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“Good man,” Keegan says. “Everything beginning with a P. Now I understand why no roast beef. And that’s totally OK.”
“Seriously, though,” Elihu Wingate says, “do you ever think about it? Things you would have done differently?”
“Should have worked on my golf swing more this summer. Should have got laid more when I was single—”
He stops. Everyone in the office tries to tiptoe around the topic of marriage when Elihu is in earshot. They tend to not mention dates, anniversaries. Some people have even stopped wearing their wedding rings at the office.
“Hey, this is fun,” Dan Keegan says. “I could go on like this. I should have bought and sold Enron stock the year before they went bust. I should have taken skiing lessons before I hit the slopes. What about you, sport? Any regrets?”
“I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
On his desk Elihu Wingate finds a green manila file, the type they use for survey results. The cover sheet, however, lists only a single question: “What do you regret?” At first he thinks this must be a joke from Dan Keegan and he is pleasantly surprised. A fairly witty effort, especially for Dan. But then he notices the supporting data along the bottom of the page: dates, ID number of database, respondent protocols.
Maybe, he thinks, those graduate students who were designing the questionnaire have decided to send him the results too. He wishes he could remember when he agreed to all this.
He turns to the response page, which also has only one item. These students really need help with their methodology.
Response 1: I regret that humans didn’t evolve hooves.
Elihu Wingate frowns. Discounting anomalous responses is one of the first things they teach you in survey design.
But later he can’t help thinking about it. He’s relaxing in a chaise lounge with a tall glass of iced tea while his daughters splash around in the pool. He imagines the sound of hooves delicately tapping along the patio tiles. With no opposable thumbs, he realizes, we wouldn’t be able to pull triggers.
He hears a delicate tapping along the patio tiles. He looks up and sees his wife (ex-wife), in sundress and high-heeled sandals.
“What are you doing here?” Elihu Wingate says, and hopes he doesn’t sound upset. The last thing he wants is to see Violet mad. He braces himself.
Her smile is a miracle. Lesser things (a toenail clipping on the floor, a misplaced towel) have sent her into a blood-boiled rage.
“Don’t you remember?” she says. “In the divorce agreement, I got custody of you.”
She and his parents sip iced tea and talk about landscaping ideas for the front lawn. Elihu Wingate and the kids play badminton. It’s a good evening.
After everyone has gone to sleep, Elihu Wingate thins out some more Virgins. He takes the silver Virgin and the one of green stone from his room. The wooden one in the upstairs hallway is too cumbersome to move, and one has shown up in his daughters’ bedroom, six inches high and made of moonstone, that the kids have fallen in love with, so obviously it has to stay where it is. But there’s such a crowd on the breakfront in the dining room that no one will notice a few missing. In the living room he’s so focused on the mantelpiece that at first he doesn’t notice Violet sitting cross-legged on the sofa.
“Are you okay?” he says, alarmed. “Didn’t you like the guest bedroom? Did we forget to put sheets on the bed? Let me take care of—”
“The bed’s fine.”
“Is the room too small? We can switch, I don’t need all that space—”
“Relax,” she says.
He doesn’t think he’s ever heard her say that word. He stands frozen in confusion, waiting for the next cue from her to let him know what kinds of abject and repeated apologies are expected of him.
Violet gestures toward the large Virgin on the end table, candle burning again.
“What kind of tealights did you get for that statue? I didn’t know they made ones that burn so long.”
Elihu Wingate sits down in the armchair across from the couch.
“Your mood seems better,” he says.
“Yes,” she says. “Lance helped with that.” She waves her left hand from side to side, pausing so he can focus on her wedding ring.
“Oh,” Elihu Wingate says. “Congratulations.”
“It’s so much easier just to like you, without feeling guilty that I feel no sexual attraction for you whatsoever.”
“These things happen,” Elihu Wingate says.
“Not a single spark.”
“Yes. You’ve made that clear.”
“But I’ve realized,” she says, “that I like you as a person.”
“Thanks, Violet. I like you too.”