"No movie," I repeat, untucking an arm long enough to tickle her under the chin. It's nearly eight o'clock and I know she's tired and willful. I'd like to avoid a full tantrum this close to bedtime. "Now tell me about school. What'd you have for snack?"
She frees her own arms and tickles me under my chin. "Carrots!"
"Oh yeah?" More tickling, behind her ear. "Who brought them?"
She's trying for my armpits. I deftly block the move. "Art or music?"
"Singing or instrument?"
She's got the towel off and pounces on me, tickling anyplace she can find with fast, poky fingers, a last burst of energy before the end-of-the-day collapse. I manage to fend her off, rolling laughing off the edge of the bed. I land with a thump on the hardwood floor, which makes her giggle harder and Mr. Smith yowl in protest. He scampers out of the room, impatient now for the completion of our evening ritual.
I find a long T-shirt for me, and an Ariel nightgown for her. We brush our teeth together, side by side in front of the oval mirror. Ree likes the synchronized spit. Two stories, one song, and half a Broadway show later, I finally have her tucked into bed with Lil' Bunny clutched in her hands and Mr. Smith curled up next to her feet.
Eight-thirty. Our little house is officially my own. I take up roost at the kitchen counter. Sip tea, grade papers, keep my back to the computer so I won't be tempted. The cat clock Jason got Ree one Christmas meows on the hour. The sound echoes through the two-story 1950s bungalow, making the space feel emptier than it really is.
My feet are cold. It's March in New England, the days still chilly. I should put on socks but I don't feel like getting up.
Nine-fifteen, I make my rounds. Bolt lock on the back door, check the wooden posts jammed into each window frame. Finally, the double bolt on the steel front door. We live in South Boston, in a modest, middle-class neighborhood with tree-lined streets and family-friendly parks. Lots of kids, lots of white picket fences.
I check the locks and reinforce the windows anyway. Both Jason and I have our reasons.
Then I'm standing at the computer again, hands itching by my side. Telling myself it's time to go to bed. Warning myself not to take a seat. Thinking I'm probably going to do it anyway. Just for a minute. Check a few e-mails. What can it hurt?
At the last moment, I find willpower I didn't know I possessed. I turn off the computer instead. Another family policy: The computer must be turned off before going to bed.
A computer is a portal, you know, an entry point into your home. Or maybe you don't know.
Soon enough, you'll understand.
Ten o'clock, I leave the kitchen light on for Jason. He hasn't called, so apparently it's a busy night. That's okay, I tell myself. Busy is busy. It seems we go longer in silence all the time. These things happen. Especially when you have a small child.
I think of February vacation again. The family getaway that was either the best or the worst thing that happened to us, given your point of view. I want to understand it. Make some sense of my husband, of myself. There are things that once done can't be undone, things that once said can't be unsaid.
I can't fix any of it tonight. In fact, I haven't been able to fix any of it for weeks, which has been starting to fill me with more and more dread. Once, I honestly believed love alone could heal all wounds. Now I know better.