HER WIDOW Excerpt 14Published September 14, 2018
Warm breezes from El Nino blow on shore.
I am at Murphy Cross’s for a few days before I meet up with John. Murphy’s house is flooded with sunlight and at all hours of the day one of the family members is playing a musical instrument. I am wrapped in that warmth and grateful to be here. The dogs are a hit with the girls and have behaved themselves by not wandering off or whining, and they do their business quickly when I take them out for a walk. I am trying to live in the moment, Catherine.
Murphy took me to the Farmer’s Market yesterday morning, draping her arm over my shoulder as we walked from stall to stall. That simple gesture meant the world to me. Rita Mae used to say, “Our friends who don’t mind being mistaken as gay and lesbian when they are with us, are speaking love better than any words could.”
Today Murphy and I picked up sandwiches and headed for the beach. After unpacking our beach bag and settling down on the hot sand, Murphy asked me what you were like. She and Matt had been to visit us in Catskill twice. You took photos of Lily as a toddler. Murphy knew you. She described you as “a wholesome beauty like Amelia Earhart.” She wanted to know more. She wanted to know how I felt about you, and Murphy wanting me to talk about you was a gift.
I had my eyes on teenagers playing volleyball on the beach when I said, “Catherine wasn’t competitive except at badminton.” Then I was quiet as I thought what else I could tell Murphy about you. “Catherine was a listener,” I finally thought to say. “She never interrupted anyone or jumped in on the tail end of someone’s story to tell her story or give her opinion. Whenever someone was gushing about anything, Catherine would listen intently and not add her two cents. She didn’t need anyone to know what she had seen or done or what she knew.
“That’s not to say she was reserved or even diplomatic,” I added. “Catherine had a raucous laugh and a sharp wit, and she was known for her teasing, but she never spoke harshly about others and she was patient with her friends. I once asked her why she allowed a friend to continually take advantage of her, and she explained, “Diane’s not taking advantage of me if I don’t think she is.’”
Murphy was looking at me intently, not opening her mouth, and I laughed and said, “It’s all right with me if you jump in.”
“I want to be like her,” Murphy said, blushing. “But I’m thinking that wouldn’t be easy.”
“I tried,” I admitted. “And failed—miserably.”
“Well, I like you as you are,” Murphy answered.
I told you Murphy and I had a brief affair when she was at the Curran Theatre in A Chorus Line, but I didn’t tell you that at the time she was also dating a male cast member.
I bowed out when I learned that but I was crushed. Sitting on the sand beside me today, Murphy said that she’d lost touch with Ron. How wonderful I felt that it was me next to her on the warm beach, digging my toes down to the cool wet sand.
The scent of sheared hay blows in my window.
I am in my own cottage here at the ranch with a window I can peek out of through vines growing around the sash. Beyond is a meadow where horses are grazing. I woke up here yesterday morning feeling you all around me, imagining you in the brittle bush and poppy, and this morning in the mist on the grass and the glow of the sun on the white fencing. It was as if you were a part of all that. Not outside it, admiring it as I was, but in it, your soul shining out of it for me to observe and sense. These sensations are hard for me to describe in a convincing way. Even though they are so easily observed and known without an ounce of doubt. Of course, you would choose a lavish display of an ordinary thing. And it is all around me.
At times the ball of grief in my belly makes me sick to my stomach, but it is far easier to live in the moment here in all this newness. I am flirting with the idea of putting the house up for sale when I return, and moving back to California.
Being an introvert by nature, it is always a challenge for me to step out into the world, but the rewards have been great. First Murphy and now John asks all about you, things others have seemed afraid to ask or aren’t interested in knowing. John was sitting with his feet up on his ottoman, wearing socks with holes worn in the heels when he asked me what I miss most about you. Staring down at his feet, I said, “The holes in her socks.”
John laughed and his cheeks, still round and fat like they were when he was a boy, hid his eyes for a moment.
Murphy was washing dishes one night with her arms up to her elbows in dishwater when she asked me what I had learned from you, and I said, “To wash dishes under running water, rather than in a sink of greasy water.”
Murphy lifted her arms out of the warm water and flicked some suds in my face.
“That I was loved,” I then answered her seriously. “Catherine convinced me I was loved.”
When John asked who was best at this or that, I answered you every time and he protested, so I repeated what you said when you sold every print in your last show. “Cancer increases one’s stock.”
John and I were out on his ranch when I told him the only person you ever had something bad to say about, other than the nuns in school, was me. John wanted an example of a fight we’d had, so I told him about the time I threw the plate of spaghetti at you.
“She must have done something awful to you,” he said.
He wanted to know what had provoked me and what your response had been. I told him he would have to earn that divulgence and he said he’d take me for the ride of my life. I wanted the ride and couldn’t remember what you had done so I made something up. I told him that you kissed another girl at a party. He believed me and we went on a ride early the next morning before cars were on the mountain.
We had the top down and baseball caps on our heads, going all out around curves on the mountain road. I told him I could hear Aunt Doris calling him out from the grave.
“Jaaaaahnny? You leave Joanie alone.”
And Uncle Neil, “I want to be around when she gives you a black eye.”
Back from our ride, I told John that when I was boiling mad at you, you said I gave you the evil eye, and I remembered that just before I threw the plate of spaghetti at you, you said, “Don’t turn your evil eye on me.” I did finally remember but didn’ttell John what had caused me to throw my homemade spaghetti and meatballs. I had gone to a lot of trouble to make that meal and all you could say about it was it could use more salt.
I didn’t feel a need to tell John that you would walk away or close a door on me when I behaved badly, which was the worst thing you could do to me.
Our last night together, John and I were eating steaks he had grilled, and I told him that shortly after you and I met, you asked me who my favorite poet was. Taking a sip of his wine first, John said, “Well? Who is it?”
“I told her I don’t read much poetry, but I can take a radio apart and put it back together.”