The Third Woman

Neela Vaswani

After my husband died, it was only women. The first was good because she was the first and endured my fear. The second was good because she smiled easily and could talk about books.

I met the third woman in a bowling alley bathroom painted white with a red horizontal stripe. She was ramming her hand against a soap dispenser and said it was the only one that worked. Later I saw her at the bar and sat out the seventh frame, ditched my friends to buy her a drink. I told her about my dog who slept on my dead husband’s pillow. She told me a joke about ducks. There was something bland to her shape, a butterless baked potato, and I didn’t like how she called the middle-aged bartender, “Kiddo.” At one point I switched to Spanish; she said she was more comfortable with ASL because her sister was deaf. She talked a long time about a cooking show I’d never seen. She talked as if her life still mattered to her. She was younger than me but at least sixty and worked as a nurse’s aide in an ICU. I thought she was dull. But there was something about her hand on my leg. Some tug between us.

We went to her apartment. She had one goldfish in a huge tank and a Shakira bathmat. Her bed was covered in teddy bears ranging from tiny to massive. I thought about leaving but had already called the dog-sitter and figured I could use the practice.

The sex was decisive. She lived on the border of the Bronx, near the city bus depot and I fell asleep to their big engines rumbling like gutter balls.

I woke to pain. She was jabbing me. Street light fell through the window across teddy bear faces. Outside it was dark and raining. I sat up and looked at the woman, waiting to be accused of snoring or blanket theft — my husband’s complaints.

Her eyes were closed. She was asleep and speaking with her hands. Deep in conversation. Wrists, fingers, elbows fluent and animated. Face alight. Her arms dropped to her sides twice, like it was not her turn, like she was listening. Then she laughed. A wide-open sound. Intimate. Unguarded. The whole thing lasted maybe a minute. I’d forgotten that real people could be as surprising as people in books. I kept watching her, but it didn’t happen again.

In the morning, I felt like someone had taken an ice cream scoop to the softest parts of me — the feeling I’d had since my husband died. Many little voids. The teddy bears scared me again and I left saying I had to watch my grandson. I think I kissed her cheek. I remember breathing on my way to the subway. Breathing loose and broad. Stepping in puddles. Seeing the sky wrinkle in them, like an aging face.


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