Myra is sitting on the other side of the bed. The side closest to the window. The blinds are open. The thin morning light falls across her cotton nightdress in bands like an inmate’s prison garb. A few of Mose’s books are on the floor. Scattered, lying in disarray.
Her books are neatly stacked on her table, with her glasses, beside the reading lamp. The books, both of theirs, are overdue at the library. He had been reading The Confessions of Nat Turner. She hasn’t read any of hers in a while. She can’t remember when. The thought has ceased to cross her mind.
On his cluttered night table are his watch, his reading glasses and wallet, a heavy square red-glass ashtray filled with pennies and paper clips and his pocketknife. The ashtray was from a hotel they visited some years ago. Paris.
That week they had spent in France, after the children had grown and left the house. They sat on tour buses, moving from one place to another squeezed in among big-bellied men with cameras and wrinkle-necked blond-haired women who Myra avoided being seen too close to, lest someone would think they might be her friends. Behind their hands, she sensed them talking about her. About how she thought she looked like Marlene Deitrich. She knew they were just being snitty. But she did look, then, like Marlene Deitrich. Mose’d told her so. He still thought so.
She and Mose had sipped martini’s in their Frenchy hotel rooms. Martinis he made with gin and vermouth they brought in a faux leather case with a shaker and two thin-stemmed glasses.
Last night she had slept on this side of the bed. Her head on his pillow with his oily smell and its dry saliva stains. Reminders of his absence.
On the morning before, he had fallen. The noise woke her. He fell trying to get out of bed. His leg gave way. He’d hit his head against the dresser as he tried to catch hold of it but his right arm was limp. She put on her glasses and looked across the empty bed for him.
“Mose?” she called. “Mose? What happened?”
He’d groaned, sounding annoyed, tried to reach up from the floor to the mattress, trying to pick himself up, but gaining no purchase on the mattress.
“What are you doing?’ she said, angrily. “Get up.” she crawled across the bed, reaching for him, shouting at him to get up. His lip was swollen, blood dripped from his forehead. The right side of his face was slack and lifeless.
“Get up. Why are you doing this to me?” she had said, clutching at her narrow, fretting chest. “Get up this minute!”
She now runs her fingers through her thin grey hair, staring at the phone and then at the clock on the dresser, worrying her gold wedding ring around and around, absently, on her finger. She must have called the police but does not remember.
When she was six she’d sit by the window at their home in New Canaan. Her room faced the side yard. She watched her mother fling handfuls of corn meal from the pocket of her apron, across the backs of their fluttering hens, her white-blond hair long and loosely braided, turning and looking up to Myra’s window, raising her curved pale eyebrows.
A dog barks, startling her. “Oh shut up!” she says. Norma’s dog.
Norma, who used to be her friend, until her husband died, and then they stopped talking to one another. Why? Bill wore sharply pressed dark wool suits and white shirts to work, coming home with his loaded briefcase, parking his long new car in the driveway. Then one day he had a heart attack at work. Norma was nice. A little uppity though always with pleasant things to say across the low fence between their yards while, on her slim knees, her head down, she weeded between the neat rows of tulips in her garden. How could she bring herself to talk to this woman after her Bill died? What could she say to her? The fear of talking to her stopped the words in her throat. All she could think of was what would she do if Mose died. How would she live without him? She wished to die before him. So she thought.
Thinking this, the muscles in her forehead, around her eyes, tighten, a shadow passes over her heart, weakness, a dull pressure in her chest, a heaviness making it hard to draw a breath.
And her friend Joan, with their live-in maid, who thought she was so safe and protected. Her husband and his sweatshop in Astoria that made knock-off famous-maker women’s dresses. One day they called her. As he sat eating a sandwich at his desk, the husband of one of the laid-off workers came up behind him in his office and stabbed him in the back of the neck, slicing through his spinal cord. Joan doesn’t call anymore to meet for laughs and lunch at the café in Lord and Taylor’s.
She is sitting on his side of the bed, un-showered, alone, because her husband is not home today.
The sun is out strong now and it warms her face. It is quiet. Norma has let the dog back into the house to stop it from barking.
Smoke rises up from the ashtray and from the cigarette she cannot remember lighting. It falls backward off of the edge, burning a brown stain into the wood. Myra picks it up and crushes the end of it into the ashtray.