Our Alice

for our Alice, whom we lost

One day late in life, Alice acquired a husband. Our Alice…or so we’d assumed.

He was a small, dark presence in her house. Measly. Scrawny. Slope-shouldered. A husband, we were told, but in our view more like an ill-matched suitor. A timid if persistent petitioner. We could have easily ignored him except for the shock of his showing up in the first place.

And Alice…our Alice. Big woman Alice. Appetitive Alice. Rabelaisian Alice. Her boom box laugh. Her enormous cooking. Her pots and pans and boxes of tea and potted plants and sagging shelves. Her multiple curiosities. Her singing and dancing. Her fat arms, cantilevered hips, her steel-gray bedspring curls and red, red lipstick. Her books. Her earrings and scarves. Her fellow feeling. Her gigantic opinions. Unfrightened Alice.

She didn’t need a husband. She never had. But here was a husband after all, and he was not just a surprise to us, but in every way a disappointment.

He stood, malingering, near the glass doors that opened on the backyard patio, arms hanging at his sides as if he didn’t know what to do with them. We were sitting with Alice on the sofas and patterned hassocks in her living room, chatting, laughing, arguing a point of interest, venting our indignations. It was still summer, the patio’s urns and pots were full of tumbled flowers with the sun close by and to the north. There was a box of opened chocolates on the coffee table. There were books and magazines everywhere. Light from the patio welled into the room from behind him and reduced this new husband of hers to silhouette.

Perhaps he was giving her space. A woman like Alice needs space. A woman like Alice just naturally takes up space. Space belongs to her. And since we didn’t really know this husband to whom we had been introduced so suddenly and with so little explanation, or why our Alice had taken him on, given the likes and look of him, or what the exact nature of their relationship happened to be, we assumed he was giving her time to get used to him and the gift of all the space she’d always needed and always enjoyed. We assumed he must have virtues not immediately apparent. We tried to pretend he wasn’t there.

As time passed, though, his hovering brought him closer. If one or two of us joined Alice for tea in her cluttered kitchen, he would stand at attention behind her chair at the kitchen table. He was not quite touching her or the chair, against which her big body rolled and squeezed, but he was very, very close. He let her do all the talking, he never interfered, like a good butler on the ready, or a sentinel on duty. We just couldn’t believe this was something she’d want to put up with. And why couldn’t we be alone with her anymore? Why would she want to be dogged by such a creature every time she crossed the room or left the house?

His eyes were always on her. Clearly he adored her. This in itself can sometimes be enough. He had no interest whatsoever in the rest of us, lively as we were. You could see how he longed to touch her, to lean in on her, to openly enjoy what the rest of us had always enjoyed: her warmth, her fullness, her big, smacking kisses…even, from her, the occasional blow of anger. He must need what she has, we thought, though we could see no good reason for her to give him anything.

Slowly he made headway. Slowly this nobody won her attention. Months passed. It turned out his needs were many. His demands easily equaled her innate generosity. She gave up tea and chocolate. She learned to prepare the strictly inoffensive foods he specified. She procured the medications he required. Together they visited the doctors. She spent more and more time with him, less and less with us. Eventually, if reluctantly, she had to set aside her books and music. She neglected her flowers. She accepted him fully. He turned out to be voracious.

In the end she was all his. She could no longer be our Alice. He had quietly, persistently, devotedly absorbed everything. That abundant body. That abundant amazement, intelligence, and generosity that were the heart of her being among us.

We’re no longer welcome in their house. What goes on between them privately we can’t guess. 

ABBY ROSENTHAL is a wandering New Yorker who has lived downstate, upstate, and in California, Oklahoma, Washington, DC, and Wyoming before settling in Memphis, Tennessee. There, she taught English, raised a family, and continued to write and garden. Her stories and poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Southern Poetry Review, Weber Journal of the West, Revolver, Carolina Quarterly, jewishfiction.net, and the British journal Stand, among othersShe is also the author of a book of poetry, Ardor’s Hut. A sampling of her work can be found on Medium.