Hell Now or Hell Forever…

11 Aug

“That’s a lovely dress, Wiggles,” Gina said.

“Thanks!” She ran a hand down the front. “It requires some explanation.”

“Really?” Margaret smiled politely.

The explanation was long and circuitous and ultimately no more interesting than the process anyone went through to select and purchase clothing.

“Then the shop wouldn’t take my credit card,” she continued — well past her story’s natural climax. “I said, ‘The register clearly displays the AmEx logo among the cards you accept.’ The clerk goes, ‘Well, we did, but we don’t anymore, and I guess we never got around to changing it.’ I explained to her that the register’s display was basically a binding agreement. I asked to see the manager, and she went to get her, but by that point, I realized that my Visa was giving double cash back this month, so I just used that.”

Winifred Landman’s argumentative nature had steered her toward a career in law. For many years, she was only conservative regarding Israel, but her politics had taken a hard right turn after a homeless person fell asleep in the backseat of her Honda Civic, which she’d left unlocked before a night of bar hopping in Pioneer Square. Now she was proudly one of the toughest prosecutors in King County.

“So, I’m surprised Sara showed up to a wedding,” Wiggles said, “all things considered.”

“Sara always RSVPs as soon as she receives the invitation,” Gina explained.

“But circumstances have obviously changed,” Pauline noted.

“Maybe she knew Matt wasn’t coming,” Margaret suggested.

Gina shook her head, and blonde waves struck her shoulders. “No, once she commits, she always follows through. Even if Matt had shown up, it wouldn’t have mattered. That’s how she is.”

Now that Wiggles had entered into the subject of Sara’s marriage like a curvy canary in a gossip mine, the other women felt safe to venture further.

“I wonder what Sara told her parents?” asked Pauline, who didn’t buy wallpaper without parental consultation.

“She didn’t say,” Gina replied. She believed it entirely possible that Sara hadn’t mentioned her impending divorce to the Richters, which made the three-week delay before Sara informed Gina slightly more palatable.

“It would devastate Mom and Dad if I walked away from my marriage,” Pauline declared. “I could never do that to them. Even if I wanted to.” She chewed listlessly. “But I obviously don’t want to.”

Brenda Waylen was halfway through her second ginger pear cocktail and had started to become demonstrative. “But if you were unhappy…” she said.

“I’m not,” Pauline insisted as though repeating a mantra: “I have a wonderful marriage.”

“Oh, for sure, but if you were unhappy — and we can only imagine Sara was — all I’m saying is I’m sure your family would understand.”

“I’m sure they understand the Bible,” Pauline replied, her arms folded. “’What God has joined, let no man separate.’”

“Technically, though, Sara separated herself from Matt,” Wiggles pointed out. She added, shrugging, “I’m a lawyer.”

“And Sara’s parents might not see it that way,” Margaret said. “Aren’t they part of some quirky religion?” The word “quirky” was Margaret’s polite euphemism for “liberal.”

“The Religious Society of Friends,” Gina said to blank faces, so she clarified: “Quakers.”

“Oh, like Scientologists?”

“No, Wiggles, this religion wasn’t founded back in the ‘50s in someone’s garage.”

Margaret Ashe examined her teeth in the back of a spoon. Satisfied with her appearance, she tapped the utensil against her thin lips.

“We’re thinking of getting a new car,” she added tangentially.

“What’s wrong with your Outback?” Brenda asked.

“It’s OK… it’s functional. There’s just no joy in it anymore. It’s fine for Dylan to take to work, but we need something new for me. It’ll be good for the kids, too.”

Brenda set down her drink. “Maybe Sara felt that way about Matt.” She dabbed the sides of her mouth with a napkin. “I thought Matt was a good guy. Still is, I guess. No one’s perfect, of course, and Sara probably knew him best. But he always seemed charming and attentive. Better than a lot of husbands out there.” She picked up her drink again. “I suppose when Sara left Matt, it felt like she was saying we might as well all cut our losses… why bother?”

Everyone was quiet, except for Wiggles who chewed a cookie boisterously, and soon Gina felt obligated to state the obvious: “That’s not what she’s saying, Brenda… or doing, or implying. She’s getting divorced. That’s all. It happens.”

Pauline sniffed. “I don’t know the specifics of Sara’s situation, but I know what Mom always told me: Better to be in hell now than in hell forever.”

Gina recalled spending a weekend with Brenda and Margaret at Pauline’s house when they were in college. Her father had wandered around in a ratty robe and even sat on the sofa with his legs spread at full Basic Instinct. Pauline’s mother must have really feared eternal damnation.

— from “The Wrong Questions”

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Posted by on August 11, 2015 in The Wrong Questions


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