After that rather surprising glimpse into my friends’ marriage, I said my goodbyes and left. Why I thought every married couple lived in a state of perpetual bliss, I don’t know. But I’m always surprised and uncomfortable when husbands and wives open the creases of their lives.
My own parents always seemed unhappy: screaming from Mom met with silence by Daddy. I thought her anger, loud and painful, was coarse and impolite, and his silence, illustrated by a face that always seemed to be turning away, was somehow noble. It wasn’t; he was simply disappearing without a fight and she, starved for a good one, was constantly provoking. I craved loving perfection in every couple I visited. (A search that continued for many years.)
I returned to my chilly and neglected townhouse, its woebegone Christmas decorations and the smell of impermanence. My dining room needed furniture and the weighty scent of dinners cooked and coats tossed on a chair. I needed to live here, fill the rooms with friends and the perfumes of living.
I took a glass from the drainboard, filled it with water and drank thirstily. Too much wine, I thought. Over the rim of the glass I saw Mr. Invalid's poinsettia drooping in its spot by the sliding glass door. I'd thought it would get the sun it needed there but I was wrong. Someday, I thought, pouring the remainder of my water into the base of the plant's foil-wrapped pot, I would learn how to care for something. I would start with this plant, the only other living thing here.
The next morning, December 27, I ran to the office. I hoped Judith would ignore last night’s visit to Abigail’s. If I could play dumb, I would. But she was having none of that.
“What were you thinking?” she asked, handing me a cup of coffee. I’d found her in the kitchen, sponging the counter. Tim had left his usual mess behind. “You have no business going into that apartment and no right letting Nancy and Stephen in behind you.”
“Please. You went there to snoop. Why, I don’t know and I don’t want to know. What I want is for you to settle down and do your job and mind your own business because I will not be responsible if Abigail’s sister finds out you’ve been going through her things.”
“Then what were you doing in there last night?”
“Picking up Nancy’s key.”
“Where is it?”
“She’s bringing it over this morning. Before they leave.”
“It’s not here.”
“I guess they haven’t left yet.”
“They left, or rather, she left, at six this morning.”
“Stephen’s still here. He wants to stay the rest of the month and fly out in January.”
“Really?” This was news to me. “They must have decided that last night.”
“He’s not moving to Seattle.”
She shook her head in gentle disgust. “Nora. Wake up.”
I waited until she’d made herself comfortable in the office before asking for permission to attend Abigail’s funeral. She laughed. “You never give up, do you?”
“I’m sure that’s your feeling right now.”
“I’d kind of like to see it through somehow. Funerals provide closure.”
“Your attitude is very unprofessional. It’s flippant and adolescent.”
“But I can go?”
She lifted her shoulders, her eyebrows and her hands. “Do what you must,” she said.
And may the Lord have mercy on you, I thought.
I have brains, but I am not smart.