When I drove into the construction area, I saw Henry standing alone, looking up at the half-finished building, a huge rectangle of divided glass panes. It was horrid. It reminded me of Henry, polished, reflective, bright on the outside, a void on the inside. But I asked for it, didn’t I? I didn’t fall in love with a man but with the life he, as an architect with a bright future, could give me.
Henry was so consumed by his work that it had been easy. I would drop a suggestion into his ear: Don’t you need that promotion now, honey? A few more big clients and we’ll be home free. Henry was always eager to start a new project, spending hours on sketches and models.
I looked at his work and stifled yawns. They only ever varied in shape — glass rectangles, glass squares or circles. One time there was a glass hexagon; he got real excited about that one.
I, on the other hand, loved Gothic architecture. The cathedrals and castles I’d seen in Europe spoke to me of ambition, of desire to rise above the mundane, just as their spires reached to the heavens. I often wondered why Henry couldn’t have such desire. Then, he would sign another big client.
After all, I had it all, the big house in the suburbs, the weekly shopping excursions, the frequent trips to Europe, the dinners with wealthy friends at the country club. Henry was away so much I didn’t want for company of either sex.
The only thing I lacked was an interesting husband.
Divorce was out of the question, of course. Even though I had been the driving force behind Henry and his career, I knew I wouldn’t get what I needed or wanted from a divorce. I needed Henry’s talent. If talent is what you want to call it, I thought, as I pulled up beside the mass of glass and steel.
Henry had seen me and walked towards the car. I rolled down the window.
“I’m here. What’s this all about anyway? I’ve got that meeting for the charity ball and…”
Henry wasn’t looking at me but at that big, ugly building.
I tried to not sound too irritated. “What’s wrong? Is something wrong with the building?”
“I’ll say there is. It just needs something. Don’t you think it needs something?”
“You know I don’t like these modern buildings. Give me the Gothic cathedrals of France or Germany anytime.” He jerked his head around and looked at me when I said that. It was so strange, almost comical. “So, can we go?” I was bored already.
“It’s not complete,” he continued as he settled into the leather seats of my red Mercedes.
“Well, of course it isn’t. You haven’t been working on it for that long.”
“No, I mean something’s missing. I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Well, let’s go. I’m starved.”
Henry looked down at me. “Of course, you’re right. Let’s go to The Garden today.”
I was unexpectedly pleased with my husband. He had picked one of the choicest, most exclusive cafes in town. I often went to The Garden with my girlfriends or other, extra special friends. It was romantic, and totally un-Henry.
He said nothing as we drove, and I glanced over at him to see his expression. His dark hair fell down over his face, and he reached up to brush it away, a childish gesture.
I weaved the Mercedes in and out of the traffic, parked as near to the cafe as I could, and we began to walk. I was beginning to get worried. Never mind, I would handle it. “It’s such a beautiful day, isn’t it, Henry?” I said, taking his arm. “Warm and sunny. I’m so glad you suggested coming to The Garden. You know, it’s my favorite place?
“Yes, Ruth,” he said, picking up my hand absent-mindedly and patting it.
So that was it, I thought. Henry knows about Jeff and that other guy. He knows I came here with them. Just who told him? I bet it was Gloria, that little tramp.
Henry stopped abruptly. Sprawled out on the pavement before us was one of the city’s many vagrants. I crinkled up my nose at the foul smell and grabbed Henry’s arm to pull him around, but he stood firm, staring down at the man.
“Come on, Henry,” I said. “We should be going.”
“Wait a minute! Look at this guy!”
The man shifted in his sleep and opened his one good eye while the other drooped and sagged. “What the hell are you looking at?” He yelled at Henry who continued to stare.
Henry smiled, actually smiled at the bum. Oh, nothing. I was thinking you might need some help.”
The absurd old man pushed himself into a sitting position, rubbed his large, pimply nose, and ran dirty hands through his greasy hair. “Well, now, Mister, I could use some money for my lunch.”
Much to my astonishment, Henry reached into his pocket and pulled out some bills.
“Here, but don’t spend it on booze, okay?”
The old man licked his lower lip as he reached out for the money. “Thanks, Man,” he mumbled as he pushed himself up. “I’m sure hungry.” He stood, swaying, shaking, reaching out a dirty hand. “Thanks.”
Henry backed away, holding his hands behind his back. “No problem.”
As the bum struggled down the street, Henry watched, a smile still on his lips. “Why’d you give that man money?” I asked. “I told you, you shouldn’t ever give money to guys like that.”
“It’s all right, Ruth. He gave me an idea.” He flashed a brilliant smile at me, and I wondered just what Henry had to say to me. I forgot about the bum. Henry hadn’t given him much money anyway.
At The Garden, surrounded by exotic flowers and rushing fountains, the waitress took our orders, and we sat at the glass-topped tables in silence. Henry was thinking. I could tell because he pulled at his hair and rubbed his neck, familiar mannerisms. I waited, casting my eyes around the room, hoping to find something to divert him.
“Ruth,” Henry finally blurted out. “Remember Strasbourg?”
“Strasbourg?” Had I done anything in France last year?
“What did you think of the cathedral?”
I guess he never thought about anything but buildings. “I thought it was marvelous.”
“And what, particularly, was so marvelous?” Henry leaned forward, his hand on his chin.
I sat down my wine glass and crossed my arms. “Why are you asking me all these questions? Why don’t you just ask me what you really want to know?”
“Okay.” Here it comes, I thought. “I want to know what you think about gargoyles,” he said.
“You know, those grotesque figures on the side of the cathedral that keep evil spirits…”
“I know what they are, Henry. I just want to know why the hell you’re asking me about them?”
“I just want to know, that’s all.”
“All right. I’ll play along. I like gargoyles. I think they’re fascinating. I even have a collection at home, as you know, which makes me wonder why you’re asking these stupid questions and what you really want to know.”
Henry ignored me. “I’m beginning to think gargoyles are just the thing.” He
relaxed, sinking far back into his seat, linking his long, tanned fingers behind his head.
The dinners arrived, and Henry began talking about normal things, the house, the job, the lawn, the job. I listened with little comment. For once I was glad of his ability to drone on and on. Nodding mechanically, I tried to prepare myself for the bomb that would inevitably drop and how I would clean up the debris.
The bomb didn’t drop during lunch. Henry said nothing as we drove back to the unfinished building. When he stepped out of the car, he stood in its shadow. “I’ve been thinking, Ruth, he said, “There’s got to be a change pretty soon.” Then, frowning, he looked up at the glass panes. He spoke again, but the workmen’s pounding drowned out his words. “Like all the rest” was all I heard.
* * *
I sat at the kitchen table alone. Moonlight filtered through the blinds and I stared at the patterns on the walls. Henry wasn’t home. He was never late for dinner when I was home. He knew how I hated people to be late. I paced over to the coffee pot and poured my third cup. I would stay up until Henry came home.
It was three o’clock before Henry finally came back. He banged the door, then tripped over the end table.
“Henry!” I startled him by speaking and flicking on the light at the same time. “Where have you been all night?” I asked.
He said, putting a finger to his lips, “Shhh, I’ve been very busy. If you let me go to sleep, I’ll take you to see it tomorrow.”
“But you never get drunk.”
Henry stood in the middle of the room, swaying, his mouth moving, trying to form words. “Special Occasion.” He leaned too far to the side, then righted himself. “Sleepy. Take you to see it tomorrow.”
Henry stumbled over to me, grabbing my arms and pulling me to him. “My masterpiece,” he breathed, and I could smell the liquor on his breath, feel the heat of him. Then he released me, turned and walked straight to the bedroom, without a stagger, closing the door behind him.
* * *
“Now, where are we going and why?” I said sternly, as he drove.
“The building. I want you to see something.”
“I don’t like surprises.” I gripped the door handle tightly. “Last night you said something about a masterpiece.”
“Yes, Henry, you were drunk. You never get drunk.”
“Had to,” he said, flipping the hair from his eyes.
I settled back in the seat, thinking I should have refused to go, then remembering his warm breath on my face and how tightly he had held me.
When we turned into the construction area, the rising sun hit the large glass panes, reflecting light into my eyes. I squinted and pulled the shade down, cutting off the sun.
“Can you see it,” he said with reverence in his voice, “Can you see it, Ruth?”
For a while I didn’t know what he was talking about. I got out of the car. I put my hands to my forehead, scanning the building.
Finally, I saw it, on the sixth floor, where all construction stopped, hanging awkwardly beside the smooth glass-paneled walls. I could barely make out its features. A few locks of greasy hair fell over one eye, huge and wide open. The lid of the other eye drooped and sagged. A gargantuan nose protruded from its pimply face and the enlarged lower lip sagged like the eye lid. Suddenly, I knew what it was. I knew what Henry had done. All I could say was, “My God, Henry!”
Henry grinned. “I did it, honey. I did it for you. To add to your collection.”
“My, my collection,” I stammered.
Maybe I should have driven away then. Maybe I should have called the police.
Instead, I reached up and pulled him to me, forced him to look at me with his honest, innocent eyes. A lock of hair fell over them, and I pushed it back, tucking it behind his ears. He smiled at me and looked back to the building, to his masterpiece.
All I could do was follow his gaze back up to watch the body of the old wino, the one that gave Henry an idea. It swung back and forth, twisting in a grotesque dance, banging against the glass panes, keeping the spirits away.