[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Curtis Sittenfeld, has ended. Original price: $1.00. Final price: $17.50.]
It’s not that I think I married the wrong man. Because really, how can any of us make a decision except as the person we are in a particular moment? I met Larry and Ronald less than two weeks apart, when I was nineteen. After high school, I’d moved into an apartment with a couple girlfriends from St. Agnes Academy, and we all thought we were very sophisticated, living on our own like that; Bernadette used to grow alfalfa sprouts in pantyhose in the tub. This was in ’68, and I was working as a switchboard operator at a bank downtown. I met Ronald through a girl from work — he was the girl’s cousin — and Larry I met on the bus riding home one day. I was carrying an orchid plant I’d bought for the apartment, and he asked if I considered myself a flower child.
I dated them both, but not in a loose way if you know what I mean. That’s how it was then — my girlfriends all dated more than one man at the same time, too. I liked Ronald better because he was taller and because it was harder for me to guess where things stood with him; I had to work to draw him out. Larry just flat-out adored me. He’d always compliment my outfit, and once when he said my perfume smelled nice, I told him in kind of a haughty way that I didn’t wear perfume, it was just shampoo. At the movies he’d take my hand even before the trailers had ended. When he picked me up for a date, he’d mention whatever he’d seen or done since we’d last been together that had reminded him of me — a song he’d heard on the radio, for instance, or these spotted dogs, which he gave me after we’d been going out a couple months.
Part of the way I got Ronald to propose was by hinting that Larry might do it first, and that I’d say yes if he did. If I’m being honest, I can admit that while Larry did sometimes angle toward the topic of marriage, I’d always change the subject. I didn’t want him to propose, maybe because I really wouldn’t have known what to do but accept. Ronald and I had been married about three years when I heard that Larry and Bernadette, my old alfalfa-sprout-growing roommate, were engaged. I was pregnant then with Jenny, our second daughter, so this news didn’t register much with me. Well, time passed — almost forty years, which just floors me to think about — and last spring Larry and Bernadette moved into a house one street over from ours. They’d been living in the western suburbs, so I’d hardly laid eyes on either of them all those years, and suddenly, at any hour of the day I can now see into the back of their house from the back of ours — they’re not directly behind us, but they’re only two lots down, so it’s impossible not to notice if their lights are on or not.
Back when we lived together, Bernadette was so weight-conscious that she wouldn’t lick stamps or envelopes because she said it was wasted calories, but she’s gotten hefty since then. This is the thing, though — she and Larry sometimes stroll around the block in the evening, and I can see out our front window that they’re holding hands, that when he turns to talk to her, the expression on his face is of pure devotion. Why didn’t I understand when I was young how rare his kindness was, why was I so intent on shoving it out of my way?
Ronald and I have had a perfectly fine marriage, and he’s a responsible husband and father, but we’ve never had much to say to each other; we eat dinner watching the local news. It’s clear enough now that what I thought was a mystery in him worth teasing out is just a kind of flatness.
Again, it’s not that I’m unhappy, but I will say that when I open the drawer of the dressing table where I keep these little dogs, they’re such an unsettling reminder that sometimes just seeing them, my breath catches.