FOR BETTER OR WORSE • by Carla Sarett

When you look upon my marriage, it’s only natural that you’re envious. “How do you and Robert make it work?” you may well ask. “What’s your secret?”

It’s a reasonable question; and, I don’t blame you for asking. So many marriages fail these days — partners seem unable to sacrifice as their parents and grand-parents did. It seems we’ve all forgotten that old adage: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” And, isn’t that so very true?

Believe it or not, just a short year ago, Robert and I were in a black hole. At least, I was.

I suppose it started with Robert’s fortieth birthday celebration. As a present to him, I’d optimized my facial symmetry for ultra-attractiveness using the latest principles; and had my vocal quality sweetened. I’d colored my eyes with a sparkling designer turquoise, not one of those cheap “mall” azures, but a luxury shade found only on the ceiling frescos of certain Venetian churches, and maybe not even there.

But at the party, I found myself drawn to other men, and no wonder. Robert was a sorry sight. His hairline had receded; and the rippled stomach that had won my girlish heart was swollen from too many expense-account luncheons. I decided, then and there, that I must save our marriage.

After the guests left, I guided Robert to the wall-sized mirror in the master bedroom, where we together faced his bloated reflection.

“Take a good hard look, Robert,” I said sweetly.

“Hmm,” he said, almost oblivious to his glaring defects.

“What’s with the receding hairline and the pot belly?” I asked.

“Guess I do look pretty bad,” he said, patting his bulging stomach and chuckling.

His cheerfulness made me despair. I said, gently, “You look more than bad. Trust me, Robert. No one, and I mean no one, can stand the sight of you.”

“No one?” he asked.

“Not even little Robert and Tommy.”

“Huh,” he said, mortified.

I gave him a wifely smile to boost his spirits. “Don’t worry — we can fix all of you. Do it for the children, if not for me.”

Robert’s repair was routine — he hardly required the designer frills intended for women. Not that I wanted to cut corners, but I suggested we go for the standard features and options. In a jiffy, Robert was his old self or, to be precise, his new self, which was infinitely superior to his old self.

I pressed my head against his newly muscular chest, and said, “Oh, I’m so proud of you.”

“Huh,” he grunted.

“Huh?” I snapped. “Huh is all you have to say?”

“Yup,” said Robert.

Dreamboat or not, Robert’s lack of personality was obvious. I realized years had gone by without Robert uttering an interesting phrase — perhaps he never had. In truth, Robert did have a tendency to mumble and was fairly easy to ignore — but that was no excuse. With a heavy heart, I had to admit his dim-wittedness.

I said, “What’s with the boring talk?”

He said, confused, “Am I boring?  I mean, I talk about football and my job and the new car and the kids. You used to find me interesting, sort of, like when we first met?”

I emitted a silvery and enchanting laugh. It’s a unique sound-design by Lorenzo, which costs a pretty penny, but I wouldn’t settle for any ordinary laugh.

I said, “Trust me. No one on earth is as boring as you, Robert. You’re the dullest man I know!”

“Really,” he said, looking a little forlorn. Apparently, he’d never considered his own tedium.

“I know. You never thought about it, most men don’t,” I said. “That’s why they need a woman’s touch. And sweetie, we have the money to fix you.”

“So now, we have to change my personality too?”

Poor Robert was hopelessly old-fashioned in those days. I gave him a feather-like peck on his now smooth cheek. “Beauty’s only skin deep, Robert.”

Even if he wasn’t bright, Robert was a good sport. Yes, it was costly to implant chips in his oh-so-dull brain, but isn’t that what money’s for? If you can’t spend money upgrading your own spouse, then why get married in the first place, is my philosophy.

Robert emerged, in tip-top shape. His eyes gleamed with his newly-purchased intelligence.

I said, delighted, “Oh, Robert, what a difference a few micro-chips make!”

To my surprise, his first words to me were, “My dear, you’re a complete fool. You lack any shred of charm or wit or insight. How I’ve put up with you all these years is beyond me.”

The new Robert certainly was perceptive. “I guess I am a sort of an air-head,” I confessed. “What with worrying about you all these years, I haven’t given time to myself. I guess I’ve been too selfless.”

Robert smiled tolerantly and shook his head in sympathy. “I understand.”

“Obviously, a man like the new you deserves more than me.”

“It’s not too much for a man to ask,” Robert answered with husband-like patience.

“Marriage does take work, doesn’t it,” I had to admit. We’d splurged on Robert’s upgrades, but there was a little left.

“Nothing fancy, just enough so you can manage an ordinary conversation,” Robert said. “Anything’s better than nothing.”

Not to worry — this is one story with an upbeat ending. For my birthday, I was upgraded — and now, we’re the perfect couple, at least for the time being. For all I know, we might even be happy next year, although that’s hard to predict, what with flesh sagging and death looming.

Anyway, to quote my husband, all’s well that ends well, even if it’s swift as a shadow and short as a dream — or did he say something about signifying nothing? But either way, it’s a wonderful life, for better or for worse.

After twenty years in market research for media companies, Carla Sarett started writing short fiction in 2010. To date, she has posted 25 short stories on Scribd; and is currently working on a collection, Romantic Tales.

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