“I sold my wedding ring.”
Instead of pulling into the main bus station in downtown Baltimore, the bus was stopped outside the city at a suburban hub near a strip mall. While the bus unloaded passengers and reloaded new ones, Alva got off to “get a bite,” she told Kitty. She came back with a large pizza box loaded with a variety of slices, two cans of soda and some napkins.
“I didn’t know what kind you liked so I got us one of each. They had a big, ole buffet of pizzas. Lord, didn’t it smell good,” she maneuvered herself into her seat and placed the box on her lap. Kitty could smell the slices and realized she was quite hungry.
“Oh, thank you. That was very thoughtful of you.” Kitty accepted a napkin and looked inside the box as Alva opened the lid. She took a veggie because it had pineapple slices on top. She liked the sweetness of pineapple, but her husband said it was an expensive fruit and he never let her buy it. Once she had torn three other items off the grocery list he always wrote out for her so she would have enough to buy one as a treat. She had eaten the entire pineapple the day he left for a business trip.
“One thing I don’t understand,” Alva wiped her mouth with the corner of a napkin. She seemed very neat, although this surprised Kitty, who thought she looked like the kind of person who would be scattered and disorganized.
“What’s that?” Kitty munched on the pizza. “This is really good.”
“If that man was so controlling, you know, so in your face about everything, I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s none of my business you understand . . . but where’d you get the money to leave?”
“I sold my wedding ring. And he had an antique piano from his mother. No one in our house ever played it, and yesterday a man who sells pianos came to the house and bought it and took it away. He never even asked if it was mine to sell or not.” Kitty shrugged at this – nervously. “I know it was wrong. But what else could I do?” She had a twinge of fear then that he might follow her. That he might make a police report about the piano. But she quickly calmed herself with another line of thinking, one that she had learned, ironically enough, from him. They couldn’t find her if they couldn’t trace her. And she had nothing now. No driver’s license. No credit cards – she had never had any. No checking account. Nothing at all that could lead anyone to her, as if she had gone underground. And where she was going, no one would betray her.
“Didn’t you ever work?”
It was an obvious question. Yet it evoked in Kitty such a flood of memory that she could not for a few moments even speak or think in a straight line. All she could see in her mind were the years stretched out behind her, years of loneliness, years during which she felt as if a fence had been erected around her that was too high to climb and too sharp with barbs to wriggle through and too interwoven with wire to be able to see clearly beyond it. She had thought, for most of the years now past, that this was her lot and she must abide within it.
“No,” she answered, “I never worked. You see, I can’t do anything. And he would not allow me to learn.” She thought for a moment and then added, “He made me do all his calculations and keep his books of accounts straight. He taught me how to do it. He was very exact about everything he did, and he made me follow his rules.”
“Well then, if your life was so . . . I don’t even know what to call it . . . but I’d say you was already living in a convent, except you was with a man,” Alva reasoned. “He was a man, wasn’t he? I mean you consummated the wedding and had a child by him.”
“Actually, the boy was from his first wife,” Kitty was whispering. Telling it now, to a complete stranger, it was shameful to her.
“Oh, I getcha. So he married you to take care of his boy and his house.”
“Yes.” Kitty bowed her head. She was not sorry to be talking about it. But she was sorry it had taken her so long to come to understand her own situation.
“Where’s the boy now?” Alva asked.
“They had a big fight, he and his father. And he left. He said goodbye to me before and I suppose I should have tried to make him stay. But I never had any say in it. He told me he was going to find his mother. That’s what they fought over.”
“Well, did he?”
“I don’t know. That was a year ago. I never heard from him again.”
“Why did the first wife up and leave?”
“I never asked,” said Kitty. “He wouldn’t have told me anyway.”
“It ain’t no surprise, seeing as what kind of a man he is,” Alva said.