The Watsons had tried to make it work. For six years, 204 days and two hours, and then their marriage was gone. At one of those silent breakfasts they simply had lost it, or so they claim. And it should have been a grief.
With Ellie Bauer-Lovegood and Jack Lovegood it went down similarly. Literally. When on a Tuesday they took the elevator down from their penthouse for the 8521st time, they were apparently in firm possession of what some would describe a successful marriage. Faithfully married for 26 years, with two decent kids. There had been flowers for anniversaries, always a good night kiss and on some lucky days even some…, well, you know. But when that Tuesday they left that lift on Ground level for the 8521st time, it was all but gone. Traceless, ruthless and without principle he stole. Even Ellie’s hyphen.
Another case were the young Jacksons. After only one week, still cruising on their honeymoon at Hawaii, the Jacksons suddenly realised that something was missing. They couldn’t put their finger on it. Their vows, the celebration, with cheap booze and mediocre wedding band, as well as the strange lipstick on Joseph’s collar; they all had evaporated into thin Hawaiian air. What was left were a confused Joseph and an upset Hilary Jackson sulking in their honeymoon suite.
You wonder what happened to these couples? Well, everybody did, especially when younger children had been involved like in the Watson case. Yet, when asked, the Watsons, the Bauer-Lovegoods or the Jacksons had no explanation. They had not seen it coming. No special event had occurred; no fight or strike of lightning indicated they had been robbed by a mysterious force, a master thief. And yet their marriages had been annihilated.
“Somebody must have it.” Elisabeth Watson explained in one of her interviews and lifted her index finger towards the camera. “You, out there. Be careful. There’s a thief going around. Nobody is safe. He took it all from me and… From me and – what was his name? I‘m sorry, am so forgetful these days…”
“Friedrich. Watson.” TV host Lilly, from Lilly’s Life Long Laments, on Channel HGC, 34 years young and engaged, helped out the victim. She wasn’t sure what to make of this especially tough case of marriage theft, but was mildly interested in solving it. However, with the rising numbers of victims, and with herself engaged, Lilly wasn’t even sure she wanted to put herself at risk.
“So tell us, what exactly occurred on the morning of the 12th of October this year?” Lilly leaned forward on her seat. The world wanted facts and she would provide them. Before more would fall victim to this deft criminal; before she would speak any vows to Frank, her producer.
Elisabeth Watson stroke back the bleached straight hair, smiling coyly while searching for the camera with the red light. “Well, me and my…” She had trouble finding the word. “I mean, me and Mister…” It didn’t want to leave her lips, slipping right through the net the moment she thought she had it.
“Maybe we should take a break to continue with one of our next guests: the young and the beautiful Hilary Jackson…” Lilly saved her.
After the break, a merry jingle and suggested applause accompanied a tall girl with bend shoulders and dark eyes stumbling on stage where Lilly padded her two times on her arm before Hillary took seat next to Elisabeth in her own armchair.
“Welcome, welcome, my dear. We all have heard of your extraordinary circumstances. The most precious thing in the world has been stolen from you, and that on your honeymoon. Outrageous! You had had not even much time to find out all the treasures of marriage, all the ups and downs, the…”
The passive aggressive punches, right under the belt line, the many attempts to make a fool of one another, or constantly hiding the love handles.
“…the blessings of a long marriage.” She sighed. “And you don’t even know how, or for that matter who and why. Am I right?”
“That’s true, and…”
“And is it correct that your newly wedded husband could not even come with you on the show because he didn’t recognise you as his wife or saw any reason to participate here to unravel the mystery?”
“Huh? Wha’…?” The girl shifted in her chair. “They told me I would find out more by talking to you.”
“Ah, yes, yes. We’ll get to that.” Lilly began to feel annoyed. Was there anybody sane in this world? At least in this studio?
“So, the marriage thief stroke again! We all need to know. Has anything strange occurred on your honeymoon?”
“On my what?” Hilary’s eyebrows lifted, searching in the audience for clues.
“When you went to Hawaii. What happened in Hawaii?” Lilly asked. Man, this was fucking hard. Lilly breathed through her teeth. Someone brought the girl champagne and Hilary gulped it down.
“Yes, I was there and from what I remember,” the girl said with large eyes, “I think it was a large hotel. Nice rooms. The bathroom was a bit smelly.”
Would they all act dumb or was this the hoax of the century? Lilly padded her thighs. Frank in the earpiece grew impatient. “Keep it together, Lil!”
“Okay, the hotel was… uhm … nice. Everybody had a really good time and a swim and whatever else we do in Hawaii, right? But what I really want to know is: Joseph Jackson and you travelled there as a married couple, wedded in St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York on September the 6th and a few of days later, 8 days to be exact, the marriage was gone. Am I correct?”
“I – I think so. All I remember was that I woke up and a stranger lay in my bed. Well, not a total stranger, of course.” The champagne encouraged Hilary’s tongue. “We had been friends for some time, but I screamed. Well, who wouldn’t? Imagine the shock. Who wouldn’t have called the reception?” Hilary snorted a bit when she laughed looking for sympathy from the audience.
Lilly looked at her. That girl wasn’t worried about the lost happily ever after, or their first anniversary. The ‘oh my god, we are going to have a baby’, or ‘Darling, we’ll have twins’. She didn’t ask back for the fights or reconciliation sex that late we might call it morning sex. Or shared taxes, long hours of silent treatment or a pearl necklace for their twentieth anniversary. None of it seemed to be on Hilary’s list of things she wanted back.
“Aren’t you a very unhappy young woman now?” Lilly had to push it.
“Why?” Hilary held a second champagne glass in her hands.
“Right.” Lilly said. Right. No snoring, prickly hubby with bad breath, no sarcasm coming from his man cave hiding after misunderstanding her.
“Hilary, don’t you miss him? I mean you had been with him before the vows, am I right?”
A flicker of recognition hushed over the young face. “You mean Joseph? I like him, yes. His apologies, he couldn’t come. Yes, we’re best mates. What about him?”
Lilly’s helpless eyes let Frank understand that she already regretted this show. His look made her understand she would regret it forever if she didn’t make it work. He made the unmistakable sign of cutting his throat and she could tell he was desperate.
“I swear, Lil! Turn it around, or you can read the weather for Channel Arte!”
She ignored Frank’s bulging eyes and red face, along with his spit in the microphone almost wetting her ears.
“Hm, well, uh… Hilary, isn’t that lovely? Do you know that there is proof that you and Joseph had been married for eight days?”
“Reeeally? That’s hilarious!” Hilary snorted unladylike and she slouched back into her armchair.
“Can you show us the marriage certificate? Can anyone show us the certificate?” Lilly asked.
Looking at Elisabeth and Hilary blank faces, the host suspected they were lost cases. But maybe by risking it all, she could save herself.
“How about we ask our next and final guest, Jack Lovegood? Let us see if he can remember what happened to his marriage. Who did this to him and his dear wife Elli Bauer-Lovegood?”
The jingle, applause, and with one short pad on Jack’s shoulder he sat in the third red armchair, right next to Hilary who clutched her flute of champagne.
“Welcome, Jack. It is good to have you on the show. We hope you can shed some light into the mystery of the marriage thief. Let’s cut to the chase: What happened in that elevator?”
“Yes, yes, hello and good morning. I and …” he sniffed sniff with a quivering chin. “Oh, one moment. I…” the man waved his hands in front of his face to dry two tears, then he cleared the throat followed by a long sigh. “I thought I would be good. Honestly…” he apologized.
Lilly couldn’t believe her eyes. This was a nightmare, the Everest of all nightmares.
“Lil, we’ll cut it. Commercials!” said her earpiece coldly. She cursed her fate, and this thief! Then it hit her.
“Alright, let’s take a moment, America. Let’s all take a deep breath.” In exaggeration she breathed in and out. “And after the break, we’re going to find out who did this to 517 American marriages in the last two months alone and to you three, hm? Who is the marriage thief? And, is the American marriage in danger?”
Another jingle followed. While the hustling of make-up refreshing, camera and cables swinging broke out, her earpiece exploded. “You’re in so much trouble. We’ll have to let this go. Wrap it up, for fuck sake, wrap it up! We’ll pull forward tomorrows show on carbohydrate diets. For fuck sake, Lilly. You should know better!”
Lilly sent a sharp look through the glass window and slightly shook her head. That was not going to happen to her. She was Lilly and for almost ten years Long Life Laments had been her show (only 13 shows to go to celebrate). She was the favourite morning show of half the housewives in the country, watching her interviews while ironing or cooking.
“I can do this!” She said. Frank remained silent.
“Say something, Frank!”
“Alright, but this will cost you.” He didn’t spell it out. It would cost her more than the show she sensed.
The jingle played, Lilly’s introduced the topic, and the camera was on all four people.
“So? I couldn’t help but notice one thing. No one else, except for the spouse, was there with any of you. Hilary, who was with you in your hotel room? And who sat with you at breakfast, Elisabeth?” Lilly looked at Jack, who had collected himself. “And you Jack, who was with you in the elevator?”
All three guests shook, their head. No one else.
“Well, isn’t that interesting?” Lilly found the eye of the camera and spoke to her audience.
“In all three cases: something was gone Both parties didn’t know anymore that they were married, proof seemed to be wiped out from the planet. But no one else had been present. Am I correct?”
Hilary grinned with glassy eyes, Elisabeth snorted in an embroidered tissue and Jack nodded, happy to be finally of help.
“Now- I have a theory, and it might be only a theory, but we have nothing else to work with.” Lilly put on her sharp, investigative, critical face. “Either, the marriage thief exists and he or she is invisible, can go through walls, is clever and let’s admit it, the best burglar in the world.” She ogled her guests then the camera. “Or (dramatic pause) he or she doesn’t exist and somebody else is to be held irresponsible!”
The studio fell silent, the guests stiffened in their chairs and the earpiece turned into an iceberg. She was on her own now.
There goes my job. There goes my engagement, and that mansion on the beach.
“Could it be, that you and all the other cases of marriage theft, and I am not saying the police hasn’t done a fine job, but could it be that the marriage thief sits right here? Right in these armchairs?” Her arm showcased the three guests; an “oh” shivered through the audience. A desperate, hoarse “nooo-” escaped the earpiece and she had officially committed career suicide on live TV. Either that or she was a genius.
“I mean, who can be held responsible for a marriage to work? Who decides to have each other’s back, rather than fight the spouse, like an enemy? Who remembers why we have chosen the other? And most important of all who still remembers who the other is? The one with the big laugh, the big belly or small … capacity for memorising anniversaries? I mean, come on America. We say yes to the other, to respect and care, and then it appears to me we’ll take them for granted. We expect them to stay either the same forever, or to completely change. Am I right?”
The audience wasn’t sure. Lilly wasn’t either.
“We say for better or worse and let internally go at first signs of ‘worse’? And if not at the first then maybe at the third or fourth sign? Did we or did we not?” Lilly met Elisabeth’s darting eyes who had stopped crying. Hilary vanished in her armchair, staring at the floor and Jack grinned dumbly, nodding.
The audience had held their breath. The earpiece was a grave.
“Jack?” Lilly needed someone else to talk now. A statement, better a confession. A saviour.
“Uh, well, I can’t remember my vows so I don’t know what I’ve promised.” His grin had disappeared. “But whatever promise I’ve given many years ago was only real back then. Now it isn’t any longer. I just can’t feel what I’m supposed to feel. I don’t feel anything for the woman you say is my wife.” He raised helplessly his hands. “Shoot me, but actually I’m glad it’s over. Over and gone. From what I heard of others, my marriage had been…dull, predictable. And now? I feel alive and …free again.” He smacked his lips. “Why go back?”
Lilly stared at Jack, then at the others. Had this been a confession? It definitely had been a statement. But was it enough?
“Yeah, me too.” Hilary awoke up from her coma but still hung half over her armchair. “I really like being friends with Jo. Marrying would make it all, uh, not so good. He can’t keep his hands of others anyway. How long would that have lasted?” she giggled.
Holding a hankerchief Elisabeth’s hands had sunken in her lap. Her eyes clear and focused.
“It’s true. Now, that we speak about it. I’m actually feeling, for most of the times, rather … light, and-” Her cheeks flushed red under the heavy make-up, “-relieved.” There, she had said it. Out loud. The woman reached for the champagne in front of her, leaned back into her chair, exhaled contently and took a careful sip.
Slowly, Lilly understood. She fought a lost fight for a lost cause. No Savior would come for her, because no one needed saving.
Oh good, he was still there.
And then, it became so clear. As clear as the glass her fiancé stood behind, and although Lilly tried really hard to hold it back, a giggle bubbled up her throat, just like the bubbles from Elisabeth’s champagne.
Lilly held the prompt cards in front of her mouth, her shoulders trembled and then a squeak left her mouth. “So, what you are saying,” Lilly’s shoulders begun to shake, “what all my guests here are saying is…”
That snort couldn’t have been contained any longer. It was too late; the camera had caught it. Lilly had done it. She had broken the codex of Lilly’s Long Life Laments. Professionalism, respect and most of all: absolute self-control.
She laughed about it and tears stood in her eyes. “So what this really means is: You are actually all happy?”
To hell with it all. I go for broke.
Lily stood up, took a step forward, and with a yell threw her prompt cards in the air. While they sailed down on guests and stage, she released a loud laughter that echoed through the hall.
“Maybe then, although we don’t know why these marriages disappeared, it has done you good, and you aren’t missing anything. Not really, right? And who am I to judge?” Lilly stared into the closest running camera. “Who is America to judge?” She threw her head back and cackled.
Hilary closed her open mouth and answered with a nod; Jack applauded, looking very pleased, mumbling something inaudible. The audience in the studio fell in with Lilly’s wild laughter, and the earpiece said:
“We have the highest numbers ever. Keep going. In one minute we’re out.”
Elisabeth took her chance, her moment to shine. “I’ve taken dance classes. I always wanted to and I finally did it.” She said satisfied.
“Oh, this is priceless. We discover life again? Jack? Hilary? What have you done since you’ve lost the spouse and marriage?” Lilly didn’t care anymore.
“I’ve given up smoking. I had started it soon after …” she looked up to the left. “ I guess Joseph’s proposal?” Hilary admitted.
“And I’ve felt compelled to buy a house high up in the hills where I began writing a book,” explained a beaming Jack.
“20 seconds, Lil.”
With a twitching mouth Lilly’s wet eyes gazed straight into the camera.
“America, save yourself! Your marriages might be in danger, but you yourselves aren’t. A thief might take your marriage and all those memories, however, the real you can’t be taken. See for yourself. Don’t they sound rather healthy? Saner than ever?”
The audience approved with shouts and cheers and Lilly lifted her arms, standing in the middle of the stage.
“Friends, laugh with me and let us not take ourselves too seriously. There might not always be answers to life’s mysteries, but there are certainly always questions, investigations, and human curiosities. And on Lilly’s Life Long Laments you sit in the front row to witness exactly those.
America’s experience – firsthand here on HGC. I wish you all a good morning. Until next time!”
“Five more seconds.”
A wave, an assertive nod, a hug, some laughter, more handshakes; the lights faded and with those Lilli’s engagement, making space for something entirely new and unknown.
Man, that marriage thief was good.