Being told that, categorically, he knows what he’s talking about and she doesn’t, however minor a part of any given conversation, perpetuates the ugliness of this world and holds back its light. After my book Wanderlust came out in 2000, I found myself better able to resist being bullied out of my own perceptions and interpretations. On two occasions around that time, I objected to the behavior of a man, only to be told that the incidents hadn’t happened at all as I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest–in a nutshell, female.
“Thank you, Dearie!” the old woman enthused tremulously as she crossed the threshold. Gnarled fingers clutched my hand with surprising strength as she beamed up at me with milky blue eyes. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me!”
“No trouble at all,” I said, although it was. Steve had given me the afternoon to pack my things, and I didn’t want to chance being there when he returned. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Hot tea would be lovely, if you have it, Dearie.”
I slipped into the kitchen to put the kettle on, and my visitor followed.
“Heavens, it’s just as I remember it!” she breathed, raising a shaky hand to her lips. Coming up on my right, she placed her hand gently on my arm as I readied the cups and saucers. “Would you mind? It’s been so long since I’ve made tea in this kitchen…”
I gave in to her request and took a seat at the table.
“You say you grew up here?”
“Oh, yes!” she said. “This house was in my family for generations! Pity about the curse…”
“Why, the Marital Curse, of course! Any marriage that resides in this house is doomed to fail… didn’t you know?”
I wanted to say that I knew all too well, but my own impending divorce had nothing to do with any so-called curse.
“My grandmother was the first…” she began.
One hour and two cups of tea later, I knew the whole story: Her grandfather had had an affair, and her grandmother had gone mad and hacked him to pieces with a machete… Decades later, the old woman–then a girl of nineteen—had assisted her own mother in killing her adulterous second husband and helped to bury him in the backyard… Still later, she had murdered her own philandering husband, and years afterward helped her daughter do the same when her spouse also proved to be unfaithful.
“We had hoped that making those vile men pay for their sins would lift the evil from this house,” the old woman concluded ruefully. “But I can see that it hasn’t happened yet…” She reached out and placed her aged hand over mine as tears spilled down my cheeks.
“No, it hasn’t,” I admitted. “But it’s not the curse, and it’s not my husband… it’s me. I cheated! I had the affair!”
“Oh, my,” the woman breathed. “Steven said I’d never get you to admit it…”
“It was just one night, and—” I froze. “How do you know my husband’s name?”
“Why, he’s my grandson, Dearie!” she said. “We had to keep the house in the family, of course, what with all the secrets buried here! My daughter died years before you and Steven met, and I hadn’t seen him since the funeral, until he called me last week to say that you two were having problems…”
My skin broke out in a cold sweat, and my heart skipped a strange beat. I glanced down into my teacup, the tiny remnants of crushed pills barely visible unless you knew what you were looking for. The room began to swim around me, and when I looked up again the old woman eyed me with a sinister grin on her face.
“How did you say your husband died?” I croaked, my throat closing in. “And your daughter’s husband?”
“Why, poison, of course!” she cackled gleefully, as the world went dark and the floor rose up to meet me.