by Mykelle Thompson Graves
Before Marjorie closed the door to her husband’s bedroom, she asked the prostitute how long she could wait. “Bill’s late from work,” Marjorie said, “as usual.”
“If you’re paying, I have all night,” the young woman said, which was the exact answer Marjorie expected.
“No problem.” Marjorie looked her over, marveling at Howard’s ability to come through. He may have been inept at his job, but he excelled at indiscretions. Howard was a bastard to the core, but this girl was perfect. Marjorie hadn’t described the kind of whore she hoped for, but here she was anyway: long, brown hair; high waist; full hips; and a level gaze that insisted she knew what she was doing, defiant. She looked just like Marjorie thirty years ago, before the four pregnancies, two miscarriages, and hysterectomy…before Bill had won so many awards—an illustrious career in medical research, his work on proteomics and biomarkers giving hope to many—and took one of his admirers to bed, a colleague who didn’t know any better, impressed.
Marjorie fingered her necklace, an emerald-and-diamond pendant Bill had given her for their tenth anniversary. They’d made it through so much—weathering financial losses, Jared’s expulsion from Thayer Academy, Emily’s boyfriend troubles—arriving exactly nowhere. What did it all mean? Holding fast to each other through all that heartache just to let go now? The whore ran her hands along Bill’s silky brown comforter. Marjorie said, “I suppose this seems strange to you, as an anniversary present.”
“I wish,” the prostitute said. “You wouldn’t believe the levels of strange I’ve seen.”
“He isn’t a sexual deviant or anything,” Marjorie assured her, “so it should be a walk in the park as far as that goes. I just no longer want him myself.”
“I know the feeling.”
“I’m not ready to divorce him yet. When my daughter leaves for college, in one more year.”
“My parents divorced when I was six,” the whore said. “No big deal.”
Marjorie wanted to point out the woman’s line of work might suggest, to some, that a lack of stability and good role models do, in fact, matter. But she held her tongue. She wasn’t paying for a discussion on social mores and family constructs. She hadn’t hired a whore to explore philosophies of ethics in childrearing.
“Is he expecting me? Or are we doing the surprise-naked-chick-in-the-bed thing?”
Marjorie hadn’t thought about presentation. Not here anyway, downstairs in the kitchen, she had the china warming, the thyme sprigs snipped and ready to top the steak. She’d polished her grandmother’s silver and set it on the embroidered napkins, posturing her current effort against the past. Such ordinary gifts, dinner and sex, and yet she couldn’t help feeling a bit smug about her generosity, giving so much more than he deserved.
She knew what he wanted, of course, the gift he hoped for: forgiveness. When she offered him a quiet dinner at home, with Jared off to college and Emily shuffled to a friend’s house, he’d said, “That’s perfect. We’ll talk all night.” He looked a bit like when he’d asked her to marry him, lucky.
She’d said, “We’ll talk, but not all night.”
“I can’t wait,” he’d said, and she couldn’t bring herself to tell him he’d misinterpreted.
Was she holding a grudge? Had she let embarrassment and disappointment—how cliché he’d turned out in the end—to turn her into an ordinary monster, herself the bitter woman, the heartless bitch? She didn’t think so. Only, the grand ache of weariness made her want to lie down alone.
The prostitute was waiting. “He’ll be surprised,” Marjorie said. “But let’s not do naked in the bed. I want you to wear something for me.”
Marjorie went to her room—the one that used to be theirs before Jared moved out and Bill slunk down the hall like a thieving dog—the room where promotions had been celebrated, grief assuaged, babies made and lost. The room for lovemaking, but not once in the last ten months, not much in the last three years. She didn’t miss it. Or rather, she missed what it once was, but not what it had become.
Twenty-five years: a milestone. The silver. Tradition had got them here; tradition she could live with. She dug to the bottom of her nightstand drawer, where her wedding-night negligee still lay folded, the white lace refusing to yellow, just as fresh as the first night she wore it. She’s worn it every anniversary since her honeymoon, except her pregnant years, to remind them of their excitement, their wonder that skin could make its own happiness. Naturally, it hadn’t looked good on her the last eight times or so—her breasts hanging lower than the silk darts, her hips barely contained by the lace—but Bill never seemed to mind. Perhaps that’s what he had expected out of marriage: the slow sadness of unwelcomed change. Bill understood how infidelity could cause pain, but he didn’t understand her. It wasn’t the sex she objected to as much as what he wanted from it: adoration.
Marjorie took the nightie down the hall to the prostitute and watched her change into it. The whore spun around for her, wiggling her hips as she turned, and said, “Well?”
“It’s perfect,” said Marjorie. “You’ll bring him to his knees.”