Today I continue my salute to my friend Carol, who left us way too soon. This story is not autobiographical, but was inspired by the friendship and experiences we shared. It is included in my book "A Bouquet of Roses."
Death by Chocolate
weeks after her parrot flew away, Rose put the cage in the shed. Looking at it,
a huge empty hulk of metal wire, plastic toys, and star shaped cookie treats,
just became too sad. She had raised Yankee from a baby, hand feeding him with a
special syringe full of baby bird food, carefully filling up his crop. For 7
years they shared morning cups of tea, evening bits of carrots and string
beans, and the occasional midnight nightmare. Then, in a split second he was
She wiped up the bits of birdseed,
feathers and empty shells. Now she would never have to do this chore again. She
would never have to scrape bird poop off the side of the refrigerator, never
have to check her shoulder for tell tale bird marks before leaving the house.
doing that, reading a romance novel probably wasn’t the best idea; every
protagonist was consumed by desire and passion, weeping with longing or
swearing undying devotion and loyalty. To Rose it all seemed foreign, as if she
had never read a book before, never watched a romantic movie, never fell in
love. It was a reaction that puzzled her, and she tried to explain it to her
longtime friend, Alison.
"That’s love by the
book," said Alison. "You know, a fantasy, an escape, it bears no
resemblance to real life." She took a long sip of her unsweetened iced tea
and clunked the glass down emphatically. "If anyone knows, it’s you and
Rose nodded silently. The two
women were mall hopping and taking a dinner break at one of the overly-cheerful
chain of bar and grill restaurants that populate suburban New Jersey malls. To
others, they might have been mother and daughter, even though Alison looked at
least ten years younger than 62. And if she was meticulous about covering her
gray roots, Rose didn’t look her age either. But at 44, Rose was feeling the
pangs of middle age - if not physically, but emotionally.
"You and I, we know the
truth about love," Alison was saying. "It’s just a way for them to
get you. Get you in bed, get you in the kitchen, get you in the laundry room. I
don’t even know why you read that stuff."
Rose smiled. The truth was,
despite the age difference; the women had shared similar lives. They originally
met each other because both their husbands were cops on the same force. As a
young mother, Rose had looked up to Alison, who, years ahead of her had already
run the gauntlet of being a cop’s wife. But it wasn’t long before the nasty
little secret of Alison’s life was revealed. A secret, it turned out, that was
pretty common knowledge.
the overly cheerful server had returned from out of nowhere and was gesturing
at the plates in from of Rose and Alison.
"Let’s do it, what the
hell," said Alison. The server disappeared into the crowded, dim room and
returned with two cups of coffee and the dessert menu.
"I’ll give you a few
minutes to decide," he said.
Alison reached into her purse
and took out a pack of cigarettes. It was Alison’s worst habit, an addiction
that meant any time they went out they would be seated in the smoking section,
forced to breathe in noxious smoke. Rose had forgotten how much she disliked
the smell of cigarettes, how her eyes burned and her throat felt like
sandpaper. It seemed to bother her more now, after spending ten smoke-free
years with Sean. Ten whole years had passed since his heart spasm, his
hospitalization and his doctor’s dire warning. Ten years that gave his lungs a
chance to purge the toxins, ten years for the effects of second hand smoke to
fade from nasal passages of their children. And now, he was smoking again, the
idiot. The kids came home from visits with him reeking of it - sometimes they would
jump into the shower right away to get the stench out of their hair. Their
clothes, put in the laundry hamper, soon contaminated everything with the
smell. A smell she had never noticed for the first ten years of their marriage
- years in which Sean smoked upwards of 4 packs a day and the condensation in
their bathroom would often run yellow down the wall from the accumulated layers
of nicotine-laced smoke.
Rose realized that she had
been staring so hard at Alison’s cigarette that she hadn’t heard a word.
"Look, I know you’re a
writer and all that, but somebody ought to write about what men are really
like," she was saying. No one was surprised that Alison was bitter, after
all her husband, now her ex-husband, had carried on with numerous other women
throughout their 24-year marriage. A friend to everyone, he was constantly out
doing "favors" for others, while Alison sat home, washing diapers,
ironing uniforms and cooking dinners that often were left uneaten.
In the small town where they
lived, it was hard for the very visible police officer to hide his
indiscretions, and after a few years he seemed to make no effort to do so.
There were the casual women, those attracted to and fascinated by the uniform,
who were all too willing to listen to his stories of a cold marriage and even
colder bed. These were the women who knew theirs was a fleeting affair, some of
them were married also, running away from their own chilly homes.
But at least twice, there was
talk of love, commitment, an ethereal "someday" when the miserable
trapped cop would be free of his domestic obligations, and hand in hand with
the love of his life, would start over. The usual plan was to move out of
state, and there were many not-so-clandestine trips to Virginia to scope out
the territory and dream big dreams. And all along, Alison quietly raised her
three children, kept a clean house and walked around town as if nothing was
wrong. For more than 20 years, until the day she found a lump in her breast.
The doctors all congratulated
her on finding it, reporting it, and taking care of it so quickly. The
performed a lumpectomy, gave her a course of radiation, and told her they were
very optimistic about her prognosis. Everyone, doctors, nurses, friends, family
was encouraging and supportive. Everyone except John, who came from a family
that ordered caskets the minute cancer was mentioned.
He refused to go to the doctor
or hospital with her, ignored her discomfort, and left her lying in the bedroom
alone the day she came home - by taxi - from the hospital. It was hurt more
painful than all the years of infidelity. Alison swore to get a divorce as soon
as she got stronger, and that was what she did.
"Can you believe who
knocked on my door this week?" said Alison. Jolted back to the present,
Rose hoped she could pick up the thread of the conversation.
"Umm, who?" she
"Who the hell have we
been talking about?" Alison waved her cigarette impatiently. "John!
And you are just not going to believe what he wanted."
Rose looked around at the
other diners sitting so closely. She wondered if they would all turn to stare
if she blurted out the word "sex." But Alison was there before her.
"Not, THAT," she
said, pointing her finger at Rose. "Not exactly. He wanted to move back in
with me. Apparently, things are not going so well with Miss Virginia Is for
Rose could hardly suppress the
gasp. "Can you even believe it?" said Alison. "He said we could
be partners - roommates or some kind of nonsense like that!"
"Oh no, not that
‘partners’ crap!" said Rose. Alison nodded knowingly.
It was "partners"
that Sean wanted to be. He saw no reason for a divorce, a displacement of the
children, a public airing of their discord.
"We could just live here,
but live our own lives," he said to Rose. The idea infuriated her.
"That means YOU live your
own life, and I stay here as domestic help!" she shouted. "No, if
living your own life is what you want, I want out!" Sean shrugged, not
even caring enough to press his point.
So, the divorce was over so
quickly, that even the rumor mill in the small town had trouble keeping up.
When the moving van showed up to take Rose and her children to their new home,
it created quite a stir. For weeks afterward, as Rose slowly weaned herself off
the town, returning library books, transferring prescriptions, she constantly
ran into people who would bluntly ask her what the hell had happened. Some of
them wanted verification that the rumor wasn’t true, others seemed to take a
perverse delight in hearing it from Rose’s own lips. In a way she didn’t blame
them, after all the years spent working in the town, she knew there were some
who didn’t appreciate her community involvement. Some who thought she was way
too involved with her husband’s work, some who envied the accomplishment of
their children and some who were waiting to see the perfect couple fall on
Alison was intently examining
the dessert menu, holding it out at arms length. "Why do they make the
print so small," she grumbled. "Just to embarrass us?" Rose
realized that the print on the menu was beginning to look smaller to her too.
Another gentle reminder that she had crossed the border into middle age.
Cashiers in the grocery store were calling her ma’am and she had begun
examining her face for wrinkles and double chins. Thinking of the "baby
weight" she still carried even though the baby was 12, she turned the menu
"Just coffee for
me," she said.
Alison shot her a disgusted
look. "Come on, we hardly ever go out, have yourself a treat." It was
easy for Alison; she was still as slim as the day she got married.
"Well, maybe we can split
this Death by Chocolate thing," said Rose. Alison smiled triumphantly.
"There you go," she said, reaching for another cigarette.
"So, I’ve been
monopolizing the conversation," said Alison as she lit up.
What’s been going on with you, any sign of the parrot?"
Rose shook her head, then
answered. "I’ve been reading a lot, trying to take my mind off of it. You
know Sean hated it when I read anything." Alison nodded.
"How you ever got
involved with him, I don’t know. You with your writing and all, we know the
only thing he ever read was dirty magazines!" The two women laughed
conspiratorially. It was true that Sean’s collection of "erotica"
rivaled Rose’s shelves full of classics.
"Yeah, out of all those
magazines he probably read three words!" Alison laughed so hard she choked
on the smoke she was inhaling.
Dessert arrived, a huge plate
covered with chocolate confections of several types. The smiling waiter
brandished two dessert forks and ceremoniously placed them, along with two cake
plates, in front of the women. "Death by Chocolate, for two!" he
As he walked away, Alison
stubbed out her cigarette and stifled another laugh. "What is he on?"
she said, nodding her head in the direction the waiter had gone.
"You know," said
Rose, "I’ve had this really strange feeling that losing Yankee was bound
to happen." Alison looked at her expectantly.
"I mean, it seems as if
all the males in my life have deserted me, I guess the dog is next."
Alison burst out laughing.
"The dog is the only one you did right with, you got him fixed."
Rose started to choke on a
mouthful of Death by Chocolate. Dark crumbs flew everywhere, as she gasped for
breath - tears running down her face. She pounded on the table unable to
breath. The waiter came running over, yanked her out of the booth and clamped
his arms around her stomach.
"OK! OK!" panted
Rose. "I’m OK!" The entire restaurant full of people was looking at
"I saved your life!"
the waiter shouted. His fellow servers crowded around and clapped him on the
back. Rose picked her napkin up and tried to clean the chocolate mess off her
clothes. Alison was also holding her napkin - up over her face. Finally she
peeked over a corner and giggled.
"Now that is what I call
a dramatic exit!" she said. "And its time to make ours."
The two women walked out, leaving a generous tip and a chocolate mess. They
hugged each other goodnight in the parking lot and drove home, smiling. Once
you survive Death by Chocolate, you can survive anything.