Nine Inches

Nine Inches by Tom Perrotta

Book: Nine Inches by Tom Perrotta Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tom Perrotta
he was closest to. It was as if he were still a child, a little boy sitting at the big table, listening to the grown-ups talk in their loud voices, laughing whenever they did, without having the vaguest idea of what was supposed to be so funny.
    Well, at least now he knew the right questions to ask. All he had to do was go home and wait for Martha to wake up and come downstairs. He could show her the picture and demand that she tell him everything, the whole sorry history of her deception. But the thought of doing that just then — of leaving the garage and trudging back across Lonny’s yard in the pouring rain to have a conversation that was going to break his heart — suddenly seemed impossible, way beyond his strength. It was close to fi ve in the morning, and he was just too tired.
    Instead of going home, he turned o ff the light and climbed into the sofa bed. Th e mattress was thin and lumpy, but it felt good to be o ff his feet. He didn’t mind that this was the bed on which Lonny had died, the bed his wife had shared with another man. Right now, it was just a place to rest. He drew the sheet up to his chin, closed his eyes, and waited for sleep to come.
    Everything would have been fi ne if it weren’t for the oak tree rustling and scraping overhead, groaning as though in pain. A few times Gus thought he heard a distinct cracking sound, as if one of the big limbs were splitting o ff from the trunk, about to come crashing down through the roof. He pulled the sheet all the way over his head and began humming to drown out the noise. It wasn’t a song, just a random succession of notes — hum dee dum dee dee dee do — and he couldn’t help wondering if Lonny had done something similar near the end of his own life, on those nights he’d spent in the garage. Because he was an old man, and he was scared. Because he was alone out here, and no one was coming to comfort him.

    ETHAN DIDN’T WANT TO GO TO THE MIDDLE SCHOOL dance, but the vice principal twisted his arm. He said it was like jury duty: the system only made sense if everybody stepped up and nobody got special treatment. Besides, he added, you might as well do it now, get it over with before the new baby comes and things get even crazier.
    Ethan saw the logic in this, but it didn’t make him feel any less guilty about leaving the house on Friday evening with the dishes unwashed and Fiona just getting started on her nightly meltdown — apparently her busy-toddler day wasn’t complete unless she spent an hour or two shrieking her head o ff before bedtime. Donna smiled coldly at him from the couch, as if he’d volunteered to be a chaperone out of spite, just to make her life that much more di ffi cult.
    “Don’t worry about us,” she called out as he buttoned his coat. “We’ll be fi ne.”
    She had to speak in a louder-than-normal voice to make herself heard over Fiona, who was standing in the middle of the living room in yellow Dr. Denton’s, her fi sts balled and her face smeared with a familiar glaze of snot, tears, and unquenchable fury.
    “No, Daddy!” she bellowed. “You stay home!”
    “I’m sorry,” Ethan said, not quite sure if he was apologizing to his wife or his child. “I tried to get out of it.”
    Donna sco ff ed, as if this were a likely story. She was usually a more understanding person, but this pregnancy wasn’t bringing out the best in her. Only fi ve months along, she had already begun groaning like a martyr every time she hoisted herself out of a chair or bent down to tie her shoe. She was also sweating a lot, and her face had taken on a permanent pink fl ush, as if she were embarrassed by her entire life. Ethan couldn’t say he was looking forward to the next several months. Or the next several years, for that matter.
    “Love you guys,” he said, inching toward the door.
    HIS SPIRITS li ft ed as he got into his car. It was a crisp March night with a faraway whi ff of spring sweetening the breeze, and he

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