by Robert Kornhiser
"That's an odd name. Sorrel. I don't think I've ever heard it." She'd been sitting off by herself in the Student Union going over her notes for an Econ test. He was carrying two containers of coffee from the Howard student union.
"I hope you take milk and sugar. One sugar? Did I guess right?" Sorrel was only a few pounds above model thin. He held out the container.
"Getting hot." Sorrel reached out and accepted the burning cup. "All right if I sit?"
"I was reviewing. Have a bitch of an Econ test next class."
"Understood. I'll split as soon as we finish the coffee. OK?"
"Suit yourself." And he sat. "I'm Mal Howard." He laughed. "University namesake."
"The original Howard was white."
"I know that but we all have some white in us. You know them crackers."
"I do?" There was a hint of testiness in her voice.
"Come on. It's just some figure of speech."
"Are you an English major?"
"Architecture. That's how they met. In 1988. She'd seen Mal around campus. He was preppy. Chinos, always a collared shirt, letter sweater on cool days, close-cropped hair. He even wore penny-loafers (without the penny), and white socks. The only thing cool about him was his glasses aviators, with a blue tint. He wore them all year round, including winter and often at night.
"What do you see in him?" Sorrel's sorority sisters always asked. "Sure he's smart but he can't even dance."
"Stereotype. You should be ashamed."
"Shoot me. And he's darker than you."
"And has nappier hair? God, Gloria, you're so damn Jim Crow."
"I'm only giving you a reality check, Sor'. What'll your family say? You're Jack and Jill."
Which of course she was. Jack and Jill, the highly discrete national social club for upper class African-Americans, the DAR and Junior League for professional, well-to-do Blacks.
Like most Jack and Jillers, Sorrel's complexion had been filtered through the sieve of whiteness over generations, so her skin was now the color of the coffee light that Mal had brought her that afternoon. And if she worked at it, she could relax her hair, which was "good hair" to begin with, to a fair approximation of white. Add to that, her father was a very successful lawyer in the family firm that went back three generations in Pittsburgh, and her mother was a chemist in the labs at PP&G.
Her family even had a vacation house in Oak Bluff on Martha's Vineyard, the summer haven for America's black elite. Of course they were "black" only in name; most were like Sorrel, light brown through generations of inter-marriage with other light-skinned blacks, often brought about through Jack and Jill.
"My mother rode." This was on their first date. Mal took Sorrel to an Ethiopian restaurant off of Dupont Circle in D. C.
"Yes, horses. That's why she named me."
"Call me ignorant, Sorrel, but I don't understand."
She explained that a sorrel was a copper colored horse, and that was her color, and her mother had combined her two loves in her name.
"My father hated the name, but mother prevailed."
"They usually do."
"Horse? Like in shows?"
"Yes. Get over it, Mal. I don't ride."
"Why is it good? Black people can't ride? What about the Buffalo Soldiers? You'll never be an architect? Black people don't design buildings. Is that what you want them to say? They only clean them?"
Their romance was contentious. And at a distance. And over time. After graduation, Mal went to New York. He got a drafting position at Skidmore Merril Owens. He was the only black in the firm. He never knew if he was the token, or an affirmative action hire. He liked to think it was his ability and training, but he could never be sure. So, like most professional blacks, he worked harder, the uncertainty driving him.
Sorrel had gone back home, taking an LLD at Pitt. She could have gone into the family firm but took a position with a non-profit, an advocacy for the mentally ill. It gave her satisfaction. At first she lived at home then was able to get a share downtown with a young lawyer like herself, Janice Huff, a white girl from Akron who worked with the same agency.
While they often ate dinner out together, they seldom socialized at clubs. Janice liked hard rock, Sorrel was into progressive folk. Occasionally, they'd go to a local bar on a Friday. But it was almost all white, and Sorrel often stood alone while guys hit on Janice. Except one time in the 90s.
"This your friend?" The white guy asked Janice, who was a little drunk.
"Roomie. Her name's Sorrel, and she's very smart and she'd whip your sorry ass in court any day."
"I only speak the truth." Janice turned to the white guy's friend, so Sorrel was left with him. He pushed closer. He was tall and good looking.
"Couple of spots opened up. Care to sit?"
"Why not. Sure." And they got a small table off to the side.
"You're drinking white wine. I noticed." The waiter came over and he ordered a white for her and a red for himself.
"Come here a lot?"
"Not really. Once in a while with Janice." And that's how it started. His name was Ron. He was five years older than her, 34. He was Jewish from Scranton but had stayed on in the city after Pitt. He was an assistant DA. His father owned a string of McDonald's across central PA. His mother was a kindergarten teacher.
She fell in love with him slowly. He was the proverbial nice guy. Not pushy. Not overly into-himself. Ambitious, but not too. Into his work but not slavishly. Had a number of friends, white and black, who played touch football on Sunday mornings in the cool weather.
He moved slowly with her. They dated for a month before he put the moves on her. They'd come back to her place (Janice was in Akron) after seeing a play at Duquesne one of Ron's friends, who was a professor there had directed.
Sorrel opened a bottle of wine, but before she poured it, she leaned over and kissed him. "Well?" He put out the lamp and made love to her first on the couch, then on the floor. The sex was good. He was kind and considerate, undemanding. Afterwards, they took the wine and glasses into her bedroom and drank and talked for a while.
"I was wondering when you were going to hit on me."
"If you hadn't tonight, I probably wouldn't have seen you again."
"I'd made up my mind."
The remark disconcerted Ron. He didn't understand it or her completely, but he covered up his confusion. "I was just waiting for the right time." It was true, he had moved slowly, not wanting Sorrel to think he was just some white guy looking for some forbidden sex. "I knew it was going to happen." This was also true. "Just a matter of when."
They moved in together the next month, into Ron's loft, near the river. They lived there for two years until Sorrel had an abortion. It was more Ron's idea than hers. He loved Sorrel but he didn't want children.
"This is not a world to bring children into." Sorrel's feelings were terrifically conflicted. She loved Ron, but his not wanting a child with her seemed like a rejection not of the child, but of her. And then there was the unspoken. He didn't want a child because no matter how light it was, it was black. And there was the child itself. No one in Sorrel's family, which was AME, ever had an abortion.
When they got back from the clinic the afternoon of the procedure, she was unusually quiet and sat by the window looking at the river going by. She knew it was over but couldn't bring herself to tell Ron because she knew he loved her in his way and he would be hurt terribly.
Which he was, several months later, when her brother and his friend came with a van to move out Sorrel's things. She went back home.
"What have you been doing?"
It was the 10th reunion of their Howard class. Mal came over with two glasses of wine.
"A wine offering. See how we've progressed."
"You don't remember? The coffee in the Student Union?"
"Is it Mal?"
"I haven't changed that much, have I?" The truth was he had, adding at least 20 pounds, and he no longer had the aviators. He still had the chinos and penny loafers, but now he had a navy Brooks Bros. blazer, and a blue pin-striped shirt, collared of course.
"No," she lied. "I think it's your glasses. Where are ?"
"Of course. And I was distracted. Trying to put names to faces."
"That's why they have name tags. Mind if I sit?"
"Of course not."
"God knows what we'll need for the 50th to remember each other. Of course I knew you right off."
And they began to catch up. Left unspoken was the way Sorrel had dumped Mal after a few inconclusive dates ten years past. She told him then she was too busy for anything serious. Which was only partially true. The truth of the matter was he was too a nice a guy. He hadn't come on to her, and in spite of his intelligence and respectful ways, she just didn't get turned on by him. But of course she could never say that.
"Ten years later. Are you ready for something serious?"
"What?" They'd gone outside for some air and were walking near Douglass Hall.
"That's what you said when you dumped me."
"I don't remember." But she remembered, and was grateful it was night, and that they were shaded from the streetlights by the large trees overhanging them.
"I think you do. But I'm over it."
"Ten years, Mal. Long time. We're different now."
"I hope so."
"I am. Water under the bridge, and all that."
"Chastened by life?"
"Who isn't?" The truth of the matter is Mal's ten years had gone rather well. After three years at Skidmore, they'd asked him to take the lead in designing the interior offices of a hedge fund CEO. Mal had to work closely with the client and he later commissioned Mal to design his summer lodge upstate on a private lake in the Adirondacks.
Once that project was done, the CEO backed Mal, who left Skidmore to open up his own design shop, and he introduced Mal to a string of wealthy clients.
"We're doing two homes in the Hamptons, and I'm flying down to Naples, Florida tomorrow morning to look at a property on the water. They want to re-model. Plus, I have a number of other commissions in the pipeline. I have three people working for me. All white."
They both laughed and even slapped a five. "So, that's how we judge success at Howard?"
"Delicious, isn't it?"
They spent the night at the Willard, Washington's grand dame of hotels, a confection of marble and gilt, in the beaux arts style of a century ago. It was Mal's room. He ordered champagne from room service and it got better from there. The next morning they ate on the terrace on the square outside the hotel taking advantage of the mild early spring.
"Our parents couldn't have stayed here."
"Sorrel? Can I confess?" She wasn't up for any confessions. Any heart to hearts. She'd enjoyed the sex with Mal last night, more than she'd cared to admit. She hadn't had sex since Ron, almost two years ago, so last night was more than just sex, but she knew that it would be a distortion to think that what she felt with Mal last night was truly real.
"You said you weren't involved."
"Neither am I. I've been so busy working, building my business. Well, you know how it is. Maybe I'm ready."
"That damn word again."
"Give it a try?"
"Mal. I live in Pittsburgh?"
"I'll pay for your plane fare. That's no problem." A helicopter flew over, momentarily drowning them out, giving Sorrel time to think.
Romantically, Pittsburgh was proving a dead end. The number of decent black professional men was limited, and getting more so each year she advanced beyond 30. The pool was small to begin with, and the best were picked off early, a good number by white women.
As far as informal match-making through Jack and Jill, she was aging out; it was best for hopefuls a decade or more younger. And she didn't want to go white again. It had upset her family, her father especially, although he had liked Ron personally. Speaking of whom, she saw at the courthouse now and again, each time making her uneasy, so the idea of possibly getting out of Pittsburgh, as much as she loved the city, was very appealing.
"Restricted airspace." They were one block from The White House. "The helicopter. Probably the president."
"I could try those plane tickets seriously."
They were married at the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel on the Howard campus six years later, with the reception at the Willard. Sorrel's father had passed by then, so her brother gave her away. Mal's family came up from outside of Raleigh.
When they first met Sorrel, they had disapproved. They thought she was a bit stuck up, his father calling her "hincty" under his breath. But she worked at winning them over, paying attention especially to a handicapped nephew when she visited from New York.
They'd lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in a brownstone Mal bought and gut rehabbed. They had two tenants and Spike Lee lived next door for several years. By the time they married, Mal's firm had grown to about 20. Mostly white but not all.
"What about children?"
Gloria, one of a half-a-dozen of Sorrel's sorority sisters at the wedding, had drunk a bit too much. After Howard, she did graduate work at BU and was teaching psychology at Radcliffe. Her husband was Morehouse (Dr. King's alma mater,) a surgeon at Brigham & Women's in Boston, and a member of Sigma Pi Phi, the most selective black fraternity in the country.
"You talked about children? Sorrel? Mal's still the nice guy. But what about ?"
"No. We've never talked about it."
Which was true. Once or twice Mal seemed to want to broach it but Sorrel turned it away. Somehow the child she had or hadn't had with Ron stood in the way. She couldn't explain it rationally. "But, whatever we have, if we have, we'll love it."
"I'm sure you will. But what about your family?" Sorrel's mother could pass. Her brother was lighter than her. And some cousins. A few relatives were a bit darker, but not much.
"Gloria, this is a happy day? And you shouldn't drink any more." And she turned quickly to get ready to throw the bouquet. But she knew Gloria was right.
Another six years. Sorrel recalled it was a snowy night in December and they'd been debating all evening about where to go for Christmas. South to Raleigh to Mal's family, or west to Sorrel's? Compounding the problem was they'd been to Sorrel's family in Pittsburgh only that Thanksgiving, but her mother was ill, and her brother was insistent they come out.
The snow was getting heavier, the flakes coming down faster across the streetlight. Sorrel was sitting at the window with a glass of pinot grigio that she often liked before bed. She'd been working on a brief all day for Wednesday. She was suing the city to get services for an autistic child. Since she'd come to New York, she and her partner, another Howard alum, had built a modest practice representing mental health clients.
"I have to drive up to Greenwich tomorrow." Mal was at the computer. "Forecast isn't good."
"Always take the train."
"Then I'd have to take the subway on this end, and a taxi from the station in Greenwich."
"True. Maybe the client could pick you up?"
"Possibly, but I'd have to arrange it."
Sorrel sipped her wine. She loved the white yellow liquor as it eased up the tapering glass catching the sparkling lights of the small Christmas tree she and Mal had put up last night. They'd stayed in Saturday and put up the tree.
"Might be nice to have a kid?"
"A kid," Mal said again. "Christmas? Presents? Toys?"
"You don't sound all that enthusiastic. You're getting near 40."
"I'm aware of what I'm getting near."
"Sorry. I only "
"No, Mal." She went over to him and gave him a peck. "Sorry back." That was it. Mal didn't want to push it.
He knew for some reason children were a sore point for Sorrel, but he was frankly afraid to bring it up, afraid it might push her away. The last time in Raleigh, his folks had brought it up in an off-hand way and he was easily able to handle them then, but he worried about the next times. Married and successful would never be enough for his mom and dad. Later, they streamed a silly romcom Mal hated but endured, then went to bed.
She'd expected Mal would want sex but he went right off, snoring so much she took a blanket, closed the bedroom door and went out to the couch.
She wasn't unhappy about the no sex. Lately, it hadn't interested her that much. The change had come gradually. Not that she had been that randy, but the several years after their marriage had been pretty lustful. Maybe three times a week. And it was she, Sorrel, who had initiated a good deal of it. She tried to read. But couldn't concentrate. She got up and took the pinot grigio from the fridge, and poured another a glass, shutting out all the lights. She opened the drapes and went back to the couch covering herself. From here she could watch the flakes coming down outside.
For some reason, maybe because the apartment was dark except for the street light coming in and maybe because the heavy falling snow outside masked the cityscape, thoughts of Pittsburgh and the river and the loft overlooking it, and of Ron came to her.
"Damn." She hadn't thought of Ron for a while, but his image and the feelings she once had for him came back, not in a rush but in a sly, insidious way, and the memory came into her of a night they held each other in a terrifying storm over the city, while making love three times, watching the lightning strike and charge the river every so often with a thrilling violence leaving them too exhausted to catch the sunrise when the storm finally passed.
"Go away, Ron. Please." She swallowed the wine in a gulp "Go " and pulled the blanket up, trying to think of something else while Mal's dulled asthma snorts came off and on through the bedroom walls.
Maybe six weeks later, after the holidays when they had gone home to Raleigh and Pittsburgh separately, Sorrel reached over the mattress in the middle of the night for Mal but he wasn't there. Having to pee anyway, she got up and saw a light on in the living room. Mal was on the lap top. He flipped it shut when he heard her.
"Are you watching porn? Mal? I have to pee." She went in the bathroom, then came out and went back into the living room.
"I didn't ask you that. Remember we always tell the truth."
"I don't remember that. Not that I'm in the habit of lying, Sor'."
"It's implied. The not lying."
"It wasn't actually porn."
"You're telling me I didn't see what I saw?"
"For god-sakes, it was only Craigslist."
"Only Craigslist? Can you enlighten me?"
Mal got up and went to the fridge. "Milk?" Sorrel shook her head no.
"I'm waiting." He came back and sat at his work station. He said Craigslist had a personals site, ads.
"And you look at ads?"
"Yes, sometimes. Can't sleep. You know?"
"No I don't know. And you answer ads?"
"Answer? God no. I'm not crazy. It's curiosity. There are some crazy people on here."
"Curiosity killed the cat."
"Men are curious." "That's not all. And I don't buy the men are whatever' explanation for a minute." Sorrel got quiet. Mal knew enough to say nothing further. Time ticked off slowly.
"Let me see."
"I want to see what the fuss is." She sat on the couch. A bit uncertain, Mal brought over the laptop, opening the screen.
"If there's nothing to hide?"
He typed, Craigslist new york city personals. The menu came up: strictly platonic women seek women women seeking men men seeking women men seeking men misc romance casual encounters missed connections rants and raves
"Which do you look at? Out of curiosity?"
"Well, I'm not looking at men seeking men."
"I wouldn't think so." Sorrel got up. "I'm thirsty."
"No. We still have some white from the weekend?" She went over to the fridge. "Just enough for one. You mind, Mal?"
"Go ahead, shoot yourself." She poured the glass of wine and came back.
And he clicked casual encounters. "One night stands. Hook-ups. Kink."
"You're an expert."
"You asked, Sor'." He got up. "I'm going to bed. Coming?"
"I just poured my wine. I'm up now."
"Well, I am. I'm tired," leaving his lap top with her. Craigslist casual encounters w4m m4m m4w w4w t4m m4t mw4mw mw4m w4mw m4mw w4ww. There was a stew of letter combinations Sorrel tried to unravel. "t4m? t for a male? t?" she thought. "Oh, my god, I am not looking there." But she did look at m4w. "Ugh." A slew of male junk poked at her.
"That's supposed to attract a woman?" Yet she scrolled down some more. One guy stopped her. He was sitting on the hood of a newer Camarro. He was about 30. Trim. All his clothes. Tight , muscle tee, jeans, bare feet. Buzz cut. White. No junk. "More like it."
She drank some wine and scanned more ads. She found herself looking at white men. It bothered her, then it didn't. What was it? a guilty, harmless pleasure? She finished her wine, closed the tab and went to bed.
Three weeks later she was in a bar on Lexington Ave. waiting for a Craigslist guy. And so was Mal. It happened this way: Last Saturday evening Mal had come in pissed from an appointment in New Jersey. A Russian had a triple lot in Sea Bright on the water he wanted to build on.
"When I got out of the car, I could see he took a step back."
"No, I'm not. I'm wearing a custom-made $1800 suit and $700 Guccis and I'm driving a new Lexus, and he looks at me like I'm the fucking gardener."
"Mal, honey "
"It's not the first time."
"I know. I know. We'll have a drink and you'll forget about it."
"No, I won't but we'll have the drink." In fact, they had more than one. And by the time eleven or so rolled around Mal was stumbling a bit and Sorrel was floating.
"Want to go on Craigslist?" It was Sorrel.
"Craigslist? You sure? w4mw?"
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Whatever you want." From Mal's point of view, anything that might stimulate them these days was a plus. They surfed for a while. Mal had another drink. Sorrel nursed hers.
"Mal. I wrote an ad."
"You did what?"
"I wrote one."
"No, I'm serious. We don't have to do anything."
"Jesus Christ, I think you are serious." She took the lap top and opened the ad she'd drafted that evening before he'd come home.
"It could be fun."
"You want another guy? You could get killed."
"That's why I included you."
"Thanks. What the hell am I supposed to do?"
"Whatever you want. Just read it. Just watch whatever "
He took the laptop. Sorrel poured some more wine for herself and went to the window. She sat on the ledge looking out at the street. Two couples presumably, the women in front, the guys walking behind came past the house chatting, their voices carrying up to her in the quiet street though she couldn't understand what they were saying.
"You're looking for a white guy? Jesus, Sorrel." He closed the lap top tossing it clumsily on the couch and got up. He was a bit unsteady.
"Had too much."
He walked over to her. "Something's wrong with you. Of all the you're not serious." Sorrel stayed silent. "You are. Have you ever had a white guy?"
"You're sure? Not in your Pittsburgh days?"
"I think I'd remember, Mal."
"A fuckin' white guy. We're not making babies, but I thought we were doing pretty well."
"But you want a white guy. You see what's happening here I want another " And he went to the kitchen. "Ice?"
She told him it was in the bowl. He came back with the drink but only held it in his hand. He walked back and forth not looking at her.
"Here's what's happening." Mal was more agitated than he'd been at the Russian in Jersey. "You go on w4m, or the one you want to go on, w4mw, you know what the white women always want? BBC. You know what that is, Sorrel?"
"I can guess."
"In their minds the black man is a well-hung animal. A stud. An animal. And you, a black woman, you're looking for a white man? A cracker."
"No, no, no. It's racism on both sides. If you were just looking for a man I might buy curiosity, change. But you want white. We can't escape it no matter how many $1800 suits are hanging in my closet. It's about goddamn race here "
"Mal, it's not."
"Don't tell me, I was Phi Beta Kappa at Howard." He downed the drink. "I'm going to bed." He left the glass on the end table and walked out.
The silence lasted a long time. Sorrel got up, got the lap top and went back to her window. For some reason she thought about the couples who had passed before and wondered if they were happy.
She flipped open the lap top, cut and pasted her ad on Craigslist and pressed SEND.
Then she turned out the lights and went into the bedroom and undressed. She lay down next to Mal who was on his side away from her. She put her arm over his back and kissed his bare shoulder but he didn't respond. She stayed that way for a long time until she was able to sleep.
"I've changed my mind." They were out to dinner at a Moroccan place in the East Village ten blocks or so from Mal's studio. He'd called Sorrel at the last minute to meet him there after they both finished work that evening. It was the first time they'd been out to dinner, just the two of them, in a while.
"You sent the ad."
"I told you."
"I've been thinking about it. I'll come along."
That was Thursday. Saturday he (they) were in the Lexington bar waiting for the m. According to the emails, they were to sit near the front and Sorrel was to wear something red. She wore her red Hermes scarf Mal had given her several birthdays back.
He came on time, 8:30. He was about 5' 10". Lean. He had a brown leather bomber jacket and black jeans. He was significantly younger, late 20s. With sandy hair that was beginning to thin. And he was white.
"Sorrel? Am I saying it right?"
"Mal?" Mal nodded. "Did you get the room?"
"Then we can go."
"I like room service," and he stepped outside, Sorrel and Mal following.
"Wait." They were on the sidewalk. "I talk to you?" Mal took the m out of Sorrel's hearing. "I'm not a cuckold, I'm not bi."
"Me neither. I'm straight. It was in our messages."
"I didn't read them."
"Oh - Mal?"
"This is your first time?" Mal nodded.
"Let me explain something. It's all about the woman. This is something your wife wants, yes?" He nodded again. "Think of it that way. You're pleasing her. But I don't want you to freak. Sometimes the husband freaks. You cool?"
Mal turned his back to Sorrel and carefully handed m three hundreds. "I don't take money. I'm in real estate."
"You take it, to show my bona fides. Think of it as a gift."
They took a taxi up to Times Square. No one said a thing in the cab. Sorrel was very nervous. In the hotel elevator, Sorrel put her head down. She imagined everyone in the car knew the score.
They were on a high floor overlooking Times Square. They could leave the drapes open but Mal closed them when Sorrel asked him.
"And dim the lights." m undressed first. He kept his tee shirt on but pulled off his jeans. He wasn't wearing underwear. "You sit over there, Mal. I think that'd be better. And maybe you can call room service. Any cocktail for me."
Mal took off his coat, putting it over the chair and sat down to watch. Sorrel, who was standing near the king size bed, had taken off her jacket. When she began unbuttoning her blouse, m said no, and he began to undress her. He didn't kiss her but he nuzzled her neck.
Mal saw that Sorrel's eyes were closed as she fell back on the bed. m knelt in front of her, kissing her tummy. "You were right. You could pass for Hispanic, maybe even white. Nice." And he began to rub her between her legs.
"Wait." Mal stood up. m stopped and turned around.
"You're supposed to sit."
"I want to wrestle."
"What the - ? Not part of the game, Mal. Remember? It's about Sorrel here."
"I think I know what it's about. Here." Mal threw five one hundreds on the bed. "We wrestle."
"We're not gonna hurt each other. Like you said. Just a game." Mal started to strip down. He was in his underwear. He took off his socks and moved two chairs to give them room.
"Mal, you look ridiculous," said Sorrel.
"I don't know," m was very hesitant.
"You're going to wrestle," and Mal grabbed at m to put him in a headlock.
"For fuck's sake."
"Come on, white boy." And they tumbled to the floor.
m was lithe with a swimmer's body and he had the age but Mal had weight and desire. They tumbled about for a good five minutes, grunting, working up a sweat, but no one getting hurt.
At first, Sorrel thought it silly typical men being boys. But then she found herself being aroused. In some way the men were fighting for her. And she got off on their touching each other. She liked it when m got his legs wrapped around Mal. And when he topped him briefly. Finally, Mal breathing hard, turned m and pinned him.
"I give, Mal, I give."
Mal got off of him and sat on the bed. Sorrel lay back with her eyes closed.
"Well?" It was m.
"I," said Sorrel, "want you both."
"OK by me." m peeled off his tee and got next to Sorrel putting his hand on her stomach and began to move it down.
"Come on, Mal. You heard the lady. This is her night, champ." After a minute or so, Mal put out the lights, opened the drapes and began to take off his underwear.
The following Monday, Mal left for two weeks on business on the West Coast. Every night they spoke on the phone. Everything seemed normal. They didn't speak about the hotel. But Sorrel thought about it frequently at night lying awake before sleep. She'd never imagined having the two men at once. It just happened and she certainly didn't regret it. She wasn't sure, but she might ask Mal if he'd do it again. Maybe with a white guy, maybe with someone else. She'd just have to wait and see.
Mal came home on a Saturday early evening. The sun had already set by 6, so Sorrel needed the lights on. She had prepared a fish fillet, and rice, and asparagus. (She only cooked on Saturday unless they went out.) And a pie from a recipe she got from Mal's mother that was a particular favorite. She was sweeping the living room. She was laughing to herself because she found a few needles from the Christmas tree they'd gotten rid of months ago when Mal came in. He stood in the hallway, his luggage next to him.
"I've been thinking about that night."
"What?" She was bent over pushing the dust and needles into the pan.
"In Times Square." He didn't move from the door. "I think I want a separation."
She didn't know what to say, but just sank to the floor and sat, holding the dust pan and brush awkwardly, hopelessly, in front of her. She smelled the pie burning.