by Diane Root
The tombstone on his property, barely blurred by the passage of time or weather, stood alone in the woods, where he claimed his first wife liked to walk. It read: Matakia Rose Albinelli. She died at 33.
She was weak of heart, her husband said, but nothing that would have made him anticipate a sudden death like this. He was out of the country at the time, and for that reason, he couldn’t for the life of him surmise even the remotest possibility of her demise.
Had anyone investigated, which, of course, they did not, they would have found him with the turquoise-eyed blonde beauty, appropriately named Marie as befitting her appearance. He had encountered her on a beach in Nice on the Riviera. She looked great in a bikini. She looked even better without one.
He found that the sun-streaked, pastel city of Nice—a place that seemed to predominantly favor a blinding white, a faded rose and an unlikely shade of mustard for its buildings–was a great place to be nice. And Marie was nice. Very nice, very Nice. This, he decided, was not destined to be just some run-of-the-mill summer romance. No, this was an amatory addiction with a capital A. Two of them, in fact.
He resolved right then and there to bring her back to the United States and set her up in a cozy place of her own, close by. Already devoted, she did not hesitate. Her own home town, coincidentally also Marseille like his wife’s birthplace, was a tiny pied a terre on the fringes of the great maritime, often murderous city would doubtless prove to be a hovel next to what awaited her abroad. It was a decision easily made—not unlike the maid herself.
Apart from that, such was their passion that “pensees” turned to “poison ” way before then. Digitalis seemed like a good idea. “What fun,” he said. “It’s like a finger pointing to the about-to-perish. Digitalis and Drambuie, drop by drop in every evening’s digestif. What could be a better match?” Digitalis. Digital. (He didn’t say which digit.) What he did say was “Delightful!” With nothing short of glee.
Indeed, she could not have been more unlike her predecessor, who was a young, voluptuous woman, curvaceous, full-breasted, and olive-skinned with a mane of ebony hair and melted-chocolate eyes. Wife #1 was a Mediterranean beauty. Very Mediterranean—born in Marseilles of Greek-Italian origin and a trace of Turkish—she harbored old-school beliefs, which he had found endearing.
She believed, for instance, in the Evil Eye, a talisman that dangled from her wrist on a charm bracelet among various other souvenirs of their travels together and many he brought home when he traveled alone.
But The Eye, the one of which she was most fond, was a gift from her mother, the formidable Jeanne Rose despite her small stature. Maman instructed her to wear it always without fail. “Meme au lit,” she said. Then after a short pause, she added, “Surtout au lit.” (“Even in bed—above all in bed.”) Even her daughter’s name, Matakia, was a diminutive of mati , meaning “eye” in Greek.
Rooted in ancient civilizations as diverse as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece (there are even mentions in the Old Testament), the belief in the evil eye seemed deeply ingrained. It held that a scourge could be released from the mere malign glance of its believers, no matter their age. No matter how often denied, the deeply-held superstition ran submerged through their veins like blood. The gaze could curse, not only the one beheld, but their mate, their offspring, as well as future generations and property. Present and future could be afflicted with misfortune, illness, death and drought, plague and pestilence.
Her rival, Marie, was everything she was not.
Matakia’s amulet, alas, did not save her. Nor did her name. They did something infinitely worse.
Soon Marie was a frequent guest for dinner; the host/husband encouraged, ever gracious not to mention generous, the friendship between the two women. He arranged “surprise” outings for them—the theater, museums, concerts, shopping trips, and whatever else he could conjure up, especially when he was not in the city. “You need a companion,” he said by way of explanation to his wife who was by nature of a rather solitary bent—unusual for someone of her origins.
But then again, she was a writer, and that in his mind explained everything should anyone had asked. Thankfully, nobody did. Despite all his deviously soothing endeavors, the silences between them grew longer and longer. “What, my darling, is the matter?” he would ask, feigning a plaintive voice, both saccharine and solicitous.
She would just stare him down, the chocolate eyes flashing ebony, blackening in a dark fury. And deeply suspicious. It was the same ebony glare she turned upon Marie at the end of their last supper. But this time, she spoke in a low growl, “You will be the most accursed among women.” Rigidly erect, she turned away leaving the lovers slack-jawed and, for once, robbed of their usual banter. Marie, suddenly chilled as if by an invisible icy sheet of sleet and fractured by fear, fled.
Matakia soon began to feel the effects of their ministrations that ebbed and flowed within her, albeit slowly. An only child of a deeply superstitious family, she knew instinctively when the golden-locked Marie, her husband’s new-found “friend,” came to dinner that disaster would be served up for dessert. What she didn’t know, at least not immediately, was that the dessert was death.
After a “decent” interval, Marie became Wife #2.
Then, not long after “an indecent” interval, as her new husband liked to jest, Marie was pronounced pregnant. By now becalmed, she settled down to become the present wife and future mother, confident that she would be courageous, in full command and control of the event.
Her “time” as they called it, wouldn’t take long now.
When the Time did come, it came suddenly. The child, already named Samantha, was born without prior warning of which Marie was aware while she was in the shower early in the day. Despite the pain, she was sure that the agony would not last long. After all, she had taken care not to balloon during her pregnancy, eating carefully and sparingly for someone often incited to “eat for two.”
She herself had come into the world at 11 pounds after a 48-hour agonizing parturition that doubtlessly, via guilt and shame, led her to abhor all beings rotund—most particularly human beings. Porkers, she thought. Pigs. She was convinced that bouncing babies should only bounce in moderation. This was aided and abetted by the latest new-fangled theory she had read. Thin was in. Fine by her.
The harrowing pains carved and shrieked, coursing and streaking through the marrow of her bones, sharp as knives. She stretched to a near-breaking point, as though torn apart on the Inquisition’s rack, rending the very fabric of her Catholic soul. Her face, at last heavenward, her archangel lips imploring for mercy, her hands gripped the metal faucets with what little strength remained. The flames of hellfire flared within her abdomen and below, searing a fiery path for this fruit of her loins, burning a passage.
Ashen, she sank to her knees.
Only then, quite some time after the scrape and scream of childbirth, the hollowing out of the beloved body from between the haunches, did she hear the clatter on the tiles and looked down.
Of the “flesh and blood” so desired and long anticipated, there was much blood and not an ounce of flesh.
Post Scriptum and Post Mortem: She, too, soon lay buried beneath the bleached ivory tombstone in the woods. It was not until years later, the secret was finally unearthed, several feet beneath her and the body of the bereaved husband, revealing a small package of bones unceremoniously wrapped in a towel, by then shredded and disintegrating.
Diane Root, a dual-national, was born in Paris of an American father, the journalist and writer, Waverley Root, and a French mother. Primarily known as a painter, she is, as she describes herself, “an accidental writer.” She never sought to be published but that notwithstanding, she was nonetheless published in the New York Times Magazine (“The Artful Dodger” about lunch with Picasso) and various other venues. View her art: http://matakia.com.