Confessions on the 7;45 – Lisa Unger

She watched. That was her gift. To disappear into the black, sink into the shadows behind and between. That’s where you really saw things for what they were, when people revealed their true natures. Everyone was on broadcast these days, thrusting out versions of themselves, cropped and filtered for public consumption. Everyone putting on the “show of me.” It was when people were alone, unobserved, that the mask came of . She’d been watching him for a while. The mask he wore was slipping. He, too, stood in the shadows of the street, a hulking darkness. She’d followed him as he drove, circling like a predator, then finding a place for his car under the trees. He’d parked, then sat as the night wound on and inside lights went out, one by one. Finally, he’d stepped out of his vehicle, closed the door quietly, and slipped across the street. Now he waited. What was he doing? Since she’d been following him the last few weeks, she’d seen him push his children on the swings in the park, visit a strip club in the middle of the day, drink himself stupid with his buddies viewing a game at a sports bar.

She’d watched as he’d helped a young mother with a toddler and baby in a carriage carry her groceries from her car into her house. Once, he’d picked up a woman in a local bar. Then, out in the parking lot, they romped like animals in his car. Later, he went to the grocery store and picked up food for his family, his cart piled high with ice cream and Goldfish crackers, things his kids liked. What was he up to now? The observer only sees, never interferes. Still, tonight she felt the tingle of bad possibilities. She waited in the cool night, patient and still. The clicking of heels echoed, a brisk staccato up the deserted street. She felt a little pulse of dread. Was there no one else around? No one else glancing out their window? No.

She was the only one. Sometimes didn’t it seem like people didn’t see anymore? They didn’t look out. They looked down, at that device in their hands. Or in, mesmerized by the movie of past and future, desires and fears, always playing on the screen in their minds. The figure of the young woman was slim, erect, confident. She marched up the street, surefooted, hands in her pockets, tote over her shoulder. When he moved out of the shadows and blocked her path, the young woman stopped short, backed up a step or two. He reached for her, as if to take her hand, but she wrapped her arms around her middle. There were words she couldn’t hear, an exchange. Sharp at first, then softer.

On the air, far away, they sounded like calling birds. What was he doing? Fear was a cold finger up her spine. He moved to embrace the girl, and she shrank away. But he moved in anyway. In the night, he was just a looming specter. His bulk swallowed her tiny form, and together in a kind of dance they moved toward the door, at first jerking, awkward. Then, she seemed to give in, soften into him. She let them both inside. And then the street was silent again. She stood frozen, unsure of what she’d seen.

Later, when she realized what he’d done, who he truly was under the mask, she’d hate herself for staying rooted, hiding in the shadows, only watching. She’d tell herself that she didn’t know then. She didn’t know that beneath the mask, he was a monster. ONE Selena Selena loved the liminal spaces. Those precious slivers of time between the roles she played in her life. She missed the 5:40 train because her client meeting ran long, knowing before she even left the conference room table that there was no way she would be home in time for dinner with her husband Graham and their two maniac boys, Stephen and Oliver. The wild hours afterward—showers, pajamas, random horseplay, vicious but brief sibling battles, television maybe if either of them could sit still a minute—that concluded in story time would have to unfold without her. Selena didn’t often work late; she made a point to be home on time. Chaotic as their evenings often were, that was the best part of her day. But when she did miss the train that night—she didn’t even bother trying to get to the station—it created a space that hadn’t been there before.

Just a little over two hours between the 5:40, which she normally took, and the 7:45, which she intended to catch after finishing up a few things at the office. In that gap, she could feel herself expand. She wasn’t working. She wasn’t mothering. She just was. She could think. And truth be told, Selena did have some things she needed to think about. These things were a white noise in the back of her mind. She slipped out of the cab she’d taken back to the office, into the cool autumn evening. The noise of the city washed over her, the manic rush of people on their way home after a long day.

Then she stepped into the hush of the quiet lobby, with its marble floors and gleaming walls. Selena nodded to the doorman who knew her, then swiped her card through the gates. Up the elevator alone. Here her heart started thumping, mouth going dry. Her bag was too heavy, the tote pulling down on her tight shoulder muscles. She hadn’t missed the train on purpose; she really hadn’t wanted to cut the client off as he went on and on. But. The office was empty. The literary agency had a small staff; most of them people with families. Many of the parents left before school pickup, then worked at home in the afternoons.

Beth, her boss, also her lifelong best friend, had things set up like that so that people could work well and take care of their families—imagine that. It was the rare humane workplace. She didn’t bother flipping on the light in her office, enjoying the glittering downtown view through her big window. A rush of heat to her cheeks as she dropped her bag. She shifted off her jacket and sat in front of the computer and took a deep breath before opening the lid on her laptop. It was after 6:15 now. The boys would have had their dinner. If Selena knew their nanny, Geneva, and the efficiency with which she ran the show, Oliver and Stephen would also be showered and in jammies. She probably had them settled in front of the television already. Selena leaned back in her ergonomic chair, felt its pleasant tilt.

She hadn’t hidden the camera, precisely. Geneva had been made aware of cameras in the home— one upstairs, one down. Selena had simply moved the one from the boys’ bedroom, and told neither Graham nor Geneva about it. She paused another second. Her desk was cluttered with framed pictures of the boys and Graham, drawings from school, a ceramic owl Oliver had made at art camp. She picked up the glazed misshapen thing; he’d carved his name in the clay bottom. She touched the ridges of the wobbly O, the backward e. Somewhere she heard a vacuum cleaner running. Her wedding picture—where her smile beamed, and Graham was dashing in his classic tux. He’d whispered to her while the photographer snapped away—dirty things, funny things.

Then: This is the best day of my life. His breath in her ear, his arms around her. Her whole body tingled with joy, with desire. Nearly ten years ago now. God, it was a heartbeat, a blink, a single breath drawn and released. She put the photo down. Then, she clicked on the app that would allow her to watch on her laptop the video feed from the camera she had placed in the boys’ playroom. It took a moment for the image to load. When it did, she was not surprised by what she saw. Graham, her husband, was fucking Geneva, her nanny, on the activity rug that Selena and Graham had carefully selected together at IKEA.

The volume was down, so she was spared their grunting and moaning. When had she started to suspect? About two weeks ago. She happened to catch a glance between Graham and Geneva. Something that small, a millisecond, a microexpression. No, she’d thought. Surely not. But she’d moved the bedroom camera to the playroom. This was the second time she’d watched them. A weird calm came over her, a kind of apathetic distance from the whole thing. Geneva wasn’t that hot, Selena thought, as she watched the young woman who had shiny, wheatcolored hair, and flushed cheeks.

Selena leaned closer to the screen, to see the girl more clearly. Attractive, certainly. But not much more so than Selena. Okay. The other woman was a bit younger—but only by a few years. Maybe there was a softness to her that Selena lacked, a freshness. But she was nothing special. In fact, Geneva’s just-slightly-aboveaverage looks were a point that Selena had taken into consideration when hiring her as a nanny. Geneva was a reasonably attractive, smart, personable career childcare professional with a long list of glowing references. She was no bombshell.

No blushing twentysomething with glossed lips and inappropriately placed tattoos she would later regret. Most women, Selena included, knew better than to bring some nubile hottie into her home on a regular basis. It just wasn’t good business. Besides, Geneva was known to Selena—coveted, in fact. They’d met on the playground during Selena’s first year home with the boys. Work, the commute, the race to pick up from preschool, the balancing act that never quite balanced. It had worn her to a nub. She and her husband Graham decided that she should stay home for a time—indefinitely. They could afford that—Graham made good money. There wouldn’t be Range Rovers and trips to Tahoe every spring break.

But they would be fine. Selena had loved the way Geneva was with the Tucker boys, Ryan and Chad. She was sweet but firm, prepared but not anal. The boys listened to her. Eyes on me, she’d say brightly, and so it was. Geneva wasn’t like the other nannies Selena observed at the park—millennials staring at their phones while their charges ran amok or stared at devices of their own. Geneva chased, pushed swings, played hide-and-seek. And, you know, she was not that hot. Lovely features—a button nose and full lips, dark, heavily lashed doe eyes, buxom but just the tiniest bit—pleasantly—plump. Broad in the beam, as her father used to say.

In a nice way, the way of strong women built for physical labor. Selena was long and slim, a genetic boon for which she was grateful because god knows she didn’t have the time anymore to work for it. Now, she turned up the volume a little, listened to them groaning. Did it sound—forced? Selena remembered how she and Geneva had chatted almost daily. Selena’s boys—Oliver and Stephen—loved her. Is Geneva going to be there? Oliver, her older, sometimes asked as they were headed to the park. Probably, Selena would answer, wishing that she had someone like Geneva, even just part-time. Someone with whom she felt good about leaving her children. But she was happy enough to be home. She didn’t miss her publicity job.

She’d never had that drive to accomplish that so many of her friends seemed to have. She just wasn’t wired that way. She liked working—the independence of it, the comradery, the satisfaction of doing something well. The money. But it had never defined her. Graham: “Oh, yeah. That’s so good.” She bumped the volume down again. Picked up one of the framed pictures of the boys, holding it up so that it blocked the screen, and gazed into their flushed, joyful faces. Motherhood defined Selena in a way that work hadn’t, the idea that she was there for her children —that she cooked their meals and kept their house, their schedules, their doctor appointments and haircuts.

That she was there on car line, at parent-teacher conferences, school Halloween parties. It wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t always easy. There wasn’t a ton of cultural praise for the role, not really. But she found a level of satisfaction in it that she hadn’t found elsewhere. Then Graham unexpectedly—well, did anyone ever expect it?—lost his job. Not his fault, really. Publishing was shrinking, and his big salary was hard to justify in a flailing self-help imprint. That very same week, over cocktails, Selena’s good friend Beth serendipitously offered her a huge job—a licensing director position at Beth’s literary agency. Selena’s salary would be more than Graham’s, plus bonuses.

Of course, there would have to be a nanny. Because Graham, well, he wasn’t exactly hardwired for caregiving. And finding a job is a full-time job, babe. So, it felt like kismet when during a chat at the park—the very next day, when Selena was grappling for solutions to their problem—Geneva told Selena that she was about to lose her job. Mrs. Tucker wanted to be home for a couple of years, she said. When things were easy like that, it meant you were in the flow, didn’t it? Isn’t that what they said these days? It made it easy for Selena to go back to work. It wasn’t necessarily what she wanted. But you did what you had to do, right? Graham would find another job. It wasn’t forever—though the money was nice.

The way the camera was positioned, Selena had the best view of Geneva—who apparently liked to be on top. Was it Selena’s imagination? Geneva didn’t seem that into it. Though from the look on her face and the movement of her lips, she was surely making all the appropriate noises. On the other video feed from the downstairs camera, the boys were slack-jawed in front of Trollhunters. They were both scrubbed clean, fed, and in their jammies, waiting for Selena. Geneva was faultless on that count, which was odd to note in a moment like this. But Selena had really appreciated that Geneva wasn’t one of those nannies that tried to be the mommy. As soon as Selena returned home in the evenings, Geneva took her proper place, eagerly leaving as soon as she could, sometimes before Selena even came back downstairs from changing. The house was always clean, the boys were usually calm-ish—as calm as boys five and seven could ever be. But they weren’t wild like they were when Graham was at the helm.

On the rare occasions when Graham had the kids for the day, they’d be filthy, overstimulated, out of routine—desperate for order and a way to calm themselves. Graham thought he was one of them, acted more like a corrupting older sibling than a parent. Like now. As he boned the nanny in the playroom while his young sons watched television downstairs. Why wasn’t she angrier about this? It had been a buzz in the back of her head since the first time she’d watched them three days ago. A barely audible thrum, something she pushed away and pushed back, down, down, down. Why wasn’t she weeping with anger, the sting of betrayal, jealousy? Why hadn’t she raced home after the first discovery, raging, and tossed him out, fired Geneva? That’s what anyone would do. But Selena was only aware of a kind of numbness that had settled after the first time, a mean, heartless apathy. But no. Beneath that numb layer inside was something else.

Now, Geneva had her head back in pleasure. Graham wore that helpless look he had right before he was about to climax; he kind of lifted his eyebrows a little, lids closed the way violin players did sometimes when they were rapt in their music. Selena realized she was clutching the arms of her chair so tightly that her hands ached. She was distantly aware of another feeling, one she deeply pressed down for a good long time, long before this. At some point after the birth of their second child, Selena had started to dislike her husband. Not all the time. But with shocking intensity—the way he interrupted her when she was talking, hovered over her in the kitchen micromanaging, the way he claimed to share the housework when he didn’t. At all. Surely it was true of all couples who had been together for a long time. Then he lost his job—sort of gleefully, it must be said.

Oh, well, I was looking for a change. And you said you were missing work. Had she said that? She didn’t think so, since she hadn’t been missing work. At some point after that, when she’d come home to find him in the same athletic pants two days in a row, or when she checked the browser history on the computer and couldn’t find a shred of evidence that he’d been looking for a job at all, she started to hate him a little. Then more. That svelte and charming man in the tux, the one who made her laugh and shiver with pleasure, he seemed like someone from a dream she could barely remember. Now, as she leaned in to turn up the volume again and heard him moan beneath Geneva, the depth and scope of her hatred was primal. She understood for the first time in her life how people might kill each other—married people who once loved with passion and devotion, who once cried happy tears at the altar, and went on a magnificent honeymoon, conceived beautiful children, built a lovely life. That thing lurking inside her, it was pounding to get out. She could hear it.

But she couldn’t quite feel it. She’d been on autopilot with Graham, going through the motions, rebuffing his advances. If he’d noticed her distance, he hadn’t said anything. The truth was, it wasn’t the first time he’d cheated. But she thought they’d moved past it. There’d been counseling, tearful promises. She’d—foolishly it seemed—forgiven him and allowed herself to trust him again. “Graham.” The voice startled Selena, snapped her back to the present moment. Geneva had climbed off Selena’s husband, already pulled her skirt down.

Both times there had been hasty dressing afterward, averted eyes and frowning faces. At least they had the decency not to lie around after sex, not to luxuriate on the playroom floor. “This has to stop,” said Geneva. Selena heard the notes of shame, regret. Good. Good for you, Geneva! Graham had pulled up his pants, sat on the couch and dropped his head into his hands. “I know,” he said, voice muffled. “You have a nice family. A beautiful life. And this is—fucked,” Geneva said, her face flushed.

Oh, Geneva, thought Selena crazily, please don’t quit. “I think I should give notice,” said Geneva. Graham looked up, stricken. “God, no,” he said. “Don’t do that.” Selena laughed out loud. No, it wasn’t love. He wasn’t afraid of losing the lovely young Geneva. He was terrified that he would have to be the primary caregiver for Stephen and Oliver while he “looked for another job.” “Selena relies on you,” he said.

“She appreciates you so much.” Geneva let out a little laugh, which made Selena smile, too, before she caught herself. How could Selena still like the woman who she’d just watched fuck her husband? She must be losing her grip. That’s what working motherhood did to you; it robbed you of your sanity. “I doubt very much that she’d appreciate this,” Geneva said. “No,” said Graham. He was pale with shame, rubbing at his jaw. He looked up and, with a strange rush of relief, for a second Selena saw him—her husband, her best friend, the father of her children. He was still there. He wasn’t a fiction she’d created.

“Then, look,” said Geneva. She wrapped her arms around her middle, started moving toward the door. “You need to be around less. You need to find a job.”


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