The Sanctity of Marriage Four Tales
In the beginning, they are shy and clumsy lovers, each privately longing for a secret to share. They are polite and respectful as the cotton underpants and boxers they wear as they lay alongside one another in their pensione. They eat lemon gelato in bed; the citrus makes their lips pucker. He sprawls on his stomach, studying a tour book, making plans for the evening.
She faces the open window and spies an Italian two floors above sitting at a desk cluttered with notary stamps. She pretends she doesn’t see him pick up a tiny cup and stroll onto his balcony and look directly down into their room. He is handsome in an elderly gigolo way, dressed in a cashmere sweater and wearing one too many pieces of jewelry.
Her husband puts down his book, rolls toward her and fumbles at her bra with unsure fingers. The clasp is giving him some trouble.The Italian leans on one arm raised against the wall, sips his espresso, smiles.
She unclasps her bra for him and when her husband removes it from her shoulders, she chastely covers her breasts with both hands and closes her eyes. She wonders if she opens them, whether the Italian will still be there, leaning his elbows on the balcony enjoying the show.
Then something comes over her husband. He seizes her by the shoulders as if he is another man. The room swoons. Her belly trembles. In her mind, she sees the famous couple from the fresco in Pompei, their entwined legs and arms embracing eternally.
Afterwards, the husband says to his wife in a conspiratorial whisper, “You know, I saw him watching us, too.”
A feral turkey wanders from the nearby field, flutters over the barbed wire fence and struts up their lanai steps. He stands large as a barrel outside the sliding door, impatiently pecking at his reflection in the glass.
She shouts to her husband behind the bathroom door, “Turkeys are supposed to be good luck!” and rushes outside. She approaches the bird on bare feet, still in her nightshirt, marveling at its feathery presence.
The Tom balances atop stilts with talons as long as spears. His head swivels; a beady eye stares out at her. Then he lunges, lifting up off the ground like a helicopter, pushing her back with beating wings, his beak stabbing at her face.
She yells for her husband.
Still indisposed, he shouts, “In a second!” and then adds, “Don’t let it know you’re afraid!”
She waves her arms unconvincingly and then flees down the steps. The Tom chases, nipping at her bare bottom.
She stumbles, bruising her feet on the bristly grass as she sprints across the yard and takes cover, heaving and breathless, behind the spiky leaves of a sago palm.
The Tom’s skull is bald, sky blue and covered in warts. He unfurls his feathers, clucks, puffs up his chest and comes at her again.
“Go away!” she screams.
And the Tom obeys, levitating straight up and gliding over her in a blur! A whiff of green onions blows past and then the bird lands, disappearing into the brambly foliage beyond their yard.
Her husband races down the lanai steps. He caries a broom cocked and loaded.
“Where is it?” he asks, not knowing that he has missed the visitation by only a second.
The television is turned down low in their hotel room. On the screen, Saudi women in black hijabs pose behind their husbands dressed in skinny jeans. She can’t reach the remote to change the channel.
A mummy-like bandage wraps around her head and there is a faraway look in her left eye. She is sitting up. The drapes are closed and it’s hard to tell whether it’s afternoon or morning.
The wife, wobbly and nauseous in the aftermath, is recovering from surgery. The doctor with a robotic arm says it was as delicate as operating on butterfly wings.
She is waiting for tests, pathology reports, consults with the doctors. She is waiting for news that will not destroy her but she already fears the worst.
She inches her fingers across the bedside table and drags the cell phone towards her. She calls her husband but the phone goes to voice mail.
She yells for him and then at him and weeps out of her left eye. She needs to go to the bathroom but has promised him she won’t get out of bed alone.
The sound of someone trying to open the door comes at last. Her husband is struggling with the card-operated lock. When the door finally swings open she sees his outline backlit by the hallway lights.
She begins with an accusation, but her voice trails off as he enters and she sees that he is entirely covered in snow. He is literally a vision in white, a million pixels of ivory have turned him into a snowman.
“What are you smiling about?”
He goes to her side of the bed, removes his hat and lightly shakes it, so that a sprinkle of snowflakes drifts upon her bandaged head.
He tells her, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen snow.”
She sticks out her hand to catch herself but there is nothing there. The empty space astonishes her as she realizes that she has reached out too far over the railing and she is about to fall.
She calls out to her husband, but no answer comes. Instead, her hand is guided back to the railing where she steadies herself, landing with a thump– her bare feet once again safely grounded on the lanai.
She picks up the broom and returns to the task at hand.
A spider has strung a web in a tree in their back yard. Its sticky strands, an invisible trap, have snagged a butterfly, which frantically beats its wings trying to escape.
She holds the broom by the edge of its handle and leans once again over the railing, but her swing misses. She tries again, a fearless swipe that succeeds. The butterfly, now separated from its deadly trap, dangles from the broom by two silky tethers.
The toilet flushes and the bathroom door opens. She waits, broom held aloft, for her husband to come and join her before setting the butterfly free.
He quotes a piece of poetry he remembers from their honeymoon in Naples. He says, “To each other they are irresistible as God…”