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Authors: Alice Mattison

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Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman

BOOK: Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman
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The Wedding
of the
Two-Headed Woman

A
LICE
M
ATTISON

Dedication

For Edward always

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

 

The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman

Acknowledgments

 

About the Author

Praise for The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman

Also by Alice Mattison

Copyright

About the Publisher

The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman

N
othing distracts me for long from sex. A friendly, intelligent man makes a funny remark, almost for his private benefit. He thinks nobody hears, but I laugh. For a moment shared understanding exhilarates us both; then I go further. I feel a yen to place my hand on his bare thigh, to see what he's like with no clothes on. I was single for decades, after a brief early marriage, and there were many men like that.

What interests me about sex is nothing dangerous, nothing life-changing. It's like the impulse that sends some women into stores that sell colored floss and kits for making stained-glass pendants—and of course I know that sometimes those women can't refrain, even when pendants hang in every window, twisting together on their dirty strings, falling and breaking into the shards they once were, maybe killing the cat. Sex has mostly, for me, been less threatening than that, a reasonably healthy pastime, a form of arts and crafts that uses people instead of glass or thread.

At length, though, even so delightful a practice as sex begins to feel airlessly limited, a means of expression made clumsy by the need to include bodies as well as talk. At such times, I can be diverted by a different kind of activity: I like to put on conferences. Like patches of plain fabric in a quilt, unremarkable people look better in contact with others, and I look for chances to arrange them. In the seventies I ran something called Women's Weekend. Later I persuaded the community college where I taught to host a colloquium, What Do We Really Think About Race? Most recently, along with my mother, Roz Garber, I ran a conference on mothers and adult daughters. Along comes an idea—ideas come while I'm driving—that requires multitudes (at least groups) arguing and laughing. I start making calls in the car, on my cell phone, then continue at home, buoyant over subject matter, forgetting that by the time my conference takes place, I'll have to think of bodies after all, bodies with their stodgy requirements for food, bathrooms, directions, and unlocked, lighted rooms, bodies that may miss the afternoon session because they're in bed with other bodies, even mine.

I am in my mid-fifties, and I have long, blond hair, possibly too long or too blond for my age. I bear the last name, Andalusia, of a man I no longer know and scarcely remember, with whom I moved to New Haven, Connecticut, thirty years ago so he could go to Yale Medical School while I supported him. When Dr. Andalusia left, I stayed. I'm not the only Yale divorcée who has liked New Haven, to the puzzlement of a departing ex. I liked East Rock and West Rock—red, striated traprock cliffs that bracket this city—and I liked the dirty harbor full of oyster boats and oil tankers, and the Quinnipiac River emptying rather grandly if messily under Interstate 95 and into Long Island Sound. I liked the decorous, well-proportioned New Haven green with its three old-fashioned churches—two brick, one reddish stone—its bag ladies and black teenagers; and I was amused by the way each man I slept with connected to someone else I knew: he'd gone to school with the last man I slept with, or his sister cleaned my teeth. The story I'm going to write down had to happen in a small city. Here, you're never quite sure you're done with a person; you never know how many ways the two of you will touch.

Someone I stopped knowing many times was the man I eventually married, Pekko Roberts. Pekko is a New Haven native, a noticeable man in his sixties: sturdy, white-haired, with a big, white beard he brushes daily and a tidy but prominent belly. More often than not, I broke up with him when we had dated for a few months and were talking about living together. I don't know why I kept leaving him, since I claimed to be tired of being single, and pointed out to myself that a variety of partners isn't inherent to the pleasures of sex. Pekko was in love with me, which made me a little restless, but he wasn't so in love that he couldn't see my faults, about which he was frank. “Daisy, you're not making sense,” he'd say when I wasn't; I'd get angry. He wasn't imaginative in bed, but sex with Pekko made me happy; with him, I didn't experience what often took place after sex with other men: a half hour of dismay, even loathing, about my middle-aged body, my habits, my friends, the way I lived my life. I could talk myself out of that unexplained despair, but with Pekko it didn't come. He was moody and often silent, gruff but not unkind; he knew himself well enough not to blame others for his bad days. His caring—about me, about others—might be expressed in grunts, but I never doubted it. He was a lake I could swim in, in which the drop-offs and rocks were what they were, but the water was clean and not too cold, and there was intense pleasure to be found by swimming out to the center, turning on my back, and closing my eyes in the sun, whatever that means in terms of a guy.

Four years ago, in 1998, Pekko and I bought a house together in Goatville, a nineteenth-century New Haven neighborhood of small houses with steep roofs and long, skinny backyards, where dogs bark through chain-link fences. (We also bought a dog, a standard poodle called Arthur: a dog should be able to pronounce his own name.) The narrow two- and three-story houses on our block look like kindergarten drawings. It's a cityscape best seen in winter twilight, when the peaked roofs of different heights are scribbled over by the bare branches of maples, oaks, and sycamores. Our house isn't covered with ugly aluminum siding, like some, and after many discussions, we had it painted light gray with dark and light blue trim. Pekko said the color scheme was fussy.

So we lived together, and even held an offhand wedding. We tried to control our exuberant young dog, and we talked about our house, Arthur, our experiment in not breaking up, more than we talked about what we each did when we weren't together. I didn't mind Pekko's moods as much as I'd expected to. Sometimes I'd suddenly feel alone again, but I'd never minded being alone; it was restful. I established moods of my own.

What I did when we were apart was teach, with decreasing interest. Then one day, I stopped my car at a traffic light next to a red Audi driven by a young woman. The entire backseat and front passenger seat were filled with paper—old newspapers and mail from the look of it—all the way to the bottoms of the windows. I couldn't stop thinking about that car, and a week later, when I saw the Audi parked not far from where I live, I taped a note to the windshield. “I'm expensive,” I wrote, as if I'd done this before, “but I can help.” The clutter stopped at the windows: the owner liked light, not darkness, and was cautious and disciplined enough to observe some limits. She called me, I figured out what to do, and it worked.

This was work I couldn't stop talking about at home. I was nonthreatening, I explained to Pekko. Neither the owner of the Audi nor I had a driveway, so we moved the car to a parking lot and surrounded it with cartons. Only one was labeled “Keep.” Then we undertook a long process of sorting and deciding. I was so conservative, so hesitant, that after a while she became impatient—and nervous because I charged by the hour—and she threw away armloads.

“You like this,” said Pekko. “Quit your job and start a business.”

“How will I live?” I said, but I had stopped what I was doing—glancing at the paper in our kitchen—to think how much I'd like to have such a business.

“I make enough for both of us,” he said.

I was incredulous. “If you support me, you'll start ordering me around. You'll expect me to cook.”

“It's an investment,” he said. “I don't care if you cook. When you get rich, I'll do something new, and you'll support me.” Pekko had enough money, I was pretty sure, that he could do whatever he liked, whether I was rich or not. He's had many businesses over the years. Now he buys and manages real estate in New Haven's inner city.

(“You're a slumlord?” I had said, when we got together after one of our gaps, and he described his new work.

“Without me they'd be homeless.”)

I liked teaching, but I'd had that job for decades—I was tired of it. Still, I'd never considered letting a man support me. “I'd be like a whore,” I said.

“What?”

“You're offering me money for sex. You pay, I go to bed with you.”

Pekko sighed. “It's different when you're married,” he said. Then he added, “I won't make fun of you if you fail,” and I understood what I'd been afraid of.

To my mother's consternation—“As a teacher, you had clean hands!”—I became someone who sorted and organized clutter. I want to manage not just people, it seems, but their belongings, and they seem to want me to do it. I've been doing it ever since—two or three years.

 

P
ekko cooks well, several times a week. Single for a long time, he learned to fix a few good meals to impress women. “Chicken is the best,” he used to say. “Women claim to like fish, but they're easier to seduce after chicken.” One day in February, about a year ago—2001—Pekko broiled chicken breasts (“You want to say ‘breasts' early in the evening”) spread with Dijon and sour cream. He'd found thin asparagus and strawberries at an Italian market a few blocks away. So we ate a spring meal, but it had started to snow in the afternoon, and now it was snowing hard.

Snow made us want to stay in our warm house and take each other's clothes off, and Pekko's cooking works on me. The winter strawberries weren't quite sweet, so we dipped them in sugar. After eating them, we might have licked the juice from our fingers and gone to bed, but the phone rang. My mother—who moved to New Haven from New York when she retired—was calling from a soup kitchen in a downtown parish house, where she helped serve supper on Thursday evenings. The volunteers had locked their coats and purses in a closet, she explained with some zest, but now the lock was broken and nobody could open the door. The only locksmith they could reach had had a minor car accident in the slippery snow and refused to come until morning. “Pekko could fix the lock,” she said. “Also, I could take a cab home, but my house keys are locked in the closet.” She no longer drives at night and had gone to the soup kitchen by taxi.

I love to drive in snow, and I had a key to my mother's house. Pekko doesn't mind driving in snow, he likes my mother, and the story of the lock interested him, but by the time he'd taken off his apron—Pekko cooks in an apron—I was leading the way to my car, with an extra coat for Roz over my arm. I hate being a passenger in any weather. Pekko stumped along behind me in the light, gritty snow.

So I drove, and it was a little slippery. At the soup kitchen, the eaters had departed and the trays had been washed and replaced in the church kitchen. The place smelled of tomato sauce. I'd picked up or delivered my mother there a few times, and once I had stayed to serve dessert, wearing plastic gloves to offer assorted day-old pastries to men and women who thoughtfully chose a cherry Danish, an apple turnover, or an iced cruller. It's a surprisingly appealing place, whether because a significant number of the guests are experiencing chemically induced euphoria or because black, Hispanic, and white people order one another around with jocularity and no fuss.

BOOK: Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman
6.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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