Yvette and I met through Six Feet Undercovers, a dating website for widows and widowers. Our spouses died in boating accidents, both too drunk on Miller High Life to put on a life jacket. We found out on our first date we both swore off beer and kept to white wine; it was one way to not let their mistakes live on in us.
Every night, Yvette wrote letters to Leo then burnt them outside. “He needs to know how I’m doing, how you’re treating me, y’know?”, she said, before swallowing the ashes. I talked to Sarabeth’s favorite dress ever day for six months, a fog gray frock with a dusky panel of black mesh lace that cut diagonally across the bust and back to veil the shoulders. My fingertips lingered at where her hips would have been. Sometimes, I gassed the fabric with “Midnight Fantasy by Britney Spears”; I forgave Sarabeth for her bubblegum eardrums and sense of smell. I burnt the dress a month after meeting Yvette. I’ve gotten used of the aftertaste of “Geoff is a wonderful man and we’re doing well. I still miss you”.
Yvette won’t let me touch her left hand, the one where he still lives in the engagement ring, wedding band combo. When she buried my head deeper between her thighs with it one night, she pushed me away, crying as she locked herself in the bathroom. I smelled “I’m so sorry” burning, crawling out from the bottom of the closed door.
“First a 12-year-old, now a widow” the woman from the Craigslist ad said.
“It’s been a year now since I’ve been with Yvette and I don’t know what to do. I know people process lost spouses differently, but she’s still stuck on him and I want to get her unstuck on this guy. Can you do that?” The woman paused for a moment, then sighed.
“Technically, yes, I could. Even though he’s dead, her memories aren’t. The rules don’t say anything about whether the relationship has to involve both people being alive. Can you get me a photo of him, maybe something he wrote? I can work out what to do next when I have those things.”
Yvette gave me a key to her place two months ago. She wasn’t really ready to live with another man yet but was ok with me being able to get into her place when I needed to. The only condition to keeping the key was never, ever going into her bedroom closet. When I opened it, I thought I would find some sort of Leo shrine, with photos, eternal flames, but all that there there was towers of designer shoes and a framed women’s lacrosse shirt from the University of Miami on it with “Scarpasi 24” on the back, a team photo where Yvette was in the front row, kneeling. I wondered for a moment why Yvette would hide the fact that she used to play lacrosse before shutting the door. The nightstand on the left side of her bed had a photo of her and Leo on their wedding day. I guess she put it away when she knew I was over. I looked in the drawer beneath the photo and found an album. I roamed around the museum of their moments before taking a picture with my phone of one from the vacation wing: Leo holding a Mickey Mouse hat like a chopped scalp. In the second drawer was a stack of composition books with different colored covers. I opened the first one and read “January 10, 2002: Today while at work, this woman came in the store. The first thing I noticed was the way she cut the air in half with each step. I overheard her telling the manager her name…” I took a picture of the page before closing the journal, shutting the drawer. I walked back into the kitchen, took out the flank steak and green peppers I brought with me. I needed a good reason to be there when she got home soon.
Before we got back to Yvette’s apartment after a night out on the town, we went to the mail station in her complex where her mailbox was. I watched from the passenger seat Yvette open an envelope, her eyes and mouth widening by the moment. She ran back into the car, started the car without wearing her seat belt. We peeled out of the parking space. When we got to her apartment building, everyone was outside, watching the fire department break the sliding glass door on her balcony and spray into its busted mouth. Yvette didn’t try to run inside to save anything.