My husband is dissolving, really, and I have nothing left but to watch him go.
A moment ago, I lit Chanukah candles in the window where he could see them—well, no, not lit them so much as plugged the thing in. His eyes grew wide and his mouth opened and he gasped for breath and I watched the light fall on his wrinkled face and carve out the lines deeper than before. Foolishly, I thought he was dying. Which he is, of course, just not today. I will admit, only here and only to you, that I began to feel relief when I thought death was on the other side and something about dying in candlelight seemed melodramatic but comforting because it wasn’t just any light but . . . intentional light. Meaningful light. The same light I first saw him in when we were children.
In any case, my husband was just gasping for breath because I had startled him with the lights. I startled him because he had forgotten I was sitting beside his bed and I’d jumped up so quickly. But this is what he always does. You know that. You work here, you see him just as much as I do. He had forgotten I was sitting there, waiting for him to die, and he had forgotten to even recognize me.
Anyway, thanks for coming. I’m sorry if the nurse call button startled you.
Sixty years ago feels like last weekend and a century ago all at once. I was seventeen and beautiful, or so my mother always said. Beautiful under my thick glasses and my knobby elbows and knees. Beautiful beneath my frizzy hair and thin lips. Arthur, let us not kid ourselves, couldn’t see past any of these things, nor could he see past his large-breasted girlfriend, Joyce. I wanted to not hate her. I liked seeing him smile at her as we sat around the table, all of us kids, if only to give me something to dream about later, his smile. To Arthur in those days, I was just another neighborhood girl, just another set of feet in socks, just another girl he knew by name but knew nothing about.
The advantage I had above other girls, see, was Arthur’s mother and my mother had been friends all of their lives. I loved that, of course, mainly because it placed Arthur and I at the same dinner table on special Friday nights and holidays. One holiday, I don’t remember which, Arthur’s mother insisted he share with the table what his girlfriend had said to him the day before. Arthur huffed and puffed but finally told the table that Joyce—that was his girlfriend, remember—complained about his thinning hair. He tried to downplay it—you know how men are—but I knew it bothered him. You see just a bald head right now, but it used to be these dark curls. Anyway, I loved that night because, as I suspected, Joyce was a rotten bitch and this incident only served to inform my seventeen-year-old head that cracks were showing.
I know you have to get back.
So Arthur ended up coming by one afternoon with this crazy hair tonic that had to be rubbed on his head for an hour. I had dreamed of this moment for years and almost laughed at the things I always imagined to happen next. In my dream, I would breathe deep and slow and my hands would shake and Arthur would find this terribly sexy and he would grab me around the waist with one arm and kiss me. In reality, I stood in droopy socks and covered my breasts with crossed arms while Arthur fidgeted a paper sack between his hands. I sat there in my mother’s kitchen, rubbing this crap on his head and we were talking about all sorts of things and I convinced him he didn’t need any old hair tonic. Somewhere during all of that, we knew we’d take care of each other when we were old. We didn’t admit that until later, of course, but he called up Joyce later that night when he got home and they didn’t go together after that.
I kind of liked watching those curls fall out, too. Over the years, you know.
Amy Guth is the author of the novels Three Fallen Women and the forthcoming Lights of Water Brought. She’s written for several publications, most recently Bookslut, Jewcy.com, The Believer and blah blah blah. She can fly a latke and spin a dreidel at the same time. Stalk her silly at Guth-a-Go-Go.com.