Article: 261289 of talk.bizarre
From: (Kate McDonnell)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: love is as strange as death
Date: Fri, 01 Dec 1995 01:23:39 -0700
Organization: les graphiques Grenade
Lines: 143
Message-ID: <>
Status: O

Only recently I was reminded--if I needed reminding--
that love is scary. A woman I'd done work for and liked, 
but hadn't seen in a few years, phoned me. Since I'd last 
seen her she'd been widowed, which I hadn't heard 

We got together to talk about work. The talk turned 
personal, and she spoke about her husband. He'd died 
exactly two years before, just before Christmas, and the 
time of year was bringing it back to her. I'd never met 
the man--he was introspective, very shy, never wanted 
to meet any of his wife's friends or associates.

Eliza said she'd come to like it that way. She said she felt 
that she and her husband had this wonderful private life 
at home and she'd come to value that -- she could come 
home from any social or business whirl and he'd be there 
waiting. He was an illustrator, worked at home and rarely 
went out. They'd never had any kids.

Eliza's living in the same flat, surrounded by the same 
things. She says she feels her husband's still around. She's 
not crazy, just intensely calm and sad, and I saw that 
though she'd had a happy marriage, here she was. And I 
was reminded of the two incidents that showed me, in 
my teens, how very precarious love is.


I was about fifteen, living at home and finishing high 
school. My friends Andrea and Sarah and I had a 
babysitting syndicate: we shared out a few families who 
were happy enough to have any of us show up for duties.

The Murphys were the trickiest family we dealt with. 
Now it sounds to me like madness to put any 15-year-old 
in charge of three clever and unruly kids between 8 and 
12. Indeed sometimes we doubled up to tackle them. 
Their parents had broken up and their father had a new 
girlfriend called Celine, one of his students from the 
university, and he went out a lot.

We never knew much about Mrs. Murphy except that she 
was said to be very beautiful and highly strung. It was 
easy to believe: the father was hatchet-faced and 
uncommunicative, but his kids were a handsome and 
temperamental bunch.

One time, Mr. Murphy wanted to take Celine away for a 
week, and he asked Andrea to move in and take care of 
the kids. I went there a few times that week to keep her 
company. It was comic in some ways at first: Mr. Murphy 
had left a freezer full of cheap cuts of meat and a few 
odds and ends in tins. Andrea's mom was arty and fed 
her family on healthy bohemian cuisine, so Andrea had 
no idea what to do with that kind of food. No money had 
been provided to buy anything else. I recall that, in 
desperation, she boiled some pork chops that week, and 
the kids ate them too.

Soon dinner was the least of her worries. Halfway 
through the week a letter arrived to tell the kids their 
mother had died. It said she'd gone to a wooded park 
she'd known as a child, sat down under a tree and let 
herself die of exposure. I suppose now that there must've 
been some sort of overdose involved, but I never heard 
the details.

Andrea had to deal with the kids' first days of shock. Mr. 
Murphy did not break his week's vacation.

Not long after this I was over there minding the kids 
myself, and it was late. I wanted to look something up in 
the Bible, lined up with other reference books on the 
mantel of the bogus fireplace. Inside the cover I found a 
dedication to Mr. Murphy by his wife on the occasion of 
their marriage, with some quotation I've never identified 
about his being the strong tree on which her love was 
growing. All of that, and three kids, and now she was 
dead. The lady obviously had a thing for the wrong trees.


Around the same time, Johnnie Desjardins died. Very 
unusually, my parents and sister were out of town, 
staying at some modest country hotel for my father's 
two-week vacation. My mother phoned and ordered me 
to the funeral to represent the family. I thought they 
should come back, but I assented.

Annie Biggs has been my mom's big sister's best friend 
since they were tiny. She's as familiar to my mother as 
another sister. My mother tells how Annie was the 
mainstay of her own family, quitting school at 11 and 
working to support her mother and younger brothers 
after their father ran away.

She also tells how Annie met and fell in love with Johnnie 
Desjardins despite the rancor of his mother, who fancied 
herself a witch. Madame Desjardins put a special curse on 
the children of the marriage. As in a fairy tale, the two 
daughters emerged with no obvious flaws, but one was 
blonde and pretty and vivacious, and one dark and plain 
and clumsy. Perhaps in that contrast a certain evil 
intention was borne out.

I remember seeing Annie and Johnnie at Christmas at my 
aunt and uncle's house. Annie is a round, rosy little 
woman with a cordial manner. Johnnie was a spindly 
little man with big glasses and a lost expression-- now I 
wonder if it wasn't the puzzlement of a Quebecois who'd 
married an anglophone. He played folk songs on an 
accordion sometimes, and used to watch TV hockey with 
passion, flinging himself about in his chair in nearly 
mystical identification with the great stick-handling 
forwards of the day.

Johnnie died suddenly of a heart attack. It was a summer 
funeral. Jeans or shorts would obviously not do. 
Eventually I scrounged up a skirt and blouse and went to 
the church, where I was told by my aunt that it was also 
expected I'd go with them up to the graveyard. We lived 
in a mortuary ourselves, my dad being an undertaker's 
sidekick--more or less--but I hadn't any more idea of 
this etiquette than any teenager.

Annie was stoical throughout the service and everything 
was very dignified and orderly until the moment the 
coffin was lowered into the grave. Suddenly she yelped 
like a wounded animal and collapsed. It was not 
embarrassing. It was a sort of tribute. It was also a 
revelation to me: I saw instantly how profound the 
sundering is when one has been physically united to 
someone for years, and then must watch his body 
discarded, no matter how ritually, as refuse.


And yet becoming a nun doesn't seem to be an option.

the guardians of hell, having bought you, will cook you there in jars.