The beginning months, right after Angie moved out of the Vecchio house, should have been the hardest but Ray had been in a state of merciful shock. Lots of hugging and serving of his favourite foods from his mother and sisters, a little extra playtime with the kids and a dollop of manly camaraderie from Tony seemed to have been sufficient to keep him from getting more depressed than would be considered normal under the circumstances.
Thinking back on it, Ray figured he should have seen it all coming weeks before the night Angela invited him out for a walk so that they could be away from the family. She explained that although she still had affection for Ray, Marco Minotti had been revealed as her as her true soul mate.
It took all of Ray’s self-control not to ask if the fact that Marco lived alone had anything to do with it. They’d argued enough over Angie’s difficulty in living with Ray’s family. The brief experiment with an apartment of their own had failed to bring reconciliation, an indication that it was more than crowding that had come between Mister and Missus Vecchio. Ray never really understood what was wrong. It seemed too simplistic to say that Angie had simply fallen for another man.
Encouraged by Tony and also from his male co-workers at the 27th Ray paid a most un-police-like visit to Marco Minotti one Saturday afternoon when Angie had gone shopping. Ray knew where and when Angie shopped. It was an extra turn of the knife in his gut that Angie left him for another man but didn’t seem to find this change disconcerting enough to cause her to vary her shopping habits.
Ray beat up Marco Minotti, but his heart wasn’t in it. Conceivably he could have gotten away with killing him, but Ray settled for giving Marco a thorough thrashing. Marco himself understood the situation and endured the drubbing with good grace.
And why shouldn’t he, Ray thought, as he left Marco bleeding on the linoleum of the big house he lived in alone except for Angie. If somebody said I could get my wife back and all I had to do was let somebody use me for a punching bag I’d take the deal. Ray’s punishing the man who had cuckolded him pleased family and friends but there was little satisfaction in it for Ray himself.
The actual divorce was as amicable as anybody could want, at least from the lawyers’ point of view. There was not much in the way of assets to fight over. Angie simply took away all the crystal, china, linens and silverware she had brought with her and moved it over to Marco Minotti’s house. Only one item did she left behind on purpose - a white tablecloth with pale green embroidery.
Only when the divorce proceedings started, when the reality of the situation was confirmed by piles of papers and letters from lawyers, did Ray begin to slow down to a the point where the family worried about him. He stopped playing with the kids and pushed his pastafazool around his plate without eating it. He rose in the morning only early enough to splash water on his face, dress, and walk past the kitchen without going in for breakfast. It took intervention by his mother to get him to take a shower.
“You smell stale, Raimundo” she complained over dinner one night.
“Maaaaaa,” Francesca whined, “We’re all eating here.”
Tony wrinkled his nose and sniffed a giant sniff with great ceremony. “He doesn’t really smell all that bad, Ma,” was his pronouncement. Maria slapped him in the chest.
“I didn’t say bad, I said stale,” Ma insisted.
“And he’s not eating his dinner. That’s not fair. WE have to eat everything up. So should Uncle Ray.”
“You have some respect. Don’t talk about your Uncle like he’s not here.” Maria defended her brother’s dignity, oblivious to the paradox inherent in her words.
“Just lay off,” Ray snarled but made a mental note to try to remember to bathe before going to bed.
After dinner Ray drifted up to his own room, the same as he had been doing every evening after dinner. When all the kitchen tidying was done, Ma went upstairs after him and knocked on his bedroom door. It was the same bedroom he had used since early childhood. First he had shared it with his older brother Michael, then slept there alone until bringing his bride in. That had occasioned the buying of a bigger bed and a change of decoration but the room still somehow said ‘Ray’.
Ma found her son lying on his back on his bed, (it had been his AND Angela’s bed but she thought of it as his), hands behind his head, staring at a point that seemed to be halfway between his own face and the ceiling. She sat down on the bed beside him.
“Angie used to say this was my room and she felt like a friend sleeping over. So she left me for Marco and now she’s got plenty of room.”
Ma ran a hand through her son’s thinning hair and made comforting noise.
Ray’s eyes stayed focused on the empty air but he had to blink them keep the tears back. “I tried, Ma. We bought new stuff: curtains, pictures. This was supposed to be her home but she never . . .”
“Hush,” Ma interrupted. She continued stroking his hair. He didn’t want logic, she knew, but comfort.
“She wants my immortal soul, damn her. Any day now I’m going to get my divorce and get thrown out of the Church. I don’t know why I even agreed to it.”
As much as it wrenched Ma to see her son torn from the Church she couldn’t help but be struck by the depth of his love for Angela and the fact that he was willing to suffer this calamity to give her the divorce she wanted. Marco didn’t seem to care at all that his new love would be a divorced woman. To Ma, this was as incomprehensible.
“I don’t think the Father would like me saying this, Raimundo, but I can’t believe God is going to abandon you. You’re a good man and you’re giving Angela a divorce because you love her and that’s what she wants.” Ma had been on familiar terms with her God many years longer than the young priest who had recently taken over at the parish.
Ray had to laugh, a dry low chuckle. “That’s a hell of a reason to get a divorce.”
“Don’t curse in the house,” Ma said absently from force of habit, while continuing to stroke his hair.
Ray closed his eyes, let out a little hum, and enjoyed a few minutes of relaxation while his mother petted him.
Three days later, Maria signed for a large envelope addressed to Ray. The mailman knew them all too well to care which Vecchio signed for what. Maria took a look at the return address on the envelope and went into the kitchen with it to show her mother.
“It’s here, Ma. Ray’s divorce papers.”
“Then, it’s all over,” Ma intoned. “My poor boy.” She sat down on a kitchen chair and dabbed her eyes with her apron. “His wife, his Church . . . my poor baby.” Maria sat down beside her mother and put her arms around her. They cried together.
One by one as the family members came home they were shown the dreaded envelope that lay on the dining room table. Everyone but the innocent children recoiled from it, as from a deadly snake. Ray came home last. Everyone crowded into the dining room to wait him open his mail.
Ray pressed his lips together and willed his hands rock steady as he tore open the envelope in a single calm, controlled, rip. He extracted the papers and nodded over them. “The final divorce decree,” he pronounced. “My ticket to hell.” A tiny grimace, not quite a smile, pulled his lips upward. He held the papers aloft. “See?” Then he placed the papers back in the envelope with great deliberation and set them back on the dining room table. He looked around at the assembled family members.
“Show’s over, folks. Nothing more to see. Move along,” he snapped. Nobody moved.
“We should have dinner now,” Ma ventured. “Children, set the table please.”
Maria’s daughter picked up the envelope to move it over to the coffee table, but Ray snatched it from her hand. “You don’t touch that! Gimme that!” He ran up to his room.
The kids knew the routine of dinner preparation. Ma tried to make it all just a bit more interesting for them by allowing them to pick different tablecloths. Maria’s daughter rummaged around the tablecloth drawer in the old buffet and drew out a white cloth with green embroidery.
“This is pretty. We hardly ever use this.”
“Uncle Ray likes green,” agreed Maria’s son. He was too young to follow fully what was going on but he knew Uncle Ray was sad about Aunt Angie. Together they flattened the cloth over the table and adjusted it so that it hung evenly on both sides. Then they went to the buffet to get the plates and cutlery.
The table setting and food preparation was nearing completion so Ma called everyone down to dinner. Whatever his mood or appetite (or lack thereof) Ray wouldn’t consider ignoring the summons. He descended the stairs, lost in his own thoughts, and stopped dead at the bottom of the stairs. He saw the tablecloth. Slowly, zombie-like, he walked over to the dining-room table. He stood staring at the tablecloth.
The tablecloth Angie bought
The kids paused respectfully a few feet away, clutching the items that were intended for the space where Uncle Ray’s head was. Ma came out of the kitchen to check on their progress and saw her son with his head down and his shoulders gently heaving as he wept. She put one arm around each grandchild and steered them silently to the kitchen.