She had been born with different colored eyes. One blue and the other green. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she felt as if she were split down the center, divided, as if one part of her were competing with the other. She had heard that if a person has dissimilar eyes at birth, it is quite possible that the two eyes were subjected to different pressures within the womb.
Tonight she felt as if her blue eye was telling her to go to Paris and her green eye was telling her not to go. She had just been invited to give a paper on Tolstoy at an international conference on world literature at the Sorbonne and, of course, she had to go; it was an honor, something she had long hoped for. She loved the exhilaration that followed after presenting a paper. She imagined herself walking through the Parisian city streets and sitting in cafés, hearing stimulating lectures by academics she admired. She imagined she’d find both the quiet time and the inspiration she needed to begin turning the paper she had written on Anna Karenina into a full-length study. The thought of going filled her with guilty pleasure. But she did not want to think about leaving her family behind. She could not bear being separated from them. She knew it was irrational, yet she often experienced feelings that on one level seemed irrational and on another felt perfectly reasonable. Now she was in bed, glad that Michael had drifted off. She hadn’t told him yet about Paris, not because she chose to keep secrets. She only wanted to keep her trip to herself for as long as possible, to revel in her accomplishment privately. She didn’t want her own thoughts to escape before she’d had a chance to digest them.
Eleanor listened to the creaks in the wood, the bang of the radiator. The boys were sound asleep in the room across the hall from them, and Michael was breathing in lightly, making a whistling sound through his nose. Suddenly, Eleanor was so frightened by the thought of leaving them that she couldn’t move. She said to herself, It’s okay. Nothing is going to happen to the boys or Michael if you go away. They’ll be here waiting. Go see your boys. She rose from the bed and moved into the room where the boys slept and slipped in next to Noah, the youngest, and held him. She fell asleep again, and when she awoke it was dawn. She crept down the drafty hall, folded her body underneath the sheet in the bed next to her husband, and fell back to sleep.
First it was Noah she heard rustle in the bed across the hall, the patter of his bare feet on the wood as he turned the corner to the bathroom, the creak of the toilet seat lifting—he remembered this time. She heard his small feet running back into his bedroom. Light began to filter through her open window, and the morning released its crisp smell into the air. It was the weekend, and time had slowed down just a morsel, so that she could feel everything around her more intensely. She watched the light slowly strengthen in the room, the colors of the walls shimmering. Soon she heard Noah and Nicholas. They were whispering in their beds, no doubt hatching a plan.
Michael was turned into the corner of the antique bed, the sheets reaching across his broad shoulders. She felt his hand reach across her middle. It was warm and she allowed him to pull her against him. She had awoken to his particular smell for over twelve years. And each morning she took it in newly, never tiring of the comfort and warmth of his body beside her. She nestled her head into the back of his neck. He wasn’t quite awake, and it was in this half-conscious state that he always wanted to hold her first, as if he needed her body to rouse him before he took in any more of the world. This desire to see life through her eyes was what she found so endearing about him from the first day they met. She remembered how he had wanted to share every minute with her, so that going to the store to shop for dinner was an adventure. He took her by the hand through the aisles to the most secluded spot in the store where he could embrace her, until they felt an urgent desire to return to either her studio apartment or his. It did not matter whether they had much in common to talk about. She was in awe of all the ways in which he was different from her, so that together they seemed to make a neat package of contradictions.
If only she could hold this moment of reflection longer and stop time from moving forward. She was already aware of how quickly the morning would be consumed by the obligations that awaited her, but when the boys flew into the room, bounding on top of the bed with their plastic swords and reenacting a duel from Star Wars, she laughed. Michael continued to feign sleep while they poked him with their swords, then came to life in a roar. The boys came tumbling down on top of them, forcing Eleanor and Michael to make room for them.
Copyright © 2007 by Jill Bialosky
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/ contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.