The last person I expected to see at my husband’s funeral was his wife.
Yet, there she stood, to the right of his casket, wiping away her tears with a lacy white handkerchief, a fancy one with a tatted edge and an embroidered monogram, the kind your grandmother hands down to you because tissues aren’t as ladylike.
She was tall, this other wife, probably five-foot-eight, and wearing strappy black heels with little rhinestones marching across the toe. I wanted to grab her, shake her and tell her those stupid shoes were completely inappropriate for the funeral of the man I’d been married to for fifteen years. Go get yourself some pumps, I wanted to scream. Low-heeled, sensible, boring shoes.
I wasn’t mad at her. Exactly. I was madder than hell at the man lying on the top-grade satin in an elaborate, six-thousand dollar cherry box, a peaceful expression on his cheating face.
Even in death, he looked ordinary and normal, the kind of guy you’d see on the street and think, oh, he’s got the American Dream in his hands. A slight paunch over his belly from too many years behind his desk, the bald spot he’d been trying to hide with creative combing, the wrinkles around his eyes from finding humor in everything from the newspaper to the cereal box.
Just your typical forty-year-old man. A forty-year-old whom I had loved and thought would be sitting beside me on the porch, complaining about the neighbors’ landscaping habits and debating a move to Florida, long into our old age. A man who could make me laugh on a dime, who’d thought nothing of surprising me with flowers or a DVD player, just because. He’d been a typical man in a hundred different waysand so had our marriage.
Sure, a little dull at times, marked by trips to the drycleaner on Tuesday and scrambled eggs every Sunday morning. But it had been a marriage, a partnership.
Or not, considering the two wives at one time thing, something I’d discovered last night in a picture of his double wedded bliss, stuffed behind the AmEx in his wallet.
Forty-eight hours ago, my life had been so normal, it would have bored Paris Hilton into insanity. While I was picking out a roast for dinner that night, paramedics had been rushing him into the hospital. Someone found my number on his cell phone because I, being the practical one, had seen some commercial about setting up an I.C.E. list, in case of emergency, and inputted my cell number. Dave, the spontaneous one, had laughed at me, but kept the number there.
The voice on the other end told me he’d had a heart attack. I’d rushed to Mass General, then stayed by his bedside, fretting, pacing, shouting at the doctors to do something. But there wasn’t anything they could do.
The Big Macs and Dave’s habit of burning the candle on all ends had caught up with him.
Either that or the weight of his conscience had squished an aortic valve. In my less charitable moments, I wanted to think it was the latter.
“Penny,” someone said, laying a hand on my arm.
Kim Grant, my next-door neighbor, who had baked cupcakes to welcome Dave and me to the neighborhood last month, stood before me in the receiving line with a look of true sympathy on her face. A flash of guilt ran through me. I still hadn’t returned her Tupperware container. It was sitting on top of the refrigerator, beside the KitchenAid mixer, waiting for an opportunity for us to return the favor with an invitation to dinner.
I hoped she wasn’t in any rush for her plastic.
“Hi, Kim. Thanks for coming.” The words flowed automatically, the same ones I’d said already a hundred times today, feeling sometimes like I was the one giving out comfort instead of receiving it.
Yet, even as I stood in Kim’s embrace, in my peripheral vision, I was always aware of her, standing at the edge, blending in with the other mourners, as well as someone could blend when dressed like Marilyn Monroe. The insurance company my husband had worked for was large, and nearly a hundred people from the offices were there. I doubted anyone noticed her.
How many of them, I wondered, knew about her? Did anyone? Or did everyone?
Had I been the only one left out of the secret? The poor, silly wife, sitting at home with a pot roast waiting on the table, completely oblivious to the train wreck that had derailed her marriage.
I still didn’t know her name, where she lived, or how long she’d been married to him. All I knew was that she’d been with my husband, in the Biblical sense, that day. Dave, the man who preferred T-shirts over sweatshirts and cotton blend over straight cotton, had been rushed into the ER naked. No nice little bag of Patients’ Belongings. I knew he’d left the house dressed that dayI was the one who’d finished pressing his shirt while he hopped in the shower.
I thought of that shirt, remembering how I’d run my hand over the flat fabric while it was still warm, pleased with the neat creases, then, later, the kiss Dave had given me as a thanks. The way he’d smelled of steam and starch and Stetson.
“That’s the way we found him in the Marriott, ma’am,” one of the paramedics told me, shrugging, as if it were completely ordinary to bring in a naked guy on a gurney.
“The Marriott?” I’d askedtwicetrying to get my head around that. Had it been a meeting gone wrong? A robbery? And then, the worst had hit me. “Was he…” I paused, my entire marriage flashing before my eyes like a jerky home movie, with edits I couldn’t see, moments left on the cutting room floor, “with anyone?”
“The, ah, bellhop said he checked in with his wife.” The paramedic had looked at me hopefully. I didn’t answer, letting the silence push him to add more. “She wasn’t there, though. Apparently already left because they were, ah, done.”
Done. I didn’t have to ask what Dave had done. The nudity was a pretty damned good clue.
“I’m so sorry, Penny.” Kim’s voice drew me back to the present. To the reality that Dave, the man I’d pledged to love no matter what, had gone and married a second woman. “Dave was such a great guy.”
I used to think that. Had even bragged about him to my friends when we met, about how I got the last great guy on earth.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one.
She crossed my line of vision again, as she read the tags on the flowers to the right of the casket. I maintained my position in the receiving line, stoic and reserved, the portrait of the grieving widow.
Lillian, Dave’s mother, stood beside me, tears flowing non-stop, shoulders shaking a little as she cried. Still, Lillian Reynolds maintained a level of reserve, as always the gracious former debutante who’d married a steelworker. She didn’t know about the second wife and I wasn’t going to announce it between “ashes to ashes” and “dust to dust.”
Maybe, I thought, if I never spoke the words, I could pretend it had never happened. That this other wife was a figment of my imagination.
“It was so sudden,” Kim said, shaking her head as she looked at Dave.
As Kim continued speaking words I didn’t hear, I glanced at my husband, lying there in his good blue suit, the one with the silver pinstripe that we’d picked out at JC Penney last Christmas, and for a second, felt a pang of grief so sharp, I wanted to collapse. He was gone. Forever. For five seconds, I didn’t care about the bigamy, didn’t care what else he had hidden from me, I just wanted my husband back.
I wanted my life back, damn it. Rewind the clock, stop the tape, just get me out of this lily-scented twilight zone.
I wanted to be able to wake up, knowing that today would be the same as yesterday, that each numbered box on the wall calendar in the kitchen would follow each other with reliable sameness of ironed shirts and scrambled eggs.
Insanely, I stared at his chest, willing it to rise and fall. It didn’t.
So I stood there in Perkins & Sons Funeral Home, wearing a black suit I’d had to borrow from my sister because I was in no condition to shop, and trying not to picture my husband having a heart attack while he was on top of another woman, probably using the same well practiced missionary moves he’d used on me last Saturday.
The last person she expected to see at her husband's funeral was his wife!
But having learned her husband apparently bought his engagement rings in bulk, Penny Reynolds is shocked out of her well-ordered world. She can't bring herself to hate his "wife," Susan, or toss his amazing piano-playing dog (another surprise) out on his rump. Still, she can get answers as to why her hubby led his secret life. All it takes is a little persuading before she and Susan embark on the trip of a lifetime with Harvey the Wonder Dog in tow.More info →