“I know you hate them,” I say to Tommy during one of our frequent celestial conversations. "But when you died, you forfeited your vote on my nails.”
If my husband were still alive, I would never have handed over a bottle of Estée Lauder’s Absinthe to the manicurist. He had made it clear that he found shades other than natural, beige, or a subtle pink garish.
It was easy to go along with his preferences when his wishes were earthbound because my spouse of 14 years was a dear. “He makes me feel as if I walk on water,” I’ve often told people who were curious about the differences in our religion, bank accounts, family relationships, and levels of education. And let me tell you, that’s a sentiment not easy to come by.
There were other habits that Tommy brought with into this second marriage that I tolerated, even when towards the end of his life, were magnified by an illness that included brain degeneration.
At first I tried, “Honey,” I’d say putting a hand on his arm. “Sit, you can clear up the counter after we finish eating.” But, he’d touch my cheek -- a gesture I took as “you’re cute, but not going to happen.”
So, while I started in on the meal I prepared (that was our division of labor, I was the cook, he was the bottle washer), watching a rerun of “The Andy Griffith Show,” Tommy would rise, leaving his food to turn cold, as he put various utensils in the dishwasher, replaced the menu’s ingredients in the refrigerator or cupboard, and wiped down the countertops. By the time he returned to his chair, I was usually on my last mouthful.
Now, you guessed it, in my new life sans spouse, everything -- dishes, ingredients, serving spoons, and more -- remain out until I feel like cleaning up. I imagine Tommy and these waiting kitchen objects engaged in conversation: “Can you believe it,” the tossed dishtowel says to my husband. “The woman you thought walked on water has become a slob.”
“How long do you think she’s going to leave us sit here?” I could swear the frying pan adds. “Doesn’t she realize the grease is going to harden and make my clean up that much tougher?”
While those bossy things are jabbering about me, my resurrected husband is smiling. If I place him in the conjured scene while he still had voice, he’d say, “I had a feeling that would happen. She’s a sweetheart, but without me around, I can see how she’d get sloppy.”
Now, if it was later in his life, when his aphasia erased speech, Tommy would just shake his head and turn the thumbs of each hand down. A sign of displeasure that is now bouncing off my sloven shoulders.
I ignore my pretend cast of characters who are casting dispersion and finish my meal. With my viewing partner gone, I have switched television programs. Sheriff Andy has given way to Mr. White, of the current hit, “Breaking Bad.” Also, instead of kitchen-table viewing, in my new apartment, I’ve transitioned to couch with dinner tray on lap.
I’m not certain if this counts as a genuine act of rebellion because Tommy and I weren’t watchers of the drama back then. But, the violence and drug themes might have put him off. Remember, this is a man who prefers nails in neutral shades rather than tropical colors.
This part though, is definitely treasonous. I stack the dinner dishes in the sink, intending to place them in the dishwasher maybe this night, maybe tomorrow morning, maybe even tomorrow evening.
With an evil smile, likely inspired by the TV show, I turn to the figments of my imagination and say, “I don’t care what you think. The dishes can wait.”
Everybody but Tommy receives this declaration aghast. “Has she fallen this low?” I believe the empty wine glass says to the salad plate. Then, the crabbing crew turn to my husband expecting equal derision and disbelief.
But, he is laughing. A subtle, sweet laugh as if he is in on the joke. “Relax,” he says. “Give her time. She’s like a kid let out of school, testing her independence. Just watch, in a few weeks, her kitchen will look more like ours did when I was in charge.”