The six-year-old working the mushroom stall at the market that morning was eyeing me up and down. It was only a matter of time before she made her way over.
I have this effect on little girls lately, and I think I know why. My husband, Henry, has been the object of fascination of every little girl I’ve ever seen within his proximity, and his magic has rubbed off on me. Unsurprisingly, she approached Henry first.
“You know,” she said, pointing to an open notebook on Henry’s music stand just as he was about to pick up his guitar, “if you really want people to think you’re good, you should do it without the book.” Henry looked at her, pleasantly stunned.
“Oh. This is a list. It’s not the music,” he explained. “The list tells me which songs to play next.”
“Did you see I gave you money already? In your guitar box?”
“I did. Thank you.”
“You. Are. Welcome.” She said it as if each word were a poem unto itself. Then, she pivoted on the heel of her rubber boot and found me standing against a pillar, in my regular position as Henry’s roadie, security personnel, and No. 1 fan.
“Is he your husband?” she asked, motioning to Henry with her thumb.
“Guess how old I am,” she said, eyebrows raised.
I took a moment. I knew she wasn’t 8 because 8 is the magical age of self-awareness, and this little wonder was far too uncontaminated for that baloney. I did not want to guess too low for fear of hurt feelings (or reprisal)!
“Seven,” I said.
She looked at me deadpan. “I’m very smart for my age.”
“I can see that.”
She started tapping on my purse like a bongo drum and dancing. This went on for a minute as I stood by awkwardly and she smiled up at me. Then, solemnly, she took my hand in hers. It was thin and surprisingly cold.
“Maybe we could get married,” she said. Staring up at me with her wide eyes, she was so earnest, and I could only look to the heavens and laugh.
As complimentary as the impromptu marriage proposal had been, I was starting to feel guilty. After all, I knew in my heart Henry was the real reason for the girl’s attention being lavished on me. Marital osmosis had given me a hint of Henry’s supercool soul, and here I was, entertaining a six-year-old mushroom seller and ignoring his solo acoustic Saturday show.
In fact, I was feeling protective of my husband in that moment. The reason is too hard to say out loud, so we have not told too many people. Six months before that day at the market, we learned Henry was going to need a kidney transplant. We had a year, maybe two, before his kidneys would fail completely.
My initial reaction, when I realized the nature of the kidney transplant operation, along with my potential as a living donor, was not heroic. I was appalled that such a surgery could exist in this age: “They cut into human flesh, carve out a bloody organ, and deposit it into another human body?” I thought. It did not sound right. It did not even sound sanitary. By the way, where was all the technology? Part of me was hoping for an advancement in 3-D body part printing or human organ cloning for a solution. But no, we are not there yet.
I had been struggling with the decision. After all, Henry needs a kidney, and I have two perfectly good ones. We are the same blood type, so my kidney could very well go directly into his body. But the prospect of going under the knife, which is a terrifyingly literal expression, had kept me up at night, staring at the ceiling and trying to find a way to keep him alive that wasn’t so scary for me.
I have known Henry Taylor since I was 16 and he was 19, and he still wears the same combination of jeans and a lumber shirt he wore back then. He still has the air of mystery one would expect from an older, high school heartthrob, and the crush I had on him then is the same crush I have today, in our 20th year of marriage.
Staring at the ceiling has made me contemplate life and mortality and how many years we have left as physical beings on this beautiful planet. But mostly, I have been thinking about Henry.
If we choose the right partner in this life, they rub off on us in all the ways we need them to, and in my best moments, Henry has made me the kind of human a little girl might want to marry on the spot: cool, kind and unwilling to sacrifice their integrity.
“Babe. I think I’m done.” Henry called over as I stood by the pillar, daydreaming. He had been playing for a few hours, and my six-year-old friend was back at the mushroom stand.
“Yeah, last one.”
“Hey! I like this song,” said the little girl, who magically appeared beside me. She started dancing with abandon next to Henry, and Henry could barely contain his laughter as he sang.
Henry has made me whole, and I, in return, will do the same for him.
Monique Montgomery lives in Waterloo, Ont.