“Should you go talk to her?” ana asks, and I know that I should. I know that this is her house, this is her event, and I am a guest and I should say something.

“What do I say in a situation like this?” I have started saying “situation like this” because this situation is so unique that it has no name and I don’t feel like constantly saying, “My new husband died and I’m standing in a room full of strangers making me feel like my husband was a stranger.”

“Maybe just ‘How are you?’” ana suggests. I think it’s stupid that the most appropriate question to ask the mother of my dead husband on the day of his funeral is the same question I ask bank tellers, waiters, and any other strangers I meet. nevertheless, ana is right. that is what I should do. I breathe in hard and hold it, and then I let it out and I start walking over to her.

Susan is speaking with a few women her own age. they are dressed in black or navy suits with pearls. I walk up and wait patiently next to her. It’s clear that I want to cut in. the women leave pauses in the conversation, but none feel big enough for me to jump in. I know that she can see me. I’m in her sight line. she’s just making me wait because she can. or maybe she’s not. Maybe she’s trying to be polite and this isn’t about me. Honestly, I’ve lost perspective on what’s about me and what isn’t so . . .

“Hi, elsie,” she says to me as she finally turns around. she turns her back away from her friends, and her torso now faces mine. “How are you?” she asks me.

“I was just about to ask you that,” I say.

She nods. “this is the most f**ked-up day of my life,” she says. the minute the word f**k comes out of her mouth, she becomes a real person to me, with cracks and holes, huge vulnerable spots and flaws. I see Ben in her, and I start to cry. I hold back the tears as best I can. now isn’t the time to lose it. I have to keep it together.

“Yeah, it’s a hard day,” I say, my voice starting to betray me. “your speech was . . .” I begin, and she puts her hand out to stop me.

“Yours too. keep your chin up. I know how to get through these things, and it’s by keeping your chin up.”

This is about all I get from susan, and I’m not sure if it’s a metaphor or not. she is pulled away by new arrivals that want to prove what good people they are by “being there for her.” I walk back over to ana, who is now near the kitchen. the waiters are running back and forth with full and empty trays, and as they do,ana keeps pulling bacon-wrapped dates off the full ones. “I did it,” I say.

She high-fives me. “When was the last time you ate?” she says, devouring the dates as she asks.

I think back to the pancake and know that if I tell the truth, she’s going to force-feed me hors d’oeuvres.

“Oh, pretty recently,” I say.

“Bullshit,” she says as another waiter comes through with shrimp. she stops him, and I cringe.

“No,” I say, perhaps too boldly. “no shrimp.”

“Dates?” she says, handing her napkin over to me. It still has two left. the dates are big, and the bacon looks thick around them. they are gooey from the sugar. I don’t know if I can do it. But then I think about all the seafood here and I know this is my best bet. so I take them and eat them.

They. are. decadent.

And suddenly my body wants more. More sugar. More salt. More life. and I tell myself, that’s sick, elsie. Ben’s dead. this is no time for hedonism.

I excuse myself and head upstairs, away from the food and toward the guest bathroom mirror. I know where I’m going as I walk up the stairs, but I’m not consciously moving there. I feel pulled there. as I get further up the stairs, I can hear a number of voices chattering and people chewing. there are quite a few people hanging out in the guest room. everyone has come up to see the bathroom mirror. I don’t turn the corner and go into the room. I stand at the top of the stairs, not sure what to do. I want to be alone with the mirror. I can’t bear to see his handwriting with an audience. do I turn back around? Come back later?

“That eulogy was convincing,” I hear a man’s voice say.

“No, I know. I’m not saying it wasn’t convincing,” says another voice, this one higher, womanly, and more committed to the conversation.

“What are we talking about?” comes a third voice. It’s gossipy, and I can tell just by the tone, the speaker’s got a drink in her hand.

“Ben’s widow,” says the woman.

“Ohh, right. scandal,” the third voice says. “they weren’t even married two weeks, right?”

“Right,” says the man. “But I think susan believes her.”

“No, I know susan believes her,” the woman says. “I believe her too. I get it. they were married. I’m just saying, you know Ben, you know the way he loved his mom. don’t you think he would have told her if this was the real deal?”

I slowly step away, not wanting to be heard and not wanting to hear whatever comes next. as I walk down the steps to find ana, I catch a glimpse of myself in one of susan’s mirrors. For the first time, I don’t see myself. I see the woman they all see, the woman susan sees: the fool who thought she was going to spend her life with Ben ross.


It was a tuesday night and Ben and I were tired. I had had a long day at the library, pulling together a display of artifacts of the reagan administration. Ben had gotten into an argumentative discussion with his boss over a company logo that Ben was lead on. neither one of us wanted to cook dinner, neither one of us wanted to do much of anything except eat food and go to bed.

We went out for dinner at the café on the corner. I ordered spaghetti with pesto. Ben got a chicken sandwich. We sat at one of the wobbly tables out front, with two wobbly chairs, and we ate alfresco, counting the minutes until it was appropriate to go to sleep.

“My mom called me today,” Ben said, pulling red onions out of his sandwich and placing them on the wax paper underneath.


“I just . . . I think that is part of why I am stressed out. I haven’t told her about you.”

“Well, don’t worry about it on my account. I haven’t told my parents about you either.”

“But this is different,” he said. “I am close with my mom. I talk to her all the time, I just, for some reason, I don’t want to tell her about you.”

I was confident enough by this point that I had Ben’s heart, that the issue here was not me.

“Well, what do you think is stopping you?” I asked, finishing my pasta. It had been watery and unsatisfying.

Ben put his sandwich down and wiped the excess flour off his hands. Why on earth do fancy artisan sandwiches have flour on them?

“I’m not sure. I think part of it is that I know that she will be happy for me but concerned . . . er . . .”

“Concerned?” now I was starting to think maybe I was the issue here.

“Not concerned. When my dad died, I spent a lot of time with my mom.”

“Naturally,” I said.

“Right, but also, I was worried about her. I wanted to make sure she always had someone around. I didn’t want her to be alone.”


“And then as time went on, I wanted to give her a chance to move on herself. to meet someone else, to find her new life. to really . . . leave the nest, kind of.”

I chuckled slightly, subtly, to myself. What kind of son wants to help his own mother leave the nest?

“But she just didn’t.”

“Right. Well, everyone is different,” I said.

“I know, but it’s been three years and she’s still in that same house, alone. My mom had the exterior of the house redone after my dad died. I think to keep busy maybe? I don’t know. she got money from the life insurance policy. When that was done, she added an extension. When that was done, she had the front yard redone. It’s like she can’t stop moving or she’ll implode. But she hasn’t changed much about the place inside, really. It’s mostly as my father left it. pictures of him everywhere. she still wears her wedding ring. she isn’t moving on.”