It's her defining characteristic, at least in her own mind: She could sit Paul down and explain to him that she is dying, and take care of him in his grief, and remind him a million times that it's as much about her -- and about their son, and about her brother Sean, and Andrea, and Thomas the Dog, and Marlene -- as it is about him, but he wouldn't hear it. The words would not be heard, they would vanish from the air, the moment she said them...
And then what? Throw him out again? Do something worse? Act like Rugby Slut? Grow more resentful day by day as her body commits its acts of treason and he still demands to be cosseted, cared for, comforted, beloved, indulged? She'd be opening a cabinet that would never get shut. Better to solve the problem without ever letting him know there's a problem. Better to let him hate her, if she's strong enough to do it.
Marlene sips her drink in the den -- now cleaned and bare of all the sand and seashells -- and calls Cathy crazy. "Am I? I'm dying, Marlene." 401(k)s are for people who spend their retirement on Alaskan cruises, taking RVs across the country. Choosing discomfort, to feel more alive. Choosing homelessness, at the age of sixty-five; floating weightless. Driving fast enough to make time stand still. That would be nice, wouldn't it? Now it's just offensive.
"Well, what about me? What do I get?" A hangover, Marlene surmises, from "this foo-foo bubbly drink." Cathy giggles. It's the best champagne she could find, $450 a bottle. She wanted to know what it tasted like, and now she does. Filed, experienced, forgotten. Marlene doesn't understand it, this buying of experiences. People first, then money, then things.
"My husband Eddie had a hard-on for tropical fish. Had a big old tank and spent damn good money filling it with goofy-looking fish with fancy names. Stupid things died about as fast as he could get them in there."
"He'd sit in front of that tank and just smile like some retarded kid."
Cathy doesn't approve.
"Don't say retarded. Come on, Marlene. Isn't there anything you've ever wanted to buy for yourself, just because?"
Marlene never actually thought about that. Cathy explains that she really should. Cathy explains that she was so focused on her own good behavior that she didn't really look at Adam's; she just added it to the list. Modeling it was good enough: Cutting coupons, looking for deals. But modeling wasn't good enough, not when it was up against the competition of her incessant need to care for everybody, all the time. She's raised a lazy son, who's never even had a summer job, because she was so busy proving she was not herself lazy. Thinking that would be enough.