Brian MacDonald and Hildie Block

Brian MacDonald
response

Hildie Block
inspiration piece

The Answer

After nine years of marriage, Mary knew that the holidays were not a good time to ask her husband for a favor.   The store was just too busy.

Not only that, but she wasn’t sure how to go about asking.

She’d asked last year.  And that had been a mistake, a mistake of catastrophic proportions.

But that was last year.  Last year it hadn’t been a thing to ask.  Not a good idea, maybe, but not a thing to ask.  The words just tumbled out.  And it wasn’t a favor so much as. . .

She asked to help.

With the business. His business.  The card store.

Very busy this time of year.  The holidays.

Very.  Mary knew this.

But after 9 years of marriage, mostly spent scrubbing those mysterious black fingerprints off the walls that come from both boys and men, especially the sports page reading variety, she was ready to do something.  To help.  With the business.  With something of value.  To be something of value.

This year asking a favor would be unusually difficult.  Maybe impossible.  Maybe.

As she un-deadbolted the door to the store on this morning, she marveled at the order of it all.  Every card in its slot.  Nothing on the counter.  She held the bank bag with the cash for the day.

It would be nano-seconds before the line would form.  Today this year’s Cardmark ornaments went on sale.   They were on display and ready.  She sucked on her latte.  Denise, the brassy sales clerk bustled in – all fingernails and gold earrings.  Mary sucked on the latte again.  And then she put it down.

She found it 10 hours later.  It was cold and the milk had separated.  Her feet were like the lead weights for mylar balloons – the kiss shaped ones wrapped in sparkly paper – you can see them at the front counter.  If you unwrap them, they are gunmetal grey.  Heavy, cold and toxic.

The cash bag was filled and she was bound for the bank slot.

After the bank, after the stream of traffic lights, all yellow, after finishing the latte, Mary guided her car up the driveway of the home.

It was a pleasant home, walls covered in floral paper, a center-hall colonial.  She grew only perennials in the garden now and let the lawn people deal.

At the dining room table her sons were bent over their respective math homework.

No, she blinked, that’s not it.  Her younger son, Ben, was sprawled on the couch watching a Simpsons rerun and the other one was was was

STEVEN!!!

WHAT!

Up in his room.

She kicked off her shoes and shuffled into the kitchen.  Loaded the dishwasher.  Pulled out spaghetti, jarred sauce.  Lettuce for a salad.  She went through the motions, put the food on the table and stood at the empty sink and watched them eat.

Steven looked up at her – “Mom, can I do soccer?”

Mary looked down at him as if he were speaking another language.  She cleared the table silently, slowly, slogging through.

Soccer meant more to do, soccer meant practices, games, buying cleats, shin guards, special socks and making sure they all fit, finding the only store that sold the jersey – ordering the name put on the back and getting back to pick it up, remembering to bring snack, taking off work for much of it.  She couldn’t wrap her brain around what he was asking of her at that moment.  She simply stared at him.

It wasn’t an unreasonable request. Of course.  Just one she couldn’t comprehend.

Boys sent to bed.

And then she went and got the mail and started to pay bills at the desk in the family room.  Then the payroll.  Then some inventory paperwork.  Time to order cards for Valentine’s Day.  Cardmark reports.  Guesswork.  Stresswork.

The hall clock chimed in the single digits.  Feet dragging, leaving lines in the thick grey carpet, she crawled up to bed.  A big bed.  Alarm set.  She still slept on her side.

Last year, After she asked the favor.

Just to help with the business – but really, just to matter, to value, to count.  Just to help.

After he’d stared at her, mouth opened as if he was about to say

After the door slammed without a word, After the screech of tires as the car backed out of the drive, After the crash a moment later

After the crash, the glass explosion, like a bomb but more metal on metal.  . .  everything had changed.  She felt like a different person.  Like she was swimming underwater.  Like she was on hold.

But her husband, Jack, was still the same.  That’s what happens when you die – you freeze in time.

Frozen in that moment of a hanging question mark.

She had to ask him again.  Maybe it was just a mid-life crisis she told herself.  But she knew she was losing her mind.  A year had gone by with the question hanging in the air.  She had to ask him one more time.  She had to figure out a way to ask.  She needed to know what he would have said.  What was about to come out of his parted lips before he left so abruptly.  She thought about it with every heartbeat.  She wanted him to answer.  She needed his answer.

But she was afraid he already had.

And, after all, the bottom line was

After nine years of marriage, Mary knew that the holidays were not a good time to ask her husband for a favor.   The store was just too busy.

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One Comment

  1. ANITA ROSENBERG
    Posted November 6, 2010 at 11:55 pm | #

    Oh my. Interchangeable marriages perhaps? This went to my core. Thank you.

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