Wife in Reverse
by Stephen Dixon
His wife dies, mouth slightly parted and one eye open. He knocks on his younger daughter's bedroom door and says "You better come. Mom seems to be expiring." His wife slips into a coma three days after she comes home and stays in it for eleven days. They have a little party second day she's home: Nova Scotia salmon, chocolates, a risotto he made, brie cheese, champagne. An ambulette brings his wife home. She says to him "Wheel me around the garden before I go to bed for the last time." His wife refuses the feeding tube the doctors want to put in her and insists she wants to die at home. She says "I don't want any more life support, fluid or food." He calls 911 for the fourth time in two years and tells the dispatcher "My wife; I'm sure she has pneumonia again." His wife has a trach put in. "When will it come out?" she says, and the doctor says "To be honest? Never." "Your wife has a very bad case of pneumonia," the doctor tells him and his daughters the first time, "and has a one to two percent chance of surviving." His wife now uses a wheelchair. His wife now uses a motor cart. His wife now uses a walker with wheels. His wife now uses a walker. His wife has to use a cane. His wife’s diagnosed with MS. His wife has trouble walking. His wife gives birth to their second daughter. "This time you didn't cry," she says, and he says "I'm just as happy, though." His wife says to him "Something's wrong with my eyes." His wife gives birth to their daughter. The obstetrician says "I've never seen a father cry in the birthing room." The rabbi pronounces them man and wife and he bursts out crying. "Let's get married," he says to her, and she says "It's all right with me," and he starts crying. "What a reaction," she says, and he says "I'm so happy, so happy," and she hugs him and says "So am I." She calls and says "How are you? Do you want to meet and talk?" She drops him off in front of his building and says "It's just not working." He meets a woman at a party. They talk for a long time. She has to leave the party to go to a concert. He gets her phone number and says "I'll call you tomorrow," and she says "I'd like that." He says goodbye to her at the door and shakes her hand. After she leaves he thinks "That woman's going to be my wife."
This story was written while the author was also at work on his current novel, His Wife Leaves Him. The story originated as a compressed, reverse version of the novel, though it didn't turn out exactly that way. It is the shortest story Mr. Dixon has written.
Stephen Dixon was born and raised in New York City, and now lives in Ruxton, MD. He taught in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University for twenty-seven years, and retired in 2007. He has published about 500 short stories and 27 books of fiction: 14 novels and 13 story collections. His last book was “Meyer,” a novel, published by Melville House, in October, 2007. His next three books – a trio of story collections called “What Is All This?” – will be published together by the Seattle-based Fantagraphic Books.