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Ev McTaggart

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The Love of a Good Woman
By Ev McTaggart
Thursday, May 08, 2008

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The best advice my grandmother ever got was from Marilyn Monroe

 

The morning after they returned from their honeymoon, Freddie Evans’s new  bride reached over and turned off the alarm clock. Freddie, roused from pleasant dreams he hoped to make reality one day (or many nights), rubbed his sleep-filled eyes and didn’t think much about it. He was new to this married thing; perhaps all new wives turn off their husbands’ alarm clocks, though in Niagara Falls, Lucy had made it clear she didn’t intend to be a traditional wife. She was, she said, a feminist and she was quite sure feminists didn’t serve bacon and eggs, wearing frilly little aprons.

          “You have two good arms and two legs, Fred, and you got along just fine, making your own breakfast, before you met me,” she said, her hands on her hips and her small jaw set in that obstinate way Fred had come to know during their six-month courtship. “You know breakfast is not my favourite meal.”

          “All right! OK!” said  Fred, throwing up his hands. “All I said was, Louella Freeman boasts you make pretty good pancakes.”

          “Special occasions, Fred,” said Lucy. “Pancakes are for special occasions. Like marzipan. Or confetti.”

          Freddie thought nothing of it when Lucy tumbled out of bed two seconds after he did. The dear girl would brush her teeth and kiss him goodbye, then retire to her office on the back side of the house. Lucy was a writer-- a damn good one, she told him. Her assertions were backed up by tear sheets from numerous women’s magazines, so Fred assumed Lucy was as good as she claimed. He still thought nothing of it when, fully dressed in her tweed going-away suit, she joined him at the breakfast table and devoured half his coffee and toast. It’s a woman’s privilege to change her mind, after all.

          He did get a tad suspicious when he and Lucy reached in tandem for their respective light fall coats. “You’re going out,” he said.

          “Uh huh,” Lucy agreed, nodding as she tied a silk scarf around her neck. “That, I would say, is a fair assumption.”

          “Where? Where are you going? You said you always work at home.”

          “To the doctor’s.” Lucy perched a ridiculous feathery hat on top of her perfect mahogany curls and reached for her brown kid gloves.

          “What’s wrong?” Fred’s tone, by this time, had become downright accusatory. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. “You’re not, not, you know--”

          “Pregnant? Of course not. At least I don’t think so. We’ve only been married two weeks, Freddie. You’re a pharmacist. How could one tell? No, it’s my ears.”

          Freddie squinched his eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with your ears,” he said, reaching out to touch the part not covered by the silly feathers. “You have the most adorable ears. I love your ears.”

          “Well, Fred,” said Lucy, buttoning her coat, “there was nothing wrong before I married you. But since the wedding, I seem to hear these awful loud noises. Right in my ears. When I’m trying to sleep.”

          And that was how my grandfather Fred Evans discovered he snored. It’s a wonder Grandpa didn’t make this discovery on his own because if snoring had been an Olympic sport, as it may soon become now that ballroom dancing is two steps away, Fred Evans would have won gold. His snores were bigger, louder, gruffer, snortier--in effect, more world-class than any snores I have ever heard. My grandfather’s snores, like my grandfather in later life, had real body.

          “My father’s snores could wake the dead,” says my mother, Fred’s daughter Monica, as we pack away the pictures of Fred we had displayed at his memorial service.

          “I wonder if they’re waking him now?” asks my brother Benny. Benny is six and next to playing with his model train, a project he started with the late great grandpa, he loves to listen to stories about family. Benny will be a historian some day.

          My mother laughs. “I wonder if they’re still waking Grandma,” she says, giggling.

           Fred was pretty embarrassed about his snoring, but in those days, long before apnea research, sleep clinics and nose patches, what could one do? On their honeymoon, Lucy had tried jabbing him in the ribs, tried turning him on his side, tried whistling in his ear--all remedies her mother had relied on for decades. All worked, but ten minutes later, Fred would be flat on his back, his mouth open, resonating like a lumberjack’s saw. When, in desperation, she had pinched his nose, Fred had whacked her so hard, she had fallen over the side of the double bed. It wasn’t a total loss, she laughed whenever she told the story, because the moon was shining and the water flowing over the Horseshoe Falls glistened and gleamed like silver and gold. An incredible sight.

          Fred had slept through everything, even her assault on his nostrils. Lucy returned from the honeymoon pale and sleep-deprived, a condition which led neighbours and friends to nudge each other and whisper naughty phrases behind raised palms. My great-aunt Violet met them at the Barrie train station. “My God, Lucy!” Violet  (despite her name, never one to shrink from her perceived duties) exclaimed, encapsulating the town’s future reaction to the black circles beneath Lucy’s sleepy blue eyes. “What haven’t you two been doing?”

          On this fine fall morning, dressed for business in her Harris tweed, Lucy Evans set out to cure her ear. Her fifteen-minute chat with Dr. Bob Smythe, seventy-five years young and a wicked snorer himself, failed to deliver the expected result.

          “What’s your problem, young lady?” Dr. Smythe barked, prompting Lucy to remark later that Bob Smythe must have slept through the bedside manner classes at medical school.

          “You want what?” he snorted, shaking his head. “Why, I never heard anything so foolish. Know what I think you should do? Go home and Hoover the living room.”

          Because Lucy was well-bred and well-brought up, she refrained from telling Dr. Smythe what she thought he should do. Her good breeding did not prevent her from mentioning her ideas to her sister when they met for lunch. “Honestly, Vi,” she fumed, pushing the dark red tendrils out of her blazing eyes, “does that man live in the Dark Ages? You’d think Rosie the Riveter had never existed.”

          Violet Kerwin, first child of passionate feminist Mary Kerwin and her devoted (some said henpecked) husband Neil, knew better than to interrupt her younger sister in mid-rant. She waited till Lucy had run out of naming articles that Dr. Smythe should ram up a delicate part of his anatomy, then jumped, Vi-like, headlong into the fray. “Oh my dear, I know. I know,” she commiserated. “Why, when I complained about cramps, instead of giving me something to help, he sneered that all I need is a husband and a couple of kids!”

          Lucy’s mouth dropped open. Perhaps Dr. Smythe could be forgiven; perhaps he was heading toward senility. “He actually said that?” she asked, a smile almost curling her lips. “And he’s still alive?”

          Vi ignored her sister’s verbal jab. “Never mind,” she said. “Now, what are we to do about Fred’s problem?”

          Lucy sighed. “Fred sleeps through the noise, Vi. It’s not a problem for Fred. That’s the problem.”

          “The library!”

          “Huh?”

          “We’ll look in the library.”

          “Oh, damn,” said Lucy. “I just came from there. I researched that article on breast feeding for Mother’s Monthly. Yes, let’s go back.”

          And that was how my grandmother’s lifelong obsession with snoring research began. She combed hardcover books, she sifted through magazine articles, she enlisted the help of her travelling friends.

          “When you’re in New York, please try to get me a copy of this,” she’d beg her sister.

          “If you stop over in London, could you find me a copy of that?” she’d ask her best friend, Amy Anson.

          Through it all, she never left Fred’s bed.

          “Lucy, dear, you’ll get run down and you won’t be any use to anyone,” admonished her mother. “Wait till Fred drops asleep and sneak into the spare room.” Fred had already suggested this solution. Lucy had roundly berated him. Much as Lucy Evans needed her eight hours sleep, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for we future generations) she wanted her full eight hours lying, warm and snuggly, beside her husband. Even when snoring on his back, she told her sister, Fred stayed in touch, his thigh close to hers, his hand pressed against the small of her back.

          “Jack snores lak a dragon,” drawled Annie Whitley, a transplanted southeren belle, the unlikely best pal of Lucy’s mother. “Ah do declare, if it wuddn’t fuh sleepin’ pills, ah’d nevah catch a wink. Get yuhself a pree-scription, deah.”

          Lucy politedly refused Annie’s advice, partly because she felt her body was a temple from which sleep-inducing drugs should be barred, partly because she had her doubts whether Doc Smythe would write a prescription. “I’ll manage,” she said, crossing her fingers, hoping she was right. “Somehow.”

          Five years after their honeymoon, Lucy was still sleeping in fits and starts, still poking Fred gently whenever she couldn’t stand the ryhthmic snuff-snuff, still collecting magazine articles. Prophylactic aids had come and gone. “We gave it a true try,” Lucy said, holding the funny harness with the ball in the centre-back position. “Six nights in a row Fred wore it. Waste of money.” The harness went out with the next week’s trash.

          A similar fate had befallen the mouthpiece whose advertising claimed it detected the onset of snoring and delivered a tiny shock to the wearer, thereby stopping the snore before it became audible. “Complete waste,” said Lucy, stamping the mouthpiece ten times before pitching it. “Back to the old drawing board.”

          Lucy, who had given birth to my mother a year before, now had to contend with Monica’s nocturnal grumping. “I swear to God, Fred and Monica synchronize,” she complained to my great-grandmother. “When he stops snoring, she starts yelling and vice versa. It’s like clockwork.”  Lucy was so desperate for a full night’s sleep, she had taken to reciting Ruthless Rhymes to Fred at bedtime. “Late last night I killed my wife, stretched her on the bedroom flooring. I was loathe to take her life, but I had to stop her snoring.” Fred still smiled apologetically, tucked his arm around Lucy’s back and revved his snoring engine.

          “Honey,” said Fred to my grandmother one night at dinner. She had produced a particularly pleasing crown roast of pork with succulent vegetables, roast potatoes and a rich brown pork gravy. “Honey,” said Fred, between mouthfuls of his favourite meal, “I have a wonderful idea.”

          “Hmmmmm,” was my grandmother’s non-commital reply. She had observed  Fred’s many previous wonderful ideas, among them his investment in a gold mine-- “guaranteed to boom!”--which had bust two weeks later, and his attempt to turn the front of his pharmacy, two miles from the nearest high school, but next-door to a nursing home,  into a jukebox-totin’ malt shoppe. “Hmmmmm,” said Lucy, her voice rising to question level as she serenely chewed her savoury roast potatoes. “Hmmmmm?”

          “You’ve been so busy, so tired, what with me and the baby and all, that I thought, it’s just a thought, that we should get away for a weekend. Just the two of us. Fly to New York. See a play, maybe. Shop.” He reddened ever so slightly. “You’re getting back in shape,” he muttered, dropping his eyes and nudging Monica’s rattle with his toe. “I thought maybe you’d like some new clothes.” He sneaked a peek at her.  “Those new sleek suits, like in the magazines.”

          My grandmother was always frugal and wise about housekeeping and money, a credit to any man, her father said, but she was never stupid. “OK,” she said swallowing half a new potato. “When?”

          My mother hurriedly weaned from the breast and safely stashed in a cot in Mary Kerwin’s bedroom, Lucy and Fred boarded a TWA flight from Toronto to New York. Remember, these were the early days of air travel; little was known about noise abatement. The airplane, said Lucy afterward, reverberated with the noise of a thousand trains.

          “Why don’t you sleep, Lucy?” Fred suggested, noticing his wife’s antsiness and shoving his rolled-up sweater behind her head. “If you nap for a little while, we can hit the stores as soon as we land.”

          “Sleep?” asked Lucy. “Sleep? Who can sleep with this racket?”

          “Worse than my snoring?” inquired Fred innocently.

          “Do you want to sleep?”  The breathy voice  sounded familiar.

          Lucy glanced across the aisle.  

         “Well, do you?”

          “Oh my God,” said Lucy. “Marilyn Monroe!”

          The striking blonde laughed. “Some people call me that,” she breathed in that unmistakable Marilyn voice.

          “I’m Lucy Evans. And this is my husband Fred.” Lucy stuck her hand across the aisle.

          “I’m sorry I was eavesdropping,” whispered Marilyn, shaking Lucy’s eager hand. “I couldn’t help overhearing Fred mention his snoring.” She smoothed her platinum hair. “Joe, darling,” she said to the tall, slim man beside her, touching his shoulder with an elegantly-manicured finger, “can you hand me my case?” She turned back to Lucy. “Joe snores, too,” she whispered, giggling, behind her hand. “Though, of course, he’d never admit it. So, I have my little secret weapons!” She riffled in her case and handed two small packets to Lucy. “Sweet dreams,” she said, winking.

          “Good Lord!” said Fred. “I don’t believe it. Marilyn Monroe.”

          As Lucy fumbled with the larger packet, a piece of black satin slid into her lap.”My gosh,” she said. “A mask. A Hallowe’en mask.”

          Across the aisle, Marilyn giggled, more loudly this time. “Blocks out the light,” she explained.

          Lucy held up the second package, shrugged her shoulders and held up her hands, palm up. “And this?”

          “Blocks out the sound,” said Marilyn and closed her eyes.

          Lucy removed the two tiny earplugs from the packet and inserted them in her own small, perfect ears. Dear Marilyn, she wrote, care of the studio, when she arrived back home, Thank you so very much for the earplugs you gave me. For the first time in five years, I slept through the night. I owe you my sanity.

          Which was how my grandmother started a correspondence with the former Norma Jean Baker, alias an unstable Marilyn Monroe, that ended only with Marilyn’s well-publicized death. You could never convince my grandmother that someone as helpful as Marilyn would commit suicide.

          About this time, and absolutely not coincidentally, my grandfather resumed one of his pre-marriage Friday night rituals. Fred had been absent from the weekly poker game for five and a half years (he quit gradually six months before the wedding, to ease the stress of quitting cold-turkey after the ceremony). For most of this time, his chair had been taken over by Harley Sanders. Alas, four decades of excessive bingeing on both food and alcohol caught up with Harley one evening as he walked down Main Street. His brother found him the next morning, lying on the front doorstep of the house they shared with their widowed mother, his fingers still clutching what remained of his chocolate éclair.

          The “boys” hardly waited for Harley’s body to cool.

          “Freddie, it’s time you came back,” Bert Freeman cajoled, handing Fred his prescription for lumbago medicine. “We all missed you and now that Harley’s gone, well....” He cleared his throat. “We just think it’s time, that’s all.”

          Fred thought for a moment, scratching his scalp, up by the side part where the hair was thinning, with the rubber end of his pencil. “Lucy will kill me,” he replied matter-of-factly.

          “So, don’t tell her!”

          Truth was, Lucy, after endless months of sleepless nights, was enjoying an unprecedented run of good luck. If Monica were well-stoked at nine o’clock, Lucy could mostly count on her lasting till six the next morning. Dishes packed away, laundry sorted, earplugs in place, by ten o’clock Lucy, yielding to five years of cumulative exhaustion, fell into bed. She even, said her husband on one occasion when he got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, SNORED!

          “I don’t know what to do,” Lucy sniffled  a few weeks later. Her sister handed her a clean hanky. “I’m almost sure Fred’s having an affair. I woke up last night and he was gone.”

          “Did you check the bathrooms?” asked Violet.

          Lucy nodded. “Basement, too. Do you think I should confront him?”

          “Oh no no no no no! Oh my, no!” said Vi. “Worst possible scenario. Puts them on their guard.” My grandmother did not question how Vi knew this.

          “What then?”

          “Follow him,” said Vi. “I’ll stay over and look after Monica.”

          Which was how my grandmother discovered my grandfather’s clandestine Friday night activities. She trailed him to Bert Freeman’s house, passing Louella on the way. She hid in the bushes outside the Freeman’s, narrowly missing the arrival of Denny Jackson who had just re-wired their kitchen, and the best man at her wedding, Norman Taylor. What did Lucy Evans do with her new-found information? Did she raise a ruckus, “kill” him, as Fred feared? Didn’t I tell you I come from a clever, clever family? I didn’t? Well, I do. For fifty years Fred sneaked out every Friday night; for fifty years, Lucy “slept” in silence. 

          But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Rewind to 1975, the year I was born to Monica Evans Patterson. My father was still with us; he would remain long enough to father two more children, then exit as suddenly and as quietly as he’d arrived. Rewind.

          Grandfather Fred, despite his sporadic bouts of bad judgment, had experienced unbelievably frequent spates of good fortune. His bank account, notwithstanding Monica’s university escapades, was plump and healthy; his stocks and bonds account leaned heavily in the positive direction; his hair had receded to a dull brown tonsure wrapped around his head from neck to mid-skull, and his wife, determined not to suffer from empty-nest syndrome, had retreated into her own world of research, plan, write, publish.

          Into this perfect world, a few days before New Year’s Eve, along I come, upsetting everybody’s plans, leaving Fred open to the perfect scam.

          The girl, for she was little more than a teenager, barely older than my mother, was a newcomer to Barrie. Her (presumed) parents, Kathy and Jed Richards, had moved into the Pleasant Pastures Trailer Park Advent week. Pleasant Pastures was just down the country road from Fred and Lucy’s renovated farmhouse, perfectly located, perfectly planned.

          Some New Year’s Eve, Fred had thought as he locked up the pharmacy. Lucy was staying overnight at Monica’s to help with the baby. Sure, he could have gone, too, but one never knew when someone would need an emergency prescription filled. No, he said, I’ll stay home. Now, no one would meet Fred at the door. No one would hand him a cold beer, cook him a nice rare steak, listen to him gripe about his day and share a midnight champagne. Fred had had a trying day, the kind of day that leaves one wrung out like a damp dishrag, the kind of day that makes one wish for a fast belt, preferably in somebody’s nose. Lacking that, Fred had nipped into O’Brien’s Bar and Grill for a quick belt of single-malt Scotch. Norman, spying Fred’s new off-white Cadillac parked outside O’Brien’s, had bought the second round. Denny and Bert, spotting Norman’s Porsche 911 parked behind Fred’s deVille, had paid rounds three and four respectively.

          By the time Myra Richards sashayed her swaying ass into O’Brien’s and settled it on the empty bar stool next to Fred, Fred’s buddies (after phone calls from their worried spouses) had departed the bar and taken off in the night to meet their fates.

          “Hello,” Myra said in her best Marilyn Monroe whisper, and scuttlebutt has it, she wiggled her butt on the stool and thrust her heaving chest into Fred’s face.

          “Hello,” said Fred, endeavouring to focus on any moving part of Myra Richards. Fred had left his glasses in his office; without them he was hard pressed to see anything more than half an inch from his nose. Fred was also half-pissed, a condition which seriously doubled his eyesight problem.

          “Helllloooo,” said Fred, desperately trying to focus and seeing only two blurs of bleached blonde hair attached to two pairs of convulsing breasts and a breathy voice. “I met Marilyn Monroe once,” he said. Or tried to.

          “Am I prettier than Marilyn was?”

          Fred was truthful, but not unchivalrous. “Certainly,” he said. “Can’t shee you, but I’m sure you mush be.” He swivelled his chair, causing his head to spin concurrently. “Schooz me. Have to get home.”

          “Mr. Evans,” said Myra. “You are in no condition to drive. Where are your keys? Mr. Evans, give me your keys and I’ll drive you.”

          “Don’t want to bother.”

          “It’s no bother,” said Myra, unable to believe her luck. Lottery hit on the first ticket! Craps win on the first throw!  “I live one laneway past your place.”

          When Myra Richards’ irate father banged on the door of my grandparents’ farmhouse half past Valentine’s Day, Fred listened to his tirade. “Mr. Richards,” he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t recall ever meeting your daughter, much less--”

          “Scum!” screamed Jed Richards. “Ain’t that just like rich folks. Screw my Myra when your wife’s away, then say you don’t know her. Well, Mr. Rich Pharmacist, my daughter’s knocked up and you’re going to pay for this!”

          My grandmother claimed to believe Fred when he claimed he’d never seen Myra. She claimed to believe him even when she discovered a cheap pierced earring under the living room sofa cushion. She tossed the earring into the trash and continued vaccuming, her head humming along with the Hoover.

          There was a big showdown in the OPP office. Mike O’Brien was forced to admit that Fred had left his bar New Year’s Eve accompanied by the luscious Myra Richards. Bert Freeman reluctantly allowed that Fred’s Cadillac, driven by a blonde-haired woman-child, had passed him going “a dang sight faster than the speed limit.” Myra, under her father’s watchful eyes, wept as she recounted how, Good Samaritan, she had driven Mister Evans home because he’d been “a tad tipsy.” Tears rolled down her lovely cheeks as she told how she stayed with him because she was worried about him and yes, she was aware Mrs. Evans was away and Mr. Evans was a mighty attractive man and how things would look and all.

          “Miss Richards, did Mr. Evans make advances toward you?” questioned Constable Leblanc.

          Myra cried harder. “Yes,” she nodded.

          “Did you stay with him that night?”

          “Yes.”

          “Why?”

          Because, wept Myra, she liked him and she was afraid to walk home to the trailer park in the dark. Undesirables, you know.

          “Mr. Richards, did your daughter come home that night?”

          “No,” said Jed, banging his fist on the table. “She didn’t show up till seven in the morning and I walloped the daylights out of her!”

          Things looked bad for Fred, especially when Morris Brown told Constable Leblanc that Myra had raced in front of his pickup truck “right by Fred Evans’s driveway” early New Year’s Day. Fred started to feel as if his goose had been well and truly roasted. He glanced at Lucy. Boy, by now her dander would be up. He was surprised when she nodded and smiled encouragingly, scribbled on a small notepad and passed the notepad to the Constable.

          Constable Leblanc raised his eyebrows. “Mrs. Evans, I don’t see what this has to do--”

          “Ask it,” said Lucy.

          The Constable turned to Myra Richards. “Miss Richards,” he asked haltingly as if he really shouldn’t be asking, “did you sleep with Mr. Evans?”

          Myra looked around. “I just said so, didn’t I?” She forgot to cry.

          “Did you sleep in the same bed with him?”

          “Well, I didn’t sleep much.”

          Lucy’s face fell. Fred supposed she saw visions of a wild night of carousing. Her face brightened. Well, perhaps she hadn’t thought that at all.

          “Why? Why didn’t you sleep well?” Lucy asked, pointing her finger at Myra.

          “Do I have to answer that?”

          “This rich man had his fun with Myra,” shouted Jed. “ Now he got to pay for it.”

          Constable Leblanc shot Lucy a dirty look. “Mrs. Evans, I’ll ask the questions. Why didn’t you sleep well, Miss Richards?”

          “You know, thinking about what I’d done and all.”

          “Ask her if that’s the only reason,” said Lucy.

          “What do you mean, the only reason?” Myra asked sullenly. “What other reason could there be?”

          “Mr. Richards,” said Lucy, staring down Jed with her intense blue eyes. “I have no doubt your daughter has been with a man. I’ve no doubt she’s pregnant and the father may even be someone’s husband, but Mr. Richards, I am quite, quite certain the father of your daughter’s child is not my husband.”

          She stood up. “Come on, Fred, let’s go home.”

          “Now, wait a minute, Mrs. Evans.” Constable Leblanc blocked the door. “How can you be so sure of your husband’s innocence?”

          “Because,” said Lucy, pausing for effect,  “my husband--”

          “--snores!” shouted Fred, Bert, Denny and Norman.

          “--snores! Like Paul Bunyan,” finished Lucy.

          Smarter than any lawyer, Lucy was, Fred told me yesterday just before he died. He said a newspaper reporter interviewed them on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. What, he asked Lucy, was the secret to a long, happy marriage?

          “Earplugs!” said Lucy.

          Smart girl, Lucy, Fred said. Why, on her deathbed, she had beckoned him to put his ear down to her lips. Closer, closer. Close enough. Though you could see what every word cost her in pain, his Lucy had grinned weakly. “Freddie,” she had mouthed in his ear, “I hope you enjoy your Friday night poker!”

          “And for a wife like that,” said Fred, his smiling face an island in a sea of monitors and machines, “I’d cook my own breakfast another lifetime.”

 

 Copyright 2004 Ev McTaggart

 


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