Phil’s second wife, Helena, was in Phil’s mind, “the keeper”. His first wife should have been his training wheels, someone who teaches you how to be in a relationship and then leaves. Instead, he paid for a messy divorce. Phil hated emotional mess almost as much as he disliked spending his money on stupid things like matrimonial lawyers, which were, in his mind, right up there with other professional money pits like interior decorators or personal trainers. And so he vowed that in the future he would date more wisely.
He made a grid with a checklist and evaluated each date against a fixed metric. There were the obvious requirements; she had to like him. There were the ethical requirements; she had to be available, single, unencumbered. And finally, there was a cautionary metric, shorthand for a situation he’d rather not repeat, ever. He simply wrote “Shenzhen”.
Helena by every metric proved to be Phil’s ideal of a reliable mate. She had a career as a travel agent. The work was just the right degree of demanding as it left Helena free to enjoy her weekends. She never took her job home with her. Nor was she distracted by the allure of motherhood. it simply didn’t appeal to her. Instead, she loved to travel and sought out destinations that were exotic, authentic and obscure. Phil gamely sacrificed his vacation time to Helena’s military like maneuvers. It wasn’t Helena’s style to simply book a hotel on a beach and spend the days lazing in the sun. Traveling with Helena meant no exotic drinks or time to read trashy novels. Suitcases were rarely unpacked. The drive to and from the far-flung airports was always hairy and gut-wrenching; partially due of the rough roads that jangled Phil’s fine dental work, but primarily because of the inevitable spectacle of poverty that left Phil feeling ashamed and embarrassed.
Once they were comfortably back home, boring friends with their travel photographs and tours of their fine new trophies, Phil was able to relax. In fact, if you were to catch Phil off-guard, or better yet, gave him truth serum, he’d admit his favorite vacation destination was home.
The trouble started one day while they were buying a new bed. Phil was having the time of his life, bouncing on the various mattresses, rolling from side to side, thumping the pillow top offerings with his hand, his hip, his slender neck when Jody, an unusually bookish looking saleswoman, leaned over him and smiled indulgently. She assumed here was a man who was in touch with his inner child. But Phil, oblivious to the messages he was sending out, was in his happy place — buying something for the woman he loved. He was putting on a show of testing the mattress to draw Helena in, to encourage her to put down her phone and join him on the bed. He was hoping to wake up the sexual tiger long dormant in Helena.
But Helena had no interest in buying a new mattress. Instead, she was anxious to get to a new store specializing in safari apparel before they closed.
They never did buy a new mattress. Perhaps if they had, Phil and Helena’s marriage might have survived the grind of time and growing indifference. Rather than be delighted and seduced by Phil’s increasingly extravagant gifts, Helena grew surly when the wrapped box failed to match expectations.
Phil was spinning out of control.