HE LOVED HER WITH ALL HIS HEART, he said. He said it more and more often in the days leading up to their wedding but the sentiment had a way of striking her like a spring drizzle, as so much pitter patter. Ruby knew her man. She had already sensed the great vacuities in him, the huge interior caverns with nothing much going on in them, nothing much as far as she could tell. He was not the sort a girl dreamt about as she grew and ripened, that nameless presence waiting in the shadows to reach out and say her name and then hold her with such tenderness, so gently, with arms that were strong and confident. Ruby's man wasn't any of that. He was clumsy, even when he tried to take her hand in some special gesture, or when he leaned over to whisper something sweet and intimate. Apart from everything else he was overweight and got loud when he drank. And he was balding. But he had a passable job in a passable company. He liked going places and eating well and laughed at her jokes. He didn't have a clue about dress but had proved himself pliable enough. It might just work out.
Perhaps she could fill these cavities over time. Maybe get him involved in local politics, the way she had been before they started dating. True enough, Ruby could have done better, in an ideal world. No doubt about that. She wasn't anything overweight herself. And she knew she wasn’t bad-looking. She was a little tall for a girl, two inches taller than he was, and she liked to wear her spikes, which only made it worse. But he didn't seem to mind. The spikes did things for her back and her legs, which she knew were shapely, really shapely. People noticed her.
She should have been able to do better, but this was what the world was offering to a woman at thirty-five. She had had other chances but she knew she had a sharp tongue. She could take it or leave it but there wasn't any line forming behind him. She decided to take it. It was too late for dreaming. When he told her he loved her with all his heart, she would say I love you too and let it go at that. His name was Roger. Ruby and Roger. Roger and Ruby. Either way it didn't sing exactly but with effort it could work.
They had not been married more than a week when it became clear it would take a lot of work. They had settled into their new place, a cramped little apartment on the Upper West Side. The furnishings were carry-overs from their separate pasts, the queen bed and TV and the chairs from hers, the sofa and the kitchen table from his, and so it went. None of it matched but there wasn't money yet to do much about it. Not yet, but with two of them employed that would eventually change. The problem right now was the people above them. Every night the people above them moved around like foraging elephants.
“What are they doing up there?” Ruby asked.
“They mustn't have a rug,” Roger said.
So at this point every evening, after the business of supper had been gotten through with, they turned on the TV and sank into the sofa to complain. Just Ruby complained actually. Roger tried to be more positive.
“I love you with all my heart,” he'd say, taking her hand.
“Do you want to go to bed?” she'd say with a hopeless glance up at the ceiling. Anything would be better than this, she'd say to herself.
So they would make love and afterwards he would have a beer and something more to eat and Ruby would get lost in a political magazine. Then she would do her nails and before long it was time to call it a day and go to bed for the night. Usually around this time the people upstairs did the same thing. With the lights out and with silence descending at last, each of them on separate sides of the queen bed, back to back, at home now in unsharable thoughts, slipping one by one into what was becoming, for Ruby at least, the most welcome part of the day, a good night’s sleep.
At this rate, Ruby realized, the marriage wasn't going to last. The problem wasn't Roger. It was her. She had always gotten involved in politics, in local election campaigns, for councilmen, or the district attorney, and once even for the mayor. She loved the excitement but she had lost touch with the old crowd when Roger came into her life. The two didn't mix. The marriage had its suffocating side and there wasn't money or opportunity to do anything about it.
Roger knew things weren't going too well and did everything he could to make it work. He suggested they go to political meetings together, and they did once or twice but it wasn't the same for her with Roger in tow. Anyway this neat guy, Tony, who she’d worked with and was hoping to bump into, was never there.
Roger took up cooking. He got home from work half an hour earlier than she did and would have the meal cooking away on the stove by the time she came through the door. One night he prepared cabbage with finely chopped apples, the way his mother used to make it. And boiled potatoes. When Ruby said she hated cabbage, Roger reached over and scraped the cabbage from her plate onto his own.
“How can you eat that stuff?” she asked him watching him put it away.
“I grew up with it,” he said.
“Gross,” she said . . . .