How can I be a widow? Widows wear horn-rimmed glasses and cardigan sweaters that smell like mothballs and have crepe-paper skin and names like Gladys or Midge and meet with their other widow friends once a week to play pinochle. I'm only thirty-six. I just got used to the idea of being married, only test-drove the words my husband for three years: My husband and I, my husband and I...after all that time being single!
As we go around the room introducing ourselves at the grief group, my heart drums in my chest. No wonder people fear public speaking more than death or heights or spiders. I rehearse a few lines in my head:
My name is Sophie and I live in San Jose and my husband died. No. My name is Sophie and my husband passed away of Hodgkin's disease, which is a type of cancer young adults get. Oh, but they probably already know that. This group seems up on its diseases.
A silver-haired man whose wife also died of cancer says that now when he gets up in the morning he doesn't have to poach his wife's egg or run her bath, and he doesn't see the point in getting out of bed. He weeps without making a sound, tears quivering in his eyes, then escaping down his unshaven cheeks. He looks at the floor and kneads his sweater in his hands, which are pink and spotted like luncheon meat.
We sit in a circle of folding chairs in a conference room at the hospital, everyone sipping coffee out of Styrofoam cups and hugging their coats in their laps. Fluorescent lights buzz overhead. They are bright and cruel, exposing the group's despair: the puffy faces, circles under the eyes like bruised fruit, dampened spirits that no longer want to sing along with the radio. There should be a rule for grief groups: forty-watt bulbs only.
The social worker who leads the group balances a clipboard on her knees and takes notes. She has one tooth that is grayer than the others, like an off-color piano key. Is it dead, hollow? I want to leap up and tap it with my fingernail. Surely she's got dental insurance. Why doesn't she fix that tooth?
My name is Sophie and I've joined the grief group because... well, because I sort of did a crazy thing. I drove my Honda through our garage door. I was coming home from work one night and- even though my husband has been dead for three months-I honestly thought I would run inside and tell him to turn on the radio because they were playing an old recording of Flip Wilson, whom he just loves. Loved. Ethan had been trying to find a copy of this skit for years, and now here it was on the radio. If I hurried, we could tape it. Then I had the sudden realization that my husband was gone, dead, and the next thing I knew the car was lurching through the door. The wood creaked and crunched as I worked the car into reverse and backed through the splintery hole; then Flip Wilson got to the punch line, "And maybe we have a banana for your monkey!" and the audience roared. My shrink, Dr. Rupert, pointed out later that I could have hurt myself or someone else and insisted I join this group.
The Indian woman sitting next to me lost her twin sister, who was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Her long black braids hang like elegant tassels down the back of her pumpkin-colored sari. She says she and her sister shared a room until they left home, and after that they talked to each other every day on the telephone. Now she dreams that the phone is ringing in the middle of the night. But when she awakens the house is silent; she picks up the phone and no one is there and she can't fall back to sleep and she's exhausted during the day. She hears phones ringing everywhere, in the car, at work, at the store. Now, she shudders and cups her ears with her slender brown fingers. I want to get her number and call her so that when she picks up someone will be on the other end.
From Good Grief by Lolly Winston. Copyright © 2004 by Lolly Winston
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