"She told me that I needed a husband."
Like I need any more husbands, I thought. "Why do you do that?" I asked.
"Decide that your life is great and mine is incomplete just because of Patrick, of all people." I snorted. "Patrick."
"He's a good husband. He provides for me. He's brought many good things to my life."
"Remember your wedding day?" I asked.
I had been her maid of honor. She had a wretched cold, and kept sneezing into her bouquet. I was drunk. Patrick had taken the last-day-of-freedom thing a little too seriously, and was flirting with a bridesmaid from Oklahoma. The bridesmaid kept veering toward Sarah and me, saying, just as if Sarah weren't the bride, "Get that guy away from me, cripes."
Sarah was miserable. She looked like an enormous dumpling in a tulle dress that had cost five thousand dollars. She said to me, "I don't think this is such a great idea." I nodded, and pressed Kleenex against her lower eyelids so that she wouldn't mess up her makeup, crying.
Sarah sucked it up, married him quickly, and smiled for all the pictures. I slept with Patrick for the first time three years later.
"He's my husband," Sarah now said.
"Hey," I said. "Did you know that the phrase, 'Always a bridesmaid, never a bride,' originated as a Listerine commercial?"
"Why won't you get married, Maggie?"
I laughed. "To whom?"
Sarah looked down. "It seems like there's always somebody you're seeing."
"Maybe it's too late for me. When everyone was pairing up and getting engaged, I don't know what I was doing. I don't know where I was. I missed it, somehow."
Sarah wanted to hurry back to the boat to eat the buffet lunch and attend the informational video show about the island. I walked her back, then bought a hot dog and moved around the market by myself, watching the tourists try to bargain with the locals.
The doctor husband from dinner approached me and touched my arm, lost. We smiled a lot. He asked if I had seen his wife.
I said that she was probably somewhere on the boat. He agreed. We checked my room first.
I called Patrick from the deserted lounge while Sarah flailed in the yacht pool, taking Intro to Scuba lessons.
"Hey?" Patrick can't tell the difference between our voices, Sarah's and mine.
"It's Maggie. Cruise. With your wife."
"Are you bonding?"
I thought, as I had before, how strange for this man. How strange to think in-laws and think sex. I took a deep breath and said, "I think we should call it off. You and me."
"What? Are you serious?" He actually laughed.
"Don't you ever feel bad, Patrick?"
"No. You do?"
"Yes. No. But I'm trying to, Patrick. I think that the least I can do is try. You, too." I looked out the window at a small bird flying toward the boat.
"OK." But I knew he wouldn't; that nobody, in the end, would feel bad but Sarah. Then he said, "But you know you'll come crawling back."
Patrick was silent on the line as I watched the bird come closer, then closer, then crash into the window. Its neck twisted and it dropped to the deck, leaving only its own afterimage and a small drop of blood. Patrick was still breathing on the phone, waiting.
The next day was "Walk-Around Day." No scheduled activities -- we were each of us on our own. There were paths, roads, a jungle, everything a tourist could need to get completely lost.
I called my shrink long distance while Sarah was at breakfast, and asked her if she thought I was sick. She said that she's a Freudian -- either everyone's sick, or nobody is. I said, "Sarah's not." Then Sarah showed up at the door. "I'm not what?" she asked.
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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