Updated: Dec 14, 2020
At first, Anne tried to adjust to the idea of staying married. They had enough money they could take a modest trip each winter, if they were cautious with other spending. So when the window air conditioner broke and John decided not to replace it, she did not argue. There were ceiling fans and her friends told her the monsoons – daily thunderstorms – would cool things off most days. It helped that John started going out every day again – usually fishing, sometimes hunting, always alone. He seemed less depressed than he’d been all winter.
Then she realized the roses and berries she’d planted in the fall had died, because she didn’t understand she needed to start watering in the first months of the year. Back home, the only thing her garden needed in the winter was some pruning – she hadn’t even checked on the roses and berries for months. She didn’t want to ask John for money to replace them, so she suggested she could work part time for her garden money.
“No. My mother never had to work and my wife doesn’t either,” was his knee-jerk response. “If you have to have your damn garden, here, use this.”
He handed her a twenty, which might be enough for seeds and a few starts, but not for new roses and berries. She started skimming money from the grocery allowance he gave her each week, but it wasn’t enough. She didn’t dare take money out of the bank – he might take her name back off the accounts.
She gave up on having anything along the fence, at least for now.
She planted tomato starts and seeds for other vegetables in the raised beds she’d insisted on when they first arrived last fall. John would never have agreed to that expense now.
The monsoons were nothing but a promise – everyone commented on how late they were. There were blistering hot days with no wind when John stayed in the stifling house while Anne volunteered in air-conditioned luxury. When the AC on her truck went out, John reluctantly agreed to let her use the Mustang – if he wasn’t going to use it.
He did go out before dawn most days, but would come back to spend the heat of the day watching television. Sometimes he went back out, sometimes he didn’t. His depression seemed to have returned with the heat.
Anne began to express concern about her husband with her casual friends – a bit here, a tad there, a partially expressed thought followed by biting her lower lip. Just enough to let it be known she was worried that her husband was depressed. She told them she thought he might have jumped into retirement too early, and that he wasn’t as satisfied with hunting and fishing as he’d expected. When the librarian saw her researching depression, Anne assured the concerned woman that it was her husband about whom she was concerned, not herself. The librarian suggested he might be having an identity crisis, after having been a detective for so many years.
Anne considered the irony of that possibility – he’d been unconcerned about her losing her identity as a gardener, but he’d lost his own, while she still thought of herself as a gardener.
Then one June day she came home from her book club meeting to find a scorching wind had killed her tomato plants and shriveled the sprouting vegetables. She stood staring at them and burst into tears.
She cried for her lost identity as a gardener, for the hours spent in her lovely garden with her son, for the smell of his sun-warmed hair, for the years devoted to creating that beautiful place – years that garden allowed her to stay trapped in a loveless marriage. She cried for her absent mother who had lived the same kind of life. She cried for the girl who might have found a happier life.
When there were no more tears, she went inside the cabin where John was sitting like a zombie, staring at the television. She grabbed the remote and turned it off.
“I’m done,” she said. “I want a divorce.”
John stared at her silently.
“Did you hear me?” she screeched. “I want a divorce.”
He got up slowly and walked up to her until his nose almost touched hers. He spoke quietly, but in that tone he had that meant the matter was closed. “No.”
He slid the remote out of her hand, sat down, and turned the television back on.
“I want a divorce,” she repeated. “I’m serious. I’m sick of this place and I’m sick of you!”
If he’d argued, there might have been a chance at reconciliation. They might have agreed the move was not working well for either of them and made plans to try another place.
But he didn’t.
She tried one more time. “John, we’re both miserable.”
He shook his head and replied quietly. “Until death do us part – marriage vows don’t say anything about being happy. What’s for dinner?”
Stunned, Anne put away groceries and started cooking.
They ate at 5:00. At 5:20 John finished and went to their room for his after-dinner nap. By 5:30 Anne had cleaned up the kitchen and could hear him snoring. At 5:45 she put a yard-waste bag into the trunk of the Mustang and left for the senior center, making one stop on the way to toss the bag into a dumpster. She played cards with the residents for an hour. She and old Mr. Smith in his wheelchair were the weekly winners.
On the way home, she put the top down and sat tall so the breeze could catch her hair.
As soon as she parked the Mustang beside the cabin, the heat pressed down on her. It was so difficult to breathe when it was this hot. The sun wouldn’t set for another hour or more.
The house was quiet. She walked back to the bedroom where John was lying on the bed, his head on a pillow soaked with gelatinous blood. She pulled her cellphone out of her pocket and dialed 911 as she returned to the kitchen.
“My husband’s been shot,” she told the woman at the other end of the line.
Her carefully controlled voice conveyed hysteria threatening to erupt.