Fiction Contemporary

Fit to Print

   “Who was on the phone?” Beth asked as Bob.

   “It was Paul. Sara is leaving him. She connected with an old flame from high school.  This guy found her on FaceBook, and just that, like she’s leaving him. She said he’s focusing on her and living life. She said Paul’s taken her for granted too long.”

    “That’s too bad. I always liked those two, particularly Sara,” Beth said.

    “You’re not on FaceBook a lot, are you?” Bob said, and Beth saw the mannerism of Bob’s mother in how he asked.

    “I have an account, but you know, I don’t hang out there,” Beth said.

    “Good, keep it that way. I don’t need the competition.”

    “What, Mister Free Market doesn’t want competition?”

    “This is different,” Bob said. “Human relationships aren’t made for efficiency.”

    “But isn’t that the point of competition? Someone gets lazy and that creates an opportunity for someone else to slip in?”

    “Not funny,” Bob said.  “Paul is devastated. I need to see him tonight, make sure he can keep it together. You’re alright for dinner, right?”

    “Do I have a choice?”

    “No,” Bob laughed and gave her a kiss out of habit, and grabbed his jacket.

    Bob could use a little competition, yet an affair wasn’t Beth’s style. But how else would you find out if you weren’t well suited with another person unless you found someone else to make a comparison? Bob had grown into his overbearing and annoying new self. If they were friends, she would spend more time at other friends’ houses, but as her husband, tied up in marriage, she felt both neglected and guilty at the same time. With the kids and grandkids gone, living in different towns, Beth could see their house was empty of everything except furniture.

    It was the marriage councillor who suggested Beth needed a project, like a family tree, and Bob agreed. Bob was placating her by going to the marriage councillor, agreeing with everything the councillor said that would keep Beth occupied, convinced she was only bored with her life, not with Bob. He misunderstood so much of what the councillor was saying, and it was ironic because he wouldn’t try to understand what she found out about his family.

    Of course, Bob would be furious if he saw Beth’s findings in print, but she wondered if he’d even notice. He would, if he read the booklet, but there was a good chance he wouldn’t. He’d glance at the pages like so many things she had given him over the years, running his fingers over the edges, before setting it down. However, he’d be extra furious if he read it and she didn’t tell him beforehand of what she found, like she was committing two sins at once.

    Part of her brain hoped he’d read it. She could see his face turning red, especially around the nose, his voice becoming louder, then he’d stutter as his thoughts were coming faster than his words. And once he started stuttering he’d throw low value things around, magazines against the wall, books on the floor, and kick at the edges of the rugs.

    Men get even more grouchy as they age. Bob was living proof. More fragile, their egos more easily bruised. No, that’s not accurate. It was more like their egos got easily deflated, and they needed others to notice the wonderful things they were doing to keep their egos puffed up. Bob, like most men, had a hard time accepting old age with grace.

    In a way, she wished she never started the genealogy research. If she didn’t find these things out, she wouldn’t have to worry about him quashing some of the findings, telling her to lose those details because everyone needed to know he, and his kids, came from good stock. What Bob failed to realize were two things:  First, everyone had odd characters sitting in their family tree. Second, at their age, nobody cared what your long-dead mother did. Sure some would snicker behind Bob’s back because his mother carried herself as the embodiment of the straight and narrow, with lots of self-righteous talk. They wouldn’t think any less of Bob, but they’d enjoy making jokes about a holy-roller who enjoyed rolling around.

    It was an opportunity for Beth. Not an opportunity in that she was presented with a choice, but she had a moment to look at herself differently. She came to a slow-moving epiphany; her reacting to all Bob’s needs, demands and complaints was not how she wanted to live her life. And then once she reached that point, she was now convincing herself that she wasn’t being selfish or delusional.

    Bob’s heavy handedness might be the issue to force her to make a decision. That was why hept the details in the booklet. It would give her a platform to sally forth and put Bob on the defensive, change their whole dynamic. When she received the birth and death records, she climbed up on her little soapbox.

    “Bob, are you sure your father died at the beginning of the war?”

    “Yes, he was killed on the Russian front,” he said.

    “I don’t have any records to indicate that,” she said.

    “It was war on the Russian front. You know, people lost their lives and records were lost too.”

    “But how do you know?”

    “Mom said so, and she should know.”

    There was no reason to believe that the records she received were incorrect. The names and birthdates matched to the people involved, but you wouldn’t recognize those people based on the stories Bob’s mother told. If she was put in Bob’s mother’s situation, she might have done the same thing; emigrated to the United States to start all over with a new narrative. She couldn’t blame her for starting over, except Beth never would have told such tales.

  The reality was nobody forged a birth certificate in their village church in 1940. Of course, paternity was impossible to prove then. If his mother did sneak off one night with someone else, or had a fling behind the bushes, you couldn’t tell from the records. However Robert senior must have been convinced he was Bob’s father, or he wouldn’t have signed the baptismal certificate. 

    She could concede the lack of a wedding certificate could be a lost record. Or, Beth felt more likely, it could have been they were never married. She could see them never marrying because Bob’s mother would’ve been fifteen when Bob was born, and his father twenty-five. The family lore Bob’s Mom told was that she was twenty, and Bob’s Dad was twenty-six when they got married, and little Bobby came a year later. However, there was no way to say his father died in 1941 when there was no death certificate for that year, but he shows up on two paternity claims after the war, and has one death certificate dated 1959.

    In a way, she was annoyed with herself for not showing Bob the records earlier, but she’d enjoy this more. And if he surprised her, handled it like an adult, she’d probably back down, and work on putting her thoughts about her marriage in a positive place. She’d review the roles they played, and like on their wedding day, accept the vows they made. But that was such a woman thing to do, meeting the expectations, falling back in line behind Bob. Even their kids would expect that of her.

    In her mind, she played a conversation frequently while she was writing the family history -

    “Mom, why are you throwing away fifty some years of marriage?” Both kids would say.

    “Just be thankful you know who your Dad is,” she would’ve loved to have said.

    Such bravado wasn’t in her, and the danger was she’d fall in line and live with the husband she no longer loved or cared about. She still had lukewarm feelings for him, nothing like they used to be. Instead she felt sorry for him becoming what he was. Feeling sorry wasn’t a good reason to live with him. She had emotions and liked sex, and had chances, only chances, with other men because you didn’t do those things, and now she was feeling sorry for herself, having to hide those feelings, bury herself under outdated expectations of what a wife should be. As an example of how things changed: she was certain her daughter, and her daughter-in-law, would leave if they had to put up with a bore like Bob.

    It made her question marriage. She remembered her wedding day, and it was a once in a lifetime day. On her daughter’s wedding day, those happy feelings flashed back, and she was proud when Sarah got engaged, and then married. She knew a stable parent relationship gave kids less to worry about, and having two parents made raising kids easier, but now the kids were gone. She asked why stay married if you’re unhappy? Her only reasons were to keep the kids and grandkids happy, and to keep the security of what she knew, which was like being in a dead end job, watching the clock until you got time off. Getting older made you realize you couldn’t do as much as you once did, but it also made you want to use your time wisely.

    She told herself to slow down, wait until she saw his response to what was in the booklet before she called the attorney back. But she knew how he’d respond. And if needed, she could call the attorney back after and tell to her to stop, put it on hold.

   “This is riddled with mistakes,” Bob shook the papers at Beth. “None of the dates make sense. There must be someone else who has my father’s name.”

    “That’s what the records say,” Beth said.

    “C’mon, you’re saying my Mom got knocked up by some soldier when she was fourteen, and that my father left me and her, and shacked up with someone else?”

    “I’m not saying that, but the records don’t lie.”

    “What is that supposed to mean?” Bob threw the papers on the table, with some sliding off onto the floor. He half kicked a chair in the breakfast nook.

    “Do you have a marriage certificate or a death certificate?” Beth asked.

    “They don’t matter. My mother said –“

    “Maybe your mother wasn’t telling the truth.”

    “What? You’re insinuating my mother was lying.”

    “I’m not insinuating, it’s right here in these docs.” The doorbell rang, and Beth went to answer.

    “Don’t answer the door. We got to set this straight.”

    “We,” Beth said as she opened the door, “don’t need to do anything.”

    “Who’s that?” Bob said.

    “This is Tony, my attorney’s legal assistant. He’s here to serve you divorce papers.”

November 19, 2021 17:29

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