The Club of the Uncertainly Widowed, by C.M. O’Connor
The séance was a far greater success than any of us were prepared for. The idea of a séance to raise our husbands’ spirits had been proposed at the first meeting of the Club of the Uncertainly Widowed. One small Asian woman whose husband had been last seen entering a subway had said we should consider it. Her small face was bright with the feelings of being surrounded by women with similar stories.
I had quirked my eyebrow, but it was Sheila, a woman accused of murdering her husband, who said it for all of us. “We are here for concrete answers, not quacked hope.”
Actually, I was there to run the meeting. I had started the Club seven months after Javier had disappeared. Excuse me, gone missing. Presumed dead. The empty house played tricks with my mind. Each creak was him walking through the house back to me. Every time our old, cowboy neighbor smoked on his porch next to us, I was tempted to yell at my maybe dead husband about it.
Obviously my sanity was not at its finest. I even bought a dog. And not a cute one. A big, mangy mutt with a tooth missing and large, limpid eyes. I loved Mistake (Take for short and due to his preference for countersurfing). But he did not change how much I felt Javier’s absence. Although, the house was no longer quiet thanks to the big mouth breather and his millions of squeaky toys.
So, I did what every self-respecting, empowered feminist lawyer would do. I tried to find a way out. Therapy seemed obvious. It failed at the first session.
“Tell me how you feel,” the shrink murmured.
“Why do you think that is?” His shuttered eyes were relaxed with fake concern.
“My husband is missing.”
“The records say presumed dead.” I left after a few choice words about sensitivity training.
I tried working too many hours and then working too few. Nothing helped. So, I started a community group. The Club of the Uncertainly Widowed. Admittedly, I’d drunk a lot of Javier’s favorite mescal when I put the title on the Meetup.com website and sent the notice to the newspapers.
“How many people do you think you’ll get?” My mom asked over our weekly dinner.
“None.” I stabbed a bit of broccoli to avoid looking at her.
“Then why do it?”
“I can cross it off my list of things that didn’t make any difference.” Her silence told me I wasn’t fooling her. I stared at my plate harder. “It’s something to do. It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.” We didn’t talk more about it. After all, how many wives had husbands who were missing, probably dead?
Quite a few, apparently, although none in my area. However, there were many women who interpreted the name to include those under suspicion for killing their husbands, husbands who had died in freak accidents, others who might have been murdered or committed suicide. Each of us felt a tide of questions was sweeping us away from any idea of who we were or what life we wanted to live. The questions hung there, in between us and the world. Each of us felt lost. Each of us wanted to know what people kept telling us we never would.
That first meeting, we shot down a séance, but we agreed to help each other. Lawyers, private investigators, milk carton ads. One by one, women found answers and were able to put part of it behind them. Even the woman accused of killing her husband tracked down evidence to show his mistress was the murderess.
After eight months and thirty-six weekly meetings, the group was whittled down to Joanne (freak boating accident), Miya (murder v. suicide), and me (perhaps dead). I at least got better about talking about it.
“What happened?” Miya asked over coffee one night.
“His unit was in Afghanistan’s hills. He was guarding the rear. One minute he was there, and the next he was gone.”
“That’s it?” she asked.
“That’s all they told me.” The short version helped me not break down, but I didn’t have a longer one.
“We’re out of options,” she said after a minute. I nodded. The trails were cold and no one could make them any warmer.
“I know it’s silly, but what about that séance idea? We can’t lose anything.” Miya was right. Nothing but false hope.
“And after that we can try voodoo.” I was facetious but not fully so.
“We’re raising spirits, not bodies. But, that can always be a next step.” Miya said it so rationally.
Her rational approach was why we were sitting on uncomfortably stiff pillows in a strange, woman’s living room. Incense choked the air and the sound of water played on the speaker. Could she have been more cliché? Miya and Jo were holding hands. I was not the holding hands type.
Javier had always teased me about it.
“You can be a strong woman and hold my hand,” he had said on our third date.
“I don’t like holding hands.” I had been in college. So had he. I was studying pre-law and ecology, with a minor in women studies. It had
taken him eight months to get a date.
“You can be the hand on top.” I glared at him and he put his hands up in mock surrender.
“It’s not just about being on top.” I said it with my best future lawyer voice.
“It is about equality, yes? But that is hard in a hand hold. How about we rotate every minute?”
I could feel the smile creeping its way across my face. “Who will keep track?”
“We can take turns keeping track. We can monitor each other. You start on top and I’ll tell you after a minute.”
“It won’t work.”
“Forty-five,” I countered sarcastically.
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. We tried every forty-five seconds and laughed harder as we kept ending up talking and forgetting to count. Finally, I held his hand for an hour without remembering to change. He made me less serious. I missed that.
The medium moved her frizzed hair to drape in front of her face while arrange the yards of glittery fabric around her. “Clear your minds so the spirits can move through them.” I had no idea what she meant. A mind wasn’t a table to be swept of clutter. It was a complex organ that seethed with electrical impulses. “This will only work if you can think only of this lost person,” her wispy voice droned.
Even as I snorted in disdain, my mind flickered to Javier. He sang as he unloaded the dishwasher. He swore in Spanish in front of me because he thought it was better if I couldn’t understand the cursing. Swearing was reserved for when his sister dated another loser. He guarded his tomato plants from me, because he hated “fake” tomatoes. They all tasted the same to me. I’d put my foot down about the real chickens. He was so much more than a memory. He was a feeling in my heart, a calm point in my world, and someone who wanted to live his life in a way I wanted to be part of.
Several loud bangs trumpeted through the room, accompanied by colored smoke that choked us and made the candles flicker wildly. As quickly as it started, the smoke rushed out to reveal dusky silhouettes. The medium’s chanting filled our ears for a minute. She hushed as the figures became clearer. They looked as if they had been filtered through a dark lens.
I waited, breath tight in my chest. It had been so long. Maybe I wouldn’t recognize him. But they turned and I knew. One was missing. Javier was not there. My heart leaped up and down several times, twisting my body in a dizzy spiral of hope and fear.
“Did I do it wrong?” I hissed at the medium.
She shook her head. “He wasn’t in the spirit world.”
I thought I was finished crying months ago but the tears surged back. They mingled down my face. He wasn’t there.
Jo and her husband mushily said their goodbyes while Miya’s husband explained how his best friend had accidentally shot him while they were goofing around. It was too soon for the others to say goodbye to their husbands, but it seemed like an eternity to me. The séance let them say goodbye. It let me decide to buy a ticket to Afghanistan. It was a great success all around.
C.M. O’Connor is new to fiction, but not to world exploration. As a recently graduated anthropologist from Sarah Lawrence College, her work has taken her through Australia and Southeast Asia as well as South and Central America. Most of her days consist of muddling through Spanish, playing autoharp, reading obscure books and hitching rides to community events. She currently has a place in Oregon that she very rarely sees and is the frequently absent loco parentis for two mostly trained Airedales. Her upcoming work can be seen in the October 2012 edition of Bards and Sages Quarterly.
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