Today I’m posting the first story I ever had published: Sunday Mourning. (It will also be a new tab on my blog where it will remain forever posted.)
The story was originally published in The Rhinoceros and His Thoughts – The Best of the Whittaker Prize 2009 (via The Right Eyed Deer Press), and was my first “I think I can” moment.
Of course looking back now there are several things I would change, but this is the way it was published and this is the way it will stay.
A few dozen buzzing voices fill my head, none much above a whisper. Occasionally a laugh breaks through the intimate murmur and everyone turns to see who the offender is. A dark sea parts before me as I pass through, like Moses and the Red Sea. Sometimes I stop to talk, other times I just pass with a nod.
“Where have all the piggies gone, Ginny?” asks my brother Peter, trying to keep his voice low.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask, instinctively reaching out to straighten his tie.
“You know the little hot dog things. Aren’t they called piggies?”
“You mean ‘pigs in a blanket’?” I ask him.
“Yeah that’s it. Are they all gone?” Peter is holding a plate and anxiously looking around.
“How the fuck do I know?”
“I was just asking.” Peter’s face falls and his lower lip extends into a pout. This used to be cute and endearing when he was six and eight, but now at twenty-seven it’s just annoying.
My brother is an idiot. I’m not being rude or cruel, but god did not deal him a full deck. He mows lawns and shovels driveways for a living, and even then they have to keep an eye on him with the lawn mower. I dread the day when mom and dad die. I know I will feel it is my responsibility to look after him after they go. I dread the day. Wait, did I just say that again? Yes, I probably did. Normally I try to be understanding and compassionate but, well today just isn’t his day. We’ve just come back from my husband’s funeral.
“I’m sorry, Peter,” I say, unsure if I really mean it.
Oh good, here comes mom. I smile and exchange a few pleasantries about the flowers, and she leads Peter away.
I look around my crowded house full of people in shades of black and grey. The crowd is made up mostly of my friends and Mason’s work associates, the latter are the ones in the expensive suits. Mason didn’t have many friends, unless you included ‘our’ friends which were really ‘my’ friends extending him the courtesy. He was too busy trying to get ahead to make friends. Too busy at the office working long hours and weekends. Too busy at hotels or some other woman’s house; I’m not really sure where he took them.
I silently nod to a few people as I pass through the crowd and then I head upstairs, the smell of flowers and coffee and pigs in a blanket slowly disappearing as I ascend.
I kick off my shoes as I enter my bedroom and I curl my toes in the carpet. I saw this once in a Bruce Willis movie and let me tell you, it really works. I lock the door and then walk into the ensuite bathroom and lock that door too. No point in leaving anything to chance.
I open the bathroom window to let in the cool October air, and briefly consider escaping, wondering if I can make it to the tree outside the window. Instead I reach for my make-up bag in the cupboard under the sink and then I climb into the cool empty tub. In happier times Mason and I had shared this tub; needless to say, it hasn’t been used for THAT in awhile. I open the make-up bag, take out a joint and some matches. I light the crinkled end of the white paper and inhale deeply. I lean back against the pink terry cloth pillow and close my eyes. This is my white porcelain sanctuary.
Mason and I had been separated six months when the police officer showed up at my door.
“Excuse me ma’m,” he said. “Are you Mrs. Mason James?”
“Well, yes and no. We’re separated. Why? What did he do?” I asked. Funny my first thought was that he did something wrong. Guess that could be because of the bad taste he left in my mouth.
“I hate to tell you this ma’m but your husband has been in a car accident.”
I don’t think I said anything to that. I just remember standing there staring at the officer and waiting; hating the fact that he kept calling me ma’m when he was probably about three years older than my thirty-one years.
Finally he said, “I’m sorry ma’m but he didn’t survive.”
That is when this week long circus began.
The first thing I did was call his parents. Needless to say I was more than shocked by the time I hung up. I realized just seconds into the phone conversation that Mr. and Mrs. James knew nothing of my separation from Mason. They didn’t know that he had moved out six months ago and that we were just weeks away from finalizing our separation. They probably thought my calm voice was the result of shock not indifference.
The officer said I could wait until the next day to go down to identify the body. Mason had his license on him when he died and the photo was a good enough likeliness that they knew with certainty it was him. My confirmation was for paperwork only.
Yep, it was him. They gave me a bag of his personal items when I left. I opened them in the car and laughed out loud as I recognized the tie as the one I had given him on our last anniversary. I gave him a tie every year; it had started as a joke but then it became a special thing between the two of us. It wasn’t until six months ago that I found out he didn’t deserve anything special.
Later that day I met with Paul. Paul was one of Mason’s few friends and the man whose condo Mason had moved into when I kicked him out. I didn’t hold this against Paul; in fact I was thankful that Mason had somewhere to go away from here. Over a bottle of good red wine and a few containers of Tai food, I asked Paul what he thought.
“Did he bring them here?” I asked.
“No. I don’t think so,” Paul answered, taking a sip from his glass. “I’m never here and I can’t be sure, but we had a few common acquaintances, and well, people talk. I think most of the people he works with still believe you and he are — were — happily married. It’s certainly the image he wanted to have at the firm. And I think it’s the image he wanted with the ladies. I don’t think he wanted anyone to tie him down. By pretending he was still married, it got him off the hook. They say a wedding band is a magnet for women, so it works — or worked — in his favour both ways.”
“How could they not know?”
“Who? The office? The women?” Paul asked.
“Both, I guess.”
“Well,” Paul began, and then shrugged. “Late nights and long hours. He probably still had your photo on his desk. It wouldn’t take much to lie at the office or make women believe he had a wife waiting for him at home. He still wore his wedding band. If he didn’t bring anyone back to my place, who would ever be the wiser?”
The funeral arrangements had begun awkwardly. My fault actually, I tried to maintain the illusion of being Mason’s grieving widow. I didn’t do it because I thought he deserved it, but after the call to his parents and my discussion with Paul, I figured I would do it for everyone else. I finally had to tell the funeral director. His name was Simon Jones, and he was an older man with a warm and sympathetic air about him; perfect for the job he had chosen. He had been so kind and caring, it was just getting too much for me to bear the way he patted my hand and looked at me with those sad doe eyes. I know that if I had truly been happily married to Mason that Mr. Jones would have been a wonderful blessing. Due, however, to the actual situation, I felt guilty not telling him. Besides, telling him made it easier to plan the rest of the funeral.
My parents, my brother Peter and my old school friend Viviana had all flown in from Halifax to give their support. Viviana and I had spent the two viewings before the funeral trying to figure out which, if any, of the grieving women who passed by to offer their condolences were among the ones Mason had slept with. So many of the women seemed to avoid looking me in the eye; guilty from knowing the truth or guilty from sharing his bed Viviana and I could not be certain.
The funeral, just an hour earlier, had gone off perfectly. Both Paul and Mr. Jones were gracious in their words for both Mason and me, the grieving widow. I heard Peter start to say something to mom the first time Mr. Jones referred to me as such, but she quickly told him to shush. The people who knew the truth would understand or believe that Mason had succeeded in keeping the ugly truth from me and those that did not know remained none the wiser.
Per his wishes, Mason’s body would be cremated. I had asked Mr. Jones to send the remains to Mason’s parents. “Just send me the bill,” I told him.
And now, here we were, the last day of this charade. The role of grieving widow is about as comfortable to me as the high neck black sweater and wool pants that I now wear.
I have been wearing black for days now. I hate black and I hate pretending to mourn Mason’s death. I smile secretly at the thought of the bright red bra and panties I am wearing under my widow clothes in silent protest. (Okay, maybe the smile is a combination of the lingerie and the dope.) I take a long last drag off my salvation and I hold it in my lungs until I can hold my breath no longer.
Climbing out of the tub, I throw the tiny remaining roach into the toilet. I wash my hands and brush my teeth, and spray on a little perfume. One last inspection in the mirror and I leave the peaceful retreat of my tub for the black sea of mourners below.
I can see Viviana’s head above the many others. Five feet, thirteen inches she likes to say, and a head of uncontrollable black curls that were fighting to get free of the confining hairstyle she had tried to impose upon them for the day.
I walk up next to her and standing on my toes I whisper in her ear, “I’m moving back to Halifax.”
She looks sideways at me and smiles. She reaches out and squeezes my hand, then continues her discussion with the only single man in the room that was taller than her. She never was one to miss an opportunity. Gee, seems she has something in common with Mason after all.
I smile and make my way through the crowd to the kitchen. I’ll see if I can find more pigs in a blanket for Peter, or maybe I still have those Peanut Butter Cups stashed in one of the drawers. He likes those.