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Ev McTaggart

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My Eyes Are Dim
By Ev McTaggart
Friday, May 23, 2008

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A new wife awakes to find her husband vanished.

 

 

Emily is afraid. Alone and afraid. Frightened out of her wits, her mother would say. Scared crapless, Michael would say if he were here.

 

            Just minutes ago, Emily awoke to the sound of clanging garbage trucks below her hotel room window. She reached over to touch Michael, her husband of six months. Touching Michael is one of Emily’s secret pleasures. She loves to watch him as he sleeps, flat on his back. Hands together on his chest, he sleeps as innocently as Marcia’s two-month-old baby. She watches him sleep, his eyelids fluttering with dream breezes, her heart so brimming with love for him that it overflows into her eyes and the tears play Itsy Bitsy Spider down her cheeks. He sleeps unselfconsciously naked, their duvet crumpled and tucked beneath him, his legs thrust straight out, his hands together, as if clasped in prayer, at his chest.

            For what does he pray? They have everything, everything they ever wanted, he says. Michael sleeps and Emily watches him sleep, wondering why she deserves the love of this man. She caresses his thigh, her fingers gliding over the soft hair; she gently lays her hand over his, her fingers barely touching his skin. She doesn’t want to wake him; she enjoys the sight of him, devoid of distraction and interaction. When she has drunk her fill, she eases down into the warm duvet and snuggles against him. Sometimes she lays her lips gently, almost reverently, next to his cheek, next to his ear, and breathes in the clean essence of Michael. Sometimes he wakes, yawns and stretches, sees her beside him and pulls her closer.
            But not this morning. Never again. Michael has gone. She awoke alone in the king-size bed. The hotel room was quiet. No noises of shaving or showering. One expects to wake alone and quiet in a single bed. Waking alone in a king-size bed is Heartbreak Hotel, a place Emily knows well. It is not a spot she wishes to re-visit.
            “Michael,” she called. No answer. “Michael!”
            Gone. The note he left is still stuck crookedly to the hotel TV. Gone for good. M. She will never again lie beside him in a warm cocoon, never again watch his sleeping face or touch his silent hands. She sits up in bed and pulls the bedspread over her head.
            She had to tell him about the baby. Of course, she had. You can’t keep something like that secret forever even if she had wanted to, which she didn’t, because Michael has a right to know. She had expected annoyance, perhaps even anger. After all, they had agreed not to have children for at least two years, maybe longer, but as the doctor had said last Friday, accidents do happen and babies have a strange habit of choosing their own times, regardless of what their parents think. It seemed like a good time to tell him, this semi-anniversary vacation to Toronto, her hometown, in this lovely room in the HarbourCastle, directly across the street from Michael’s old condo.
             Last night, snuggled against his back in the king-size bed, she had whispered her secret to Michael. His reaction had surprised her.
            “Oh, Emily. Really? A baby? I’m going to be a father? Wow!” His voice had featured more aftershocks than California following a major quake. He had held her close, her head tucked under his chin so she couldn’t see his face. “Oh, my God! When?”
            “In about seven months, Jim Grayson says.”
            “Seven months. Seven months.”
            Strange. He had seemed excited in a subdued sort of way, then he had become quiet, very quiet, which Emily knew was Michael’s way of ingesting and digesting new, spectacular information. Soon he was sleeping, still wrapped around her, her hair feathered against his chin. She hadn’t pressed him or questioned him. She knew Michael would tell her his feelings in his own time. Well, it hadn’t taken him long, had it? She peeks out from under the bedspread and peers at the note stuck to the television. Gone for good.
            A second-generation Misty Mason, that’s what she’ll be. Huddled on the basement stairs, twelve-year-old Emily had heard Misty crying quietly, but steadily, hunched over the Carsons’ kitchen table. Interpol had tracked down Misty’s husband, missing and presumed dead. When they found him, he was shearing black-faced sheep, healthy and happy, on an Australian outback ranch. Derek Mason hadn’t faked his death, hadn’t changed his name; he had simply walked out for a carton of milk one night and never returned.
            For two years, Misty had jumped like a Mexican jumping bean every time the phone rang. She had had a coffee pot ready, day and night, to host police officers bearing the inevitable bad news. She had organized the remembrance service; she had bought two burial plots and put aside the money for Derek’s gravestone. Graciously resigned to being a widow, Misty was unprepared for life as an abandoned spouse, a divorced daughter in a pious Catholic family of non-divorcées.
            “I thought we had the perfect marriage,” she wept as Emily’s mother patted her shoulder and offered facial tissues.
            “No such thing.” Emily’s mother Frances spoke with authority. As Frances always said, she ought to know.
            “But, but if he was unhappy, why didn’t he tell me? Why didn’t he say something?”
            Why hadn’t Derek Mason said something? When Misty finally had a chance to ask him, in a lawyer’s office in Sydney, he hung his head and scuffed the toes of his shoes along the ground. “Because I didn’t want to hurt you,” he said. Misty had done nothing wrong; he just felt marriage wasn't right for him.
            “Men,” Emily’s mother had shrugged. “They’re all alike.” Misty would never recover from the indignity; her ears ringing with Frances’s anti-man invective each time an ardent suitor moved to court her, Misty never re-married. Surprisingly Derek, Frances has told Emily, now supports a wife and six children. “Men.”
            How will Emily break the news to her mother? Her stomach turns over at the thought, though the feeling may be the onset of morning sickness. Oh, God, she’ll become a bitter old woman like Frances, incapable of any good will toward members of the opposite sex. “They’re all alike,” she will tell her child. “Trust them at your own risk,” she will caution. “Just remember, in the end they will desert you, hurt you. It’s their life’s ambition.”
            No no no no. She mustn’t. Michael has never been anything other than loving and giving, even at times when she is sure she hasn’t warranted his warm gifts. Emily hadn’t possessed great faith in Michael or any man when they met three years ago. Emily’s father had walked out after an especially violent row, screaming, “God damn it, Frances, I can’t take this any more. I want a divorce.” Though a string of psychiatrists (hired by her father to lessen the blow of his leaving) told Emily she shouldn’t blame herself, she had. Still does, just a tad. Perhaps if she had helped her mother more, Frances wouldn’t have picked fights. Perhaps if she hadn’t left her toys in the living room, her father wouldn’t have yelled at Frances about the God damn messy house.
            Michael has helped Emily to see her family and her damaged childhood through the opposite end of a telescope. Time heals all wounds. Hackneyed, but true , if you have someone to keep you from picking at the scabs. Someone good and kind and wonderful, like Michael.
            Michael is a decent man. She hasn’t imagined this. Kind and decent. She had resisted dating him, fearing a man of his age, raised in a fairly traditional Jewish home in New York City, might be a neurotic Portnoy, a Woody Allen incapable of a normal committed relationship. Lord knows, one screwed-up person per relationship is more than enough. Instead, Michael is openly loving, a mirror of his open, loving parents. He makes, made, her laugh. She, Emily, whose life pre-Michael had not often reverberated with laughter.
            To Emily, laughter is almost as important as sexual satisfaction and even with her limited experience, she realizes she and Michael have something quite special. The first night they stayed together, she fell asleep immediately, drained and safe. Waking next to him, still peaceful, still feeling like the canary that swallowed the cat, Emily stretched her arms above her head. “Ummmmmmm,” she yawned. “A duvet. There’s nothing quite like a duvet on a bed.”
            His reply was jackhammer swift. “Unless it’s a blonde with big boobs!” He laughed, a no-holds-barred, give-my-all laugh, stroking her dirty-blonde hair and Emily pulled the duvet back around her ample chest and laughed until her stomach hurt. The rising sun, pulling itself out of bed over the Toronto skyline and LakeOntario, cast a muted, almost romantic, light around Michael’s high-rise bedroom. She remembers looking at him, still laughing, in the soft-focus light of early morning. In that precise moment, she told him later, she fell in love.
            She had thought they had the perfect marriage. If Michael were unhappy, why hadn’t he said something? She is no longer the frail Carson kid, cowering in the corner, huddling on the stairs, though she knows this child is never far from her. Did Michael, like Derek Mason, think he would hurt her, hurt their child, less this way?
            Emily sees her son or daughter growing up, never knowing its father, or like Emily herself, constantly shuffling between mother’s home and father’s house, forever an Unaccompanied Minor, a dreaded UM, the airplane seat-mate of old ladies who think children are tiresome, the neighbour of businessmen who don’t know how to play Old Maid or Crazy Eights. She sees her daughter, six years old, sitting at Michael’s desk, writing the note Emily wrote to James before getting on the plane the summer she was six. Daddy my hart is so sad why cant you and Mommy liv togethr i dont want to go bak to Tronto. 
            With a hiccup of dread, she recalls yesterday’s newspaper headline. A Toronto woman arrested for systematically beating her husband’s seven-year-old son. He died in the hospital, his poor little body covered with bruises, his ribs broken, his wounds raw. Better, she thinks now, remembering, much better that he died rather than live to endure repeated torture and adult trauma. Will Michael re-marry a woman like that, a woman who has no respect for human life and little concern, no love, for another woman’s child? Though she feels, down deep inside, that this is unlikely, that Michael would have nothing to do with such a woman, she also thought he loved her and would never leave her. Emily sits in bed, propped up by Michael’s pillow, and cries for their unborn child.
            Perhaps she should have an abortion. The sensible thing to do. Let her child go before the whims of the world buffet and whip her. Kill her softly, quickly, before a hateful stepmother breaks her wrist or tears strips of skin off her back. Before the police find the child dead, her teeth knocked into her stomach.
            No, forget abortion. Not an option. Emily is not particularly religious and she would fight for a woman’s right to control her own body, but she knows the guilt would eat her alive. Besides, she is selfish. Michael may be gone, but Emily will have his baby. Her best friend Marcia has tried to explain the joy of hearing a baby’s heartbeat through a stethoscope, of seeing its form in the amniocentesis printout. Emily wants to feel that joy.
            She will be a good mother. She will. There’s the inheritance from Uncle Charles, who had no children of his own. She can sell the big house they bought last year, buy something smaller for two. She can manage. If she’s careful, she can stay home until her daughter is school-age, maybe keep her hand in the magazine business. Freelance or write opinion pieces, then when her daughter is ready for school, Emily will still be employable. They can have a good life. Even alone.
            Alone. Emily swipes her face with a corner of the sheet, stares at the violent pink Post-It™ note and resists the urge to straighten it, to try to put artificial order in her life. Gone for good. Who could predict this hurricane in her heart, that it could rouse such crashing waves of despair? Such rain on her face? Three little words. Her code to Michael when other people are around is : Three little words. Meaning I love you. How quickly the hurricane winds of change can uproot a sturdy stand of well-established I love yous, blasting each I love you willy-nilly, leaving gaping wounds of Gone for good.
            She picks up the remote control and switches on the television. She will drown out those words with CNN Headline News. Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, Hurricane Mitch is leaving devastation in its wake....The pink Post-It™ note sticks resolutely to the face of the solemn on-the-scene reporter. Like Hurricane Mitch, it does not go away with wishing and thinking and hoping and praying. Switch it off. Turn it off. Doesn’t matter. Her hurricane is still crashing, blasting its Gone for good holes in her heart.
            She hears the shuffle of feet in the corridor outside, the sound of a key playing with the lock. Damn. She’s naked and last night’s mascara has run rivers of black down her neck. Hurricane Michael has left devastation in his wake. She’s not ready for prime time. She’s not up to chambermaids and vacuums, dusting and scrubbing. She pulls the bedspread back over her head and shouts, “Later. Come back later, please.”
            “Emily? Are you up?”
            “Michael! You came back!” She bounds out of bed, pounces on him and throws her arms around his neck. “Oh, Michael, you came back!”
            He doesn’t hug her back. He holds her at arms’ length and stares at her face. “Of course I came back. Emily, are you crying?”
            “You, you were gone and there was the note--”
            “--which said I was gone for food.” He holds up the stuffed Tim Horton’s sacks. “You remember food? Coffee, black, no sugar, and muffins, carrot, the ones you love. One plain sour cream donut, your favourite, just in case you had one of those sudden pregnant cravings. Food.” He leers as he nibbles her neck, Dracula-style. “Remember the old saying? ‘Never make love on an empty stomach. Feed her first.’”
            “Food? Ohhhhhhh. I thought it said, ‘Gone for good.’”
            “Emily, Emily,” he sighs, holding her tightly, a squished-Emily sandwich filling between him and the brimming breakfast sacks. “Darling dear one, I’ve told you before. A dozen times I’ve told you. You really must start wearing your new glasses.”
                                                           
 

 


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