Wanda purchased the maroon football jersey at half-price due to a defect in the shoulder seam.
Marvin allowed the shirt to linger in the dresser for three months before wearing it to the vaguely-Methodist barbeque where his wife would be inclined to hide her generalized anger.
“What a terrific shirt!” the church Treasurer announced. And slapped Marvin’s shoulder in that passive-aggressive-I-despise-the-world manner of wise older men.
Only 41 and undistinguished, Marvin could not bring himself to slap the Treasurer back.
Mowed lawns rose like hookers–or hookahs–between them. Both looked away in search of ketchup.
Of course Sue had the ketchup. She kept the ketchup. Men were forever seeking the ketchup, alternately, catsup.
Men sought Sue indirectly when they found her with the ketchup. In this fashion, Sue established herself as an ongoing pleasant surprise.
Demographically-diverse men gazed at her with astonishment. “Thank you Sue,” they murmured as she squirted their dogs.
“It’s my pleasure,” she replied. And so it was.
Wanda knew it was. She suspected Sue’s pleasure came from the pose of availability. Sue was widowed. Sue had no children or pets. Sue once had a tabby but it died under suspicious evening circumstances. Sue had managed three abortions in college. By the time Sue got married, the Lord said enough is enough and refused Sue the baby boy she imagined. His name was Oliver. Even though he kept dying in the second gestational month.
Of course Wanda felt sorry for Sue losing Oliver like that–and so often–but less sorry when faced with the shibboleths of stunned husbands seeking ketchup and bumping into sneaky old Sue. Less sorry given how weakly the husbands bore this sort of thing, including life, in general. Husbands were bores and boors and in the same instant.
Wanda crossed her arms and greeted someone else’s ill-behaved grandchildren. She wasn’t ready for that batch or that bridge. She texted Lilith to remind her about the IUD appointment. One daughter was a blessing and enough.
As women chatted about kitchen upgrades, Wanda remembered being young and not giving a damn about kitchens.
“Wherefore art thou Wanda?” Marvin had crooned one evening long ago in the park surrounded by fireflies. In the days when they could not see enough of each other. In the days when their names felt like handles to tug back and forth.
“Because my Momma liked the name,” Wanda had told Marvin.
Back then, words travelled in slow motion, inching from her mouth to his face and then over his eyebrows. He kissed her like she might disappear. She kept thinking he must be mistaking her for a firefly. But it happened so quickly, love.
The marvelous swarm of desires and diminutives ripened into marriage, a child, a house, a thousand duties. Until it hit her. In the head. At the barbeque.
“Heavens above and hell below, I think Marvin misunderstood me!” Wanda marvelled aloud.
Or had she misunderstood him? Had she even read Shakespeare?
A corn-cob rested on the smudged grass near her sandal. She felt the need to share her discovery with Marvin, to explain how all this show–and the years gouged in between–stemmed from a simple misunderstanding. She thought he was saying. He actually said. The whole thing was a silly mistake.
So why were they married?
And where was that dough-faced Sue with the ketchup?
Retired Firefighter #7 asked Marvin his wife’s whereabouts–“She shore is cute, that Wanda”–then narrowed in on the Russians. Possibly Latvians. No way to be certain without a special degree. Did
Marvin know anything about the possible Russians and ongoing active measures?
Wanda glared at Sue’s spray-on tan, so disingenuous.
“Unless by active measures you mean honking ceaselessly behind the school bus, the Russians aren’t into it,” Marvin said. He wasn’t sure. Just being polite. Avoiding his wife. Mingling with loathsome others. Overhearing things like: “The current President is orchestrating a devolution to misogynist gender paradigms.” “Git me an extra bun, babe, I dropped one.” “I still can’t for the life of me ride a bike.” “Has anyone seen the catsup?”
“I like that shirt, Marvin,” Sue said in her tinkle-chime voice. “It’s so different from all the other football tees. I like that you’re saying Roll Tide without looking like everybody else.”
Marvin thanked her. He didn’t say Roll Tide. He hadn’t thought to. It was an icebreaker. It was ninety two degrees in the shade of something.
“And I bought that shirt for him off the rack,” Wanda announced, implying that everything valuable or unique about Marvin had her fingerprints on it. He wasn’t special without her.
It was a terrible misunderstanding. A silly mistake. The kids would be fine. Kids were adaptive.
They would grow into solid consumers with or without traditional nuclear family spending patterns.
A former choir member sought ketchup. Sue obliged him. Sue obliged and obliged and created obligation. Wanda told Marvin her head felt like Mosul on the night of big attack.
As they sat without music on the drive home, Marvin thanked Wanda for the shirt that stood for all the interesting things on the planet.
She leaned her forehead against the Nissan window. Never understanding. What he meant.
And Marvin going on: “It’s nice to have a wife and a house and a shirt and a daughter, dear.
Maybe I should thank you more often.”
She wanted to mention the mistake but found more adjectives in which to offer him the sad door prize she’d hustled. More ways to say here take this than what happened.