Practically everyone seated in the church at Nick and Susie’s wedding made bets on how long the marriage would last.
Each bettor chose a number to represent the “end by” date of the marriage. Like impatient bingo players or spin-the-wheel contestants on a game show, the bettors commiserated with each other over the weeks or, God forbid, months they might have to wait before hearing the winning separation date.
Eighty-six year old Emily Wadsworth, the former church organist and the prophetess of the congregation, whispered, sotto voce, to her sister Doris Patterson, a widow and the former high school principal of the intended newlyweds, that the marriage would crash before the honeymoon ended. After all, Emily reminded her sister, Nick was unemployed and Susie’s parents had already stopped her allowance.
He stood 6’2” (in bare feet) with a competitive swimmer’s physique and a movie star profile. She stood 5’7” (in high heels), weighed in at 165 lbs. (including the added weight from her ten-week pregnancy) and stood to inherit fourteen million dollars from her grandmother’s trust when she reached 25 years of age. She was also an heiress to her parents’ considerably larger fortune.
General speculation predicted that after the birth of the child (or shortly after the first anniversary), Nick would divorce Susie and ask for child visitation rights (to appear fatherly) and request a sizeable hunk of alimony (to insure that the child would receive the same level of care that his rich wife provided).
The gangster-dominated cognoscenti (represented by the groom’s side of the aisle) concluded that his best move still remained the hire of a professional assassin to rub her out and collect his inheritance while still married and named as the main beneficiary in her will.
Against all odds—and despite warnings from her parents of his mercenary intentions— he had convinced her that he truly loved her. And she—save her girl friends’ poisonous opinions about him—blithely swept away their admonitions against his proposal, and believed him.
After the birth of their nine-pound, six-ounce baby boy and six weeks of breastfeeding, Susie left the baby with Nick, and with money from the early release of funds from her sympathetic grandmother, flew to Switzerland to enroll herself in the Korsubylink clinic. Susie remained at the clinic for 15 months during which she made frequent phone calls to Nick and received weekly pictures of the baby via her Smartphone. She returned a trim 111 lbs with a new nose, an augmented chin, a gymnast’s body, a San Tropez tan, and two trunks containing a new Paris wardrobe.
At first, even the mirrors in her own house didn’t recognize her reflection. The baby couldn’t remember her. Her friends of a lifetime hardly hid their surprise, nor masked their envy, at her transformation. However, her husband instantly recognized her as soon as she arrived, unannounced, and embraced her with a depth of feeling and a font of stiff anticipation. Susie took this as a favorable sign their marriage would prosper. She hired a personal trainer and worked out four times a week.
While Susie had remained at the clinic, Nick had remained faithful to her, lest he endanger his anticipated plan to file for divorce and request for alimony, and substituted disciplined daily workouts at the gym, swam 20 laps per day and silently masturbated each night in lieu of participation in normal, heterosexual coupling.
When their two bodies finally connected after two days of circling each other, the resulting sexual union caused a surge of adrenaline from their bodies so strong, that if harnessed to a heart/lung machine, it would have provided enough power for the duration of an entire surgery.
By mutual agreement, following the climax of their sexual reunion, Nick and Susie slept in separate bedrooms, only occasionally meeting in the green bedroom for a conjugal visit. This arrangement suited them both. Nick found a suitable mistress, and Susie, less relaxed in her sexual partnering, made frequent trips to nearby cities to meet with men in high-priced hotel suites to satisfy her sexual needs.
The baby finally accepted Susie as his mother and Susie finally convinced all her friends that she was the original bride. Nevertheless, her girlfriends (and the Las Vegas bookies) posted 15 to 1 odds against the successful maintenance of her weight, her shape, the marriage, and her fortune.
Even after their fifth anniversary (celebrated by the birth of their second child, a seven-pound four-ounce boy), Susie’s married friends convinced themselves the union couldn’t last much longer and counseled her that a second child would only complicate the inevitable divorce. Her divorced friends had long since dropped her from their invitation lists, and if Susie accidentally ran into any of them at the symphony, the ballet, the theater or the boutique, they averted their eyes and cut her dead.
Meanwhile, Nick had earned a secondary teaching credential and found a job as a physical education teacher at the local junior high school. He only earned 41k a year and certainly, without having any household expenses, didn’t need the money to add to his 125k annual allowance. But teaching made him feel useful and fulfilled, and provided him with a comfortable level of self respect. He liked the job. However, his habit of coaching the swim team while appearing bare-chested and wearing the same style of abbreviated Speedo swim trunks as his students, provoked anonymous complaints of narcissism and infantile exhibitionism to the school administration, while his bulging biceps and streamlined, six-pack abs attracted many pairs of wandering eyes rolling over his body, admiring its tanned musculature in anticipation of possible tactile contact. Oblivious to such attention, but sensitive to a request from the vice principal, Nick donned a tank shirt (to satisfy the sumptuary laws of the community) and continued to coach and to teach. He set up temporary bleachers around the pool and invited parents and friends (for moral support) to watch the team’s practice sessions during the weekends prior to the school’s hosting of the annual county swim meet.
In an unwritten cohabitation contract between themselves, Nick and Susie agreed to attend their children’s sporting events, school plays and open houses together whenever possible, and—while dressed in tuxedo and evening gown—still attended the Spring Fling and the Fall Ball at the local country club, where wandering hands from both men and women passed over their bodies to no avail. Either they were too ignorant to realize what had happened or lacked the courage to accept the myriad sexual advances. Whatever the reason, ignorance or fear, they declined the offers, maintained their dignity and their weight, and celebrated their tenth anniversary with most of their teeth and all of their hair.
After fifteen years of marriage they evacuated their individual bedrooms and moved together into the green bedroom, initiated sex two or three times a week and welcomed the intimacy and tactile sensation of sleeping together in the same bed every night. They felt grateful that their children still occasionally sought their company for reasons other than requests for money or, a couple of years later, nagging them for a car.
At their twentieth anniversary party, not a single person who had originally been invited to their wedding received an invitation. Only fellow teachers and administrators from Nick’s school, and various people from the many charitable organizations that Susie helmed received invitations, plus a few of their neighbors, some parents belonging to their children’s friends and a couple of South American orphans (with their chaperons) they had brought to their city to pay for special medical attention without which they would die in their native country.
The Las Vegas bookies declared that the longevity of their marriage was a statistical fluke, and, like all statistical flukes, should not be relied upon to repeat itself. Nevertheless, the Vegas bookies had to pay off the persons who had accepted the bet against Susie, made at 15 to 1, and prudently decided not to lay any further odds on the couple’s future longevity.
William Masters is a litigation paralegal living in San Francisco. The Marriage Formula is from his unpublished anthology of short stories, Portraiture, about life in San Francisco.