I am named for my grandfather’s mistress, in acknowledgment of her extraordinary generosity. Every time my family came to visit, she loaded the station wagon with gifts and food for them to take home. According to my Aunt, the neighbors lined up to watch the spectacle of my delighted father packing kids and goods and strapping luggage to the roof of the car for the long drive home from Miami. By this time my grandfather had married Margaret—immediately after the death of his first wife, in fact. Margaret had been his mistress for many years, and my grandmother knew it. She was sick, my Aunt said, heartbroken. Meaning she had an ailment—heart disease—and my grandfather’s faithlessness finally wrecked the compromised part.
I never knew this second grandmother either; she, too, died before I was born. Later, I met a red-haired woman who showed up at my grandfather’s side porch late afternoons for a drink. Sometimes she cut his thick white hair in the front yard, draping a towel over his shoulders as he sat in a lawn chair, a partial six-pack of Budweiser nesting in the grass not far from reach. She was somewhat younger, and I couldn’t see her attraction to him. That woman, my Aunt said, she wants his money. My grandfather showed no signs of having any. He wore a white undershirt and baggy Bermuda shorts at all times. His luxuries included a shot of Four Roses sipped every day at lunch, a daily six of Bud, a daily cigar. Mostly he ate macaroni with peas or marinara. The house, dark and crawling with ants, had no amenities except for the fruit trees growing in the backyard—mango, grapefruit, orange, fig, finger banana, lime. I never saw the red-haired woman indoors. She called for him—“Felice!”—at the kitchen window, to which my grandfather would growl with pleasure or annoyance, it was impossible to tell.
Because of the timeline of his remarriage, the death of his second wife, and the appearance, possibly, of another mistress, I formed the impression that wives are sickly creatures, and if you’re a man accustomed to being cared for it’s wise to keep a spare.
Margaret Luongo is the author of two story collections—If the Heart is Lean and History of Art, both from LSU Press. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, The Cincinnati Review, Granta, the Pushcart Prize anthology and other publications. Recipient of the Walter E. Dakin Fellowship and an Ohio Arts Council grant, she teaches creative writing and contemporary fiction at Miami University in Ohio, where she lives with her husband, artist Billy Simms.