Face the emotional issues

Book excerpt from "The Perfect Stranger"

"You rise in the early morning half-light and move stealthily from your bed so as not to wake your husband. You go past the hushed rooms in which the children lie sprawled in sleep, watched over by a hundred pairs of impassive button eyes. Then it's on to the shower, where you'll wash away the cozy aroma, the smelly warmth of home.

Ready for phase two in your terry-cloth turban, you stare into the mirror and start applying color, drawing lines around your eyes--in effect putting on your day mask: a more sharply articulated, expressive, aggressive you. The children are awake and drifting around now, quietly bleating their breakfast wish list and foggily regarding your busy, curiously transforming rituals that involve mean little tools like metal files and tweezers.

The hair dryer screams as your little girl, crowding you about the hips, reaches for a tube of lotion you're about to use--a tantalizing artifact of that cluttered, purpose-driven foreign land of adulthood. You tell her to leave it alone, but she can't--knowing negative attention beats no attention at all. So she knocks the cap down the drain and squirts out a full third of the overpriced contents. And suddenly you understand that expression about blood boiling--you know what that feels like, to be so trapped in emotions that all you can do is bark something hurtful, laced with sarcasm your daughter doesn't even understand, something you'll instantly regret. Ashamed but pressed for time, you retreat to your room and don the workplace gear: the skirt, the belt, the hard, shiny shoes that will punctuate your every move with a clack.

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