Excerpt: 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'

"She'd been very, very good about leaving that eczema alone. Suddenly we find her in the bathroom with her new little friend, and he's hovering over her and urging her on … My God, Franklin, you should have seen her! She reminded me of that old scare story that circulated in the sixties about how some guy on acid clawed all the skin off his arms because he thought he was infested with bugs." "Does it occur to you that if the scene was all that terrible then maybe Kevin's a little traumatized himself? That maybe he needs some comfort and reassurance and someone to talk to about it, and not to be banished to his own personal sewer? Jesus, they take kids into foster care for less."

"I should be so lucky," I muttered.

"Eva!"

"I was joking!"

"What is wrong with you?" you despaired.

"He wasn't 'traumatized,' he was smug. Riding home, his eyes were sparkling. I haven't seen him that pleased with himself since he eviscerated his birthday cake." You plopped onto an end of our impractical white couch, head in hands; I couldn't join you, because the other end was still smeared brown. "I'm pretty much at the end of my rope, too, Eva." You massaged your temples. "But not because of Kevin."

"Is that a threat?—"

"It's not a threat—"

"What are you talking about!—"

"Eva, please calm down. I'm never going to break up our family." There was a time you'd have said instead, I'll never leave you. Your more rectitudinous declaration had a solidity about it, where pledges of everlasting devotion to a lover are notoriously frail. So I wondered why your bedrock commitment to our family made me sad.

"I dress him," I said. "I feed him when he lets me, I ferry him everywhere. I bake his kindergarten snacks. I'm at his beck from morning to night. I change his diapers six times a day, and all I hear about is the one afternoon that he so disturbed me, even frightened me, that I couldn't bear to come near him. I wasn't exactly trying to punish him. But in that bathroom, he seemed so, ah — " I discarded three or four adjectives as too inflammatory, then finally gave up. "Changing him was too intimate." "Listen to yourself. Because I have no idea what kid you're talking about. We have a happy, healthy boy. And I'm beginning to think he's unusually bright." (I stopped myself from interjecting, That's what I'm afraid of.) "If he sometimes keeps to himself, that's because he's thoughtful, reflective. Otherwise, he plays with me, he hugs me good night, I read him stories. When it's just me and him, he tells me everything—"

"Meaning, he tells you what?"

You raised your palms. "What he's been drawing, what they had for snack — " "And you think that's telling you everything."

"Are you out of your mind? He's five years old, Eva, what else is there to tell?"

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