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A False Sense of Well Being

Dear friends in Christ, here in the presence of Almighty God, let us kneel in silence, and with penitent and obedient hearts confess our sins, so that we may obtain forgiveness by his infinite goodness and mercy.

Confession of Sin The Book of Common Prayer

I was married eleven years before I started imagining how different life could be if my husband were dead. Beginning that year, and not, to my recollection, prompted by any overt unkindness or sudden disruption of affection, images of random damage, of events more simple and unpredictable than murder, invaded my dreams both sleeping and awake. The more I tried not to think about it, to purge these worrisome ideas out of my head, the louder my unconscious mind wailed. When I woke in the sheet-twisted dark and found myself pasted to the body of my very real husband, his whimpering snore as high-pitched as a cat’s, it was a bitter comfort. The familiar smell of him on the pillows, a pungent mix of his daily dousings of cologne and hair tonics, seeped into my pores with all the nauseating effects of a virus. I spent my nights, and an embarrassing number of days, picturing how I would react, what plans I would make, when misfortune cast me in a new role: that of grieving widow.

I would see him rounding the curve of the old highway, eyes closing, driving head-on into someone else’s headlights. Stumbling into the line of fire during a convenience-store robbery. Stepping off the curb to be dragged under the wheels of a bus. When he fell asleep in front of the television late at night, head tilted backward over his chair, I would see him strangled that way, his breath cut off in mid-snore, a large bubble of exhaled air dancing cartoon-style in front of his face.

Every day I imagined some new way for it to happen. I saw the harmless objects of our ordinary lives turning against him, his body betraying him in one violent, irretrievable moment.

He’d crack his skull on the shower wall while reaching for a towel.

He’d try to light the pilot on the furnace and trigger a freak explosion.

He’d stumble over a child’s bicycle in a neighbor’s driveway and snap his neck.

Once, when I was turning my key in the kitchen door, my left arm balancing a bag of groceries, I found myself thinking, He could be dead inside this house, in our bed, and I wouldn’t know it.

Sometimes he would fall as he made the climb toward the sixth hole at Glenville Meadows, his heart squeezing in upon itself with a final cholesterol-clogged pang, his long, rigid body landing like a toppled game piece on the freshly mown fairway. The last thing he’d see is the dimpled ball sailing skyward toward the green, where it rides the hillside on waves of light and dark, hopelessly out of his reach.

The first time I make my confession I know I’m making a big mistake, as if I’ve taken the wrong exit off the interstate and am barreling full speed down rain-slick, unlit streets with no on-ramp or telephone booth in sight. It’s a Saturday, the day my next-door neighbor Donna Lindsey and I reserve for what we affectionately call our “suicide strolls.” At 6 a.m. sharp on most Saturdays, Donna and I meet at the boxwood hedge separating our two lawns—lawns kept green, well-trimmed, and dandelion-free by the Lawn Doctor, not our husbands—and set out along the bicycle paths that wind around the cookie-cutter Georgians and mock Tudors in our thoroughly modern and fitness-friendly subdivision. Donna and I begin our walk by streetlight and moonlight, leaving our homes bundled in sweat suits and windbreakers, stealthy as teenagers sneaking out past curfew. Much of our route is uphill until we reach the cul-de-sac where, in a mirror version of our own cul-de-sac, Phase Four of the Heritage Knoll development ends, so we usually talk only on the way back to our respective homes, when we can catch our breath.

Donna and I swing our arms purposefully and tell ourselves we aren’t getting older but healthier. We wave to the other, younger wives who jog at a faster clip, the cheeks of their aerobicized size-six butts barely jiggling. These women all carry or strap to their arms and legs reflective devices that each weigh five pounds or more, and when they trot past us, graceful as butterflies, pores freshly scrubbed and cucumber-soothed and without the slightest hint of perspiration, one has the distinct impression that they might, at any moment, take flight if they were not weighted down so carefully.

We keep walking, dreaming of the day when we can look just like them, when we can prance into Rich’s Department Store and buy identical pairs of red silk running shorts in a size six, completed, of course, by red silk cutoff T-shirts that show off our tanned and liposuctioned midriffs. We tell ourselves we’re happy with our own less-than-flawless bodies in case our plan doesn’t work, and I’m guessing it probably won’t, so until then we resent the presence of these other wives for making us want it so badly.

It is during today’s walk, on the return trip down a particularly steep hill, that Donna tells me she’s having an affair with a salesman in the department store where she works part time, that it’s been going on for two months, and that she needs me to tell her husband David we’re going shopping next Tuesday after work. David will never even ask me about it, she points out a little too enthusiastically, so it isn’t like I’ll actually have to lie for her, but she wants to warn me just in case a lie is necessary. She also hints that it wouldn’t be wise for me to be seen in my yard between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m. on Tuesday since, quite obviously, I can’t be at the Glenville Meadows Mall with her and trying to resuscitate my ailing geraniums at the same time.

“I’m sleeping with that young guy in menswear.”

That’s actually how she breaks the news. She says it matter-of-factly, as if she’s just told me, “I’m painting my kitchen blue.”

I remember that Donna made a point of introducing me to him a week or so earlier when I stopped by the mall to pick her up for lunch. When I arrived, I found him leaning over her jewelry counter, two fingers looped through a display of freshwater pearl bracelets.

His name is Perry Ferguson, and on the day we met he wore stylish burgundy suspenders over a cream-colored button-down broadcloth shirt and a pair of neatly pressed black gabardine trousers, and he had a lock of blond hair that, despite his efforts to slick it into place, kept falling over one of his eyes. He did, I noticed, wear a wedding ring. And he’s young. At least ten years younger than Donna is my guess, which means he’s maybe fifteen years younger than me. His leaning over her counter, touching those bracelets the way he did, was hardly the innocent gesture it had seemed.

I can’t think of a thing to say. This is news I do not want to hear.

As we walk, we pass 1980s-style Victorians and country ranches, houses we’ve visited with our husbands for impromptu dinner parties and Neighborhood Watch–sponsored backyard barbecues, houses where the owners spend weeks searching antique stores for the perfect armoire and wouldn’t dare refinish it. A lawn mower cranks somewhere nearby, a clear violation of the 10-4 rules. The people on this street must mow their own lawns. The Lawn Doctor knows the rules.

A False Sense of Well Being
by by Jeanne Breaselton

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 034544311X
  • ISBN-13: 9780345443113