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Authors: Susan Minot

B0042JSO2G EBOK (9 page)

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But the worst of it was
where is the water
what the weakness did to her thoughts
help me God
she could not push it away
. She had always been sure there was a God, she’d been taught by nuns, went to church, she used to go more. She did not doubt God, nor wanted to. Well she would find out in not too long a time. Had she been good enough in her life? Her fingers lay on the bedspread looking longer and thinner than they ever had. It was not a question she wanted to ask herself. It did not make the pain go away.

A door slammed in the draft down the hall, rattling the bottles on the bedside table. Ted’s footsteps used to shake the floor from downstairs, rattling things, rattling things in her, she braced herself
for his coming up. So much of life was bracing oneself
make it go away
she was not as she once was
I can’t begin to explain
the old way was not working, she was apart behind a glass pane, her thoughts were splintered in her cheek, she was not gone yet
wait wait there’s something
she wanted to be scattered she told them that, she thought dizzyingly of all the lives which had disappeared before her and how vast that was, she mustn’t think of it, it was too tremendous to think of, too tremendous and awful, she tried folding herself back, a tune played in her head
don’t get around much anymore
she just wanted it to go away
spring will be a little late this year
the light came in the window
let’s just say you won’t see the leaves
it was dark around her ankles, he was braiding her hair into the wet grass, it was still out of sight, the end of the road, the disappearance of herself, it was out of sight, she could not picture it, her imagination could not find it, herself not there
I’ll never get out now
she thought
I’ll never get back down those stairs
a moth batted against the ceiling against the ceiling against the ceiling

She sat at the dressing table in a white slip, screwed on pearl earrings, plucked her eyebrows. She blotted fuchsia lipstick, crossed the carpet in stocking feet. The girls were folding themselves into the closet mirrors. Phil was gone, they’d just gotten Abbott, they were living in Elsie Roland’s carriage house.
Where are you going Mummy? Why are you always going out? When are you coming back?
There was someone the Rolands wanted her to meet. His name was Bill somebody. But Bill had brought a friend—Ted Stackpole. I’m going to marry that girl, Ted Stackpole said to the Rolands when Ann Katz left the room. He was big, filling his armchair, and rich. He did not need to work. Ted Stackpole liked to play games. Two weeks later he was carrying her off a porch away from the music. I have decided, he told her. Was it too soon? Don’t think, said her friends, just do it. They took a honeymoon. The girls stood in the hall affronted watching her count her bags. Abbott lured them back into the kitchen.
We can make fudge!
In Mexico
the gondolas were covered with flowers. They went through the tunnel twice. There was a lost lamb outside a cave and inside thrones and asparagus. He bought her earrings and a blouse and a crucifix. They drank mango wine and the windows swung wide open in the morning. Ann watched him walk naked from the bed.

They bought the house in Connecticut with the lawn stretching down to the water. There was a playhouse for the girls. They heard gulls cawing. They walked along the sea wall, raked leaves. At night it was black and quiet. Margie slept with the cat. There was a blizzard one spring. The eaves dripped. She planted tulips. On grey afternoons the vacuum hummed. A kite speared the ground like a dart. The girls were sprawled on the Sunday papers reading the funnies. She got a too short haircut. They shot clay pigeons, they shot ducks. They pulled her onto the bed. I
will always, I will never
The girls listened to her round belly.
When is it coming? How does it get out?
Constance wanted a brother, Margie wanted a brother too.
When is it coming out?
There were going to be two! Both boys. Ted had twins in his family. The scar would only show in a low bathing suit. He wasn’t there when she woke up, he had gone for a drink. When he came he kept his coat on. She could tell the babies apart, but that had happened yesterday, having the twins.

Ted called her from upstairs. He called her from downstairs. Her life was checking off a list while he called. She changed diapers while he was calling. She fastened a bracelet against her rib. She tucked in the girls.
When are you coming back? One more kiss
She opened the window an inch, she left a crack of light in the door. She picked lint from their sweaters. Picked up the groceries. Picked out the fabric. Picked them up at school. Picked flowers.
What did you do today? What did you do? Because you’re my wife that’s why
. She ordered the liquor store to deliver
Ann come here! Ann! Ann!
She followed them down the dock. Followed them into the dining room. She fried bacon. She followed them into the darkness. They were at the office, they were playing golf. The children rode on their shoulders. They threw balls. She was in a box in
the window.
Nothings the matter why?
They mixed drinks.
Would you like another?
She never turned to another place, she never turned away.
Come here they said
. She was their wife.
Come here
. They handed back the baby. It was crying. Someone was always crying.
I’ll go see
She laughed when he did the snaps up wrong.

She went shopping. The girls picked out shoes. She lay clothes on beds, tucked them into drawers. She was not in any other life only this one. She folded towels, sponged counters, wiped stoves, opened the icebox, set out tea cups, poured sugar bowls, baked potatoes, made hamburgers. They took it in front of the television. She had her hair done
you look nice tonight thank you
their hand pressed the small of her back, they played Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, she wept, they drove home
is anything the matter I’m just tired that’s all we’re all a little tired
She slept on the left side, she slept on the right depending on which one it was.
I’m sorry not now I’m trying to tell you! Alright I’m listening
She lost what she meant, she could not find it, he was shouting. He was not saying I
will always I will never
He was furious. He was screaming. He pushed her down. He hit her on the back.
Goddamn you don’t you ever
—no it could not have happened to her, that was someone else
because you’re my wife that’s why
She ran a bath. They were expected at dinner, ice dropped in glasses, red meat bled on plates, bright eyes in candlelight
you looked like you had a good time
She was in bed in the dark.
Come over here there you are

She played tennis with the ladies. They lunched at the club—little white dresses, anklets with balls above the sneakers, bamboo sunglasses, bamboo pocketbooks. Four iced teas. Someone was putting in a new pool. Club sandwiches. Cottage cheese. Someone had a new sitter. Let’s split a dessert. Someone was going back to Bermuda. Someone spent the night in New York. Have you read—? Have you seen—? She threw a sweater over her shoulders. Sometimes there were bruises and in the morning Ted smelled of alcohol and rotten fruit. She did not mention it, they complained about their husbands, but she was quiet. She wished.

Then it happened. It was a spring morning. They called her from the club and she drove straight to the hospital. The tennis pro
met her there. Ted had played three sets then resting in the clubhouse on a bench slumped to the side knocking over the cage of tennis balls. The pro knew CPR. He called the ambulance. She listened to this story at the hospital and Ted was already gone. He left her but she had already left him. She did not mention that. She had wished for it and it had happened.

The morning of the funeral the water off the lawn was whipped up chalk-grey. The twins were too young to go. The girls stood beside her in Florence Eisemann dresses. People stood in the pulpit and said he lived how he wanted. Ted, they said, was saving them a stool at the bar. She felt minutely defined, full of air, lighter than air. Everyone came back to the house, it was like Thanksgiving with everyone in dark clothes, the women in heels. She felt hollow with a jaw of bronze. She could not sleep in their bed, could not sleep, the air inside her was twisting around. They gave her pills and finally she slept on the carpet. She did not know what to do. She thought I
must do something
She became someone else. There were the children. Grace Stackpole came and stayed. She felt she had to decide something but there wasn’t anything to decide. There was nothing to do but to wait. That was all she could do—wait to see what would happen, wait she supposed for someone else.

They stood for a long time in the rock garden meeting each other’s bodies for the first time too shy to stop standing and find the bench Ann Grant had mentioned.

They stood and each time he touched a new place she sort of fell off an edge and each time he said something she dropped deeper into herself and further into the night around them. She would have fallen over if he’d not held her up. Her hand was on his shoulder and she thought, this is his shoulder with my hand on it. He had a sort of mirthful look on his face when he’d pulled her sleeves back and looked at her shoulders with the pale line of the shirt in a scoop, but when he looked down now he was not smiling. His mouth came close and kissed her mouth.

How could that have ever stopped? How could his arms have gone? He nuzzled her neck, he was insistent at her shirt sending thrills through her and she laughed. Do you always behave this way with strangers? she said.

You are not a stranger, he said. Isn’t there some place we can go?

6. T

er husband helped her up from the sand in the dark with the waves crashing behind. Before they rejoined the party she pulled her disheveled hair back into a clip. Once inside the light of the open room he walked away from her and plopped down on the couch beside a woman smoking a thin cigar, Dan Shepley’s new wife. Ann Lord leaned on an inside windowsill and listened to men discuss money, her heart still beating high and light near the surface of her chest. She shook out her skirt and sand spilled from the hem. Later she caught Oscar’s eye across the room, he looked triumphant. On the way home in the car he said, I like how you get around the ocean.

On the knotty dark path moonlight made a lacy pattern on the ground and tree trunks.

Are you leading me into hell? he said.

The trees moved back and they were near the water lapping under the float with an occasional gurgling sound. Silhouetted against the water was the outline of a shed. Ann Grant tugged open the door.

Everything was white. She was picnicking on top of a huge white rock with Glenda the Good Witch. A pale valley spread below with lakes of milk and jagged shores. Suddenly the earth shifted and a great crack zigzagged across the rock which turned out to be papier-mâché. A mist swirled white, there was the nurses white uniform, her white bedspread, the white tin table on wheels with white cotton balls and white boxes of needles and Oscar’s white hats and Oscar’s closely cropped white hair.

He was wearing a white hat when she met him in the stands in Saratoga, he had another woman on his arm with a flower in her chignon. We’ve met before, he said, with a slight accent. He’d grown up in Europe. She did not remember him or the night, still being married to Ted, and now so recently a widow, did not take his flirtations seriously. The long-faced woman gazed off, but Oscar Lord was not discouraged and once again Ann was saved from being too long a time on her own.

He was nearly twenty years older, not tall with a wide chest and round head. He stepped softly in soft leather shoes, wore tailored shirts, was eager-faced with a pensive mouth, unlike himself, made her laugh, breathed quietly in his sleep and after nearly fifteen years of marriage still knocked politely on the bathroom door. He called her Darling, did not remember his dreams, slept in the other room when she was reading, then moved into the other room altogether, was proud of his wife’s taste, proud of his daughter Nina, proud like a child of the shape of his feet.

Oscar Lord took her to Rome, he took her to Venice, he could not have children then Virginia happened and the end of the world happened and Ann was pregnant. It was thrilling. Oscar hovered around the baby, the feedings and the changings, nervous, mystified,
and when Nina started to walk he’d hold her little hand, take her on excursions he called them, doting on her, so Nina grew up in his glow. He seemed never to age, his skin stayed smooth, only the eyes softened, he liked his wine and his sauces, he put on weight, complained of indigestion, and that Sunday morning in May after breakfast on the porch while the plates were being cleared turned perplexed to the side porch, stretched out on the chaise lounge and fell asleep and did not wake up. He was seventy-four. What had gone on in Oscar’s mind Ann did not know. He liked a woman in a great hat, dinner parties, opera. He said it was important to be obstinate but was not in the least. He was in his own world where he smiled frequently to himself and did not wonder overly about his feelings or about his wife or about the feelings his wife had for him. Oscar did not trouble her and by then in her life that was frankly what she preferred.

It might be a good distraction for her, Nina said.

It’s a little creepy, Margie said.

She never liked them before, Constance said. She had a little pile of mail in her lap and was opening get well cards. Why should she now?

The circumstances are different.

Yes, said Constance. Worse.

The girls would like it, Teddy said. They love birthday parties.

Then by all means, Constance said. Let’s do it for the girls. She wasn’t reading the cards, just taking them out of the envelopes and making a pile.

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