The New Oxford American Tells a Story — An Essay by Helen Betya Rubinstein

The New Oxford American Tells a Story — An Essay by Helen Betya Rubinstein

ESSAY: THE NEW OXFORD AMERICAN TELLS A STORY, BY HELEN BETYA RUBINSTEIN

desperation |ˌdespəˈrā sh ən|

noun

a state of despair, typically one that results in rash or extreme behavior : she wrote to him in desperation.

She wrote to him in desperation. There had been a time, years ago, when he had desired her. For years she had struggled to forget about him. She had been fooling herself in thinking she could remain indifferent. She would have given up everything for love.

He called to take her out for a meal. He leaned forward to take her hand. He asked if she wanted coffee. She asked if she could move in.

She tried to make up for what she’d said. He couldn’t make out what she was saying. She made for the door. He made as if to run away. She made out that he was violent. He made out a receipt for $20. They made out in the back seat. He made up an excuse. She made up her face. Let’s kiss and make up.

He felt a surge of anxiety. She felt the ground give way beneath her.

She turned on him like a vengeful fury. She fought like fury in his arms. She flew into a rage. Her face was distorted with rage. Desk rage. Sports rage. PC rage. Video and computer games are all the rage. He raged at the futility of it all. The argument raged for days. She couldn’t hide the fear that raged within her.

The hidden depths of marital life. A power struggle. The idea that men should have power over women. She helped herself to a cookie. He helped himself to the wages she had brought home. She couldn’t help herself; she burst into tears. He could not help laughing. Help! I’m drowning. A help menu.

She bore herself with dignity. She bore the pain stoically. She bore six daughters. She could hardly bear his sarcasm. See BRUNT. See CROSS. See GRIN.

The folly of her action was borne in on her with devastating precision. Working mothers who feel bad about leaving their children. What a bad girl. Bad behavior. He beat her up real bad. She discovered he wasn’t so bad after all. Too bad, but that’s the way it is.

He spent a year in the wilds of Canada. She went through a wild phase of drunken parties and desperate affairs. Her imagination had run wild. The wild sea. A wild guess. The wild tribes from the north. The wild coastline of Cape Wrath. Her wild eyes were darting back and forth.

“Please, for my sake,” he wheedled. She flashed him a withering look. She flashed him an insincere smile. She glared at him, her eyes flashing. He made a rude gesture. He made a crude gesture. She was out of the back door in a flash.

A single mother. A single bed. A single whiskey. A single red rose. A pure and single heart. A singles bar. Single women bemoaning the absence of men. See note at MOURN. Isabel mourned her husband. His lean, muscular body. See note at THIN. His hair was going thin. She was painfully thin.

She was in the depths of despair. She wailed her wretched life. She rued the day she was born. She lamented the lack of shops in the town.

Quick as a flash, he was at her side. He knocked and entered without waiting for an answer. He did not wait for a reply. He was sick for a sight of her. “I must look a frightful sight,” she said. He shuddered with revulsion. She gave a convulsive sob. He began to babble an apology. “No!” she wept. She rubbed one of the sores, making it weep.

She allowed the babble of conversation to wash over her. A babble of protest. The babble of a brook. To shed light on such transatlantic psycho-babble. In answer to the stresses on modern woman, we have developed a range of beauty treatments.

Her soft voice stopped his babble. He placed a finger before pursed lips to hush her. She was the love of his life.

Her self-control finally broke. She would love him forever. Tell me what will pleasure you. “Of course I can,” she answered. She was totally obedient to him.

(Children and animals may be expected to obey, but nowadays obedient is seldom used to describe adult human beings without a suggestion that they are allowing someone else to assume too great a degree of authority.)

Their passion remained undiminished after 30 years of marriage. After forty years of marriage, he still claimed she had few shortcomings. A marriage made in heaven. A happy marriage. He understood her wish for peace and quiet. Talk of love panicked her. The violence of her own feelings. The savagery of his thoughts frightened him. Charges that he fondled a patient during an examination. A rabid feminist. She slammed the claims as “pure romance, complete fiction.”

Women, left to themselves, would make the world a beautiful place to live in.

Left to himself, he removed his shirt and tie.

Not another word passed between them. See BATON. See BUCK. See HAT. See LIP. See MUSTER. See PARCEL. See TIME. He killed his wife then drowned himself in a fit of despair.

Many have a horror of consulting a dictionary. The whole ball of wax. The whole enchilada. The whole shooting match. The whole schmear. See DODO. See DOORNAIL. See also DEAD BALL.

[Compiled using example sentences from the New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition (2005), with additions (make) from the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Second Edition (2008)]

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Helen Betya Rubinstein’s essays have appeared in The Seneca Review, The Paris Review Daily, Witness, and The New York Times, and her fiction in The Collagist, Ninth Letter, and Salt Hill.

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