4.06 / June 2009

Them Bones

listen to this story

I’m telling you, he knew. From the moment he first saw me Marty knew I was crazy for it, and then used it to get me to go out with him. Doris, he said, let’s you and I play mah jongg. Teach me, he said. I want to learn. I swear to God that’s what he said. I. Want. To. Learn. What healthy red-blooded girl from Jersey could resist a line like that?! I knew right then and there I was done for. He had me.

But after the wedding he stopped playing. The ring went on and the tiles got put away. Just like that. I mean, would it have killed him to play a game with me every once in a while? Once a month, and I would have been happy. I would have left him alone. But no, not Mister Big Shot. Even when Rose passed on, God rest her soul, or when Mavis moved to Miami, do you think he’d give me even one sympathy round to take my mind off it? The selfish bastard.
Finally one day I really let him have it. You lied, I told him. You lied about mah jongg just to get me into the backseat of your Buick. Blasphemer, I called him. Liar.

And you know what he did? He took my set of tiles, the hand-painted ones my mother, God rest her soul, gave me on my Sweet Sixteenth, and he threw them down the garbage disposal. He stuck out his jaw, flicked the switch, and made me stand there and listen to the horrible grinding sound they made. That son of a bitch made me listen. And then he waved his finger at me and said, Doris, as long as I’m alive you will never play another game of mah jongg. I forbid it, he said. Now I’m no pushover, I can tell you, but the look in his eyes told me that I had better back off. And I did.

We didn’t speak to each other for days, and it was getting close to the day we were leaving for our annual driving tour through the south. Every fall we’d take off when the leaves started to change and we’d be back by the time they were budding. So we said our goodbyes, cancelled the papers, and got all packed up into the RV. He tried holding my hand every now and then, but I was having none of it.

Then one morning, when we were camped just outside of Phoenix, I found him lying in bed, kind of propped up against the pillows, looking out across the desert. He had a little smile on his face. Or maybe it was a grimace. And he wasn’t blinking. I poked and called and shook him, but he was gone. No more Marty. I stared at him for a while, at that man I didn’t know anymore, and then the idea hit me. I got behind the wheel of the RV right then and there, pink housedress and all, and headed south.

Oh, it was easy to find someone. You wave enough bills around in the right neighbourhoods, or the wrong ones, and you practically have to beat them off with a stick. One man in particular seemed suited for it. He was larger than the rest and looked hungry. He came by later that night, wrapped Marty up in plastic, and took him away. I gave him half the money on the spot and told him he’d get the other half on delivery. Five months, I told him.

I had a lovely tour after that. Marty would never take me to see Mavis in Miami, so I headed her way and we spent a gorgeous winter on her balcony. She never asked about Marty. No one did. Then, almost before I knew it, the five months were up and I was on my way west again.

They did a marvelous job, they really did. It’s amazing what those people can do, all things considered. They’re not exactly like the ones my mother, God rest her soul, gave me on my Sweet Sixteenth, but I like the south western characters they painted on them. And the feel of them is so much nicer than the bamboo. They’ll remind me of our vacation every time we play.

But the best part is, Marty and I play every day. I feel closer to him now than I have since we got married. We have the grandest times together.

And when we’re finished for the day I put him, all one hundred and forty-four pieces of him, back into the velvet lined box I picked up in Tijuana.