On Second Thought

Page 23


In the background, I suddenly heard the piped-in music. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (who was also dead).
“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” I said.
“Excuse me?” the woman said.
“It’s the grief talking.” Someone else had said that. It was a good line. I planned on using it often. Horribly, laughter rolled through my stomach. I clamped my lips together hard. Nathan, do you see this?
The lady nodded. “’re not wearing shoes.”
I looked down. “Huh. Look at that! I wondered why the floor was so cold.” My toenails were still bloodred. Nathan had painted them for me as I lay on the couch one night a couple of weeks ago.
“Perhaps you should go home,” she said.
“I need half-and-half,” I said. Aha! That was what I was here for! “Bye. Nice talking to you.” With that, I pushed my cart down the aisle, my eggplant and cucumber trembling with the cart’s faulty wheel action. Over the PA, Whitney changed keys, bringing it home. “And I-aye-aye...will you-ooh-ooh-ooh...”
Maybe I should sing along. This one’s for you, Nathan Coburn! I could grab that cucumber and pretend it was a mic and let loose.
Puffs and squeaks of laughter leaked out—poor dead Whitney was killing me.
Oh, what was this? Organic pumpkin pie ice cream sandwiches in April? Hooray! Someone up there must like me, and three guesses as to who it was! The hysterical laughter wriggled and leaped inside my chest, making me snort some more.
Probably, I looked insane. No shoes, no bra, Daryl Dixon on my chest, eggplant, cucumber, pumpkin pie ice cream bars in my cart.
The floor was really freezing. My feet would be filthy. The polish needed changing. But if I changed the polish, it would be gone forever, The Polish That Nathan Applied. Nathan would not return from the dead to give me a pedicure.
The laughter stopped.
I’d leave that bloodred polish on until it chipped off.
Cause of death: cerebral hemorrhage.
Please, Higher Power. Please that it was painless. Please that he wasn’t scared.
He hadn’t looked scared. He’d only looked...dead.
In front of the dairy case was an old, old woman, creeping, creeping, inching along. She stopped right in front of the half-and-half and opened her purse. Shuffled through it. She had several thousand coupons to consider. I considered reaching around her, then decided it would be rude. Waited. Waited some more.
I had the sudden urge to ram her with my cart.
Why was she still alive? She looked to be a hundred and forty-three years old, and she was still alive! Why wasn’t she the one who’d died, huh? Riddle me that, Batman. Why was my thirty-eight-year-old husband dead and this crone still allowed to be here, trying to save a dime on nondairy creamer?
“Would you help me, dear?” she asked. “I can’t see if this coupon’s expired.” She held out a piece of paper in her age-spotted, gnarled hands.
I took it. “It’s good till next week.”
“Thank you so much, sweetheart.”
“You’re very welcome. My pleasure.” I waited till she got her tiny carton, then grabbed a half gallon and walked to the self-checkout as fast as I could.
Driving home, I passed the movie theater where Nathan and I had gone last week. Last week! Last week, he’d been alive. It was the night before Eric’s party, in fact, and the thrill of going to the movies with my husband had engulfed me like a hug. He’d held my hand. He’d eaten popcorn like a ravaging Hun. The movie had been terrible, but that was okay, because we were together.
Last week.
What had we seen? Sci-fi? No. Horror? No. Frat-boy stupidity? No.
It was suddenly incredibly important that I remembered. I pulled over abruptly and fished my phone from my purse. Clicked the calendar and scrolled back a few days.
April 6, Friday. Eric’s party. Bring wine.
I wondered if the wine we brought was the one Nathan had poured for my refill.
April 6. His last day. His last night.
I paused. Should I write that down? Nathan dies. Should I black out the date? Maybe I could take it out of the calendar altogether.
Here it was. April 5, Thursday.
Nothing. I had nothing in there.
Right, because the movie had been a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. Neither of us felt like cooking or eating out, so we decided to have popcorn for dinner because we could. But what was the movie? I didn’t remember. What a shitty wife I was. Widow. I was a shitty widow. I bet Madeleine would remember, she of the collapsing and wailing.
When I got home, I’d check. I could find it. Then I’d write it down and remember every single thing about our almost nine months together. Nine months, like a pregnancy. And if I wasn’t pregnant right now, someone was going to pay, yes sir. The universe and my higher power owed me big-time.
All of a sudden, I couldn’t even remember his face.
All I could see was the face in the casket, the strange, artificial face. Madeleine breaking down, Eloise comforting her.
My hands started tingling.
My breath sawed in and out of me, and I couldn’t grab it, couldn’t hold it. I was hyperventilating. Hehn-hehn-hehn-hehn.
Maybe I’d faint. Maybe I was dying. In for hehn three, hold hehn for three hehn, out for hehn-hehn three, hold for hehn-hehn-hehn.
It took fifteen minutes to get under control, and by the end, I was sweaty and limp, my arms so weak I could barely grip the steering wheel.
This is your life now.
The thought almost felled me.
Chapter Nine
A couple of weeks after Nathan died, Eric called me at work and told me he was taking me out for dinner. A special dinner, he said. He’d leave work and meet me at Le Monde, Cambry-on-Hudson’s newest restaurant overlooking the Hudson River.
I sensed the proposal was nigh. He’d been edgy all week.
I knew it sounded selfish, picturing that diamond on my finger. But there’d been so much sadness these past few weeks. My heart broke for my sister, and I found myself missing Nathan, even though I hadn’t known him very well, waking up with tears in my eyes before I even knew why I was crying, Ollie licking my face, offering me his ratty blanket.
Eric had been taking it hard, too. It would be awfully nice to have something happy to look forward to, something happy and hopeful.
I hesitated a minute, then picked up the phone and called Kate. I wasn’t sure I was being helpful, but it was better to try than not. I thought so, anyway.
“Hello?” she said, sounding groggy.
“Hi! Did I wake you?”
“Um...yeah. That’s okay. I have to get up anyway.”
There was a pause. In the past three weeks, my sister and I had seen each other more than we had in the past three years. We’d never been on the outs, but we’d never been exactly close, either. After all, I stole her father. It was only because my mom had died that she got him back, and while she never outwardly blamed me for that, I’d been feeling it all my life.
“How’s it going today?” I asked, my voice too bright.
“I’m fine,” she lied.
“Did you call that group yet?” Unable to not do something to help her, I’d Googled some info for her. There was a bereavement group for spouses right here in Cambry-on-Hudson.
“Which group?”
“The, um...the grief group? It might be nice—I mean, good—to talk to other people know.” I always said the wrong thing where Kate was concerned.