||The Wusband and The Werewife
Finally, what they had in common was her wusband and his werewife. It had been talk of their recent marriages that led last week to her teriyaki and salad, his wine, and the polyphony of Bach on her stereo. Such talk was comfortable, good for the digestion, and touching on sex as it did, verbal foreplay, as apt a way as any for a man and woman to show their sympathies, perserverance, and vulnerabilities.
She'd sat, as usual, on the large couch, lost there.
He'd sat, as usual, still wearing his leather visor, in the armchair. Tapping tobacco firmly into his pipe, he said, "The wife's idea of marriage was for the two of us to sit, apart, in front of the TV. Not that she just sat, she knitted; but I was expected to sit across the room in a chair and rub the upholstery."
"It was the same with the wusband. Any drivel would do as long as it moved across the screen. I'd get home from work, fix dinner, and sit down to read in the chair by the good light. But he couldn't watch TV with the lights on, and wanted me beside him, and more. I wanted to read; he hadn't read anything but the Sports' page since we were married. If I read in bed, he'd be on top of me . . ."
"Right. All day at work I'd think about getting home and spreading out those blueprints for the studio I was designing. It would be solar. I was going to convert half of the garage to it, and for her, build a greenhouse to the side. All day my hands could feel the scale, the triangle, the pencils, the paper. . ."
"The minute I left the wuz . . ."
"But when I'd start setting everything up, she'd say, 'What's that?' So, I'd box them up again, move in beside her on the couch, feel up her tits, and ask why we couldn't carry the TV to the bedroom. In bed, she'd take both pillows, arrange them behind her, turn on the overhead lights, and keep knitting . . ."
"The minute I left the wuz, and probably before, he took up with a country singer--despite his D.D.S., he's a hick at heart. He took up with some Dolly who puts plastic roses on top of the stereo, hangs roadside tapestries on the natural stone fireplace, the fireplace we carefully chose each stone for--some with fossils in them a million years old."
"You could hardly have taken the fireplace."
"If I had finished it, the studio, we wouldn't have had a place for her car. The solar tank and pipes would have taken the second car's parking space. Her job cost me more than if she'd stayed at home and taken care of the kids. She didn't need that car. But it's her problem now, the car, the payments . . ."
"Some Dolly who is right now boiling ham hocks in the Revereware I left behind. Let him keep the pots and pans. It infuriates me to think of my kids visiting there, holidays, to find that fat blond spread like margarine on their dad's bed . . ."
"Really built, is she?" He fingered the bill of his cap.
"The country singer. Blond?"
"Cheap." She touched her own brown hair.
"The trouble with the werewife is that she's pulled the kids out of parochial school now, and is turning tricks in front of them with some guy ten years younger than she is. Some mother! Ever hear a Midwestern judge carry on about a mother's love?
Last night, I was soaking in the tub, and I thought about the kids calling that wimp 'Dad' and how her name would be Susan Lee Schnabel, not Susan Lee Kaminsky, and I'm used to thinking of her as Kaminsky."
"Soaking in the tub? Ummm. I take showers." She imagined his tight gymnast's body soaking in the tub. "It's past history." She shrugs.
"She took the furniture too. It means more to her than I do. She'll remember the lazy lines in the Navaho rug when she's forgotten my face. The only thing I took was the TV. Ha! I dreamed about her the other night; I was giving her a face lift. I held her face in my hands, moved the eyes further apart, and molded a short, snub nose. There's a woman in the Department with the same laugh. I can't stand that woman."
"Furniture's the only stable part of it, though what I took wouldn't build a good fire on a winter's night. It isn't easy to start working again after laying off for nearly seven years to be a wife and mother."
"How old are you?"
"Same age I was yesterday. I'm cold, are you?"
"No. You mind if I change the music to something lighter."
"Of course not." She watched him rise to cross the room. When he turned back, she touched the place beside her on the couch.
He stopped, but only to ask, "Do you like to sail?"
"Maybe this summer." He returned to the armchair.
"It's the kids," he said. "Kids make you feel like you have a home, like you belong somewhere. They're non-judgmental, their arms around your legs. The next time, if there's a next time, it'll be to someone who cares about a family, someone who stays."
"I stayed. Until they were out of high school. Of course, I married young."
"Young. Have you noticed how big-breasted women are getting scarce? You know what that means, don't you? It means they're not breeding like they used to."
"I'm just being scientific--look around you. Who are the women who marry, who attract men? They're the ones with the big breasts. The breeders. And they breed big-breasted girls; but if these women work, or wait 'till they're too old to have kids, there are no more big-breasted women. You see what that implies?"
"Nothing personal. It's just a fact."
"It would be hard for me to take that personally. Personally, I like taller men, but there are other considerations, I suppose."
He raised an eyebrow. "Women. Always assuming."
"Women know better than to confuse themselves with cows. And as far as staying at home is concerned, I never want to cook another meal for a man who sniffs at it and leaves."
"And then when women do stay at home they waste their time dreaming up a complicated way to make a simple meat-loaf, or worse, some fancy foreign cuzine . . . "
"Don't you ever take that visor off?"
"I don't know what happens to women's heads from the time you first meet them to the time they fall in love with the Revereware. And bean sprouts."
"You cook bean sprouts in a wok."
"If you leave that cap on all the time, you'll lose your hair in front."
He speared four smoked oysters on a green toothpick, then licked it.
"I'd like to see the day the wuz ever helped in the kitchen. Regardless of what he said before we were married."
"Whatever it was she cooked tasted like perfume smells, and it never filled me up." He knocked the ashes out of his pipe.
"Huh. The wusband sat at the head of the table in the only chair with arms wanting hunks of meat thrown at him. Not that I can afford hunks of meat for myself now."
She yawned slightly, and stretched against the couch, lost there. Her sweater was pink cashmere, soft, and the best color, she knew, for her cheeks.
She widened her eyes and smiled at him.
"Does she like to cook?"
"That Dolly. The woman he married?"
"You don't marry those women." Briefly, she caught his eye. They were eyes you could nest in, blue with feathered lashes.
"At least I don't have to pretend to like her friends anymore. They all took advantage of her; she could never take a stand even though she seemed mouthy enough to me. She let that Linda steal the boutique out from under her, then let Debra take the bath shop." He looked at his watch.
"That's the best part of it, isn't it? Not to have to entertain his friends. Sammy, the midget who wore diamonds on each fat finger, if you can imagine a dentist taken in by a con man. One look at Sammy and you'd know he was a con man. Sammy and his big deals."
She got up and walked to the tape deck where she fingered the tapes for a Chuck Magione, even though she knew she didn't have one.
She sat down on the floor beside his chair. "The wuz's best friends were the Duncans. Every Saturday after the game they raised the school flag in the yard! Then, in their red and black rec room with the 'Yeah! Team!' lamps in it, they'd serve red cider with raisins in it. School colors. Ha!
They'd ladle the cider from a silver tureen shaped like a football, all the time keeping a running score of fumbles, stumbles, crumbles, passes, downs, ups, the whole peanut cruncher's spiel."
He seemed not to hear. He looked again at his watch.
"Women have no business sense. If she'd stayed home, taken care of the kids when they were little . . ."
"Yeah. I've heard that before. There's always a little one, or a bigger one who needs you more now than when he was little. I've heard that one."
This time it was five oysters on a pick.
"Why bother? He means nothing to me now Except for the settlement which he doles out bit by bit. Surely it's not too much to ask."
He dropped his cold pipe into the pouch, and zipped it closed. "I can think of better ways to spend my money than to send it to a woman who now endorses the checks with her maiden name which will soon change to Schnabel. Schnabel! When I tried to get a rise out of her, her breasts stayed soft, and I could hear her counting stitches in my ear."
He stood up. "Really built, huh? That woman, Dolly?"
They kissed in the crack of the closing door. His lips tasted like oysters.