Read My Only Wife Online

Authors: Jac Jemc

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My Only Wife

BOOK: My Only Wife
6.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub






. Copyright © 2012, text by Jac Jemc.

All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher: Dzanc Books - 1334 Woodbourne Street, Westland, MI 48186.

Design by Steven Seighman

eISBN: 978-1-936873-73-9

First edition: April 2012

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

for my father and his first and only wife, my mother

That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get

—Emily Dickinson

“What mystery pervades a well!”

Is this what you wanted? to live in a house that is haunted by the ghost of you and me?

—Leonard Cohen

“Is This What You Wanted”





beautiful time.

My wife climbed staircases like a bull, but she descended them like a Duchamp painting, all blurred angles and motion.

She was a performer and a creator and an admirer and an artist. She always had a project. I’m sure many I never knew about.

My wife would catch sight of someone, something, an idea, even, and begin her process of admiration, of absorption, of alteration.

Yes, she admired every person she came into contact with. She dreamt of meeting all of them and adding their names to her list of accomplishments.

More than a list—she kept a database. Her records were intricate and precise and thorough, frighteningly so.

In her daytimes my wife climbed, in her evenings she descended.

This shift in direction was not an act of indecision, but of routine and route. My wife loved routine, fed on it, found reason for impulse in regularity. She had it all mapped out.

My wife was a clumsy acquaintance who lumbered through days. She talked to anyone within earshot. She made friends in her awkwardness.

She would trip, spilling the contents of her purse on a sidewalk, and then insist on buying the girl who helped her collect her scattered belongings a cup of coffee. The girl would end up sitting down with my wife, instantly beguiled, immediately disarmed. My wife would learn everything. She would ask questions that might have seemed otherwise uncomfortable coming from anyone else, but in the initial whirlwind that seemed to constitute the large majority of my wife, the girl would offer up her secrets with open palms, and, like that, my wife would be gone.

My wife would come home and recite the story of this girl into a tape recorder.

My wife created narratives to connect the facts.

My wife fell a lot. Even when she was climbing through her days, she was falling a bit along the way. At night there didn’t appear to be far to drop. She was careful in the dark. She took fewer risks and recuperated for day. “The night,” she used to say, “should be for rest and repair.”

In the evening, my wife nursed her scraped palms, a chronic injury from stopping her tumbles with her hands.

In the morning she was ready to work again. I never knew her when she wasn’t toiling away at something.

She seemed to be constantly anxious about finishing some project or another.

My wife spent a small portion of each evening recording. She rambled through other people’s stories, never claiming them as her own, holding them at arm’s length, archiving them but never possessing them.

But it was my wife who knew how important they were. It was my wife who told the stories the way they were meant to be told and made them available. Who found them and then gave them away, even if it was just to cassette tapes that she then stashed in a closet.

These stories were not about anyone other than my wife. That’s what I discovered. I found that when you got to the bottom of them it was my wife that remained the essence, that I could scrape from the sides of the crucible. The rest was filler.



When people asked her what she did, she proudly said that word. She liked it and she didn’t want to give it up. She thought being a waitress made her sound romantic. She liked people imagining her running around with a little black apron and her hair falling in stray pieces down the back of her neck and dusting her high cheekbones.

She never said she worked in a restaurant. She liked the way “waitress” hissed out her mouth more easily than the blunt alternative of “server.” She thought “server” sounded clunky and imprecise.

She also didn’t like the way “waiter” was being used as gender-neutral. She rather
being defined by her gender. My wife said, “Obviously, I’m a woman. ‘Server’ is fine for want ads, but a ‘waitress’ is what I am in conversation.”

She preferred whatever came clearest, prettiest when spoken aloud.

My wife could have done anything, but she became a waitress. She liked having a job she could leave behind at the end of the day. It left the rest of her life stress-free so she could fulfill her creative ambitions: telling stories, decorating haunted houses, researching art history, eventually painting.

“But you went to college!” people would say.

“Oh, I’m probably putting my education to better use than you.” She’d challenge them with a raised eyebrow and refuse further explanation.

I made the mistake once of telling her she didn’t have to wait tables if she didn’t want to. She looked at me, her eyes dead. “No shit. You should know better than anyone that I like it! And, what? I’m going to rely entirely on you? Let you support me? What if something happens to you? What will I do then? I need to do real work, real, physical labor. I have too much energy not to. Anyway, this allows us to put a little extra into the retirement fund.” She felt bad for snapping, ruffled my hair to soften the moment.

My wife’s clumsiness made for some good stories at work. She was a waitress at a hip, uptown restaurant where she was required to wear a spotless, white tee shirt and anything else she wanted.

At the end of the day my wife’s tee shirt was anything but white. We bought masses of men’s white undershirts and gallons of bleach to keep her spic and span for the beginnings of her shifts.

She would come home and strip herself of the soiled white tee, and put on one of her favorites: an old band tee shirt frayed into oblivion, one of her father’s ancient softball jerseys, a cut-up child’s sweatshirt printed with a vocabulary of dinosaurs.

She would settle into one of these shirts and begin scrubbing her work shirt in the bathroom sink, rubbing the fabric until the bleach-infused water left her hands raw.

I’d visit her at the restaurant and ask to be seated at one of her tables. My wife would introduce me to her co-workers. They’d shake my hand, greeting me with wide-eyed, friendly smiles. They always seemed to be searching my face for something. We’d make small talk for a minute, my wife and I smiling so proudly at her fellow servers, until each one had to hurry off to check on a table.

My wife’s customers adored her. “One hour of bliss,” they would say, then request her when they returned.

My wife took group photographs with skill.

She was a nonchalant winker who equally eyed the ladies and the gentleman. She’d get monumental tips.

Even the women my wife inevitably spilled glasses of very red wine on came back and greeted her with warm hugs.

People thanked my wife for her forthright opinions of the menu and for providing the deciding vote in petty arguments. People loved the way she influenced their meals and my wife loved being a part of their evenings out. She adored her job. She could work when she pleased and she got to meet new people every day.

When the hour was up, two hours if there were several courses served, the diners would gather their belongings and smile warmly at my wife on their way out.

My wife would go to pick up another table’s order from the kitchen, and in all the frantic sizzling and scrambling and splashing, a buzzer would sound.

Something was finished in the nick of time.



She never said she disliked skirts; she just never wore them.

I was always aware of what my wife was wearing. Her clothing not only complemented her, it seemed integral to her personality. She filled her clothes the way one fills one ’s skin: exactly. It was as difficult to imagine her without skin as it was to imagine her undressed.

When she bared herself, her clothing falling slack on the floor around her the way one’s skin peels away from one’s flesh in a ripe tear, the sight was shocking: a bit grotesque, beautiful in its secrecy, riveting.

My wife was willowy. Not willowy in the way people commonly think of the word, but in a weeping willow sort of way. My wife was narrow. Her shoulders lacked breadth. There was a weight and direction to her slenderness. My wife’s body was an arrow. There wasn’t much to her, but what was there seemed to move towards the earth. The gravity of my wife could be overwhelming.

I was not the type to notice what people wore, but setting eyes on my wife educated me. I learned to look at her, and eventually I learned to see her.

There was a theatricality to her way of dressing that made heads turn.

She was a stunning woman and much credit was due to her physical presence alone. You didn’t need to hear her utter a word to realize that in the midst of whatever was bubbling around her, she was a strong and calm pillar pushing its heft into the earth, ready to hoist any weight.

She was not born with a flawless face. Her eyes were noticeably asymmetrical, one larger than the other. My wife’s ears stood at different heights, and only one side of her mouth tended to turn up naturally, so she seemed to be perpetually smirking at the world. She looked like she was always in on a joke.

These pants my wife wore had very wide legs. She liked to wear many layers to bulk up her frame.

She liked structure in her clothing.

Or maybe “architecture” is a better word. She liked angles and excess fabric in unexpected places. She like frayed edges and thinned spots.

When she bought a new shirt she dug into a drawer and took out her wire brushes and her sandpaper. She rubbed at hems and snipped tiny cuts into seams. My wife wouldn’t wait for clothing to get old on its own.

She was eager to age. She spoke often of how she wanted grey hair more than anything.

I suggested once that she dye it and she said that would be false.

I reminded her of how she pretended to age her clothing.

She replied, “Oh, that’s different. That’s extra-corporeal.”

My wife wanted to earn herself grey hair.

My wife could have a sense of humor, too. She would pull on opera-length satin gloves, a tiara, pearls, sunglasses, all
veryBreakfast at Tiffany’s
, but combined with her wide-legged pants and her gamut of worn-thin tee shirts, she was often eyed as being a bit off. I adored her oddities. My wife was magnificent and content in her whimsy.

The playfulness of her dress and the weight of her physicality made her entirely striking. Her graceful form and her clumsy movements seemed logical. Such an extreme in one respect, expected, in fact,
the opposite intensity to balance it.

She would enter with an elegant flourish and trip on the entrance mat, all grace erased by the pull of gravity that brought her back down.


and I accepted her for all that she was, all quirks, all inconsistencies and unexpected preferences.

My wife hated mall jewelry stores more than most anything.

Sure she was exaggerating, people would make suggestions of what she must hate more. It was never long before my wife would admit, resignedly, that she hated war more, she hated child-abuse more. My wife claimed once, in a dinner party discussion, that she did indeed hate television more than mall jewelry stores, but I suspect she was just keeping up appearances on that one.

BOOK: My Only Wife
6.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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