By Leigh Bennett
I’ve had other wives—a young actress who would appear in my bedroom from time to time in only her pink bra and worn boxers, having unlocked the door with the key I left out. On the mirror, sprawling lipstick shouted a red, “I’m here.” And I’d see her there, asleep.
There was the chain-smoker—the one who’d roll over and light up, then smoke two in the shower. She was raspy and fulsome like a phone-sex worker, and sometimes when we talked, I made her really talk to me. I liked that edge-of-death quality about her.
A lot of my wives have been morbidly pale, embalming fluid about their heavily-kohled eyes, wavering between Eros and Thanatos like anorexic pendula.
There were healthy, organic ones, too. She who ran five hours a day and julienned carrots on the counter; she who contorted her body into pretzel knots, sipping wheatgrass and chamomile (she was vital and origamied in bed); she with the rippling biceps that made me cower and wonder at my own virility.
I liked the studious one—her pupils darting through sun-dappled pages until her reading required the thick horn-rimmed glasses she used to study my back like a palimpsest in the half-dark. Her intelligence startled me: the way she sobbed and quoted Blake and Stendhal and Proust when we made love. “Innocence and experience, innocence and experience,” she sang while her body spasmed into broken couplets.
Madeline, she was called, or I called her.
The lawyer who climaxed “Objection”; the receptionist who answered my climax with a polite “Hold, please”; the writer who narrated our caresses; the accountant who stared at the clock; the professor who simply instructed. I might have enjoyed her most of all, had it not been for her perfume.
In the morning they vanish like leaves, blown back home. They have real lives and real children, real jobs, and yes, they have real husbands, too, whom they kiss with perverse tenderness and assure with a smile. They are willing and unsuspected, brash and organized. They pack lunches and take calls, wear pencil skirts and attend office parties, stretch and bend to routine, fold terrycloth in perfect polygons.
They are tidy, desirous women all, wild in my arms.
My wife is one in a series of wives—all of whom I’ve loved, all of whom have not belonged to me—and I scoop them up and into me, cradling their sadness like I would hers, as I would now, if her sorrow required flesh as mine does, her small plot in Lamont Cemetery offered room for my kind of earthly embrace.
But she is not my wife and I am not her husband. We hold hands across the street and mutter breathless, humorous somethings at passers-by. We talk at all hours of the day, night, afternoon, and I tell her I’m happy—happy to have known her, to have been with her, or to have not been with her—but glad she was there.
Leigh Bennett is an MFA Candidate in Fiction at Bennington College. She lives in Boston where she teaches words, books, and the Oxford comma to unsuspecting undergrads. Her work can be found in Cutbank and, with any luck, the future.