Twenty Years In
They remember the wedding as if it
happened yesterday. Ed’s mother
is looking less sour than usual. His father
is looking solemn, and Betty’s own
parents are snuffling like characters in one
of those old black and white movies
she saw as a kid. Ed is wearing a jacket
and tie. Betty’s wearing a ruffled
pink dress she found on sale and a pair
of white pumps. She’s holding her
gloves in one hand, and the other is holding
Ed’s for dear life. They are squeezing
each other’s fingers while the J.P. leads them
through the vows to I do, I do, which
they both say loud and clear, not a tremor in
either voice. They can’t wait to go out
to breakfast, can’t wait to get home to bed.
Your son’s your son.
Ed was forty-seven when his mother died.
She’d been a talky woman, a platitude
for every occasion. It’s always darkest before
the dawn. A stitch in time saves nine.
He who hesitates is lost. And his personal
favorite, A watched pot never boils.
There were others too: Where there’s smoke
there’s fire. Never look a gift horse
in the mouth. Every Christmas she wryly
declaimed Your son’s your son till he
takes a wife and Ed would come back with
Least said, soonest mended. They hadn’t
really stayed close. So when the first dirt fell
on her coffin, his own loud sobs were
a shock. Then Betty put her arms around him:
Okay, Ed . It’s okay. She’d be the first
to tell you: No one lives forever. Remember,
This too shall pass.
Betty’s not sure
why she bothers. Now she’s
washing dishes by hand in the bathroom sink.
The plumbing under the kitchen counter
has finally let go for good. Pipes rusted clean
through, and the shutoff valves aren’t
any too healthy either. Ed keeps saying he’ll
get to it in a week or so, maybe less if
his back lets up, and why can’t she for the love
of God give it a rest. It’s past midnight
because that’s when Ed got out of the bathtub
and flipped the latch on the bathroom
door. She was getting him a fresh towel, and
before she knew what she was doing
she’d brought in the whole tray of dirty dishes
so she could clean up before she went
to bed. So now he’s out of the bath, a little red
and a little splotchy. She can feel his
hands on her waist. His breath tickles her ear
while she stands there up to her elbows
in dishwater. She looks up and sees herself
smiling. The truth is she
just can’t stop.
What Betty Forgets by Morning
In her dream she’s
exploring a kitchen so new
there isn’t a single nick or scorch mark
on the counters. The hand-rubbed
cabinets glisten in brighter, clearer light
than she is used to. All her favorite
utensils, spatulas, turners and spoons are
waiting in the crock beside the sink.
She takes a split broiler from the fridge
when she’s suddenly wide awake,
She’s afraid but she doesn’t know why.
When she holds her breath, all she
can hear is the gallop of her own pulse.
She puts her hand on Ed’s chest.
He sighs. She can feel his breaths moving
in and out, the warmth of him there
in the bed. She falls into the rhythm
of full, deep breaths. She relaxes,
falls back into sleep.
© Phebe Davidson
Phebe Davidson is the author of several published collections of poems, most recently Plasma Justice (Main Street Rag Publishing Co, 2011) and Waking to Light (Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2012). She is a contributing editor at Tar River Poetry and a staff writer for The Asheville Poetry Review, as well as the founding editor of Palanquin Press. A recovering academic, she is Distinguished Professor Emerita of the University of South Carolina Aiken, still up to her neck in poems, and still living in Westminster, South Carolina. She is fond of an adage written by the late humorist Art Buchwald: “Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.”