Now, just because a wife kills her husband — even a perfectly agreeable husband — it doesn’t necessarily follow that she’s to blame. She may have a perfectly reasonable explanation. For example, perhaps the aging process, and a certain amount of overeating, has left the husband in such shape that death could reasonably be seen as an improvement.
But we’re getting ahead of the story.
Ben Ratburn had a theory about death. He shared it with his wife Fawn one day when she complained about how slow he was in getting his art career started, allowing another deadline to pass by, without a painting or a drawing or a sketch submitted. This bothered her, as she was that kind of wife who wanted her husband to succeed in life.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ben said, lying beside her that night, a comic book in his hands. “I’ve got time. If it takes me a bit longer than others to get my projects done, so what?”
“‘A bit longer?’” Fawn sat up straight in bed, upsetting her bowl of Oreos. “Ben, you’re not just slow; you’re stopped dead in your tracks. You’re almost forty! It takes time to climb to the top, and you haven’t even set your foot on the first rung. And you don’t care. ‘I’ve got time.’ At the rate you’re going? I don’t think so!”
Ben looked at her a moment through narrowed eyes, then came out with his theory. “You know that writer, the Red Badge of Courage guy, what’s his name?”
“How should I know?”
“Crane, that was it. He wrote great stuff, really impressive. Then he died when he was thirty or something. And Keats, the poet. He died really young too, after surprising everyone. And how old was van Gogh? And I read about this mathematician from India, this supergenius. He died when he was thirty-five. And Mozart, Jim Morrison—”
“Yeah, so what?”
“They all died young, full of talent. They did it all, then they died.”
Fawn lay against her pillow and folded her arms. “But that’s what I’m talking about!”
“But don’t you see? They did it all — then died. Me? What have I done? Nothing yet. And at the rate I’m going, I’m going to need a hundred and fifty years or so to get anything at all done. So I’m in no danger of using myself up and dying young like those guys.” Ben placed his hands behind his head, pleased with his logic.
“You’re kidding.” Fawn did not seem so impressed.
Ben closed his eyes, a blissful look on his pudgy face. “No,” he said, with quiet certainty. “I don’t know how I know, but I know. It’s like God has told me. I simply can’t die, not for a long, long while at least. It just can’t happen.”
“Of course it can happen. Heart attack, the weight you’re gaining. A truck—”
Ben interrupted her, an unusual and dangerous thing for him to do. “No. It can’t happen. Believe me, Fawn. I won’t lay quiet until I’m finished, until I’ve sculpted a masterwork or painted my Mona Lisa. Or at least my Wonder Woman.”
Fawn scoffed, but she’d never heard such a tone in her husband’s voice before.
She turned away, and her glare fell on a little clay figure Ben had sculpted, a tortured dancer with arms raised to the sky, her dress twisted about her. He’d never finished the base, but what he had done actually was damn good. Maybe the toothbrush holder he’d sculpted for the bathroom — an open mouth with hideous teeth and no handle — wasn’t to her taste, but... Fawn hated to admit it, and never would — to him — but damn it, he was gifted.
And despite herself she believed in him.
* * *
“Jeez, my stomach is really starting to kill me.” Ben pushed the plate of nachos away.
“Well, you shouldn’t have eaten so much,” said Fawn, turning the volume up on the TV with the remote control. “I keep telling you, you gotta start a diet at some point. It’s embarrassing to be seen in public with you these days! Everyone notices those extra folds in your shirt, the extra strain on your belt.”
“What do you expect — a guy my age? You’ve got to assume there’ll be a little degradation.”
“Your old high school buddy Ross is the same age. Now he looks good. When he was over here on Saturday—”
“Yeah, well, he’s the exception.”
Fawn turned from the TV to look at him, her lip curled in contempt. “Oh, no, no, it’s not just him. Most of your friends lack the excess poundage that you cart around.”
“It’s just genetics,” murmured Ben. “But — Jeez! — my stomach is killing me. It feels like I’ve swallowed a dozen razors.”
“I’m just fine.” Fawn grabbed a handful of potato chips with one hand, and a couple of Cheetos with the other. “You gotta watch what you eat, you know.” She giggled.
“Well, you made the nachos. And I notice you didn’t have any. Maybe there was something wrong with them. How’d you -- [End of Preview.]