Ella Rose sat beside her husband, Lou, as they drove through the streets of the San Fernando
Valley. It was dusk, and the streets were grand, golden with the vanishing sun. The car was
quiet, for Lou did not turn on the radio, and the two of them did not speak. They had just
dropped their retarded daughter, Lena, and Lena’s husband, Bob, off at Panorama Village, a
residence for people who could not live on their own. Now Ella and Lou were going home.
Ella was in her early sixties, as was Lou, and they had lived in their home on La Buena
Street for about forty years. But now she and Lou approached their home cautiously, like
robbers. With Lena gone, it seemed an unfamiliar, almost illicit place. Ella could not
remember how it felt to have the house belong only to them. Lena had been born thirty-one
years ago, and for all that time she had been a constant presence.
The car stopped in front of the house. Lou had left the sprinklers on, and enormous
glass flowers seemed to be sprouting out of the lawn. The spray sent thousands of clear
droplets sparkling into the air, and the front yard, in its mist, seemed like an unearthly place.
Ella and Lou got out of the car and, for a moment, watched the spray. Then Lou switched off
the sprinklers, and the grass glittered in the blue-pink dusk.
Her husband’s eyes seemed raw, young to her. “After you,” he said to Ella, with a
It had taken Ella a long time to decide that Bob and Lena should live at Panorama
Village. Ella had chosen it carefully, and slowly, examining room sizes and dessert offerings
and the kindness and number of aides. It was the place that satisfied most of her stringent
requirements. That afternoon, Ella helped Lena and Bob arrange snapshots of themselves and
the family up on a bulletin board. “Bob’s picture goes at the top!” Lena announced, gazing at
her prize, her husband of five months. Her admiration made him blush; he watched as she
gave his photo its own special spot. Ella understood, in some honest part of herself, that this
was where Lena and Bob would live for the rest of their lives.
And it was where she had left her daughter. She did not know what she and Lou
would be like now in their home. She went inside and stood in the kitchen. She had made
sure to thoroughly clean up before they left, so as to come home to a house in order. Lou
grabbed a black cherry soda from the refrigerator and downed it quickly, with great thirst.
They looked at each other like restless children. A variety of feelings hovered, like
clouds, in the air. She wanted, just now, to avoid them. They would come upon her,
powerfully, soon enough.
Lou stood, on the gleaming tile, his hands thrust into his pockets. He was utterly
irreplaceable to her. She had not known, when she was first married, what it would be like to
love this person, a husband, for so many years. Every marriage was a secret, containing its
own bargains, frustrations, and theirs also had its own dealings, its own limits and joys. But
right now she felt completely vulnerable to him.
He smiled, a little evil smile, for he sensed she was thinking kind thoughts about him.
He shuffled his feet a little and swayed his hips in a silly, hopeful way.
“And, God, could that man dance,” he said.
He looked so absurd she could not help laughing. She ducked in to give his stomach
a little slap. He grabbed her wrist and held it.
“Let’s look around,” he said.
She and Lou had to reclaim the house. They both understood this. Holding her hand,
he stepped into the hallway first. He had always been braver than she was.
Lou did not bother to turn on the lights. It seemed enough to get used to the rooms
like this. They walked into the living room. Suddenly, she felt him behind her, his hands on
“Don’t move,” he said, softly. He held her waist firmly with one hand, and with the
other unbuttoned her blouse and slid it gently off her arms. The air was cool on her bare
skin. She looked at him, surprised, a little thrill going up her spine, but could not see his face.
“Let’s go,” he said. She followed him, now in her skirt and bra. His hand was warm,
paternal, encircling hers.
Her eyes adjusted to the darkness of the house. In each room, he stopped and
removed a piece of her clothing. He did it stealthily, throwing each item onto the floor. He
did not touch her besides removing her clothing. Her bra fell onto the floor, then her shoes,
then her skirt. He left articles all over the house strewn beside her cabinet filled with
porcelain figurines, tossed onto the wing-backed divan, little piles on the powder-blue carpet.
By the time they had walked a circle around the house, she was naked, and he was still
clothed. She could see him gazing at her, and she loved to hold his attention like this; she
turned around slowly for him, letting him see all of her.
He came up to her and tenderly stroked her hair, her cool shoulders.
“What about you?” she whispered.
How utterly she knew his body, in all its lives. As a young man, its hard arrogance, the
illusion of infinite strength. Then the lovely softness that evolved as he grew older, more
successful; in his fifties, the ways he grayed. She did not think either of them looked that
different than they did when they were younger. It was only when she saw old photos of
them, forty years ago, that she was shocked by the naivete in their expressions, the slickness of
their hair. She had always imagined she would look back at the two of them at twenty, envy
their smug beauty, but now the untouched quality of their former faces seemed less lovely to
her. The young versions of themselves were so greedy. They wanted everything to be easy
and right. They could not have known how their shared sorrows would sweeten their lust for
Love was the ultimate form of robbery. She needed to take his body from the rest of
the world and make it hers. She went to Lou and removed his clothes quickly, hungrily, and
she felt his naked arms, soft but strong, curve around her.
They knelt, carefully, on the carpet of the living room, this most illicit place, and she
felt the exquisite pressure of his lips butterfly against her neck, her shoulders, her breasts.
“Shh,” he said, bringing her down to the floor, beside him. He touched her skin slowly,
tenderly, for they took longer now, as though, with age, both of them had become more
female. They understood each other’s bodies, the responses that delighted and annoyed them
utterly, yet now their bodies seemed to be revealing new secrets. He touched her ear in a light
way that felt marvelous; she kissed his neck and unearthed a new kind of sigh. Their skin was
soft and babyish in the light; her long, steely hair fell out of its clip and tumbled onto him.
No one would find them in their living room, trespassers, as they loved each other’s hair and
skin and lips. In the darkness, in the luscious quiet, they kissed and fell into each other. That
night, they made the house theirs.