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NEW-CUE, Inc. is a non-profit, environmental education organization founded primarily to assist writers and educators who are dedicated to enhancing the public's awareness of environmental issues.
She, his queen, stood in front of the full-length mirror with nothing on except knee high hose and a string of pearls. A crisp April breeze blew in from off of the Cape Fear. She wanted to drape herself in the pink linen dress with the rather large and gaudy hibiscus print (it was spring after all). She knew she must wear black as the guest of honor. The widow. She inhaled deeply. Azaleas bloomed in the garden. Confused and alone for the first time in her life. It wasn't supposed to be like this. He was always supposed to take care of her. That's what Mama had told her on the eve of her wedding. Find a graduate of the Citadel or Vanderbilt or UV and you'd be just fine- forever. Those boys make something of themselves. She exhaled.
What should she wear today? She slid the black cashmere sweater off the hanger, pulled the dark pleated skirt off the other. Pumps would be proper. Out they came. Hair was done, smooth, knotted at her nape. Her face on. Her daughter was waiting in the BMW. Time to go. Time to say goodbye.
The funeral was much too long. People stared at her solemn- ness. People stared at his high gloss mahogany casket. She stared at the raised pulpit at the front of the Catholic Church. Someone cupped her elbow with a palm and led her back to the car. On to the cemetery. (She remembers the lack of noise and the oak trees draped with cascades of Spanish moss. She also notes that the town seemed hushed even though the Azalea Parade was occurring just four blocks away and the town was busting at its seams with out of towners). She stared at her name on the tombstone next to his, impatiently waiting the final date. She wanted to go home and hide under the downy covers of their bed. Sleep. Dream again. And when she awoke, he would be there to handle things.
Impossible. Forever impossible. Ashes to ashes...blah blah blah...
The moist dirt landed on the casket with dull thuds. People with blurred faces embraced her. After the crowd cleared, her daughter silently drove her home to their butter-colored gingerbread home on the river.
Want to me stay?
No, no. I'm fine. I'll just lie down for a while.
What me to bring dinner by?
I'll come by tomorrow and we can talk.
Yes, that'll do.
She was alone again. She walked each room in their home. Boards creaked and moaned- sounds she never noticed before. He was everywhere. In the kitchen, where he installed the island bar. In the bathroom, where he hooked up the new toilet. In the living room, where he hung the new curtains. In their daughter's old bedroom, where he rocked their baby girl. In their bedroom, where they created a family. No use forgetting, always lingering, reminding. He was good to them. He took care of them. He certainly always looked good: crisp, proud, masculine, Southern. They had all they could ever want- Southern aristocrats of sorts.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. It wasn't supposed to be like this. She screamed inside herself. He was going to cut back his hours at the office and then retire. They were going to travel and build a greenhouse out back. They were going to have time for each other, to talk, to be together. The kids were grown now, well educated ? no shame. Grandkids would soon be on the way. The mortgage was almost paid. She would even allow him to keep his lover, Trey. (They had always been discrete). It might have been entertaining to travel the world with two attractive gay men.
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
She shed the dreadful mourning black and once again gazed in the looking glass. Twenty-nine years of dinner parties ala Southern Living, church on Sundays, the athletic club, the PTA, the Historic Foundation. When they met he was a cadet at the Citadel, in town only long enough to march in the Azalea Parade of 1964. She was a belle all bedecked in a sherbet colored hooped skirt and coordinating parasol, strolling the clean, wide, white front porch of the Bellamy Mansion. Fast forward twenty nine and a half years: gray hair artfully covered by her beautician, wrinkles and stretch marks moisturized with Lancôme, sagging parts lifted with pretty, under appreciated unmentionables. But still ready, alive and warm, waiting for the honeymoon they had never taken because he had to get back to 'work'. To provide he said. To provide well, the proper way.
It took her all night, almost to dawn. She cried, she screamed, she thought about throwing herself in the Cape Fear River. She probably drank too much Southern Comfort (his favorite). She laid her most precious possessions across the front lawn: the photo albums, the love letters (his and Trey's which she found ten years ago in a small cedar chest), her mother's wedding dress that she wore for their wedding, back issues of Better Homes & Gardens, his business suits, his coffee table books and golf clubs (she kept the pearls and the watercolor of the U.S.S. North Carolina). The neighbors couldn't believe she sacrificed the silver.
But that morning, as the sun rose across the murky Cape Fear and delighted Azalea revelers hopped aboard early morning fishing boats bound for the Atlantic, she poured the amber liquid across her memory strewn garden, lit a solitary match and burned the damned castle (and garden) down to the rich, Carolina ground. Tomorrow she would enroll in real estate school.
Precious McKenzie is a PhD student in English literature at the University of South Florida, Tampa. Her scholarly interests include travel writers, Victorian and modern literature. Poetry and short story writing is a guilty pleasure that she indulges in when looking to escape the stresses of graduate school.