The Box Garden

The Box Garden by Carol Shields Read Free Book Online

Book: The Box Garden by Carol Shields Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carol Shields
    “Why did she do it anyway? Did she really care all that much?”
    Eugene shrugged. “I could never figure it out. I mean, even then we weren’t all that hard up for cash. She always said it was the principle of the thing. She seemed to be mad at the whole world. And consumerism kind of opened a somewhat legitimate channel to her. God, she could work up a rage. Nothing timid and retiring about Jeri. Funny, at first she had seemed, I don’t know, just discerning. Knowledgeable. Discriminating. How the hell was I supposed to know if rolls should be served warm. I’d never even thought about it. We never had rolls at home. Bread maybe, or biscuits, but never rolls. And here was this dish with long, blonde hair knowing all about rolls.”
    “You’re too trusting, Eugene.”
    “Later it got so every supermarket manager in the greater Vancouver area knew her. Once she tried to get me to return something for her. A box of broken cookies. Gingersnaps. It was raining like a bastard and she was about eight months pregnant with Donny and she wanted me to get the car out of the garage and go give the store manager hell.”
    “And did you?”
    “No. Absolutely not. I told her I just couldn’t get that worked up about a few broken cookies. I’ve never seen anyone cry the way she did that Saturday afternoon. She cried so hard she was sick. And she couldn’t stop being sick. She was kind of half kneeling on the bathroom floor with her head on the edge of the toilet. I finally phoned a drugstore for a tranquilizer, and when she heard about that she started all over again. Hadn’t I ever heard of thalidomide? Was I trying to mutilate the baby and maybe kill her?”
    “Maybe she really was crazy.”
    He paused, thinking. “Sometimes I used to think so. Now I think she was just plain angry. An angry, angry woman. And probably still is. The only decent thing she’s ever done is let me have the two boys for weekends. How they’ve survived I don’t know. You know, sometimes when she was at her worst I would lie awake for hours and make up dialogue. Daydreams, only mine were at night. Just lay there and dreamed up things for her to say, the things I wanted her to say. I’d invent whole scenes just like movies. I’d have her running in the front door all smiling and her hair falling all around her and she would be saying something like, ‘look at these beautiful apples,’ and then she’d bite into one of them. Or she might be bending over me in bed, smiling and telling me how she was the most—” he stopped, smiling, “the most satisfied woman on the Pacific coast and that for once she was contented.”
    “She must have been satisfied once in a while,” I said knowingly to Eugene.
    “I don’t know. I can’t ever remember her looking really happy until she joined the West Van Consumer Action Group. The night she got elected secretary-treasurer was the horniest night we ever had in eight years of marriage. Of course I was more or less incidental to the whole scene.” He drew a breath. “God, I still think of that night with a kind of glow.”
    “Why did you have to say that?”
    “What? About feeling a glow?”
    “Yes,” I said, for I liked to think Eugene had nothing but the most wretched memories of Jeri. Eugene is the same: he prefers to think of Watson as a pure, black-hearted villain.
    “Actually Watson was a psychic disaster,” I volunteered helpfully.
    “Like Jeri,” Eugene said. “Selfish, immature.”
    “Never should have married anyone.”
    “She couldn’t see past her own dumb self-satisfaction.”
    “He could be utterly, utterly unfeeling.”
    “Blind. And biting. Even with the kids.”
    Thus we reassure ourselves, Eugene and I, by contesting the unworthiness of our former partners. Sometimes we grow shrill in our denunciations; they were shallow, insensitive, childish, pathetic. I match Eugene, horror story for horror story, as we conspire to reduce our two partners to ranting

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