Arguments About Dead Things
The first argument was about the hair on her toes. He said, "That's unusual, isn't it?" He didn't mean anything by it. He had never lived with any other woman but his mother—and he had never watched her shave—and he thought women's toes were naturally hairless. Maybe Natalie was some kind of freak of nature, which didn't bother him. It was interesting, and he felt she would appreciate him not minding, in the way that she appreciated him not caring that she never knew which forks to use at formal dinners. Or that she left strands of her coarse, black hair in the drain. Her hair coiled in the bathtub, and Brent always took a piece of tissue and wiped it out.
She called him an idiot. "How could you not know that women grow hair on our toes?"
He had grown up with a brother. He hadn't even had girl cousins. "We don't do girls," his mother had said. "Which is lucky. They're very chaotic."
"Didn't you ever see your mother's feet?"
He could see his mother's toes in his mind: long, tanned toes in pink sandals in the summer. Squared–off nails. Baby–pink polish. She always said, "Presbyterian feet!" about her long toes, as if belonging to a specific religious sect somehow changed the length of your appendages. He couldn't remember seeing hair, but then his mother's hair was so blond it was almost bone–white. Even the hair on her arms was nearly invisible. He couldn't remember even knowing when her hair had grown more white than blond, the moment she became an elegant, older woman.
The second argument was about dead skin; specifically, the skin Natalie took off her heels and the sides of her feet. She had a device that looked like a little grater with a plastic dome attached that collected the bits of skin that she scalloped from her heels. What they argued about was her habit of knocking the skin into the compost bucket. He didn't know why he hated this mingling of her skin with food that was, essentially, garbage. She pointed this out: "If we threw the food away, would you care?"
The only thing he could think to say was, "My mother would have been appalled." Natalie laughed at this, which he hated, because he revered his mother who had become an actual Lady in Canada after she married the Ambassador. His mother had a sweet way of calling him "son" when she reproved his manners: "Son, you know that we don't talk with our mouths full." "Son, a gentleman always keeps his shoes shined."
When she got bowel cancer, she hadn't even told the Ambassador until surgery made it absolutely necessary. "I hated to use that word around him," she had told Brent from her hospital bed. She'd shuddered. "So ugly."
Brent and his brother sailed into Thunder Bay to spread her ashes, both of them crying as they watched the ashes float on top of the water like a fleet in formation. The ashes took forever to sink into the bay, as if his mother's body lacked substance. He and Nick shared a bottle of Jack D and nearly scuttled the Ambassador's forty–foot cutter before they got it back to the marina.
"This way, I get to compost my body before I die," Natalie said.
The final argument—the deal killer, Natalie said—was about teeth, which she whitened so much that he told her he thought they could glow in the dark. He hated the Barbie–doll, Kardashian–ness of it. "You're the only person I know who could use the Kardashians as a descriptor," she said. She wondered out loud why he thought he had the right to tell her what to do with her body.
"My body," as if all of these dead parts of her were sacred, as if he were violating her with his opinion.
All of the dead parts of Natalie—the parts that should float in the water—were too brash, too dark. Too unladylike. He thought about when she died and someone (but not him) spread Natalie's burned–up body in Thunder Bay. In his mind, her ashes would sink immediately, pressing down hard upon women like his mother, who would be too polite to object.