I make my way down the tree lined street. It is early in the season, and the leaves won’t be fully out on the maples until later in the month. The houses are crammed onto small lots in the neighborhood. Mostly postwar houses, with the odd infill standing out as though young interlopers. My destination is about halfway down the block.
I like the little house. It is red brick, with a green door and green shingles.
I ring the doorbell and wait. At last the door opens.
“Well, Judith, so you came after all.”
“Of course,” I say. “You wanted me to come to lunch, I’ve come to lunch.”
Mary steps back so that I can enter. The hallway is bright, with maple hardwood and yellow walls. She takes my jacket and hangs it on the coat rack. I remove my sensible oxfords and pad after Mary. She leads me to the dining table, already set with the rose china she loves so much. It was a wedding gift all those years ago.
She motions to one of the six oak chairs and I sit down.
“So just wait there, and I’ll bring out our meal,” she commands.
“Is there anything I can help you with?’
“No,” she calls, already in the kitchen.
She returns with a tray and sets out the contents on the table in front of me and to the left.
She sits down there, and I look over the plates and bowls.
“I made chicken soup this morning,” she says, gesturing at the bowls.
“Oh, Mary, such a lot of work!” I say as I pick up my soup spoon.
Mary waves her hand.
“Does me good, having someone to cook for,” she says.
She sobers and gazes at me, spoon halfway to her mouth.
“I still miss Albert,” she confesses.
Impulsively, I reach over and pat her free hand.
“Of course you do, and you will for a long, long time. It’s only natural.”
“It seems like just yesterday that we were getting married. The years just went so fast!”
“They do, at that,” I reply, thinking of my own losses. “But we carry on, don’t we Mary?”
“Yes, I suppose so. Here, try the biscuits I made.”
I take one, cut it in half and butter it. It is good. Mary’s cooking is always good.
Too bad that Albert didn’t appreciate her more.
The soup is hot and with lots of noodles, just the way I like it. Mary knows this. She frequently makes foods I like, and invites me to eat with her.
“So, how is the traffic around City Hall? You would have come by there on the bus today from your place.”
“Mary, it was crazy. I saw a crowd of people all carrying signs and causing general confusion.”
“Well, I guess I’m not surprised. How he got away with it for so long, I’ll never know.”
I laugh and nod my head.
“And the way the reporter dropped that scandalous behavior of his, on TV that night.
I was shocked, and I bet others were, too.”
“I still can’t figure out, how a mayor – such a prominent position and all – could hide a second wife and all that it entails, while living in Port Helena.”
“Mary, I can’t either. The man must have been a very good actor.”
“And a liar,” observes Mary, as she picks up her biscuit and takes a bite.
“I feel bad for the women. To think that he fooled them all that time!”
“At least there weren’t any children involved. Thank heavens for that!”
“Small mercies,” I say.
We finish our meal, and I help Mary, despite her protests, to clear the table.
After we load up the dishwasher, we prepare for our afternoon walk. It isn’t a long way, that we go, just enough to keep us in shape, I always tell her.
When we return, having chatted with Mary’s next door neighbour, another widow lady, who has a love of gardening, and insists that we both take some strawberry preserves before we depart, we have tea.
“Judith, I have something to tell you,” Mary says. She sets down her teacup and turns to face me, where I sit on the sofa, across from her chair.
“Sounds serious,” I say, taking a sip of my tea, which has finally cooled enough to drink.
“Well, I suppose it is. Judith, Albert was not all everyone thought he was, either.”
“No?” I won’t say anything, not yet. I must wait to hear what she has to say first.
Mary takes a deep breath, and then she says, “After Albert died, I found proof that he
cheated on me, over one summer, years ago.”
“How did you find that out?” I ask.
“Well, he had some motel receipts, hidden in his dresser, behind his socks.”
“There could be some other reason -”
“No, Judith. I recognized the dates when he paid for the room. You see, that summer, he began to act strangely, and I made notes in my journal. It was all there, when I checked the dates of the receipts. He would dress up and leave the house, claiming to be headed to Stan’s to work on that old antique car of his. But I knew better. I just didn’t say anything.”
“Why did you keep silent, if you were so sure? Why not accuse him?”
“I couldn’t. It was within months after we lost Jonas, and I was grieving still. I couldn’t face losing Albert, too.”
I sigh and get up. I walk over to Mary, and lean down and give her a hug.
“I am so sorry, Mary. It must have been hard for you. Why didn’t you talk to me?”
“Same thing. I was afraid I might lose him, that you might say something to him. You’ve always been so protective of me!”
I smile and sit back down.
“What can you do about it now?”
“Not a thing. Just try and accept it, I suppose.”
“Well, you have me if you need to talk about it more.”
“I know. I’m lucky to have such a good friend.”
I leave Mary’s shortly after her disclosure, and catch the bus home. The protestors are nowhere in sight, as the bus passes City Hall. It is getting cloudy, and I think that we are going to have rain soon. No matter. I will be home before it starts.
I walk up to my apartment and let myself in.
I kick off my shoes, and go into the bedroom. I open my jewellery cabinet and then open the little drawer along the bottom. I bring out a photo and look at it. It was taken a long time ago, in Stouffville, the next town from Port Helena.
It is a picture of a man with a mustache, dressed in a blue shirt with a corduroy jacket visible in the shot. Beside him, is a woman who is me. I always thought Albert looked especially nice in blue.
I put the picture away again.
I decide that I will order in for dinner. Pizza, I think.