“Don’t be rude,” said Carl. “Ladies first.”
The lady Carl referred to was Marlene, his wife. Marlene’s lips were frozen in an O, as if always trying to blow smoke rings. She did not blink. Her torso could not bend, so her spine formed a right triangle with the sofa. She did not wear clothes, except the black lace panties tattooed around the single hole between her legs. Bill had one good thing to say about her: she kept quiet.
After Marlene’s funeral last winter, Carl continued to speak of Marlene in the present, as in: “Marlene and I are taking an Amtrak sleeper to Seattle.” The next thing Bill knew, this younger, rubberier Marlene showed up at poker night. “We’ve become closer than ever,” said Carl. “I couldn’t leave her at home.”
Bill thought it was a stage of grief at first, so he didn’t say anything. Eventually, the other guys stopped coming to poker, leaving Bill, Carl, and Marlene.
Bill set the can down on the coffee table. Enough was enough. “She’s fake, Carl,” Bill said, after refusing to pass the Coke to Marlene.
Carl laughed. “Don’t be jealous, Bill. You’ll find love again too.” Carl hugged Marlene close, squishing her shoulders.
Later, after Carl had won the hand, he dragged Marlene, sticky with soda, to the car, stuffed her in the passenger’s seat, and buckled her in. When Carl’s car pulled away, Bill searched for a towel in the hamper and blotted the sofa. He went to bed without brushing his teeth. He hugged Lita’s pillow, which smelled like cigars. He closed his eyes and wished he could find her mouth.
Katrina Gray lives and writes in Nashville, Tennessee. She blogs, etc. at www.katrinagray.com.