August 1977
Jack insists that they can't recapture the bliss they knew

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Jack Fenelli cautiously opened one eye, then the other, and looked around him. His throat was dry and his body felt numb until his hand touched the bandages that swathed his abdomen. Then he winced with pain and remembered—the hospital, the surgery, the fear he’d never again be capable of having sex.

He tried to focus on some object to return to full consciousness, but all he could see was a colorful blur at the foot of his bed—someone had tied a dozen balloons there. For a split second Jack almost smiled, but then, realizing only Mary could have played this cheery little practical joke, he frowned and slumped back into his pillows. Why didn’t she just give up? he wondered miserably. No matter how brutally he declared their marriage was finished, back she’d bounce with a hundred reasons to try again.

But Jack wouldn’t let any of it change his mind. Down deep in his tormented soul, he was convinced he was all wrong for Mary, that staying together would ruin her life, that their marriage was a mistake from the start. But he would save Mary from her fate. One day, Jack reasoned, she would recognize that he had to hurt her and that in the end she would admit his motives had been almost unselfish. Only Jack understood his rationale. He tried to share his vision of a horrible future together, but no matter how grim he painted it, Mary saw another, happier picture, one of Jack changed from a secretive, suspicious romantic adversary into a loved and loving husband.

At the center of their drama was the baby due any second. Impending fatherhood only strengthened Jack’s determination and gave him what he hoped would be the means to annul their marriage. He had corraled three unwilling witnesses who would testify to the Church tribunal that he had declared long ago he never wanted kids. Mary had gone against his wishes, he announced, and given him grounds to dissolve their marriage.

Months ago Jack took his annulment proposal to Father McShane, the Ryans’ parish priest who had married Jack and Mary. The pastor did his best to talk Jack out of the action, and even got the couple together in his office. But his hoped-for reconciliation turned into another bout of angry recriminations and accusations. In despair Father McShane offered Jack a last-chance deal: he would start the dissolution proceedings only if Jack had the surgery that could restore sexual function. The priest knew doctors had warned against the procedure because of Jack’s recent auto injuries and he gambled Jack would be reluctant to risk his life. But he didn’t know Fenelli, who rushed to Riverside Hospital and found a specialist who would perform the by-pass operation immediately. The news of its success forced Father McShane to fulfill his part of the bargain, and the weary priest submitted the papers.

The trips back and forth to Jack’s hospital room had been hard for Mary. Every day told her their child’s arrival was imminent and her heavy body tired easily. Weeks ago she had promised Jack that if he would take part in the childbirth she’d give him his annulment and divorce. But Jack said no dice, so it was her mother, Maeve, who trekked with her to the natural childbirth classes and who would play Jack’s role in the delivery room. Jack would have his convictions to comfort him.

Mary never stopped trying, though, unwilling even when Jack turned cold to concede their love was over. Now that the surgery was a success they could go back to New Orleans and the Delta Queen for a second honeymoon, a second chance. But every day she returned in defeat to her father’s apartment across the street and the memories that flooded her when the house was dark. Memories of a courtship that began with a quarrel and ended in bed, and of a wedding both tragic and hilarious when Jack turned up at the church two hours late, loaded with guilt and coffee to sober him up. Mary had had her own case of cold feet that day, but gripping her father’s arm, had married Jack. “I love him and he loves me. I have to believe that,” she told Johnny Ryan when he gave her away. She remembered the Louisiana honeymoon that was cut short and Jack’s unhappiness at more Ryan interference, then the hours spent loving each other in their apartment as the sun went down over Manhattan. They used to play like children in the neighborhood playground then run, home to make love for hours. But the auto accident had turned everything around, and threatened first to rob her of Jack, and ultimately, it seems now, of his love. That horrible highway wreck six months ago was the first scene in what may be the final act of their marriage.

When her unborn child stirs, Mary is awakened from her reverie. The baby won’t allow her to live in the past when her present and future is at hand. Perhaps Jack will relent and decide to participate in their baby’s birth. But knowing Jack, Mary muses, something will keep him from it, some remembered hurt or disappointment. Then he’ll drown his sorrows in drink with his cronies and leave her to experience childbirth alone.

Jack always finds a way to make himself miserable, to prove that life stinks and he can’t trust anyone. And if their love is finished, as he claims it is, well, that’s what he expected—more unhappiness. So while Jack can take strange comfort in knowing he was right all along, Mary finds comfort only in the memories of what once was and daydreams of what might have been.

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