published in Volume 1, Issue 3 on May 17, 1994
The house was quiet now. Not so much silent as still. Lorelei Adams waited for her husband to die, and now that he had done so, she wasn't at all content with the results. They had been together for so long--forty-seven years, except for their honeymoon and the year that followed--that his absence from the house was an amputation.
They drove away from the wedding, trailing streamers and rice, directly into the path of a schoolbus which tripped over their car, spilling children across the highway. Everyone thought they were dead. They spent the first hours of their married life in adjacent operating rooms, the first weeks undergoing resurrective surgery, and then months recuperating--he in his parents' house, she in hers. Although they shared the same experience, they healed separately, and, once they actually began to live together, their lives were full of jokes about extended honeymoons, delayed sex, and the danger of children. After that it seemed empty to be with anyone else.
And now he was wrapped in earth with a modest stone set upon his head to keep his spirit down. She visited him a few times as though he were recuperating. Sitting on the edge of the gravestone, she spoke to him in the same level voice she used while he was alive. She explained, as carefully as she could and for the thousandth time, the need to separate whites and coloreds, woolens and cottons from synthetics. She reiterated in her earnest way the importance of changing his underwear every single day and that he mustn't wear the same shirt two days in a row. But he was always as impervious to instruction as the cat. She stopped visiting him in the cemetery, which only emphasized his absence.
Now, whenever she came into the house, she turned her music up, the way she liked to hear it, on all the speakers at once. And she was just a little disappointed when no one got up to leave.
Though every picture in the house was hers, the ones she valued most were the ones they fought over. She threw away that horrid lamp and turned his study into a sewing room. The mash'ad on the floor beside the music center was superior in every way to the bokhara with that foolish medallion he had chosen. And the print he wanted when they reupholstered the chairs in the living room--well, it made Lorelei Adams smile.
And finally, finally, she was able to eat the way she wanted to eat. She abandoned his tiny table in the kitchenette and set the octagonal oak table in the dining room with the polished silver and laundered linen placemat and napkin. A goblet of water and a thin glass of pale Vouvrey stood beside her plate. And then she brought in the tureen. She served herself carefully. She ate graciously. She smiled to either side. She tapped the napkin to her lips and cleared away the soup before she brought out the platter of steaming vegetables to which she helped herself with the silver tongs. She cleared away the dishes before she brought out the dessert and the coffee on a silver tray she had prepared before dinner with the sugar bowl and the creamer. She washed and dried the dishes herself, pleased with the newfound elegance of her life, and more than a little irritated by his selfishness.
She had to do all his jobs now. She brought the mail up and separated it into his and hers. She answered hers in the timely manner that always earned the admiration of her correspondents, and, as usual, his piled up on his bedside table until she finally had to go through them herself to pay the bills, cancel his subscriptions, and inform his college alumni office. You think he would have had the foresight ....
But no, he never considered her or what she constantly had to do to keep their lives together pleasant. When his mother died, he wanted to leap upon the first plane home, never thinking that she would have to pay the hotel bill in a currency she didn't understand, pack and carry all the suitcases herself, and miss the very production of Carmen they had come all that way to see. Didn't he realize that his mother was already dead and that it could not possibly make any difference to her when he returned?
He thought only of himself: his work, his clients, his limited vacation time. It rarely occurred to him, as she pointed out on more than one occasion, that she was a person too, that she, too, had work and requirements and never enough time. And if society paid him more than it paid her, that did not measure what was important so much as it declared society's inverted values. Those who serve humanity are every bit as valuable as the technicians who keep the machines running.
But nothing about him was ever quite satisfactory. So it didn't surprise her at all when he returned.
He was sitting in the living room as she came through the door with an arm full of groceries.
She walked right past him, miffed at his lack of consideration. Couldn't he see she was weighted with packages? Her irritation increased as he continued to sit and read, while she put the groceries away. And where had he been the past few weeks while she thought he was dead? Damn inconsiderate.
She went into the living room to confront him precisely on this topic.
"Where have you been, Manny?"
"Dead," he said.
"That's no excuse. Really," she said.
"The cancer got me."
"You might show some consideration for me sometime," she said.
"Platelets plummeted," he said. "White cells on the rampage. Red cells metathesizing right and left."
"Can't you stop thinking about yourself for once?" she said. "Selfish. That's what you are and that's what you've always been."
She turned away in anger and was suddenly back in the kitchen, but when she opened the refrigerator door, there he was, awkwardly stuffed between the second and third shelves.
"Frozen sections showed metathesized tumors all over the place," he said.
"Manny," she said, "would you please stop!"
He unfolded himself from the refrigerator--all arms and spindly gangly legs--and finally inflated to his full height beside her with a dishtowel in one hand and the unwashed salad bowl in the other.
"What are you doing?" she cried. "Can't you see that bowl hasn't been washed yet? Put that down."
And while she washed the bowl, he disappeared. She spent the rest of the night searching for him in every room of the house. She found him in the study the third time she went in there.
"What happened to my lamp?" he asked.
She felt the accusation like a lash and woke up before she had a chance to answer him.
She was out of sorts. Well, a dream like that! She washed and dressed before going down to breakfast. Now that she was alone, it was important to look her best all the time. Imagine! As if Manny actually cared about that stupid lamp.
She set the octagonal table for one: woven placemat, linen napkin, silver fork, knife, two spoons, luncheon plate, bowl, cup and saucer. There! it looked beautiful. She brought the small silver coffeepot to the table, steaming through the spout, filled her cereal bowl, and brought the warm croissant from the micro, but when she went to get the milk, she found his shoe in the refrigerator.
Really! how embarrassing! She grabbed it quickly, looked about to make sure she was not observed, and hugging it tightly, she returned it to his side of the bed where it belonged.
When she returned to breakfast, Manny was sitting at the table.
"Really, Manny," she said, "you shouldn't leave your shoes in the refrigerator. It's disgusting."
"Well, what could I do?" he said. "Lymph-nodes were swelling and there was hardly a platelet to be seen anywhere. Absolutely defenseless. Hey!"--looking around at the shiny surface of the dining table--"what am I? an orphan?"
Lips in a tight line, she set a place on the mat in front of him without chipping anything. Then she noticed the small silver coffee pot. If only he had said something. She took the coffeepot into the kitchen and, heating the water again, prepared coffee for two in the larger pot, knowing as she did so that her croissant would have to go back to the micro and her cereal was uneatable. Damn irritating!
When she turned around with the large coffee pot in her hands, he was sitting at the wretched table in the kitchenette. Two places were set with the daily dishes and mismatched cups.
"Much better," he said. "Everything's handy. Don't have to walk so far."
She put the silver coffeepot down on the table where it didn't belong. She sat.
"Don't you know," she said evenly, "how much I hate eating in the kitchen?"
"Hey, I meant to ask you," Manny said, "whatever happened to the lamp in the study?"
Oh, she thought, was he going to get it now!