Emily took the glass cover off the frying pan and inhaled, closing her eyes to revel in the scents of oregano and garlic. After a sigh of pleasure, she tested the chicken. Juices flowed from it, clear as water, so she left the cover off so that it would begin to brown. Her salad was ready, and the evil boxed macaroni and cheese was in the microwave on "Keep warm." A fresh bottle of Coppola's white table wine was open, the fire rekindled, and all felt well with the world.
The world feels well.
Now how the world could feel well after all the discoveries of the past week was beyond Emily. She was too hungry to be introspective; felt too happy to want to spoil her mood by thinking about her life. All that was important to her at this hour was comfort: good tastes, warmth, no demands. Her toes were warming up inside their slippers, tingling pleasantly; her body was clean of the gritty mud of the bank, soaked away in a deep, hot bath. No hair spray had caked her shampooed and dried hair -- she probably looked like a dandelion, but she didn't care. Her skin had been lotioned and massaged, driving away the sensation of icy rain and icy cold wind.
The chicken crackled in the pan, so she turned it, and added a little salt to the other side. This is going to taste so good. She wondered what KC Carson was having for dinner tonight. Would her partner have had something kept warm on the stove for her? Or would they just go and party at Bobby Lee's, having bar food and dancing the evening away? What was it like to go out on the town on a Thursday? Had she ever known?
Once at the dealership, Emily had admonished KC to head for home -- there was nothing for her to do but hang around mothering Emily, and that was unexpectedly unnecessary. "I'm doing just fine. Go have fun, and thank you, more than you know, for everything," she'd told KC, and when KC grinned, but hesitated, Emily threw her arms around her and hugged her as she might have hugged her mother.
KC hugged her back. "I'm sorry you had an accident, but I'm not sorry I really got to meet you," she said, bringing tears to Emily's eyes again.
"I hope I get to see you again sometime when I'm not wrecked," she told the younger woman.
"Well, me, too, before you go off to Michigan."
Before I go off to Michigan ... whenever Mark decides to tell me about Michigan.
There hadn't been any messages on the phones when she finally got home in her insurance-provided rental car (a Ford Focus, which felt like a set of kitchen chairs on wooden wagon wheels) not on the home phone, not on her cell phone, which had been left lying on the table in the kitchen beside her laptop. He didn't even call today. Well, sure, I told him he didn't have to, but he just didn't. Too busy with his prospective employer. I suppose I can understand that, given that he's about to be majorly unemployed.
On one hand she had been annoyed that he'd not left a message, but she was also strangely relieved. At least I don't have to explain why I was wrecked up by the university. With the relief had come a kind of celebratory mood. She'd taken a few pellets out to her fish, pleased to the core of her heart when Shanghai fed from her hand, laughing out loud when Oslo churned the cold surface water hard enough to splash water onto the deck. Juneau nosed the air, begging, but not ready for the hot touch of human flesh. After reassuring herself with the beauty of the fish, Emily had retreated to her bath to soak up some heat and free herself of wreck-dirt.
My husband was fired. She'd been sunk in the tub with nothing but her nostrils and eyes above water. He was fired because he's a mean-mouthed, misogynistic tyrant. What a surprise.
On the drive back to town, Emily had put KC on the spot. "How long have you known that Mark was fired?"
"Emily, I have a problem with discussing spousal issues when both spouses aren't present."
Emily exploded, "I have been scraping for any kind of understanding since New Year's. It's been like God and Gehenna empted a bunch of putrid, obscene puzzle pieces on my head, and all I can do is try to figure out how this crap all fits together. And I use the term 'fits' figuratively, because life shouldn't be about lies and secrets. When did you hear the rumor? Don't coddle me! Please!"
"Just before Christmas. Up till then, people mostly just thought it would blow over."
"Before Christmas! Dammit! And I knew nothing! Okay, I heard today that he snotted off to some girl in his class, but that doesn't seem like the kind of thing you get fired for. What didn't Margaret tell me? What really happened? Come on, I've had to scratch and scheme for every bit of information I've found so far -- all I want are the details you've heard; I've got the big picture. My cheating husband got fired for something, now what was it?"
The other woman had stared straight ahead at the tail lights of the tow truck. "Okay. The woman in question, not a girl, is a senior who went to him just before class and asked for the assignments, as she had missed a day of class because she had to go to the hospital for tests -- she was pregnant and her doctors were worried about her condition. He allegedly looked at her belly, turned away from her, and told her to get the assignments from another student. When she asked a fellow student about the assignments, Dr. Fatzer started class before the bell and told them to be quiet." KC had sighed heavily. "After class the woman found out that Dr. Fatzer had handed out assignments to summarize certain chapters of the text. There was no way another student would have known what her assigned chapter could be."
Way to go, Mark. He's always bitched about wasting time with female students, and how they tie up university resources and throw them away getting married. Like me. His diatribes always stung me, but I learned to just change the subject. "And then?" Emily prompted her.
"Then she went to her counselor, Dr. Kama, who said she'd go with her to Dr. Fatzer's office and see that she got the assignment. His hall door was shut, but his schedule said he was available to students at that hour; Kama knocked loudly on his door, Dr. Fatzer threw open the door, saw the woman student, did not see Kama, and shouted at her, "I do not have time to waste on you!" and slammed the door in her face.
"And, not knowing or caring that one of the grad students (all men) in his little office meeting was a friend of that woman, went on to treat his boys to a lecture on the worthlessness of higher education of women who couldn't keep their pants on." She breathed out a soundless whistle of air. "And then he weighted the grade on the assignment as though it was a mid-term, giving her a failing score on it."
Emily had shaken her head. She had no words that could express her feelings of shame and disgust without revealing Mark to be more of a chauvinist that he must already appear in KC's eyes.
"The university was threatened with a discrimination lawsuit, which the woman could have won because other female students immediately came forward with complaints, and Celeste Kama was backing them up; in addition, the Reich Foundation, which is the largest contributor to the university coffers, stepped in and made it known that they would remove all monetary support if Dr. Mark Fatzer did not resign. The Good Old Boys might have fought the lawsuit, but they weren't about to risk the loss of revenue."
"Geeze, why on earth would they get involved? University society has been pretty much beneath that family for years."
"Yeah, they keep to themselves. That's probably why Mark didn't know that the woman is the Reich administrator's sister-in-law."
They had followed the tow truck through the freezing drizzle in silence until the lights of the city lit up the world. KC had looked over at Emily. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been the one to tell you. But you would have been angry and hurt if I had refused to tell you what I knew."
"Right, I would have felt like I was the odd man out, the only one who was kept in the dark. There's an awful lot of things that puzzled me over the past couple weeks that make sense now. He resigned right after New Year's, didn't he?"
"That's what I heard. There was one last ditch effort over the holidays to get the Reich family to let him off with a reprimand, but it was no go."
No go. Emily replayed the conversation with KC over in her mind as she cut her chicken into savory bite-sized pieces and scooped a modest amount of macaroni onto the plate. My father would have said "No go" if I had been the girl -- the woman -- in question, too. If I had been badly treated by a prof in college, Daddy would have had a couple miners meet him after class sometime. Well, maybe not, but it's nice to know that he wouldn't have let something like that pass by.
She'd never run to her parents to complain when Mark said something that hurt her feelings; her mother's admonition to support her husband through thick and thin had always been uppermost in her mind. I covered up his ill-temper through thick and thin, just as Mark's colleagues had. While he was being rude to female students on campus, he was being rude to me in our house. Shame on all of us for allowing it to go so far. Why did we let it? What was I afraid would happen if I told him not to be so bossy, or to get rid of his pornie magazines, or called the credit card company and cancelled the purchase of those ugly little statues?
Emily had never felt physically threatened by Mark. Her willingness to roll over and let him have his way, his say was not rooted in fear that he might murder her in her sleep or beat her up. No, because he knew from the first time he met Daddy that if he ever hit me, he was a dead little professor. Emily stopped crunching her salad, new thoughts oozing into her brain. He's gotten meaner as Dad has grown older. What is he going to be like when Daddy dies? An irritable voice with its origin in her right temple where headaches could begin offered its opinion: He's going to be rich.
Emily stood up quickly from the kitchen table, pushing her chair away with the backs of her legs. He wasn't leaving her to take off with some tootsie! He was saving his professional ass, and expected her and her share of her father's estate to tag along with him, compliant and content as ever, without so much as a "Gee, what do you think, Emily?"
There was no tootsie. He may have been fiddling around with Marcella Henderson, but Marcella had probably ditched him for Marl Bloch when Mark got himself in trouble.
My husband isn't in the market for a new wife. Not when he already has a cash cow.
An efficient, quiet, placating, retiring cash cow.
Emily took her dish to the sink, and fished the wooden spoon from the soapy water. "Spoon, I wanted you to be the first to know. I'm not going to say 'Moo' any more."
She clicked on the light to the back patio to make one last check on the fish pond. The light from the outside made visible a mark on the glass of the door, a mark about a foot up from the bottom, of a five-fingered pawprint.
Emily leaned back on the door jamb and laughed.