Her Widow 15 excerpt

Hello Readers,

I apologize for not publishing last week’s excerpt 14 until midweek.  It sat in drafts until I noticed it there.

Her Widow, the book, will not be released and available for purchase until November because the Kirkus pre-publication review will not arrive until November 9th.  I will let you know when in November you can purchase it.

If you want to contact me about the release, make comments, or ask questions you can reach me at J



The climbing roses on the garage have reached the eaves and some early blooms have opened.

Dear Catherine,

Today is our first full day at home. Yesterday afternoon when we returned from California, I couldn’t settle in. I was up to my old tricks, rearranging furniture, moving table here and lamp there, knowing it isn’t what or where things are, but me who is out of place. Out of place in a house I scraped and sanded and plastered and painted because my relationship to this old house has changed.

Perhaps in time I will discover who I am alone, or get back to who I was when I was a kid and on my own in the field in back of our house. And possibly I need to move on to start anew. That was my thought in California.

Sitting at the enamel topped table in the kitchen, I gaze out the screen door to the backyard and watch the dogs, sniffing the perimeter of the yard. They are taking their time checking out every bush and tree, perhaps for the scent of an interloper who wandered in while they were away.

The daffodils are spent but the peony bushes along the back walk are starting to bloom and the climbing rose bush is about to burst. The backyard where we sat on webbed lawn chairs to eat lunch, where we put up the badminton net in March and didn’t take it down until the first snowfall, that backyard is being reborn. This wonderful square of green where we played badminton until the sun was too low to find the birdie in the sky, where Cleo encountered her first skunk and got a ketchup bath, where we planted a vegetable garden and then a flower garden, is coming alive.

The hollyhock that once stood, tallest among our plants, in a line along the garage, and the bushy tomato plants, not pretty but promising, that were tied to the stockade fence, are not here, but the lilac tree is thick and three feet taller than the summer we sat in its scent and I read Before Our Eyes in manuscript to you. I will always associate the smell of lilac with that book.

When I go out to the yard now, I don’t go to read to someone, cut flowers for the table, or pluck a ripe tomato off the vine for supper. I go to watch the dogs chase a ball or a butterfly for sport. I watch them stop along the narrow walkway to the garage and roll over to rub bird excrement into the fur on their backs to satisfy some ancestral call.

Sitting here now, looking out the screen door I made our first year here, I see Caleb pawing something in the grass and I remember as a pup he dug up the tender leaves of lettuce growing in our vegetable garden. You screamed, “No!” and he ran straight to you to lick your face. Dogs are not so different from us, mitigating a clumsy move with a kiss.

Cleo and Caleb will be my salvation if I survive. They are full of life: their feet dancing and their tails wagging. When I watch them like this, I imagine I am one of them, and I begin to feel some lightness of being. I can count on them to show me a way to live in this now. When I lose myself in their play, I feel gratitude and not just for them but for all the things they adore.



The peony blossoms are putting everything else in the garden to shame.

Dear Catherine,

Today was a quiet birthday by choice. The dogs and I went on a picnic.
 Sitting on the lawn at Clermont, overlooking the Hudson, I thought of all the birthday trips we took, and in particular our first to Sutter Creek and our walk back from town to our cottage late one night, hand in hand, stepping out of a street lamp’s light to kiss in the darkness and then whispering as we approached the cottages because everyone but us was asleep. 
My second favorite trip was to The Benbow Inn where we stayed up all night in the game room and put a puzzle together.

On my fiftieth birthday, we stayed at home and you threw me a party.
You were in no shape to host a party but you were determined to do so. I watched you hang streamers on the back porch before the guests arrived, and then you went in to make strawberry shortcake for dessert. On the other side of the screen door, while you were putting the shortcake in the oven, I was busy re-hanging the streamers.

You pushed open the screen door to see what I was up to and asked me, “Why?”

“They looked puny,” I answered, and you gave me a look that I will never forget. You said nothing. You didn’t have to. Your mouth went slack like a wound and I was ashamed of myself.

You once pointed out to me that every time you set something down on a table top or shelf, I came up behind you and moved the paper weight slightly to the left or right, or I picked up a book and replaced it with a flower vase. It was painful to see myself as you sometimes saw me, to be reminded that I could be as critical and controlling as my mother, and I felt then as I have often felt, that your loving me was a gift I didn’t deserve.

On my fiftieth birthday, when you were doing better than your best, when you were heroic, I insulted your effort. Today on the lawn at Clermont, caught up in my shame of that memory, Caleb snatched the chicken sandwich from my lap and ran with it down toward the river. He’d had his eye on it, and when he noticed I was in another world he took advantage of me. It was what I deserved.



HER WIDOW Excerpt 14




Her Widow


Warm breezes from El Nino blow on shore.

Dear Catherine,

I am at Murphy Cross’s for a few days before I meet up with John. Murphy’s house is flooded with sunlight and at all hours of the day one of the family members is playing a musical instrument. I am wrapped in that warmth and grateful to be here. The dogs are a hit with the girls and have behaved themselves by not wandering off or whining, and they do their business quickly when I take them out for a walk. I am trying to live in the moment, Catherine.

Murphy took me to the Farmer’s Market yesterday morning, draping her arm over my shoulder as we walked from stall to stall. That simple gesture meant the world to me. Rita Mae used to say, “Our friends who don’t mind being mistaken as gay and lesbian when they are with us, are speaking love better than any words could.”

Today Murphy and I picked up sandwiches and headed for the beach. After unpacking our beach bag and settling down on the hot sand, Murphy asked me what you were like. She and Matt had been to visit us in Catskill twice. You took photos of Lily as a toddler. Murphy knew you. She described you as “a wholesome beauty like Amelia Earhart.” She wanted to know more. She wanted to know how I felt about you, and Murphy wanting me to talk about you was a gift.

I had my eyes on teenagers playing volleyball on the beach when I said, “Catherine wasn’t competitive except at badminton.” Then I was quiet as I thought what else I could tell Murphy about you. “Catherine was a listener,” I finally thought to say. “She never interrupted anyone or jumped in on the tail end of someone’s story to tell her story or give her opinion. Whenever someone was gushing about anything, Catherine would listen intently and not add her two cents. She didn’t need anyone to know what she had seen or done or what she knew.

“That’s not to say she was reserved or even diplomatic,” I added. “Catherine had a raucous laugh and a sharp wit, and she was known for her teasing, but she never spoke harshly about others and she was patient with her friends. I once asked her why she allowed a friend to continually take advantage of her, and she explained, “Diane’s not taking advantage of me if I don’t think she is.’”

Murphy was looking at me intently, not opening her mouth, and I laughed and said, “It’s all right with me if you jump in.”

“I want to be like her,” Murphy said, blushing. “But I’m thinking that wouldn’t be easy.”

“I tried,” I admitted. “And failed—miserably.”
“Well, I like you as you are,” Murphy answered.

I told you Murphy and I had a brief affair when she was at the Curran Theatre in A Chorus Line, but I didn’t tell you that at the time she was also dating a male cast member.

I bowed out when I learned that but I was crushed. Sitting on the sand beside me today, Murphy said that she’d lost touch with Ron. How wonderful I felt that it was me next to her on the warm beach, digging my toes down to the cool wet sand.


The scent of sheared hay blows in my window.

Dear Catherine,

I am in my own cottage here at the ranch with a window I can peek out of through vines growing around the sash. Beyond is a meadow where horses are grazing. I woke up here yesterday morning feeling you all around me, imagining you in the brittle bush and poppy, and this morning in the mist on the grass and the glow of the sun on the white fencing. It was as if you were a part of all that. Not outside it, admiring it as I was, but in it, your soul shining out of it for me to observe and sense. These sensations are hard for me to describe in a convincing way. Even though they are so easily observed and known without an ounce of doubt. Of course, you would choose a lavish display of an ordinary thing. And it is all around me.

At times the ball of grief in my belly makes me sick to my stomach, but it is far easier to live in the moment here in all this newness. I am flirting with the idea of putting the house up for sale when I return, and moving back to California.

Being an introvert by nature, it is always a challenge for me to step out into the world, but the rewards have been great. First Murphy and now John asks all about you, things others have seemed afraid to ask or aren’t interested in knowing. John was sitting with his feet up on his ottoman, wearing socks with holes worn in the heels when he asked me what I miss most about you. Staring down at his feet, I said, “The holes in her socks.”

John laughed and his cheeks, still round and fat like they were when he was a boy, hid his eyes for a moment.

Murphy was washing dishes one night with her arms up to her elbows in dishwater when she asked me what I had learned from you, and I said, “To wash dishes under running water, rather than in a sink of greasy water.”

Murphy lifted her arms out of the warm water and flicked some suds in my face.

“That I was loved,” I then answered her seriously. “Catherine convinced me I was loved.”

When John asked who was best at this or that, I answered you every time and he protested, so I repeated what you said when you sold every print in your last show. “Cancer increases one’s stock.”

John and I were out on his ranch when I told him the only person you ever had something bad to say about, other than the nuns in school, was me. John wanted an example of a fight we’d had, so I told him about the time I threw the plate of spaghetti at you.

“She must have done something awful to you,” he said.

He wanted to know what had provoked me and what your response had been. I told him he would have to earn that divulgence and he said he’d take me for the ride of my life. I wanted the ride and couldn’t remember what you had done so I made something up. I told him that you kissed another girl at a party. He believed me and we went on a ride early the next morning before cars were on the mountain.

We had the top down and baseball caps on our heads, going all out around curves on the mountain road. I told him I could hear Aunt Doris calling him out from the grave.

“Jaaaaahnny? You leave Joanie alone.”
And Uncle Neil, “I want to be around when she gives you a black eye.”

Back from our ride, I told John that when I was boiling mad at you, you said I gave you the evil eye, and I remembered that just before I threw the plate of spaghetti at you, you said, “Don’t turn your evil eye on me.” I did finally remember but didn’ttell John what had caused me to throw my homemade spaghetti and meatballs. I had gone to a lot of trouble to make that meal and all you could say about it was it could use more salt.

I didn’t feel a need to tell John that you would walk away or close a door on me when I behaved badly, which was the worst thing you could do to me.

Our last night together, John and I were eating steaks he had grilled, and I told him that shortly after you and I met, you asked me who my favorite poet was. Taking a sip of his wine first, John said, “Well? Who is it?”

“I told her I don’t read much poetry, but I can take a radio apart and put it back together.”


Her Widow Excerpt 13


A note to my reader:  The publication of Her Widow has been delayed a couple months while a wait for pre-publication reviews to come in.  I will continue to excerpt the book and keep you abreast of the progress.  Thank you for your interest.  Joan


 Her Widow

My letter continues: 

Now that I have decided to go out to California for a couple of weeks and visit John at his ranch and see Murphy Cross in L A, I have been recalling memories of San Francisco long before you, living in North Beach with my college roommates, and living in New York before you, acting classes with Stella Adler, Women’s Lib and burning my bra, and falling in love with a woman.

I was living on Edith Place in North Beach when I began a correspondence with Jerry, a helicopter pilot stationed in Viet Nam. By then Lynn had gone back to Ohio to marry Richard. Merrily was out evenings with the guy she would leave to marry Derek, and I was home alone most evenings, writing letters to someone I’d not met. Jerry eventually returned from Vietnam, and we got engaged. I wasn’t in love with him. I was in love with the idea of being engaged to a man, in love with being “normal.”

One weekend I drove down to Steinbeck country to visit Jerry in his family home. Every night in Salinas, Jerry came to the guest room of his mother’s house to say goodnight to me. He crept into the room after I turned off my light, and I pretended to be asleep. I’d put him off for weeks and although he had been patient, he wasn’t happy. I was relieved when he only kissed me goodnight those nights and went back to his bedroom, but time was running out for me to be true to myself and to him. If my charade didn’t end soon, I might find I was in too deep to get out.

I wasn’t confused about how I felt. I was attracted to women. But loving a woman didn’t seem like a possibility. As a young girl, I often felt like a boy in a girl’s body. When female hormones gave me breasts and a menstrual period and the feminist movement gave me pride in my gender, I settled into being a woman, but I was a woman who was attracted to women and I didn’t know how one negotiated that.

Lying in bed the night Jerry left without protest, I prayed for guidance. It occurred to me that if I wanted to be taken seriously I should get down on my knees to pray. I was too self-conscious to do that at first, then, disappointed in myself for being a coward, I threw off the bed cover and the blanket and got out of bed and down onmy knees on the floor.

Almost immediately I felt a cool breeze blow into the room, and I turned my head, expecting to find the bedroom window open and the curtain blowing in. Instead, standing before the closed window was the figure of a man. He was as physicallypresent as I was. He wasn’t ghostly looking or transparent. I couldn’t see through him to the window beyond.

He said, “Joan, everything is going to be all right.” Instantly my fear dissolved. I felt light, as if I might lift off the floor if I raised my arms. And what was more, I felt certain everything in the world was all right. I was all right and all matter in the universe was all right.

The figure soon vanished into thin air, and I stood and crawled back into bed. Waking the next morning without the first notion how to proceed with Jerry, I felt sure I would be guided.

I long for my mysterious visitor to guide me now and I don’t understand why at twenty-three, my prayer was answered, and at nearly fifty-three I hear nothing.


The daffodils along the front walk are blooming.

Dear Catherine,

The dogs and I will be leaving for the airport soon. One moment I am excited to be going to California and the next I’m afraid to leave. I look around me, feeling if I take my eyes off something it will disappear, afraid this is the last time I will see the Shaker rocker in the bedroom, the small table with the enamel top in the kitchen.

This is how I felt the night I left your bedside in Columbia County Hospital and went home to call family and friends with the news that you had ovarian cancer. But that time it was you I was afraid I would never see again.

You were still under the effects of the anesthesia when I kissed you goodnight and took the elevator to the first floor, walked out to the parking lot and drove home. I had to go home to make those calls, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to take a step out of range of you. I was like Caleb on our walks with him. He runs ahead, way ahead, then turns around to make sure we are still back there where he left us in the dust.

Peggy was waiting for me at home. Earlier that day your good friend had thrown some things in her car and left Boston for Catskill. By seven at night she had let herself into our house and was making soup at the stove in the kitchen when I came in. I had a bowl of chicken and dumpling soup with her before I went to bed.

Three hours later I woke from a dream that lifted my spirits. I lay in bed in the middle of the night thrilled by the idea that I could die with you.

When I joined you in the hospital hours later, you looked puzzled by my cheerfulness. I announced my intention to die with you, and you said almost cheerfully, “We’ll talk about that.” You didn’t try to dissuade me, didn’t object to my plan or argue with me. That night, Peggy joined us in the hospital and we three joked about doing a “Thelma and Louise.” You understood that I needed the option of dying along with you in order to survive the next few days and all the days and nights ahead that would otherwise have been too terrifying to face.

You told me after Peggy left, “I don’t want you ever to leave my side.”
“I never will,” I said, and you smiled broadly and settled back in bed. Thereafter, whenever you had to go into the hospital for surgery or chemotherapy, I slept on a cot or in a chair beside your hospital bed.

The taxi is here to take the dogs and me to the airport.



Her Widow Excerpt 12

Her Widow

The dogwood has white blossoms, and six yellow tulips stand erect at the tree’s base like lady sentinels.

Dear Catherine,

Pat Cominos came over for lunch today. I was worried when I saw her sad expression on the other side of the screen door. “Are you okay?” I asked, opening the door.

“Me?” she answered surprised. “What about you?”

I grabbed two Cokes from the fridge and swallowed down the lump in my throat. I didn’t think I could tell her what had just occurred to me.

But Pat is observant and she said, “I’m sorry.”

I handed her a Coke. “For what?” I asked, trying to sound cheerful.

“For being down in the mouth.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” I said, and then I told her what I’d thought when she greeted me with sad eyes. It was nearly cruel of me but I asked, “Did you wish I was Catherine when I came to the door?”

Pat didn’t flinch. “No,” she answered. “But I understand why you ask.”

“Really?” I said. “It was rude of me, I know.”

“Yes, really.”

“Yes, really rude?”

“No, really understandable.”

“That I’d be rude?”

“That you would ask that.”

“Because I’m rude?”

“No, because you’re an idiot!” she answered with a smile, and we both laughed.

“I’m a mess,” I confessed.

“Really?” she answered.

“Yes, really,” I said straight-faced as I pulled on the fridge door, this time reaching in for the salad I’d made.

Looking at it, Pat said, “Really?”

I’d made a ham salad, the specialty of the Mayflower. What kind of idiot would serve ham salad to the ham-salad maven?

“Yes, really,” I said, laughing.

I’ve been sitting here in the kitchen since Pat left, feeling better than I have in three months. After our first awkward moment, Pat and I talked about you in a lighthearted way that lifted my spirits. She has a way, without being insensitive, of not taking anything too seriously. Her sense of humor reminds me of yours.

“This vanishing act of Catherine’s is a bit much, don’t you think?” she asked.

You were able to do that, turn a tragedy into a comedy and help me see that in so many ways life is a farce. And I thought of another reason I love Pat. She is entirely dependable. If she says she will do something, she will without fail and without needing a reminder. Three years ago, I called her and said we needed our car to be removed from the hospital parking lot because I was leaving with you in an ambulance, heading down to North Shore Hospital for the next weeks. To complicate matters our car had to be jumped because in my distracted state I had left the lights on and run the battery down. Pat didn’t flinch. She dropped whatever she was doing to rescue a friend.

She told me she once ran out the door of the Mayflower as a customer was coming in, and said, “You know where the kitchen is, make yourself a sandwich; I’ll be right back.”

Right back after she’d solved some world problem or at least someone’s problem.


The thatch in the grass is gone, supplanted by spring’s fine green.

Dear Catherine,

Tonight, I tucked the dogs into their beds downstairs in the kitchen. They have been keeping me awake at night, each vying for the spot the other has next to me. If I begin to feel lonely up here without them, I can always go fetch them and they won’t complain.

What luxury—to be able to take another for granted. You would go down to the city for the day to show your portfolio to art directors, knowing when you returned home, dinner would be waiting for you. I stuck my nose in a book and hours passedbefore I looked up and wondered where you were, confident you were close by.I took it for granted that when I got up mornings you would have a pot of coffee brewed for me. You knew when you returned to the bedroom to dress for the day, our bed would be made. How splendid this arrangement without the slightest planning or request.

Mornings now I wake imagining you in the kitchen, feeding the dogs and putting on a pot of coffee. I lie for hours, not getting up because I know when I do I won’tfind you there. I can only imagine you, and after a while that begins to feel as thinas a dry leaf. My mind moves forward a day, a week, a month, trying to envision a new life for me, and I think, no, I can’t do it. I don’t want to live without her. Some nights I don’t go up to bed; I stay downstairs on the couch and watch television until 3AM when I’m too tired to haul myself upstairs.

Her Widow Excerpt 11


Her Widow

A sparrow has built a nest in the corner of the porch ceiling.                                                                                                                                                          

Dear Catherine,

I have discovered three small, white and brown speckled eggs in a nest of dry grass and fine twigs in a corner of our front porch ceiling. I think I scared the mother sparrow off when I opened the front door. I will use the back door now until the eggs hatch.

Today was warm enough to walk down to the village without a sweater or jacket. I went to Van Gordon’s to buy a gift for Julie and Nick’s baby. They have named her Catherine. On my way into the village I ran into Dee in her garage, painting the dinghy John built.  I haven’t seen John in a while. Not surprising. Three months ago, at your memorial service, he was having trouble walking. Today Dee was her chatty self and would have kept me an hour or more if I hadn’t excused myself, saying I was short on time. I promised to cut her hair on Friday.

Not twenty paces past Dee’s garage, before I reached the courthouse, a car’s horn beeped. Fawn was behind the wheel and shouted out my name. She was on her way to the post office and asked me to hold up when I got there so she could talk to me. I nodded, thinking I should have driven the car, not walked. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Fortunately, Fawn was in a hurry to get to the gallery and she only had time to say she was meeting Kate for lunch tomorrow at the Mayflower and did I want to join them? I said yes, but when I got home I called and left a message saying that I had forgotten I had a doctor’s appointment.

I don’t have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. It’s one thing to stop on the street and say hello to someone, pass the Mayflower and wave to Pat inside, serving lunch to a customer, or nod to a friend as she drives past me, and quite another thing to have lunch with friends who will want to know how I am doing. Ordinarily I would love to join Fawn and Kate at the Mayflower and talk about their photography and painting. By the way, I took down Fawn’s photo of the two of us. It makes me sad to see you so frail.

I heard the other day that Fawn and Bill are getting divorced. And Kate’s marriage has been on the rocks for over a year. Fawn and Kate are maybe getting together to commiserate, and that could lead to questions about how I am doing without you. I’m not ready for that conversation.

In the past, I’ve found the banter of the ladies of Van Gordon’s shallow. Today their chitchat, asking nothing more from me than a smile and not rendering me vulnerable or causing me to feel any obligation, was welcome.  But choosing a superficial exchange over one with depth is probably not a good sign.


A persistent wind following an April shower, ripples the puddles on Thompson Street.

Dear Catherine,

Poor Cleo and Caleb! More than two weeks have passed since they enjoyed a good run at Clermont. We went there this afternoon and took a trail you would have chosen because it faced west and the sun was low in a ruby sky. I let Cleo off her leash, as you always did, and she ran for the woods. I watched the edge of wood for the bobbing of her brown head and became nervous when I didn’t see any movement. I worried she had followed a mole into a hole, had eaten something foul, or had gotten herself lost. But you once said dogs have nose brains and don’t get lost, so I stopped looking for her and she eventually came back to me.  I wonder if Cleo and Caleb miss their walks with you and wish it were you rather than I who whistles to them that it’s time to go for a walk.

I expect I’m a poor substitute in their eyes as I am in my own. I don’t stand up well in comparison to you.


Rain followed me home on the Taconic last night and this morning the roads still glisten.

Dear Catherine,

It has been raining on and off all month. Two weeks ago, I went down to Long Island to a wedding shower for Jacqueline, and late last night I returned home from your niece’s wedding.  I wish it had been you doing a myriad of things for her, but especially you taking her wedding photos.  She handed me the camera that you gave her and asked me to take pictures of her getting ready.  While I was doing that, she told me she’d dreamt you were at her wedding, and I said you probably would be.

I watch the dogs race downhill at Clermont and remember them yapping as they chased you down that slope, their yapping sounding to me like overjoyed children on a playground. In the same way, I watched Jacqueline last night and thought how thrilled she would have been to have you alongside her.

The service in the cathedral was formal and long. Jacqueline was elegant and reminded me of your elegance at fifty-two when Steve married us—twelve years tothe day we had met. After the bride and groom left the church, the wedding party, friends, and family drove into Brooklyn to the Botanical Gardens. The reception outside was under a canopy of miniature lights. The surrounding trees were also strung with lights, and I should have been dazzled by the display but I had a sour stomach. Unable to eat all day, I was suddenly sick to my stomach and the muscles of my jaw ached from forcing a smile. I felt as I have always felt at family affairs, out of place, dressed forthe part but not a full-fledged member, and mimicking the gaiety of others.

Looking up into the sparkling trees, I imagined myself in one of the trees, looking down at the drama. I love drama, but I didn’t feel a part of this one.

I felt a similar melancholy not more than a week ago, driving through Hudson with the car windows down. I passed a restaurant with a bar outside and music blaring. In the darkness, neon signs flashed Michelob and Coors. The sight and sound of the noisy crowd made me sad at first and then I felt relieved as I drove on, preferring a quiet night and a natural darkness. In the pitch-black of the car.

I thought about how rarely we lesbians see ourselves in books and movies, or hear our delight or despair in songs, and how we are always outsiders at weddings.


Her Widow Excerpt 10

                                                    Her Widow


The purple crocuses have opened to take in the sun.

Dear Catherine,

A couple of mornings ago, I woke thinking it might be good for me to do something different, go somewhere I’ve never been with you and see someone who knew me as a child, long before you came into my life. The dogs are welcome or I wouldn’t consider it.

I made my decision today after seeing the number 444 three times yesterday: on the license plate of a car I let into the flow of traffic crossing the Rip Van WinkleBridge, on the side of a landscaper’s truck in his telephone number, and over the cleaner’s door where I turned around when I overshot the animal clinic. All ordinary sightings but seen in a single hour in the same town not more than four miles apart.

And then this morning, waking early, I felt directed to read Elizabeth Bishop’spoem “The Fish,” a favorite of yours. The last line in the poem is: “And I let the fishgo.”

Bishop’s message is the same message Stella Adler gave her drama students when she told us we didn’t need to be rich to have all the riches of the world. Everything could be ours if we took it in when we came upon it. Stella had us get up from our chairs, walk to the window of the conservatory classroom, and look out at a tree that stood in front of Lincoln Center. Waving her arms in the air and clutching herself, Stella described every detail of that tree. We were mesmerized as we listened and watchedher, and finally her large blue-green eyes settled on me. “Make it yours,” she said. “Make it all yours.” Elizabeth Bishop describes the fish in exquisite detail then lets the fish go, rather than make a trophy of it.

It put me in the mood to take a risk and leave home for a week with the possibility that something beautiful existed in the world for me to come across.




The windows in the house are open and the songbirds seem to have moved in.

Dear Catherine,

Early this morning I dreamed that you didn’t die, but left me, and your cancer was something I made up to protect my ego. For most of the dream I am searching for you. When I find you living in an apartment in another state, I ask you to come back home with me. You don’t.

I wake from the dream soaking wet, feeling I’ve done something awful to you. I jump out of bed. Movement, doing something—anything, might break the spell. I run to the bookshelves for our photo album and open it to a picture of you at The Ice House in San Francisco.

In the photo of you, your right thumb is pressed into the cleft of your chin. Your eyes are open wide, gazing across the table where I sit. Your brow is raised slightly as though you are surprised by something. We hadn’t known each other long when we had lunch at the Ice House and I took the photograph of you with your camera.  After taking the picture that day, I set your camera down on the table, scooted my chair back, stood, and motioned for you to follow me. In the Ladies room, we kissed. Had we been a straight couple, falling in love, we would have felt free to kiss at the table.

My dream loosens its hold on me as I gaze at the picture of you and remember my passion for you, but the images from the nightmare, or perhaps the vibration ofthe nightmare, is present, floating over my head, threatening to overtake me if I letdown my guard.

I turn to the back of the album to the last picture taken of you. You are sitting up in bed, your cheeks and temples sunken and your hands, boney, clasped in front of you like a good Catholic girl. Your wedding band is loose, a reminder of how emaciated your disease left you. It is painful to see all that again, but it confirms that I didn’t make up your cancer and death.

I flip the album pages back to earlier photos and settle on one of us sitting beside each other on a friend’s sofa. It is your 40th birthday and the room is crowded with people I’ve just met who are there to celebrate you. Most of them work with you at Harper and Row. I remember Dare Porter joining us on the sofa and when we made room for him, your knee and mine touched and I felt the small hairs on my arms stand up. I watched the faces of your friends shine when they talked to you and I felt enhanced by my association with you. I was proud as though I had been married to you for years when that night was our third date.

On another page, I find a picture of us ten years older, swimming in Nancy’s pool across the street. You are floating on Nancy’s large inner tube when I break the waterlike a dolphin and throw myself across your body. “Like a dolphin” is too generous. I was more like a big dumb dog certain I’d be welcome on you lap. It is obvious in the picture that you are surprised by me but pleased. You laugh and Nancy snaps our picture.

At last my nightmare drifts away, and I return the album to the bookcase, but I am still reminiscing in my mind. On my way back to bed, I remembered us lying side by side in your hospital bed, watching television when the night nurse came in to take your vital signs and cried out to me, “You don’t belong there!”

“Of course, I do,” I answered, and she left without taking your blood pressure or temperature.

I was lying beside you in bed at home when you took your last breath and your           body went limp in my arms. Some reflex perhaps or simply a relaxed muscle causedyour tongue to thrust forward and you spit up bile. I was quick to clean your cheek and chin and close your mouth, but the sight of that dark liquid spilling out of your mouth and the sour smell of it stayed with me, distressing me until days later I recalled throwing up in the hospital from an overdose of baclofen, and at the same time losing control of my bowel. I must have looked frightful to you, but I didn’t feel any pain or sickness. It was like a damn burst in me and the agony of sickness broke free and ran out of me like a river breaking through a dam. I experienced it as a pleasant sensation, and I want to believe that your release was pleasant.

But I don’t know. Can’t know, and that is what my dream was about: not knowing. As well as a reminder that I feel guilty when I am in pain. Mother tied me into a jacket when I was four to stop me from sucking my thumb. I was to blame for the harsh punishment and emotional pain I felt being denied the comfort of my thumb. All the losses in my life have felt like punishments.

During our years together, I sometimes felt you were too good to be true and that I didn’t deserve you. But in bed with you each night my confidence was restored. After we kissed goodnight and I thought you had fallen asleep, you would reach out to me with your foot, as Cleo and Caleb do when they come to me to settle down and take a nap. Your cool leg against mine under the covers in the darkness of the night is the hardest thing to live without. That loss pulls on my insides as though it has in mind to remove my guts and leave me hollow.

Her Widow, Excerpt 9


Her Widow

Today’s sunshine arrived too late for the earthworms. Numerous swollen bodies lay like fat noodles on the sidewalks.

Dear Catherine,

Sleeping my days away means I don’t sleep well at night and I have been getting up at 3 a.m., confusing the dogs. They think it is time for breakfast, so I feed them.

Yesterday, well before dawn, I went to your closet and removed the rest of your clothes. I folded and placed your shirts and pants in two boxes and took them to the guest closet where nearly all your belongings are now stored, everything but your blue chambray blouse that I put on at 3am this morning. You are wearing this blouse in the first photograph I took of you. We were in Golden Gate Park where you took my author photo.

I had brought along a couple of changes that day, and while I was behind a bush, changing out of one shirt for another, you called out to me and asked if I would let you take a picture of me before I put my next item on. I stepped out from behind the bush, naked above my waist. You lifted the camera to your cheek and took several pictures. I felt bold, nearly bawdy, and at the same time like a good girl who had done what she was asked.

Weeks later, we drove out to Stinson Beach and you were again wearing the soft chambray shirt. I can see you in it as I did that day. The loose fabric rippling in the wind that is coming in the car window. I stare at the nearly transparent fabric, picturing what I know to be underneath it. Nothing like that arouses me now.


Sunlight and shadow follow me from window to window in the house.

Dear Catherine,

You were asleep when John Hyde called and asked me what I was up to. “Lying in bed beside my wife who is dying,” I said without much thought. I hadn’t spoken to John in thirty years. I didn’t explain you or me. Under the circumstances the last concern of mine was how others saw me. “I am so awfully sorry,” John answered. “What can I do for you?”

John and I grew up together. I was crawling around in diapers at his family’s cottage one summer day when John, two years older, grabbed a toy from me and ran with it. His mother and mine had been friends since high school. I called her Aunt Doris because that’s what we kids called close friends of our parents.

John has phoned me every Sunday since you died. This morning he invited me out to California to be a guest at his ranch and stay as long as I wanted. What trust and generosity it took for him to offer that. I wonder what he would do if I actually took him up on his offer, but I can’t even imagine leaving home for a couple of days let alone a week or more. I would be homesick just driving to the airport. I would break down the moment I saw a couple greet or part at a gate. And I would feel disloyal to you if I had a good time.

Nevertheless, I promised John I would give his offer some thought. I hung up, remembering that the last time I was on an airplane was when we were on our way home from Ireland. Everything that occurred before you got sick now seems a lifetime ago and lived by others.

After hanging up with John, I jumped out of bed and ran to the guest room closet to search among your personal papers for the small red notebook you wrote in on our trip to your ancestor’s homeland.

June, 1989, you wrote:

Yesterday arrived Shannon airport smoothly. Drove northward immediately and stayed the night at the Spa View Hotel in Lisdoonvarna and had dinner there. We were struck by so little development or modern architecture. Stones, stones, stones and emerald grass everywhere. Pastures of sheep and cows all walled in with stone fences. Roaming foxglove of a rose-maroon color, ferns, Scotch Broom pine forests, and calla lilies in cottage yards. Many birds, especially large black ravens and a little black and white fellow that jumps into the lane a lot.

After dinner Joan and I went to the Cliffs of Moher that are seven hundred feet out into the Atlantic. Puffins make their homes on the sides of these cliffs. Joan walked to the viewing area by herself. She was impressed but fearful of the height.

At 9:30 p.m. it was still light. I took some pictures. Later we had long baths in a deep tub, and then went to our pink chenille beds. We are greatly impressed with the small scale and tidiness of it all.

Today started with breakfast at the Spa View. Had sulfur baths, then a massage for Joan. Drove to Galway County and went north through an area called Burren—quite rugged. Saw a young entrepreneur at roadside with his donkey offering photos or a ride for 9 pence.

Galway was a bustling place. We tried to find Joan a good novel— no luck. Made our way westward and got a belting of rain. We decided to try to make it to Clifton for the night, but I stopped once for a few photos at a remarkable spot, an abandoned cottage with a log-bridge over a stream and a silver band of light at the horizon, under fog.

Got to Clifton and made evening headquarters at the Rock Glen Hotel. It is very luxurious here with chintz on the chairs in our room. Found a large snooker room and took a photo of Joan at the table. After settling in, we had a walk across a meadow toward the Bay. I took photos there of Joan who looked beautiful in the evening’s spectacular show of silver and gold light. This was a long walk for Joan. To bed by 12:30 a.m.

I can smell the peat burning in the stove in Aunt Agnes’s tiny kitchen as I read your notes, and I can feel the cold tiles under my bare feet as I run for the bed that has been warmed for us with an electric blanket because there was only the peat in the kitchen to warm the house.

It was as if the Queen had come to visit them, the way they treated us. We protested when they gave us their bed, but it did no good; they cuddled up together on a narrow single.

We learned that Uncle Boyce was a postman in the village and delivered mail on his bicycle. They never owned a car and had gotten their first telephone that year.

The bath towels we were given to use while we were there had been a wedding gift to them forty years before. With her eyes smiling, Aunt Agnes said that she had saved them for special people.

No family member of yours or mine was as open hearted. The good Catholics they were had no problem with us being lesbians and lovers.


Her Widow excerpt 8


The Forsythia has bloomed.

Dear Catherine,

This sunny, spring day doesn’t lift my spirits. It feels like an affront. Anger is now baked in with my sadness because the world is coming alive after a blistering-cold winter, and you are not.

I attended a bereavement group at the Dutch church in Claverack this week. When it was my turn to introduce myself and I said my wife Catherine died three months ago, the woman beside me in the large circle leaned away. Minutes later, a woman describing her struggle to do the things her husband had always done for her, looked me straight in the eye and said, “You wouldn’t understand.”


What a fickle month March is! Winter has returned.

Dear Catherine,

The simplest things once brought me joy: cleaning out my desk and sharpening my #1 pencils, looking for turtles sunning on the banks at Olana, playing a competitive game of badminton in the backyard until dusk, but also scouring the bathroom sink and tub because I knew it would please you, or rebuilding the steps to the garage that you thought were beyond repair. Doing any chore for you was a joy compared to this feeling I am good for nothing, not needed.

I don’t know this person who can’t find meaning or pleasure in anything, who tosses out the newspaper without reading it, who stays in the house, day in and day out, who doesn’t change the sheets on her bed. I would be better off if I had a job to go to, if I had to get out of bed in the morning, shower and dress for work.

Your good friend Margo called the other day to see how I was doing. When I mentioned I was unable to write, she said, “You’re beautiful; you don’t have to do anything.” I was shocked and disappointed to learn that in her mind physical beauty trumps all. I thought she was a feminist.


It has rained for three days: the street drains are overflowing and Main Street is flooded.

Dear Catherine,

My days are empty. I am merely passing time. Doing nothing with you had meaning. I sit in rooms I once called home and feel homesick.  My favorite chair is no longer inviting, and a bowl of hot soup doesn’t soothe me.


The rain drizzles than pours.

Dear Catherine,

Last night I couldn’t fall asleep. After hours tossing and turning, I decided sleeping in the room where I slept with you, especially during the long process of your dying, was keeping me awake nights, so I moved the bed downstairs.

It was a scene from I Love Lucy.

I slid the mattress off the box springs and leaned it against the bedroom wall, then lifted the box springs and stood it up against the mattress to hold the wobbly mattress secure against the wall while I dissembled the bed frame, took it downstairs to your office and reassembled it. All that went fairly smooth, but climbing upstairs to get the box springs and then the mattress to bring down, the muscles in my legs started to tremble.

I didn’t let that stop me. I’d made up my mind what I was going to do. The boxsprings, being rigid, wasn’t too difficult to slide down the stairs and lift onto the bedframe, but on my second trip up the stairs I had to stop twice to catch my breath and give my thigh muscles time to recover. I gave myself a pep talk and charged on. It was challenging, but not impossible to push the mattress to the stairway.

Sliding the mattress down the stairs was impossible because the mattress wasn’t rigid and on the second step flopped over and pinned me against the wall. And when I pushed the mattress off me, it flopped against the opposite wall. It was about to tumble down the stairs when I threw my weight against it. Then, with both hands grasping the fabric and bracing the mattress with my back, I raised the mattress off the step and eased it down to the next step with me. Thinking I could manage this twelve more times was idiotic.

The mattress had its own plan. It knocked me off my feet, carrying me down the stairs with it. I landed hard on the floor in the hallway below with the behemoth on top of me, pinning me to the hardwood floor.

It took me several minutes to gather the strength to crawl out from under the mattress. Too tired to do anything else, I crawled on top of the monster and fell asleep in the front hallway.

After a day of rearranging the furniture in your office and bringing my clothes down to the closet there, I took a hot bath and went to bed, but I found I slept no better downstairs and  I missed the bathroom upstairs. It took me most of the next day to lug the mattress and box-springs back upstairs.



The ground is saturated and Thompson Street is the river stream it was when Native Americans lived on its shore.

Dear Catherine,

I got out the vacuum today to clean the house, but when I got to the stairs it seemed too daunting a task to climb them, so I left the vacuum at the foot of the stairs and retreated to the couch to sleep the rest of the day.

That is what I do, I sleep because awake I’m in a world that has lost its meaning for me and in a house that feels like someone else’s.

I had a dream this afternoon while sleeping on the couch that I was in my grandma and grandpa’s attic, but it looked nothing like their attic in real life. The dream attic was huge and went on and on, room after room filled with enough furniture for a furniture store. I pulled open some of the drawers in the polished chests and all the doors in the tall cabinets, and delighted in one in particular that had glass doors. The shelves were filled with curious items that I admired, and I felt a strong urge to take one or two of the porcelain items that were smaller than the palm of my hand.

I looked around for a basket to collect the items, but in the end, although I told myself I was entitled to anything there since grandpa and grandma were dead and no one had come to claim these things, I decided against taking anything, even passing up the small cream-colored saucer that might have belonged in a dollhouse.

In an adjoining room, I came upon a closet that held fine linens and I ran my hands under and over the soft cotton, wishing I were small enough to crawl up to the very top shelf and fall asleep with my cheek against the lavender scented pillow cases. It wasn’t easy pulling myself away from the closet, but I moved on curious about what I might find in the next room.

There was a dresser that once belonged to my dad containing old, black and white snapshots in a drawer. I poured over them, slipping two into the pocket of my pants before waking from the dream.

For nearly an hour I lay in the mood of the dream until I knew what the dream meant. I had longed for the lovely things of my family and never felt entitled to them. That I took the two snapshots says something. One was of my father as a young boy and the other a wagon that was surely his.  I must have seen myself in the young boy.

Her Widow excerpt 7


Note to readers:  There are two letters here that are separated by a great blank space that I can’t control.  Hopefully, you will find both. Joan



The dogs were out in the fresh snow this morning and Caleb returned with snow balls hanging from the fur on his ears like ornaments on a Christmas tree. 

Dear Catherine,
I have been asked to write something about you for the church newsletter and I don’t feel capable of writing a narrative, so I’ve made a list I’m calling: 

What you might want to know about Catherine that she wouldn’t mind my telling you:

Catherine found many things in the physical world, things of nature as well as man-made, utterly beautiful. And she photographed them when the light was best, in the early morning hours and late afternoons. 

Catherine was interested in hearing what others were doing and rarely talked about herself. She thought people’s foibles were funny and pictured them in her mind as cartoon drawings. 

Catherine didn’t think of herself as beautiful, though she knew being agreeable-looking was an advantage. And she never wore make-up except lipstick and always that. 

Catherine loved poetry and the opera and began drawing as a child while her mother braided her hair. Her favorite birthday was our trip to Yosemite and our overnight stay at the Ahwahnee. Lemon meringue pie was her favorite dessert and geometry her favorite subject in school. 

Catherine’s pastimes were going to the movies
and reading The New Yorker,
but more than anything she enjoyed a walk in nature. 

Catherine would do almost anything to avoid personal confrontation and believed I only won our arguments
because I was a better debater.
She regretted not doing more for her mother, especially rubbing her mother’s feet when her mother came home after a hard day at work. 

Order gave Catherine peace of mind and made her cheerful. She felt life was meant to be enjoyed, believed kindness was the highest goal in life, and trusted there was something on the other side, but had no idea what, and she was comfortable with that.        


A dark sky on Palm Sunday. 

Dear Catherine, 

It is cold and overcast today, and I am back in bed after feeding the dogs. Cleo followed me here, but Caleb is delayed, probably still in the kitchen licking the two empty food bowls. 

After a month in North Shore Hospital, we headed home. It was a Saturday. The next day was Palm Sunday three years ago. You encouraged me to go to church without you. You weren’t ready to be in public. You hadn’t yet thought how you would tell people your story and how you would respond to questions and suggestions. You wanted most of all to spend the day quietly with your dogs who you had missed greatly. 

At long last the barking of a public-address system had ceased and the alarms on every piece of medical equipment. You were looking forward to not being awakened just when you fell asleep. No more blue light of the TV, clanking of the meal cart, smell of disinfectant, feel of rough sheets. No more doctors and nurses and lab technicians and, God Almighty, no more me. 

You must have been looking forward to luxuriating in your privacy. Your home would be your church. I understood that despite my help, as long as I was with you, you never had a moment to yourself. I would want to sit in the stillness of my home for an hour or two on Palm Sunday and see again the personal world I had left behind for more than a month, and perhaps, more than anything, I might want to face my grim circumstances in my quiet home without concern for another. 

I was doing you a favor going over to St. Peter’s. My going on to church that Sunday morning was a brief respite for me as well. 

When Steve announced to the congregation that you had a grave illness, I heard several people gasp. I don’t remember the sermon. As we left the sanctuary, we were each handed a palm, and while I stood in the foyer, receiving condolences and good wishes, one parishioner after another handed me her palm as though it had been planned that everyone would do this. 

You seemed as thrilled to see me as you were to receive my armful of palms, so I gathered you’d had enough privacy. 

Before you got sick, you were more independent than I. You were just as happy going for a walk by yourself as having me along. You were perfectly content to sit in a room by yourself and read The New Yorker. I was the one who brought a book into the room where you sat and curled up next to you to read. You never fussed when I didn’t accompany you to a friend’s house or down to Long Island to see your brother. But once you got sick, you didn’t accept any invitations unless I could go with you and you would rather go to the post office with me than sit at home by yourself for fifteen minutes while I went alone. 

I don’t mind that it is a cold and cloudy day today. I wasn’t planning to go out. Like you three years ago, I’m not ready to be asked how I’m doing. What could I say that was honest that wouldn’t disturb the listener? 

Last night, in the middle of the night, I rearranged the kitchen cabinets and bathed the dogs, replaced buttons on a coat and paced from room to room, taking something from the bookcase in the dining room up to the bedroom and returning with something to put in the living room. 

In my restlessness, I don’t read magazines or books. The written word for some reason pierces me. Music is worse and I don’t watch television. The news that had been a part of my daily life doesn’t concern me. 

You said in the end that all that matters are the feelings we have for one another. Everything else we can discard. If you were me at this moment in time would you call a friend? As soon as I do that I’m full of regret and want out of the conversation. I’m a stubborn child who won’t eat her peas because she remembers cream puffs. 

Before your transfer to North Shore, when we were in the small hospital in Hudson, I went down to the café to get a ham salad sandwich and a vanilla shake, favorites I hoped would make me feel better. There were a dozen people in the café and I felt compassion for each one. I don’t feel that now. I don’t feel for anyone. I don’t look at strangers and wonder what their struggle is. I’m far too selfish now, absorbed entirely in my grief. 

My connection to the world is through catalogs. I have begun to order things daily from the catalogs: new sheets for the bed, a soft sweater, expensive soaps, luxuries I don’t need but can look forward to. 



Her Widow 6th excerpt




Our fights were rarely over anything serious, but a result of taking ourselves too seriously. 
I recall one time in particular that was silly. We were on our way out of your apartment with friends to go to a favorite restaurant on Union Street. You were leading the group and I was holding up the rear.

One moment I could see you and the next you were missing in action. You must have stumbled on a step, but from my vantage point it looked like a trap door in the floor had opened and gobbled you up, and I laughed.

You didn’t see the humor perhaps because you hadn’t seen it from my vantage point. You were furious with me for laughing when you could have hurt yourself, and as hard as I tried not to laugh, I couldn’t stop. Your feelings were hurt and you refused to speak to me throughout dinner.

When we got back to your apartment and our friends departed, you went to your bedroom, locked the door, and went to bed. I pleaded with you from the other side of the door, but every time I tried to be serious and apologize to you, I saw you on the stairs, vanish as if by magic, and I giggled.

I slept on your couch that night and by morning I was able to keep my composure and apologize.

What is interesting to me about that fight and why I’m sure I remember it, is that we both acted out of character that night. It was you who rarely took herself too seriously and me who couldn’t stand to be laughed at. Stella always said it was the contradiction that made a character believable.

On another occasion, you were on my case about something and I said, “You suffer fools gladly,” and I paused for effect. “Unless I’m the fool.”

You nodded and asked, “Do you want to be a fool I suffer or the one I don’t?”

You were a pip, Catherine, and I miss the hell out of you, and I worry that you might be feeling well rid of me because you fell in love with my can-do attitude and my resilience, and I’m lacking both now—

Oh, wow, is that you?

Sitting here just now, writing to you, I felt your presence. I had put my pen down and was staring at your crystal that sits on the desk, sparkling in the shaft of morning sunlight coming through the window. And suddenly, I felt you standing behind me and I turned around, expecting to see you.

You believed the white quartz crystal had the power to heal you. I wanted to believe that also, but I had read too much on stage IV ovarian cancer.

Still, I tell myself often, every time I look at the crystal, that perhaps it hasn’t failed you. You are alive. I just can’t see you.

I catch myself looking for you and listening for you, and then I remember you are not in the next room. I saw them put you in the blue body bag and carry you down the stairs. And once I am over that shocking reminder, I return to the feeling you are in the next room and I tell myself your spirit is there.

I have managed for six weeks to hang onto the belief that the spirit you are lives on, and not just somewhere, but here, standing behind me moments ago. And then I begin to worry that I’m deluding myself. The truth is Catherine, I don’t know what or where you are.

I look at your crystal and remember the night you thought you’d lost it, and I feel our desperation again. You were sure that if you didn’t find the crystal, you were not going to survive the cancer.

We had gone to the park after your chemo treatment to put a pleasant ending on a difficult day. We laid a blanket down on the hard ground and had a picnic under a large maple and walked along the path circling the pond. When you tired we shook out our blanket and walked to the car. You didn’t realize until we got home that the crystal you kept in your pocket at all times wasn’t there.

You insisted I not drive back to Pittsfield to look for it. The sun was setting and there was no hope of finding it in the dark.

So, two weeks later, after your next chemo treatment, we returned to the park and were dismayed to see the trees nearly bare. Their leaves covered the ground, hugged the trees’ dark trunks, buried the pebbles on the path to the pond, and were floating on the pond.

A few leaves fell onto our shoulders as we stood forlorn under the tree where we had our picnic. You said we would never find the crystal, but you were the first to begin the search. You headed for the path around the pond while I stayed to search the area where we thought we had spread our blanket.

I followed you with my eyes as you headed away from me, your shoulders rounded and your head bent, taking slow steps as you searched the ground.

And I closed my eyes and spoke to the invisibles saying, I can’t do this without your help.

Minutes passed and I waited. I stood perfectly still, waiting as I do for words when I write.

After a while I felt a nudge on my back as gentle as the wind in my hair. I took a step and then another and another and another until I was more than twenty yards down from the tree.

I stopped when my legs felt heavy, knelt down, and cut through the carpet of leaves with my hand to the damp ground. Something hard and cold lay there. I wrapped my fingers around the crystal and raised my arm to wave to you and holler, “I’ve got it!

Many years earlier, living in Columbus, Ohio, Allyson was biking home from campus after work and her work keys fell from the basket on her bike. She was the first office manager of The Leadership Foundation without a college degree and knew she was on probation, so when she unpacked the basket and saw the keys were missing she panicked. Five miles of road was too much ground for us to cover at sunset. We went to bed.

In a dream I had before dawn, I saw the keys under the ground cover at the corner of a yellow stucco house on King Street. I woke suddenly from the dream, threw on my jeans, and jumped on my bike. Several miles from home, I found the house with the pachysandra along the walk. I jumped off my bike, letting it fall to the ground, and reached down into the leafy plant.

I don’t think I ever told you about that, and it seems odd of me that I didn’t tell you the day I found your crystal unless I didn’t want to spoil our moment with a story about another.

What did you never tell me, Catherine? What did you forget to say or thought you couldn’t say? What don’t I know about you that was too personal or painful or perhaps too difficult for me to hear?