She was a neighbor who stayed
in the house most of the time,
her hair trained into innocuous waves,
a crest of blush on both cheeks.
The first big news we heard of her
was that she had a brain tumor. Inoperable.
Through the window, we watched
her husband mucking through the streets
in the rain and dark, head down, skidding on the slick November leaves
that had appeared overnight.
But by spring, there was hope: The patient, emerging on her husband’s
arm, blinked back the sunshine.
Buoyant in a turban, she announced she
should be dead, but was not!
We watched her with smiles that
ached across our teeth,
as she ambled bravely through
his carefully cultivated garden, craning
to take it all in: the blinding yellow forsythia
overwhelming scent of lilac. It was Christmas morning when they came for her the last time the red lights of the ambulance
winking in garish festivity, the hour
so raw we had to switch on lights
to find the tree. But already
the kids were ferreting beneath it, desperate for something wonderful.
Through the window,
I watched, as they lifted her
above the snow and dark while . in the background, the kids shrieked
at what they’d found.
He missed her like crazy,
the husband told anyone
who would listen. And from
the warmth and noise of our house,
we speculated on his loneliness often.
Vivaldi soaring in the background, the kids
yelping for dinner, we poured some Merlot
and asked each other:
What would it be like?
But more unexpected than death,
was the new woman
who appeared through the window
with unseemly haste,
moving in like our generation did it.
What about the wife who
stayed in the house all those years?
I asked my husband one day, a new anger seeping through our house
like dark wine on the carpet. What about the woman who pressed the shirts, who polished the furniture and
forced her hair into those tortuous curls?
What about her?
Drowning in shadows,
I drifted to the window again,
waiting for the answers to appear
etched in the clear,
readable print kids make when
they write their names on frost.
Was her life really obliterated as easily
as their frozen words? Banished like those long forgotten forsythia?
And if it was, where did that leave us,
the mute and hungry audience?
Who would we watch, pity, grieve for
now that she was gone? Who would bear our darkness
now that she had given us the slip-- Now that her faithless husband
had so blithely refused it?
first appeared in Tampa Review