2 A.M. at the Cats Pajamas

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  1. 2 a.m. at The Cat's Pajamas | Marie Helene Bertino
  3. A Magazine of Global Arts & Politics
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Today they made caramel apples in class!

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Build expectation: How she visited several sweet shops to test caramel. How she double-checked that there was a meaty apple for every child, bought specially sized paper bags to wrap each one after it hardened. How her children took up their reading hour asking questions about the apples. Do their voices , she thinks. Sarina gathers the characters in her mind. Madeleine: the nine-year-old who recently lost her mother.

Denny: the entitled kid from a well-known family in the parish. She will point out contradictory traits in each kid to offset expectations and her own biases.

2 a.m. at The Cat's Pajamas | Marie Helene Bertino

How Madeleine can be blunt to the point of hurting other children. How Sarina spent an hour holding bawling Denny when the goldfish died. Some characters will play important roles.

Some will seem unimportant until the end. If she tells it correctly, when she reaches the Crucial Moment, everyone at the table will feel sickened and satisfied. Certainly that must mean something to Ben, she means, men, she means, the universe. She will rise from the table, an eagle beating back a glorious pair of wings. Sarina attempts to regain control. Claudia thinks Ben is taunting her for the lice, not the grammar of her sentence. Sarina, slipping, falling. The table splinters into two preoccupations. Bella asks if her school is the one on Christian with the mural of that sociopath Frank Rizzo.

Ben and Michael rejoin the Joneses conversation.

Read This: 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

The table laughs vigorously at what Sarina thinks is a dumb joke. A window closes. As if the party had only one available slot for a long story and her chance has been lost in chatter about shampoo and potatoes. She is striped with a familiar self-loathing around Georgie, left over from high school. Even though she has lived on three continents, Sarina has not progressed further than senior prom. Boys cross rooms for Georgie, who is full in the way they like. Foxy is the word for it, Sarina thinks, whereas she is foxless.

Sarina has a flicker of hope when Bella turns to her, taking in a deep breath signifying an important thought. Bella pushes herself away from the table. She has spent the meal wanting more of everything and not taking more of anything. She and Georgie carry empty plates to the kitchen. The room reshuffles and when it stills, Sarina is alone. She hears Michael in the next room fumbling in the pockets of the piano bench, setting up sheet music, and then the first few measures of a splashy intro. When she saw Ben unwinding his scarf at the front door, Sarina wanted to remove her glasses. She removes her glasses when anything wonderful or embarrassing happens, like earlier today when her principal forced her to discipline Madeleine.


Which would have been the Crucial Moment of her story. Sarina has rebuilt her life one element at a time. The apartment, the job, the easel. It might be a plain life she occasionally worries she is hiding out in it , but at least it is forged out of what she wants.

A Magazine of Global Arts & Politics

Certainly he would notice how Annie rolled her eyes at his ideas, especially the last idea, when he decided to quit law and pursue screenwriting. But, he did. So, she was. Outside, the stars have been caught in the act. More fun than I expected. No one thought it was strange. In the kitchen, Georgie and Bella pass a joint back and forth. Bella trains her eyes on the swinging door. Now she gets dramatic about people being dramatic. Poor girl. Upstairs, Claudia washes her hands with the no-shenanigans soap of a second bathroom.

She is proud her girlfriend has the ability to introduce lively topics of conversation. Who are the Joneses, indeed? If Alfred Hitchcock were to direct this dinner party, he would have the camera soar in through the window over the gardened patio, through the wings of the expressive drapes, panning to each guest in a way that would convey to the audience that something is terribly wrong. Food is boring. People who use it to feel better than others are worthless. Did he shit the bottle of wine out? That would garner an explanation. What she holds most against these people is how obvious it is that they love each other.

Sarina hates the part of herself that wants inside that love.

A gray, whiskered face appears by her elbow. She replaces her glasses.

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The conversation has ended. Across the street a dog sniffs a signpost. Connected to him via leash is a little boy. Connected to the little boy via hand is The Dad. Ben wants to call to them and wave. He wants the man to nudge his son to wave back. Then Ben could yell hello over the empty street. The man would point to his son. His idea. That man could be him, Ben thinks, that little boy could be his, the dog, too. If she had ever liked dogs.

Or kids. In the first week of their marriage, Ben and Annie made three decisions: to install a home security system, to never have children, and to never, ever take salsa lessons. All three were meant to preserve what they owned. There was a dance studio on his walk home from the law office. At night it was filled with desperate, churning couples, wagging themselves across the floor.

Whose idea was the kids? Ben wonders, turning to walk inside. He recalls the subject of children being lobbed into the air, Annie saying her flat stomach was her greatest achievement, then taking a call in the other room. The following day the security service arrived to measure the walls.

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Ben halts at the window. Inside, Sarina scratches the ears of an earnest-looking cat. Pretty hands, Ben thinks, pretty lap. His breath makes clouds. How long had she been divorced? What had she said about sending a child home for having lice? Claudia returns to the family room and drapes herself over a chair.

Georgie and Bella return holding plates and forks, with Ben following, clapping warmth into his arms and legs. Sarina and Ben eat the pie. Those who want coffee drink coffee. Occasionally someone sighs. Bella and Claudia exchange a glance.