< The Wife
by Len Kuntz
The next one is prettier than the others.
She wears a white poodle coat with knotted fringe balls on the sleeves, and smells like Lemon Pledge.
Her name is Rosie.
Rosie has a wide, cartoon smile. Each time she pops her gum, it sounds like a muffled firecracker.
When I answer yes, Rosie says, “Ain’t got one,” and titters, head cocked toward the ceiling.
Dad rearranges the furniture as Rosie points here and there, her bangle bracelets chinking like tin. Her wrists are pale, thin as a chicken’s, and half the width of Mom’s. She wears pink stilettoes with lots of straps.
Dad has gained weight since Mom left. A wet sweat cloud stains his shirt front and his hair is matted on one side.
Rosie keeps changing her mind about where the recliner should go. She’s unsure about the coffee table. She wants the china hutch in the corner, but it’s too heavy to move, so Dad gets a hand truck.
“Just ’cause you’re a girl,” Rosie says to me, “doesn’t mean you can’t help.”
Before Rosie showed up, Dad had told me I needed to be more hospitable to his female guests. He said hospitable meant kind and agreeable.
“Give the hutch a little push forward,” Dad says to me, voice strained, his back bent as he crouches behind the hand truck.
Each time Rosie’s gum snaps, I hear the sound of Mom’s high heels on the linoleum floor.
I grip the hutch as if it’s a stiff bear. I push forward, but lean right, the hutch listing, then lumbering into a slow tumble. It crashes, glass explodes, spraying the air. The severed heads of two porcelain figurines stare up from the thick shag.
Rosie calls me an idiot.
Dad doesn’t say a thing.
I give Rosie my best grin.
“That one’s a shifty little shit,” Rosie says, but Dad stays silent, fetching a whisk broom and plastic shovel to collect the shards.
After dinner, I’m sent to bed two hours earlier than usual. I slip out after five minutes, peering over the bannister to watch them on the repositioned sofa below. Dad fondles Rosie’s hair. He touches her cheek and neck and blouse. Rosie says, “I don’t know if this place is big enough.”
I want to tell her I agree. I want to tell her our house is filled with ghosts, ghosts of every kind, but mainly female ghosts. I want to tell her that my mother’s perfume sometimes wafts out of the wall paper, out of my pillow case and favorite pale purple cardigan. I want to tell her that I can be agreeable, but there’s nothing for her here except confusion and misery.
published 4 September 2013