ONE BEAUTIFUL THING
They bought the car, a big green Cadillac, on the day they were married. Well, not bought, exactly, for they’d chosen and paid for it earlier in the week. But they picked it up that morning so they could drive to the Justice of the Peace in style. “I got one beautiful thing out of that job, didn’t I?” he asked, patting the dashboard lovingly. “The job” referred to a mansion he’d designed for a millionaire, and for which he’d been handsomely paid. For a moment, before she saw his hand stretch out and caress the car, she’d thought the one beautiful thing meant her.
They had decided to wed suddenly. Well not suddenly, really, for he had proposed to her many times before. Yet she’d been strangely hesitant to marry the man she’d been dating for several years. But then all her friends who’d rushed to the divorce courts in the 70’s, were now, in the 80’s, running to the alter, and she didn’t want to be left behind..
Later, recalling the brief ceremony at Town Hall where, at the end, the groom had shaken the judge’s hand instead of kissing the bride, she wondered why he’d been so crazy to marry her. He had pursued her ardently at the beginning of the affair, but after they’d moved in together, his desire for her seemed to depend on whether or not she was made up in Estee Lauder and gussied up in Victoria’s Secret. In her natural state, she didn’t at all resemble the airbrushed starlets he called “stunningly beautiful.” Yet she’d been one of the pretty young girls that were much admired by local photographers in her mid-western hometown. But this was the city, standards of beauty change over time and, of course, one ages. At her best she had a romantic, times-gone-by look, especially when she wore a hat.
Once, she’d showed him a picture of her and her younger sister, sitting on the front steps of their old house. “Well Sissy looks adorable,” he said, “just like a Norman Rockwell painting.”
“And how do I look?” she asked.
“You look deep,” he answered, handing the picture back to her.
He was very taken with one of her nieces, whom he’d followed from room to room at a recent family dinner. That night, as he was flossing his teeth, he said, “That’s one beautiful young lady. She’s got the fine skin you must have had at her age.”
Several years into the marriage, when she was cleaning the house one day, she found a stash of girlie magazines in the back of the closet. “Aren’t I enough?” she asked, when he got home. “Is something missing?”
He broke down, practically weeping. “I’m a very visual person and the models are chosen for their looks,” he said, indicating a centerfold. “If a man’s wife isn’t extraordinarily beautiful, she just can’t compete.”
That night she had a dream in which she showed him an old pottery plate she’d brought from home. It was a collector’s piece, made in two halves like a heart, with a rare, cherry-red glaze on it called “Iowa’s Finest.” She put it in his hands. “But it’s broken,” he complained, chipping off one piece and then another. “It’s falling apart.” And so it was, falling apart in his hands.
Very early next morning, she packed a bag and drove away in the “one beautiful thing.”