Eve finally breaks through the lath and plaster of the wall between the dining room and kitchen. Dusty debris is all over the place, a real mess. But nevertheless the effect is surprising. The room now is much more open, less claustrophobic.
My soon-to-be-ex-wife: cute in her overalls, clear plastic goggles, a big screwdriver in one hand and a crowbar in the other. Hair pulled back in a pony tail, wisps flying about here and there. Darting, restless dark brown eyes. Paint-spattered sneakers.
This morning I thought a lot about Lake Eliot, in the wilds of northeastern Pennsylvania, her parents’ summer cottage, where we were married. There's a phone, but no shower. One bathes in the lake, early in the morning, when the mist is rising over the still water and the deer move silently on the opposite shore. She was not happy last summer, I could feel it. See it. But there was nothing I could do. I’m going to miss that lovely place.
I don’t like this. But then what is divorce in the ultimate scheme of things? Just a little glitch on the graph, a trifle. I suppose I'm doing all right. I'm not bawling or sniveling. Like that guy next door. George. A pudgy human resources manager at First Union Bank. Eve and I heard him shouting one afternoon. We pressed our ears against the wall.
"You have no idea how much you're hurting me," George wailed. "After all these years and all we've been through together, you just walk out. How can you do this to me? What have I ever done to deserve it?"
"For Christ’s sake, grow up," his soon-to-be-ex-wife replied.
* * *
Ten days after telling me I had to leave she was much less afraid of hurting my feelings. In her mind we were truly finished. But nevertheless we agreed to make these last days as comfortable as possible. We also agreed to share the chore of fixing dinner. One night I’d do it, and she’d clean up, and vice versa. We ate, as usual, off the coffee table in the living room and watched the six o'clock news. We sat there and pretended nothing had happened.
She pulled the blanket over her lap, and said, "Why don't you turn up the heat?" So I did. Dave Roberts, the Channel 6 weatherman, came on.
"A low pressure area is moving in from the west, heh-heh-heh, which ought to be out of the picture by the end of the week, heh-heh, and we'll have the five day forecast for you. When. We. Come. Back.”
We finished eating. Always an awkward moment. She didn’t want to stay there beside me any longer than she had to.
"I think I'll take a bath," I said.
While I was soaking in the hot water, I heard her climb the steps and go into our bedroom. She closed the door. She always closed the door when she went in there. I continued reading Alice Koller. The expert on solitude. One must not be afraid to be alone, Koller says. People flee from solitude, but it's just the starting point of an exhilarating process of creating a life you wish to live.
* * *
The phone rang.
I listened to the answering machine. It was her sister, Margaret. "Hi, Evie! Hi Ray! If you're there, pick up. Well, okay. We're all here and we want to wish you guys a merry Christmas. Bye!" As my sister-in-law spoke I heard music and laughter. Another family reunion. Singing at the piano, opening of presents under the tree, a big turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Eve hadn't yet told them the news. Was that something she expected me to do?
The next day, December 26, I took off my wedding ring and put it in the bureau drawer. And then we had another discussion.
"You told me you don't feel in love,” I said. “Why? What, exactly, keeps you out of love?”
My question annoyed her.
"It's not just one thing,” she said. “It's a hundred things."
"All right, fifty."
"Wait a minute," I said. "We exchanged vows. I’ve honored mine. That has to mean something."
She picked up Buster, and sat in her grandmother's rocking chair. She stroked his fur. Scratched him behind his ears. "Promises of eternal love and fidelity are totally unrealistic,” she said.
After that conversation Eve and I resumed our cordiality. Once in a while she asked me if I'd like a sandwich, or an apple. At Giant she bought two ice scrapers, one for her and one for me. One morning she poked her head in the door of my office and said, "How are you doing?"
"Pretty good," I replied. She nodded, then left.
Our routine: She, in our bedroom with the door closed, reading. Me, downstairs watching TV. At night I quietly eased into bed because she usually was asleep. No sex was offered, none was expected. I kept to my side.
One night she tossed about for a while and her knee came up and rested on my thigh. I didn't move. After a while she pulled her leg away. She was in the middle of a dream, mumbling something. She laughed. Then turned over, fell silent.
* * *
One moment I am confident, strong. The next I feel cold and clammy. I'm impatient to move out of here, and into my new apartment, but it won’t be available until the 15th of January. I dislike change, therefore I want to get it over with.
Eve is uncomfortable. She’d like me out of here, right now. But why should I worry about what she's feeling? All right. It turns out the marriage was a self-delusion. Mine. She never was invested in it. I labored on the script for the minister to read during the service on the deck overlooking the lake. She skimmed my draft of the text. “Sure, fine,” she said. “It's okay.”
We shopped for our wedding rings in a shop on Philadelphia's Jewelers Row. The clerk put a blue velvet tray full of gold bands on the glass counter. “Here, try this one on,” she said.
I did. It fit. She found one for herself.
“We'll take them,” she told the clerk. “Now let's go.”
“Wait,” I said. “I want a ring that is wider.”
She frowned. “That'll cost more.”
* * *
Eve always went for the laugh, especially if I was looking for something serious, or intimate. She’d wiggle her eyebrows like Groucho Marx. Or say, “What’s up, doc?” like Bugs Bunny. Lately she’s abandoned her comedy routines. Sometimes I think we aren't in real life, but in an old movie that's coming to an end. A melodrama no longer than 90 minutes. It's been fun—for her. Now it’s time to pick up the script for the next project. It occurs to me that in three years we’ve never been to a movie together. She’d never go because she gets acutely anxious in crowds, confined spaces. Maybe my next partner will be more drawn to these pleasures. At the moment she is banging and clattering in the kitchen, hurriedly chopping, mixing, opening cans. Every once in a while she takes a deep breath, and lets it out.
One day fades into the next.
I get back from a photo shoot. I grunt a greeting to Ms. Solitude, put my camera gear away, then go look into the fridge. I don't say anything to her because the last time I came home from an assignment I flopped down on the bed beside her and gave her a long monologue about what had happened. The more I talked the more I sensed I was annoying her. By now she’s just sick of the sound of my voice. In the evening I hear her open and close the front door. I look out the window. She’s getting into the new car she just bought herself, a shiny green Toyota. She used to always tell me when she was going someplace. Not anymore. I look at the calendar. Two days left.
* * *
I loaded the last of my stuff into the bay of the truck. She and I stood at the door.
"Time for me to go," I said.
"Raymond, I'm sorry things didn't work out."
Tears came to her eyes. I didn't allow myself to embrace her. I just nodded.
"I'd shake your hand now," she said, "but I know you hate that."
Her tears gave me an odd satisfaction. I was glad that I did not cry myself. She touched my arm. "Are you going to be all right?"
"We can talk about the legalities when we feel like it."
We stood there for a few moments, then I opened the door. My truck was parked in the driveway, its engine running. All I had to do was walk over, climb in, and drive off.
She was supposed to say, “Wait, hon. Let’s talk some more.”
I really thought she would, but she didn’t.