Fall 2009

Table of Contents - Vol. V, No. 3


Poetry    Reviews    Fiction   

Karen Karlitz


Marriage, Interrupted

They fought every day of their thirty-two year marriage, but not for a minute had my father considered leaving my mother. Remnants of love, habit, her ageless beauty (she must have made a deal with the devil), and maintaining the status quo each played their part to keep my father in apartment 2B on Yellowstone Boulevard in Queens. Everything changed when my mother left him and moved in with their friend Sheldon. Sheldon bore an unfortunate resemblance to the Pillsbury Doughboy, but made piles of money in Laundromats. My mother had been searching for a wealthy replacement for my father for years. To her, the fact that Sheldon was married to her friend Charlotte was of no consequence.
After a year of living alone, my father decided to leave New York. The apartment was downright depressing and his job in the garment center far too taxing for a man of sixty-two. Perhaps even more devastating was his belief that everyone, including complete strangers he passed on the street, knew all about how my mother had humiliated him. Fort Lauderdale seemed the perfect antidote.
In no time, he had a bevy of old beauties tempting him with homemade casseroles, club house movies, danish and coffee at the monthly dances, and invitations to early bird dinners for which he offered to split the tab. He enjoyed Florida so much, he bought the condo he'd been renting. Sidney had the life: pool and tennis days, a different woman each night. Decades late, my father was catching up with the sexual revolution.
He took a part-time job at the King of Poultry. Amidst the matzo balls and stuffed cabbage, against a never-ending soundtrack of Elvis's greatest hits, was a surplus of lonely female shoppers eager to get to know the store's silver-haired, handsome new clerk. The better looking women found a little something extra in their shopping bags---a slice of noodle pudding, a piece of derma, a couple of turkey meatballs---and he got a date for that evening. He sold a record-breaking number of barbecued chickens his first year there, keeping his boss happy and his libido rejuvenated. Abe Kleinman, owner of the Poultry King as well as president of the local Elvis fan club, was even considering making Sid a partner.
But trouble was afoot. My mother had not fared well in Manhattan since Sheldon's untimely death two weeks shy of their wedding day, and decided to test the Florida waters. She was determined to win my father back or, better yet, live in his condo while she searched for viable husband prospects. She flew down and called him on the phone from her room at the Holiday Inn.
"Sid, is that you?"
"Yes, Sidney, it's me."
"You sound like you're right around the corner."
"I am."
"What do you mean? What are you doing here?" He looked anxiously over at Colleen Thompson, a petite blonde Presbyterian who sometimes got a yen for kosher food. She was placing the tuna casserole she prepared with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup and topped with Chinese noodles on Sid's small Formica dinette table.
"I'm thinking of moving down. I hear you love it."
"It's okay. Not for everyone though. Look, Rose, you caught me in the middle of something. Give me your number. I'll call you tomorrow."
My mother was disappointed, but still confident that he wasn't over her. She gave him her phone number.
"Speak to you tomorrow, Sidney," she said, hanging up the phone. Sitting on the faded, frayed bedspread, she surveyed the generic room. It was a world apart from the posh hotel suites she and Sheldon enjoyed before his sudden death, brought on by a life-long affinity for brisket with gravy, mashed potatoes and custard éclairs.
She stood up and walked into the bathroom. "No problem," she said, smiling at her recently resurfaced face in the mirror. "He won't be able to resist me."

* * *

Never dreaming my father would be anything but alone, my mother awoke early the next morning, allowing herself ample time to dress and make-up. Pleased with the results, she went downstairs and got into a taxi for the short ride over to Horizon Condo Village. Driving past man-made lakes and buildings distinguished from one another only by their number, my mother was not impressed. For now, however, she could not be choosy or she'd risk using up her dwindling savings.
She walked the two outdoor flights up to number three hundred and ten in building twenty-five and rang the bell. It took a few minutes, but then she heard footsteps approaching the door.
"Who's there?" Sid asked, evidently annoyed.
"It's me, Sid. Rose."
He opened the door a crack. "What are you doing here? I just woke up."
"That's when you used to like it the best. Remember, Sidney?"
"Jesus, Rose."
She pushed the door open and walked in.
"Not bad," she said, looking around. "Could use a woman's touch though."
Just then Colleen padded barefoot into the living room wearing Sidney's old plaid bathrobe over a black lace nightgown.
"Who the hell is this?" Rose asked him.
"Who the hell are you?" Colleen replied.
For once, my mother had nothing to say.
"You should've called first, Rosie," Sid said.
My mother walked the eight, hot, long blocks back to the hotel. She hadn't counted on my father making a new life for himself. Now what was she going to do about hers?

* * *

The thought of my father with other women did not sit well with Rose. She lay awake at night in the cramped bedroom of her new, furnished rental at Lakeside Villas--which was neither a villa nor anywhere near a lake---and couldn't stop picturing him having sex first with one woman, then with another. One night she woke up panicked and drenched in sweat. In her nightmare every room in Sid's Horizon Village condo was filled with unmade beds.
While they were together, she had only disdain for my father; now she was obsessed with him. She began to stalk him. She lurked behind a clump of bushes when he was due home from work and watched as he escorted different women carrying Corningware casseroles and grocery bags up to his third floor lair. She put her ear against the wall of the laundry room, which was adjacent to his bedroom, but could only make out a word or two, especially when the machines were running. The moans, however, came through loud and clear, driving her into a frenzy. It took every bit of her self-control to refrain from breaking into his apartment and smashing the lovebirds with Sid's new seven-piece Teflon pot set. (She watched as he walked the empty box to his trash chute one night, and his attempts at homemaking without her drove a stake through her heart.)
She stopped hanging out in the laundry, but continued to call him and hang up at odd hours during the night, why, she couldn't really say. To hear his voice? Make him sick from interrupting his sleep? Stop possible lovemaking in progress? And she went to the King of Poultry, skulking around the parking lot, trying to discern which women he favored that day with an extra meatball.
She spent one entire night cutting my father out of every photograph in both of the albums she brought with her to Florida. She also figured out the code to his answering machine, (fifty-one, his lucky number at the race track), and called in to listen to his phone messages four, five, six times a day. She felt physically sick every time she heard a female voice confirm a date, "call to say hello" or tell him about the pot roast she just made. My mother was in trouble.
Never a believer in psychiatric care--or afraid, perhaps, of what she'd find out--she finally relented and went to see a shrink.
"It's really quite simple," Dr. Richman told her. "You're obsessing. You believe that Sidney is your property, always has been. No matter that you left him. Now that he appears to be managing without you, moving on as they say, you want to reassert your control. It happens all the time."
This did not make my mother feel any better. Valium, however, did. The doctor also advised that she move far enough away from my father to require a plane ride.
Back at her apartment, she studied a map of the East Coast. She didn't want to return to New York; it was too difficult to meet men there. Miami was appealing because of its abundance of rich, elderly men, but too close to my father. Deciding to rule out the entire state of Florida, she came upon Hilton Head, South Carolina. "Hilton Head," she said aloud. "Hmm, I like the way that sounds." My mother sang snatches of "One Day My Prince Will Come," as she pulled out her suitcases and began packing.
Meanwhile back at the condo, my father and Colleen were making plans to marry as soon as their snowbird friends came south for the winter. He had grown tired of dating and was ready to settle down again. For a nominal fee, he procured Horizon's main card room for their wedding reception. After a ceremony at a local justice of the peace, they'd gather with their guests for platters of miniature potato and kasha knishes and an assortment of Danish, all courtesy of The King of Poultry. Colleen suggested serving cold shrimp with cocktail dipping sauce, but my father blanched at the expense. They bought a dozen boxed wine coolers at Costco that they stored under their bed. After much deliberation, my father decided to throw in two bottles of vodka and a few quarts of orange juice. No one but he and Colleen drank the stuff; they would take whatever was left back to their apartment after the party. At the time I was twenty-four and living on my own in New York. My father called and invited me down for the celebration. Fearing that if my mother found out about the nuptials she'd attend the party and go berserk, he swore me to secrecy.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon soon after the start of the new year, I watched as my father married Colleen. The reception afterwards was a big hit with their neighbors and friends and, as previously decided with his partner, my father passed out twenty percent off coupons for purchases made at the King to all of his guests.
A month later my mother found out about my father's marriage from my cousin Joyce, who was always looking for trouble. But by then my mother was pursuing a wealthy octogenarian in the greener pastures of a Hilton Head condominium development.


© Karen Karlitz



Poetry    Reviews    Fiction   

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