Shayna had the girls on weekends. That was the arrangement now. Her on weekends. Us during the week. The little waft of friendship between her and Natvar was over, but things were cordial.
On April 1, 1984 she brought them back. It was Sunday evening. She joined us for dinner.
“I don’t think the girls should live here anymore,” she said. “They’re going to come back with me, back to Staten Island.”
I new Shayna had grown up on Staten Island, that her parents still lived there, that her dad was an ex-cop.
I sat in my chair at the table. Sometimes Natvar said that this was the only home he had ever known and that were his favorite people. He said that sometimes to me, Tracy and Mark. Sometimes he acted like Tracy was his favorite, like the time he took her shopping to Bloomingdales alone – just him and her – and they came back and Tracy had two pairs of strappy fabulous high heels. I was jealous. Not of the shoes, of Natvar’s attentions.
Most of the time he liked Mark the best (not counting the girls, of course). Mark was the one he slept with in the room at the end of the corridor across from mine. It was a dark corridor with no light at all if the door at the front was closed. A corridor that held four rooms – three on one side, one on the other. Each room had its own door, stained a deep red. We, or rather Mark and Natvar had hung each door, something we had been told was very hard to do.
“I think all his clients just want to sleep with him,’ I’d said to Mark once. “Do you?” he’d answered. And then, “It’s not that big a deal.” But Mark was the one who slept with Natvar and it was a big deal. He had more of an ally here than Tracy or me.
There were moments too when I was suddenly the favorite, when I said something witty, when I shoplifted caviar before a guest came for dinner, and these were savored moments when Natvar’s warmth felt very real. His wrath and dissatisfaction were much more common though.
He began to shout at Shayna. “What can you offer my children? Nothing. A laxy good-for-nothing from Staten Island. Look at Tracy. Look at her. She goes out and works every day. Does she complain? No, she never does. She doesn’t expect anyone to take care of her, not like you.”
Tracy sat demurely in her in her full wool skirt, the one she wore almost every day. Her face was serious, her eyes cast down. I never knew that Natvar had valued Tracy’s job so much, or her, at all. He had never said those particular nice things about her before, but he was saying them now.
We have spread out from the dining room table. Natvar is standing, Mark is too. Shayna is telling the girls to go get their things.
I am just watching Natvar, listening to his every word, trying to be at his pitch, to care the way he cares. He often says that I don’t care enough. Sometimes he says I am trying to sabotage his every move, that I am some kind of evil force that subverts beauty and freedom and life, and when he says that it feels true, and I feel hopeless and defeated.
So I am trying now as Natvar speaks to be right there at his side in whatever way I can. After all, he has said we are his family, his dearest friends.
Shayna picks up a votive candle that is burning on the altar to Laxmi, the goddess of abundance – it’s the donation box, the place visitors are supposed to leave money. She throws the candle at Mark. Mark storms towards her. Shayna turns to run down the corridor, and it’s all movement now and shouts. I follow Mark and Natvar down the corridor. I must stay near to Natvar. I must not allow myself to not be part of this.
Shayna is on the floor at the far side of the meditation hall. All the lights are blazing. Natvar kicks her a couple of times. “Putana! Putana!” he is yelling. I stand at his side, leaning forward with concentration, willing myself to be a part of this.
And then she is coming after me, and as she grabs my hair and pushes me, I feel something in me give, some plug is released and I am allowed to be furious the way Natvar is allowed to be furious and I give it all I’ve got. I bite her shoulder hard.
I have never bitten anyone. I have never thought about biting anyone. But this is what I do.
And then it is quiet and we are in the kitchen. Natvar is gently dabbing Shayna’s shoulder with a warm damp cloth. The children are subdued, snuffling. A cop came to the door in response to Phaedra’s 911 call, but we told him everything was all right and he went away.
It is about 1 in the morning. Shayna prepares to leave. She is subdued. Everyone is subdued.
We stand at the front door, a clump of us. Ariadne puts her arms around Natvar’s legs. “I want to stay with Daddy,” she says. “Oh, my little love,” says Natvar and strokes her plae blonde hair.
“I’m going with Mommy,” says Phaedra. She is defiant, her jaw is strong. Shayna and Phaedra clump down the stairs, the ones we painted blue. To make them look like Greece.