Bill works harder than any other worker I've ever had the misfortune of being married to. Ray worked hard too, but Bill works harder. Bill leaves early and returns late, so late it's usually early again. I don't know where he goes. To be honest I don't much care. I cared when it was Ray. Poor Ray. He got to me too soon. I had all sorts of dreams in my head back then. Twenty-two is too early. I wish someone had told me that. But they didn't tell you that sort of thing back then. They might have told you seventeen was too soon, but twenty-two was considered right on track. A woman should get married in the twilight of her good looks, not the dawn of them. I was in the dawn. Now it's the wee hours and I rather like being Bill's wife. Not that I care what he does. It's unhealthy to go around caring about things all the time. His job description and the hours he puts in don't jibe. I'm no fool. Bill does quality control at the factory. I've asked him what they make, but he just says "widgets." I tell him to bring home a widget for me to look at, but he insists that I wouldn't understand because actually it's not widgets they're producing so much as parts for making widgets. I told him he was probably right, I wouldn't understand.
Ray was a veterinarian. He used to have to jerk off horses. He had a pretty good sense of humor, that's what made me fall for him in the first place, but make a crack about his being gay or a beastophile and he'd get all bent out of shape. He was so sensitive about it I had to wonder if he really wasn't one of those things after all. That's not why I left him. I left him because I met Bill and botched things up and when the smoke cleared all that was left was Bill. Back in those days Bill didn't work the way he does now. Oh, he worked, but he made time for me. I'm fine with it though. I get so much pleasure out of just being by myself these days. I've always been pretty much a homebody anyway. I like baking. I can't hardly eat any of the damn things because of my cholesterol, but I like watching them rise and I know there's probably something of the maternal instinct in that, seeing as how I never did manage to have any kids and I'm well past the threshold now. Not that it bothers me at all. I always thought the idea of a kid was probably better than the reality of one. Which is not to say I opposed it outright. I'd have done it with Ray, and I'd have done it with Bill. It just never worked out for some reason. And that's just fine by me. I don't regret a thing. So long as I can sit on the porch each morning and drink my coffee and listen to the thrushes, I'm about as happy as I can imagine being.
I make dinner for Bill, eat my half and put his in the fridge because I never know when he's going to be home. He doesn't call. I don't require it of him. If he's having an affair, good for him. That's the kind of relationship this has turned into. I'm pretty sure he's not going to leave me at any rate. It wouldn't make any sense at our age. There's more meaning in sticking it out. Anyway, even if he did, I don't think I'd be sad. I got bored with sadness a long time ago. He'd live nearby. We'd probably see each other about as often as we do now. I don't think either one of us has the energy or ambition to strike up an argument anymore. Maybe he has left me, I don't know. But I'd say there's about a ninety-eight percent chance the gratin I put in the fridge this evening won't be there when I go in to take out the butter for my bagel in the morning.
There's a park on the other side of the trees there. In the springtime you can hear the little leaguers pinging. Bill grew up in this house. I asked him once if he ever used to play ball over there and he told me about his first at-bat ever, when on the very first pitch of the day he hit one clear into the creak, and then how everyone acted deferential around him for the rest of the day, and then how he never got a hit again.
"What's your sense of time like?" I asked Bill once.
"Time is money, honey," he said. I knew that was going to be his answer, but that wasn't really what I meant and I didn't know how to explain what I did mean. I didn't really know what I meant. But I knew that Bill's sense and my sense were different senses. For me, time's like a river, a flowing thing. For Bill, I think time's probably more like a big block of something. It's all happening at pretty much the same time. When he tells you about that homerun, you'd swear it had happened yesterday, whereas when I think back on my time with Ray, I'm pretty sure I was a different person then. If I had been the me I am now back then, I never would have mucked things up and Ray and I would still be together probably. Not that I regret it, because I swear I don't really feel this kind of thing too acutely the way lots of people would. I do feel bad for Ray though, sometimes.
His mother phoned me up when it happened. He'd been riding his motorcycle down the turnpike when he pulled over, parked the bike, lay down face up on the shoulder of the road, and died. "Did they say what got him?" I asked her, and she said, "Death, honey."
Was it heartache that got him? It's crossed my mind, but I don't really think so. It was fourteen years after the fact and he'd remarried too. He had a golden-haired little girl. I'd see them out walking together in the State Park sometimes. That was one pastime neither of us could abandon. We didn't actually walk together, but we were always there at the same time Saturday mornings. We'd greet each other and catch up for a couple of minutes and I often wondered why neither of us was willing to alter our schedule. What was it we couldn't bear to let go of? That went on for twelve of those fourteen years, and then one day he just stopped coming, and then two years later he lay down on the side of the highway and died. I don't know what happened to make him stop coming to the park when he did.
Bill never wanted to go to the park with me, even when he wasn't busy, which was sometimes back then. "Fat comes with age, it's unavoidable," Bill says. I don't believe that but I don't argue with him. It's all bound up in his sense of time, which I tell you is a block of something, limestone maybe, or saltpeter. For me it's more like a ribbon, a spool of pink shimmering ribbon that someone's holding out the door of an airplane while it zips about the world.
May's my best friend. That's one thing I can say for certain. She's the best friend I'll ever have in this world. It's a damn shame she never wanted to have a family because she would have been one hell of a mother. I sometimes think that's why I married her. My mama died when I was a teenager, the day after I got my driver's license. I never got along real well with my pa, so I really felt something missing when she was suddenly gone. But the day I met May at the driving range, I felt that space fill up in me for the first time in a dozen years. I gave her some pointers on how to drive and she winked at me and all of a sudden it was like I was living life instead of being lived by it. Ray was there with her, and we were old friends. We went to high school together, and I never would have thought I'd have been capable of doing him the way I did him, but May was just too important to me to let her go. I was terrible. I'd pick her up at work and take her out to dinner. That was before cell phones, so we'd spend the whole time thinking up newer and brighter excuses for her getting home so late. Then we started going to motels and skipping dinner altogether. We both lost weight. I felt bad for Ray. He never suspected, I'm sure. And he was a good guy, no one ever doubted it. But I blocked him out, I had to. A man's got to live his life, and May was just indispensable to mine. Ray died six or seven years later of a stroke.
When I met Anna, though, that was a different kind of thing. I'd found my mother in May, but what I found in Anna was my Venus. The girl knew how to wear a stocking. We met at work. Both of us were doing quality control on carburetor parts. The rest is history. We never once went to the motel where I used to take May, I made sure of it. I loved May, still do to this day. I made that clear to Anna right up front, that I was all for spending some time with her but there was no way in hell I was ever leaving May. She said she understood, and I was amazed she really did seem to be on the same page as me, and it might have ended nice and clean, or continued nice and clean, if I hadn't gotten careless one drunk Indian summer afternoon and gotten her pregnant. The worst part was I couldn't even tell her to abort the thing. I wanted to keep it more than she did.
Now these days I know May's got to be thinking I'm living a double life, and in a sense I am, but the lion's share of the time when I tell her I'm working, I really am working. I'm trying to juggle lots of balls at the moment, and overtime doesn't kick in until after eight hours of work and that's the only time the money really starts to add up. That and weekends and holidays. I feel pretty bad about it, but May's been wonderful. No doubt she's got a good inkling what's going on, but she doesn't give me hell about it. When it comes down to it, I think she probably just wants me to be happy, which is the same thing I want for her. Oh, she gets a little sulky sometimes, but that started long before any of this did. Right around menopause, I'm inclined to think.
Anna's a different story. She's always giving me hell about how I should just leave May and come live with her and Henry. She says May wouldn't even care, and what's weird is I think she's probably right. She'd have a couple of bad days probably, but then it would go rolling right off her back. I've gotten real close to doing it a couple of times too, but I get as far as the suitcases in the attic when I duck out. May's my girl. She's more my girl than Anna could ever be. It just so happens Anna and I have a son in common. And boy do I love that kid. He's started walking, running actually. Anna called me up on my cell phone and told me how his very first steps were a sprint, a kind of two-yard dash before he dropped on his bottom. He hardly cries. Life's all new for him. He's discovering all sorts of things. I watch him watch the world and I'm always surprised to see what he's seeing that I'd forgotten about, like reflections on the floor of a restaurant, or all the crumbs that are all over everything. I like the way his head smells too.
Anna asked me one time who I was going to be buried next to. That got right at the heart of it. I told her I wanted to be cremated, but I never changed my will, which will have me right next to May in the ground. I probably never will change it. I could live with May for eternity, I think. With Anna, one life is enough. She tires me out. She's a good mom though. But not great. May would have been great.
Yesterday May asked me what my sense of time was. She was in one of her moods and wanted me to say something deep, but I was on my way out the door. "Time is money, honey," I said, and she handed me my lunch. But then something made me pause and I said, "How about another cup of coffee?" and I went over and poured her one too.
"Aren't you gonna be late?" she said.
"Probably," I said.
She smiled a smile like she was back in high school again.
M. THOMAS GAMMARINOhas an MFA from The New School and is working towards a PhD at the University of Hawaii. Some of his recent fiction has appeared in The New York Tyrant, Word Riot, Elimae, and The Apple Valley Review.