Alone now, the widow
reads considerably. She used to underline favorite passages to share with her husband.
Now, in a
notebook, she stores quotations
like this one from Elizabeth
Jolley's Cabin Fever: "I experience again the deep-felt
wish to be part of a married couple, to sit by the fire in
winter with the man who is my husband. So intense is this wish that if I
write the word husband on a piece of paper, my eyes fill with tears."
Why are these lines so
We begin with a worn wedding
album. In the first picture, the
bride and groom are facing,
with uncertain smiles, a church filled with relatives and
friends. The bride did not wear glasses that day, so
everything was a blur of candlelight and faces.
They walked to the back of the
church and stood at the door as their guests
filed past. From colleagues and old schoolmates came cheerful good wishes clothed in friendly
jokes. Some relatives, however, were not pleased. One sat
in a car, crying; another stood surrounded by
sympathizers offering pity.
women — mothers of the bride and groom — would have insisted they
wanted only the best for their children but they defined "the best" as
staying home to help support the family.
The last person to approach the
couple was a short, elderly woman who smiled as she congratulated them — not by name but as
"wife" and "husband".
"I'm Aunt Esther Gubbins," she said. "I'm here to
tell you you are going to live a good life and be happy. You will
work hard and love each other."
Then quickly, for such a short,
portly, elderly person, she disappeared.
Soon they departed, in a borrowed car. With money
loaned by the groom's brother, they could
afford a honeymoon at a state-park lodge. Sitting before a great
oak fire, they recalled the events of the day, especially
the strange message conveyed by Aunt
"Is she your mother's sister or
your father's?" asked the wife.
"Isn't she your aunt?" the husband
responded. "I never saw her
They wondered. Had she come to the
wrong church or at the wrong time, mistaking them
for another couple? Or was she just an old
woman who liked weddings and scanned for
announcements in church bulletins?
With the passage of time and the
birth of grandchildren,
their mothers accepted their marriage. One made piles of clothes for
the children; the other knitted hats, sweaters
The couple's life together was
very ordinary. Peculiarly,
neither ever asked "Whose job is this?" or asserted "That is not my responsibility!" Both acted to fill their needs
as time and opportunity allowed.
Arriving from work, he might
announce, "Wife, I am home!" And she, restraining the
desire to complain about housework, would respond, "Husband, I am
Occasionally, usually around their
anniversary, they would bring
up the old curiosity
regarding Aunt Esther Gubbins.
insist the elderly woman did attend their wedding accidentally. But she knew "Aunt Esther"
was on some heavenly mission.
Widowed now, the wife wonders what
she would save from their old home if it were to catch
fire: Her mother's ring? Pictures of her husband? The $47
hidden in the sugar bowl?
No, it would be the worn,
fading envelope she kept for so
long. She knows exactly where it can be found: under a
pile of napkins.
One evening her husband had fallen
asleep while reading a spy novel.
a note on the envelope and left it on his book: "Husband, I have
gone next door to help Mrs. Norton with her sick
The next morning she saw he had
written below her message: "Wife, I missed you. You thought I was
asleep, but I was just resting my eyes and thinking about that
peculiar woman who talked to us in church a long time ago.
always seemed to me that she was the wrong shape for a heavenly
messenger. Anyway, it's time to stop
wondering whether she came from heaven or a nearby town. What matters is this:
she was, Aunt Esther Gubbins was right."