Copyright is held by the author.
BILL LEE DIDN’T start knowing his wife until after she was dead.
He thought that was a load of crap, but the facts were undeniable. Being alone, a widower, a sometime drunk, most often a miserable prick, he had time to think about her — to ruminate, to reflect, to finally make sense of all the odd things his wife, Marcy, said and did. He wondered if he was capable of knowing it all. He wondered if his sanity was worth it.
He wasn’t sure when all this knowing began. Was it when he saw her beautiful and pale face as she lay cold and placid in her coffin, hands placed as if in prayer over her breasts? At the funeral he could not bring himself to look at her until he was alone in the viewing room cluttered with lame homage to dead things. And when he did he felt an odd rush of understanding, of knowing, as something physical: a rush of sweet warm air across his face, brushing his lips like an intuitive kiss.
Most of these moments of enlightenment were brief, over in a flash, like rushing comets. He would forget them as soon as they were gone. Quickly he knew, why she laughed at some horrific news story while he pursed his lips in dour silence. Quickly he knew why she let dirty laundry and dishes pile up because she was absorbed in chilled chardonnay and a John Irving novel. Quickly he knew why tears seeped from her eyes after they made love. All these he forgot. Pieces of her, of his wife. Moments of how she was.
This was an entirely different forgetfulness than what Marcy accused him of having. According to her, his lapses possessed motive, the likes of which was beyond him. This was different than forgetting birth dates, anniversaries, lyrics to songs, and actors in films. This forgetfulness felt like betrayal. Like he had caused disappointment. If he didn’t have memories, he incanted to his haggard morning reflection in the bathroom mirror, then what did he have? A wife, a lover, was a sort of possession. Without her he was poor and empty.
“You know,” Marcy said to him one afternoon, her back to him while she dried the lunch dishes, “if you ever cheat on me I would forgive you, but I would always hate you.”
“Why would you forgive me?” This conversation frightened Bill, but he needed to know. “How can you hate and still have forgiveness?”
“You don’t need to make a big deal about it, sweetie. Sex is one thing, betrayal is another. I don’t make the rules.”
Bill did not cheat on Marcy, but he did start an affair one month after her death. Was that cheating? He knew others would think so, like his sister-in-law Martina and his brother David. They loved Marcy. Neither of them, Bill exalted in knowing, knew her. Screwing another woman after only two dinner dates may have been in poor taste, but should it be a punishable offense? Martina, if she knew, would castrate him. David would nail him to a cross of guilt with holier-than-thou admonishments.
The woman, Jenny, knew of Marcy, but didn’t care. The sex was such that Bill, after a short while, forgot whether or not to consider if his actions were in poor taste. Bill and Jenny shared a single purpose. Bill and Marcy embarked on two, dissimilar journeys. Jenny left behind no tears when she slid out from under the sheets.
After Marcy was dead Bill was a victim of self laceration. Poor decisions, tasteless actions, pathetic self- loathing were his instruments of choice. He couldn’t – wouldn’t – give any of them up. They helped him know his wife, how she was.
The phone rang. He answered. “Hi, Martina. Thanks for returning my call. I wonder if you’d like to come over tonight. I’d like to fill you in on a few things about your sister.”