McMansions Part III
A serialized novel.
Remorse wracked Dan Gordon after the catastrophic visit to Jason’s house. He felt responsible. He knew he had not asked Win to come, but he couldn’t help thinking he had something to do with her decision to show up.
He and Inge had left Jason’s house almost immediately after Jason. Now, ensconced at a distant McDonald’s, they reviewed the whole history of that awful morning. Over and over Dan replayed his conversation with Win, recalling that evening when she had sat in his kitchen as he stirred his soup. He had let her manipulate him. She had been so warm-to Inge, Dan did not say that Win had been sexy. He had drunk one glass of wine too many. With diabolical precision she had pricked his professional pride. The result was that he had told her about the upcoming visit.
"But you didn’t invite her," Inge said.
"No, but I said something she could twist that way," Dan replied. "I said she’d be right there with us. I meant in spirit-but why did I do that?"
"Dan, she just used that." They had already been over this many times.
"I’m going to talk to Jason," he replied nervously. "I’ll explain. He and Gwen might straighten this out."
Inge was dubious. "I don’t think so, Dan." "First, I want to call Gwen," he continued, not listening. "I think I should, don’t you? Do you think she’s home yet?"
But night had fallen before Gwen answered her phone. When she did, her voice was thick, as if she had been crying. She had already spoken to Jason, and it was indeed over. He had told her they would not see each other anymore. He wasn’t ready for a relationship after all. He was exquisitely polite but he was impenetrable. Her explanations had bounced off him as if off glass, leaving no mark.
"Gwen, I never invited her," said Dan, stricken. "I told her we were going, but I didn’t…"
"Oh, I know that, Dan."
"No, I’m afraid you don’t know. You don’t know everything. I-"
"Stop, Dan. Don’t tell me. I don’t even care. I’m not blaming you."
"But how did she end up in your car?" he continued. "Did she ask to go with you?"
"Oh…" At this Gwen again began to cry. "No! No, she didn’t! She just showed up! I was seconds away from leaving my house and the doorbell rang. I answered it, thinking who in the heck-and there was Win with all that coffee, saying why didn’t we ride together. And you know, we’re all so polite that people like Win walk all over us. I could not look her in the eye and say no! And that’s when she got me with my watch."
"What do you mean?"
"She put it there! She buckled it right onto my purse! I keep it on a table by the door, with my keys. I was just getting my coat on and blathering on about being late-I was upset, is the thing, that she’d shown up. I was thinking about what to do and I was confused. And she said something like, ‘Here, let me help you, we can make it,’ and she stuck my watch on my bag and handed me the whole thing. And we rushed out the door. I didn’t like it and I knew Jason would hate it. Inge probably told you about my boots."
"So I was going to put the watch on my wrist as soon as we got to the house. Then Win got out of the car first and I was so eager to get in and explain-"
"She’s evil," said Dan, awed.
"And now Jason just gives me this terrible horrible courtesy. This is the other side of courtesy, I guess-I’m seeing it now! ‘Cause I used to love how polite he was! I used to really, really admire that! The thing is, though-" she choked on her words. "The thing is, I still do." And her voice was swallowed by her tears. "Gwen." But she continued to weep.
"I’m still really crazy about him! I know he’s not being fair, but Dan, he’s such a good man."
Dan thought, as he said a gentle goodbye, that he had never heard anything so pathetic.
That winter, the housing market-that great rollicking joyride- ran out of gas.
The implications for Dan and Inge were grave. Dan’s business depended on real estate, and it stalled along with the market. In the best of times, he earned only at the margins of what they needed, so there was no room in their budget for his income to fall. Inge’s business had already been in a slump and the floundering economy did nothing to revive it. For too many hours each week she fruitlessly trolled the Internet for new projects.
The matter of whether they could continue to send the kids to Caro, which had hovered uncertainly over their lives for several years, could no longer be avoided. They applied for financial aid, and neither of them doubted that they would get it. But the application process humiliated and depressed them. For the first time, they understood unequivocally that it was time to leave. They were finished with those families, anyway: their careers, their divorces, their staggering houses.
Yet the Gordon children, blithely unaware of their parents’ difficulties, were on a blessedly steady course at Caro. Dan and Inge knew that even when things are going poorly it is no small matter to a child to change schools, and they dreaded breaking this news. Silently-without telling the children-they enrolled all three in public school for the fall.
The weather had been cold, giving Inge an excuse to drive through the carpool line, rather than pick up her children on foot. The excuse was welcome. She was avoiding Gwen. Inge knew Gwen was still suffering from the breakup with Jason and she suspected that the teacher would be grateful for a shoulder to cry on.