In the end, Celine supposed, all love stories ended in tragedy.
She brushed a piece of lint off the sleeve of her black Chanel suit, grateful that the day was cool. The long sleeves covered the fading bruises on her arms. She peered one last time into the mirror to satisfy herself that her cosmetics covered the discoloration under her left eye. Perfect. She was ready to receive her guests.
Really, the viewing and funeral had been taxing enough, and the long ride to the family mausoleum ghastly. All those people offered such banal words of comfort; she, of course, received them graciously.
When the Hollander woman appeared—in church, no less—with her vulgar mink coat and too tight, too short dress and caterwauled like a beast, it had been an absolute circus.
“You killed him! You killed my Matthew!” she bellowed. Thank goodness Mr. Bishop and Mr. Davis had immediately and quite firmly shown her the door. Celine reminded herself to slip a substantial tip to the undertaker and his assistant for their efficiency. Celine believed in rewarding service well done.
At the time Celine had clutched her pearls and leaned back against James, who caught her arm and murmured soothing words into her ear. “Don’t worry, Moms, she’s gone now. Dad was an idiot. A rotten idiot.”
“He was your father, darling,” she said.
Matthew died because the arteries to his heart were more than eighty percent blocked. After forty years of red meat, alcohol, cigars, and women who were far too young for him, his blood was like wet cement. He was one week from an operation to replace three of his heart valves when a massive coronary struck him down. That was the decree of his doctor. Who was she to argue?
If only he’d been able to get to his nitroglycerin pills in time, he might have been able to call out for help. But no, he thrashed in his bed gurgling and choking and begging, his face turning from red to blue to purple as he choked for air. In the morning the tiny white pills lay scattered on the floor, and the bottle lay in the middle of the rug. It had been over in less than five minutes.
Her bedroom was down the hall, too far away for her to hear or help, Celine explained to Matthew’s doctor when he came personally that morning to fill out the death certificate. Though she was completely serene, she delicately dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. He patted her back and said she mustn’t blame herself.
She thanked him with all due sincerity. Matthew deserved far worse.
In the recesses of her dark heart Celine had always known Matthew had married her for her parents’ old money prestige, but even understanding that, she had loved him once. He was handsome and witty, and she had lovely memories of their honeymoon in Paris when he charmed her with his French, his appreciation of Monet and Matisse, his knowledge of the city. He had seemed charming and sophisticated then, so much so that she’d overlooked his arrogance, his rudeness to waiters and those he thought beneath him.
His temper. The temper he let loose with increasing frequency as the years passed. She’d grown tired of wearing long sleeves in summer and extra make up to cover the damage, but she was too proud to admit she’d made a mistake. He wanted her connections, and she enjoyed living in splendor. Everything in life came at a price.
Eventually his other women didn’t bother her in the least as long as they kept him out of her bed. She didn’t care about his rudeness or drinking as long as he directed it away from her. She would go and soothe the hurt feelings Matthew left in his wake. His deliberate cruelty was another thing entirely. She began to make a tally of every incident, every outrage, but Celine had allowed a tough shell to form around her heart. She was also patient.
Three years ago Matthew had deliberately run over her favorite cat, Montgomery, as the old fellow lay sunning himself in the driveway. Though infuriated, Celine said nothing. She had Montgomery cremated and enshrined his ashes in a sterling silver urn that she kept in her bedroom.
After Matthew’s own cremation, she collected his remains from Mr. Bishop and told the undertaker she needed to spend one last evening with her husband before he was forever entombed. Celine dumped his remains in the trash, and returned Montgomery’s silver urn over to the undertaker the next morning. She mixed in some cat liter to balance the weight.
Now Celine took a cleansing breath as she descended the marble stairs to greet her guests. It felt like a celebration.
She nodded sagely when Matthew’s law partner said, “My God, we just played eighteen holes at Merion the day before he died. He seemed fine, better than fine. But I guess you never know. The doc says if he could have gotten to those pills . . . ” His voice trailed off in a haze of scotch and regret. Matthew’s beloved Bunnahabhain 25. Celine never cared for scotch.
Celine nodded solemnly. It was such a small thing, that one little pill.