I am the second Mrs. Roberts.
I don’t ever, ever want to meet the first Mrs. Roberts. The first Mrs. Roberts put a glass on the mantel in our living room thirty years ago and left a persistent ring. The first Mrs. Roberts colors her hair a fake imitation of the deep red she supposedly had twenty years ago. The first Mrs. Roberts gets boob jobs and Botox between her eyes. The first Mrs. Roberts looks down at me—a younger, natural beauty with sandy hair and dark brown eyes.
The first Mrs. Roberts considers my editing job pathetic work for the unoriginal. The first Mrs. Roberts has no idea what I do. The first Mrs. Roberts is a power hungry lawyer; worse, she’s a micro manager with a hot temper. Mr. Roberts tells me about their explosive past fights. I can still hear her accusing our innocent husband, recounting his faults at decibel five thousand, his alleged errors bouncing from the walls in our living room.
Yes, I am the placid, the easy-going second Mrs. Roberts. The first Mrs. Roberts resents the satisfying sex she knows I have with our husband. The first Mrs. Roberts was bored with sex with our husband. The first Mrs. Roberts is jealous of the relationship I will soon have with her now adult children. The first Mrs. Roberts is a lonely shrew who spends all her time gabbing on the phone with her three sisters. My own sister and I don’t have time for such lengthy conversations.
I’ve seen the first Mrs. Roberts driving to and from town on the road to her beach house, the one she won in the settlement. The first Mrs. Roberts has brunch every Sunday with her two beautiful, irreplaceable, children. Children with whom I am very close. Children whose mother to whom I could never hold a candle. Children whose comments about their mother are few and far between. The first Mrs. Roberts is a better mother than I could ever be, though I never had a chance to find out. The first Mrs. Roberts is a good cook, a healthy cook, naturally. The first Mrs. Roberts runs writing and yoga groups, knitting and prayer circles. The first Mrs. Roberts works at a soup kitchen. The first Mrs. Roberts loses a third child in childbirth, a sister to cancer, her parents in a car wreck. The first Mrs. Roberts is the kindest woman in town, the most beautiful, the most stylish. The first Mrs. Roberts is a public defender.
The first Mrs. Roberts does not drink at her daughter’s graduation party. The first Mrs. Roberts is a polite conversationalist, wears jewel tones and a crucifix, the cross digging into her cleavage. The first Mrs. Roberts avoids my eye, but scans me from top to bottom when she thinks I’m not looking. She counts my glasses of wine, memorizes my outfit, watches every time I touch our husband, notes every affectionate glance or smile his way.
The first Mrs. Roberts remarries. Her children do not approve. Neither do her sisters. She remarries an athletic trainer or a district attorney or an organic farmer or a drug addict or an obsessive compulsive or a sex addict. The first Mrs. Roberts resides with her new husband in the beach house, not, of course, in our old 1970s split-level. The first Mrs. Roberts retires early, travels twelve months a year. The first Mrs. Roberts goes to spas for two weeks after Christmas. The first Mrs. Roberts is in therapy.
The first Mrs. Roberts stands in my driveway, holds a giant bouquet of flowers. I step through the door, and she stands in the kitchen holding a knife. I enter the bedroom, and she’s screwing our husband, my picture watching on the shelf. I find her in the bathroom, looking out from inside the mirror, nodding sympathetically, with pity in concerned green eyes. She says, “I know Mr. Roberts, I know him too, better, longer than you. What would you like to know about Mr. Roberts?” I throw a glass of wine in Mrs. Roberts’ kind face, breaking her smooth skin into a thousand pieces of glass. I shout, “Get out of here!” The first Mrs. Roberts dissolves without a word.
The first Mrs. Roberts is nothing to Mr. Roberts. Nothing. Mr. Roberts says this again and again over the years, his blue eyes (those eyes!) twinkling above his scotch and soda lifted to his lips. “She’s nothing to me. It’s like she never existed, ever, at all,” he says.
The first Mrs. Roberts is in the attic. She visits my bedside, starts fires. Mr. Roberts shoots the first Mrs. Roberts, throws her in a sinking sailboat. He drives her slowly insane, poisons her. The first Mrs. Roberts sputters back to life, like a trick birthday candle, just for me.