Magda pulled the covers over her face. Jim was up, starting the systematic toiletry routine she had come to know over forty years of marriage.
The sounds: scrape, scrape, scrape of the tooth brush, spit, gargle, spit…silence…whisk, whisk of a razor…silence…the water would turn on for a brief second as he wet his comb, parted his thinning, fine hair to the side.
When they first married Magda would sit and watch him, entertained and awed that she was sharing her life with someone so different, a man that shaved, a man in general. Jim would check himself, make sure the shave was clean; his hair was in place, shirt tucked in and belt buckled.
Magda had friends who would complain of their husbands lounging around in their underwear all day. Jim was dressed within minutes of waking, ‘army training’ he always said lightly.
It made Magda feel lazy and unkempt, for forty years, wanting to stay in bed or go around in something comfortable. Jim had never said that, of course. He had liked to serve her breakfast in bed, or buy her nice robes. But he didn’t have to say it, she knew it was true.
There was a light knock on the door, and Jim opened it. The attendant wheeled in the coffee tray and Jim thanked him quietly. Magda felt the cruise ship dock, she swayed gently in bed.
The sounds of coffee. The gentle clink of the cup, the sound of liquid being poured, the ripping of a sugar packet, the spoon stirring gently.
She should be the one making or serving the coffee. Jim never said that, but she felt it. He worked hard, the wife should serve.
She had served their children, and now she just felt tired. Tired and disappointed and angry.
Magda sat up, and Jim set the coffee beside her on the bed, next to the picture frames.
A few years ago, when she turned 60, Magda had gotten sick and stayed sick for a long time. Not cancer like a lot of her friends, nothing that she could prove or get sympathy for, nothing her friends could call her a ‘fighter’ or a ‘survivor’ for.
Her sister had sent her a few books that year. Magda had never read much, she was always busy raising the children, or helping with Jim’s insurance company. She and Jim decided to hand the reins to their eldest, and ‘enjoy life’, they had said. So Jim learned carpentry, and she started to read. She read fiction and biography. She read the names her children had thrown around in their important college years. Names and books that when brought up, she had learned to nod wisely and look introspective, as though enjoying all the imagery and characters as they returned to her. But the books weighed her down. The tension, the expression, the mournful sentences and lives- it haunted her. Young people, she thought, could read a book and learn lessons, mimic it or avoid it, or assume their lives would be the plot to some existential piece of literature.
But she was old, and her life had been a very boring book. She felt cheated of murders and love affairs and travel. She didn’t want to have an affair, but felt silly for never even thinking about it. She didn’t want to have a bad marriage, or bad kids, or be poor, but felt cheated for never going through the experience. No one in her books seemed very happy, but that wasn’t the point. They had a reason to be unhappy. Magda didn’t have an excuse, other than she was lacking a good, solid reason to be so sad.
Anna Karenina had thrown herself in front of a train, Edna Pontellier swam into the ocean, Edna Michaelson just wanted to sleep.
She stopped reading, started fights with Jim, complained sharply to the children. ‘Empty nest syndrome’, her doctor said. But the children had been gone for a decade at that point. She hadn’t done anything with her life, and now she was old and useless.
When she started staying in bed, her friends speculated on the various possibilities. Cancer, lupus, alzheimers, all the diseases they discussed blithely, as though familiarity would ease the terror of death.
Magda was old and sad, and there was nothing exciting about it. Her friends realized it, and send her church pamphlets, information on yoga and college courses.
One day, she came home from her sisters, and the house was filled with picture frames. Jim had gone through all the old albums, and displayed all the important moments, births and birthdays and vacations.
‘A reminder,’ he said, in his soft, definitive way, ‘of all the better things.’
Magda knew what he had done, what he was trying to do. She cried in his arms for an hour and Jim told her he loved her, always loved her, would do anything to make her happy.
Magda left the picture frames up, but they made it worse. Now she not only had memories of a dull life, but paper and glass proof of it.
Jim brought the pictures on vacation, put them around their hotel rooms and cruise cabins. She would catch him gazing at them, and he had a proud, gentle look on his face.
Magda envied Jim’s war experience. It was his book, his story that was passionate and interesting. It was why Jim could be so consistent and dull- he always had the background and memories of blood and war. She didn’t chide him in his ways, he deserved to be content. But Magda had no comparisons.
“What would you like to do today?” Jim asked, opening the drapes.
Magda wanted to cry. “Something.” She said.
Jim nodded and picked up a piece of paper. He handed her the excursion list. “I was thinking maybe this one.”
He pointed to ‘parasailing.’ Magda almost choked on her coffee. She read the description of flying 80 feet over the ocean, pulled by a speed boat. It was ridiculous.
“Are you joking?” Magda asked. Jim shook his head.
Magda nodded slowly.
“Okay. Let’s do that