“Are you?” he said.

“Let me finish. If the medical research is true, then at the end of nine years there is not an eyebrow, eyelash, pore, dimple, or skin follicle in this creature here at this celebratory breakfast that in any way is related to that old Sheila Tompkins married at eleven a.m. of a Saturday nine years ago this very hour. Two different women. One in bondage to a nice male creature whose jaw jumps out like a cash register when he scans the Journal. The other, now that it is one minute after the deadline hour, Born Free. So!”

She rose swiftly and prepared to flee.

“Wait!” He gave himself another jolt of coffee. “Where are you going?”

Hallway to the door, she said, “Out. Perhaps away. And who knows: forever!”

“Born free? Hogwash. Come here! Sit down!”

She hesitated as he assumed his lion-tamer’s voice. “Dammit. You owe me an explanation. Sit!”

She turned slowly. “For only as long as it takes to draw a picture.”

“Draw it, then. Sit!”

She came to stare at her plate. “I seem to have eaten everything in sight.”

He jumped up, ran over to the side table, rummaged more omelet, and banged it in front of her.

“There.! Speak with your mouth full.”

She forked in the eggs. “You do see what I’m driving at, don’t you, Tomasino?”

“Damnation! I thought you were happy!”

“Yes, but not incredibly happy.”

“That’s for maniacs on their honeymoons!”

“Yes, wasn’t it?” she remembered.

“That was then, this is now. Well?”

“I could feel it happening all year. Lying in bed, I felt my skin prickle, my pores open like ten thousand tiny mouths, my perspiration run like faucets, my heart race, my pulse sound in the oddest places, under my chin, my wrists, the backs of my knees, my ankles. I felt like a huge wax statue, melting. After midnight I was afraid to turn on the bathroom light and find a stranger gone mad in the mirror.”

“All right, all right!” He stirred four sugars in his coffee and drank the slops from the saucer. “Sum it up!”

“Every hour of every night and then all day, I could feel it as if I were out in a storm being struck by hot August rain that washed away the old to find a brand-new me. Every drop of serum, every red and white corpuscle, every hot flash of nerve ending, rewired and restrung, new marrow, new hair for combing, new fingerprints even. Don’t look at me that way. Perhaps no new fingerprints. But all the rest. See? Am I not a fresh-sculpted, fresh-painted work of God’s creation?”

He searched her up and down with a razor glare.

“I hear Mad Carlotta maundering,” he said. “I see a woman hyperventilated by a midlife frenzy. Why don’t you just say it? Do you want a divorce?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Not necessarily?” he shouted.

“I’ll just simply … go away.”

“Where will you go?”

“There must be some place,” she said vaguely, stirring her omelet to make paths.

“Is there another man?” he said at last, holding his utensils with fists.

“Not quite yet.

“Thank God for small favors.” He let a great breath gust out. “Now go to your room.”

“Beg pardon?” She blinked.

“You’ll not be allowed out for the rest of this week. Go to your room. No phone calls. No TV. No-“

She was on her feet. “You sound like my father in high school!”

“I’ll be damned.” He laughed quietly. “Yes! Upstairs now! No lunch for you, my girl. I’ll put a plate by your door at suppertime. When you behave I’ll give you your car keys. Meanwhile, march! Pull out your telephone plugs and hand over your CD player!”

“This is outrageous,” she cried. “I’m a grown woman.”

“Ingrown. No progress. Re-gress. If that damn theory’s true, you didn’t add on, just sank back nine years! Out you go! Up!”

She ran, pale-faced, to the entry stairs, wiping tears from her eyes.

As she was hallway up, he, putting his foot on the first step, pulled the napkin from his shirt and called quietly, “Wait …”

She froze in place but did not look back down at him, waiting.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray