The Spinster’s Secret

They all think I’m a spinster. Okay, so they wouldn’t use that word; it’s too old-fashioned, all Faulkner and roses for Emily. They would say I’m “lonely.” They would be wrong.

Sure, I look the part. Lady who lives alone in a little cottage, several cats that never go outside but can be seen from their perches on the window sills above the hydrangea, glasses, hair in a bun. If I just carried around a basket full of knitting, they’d have no doubts.

Fairly or not, they base their impressions on what they see of me at the library or school or farmers’ market. I am out most days, picking up packing tape or pressing the soft flesh of the avocados to be sure they’re perfect for the guacamole I’ll take to the church dinner. I go out to book club once a month (next week, we’re discussing Pride and Prejudice; if I only knitted, I would be just like that other book.) Out, I am alone, but I am still not lonely.

The real part of my life is by the front door that I never leave open. No one will see this part of my life as I walk to the art in the park festival in July. It’s much too warm for him in July. He’d swelter.

No, during the summer months he stays in the air conditioned house and reads (he’s very into DeLillo these days – I just don’t get DeLillo) or watches TV. When I come home from school in the afternoons and set myself up at the dining room table to grade compositions, he brings me tea (on Fridays he slips some whiskey into it for me) and goes back to whatever he’s doing, usually Oprah’s on by then.

Sometimes at night we go out for a stroll; we stay to the quiet roads, not so much as a way to avoid people, we say, but because we prefer the quiet. He wears his fedora, suit vest and his khakis, with all the hems run out to make them long enough. Most people don’t even look at us. It seems odd enough already for a couple to be strolling in the pitch of night.

In the cool of the stars, we listen for rabbits tumbling through hedges and hear the howls of cats mating. We hear cars full of teenagers whooping with the unspecified glee that only comes when you are young and crammed into a car with seven of your closest friends. We feel the breeze on our faces. It is this I think he misses most, the coldness of air when it reaches his skin. That almost never happens here, unless he strolls out into the Pennsylvania winter alone (I cannot walk well on snow.). I imagine him standing in a field of purple darkness, his head tossed against his back. I picture him breathing there.

Some days we make dinner together – for a warm-blooded fellow, he oddly prefers to make hot food. I cook the rice noodles, and he makes the peanut sauce with extra chiles. He always lifts the tiniest pool on the end of the wooden spoon and holds it to my lips. I always taste it, wave my hand in front of my lips, and then cram bread in my mouth to stop the burn. I never learn, and I never want to.

Since the first day I met him, I have been fine with being burned. He was sitting in a dark corner of the library back behind the shelves in the young adult section. He was in a suit with a hat and brown, perfectly shined shoes. His head was tucked into his chest, and he wasn’t moving. He was asleep.

I know how embarrassing it is to fall asleep in public – one talent I have always had is the ability to drop to sleep no matter what – so I walked over and loudly cleared my throat with my face turned in profile toward him. I didn’t want him to think I was staring, but I did wonder what this perfectly-clad man looked like. As he jolted awake, his head lifted and I saw what I at first thought was a long white beard. Oh, he’s older, I thought. Oh well. But then, as he turned his boy away from me, I saw his hands – white with slick fur. I turned away quickly.

Then, I turned back and said, “Are you alright?” He was trying to get up, but the low club chair held him tight, his legs far too long to get the proper leverage. I reached out my hand and helped him up. The minute my palm touched the soft down of his fingers . . . well, as they say, the rest is history.

We talked quietly in the library for a couple of hours that Wednesday and then again the next. He told me he liked to sit there because it was quiet, and the kids didn’t pay much attention to him. They were too focused on the computers and their Facebook profiles. He lived in a rented room in an old farmhouse. The old farmer was blind, so his unusual appearance went unnoticed. I was the first person he had spoken to since coming here almost two years ago. I felt gratified.

Eventually, our get-togethers turned into dinners at my house, and then he just moved in. It seemed reasonable since he was sleeping there most nights anyway, at first in the guest room and then with me. It feels like marriage after this six months, like permanence, and well, we couldn’t really marry, now could we? At least, he is sure we couldn’t.

Today, this rather random Thursday, we have decided to go out and see a movie. Citizen Kane is showing at the old theater in the center of town. Tickets are $3, and popcorn is a $1. They haven’t refurbished the seats since the 50s, so the whole place smells of age. I playfully asked him out for a date, and he said yes. Or at least he didn’t say no. He didn’t really say anything, but then that’s nothing unusual. He’s not one given to idle chatter.

I’m on my way home now. I’ve bought a lovely chardonnay for our dinner – I think he’s making spinach lasagna – and we’ll dine together at our oak table before getting dressed for dinner. I hope he wears his glasses; I love him in his glasses. I am going to wear my pearls.

Image by Melanie Hill

When I turn off the sidewalk and open the gate, I notice the air isn’t on. It’s always on, even in May. He’s just so hot under all that fur. Maybe it’s broken.

I open the door and lay my purse and school bag by the hall tree. “My dear. Are you here?” The silence makes my ears vibrate. I walk into the dining room and see a dozen white roses, delivered from the florist in town. The note says, “Good-bye. Love, Your Yeti.”

Author: Andrea Cumbo

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