He rolls his eyes, then stares at the ceiling as if somehow his patience is up there hiding in the light fixture. “Really? After all these years one little class reunion is enough to make you fall off the wagon.” I can see he doesn’t like the way this story is going.
“Well, it was your fault I became an alcoholic in the first place.”
“My fault. My fault! How was it my fault?”
Should I tell him that it was because he got a job with Boson Contractors where he met the petite, blond mechanic and had an affair? And that I found out about it but that keeping it a secret had sent me spiralling into alcoholism? No, better I keep that to myself. If I told him now he would just get in a huff, purse his lips in disapproval, and stalk away. And we don’t have time for those dramatics right now.
“You don’t need to know the details. We can talk about it later.” I check my manicure closely so he can’t see my face. I can tell he’s trying to remember about the beginning of my alcoholism but is unable to come up with the particulars. “So we went to the reunion – it was my 40th. I lose you in the crowd and immediately that slut, Mara Johnson, is all over you like an octopus on a freshly killed lobster…”
Albert groans. “Mara. Not Mara again. Why? Why does it always have to be Mara? She’s been a pain in the ass for sixty years.”
“Well, who else would it be after all this time?” I ask. “Without her we lose continuity.”
“Wasn’t she killed by her third husband…that was well before your 40th.”
Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes. “You can’t just whack someone off because she is a pain in the ass,” I say. “Just because someone causes a little marital strife in our relationship doesn’t mean it’s the spectral finger of death for her.”
“Why not?” he asks. “Didn’t Old Lady Hannigan die a convenient death?”
“That was different and you know it. If she didn’t die when she did then the dog would never have been found.” He shrugs then motions for me to go on. “So there I am, abandoned and drifting, when I see Ashley….”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake! Not Ashley. Can’t we get through one fucking event without Ashley?”
“Well, it’s a class reunion for pity sake,” I say. “Of course Ashley has to be there.” I can feel my cheeks starting to warm. Ashley, tall, brooding, and still handsome after all these years. The thought of his warm eyes and come-hither smile make my loins turn liquid. Of course Ashley has to be there. “So Ashley and I go off to find a quiet place to talk, then he tells me about the great tragedy where his wife dies in a horrible can-opener accident.”
“No!” Albert yells. “I will not allow it. I will not put up with Ashley’s wife dying. It took years to finally find him the perfect mate. This is too much.”
I take a deep, shaky breath. “He told me that he’d found a new woman. Thirty-five years younger,” I say. My heart feels like it is weighted with lead ball bearings. How can I bear this betrayal? How can Ashley be such a man? I thought he was above this kind of thing. Albert looks at me and smiles. “Well, now you know why I had to go and find a drink.” Even though it is only nine in the morning I kind of do feel like I need a drink while I sit here and relive the moment. Ashley and some thirty-year-old hussy – it will take years for my heart to heal.
“Okay, so you fell off the wagon, and I’m off with the slut, Mara, and trying to get her to keep her hands from groping my man parts. Then what?”
“Well, then I was so overcome with the shame of breaking my sobriety that I run from the room and straight into the caterers carrying the cake. Next thing I know I am covered head to toe in cake shrapnel. The caterer is mortified, as am I, and we go off to find myself some clothes to wear.”
“And you think June and Bev are going to buy this?”
We look at each other and nod. I won’t say it’s been easy, but it has been successful. After all, compared to all the other old coots in this place we’ve never gone one weekend without a visit from a family member.
“So then I say, ‘If only I could remember where I left my pants.’” Both girls scream with laughter then jump up and give me a hug.
“Grandma, if I live to be a thousand years old I will never experience a tenth of what you and grandpa have lived through,” Bev exclaims. I can see from her face that she is shocked but entertained at the same time.
“Tell us about Old Lady Hannigan and Mitzy,” June says. “That story never gets old.”
I stand up to fetch more chocolate biscuits and coffee. “It’s early in the morning, the rain doesn’t know if it wants to be snow, I open the door to retrieve the paper and there standing on the stoop is the wettest, most bedraggled, little dog I have ever seen…” my husband says.
“St. Monicas Home, Bristol” by Paul Townsend. flickr.com. Some rights reserved.