I was browsing at the QuickStop because sometimes they'll discount their cat food down to next to nothing, and plus they're always the first ones out with new generic smokes. I'll buy a carton of whatever's new and keep one pack sealed; it's the only collecting I do unless you count those religious mongoloid baby figurines that people keep giving me for my birthday and X-mas. I never asked for them, and now they're cluttering up my house with their creepy goggle-eyed stares. They've got Bible verses set in gold around their bases.
I'd just as soon you give me nothing than give me another one of those. Give me a headache, give me rabies, a hard time, chiggers. But it hurts people's feelings if you tell them the truth, so I just say "thank you" and keep adding figurines to my shelf. If I don't dust them, their eyes go dull and don't seem to follow me around the room as much. Dull eyes or no, they were the only company I'd had all the weekend, which brought me to the QuickStop. I'm not a hermit but have lived like one since Roy left me.
"Roy says it was you throwed him out!" Who are you going to believe? He couldn't wait to go climb on that woman and do his business with her every night. My changing the locks was all the incentive he needed. I told him: You like it so much, you go and see if you can make a life with her. They've got a baby now, but the woman's let herself go. She's fat now, her roots are an inch gone to black and she doesn't wax her lip anymore. When I see her, I say to myself: There but for the grace of God, go I. Then I go home and dust the figurines.
They're bad company, like all the ugly babies Roy and I could have had set in cheap porcelain and leering at me from the shelf, gathering dust. When I start to gather dust, I go somewhere, even if it's only the QuickStop. You can guess who I saw there. Roy had a bag of diapers under his arm and was getting a 32-ounce out of the cooler. It was in me to say: Some things never change, do they? But I didn't. I just said hey and he turned and said, "Well, hello!" and grinned at me like I'd be something good to eat.
It was the grin that got me in with Roy to begin with. His teeth were good then, white and strong in even rows, a loyal man's teeth that promised solid years, wholesome food. He had a good job turning the lathe that made chair and table legs for dining room suites, and the factory gave us a whole set in varnished maple for our wedding present. We fed it to the stove the winter after he was laid off, first just the leaves because they made the table too big for our breakfast nook anyway, but the rest soon followed. We had us a time roasting marshmallows over it, cold nights huddled together over the want ads.
The roads division took me on as a tollbooth operator, and Roy cooked up a scheme where I would pocket half the take and hand it off to him every afternoon when he drove through, but I refused. Already the figurines were getting to me. I had most of the 10 Commandments by then, including "Thou shalt not steal" inscribed at the feet of a pious, pop-eyed angel, her hands open and empty, clean. What we needed was a stern, no-adultery figurine to chasten Roy, but apparently that is a limited-edition piece, pricey and hard to locate. By the time our maple set was gone, so was Roy. I have a patio dining set in resin now, and if I burned it the fumes would kill me.
"You doing all right? You need anything?" Roy just grinning like he knew what I needed. I found myself telling him that the water-heater was on the blink again, thinking that if I had bought a new one instead of paying for a divorce, I'd always have a warm bath. But I'd still have a rotten husband, and sometimes a cold shower is just the wake-up call I need. He said he'd come by soon to fix it if I wanted. I almost said OK, knowing what it was I'd be agreeing to; Roy couldn't fix a flat tire, couldn't fix his way out of a paper bag. He would just bang on the thing with a wrench, drink his malt liquor and try to get me into bed.
"You have no vision," he had accused me when I nixed the tollbooth scheme, but I was tormented by visions all that spring of him with some pretty blonde, younger, thinner, more willing to break commandments than me. He'd wanted children, and I'd wanted us to have some other things first, even when I quit the Pill trying to keep him. It is no consolation that the woman's looks are gone and my belly flat as a teenager's. Grace of God, I tell myself, Grace of God, but it doesn't take.
Somebody honked their horn, and I looked outside and saw that woman parked in front of the QuickStop, in the rheumy old Pontiac that I helped Roy buy before we were married. Their baby was standing in her fat lap just craning to get a look at his daddy--whose teeth, it must be told, were not so good. Time to say: It looks like you have enough to tend to. And get out of there, no cigarettes, no cat food, but my head full of self-righteousness and dignity. My mama says let sleeping dogs lie. I say let lying dogs be. And grinning ones--they're just fixing to bite you. There, by the frozen foods, I hesitated.