I was in the bathtub, smoking a cigarette and thinking about Ted Hughes.
Downstairs my wife was doing the dishes and cleaning up the house now that the kids were asleep. It was my turn for a “night off” but I still felt guilty. And so, as I soaked and stretched out, and heard the cutlery scrape the sink and the dryer eternally tumble, I couldn’t relax, couldn’t shake the feeling of slacking when there was so much to be done. We wanted to redo the kitchen floor. A mirror purchased two months ago had yet to be hung. The backyard was out of control. The retaining wall cracked in three places and the aging wooden fence was leaning toward our neighbor’s like a sad sigh. Meanwhile, out front, weeds wiggled through parts of the driveway and sidewalk while clover (I think it’s clover) had staged a series of successful coups throughout the lawn. And the kids. We had three now, including ten-month-old twins, and we regularly remarked on how remarkable this fact was/is.
And I was also thinking about Ted Hughes.
Known primarily as the guy married to Sylvia Plath, who’d famously checked out by sticking her head in an oven. Much speculation over the years that Hughes (also a poet) somehow drove her to this, though I don’t know the details.
But I’d recently found out that Hughes had a second wife and this second wife also killed herself. In fact, she killed herself the same way. And not only that: the second wife (another writer—beware the writer!) killed their daughter first. Murder then suicide. Damn. Two wives, two similar suicides, one dead child. Dude was O for 2. You had to wonder: Was it all his fault? Was it him? Or was it bad luck? The universe turning on him so horribly, twice in one lifetime?
The water had gotten cold, so I put out my cigarette, stepped out of the tub, dried myself, dressed. Stared at the mirror, the glass dotted with flecks of food dislodged from sporadic flossing. My face appeared scrambled, my wet hair uncombed and confused-looking. I thought I heard a baby cry, but it was actually from across the street. They had a baby, too.
Later, in bed, I told my wife how I felt guilty and couldn’t relax in the tub. She understood. Then I told her about Ted Hughes and the suicides and the murder of the daughter.
“Thanks for sharing,” she said.
“I just read about it the other day,” I said. “I kept meaning to tell you.”
“Well,” she said, “I’m glad we’re not poets.”
“Me too,” I said, turning out the light, listening to the quiet, our bodies collapsing and falling into each other at last.