Twenty-eight years of marriage and never a cross word. I won’t argue with you, is all she ever said. There is nothing to argue about. You are what you are. The world is the way it is. And so for twenty-eight years we never discussed politics, never talked of war in the Balkans, the genocide in Rwanda, not even the insane increase in the price of her favorite cheese, Papillon Roquefort, now $24.80 a pound. She simply would not indulge her fancy despite my exhortations, her refusal always accompanied by economic analysis, the system crashing in on itself, a tsunami of increased cheese prices. On matters of money she deferred to the demands of the household, deflecting any possible criticism of her money management skills, the source of so much tension in other families. She never updated her wardrobe, always content to make do with what she had. A dollar just isn’t a dollar anymore, she’d say, and who could disagree with that? Just so, our relationship endured and flourished. She has the patience of a saint, everyone said. But, not being Catholic, the only saint I could think of was St. Francis, famous for not wishing to harm the fire when his robe was ablaze, and yes, she was like that in a sense, because there was certainly enough bellicosity for both of us with my histrionics, my voice, my body, lifting above the living room rug, circling beneath the ceiling like a speed-freak Tinker Bell in answer to the daily news, pundits swarming on Sunday morning talk shows like interminable termites crashing the world down around us, as if we needed help to do so.
But then, after twenty-eight years, she missed her monthly; she spotted, then missed it again, and so her doctor prescribed hormone replacement therapy, pills containing estrogen and progesterone to keep her skin looking young, to keep the wrinkles from around her eyes, to make her feel young so we could still make love, though really we would simply lay next to each other rubbing each other’s backs. I love that, she’d say. But one night just before dinner—about a month or two after she started taking the pills— the cat jumped up on the table and started eating the yellow petals of daffodils freshly picked from the garden. My wife scolded the cat using a raised voice and an irritated, angry, even anguished tone I had never heard before. Neither had the cat, and both of us startled, a reflex such that the cat leaped off the table, knocking over the vase, the experience unsettling, violating all the accumulated empirical wisdom collected over twenty-eight years. I’ll cook that cat for dinner, she screamed, her estrogen high getting the better of her, and when I protested meekly she threatened my very life. And you can join the cat. A fine soup stock is about all you’re good for. You’ve ruined dinner, you’ve ruined this evening, you’ve ruined absolutely everything. Now I’ll have to buy that little black dress I’ve always wanted. At least then I’ll have something decent to wear at your funeral.