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Sometimes my husband talks in his sleep. Last night he said, “Ramona.” And I wish I hadn’t heard him.

When he’s awake and he talks about Ramona, Jim’s face gets the same glow as it gets, even now after all these years, when he holds me in his arms.

We met Ramona at least ten years ago at a party when she was an au pair for a couple we knew only slightly. Strawberry blonde, ringlets around her pale face, she’d glided through their living- room with the younger of their children in her arms. That night when we came home, Jim said that he would be surprised if Ramona were an effective au pair because she was such a china doll. At the time it didn’t seem like a compliment. When the couple moved away, we heard nothing more of Ramona.

And then, nearly a decade later, she answered an ad we’d placed on the bulletin board of the organic coop. But, as Jim said when she came to work for us, she’d become a different woman. Woman, he said, not china doll. Her curly hair had been cut short, and she was even more sleek than she had been when we’d first seen her.

Ramona had finished her stint as an au pair, had married brilliantly and then less brilliantly divorced, being left with domicile, dog and debt. Baby-sitting, she said, supplemented the income she had from her job in the bakery. She’d never finished college, believing her husband would support her. The marriage had been recent enough that she still wore fine clothes, gold bangle bracelets and rings on both hands.

“I never wear hoop earrings when I baby sit,” she’d said. “Kids like to grab them and pull. I learned that soon enough.”

“Ours are old enough not to do that,” I’d said. And the next time she came, though she didn’t wear hoops, she wore chandelier earrings so long that they brushed her neck. I was sorry I’d said anything. Though the kids didn’t pull them, Jimmy climbed right onto her lap and poked at the earring with his chubby index finger so the earring swung back and forth glittering in the lamplight.

Last Thursday Jim came home from his poker game, and I heard that tone in his voice that I had come to associate with Ramona. I watched the thought flit into my mind that I’d been wrong. He was talking like that, glowing, when he hadn’t been anywhere near her. But before that thought could settle itself and swell into joy, Jim kept on talking, and it turned out that the subject of the evening’s conversation had been Ramona, Ramona, Ramona. Wall to wall Ramona. The perils of Ramona. Ramona tied to railroad tracks by a mustachioed villain. Ramona ready for rescue. Each of the men had a story about the ill-used Ramona and her valor, and apparently Jim never once thought how odd that was.

Later that night, he looked at me, with the lit up face I’d once thought of as belonging only to me, but which now I thought of as hers, too. “You know what I’m thinking,” he said, a little private ritual we’d developed.

I answered, on cue, “ You love me.” Usually this response would be followed by at least one kiss, often more. Not then.

“Do you know what you said?”

I nodded, and he went on, “You said, ‘You love me,’ You emphasized me.”

I told myself that he’d never have dared say that if he had the smallest idea of his feelings about Ramona. I vowed that I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him.

At dinner we’d been talking about what had happened during the day. I was saying how I’d spoken to one of my students and urged her to go to college, to make sure she could earn a good living. I’d told her that even if you married a successful man, you could never tell what might happen and that you might need to support yourself and maybe children. “I was thinking of Ramona,” I said. Though Ramona had no children. Yet.

Jim was indignant. “My Ramona?” he said. “You think that begins to describe what happened to her.”

“How many Ramonas are there?” I murmured, not even saying what I wanted to scream, “What makes her your Ramona?

” I looked at our children, Jimmy drawing patterns in his mashed potatoes with his fork. Ellen, almost nine, sitting wide-eyed.

“Only one Ramona.” Jimmy said. Ellen solemnly nodded.

“Yes,” I said, keeping my tone as flat as I could.

“One,” said Jim.

Can I hold him responsible for what he says in his sleep? I don’t like to wallow in jealousy. After all, I know he loves me.

(c) 2004 Miriam N. Kotzin. "Ramona" was published in The Quarterly Staple, August 2004.