Jerry worked late again last night, so this morning, to show him how much I care, I make him waffles with a plate of bacon, cooked chewy, just the way he likes. I mix the eggs, milk, and batter into a big glass bowl, then I add a tablespoon of vanilla. Years ago, Diane, Jerry’s mother, told me that vanilla was the secret to making great waffles. That, and butter of course. The secret ingredient to almost anything is more butter. For years I tried to get Jerry to eat healthy, to work out. But now, I just want him to be happy.
There’s a photo I keep on the mantle above the fireplace. It’s of me and Jerry on our wedding day. It was taken by Diane with one of the disposable cameras I had placed on each of the picnic tables we had set up in the backyard of our first home. We had just finished saying that we would love each other until death do us part. Jerry’s shirt sleeves are rolled and I see his forearms flex as he lifts me up, light as a baby, and I’m laughing beneath the long, slender branches of a willow tree. The afternoon sun shines through the leaves and my white dress glows in the light, billowing in the wind like some heavenly cloud. I scrape butter and pour the maple syrup until the waffle is soaked, glistening.
Jerry’s out of breath by the time he makes it down the stairs. He sits down at the kitchen table and I set his plate and a cup of coffee in front of him, then I give him a peck on the cheek. I taste sweat, cologne. The middle buttons on his dress shirt look about ready to pop off as he reaches across the table for the bowl of sugar.
“I’m going to be working late again tonight. Damn Canadians. I swear, baby. You understand.”
I tell him I understand. I tell him I love him and that I appreciate how hard he’s been working to support us. He smiles, his dimples like bullet holes. I top off his coffee. He takes a bite of waffle. His cheeks poof out like a squirrel as he chews.
“Hmm, baby. Better than my momma used to make, I swear.” He reaches out and gives my butt a pinch. I slap his hand away playfully, and giggle. I watch a drop of sweat as it trickles down his neck. His skin bulges over his collar as he turns his head back towards his plate. I’ll have to buy him new shirts soon. I smile.
“Oh hey, Julia called, from your office?”
He looks up at me, his mouth full. I time this perfectly. I love to watch how panicked he gets, how he struggles to swallow so he can get his next line out.
“Oh, yeah, what’d she want?” he asks, his cheeks flushed, red as apples. He gives his tie a tug and undoes his top button.
“She said the reps from TEAC-Yukon switched the meeting. Instead of the Best Western they’re holding it at the Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn has a larger conference room, apparently.”
They think I am so dumb. When it first started, their lies were better. For years I didn’t even know.
He grabs four slices and mumbles a thank you, then shoves two pieces into his mouth. I sit down beside him with my toast and half a grapefruit.
“Hey, I was thinking this Sunday we should go to your father’s headstone. Probably time to change the flowers. Clean it up a bit.”
He smiles, a look of relief on his face as the subject changes. He sets his fork down and leans back in his chair.
“Oh my God. I married an angel.”
“Oh, please. Stop it.” I say, my hand hiding my grin. He reaches under the table and pats my thigh.
“Well, you stop being so perfect and I will.”
He takes the piece of toast off my plate and soaks up the rest of the grease and syrup. He puts the soggy wad in his mouth then washes it down with the last of his coffee.
“So, what do you have planned for today?”
I take a bite of grapefruit before I answer, as if I’m giving it thought.
“I think I’m gonna head out to Wal-Mart. See what I can get us for dinner. Look around, see if there’s any deals on clothes.” I reach over and give his belly a little pat.
He stands up without a word and takes his plate and cup to the sink. He stands there for a moment, looking down. I come up behind him and wrap my arms as best I can around his middle and squeeze him tight. Two years ago, my fingers could touch.
Now I can barely make the curve.
“You know I love you. No matter what.”
He turns around, places his hands on my waist, and lowers his head. This is my favorite part.
“I know baby. I’m trying, though. Really, I am. I bought a case of Slim-Fast. All I’m gonna eat for lunch, I swear.” He raises his sweaty, sticky palm in the air, as testament.
“You know I don’t care. I love you just the same. You’re my big ol’ teddy bear”
I goose his love handles and he chuckles. He tries to lift me, like he used to do. I get a couple inches off the ground before he sets me down, his forehead gleaming with fresh sweat.
“God, I love you.” he says. He smiles. His life couldn’t be more perfect.
“I love you too. My darling, my lovely.” I kiss him one more time at the door, then I wipe the grease off my lips.
I wave goodbye from the window. He gives a little honk as he drives off. I look out across the yard. The pink dogwoods are blooming. My neighbor Cynthia is in her yard, trimming her rose bushes. She smiles and waves.
I pull the curtains back and turn the blinds. Then I lock the door.
There’s another picture on the mantle, one he put up not long after I found Julia’s silk panties balled up in his jacket pocket nearly five years ago. It’s of Glen, Jerry’s father. He’s at our Fourth of July cookout, to celebrate Jerry landing the Accounts Manager position at M-COT-R Barge and Tow. He’s laughing, about to sit down at the picnic table. He has a rack of ribs, corn on the cob, baked beans, cornbread, and a slice of key lime pie. His paper plate is about to buckle under the weight of all that food. It was taken one week before his heart attack.
I threw the panties out with the trash. I showed him the picture that evening at dinner. “You can tell that he lived such a full life,” I said. “He was so happy, right up until the very end, wasn’t he?” He was so touched he framed it that night and placed it on the mantle right beside our wedding picture. I look at them both every day.
He was only 46 years old. Two more years and Jerry will be 46.
If I leave him, then Julia gets everything. All I have to do is keep being the perfect wife. It’s easy. Just keep giving him what he wants. Keep doing what he likes. It’s honestly not much different than what I was doing before. Life insurance pays out full if you croak before 50. Diane lives in Florida now, down near the Keys. She looks out her window every day and sees the ocean.
I turn on the TV and put in the DVD with the picture of the sexy, muscly black man wearing neon spandex. I strip to my underwear and pick up the 5 lb. weights I keep hidden under the couch. There’s a mirror hanging above the mantle. An antique Murano framed in gold leaf. It was a gift from Diane. I straighten my hair, then do a little twirl.
“Not long now,” I say to myself. “You’re lookin’ good, girl.”
I press play on the remote. In my head, I make a list:
-Steak, Rib-eye, 24 oz.
-Red potatoes, one bag.
-White beans, with ham hock.
-Donuts, glazed, one box.
I punch the air as the black man counts. I feel the blood pumping through my veins. I admire the firmness of my arms, the way my butt moves in the mirror. Got to keep fit. Got to stay healthy. I think about Florida. I think about the ocean and the sun and my flowing black dress billowing against the wind like some storm cloud as I run down the beach.
And oh, yes, butter. We’re almost out of butter.