My last real boyfriend, the one I introduced to Sarah, he wasn't a husband. He was an astrophysicist. When I broke up with him, Sarah lightly shook my shoulders, saying, "But there's nothing wrong with him."
Sarah told me stories about Patrick. How he wore his socks to bed every night, black ones, even in the summer when the air conditioning was on the blink. How he gave her flowers when he was sorry, only when he was sorry.
Patrick told me stories about Sarah: long, whining stories about how she washed his suit in the washing machine once, or how she baked his birthday cake a day early. Then he'd stop short, saying, "Oh, sorry, she's your sister."
It's hard to love, and it's hard not to. I'm better at the not part. Sarah loves enough for both of us. She's one big heart, that thrusting muscle. She's a small animal with eyes on opposite sides of the head, watching all the time, but for only one thing. Danger.
Sarah booked a cruise around the Virgin Islands. "It'll be just the two of us, like sisters."
"Bad idea," I had told her, but she bought my ticket, so I told my boss that I was going to be sick for a week in April.
I'm a makeup artist for opera singers. I like my job -- I like the exaggeration. I like to paint an eye to say, Yes. This is an eye. An eye for people with myopia -- an eye for those of you in the cheap seats. This is everybody's eye.
Patrick and I got braver. We paid for rooms with his credit card. I went with him to Texas for the weekend and lounged around the hotel room in my underwear while he met with clients. At night, in his slightly fleshy arms, I said, "I don't want to go on a cruise."
"Maybe you'll meet someone," Patrick said.
I sat up by planting my elbow on his stomach. "Oof," he said. "You're so sexy." He rolled over, exposing a triangle of back hair where his shoulder blades met. It had spread like a fungus since he was a teenager, and he didn't have the courage to wax it, the dexterity to shave it.
Patrick -- a quasi-honest man who tried hard, or at least that's how he marketed himself. Sometimes he broke character -- rented a porno, didn't bother to recycle, slept with his wife's sister.
Once he was walking down the street, holding a small purple rock to give to his niece, when he saw a fat, dumb squirrel about ten yards away. He threw the rock and beaned the squirrel on the head, perfectly. He felt guilty when he saw the squirrel's face, confused, tottering off toward a tree to figure it out or maybe die. But he was proud of the shot, right on the sloped forehead. He was half in love with that shot, and relived it many times without its consequences. He never told Sarah.
I don't sleep with the husbands for this kind of inside information, or for the compliments, or the attention. I guess I do it because I'm only good at being different. I'm the one that's not the wife, not remotely the wife. Not remotely anyone's wife, ever. That's exactly what I'm good at.
The cruise ship had a tennis court with a big white shell over it, a lounge, a swimming pool, and a bunch of hopscotchy-looking drawings on the deck where you slide a puck with a stick for points and feel very fulfilled about it. The ship got going. We waved good-bye from the deck, even though we had nobody to wave good-bye to; we had taken a shuttle there. Sarah clutched a red silk handkerchief and flapped it.
"You've got to be kidding," I said.
"Patrick bought it for me. He said, 'Wave it and think of me, even though I'm in Duluth.'" She looked at me. "Business trip."
Sarah wouldn't stop pointing out men. "How about that one? Standing outside the ladies' room? Oh, looks like his wife just came out. How about that one with the tie?"
Copyright © 2001 by Erika Krouse
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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