Her Widow, Excerpt 9

Published August 8, 2018


Her Widow

Today’s sunshine arrived too late for the earthworms. Numerous swollen bodies lay like fat noodles on the sidewalks.

Dear Catherine,

Sleeping my days away means I don’t sleep well at night and I have been getting up at 3 a.m., confusing the dogs. They think it is time for breakfast, so I feed them.

Yesterday, well before dawn, I went to your closet and removed the rest of your clothes. I folded and placed your shirts and pants in two boxes and took them to the guest closet where nearly all your belongings are now stored, everything but your blue chambray blouse that I put on at 3am this morning. You are wearing this blouse in the first photograph I took of you. We were in Golden Gate Park where you took my author photo.

I had brought along a couple of changes that day, and while I was behind a bush, changing out of one shirt for another, you called out to me and asked if I would let you take a picture of me before I put my next item on. I stepped out from behind the bush, naked above my waist. You lifted the camera to your cheek and took several pictures. I felt bold, nearly bawdy, and at the same time like a good girl who had done what she was asked.

Weeks later, we drove out to Stinson Beach and you were again wearing the soft chambray shirt. I can see you in it as I did that day. The loose fabric rippling in the wind that is coming in the car window. I stare at the nearly transparent fabric, picturing what I know to be underneath it. Nothing like that arouses me now.


Sunlight and shadow follow me from window to window in the house.

Dear Catherine,

You were asleep when John Hyde called and asked me what I was up to. “Lying in bed beside my wife who is dying,” I said without much thought. I hadn’t spoken to John in thirty years. I didn’t explain you or me. Under the circumstances the last concern of mine was how others saw me. “I am so awfully sorry,” John answered. “What can I do for you?”

John and I grew up together. I was crawling around in diapers at his family’s cottage one summer day when John, two years older, grabbed a toy from me and ran with it. His mother and mine had been friends since high school. I called her Aunt Doris because that’s what we kids called close friends of our parents.

John has phoned me every Sunday since you died. This morning he invited me out to California to be a guest at his ranch and stay as long as I wanted. What trust and generosity it took for him to offer that. I wonder what he would do if I actually took him up on his offer, but I can’t even imagine leaving home for a couple of days let alone a week or more. I would be homesick just driving to the airport. I would break down the moment I saw a couple greet or part at a gate. And I would feel disloyal to you if I had a good time.

Nevertheless, I promised John I would give his offer some thought. I hung up, remembering that the last time I was on an airplane was when we were on our way home from Ireland. Everything that occurred before you got sick now seems a lifetime ago and lived by others.

After hanging up with John, I jumped out of bed and ran to the guest room closet to search among your personal papers for the small red notebook you wrote in on our trip to your ancestor’s homeland.

June, 1989, you wrote:

Yesterday arrived Shannon airport smoothly. Drove northward immediately and stayed the night at the Spa View Hotel in Lisdoonvarna and had dinner there. We were struck by so little development or modern architecture. Stones, stones, stones and emerald grass everywhere. Pastures of sheep and cows all walled in with stone fences. Roaming foxglove of a rose-maroon color, ferns, Scotch Broom pine forests, and calla lilies in cottage yards. Many birds, especially large black ravens and a little black and white fellow that jumps into the lane a lot.

After dinner Joan and I went to the Cliffs of Moher that are seven hundred feet out into the Atlantic. Puffins make their homes on the sides of these cliffs. Joan walked to the viewing area by herself. She was impressed but fearful of the height.

At 9:30 p.m. it was still light. I took some pictures. Later we had long baths in a deep tub, and then went to our pink chenille beds. We are greatly impressed with the small scale and tidiness of it all.

Today started with breakfast at the Spa View. Had sulfur baths, then a massage for Joan. Drove to Galway County and went north through an area called Burren—quite rugged. Saw a young entrepreneur at roadside with his donkey offering photos or a ride for 9 pence.

Galway was a bustling place. We tried to find Joan a good novel— no luck. Made our way westward and got a belting of rain. We decided to try to make it to Clifton for the night, but I stopped once for a few photos at a remarkable spot, an abandoned cottage with a log-bridge over a stream and a silver band of light at the horizon, under fog.

Got to Clifton and made evening headquarters at the Rock Glen Hotel. It is very luxurious here with chintz on the chairs in our room. Found a large snooker room and took a photo of Joan at the table. After settling in, we had a walk across a meadow toward the Bay. I took photos there of Joan who looked beautiful in the evening’s spectacular show of silver and gold light. This was a long walk for Joan. To bed by 12:30 a.m.

I can smell the peat burning in the stove in Aunt Agnes’s tiny kitchen as I read your notes, and I can feel the cold tiles under my bare feet as I run for the bed that has been warmed for us with an electric blanket because there was only the peat in the kitchen to warm the house.

It was as if the Queen had come to visit them, the way they treated us. We protested when they gave us their bed, but it did no good; they cuddled up together on a narrow single.

We learned that Uncle Boyce was a postman in the village and delivered mail on his bicycle. They never owned a car and had gotten their first telephone that year.

The bath towels we were given to use while we were there had been a wedding gift to them forty years before. With her eyes smiling, Aunt Agnes said that she had saved them for special people.

No family member of yours or mine was as open hearted. The good Catholics they were had no problem with us being lesbians and lovers.