In all those years of marriage, Margie never thought Steve would leave her. In fact, through all her infatuations, years and years of the same story pinned nicely, held up against miscellaneous men, trying to make the story fit like when you are putting pieces of fabric up against a model to see if it all will work right on their body, adjusting, readjusting, standing back, then making the alternations necessary—in all those years of tending to fantasies about other men, it never occurred to her that Steve might leave her. That he might be unhappy. Steve seemed faithful and loving to Margie.
The story line always started with Steve dying: a swift, completely unfortunate tragedy whereby Steve was rendered conveniently out of the picture. Years like this. Each day dream –the stream of constant imaginary stories-- had a sort of prologue that she didn’t develop in detail, just enough to absolve her of guilt. Then she would indulge in her fantasies, the kind of love stories they depicted in old movies. To get to the meat of the plot-- there would be a car accident, or heart attack, or being at the wrong place at the wrong time, an unnecessary victim of an unnecessary crime. Something like: walking into a convenience store for a pack of gum and bam, its over.
In reality, she didn’t want Steve to die, but it was the only scenario she could conceive of to situate her fantasies, to be available –being widowed was perfect, it cast a kind of forlorn need over her character, a wistful vulnerability. Never once did she imagine infidelity, nor did she ever pretend she was divorced.
She just wanted the dream: like that period from 1999-2003 with the neighbor who resembled Captain Von Trapp. That fantasy lasted all those years. Once in a while there had been times when Margie thought this is slipping out. This is slipping into reality. Captain Von Trapp (George) knows what I’m thinking. That I have been obsessively day dreaming about him. She might panic like this if George passed by with his son on a tricycle and said, “gorgeous flowers” Margie might wince and swallow hard. Captain Von Trapp knows. George can see through this transparent illusion—my real life, the appearance of a housewife, gardening. But, in reality he probably hadn’t seen through her. And besides if he had and if something –in those benign interactions-- had transpired, Margie maybe would have come to see that George wasn’t really even that much like the Captain, but he was close enough in appearance, close enough to how Captain von Trap looked after he had softened, after he had fallen in love with Julie Andrews. Of course the real George was married so in the daydream—which had become elaborately complicated--his wife had some rotten fate too before the daydream would start.
It would not start, rather it would resume. It was the same fantasy over and over.
Margie would be at a stop light with just the right soft rock playing: Nora Jones or Dave Matthews, then it would commence, the light, the color would fill her field of vision and all of this tedium would give way to the romance. Something little, usually some kind of quirky coincidence, something that would happen to Meg Ryan or these days, Kate Hudson. It was the incarnation of high estrogen levels that the fertility doctor had told her she had, year after year. The doctor had told her that her estrogen was four times that of the normal woman. A normal woman.
It wasn’t her marriage, it was her estrogen. There really was no problem. She felt no one would ever believe her and even the one or two friends she confided in about her fantasies thought, sure it’s your estrogen, really they thought something is wrong between you and Steve. And, this would scare her. It would scare her down deep. Down to the core. Nothing was wrong except maybe with her brain, the estrogen flooding her brain with romantic stories. She sometimes worried she was crazy, but she had heard once that if you are truly crazy, you don’t know it. And, more importantly, you can’t control it. Insanity is obvious to everyone around you. If she were insane she would not be such an effective, convincing wife and mother. It wouldn’t be possible.
So the stoplight would change from yellow to red and in that pause, that necessary respite she would indulge. And, Dave Matthew would describe the “crash” and she would feel the romantic feelings wash over her and Captain Von Trapp –her neighbor George-- would enter her mind: his broad chest and the way his hair would wisp over his forehead, that smile and all that strength and wealth. Part of it was that Margie imagined herself perfectly, entirely safe with Captain Von Trapp. And there were several stories that might be running and one would just enter seamlessly, simultaneously with real life. Like a glimpse of herself in the rear view mirror, just a certain angle of her face. It was the way the Captain’s eyes looked at her. A kind of speaking to her. And, she might say something like “I thought you hated me.”
He would look down, he would look and the ground and whisper “no.” There would be a long pause and then he would stare into her eyes again, just the way he looked into Julie Andrew’s eyes. And, then he would say, “just the opposite.” It was tender and strong. It was the exact combination to her heart. A way of talking to her and understanding her. And the wind on the coast would rush past them, her hair tangled in her face and he would put both hands on her face, stare for a long moment and then--
Then the car behind her would beep. Green light. Time to go. Was it wrong to escape in those 90 seconds? Was it harmful? Yes, somewhere deep down, maybe Margie knew that this was some kind of illness. Maybe it was an addiction, or a some other kind of mental illness. And, she knew that this had been with her long before Steve. It had been with her since she was twelve and there was a boy named Martin and she imagined him saying things to her. Things like “I like you” and “do you want to go out with me?” A glass bottle of Fanta in his hand. He would take a sip and then hold it out for her, and she would take a sip as well. His eyes would watch her as she held the bottle to her lips. “Do you want to go out with me?” And it filled such a hungry, barren place inside of her and it took the place of everything else. And, where things were pale, it became vibrant. And, when she was twelve she took the idea of Martin everywhere with her. Adults would talk to her ya ya ya because really, she was in cut off shorts and a halter top in her imagination. She was standing next to the soda machine and Martin was putting money in and smiling at her. After Martin –after she moved away from his neighborhood-- there was Craig, and then when her teenage years hit, it was some teenage high school idol. At times, it was movie stars, but since she has been married, it has been neighbors, friends, once it was the picture of an author on the back of a novel. Men who resemble Captain Von Trapp. That smile, those deep sparkling eyes, outside in the gazebo “And have you?” He had asked Julie Andrews. “Have you found love? Your purpose?”
This is not the reason her marriage failed. In fact, her marriage existed separate from this. And, this secret, this luscious and complicated secret was a burden too—or the guilt was. And, she remembered her friend Jill saying “whatever gets you through the day.” Jill was talking about one of the gardeners who worked on her yard every week. Tall and muscular. Margie had seen him many times but when Jill said that Margie had the feeling that this wasn’t some criminal thing, it just was. Women had fantasies. But, Margie thought perhaps most people just let it pass, like a thought or a breeze and it didn’t stay lodged inside of them becoming a compulsion. And she imagined that other women’s stories weren’t as elaborate, long running. They were just a quick flirtation before heading off to the gym or the grocery store.
And, often, very often she nudged her mind back into appropriate thinking. Told herself how to behave like a normal person. And, when the feeling or a thought entered her mind, she used Buddhism or what she thought was Buddhism to gently steer the thought away, let it pass, not linger, not indulge.
Then everything changed. One day, Steve came home; it was a night like any other. Well, no, it was different because on that particular night she hadn’t been imagining the Captain. She had been nudging the thought of him away all day; and she had a particular kind of confidence in herself because she felt free. Emancipated.
She had just not really done much of anything that day. It was the kind of day where she concluded why not? Why shouldn’t I take a day off? And, the laundry was in piles on the bathroom floor, and the dishes were in the sink. The TV was on and Oprah was interviewing a writer who had just written a book about a young girl from the south who came of age during the depression. It looked like a good book, long but good. And, the writer was pretty, articulate. Not old enough to write a book that thick.
Steve walked in and turned the TV off. He sat on the couch next to her and just stared at her. His eyes looked impatient and almost fatherly. He was smiling but kind of trembling and Margie thought maybe someone had been hurt. Maybe his aunt had fallen again. Maybe someone died. Someone from work, a bookkeeper whose name she may have heard once or twice, but someone Steve knew. Something terrible had happened.
But, it wasn’t that at all. Steve started, “There is this person—woman...”
And Marge nodded and she was waiting to hear the details: cancer, or a car accident. Maybe she had been a drinker. Still tragic, but some plausible reasons for this unexpected death. She was probably young and Margie thought about how pointless life seems sometimes when someone that young dies. The only young woman she could remember from Steve’s work was the secretary, the pretty one who looked like Kate Hudson. The adorable young woman with an inordinate amount of confidence. Gorgeous blue eyes--
“Are you listening to me?”
And Margie nodded yes. She was listening; she was also trying to construct an image of what might have happened. She could do both at the same time.
She nodded again. “Of course.”
“And, we are going to get married.”
It was out of place. “We – are—going—to—get—married.” Each word, each syllable actually, lodged itself slowly in her consciousness. The words didn’t go together. So, Margie at first thought she misheard and somehow Steve was asking her to marry him again, but that wouldn’t fit either because they were already married. She tried to remember how he started this: there – is – this—person—a—woman. And, then and—we—are—going—to—get—married.
“Who?” Margie asked, but as often happens with tragic news, it actually registered just the moment after she had asked for clarification so she immediately added “you and this girl?”
His face took on the expression of Captain Von Trapp; a certain softness when he heard Margie say “this girl.” How old fashioned it was to call a lover “girl” as in “girl and beau.” The romance of it almost made it all right.
Except they had been married 18 years.
“You and this girl are going to get married?”
She leaned back on the couch and looked up at the ceiling fan, three little chains that controlled the light and the speed of the fan. Her muscles felt completely limp as if she had no feeling in them whatsoever, particularly in her arms. She looked back at him.
“What do you mean?” “I don’t know,” he said, “you’ve been so far away.”
“Oh” she said, and nodded.
And all at once, everything was empty. The house was empty; her thoughts were absent. It was the numbness, it permeated all of her and she wasn’t exactly sad. It was just this enormous shift. Another person’s life had been placed in front of her and she was supposed to figure it out like a maze: this is how divorcee’s manage. Divorcee. It had a kind of 1970s women’s lib connotation. It was crazy bizarre and although she was the same person: friendly, sweet; she was also something else. She was mature about it. She did now what she had to do. Just as back then a few months ago—forever now-- when she was married to Steve. She just did what life asked of her. And, without Steve she had to return to work, to accounting. No time for daydreaming as her father used to say. It made her laugh to think about it. But, being back at work was good. It was a nice labyrinth of concrete logic with solvable problems, puzzles and mazes of categories and columns and sub totals. Accounts receivable, debt, and revenue. Amounts of things that were real, measurable, unemotional. And after a day of work, or even a few hours her body felt exorcised of all the things right there below the surface: a kind of emotional debt.
Along with all of these changes, there was no Captain Von Trapp. It was a noticeable difference: at stoplights, the drive to the businesses to do the books, picking up Aiden from school. She was solidly now in the center of her life, and really, really and truly, she felt nothing for the Captain. She was no longer jealous of Maria, their love affair. That was their life, this was hers.
If she happened to be in the garden and if George walked by with his younger child, now a toddler. If George smiled at her, it wasn’t Captain Von Trapp’s smile at all. It was her neighbor George’s smile; and, she didn’t imagine him walking towards her. She didn’t feel the adolescent excitement in the gazebo. There were no waves of anticipation as her mind transposed the story of an imaginary love affair on her neighbor. Someone else’s husband. If he happened to say, “The dogwood is beautiful,” she might just stare up at the pink star-pointed flowers and smile. She might stand under its fragrant canopy and nod politely without much notice.
When Steve would come pick up Aiden, his new wife in the car --she wasn’t even young or nearly as pretty as Margie, she didn’t wear make up or really look very fashionable at all—when Steve would come to the door, Margie would stare blankly at him: this empty canvas. She knew she had feelings somewhere but it was as though they had evaporated—or more just drained out of her body that day on the couch when he said that he was marrying someone else. It was so startling, so shocking. And, now she knew a different life, she had become a different person and when she stared past Steve and watched his new wife, Erica, help Aiden into the car, she hoped she would see that glassy eyed, day dreaming expression that she herself must have worn for so many years. She hoped to see that same look in Erica’s face, but it was absent. Margie became stiff around Steve. He would hug her and she would hug him back, but not really feel any affection.
One afternoon Margie’s neighbor Lindley came to the door. Lindley was George’s wife. She wanted to invite Margie to a small birthday party; a gathering at their house. It was odd to Margie but she smiled and accepted. Apparently, George “loves her garden.” He always “talked about it,” he had been “wanting to get to know Margie and Steve.”
“Steve doesn’t live here anymore,” Margie said to the woman, the tall, thin woman that was George’s wife. The one she had killed in her imagination so many times. Sometimes, Margie remembered now, it was a head-on collision on route 5 that claimed the life of both Lindley and Steve, all at once Bam done. And then immediately after the wake, the romance between her and The Captain would start up “we are so alone, the two of us.”
“But we have each other.”
It seemed so absurd to Margie now that she almost wanted to tell Lindley, but it was impossible. Of course, it was impossible. How do you say, I’ve been imagining you in a tragic accident for years now. And then I imagined myself falling in love with your husband. Don’t you get it? It’s hysterical. No it wasn’t.
“Oh—“ Lindley said. And, then it was awkward, “well, we would love for you to come –just you. Where is Steve? Do you mind me asking?”
Margie shook her head and she had the feeling she should invite her in, but she didn’t want to. She wanted to be alone. “He married someone else.” Because really that is what it was. They didn’t break up. They didn’t just get divorce. There was none of that: the fighting, the years of emptiness between them, trial separation after trial separation. No. He just married someone else, moved from one life into the next without really much disturbance. It was surgical: he brought the paper for her to sign that night just after Oprah held up the book, the book about the girl in rural Alabama. Margie had bit her lip, pretended to read the pages of legal jargon on the table in front of her, but in the end she just went ahead and signed. And, then that night Margie just made sense of it the best she could: Steve is getting married. Strange as it seems, the divorce is a technicality, a preamble to this new life he’s moving into. She knew now that there had been an affair and there had been years of infatuation between Steve and Erica. As horrible as it was, Margie realized, hadn’t she been doing the same to Steve? The waltzes under the gazebo were beautiful and all that time together with her imagination, wasn’t that infidelity in some philosophical sense? The only difference was that it had evaporated; and, now Steve was married to someone else. And, Margie was alone.
“Erica—he’s married to someone named Erica,” Margie said to her neighbor. She nodded her head, confirming this fact for herself again and again. And Lindley shifted her weight from one long leg to the other and looked down at the painted porch. She bit her lip and looked up at Margie.
“Would you like to come? It’s on Saturday.”
Margie nodded, “yeah, that sounds nice. I would love to come.”
It was quiet and a car passed on the street, and Lindley turned to look as if this were her cue to do something. “I should get back George has both the kids.”
“Oh sure, no problem. Ok, see you Saturday.”
“Yeah, see you Saturday—6:30, ok?” Margie went into her house and sat on the couch. The room was empty and quiet. Everything was in its place. She looked out of the window at the vines of clematis that climbed in deep green leaves and bright purple flowers over the pergola attached to the front of the porch. She saw the honeysuckle intertwined with the other vines and bright blue iris’s bordered the neighbor’s house. Everything was healthy and lush. Margie leaned her head back and tried to imagine it. She tried to conjure the fantasy. For a moment, she felt the wave of longing, yearning. The infatuation. It was like a machine that started up, like a cat purring. And then she kept thinking over and over like whiskers on kittens and these are a few of my favorite things… It was amusing to have this impish feeling, but there was no story, no fantasy left.
On Saturday she put on a pretty dress. It was one of the one’s that Steve had always loved: a light silk dress with a floral pattern. It was cheery and the sleeves were sheer, split at the shoulder. The collar plunged, but not too deeply. The dress was feminine, soft. She pulled her auburn hair back in barrettes, on the side. She looked in the mirror and she didn’t know how she looked. She imagined who might be at this suburban party. Probably families with children and everyone coupled up. She wondered why George wanted her there in the first place. Maybe he had read her mind all these years. Maybe he had felt her ongoing electric, contagious infatuation. Just as she had been far away from Steve, maybe she had been intimate with George. She thought of Lindley and she washed the thought from her mind. It was never that way in the fantasy. It was never someone’s husband. It was a widower, a wealthy captain in the navy. Seven children and a beautiful landscape. It was an inevitable love, because it was true love. She whispered “true love” and watched her lips in the mirror. She applied more coral lipstick and stared at herself momentarily. It hurt to be so lonely.
The party was inside George & Lindley’s old Craftsman house. There were a lot of people moving about the rooms and it looked like one of those old professor’s houses that you see in movies, where intellectual and creative people move about sharing stories or discussing avante garde topics. She expected someone to yell something like There is no humanity! Damn it! We are all just atoms moving around in a pile of dog shit! Something like that. Margie stood awkwardly at first by a tall wooden bookcase. She spent some time scanning the books, even picking up one or two and flipping the pages. Theirs was a collection of literature from the 1940s, 50s and 60s hard cover, first editions: Lolita, Catcher in the Rye, The Sound and The Fury. There was a glass encased cabinet half way down that held old botanical books, some of the titles she didn’t even understand: Orchids of Australia, Flora of Java, The Genus Phyllospadix-- Margie didn’t open the cabinet, but her eyes scanned the titles. She looked up and George was in front of her, standing, holding two martinis. He did look remarkably like Captain Von Trapp at that moment in his black crewneck sweater and dark pants. His brown hair formed a cowlick near the center.
“I am so glad that you could make it.”
Margie smiled. “I am so surprised by your house…just a few doors down.”
“And why is that?” he asked. He was different somehow.
“Oh, I don’t know--happy birthday” she said and he handed her one of the martinis and he held his up to toast.
“To gardening” she said.
It was awkward for a moment and Margie looked around the room, to the right was the living room with a light green couch, 1940s style and a large fireplace made of stone with arts and crafts tiles was in the center of the room. There was a woman on the couch that looked remarkably like Meryl Streep—so much so that it took Margie’s attention away from George momentarily. Yes, it was the same heart shaped face, and small, pursed lips. Margie couldn’t help but notice her. The woman looked up and her eyes met Margie’s. . The woman said something to the other woman sitting beside her, but kept her eyes on Margie. It wasn’t until George touched her shoulder, leaned closer and said something that she looked away, broke the connection with this woman. But, this connection it was important; a kind of burning spreading inside of Margie. And, Margie didn’t know why.
“I wanted to ask you about Gardening.”
“”What?” Margie was distracted. “Oh I don’t garden much these days. I am back at work.” “Lindley told me about your husband.”
Margie nodded and took a sip. The martini was dry and it was ice cold, it slid down her throat and she felt a magnetic numbness overtake her. Her eyes wandered back to the woman on the couch and the woman looked up and glanced at Margie briefly then she looked away.. And, there was something—what? She thought. Cataclysmic…that wasn’t the right word, but in a sense it was exactly the right word. There was something cataclysmic happening, destroying parts of her, inside parts that were molecular. Parts that she hadn’t managed to ever feel or find inside of herself before.
She didn’t hear George. She hadn’t heard what he was saying to her, but now she was back and he was smiling and he did look exactly like the Capitan and a part of Margie wondered if George knew that and with his name, what a coincidence it was, except the movie was from a different era…how many contemporaries would remember the look of George Von Trapp and then make the connection? It was too long ago; but, Margie remembered. She remembered all of it. The words the Capitan had used and the way he looked. She almost equally remembered Julie Andrews and all of that innocence—a girl not a woman a girl knowing nothing else. Knowing nothing but this man’s definition of her and in that she found a perfect completion. She liked what he saw. She liked herself in his eyes. Maria.
“Would it be weird?” he asked.
“Would what be weird,” she said back, returning to time and place.
“To kiss your neighbor?”
Here it was: a script from the fantasy. No, Steve wasn’t dead. He was gone. And, Lindley, Margie didn’t even know Lindley. But, it would be weird to kiss your married neighbor. But, maybe this is what people do. This is what people who don’t fantasize, but instead live, do.
“I don’t know,” she said and “I don’t know if it would be weird or not.”
His eyes filled with attraction, the deep connection --the heat-- and in no time, somehow she was in the back yard and they were sitting on a wooden glider, underneath an arbor that was abundant with grapes: green, red and purple. And, bunches hung overhead and Margie could hear the wasps hissing around up there, just above them. And, this was close to the scene at the Von Trapp estate; this arbor was almost a gazebo. It was just about the same nighttime, summer light that Maria and the Captain embraced under. George leaned close to her and his lips found hers. And, his hand was on her cheek and they kissed for a while, a long time. Now and again he looked up at her, his fingers found strands of hair and brushed them back away from her face.
“What are we doing?” he finally whispered softly. He looked at the ground and then he smiled back up at her. It was wrong and it was weird to kiss her neighbor, but she really didn’t care about that. She didn’t care about Lindley or any of it.
She pulled away and smiled at him “did you know,” she said and laughed a little. “Do you know that you look exactly like Captain Von Trapp from the sound of music?”
A smile crossed his lips and even though it was dark, Margie could see that he was blushing. “Do I?”
“You do. You should watch the movie again some time. Even some of your mannerisms.”
“I guess I have been told that before.”
“That is why I was attracted to you,” she said, “I used to daydream about you—or” She wasn’t about to say that she daydreamed about Captain von Trapp.
“And I you.” He said and his voice seemed to have the cadence of an English Accent.
She held her finger to her lip and she stared at him. None of this was very nice. She wondered if this was how things had started with Steve and Erica. Just a kind of selfish indulgence that turned into a friendship that became and formed something deeper and more solid than what she and Steve had built together for eighteen years.
“I should go.”
“What do you think we should do?” he asked and there was a helplessness in his voice.
“Nothing,” she said. “This is all we should do.”
He nodded and she stood up and walked back into the party. He didn’t follow her. The house was much less crowed when she went back in. Lindley was in a deep, absorbing conversation with two women standing around the kitchen island. Her long hair was held back in a pretty pony tale and her wiry muscular stature made her look sophisticated, like a Parisian model. George’s wife. Margie could feel a violent storm erupting inside of her and she couldn’t tell what it was. It was a kind of panic and anger and it was churning and percolating and alternating between terror and rage and the lights seemed to flicker in front of her eyes and things started turning black and for an instant she thought that she would faint or die even.
Somehow she made it the several houses down to her house. She unlocked the door and walked into the dark house. It was quiet and the contrast between this house, this experience and George’s was like ice water being thrown at her. She lay down on the couch and as she let her head fall back on the pillow, the tears started to pour from her and she cried so deeply that she almost couldn’t catch her breath. She almost couldn’t keep her moans and cries quiet. She was afraid someone would walk by on their way back from the party. She was afraid that George would hear and want to come to her rescue. When she finally stopped crying she opened her eyes and stared at the darkness. Here she was, all alone.
“All alone” she whispered to the empty room. Then, her mind flashed on the woman who looked like Meryl Streep. Her mind stayed on the vision. She closed her eyes and time and again, her thoughts landed on the image of that face; and, to Margie it meant something.