Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Faithful Creature

He is a faithful creature, she would say of him. Yes, yes of course I know that, but he is a faithful creature. Her friends would snicker at this for a moment, then look down into their drinks or across the lawn at some sprightly little child, or perhaps they would find a reason to stand up and go inside for a moment.

The women all regarded him as something of a ghost. He was there, certainly, one could make out (from a distance) his thinning hair and patched, unseasonably brown clothing, but one never felt that he was really actually there, that this thing with thin hair and a brown coat actually had a voice, that he could shake your hand or tell you an amusing anecdote. He was always somewhere else – in his office or behind the house or at the store getting supplies; and this, while surely something, was not altogether much; it was more of an absence, really, than a presence, but it was as much of a presence as this man ever made felt.

He had loved his wife very dearly at first, and for a time got along well enough with her friends. He’s strange! they’d whisper excitedly, but at that point it was still a pleasant strange, or at the very least a tolerable one. Over time, though, his strangeness developed into a rather onerous presence, which then further developed into a haunting, unpleasant presence, until finally, and much to their mutual relief, they were able to push him back far enough so that he was simply there, perhaps (nobody was ever entirely sure); a ghostly presence but harmless, or, as his wife put it, faithful: he was a faithfully absent presence.

These women were faithful too, in their own way. They met for drinks often, and when they did they always brought their sprightly little children. Each time they met they would ask her about him -- how he was and what he was doing -- and then proceed to make captious little comments regardless of what she had told them. With great fidelity, though, the wife would respond: Yes, yes of course I know that, but he is a faithful creature.

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