"You're there!" Emily exclaimed, furthering her acting career in the part of The Wife of Dr. Fatzer when Mark called. "How was the trip? Is it cold? Are you going to tell me now, when you're safely out of my reach?
"It's beautiful here, Emily. Everything is coated with four inches of snow. It was a pain in the ass when we were delayed at O'Hare, but this is just incredibly exquisite, like a Christmas card."
Emily frowned. Should he be doing the nostalgic travelogue when he was getting ready to dump her? "I'll bet. How are your mom and dad?" Keep the cameras rolling, folks. Keep the smiles on the faces and the eyebrows sunny and light.
"They're doing all right," her husband said. "Looking a bit tired, but still good, even Dad."
"That's good, I'm glad. Oh, Mark, the FBI called this afternoon. They want you to call them back to set up an appointment to talk about the fraud case," Emily said, taking another sip from her glass of wine. Maybe if I annoy him, he'll come out with his little secret as a way to punish me.
"What? You can call them back and set up an appointment to talk to them, can't you? You have all the information right there. I don't want to wait another week to get this show on the road." There was a muted g-r-r-k sound as he ground his teeth in annoyance.
Emily turned the bowl of Spoon to face her. She raised her eyebrows at it. Now who knew he'd try to make me do his interview with the FBI for him? He doesn't care about the wait, he just doesn't want Agent McFrenzie to tell him he was a gullible, greedy
"Yes! No!" What's he going to do, yell at me? Fly back to Port Laughton and beat me, and miss his interview with the worthies at Western Michigan? Emily moved Spoon closer to her. "No, I'm not going to call them back. You are. Here's the number, are you ready?" She recited the number and extension to him.
"No, I'm not ready! I don't have a pencil or paper here. Why can't you call them back?"
Emily imagined how his dark eyebrows were drawing low over his eyes, threatening a loud and rancorous lecture on her irresponsibility. "I don't want to call them back. Let me know if and when you want the number again, Mark. Surely somewhere in Michigan there's a paper and pen."
"What the hell is up, Emily? I leave the state and suddenly you don't want to get anything done? We were robbed to the tune of forty thousand dollars! Don't you want to get it back? What's wrong with you?" He was shouting loudly enough that Emily had to hold the phone away from her ear.
She made Spoon nod encouragingly at her. Heartened (in a psychotic sort of way) she shouted back at Mark, "Yeah, Mark, forty thousand dollars that I didn't want to spend, do you remember that? You spent the money, you got suckered into the fraud, now YOU have to deal with it! Let me know when you want the number to the FBI office; I am not calling them for you. Or do you think you'll be too busy while you're in Michigan?"
He didn't shout back immediately, and Emily knew she'd hit a vulnerable spot. Of course he'd be busy. Was his new honey there with him, or in a hotel room where they could discreetly tryst? But he left his contraceptives here, stuffed under his mattress. Did he buy new everywhere he went? Is this a guy thing?
"What do you mean?" Mark asked angrily.
It was a pointless question, and Emily had no intention of responding to it. "Is it still supposed to snow there?" This was her customary way of diffusing their conflicts, by changing the subject so that they could both save face and pretend the argumentative words had never been spoken.
He responded as he would have had he been with her, out of habit. "Just flurries for a couple days. Cold enough to keep the snow from turning into slush." He paused. "It's so pretty that you'd wish you'd come with me."
Sure, you cheating creep. Except you never bothered to invite me. And besides, "I hate cold weather. It's too cold here as it is, and it's supposed to dip into the low thirties at night the next couple days. We're going to lose some plants, I'm afraid."
"Can you cover them? There are a couple plastic tarps in the garage."
"I'll cover the philodendron and breadfruit in the garden. The rest will have to take their chances. They'll look scorchy for a while, but the geraniums will recover soon enough." Emily was growing very weary of the conversation and its lack of substance. That may have been the effect of the two glasses of wine she'd had prior to the call, or the aftermath of shock and disgust and fury that she'd experienced, or perhaps both. All she knew was that she was tired of his voice, tired of the game of secrecy. She wanted to say to him, "What's with the condoms under the mattress and the photo of Marcella?" but she also wanted him to expose all his secret plans at once, with no possibility of hedging or evading. When he was ready to say, "Emily, I'm leaving you for another woman," she wanted to be able to say, "Yes, I know. So what?" She didn't want any surprises left to stun her into silence or make her cry in an agony of disbelief. She'd had too much of that this past week.
"That's one of the things I like about Michigan, you know? Every tree or shrub that gets planted here can survive here. You don't have to wonder what's going to live through the winter or the summer." He sounded like he'd just managed to win an argument or score a point.
"Thank God I haven't been planted there."
There was another moment of silence, and then Mark said, "Well, I need to get back to my parents before they go to bed. Do you want me to call you tomorrow?"
"If you find the time. I know you'll be wrapped up with your folks. As long as I know you're safe there, whenever you find time is fine with me." Don't do me any favors, you rubber-snapping weiner. Emily clapped her hand over her mouth too late for the giggle to be completely hidden, though it may have sounded like a gag, or a hiccup.
"Emily, are you all right? You don't sound like yourself."
"I'm okay. My sinuses are bothering me with the furnace on so much, I think." Please hang up before I start to laugh.
"Okay. Good night, Emily."
"Good night, Mark. Say 'hi' to your folks from me."
"Will do." Click.
A rubber-snapping weiner, my God, I'm brilliant. Emily started to chuckle, then sputter, then laugh, great hee-haws that hurt her ribs. Oooh, too much wine. No one is supposed to laugh that hard. No wait, I'm in shock and hysterical. Like a jolt from accidentally brushing up against a pasture electric fence trying to get a closer glimpse of a new calf or colt, Emily fastened on the thought. I have an excuse. She giggled again and scurried up the back steps to her office, and found an indelible marker in the top drawer of her desk.
She violated Mark's bedroom again, and chose a Playboy Magazine at random from the scatter on the floor. She opened it, and the first photo she saw was a bare-breasted blonde with a slack, open mouth. Why is 'slack-jawed' an insult normally, but in the case of a half-naked woman it's a photo-op? Emily blacked out one of the teeth, giggling madly all the while. She turned a page, and a naked woman was kneeling by a fireplace, with big leather fireplace gloves on her hands, holding a small piece of firewood, looking surprised. Emily gave her a moustache and thick eyebrows, and then collapsed on the floor backwards, laughing. Yeah, I'll bet that surprised her.
Oh, hell, I'm drunk. Inebriated. Not shitfaced, mind you, but I need to find a place to curl up with a good book. Or a bad book. Just not one of these titty books.
Crawling up from the magazines that littered the carpet, Emily capped the marker and turned off the light in the room. I've done a bad thing. He's always been so proud of his magazine collection, and I just ruined it. See what shock and hysteria does to a person? She put the marker back on her desk and descended to the kitchen to make herself a bologna and cheese sandwich for supper.
She found herself so hungry she made two. She put them on a plate and carried them to her bedroom, where she changed into the pink silk pajamas, poured another glass of white table wine, and climbed into bed with a copy of Elspeth Huxley's The Flame Trees of Thika.
She let her eyes look at the familiar words without really following the story at any depth. Instead her mind turned to the idea of writing a memoir so that people far away could share the experience of a life. How intriguing to have a life that you think other people would want to know about! There wouldn't be any reason for me to write my memoirs. I've never been anywhere interesting, or done anything exciting, unless you call feeding skunks an adventure. Which I must do tomorrow morning. There are a couple skunky apples in the refrigerator.
Emily's days and nights had been regular events until recently. She was up to see the sun rise, awake to see the sun go down. She answered phones and wrote thank-you notes and read books and listened to her husband talk about his wonderful job as head of the Anthropology Department at the University. She admired and trained her koi for a hobby; she occasionally got together with Jasmine Kolready (wife of a Engineering Department professor) for a lunch or a shopping date, though Jasmine had been pleading busy-ness and stress and they hadn't been out for fun since early September) or helped Mark's secretary plan little things for his department. Her world, as secret and strange as Elspeth Huxley's Kenya, was her household, and the University community. There were wonders to be seen in her world; what each wife was wearing -- a kind of cultural anthropology exhibit in itself -- what buzz-words were being traded around, who was in favor with whom, who was out of style at the moment, what the property values had topped: wonders an accountant might have loved to see, wonders a gossip would have begged for details.
But really, who would have cared about her little sphere of influence, the cleaning service, the lawn care, and how she always hand-wrote her envelopes?
As Emily drifted into sleep, she sighed heavily, and thought about what it must feel like to see a lion lying by the side of the dirt road, lazy and golden, and to know that someone, somewhere, sometime would want to hear about what you saw as you drove by.