Jonathan’s wife, Lucy, who had died ten years ago, rarely let a month pass without haunting him. Occasionally, however, when he would really appreciate a word from her, she stayed away.
He prayed to her much the way he had when she was alive: silent pleas that she would love and understand him; that she wouldn’t desert him. Which, he believed, she had, driving her new Toyota over the Tappan Zee Bridge at four a.m.
In the last weeks of her life, she had played a Charles Mingus record almost nonstop. She would creep around their living room, swaying to the music playing at top volume. So now, when he desperately wanted to hear her voice, he played the CD constantly, remembering how she’d hold her head askance.
Since her death, she had only visited him at night. Lucy stayed away if he was at work or chatting with the neighbors about hydrangeas.
Her presence in daylight would probably count as too much fun in public. Too much fun in public, Lucy would say, and a person risked all claim to honor, decency, even sanity. What was she doing in a world where if you enjoyed yourself at all noticeably, you were a pariah?
Why weren’t there soundproof kiosks where people could tremble and gasp as necessary? Leaning into whatever man she was confiding in, Lucy would say, “Either that or we should relax the code. Allow for random, ecstatic swoons.”
Then she’d arch her neck and drop her eyelids, signaling it was a joke, a burlesque. Except often with Jonathan (no one else; he was pretty sure) the game would flip into its antithesis.
Come on, now! Had he presumed she was referring to sex? Didn’t he realize Lucy was strenuously circumventing the way time and boredom, impatience and anxiety affected them?
Tell her the truth. How often did he cringe when dealing with people even on the “hi-how’s-it going” level?
During the past three months, Jonathan had slept little, playing the Mingus CD and praying till dawn. So when he hung up his suit jacket in his office and a silent stab of Lucy’s temperament had sent him swimming in a band of watery air, he almost lost his breath.
What was she doing visiting him at work?
Lucy had never answered such dull questions while living, and certainly didn’t now.
Still, solely for her sake, Jonathan tried to behave normally, calling up the computer file of his latest report. “How to Modulate Routinization.”
“A little.” Lucy fluttered about his head. “Modulate in little bits.”
Rising from his chair and holding his neck, Jonathan prayed to her: Please, Lucy. Talk to me.