By Elizabeth Murphy
While Mr. Wilson takes raspy breaths on his nursing-home deathbed, his Mrs. is downstairs in the salon, head under the drying hood, curlers in her dyed brown hair, preparing for the up-coming wake and funeral where she’ll look her absolute seventy- eight-year-old-spring-chicken best following six decades of marital blah that passed without pulse or spark, without a hint of attraction between them, more of a partnership, the kind that led them to the holy altar in the first place, sparing him a mother’s nagging and offering her a childless union, she so fearful of blood and pain, he so preoccupied with building a prince’s fortune, which he did, then saved it all for a deluge of a day that never came, more like a drought, intensifying as the decades went by, as they grew used to each other’s silence and settled into parallel lives that intersected only in the quotidian, around the teapot and toaster, in front of Jeopardy, reading the paper, never touching, for hadn’t they tried that early on with disappointing results, unworthy of a repeat, no point kissing either, nothing beyond the perfunctory peck on the cheek for show while in the company of others, a rare occurrence, small-talk not his forte, nor hers, though there’d be an excess of it at the wake, scripted lines such as, sorry for your loss, all of us have to go sometime—lines she’ll thank them for with a tissue crumpled in her hand, raised to her nose and long blinks during which she’ll wish for it to be over so she can move on with her new life because seventy-eight is not young, not with all those dollars in the bank, life insurance soon to be paid out, everything left to whom else but her, his brothers and sister in an urn, few friends, associates who’ll send cards of condolences and apologize for being otherwise engaged during the wake and funeral and for an opportunity to see the new Mrs. Ms. soon to be in possession of a new life with a fortune to squander, no thanks to her, never worked a day in her life, not even at home, not with a girl available to cook meals, scrub floors and take care of other housewife’s duties, leaving her to enjoy a daily game of solitaire, occasional trip to the shopping mall, weekly visit with her sister, the spinster, once a shopgirl, forever jealous of Mr. Wilson’s Mrs., rightfully so for isn’t he a fine husband, never hit, nor scolded her, didn’t drink besides the polite sherry now and then, didn’t require that they share a bedroom, she a snorer and lark, he an owl with a restless leg, a fitful sleeper, forever preoccupied with earning more, building bigger, doing better, no different today than when they first met in high school with a courtship that lasted mere weeks in an early nineteen-sixties meat-and-potatoes world hardly worth reminiscing about like they were good old days because no days could be better than those up ahead, filled with the burden of choice, barely a minute to spare, book that cruise, buy that new TV, new wardrobe, hairstyle, makeover, and throw in a face-lift while she’s at it because, sooner or later, she too will be on her deathbed cared for by a nurse in those final hours, race over, good luck, good riddance, good karma, something along those lines, something maybe Nurse Carter is mumbling to Mr. Wilson right now or maybe on his phone, checking that Facebook thingy, playing computer games, biding time till his shift’s over, till his patient’s final breath, or till Mrs. returns, out of breath, curlers still in her hair, to pay last respects, whatever that means in a union such as theirs.
There’s a quiet steadiness to Mr. Wilson’s breathing, an even ebb and flow, aided by an injection of midazolam to reduce anxiety and calm the images scrolling past like in a dream with the creditors banging on the door, then at the funeral, they handing their cards to her, she so unsuspecting of her husband, a man who’d learned to be discreet in all matters including the receivership about to take place, every penny gone, though not his fault, blame it on changing consumer habits, his fine stationary supply company like him, on the deathbed, the funeral prepaid at least, thank God, no need to dip into the life insurance payout, something the creditors can’t touch, not worth much anyway, enough for his Mrs. to live off of, as long as she moves into a studio instead of a two-bedroom, in a different building without the girl coming by to do housework, which is a lot to expect, especially for a woman deserving of his gratitude, something he barely hinted at for the past sixty years, neither of them inclined to flaunt feelings, least of all his Mrs. who, for example, remained so placid when she saw him, hand down Spencer Dean’s bell-bottom pants in 1971, and again in the eighties with the irresistible young delivery fellow, his black Hanes boxers discovered under the sofa cushion, then disposed of in the garbage, no more than a blush from her, no reprimand, no lecture about possible repercussions, spoiled reputation, no threat of divorce, nor expression of revulsion, certainly no jealousy, of course not, their relationship one of convenience, he merely the provider, up until now, bankrupt in all the ways that matter, the damage done, the only hope that at least his lover Carter, will look out for his Mrs.
* * *
Elizabeth (she/her) is the author of the novel An Imperfect Librarian (Breakwater Books, 2008). In a previous life, she was a professor, researcher, and author of one academic book and oodles of academic articles. Born and raised in the Newfoundland of E. Annie Proulx’s Shipping News, she now lives a quiet life in Nova Scotia. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @ospreysview