It was the third time Steve knocked her around that he broke her nose.

["He never!" was scrawled in the margin. The marginal notes are in a woman's hand; the handwriting is spiky, the tops of the letters like the teeth of a saw, the dotting of the 'I's afterthoughts, but the overall effect was at once delicate and florid. The strokes were their own exclamation marks. Except here.]

They had not made love for nearly a month. Dolores had taken to watching television for an hour or so after he went to bed, knowing he would be asleep. He confronted her about it one night.

"I'm going to bed," he said, getting off the couch.

"I'll be in in a half hour," she said, her eyes on the television.

"It may take me longer than that to get to sleep," he said, his tone ugly.

She glanced at him. He was watching her. "What do you mean?" she said.

"You know what I mean! You wait every night for me to go to sleep. You think I'm so stupid I don't know that?"

"I'm just not sleepy yet," she said evasively.

"I'm not talking about sleep," he said, his voice rising a decibel. "But that's all the fucking bed is good for! Right?"

"If you say so," Dolores said. She did not look away. He was trying to stare her down.

"I say so! Like what I say means fucking anything around here!"

She did look away then. He imagined disgust in her face.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you!" he said then, taking a step toward her. Feeling at once angry and brave, she did not. She did not speak, though, but merely stared intently at the television. A black man was telling jokes; his voice suddenly went adenoidal, as if he were imitating a young white boy. She was not listening.

Steve slapped the power button on the television, a nub the size and shape of a woman's nipple. Dolores jumped, and the television tilted back, striking the wall with a thud, then rocking forward again as the picture faded.

"Do you just don't want it any more, or are you getting it somewhere else?" He was standing in front of the television set. The light from the end table cast shadows upward into his face.

"Oh, for God's sake," Dolores said, standing up with an angry flounce. "I don't need this, Steven."

"You don't need me, you mean!" She was headed for the bathroom, the one place she could hide securely. She was still more angry than frightened.

"I haven't done anything! What's the matter with you?" she said. He grabbed her arm and spun her toward him.

"Done anything? Goddamn right you haven't done anything. I bet you're so fucking dried up it'd take a jar of KY just to get a tampon in you."

"You crude son of a bitch," she said, twisting out of his grip. "I don't need–" He grabbed at her and the grab became a swing that connected with her arm, catching her off balance and throwing her sideways. "Hey!" she shouted, her voice a little hysterical. She swung back with her open hand; he slapped it away, their palms connecting with a painful sting. Then his other hand came around from the other side, catching her off guard as she turned away again. It struck her face dead center, hard as a brick. Her head snapped around again, in the other direction, and she fell, suddenly silent, barely conscious.

Steve turned to the television set, his eyes wild, and kicked at it. The blow set the stand rocking–forward, back, then forward and over. The tube exploded into the carpet. He was aware, suddenly, of the muffled noise his wife was making. He turned back to her, and she was turning clumsily, on her hands and knees but twisting to fall into a sitting posture on the floor, making breathy, thick sounds like a child with a cold. Her upper lip wore a mustache of blood. Then the unfamiliar look of her nose registered with him.

"Oh my God," he cried. "Oh my God, Dolores! Oh my God," he said a third time, kneeling in front of her. She pushed at him ineffectually. "Oh Jesus!" he cried. "Are you all right?" he babbled. She put up a forearm to wipe the blood on her sleeve, and squeaked when it touched her face. She started to topple forward, and he caught her by her arms, holding her up. She looked up at him and her eyes rolled back. She fainted.

[The last sentence ends a page. In the inch or so below the sentence, the same spiky feminine hand has written, "Tommo, this is awful! Who are these people? It isn't you and your wife? I never said anything about Ted like this. Teddy never hit me once."]

–ms., Diseases of the Heart

I drove straight through the next day, descending Floyd's Hill at four a.m. Sunday morning. I went to bed, expecting to sleep a few hours before I could pick up Sam. At eight, the clamor of the phone woke me. It was Claudine.

"Thomas?" Her voice was moist and almost unrecognizable, edged with tears and something else–hysteria. "Did I wake you up?"

"No. Well, yes. But it's OK; I was only half asleep. I'm usually up by now. Sunday. What's up?"

"I need to go back to Red Lake," she said in a rush. "I just have to. It's too much." My heart clenched; it was like being mugged, I thought, hearing a woman's voice that desperate and hysterical.

"What's wrong?"

"Peter. It's Peter. He smashed up the kitchen last night," she said rapidly. "I don't know what I can–" She broke off. I could hear her crying then, a raw sound. She tried to speak, her voice sodden and ugly. Finally she said, "I need to go home."

"If you think that'll help," I said. I felt helpless.

"But who'll take over my classes?" she said. She inhaled wetly, then tried to clear her nose.

"I'm sure Margaret can cover them for a few days."

"I'm not coming back," she cried. "I mean for good!" She was crying so hard now that I could hardly understand her.

"Claudine." I tried the firm voice that works with hysterical children. "You can't dump everything just because you had a fight with your husband!" I could hear her gasping and sniffling. "Is he there?" I asked.


"Do you want me to come over? I can take you somewhere."


"I don't know. Margaret's? She lives alone; I'll bet she'd even put you up for a couple of days, till things calm down." I listened to the broken breathing on the line. When she spoke, she was calm.

"He broke his thumb." My mind tripped on the non sequitur. For an instant I thought, Who? Then I understood. Claudine is five-seven or eight, tall enough to look me straight in the eye. But Peter had six inches and a hundred pounds on her. "Did he knock you around?"

"Yeah." Her voice was calm now, her breathing regular. "I'm OK. He broke his hand a few months ago. He hit a hole in the bathroom door. It wasn't quite healed. Now he's broken the thumb."

"Let me call Margaret, then I'll call you back. Where is he?"

"I dunno." Tears were coming back into her voice. Don't be afraid, I wanted to say. How could I offer that reassurance, two miles away?

"If he comes back, will you call the police?"

"All right." The tone of her acquiescence was childlike.

"Is he likely to come back soon?"

"I think he went to Boulder for the day."

"Will you be all right?"


I thought as fast as I could, weighing my options. I've always hated telephones. They scream rudely for attention like carnival shills; they allow total strangers into your house. Thinking back on this conversation, I would add the helplessness they convey to the list of things I hate about them. On the one hand, the telephone made it possible for Claudine to call me when she needed help; on the other, what could I do, two miles away, if he came back? Nothing. Except listen on the line. Call the police. I was about to suggest that when Claudine resumed the conversation.

"He tore up a book I got him." She said it as if reporting the weather.

"Let me call Margaret. I'll call you right back."

"All right." After a silence, she said, "Bye now."

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