A Reliable Wife
It could have been different, she thought. She might have been the woman who dandled a child on her knee, or took food to a neighbor whose house had been visited by illness or fire or death. She might have smocked dresses for her daughters, read to them on nights like this. Worlds of fantasy and wonder on a night when you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. She couldn’t exactly imagine the circumstances under which any of this might have come to pass, but, like an actress who sees a role she might have played go to someone with less talent, Catherine felt somehow the loss of a role more graceful, more suited to the landscape of her heart.
Her true heart, however, was buried so far inside her, so gone beneath the vast blanket of her lies and deceptions and whims. Like her jewels now beneath the snow, it lay hidden until some thaw might come to it. She had no way of knowing, of course, whether this heart she imagined herself to have was, in fact, real in any way. Perhaps it was like the soldier’s severed arm that keeps throbbing for years, or like a broken bone that aches at the approach of a storm. Perhaps the heart she imagined was one she had never really had at all. But how did they do it, those women she saw on the street, laughing with their charming or their ill-tempered children in restaurants, in train stations, everywhere around here? And why was she left out of the whole sentimental panaroma she felt eddying around her every day of her life?
She wanted, for once in her life, to be at the center of the stage. The stakes therefore were higher in the game with Ralph Truitt than she had realized. Because what she was, standing before the mirror in a lonely farmhouse, was, in fact, all she was.
She was a lonely woman who answered a personal advertisement in a city paper, a woman who had traveled miles and miles on somebody else’s money. She was neither sweet nor sentimental, neither simple nor honest. She was both desperate and hopeful. She was like all those women whose foolish dreams made her and her friends howl with hopeless derision, except that now she was looking into the face of such a woman and it didn’t seem funny at all.
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick