As Louise drove her tan Oldsmobile, she glanced at the stack of student papers she was bringing home to grade. The essays, each set in a class folder, were alphabetized and awaiting her red pencil. In the rearview mirror she saw Jo waving, and then turning off onto her street. Louise chuckled.
“Louise, you’ll never believe what I just saw. Frank pulled a little box out of his pocket, opened it and elbowed Jimmy Villaborghe. Jimmy said, ‘Well, Frank, Louise is a damn good catch. And you deserve her.’ I saw it with my own two eyes in the teachers’ lounge while I was copying spelling packets for Monday,” Jo had said just five minutes earlier as they’d walked toward their cars in the parking lot.
Frank’s wife had died five years ago, and in spite of this great loss, Frank had remained steady, strong, and serene. He never once seemed to falter, even after the football team crumbled during the state championship one month later. Unflappable. That was the word for Frank. Well, that and handsome.
And how long had she waited? Two decades. Not for Frank, but for any man, really. For any man to come and take her out, to kiss her hard on the lips, to go on picnics where they could lay side by side. At the next red light Louise practiced looking seductive in the rearview mirror. None of the faces she made managed to look anything like Kim Basinger. She supposed, though, that it didn’t really matter if Frank did really like her.
Pulling into her driveway, Louise honked. Mr. Chan, her fat Siamese, sat in the middle of the drive, licking himself. He glanced up, blinked, and went right back to licking. Louise put the Olds in park and got out of the car. She bent to hitch up her knee-highs, then smoothed her calico-print dress over her poochy belly.
“Now, Mr. Chan, Mommy’s home. Time to scoot.” She approached him and again, he glanced up, blinked, and went right back to licking.
“Mr. Chan, you know better. Stop that licking and get out of the drive. You remember what Dr. Heiden said. You’re going to lick yourself raw again.”
As soon as she was close enough to grab Mr. Chan, he rolled himself up into a standing position and took a few tentative steps and then lay back down and began to lick again.
“Come on, now, Mr. Chan. You know Mommy can’t get the car into the carport if you’re there.” Clapping, she walked a few paces toward him again. This time he snapped up and trotted toward the front door, settling to lick onto the stoop.
Louise settled into her teal armchair. The folders of essays waited on the end table, under the remote. The tv blared. A bowl of Campbell’s chicken noodle steamed on the tv tray in front of her. Mr. Chan meowed loudly in the kitchen.
“Mr. Chan, you’ve already eaten. You know Mommy gets to eat dinner now. Come out here and keep me company.”
Louise slurped her soup directly from the bowl, pinkies raised. She inhaled the steam from the bowl and placed the bowl back on the tray. She wondered if Frank liked Campbell’s soup as much as she did. Clicking the tv off, Louise rested her head back and closed her eyes. She wondered what else Frank liked. She thought about him, the two of them teaching at the same school for seventeen years. He always was so polite, holding a door for her, calling her Miss Barnum in front of the students.
She imagined him walking through the door at that moment, and undid one button on her dress. He leaned down to kiss her, caressing her neck. What would that moustache feel like? Would it tickle or scratch? Then his hands were in her lap, and she opened her eyes to watch his hands reveal a ring.
“Would you, Louise?” His white teeth shone.
Mr. Chan pounced on Louise’s lap, breaking her reverie and jostling the soup bowl on the tv tray.
“Oh, Mr. Chan, how could you? I was just getting ready to accept Frank’s proposal!”
Mr. Chan meowed and pawed at the slip on the chair of the arm. Louise picked up her red pencil and the first stack of essays from the end table.
Louise picked up the phone and speed dialed Jo. Jo didn’t answer, and Louise remembered her saying she was going to the movies. Hanging up the phone, Louise looked again at the stack of papers in her lap.
If it was true, if Frank really did love her…
The ceremony, of course, would be simple. Maybe they could even get married in the multi-purpose room at school. Streamers in Ranger Red and Blue hanging from the ceiling. And any florist could probably dye carnations in the same colors for the centerpieces. The school band could play the wedding march, and maybe one of those girls with such angelic voices could sing that Whitney Houston song, “I Will Always Love you.”
And Frank, waiting for her to walk down the aisle, wore the navy sport coat and beige slacks that he usually reserved for graduation, the sport coat emphasizing his wide shoulders. Oh how she longed to dance with her arms around those shoulders.
By the next morning Louise had planned the reception and the honeymoon. Cake and punch, with the special heart-shaped ice molds that she’d seen years ago in a magazine. Then they could drive up to Las Vegas for the honeymoon and stay in a suite one of the smaller motel casinos off the Strip. She was sure they’d be able to afford that on two teachers’ salaries.
And after the wedding festivities were over, they’d certainly sell her house, she inherited it from her mother and really, it wasn’t Frank’s style. She imagined unpacking the wedding china and organizing the stacks of plates, bowls, and saucers into the cabinets. Frank’s house probably had cabinets made of real wood, maybe white-washed oak even. She wondered what she should get him for a wedding gift. Maybe a nice set of monogrammed bathrobes for the two of them. They could lounge in them with nothing underneath on weekend mornings. She wondered how hairy his chest was, if the hair there was the same distinguished salt and pepper, and what it would feel like.
Sunday evening came and still the papers hadn’t been graded. Louise had tried, but she just couldn’t concentrate. She never thought happiness would make her job more difficult, and yet here she was, catching herself reading the same paragraph for the third time, with a smile on her face and Frank’s moustache moving towards her mouth. Mr. Chan often sensed these daydreams and interrupted them with loud mewing or an attention-seeking nudge.
As she opened a can of Campbell’s cream of broccoli, her usual Sunday evening meal, she thought of buying the larger size cans of soup once she and Frank were married. She wondered if the cream of broccoli came in the larger size. Oh, how she hoped he loved soup. The phone rang.
“Louise, it’s Jo. You’ll never believe what I just saw. Louise Larsen brought Frank DiCiccio to church today. He proposed to her! And I thought he was talking about you when I’d seen him on Friday. They are both just beaming. And they’re going to get married right away, probably before the end of the month. To think I thought he was talking about you.”
Louise swayed, but her sturdy legs held steady. She endured Jo’s cackle two more times before she somehow ending the call. She had never noticed how every conversation with Jo started with ‘You’ll never believe what I just saw.’