Marriage is neither heaven nor hell; it is simply purgatory.
— Abraham Lincoln
Eighty-four, Lord-a-mighty, and looks every minute of it. That’s what they think, the staff, you can tell by their expressions. A wreck of her former self, poor thing, and her mind probably gone, too.
I ignore them. The mind is slower than it used to be, but not gone entirely. Either way, I’m safe in this narrow, white-haired life, independent living for now, but if I start wandering or keel over they’ll haul me off to the next level of care.
Some things I remember all too clearly. Details I haven’t dwelled on for twenty years. Truth be told, I could do without them.
We married young, had careers in insurance (Kenneth) and retail (me). He was so handsome, I was always in love with his looks. Once a month we fought. Loud, bitter fights about money, always late at night. Aside from our joint account, I kept one in my own name, just in case. In retrospect, I’m not sure it was such a good idea.
“Why is the money I earn our money but your money is yours?” he’d demand.
“It’s for when you leave me and run off with some other woman!”
“You don’t really believe that!”
The children, roused by our racket, huddled together, deciding who to go with after the divorce.
By then we’d made up and made love.
One year I missed his office Christmas party because of the flu. It wasn’t a wild event, usually broke up around ten. I fell dead asleep the minute the kids were settled. At midnight the phone rang, jolted me awake, my heart banging around in my chest. Accident? Police? It was Jack McNulty, the bookkeeper’s husband. “Do you know that Kenneth and Linda are still locked in that office and everyone else is gone?”
Jack’s wife, Linda, was a new-ish employee who followed Kenneth with her eyes. He always looked at the pretty ones, never followed up. I took a couple of aspirin and went back to bed.
Kenneth stumbled in not long after. “What a night! Everyone went for a nightcap at Bailey’s and Linda’s husband barreled in and dragged her out. I think I’ve lost an employee.”
That jokey tone of voice, he only used it when he lied. I didn’t expect it. I picked up a manicure scissors and lashed out, caught his left earlobe, a ragged slice. He bled like a pig. Later in bed (truce declared, first aid applied), he said, “You’re my honey, Melba. My only love.”
I snuggled close but didn’t say I loved him, not then, not ever again, though I did.
The roil, the tumble of the marriage. Linda didn’t come back to work. Never even called.
Most years I made more money than Kenneth did. Bought expensive clothes. Went to conferences. Sang and danced (figuratively, anyway), felt free. You would have thought my whole ego was tied up in that job. But as soon as Kenneth got sick, I quit.
His pain. His yellow skin. My revulsion. He was only sixty.
One day I saw Linda McNulty entering the hospital as I was leaving. I squinted across the parking lot, narrowed my eyes.
Was it Linda?
I felt the scissors, shredding an earlobe. Felt them as real, physical pain, all the way to the car. Inwardly, I bled like a pig. He’d been sleeping with her all these years.
Maybe it wasn’t Linda.
His visitation lasted twice as long most did, the line out the door and halfway down the block. A packed funeral service, acres of flowers. Hundreds of cards. After a while, I threw them away.
A terrible time, that first year. And then, not. Little by little all that hot passion draining. A relief to be rid of it. The job. Linda. Kenneth. Draining year by year. I missed him, though.
My middle grew thick. My vision blurry. Old women reminded me of cows, their slow bodies, their incurious gaze, seeing and not seeing. Kenneth had been wonderful, but he’d exhausted me. He loves me, he loves me not; it demanded such stamina, pulling off those petals.
“Lunchtime, Sweetie,” calls one of the aides. Sweetie? I don’t punch her, don’t even correct her, just let her herd me toward the dining room. I have people to eat with. A van to take me shopping. No mortal illness yet, just this glaze of serenity. Soothing, really. The dim gentleness of cows.
|© Ellyn Bache, 2015