Jen pulled the library door shut and leaned against it.
“Should I sit down?” she said.
“That’s a little dramatic. Then again. It might not hurt.”
She settled onto the leather sofa. I sat beside her. She put a hand on my knee.
“My guess, this isn’t good. What? Five more years?”
“Five? Maybe more than that.”
“Maybe? I thought this was the inside line.”
“God. I don’t know that I’m good for one more year. Five?”
“You could leave him.”
“The pre-nup. I leave, I get a couple cans of dog food.”
“It can’t be that bad.”
“Not much better. So how many. Years.”
“Maybe you don’t want to concentrate on the exact number. Think instead about what you want from life. Regardless where Leo is in it.”
“I want the life to which I am accustomed. The house. The bottomless bank account. The BMW. Paris for clothes. New York. The maid. The trainer. All that. Except no Leo.”
“So you get a care attendant. Somebody to prop him up in the morning. Get him his glass of brandy. Wake him up for lunch. How much do you have to be involved?”
“Spoken like a man who’s never cared for anyone. No offense. But you can’t ignore it, Charles. It’s like water dripping in your house. You can’t pretend it’s not happening. Dripping water, you call a plumber. But this…”
“That’s what I’m saying. You call in help.”
“You can’t get enough help. The only help is…”
“He’s dead. So how many years.”
“A drink might not be a bad idea. You keep a bottle in here?”
“Just tell me.”
She squeezed my knee hard with one hand. With the other she covered her mouth.
What a joke this was turning out to be!
Then her laughter turned into sobbing that grew louder, and the tears rolled down her cheeks in a gray torrent (thanks to her mascara), and despite the botox that had generally transformed her brow into a smooth slate, now, as if an emotional earthquake were unleashing deep facial tectonics, a pair of gullies rose toward her hairline from the bridge of her nose.
“Sixteen years! I won’t last that long myself. Not if I have to wake up every day to…to…this thing. He barely seems like a person now. Not the person I met. Not the man I married. He’s a bag of sinew. A stinking bag of sinew. How can he live sixteen more years? I’ll be…”
She stopped to do the math, then thought again. “I’ll be old.”
She wouldn’t be, but I didn’t mention that.
“There must be something. Something I can do.”
“This is his hour and day. To be exact, December seventh, ten fifty-four pm, twenty thirty-one.”
“There’s a premium product. Still in beta. More from the marketing end than the operational side.”
Jen squeezed my thigh again. She focused through that muddy flood of mascara.
“Tell me,” she demanded.
“From the guys in Interventions. Branding is an issue. Sweet Relief, we’re kicking that around. Right Time. Preferred Passage. They’ve got a bunch of options. All in testing now.”
“I don’t care what you call it. What are we talking about here?”
“Let me explain.”
Tomorrow: Sneeze around them, they’d fly to pieces