by David Harry Moss
Rather than her name she wanted “Dear Love” etched on her tombstone. Dear Love wasn’t something he ever called her. It must be a pet name from her growing up years, a time in her life she never talked much about.
Now that she was dead he realized how little he knew about her even after being married to her for twenty-two years. He knew that she was devoted to her children and close with her sister, that she practiced yoga, that she was a lacto vegetarian. The rest of her life was filler.
He began the day by drinking half a pint of vodka with a water chaser and driving in the rain to the cemetery. He hadn’t been there in the month since she was buried. His mood matched the dismal sky. For most of those years of being married to Ellen he longed to be free of her. Now that he was free he missed her.
Only once did she accuse him of having an affair and he lied his way out of it. He realized that lying was his strongest quality. When overwrought Ellen would clench her jaw and let the sorrow well in her moist brown eyes. He always considered her eyes to be her most endearing feature. The years passed and they persisted in a loveless marriage as many people do. Why people stayed married intrigued him more than why people divorced.
The name of the woman he lied about was Flo, a barmaid, sweet smelling, fresh faced, bosomy. “I’d never cheat on you,” he said to Ellen. “I swear to God.” He had confidence in his ability to control Ellen’s moods, to manipulate her. For a marriage to endure one must have power over the other. From then on he took great pains being discreet.
He couldn’t resist the young and pretty ones. On the street he would smile at them. In the elevator he would position himself so that their bodies touched. He was good-looking. He always had a knack for picking up women.
As the years passed his relationship with his two children, a son and a daughter, worsened. They came to despise him for wrongs, real or imagined, he imposed on their mother. They accused him of treating their mother cheaply, relegating her to the level of his car or golf clubs. Womanizing wasn’t his only fault. He couldn’t hold a job. He drank and liked to gamble.
Before she got sick Ellen was a beauty. In the end the cancer ravaged her and left her emaciated. He was glad that she died, not to end her suffering but so that he wouldn’t have to go through the pretense of caring about her. In the cemetery he passed a man walking. The man wore a dark raincoat and had a black umbrella tipped toward his face to protect it from the slanting rain. An early evening mist crawled over the graves. The sky loomed gray and heavy.
He saw a red sports car parked by Ellen’s grave. The car belonged to Ellen’s sister, Janine. He parked his car behind Janine’s car and got out, opening a brightly colored golf umbrella. A white rose rested on the wet grass next to Ellen’s tombstone.
The rain fell harder and a breeze shook the pastel colored leaves clinging to trees that bordered the road. He glanced at Janine who wore a raincoat and held an umbrella and then looked at the white rose.
He and Janine did not get along. He thought of Janine as a bitch spoiled by her rich parents.
“Did you put that rose on her grave?”
Janine twisted her lips. “No.”
He shifted his feet. “Did the man I saw leaving the cemetery put it?”
Janine said, “Yes.”
His throat felt dry. He swallowed something akin to sawdust. “Who is the mystery man?”
Janine’s lips twisted again. In a bitter tone she said, “The man who gave her companionship and love for the past eleven years.”
His shoulder’s stiffened from shock. He took a breath. “Who is he? I have a right to know.”
Janine lifted her chin. “Why? So you can try to ruin his life as you almost succeeded in ruining Ellen’s.”
He trembled a bit as he felt an anger building, a hatred for Janine. “She was my wife for God’s sake.”
“You were married to her but she was never your wife.”
He took a deeper breath but the air didn’t reach far enough into his lungs. Feeling lightheaded from rage he swayed. “You’re a bitch.”
To ridicule him, Janine smiled. “I know that. But Ellen wasn’t. She was a decent person clinging to old fashioned values. I begged her to leave you but she remained in the marriage, at first and for a long time because she loved you and thought you might change, and later because she believed that a divorce would traumatize the children. How sacrificial.”
“Damnit, she cheated on me.”
“You forced her into it by being indifferent and by cheating on her.”
“That’s a lie. I was faithful to Ellen.”
Janine’s laugh was harsh. “Stop it. And don’t take me for a fool. I’m a bitch, remember? I know how the cheating game is played.”
He felt perplexed and frozen. He chewed at his lower lip and looked down at the white rose and the tombstone. “Did her lover call her Dear Love?”
“Yes. So live with it, you bastard.”
Janine got into her car and drove off. Darkness and dreariness settled in around him. He had nothing of Ellen to hold onto, not even his long held belief that he controlled her. He had the sense that the woman he had been married to for twenty-two years never really existed. He stood there in the rain staring at her grave, at the marker “Dear Love”, rehashing his life, feeling empty, like an envelope addressed to him with the letter missing.
I am a writer and an actor. I have been published in print and online and have appeared in dozens of major motion pictures. I write in the hope of arriving at an even a slight insight into how we should conduct ourselves.
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'Lunch Sacks and Tombstones'