So many stories of husbands leaving wives has the wife staying in the home and the man going off with his new woman. However, I had several friends who did the opposite: They left the husband with the house and children. In three cases the man came back to the wife quickly. All three said no, happy in their new lives.
"Of course you can have your divorce." Jean's voice is sweet unlike the black coffee she sips from a stoneware mug. She stands behind the breakfast bar of their Boston Brownstone. As her husband continues talking, her mind drifts to the advertisement resting in front of her for a European-style kitchen. A drop-dead beautiful woman and equally handsome man wear matching jogging suits. The woman sits on the counter drinking coffee.
She tries to remember if she ever sat on her counter drinking anything or if she and Allan ever owned matching outfits. Never! -- to both questions. Who 'd want to, she wonders.
Allan, who speaks as if reading from a script, pulls at the neck of his Irish knit sweater. She has been timing how long it would take him to adjust his clothing. Whenever Allan does something unpleasant, his clothes bother him.
She assumes her husband is waiting for recriminations rather than getting the same reaction as if he'd said, "I'm going to the store for milk." The conversation has happened too often before. She wishes she could fast-forward herself through this morning.
After Jean pours the dregs of her coffee into the sink, she swishes water into her mug. She turns the radio to WERS. The disk jockey announces Tom Jones will sing Matador. She hums off key with the music.
"We should discuss it," Allan says.
"Why? I agree."
"There's property to settle." He doesn't look at his wife, but she knows he never really looks at anyone he talks to. Probably not even to Stephanie, his new love, she thinks.
It's no secret to her that her husband has kept mistresses for years. There'd been Marina, Anne, Rita, Sue, Chris and the other Jean. Even she saw the advantage of having a mistress and wife with the same name. No worry of calling out the wrong name at the moment of orgasm as he'd done when he was sleeping with Chris.
But with or without a name slip up, Jean has always found out. She has developed a sense like those divining for water. She knows exactly which phase of his romance he's in.
Every two years Allan changes mistresses. At the height of each affair he's asked for a divorce. Jean always said, "Let's wait." Allan then grows tired of his lover. After the end, he vows to be a better husband. Then it starts over.
"I'm tired of affairs. I want a new life. I want to feel young again," Allan says. When Jean says nothing, he adds, "I'll be good to you and the kids."
"I'm sure you will, dear," Jean says. A robin lands on the a branch outside the window and then hops over to the bird feeder. She can see there's enough seed. The garden is a 20x30 foot bricked terrace with one tree and planters full of fall-lush marigolds, geraniums, begonias and ivy. A fence separates their garden from the neighbours and the alley.
Beyond the terrace Jean sees several other brick townhouses. She glances over to Iris and Larry's deck. They're drinking coffee and reading The Boston Globe. Every few minutes Iris says something to Larry or vice versa. They're doing things normal married couples do. Unlike me, Jean thinks.
"Mom!" CCs voice whines through the intercom. "I need my blouse ironed, the blue peasant one."
Jean flips the switch to answer her daughter. "You do it."
"I'm late," CC says.
"Then you'd better hurry." Her tone is the same one she used with Allan, who starts talking yet again.
Jean's mind roams the twenty years she's tried to save her marriage. Catching her reflection in the toaster she sees the grey streaks in her hair and her wrinkles. Toasters tend not to flatter even the young.
Her thoughts are a kaleidoscope with colours tumbling over themselves. The early years, the poor years, as Allan built his architectural practise were red and yellow, bright and happy. She helped in his office and tended her babies, a son and daughter -- the perfect family.
In the second decade of their marriage, when money was no longer a problem, the colours faded into greys and browns. They make Jean tired.
"Dear. . ." she interrupts his monologue. "We'll talk later."
Upstairs Jean shuts the door to each of her children's rooms hiding the chaos. The only time the rooms are clean is when some publication comes to shoot photos. Their house has appeared in The Boston Globe, Better Homes and Gardens and Architectural Digest. When she saw each spread, she felt as if she were looking at a stranger's home.
After entering the bedroom, she walks up three carpeted steps to the platform where their king-sized bed rests. It is unmade. Allan's pajamas hang over the night table. Dirty boxer shorts are on the floor. His middle dresser drawer is open. A tangle of sweaters and jeans are on the floor. He must have tried on several before deciding what to wear. His bath towel rests on the chair. Although the damp towel might mark the peach silk, Jean leaves it.
She picks up a pillow and throws it across the room. The pillow hits a painting, knocking it to the floor. "FIDO," she says aloud. "FIDO, FIDO, FIDO!"
Susannah, her former college roommate, had defined the word for her only yesterday. They'd shared chocolate cake at the restaurant in the Gardner Museum. The plate with the cake rested in the middle of the table. They played at it with their forks, tempted by the chocolate, repelled by the calories.
Susannah had been talking about a program she wanted to implement at St. Anne's, where she's Dean of Students. Popping a big piece of cake into her mouth, she said while chewing "The Board of Regents fought me every step of the way soooo, I'd no choice but to FIDO it." Susannah often draws out certain words. Her tongue flicked, drawing in the frosting at the corner of her mouth.
"FIDO it?" Jean asked.
Susannah swallowed. "Yaaaaa. It is what you do when you've tried absolutely everything and nothing works and you know nothing will work so you FIDO it -- Fuck It and Drive On."
The intercom brings Jean back to now. Allan says, "I'm going out. Probably won't be back 'til late."
Guessing he is heading for Stephanie's, Jean watches through the window as he walks down the street, his hands in his pocket. His step is springy.
She knows his latest love owns a condo on the Riverway. Jean also knows Allan has already decided how he'll redesign it. She found the drawings as she picked up papers he'd left on the living room. He'd written "our room" on the bedroom sketches.
Jean slips on jogging pants and a Harvard sweatshirt. Outside she walks to the bank in the Prudential Center where she withdraws half the money from their joint checking account. She asks to close out half of their six saving certificates.
The manager comes over. She is half Jean's age and dressed in a navy blue power suit. Jean wants to pull the little bow at the collar of the woman's neat white collar. "I need to point out you'll forfeit your interest," the manager says.
"That's not really important," Jean says.
At a bank in Copley Square, Jean asks to see their manager. A clone of the first young woman in an almost identical suit helps her open a new checking account, a savings account and a six-month certificate. Jean stares at the documents, her first non-joint bank account.
Heading home she notices a few of the trees on Marlborough Street have already changed colour. Fallen leaves hide uneven sidewalk bricks, the reds contrasting with the bright yellow leaves. This is the first time she has noticed foliage for several years.
Back in her bedroom she thinks about what she'll need. Her jewellery box, open on the dresser, is full of pieces Allan gave her. She takes nothing from it. It's also a music box. She winds it and listens to Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.
In Jean's closet is a mink coat. She feels sorry for minks, not caring that they're mean-tempered little creatures. The coat was a Christmas gift two years ago. She'd asked for an art book. In February she'd bought the book for herself.
Picking up the remote phone, she dials Susannah's number. Susannah's daughter answers. "Mum's sign is up," the child says.
Susannah has trained her daughter to leave her alone when she's working by hanging a Garfield "Do Not Disturb" sign on the doorknob of her den. Death, disease or impending doom are the only reasons to knock.
"It's impending doom if you don't interrupt her," Jean says. "Tell her I said so."
Jean hears footsteps through the receiver. Susannah owns an old farm house with wide wooden floor boards and no rugs. Every step echoes.
"I've FIDOed my marriage," Jean says as soon as Susannah says hello. "Can you pick me up?"
Susannah has a deadline for a book she's writing. She's behind schedule. The laundry has buried the washing machine. Her cupboard is bare. "I'm oooon my way."
"Mom, what are you doing?" Matt asks. He's just come back from roller skating along the Charles River. Susannah's station wagon is in front of his house with its blinkers on and the tail gate open.
Jean drops a load of her clothes into the back as Susannah tries to convince a mounted policeman he shouldn't give her a ticket for double parking. Her left hand pats the horse's nose.
"Go into the house, Matt. I'll explain in a minute," Jean says. He clomps up the stairs, holding onto the railing for balance. Jean starts to say, "Don't wear your skates in the house," then stops.
"The cop's daughter goes to St. Anne's. Gooood thing he saw the college parking sticker on my car." Susannah says after the policeman rides off. "And even better I remembered his kid."
Jean puts the final armload of personal possessions into the back. The station wagon is still half empty. "That's it. Sit in the car while I talk to Matt."
Inside Jean tells her son she will live on their boat. He doesn't understand. Jean says, "You don't have to. It has nothing to do with you." She kisses him, hands him her house key and runs to the station wagon.
The boat is a 44-foot cabin cruiser moored off Long Wharf. Old grey warehouses converted into boutiques, condos and restaurants line the dock. Once sailing ships came to unload cargo from exotic places. Now the docks are for private boats. Susannah helps Jean carry her stuff on board. Although Jean only brought a few essentials, they fill the small space.
"I really have to get back. Sure you don't want to come with me?" Susannah asks.
"I'm not sure at all. But go anyway. Allan will be along and we do have to settle some things."
"Ooookay, but call me if you need me. Promise?"
An hour later Allan does come, screeching to a stop, the Mercedes having less than a foot between itself and the end of the pier. He slams the car door.
Inside the cabin Jean drinks tea from a teapot with a lion's face moulded in clay. She bought it because she thought it cute. Allan thought it stupid and wouldn't allow it in the kitchen, saying it spoiled the ambience.
He yells, "What the hell do you think you're doing?" as he climbs through the hatch.
She pours herself more tea without offering Allan any. "I've moved. We're getting a divorce." She wants to add, "We talked about it this morning, remember?" but doesn't. "You've got the kids, car, house. I'm taking the boat."
The vein on his forehead pulses. It pulsed the time he was fired from his first job, and when someone stole the car.
"Dear, you never liked the boat. I love it. You love the house. I don't. Think. No alimony, no child support."
Allan paces up and down the narrow floor space. He yells. Jean stays calm. Finally he leaves.
Snow whirls around the boat. Jean sits in her sleeping bag studying. She has enrolled at Mass College of Art to get the MFA that her marriage had interrupted. She is surrounded by sketch pads, pastels. She works at the school art store earning $5 an hour. It's enough. She runs out of day before she runs out of list of things to do. The boat's tossing makes her sleepy. The dock is in a quiet part of the harbour. The waves are subdued.
Sometimes she feels lonely not for what she had but for what she didn't have. She misses her kids, but not their demands.
At first CC and Matt refused to come to see her, despite weekly invitations. Then last week they just showed up. They stood around, not knowing what to say. Jean talked about her classes, until CC said, "It's stupid. A woman your age in school." She left.
Matt started to follow. Her son looked back and shrugged. She blew him a kiss which he caught, a ritual since his kindergarten days. Then he blew her a kiss, which she caught. He half smiled.
Fido, Jean's new kitten, curls up at her feet. The kitten wandered on board weeks ago, examined the accommodations and decided that he'd allow her to adopt him.
Tomorrow night Jean will have her third date with a man. She hasn't been to bed with anyone since she left Allan, but she knows she will maybe with the date, maybe with another.
She has heard that Stephanie has left Allan, but it doesn't make any difference. Sometime she must remember to thank her ex-husband for her new life.