Authors: Pearl S. Buck
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Life, #Historical, #Cultural Heritage, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Domestic Life, #Contemporary Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Literary
But she did not want to go back to anything. She turned to Mark eagerly, fully. “I’m happy!” she whispered. They sat down before their fire, warmed and fed. “Oh, that will be—glory for me—” she sang under her breath.
Mark laughed. “The first time I ever heard you sing that,” he said, “you were five years old and you were making a dress for a doll, on the top step of the porch.”
“Was I?” she cried. “You darling, to remember!”
“You don’t know when you sing it, do you? Any more?” he asked.
She shook her head. “It comes out of me,” she answered.
To part in the morning was such pain that they dreaded it from the moment she poured Mark his second cup of coffee. Then he looked at the clock.
“Ten minutes,” he said solemnly.
She flew to turn the clock around so its face could not be seen, and then she pushed her chair against his. At this moment she felt the house would be intolerably empty without him.
“If only you did something at home,” she said wistfully. “If you were a painter or a writer—”
“You’ve married an everyday chap,” Mark said soberly, stirring his coffee. “I’m afraid I’ll be going to office as long as I live, Sue.”
“There’s only one of you in the world,” she said quickly, and bent to kiss his hand. She looked at him acutely, intensely. “I have to remember you for three and a half hours,” she said.
“Can’t even be sure I’ll get home for lunch today,” he said sorrowfully. “Someone wants to look at the old Grainger place.”
“Oh, Mark,” she wailed, “all day!”
“Afraid so, darling,” he said, and got up and turned the clock back again.
The moment of parting was agony, the moment when he had turned the corner desolate, and yet, after they were passed, life closed about her warmly in a hundred things she had to do. She darted about the house, creating cleanliness, shaping their possessions into a basis of order. And then she went into each room as though she were painting its portrait, seeing each in its whole, studying every detail, the pattern a chair made, the line of a curtain’s fall, the splash of a picture’s color, the emphasis of a flower. The house was a whole, made up of the separate perfection of every room. But the perfection was not static, it must be alive, faithfully partaking of her life and Mark’s. It must be their house, lived in by Mark and by her. She made the study a place like Mark, the long sofa where his tall body could lie, the pillows flat because he liked to lie flat when he was tired. The desk was solid and uncluttered, the pictures clear and simple. It was strange that she could see his background better than her own. She changed her own possessions every other day, sure of nothing. Did her toilet table look better here by the window, or here opposite the bed? The flowers here or there? She was dissatisfied, and pondered, trying one thing and another without being able to find what she wanted.
Before she knew it the clock was at noon and she was guilty that the hours without him were so soon gone. He was there almost before she had missed him. She heard his voice calling from the hall.
“They didn’t come, after all, honey! I’m home!”
“Oh, Mark!” She flew into the kitchen and started everything at once. It was fun to see how fast she could do it all—the chops, the peas, the salad—set the table in between—put on the bowl of flowers—no artificial flowers in this house!
“There!” she said in fifteen minutes.
“There’s nobody like you!” He pulled out her chair.
“Oh, nonsense!” she said. “Don’t—I don’t like you to say that.”
“No, but look,” he said eagerly, “what have I done? Washed my hands, brushed my hair, changed my tie—I found I’d dropped something on that tie, how—”
“I’ll see to it,” she said quickly.
“And by the time I get downstairs, you’ve got lunch ready. Now you know there’s nobody like you!”
She smiled and did not answer. Why, indeed, did she not like him to say there was no one like her? It made her feel lonely. She wanted to be like everybody else. But Mark was talking eagerly, happily, eating with hunger.
“They phoned up just ten minutes before twelve that they didn’t want the Grainger place,” he was saying. “I started to ring you up, and then I thought, ‘I’ll get there as quickly as I can get her.’”
“Why didn’t they want the Grainger place?” she asked curiously. “It’s a beautiful old house.”
“Too far out for servants,” he said.
“Perhaps they’d like the Marsey summer place,” she said.
“Is it for sale?” he asked.
“It seems to me I heard they were going to live abroad now that Mr. Marsey is dead,” she said. “I don’t know where I heard it, but—”
“You have a memory like flypaper,” he said. “But why didn’t I think of it myself?”
He got up and went to the telephone quickly and she waited. “The boss said, ‘Swell idea,’” he said, sitting down again. “I said, ‘My wife’s.’”
“Oh, Mark,” she said with reproach, “it just happened I thought of it. You shouldn’t have told him.”
“It’s all right,” he said curtly, “it also happens that I didn’t think of it.”
She looked at him, her heart shrinking in fear. “Have I done something wrong?” she asked. “Why, Mark, you look angry with me!”
He got up abruptly and came over to her and kissed her. “Why do you sit so far away from me?” he asked, and pulled her chair beside his. “Let’s sit side by side, always.”
Somewhere she had read that love was a force which expanded the being. People who had not known they could do anything wrote poems or music or undertook great tasks when they were in love. But it was not so with her. She drew Mark’s love about her like a close and warmly enfolding cloak, and did nothing great, even in dreams. She did not once go to the attic or think even of her modeling. Her hands were satisfied to do the work of this house she loved better every day. When she had made it fresh and had added to it every beauty she could devise and imagine, setting forth every possession into its most perfect place, then she would go into the kitchen, and poring over a cookbook, she would plan and make. When everything was finished, she waited, full of content, and satisfied in her own being, until Mark came home. She built his love about her like the walls of the small house on the edge of the wood.
Of the wood she was always aware. It was a deceptive wood. It seemed, at the end of the street, like a shallow spread of trees, but once entered it went on for miles, unexpectedly tangled and deep, over ground too rough and rocky to tempt clearing for a farm. There was a stream, after a while, running darkly at the bottom of a chasm of wet black rock, and then the wood went on again.
Mark hated the wood. She had led him there last Sunday afternoon and he had tramped doggedly along beside her in silence.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she said, lifting her face to the shadowy trees, dark now with midsummer fullness.
“It makes me feel queer,” he said. “How was it I didn’t see it that day when I asked you to marry me? I didn’t see anything that day but you.”
A loneliness fell upon them, although they were walking hand in hand. They came to the stream and looked down upon it, flowing upon black rock.
“It must have taken a million years for it to cut a gash like that in this hard rock,” Mark said, and immediately the loneliness of a million years was added to them. They stood staring down and suddenly a crash and a roar burst up from the chasm. A little further down the bank, where the stream curved, a loosened rock had fallen into the stream. It settled, trailing lesser rocks and earth and small trees, and after a boiling moment, the water parted smoothly and flowed on either side, and the rock stood as though from ages.
“Let’s go home,” said Mark. “We’ve come too deep into it. I’ve always heard stories about this place.”
“You said once you were not afraid here with me,” she reminded him.
“I’m not afraid anyway,” he retorted. “Only why not walk in the sunshine?”
So they had turned homeward. When they came out of the twilight of the trees, the sun was still high in the street. They could see people coming back from golf, from picnics. A few blocks away Lucile and Hal were coming home, Tommy walking sturdily between them. Lucile waved and Hal shouted, “Missed you folks at the club today!”
Mark waved his hat and Susan her hand and they went up their own steps.
“We ought to get around to the club once in a while,” Mark said. “We don’t want folks to think we’re stuck up.”
“Oh, they wouldn’t,” she said warmly. “They know us.”
She forgot them and went into the kitchen singing, and set about supper.
“All the same,” said Mark a few minutes later, “it’s easy to get folks thinking you’re stuck up, Sue, especially when you’re the sort of person you are.”
She stopped her slicing of an orange for fruit salad. She had been thinking how exquisite was the making of an orange, the segments of tiny drops of enclosed color. She stood, holding nothing but an orange, staring at Mark.
“Why, what do you mean?” she asked, wondering.
Her face was flushed and she felt a little angry with him.
“Nothing, except that sometimes the way you do things—the way you go ahead—sort of—people don’t always understand.”
She went on slicing the orange. He had hurt her, but she would not tell him.
“Oh, everybody knows me in this little town,” she said quietly. “They’ve always known me—Lucile and the girls and all the boys.” She felt suddenly far away from Mark. Once when she was quite small, she had heard a teacher say to another, “Sue is a strange child, isn’t she? She’s not like the other children.”
She snapped on the light and he saw her face.
“I guess I don’t know what I am talking about,” he said slowly. “You—I want you to be yourself.”
“I can’t be anything else,” she said. “Come, Mark—sit down.”
And when they sat down, he said, “This is the best fruit salad I’ve ever tasted, Sue—you’re a wonder of a cook.”
A handful of words flew out of her brain and hung on the end of her tongue. She almost let them flick out at him like the barbed end of a serpent’s tongue. “There’s a bitter orange in it, Mark—take care!”
If she spoke them, he would look at her innocent and surprised. She withheld them. She was too easily hurt. She had learned long ago to withhold the flick of her words when she was hurt. She learned, when she was quite a child, that she could make her mother look afraid when she spoke out what flashed from her brain. The first time she had seen the fear in her mother’s eyes she went away into her room and cried. “I must never—never—never—make anyone afraid of me because I am hurt,” she told herself passionately, and remembered it forever.
“Have another helping, then, my darling,” she said to Mark and filled the plate he held out to her.
But they went no more into the wood. Mark did not want to go and she would not go without him. But suddenly, for no reason, she remembered something. Upstairs in the attic was the unfinished head. Though she went to the attic sometimes to clean and dust, she did nothing else there. Now, because Mark had hurt her, she went upstairs the next day and she stood, looking thoughtfully about the empty room. But she did nothing to furnish it. She still did not even lift the cloth from the unfinished head.
“You have everything a woman could want,” her mother said one day, looking around the living room. “A good husband and a nice home in the best neighborhood in town.”
“Yes, I have everything,” she said, smiling.
“Mark’s so steady,” her mother went on. She had refused to take off her hat. “I’ve got to get right back,” she always said. She might sit an hour or two, but if she had her hat on she felt she was going at any moment. “The work’s piled up waiting.”
“I’ll come back with you,” said Susan. “I’m all finished.”
“Oh no,” her mother said quickly. “You have your own house now. I wouldn’t want Mark to think I couldn’t manage—”
“I’m just coming home to see you,” she said, laughing. “Besides, I have everything in our house just about finished—all except the attic, and I don’t know yet what I want to do to that.”
“It looks lovely,” her mother said wistfully, looking around on the shining order. “You keep it wonderfully—you always had a knack.”
“It keeps itself,” said Susan, “it’s the easiest house in the world. It lives along with us. Things just run back into their places—like this!”
She waved her hands and lifted her eyebrows. But her mother did not smile.
“It’s all right now,” she said with meaning. “Later, you’ll find you have to have help. Well, I must go.”
“I’ll get my hat,” said Susan.
“It’s a real sweet house,” her mother said, pausing on the new sidewalk to look back. “The only thing is, I shouldn’t care, for myself, to live on the edge of those black woods.”
“I like them, somehow,” Susan answered, “though Mark feels as you do, I think.”
She walked with her mother, her feet familiar with the way. But she was free of her mother now. When she went home again it was of her own will. She entered into the house and began instantly the old habitual round of dishes to be washed, the downstairs to be swept and dusted.
“I just left everything this morning,” her mother murmured. “I wanted to get to the store early, since it’s Saturday and people pick over things so, and then I thought I’d go round by your place because it’s such a lovely day. Well, I’ll make the beds if you’re down here.”
She went heavily up the stairs and Susan tied a clean towel over her hair and flew about the rooms. It was pleasant to make order and freshness. She sang as she worked. When she was a girl this had seemed sometimes nearly drudgery, day after day, when her mind had been full of other things she wanted to do. But it had never been quite drudgery because something in her was satisfied as she worked. She was creating and changing. The rooms assumed a shape and an atmosphere under her hands.
When she was nearly finished, at the top of the house a door banged.
“Is that you, Susan?” her father’s voice roared down the two flights of stairs.
“Yes, it is!” she sang back.
“Come up here!” he shouted.
And when she had run up the stairs to him he stood leaning over the banister, his hair tousled, smoking his old cherrywood pipe.