The small pieces I am posting for a while are all unplotted mood pieces; attempts to get inside the head of someone completely unlike me. If you don’t want to suffer fiction, leave now.
Mrs. Lopek Fall in Love
“See, here is my lovely wife, who has no time to be hospitable to my friends. She has no time to cook, to clean, to bring drinks.” It is already three drinks into Alec’s evening and he has begun on Gena. Gena makes a smile that isn’t a smile; a Mona Lisa curving of the mouth that doesn’t reach the eyes. He heaves himself to his feet and reaches out with one paw as if to cuff her as he heads for the refrigerator. She ducks away from him and walks into the living room. “Bitch!” he mutters, “She knows nothing but spend, spend, spend. Lazy bitch.”
In a tiny sitting room behind the living room, Gena sits in the light of the one lamp she has lit and sews a hem in the suit skirt she will wear to work tomorrow. She still wears the almost smile and burns like spring sun in the yellow lamplight. She is round and golden, one of the soft blondes that endure through the years, always feminine, tender looking, no matter how tough she must be. The needle goes in and out of the black material, surely hard to see in so little light, but it is easier to see what she chooses to remember in the dark.
Once she was young in Paris. Her job was to be womanly for an old man who may have loved her; she’s no longer sure of it. She still has the jewelry, the pretty dishes, the fur coat, the many evidences of being treasured, but Alec has torn and burned the pictures. When she looks through her many albums, the photographs tell her there was no Gena before Alec.
Here, Gena and Alec in front of a fountain in Rome. There, Gena and Alec’s sister in Prague. Alec holding a squirming naked Gena over the lip of a swimming pool on Ibiza. This Gena is born at twenty-eight. Where has the other one, the one she thinks she remembers, gone?
“And the pain? It’s better? Worse? Does the medication help?” Dr. Wrimmer asks. Gena sat in his plastic-covered chair, wrapped in a paper sheet.
“I don’t think there is any difference,” she answers in their common language. “I don’t think any of this will make a difference. It’s something else. I think it is all stress, all stress! Too much to do, not enough money, not enoughâ€¦” she stops, unable to articulate all the missing things. It’s too cold to sit in an ugly cream-colored room with plastic laminated renderings of human reproductive organs, plastic chairs and paper sheets. She shivers and looks directly into his eyes.
“You are cold, my love. Here, let me warm you.” He stands and gathers her up, and, holding her carefully against him, carries her to the examining table. The table is dreadfully icy against her back compared to the heat of his body and his breath, like a drug to her. “Stress,” she breathes.
“I will take it all away, little woman, all away.” Wellness follows everywhere he touches. It flows from his hearty man’s body into hers. He presses health into her neck with his lips, rejuvenation into her breasts with his fingers, life into her loins with his.
The needle snags where the thread has knotted and she has to carefully pull it out and unravel it.
When Alec found her she was struggling to unravel the mystery of succeeding in America. The end of every month found her choosing which bill to pay, which to lie about. Some checks were eternally lost in the mail. Alec seemed to know at once that it was all too much and too expensive and too puzzling. How could she have known that rent and food and taxis cost so much? Until he died, the man paid those mundane things, but when he died he left everything to the wife and children he never saw in the ten years they lived together. Alec never gave her money. He brought food, took her shopping, gave the taximen the fare when he sent her off to work in the morning. He treasured her, and the relief felt a lot like love. Then he burned the pictures and her youth as she remembered it. Paris and being young. There was nothing to do then but to marry.
The next job paid better and had room to move up, a very American thing. Her languages were valuable to her. She thought she’d finally got the hang of it. She moved up and then up again. She got home later, she knew more people, some of whom Alec didn’t know or want to know.
“You are beautiful, you know. I would love to know what goes on in that little head. Can’t we lunch next week?” It is also very American to have intellectual friends apart from one’s husband.
Alec spent her working Saturdays crashing into things like the lawn mower, her French furniture, and her absence. He led what he believed to be a man’s life. He had a mistress for Wednesdays, poker on Thursday nights, and went to work very early so as to be home for a nap and then, usually, a night of total attention to Gena. He bought a vibrator, a very American thing to do, because it was efficient for a wife who worked long hours and came home tired.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else but us. One man can’t be everything to any woman, nor one woman to any man. It’s a law of nature.” The old man had told her that his love for his wife and her for him had just worn out. “People live too long for just one love. Sometimes love comes serially, if you are lucky like us. Sometimes it doesn’t and there is pain, but it was always so.”
Does Alec love her, or does he too feel that marriage is something else; someplace to keep the furniture, the address book, to make vacation plans and invite the people you know or want to know? She knows with the certainty of truth that she cannot be alone. The memories of the year when she tried to do it didn’t burn with her pictures. If she thinks of confronting him and making him go, the terror is too much to bear and she stops fighting back, throwing herself into his arms and their bed for a few days. She doesn’t hate him.
He seems baffled by her ability to withdraw and disappear although she is in the same house or even in the same room. He doesn’t ask her where she is. She thinks he may be afraid of what goes on in the little blonde head. He berates her in front of their friends, accuses her of every slackness and misdeed in his personal list of unwifely behavior but one. And if he did ask, what could she say? She smiles again, finding her own confession ludicrous.
“I love other men in my mind, Alec. I think of men I meet or even only see, and I let them seduce me. Each one wants something different, and each one gives something different, and none of them are afraid to take what they want.”