She was peeling potatoes for dinner when he got home from work. He heard her singing to herself in the kitchen and joined her there. The aroma of meatloaf filled the kitchen and his stomach growled. She was in the maternity jeans they’d picked up at the Salvation Army store the week before, and she was wearing one of his old Giants sweatshirts. She smiled and told him dinner would be ready in half an hour or so.
“I’m going to need a new suit, Sandy,” he said slowly, “I’m pallbearing.”
“Who?” she asked softly, eyebrows raised.
“Oh, poor Rachel! What happened?”
“Heart attack. Last night, after they laid him off.”
She sighed and said: “Well, I’m not surprised. He was always so high strung. Rachel was worried about him. She said he wasn’t feeling well lately. Oh, this is terrible. He was so young!”
“Forty-three,” he said. “His dad died young. Vic told me that once. Massive heart attack in his thirties.”
An uncomfortable silence fell between them.
“We’ll pick up a suit, then,” she said. “I have some emergency money in a coffee can.”
He’d needed a suit for a while, but it was a back-burner purchase. They’d decided to put if off until there was a wedding, baptism or funeral. They had other priorities now. A year earlier they’d have simply charged it, but with only one of them working and a baby on the way the plastic was off-limits. Cash and carry or do without. The last thing they needed in hard times was a bigger hole to dig out of.
Sandy carried the colander of potatoes to the stove and dumped them in a pot of lightly salted water to cook. She walked over and kissed him, her growing belly up against his, her hair soft on his cheek. She smelled of housework, fading perfume and sweet onions.
“Rachel must be devastated,” she said. “When is the viewing?”
“Day after tomorrow. The funeral is the next morning.”
“I’ll be at my mother’s. It’s my turn. I can’t ask my brother again. I’ll make a tray of lasagna and a salad. I was making a big batch tomorrow. I’ll send her the second tray I was going to freeze for us. It will last her and her boys a couple days.”
“I’ll tell Rachel to call you if she needs anything,” he sighed. “She knows you mom isn’t doing well. If you can just help me pick out the suit, we’ll head off a disaster. You know what will happen if I do it alone.”
“I do,” she whispered into his ear. “You’ll be dressed like a pimp. We’ll go out after supper and find you something.”
They went to the mall and picked up a suit at JC Penney, a two-button navy pin-stripe jacket and matching pleated pants. It was on sale, a good deal at one hundred fifteen dollars. Sandy handed the cash over to the clerk and they left the store, walking through the crowded mall and out to the parking lot. Their old Buick was near the mall entrance. They’d parked in one of the half-dozen maternity spots. He joked that it was a nice little fringe benefit for impregnating his young wife.
“You’re an ass,” she said and punched him playfully in the arm.
They drove home and snuggled up on the couch in the living room with small bowls of maple walnut ice cream. They watched television as she lay on her side, her head in his lap. His elbow was on her arm; his hand rested lightly on her belly. The field goal kicker was quiet so far tonight; there were no occasional hard thumps against his hand.
“What were you saving the money for?” he asked.
“I told you. An emergency.”
“A suit isn’t an emergency.”
“Everything’s an emergency.”
“I’m sorry the old one doesn’t fit.”
“I’m not. You needed to lose the weight. You shouldn’t have a big spare tire around your waist at your age. Bad for the heart.”
Vic’s substantial spare tire was left unmentioned.
“I’m not that old,” he insisted. And he wasn’t, but there was decade between them and at times it felt like more. There were moments with Sandy where he felt light, effervescent, and fully alive. Those were the moments he lived for, when he felt even younger than she, and he never knew when they were coming. They arrived without warning, and sometimes he didn’t recognize them until he saw them in the rear view.
They were quiet a minute, and then she asked: “Do you think I’ll ever get called again?”
He nodded and said: “I’m sure of it. You’re legendary. You’re the most famous first-five-minute actress in the world.”
“That I am, Robbie, that I am.”
Sandy was quite the local celebrity, with nearly a dozen television appearances to her credit. Not bad for a Scranton girl. Her roles always came in the first five minutes of various police dramas. On the credits, she was usually identified as Dead Woman – Sandra Mulhaney. She was a convincing corpse, and she’d been killed in a variety of ways. She’d been found dead on the kitchen floor, strangled. Shot in bed with a lover by a jealous husband. Twice she was discovered in a ditch, stabbed and dumped by a psychopath. She’d been executed in a car beside a wiseguy. She’d been poisoned. She’d been drowned. On it went, eleven times in all. The last death was the most promising: Blasted with a shotgun, according to the coroner, who made that pronouncement as he zipped up her body bag while the camera zoomed in for a close-up. Two long seconds of her face before zip! and she was sealed inside. It was a great shot, blood flecks and all. They’d been certain it would lead to a speaking part. And then she found out she was pregnant, and she hadn’t been murdered since.
“I hope you’re right Robbie. We really need the money.”
There was a kick under his hand, and he smiled.
“The kicker’s awake,” he said.
“What’s he doing?”
“He’s keeking a touchdown,” he answered in a thick, mangled and unidentifiable accent.
“It’s the meatloaf and ice cream,” she giggled.
“Whatever it is, the kid’s got a hell of a leg. He’s playing for the Giants.”
“The Eagles,” she insisted.
“Anyone but Dallas.”
He bent over and kissed the top of her head, and she scrunched up a little closer to him. Law and Order came on.
“Shit. I hate this one. I’m drowned.”
He watched as they fished her out of the water.
“You’ve looked better. But the blue lips really bring out the blond hair.”
“It’s horrid. I can’t believe I dyed my hair blond. I look like a hooker.”
“You were a hooker. Well, a dead hooker.”
“Shut up and pass me my iced tea. Your little field goal kicker is thirsty.”
“Are you sure you’re not mad about the new suit? I know you were saving for something. I know you’ll never tell me what it was.”
“You needed it,” she said, smiling and keeping the secret to herself. Her heart was light, his body was warm. They watched television as their son kicked field goals. Their cat wandered into the room and jumped up to take his throne on the arm of the couch, lording over his humans. The suit hung from the coat rack, a misdirected birthday gift bought with grocery store change, couch cushion quarters and the steady perseverance of love. She felt a strong kick in her belly and made a small cry. He looked at her, eyebrows arched in concern.
“Right through the uprights,” she laughed as the coroner closed the bag and zipped it shut.
* * *
Be good to each other.
* * *