In her 20s, Margot kept a mirror on her bedside table that she used exclusively for looking at her vagina. In her 30s, she studied her husband’s face when he was between her legs doing what he did exceptionally well.
When they met, she had been working in the watch division of a global fine art broker, and a friend had dragged him to one of their Upper East Side auction previews. He was the most American person in the room–he looked like he didn’t know what a tailor was, and his smile was big and straight. He had never had a cavity, she was sure of it. He and his friend were engaged in a quiet debate about the pronunciation of Jaeger-LeCoultre. He kept shaking his head and slapping his thigh like someone’s dad. She went over to intervene: they were both wrong. He followed her on Instagram. They dated. They married.
So he was her mirror now. And the pleasure compounded over the years as she looked back and realized, with gratitude, that in the end she had not settled for the lifelong project of being held at arm’s length. Instead, she never saw anything in her husband’s face other than the desire to be closer. But Margot was like a sprinter that keeps sprinting beyond the finish line. Part of her was still trying to shorten the arms of the past.
Her best friend Tess had experienced Margot’s 20s as an objective observer. They sat in Tess’s living room now, splitting an edible and watching her cat stalk a patch of light across the expanse of the carpet. Tess had married her college sweetheart the year after they graduated–earlier than everyone they knew–and, to Margot’s horror at the time, made a baby immediately. Now, that baby boy was 10 and a relatively autonomous being–meanwhile, Tess’s friends were beginning to consider parenthood–bringing a baby into the world when they were only just enjoying the fruits of their late-20s pay raises. Well…Tess’s logic now made sense. But Tess never lorded parenthood over her friends and she had always been there for Margot. Tess had never used a dating app or bought a new outfit at Zara before work so in a way she was the perfect judge. She was also still available for outings in those early years, as her mother-in-law lived with her full-time, providing childcare before and after work. “Sometimes I wonder if he knows I’m his mother,” Tess once confided.
Tess and Margot were ranking theories related to a documentary they just watched about the Dyatlov Pass incident and picking at some sort of mozzarella spread that smelled like cold pizza. They moved on to discussing an advice column they read recently. A woman wrote in to ask whether it was rude to turn the lights off on her cats while they were eating. “Oh god, I almost forgot,” said Margot. Tess cocked her head and squinted at her through the sunbeam of half an edible. “Peter texted me asking if I had any of his baby pictures.”
Tess was alert now. “Did he say what he wanted them for?” Peter was Margot’s apex disappointment. “No,” she said. She hadn’t asked. But she had dug out her old iPad and scrolled and scrolled back over the years to find a few he sent her when they first started dating. “Maybe for his new girlfriend.” She knew Peter had a strained relationship with his very English parents, and as a practicality, may not have access to his photo albums. However, this mission reinforced a sense of herself as a special witness to the lives of others. “And he asked me to get coffee,” she added. The cat was now licking its own asshole. These two things together earned a raised eyebrow from Tess who would have to pick the baby up from a fifth grade field trip soon.
Peter and Margot sat at a sidewalk table, both facing out toward the streets of lower Manhattan. From this angle, their similarities would be clear to passerby. They both had long, aquiline noses and dirty blond hair, but Peter was pale and freckled, and Margot tanned deeply in the summer. She had a sudden flash of an August breakfast like this one, brushing stray coffee grounds from his thigh hairs.
Their relationship hadn’t ended when it should have. In fact, it had run across several pages. The sex after the breakup was both better and worse. Peter kissed her like she was sand he was trying to scoop up, but he never stayed the night anymore. After he left, she found the part of the bed that smelled the most like him and fell asleep on it. Things continued like this for a while: she curled up in his scent, he turned the lights off while she ate.
Availability was a big thing with him in those days. “I’m sorry I can’t be more available to you.” Back then, he didn’t care about marriage or children and so–she thought–he did have more time than her and with that, the power to give or take it away. Men are tyrants with their time; but women are tyrants with the eternal.
It was the day of the former president’s indictment, and there was an odd, frenetic energy to the streets. Peter was abroad during the election, and Margot remembered feeling abandoned by this, on top of the general feeling of abandonment that hummed under her life. A helicopter circled lazily overhead. She told Peter she was thinking of getting pregnant. He told her he might trade in his old Rolex. The wallet Margot gave him five years ago had worn a square in the pocket of his jeans. Time turned them back into what they were always meant to be: two people with a history and a slight resemblance.
At the sidewalk table, Peter was messing around with their coffee cups. Stacking and unstacking them. “You’re grayer at the temples,” she said. He nodded to acknowledge the comment. His plastic cup had become fully wedged in her paper one and was requiring some concentration to extricate. “Let’s go look at watches,” she said.
The security guard bowed slightly as they entered. The inside of the Japanese watch boutique was cool and quiet, the sounds of the sirens and helicopters receded away. Margot was wearing the watch she purchased from the store two years ago to celebrate her new job at a different art auction house. The dial was supposed to resemble a flat field of snow with ripples from the wind blowing across it. She liked to turn on her phone’s flashlight at parties to show off the delicate texture. The seconds hand was navy blue.
The woman who sold her the watch approached, smiling. “This is my friend Peter,” Margot said. Margot’s husband and the woman went to the same private high school in the city, and the woman always had some small tidbit of gossip about alumni or old, tenured teachers to pass back to him. She and Margot discussed a recent college admissions scandal that made national news while Peter browsed the periphery of the store, his hands clasped behind his back. He stopped in front of a watch with a pink dial, nicknamed the cherry blossom.
“Does he know his wrist size?” the woman asked. Margot shrugged. “Do you want me to measure your wrist, honey?” she said to Peter softly. It was a small store. He blushed. “No, that’s ok,” he said. She began listing off facts about the watch. It had a dual impulse escapement, transferring power to the watch’s balance with more efficiency. It could operate for 80 hours at a rate of 10 beats per second before it would need to be wound again.
Margot tuned out. She was thinking about one of the last times they had sex. She was on top, leaning forward slightly as if to make herself as aerodynamic as possible. She uncapped a pen on Peter’s bedside table and made a stray mark down the center of his bicep. He recoiled as if he’d been slapped. I wonder if he knows I’m his mother, she thought.