Sitting with friends, laughing while nibbling a scone (blackberry, overbaked, it doesn’t taste that good, and she’s not that hungry, but she bought it because the rest insisted, “Get something,”), celebrating (after the fact) a friend’s birthday, an epiphany strikes her.
Inspired by Barbara’s recounting of her husband’s recent illnesses (he’d gone through surgery but developed an infection), Diana and Belle are speaking about their late husbands. Both died of heart attacks in their mid-sixties.
She thinks about her husband, two years older than her (and in his mid-sixties). Coughing for days, he’d been listless, and getting worse, it seems. He’d always been a health freak — didn’t and doesn’t drink except for an occasional social beverage when they’re out (which she usually finishes for him), and a pescatarian for over forty years (no, almost fifty years, to be more accurate, always important to her). He runs five miles a day four days a week, cycles everywhere, and rows with a club several times per month, activities that he’d needed to curtail when he’d become ill. A cup of coffee a day, he always said with a wink and a grin, is his vice. Yet, he seemed to be getting sicker.
His illness really started over two years before. He’d seen doctors, and everything was great. (“They tell me that I have the arteries of a teenager.) This is when her epiphany is delivered, a thought so striking that it sucks the air out of the room and her lungs. The voices fade. Dizziness topples her.
Others say suddenly, leaning in, touching her hands and shoulders, concern on their faces, “Are you okay?”
She smiles. “Yes, fine, what?” She shakes her head. “I just got distracted. I’m sorry. What were we talking about?”
They buy it after a few seconds. When the attention leaves her, she thinks, is her husband slowly killing himself to keep her from being happy?
It’s audacious and ridiculous, but she thinks, it’s keeping with his character. He’s always been something of a passive aggressive, secret saboteur. His mother, sisters, and cousin had told her stories about how he’d undermined friendships (and an engagement). He was always sneaky when he did it. He’d been the same at work throughout his career, a liar, essentially, but very clever about it, damaging relationships when he did, but always as an innocent, and almost always believed.
Now, he’d retired. No family lived nearby. He has few close friends (were any of them close to him?). Could he have turned his attention to his relationship with her?
She thinks, how? (He could be poisoning himself.) Why? (Because that’s who — what — he is.) She thinks, I have no proof. It’s insane for her to even consider it. Yet, the idea remains moored in her thoughts. She thinks with growing shock as the group breaks up and leaves the coffee shop, it’s possible.