Goodnight Nobody

By: Jennifer Weiner

For Frances Frumin Weiner





"Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night--she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question--'Is this all?' "

--Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique




"Sighed Mayzie, a lazy bird hatching an egg:

'I'm tired and I'm bored

And I've kinks in my leg

From sitting, just sitting here day after day.

It's work! How I hate it!

I'd much rather play!

I'd take a vacation, fly off for a rest, if I could find someone to stay on my nest!

If I could find someone, I'd fly away--free...' "

--Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg




"Well I had a dream and in it

I went to a little town

And all the girls in town were named Betty."

--Laurie Anderson, "Smoke Rings"





Part One


The Good Mother





One





"Hello?" I tapped on Kitty Cavanaugh's red front door, then lifted the brass knocker and gave it a few thumps for good measure. "Hello?"

"Mommy, can I ring the doorbell?" Sophie asked. She stood on her tiptoes and waved her fist in the air.

"No, it's my turn," said Sam, kicking his sneakered feet against one of the half-dozen perfectly spherical pumpkins beside Kitty's front door. Halloween was a week away, and we'd only gotten around to carving our single jack-o'-lantern the night before. It had come out crooked and its right side had rotted and caved in overnight, and it looked like we had a sadistic stroke victim parked on our porch. When I'd lit the candle, all three kids had cried.

"My turn!" said Jack, shoving his younger-by-three-minutes brother.

"Don't push me!" cried Sam, shoving back.

"Sophie, then Sam, then Jack," I said. Two degrees in English literature, a career in New York City, and this was where I'd ended up, standing on a semi-stranger's doorstep in a Connecticut suburb with uncombed hair and a tote bag full of bribe lollipops, wrangling three kids under the age of five. How had this happened? I couldn't explain it. Especially not the part about getting pregnant with the boys when Sophie was just seven weeks old, courtesy of an act of intercourse I can barely remember and can't imagine I'd condoned.

Sophie reached up, pigtails quivering, and rang the bell. A dimple flashed in her left cheek as she gave her brothers a smug look that said, This is how it's done. Nobody answered. I looked at my watch, wondering if I'd heard Kitty wrong. She'd called on Wednesday night, when the boys were in the bathtub and Sophie was sitting on the toilet, applying lipstick and waiting her turn. I was kneeling in front of the tub, my shirt half-soaked, a washcloth in my hand, scrubbing playground grime from underneath their fingernails and enjoying one of my most persistent and vivid daydreams, the one that began with two men knocking on my front door. Who were they? Police officers? FBI agents? I'd never figured that out.

The younger one wore a beige suit and a clipped inch of sandy mustache, and the older one had a black suit and thinning black hair combed over his bald spot. He was the one who did the talking. There's been a mistake, he would tell me, and he'd explain that, due to some glitch I'd never quite fleshed out (Bad dream? Alternate universe?), I'd wound up with someone else's children, living someone else's life. Really? I would ask, careful not to sound too eager as a woman--these days, she was usually the lady from the Swiffer commercial who danced around to the Devo song, happily dusting--stepped between them, hands planted on her capable hips. There you are, you little scamps! she would say to the children. I'm so sorry for the inconvenience, she'd say to me. No problem, I'd graciously reply. And then she'd say...

"Telephone."

I looked up. My husband stood in the doorway, with his briefcase in one hand and the telephone in the other, staring at me with something that was either disdain or its close first cousin. My heart sank as I realized that getting slopped with the boys' bathwater was the closest I'd come to showering that day.

I reached for the phone with one soapy hand. "Can you watch them for a sec?"

"Let me just get out of this suit," he said, and vanished down the hall. Translation: See you in an hour. I stifled a sigh and tucked the telephone under my ear.

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