I’m packed. The emergency bag is equipped with my favorite cardigan, my biggest nightgown, and my knitting needles. I decide to use the hospital’s toothpaste and toothbrush. And there’s no need to pack a comb. I am going to look like shit, and unknotted hair won’t change that. Mom disagrees with me entirely.
The stars are hiding tonight. Overcast clouds threaten to spill over. Gussy is taking a quick leak on the bed of pine straw that’s been there since we moved in. My legs reject the offer to climb the ladder, refuse to lift my feet off the spongy grass. The tea I’m making will put me into a deep sleep.
Everything, thanks to Mom, now has a resting place in my house. If I were to die tomorrow, the police would think a perfectly functioning working-class woman lived here quietly and simply.
In the dining room hangs a gaudy mirror she purchased at the one and only decent thrift store downtown. My reflection looks like a ghost with a balloon attached to its body. I’m a shade away from being a skin-shed version of myself with frizzy hair and hormonal pimples.
I’m sorry, I whisper, I’m sorry I can’t do this one thing for you, fulfill your most important wish. But doing it without you is heartbreaking. I deserve a second chance at life with someone who doesn’t dare lie to me and then die on me.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it? The man who sold it to me was telling me that the old lady who dropped it off also sold him a print of one of Monet’s earliest works. But I didn’t think it was quite your style.”
“Style evolves, Mom. I could have an obsession with Impressionism that you don’t know about because you live three states away. I could have fallen in love with Monet’s work in my sophomore Art History class. But you wouldn’t know that, either, because you would rather bake a cake for strangers, or repaint the dining room, or pick out the colors for your door wreath than listen to anything anyone who actually cares about you says.”
I am being difficult, crazy even. I’m feeling things I don’t want to think about. I need to close Pandora’s Box for the night. I’m not the kind of person who cries into a box of Girl Scout cookies for three days watching infomercials and then picks her chin up off the floor. I’m stubborn. I will cheer up when he is returned to his side of the loveseat and she is nonexistent. The gods be damned.
“Goodnight Mom. Thank you for the mirror. I actually do hate Impressionism. Monet sucked.”
When I met her for the first time, I was still glowing. The blood in my husband’s hand was lukewarm, or at least I believed he had a fighting chance. The shock of sudden tragedy covered my head like a veil, emitting a false cheerfulness fueled by naïve hope.
I rearranged the magazines on every side table three times. I was the only one in the waiting room. Even the nurse disappeared from her station.
When she walked up to the counter, I could tell she was exasperated, tired from something, and ticked that no one was at the counter to help her immediately. I hated people like that, but she looked distraught and this was a hospital waiting room where people were told whether or not their loved ones made it, so I forgave her impatience.
She wandered around the stiff chairs and generic, square end tables, disheveling one of my magazine stacks, and pretended to be interested in a local wall mural, probably done by kid cancer patients.
When the nurse returned, she scurried up to the counter, her squat legs and permed hair sticking out of her frumpy frame, uninviting. “I need to see my husband and quite frankly, I’m unimpressed with the running of this hospital. Especially in this waiting room. I mean there should be a nurse sitting at this desk every-“
“What’s his name, ma’am?”
“Jesus, how many Timothys come through this podunk town anyways?”
“I need a last name, please.”
I dropped the three Better Homes and Gardens I had in my hand. The pages splashed to the floor and both of them looked at me. Not my Tim. Not the man who rescued me from a bus stop long after the bus stopped making rounds. The gentle soul who treated me to a latte, swooned at the sight of me in my underwear, blushed when I said ‘I love you’ for the first time. The man who liked nothing more than to be seduced and reduced to sexual matter, though the slightest hint of it at dinner brought on a bout of red cheeks and fidgeting.
“I’m sorry, you must be mistaken. Timothy was accompanied here by his wife.” And the nurse’s finger was pointing at me, an uncomfortable accusation judging by Squat Woman’s facial expression.
Our first eye contact was menacing, and although I was no stranger to a stare down, I broke the gaze, counted the ceiling tiles between us: 17.
She rolled her eyes with exasperation, dismissed the validity of my existence in Tim’s life.
And I backed away from her, looking at the woman Tim left years ago to be with me and felt a tinge of incompetency. I was pretty, I was healthy, I was sane. But she was strong, filled with fierce dedication to Tim and loathing for me.
Everything he ever said about his wife came back to me.
“She’s delusional. I can’t get through to her that the divorce was final two years ago.”
“She won’t stop crying. Our dog we bought together passed away this morning.”
“Her car got a flat, and she didn’t know who else to call.”
“She’s having a fit again, asking when I’m going to come home.”
We collectively agreed that he should take pity on her. I loved him enough to deal with a crazy ex almost every day. And that was that.
Hours passed with no sound other than light jazz and the tick of the clock hanging above the nurses’ station. The wily haired ex sat slumped in a chair near the entrance, her tired old body threatening to fall into deep sleep.
And then I saw a flash of him behind the swinging doors, watched as he emerged, glided over to me with swift surgeon movements. The blue suited doctor who wheeled him to the operating room, the man who I was going to name my savior, the bearer of miracles.
“That would be me.” It came from a few paces back, her short legs trying to waddle their way into our conversation.
Blue Suit looked back to me. “She’s his ex-wife. But she can listen if she-”
“So that’s what he told you?” I felt the sharp jolt of venom. I found the missing puzzle piece, the patch for our gaping hole.
In that one breath, the universe hovered over my life and defecated on every moment I clung to so tightly. Timothy was pronounced dead. The other Mrs. Kidd was pronounced beneficiary of his estate I didn’t know about. And me, as my knees buckled and I felt my weight shift to the cold tiles, was pronounced pregnant, widowed, and duped.