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
He had drawn the mass of the wood, dark against the bright sky.
“It’s good,” she said, “it’s really very good.”
He accepted the praise without answer, and went over to the head.
He asked, “Is that me?”
“It will be,” she said. “Do you like it?”
He shook his head. “It looks mucky. But I don’t know how I look. I want to go now. I’ll come back tomorrow and finish the horse.”
“I’ll expect you,” she said. He was gone. She caught one more flashing line of profile and pressed it firmly into the clay. Then she wiped her hands and went to the window. He had mounted his horse and was riding away. She looked at his drawing again. It was surprising how well he had caught the shadows of the wood against the evening sky.
It was hard to say to Mark, brightly, as she had planned, “Mark, I’ve made some money today.” Any other woman she knew would have shouted it to her husband. Lucile, winning two dollars at bridge, always boasted, “Hal will be tickled pink—I’ve won nearly twelve dollars this month—almost enough to pay for the girl who comes in to stay with the brats while I’m away.” But she had made too much, too easily. Mark would ask, “How much is it?” And then when she told him, the dark dead look she dreaded would come into his eyes and he would say, “It’s more than I can make in three months—maybe, four.” She was ashamed to be able to do more than he could do. She could not bear to abase him. And there was that thing beyond money which she could not tell him because she did not know how, that desire, the strongest she knew, that need, that solitary fulfillment which separated her from him, she did not understand how, except that then she was alone and wanted to be alone, because she needed no one, not even him. She could not tell him that. She could tell him about the money but not about that.
In the kitchen, moving swiftly from stove to table to closet, she prepared the dinner that would please him. But it occupied only a part of her brain, it was only play for her hands. Even her hands were not working as they worked when she was modeling. Above the small business of chicken pie made from yesterday’s cold chicken, above an aspic salad and a dessert her mind went on pondering, reasoning. It was no good refusing any more to face the sort of woman she was and the sort of woman she wanted to be for Mark. Mark must be happy first, but how could she keep him happy, being what she was? There were the brackets he had made, “(Susan’s limit).”
She stared out into the sky above the wood outside the kitchen window. The sunset was gone, but the sky was glowing dark, and there hung the evening star, enormous in its nearness. It hung there, large, still, solitary and full of meaning. She suddenly felt quite alone with herself and yet she was not lonely. She looked about the kitchen and it was strange to her for a moment—a transient place, as though any day she might go out of it. She pulled it about her quickly.
“I must tell Mark everything,” she decided quickly. “Mark must know everything about me. It’s the only safety.” Then she thought, “But why is it I don’t feel safe?” She drew down the shade sharply and shut out the one star and the sky. She shut herself into the kitchen. And then Mark at the door said, “Do I smell something burning or not?”
And she ran to the stove and drew out the pie. One edge was crisping brown.
“You came just in time,” she cried. “Oh, Mark!” She put down the pie and ran into his arms.
He was so kind and so good. Why had she thought it would be hard to tell him?
“Promise—promise you won’t be hurt if I tell you something,” she begged him after dinner. It was almost too cold now to sit on the porch in the darkness, but he had wrapped his old tweed coat about her, and pulled a sweater over his head. “The stars are all out now,” he said. “When I came home there was only one big one over the woods. Come on out for one more night. Winter will be here soon enough.” And then he said, “Do you think you could tell me anything that would hurt me?” And she said, kneeling before him, looking into his face, dim in the starlight, “I can hurt you more than anyone else, and you can hurt me as no one can, because we love each other.” He stared back at her, and she could not see his eyes, but only the planes of his cheek and his chin and forehead, his dark brows, the line of his nose and his mouth.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Will you promise?”
“You can’t hurt me because I know you.”
“All right, but I don’t have to—Come here and sit on my knee.”
So she sat on his knee and felt his arm strongly around her.
“Mark, I thought over last night—and I still feel I want to do my share—do what I can, that is—and I thought of my modeling, so I went to see Mrs. Fontane, and luckily she had some friends there and they gave me two jobs.”
“Here—sit up a minute,” he said. “I want to light my pipe.”
“The Cupid really looks lovely, Mark,” she said, sitting upright. The match flared out, he drew hard once or twice, and pulled her back.
“Well?” he said.
“I’m to do a head for one of them, and a fountain for another.”
“Summer people?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Mark—please don’t mind—seven hundred.”
“Seven hundred!” he cried. “Why, Sue—”
She put her hand on his mouth. “Don’t say it—it doesn’t matter. Oh, Mark, let me please make a nursery out of the back bedroom and get a really good carriage and a crib! Why not, if I can?”
He pressed her hand against his lips, kissed it, and took it away and put his pipe in his mouth. She leaned back, her heart lightened. He was not going to be angry. Why had she thought it would be hard?
“This rather brings something to a head that’s been in my own mind, Sue,” he said. He knocked the ash out of his pipe and put it down carefully on the porch.
“You promised you wouldn’t mind,” she said quickly.
“It’s not a case of minding,” he said, “it’s a case of what’s fair to you, darling Sue. I want to be fair to you and I don’t know how.”
“Only stay as you are to me, Mark,” she begged him. “I love our life.”
But he seemed not to hear her. He had his arms about her tightly.
“I want you to do what you want,” he said in a whisper. “Go on and fix up your attic. That’s what you really want to do. I’ve seen it all along.”
She sat up, struggling out of his arms.
“But I don’t want to fix up the attic,” she said, astonished. “I want the things for the baby, not for myself. I don’t know what you mean.”
“Now you are hurt—it’s you who’s hurt!” he cried. “But all I want to say is I don’t want you to think that because you’ve married me that you can’t do what you want. I mean, if you have things you want to do, things I don’t know how to do, go on and do them.”
“Why, Mark—” she began, and stopped.
“I don’t feel I’m satisfying you,” he murmured, his voice miserable.
“Oh, darling, darling, darling!” she cried, and reached for him in the darkness.
“I know you’re different,” he muttered into her breast, “I’ve always known you were different. What right have I—”
“Hush,” she whispered, “don’t—it’s like sending me away to say such things. I’ll never touch my hand to clay again or to a brush.”
“Yes, you will!” He lifted his head. “Now, see here, Sue—that’s not fair. I’ve just been telling you—”
“You’ve been saying one thing and feeling another. You’re hurt to the bone about something, but I don’t know what it is. I’ve got to find out what it is and stop doing it. Is it the money?”
“No,” he said hotly. She was standing beside him now, her hand on his shoulder. “At least, it isn’t only money—”
“Would you rather I didn’t use any of the money on the baby?” she persisted. “Mark, I’ve got to know the truth.”
“Well,” he said doggedly out of the darkness, “a man would rather provide for his family himself. It makes him out a poor fish if he can’t buy necessities for his own baby. But—”
“I’ll stay in my limit, then,” she said resolutely.
“Oh, there’s no use my feeling so,” he broke in. “Besides, I don’t know that it’s that—I don’t know what it is—I can’t tell how I feel.”
“If you can’t tell, how am I to know?” she asked.
He did not answer. A long moment hung between them, silent and full of terror. Then he began speaking again, quietly and quite himself.
“Look here, Sue, my darling heart, I’ll have to find out how I feel. And I haven’t any right to say I won’t let you do things for the baby because I can’t. Let’s go fifty-fifty. I’ll swing my half of it—” He was feeling for her hand.
“Will you tell me if you don’t like even that?”
“Promise,” he said, pressing her head down to his shoulder.
“It’s not to last a moment if you don’t,” she said. “You’re more to me than anything.”
He was feeling for his pipe again.
“I’m not at all sure it’s the money,” he said. “Sit up while I light my match.”
“Then what?” she said, sitting up.
“Darned if I know,” he answered. “Here, lie back—I want you close.”
But lying in his arm again, she could not give herself up to him.
“I must find out for myself,” she thought. But she said nothing, and Mark did not speak, and she was lonely in his arms. There was no moon now. It had set. Light after light in the houses along the street went out, and the night grew dark. But darker than the night was the blackness of the wood under the stars.
“Let’s go upstairs,” she said, restlessly. “I’m tired, I think.”
“You mustn’t be tired,” he said gently. “It’s not like you to say that you’re tired.”
She did not answer. She let him half carry, half lead her to bed. She wanted to lean on him tonight in any way she could. She let him help her to undress, he drew her tub for her, and when she was in her nightgown he brushed her long hair. She did not often let him brush her hair, though she knew he loved to do it, because she did it so deftly and easily herself. His slow big hands irritated her and without knowing it his clumsiness pulled at her too delicate skin. But tonight she let him. And he was trembling and passionate.
“It’s such lovely stuff,” he whispered. He buried his face suddenly in her hair. “It’s such lovely, lovely stuff!” And after a moment he murmured, “I don’t believe even now I know what color it is—brown, chestnut, gold—it’s everything.” He drew her to him, and she was still lonely, though not alone. Perhaps because she never felt alone with Mark any more she felt the more lonely, the more apart from him, as though she were busy in something which he could not share.
Yes, she and Mark seemed never quite alone any more, and least alone in those times when they had been most deeply together before. Perhaps, she thought in the night, it was knowing that the child was growing, shaping, taking on his separate being hour by hour. This child must share even their passion, so that she grew shy of passion and somehow shy of Mark.
“It’s the child,” she murmured, drawing away from him.
“You must never do what you don’t want to do,” he said, and allowed her to draw away.
So there was no way of knowing what it was that changed between them. There was nothing to do but go on living every day and finishing what she had promised. She finished Michael’s head, working slowly and with more care than she had yet used on anything she had made.
He came now quite naturally to the attic and went leaping up the stairs without calling her. When she got there he would have tacked up a fresh piece of drawing paper, and with no more than a “hello” he would be laying on his colors. He never touched the clay, and each picture he made was different from the others. The first one still hung tacked to the wall by the window. He had worked on it for three days in intense silence, and he had made the wood large and dark and looming, and in the foreground was the horse galloping toward it, and himself the rider, hair flying, face lifted, body strained to the wood. Horse and rider were very small, but he had caught them in speed. He had done nothing else with so much finish. Everything else he had drawn largely and with uncertainty, not knowing exactly what he wanted to do. And she did not once ask him, “What are you making?” She left him alone, and worked in her own silence, absorbed in his face.
Then he went away to school and she worked a few days from memory, finishing the head. Once or twice his face slipped from her mind and she could not remember it at all. She went then and looked at his drawings, pondering them, not understanding them or trying to understand them, and his face came back. So she finished, and his mother came to see what she had done before she sent it away to be cast. She stood before it, staring at it from under her wide hat.
“It looks exactly like him,” she said at last, “only—I can’t think what he’s doing exactly. It’s a look I don’t understand. What’s he doing, Susan?”
“He’s riding toward the dark woods,” Susan said.
“How odd!” his mother murmured.
Susan did not answer. She covered the head with its cloth.
But when she was alone again, she went back and lifted it. She stood looking at it a long time, not thinking so much as allowing feelings to rise in her like mists, to swell and melt and swell and sweep her along. And then, in the silence, she heard Michael’s voice crying quite clearly from the lips of clay, and even though she heard only sound and no words, it was enough. She knew it was finished and well. And yet, listening, she felt suddenly afraid and separate from everyone—from Mark. She turned and ran downstairs, and going to her desk, she sat down and wrote to Mrs. Vanderwelt that she could not now make the fountain for her shrubbery. It was best if what she had to give the baby more nearly matched what Mark could give.
When she had written and sealed the letter, she sat thinking, and she put away the things she had planned for the child. It was not so important for him to have things as it was to have beneath his life the love between his parents unmarred. Love was a strange thing, sensitive to every change and situation. She had once dreamed of love as robust as life itself, enduring as time. But now she knew it must be sheltered and nurtured and guarded. Two people who loved each other were never quite free and natural with each other. They had always to be careful of their love not to hurt it or make it less. Love was so fragile, so easily, irreparably damaged and in such intangible ways. Now that Michael was gone she would not go any more to the attic.