--I’M LOST INSIDE A PAINTING ON THE WALL
I won’t be back on the blog until Tuesday at the earliest, so please come back then.
February 14th, 2014
Rosie ambles into the kitchen, nosing my hand to be petted, and behind her, Virginia, the woman whose home I’ve been staying at the last month.
“Sounds like torpedoes,” she says. “I’ll bet it’s something to see.”
Virginia taps the edge of the counter, feeling her way toward the coffee pot, retrieving a cup from the cupboard, and filling it precisely to the brim.
“What’s it look like out there?”
“Destruction,” I say, “but kind of beautiful, in an angry sort of way.”
“Beautiful and angry. How wonderful. More coffee?” she asks holding up the pot.
The night I arrived at Virginia’s house, after a five hour trek across the frozen lake, she answered her door and welcomed me in without any hesitation, as if I was a relative instead of a complete stranger. Later I learned that she was widowed, childless and lonely. I hadn’t expected to stay this long, but fell into a comfortable pattern of laziness. Other than once on the phone with my wife, I haven’t spoken to anyone but Virginia and her Labrador, Rosie.
“Now that the weather’s turning, I suppose you’ll be going soon,” Virginia says. Her housecoat has flapped open and I can see the gleaming outline of one of her bare breasts. She’s just past sixty, yet fit for her age, hardly wrinkled except for a smattering of crow’s feet. Despite her being blind, I feel sleazy for staring and take Rosie’s snout in my hands.
“Yeah. Maybe this afternoon.”
When I told my wife I wasn’t at our house, she said good, because she’d moved in with her boss. She said I should be on the lookout for divorce papers in the mail. She said marrying me was the worst thing that’s ever happened in her life, which is some kind of dagger considering she was sexually assaulted by her father for years as a child.
As if channeling my thoughts, Virginia says, “So your marriage, it’s over then?”
I remember the few nights we made love, when my wife’s fingernails pierced the skin of my neck, nothing kinky or erotic about it, just her distain of me being verified.
“Over and done,” I say, realizing for once what a release it is to be finally free.
“Relationships are quite a challenge.”
“But you were married for thirty years.”
“Yes, and most of the time I was miserable. If David hadn’t died, I think I would have ended up killing him.”
“Why stay then, in a bad marriage?”
Virginia points to her eyes, wide as they always are. “I’m pretty independent, but being blind is a tricky thing to negotiate all alone.”
I stayed in my marriage because my identity was all wrapped up in being Jess’s husband, her a successful bond broker, me a failed alcoholic.
“Would you happen to have a drink handy?” I ask.
Virginia’s eyebrows arch. She likes the idea. “Well, why not, it’s noon somewhere. There are a few bottles in the shelf above the fridge.
I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in five years, not since the car accident, then losing my job and not having the confidence or wherewithal to get a new one. I thought that being sober would center me, that I’d discover my true, authentic self as they say in AA, but I only felt more lost, empty and soulless.
I make us screwdrivers, mine mostly vodka. The first taste is like seeing old yearbook photos. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m enjoying the missile of heat that slakes along my nerves, making my senses electric. I have another and another. As if I’m leafing through a magazine, I start to count my past mishaps and failures, picturing them in my mind, bloody and glossy.
I don’t even realize that Virginia has gotten up and is standing behind me until I feel her hands on my shoulders. “You’ve gotten quiet all of a sudden.”
When she leans forward, her breasts are squeezed over my head like earmuffs, warm and plush.
She whispers in my ear, “Before you go, do you think you could do me a favor?”
Rosie’s asleep on her mat. My glass is empty. Outside the ice sounds like steel beams breaking.
“It’s been a very, very long time for me,” Virginia says, kissing my head. “And after all, it is Valentine’s Day.”
I put my hands over hers, ready to push them off. Instead I grip Virginia’s fingers, stand and walk with her toward the bedroom.