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“I seem to have forgotten that you were coming to visit,” Elihu Wingate says.
“We’re moving in, honey. It’s not good for you to be all alone in this big house. And you need to get more sunlight. We’ll get the swimming pool cleaned tomorrow.”
He goes to the living room. One of the boxes has been opened. A few figurines have been unwrapped from their bubble paper and set up on the mantelpiece. Elihu Wingate goes closer to inspect them. They appear to be statues of the Virgin Mary.
“Oh, you’ve found them,” his mother says, coming in from the kitchen. “I was thinking, you travel around so much, you could find others to add to our collection.”
“Is this Mary?”
“We need some color in this house, don’t you think?”
“You and Dad aren’t even Catholic.”
She pats his hand. “I know you like to visit museums when you go away on your business trips. Those gift shops should have some nice ones.”
Dan Keegan and Elihu Wingate are looking through a one-way glass window at a focus group being run by one of their assistants.
“They’re looking bored and irritable,” Dan says. “I think we might have to send you in, slugger. Bring on the heavy hitter.”
Elihu Wingate says, “Why don’t we ever ask people about their religious beliefs?”
“Interesting,” Dan Keegan says. “What’s the angle? Correlate it with purchasing behavior?”
“No,” Elihu Wingate says. “Just to know. Out of curiosity.”
Dan Keegan pities Elihu Wingate. He was always a sad sack, even before his marriage imploded in as public and humiliating a way as anyone had ever seen. That, along with moments like these, when he comes up with these weird observations, are what Dan Keegan will have in mind when he decides not to press charges. In fact, after the Incident, Elihu Wingate seems more of a tragic figure than ever.
That ex-wife of Elihu Wingate’s had everyone mystified. Who can say what really happened in that marriage? What’s known for sure, though, is that she (gradually? suddenly?) turned against Elihu Wingate, with that ferocity of ex-love that makes mere hatred look like mild annoyance. He reacted with gentle bafflement, and his more-or-less constant expression of injured perplexity only increased her rage. She stopped speaking to him directly, instead barraging him with angry e-mails. One such missive, detailing a long list of Elihu Wingate’s flaws (He forgets my birthday, He spoils the kids, He’s a spineless little twerp) she copied to everyone in his company, from his fellow managers to the people who distributed mail and ordered cleaning supplies.
Elihu Wingate sent everyone a written apology. “Well,” he concluded, “I guess all of you are now witnesses to the operatic breadth of the disaster that is my marriage.”
Nicely done, they all thought. Trying to recover a few shreds of dignity from a humiliating situation. Who wouldn’t pity the guy? The young woman in the mailroom made a point of never deliberately misrouting his interoffice mail. The cleaning crew made sure to use gently scented, environmentally safe cleaning products in his office. Even the window washers took extra time with Elihu Wingate’s office windows, and were quite proud of themselves for the superb effects created by in-streaming afternoon sunlight unmarred by soot stains and squeegee streaks.
Elihu Wingate checks Scylla’s blog and find a new entry:
You know there are people who make a living studying regret?
It’s Her, is Elihu Wingate’s first reaction. He reads on.
There’s a whole industry out there on it, psychologists writing all kinds of articles, and did you see that guy on CNN last night? And their conclusion—drumroll, please—regret’s a good thing, folks! All those surveys they do, asking people what they regret? They say things like, they regret not having kids earlier than they did, not having more time to spend with wifey or hubby. It’s all marriage and kids, happy happy joy joy.
Like those psychologist guys have never taken a walk down the aisles of a Walmart? Or hell, just look around anywhere. You’re bound to see some woman walking around hurt by whatever nasty thing her guy just said to her, or she’s dragging some whining brat by the hand, and the woman’s got this look on her face like, I am totally trapped. Like, how the fuck did this happen?
What world do these psychologists live in, I ask you. The world of Everything’s Fine the Way It Is. Bah.
Elihu Wingate opens up an e-mail window. It’s not like that, he writes.
He cancels the e-mail.
Elihu Wingate travels to Washington, to a law firm where he explains his newest research on jury response. At the gift shop of the Smithsonian Museum he picks up a small porcelain Virgin in a yellow robe and a tunic in shades of cream and goldenrod.
He watches his parents for some hint of an interest in religion. They don’t go to church. He sees no Bibles lying around, or other books with titles like Religion for the Previously Uninterested or Add Color to Your Life with the Virgin Mary.