The thought never occurred to Chris until they had been married about a year. One of the graduate students who shared his office had just returned from a honeymoon, and the other guys were teasing him.
“It all changes when you’re married, right, Brad?” asked Tom, who was engaged himself. “You find out what’s behind the makeup and flirting.”
“Yeah, the next morning I woke up and thought, ‘Yikes!’”
“Would that be a euphemism or a derogation?”
“Stick your critical discourse analysis in your Eustachian tube, Mike! Seriously, she has this big birthmark, right there on her neck, that I’d never seen. I guess I’ll get used to it.”
“What about you, Chris?” Tom inquired. “What does your wife look like first thing in the morning?”
“Margie is always beautiful,” he replied.
“There’s a typically uncreative American compliment.” The others laughed at Mike’s analyzing tone, and went on with their banter.
Chris headed for the peace of the library, but the question kept floating into his mind. His wife was an early riser, always fully dressed by the time he put on his thick glasses. Was he missing something?
Margie was lovely, no doubt about that. He had often wondered what she saw in a shy scholar like him. It certainly wasn’t his earning potential that attracted her. Linguists don’t get rich. But she did not seem to mind. She shared his quiet habits, enjoying reading, long walks, and going out for sushi on Saturday nights. She was perfect for him, that was all, and it did not matter if her makeup hid a few blemishes.
He shook off the thought and focused on proofreading his translations. Satisfied that they were ready, he found his way to the library’s conservation lab.
“Hi, Chris!” Becca greeted him cheerfully. “What do you have for me?”
“Just these stories. I’d like to give them to Margie for our anniversary.”
“That's so sweet! For our first anniversary, Dan gave me a case of motor oil. At least he doesn't expect me to change it myself." Becca pulled out samples of binding cloths and endpapers. "For this gift, you'll need a really nice binding.”
Chris looked them over, but could not decide. “What do you think she would like?”
“Don’t you know your wife by now?” Becca teased.
“I thought so.” Chris frowned. “Do you tell Dan everything?”
“Not all at once. When I hung a spoon on the end of my nose at our rehearsal dinner, he almost called off the wedding out of astonishment,” she chuckled. “A girl has to keep a few tricks up her sleeve.”
“You think Margie is keeping some talents hidden?”
“I’m sure of it. How about this gold paper with a green binding?”
Margie was waiting for him outside, as usual. Her red hair shone even more brilliantly in the golden evening light. “The garden looks great, dear,” Chris said. She had been transforming the barren back yard of their tiny rental house into a little paradise, complete with a rocky fountain feeding a small pond.
“Thanks, honey. Look at these!” She pointed at something moving in the pond, then scooped it out of the water.
“Is that a turtle? I’ve never seen one so small. How did it get here?”
“We’re not that far from the river. The mother must have liked this sunny spot.” She indicated a small hole in the ground. Chris peeked in and saw some eggshell fragments.
“How many are there? What do they eat? Do they need shots or anything?” Chris asked nervously. His parents had never allowed him to keep a pet.
Margie laughed. “Don’t worry, they can fend for themselves. There are only five, so the flower garden should attract plenty of insects for them. They’ll like the aquatic plants I set in the pond, too. But maybe they would like some minnows from the river. Shall we go for a walk after dinner?”
“Of course,” Chris smiled. Though he had grown up in another state, his earliest memories were of that river. His parents, alumni of the university, had returned to visit and persuade their young son to study there someday. He ran along the river trail until he tripped and fell into the cold water. His father had fished him out right away, with no harm done, but Chris had lost his glasses. After that incident, his mother had insisted on holding his hand any time they approached water. He still loved to walk along the river, matching his pace to its slow current.
When Chris awoke the next morning, he could hear Margie’s little splashes in the bath as she sang wordlessly. Listening to the comforting sound, his mind drifted to the old folk tales he had translated for her. They were strange stories of grateful animal spirits returning the favors of men by marrying them and making them rich – until the foolish men discovered their wives’ true forms.
Was Margie’s true form much different from her made-up face? It seemed unlikely. And she had never actually asked him not to look in on her during her bath. He put on his glasses and went to the bathroom door. It was locked.
“Do you need something, honey? Sorry – I’ll be right out,” she called.
Why would she lock the door? Chris shook his head. Don’t be silly, he thought. It’s probably just a habit from her single days. She emerged soon, with her radiant hair neatly arranged, elegant eyebrows framing her deep brown eyes, smiling lips nearly matching her vermillion hair.
“Good morning, sunshine.” She tousled his hair, and he forgot all about the old stories.
After his shower, though, he glanced at the case on the counter. It looked like a tackle box, but she had said it was her makeup case. He wondered how much makeup she actually used. He tried the lid. But it, too, was locked. Then he noticed a single metallic tube standing next to the case. He opened it to find lipstick, Margie’s favorite bright red. He slipped the cylinder into his pocket. Would she notice?