BY PHYLLIS HUMBY
Phyllis Humby lives in rural Ontario. Copyright rests with the author.
“PEOPLE LOOK at me oddly when they hear I have been married four times. It is not my fault that three husbands died, and a fourth ran off with someone’s wife. Then, of course, there were the others.”
Her companion raised a shambolic eyebrow and her rheumy eyes widened.
“Of course, that all happened over the course of 65 years.”
Lydia Corvits, a long-time resident, peered over her shoulder to the rec room TV. The opening bar of her favourite soap opera sounded. The newcomer, Pearl Peacock, re-captured her attention when she began speaking of her lost loves.
“My first husband Alfred was quite a bit older. Heavens, I was a young girl of 18. Alfred was 39 the year we married. Mother and Father had passed on and Alfred had been a friend of the family my whole life. I was very grateful when he offered to marry me. He was a man of few words. Yes, indeed. Of course, we didn’t have much to talk about.”
Pearl’s mouth twitched as the veil of cobwebs shifted on ancient memories. Repressing a smile, she continued her recitation.
“The year we got married was, let’s see… that was ’43.”
“Alfred was a very plain man. Tall and thin. Long face and prominent arching nose. He left before dawn each morning to walk to the dairy where he would hitch up old Ben to the wagon.” She arched a well-shaped brow, “Ben knew every stop?never missed.”
Mrs Corvits blinked and gave an imperceptible nod.
“We lived in a small apartment above a house in the east end of town. I always kept busy at scrubbing the floors, polishing the linoleum countertop, and wiping out the icebox. I mended clothes and walked to the market every second day to shop for food.”
“Samuel was born the following year. He was long and skinny?like his father. He even had his father’s nose. Alfred would stand in front of the cradle and stare for the longest time. I never knew if he was admiring the baby or wondering how he allowed the complication of a young family.”
“One morning, baby Samuel woke me for a feeding and Alfred was still in the bed beside me.”
Pearl cast a sideways look at Mrs. Corvits. “Yes, heart attack. And that was the end of husband number one.”
“It was not until 1948 when I met and married Bert. Young Samuel was approaching school age and I had managed to keep us fed and clothed all that time.”
Mrs. Corvits wondered how Pearl had accomplished that but feared interrupting the continuing saga.
“Bert worked as a clerk at the bank; the only bank in town. He was quiet but not as solemn as Alfred. He enjoyed taking Samuel for Saturday morning visits to the park. He was kind to me and attentive. We lived in a row house in a respectable part of town. And like Alfred, Bert walked to work. We were both pleased when George was born a couple of years later. Bert came home most days to eat lunch and spend some time with baby George. After the supper hour he devoted his time to Samuel.”
Pearl smoothed the flared skirt of her floral print dress. “One day his lunch sat untouched. The baby fussed while I watched out the window for a glimpse of Bert strolling toward the house. Instead, a stranger knocked on the door. Bert had an unfortunate accident while walking home. A new driver lost control of his car and it bounced up over the sidewalk pinning Bert beneath a wheel. That was husband number two.”
With a backward glance, Lydia Corvits noticed her television program was now over.
“It was a good 10 years before Wayne knocked on my door.” Pearl laughed. “He literally knocked on my door. I bought more Fuller Brush that year than I could possibly use. We dated for a few months before we married. Now, Wayne was the first husband that was fun. He laughed and enjoyed life. He did not make much money. What little he did make he spent on flowers, cheap wine, and entertaining friends. He had more friends than anyone I knew. He did not really care about the children. Oh, he was good to them all right, but I don’t think they were all that important to him. Nevertheless, we had a child of our own three years after we were married. After the new baby was born, Wayne didn’t invite his friends around for drinks or food. He partied away from home after that. One night the police came to the door. They found a body along the river. My husband. That mystery was never solved.” Pearl Peacock took a sharp breath. “That was husband number three.”
Mrs. Corvits’ attention was now riveted on the woman beside her with the Revlon Red lips. Captivated by her story much as she was to her soap operas.
“It wasn’t until the seventies that I met Eric at a party. Oh my, it was a wild party. I don’t mind admitting that now to you, Mrs. Corvits. After all, it was a long time ago. Eric and I had nothing in common really. He was extremely good looking. Actually, he never knew my real age, and I was not about to tell him.”
“Wayne might have been fun, but Eric lifted my social life to a completely different level. Eric and I attended many parties; most of which I have only a foggy recollection. However, I do recall the first time I found him under a pile of coats at one of the parties. Unfortunately, he was not alone.” She lifted her shoulders in a c’est la vie shrug. “We had two glorious years together and then another two—not so glorious—before he ran off with the wife of our Little Theatre Director.
“I was mortified…totally shocked. Why couldn’t he have just died like the others? And so, that was husband number four.” The tiny thin-haired lady seated next to Pearl was too spellbound to ask or answer questions.
“I decided never to marry again. But..,” she hesitated, “by the mid-80s, I was getting restless. I was approaching middle age when a new man came into my life. Thank goodness my television went on the blink. He sure knew his way around TVs.”
Pearl’s voice took on a dreamy reflective tone. Shaking herself out of her trance, she spoke up. “Ed was married. He admitted he was married. He was around my age. He thought I was hot stuff. We began an affair. The time we spent together was more intriguing, more fun, than anything I had ever experienced. I was living alone by then, and Ed would sneak over whenever he could.” Pearl giggled and shook her head slightly, then leaned toward Mrs. Corvits. “Sometimes we went to a motel in another town” her eyes widened and she looked around before adding, “in the middle of the day.”
The confession stunned Mrs. Corvits. Another soap opera was beginning on television and the old lady never gave it a thought. She nodded her head encouragingly for Pearl to continue.
“Well, we knew it couldn’t last forever. He just got so busy with all his grandchildren, and since the oldest one was driving, he worried that we might be seen. It was lovely while it lasted.” She sighed.
Thinking she had heard the end of Pearl’s romantic adventures, Mrs. Corvits sat back in her chair.
“Of course” Pearl continued, “Just because I was in my 70s didn’t mean the end of romance. It was three years after Ed and I parted that my landlord came to the apartment to check on faulty taps.” Her smile lit up her face. “Oh my, Mrs. Corvits, he was something else. Virile…”
Thinking their conversation was leading to graphic intimate disclosure, Mrs. Corvits paled considerably.
Pearl, not noticing, continued, “Stanley was charismatic. I heard talk that he was friendly with a few of the old girls in the seniors building. I didn’t care about that. I looked forward to his visit every day. Yes, Mrs. Corvits, we were together for over ten years before the complex replaced him with a younger 74 year old. Stanley stopped by occasionally for coffee with me but it was just never the same.” Pearl looked around the communal recreation area and breathed another gentle sigh.
Just then, a fellow resident approached the ladies. “Lydia, may I say hello to your friend?” He turned to Pearl Peacock and bowed mockingly. “I don’t believe we have met. You must be the new kid on the block.” He gave her a wink and a cocky grin.
Pearl tilted her head toward Lydia Corvits, and without taking her eyes off the handsome octogenarian, she cooed, “Would you please excuse us, dear?”