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Porch Lights(10)
Dorothea Benton Frank

I had been watching the Food Network too much, which led me to thinking about chickens, marinated in tons of herbs, lemon zest, garlic cloves, and olive oil, turned slowly on the spit, and basted until they were so tender that the meat nearly fell off the bones. I wanted to watch him eat with his hands. Lick his fingers. Moan from the sheer pleasure of a perfectly roasted bird. Okay, there you have it. I’ll admit that I was a little caught up in my silly fantasies. Why shouldn’t I fantasize about a good-looking man within pitching distance of my porch? I wasn’t dead quite yet.

Of course, there were many moments when I wished Buster had not left, but there were just as many moments when I wished there was a nice man around to say something sweet to me. I could not recall the last time Buster had paid me a compliment. Steve would say that my hair was really pretty if we bumped into each other at the mailbox or that he really liked my dress. Was it new? He’d help me carry my bags of groceries or my dry cleaning into the house. He was a gentleman.

Buster, who was the living embodiment of an overgrown boy, never did any of that. It was always Buster and Jackie just standing back and letting me do all the work. But who was going to manage our lives if I didn’t? So keeping things neat and orderly had made me single? I knew what people said, that I had nagged my husband out of my life. Listen, I was tired the day after that wedding ceremony, I mean, bone tired. I didn’t have a single joint in my body that didn’t ache like holy hell from standing in high heels for hours on end the day before, smiling and thanking people for coming, moving mountains of gift packages to help keep things tidy, to . . . you name it, I did it. Anyway, the morning after the wedding I was slicing ham and baking biscuits and setting the table while Buster sat there in his boxer shorts like a postbinge Hemingway watching golf on the television while his fishing mess was strewn all over the back porch as the minutes ticked by, closer and closer to the hour of the arrival of our guests. It seemed like the grass had grown five inches overnight from the rain, which meant there would be mosquitoes eating our out-of-town guests behind their knees, and I just sort of lost my mind. In between wiping away the spots on my champagne flutes and lining them up in a perfect triangle on the dining room table, I asked him three times to please, for the love of God, to clean up his gear. He pretended not to hear me and kept on watching Tiger Woods or whoever was playing golf, the most boring sport in the universe. There isn’t a grown woman alive on this planet who doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I was so frustrated I was about to scream, and if I’d had the strength I would have. To my surprise, when a string of advertisements came on, he got up, called me a fussbudget, and walked out. That’s what happened to my marriage, and there’s not much more to tell. Fussbudget? Nice. Thank you very much. Go to Hell, please. And stay there.

Maybe walking Jackie down the aisle of Stella Maris Church freaked Buster out, you know, his job was finished and his game was over? I’ve heard that happens to men. Or maybe he just didn’t want to be married anymore? Or—and the thought of this stung like a jellyfish—maybe he really didn’t love me anymore and had not loved me for years? Or maybe he was worried about his own mortality. The obituaries were filled with men of his age who dropped dead from natural causes. Anyway, it was terrible to think that the father of my only child was all done loving me or loving our little family enough to try and sort out whatever the differences there were between us.

So kill me. Ever since he moved in next door, I’ve thought about Steve to cheer myself up. The welcoming look on his face made me feel alive and attractive and like I still had some worth in the goings-on between men and women. What’s the matter with that?

Ah, mercy me. Steve’s cottage may have been next to mine, but in the sober light of day the differences between us were as blatant as the differences between our homes.

My hundred-year-old cottage, “The Salty Dog”—an undignified name bestowed by Buster and one that I despised—was a creaking box with a porch, sort of a metaphor for me and my abdominal muscles that, when left unharnessed by the miracle of elastic, had settled into something of a relaxed, slightly protruding, cushiony state. Over the years my house had been painted probably every pastel you can name except mint, which is in sync with the pantheon of my changing hair colors. Presently the Salty Dog was pale yellow with accents in white and Charleston green, which for my money was black. But it creaked like my knees and it had seen better days, as I had. And no matter how much and how often I renovated it or myself, we were both still getting on in years. Fat old bald men can have pretty women as young as they pleased, but it seldom works that way in reverse. Maybe I was too old for romance or a new love. But I refused to completely believe such a depressing thought because of Deb. She says that on the day you stop believing in love you may as well lie down and die. I think she may be right.

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