One of those women who do everything. 50 hours a week, at the absolute minimum, all the way from light secretarial to heavy industrial. As well, of course, as every bit of the housekeeping, bookkeeping, menu planning.
She did all this, in accordance with the wishes of her husband, their agreed-upon goals and plans for the future. Maybe she may had her misgivings, but she just the same she worked and her sacrifices were matter-of-fact and without complaint. An independent self-reliant spirit did not preclude in her a deep belief in the centrality of love and marriage.
Imagine her surprise when, on a bright Sunday morning, after tugging back a curtain and thrusting open a window to air the bedroom, she turned to beg the pardon of her husband -- for disturbing him while still in bed -- and happened to notice that her husband of seventeen and a half years was now a large and crudely-shaped clay doll.
There was, she admitted later, a moment when she considered going right on cleaning, as if she hadn't noticed anything.
That morning however, something must have gotten into her, because she tore the comforter right off, and the sheet with it, and had herself a good look at him.
Sure enough. Her husband was a large clay doll. The size of a man and that was all. Certainly the shape wasn't meant to deceive anyone. He was the sort of man rude children might build beside the sea out of mud. (He was inexactly but extravagantly anatomically correct.)
This very capable woman, who could do and endure so much, at once became loudly hysterical. Who could have done such a thing? Who had kidnapped or enchanted him? Call the police! Call the media! She'd spare herself nothing. (She never had before; why start now?) She'd talk to the tabloids. She'd cry for morning television.
She would not rest, she promised herself, until her husband had been restored to her, the man just as she'd known him, for seventeen and a half years.
A few days later, resting between interviews and sympathetic crumble cakes, an atrocious thought occurred to her.
What if her husband had done this himself? Got tired of her and couldn't face her, and -- ashamed at what he'd done, after so many years of uninterrupted and strenuous devotion -- left a clay doll in his place and wandered off? It was the sort of thing she expected men to do, other men, why not her own?
She became enraged. That cowardly bastard! She'd track him down, sue him for all he was worth, destroy his name in public, beat him with her own fists.
Into grief she sank. When she met her husband she'd been young, pretty and optimistic. Years of work and endurance had aged her -- prepared the ground for bitterness that now came rushing in. Youth, good looks and optimism were long since passed. She had a few months of salary saved -- and a husband who was a crudely shaped clay doll.
It seemed to her that her whole life had been wasted. Now there was no way it might be salvaged or set right.
She drank, took pills, considered suicide. Her mind was saturated with vengeance, then self-pity, then utter hopelessness.
When word first got out that her husband was a crude clay doll, there'd been a wave of sympathy and horror. However, it was not long before she became something of a pariah. It was just too horrible for anyone to think about too long, like that couple who'd run over their two children in the driveway.
She imagined she would go on living, as that tragic couple had, only technically alive, hollowed out, a simulacrum, not so different from her husband, still in bed propped up on pillows, with his few yellow sprigs of yarn hair, a button nose and coins for eyes.
Months and months passed. She drank, stopped drinking, embraced bulimia, renounced it, smoked cigars.
On this particular evening she'd had three cigars, as well as a cheesecake and several beers. She cried and raged for hours, counted out a likely lethal quantity of pills, and placed them in little multicolored rows before her.
As she sobbed there on the floor, the very worst possible thought came toward her through the dark. Circled her twice. Landed on her shoulder and whispered.
Was it possible he'd been a clay doll all along?
She brushed the thought away.
It circled the room and came back.
She had to admit it explained a few things.
A lot of things actually.
She laughed. A short sharp laugh. It would have sounded like an evil laugh, actually, to folks that didn't understand.
Quietly she began to pack a few things. She didn't need much. Almost everything in the house belonged to her husband. She'd arranged it all for him. So many comforts. So many costume changes.
On her way out the door, she paused. Returned to the bedroom.
She kissed him where his ear had been. So many cracks and holes in him now: it was a wonder his head didn't fall off. She patted his shoulder affectionately. Wiped the dirt off on her skirt.
Pulling back the bed sheet, she contemplated his large crude penis. She'd always liked it.
She reached out to it. Shrugged. Why not?
She broke it off and put it in her pack.
Then, like a mischievous cameraman, she instructed herself, "One more time, girl. From the top. Once more, with feeling."
She was ready to go.