Her Secret

by Wesley McNair

Why Thurman must cover every counter top,
table and chair with his things, Wilma
no longer asks, knowing he will only answer as if
speaking to someone in his head who’s keeping track
of all the ways she misunderstands him and wants

to hear over and over that he’s sick and tired,
though that’s just what he is, and how, anyway,
can she resent him for that? so sick he has pills
for his bad circulation, bad heart, and nerve disorder
scattered around the kitchen sink, so tired

after staying up all night at his computer feeding
medication to the stinging in his legs, he crashes
for one whole day into the next. “Thurman?” she asks,
coming home from work to find him lying on their bed
in his underpants, still as the dead, his radio on

to tape the talk shows he’s missing, and then the old
thought that he really is dead comes into her mind
all over again, so strong this time she can’t
get rid of it, even after she sees him with her
own eyes just above the partition in the kitchen

making coffee in the way he’s invented, boiling
the grounds, then putting in more grounds and a raw
egg, his bald head going back and forth under
the fluorescent light like the image of his continuous
obsession, which she can’t escape and can never enter,

though now it’s her own obsession that troubles her.
Stupid is her word for it, the same word he always
uses for the crazy things she gets into her head,
and it was stupid, still thinking Thurman was dead
though he was right there in front of her, and then,

when she tries to make herself stop, her heart starts
pounding until she can hardly breathe. “It is nothing
more than simple anger,” the pastor tells Wilma
after the service at the Vermont church just across
the Connecticut she attends each Sunday with the other

women who live nearby, and he recalls with a frown
of disappointment the anger he discovered in her heart
during their talk a year ago. How, she wonders,
could she have forgotten that after she wiped away
her tears in that earlier conversation about Thurman

leaving things he wouldn’t let her touch on every
surface in the house, even the couch and chairs,
the pastor made her see the malice she had carried
so deep inside not even she understood that all
this time she had been gradually filling the spare room

and the closedin porch with her own discards,
broken figurines, old mops and mop pails and Christmas
decorations, out of a secret revenge. “And now,”
the pastor shakes his head, “this thought about your
husband, whom you have pledged to honor, lying

in his underpants, dead, the day before your fortieth
anniversary.” When Wilma returns home at last
and opens the door to find the two pairs of sneakers
next to the recliner with the ankle brace in it,
and old videos on top of the halfread magazines

and newspapers by the TV, and the bathrobe and shirts
and pants folded over the backs of chairs, she does not
feel, as she sometimes did, that she might suffocate,
but instead, a relief that Thurman hasn’t risen yet.
He won’t mind, she thinks, that she has used one

of his sticky notes when he has read the words
she writes on it, I still love you, meaning how sorry
she is for blaming him behind his back to the pastor,

and for the secret anger she has kept so long
in her heart, yet because, unlike most things

in that house, it is hers alone, Wilma continues
to ponder the anger and keep it, even after Thurman
takes the note from the screen of his computer
with a smile, and gets his camera out to take
the anniversary photo he takes each year for his emails

of her holding plastic flowers, irritated with her
because she never could pose right, then sitting down
among the wires and the stacks of CDs and computer
paper to photoshop it, going over and over her teeth
and eyes to whiten them and taking all the wrinkles out

of her face until she looks like an old baby. “Oh,
this is nice,” Wilma says when he brings the picture
to her, sitting on her small rocker in the only
uncluttered corner of the house, and she almost
means it, she has become so calm in her pondering

as she looks out the window and through the other
window of the closedin porch, where a flock
of the migrating birds she loves linger for a time
under the roof of her feeder, and in an unaccountable
moment, lift their wings all together and fly away.