NDJ: Catherine Ambrose, LCSW

Screensaver

Since her husband left her last year she spends most of her time in the house with her dogs and her computer. The house looks like it was designed for a movie set, with its imposing brick façade but almost makeshift arrangement of walls and windows at the back. There is a highceilinged entrance hall with a chandelier. There are large rooms half-emptied of furniture. There is the loudness of dogs barking in the hollow space.

Earlier in the afternoon she bought herself a birthday cake with pink icing and had the baker write “Happy Birthday Rosalie” in white on the top. Now she is sitting in bed with the cake in front of her watching Dancing with the Stars and crying. During an ad she carefully arranges four pink birthday candles on the cake, lights them, makes a wish, and then blows them out. At first she slowly licks dainty little swirls of icing off the end of her manicured finger, but by the end she is scooping it with both hands, shoving it into her mouth, fast and mindless, sticky, soft, so sweet it is almost painful. The dancers twirl, sequins flashing. When the icing is gone she mashes the cake into a pile with her sticky hands, her reddened, tearstained face contorted with hate and rage. Then, suddenly, she is still. Her ragged breathing slows again. She lets the dogs lick her hands and face, and in a few minutes she gets up to wash. She leaves the pile of yellow crumbs for the dogs.

After an episode of Law and Order, she is sitting cross-legged on her bed with her dogs and her laptop, having a conversation full of innuendo and sexual promise with a guy she met in a chatroom for marrieds looking for an affair. Her eyes are puffy and red from crying. She has taken three Klonopin along with her usual antidepressant and mood stabilizer, but she is still feeling a little hyper and nauseated from all the sugar. She is wearing pajamas that are too small for her now and are patterned with puppies and hearts. She has icing in her hair. The guy says the picture of her she has emailed him, which is really a picture of her from when she was first married ten years ago and her eating disorder was actually working, is very sexy, and somehow this makes her feel a little better. She remembers being on that beach with her husband, the vague, empty feeling of constant hunger, the hot sun on her flat belly, her husband’s pride in his new pretty wife. Fleeting as grains of sugar on her tongue, those dreamy days when she knew that in her thinness she had finally triumphed.

“It’s my birthday,” she says to him. His name, he says, is John. “What would you like to give me?” She wants him to say roses, a box of chocolates, a beautiful necklace, a long letter saying how much I love you, a bottle of champagne. He says, “I want to give it to you hard and fast, baby.” She doesn’t even realize she has started crying again. She makes a date to meet him for coffee on Saturday.

She logs out of the chatroom and moves on to Facebook. In the morning she had written, “It’s my birthday. Sometimes I wonder if I really care if I make it to the next one.” Someone she sort of knew in high school when they were both on the student council had written, “Sorry you are having a bad day. You should go out and have a good time!” The wife of one of the guys who plays basketball with her husband wrote, “This is the kind of selfish bullshit that ruined your marriage.”

Rosalie looks at the clock and realizes that it is almost 11 and that her almost ex-husband will certainly not call now to wish her happy birthday. She is starting to feel a little hazy, and she knows that she is moving toward the passing out that she now calls falling asleep. She drifts away with all the lights on, Nick at Night on the television, dogs stretched on either side, the screensaver on her computer writhing and twisting in its own private dance. There are a billion people within reach of the fingers fisted like a baby’s on the pillow, and nothing she knows how to do can make any of them real.