The mother’s voice was loud. Too loud. The sound was startling. Her eyes were wide and bright. Frank wondered if she was taking drugs herself. A family thing. Or maybe she was plastered, had got herself appropriately inebriated for the occasion. Pickled. The word jumped into his mind, and he thought it apt. Pickled in mind and body for the occasion of her son’s funeral. She spoke of Andrew as a young boy, a child. A thing apart from herself. She told stories of what he had done and said when he was little, and laughed out loud. Too loud. Cute sayings, childish misconstructions. He’d called his shoulders ‘soldiers’ and said he wanted to be an ‘astronut’ when he grew up. The mother’s laugh was not a laugh that sparkled with joy or had any genuine humor in it. It was hard and sharp and flew out across the room like a shining piece of steel. It soared up and down the aisles, nicking the skin of the people it passed, slicing at their cheeks and ear lobes. Frank saw several guests, if that’s what you called them, guests, attendees, witnesses, mourners, raise their hands and touch their faces and ears as the mother’s laugh flew by. Some just flicked at their earlobes as if to send a fly or some other minor annoyance on its way.
“He was such a happy child,” the mother continued in her loud, falsely jovial voice. Annette was her name. She was French by birth, and perhaps that accounted for it, the gaiety that ran in her voice, the laughter like steel. “Always laughing. Always running about.”
Thick and brown and rubbery, the nipple quivered a moment against the tip of his finger…
He wasn’t a happy child at all. At least not when Frank knew him, and that had been from fourth grade on. Maybe before the fourth grade Andrew was happy. Maybe he was a happy baby, as most babies are, or seem to be, gurgling and smiling and opening their mouths to have things put into them. Maybe he’d been a happy toddler, laughing and running about, as Annette described. Happy, even, in first and second and third grades, and maybe those were the years Annette chose to remember.
“His teachers loved him. Everybody loved him.”
That was true. Andrew was loveable. People gravitated toward him. He had a quality about him, something that rushed out of him, pure and direct and unfiltered, straight toward the other person and made him loved. But by fourth grade he had ceased to be happy. His father had left by then, and already Andrew had assumed the care of his mother.
“He’d go down to the lake to feed the ducks, and he’d talk to them,” Annette told those who had gathered to mourn. “Actually talk to them, and he said they answered. He said he knew what they were saying and they knew what he was saying back to them.” Annette laughed and waved her hands. She stood in front of the crowd in her gaily printed silk dress, waving her hands and laughing and telling fabricated stories about her dead son. Or maybe her stories were not fabricated, maybe they were true stories about Andrew in a time before Frank had known him, a time when his friend was happy.
“And once he fell in,” Annette said, and laughed at the memory. “He was so intent on talking to the ducks and reaching out to them with his little fistful of breadcrumbs that he fell in. Fortunately, I was watching from the porch and rushed right down and pulled him out. All was well. He was a bit wet, but no worse for wear.”
The needle was still in his arm when she found him.
“Oh, my God,” said Georgia. “How horrible.” The television set was on. “I didn’t know that. You never told me that.”
She looked at him from the corner of the sofa where she was nursing the baby, and Frank saw how in a single instant, which was all the time it took for her to move her eyes from the infant’s face to his, her expression went from beatific to horrified.
“Yes,” said Frank. “She found him like that. The needle still in. Yet at the service she laughed and chattered on and on. She stood up in front of everybody and told stories about Andrew’s youth, his happy childhood. What he was like as a baby.”
“I should have gone with you.”
“She must have been stoned or plastered. She waved her hands and giggled and tossed her hair. Not drunk to the point where she didn’t know what she was saying, just to the point where she didn’t care.”
“I should have made you take me.”
“She told us how happy Andrew always was, and you could tell she was trying to convince herself.”
“I should have made you.”
“So she could go on living.”
The S.U.V. contained three propane tanks, two alarm clocks wired together and set for 12 o’clock.
Frank saw the mother again, sending her too loud voice and too sharp laugh out into the crowd, giggling and tossing her hair as if she were a girl, thirty, forty years younger, as if her son’s death had thrown her back to some previous life, a life she had lived and a person she had been before Andrew existed, before she was married and divorced, to a time when she lived in Paris, if that was where she had lived, or in the south of France, if that was the place, and was single and young and could laugh with abandon.
“We were the same age, you know, Andrew and me.”
“I could have got a sitter and gone.”
“We were very close at one time. Like brothers. Like the same person. We did everything together.”
It could have been him. He could be dead now.
“But I’ve never had a sitter for her before. She’s too young to be left.”
“When will she be?”
“Old enough to be left.”
Frank walked around behind the sofa, behind Georgia, and glanced at the television.
“What are you watching?”
“About the Times Square bomber.”
The lamplight cast a glow over the swell of her breast. The milk pushing up from within engorged the breast and pulled the skin tight across its surface, and in the glow that white, taut skin gleamed like a stone smoothed by water. Frank reached over the back of the sofa and traced his finger along the slope of Georgia’s breast. He drew a line from its rise at her shoulder to its descent at the areola that had widened and darkened alarmingly since she gave birth. His finger came so near the baby’s mouth, she momentarily released her grip on Georgia’s nipple, and Frank ran his finger over that, too, as it popped free. Thick and brown and rubbery, the nipple quivered a moment against the tip of his finger, then Georgia’s hand came up under her breast, taking her nipple away from him and reinserting it into the baby’s mouth.
“Would-be,” he said.
“Would-be bomber. It didn’t go off.”
For days now, he had come in and found Georgia there, nursing the baby, watching the coverage. He watched too, feeling himself as the days went on grow more and more fascinated by what he was seeing, more and more intrigued by the idea of it. To disrupt Times Square, The Entertainment Capital of the World. He imagined himself doing a thing like that. Such a daring, provocative a thing. Sending people scattering. Not injuring anyone, not maiming. And certainly not killing. Had the bomb gone off on that day, Saturday, May 1, a few people standing near the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder, parked haphazardly on 45th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues and rigged to explode, most probably would have been killed. Perhaps a dozen, the authorities estimated later, having simulated the force of the explosion, had it actually exploded. Others most certainly would have been maimed. Frank didn’t want that. It was only the idea of it that intrigued him. The S.U.V. contained three propane tanks, two alarm clocks wired together and set for 12 o’clock (midnight, it was assumed, since the car had been found abandoned and smoking at approximately 6:45 p.m.), two red five-gallon cans of gasoline, firecrackers. An M-88 was set as the detonator. M-88s, legal in Pennsylvania where this guy, the would-be bomber, had purchased them, have less power than M-80s, which Frank as a kid used to buy every year illegally in Chinatown for use on the Fourth. Had the device in the S.U.V., which the police labeled “amateurish” and “stunningly inept,” gone off as planned, it could have done a lot of damage the police claimed. It could have produced a “significant fireball,” they said, and sprayed shrapnel with enough force to kill pedestrians and knock out windows, but no buildings would have come down, they assured the public. As it turned out, the entertainment in the area had proceeded that night with barely a hitch.
The Marriott Hotel had been evacuated, as was the giant Toys “R” Us store on Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets. A Foot Locker store and a McDonald’s were also evacuated. But neither The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre on 45th, in front of which the S.U.V. had been so haphazardly parked that Saturday evening, nor any other Broadway show had been cancelled. In the Heights and Next to Normal started late and played to half empty houses as the street was blocked off, preventing ticket holders from getting to their theatres. But in the best tradition of the Great White Way, the shows went on. A maze of metal barricades kept pedestrians south of 43rd Street. Traffic was shut down from 44th north to 49th, between 6th and 8th. By Sunday noon, Times Square was business as usual.
To forfeit one’s life, one’s future, for what? A cause? A religion? A philosophy?
One tourist from Jacksonville, Florida, watching from behind the barricades, told a reporter he found the real-life drama on the street well worth the price of the pair of $150 unused theatre tickets in his pocket. “It’s exhilarating,” he said, indicating the flashing lights, the sirens, the cops converging from all directions. Exhilarating. Yes, Frank would have to agree. To set Times Square back on its heels like that. Make a name for himself. Not seriously, of course. But in thought, in fantasy. The idea of doing it appealed to him.
He stretched out his arms along the back of the sofa and brought his torso forward to lean his chin on Georgia’s shoulder. From this vantage point he could look down at her lactating breast and up at the television at will.
“From fourth grade all through college we stayed close.”
“You and Andrew?”
“We were like brothers. Took the same classes. Dated the same women. After college he got heavy into drugs and turned into another person.”
“I never heard you mention him.”
“I couldn’t handle it.”
“But while you were close, you were a good friend.”
“Yes. Back then.”
“I never had that. A friend that close.”
She missed it, it occurred to her out of the blue, if you could miss a thing you never had. She felt nostalgic for her loss, that nonexistent close friend, and the feeling took her by surprise, having thought herself too young to be nostalgic. A sense of the fleetingness of life overcame her then, and Georgia let her breast remain unsupported in the baby’s mouth a moment and reached up with her free hand to cover Frank’s hand, resting on the sofa rim behind her.
“You are my only friend,” she said, and the sudden truth of the statement frightened her. It was too much of a burden to place on any one person.
Frank brought his lips down and kissed the back of her hand.
A close, enduring friendship such as her husband had had with Andrew would not now come her way. She knew that. Such friendships were established in early childhood or high school or college or not at all. Georgia had gone from friend to friend, but until she came to Frank not one of her relationships… with a man or woman, it didn’t matter…had seemed particularly deep. But with Frank it was like a trap door opening beneath their relationship, and looking down, she could see that the passage below was endless and that they would go on and on together forever. She would have more children with him, learning the different nuances of his fathering techniques with each. With their girl he was tender and a little shy. Would he take a stronger line with their boys, be more assertive, let his humor shine through? She would have a lifetime to find out, years and years in which to go back to work, if she chose, and establish a career for herself, in journalism, she thought, or publishing, years and years in which they would see their children grow and prosper and marry and have children of their own, and Frank would be by her side through all that time, loving her, befriending her.
But what if something happened? What if some would-be bomber came along and blew Frank up? Those were public streets, after all. Frank walked them on his way to and from work. He had even taken to sitting in the open plazas along Broadway when he was out with their baby daughter. A single desperate act and her lover and husband and only friend in the world would be gone, her baby gone. Georgia pulled her hand from under Frank’s lips and returned it to her breast, giving it a little nudge to encourage the baby to go on sucking.
“Sometimes when she sucks I feel a kind of tug in my vagina.”
“Yeah. Like a tiny contraction. She sucks and I contract.”
“That’s so sexy. Is it nice?”
This guy, Faisal Shahzad, for instance, this naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan who had left the keys to his house in Bridgeport, Connecticut, behind in a car in Times Square he had rigged with explosives. What if this failed bomber had not failed? What if he had killed Frank? Neighbors said the man was quiet and kept to himself, as neighbors always say after the fact when an individual they viewed as harmless is apprehended for having done something particularly violent. Shahzad had recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan during which he attended a five-day training in bomb-making, conducted by the Pakistani Taliban. Not a very good student, apparently. Or perhaps his instructors had failed to make certain critical points clear to him. Georgia had read in the papers that during his time with the Taliban Shahzad translated a bomb-making manual from Urdu to English. She could not help but wonder about the quality of that translation, given that in high school, she’d also learned from the papers, Shahzad had received D’s in English. He has a wife and two children. Two adorable little girls, Georgia had seen their pictures. His firstborn was named Alisheba, meaning “beautiful sunshine.” Beautiful sunshine, what a lovely name.
Georgia looked down into the face of her own baby daughter, now sucking greedily at her breast. She could not imagine her life without her, without Frank.
“I wish I could feel it,” Frank said.
“That thing you feel. That contraction.”
“You do. When we make love. Those spasms I have. It’s like that.”
Shahzad, at the age of 31, was likely to spend the rest of his life in jail. He’d forfeited his life as a husband to his wife, a father to his children. Forfeited it permanently and proudly. He’d planned to detonate a second bomb in New York two weeks later, he announced to authorities when apprehended. And he was prepared to go on planting bombs and conducting attacks, he said, until he was captured or killed. To forfeit one’s life, one’s future, for what? A cause? A religion? A philosophy? Georgia couldn’t comprehend it. But from all she’d read about this man, it seemed that for him loyalty to the friends he had trained with in Pakistan and obligation to the global Muslim community trumped everything else.
To forfeit one’s life out of loyalty to friends. Georgia wondered what it would be like to have friends worthy of such loyalty. To believe in a cause that fiercely, take loyalty and obligation to community that far. It would have to be more than loyalty, she decided, more than obligation. It would have to be love. Blind, crazy love such as she felt for Frank. Love that would make her do anything in the world for him. Make a pact with the Taliban. Agree to attack America. Such a thing was hardly believable. It was outrageous and obscene, but not beyond the realm of love. One person on a mission to attack an entire country, his actions watched and applauded by friends thousands of miles away. She could see them gauging his progress in their minds, mentally offering encouragement, cheering him on as they might cheer their soccer team a world away. She could see them waiting for the bomb to explode as eagerly as they might wait for the ball to soar across the goalposts. To do such a thing for friends. One man with a few firecrackers against the most powerful nation in the world. Like David and Goliath. It was almost mythic. Heroic, in a sense. He was like some preposterous, tragically flawed warrior. Georgia struggled to understand it. She turned on the news every night for that one story alone. She could not take her eyes from the screen. And when Shahzad was arrested at the airport on his way to Dubai and taken into custody and the television news tired of him, she read all she could find about him in papers and magazines, struggling to learn the heart of the man.
Frank rubbed his cheek against the side of her head.
“That feels nice.”
She loved the way he did that. The feel of his stubble, bristly by this time of night, rubbing up against the short hairs at her temple, sending goose bumps into her scalp and down the back of her neck. She loved the feel of his eyes on her breast. It excited her to know that he was watching her breast-feed their daughter, that he was more interested in that than in the news. When he looked up at the screen, she felt an absence on her breast and a slight chill, like a thin covering had been there and was now removed. But the absence existed only for a moment, and then he looked back down and she felt his eyes coming again to rest on her breast, covering it once more with something warm and light as down and filled with desire. Envy, too, though he’d never admit it. Envy of her ability to pump milk into their baby, Georgia understood that. Envy of having nipples that could go into their baby’s mouth and nourish her. Frank was a good man. A loving father. A loving husband. She would not want to live in a world without him.
Everyone who knew him said Shahzad was a good man, a loving husband, a loving father, loyal to his friends, faithful to his community, loved as she loved Frank. A good man, now reviled. In the United States at least, this good and loving man was reviled. There was nothing in his face to suggest fanaticism. A smooth, open face, boyish and a little flat. An easy smile in most photos, no hint of guile. A young, devoted man. His last U.S. landlord said he lined the burners on the stove with foil to keep them clean. A woman could love such a man. And yet Georgia was aware that the mysteries within him would prove too much for her in the end. His passion for a cause she could never embrace, a philosophy she could never fully grasp would split them apart. It would be like living with a stranger.
And later, after having cooperated fully with the authorities, when he unexpectedly pleaded guilty on all ten counts, two of which bear mandatory life sentences, as they were read to him in Federal District Court, Shahzad was unapologetic. He called himself “part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people.” He assured the court attacks would continue to be launched against the United States until it pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan and halted the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and Pakistan and ended the occupation of Muslim lands.
And later still, when he was sentenced to life behind bars, he welcomed the sentence. “If you call us terrorists, then we are proud terrorists,” he told the court. “And we will keep on terrorizing until you leave our land and people at peace.”
There was something both awesome and appalling in what he had done. Only a vast display of human love could absolve him. Unconditional love such as he would never receive in the United States. In Muslim countries, Georgia believed, he might stand a chance. Among the worldwide community of Muslims, numbering approximately 1.57 billion people, roughly one-fifth of the world population, there might be those who would revere, not revile him.
For love, was that why he had done it? For the love of people hardly thought about in this country and rarely taken seriously until something like this happened? Egregious American arrogance, Georgia deemed it. Not to take seriously 1.57 billion people. Not to think of them until an attack like this is launched, and then to disparage an entire population, to view one-fifth of the world population as being without respect for human life, to see them all as fanatics, terrorists.
“Almost finished?” Frank kissed her neck. She knew he was eager to get her into bed.
There was envy, too, Georgia knew, not only of her breasts, but of her ability to give birth, that female ability forever outside the realm of men. Frank had seemed awed by her since she’d become a mother, often standing back, watching her and the baby from a distance. He was more careful with her than usual, more tender, when they made love. All through her pregnancy he had played with her breasts, running his hands around them, bringing them up under them, seeming to weigh them as they grew larger and heavier over the months. He would part them and bounce them and bring them together around his face. He would nuzzle them and shake his head back and forth between them while making the sounds of a turkey gobbling. He would wrap her breasts around his penis and draw it in and out between them. “Tea-bagging,” he called it. She loved his antics. She loved him. There was nothing she would not do for him, for love, she had thought, until now.
Pack a car with explosives, leave it in the middle of Times Square on a Saturday night, would she do that?
Shahzad called himself a Muslim soldier. Had he done what he did for the love of Muslim soldiers? For the love of the religious leaders, those clerics and imams he followed in Pakistan? For the love of his friends, his community, his father, that military man who did not share his radical views? For the love of home? They were counting on him back home, Georgia knew. She understood the Pakistani Taliban had financed his endeavor. And when he returned to them by way of Dubai, as he planned, now in disgrace for having failed in his mission, would he look to their love for absolution? Did he imagine his father opening his arms to him and saying, “We’ll talk about it. You’ll teach me to understand?” For love so long withheld, now promised, was that why he had done it? And now, sentenced to life, did he despise himself for having needed love so badly?
The baby clamped her gums down on her nipple, and Georgia felt that corresponding spasm in her vagina. Not painful, but nearly painful as an orgasm can be. High up inside, grabbing in response to the baby’s grabbing. A mysterious and intimate connection.
“There,” she said. “It just happened. That contraction.”
“I’m jealous,” Frank replied.
“How great you admit it.”
She would not survive without his love. Frank was her first love, her only love, her dream come true. Even after seven years of marriage, he walked through the door at night and like a faithful lapdog, she perked up at his smell.
Georgia put the baby to her other breast.
Shahzad had spent forty days in a remote tribal area near Pakistan’s Afghan border. In those forty days, he had undergone boot-camp style training and learned to make bombs alongside men who shared his dream. He had laid out with those men under the stars at night, perhaps imagining the future of the Muslim world, discussing politics that for them was not merely politics, but went far beyond theory into a way of life. Promises had been made. A “pact,” as Shahzad put it to the press, between himself and the Pakistani Taliban. He was the one with the American passport and easy re-entry into the United States. They were counting on him. They trusted him. Twice they sent him money. It was a pact that doesn’t bear breaking. A pact of love.
The baby was not as fond of this breast as she was of the other one, so Georgia had to move herself around on the sofa and reposition her breast several times before she would take it.
And even after Shahzad failed and was waiting on line at Kennedy to board his Emirate flight, the police having called his efforts amateurish, reporters having ridiculed him for having left his house keys behind in his car, did he yet cling to a vision of love redeemed? And when he had boarded the plane and was in his seat, the jet still at the gate, and the door opened and FBI agents came charging through, did he see his father’s form among them, that broad, military chest, those strong arms extended in forgiveness and love?
“That one’s smaller than the other one,” Frank said.
“Smart girl. She likes the bigger one better.”
For the love of his father, was that why? The Pakistani Air Force vice marshal, retired, so fiercely proud of his tribal Pashtun heritage. The man had climbed the ranks from common airman up through fighter pilot with a penchant for midair acrobatics to a position as senior military officer. As his son, Shahzad had lived a life of privilege, surrounded by servants and armed guards, ferried about by chauffeurs. Georgia read about it in the newspapers. Having earlier been posted to England and Saudi Arabia, his father was transferred back to Pakistan when Shahzad was twelve. By all accounts, he was a strict and somewhat distant father. Shahzad’s high school was located on a military base outside Karachi. He proved a mediocre student and failed to earn his father’s respect for his grades. After graduation, Shahzad enrolled in a business school that showed more interest in its students’ bank accounts than their academic prowess. He received a student visa to the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, and when he finished university, worked for a time at Elizabeth Arden in Stamford. His father continued to supply him with cash, enough to buy a Mercedes and a condo in Norwalk, which he later sold at a small profit. He bought a two-story house in a hilly neighborhood in Shelton and later, the house in Bridgeport to which he had left the keys in the car that failed to explode in the middle of Times Square.
Shahzad had met a Pakistani-American woman in college and had fallen in love with her, just as Georgia had met Frank in college and had fallen in love with him. Shahzad’s father held a lavish wedding for his son and future daughter-in-law in Peshawar. Shortly afterwards, Shahzad and his wife returned to the United States where Shahzad found a new and better paying job and settled into a comfortable suburban life. On weekends, he mowed his lawn and played badminton and held barbecues in his backyard, just as Frank would do if they lived in the suburbs.
Friends say Shahzad grew more religious about this time, praying five times a day, renouncing alcohol, and regularly attending local mosques. His anger with the West increased, according to these friends, who claimed he harbored deep resentment over the backlash toward American Muslims that had spread throughout the United States since 9/11. He was also outraged, the same friends noted, by the weapons of mass destruction fraud that had allowed the U.S. to attack Iraq and by the treatment of Muslim detainees at Guantánamo Bay.
Frank leaned over the back of the sofa and brought his fingers down on his wife’s other breast. He traced the arc along its top. He traced its bulky bottom curve. Though smaller than the other one, the breast hung heavy when he took it in his hand. He ran his fingers down to the nipple in their baby’s mouth.
Always it took him like this. Jealousy. Envy. Impatience. The exposed breast. The nipple in the baby’s mouth.
“In a minute,” Georgia said, sensing his impatience.
On visits home, family friends recalled, Shahzad’s father grew increasingly concerned about his son’s growing radicalization. When Shahzad sought his father’s permission to fight alongside the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, his father refused. From that moment on, friends reported, Shahzad viewed himself as being on a path that diverged markedly from his father’s. When he returned to Connecticut he stopped taking his father’s money and allowed his house to fall into foreclosure. He told his wife he wanted to leave the United States for good, but would wait until he got his citizenship and could seek work with an American company in the Middle East. He and his wife held yard sales. Those close to them hinted that their marriage was in trouble. Shahzad wanted to return to Pakistan while he searched for a job in the Middle East, his wife insisted he find the job first. But Shahzad soon returned to Pakistan, staying with his parents in Peshawar, and his wife moved to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where her parents lived.
Frank pressed his lips to the spot where Georgia’s neck joined her shoulder. It was one of his favorite spots on her body. He ran his tongue down the side of her neck and out along the slope of her shoulder. He murmured indecipherable words into her skin.
“In a minute,” she said again.
Frank raised his head, returned his eyes to the screen. Again, the pictures of the Nissan Pathfinder abandoned that Saturday evening on the first of May in Times Square. Again, the interview with the T-shirt vendor who had noticed smoke coming from the back of the S.U.V. and had alerted the mounted policeman who called it in. Again, the shots of the robot smashing the car windows, its steel arm extracting items from the car, the bomb squad arriving. Again, the press conference with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Kelly saying “New Yorkers are very tough, resilient people.” Kelly pointing to the presence of eighty-two surveillance cameras in the area. Kelly assuring the public the man would be found.
Fucking terrorist, thinks Frank. He only wants to make love to his wife in peace. Why can’t he do that? He’s just been to a memorial service for his friend. His friend is dead. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that just fucking enough?
“She’s almost finished,” Georgia said.
For love. To reclaim his wife’s love, his father’s love. Was it for love that Shahzad had lied to his father and said he would take up work in the family’s farming business? Was it for love he had left home, telling his father he would return in a few days, and never coming back, returning instead to the United States to do what he had promised his friends he would do. For love, to keep his promise. For love, to never tell his father of his plans. Was it for love he had done it?
Georgia could imagine Shahzad as a small boy, looking up at the sky during military air shows, awed to see his father’s plane looping and diving and somersaulting through the clouds. The heart-stopping thrill of that. The pride throbbing in his breast. Had he searched for something equally daring, equally thrilling to return the pride to his father’s breast? To earn his love? For love, an explosion in the middle of Times Square? For love, to make his father proud of a Muslim soldier in a righteous war against a nation that attacked Muslim nations and killed Muslim people?
Frank lowered his head to her neck, moved his tongue impatiently on her skin.
“Wait,” she whispered, slipping her nipple from the mouth of the baby who has at last fallen asleep in the crook of her arm. “I’ll put her down.”
She stood up, one breast dangling heavily outside her shirt, carried the baby into her room down the hall.
When she returns she is naked.
The light from the hallway at her back, she comes toward him. Still ripe with pregnancy, succulent with birth, she moves like a succession of back-lit, rolling mounds. Her hips and thighs, belly and breasts seem colossal. Her skin is white. She appears like an alabaster cut-out, glowing at the edges. She walks with her feet slightly splayed. He has always loved the way she walks. From beneath the fold of her belly, her triangular dark patch peeks at him. Sharp pangs go off everywhere within him. He holds his breath and marvels at her glacial beauty, so honestly and massively displayed.
“I want to live in us,” she says, reaching the sofa where he now sits, shoes removed, legs stretched out. “In our place outside the world.”
He knows exactly what she means. For seven years of marriage they’ve retained that place. It’s like a bubble where they go to escape the world.
She raises one dimpled knee and crawls on top of him. In the rising and parting of her thighs, again the dark patch, the follicles of hair now up close, and between the hairs, that quick pink split, that heady scent of musk.
He lifts himself beneath her, lowers his trousers and shorts. She wants him all at once, quickly and without elaboration. He knows it is her way. For the first one they barely move. They do not speak. Their bodies stretch tensed and readied each against the other. Swiftly it is accomplished, the rise through ecstasy, the release.
He scoops her up, still impaled, hoists her further on his hips for balance. His shorts and trousers drop to his ankles, gingerly he steps out of them. With his naked wife pressed to his chest, he walks optimistically bare-assed down the hall toward their bedroom in the back. Georgia’s legs circle his waist. Her hips are slick in his hands. The perfect smoothness of her skin is a miracle to him, the roundness of her buttocks, another miracle.
He lays her gently across their king-sized mattress. Careful not to dislodge himself, he rises up only enough to pull himself free of his shirt sleeves, pull his undershirt over his head. He folds over her, runs his hands across her face. His fingers sink into her hair, graze the inlets of her eyes, pass over her shoulders and down her arms. He is so very grateful for her presence in his life. Simply, purely grateful. He cannot keep his hands still, and for now she does not want them still. But soon she will. He knows her ways. He caresses her thigh, her knee. For fairness sake, he reaches back, caresses the other thigh, the other knee. He draws a hand high up along the inside of her leg, parts the lips already wet and waiting for him there, makes room for his fingers next to the shaft of his cock, still holding its place inside her.
She quivers at his touch, draws in a breath. She doesn’t want his hand there now, and obligingly, he pulls it free. This is hers to do alone. His happiness exists in watching. He is happy. Just so fucking happy. It would take a bomb to blow his happiness away.
She swings around, arranges her weight above him, contracts her muscles to keep him in place. Gazing up, he sees a tower of cascading curves. He would be a rushing stream running through her hair, her ears. He would swoop inside her, burst his limits, impregnate her with a thousand children. He glories in his happiness. There is no sane reason for it. It goes beyond reason, beyond sanity. It doesn’t exist in words, but only in touch and smell, only in the freedom of her movements and the wonder of her curves. He envisions hills on a ridge where their future goes on and on toward infinity. Their future will not end. Except by an act of God, or a bomber’s hand. It would take that to rip it from them.
He was a bad friend. He felt it as the mother’s laugh flew past him, nicking the rims of his ears. He felt it as Georgia’s breasts swung before his face, their dark areolas going by like passing glances. Not to have spoken to Andrew in all those years. To have turned his back on his friend simply because the companion of his youth, finding solace in drugs, had turned in later life into someone he didn’t know.
As Georgia fights for orgasm, rivulets of sweat run between her breasts. They are a miracle to him, those breasts, the milk that comes from them, an absolute fucking miracle. Ferociously, her pelvis works against him. Open-mouthed, she arches back, grabs his kneecaps for support.
Then suddenly, she releases him. Hands pressed flat to the mattress, she brings her body up, slams it down again upon him. Every inch of her is slick with sweat. She lifts her hands, drags her fingertips across her breasts. Then she brings her hands up beneath her breasts and raises them like trophies.
She throws back her head and utters a cry of piercing triumph. Her passion is open and unapologetic. A side of her that can’t be shown, shown to him alone. The honesty of it is her gift to him. And even as he loves her for her gift, he feels a flash of resentment for her life. Why should she be alive when Andrew is not?
Georgia rises above him, shimmering and majestic. Never has her name seemed more appropriate. She is an entire state to him, a country, a world. “Georgia,” he whispers. “My Georgia.”
Legs pulled under her, hips settled, she opens and closes her knees like a bellows. Hiding nothing, shielding nothing. She does not look at him, but is utterly intent on her own pleasure. She utters another piercing cry, jerks forward and collapses over him.
“Georgia. My girl.”
She rolls off him and crosses her arms over her face. She has gone inside herself, and he knows better than to try to comfort her now. It is not comfort she wants, but to be left alone. Seven years have taught him about her need to go within herself before releasing fully into love. The mystery of it silences him. Love. Pure love. Seven years of loving her. Seven solid years. Indestructible. Save by a bomb.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, speaking to the press from One Police Plaza, called it a “terrorist act.” An act, he stressed, conducted by an individual, not an organization. Later, they would learn there was an organization behind it. They have video, Kelly reported, of a white male in his 40′s walking south from 45th Street onto Shubert Alley. He could be “perfectly innocent,” Kelly said. Later, they would learn he wasn’t perfectly innocent and he wasn’t in his 40′s. He was 31 years old and had left behind an improvised explosive device, which Kelly described as having “failed to function.” Had it succeeded in functioning, Kelly explained, staring straight into the camera, it would have been “more of an incendiary event” than an explosion. A domestic security official stated that it “did not appear to be a terrorist threat.” A terrorist act but not a threat. Georgia wondered at that. The bomb was ineptly constructed. The gun powder, not high-grade material. A true terrorist would have used high-grade material and seen to it that the device did not fail to function.
Georgia gathered Frank into her arms. Her husband and lover. Her best friend in all the world. With her baby safe and sleeping down the hall and this man in her arms she believed she had everything in life she could ever desire.
Shahzad was in custody. He was telling the authorities everything he knew. He had waived his rights to a lawyer, to a speedy trial. He was talking his head off. He was singing, as they say.
Georgia gave Frank a squeeze. “Sometimes,” she confessed, “when we’re making love I want to bite you and tear you apart. I want to rip your flesh open and make you bleed. I don’t understand how sex can do that. It makes me want to kill you.”
“And yet I love you more than anything in the world. Except the baby. I don’t love you more than the baby.”
Frank thought that he did. He thought that if it ever came to a choice and only one of them could be saved, he would want it to be Georgia.
“I love you differently,” she went on. “Not more, but differently. I’ll never stop loving you.”
But terror, she believed, in the name of love is still terror. You could lay it at the feet of love like a wreath. You could dress it up in noble causes and honorable sentiments. But at its core, terror is meant to terrorize.
Ultimately, when Shahzad pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life, he said he would plead guilty “one hundred times over” to attacks yet to come in response to the U.S. terrorization of Muslim peoples. One hundred times over to attacks that could arrive at any moment from any place, attacks they would never know were coming and would be unable to prevent. One hundred times over, he said, to bombs that might not function. One hundred times over to attempts that would be made until the bombs did function and people lay dead and dying on the ground.
Georgia freed herself from Frank’s arms and sat up in bed, facing him. “I used to ask my mother how much she loved me. And she would open her arms wide and say, ‘I love you this much.’” Georgia opened her arms wide to show Frank how her mother had opened hers.
As she demonstrated the move, her breasts pulled apart and fell to either side of her chest, and Frank reached up and placed the flat of his hand in the space between her breasts. He held it there for a long time. He had been a bad friend to Andrew, having abandoned him when things got rough and his friend turned into someone he didn’t know. A bad friend when he couldn’t take any more of the guy showing up at his place at all hours, out of his mind on drugs and demanding money to buy more. The difference between the person Andrew was then and the person he had been when Frank loved him was the difference between night and day. Immense and irrevocable and terrifying. As if a bomb had gone off and blown his real friend away and left a stranger in his place.
“I love you this much,” Georgia said, and opened her arms even wider than before.
Frank took his hands and placed them over her breasts, covering the nipples that stared at him like eyes.
Shahzad called himself a partial answer to the U.S. terrorization of Muslim people and Muslim nations. Terror for terror. Blood for blood. He viewed himself as a Muslim soldier in a war. War and love. Love and war. They are the same, Frank believed. Both slice through the heart and cut off reason at its root.
Georgia looked at her husband and opened her arms before him as wide as they would go. Wide as the widest bowl to hold all the love and terror of the earth.
“I love you this much,” she said.
“I love you too,” Frank replied. He loved her with all of his heart, but at times he couldn’t stand her. At times she was a stranger to him and he had to look away. Now he grabbed her and pressed her hard against him. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. Her flesh was hot, and he was weeping. He felt himself weeping as if for the first time in his life, or for all of his life, weeping as if he had started years ago and had never stopped.