Authors: Marie Ferrarella
“I love this house, Brad. This is
house. This is where all my memories are.” As Stacey spoke, emotions swept through her, intensifying every word she said. “This is where we started out together. Where Julie and Jim became tiny people instead of just babies. I love this house,” she told him again with feeling.
Stacey searched his face to see if she'd gotten through. But there was no indication that she had.
He shook his head. “Then why change it?”
It wasn't changing, it was improving, but she had a feeling that comparison would be lost on him, too. “Because like everything else, the house needs a face-lift.”
He glared at her. “You sure that a quarter of a million will cover everything you want done?”
Stacey had no idea what possessed her to glibly answer, “If not, it'll be a start.” But it felt good to say it.
Marie Ferrarella wrote her very first story at age eleven on an old manual Remington typewriter her mother bought for her for seventeen dollars at a pawn shop. The keys stuck and she had to pound on them in order to produce anything. The instruments of production have changed, but she's been pounding on keys ever since. To date, she's written over 150 novels and there appears to be no end in sight. As long as there are keyboards and readers, she intends to go on writing until the day she meets the Big Editor in the Sky.
Welcome to my life.
is a slightly fictionalized version seeing as how I didn't marry a doctor and my daughter isn't in medical school and my son isn't a musician. But I did live through the horror of having several rooms remodeled and I did have a husband who handed me lists every morning to review with a not-so-happy construction person.
Anyone who's ever had remodeling done and remained married after the contractor and crew have left knows what sort of a triumphant feeling that is. Remodeling is definitely in the same realm as trial by fire. It tests the limits of your patience and your love. When it's all over, you come out the other end stronger, more confident, with a reorganized sense of priorities. Either that, or in a straitjacket.
So, consider carefully before you make that first call to the local contractor. Can your marriage take it? If you're afraid to find out, just move. In the long run, it might be safer. But definitely not more interesting.
To Katherine Orr, with many thanks.
couldn't get the song out of her head.
It haunted her, popping up in the middle of a thought or an activity. Like now, just as she was putting a platter of sugar-dusted French toast in front of her husband.
Stacey Sommers first heard the song, which staunchly refused to untangle itself from her brain cells, years ago. At the time, the lyrics had struck her as unbelievably sad. It was playing on the radio while she was driving home from the supermarket.
The incomparable songstress, Peggy Lee, was asking anyone who would listen, “Is That All There Is?” and Stacey had laughed in response. Back then she was busy up to her eyeballs, juggling the care and feeding of two small kids and a husband who was in his last year of residency at a local hospital, all this while working in order to help pay for said husband's staggering medical school bills, not to mention put food on the table.
At the time, she'd felt like a hamster with her foot caught in the wheel and was far too exhausted to wonder if life had anything else to offer. Moments together with Brad were just that, moments. Stolen ones. And all the more delicious and precious for their scarcity.
Now, twenty years later, the pace had slowed considerably,
although time was still a scarce commodity. Her kids no longer needed her for every single little thing. Half the time, she felt shut out of their lives. And Brad? Brad was an established, well-respected neurosurgeon whose opinion was sought after.
But the moments they had together were even less now than they had been before.
Is that all there is?
At this point in Brad's career and their lives, she would have thought they could finally have those idyllic vacations she used to dream about in order to sustain herself while going ninety miles an hour through her overwhelming life. But somehow, Brad was busier these days than he had been back when he was in medical school and even during those awful intern days.
Worse than that, he seemed so much more remote now than he had been back then. As if medicine had taken him away from her.
Slipping into the chair opposite his, her life-sustaining cup of coffee in her hand, Stacey looked across the breakfast table at her husband of twenty-five years, the only man she had ever loved, or wanted. He had the Monday Health section of the
on one side of his plate of French toast, the latest copy of the
Journal of the American Medical Association
opened to an article he found engrossing on the other. His attention was unequally divided between the two periodicals. Whatever was left over, and there seemed only to be little more than a scrap, he devoted to his breakfast.
Stacey suppressed a sigh. She didn't seem to fit into his life anymore. Had she ever? Had she ever been more than a
means to an end for him, taking care of his kids, his bills, his eternally wrinkled shirts?
Stacey took a long sip of her black coffee, swallowing and feeling the tarlike liquid ooze through her veins like semifrozen molasses over a stack of pancakes.
Damn it, where was all this self-pity coming from? she upbraided herself in disgust. She knew Brad loved her. In his own conservative, quiet fashion. Moreover, she knew with a bone-jarring certainty that her husband had never once been unfaithful to her, even though he'd been presented with more than one opportunity to stray.
Thank God she didn't have to grapple with feelings of betrayal the way Jeannie Roberts did. The woman had been completely devastated, not to mention humiliated, when she'd discovered that her neurologist husband, Ed, had been seeing the daughter of a former patient on the side for more than a year.
The only thing Brad had on the side were more old AMA journals. At times, though, she could swear that those old journals aroused her husband more than she did. At other times, she was fairly certain of it.
This morning the emptiness she sometimes felt gnawed away at her insides to the point that it almost hurt.
Stacey studied Brad over the rim of her mug, the one with the crack on the lip near the handle. The mug she refused to throw away because her son, Jim, had given it to her while he was still Jimmy. Before he'd gotten too old to admit to anyone other than an FBI polygraph technician that he actually loved his mother.
She was still very much in love with her husband, she
thought. The man could still set her heart racing. They had just reached the plateau they had strived for and there was no feeling of fulfillment to greet her. No fanfare signaling that now life could be different. It was just more of the same. Life only got more routine.
Is that all there is?
There's got to be something more,
she insisted silently, trying to block the lyric. Squaring her shoulders, she put down the mug.
“Brad, let's get away this weekend,” she said.
She didn't tell him why she wanted to get away, or that this weekend, this Friday actually, was their twenty-sixth anniversary. She'd sworn to herself that she was never going to be one of those wives who nagged or felt slighted if an important day slipped by unnoticed.
But, in all honesty, she'd made that vow secure in the knowledge that Brad wouldn't be like those husbands who forgot.
And he hadn't been. Until about two years ago, when the hospital had put him on its board of directors and free time went the way of unicorns and leprechauns into the land of myths.
Her eager suggestion faded away, unnoticed. He hadn't heard her. The sound of her voice, much less her words, apparently hadn't even registered. Brad was frowning over something he was reading in the journal. Funny how she'd always been able to tune in to seventeen sounds at onceâthe kids, the TV, the telephoneâand he couldn't even tune in to one.
Inclining her head slightly, she waved her hand as close to his face as she could reach. “Earth to Brad, Earth to Brad.”
Rosie, their seven-year-old Labrador, the dog he hadn't wanted but who had stolen his heart when she adoringly
followed him around as his unofficial shadow, chose that moment to come into the kitchen.
As if to show her up in a play for power, Rosie headed straight for Brad and nuzzled his leg.
Brad looked up from what he was reading. A fond smile slipped over his lips as he ran his hand over Rosie's back. “How's my girl?” he murmured.
“A little frazzled, thank you,” Stacey replied. “How are you?”
Brad glanced at her, puzzled. And then he smiled that soft, tolerant smile of his. The one that had recently begun to irritate her because it made her feel like a five-year-old. A mentally slow five-year-old.
“I was talking to the dog, Stace.”
Stacey did her best to remain cheerful. “Yes, I know, and I'm sure Rosie appreciates the attention, but I was first.”
About to resume reading, Brad put the magazine down. “What are you talking about?”
“That's just it, I was talking. To you. Not to the toaster or to the dog, although God knows that she's the only one who listens to me at times, but to you. And you didn't answer.”
The shrug was careless, dismissive, as if her complaint was unimportant. “Sorry, I didn't hear you.”
A sigh escaped, dragging her hurt feelings out into the open. “You never hear me.”
The frown on his handsome, lean face deepened. Not to the point of making lines, but just enough to register his annoyance.
“You're exaggerating again.” He glanced at his watch. “And I am running late.”
Between his going in early and coming home late, she hardly ever saw him, much less had conversations with him.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. They were supposed to be growing closer together, not further apart.
Stacey nodded at the large, round, silver-faced clock on the wall. “It's only seven-thirty.” Which was earlier than he usually left.
“I know.” He folded the paper and carefully closed his magazine. This was the same man who left his shoes, socks and shirts wherever he shed them. But his journals were in perfect order, unmarred by crumbs or coffee stains, and their pages never even marginally bent. “I have surgery at eight-thirty at the surgicenter. What kind of a message would I send to the patient if I got there late? That his surgery doesn't merit my attention?”
At times she was convinced he made a better doctor than he did husband. She didn't always feel this way, she thought with a pang.
“The hospital is twenty minutes away,” she pointed out. “Fifteen if you don't drive like an old man.”
His eyes narrowed. “I drive safely.”
“You drive slowly.” And sitting next to him drove her crazy at times. He never went through a yellow light. The moment a hint of anything amber arose, he came to a dead stop. Driving since he was sixteen, he hadn't so much as a warning to look back on.
Not like her, she thought ruefully.
“Not all of us were born with a lead foot,” he told her matter-of-factly.
He'd have a lead foot, too, if he had to be in a dozen places at once, she thought. But she bit back the retort. Voicing it would only lead to a meaningless argument.
She watched her husband rise to his feet. At forty-eight, Brad Sommers looked young for his age. He had the same build from when she'd fallen in love with him more than thirty years ago. Though his career was demanding, his hours at times grueling, there were no undue lines or wrinkles on his face. The Southern California sun he'd once worshipped had had no chance to do any damage to his skin in the past two decades. The last time they'd been to the beach, she recalled, Julie was five and Jim was three. Other that a few gray strands weaving through Brad's thick, deep-chestnut-brown hair, there were no indications that time was advancing on him, or that it even knew where he lived.
She was the one who'd changed, Stacey thought, not for the first time. She was the one who'd had twenty unwanted pounds stealthily sneak up on her over the past fifteen years. The one who no longer looked as if an agent from
magazine might be interested in making her an offer.
It wasn't so much that she'd let herself go. God knew she still tried to look and dress attractively, mostly for a man who no longer noticed. It was more that a silent attacker had set siege to her body. When she was driving home from work, she sometimes thought about going to one of those expensive spas where someone could reknead her body back to its former self again.
As if that was possible, she thought, silently laughing at herself. She hadn't the time. And the spa probably couldn't work miracles, anyway.
“So what do you say?” she asked as she followed Brad to the front doorâdirectly behind Rosie.
Brad glanced at her over his shoulder, perplexed. “To what?”
“To my idea. About getting away this weekend,” she added when his expression still remained blank.
For a moment, Brad had her going, had her hopeful that he might actually remember it was their anniversary.
“Sounds good.” But then he halted at the door. “But I can't,” he recalled. Was that disappointment in his voice, or was she just wishing it into existence? “I've got a conference to attend. A local one,” he added. They both knew how much she hated having him go away for a conference.
Stacey never got a chance to finish her question. His cell phone rang, interrupting her. Brad held up his hand to stop her in midsentence as he listened to whoever was on the other end.
He mouthed “Goodbye” to her as he walked out.
And left without kissing her.