Vivian spends most of the afternoon naked and strapped to the giant ottoman in the interior decorator’s office in Bethesda. When he finally unties her, the sun is low and she’s shaky and exhausted. He paddled her hard at some point, and that hot stinging is what hurts the most as they clutch each other on his cool leather sofa and slowly return to themselves.
The final hour of their session, she struggled to remain present, despite the pain, because she’d remembered that she needs to ask for a refund from Silver Stars, her youngest son’s gymnastics camp. They have a draconian refund policy, which she’s dealt with before. Staring at his burgundy pants puddled around his ankles as he stood over her, she’d contemplated what she might say to Samantha, the manager at Silver Stars. She shouldn’t have registered so early, but July sessions fill quickly, and now it turns out there’s a conflict with her in-laws’ family reunion in the Catskills.
Hurrying back to her car in the frozen stillness of dusk in late winter—that old hollow sensation sinking as the endorphins recede—she calls Silver Stars. “Hey, Samantha,” she says with as much grim resolve as possible, “it’s Vivian, and I’m really sorry to do this again, but something’s come up . . . ”
That evening, after the kids are in bed, Vivian’s husband silently inspects the bruises and lacerations on her ass. It isn’t clear if he feels anything, although she finds it humiliating to show him.
They’re going to have sex, or that’s the idea, but he starts talking about the new president’s pick for secretary of education, who, he says, is a perfect distillation of all that’s wrong with this administration.
“How so?” Vivian says. Now it’s her jeans at her ankles.
Her husband is meaty and bearded, strong and fat at the same time, like a retired athlete—he’s sitting up on their bed in his boxer shorts, his thick legs crossed at the ankle. He glances occasionally out the window at the darkness behind their house. “She’s just looking out for herself.”
“The education secretary?”
He nods. Her husband is a lawyer and a senior fellow at a left-leaning think tank that specializes in education policy, and he’s taken the election hard. At first, he spent hours every day wincing at Facebook. It’s been a month since the inauguration, and he’s finally beginning to relax. You can get used to anything, they say. And it’s true. Acclimating is what people do best. “It’s not even about power,” he says. “She just wants to have the experience of being in charge.”
“That sounds like power.”
“But just the superficial stuff, like it’s fun to fly around in a helicopter and people applaud when you enter the room.”
She pulls up her jeans. There’s something different about his disgust here, with one of the few women in the cabinet, but it’s not a subject she cares to explore with him. “Maybe these people will ruin everything, and in four years the Dems will sweep and undo it all forever?”
“In the meantime, we’re all fucked.”
She smiles. “Not me.”
“Oh—I’m sorry. I’m just not here.” He shakes his head. Even his skull is colossal—very few hats fit him. “I can’t stop thinking about these fucking lizards slithering around the White House.”
She wants to point out that they aren’t lizards—they’re people—but he’s not ready for that, either. Instead she says, “Lizards don’t slither, snakes do.”
He frowns, staring out the window at nothing.