An excerpt from Madness.
It’s a nice day: almost in the sixties, sunny, no wind. Madeleine stays on the patio, typing away, phone forgotten on her desk inside. She has another couple cups of coffee, a croissant with Nutella, another cigarette. She finishes her edits. She gets down five hundred good words on a new manuscript. It’s a good day.
The doorbell rings at a little after three.
“What?” she says, keeping the door mostly closed.
“Can I come in?”
“I doubt it.”
“I’d like to talk to you.”
“About my behavior this week.”
She considers. “Is that an apology?”
She shrugs, and opens the door. “Fine. Come on in.”
The phone rings.
She rolls her eyes and leaves Jacob at the door. It’s Ian, of course; she sends him to voicemail. One irritation at a time.
Oh, that’s so unfair. Jacob is an irritation, yes. Ian…shouldn’t be. That’s the best she can do, but she thinks she deserves a little credit even for that. “So?” she says to Jacob, crossing her arms under her breasts, standing by the credenza. “Talk.”
He shuffles his feet. “I should not have been…so adversarial.”
She snorts. “Okay.”
“Surely you see where I’m coming from.”
“Madeleine – “
She cuts him off with a gesture. “You don’t want things to change, I can see that. I don’t know why you don’t, or why you asked me to fix him in the first place if it wasn’t going to be to your liking. I know you’re not in love with him, so it’s not romantic jealousy; but I do know he’s your family, and I wonder if you simply don’t know any way to be but dysfunctional anymore. Not,” she adds, “that I could make him functional, not after all that, but I can at least get him off the booze and the floozies.”
“If you wanted to.”
“If I wanted to. Which I never did, but no one bothered to tell me what I was getting into until I was already neck-deep, did they?” She shakes her head. “You two are a piece of work.”
“It’s not you. Not primarily.”
“Oh, isn’t it? I’m a whore who never went to college.”
He looks like she’s slapped him. “I never said that,” he lies.
“You didn’t have to – and I can tell from that expression that you did, just never to me. I know a snob when I meet one, Jacob.”
“We don’t move in the same circles you do.”
“Yes, you do. Else I would never have run into a client I’d fired at that stupid restaurant.”
“But if it weren’t for the ‘clients’, for your profession – “
She shrugs. “Maybe. Maybe he’d have run into me at a bar, or a gas station, or the supermarket. Who knows, Jacob? Does it matter how I met him? Or does it just matter that I’m not what you’d have picked out, and therefore am not to be considered?”
The phone rings again; she sends it to voicemail, again.
“You should talk to him,” Jacob says.
“I will. One annoyance at a time.”
“That’s not fair at all.”
Another shrug. “Perhaps not. Feelings are rarely fair.”
“I never said you were – what was it? ‘Not to be considered’. I just wanted him to consider it more carefully.”
“Five years isn’t enough consideration for you?”
“No. Not when all he had in his head was a fantasy.”
“He’s not alone in that.” She levels a stare at him. “You should have signed the contract.”
“I would have fixed him. I would have given the girlfriend experience, even if you signed the contract. If you paid me – or not even. I might have thrown you a freebie.”
“That’s fucking cold.”
“That’s a way we’d all be happier now. This,” she waves her hands, indicating the two of them, her living room, her phone as a stand-in for Ian, “is just unbearably ridiculous. Everyone feels so fucking much, and none of us seems able to turn it off – It was avoidable, that’s all I’m saying.”
“You’re never going to find a man without a history.”
“History is one thing. That? Whatever it is that Ian is, these days? That’s something else entirely.
“Besides, what makes you think I’m looking for a man?”
He shrugs. “Aren’t you all?”
“All of us gold-diggers?”
“You’re prepared to be offended by everything I say.”
“Not everything. Just the offensive shit.”
He throws up his hands.
“I’m not looking for a man. I made that clear to Ian.”
“I’m fairly certain the word ‘no’ is as clear as it fucking gets.”
“So how did it become yes?”
“He wore me down. Don’t tell me he hasn’t done the same to you.”
Jacob makes an equivocal gesture with his hand, back and forth. “Not so extremely.”
“Oh, it wasn’t extreme. It doesn’t take much for a handsome man to get me into bed.”
“I heard it was $10K.”
“You would have.”
“Bargain pricing for his blue eyes?”
“It doesn’t hurt me, you know. Calling me a whore. I see no shame in my profession.”
The phone rings again, and she wants nothing so much as to throw it at Jacob’s head.
“Answer it,” he says, moving into the living room and flopping down in a chair. “I’ll wait.”
“I don’t want you to wait,” she says, but answers the call anyway. “Jacob’s here.”
There’s silence on the other end of the line. “I – What?”
“He’s not running your errand?”
“No.” More silence. She has no inclination to fill it. “Mad, I just thought – I was hoping you’re free for dinner.”
She knows what she should say. She knows what he expects her to say. She says what she wants to. “No.”
“Mad – “
“Not tonight, Ian, okay?” She glances at Jacob, whose head is rather too buried in an old copy of Popular Science. “Just – let me call you.”
“Mad – “
She hangs up.
“All right,” she plucks the magazine out of Jacob’s hands, “we’re done here. Get out.”
“I don’t think we’re done.”
“But you’re wrong.”
“You should have been nicer to him.”
“And money should fall from the sky. Out of the chair.”
He gets up, grudgingly moves to the door. “He won’t react well.”
“He’s a big boy. I’m sure he’ll handle it.” She isn’t sure of any such thing.
“I don’t want to clean up your mess,” Jacob says, lingering on the porch.
“Well. I guess we’re even, then,” she says, and slams the door on him.