It is the morning after Christmas and I cannot sleep. I hear my second husband on the far side of our king size bed snoring like a new born babe, while tears fill my eyes and wet my silk night gown.

I wish that I were dead.

And if God has his way I will be soon. And then I'll be free of this childhood friend I married late in life, who never has an illness and can't understand others who do, who lives for nothing more than tuning up his MG sports car, his vast matchbook collection from restaurants and clubs, his library of jokes from the New Yorker.

"Many are cold, but few are frozen" he tells my visiting nephew when he arrives in a snow storm. He doesn't get it so Albert explains, "Many are called, but few are chosen," and the boy giggles; he's just the right age to find that funny. To me it's like the annoying clank of weights Albert lifts in the afternoon. It sends shudders through me when the barbells drop onto their cradle, and he groans for more.

"Albert Pace ran a race
Up and down the fire place
He stubbed his toes and broke his nose And that's the way the story goes"

My sisters and I used to skip rope to that jingle about him when we were kids. I can't remember who made it up. I laughed at him when we were young and later when he was in college, some small college here in the Midwest because he could never get into a good one in the East like my brothers. And he wanted to marry me then, and I said never, never. Never!

But after my first marriage ended, there he was again. And he wanted me so badly, and I wanted to be wanted so badly that I took him, took him for my husband.

It's four going on five. I can tell by the glowing trick clock he bought for our bedroom, where the hands are mounted on clear plastic and are moved by nothing visible.

That's how I feel. I am being moved by nothing I can see because the marrow in my bones, the substance I never thought about, is no longer making white cells, something else I never ever thought about. And I am looking paler, and losing weight, and next Christmas I will not be here.

So I wake up early after a couple of hours sleep, and my body is aching for my first husband, who I wasn't able to really love. Who gave me two beautiful children, who bought me this expensive house, who didn't go to college but made more money than any of my brothers, who my parents didn't like. Whose love making I once made fun of at a family dinner.

Maybe I am getting what I deserve. How could I have been so cruel to him?

Why didn't I know I loved him until he had handed me a bundle of stocks, and had gone to his new wife in Chicago, leaving me back here in the suburbs? For years I could only see him dazzled by some young frilly thing, while he deserted me faithful and true. But I know that isn't so.

Randal1, I do love you. Did love you. And I don't understand why it took until now for me to say it. Even to myself. And what I would give to have you heavy on top of me, feeling you inside.

Albert rolls over, and for a minute I think he is going to wake. He reaches toward me, but it is a reflex of the comatose; soon he is back in dream land.

He's so happy here with me. I never dared tell him otherwise. What was the point? We had made our late life decisions, and that was that. I could not stand the scrutiny of my family over another marriage gone bad.

So from now on it's me and Albert, Albert and me.

I'm beginning to see light in the windows, and its only about this time that I'm able to doze off. In the early morning my thoughts grow softer.

I think of the summer when I am in the kitchen helping the maid. I look out the window at Albert in his bathing suit, a high ball in his hand, dark glasses pushed up on top of his head. The radio baseball game is wafting loud and soft in the wind. He is slowly working his way around the pool with a long vacuum pole, sucking leaves and other debris off the bottom. He does look handsome, I have to admit. In a few minutes the neighborhood kids will arrive for a swim while he supervises them. And then he'll be laughing and telling them more of his jokes. Especially the long one they all know about the magazine photographer in Korea. They like to hear it again because he improvises a little each time, leading up to the punch line

"Oh, Mr. Ree of Life, at last I have found you."

And when I think of this, even I have to smile. And I imagine that I'm happy.

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