Recalculating with author Jennifer Weiner

Recalculating: A Short Story
By Jennifer Weiner

Tommy had been dead for six months when Maureen found the box he’d left for her in the attic.

She’d gone up there to retrieve the Halloween decorations, the glow-in-the-dark eyeballs and fake spiders that she’d twine around the front gate, the witch’s hat she’d perch on her head when she stood in the doorway, handing out candy to kids who looked less and less familiar each year, and the candy bowl itself, with a plastic claw perched on the edge (the claw would open and shut dramatically, grasping for a trick-or-treater’s hand when Maureen pressed a button underneath).

The Halloween stuff was where she expected to find it, in a lidded plastic storage bin with the word Halloween written in Tom’s clear, firm handwriting on a sticker on top. The box was next to it, wrapped in silvery paper, tied with a gold bow. A small white envelope was slipped underneath the bow, and her name, again in Tommy’s handwriting, was on it. For Maureen, it read.

Suddenly breathless, as if her husband’s ghost had popped up out of nowhere to stand before her, glaring, Maureen staggered backward and tripped over the Halloween stuff. The bin tipped onto its side, spilling its contents—tea light candles and spray-can spiderwebs, tubes of black and silver glitter, a squirt bottle of fake blood, a grinning, glow-in-the-dark skull—onto the attic floor. “Jesus God, Tom, you scared me!” she said, one hand over her heart and her whole body trembling. It took her a few minutes to remind herself that Tommy wasn’t here, that Tommy was gone, dead and gone, that Tommy would never scare her again.

“Silly goose,” she told herself. That hadn’t been one of Tommy’s pet names for her—dumb bitch had sufficed as an endearment during the long dark night of their marriage. “Silly goose” was what she called Tom Junior and Liza when they were up to some small bit of childish mischief. Then, knees creaking, Maureen hunkered down in an awkward crouch and began to pick up the mess. When order was restored, and the bin neatly re-lidded, she picked up the gift box in the corner. For Maureen, she read again, this time without squealing or gasping or stumbling around like some girl. She was fifty-four years old, too old to act like a child. With one ragged thumbnail she slit the envelope open. The card contained just three words: Love always, Tommy.

Maureen bent her head. A dull red flush had risen to her cheeks. One hand wandered almost reflexively to her hair, gathered up a hank and started pulling. Not gently. “Oh, Tommy,” she whispered, sick with shame, dizzy with guilt. She and her husband had had their secret life, it was true, but that didn’t mean he was without kindness. At his funeral, their daughter had said that her dad was a man who never forgot a birthday, never forgot an anniversary, and would take time to write letters as the Tooth Fairy when each of Liza’s teeth had fallen out.

Love always, Tommy. Had he loved her after all? She sent her mind back along the thirty years of their union and decided that the answer was no . . . or maybe that what Tommy had named love was some mutant variation on the real thing, a toxic and night-blooming flower that he called a rose.

She lifted the box, feeling its weight. Not heavy, not light. She shook it experimentally. It didn’t make a sound. She would wait, she decided. “Always safe, never sorry,” she whispered—that had been one of Tommy’s sayings, he had a million of them—and carried both the bin and the box down the stairs.

Copyright  2011 by Jennifer Weiner

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Washington Square Press Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Read Jen's recent blog post about how this story went from just an idea to a published ebook in less than a week