The most astonishing thing to Emily was that she didn't have hurt feelings the next day. She'd been up at five, as usual, made herself tea and breakfast and returned to her rooms. While she was writing to her friend Adrienne in Sonora, she heard Mark's alarm go off, heard the small sounds of him getting ready for work. She was poised to accept an apology for his words the night before, but there was no discreet rap at her office doorjamb, even though the door was open, no "Hey, Em, I'm sorry about what I said last night," no man's footsteps passing her door in the hallway. She did hear the door to the garage close, and imagined him peering into the cardboard tomb where his great investment lay in its fraudulent pieces. At the sound of the overhead garage door mechanism, Emily picked up her phone and dialed Mark's office number. When the answering machine came on, she said, "Do an internet search on the words 'ochre' and 'Schroeder' and see if there's any connection. Talk to you later."
He could have done an internet search last night if he wasn't so adamant about not having computer internet access in the house. Emily would have liked a computer; she'd taken the free classes at the library, and got a kick out of surfing the 'net a couple times a week to look at webcams of cities around the world. The book club she attended once a month was always full of chatter about computers and shopping online and e-mails and chat rooms. And indeed, Mark certainly had internet access at work -- he'd just bought a laptop last fall so that he could bring work home with him from time to time, and bragged about how fast its processor was and how much memory it had and how he'd downloaded this and that document for his students' handouts. Emily had admired and envied the machine, but it was not available for her use, as when it was in the house, it was simply used as a kind of glorified notebook and only in his den.
She looked at her watch. She could do an internet search on Western Michigan University at the library in a few hours, when it opened at nine. First thing Monday morning there shouldn't be much if any of a wait to use one of the library computers. I could do it now if I had my own hookup and computer. Instead, I have a radio and a television set. Mmm, that's how I like getting my information!
If Emily was astonished at her lack of hurt feelings, she was not at all surprised to find that she was still angry, angry on a level deep within herself. It wasn't just Mark's obscene outburst last night, although that was enough to piss anyone off. She was angry because she'd tried to do a good job at being a wife and human being in the world, and it just hadn't been good enough to avoid being called stupid and treated like a piece of inanimate, not well-liked piece of furniture.
The morning was dim and thick with wet fog. We're not going to dry out until February. Emily had no desire to go outside until she had to, and so felt that she might as well tackle the unpleasant task of putting new bedclothes on the guest rooms' beds.
When she opened the linen closet in the hallway, the stack of towels fell out on her head. "I'm glad you're lying all over the floor, you rotten pieces of shit!" Emily shouted in a sudden rage. She picked up the stack with a hand on the top and a hand on the bottom, and shoved the rumpled column into the closet, where it teetered for a moment and then fell again, this time tumbling around her like unraveling turbans. With a mighty swing of her leg, Emily kicked the topmost towel as hard as she could, following through on the impact so vigorously that she nearly fell down. The white towel sailed out the hall to the stairwell and disappeared over the rail into the dining room below. "I hate white towels!" she bellowed. She turned to the linen closet and pulled out the guest towels and the sheets and pillowcases and tablecloths and stacks of napkins and even the blankets. "I'm so sick of you!" she said and jumped up and down on them, calling the linens all the worst words she could think of. Panting, she stared at the empty shelves. "Bastards," she muttered.
From the trampled heap, she chose a white sheet, white fitted sheet, and two white pillowcases and took them to the green guest room. She was still disgusted to even look at the bed, but made it gingerly anyway. In her present mood she simply wanted to burn it in a great bonfire in the front yard. She went back to the linen heap to find a blanket to place over the sheets. She wavered between a beige polyester blanket and a dark blue one. Neither really went with the room. For God's sake, why do I care how it looks? I'm never going to sleep in there. Dad never comes to stay with us anymore. Why am I even going through the motions? She took the blue blanket in and spread it neatly anyway. There was no bedspread to replace the one she'd thrown out, and the bed looked somehow cheapened. Well, it had been, hadn't it?
This is what we nice housewives do. We make sure that if our parents or in-laws come to visit, they see that we have nice things, nicely done. Emily started to go through the pile of linens again. She picked up a patterned fitted sheet, yellow and red flowers colorfully intertwined with green ivy leaves. She never used these sheets on her bed, where the colors would clash horribly with the roses and purples she loved. Mark didn't want them on his bed, either -- his room was done in shades of dark blue and pale gray. But the yellow and red sheets and pillowcases had lived long in the linen closet because they were the sheets that were on their double bed when they returned to their apartment after their honeymoon. Mark's mother had given them to them as part of their wedding gift. You're supposed to treasure things like this. She stared at them in her hands. Good wives cherish memories. Memories surfaced as she looked at the cloth.
Memories of how ugly she thought the sheets were, but could not say so because they were a gift at a wonderful time. She'd thought that she would come to love the pattern because of the love and lovemaking that they represented, but she never had. She kept them because it was the romantic thing to do, because one day she and Mark would tenderly re-enact their early days together. Yeah, like he knows what the contents of the linen cabinet are. He can find a towel, but anything else?
And then there were the evoked memories of his father nagging him to join the Port Laughton Country Club to make sure his career was on track. Emily could still hear his mother's voice letting her know that Mark had attended Texas State University, and that it was only because of the fine museum in Port Laughton that he was willing to waste his life here in this damp coastal town, at such a tiny school. Emily's school. Memories of Mark's parents dropping comments about their university days when they had conversations with her mother and father, neither of whom had gone to college. A very recent memory of how Mark's parents showed no interest at all in meeting Nathan Storm's new wife.
Flat sheet, fitted sheet, two pillow cases, yellow and red on their own little pile. On the shelf for the sheets, she refolded and stacked the lavender set for her own bedroom, the navy set for Mark's room. There was a complete burgundy set, and that one she took to the beige guest room, along with the beige blanket. She made that bed and shut the door. The remaining mismatched pillowcases and sheets she folded into a neat stack on the floor.
One by one, she picked up the white towels and folded them in E folds and stacked them on the empty shelf. "White towels go with anything, and you can clearly see when one is dirty," Mark had told her when they bought the house. The pink towels she kept under the sink in her own bathroom, out of his sight so as not to aggravate him. Oh, yes, Emily knew what she had to do to keep him from becoming aggravated. Three of the towels were frayed at the corners, and they joined the yellow and red sheets, along with a tablecloth with a faint wine stain, three yellowed doilies, and an embroidered table topper whose threads had come loose and were still awaiting Emily's repair.
All put away. There was now plenty of room in the linen cabinet, and a sense of satisfaction in Emily's middle. She put the mismatched items into a spare pillowcase, intending to drop them off at the thrift shop on her way to the library. The yellow and red sheets she tossed over the railing to join the kicked white towel on the floor below. With a brighter outlook, she carried the items to be donated downstairs, and left them by the front door. Cheerfully she stuffed the other loose things into a garbage bag and carried them to the garbage can on the north side of the house. My, that feels fine.
The clock said eight-thirty. She knew that she could be at the library in time for the doors to open. From her office she collected her purse and car keys and the letter to Adrienne. She wrapped a thick zippered sweatshirt around herself and walked to the mailbox.
There was a stack of mail already in the box. Emily grabbed it and thumbed through it quickly, looking for anything with a Michigan postmark. Nothing. Just ads, and the credit card bill. I wonder if Dr. Sneaky Pete has made any interesting purchases lately. She took the mail back inside (after leaving Adrienne's letter in the box and putting the red flag up for pickup) and tore open the credit card bill. Scanning down the lines, she could see nothing out of order. Well, duhhh, he knows I do the bills, so he wouldn't try to hide anything on this. The bank statement due to arrive later in the week might hold a clue or two if he was withdrawing money.
She carried the mail to the kitchen, and put the bills to be paid on the counter by the back stairs. The junk mail was going directly into the trash. Cable television upgrades, computer store catalog, Western Women, a Size Just For You catalog -- how the hell did she get on their mailing list? Did someone send in her name and address with a note saying, "This old girl is getting fat. Can you cover her up?" Six charities telling her on their outer envelopes that children were dying, illiterate, diseased, and that only she could help. Why the hell are they wasting so much money on printing and paper, then? She contributed what she could when she could, feeling a responsibility born of her comfortable life to share with the less fortunate, but the merchandizing of poverty to keep organizations running made her sick. She opened the garbage can and tossed the stuff into it.
And paused. She reached back in and picked out the cable upgrade flyer and the computer catalog. DSL, eh? And I just happen to have a cable hookup in my bedroom. She grinned. Forget the library. I'm going to CompUSA.
As she locked the front door behind her she thought, After all, I'm fucking stupid. I don't know any better.