One of the short stories from my manuscript “Gardenias” — Called “Absolute Wife.”
This ran over at Erotica-Readers.com, once upon a time. Looking back at it now, it is definitely a feminist piece of writing. It is.
Maybe I could try and blame it on Virginia Woolf. Or Kate Chopin. I don’t know. All I can tell you is that something happens after you allow that band to slip onto your finger. All of a sudden there are new extraneous details you weren’t expecting. Roles. One day, during a terribly destructive Christmas Eve, I broke down and cried to my mother that I just didn’t want to be perceived as a good wife anymore.
I think she understood because she had to come and find me out in my studio where I went to hide that night just to escape the festivities, and the whole house was full of people and relatives and I just wasn’t happy because where was my art in the middle of everyone else’s expectations for the holiday?
“I’m so tired of being fucking good,” I screamed at her, that night.
And then I was crying out there hysterically, while she said, “Pull yourself together.” Mothers see too much about their daughters don’t they? They peek, sideways, hissing disapproval at the circumstances and at the men we choose. As far as my mother was concerned Tattinger could fix everything, even holes in hearts and empty places in the soul. “Drink this,” she’d say. “Let’s just get through tonight without spoiling Christmas. Things will change, because that is the only thing you can count on in life, Velvetine. Change. Here is a cold compress for your eyes.”
“Why can’t you find a man who is going to take care of you for a change?”
There we stood, in my studio, and I hadn’t worked for months. Nothing. Instead I had preoccupied myself with trying to assemble the perfect ganaches, nut tarts, bedrooms, and sheet collections. Something told me I had to do my duty first. The world revolved around our universe of two. Or I should say it revolved around my husband and his desires. Until Maxwell.
Maxwell swept into my life like a scorching breeze. Since it had already been ten years, ten long years of various baseball and football games, and dinners, and dinners and increasingly less dialogue, I looked over at that handsome male force field of charisma sweeping closer, and closer, and…
All of a sudden there was something to dream about, again, and there were poems suddenly blooming at the tip of my pen. He gave me something else to think about besides petis fours. Unfortunately, we all worked together. So it was impossible, really. Except that Maxwell kept pressing closer and closer until he could remark about my perfume, and grab the strands of long dark Indian beads I wore at that time in his fingers and pull me towards him slowly, saying, “I love these on you…”
At night I dreamed about him. So I redesigned our conjugal bedroom once again. I think part of the problem is that wives are notoriously unsexy. You’re just not supposed to be. I bet you wear pink flannel, don’t you? That works. At least you’ll never gain a reputation for being difficult. It’s not as if you can wear red, now is it? Pink though, is okay. It has a gentle, good girl quality about it and it’s non-threatening to males. I dreamed about Maxwell, and the dreams had a ruby tinge that had nothing to do with red watered down with enough white to make pink.
In my dream it was all about waltzing, and we were waltzing on the edge of a precipice and above us was a very large neon sign that only Maxwell knew how to operate and he’d whisper to me about how easy it was, how easy it was to just get that sign going again and I’d wake up moist between my legs with a start and I think those might have been wet dreams or something…
So, nobody knew about Maxwell at work, and his traveling fingers, and for six months I moved onto the couch in my studio because I wanted to dream alone. His eyes were cracked blue marbles and I ached, I ached for him. I guess it’s a bad thing to have secret thoughts in a marriage, isn’t it? I bought a new wardrobe of shapeless arty black things that looked very Japanese, and I wore shoes like combat boots on purpose to camouflage myself at work. I figured if I could just destroy any hint of femininity in myself he’d go away, and that increasing longing between my thighs would just evaporate and I’d be able to carry on, gold-banded as I was, for another decade or so of dinners and remodels in the silence, the silence so thick inside the house you could have cut it with a knife.
There is a way that men like Maxwell behave when they are moving in for the kill. You know what I’m talking about don’t you? It’s the quality of ruthlessness that separates the men from the boys that way.
I wanted to say: just go away Maxwell, go away and don’t leave me with these dark thoughts about what the two of our bodies might encounter in each other on twisted sheets in some crazed hotel someplace on the outskirts of town because that’s where we’d go and I’ve been in rooms like that before and he was married like I am now Maxwell, and he was running, running from the pinkness of flannel and the happy little smiling flapjacks on sunny summer mornings towards the abyss that he found in my arms and Maxwell, I can’t do this thing even though my car drove as if by itself to the place I knew I could find you tonight, and I sat here until the night swallowed me whole in its blackness and I never got out, I never even got out, I just turned around and went home and I donned pink flannel and climbed into the bed of softly scented safe milles-fleures sheets and pretended I was home at last like the absolute wife that I was.
You really should pay attention to what your wife is doing if you are a man. Not all of us are content, you see? It isn’t enough to bear children or not. It isn’t enough to just go to work and go shopping and get manicured and done up and pick out new lingerie you might never actually get to see because it isn’t meant for you. Some of us may have secrets, or discreet plans, just like you’ve always had.
Maxwell was ten years younger than me, and none of that made a difference. Look around at couples that are married for awhile. They don’t talk anymore. Instead they order food distractedly and sit in a quiet resigned silence protected inside their circle of two, inside the golden-banded circle they’ve created. No one tells you when you don the veil there might be other, darker thoughts later. Or various Maxwell’s. They always tend to appear when there is discontent, or possibly disquiet.
I look back at Maxwell now and I can see how he was like a match igniting dry timber. Nothing ever did happen, and I heard he got a brain tumor after he left the company but he ended up okay after all, and he went on and got married and had a child. I saw him ages later when he came into the art department and he said “Hello” and “Jesus, you’re probably always going to look like that aren’t you, Velvetine?” and then his wife came in suddenly — too plump and make-upless in her Birkenstocks — and I knew he had picked a pink one for his own, too. This is just how it goes with men. One of the other artists and I went out for a coffee later and I said, “Did you and Maxwell ever talk about me?” They had been inseparable best friends at the time.
“All the time,” he said.
Mike told me that Maxwell had wanted me and no, I hadn’t been crazy to think I was wrong about what was happening between the two of us back then, but that he never would have done anything because he liked my husband Sampson too much. Funny thing isn’t it? Mike was going through the same thing as I was in his marriage.
After Maxwell there was Justin, suddenly. I mean, it might have happened with him too, because that is just where loneliness in a marriage takes you eventually. Meanwhile I had been struggling with some kind of Catholic notion that what I was doing was immoral or impure by having these bad thoughts, but they were just residual ideas left over from my childhood ghosts and that damn game was always on in the background like a leitmotif or something and I never really understood about innings anyway.
That first affair I had a couple of years later was a beautiful thing. After that I knew that there are just ways that women cope with what gets handed to them in this lifetime. For all intents and purposes it’s still a man’s world in many ways. But I suppose women have always managed to get around that, you know? In my case I guess you can just blame it on Virginia Woolf. When I first read “A Room of One’s Own,” let’s just say I knew exactly what she meant. It all boils down to freedom in the end. Absolutely.
“Abslolute Wife” — copyright 2010 — by Valentine Bonaire — all rights reserved.