matter with you?
I don't understand what's happened to you?"
"Who could see me back here, and if they
could, so what?
You should try it.
The sunshine oozes into your skin and the
water cools little spots on the surface.
It's really wonderful.
The rose bushes and wild creatures--" she
paused to pull a three foot long silver hair from a
rose bush and twist it around her hands.
"They get to feel it every time the sprinkler
We're so deprived living in that sterile
Jerald opened the door.
"Go upstairs and put on your clothes, then
get back down here.
I demand an explanation."
Unperturbed, Allison slipped her dress over
her head and began buttoning the front.
"If you wish to discuss explanations, let's
start with the reason for your presence here in the
middle of the day."
"Never mind my presence in my own home.
What were you doing in the garden, naked,
cavorting like a savage?"
Allison sank into a large, cushioned, beige
chair and looked up at Jerald.
"I've already told you.
Experiencing the juxtaposition of sun and
water on my skin.Very nice.Very sensuous.
Now, let's talk about your unexpected trip
home in the middle of the day.
Could it have anything to do with Heather?
I was at lunch with Marcia when she came by
today, but she left me a thick letter.
I haven't bothered to read it, but I assume
it's a plea for your freedom so you can marry her.
We had a lengthy discussion on the subject
Jerald's eyes narrowed, and his teeth
Intrigued but detached, Allison watched her
husband's changing features as though she watched a
She shook her head slowly.
"She isn't a bitch.
She's young and hurt and misguided, but
she'll survive in spite of you."
The angry stranger leapt to his feet, reached
Allison in one stride and leaned over her, putting
large hands on both arms of her chair.
His eyes were cold, calculating; they had the
look she'd seen when his client's case was going
badly and he had to manipulate and intimidate the
"So, what do you want?
Give up this house, your luncheons, your
What would you do?
I'd see to it that you were left without a
Don't forget, I go to lunch with judges."
Allison looked into the face only inches from
She knew she was supposed to be frightened, subdued.
This was Jerald's specialty, his best
But there it was again, that failure to react, to
feel any emotions.
Jerald's temples pulsed blood and rage that
filled out the furrows of his face, bulged his eyes.
She studied the man bending over her, his
perfectly grayed temples, the creases in his
forehead, his navy blue summer wool suit, his
monogrammed tie, but no where could she find her
"Actually, I think I want to go upstairs and
have a nice bubble bath.
Will you excuse me?"
She pushed gently at his arms, then slid away
when he stepped back.
Jerald returned home from the country club a
few minutes after . He
didn't dare see Mallory again until he knew what
Allison was up to, so he'd spent the evening with
associates from his firm.
As he entered his bedroom and saw the covers
still smooth and undisturbed, his eyes narrowed.
"Bitch!" She was gone, out with some man.
stomped from room to room, bellowing threats, until
he saw the open door to the garden.
The damned woman had no respect for his
property, leaving his house open for just anybody to
walk into and carry off his expensive possessions.
He started to close it,
then realized she might still be out there.
Charging outside, he stalked past the
still-sparkling goldfish pond, cursed as the sleeve
of his raw silk suit snagged on a rosebush thorn.
He looked down at the damp earth and saw
Allison's barefoot tracks.
The woman had been dancing naked in the
He would have to get her into some kind of a
The tracks went in a straight line, as though
she were walking.
And stopped where some kind of animal tracks
intersected hers, strange tracks like those of an
animal the size and weight of a horse but with
The animal tracks continued out of the
garden, but Allison's prints disappeared.
Jerald stood, looking around him, suddenly
sober and confused.
From the corner of his eye, he thought he saw
movement, but it was only the moonlight dancing off
the water in the goldfish pond.
A breeze stirred past him bringing the scent
of roses and the faint sound of wind chimes or