The Tale of the Un­happy House­wife

The Iowa Review - - FRONT PAGE - Robert coover

Once upon a time, a very un­happy house­wife, feel­ing much abused by fate and woe­fully tired of her stupid life—tired of for­ever vac­u­um­ing and pol­ish­ing and wash­ing pots and pants and win­dows, tired of bed­room squab­bles and liv­ing-room messes and hol­low tele­vi­sion yat­ter, tired of ev­ery­thing, of this whole damned place she lived in, this no place, this stupid house in nowheresville where she must peel pota­toes and walk the dumb stupid dog and pre­pare school lunches and get the fam­ily car re­paired, des­per­ately tired of all that and tired of her tired sweat­ing hus­band com­ing home each evening with his tire­some trou­bles, tired of the stupid ice cubes clat­ter­ing in his whiskey glass and the wheez­ing of the re­cliner chair as he col­lapses stupidly into it in front of the yat­ter­ing tele­vi­sion, tired of their tire­some neigh­bors and of their tire­some friends who were not real friends at all and of their stupid golf scores and aer­o­bic lessons and their in­sane par­ties dull as death, and all their chil­dren’s par­ties, too, and all their damned chil­dren, tired of it all and above all tired of him, whose car was just pulling into their drive, grind­ing on her nerves as the wheels ground upon the gravel, tired of his ir­ri­tat­ing burps and farts and baggy suits and his cease­less pick­ing of his dumb stupid nose, and so much want­ing it to change, want­ing some­thing mean­ing­ful and beau­ti­ful to hap­pen in her life (the only one she had to live, and it was go­ing fast)—wished, this woe­fully un­happy house­wife did, just as she cut her thumb with the potato peeler (oh fuck!) and the door banged open, first, that he was dead and, sec­ondly, that she could just drop ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing the bloody potato peeler, right now, leave it all be­hind some­how, and fly off for­ever to ro­man­tic places. As it hap­pened, he was just thump­ing bag­gily through the door, clutch­ing an en­ve­lope in his sweaty fist—she winced in quiet rage, he gave a lit­tle cry, stag­gered for­ward, and, a fin­ger stuffed up his nose, top­pled over, smack­ing his head on the kitchen counter (he prob­a­bly didn’t feel it), and died there at her feet. Well, now she was sorry, she hadn’t re­ally meant it, she was just a bit out of sorts, but what could she do, she could not wish him back to life again. So sad. But in his fat damp hand, now go­ing cold, were two tick­ets for a cruise to trop­i­cal is­lands and a pretty card that read: The kids have run away! We’re free! So she buried him, traded one ticket in for cash, the cars and house as well, bought her­self new clothes, some black,

some not (the see-through things were not), and went off on the cruise as a mys­te­ri­ous widow of means from some ex­otic place she would not name. Dur­ing which seaborne adventure she met and was swept off her feet by a hand­some and af­fec­tion­ate young man of im­mense wealth and sex­ual en­ergy whose only flaw was an in­or­di­nate love of his late lamented mother which had caused him to fall so pas­sion­ately in love with an older woman. He was witty and gen­er­ous and grace­ful and con­sid­er­ate and they trav­eled the world to­gether, amazed at the plea­sures (she was amazed) that life, when it was good, could pro­vide. In fact it was the next thing to par­adise and she liked to say she’d got it all on just two wishes, she still (she’d read the sto­ries) had one to spare. Then, as over time it hap­pened, as no doubt it had to hap­pen (she’d read these sto­ries, too), her hand­some young hus­band, now less young, de­vel­oped a de­sire to know younger women as he’d known her. He no longer, in short, wished to see through her see-through things, and pro­posed in his con­sid­er­ate and grace­ful way another cruise for each, each trav­el­ing sep­a­rately. She made sure their pa­pers were all in or­der, then, with a sad smile, used up her third wish, thereby be­com­ing a widow for the sec­ond time (his ship sank, there were no sur­vivors, other wishes in the world no doubt also came true), this time an im­mensely wealthy one, and, loved by all, both young and old (for she was gen­er­ous, con­sid­er­ate, and af­fec­tion­ate, the graces of the rich be­ing easy to ac­quire), lived hap­pily ever af­ter.

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