Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

Kaye from Sinners Guide for Confession About Finding Happiness

In this excerpt Kaye reflects on how happiness is not really all that difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, she wonders why happiness continues to elude her. When she tries to include her husband George in her musings, it only alienates them even more. When she allows him to make love to her later that night, it seems to Kaye that they will never be able to close the gap that has widened between them for no other reason than that they are so very different.

Because Kaye often used anecdotes as a way to communicate with George, she was mindful of tales with import.  Therefore, when Kaye read about a young New York couple visiting with family in California who were forced to take the northern route back home after an ice storm shut down I-40, she was immediately intrigued.  The story was really about how some people just knew how to make the best of a bad thing. When the young couple stopped at a gas station on I-80, the attendant suggested they take advantage of the detour and get married in Reno. Since Reno was better known for quickie divorces than for marriages made in Heaven, the would-be groom picked a number between one and ten. If she guessed correctly, the wedding was on.  She guessed it.

Within hours, she found a gown and a veil on the clearance rack of the local department store, opting to wear her hiking boots since they were so comfortable and no one would see them anyway. He bought a tuxedo, a shirt and a purple cummerbund and a matching bow tie. His black Converse sneakers would do just fine. Rings were easy to buy since pawnshops were in abundance. She would carry red roses tied with a ribbon, and they bought a cake at the supermarket and had it inscribed with their names inside a red heart.  They consummated their marriage at a roadside truck stop and spent their wedding night at a cheap motel.

What Kaye loved most about the story was that the new bride wore her wedding dress for the remainder of her five-day journey back to New York because she wanted to see the reactions of strangers.  In Wyoming, a hunter asked to photograph the bride, so his wife would believe him that he had really seen a bride pumping gas; children clapped when she made snow angels, and a trucker congratulated them, promising them that marriage was filled with rewards. He said he should know since he had been married for twenty years and had eight children.

Road trips, any trip for that matter, could be seen as a tired metaphor for marriage. Kaye was very much aware of that. However, it was the comment of a checker in a 711 in Nebraska who commented that the bride was spreading happiness wherever she went simply because she was wearing her wedding gown that struck a cord with Kaye. It suddenly seemed so easy to make others happy that Kaye wondered why so few were ever good at it.

The story about the bride seemed to completely throw George. From the onset, he was confused about the story’s intent. As Kaye recounted the events of the new bride’s journey from California to New York in her wedding dress, he sporadically interrupted, peppering her reading with a few isn’t that somethings and one or two that must have been a sight. Encouraged by this response, Kaye said that she wished she had been driven by such exuberance after their wedding, eliciting an agreeable nod from George. But when she said she thought it would be grand to put on her wedding gown and set out on a similar adventure, George looked entirely baffled.

“Didn’t you borrow your wedding gown from your cousin Paula?” he said.

She stared at him, watching him blink.

“I think you’re missing the point,” Kaye said.

“Why do you say that?” he said.

“Because it has nothing to do with the wedding gown, and you know it.”

“How would I know that?”

Kaye was always the one with regrets. Regrets about everything.  Instead of the fish, she wished she had ordered chicken. The salad instead of the soup. The dress that looked perfect in the store suddenly looked too tight when she tried it on at home. And the chair for her living room that had to be special ordered in the plaid she had so wanted looked out of place when it finally arrived. She came to believe that her decision to marry George was just another example of picking the wrong blouse or ordering the wrong meal. If she had only given it more thought, she might have chosen better.

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“That’s your problem,” he said. “Well, what is the point of the damned story?”

They were getting ready for bed. He was untying his laces. Instead of taking off one shoe off at a time, he untied each shoe first. Then, he took off his left shoe. Always his left shoe first. So many routines. So many habits. Always the same black socks. The same hairstyle. The same breakfast every morning. Shredded wheat and raisins with skimmed milk. The same foreplay over and over. No eggs or butter. No rear penetration. Nipple manipulation followed by oral sex followed by some perfunctory kissing. No conversation during sex. No bacon. No joy.

“The point is that it takes so little to be happy that I wonder why we fail at it so miserably,” she said.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” he said.

The same answers for everything.  He stood and undid his belt, unzipped his pants and stepped out of them. Once she had loved the long leanness of his thighs. Now, she turned away and sighed. His hand on her shoulder was a surprise, and not only because it was unexpected. It was heavy with sadness.

“What?” she said.

“Why do you always think the worst of me?”

It was such a sincere question, and she had no answer for him. She remembered her Aunt Rachel saying that she knew her husband did not love her anymore when he started to complain about her cooking. Nothing tasted right to him. Everything had either too much salt or not enough salt. Or the meat was too dry, and the rice too wet. Kaye had been stunned at the nuance of her aunt’s observation. But her aunt and uncle stayed together; her aunt always laboring in the kitchen, believing that if her cooking improved, her husband would love her again.

“Kaye?”

She patted his hand, and he moved toward her, taking her in his arms. Once she had savored his touch, hungered for it when a day passed without him. She rested her head on his shoulder and tried to relax as his hand reached under her nightgown. It had been weeks, maybe months, since they had made love. It was almost as if she wished she felt shy instead of tense. But she was tense. His touch seemed invasive, and her face burned with the shame of that truth. And still she allowed it because not to might have invited some dialogue and the idea of talking was unbearable to her right now. They would have talked in circles. Circumlocution. SAT word. When she had tested Ruby on her SAT words, Kaye played a game with herself, grouping words that applied to her marriage and to George. Circumlocution, evasion. Saturnine, sanctimonious, punctilious, illusory. So many words. Charlie used to make up the definitions when she tested him. He never studied. He would repeat the word after she said it as though he were a contestant in a spelling bee. “Bucolic. Let’s see. Bucolic. An alcoholic who has made progress.”  She always laughed, which only encouraged him. Words drifted through her thoughts now, arable, askance, avuncular, atavistic, arcane  . . . George’s heavy breaths grew deeper and shorter as he moved inside her, and she rested her hands on his damp back. Braggart, blithely, cloying, cogent . . .

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July 22, 2009 - Posted by | marriage, motherhood, Sinner's Guide to Confession, women's friendship

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