scansion: The system of describing conventional poetic rhythms by visual symbols for metrical analysis and study. Stressed and unstressed syllables are marked according to the degree of sense emphasis transmitted. It does not make rhythm; it reveals it by transferring it from a temporal into a spatial dimension.
With the splendor derived from pointillistic detail, I'm getting a picture regarding Henry's ex-wife. Our first date, and already I am privy to the particulars of the marital dirt. Is this a treat for me or what? Ah, those trifling morsels of delectability. Minutiae like candy-kisses. Henry tells me how Dawn lets the children go without bathing for days at a clip. How graciously and with a tra-la-la of oh-it-was-nothing, she accepts compliments on dinners she did not prepare, but rather bought from the caterer at Dean & Deluca. How her nipples are cylinder shaped and long like Olive Oyl's nose, and how her pubic hair grows to extraordinary lengths.
"I swear to you," Henry says, "it grew like you wouldn't believe. Honest, it was like the hair on your head except that it was scraggly. You have beautiful hair. The way the light catches it." Henry takes a sip of his drink, a gin and tonic, and he asks, "What color is it exactly? Your hair? On your passport what does it say about hair color?"
"Black Cherry." I tell him my hair color is Black Cherry. That is what it says on the bottle, but I don't tell him that part. That it is Black Cherry by L'Oréal. Instead, I steer the conversation back to where it was before he digressed. The color of my hair is of no compelling interest to me at the moment. I much prefer the dish on his ex-wife. "So what does Dawn look like?" I ask. "Is she very beautiful? Aside from the nipple issue, that is."
Henry shifts forward in his seat to get at his wallet. Our table is window-side, and a glimmer of my reflection stares back at me, sizing me up. I spook myself and turn away from the window, as if you could turn your back on your double. Henry hands me the photograph of his ex-wife. She is all dolled up. "For a wedding," he tells me. "Mostly she dresses like a slob. Sweatpants and grimy T-shirts. And she doesn't put on fresh underwear daily either. To tell you the truth" Henry's voice drops a notch as if he is confessing to a crime "her personal hygiene is not the best. I'll bet you're clean," he says. "You look like you are very clean."
I bring the photograph near to my nose. I'm myopic like nobody's business, an affliction that can also translate into a lack of discernment. Vanity prohibits me from wearing my glasses except when the need to see clearly is a crucial one. Twenty-twenty vision is not sufficient motivation to obscure my eyes, which are the size of walnuts and hazel colored. Not to mention I was blessed with lashes like Liza Minnelli, only mine are real, and don't even talk to me about contact lenses because the eye is not an orifice.
I focus on the subject of the photograph. Seated on a lawn chair, her legs crossed, she is wearing a yellow frock and a straw hat with a wide brim. Her smile is also wide, and if I squint, I can make out that her teeth are crooked. She is a skinny woman, and she is not much to look at. Although she might be pretty enough if not for the lack of a chin, which is the most serious of all the facial flaws.
We did not meet that way, but Henry is the sort of man I could've met through a personal ad in New York magazine. Divorced white male, 40-ish, father of two children plus cat, hamster, and goldfish. Solvent, kind, good-looking, and fun-loving, but is not afraid to cry. Likes music, movies, long walks on the beach, and YOU?
I return the photograph to Henry, and I ask him, "Do you still love her?"
A flicker of doubt crosses his face, and I catch it there. Still, he says, "Definitely not. No way." Glancing once more at the picture of his ex-wife, Henry is reminded that, except during the summer months, she did not shave her legs or underarms, spots where also her hair grew like shrubbery. He next tells me how, in lieu of a proper blow job, she acquiesced only to something like playing the harmonica, her lips pursed along the shaft. Not once in the entirety of the twelve years they were married did she take the whole of Henry's cock into her mouth. "And get this," Henry says. "Every year for my birthday, she gave me a chamois-cloth shirt mail-ordered from L.L. Bean. Except one year I got a book on dolphins. Dolphins are nice," Henry says, "but it's not like I was interested in them." Then he asks, "What about you?"
"Me?" I say. "I take it in my mouth."
Henry laughs, but also he is blushing like a tea rose. "No. I mean, have you ever been married?"
I nod, and I say, "Yes. Once. Briefly."
"So you're divorced too." Henry thinks we have that in common, but I tell him, "No. I'm a widow."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Henry is flustered. As if he's made a social gaffe, he fumbles with words and gestures. Like a pair of trout on land, his hands flip against the air and slap his face and the tabletop. "Really. Sorry. Oh, I shouldn't have said anything. Would you like more wine? Let me get you another glass of wine."
We, Henry and I, did not meet through a personal ad because for what it's worth when it comes to men, I have never experienced deprivation or even slim pickings. It could be that I am heavy with pheromones. That I give off an irresistible stink. Or maybe men go for me because they like a toothache, because in all modesty, I'm not always the easiest person to get on with. Whatever. Also, it doesn't hurt any that I have a certain celebrity, albeit minor, but that does come with a kind of cachet.
Bent on getting me another glass of wine, Henry raises his arm to signal the waitress. I reach across the table and take his hand. "Henry," I tell him, "my glass is full."
No matter or not that I am popular with the men, I would never have answered such a personal ad because while I like cats and music well enough, I'm not keen on the movies. Or children, and spare me from long walks on the beach. The beach is an area I actively dislike, and men who cry are not for me. I do not have what it takes to care for the emotionally enfeebled. I've got my own problems.
Leaning in to diminish the distance between us, as if nosing about in my business requires physical intimacy, Henry asks how it happened. "How did he die?" His voice is soft and it comes from the back of his throat. It is not necessary to look or to touch to know that, as we speak, Henry's pecker is growing stiff like rigor mortis has set in. It's this situation about me being a widow that's doing it. As if all women widowed young are like spiders. Black widows. Seductively mysterious and titillating and dangerous. A femme fatale, and perhaps for real. As if maybe I am capable of bringing on killer orgasms. Henry is not the first man of my acquaintance to burst his fly over the possibilities. "Your husband?" he presses for an answer. "Was it an accident?"
"Complications." I tell him that much. "He died from complications," I say, and then I leave it alone. I do not explain what is meant by complications. Entanglements. The raveled skein of yarn that is story's tragic element, the labyrinthian free falls of choice, the momentum of things out of control, of fear and human failings. Better he should think Max died from a bowel nicked during a routine appendectomy. Or from pneumonia. The tragic conclusion of a common cold neglected.
I bill myself as a widow, I refer to Max as my dearly departed, I incant may-he-rest-in-peace because this is one of those cases when a falsehood embodies a greater truth. A metaphorical truth because the literal truth would serve only to distort the picture of my marriage to Max. As if our marriage were simply yet one more marriage that didn't pan out. As if we were but a statistic in the annals of divorce. A marriage gone belly-up due to squabbles over money or that he ran around on her or that she grew fat or that they grew apart. All the usual reasons for a marriage to go kaput. Our marriage was not that way. Not at all.
To do my marriage justice, a death was required. Death was the way it had to end, the only exit available, and Max had to be the one to take it because it wouldn't be logical for me to be the dead one. Despite that there is more than a shred of evidence to justify the statement, "My marriage ended because I died," I could hardly say such a thing now and be believed. Not while I'm sitting here window-side in a trendy downtown tavern with my hand under the table and resting on Henry's leg. My fingertips make small and soft circles around his knee. Circles of intent, and not to mention I prefer the part of the widow to that of the corpse.
In this version of the story, the part of the widow is a small one. There was no scene where I stood graveside weeping while a casket, with Max in it, was lowered into the ground. No mass was said for Max, and I did not write an elegy for his memorial service either. That's because there was no memorial service. I did not sit shiva for him, and I have never left a spray of red roses laced with baby's breath at his headstone. Indeed, there is no headstone that sports three lines, like a tercet chiseled into marble, Max Schirmer / Loving Husband / 1993-1994, because Max is not dead in that way.
In the conventional sense of the word, as far as I know Max is not the least bit dead. Nonetheless, for purposes of my own, Max is as dead as a doornail. A conceit aided along by the fact that he now resides in Los Angeles. The city of angels, which is a place of clear skies, fluffy white clouds, movie stars, palm trees, blue swimming pools, and not at all unlike an afterlife.
Meanwhile, poor Henry here is having something like an asthma attack. His breath is short and rapid, which is a cryptogram for horny as a toad. Considering as how I am responsible for this condition, what with the way my fingers are figure-skating along his thigh, I invite myself back to his place. It is not in my nature to tease, and also because it is my way to ask for what I want. "Let's go to your place," I say, because generally speaking, my apartment is off-limits to guests. The ghosts who live there with me, Dora and Estella, they don't take to strangers, and the ghosts, they were there first.
Copyright © 2000 by Binnie Kirshenbaum