On Sunday afternoon, Dr. Howard Greene, cardiologist and president of the medical staff at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, arrived, late, at Paul Revere Middle School. He had come to watch his daughter, Ashley, perform in some sort of tap dance or ballet routine as part of the Dance For Kids’ annual recital. Dr. Greene parked his glossy red convertible beneath the shade of a palm tree and jogged to the entrance of the school. As much as he loved to watch his daughter excel in her many extracurricular activities, he couldn’t help but feel inconvenienced at times. For instance, today he was forced to leave the hospital before he had finished lecturing an arrogant, pock-marked resident on the importance of checking blood pressure in both arms to diagnose aortic coarctation, and rush to Brentwood, all the way on the other side of town. Traffic was slow, and throughout the drive, he received a steady stream of calls on his newest gadget, the car phone, filled with his wife’s hisses of “Where the hell are you?!” and “You’re late, Howard.” Dr. Greene despised this type of trivial criticism, especially over something like traffic, which was so obviously out of his control. Not to mention he was late because he was busy saving lives, not because of some insignificant reason.
On the other hand, he had volunteered to be on call this weekend, in spite of the big red circle his wife had drawn around Sunday June 13th on the refrigerator’s calendar. But, he quickly released that potentially guilt-provoking thought; he reasoned that he was only a few minutes late and his daughter was dancing toward the end of the recital anyway so he was barely missing anything at all.
As Dr. Greene neared the school’s entrance, he noticed a tall, black man walking ahead of him. He immediately recognized the man as OJ Simpson, retired professional football player and actor, and, judging by his presence at the school, father or uncle or something to someone who was performing in the recital that evening. Dr. Greene was thrilled. Despite interacting with celebrities on a regular basis, as Cedars-Sinai was the hospital to go to, Dr. Greene’s excitement upon meeting one never wavered. With each new encounter, he felt as though he were being further accepted into some elite club, one in which he desperately wanted to be a member. Dr. Greene approached OJ Simpson and tried to appear natural; he wanted to seem unfazed by OJ’s status, yet aware of it, the way one celebrity might act when happening upon another. This was always his protocol around celebrities. OJ Simpson held open the door. Dr. Greene hurried forward and thanked him, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.
The theme at this year’s recital was “On the Farm” and the stage was littered with bales of hay and two-dimensional black and white spotted cows. A giant barn set in an idyllic mid-western landscape covered the majority of the backdrop. As Dr. Greene scanned the audience for his wife, a group of young girls, no more than five-years old, tapped their way on stage. They wore pink tutus, floppy pink bow ties, and oversized black top hats; the audience could barely contain its delight. Once the clapping and cheers died down, the music began. The girls took off their hats and placed them on the ground, then stomped spastically in wide clockwise circles around the hats, more charmed with the sounds they were creating than maintaining any sort of rhythm. Dr. Greene smiled. He remembered when Ashley was that age and came home with her very first pair of tap shoes. She spent the entire afternoon shuffling around the kitchen’s island, over and over again. She absolutely loved those things.
The girls bent down to pick up their hats. One girl, who didn’t quite make it the entire 360 degrees looked extremely disoriented. Unable to locate her own hat, she seized someone else’s, and so began a tug-of-war. Dr. Greene’s nostalgia began to fade into slight irritation. As the rest of the group continued the frenetic routine, the two girls wrestled with the hat. Soon their brawl attracted the attention of another girl, who, having discovered the overlooked hat lying on the floor, attempted to resolve the conflict by shoving it toward the original antagonist. Unfortunately, she was a bit too forceful, and the child on the receiving end toppled backwards and immediately began to cry. Dr. Greene threw up his hands in exasperation. Not only was it painfully boring to watch other people’s daughters perform badly, but to have to sit through a performance which was now looking more and more like the scene of a playground was insulting to his highly coveted time. At this point, one of the instructors had walked the sobbing girl off stage and prompted the rest of the girls to continue. But it was clearly a lost cause. Only half the group continued. The other half had lost interest altogether. Several girls stood, motionless, searching the audience for a familiar face. And one rather overweight child, who probably exerted herself too much with all the stomping, now sat on one of the bales of hay.
Dr. Greene spotted his wife at the far right of the theater. The girls on stage had finished, finally, and he pushed his way down the row of now wildly cheering parents, all with the same stupid smiles plastered on their faces. He sat down with a huff and gave his wife a peck on the cheek.
“What a precocious group of girls,” Dr. Greene said, intending to spark a smile of sardonic amusement from his wife.
“They’re kids, Howard. Give them a break.” His wife rolled her eyes before turning back to the stage and reshaping her down-turned mouth into the same stupid smile as everyone else.
“Alright, alright, sorry. Forgive me for expecting that a year’s worth of dance classes would produce something more…sophisticated.” Dr. Greene sighed. Recently, it seemed like all of his wry jokes, which used to make his wife chuckle, were not met with the same appreciation, or really any appreciation at all.
The next group of dancers, older than the previous class and dressed as cowgirls, sauntered on stage as a folk song emanated from the speakers. Wanting to make amends for his unsympathetic reaction to the first group, Dr. Greene watched with rapt attention. The girls grinned, showing off the gummy gaps where loose teeth once sat, and then began to move, successfully, as one. His expectations far exceeded, Dr. Greene felt an immediate father-like adoration for these girls. They do-sa-doed and swung their partners round and round while the audience, including Dr. Greene, clapped to the beat of the music. When the dancers all shouted “Promenade!” he laughed just as loudly as the other parents.
“This is great!” Dr. Greene’s wife quietly exclaimed. He knew by her tone that she was no longer angry with him. He turned to her and was overcome by an urge to apologize anyway. He leaned over to whisper in her ear when suddenly, a giant whale of a woman in front of him jumped up out of her seat and started bouncing around, shrieking her daughter’s name. The fat on her arms jiggled as she waved a camera around, snapping haphazard photos. Dr. Greene shrank back into his seat, dropped his head in his hands and massaged his temples.
What felt like hours later, Ashley and her classmates walked on stage. They all wore white leotards with flowing white skirts. Dr. Greene sat up with excitement, straining to get the best view of his daughter. The music began. He watched Ashley as she pointed and turned and leapt across the stage. She was wonderful. He swelled with pride as he immediately saw that Ashley was, without a doubt, much more talented than the rest of the girls. And of course, he was responsible for her impressive display of co-ordination, as it was his athletically infused DNA that helped to create her.
Dr. Greene glanced at his wife. She was wearing an emerald blouse that hugged her curvaceous torso in a titillating way. It occurred to him that he rarely acknowledged how beautiful she really was, not because he didn’t want to, but because he actually forgot. Their lives had become so methodical; he often looked at her as a familiar visage rather than an attractive, sexy woman. The other night, his wife was standing in the bathroom, washing her face. Dr. Greene noticed that her hair looked different, shorter maybe, or a different color. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it looked nice.
“I like your haircut,” he had said.
His wife continued to splash water on her face. She lifted the hand towel off the bar and patted her face dry. Without looking at him she said, “I had my hair done three weeks ago.”
Ashley’s performance ended. Dr. Greene sprang out of his seat, clapping so hard his hands stung. At that moment, he decided to be a better husband. He was confident that he could make things right once again.
The recital ended shortly after Ashley’s performance. Dr. Greene and his wife waited outside of the school. As he searched the crowd for his daughter, he spotted OJ Simpson again. He was standing near a very pretty woman and a young girl who wore a sequined purple costume. Dr. Greene overheard the woman, presumably his wife or ex-wife, but definitely the mother of the girl, ask OJ to take a picture of them. “But Daddy has to be in the picture too,” the girl said. “No Sydney, he can’t,” the woman quickly responded in an acerbic tone. Dr. Greene searched OJ’s demeanor for some hint of anger or rejection, but his face was void of emotion. He immediately felt embarrassed and guilty for having watched such a private moment. OJ Simpson was beginning to lose all credibility as a celebrity; he was becoming…average, and Dr. Greene actually felt sorry for him.
Moments later, Ashley emerged from the crowd. Dr. Greene’s wife rushed to hug her. The two began to review the recital, covering every single detail, both of them speaking in their same rapid voices. He laughed at the genetic similarity before interjecting, “You were so wonderful, honey!”
Ashley looked up and smiled at him for the briefest of seconds before turning back to her mother, ignoring his presence all together. The sharp sting of rejection filled his being. But, then he noticed another emotion rising inside of him. He felt himself growing oddly jealous of his wife. How had she been able to secure Ashley’s attention when he could not? His wife interrupted his thoughts, “Howard, we’ll meet you back at the house okay?”
“Ash, are you sure you don’t want to ride home with me?” Dr. Greene asked.
“No, I’ll go with mom,” Ashley replied quickly and somewhat curtly before continuing her previous conversation. His wife gave him a look. It was a look that was not unfamiliar to him, but one that, until this moment, he had always thought he understood. Now, that look, which seemed to express sympathy and compassion, also revealed something else. Did she too sense the competition? Was that the look of an adversary? Could there be a hint of spite in that subtle smile that indicated her enjoyment in her role as the favored parent? The two walked away, leaving him alone in the parking lot.
Dr. Greene drove home in a state of vexation. The more he thought about his wife’s expression, the more irritated he became. He sped along Sunset, downshifting to pass the cars around him. He clung to the boulevard’s winding curves, fighting the centripetal force as it pulled against his body. He felt himself gaining speed, going faster and faster.
Just then, the traffic light ahead changed from yellow to red. Dr. Greene slammed on the brakes and screeched to a stop, mere inches away from the car ahead of him. He cursed loudly, and then noticed that his heart was beating much more quickly than it should have been, given his seated position. Dr. Greene took a few deep breaths. On the right, he could see the perimeter of the UCLA campus, his alma mater. His mind wandered back to that spring afternoon of his senior year, when he opened his campus PO box and discovered, what he knew to be, his official acceptance letter to UCLA’s medical school. With a 3.9 GPA and glowing recommendations, he was told he’d be a shoe-in. He remembered ripping open the envelope with outward exhilaration, right there in the bustling student union, only to discover a letter that began, “We regret to inform you…” He told his wife that story on their fifth date as they sat on the Santa Monica bluff and watched the sunset; she was the first and last person to hear it. She responded by wrapping her arms around his waist and leaning into him, never uttering a word. It was at that moment when he knew he wanted to marry her. The light changed to green, and Dr. Greene drove ahead.
When Dr. Greene pulled into the gated driveway of his Bel Air home, he saw that his wife and daughter had not yet arrived. Their absence reminded him of the post-recital dismissal and a flare of anger reignited itself within him. He headed into his office and slammed the door. He sat in his worn leather chair and picked up the large stack of files on his desk. The familiar feel of the thick folders with the bent corners calmed him. He began his meticulous process of rereading his patients’ histories, making notes for himself and organizing his schedule for the upcoming week. After some time, Dr. Greene looked up at the clock to see that several hours had passed. He paused in his reading and cocked his head to the side, listening to the sounds of the house. He didn’t hear any noises that would indicate the presence of his wife or daughter. This was not necessarily unusual, considering the square footage of the house, but he noticed, in a detached sort of way, how little he cared what either person was doing at that moment and how much he enjoyed being alone.
Around midnight, Dr. Greene left the solitude of his office and trudged upstairs. He walked into the bedroom where his wife sat, reading, on her side of their California King. He no longer felt irritated, but he had also lost that euphoric feeling of indifference. Now, he only felt tired, too tired to reach out to his wife and stay aligned with his quest to be a better husband. He would tackle that challenge another day. After brushing his teeth, he walked over to his side of the bed. He pulled back the covers, grabbed the remote and turned on the TV.
Dr. Greene was vaguely interested when the words “breaking news” began flashing on the screen. But, when the screen shifted to a quiet, residential neighborhood and a reporter at the scene began speaking, he was instantly engrossed. “The bodies of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown, ex-wife of the acclaimed professional athlete and actor, OJ Simpson, were found outside of her condominium tonight. Goldman and Brown were pronounced dead on site, having suffered fatal knife wounds to the throat and partial decapitation. We are reporting to you live outside of Nicole Brown’s home here in Brentwood.”
Dr. Greene stared in disbelief, “Holy shit.”
“Hmmm?” Cathy murmured back as she often did in that half-listening way of hers. It was something Dr. Greene used to find endearing.
“I saw them today, at the recital!” He continued even though he knew he was virtually talking to himself. “I saw that woman and OJ Simpson and their daughter- she was in one of the dances…” The situation was odd, really. It was hard to imagine someone, whose life had somewhat crossed with his own only hours before, now ceased to exist. Life and death were not new to him. He had cared for a number of patients who had flatlined during surgery, but those incidents were different. In the OR, death sat in the room with them, quietly reminding everyone that he was present. But with murder, death was completely absent, only revealing himself in the last possible second, maybe without ever knowing he would do so.
Dr. Greene turned up the volume. The reporters were now discussing OJ Simpson’s whereabouts. A thought entered Dr. Green’s brain. What if OJ did it? He hadn’t seemed like a violent man, but then again, he had played in the NFL and some of the things those players did to one another on the field were brutal. Plus, that woman had basically ostracized him from the rest of the family. Perhaps then, he did kill her, but in a moment of rage, in which he was blinded from reason? Was there any justification in that? Dr. Greene glanced at his wife who was still reading, still completely unaware or uninterested in this rather extraordinary series of events. A few months ago, he and his wife had experienced their fiercest argument yet in all their fifteen years of marriage. It was over a Tiffany lamp.
The lamp was a floor lamp model, elegant and statuesque. The solid bronze base gracefully climbed into the air, towering higher and higher before erupting into a blood-red shade with streaks of amber and gold coiling through it. It was beautiful. But it was also entirely unnecessary – a frivolous purchase by his wife; they already owned a nice-looking, functional floor lamp. After screaming back and forth for hours, each in unwavering defense of his and her own position, Dr. Greene had been called into the hospital. He left with the words “get rid of that fucking lamp!” burning in his larynx. When he pulled into the driveway later that night, he saw their old floor lamp leaning against the garbage bins, cast out, forgotten, like a sad, broken toy. The sight injected a forceful, unadulterated rage beyond any he had ever experienced into his veins. He tore through the house, heaving shallow breaths, and sprinted into the living room. There, he saw the Tiffany lamp standing erect and proud, smirking in conquest within its new domain. Dr. Greene stalked toward it, gleefully imagining its impending destruction, the sound it would make when he smashed the delicate glass shade into the ground, the defeated look that would spread over his wife’s face as she witnessed the act, the smooth, delicate skin on her neck that would melt in his hands as he tightly squeezed his grip.
He remembered the horror he had felt at that moment. Even as he thought about it now, with the buffer of several months time, his heart still thumped rapidly against his thoracic cavity and a cold sweat prickled the back of his neck. After he had skulked away from the lifeless lamp that night and faded into the darkness of the house, he had been actively avoiding the living room. Neither he nor his wife had ever discussed the episode. And now, as he finally acknowledged that violent, wrathful fantasy which had briefly abducted his entire being, he felt a profound shame. And he sympathized, intimately, with a man he did not know.
Dr. Greene glanced at his wife. Her brow was furrowed as it often was when she concentrated on something. He reached out to rub her arm and moved his hand down her wrist until he was holding her soft, almond-colored hand.
“Cathy.” He shook her hand until her eyes moved off the page and met his own.
“What?” she asked flatly.
“Ashley did great today– ” he paused and swallowed some powerful emotion that had begun to rise in his throat. “I’m really proud of her,” he finished.
She looked at him from what felt like a vast distance. But moments later her eyes turned up slightly the way they always did when she smiled. She squeezed his hand. “Me too,” she said.
Maddie Rottman asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.