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For Better or For Worse 

After they'd eaten, Marshall walked over to the TV and switched on the ball game. Alice went back to the kitchen and sat down with a Viceroy.

Marshall's wife Alice left Montreal to go with him against her mother's widowed warnings. This is how she remembers it, all these years later.

"He seems like a nice boy," conceded the mother, an immigrant who took care of the linens and floors of a hospital wing for more than 25 years. "But he doesn't seem to know any of the secrets of life."

Alice claims she snorted the snort of immigrant children, the kind tailored to old-country ways. "Maybe life will whisper her secrets into his ear, Mama."

"And maybe it will be necessary for life to shout so this boy will hear. I am sorry, Alicia. I do not think so well in this language."

That was a couple of kids ago and plenty of long-distance calls to Montreal, too. Tonight, Alice poured dark onion gravy on the pork and heavy-chunked potatoes and brought it into the dining room.

Marshall sat waiting behind the front section of yesterday's paper.

"Do you want milk or iced tea with your food?"

"It doesn't matter, sweetheart. Whatever you have."

"Tea would be better for your cholesterol. I guess in that case you want milk."

Yesterday's paper collapsed in a resigned crackle into Marshall's lap. "Aw, Christ. Can't you lighten up on that crap? I spend my life trying to be agreeable with a woman who don't agree with anything. I said I'll take anything! Isn't that enough?"

Alice sat down and began eating, making no move for either milk or tea. "Are you in trouble across town again?" she asked her husband softly.

"Trouble? Christ, all the trouble in my life comes from inside this house. You bitching and Cassie wants to change schools and Tim can't make the football team so he mopes around the front porch all day. Dammit, it's enough to drive a man up the goddamn walls."

Alice answered him nothing for a while. He reached for the butter dish. She looked at the butter and the bread in his hand and then at the rest of his body. The look got to him.

"Aw, Christ. Lay off, huh?" he croaked miserably.

After they'd eaten, Marshall walked over to the TV and switched on the ball game. Alice went back to the kitchen and sat down with a Viceroy. For a few minutes, husband and wife seemed to share the mid-afternoon understanding of lion and zebra.

Everyone who knew them had heard the story of how they had met. A rainy afternoon, a run for a taxi that she had won over three young men, students probably. Then one of them, a stocky fellow with a pleasant face, jumped in the back seat. He put his arm around her and told his friends standing on the curb in the rain: "I don't know about you guys, but I'm with the blonde."

That was 17 years ago.

Alice got up and walked toward the sound of the New York Yankees on TV.

"Will you be going back across town this afternoon?"

"Why, did you want to go somewhere this evening?"

"No, Marshall. No place special. But maybe we oughta talk now."

He made a little face.

"Well, Cassie wants to go to Catholic school next year and if she does, we'll have to put up a down payment and register her soon. Real soon."

"She's as crazy as you are. She just wants to be around that Donna whatever-her-name is. That little tramp."

"Well, one way or another, we'll have to make up our minds. By the end of the month. And Tim ..."

Marshall waved his hand in a gesture of disgust. She went on.

"... he says he didn't make the team because he didn't have cleats. All the other boys had football shoes and he had tennis shoes."

"That's bunk! When I was his age, we played football eight hours a day and nobody had football cleats."

Marshall squinted at the Yankees. "But if the boy wants cleats, take him to the mall and buy him some."

Alice seemed to pounce. "With what? A check?"

Marshall looked like a squirrel on the ground. "Sure," he said limply. "A check."

"Did you know the man from the bank called? About overdrafts."

"That goofy bastard!" His oath had no force. "They musta screwed up the account again. I'll hafta go down tomorrow and see."

"Marshall, you've been to see him 10 times already. That man's been wonderful to us ... but he told me Friday if this keeps up, he's going to have to ask us to close our checking account."

Marshall looked disbelieving. "I'll go tomorrow and get it squared away," he muttered.

Alice stood up heavily. "Well, will you be going across town later?"

"No ... no. I don't have to go there, you know."

Alice threw him a withering look of triumph. "Then it's OK if I take the car later to go see Maureen for a little while? Since you don't have to go anywhere?"

Marshall, for 17 years the guy with the blonde, just nodded.

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