“I want to get married,” he says.
The words are fired off into the air and seem to settle there, stark and defiant, as though some invisible structure of wires and pulleys holds the phrase in place so I cannot turn away. Then each letter tumbles down through the air, disintegrating.
These are special effects. Perhaps I am viewing a movie trailer.
Now there is quiet. It floats between us, but is not awkward. I wonder if he saw me flinch when he spoke. I wonder if surprise registered in my eyes.
* * *
He sits on the love seat in the living room and I cannot help but smile at the term, love seat. So arcane, yet with the sweep of history. She insisted on explicit terms, and I am grateful. Everything had a name. Every legacy is mixed.
Could it be that I lose my nouns to spite her?
* * *
The room is preserved exactly as it was: brown corduroy upholstery, my father’s sitting chair, the small end table with a stack of books, and photographs in gilt-edged frames. I see myself, gap toothed and six years old. My bangs are badly trimmed. My face is pink and round.
By the hearth there is a copper bucket filled with logs, a black poker and a worn straw broom. My grandmother’s portrait hangs over the mantel. The wallpaper is typical of the sixties, a mossy pattern of laurels, fanning out against a creamy background with the effect of toile. But my mother would never have toile. She disliked the French and made no bones about it. So I have embraced the French language, and culture. I made them mine.
* * *
I try to focus, but the lighting is dim. There are four windows, yet heavy shades are lowered and lamps switched off. I know there is beauty here, but it is difficult to make out. This is a place where breathing is chore enough; seeing is mystifying.
Now my first-born is here, and I wonder how and why we find ourselves in the house emptied of objects five years ago. I helped with the sorting and inventory, the packing and labeling, rummaging through drawers, confirmation of suffering and secrets. This is a snapshot, the blue chill of lingering strictures, a house that I cannot return to, a house where memories are fixed and unfixable, where the mother loved then hurt, hurt then dismissed, dismissed then betrayed.
“It is just a house,” I tell myself.
* * *
He is the son of pain and divorce, the grandchild of pain and divorce, and he tells me he wants to marry. Somehow, I have convinced him that love exists. But I cannot hide my worry. There is no woman yet, though he declares his intentions.
“Why do you want to marry?” I ask.
He is pensive.
“To be alone seems sad. Look how sad you are.”
* * *
Now I hear his statement from weeks ago. “I blame both of you,” he says.
Words hang in the air between us, refusing to disintegrate. Five words, five years, five hundred whispers to a god who turns away. I am beyond the dream; my sons are not and I am scared for them, and relieved, and hide my face so they will not see my tears.
“Your grandparents got it right,” he says. “It must be possible.”
Yes, I think, but I know marriage in another guise: complex and constraining, delicate and breakable, impractical and impermanent. A well of unfathomable depths, and no means to climb out.
* * *
I am the child of unlit rooms, but my sons are not. I am the child of a tongue I do not speak, but my sons are not. I am the claustrophobic who dreams of venturing, and I have on occasion. My sons will journey far beyond my borders.
Perhaps I can raise these shades and allow the day to begin, but in this moment my legs and arms will not obey my command and I am aware only of their weight and their aching, the alarm in its irritating noise, the need to wake, to check on my younger son who is certainly still asleep, the need to drive, early, so we may get on with things.
© D A Wolf