100 Years of Vanity, Part III

His sons were horrified. They warned their father about the rumor they’d heard: the woman’s last husband had died in a mysterious manner. Though extremely rational and normally disdainful of anything that bore the slightest whiff of the superstition, my uncles went to consult a fortuneteller (most likely on the recommendation of my second aunt, who seems to know all the good fortunetellers). The prophetess said this: “Beware this fourth wife: she has the qi (energy) of a husband killer!” What the fortuneteller meant was not that she had murdered her last husband, but she had a ruinous air about her – whoever married her would succumb to her insatiable karmic appetite and have his life drained from him. But my grandfather chortled, “Husband killer! Doesn’t she know she’s wife number four?”
Filial piety bound my uncles to let their father do whatever he wanted, including squandering a small fortune on the wedding, gifts and anything else his high-maintenance bride wanted. They honey-mooned for what seemed like half a decade, traveling across the world twice and taking photographs in front of every famous monument – their pictures have an air of glamour about them, my handsome grandfather in his three-piece pin-striped suits, arms crossed confidently across his chest, and his beautiful wife, dressed in luxurious silk and linen pantsuits, elegantly at his side. On the surface they were a beautiful couple, and when they weren’t abroad they were entertaining at home, attending parties and premiers, concerts and theater.
The things that brought them together – her beauty, his wealth – could only last so long, and as her looks faded she became more and more demanding, wanting each year to transfer more and more property to her and her children’s name. When his sons approached him to put a stop to it, my grandfather shook his head lightly and shrugged, “She loves money. What can I do?”
He put himself first and this meant avoiding confrontation at all costs. He would never be the one to suggest a divorce, or even think it. They were messy and in bad taste. Instead, my grandfather continued to live. It was around this time however, that he began to practice selective hearing and while his wife’s screeching for money became louder and louder, he perfected his inner calm, tuning her out to gaze at her once beautiful face.
One day, after nearly ten years of marriage she became enraged after being refused one thing or other and screamed, “I want a divorce!” Before she had paused to take a breath to reevaluate my grandfather stood up from his desk.
“You got it,” he said, and walked calmly out the door.
The marriage ended and my uncles breathed a sigh of relief, though they wondered if their stepmother had escaped with her life. However, not too long after, she too passed away from illness. She was a year shy of seventy.
By now, my grandfather was eighty years old, but looked not a day over sixty. His daily regimen persisted through the years and had served him well; it became apparent that he was in impossibly good health for a man his age – he would live a very, very long time. No one knew this better than my grandfather.
Months after the divorce he called in his second son’s wife, a sociable young woman with a large network of friends and family.
“I want to remarry,” he said.
“Of course,” she replied, “You’re in excellent health and have plenty of years ahead. You ought to remarry.”
“To marry someone young,” he said.
My aunt smiled, “I’m sure we can find someone who knows a nice woman of sixty or seventy.”
At this, my grandfather leaned in and said more words to my aunt than he had spoken to anyone else in a long while, “I’m eighty,” he said, “And I know I will live for a very long time. If I marry someone now who is sixty or seventy, in ten years they will be seventy or eighty – and I don’t need to be a fortuneteller to know that they’ll need someone to take care of them by then. I don’t want to be old with old. I need someone who can take care of me – for however long I live.”
My aunt was stunned, perplexed. How young was her father-in-law thinking? Certainly not someone younger than fifty? A thirty-year age difference was cause for scandal, but then again, so was a money-grubbing B-list movie star. My aunt kept the conversation to herself, replaying it in her head and wondering what to do. She didn’t have to wonder long. A few days later, it was announced that for the patriarch, a new bride had been found. 

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