I Married You for Happiness

by Lily Tuck

Hardcover, 193 pages, Pgw, List Price: $24 | purchase

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Title
I Married You for Happiness
Author
Lily Tuck

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Book Summary

The National Book Award-winning author of The News from Paraguay follows the vigil of a woman at the deathbed of her long-time husband, during which she remembers defining moments in their marriage while considering the life she imagined and their prospects for a shared afterlife.

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Excerpt: I Married You For Happiness

His hand is growing cold; still she holds it. Sitting at his bedside, she does not cry. From time to time, she lays her cheek against his, taking slight comfort in the rough bristle of unshaved hair, and she speaks to him a little.

I love you, she tells him.

I always will.

Je t'aime, she says.

***

Rain is predicted for tonight and she hears the wind rise outside. It blows through the branches of the oak trees and she hears a shutter bang against the side of the house, then bang again. She must remember to ask him to fix it — no, she remembers. A car drives by, the radio is on loud. A heavy metal song, she cannot make out the words. Teenagers. How little they know, how little they suspect what life has in store for them — or death. They may be drunk or stoned. She imagines the clouds racing in the night sky half hiding the stars as the car careens down the dirt road, scattering stones behind it like gunshot. A yell. A rolled-down window and a hurled beer can for her to pick up in the morning. It makes her angry but bothers him less, which also makes her angry.

***

A tune begins going round and round in her head. She half recognizes it but she is not musical. Sing! he sometimes teases her, sing something! He laughs and then he is the one to sing. He has a good voice.

She leans down to try to catch the words:

Anything can happen on a summer afternoon
On a lazy dazy golden hazy summer afternoon

She is almost tempted to laugh — lazy, dazy? How silly those words sound and how long has it been since she has heard them? Thirty, no, forty years. The song he sang when he was courting her and a song she has rarely heard before or since. She wonders whether it is a real one or a made-up one. She wants to ask him.

***

Gently, with her index finger, she turns the gold band on his ring finger round and round. Her own ring is narrower. Inside it, their names are engraved in an ornate script: Nina and Philip. Over time, however, a few of the letters have worn off — Nin and Phi i. Their names look like mathematical symbols — how fitting that is.

Nothing is engraved inside his ring. The original ring slipped off his finger and disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean while he was sailing alone off the coast of Brittany one summer afternoon.

A lazy dazy golden hazy — the tune stays in her head.

***

In the morning when he leaves for work, Philip kisses her goodbye and in the evening, when he returns home he kisses her hello. He kisses her on the mouth. The kiss is not passionate — although, on occasion, it is playful, and he slips his tongue in her mouth as a reminder of sorts. Mostly, it is a tender, friendly kiss.

How was your day? he asks.

She shrugs. Always something is amiss: a broken machine, a leak, a mole digging up the garden. She never has enough time to paint.

Yours? she asks.

What was his answer?

Good?

He is an optimist.

We had a faculty meeting. You should hear how those new physicists talk! Philip shakes his head, taps his forehead with his finger. Crazy, he says.

But Philip is not crazy.

Despite the old saying — said by whom? — about how mathematicians are the ones who tend to go mad while artists tend to stay sane.

Logic is the problem. Not the imagination.

***

With her fingers, she traces the outline of his lips. Her head fills with images of bereaved women more familiar than she is with death. Dark-skinned, Mediterranean women, women in veils, women with long messy hair, passionate, undignified women who throw themselves on top of the bloody and mutilated corpses of their husbands, their fathers, their children, and cover their faces with kisses then, forcibly, have to be torn away as they howl and curse their fate.

She is but a frail, wan ghost. With her free hand, she touches her face to make sure.

***

On their wedding day, it begins to rain; some people say it is good luck, others say they are getting wet.

She is superstitious. Never, if she can help it, does she walk under a ladder or open an umbrella inside the house. As a child she chanted, Step on a line, break your father's spine. Even now, as an adult, she looks down at the sidewalk and, if possible, avoids the cracks. Habits are hard to shed.

He is not superstitious. Or if he is, he does not admit to it. Superstition is unmanly, medieval, pagan. However, he does believe in coincidence, in good luck, in accidents. He believes in chance instead of cause and effect. The probable and not the inevitable.

What is it he always says?

You can't predict ideas.

The rain has briefly turned into snow. Flurries — most unseasonal for that time of year. She worries about her shoes. White high-heel satin shoes with little plastic pink rosebuds clipped to the front. Months later, she tries to dye the shoes black but they come out a dirty brown color.

She should have known better. Black is achromatic.

A country wedding — small and gloomy. The tent for the reception, set up on her parents' lawn, is not adequately heated.

The ground underfoot is soggy and the women's shoes sink into the grass. The guests keep their coats on and talk about the U-2 pilot who was shot down that day.

What is his name?

Mark my word, there's going to be U.S. reprisals and we're going to have a nuclear war on our hands, she overhears Philip's best man say.

Someone else says, Kennedy's hands are tied as are McNamara, George Ball, Bundy, and General Taylor's.

The best man says, Kennedy is a fool.

What else can he do? a woman named Laura asks him.

Don't forget the Bay of Pigs. Our fault entirely, the best man replies. He is getting angry.

Let's not talk politics. We are at a wedding. We are supposed to be celebrating, remember? Laura says. She, too, sounds angry.

***

Laura, the last she has heard, is living in San Francisco with another woman who is a potter. The best man was killed in an avalanche. He was skiing in powder down the unpatrolled backside of a mountain in Idaho with his fourteen-year-old daughter. She, too, was killed. Her name was Eva Marie—named after the actress, she supposes.

Anything can happen on a summer afternoon

Stop, she thinks, putting her hands to her ears.

***

Rudolf Anderson—the name of the U-2 pilot who was shot down.

***

Strange what she remembers.

How, for instance, once, in Boston, when she was in college, she caught sight of Fidel Castro. She still remembers the excitement of it. Dressed in his olive green fatigues, he had looked good then. He was thirty-three years old and he wore his hair long and sported a shaggy beard. Catching her eye, he smiled at her. Of this she is certain. But she was not a true radical; on the contrary, looking back, she appeared timid.

Pretty and timid.

***

Again she thinks about those dark-skinned, Mediterranean women, women in veils, women with long messy hair, and she wishes she could beat her breast and wail.

***

Excerpted from I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck. Copyright 2011 by Lily Tuck. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic.