Home Leave: A Novel

Home Leave: A Novel by Brittani Sonnenberg Page A

Book: Home Leave: A Novel by Brittani Sonnenberg Read Free Book Online
Authors: Brittani Sonnenberg
do you think I do when I travel? Hang out? Go to the beach? I’m working my ass off, Elise. For us. I don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but it’s definitely not for us, and it’s certainly not for Leah.”
    Too far. Elise turns her back to him, draws the covers over her like chain mail.
    “Elise—”
    “Look, you obviously don’t understand. So there’s no point staying up talking about it. I’m tired. Good night.”
    She’s right. He doesn’t get it. He feels very, very tired and helpless, like when his calf died right before the county fair. His mother told him about it in the morning. Lucky was gone before Chris could see him one last time. That was the worst thing about it.
    “Hold me?” he asks. He hates the strangled tone in his voice, hates himself for asking anything of her now. Wimp, he hears in his head: from his father, from his coach, from that Singaporean Indian jerk on the park bench in Bombay.
    But the request softens Elise. She turns to him and spoons his back, her small breasts pressed flat against his skin, both of their bodies still moist.
    “Good night,” she says again after a while, more gently.
    “Good night.”
    He can’t sleep, of course. Typical jet lag—you enter the point of pure weariness and stay there, as if it were a cruising altitude. His thoughts are in several time zones, feverish. He keeps seeing the Indian hotel attendant with the flowers, bringing him good news. He pictures Elise on her “trips” with a shadowy stranger, and he tosses in bed, trying to erase the stranger from his thoughts, wanting to trust Elise, telling himself that he is lucky to be married to someone so independent. But by the time he falls asleep, at six a.m., as the neighbors’ sprinklers go on and dogs are being taken out for early walks, luck seems like its reverse, and he desperately wants something dire to happen, to bring them back together.
    *  *  *
    Two weeks later, sitting down at breakfast, Elise tries to coax Leah to eat her Cheerios. Chris has chosen to take off the morning from work. Wearing a UGA Bulldogs T-shirt and boxers, he luxuriates in this domestic scene. Finally Leah has swallowed enough cereal to satisfy Elise, and she is permitted to go watch Sesame Street in the living room. Elise and Chris turn to each other with strange, secretive expressions.
    “What?” Elise asks.
    “What?” says Chris.
    “You go first,” Elise says.
    “No, you.”
    “I’m pregnant again,” Elise says after a long pause, looking out the window. “Let’s hope your news is better.”
    Chris decides to ignore this last sentiment and lifts her up off her feet, swings her around, inadvertently banging her ankle on the kitchen counter. “That’s incredible,” he says. “I’m so happy to hear it.” He looks at her, concerned. “How about you?”
    “Sure,” she says, rubbing her ankle. “I just need some time to get used to it.” Something in her drains away as she says this. Earlier that morning, making coffee, she had contemplated a new kind of field trip: to the gynecologist’s office, to get an abortion, without telling Chris. He would never agree to it, she knows. She forces a smile and allows herself to admit that she is, somewhere, excited about a second child.
    “What’s your news?” she asks.
    “England.” Chris says. “I’ve been promoted. They want me in London as soon as Jason Raleigh retires.”

Morning, Broken
    Singapore, October 1996
    Elise Kriegstein: 42, mother
    Chris Kriegstein: 42, father
    Leah Kriegstein: 15, elder daughter
    Sophie Kriegstein: 13, younger daughter
    James Alderman: 45, therapist
    Setting : Therapist’s office in downtown Singapore. Neutral hues. A few framed watercolors on the wall depict local scenes with a distinctly colonial vibe, including a traditional “black and white” villa (the former residences of British civil servants), the Raffles hotel, and one amateurish botanical print of a Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid. Chris and

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