Read The Wife's Tale Online

Authors: Lori Lansens

The Wife's Tale

ALSO BY LORI LANSENS

Rush Home Road

The Girls

Copyright

Copyright © 2009 by LLMT, Inc.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.Hachettebookgroup.com

www.twitter.com/littlebrown

First eBook Edition: February 2010

Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette
Book Group, Inc.

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and
not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-12202-3

Contents

Copyright

A Pretty Face

The Night Clock

Bonds of Distinction

Weight of Grief

Finger of Blame

Symbiosis

Her Body Electric

A Distant Relation

Expressions of Genuine Concern

Steadfast Tomorrow

Lightning

Reconfigured and Reborn

Dream Sequence

Nothing Nefarious

The Leaving and the Left

Rule of Three

God to Soul

California Dreamin’

Uncommon Humanity

Weeping Willows

Target Clear

A Hard Name to Forget

Living the Dream

Wealth of Food

A Disconnected State

Shooting Stars

Nothing Gets Out Blood

A Fait Accompli

Damaged Art

Cuatro Chicas

Till Death Us Do Part

Meteor Showers

The Son’s Wife

Afraid of the Dark

Third Eye Blind

Mercy

Lost Calls

A Certain Kind of Freedom

Treading Water

Existence

The Night Clock

Acknowledgments

About the Author

For Maxim and Natasha

A Pretty Face

A
lone in the evenings, when the light had drained from the slate roof of her small rural home, and when her husband was working
late, Mary Gooch would perform a striptease for the stars at the open bedroom window: shifting out of rumpled bottoms, slipping
off blousy top, liberating breasts, peeling panties, her creamy flesh spilling forth until she was completely, exquisitely
nude. In the darkness, she’d beg her lover the wind to ravish her until she needed to grasp the sill for support. Then, inhaling
the night like a post-coital cigarette, Mary would turn to face the mirror, who’d been watching all along.

The mirror held the image Mary Gooch knew as herself, a forty-three-year-old brunette standing five and a half feet tall,
so gilded with fat that hardly a bone from her skeleton could insinuate itself in her reflection. No hint of clavicle, no
suggestion of scapula, no jag in her jaw, no scallop in her knee, no crest of ilium, no crook of knuckle, not a phalange in
the smallest of her fingers. And no cords of muscle, either, as if she were enrobed by a subcutaneous duvet.

Mary remembered, when she was nine years old, stepping off the scale in Dr. Ruttle’s office and hearing him whisper
the word
to her slight mother, Irma. It was an unfamiliar word, but one she understood in the context of the fairy-tale world.
Obeast.
There were witches and warlocks. So must there be ogres and obeasts. Little big Mary wasn’t confused by the diagnosis. It
made sense to her child’s mind that her body had become an outward manifestation of the starving animal in her gut.

Such a pretty face.
That was what people always said. When she was a child they made the comment to her mother, with
tsk
ing pity or stern reproach, depending on their individual natures. As she grew, the pitying, reproving people made the comment
directly to Mary.
Such
a pretty face. Implied was the disgrace of her voluminous body, the squander of her green eyes and bow lips, her aquiline
nose and deep-cleft chin and her soft skin, like risen dough, with no worry lines to speak of, which was remarkable because,
when she wasn’t eating, that’s what Mary Gooch did.

She worried about what she would eat and what she would not eat. When and where she would or wouldn’t. She worried because
she had too much or not nearly enough. She worried about hypertension, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke,
osteoarthritis. The contempt of strangers. The mouths of babes. Sudden death. Protracted death. She worried all the more because
all the worry made her sleepless, and in her dreamless hours hosted more worries, about her husband, Gooch, and the approach
of their silver anniversary, about her menial job at Raymond Russell Drugstore and about her list, which she imagined not
as
Things to do
but
Things left undone
.

Weight is only numbers on a scale, she told herself, and her mirror just another point of view. Squinting at her naked reflection
when the moon was waxing and the angle just right, Mary Gooch saw beauty in the poetry of her contours, in the expressive,
expansive, edible flesh, and understood why an artist sketching nudes might find appealing the mountainous gut, and favor
the pocked shore of sloping thigh, and enjoy the depth and shadow of pendulous breasts and multiple chins. A shape ample and
sensuous, like the huge round vase handed down on the Brody side of the family, in which she arranged her ditch lilies in
the spring. Or like the dunes of virgin snow on the hills beyond her home outside small-town Leaford.

Mary wished to be a rebel against the tyranny of beauty but was instead a devotee, coveting its currency, devouring images
in glossy magazines and broadcast TV, especially the kind that chronicled the lives of the rich and famous. She lingered over
the body shots, outlining with her fingertips, like an appreciative lover, the rock-hard abdominals and concrete glutes, sinewy
arms and pumped deltoids—so daring on a woman—coltish legs, wasp waist, swan’s neck, lion’s mane, cat’s eyes. She accepted
the supremacy of beauty, and could not deny complicity in the waste of her own.

It was often an unbearable burden for Mary Gooch to carry both her significant weight and the responsibility for it, and she
naturally sought to blame. The media was her target, just as it was another of her addictions. She would tear through the
pages of her magazines, gratified by the celebrity cellulite, horrified by the gorgeous anorexics, noting the fall must-haves,
sneering with the critics about fashion disasters, then realize she’d eaten a quart of premium ice cream, coerced by the advertisement
beneath the picture of the TV cutie with poor taste in men. Mary knew it was all the media’s fault, but finger pointing was
too much exercise, and she couldn’t sustain the blame for long. Especially since she was so often confronted by the stupid
genius of just saying no.

Jimmy Gooch, Mary’s husband of nearly twenty-five years, read
Time
and
Newsweek
and
Scientific American
and
The Atlantic
and
National Geographic
. He watched CNN, even when America was not on red alert, and cable talk shows with clever panelists who laughed when nothing
was funny. With Gooch working late most evenings, and busy playing golf on the weekends, Mary reckoned they were down to spending
only a handful of waking hours a week together and wished to relieve the silence between them, but didn’t share Gooch’s passion
for politics. The couple sometimes found common ground in musing on the vagaries of human nature. “Read the essay at the back,”
Gooch had said recently, tapping her on the head with the rolled-up magazine—a gesture she charged was aggressive, but he
argued, playful.

The article spoke of the ills of North American culture, the mistaking of acquisition for success, gluttony for fulfillment.
Gooch clearly meant for Mary to draw a comparison to her gastronomical indulgence, and she did, but the piece was provocative
in its own right, posing the question:
Are people generally happier now, with instant access and quick fixes and thousands of channels and brands to choose from,
than they were before the Industrial Revolution?
Mary instantly decided
no
. In fact, she wondered if the opposite was true, that in the hardscrabble life of her pioneering ancestors, whose singularity
of purpose was clear, there had been no time to ponder happiness. Chop wood. Carry water. It was impossible to imagine that
the early Brodys, who’d cleared Leaford from the Burger King to the gas station, had ever endured a sleepless night.

Having read enough magazines, and having spent hours lurking in the self-help section, Mary Gooch knew that she wasn’t alone
in her morbid obesity or her abstract malaise. Symptoms of despair were everywhere, and formulas for success within her grasp.
A person could get a good night’s sleep and wake refreshed, shed unwanted pounds without dieting, make dinners for six in
twenty minutes or less, rekindle sexual passion, and achieve five personal goals by the end of the month. A person could.
But in spite of the step-by-step instructions, Mary could not. The
secret
remained classified. She appeared to be missing some key ingredient, something simple and elusive, like honesty.

Mary had been raised without religion but instinctively drew a separation between her spirit and body. Her spirit had no gravitational
pull. Her body weighed three hundred and two of earth’s pounds—the two pounds significant because she’d once vowed that she’d
kill herself if she got up beyond three hundred. Another promise broken. Further recrimination. The truth of what drove her
hunger was as present and mysterious as anyone’s God.

Certainly grief fed the beast, and with her encroaching middle age came more and greater opportunities for it. Every passage,
but particularly the corporeal kind, further embellished Mary Gooch. Thirty pounds for her mother, accumulated over many months,
years ago, although Irma was not actually deceased. The babies, so long ago, had added fifteen and twenty pounds respectively.
Then it was the ten when her father died in the spring. And another ten with Mr. Barkley in the summer. She felt vaguely charitable
assigning the poundage to her loved ones, in the same way that she was mildly comforted by calculating her load in UK stones,
in the British style, rather than North American pounds.

During her painful cycles of grief and gain, Mary thought it would be better to have
any
religion and lose it, than never to have one at all. She relied on dubious knowledge and remedial understanding to cobble
together a system of beliefs that she was forever editing and amending, depending on the latest magazine article or persuasive
celebrity endorsement. Except for the rule of three—an enduring belief, if unfounded by religious text. Terrible things happen
in clusters of three. Death, serious accidents, financial ruin. One. Two. Three. What would end the trilogy after her father
and Mr. Barkley, she wondered. Another death? Or just more deceptively endurable misfortune?

Hauling her corpulence the few steps from her truck in the parking lot to the back door of Raymond Russell Drugstore, starved
for breath, heart valves flushing and fluppering, Mary would think,
It’s me. I will end the trilogy. Here comes my fatal heart attack.
Drowning in regret, she’d see everything clearly, the way reckless adults do, too late. But like all things, the feeling
would pass, and she would click on another worry, each one dense and nuanced enough to sustain her interest, with intriguing
links to distract her from the larger picture. The ticking of time. The machinations of denial.

Mary Gooch did not so much
pray
to God as
wish
to God, of whom she was sporadically unsure. She wished to God for an end to all wars. And that her manager would catch his
scrotum in the cash register at work. She wished for her mother’s peaceful death. And that she had something nice to wear
to her silver anniversary dinner party. And then there was the wish that pre-empted all other wishes, the one she wished hourly,
eternally—that she could
just lose the weight
. This wish Mary would offer to her uncertain God in the smallest and most humble of voices. If I could just lose the weight,
Gooch would
love
me again. Or sometimes it was, I could
let
Gooch love me again. The state of her body was inseparable from the state of her marriage, and the universe.

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