When George Holdren parked his car in the garage and came into the kitchen, his wife Thelma said, “I’m sorry for your friend.”
He thanked her and she asked him if he’d had dinner.
“Yeah, I stopped at Bob Burn’s. I wasn’t sure you’d be up,” he said, although it was only 8 PM. He felt the falseness in what he said. Ordinarily, she wouldn’t sit in the kitchen at this hour, waiting for him.
“How did you know?” he asked her.
“Well, there were only five funerals in Pasadena today, and I recognized her name,” she told him. “I saw the obituary, too.”
“Yes. At the time I found out. It’s all right.”
“I wanted to pay my respects. She was a nice person, Thelma. I mean she was a human being who deserved the farewell. I just wanted to say goodbye.”
“Did you talk to her family?”
“No, I stood way back near the top of the hill. I just watched.”
“It was 1965, George. You’re thoughtful,” she said without sarcasm. “You could have told me why you were going.”
“I suppose I could. I’m sorry. It seemed awkward.”
“Did you know anyone there?”
“No. I saw her husband — he must have been — and some of her children. I just wanted to close that chapter in my life once and for all.”
“I would have thought it was already closed a long time ago, George. Did you have tender feelings for her?”
“If you mean did I love her, no. It seems like something is never over until someone dies, though. She meant something to me once. I needed to finish the whole episode. That was the only time I was ever unfaithful to you.”
“Have I hurt you again?” he asked her.
“I’m a little disappointed with myself, but yes. I don’t think it’s your fault, George. I wouldn’t have thought it would bother me. That was when I had my hysterectomy. They gave them really early to women then. The girls were growing up.”
They sat in the breakfast nook and he placed his hand over hers on the table top. An apology didn’t seem enough. He looked at her kindly and saw what a sweet face she had, a face that had always been sweet and considerate. He couldn’t imagine marrying anyone else, and he wondered if she knew. It seemed weak to tell her that after all these years. It should be clear.
“It was nice of you to go, George. Did you run into traffic?”
“Yeah, quite a bit, especially coming back. I wish now I hadn’t gone.”
“Well, it’s done. I understand your motives. I shouldn’t be upset,” Thelma said, but with sadness in her voice and her features.
George had taught their daughters that they couldn’t change the feelings of anyone else. He couldn’t change Thelma’s feelings, but he wanted to.
“You’ve been a wonderful wife to me,” he began. “We’ve always been happy, even when I had to work so hard and couldn’t spend and much time with you and the girls. I love you more now than the day I married you, Thelma. Please don’t be sad.”
“You’re sweet to say that, honey.”
“I’ve always done dumb things like go to Gloria’s funeral,” George began to say.
“Don’t accuse yourself. It’s not true. You’ve been a wonderful husband, too.”
“Why are we using past tense, Thelma? You are a wonderful wife. We have a long way to go together.”
He knew she worried about health, and quite a few of their old friends had already died. He wondered if he wanted her to feel better for her own sake, or just to get himself off the hook.
“Would you like a piece of boysenberry pie? I saw it in the market and it looked so good. A little piece?” she offered.
So they had pie, and glasses of milk. Thelma seemed to cheer up. George hoped this subject of Gloria and her funeral would never come up again, but somehow these things always seemed to.
“You should change out of your outfit,” she told him. “You look sharp.”
He could finally relax. Maybe they’d watch a movie. In their bedroom, he wondered if their oldest daughter knew about Gloria. When he did, he felt the unpleasant rush of adrenaline shoot into the muscles of his shoulders. What if she did? Thelma would tell him if he asked her, but that would be bringing the subject up again.
He changed into a comfortable warmup suit and slippers, and on his way back to the kitchen, he met Thelma in the hall.
“I’m glad we talked about it,” she said. “It’s over and done. No one else knows about it but us.”
She seemed pleased at being able to discuss it. George was glad, too.
He waited for her on the couch in the den where they watched movies. The funeral had been a letdown, actually, and didn’t seem what he thought it might. It was probably a waste of time, as if he’d tried to undo the past.
Thelma came in to sit down, the movie started, and he put his arm around her. It felt just as good to have her arms as it had sixty years ago. He felt the love coming from her.
After a minute he moved his head to kiss her cheek and saw she’d been crying. That made him feel bad, because he wanted her to be happy, all the time. Maybe they’d need to talk some more.