Monday, October 23, 2017

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Weight on Lilies

October 29, 2009 

By: T. L. Reed

Enid Brigham moved to Rumney as a bride of seventeen, back when New Hampshire had a lumber industry. She’d been through two husbands there, one bad and one good, but for sixty years she’d kept her little Cape looking like somebody cared. For the first decade, her waking hours were mostly drowned in the scream of the big blade down in the hollow behind the barn. The mill went bust, though, not long after her first husband lurched dead-drunk into the rig – “fell apart,” Enid often said, “more’n he done already.” Barely a trace of the old building stood there in the alder thicket that had sprung up in the wet soil. What Enid heard now when the storm windows were stacked in the shed and the sashes and the doors stood open was the burble of milk tankers downshifting on the grade north of the house – or, if they were dead-heading back to Vermont, laboring up through the gears. But tonight, the doors and windows were shut up tight, with Enid’s homemade draft-busters snug along the cracks. The stove back in the kitchen ripped through thick chunks of birch, and the guest room light wedged out through the snow onto a teeming drift.

Enid tapped on the guest room door. She knocked again, louder. “Sarah?” She twisted the knob and leaned into the room. “Sarah?”
“Yes?” Sarah Morgan stood in front of the bureau. “Oh, hello, sweetie.” She was arranging a trio of photographs on the dresser scarf, next to a well-thumbed Bible.
“You all settled in, are you? Ready for a little somethin’?”
Sarah laughed uncertainly. “I’m sorry, Enid. Eddie’s what?”
“No, I said, are you ready? Ready for some supper? Are you all settled in?”
“Oh, gracious! I’m just fine, thank you, dearie. Lovely. I’ll be right in.”
Sarah first saw Enid’s house in 1918, the year her husband George started the summer camp for boys up on Billings Pond. The mill foreman owned the place then. The first time she went inside– actually she got carried in – was a year later. She was driving down from the camp in a buck-board to meet George Morgan at the station. The horse had a run-in with a swarm of white-faced hornets a quarter-mile from town and it took off hell-bent-for-leather down the hill. Sarah held on for dear life, jabbering through the Twenty-third Psalm, but when a wheel hit one of the whitewashed stones lined up in front of the house she got pitched out onto a split-rail fence just past the foreman’s driveway. The first George heard of it was the man’s son running up the station platform yelling, “Doctor Morgan! Doctor Morgan! Come quick! Your wife’s bad hurt! She’s all stove in!” When he got to her, Sarah was stretched out on a bench in Enid’s kitchen-to-be with a wet dish-towel plastered over her eyes. She’d passed out for a minute – “swooned,” they said down at Baldwin’s Store – but she suffered nothing worse than a bad bruise on her right arm and a couple of sore ribs. None broken. George joked she’d finally made a case for staying in her whalebone corsets long after most other ladies had freed themselves up a bit. George was always going on about something. Sarah generally chose to see love behind the levity – something that memory made easier, now.
Enid was at the range when Sarah shuffled into the kitchen. Enid’s apron was worn so thin you could see the floral print of her dress right through it, like water lilies under ice. She usually wore a housecoat in the winter, but tonight she had the wood-stove stoked up to glowing for Sarah. Enid’s fluffy mules looked like twin dust mops mustered up on the braided rug she stood on.
“Nice and cozy in here,” said Sarah.
“But you’ll need all them blankets on your bed later.”
“I saw you put them out. Thank you so much. And thanks for having me.”
“We’ll be havin’ some good fun, won’t we, Sarah?”
Sarah hadn’t forgotten how to titter. Enid loved that. “Jim was surprised, you know, you hadn’t already whipped up a couple dozen doughnuts. And cookies.”
“Really?”
“Didn’t you see the way he was sniffing around when they all came in? Like a bloodhound. He’s afraid they won’t be able to fit me back in the car after four days of your cooking.” Sarah drew a chair from under the table and dropped onto the caning with an ominous snap. “Me and all that silly ski paraphernalia of theirs.” She folded her hands on her stomach and beamed up at her hostess.
For close to a dozen summers, Enid had been Sarah’s companion at her cottage up at the camp.
She’d even spent a few autumns down in Barrington looking out for Sarah and her son Jim’s children, while Jim’s wife Dee took classes up at the School of Design. The Morgans paid her generously, even though Enid always swore she didn’t want a thing for being there. She swore anything they forced on her she’d just give to the Rumney Congregational Church, and she did. But even if Enid had given it, say, to Elvis Presley or Castro, Sarah would still have counted her a friend instead of an employee. They’d put in a lot of time together in the same little valley, planning Fourth of July picnics and charity drives and the like.
“Your Jimmy! I wisht he was standin’ here right now,” Enid chanted, whacking her spoon on the stove top. “I’d give him . . . I dunno . . . a piece o’ somethin’.” Sarah laughed again. “Can’t he ever stop teasin’?”
Sarah shook her head. “He comes by it honestly.”
“How’s that?”
“Well, George was a tease. And when George passed on, it was almost as though Jimmy started teasing for the both of them.”
“Well,” said Enid, scowling at her spoon as she set it down. “If he wasn’t your boy – lookin’ out for you and all? I’d say it was hateful. You look just wonderful to me.”
“Thanks, sweetie. So do you.”
Enid turned and wiped her hands on the apron. “Really?” A hint of brown soldiered on in her tight, silver perm, but the creases on her face were as deep as they were kindly.
“Of course. Of course you do. Especially considering . . . .”
“No, no,” said Enid, waving her hand. “Silly o’ me to ask. Let’s, uh. Let’s think about eatin’.
There’s a pot roast in the oven and I got potatoes boilin’. Last I looked, anyway.” She pulled the lid off a steaming pot and stuck a fork in. “Ayuh. Almost done. Perhaps I’ll make a salad. You like a salad?”
“I’d love one. Let me make it.” Sarah went to push herself up, but Enid’s side chairs had no arms. She sighed and dropped her hands on her knees, smiling a little forlornly.
“You know?” said Enid, after a beat. “I need to wash the lettuce ‘n’ all. But you can make gravy, if you like.”
“Oh, please,” said Sarah, rolling up to her feet. She found her balance and moved over to the range.
“Here,” said Enid. She reached into a drawer and pulled out another apron. It was thick, stiffly folded, clearly never used. “Don’t want to get nothin’ on that beautiful sweater.”
Sarah looked down and stretched the hem of the cardigan away from her bulky torso. “Dee made the pattern and knitted it up for Christmas. Last year, I think. It’s hard to keep track.” She looked at her friend and let the wool snap back.
“Unicorns, is it?”
“And a Greek key pattern here. I love the ancient world. All those myths.”
Enid nodded. “Dee’s really the handy one, ain’t she? Here. I’ll drain the drippin’s into that saucepan.
Mind yourself, now. They’ll be wicked hot.”

They’d finished their meal and Sarah was drying the last of the dishes when it felt like the right time to talk about Enid’s rough autumn.
“You know,” she said, “I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it up for Jock’s service.”
“I know,” said Enid. She took the damp towel from Sarah and hung it on the rack behind the stove.
“Jim and Dee wanted to drive me up, but they had a big recruiting fair for the camp. And, you know, somehow I just couldn’t face riding up on the dirty old bus.”
“And you shouldn’t’ve, honey. Don’t be silly now. It didn’t make no difference to Jock.” Enid looked over at her with a wry smirk, then bit her lip. “And I know you were thinkin’ about me. You called and all, and you sent them beautiful ‘mums. And the check for the Sunday School Fund.”
“Still, it’s not the same as being here.”
“Let’s sit down.” Enid grabbed Sarah’s arm and led her back to the table, helping her into the chair.
“Can I fetch an afghan?”
“No thanks, sweetie.”
“Maybe some Sanka? Or warm milk?” Enid half rose out of her seat.
“Not unless you’d like some.”
“Maybe later. Change your mind, though, you let me know.” She settled again.
Sarah smiled and nodded.
“No sufferin’ in silence now.” Enid held up an admonitory finger.
Sarah laughed. “Never fear. I’m even getting better standing up to Jimmy.”
“No!” said Enid.
“I am!” Sarah paused, then leaned forward and grabbed Enid’s hands across the table. “Do you miss him terribly?”
Enid Brigham looked up. Her lower lip curled in and she dropped her gaze. When she looked up again, her eyes were swimming. “I do, honey!”
“Mmmm,” Sarah cooed, bouncing Enid’s hands in her own. “He was a wonderful man. You were lucky to have him while you did.”
Enid’s look was steady but her lips drew in again. “Ohhh, forgive me, honey,” she said, shaking her head and pulling a hand away. She tugged a handkerchief out of her apron pocket and dabbed at her eyes. She sniffed deeply and went on. “I was lucky. So lucky. After Fred, you know, I didn’t think I’d ever want to be with a man again.” A gust rattled the storm door. Enid looked over and chuckled.
“What is it, sweetie?”
“It’s snowin’.”
Sarah smiled indulgently. “Of course it’s snowing. There’s a blizzard out there.”
Enid stuffed the handkerchief in her apron and laid her hands back in her friend’s grasp. Sarah’s fingers were warm as rising dough. “Most big storms, you know, Fred wouldn’t even shovel.”
“Oh, Enid.”
“Not even the drive.” Enid snorted sharply. “Made me do it. Women in town said I shoulda shamed him into doin’ it ‘cause it’s man’s work.” She looked intently at Sarah. “But shamin’ Fred Morse? Ha! They didn’t know Fred.” Sarah’s eyebrow cocked then settled. Enid continued, “Nor did I, really. Very well. I wish I had.”
“Oh, I dunno, honey.”
“George always said Fred seemed like a hard worker.”
“So he was. When it suited him. And when, you know, he wasn’t at the bottle. Or chasin’ the new school mistress. Didn’t work a lick, though, compared to how Jock worked.” She shook her head. “Didn’t ever really love it, like Jock. Workin’. Gettin’ up early and puttin’ his shoulder to the wheel. Jock spent all day at all kinds of odd jobs up to Jack o’ Lantern Cabins there, you know? Mowin’ and all. Then he’d come back here and I could scarcely get him to sit down and kick off his shoes.” She smiled wistfully.
“When he was only just payin’ court, he put new screens on all the windows, every one, and dug out the bad sill over there.” She flared an elbow towards the back wall. “Cut out the rotted old joists and scabbed in new. Paid for it all, too. Every cent. Wouldn’t take nothin’.” Enid snorted again. “‘Cept my hand in Holy Matrimony.’”
“Sounds very romantic,” said Sarah. “Coming calling on his lady with a tool-box in hand.”
Enid giggled with her. “Well, he did bring flowers, too. Lots.”
“I bet he did.”
“And he asked me out for walks down along the river, through Browns’ pastureland.”
“Mmmm.”
“Held my hand. Held it so tight, sometimes, seemed like he was afraid I might float away.” There was a long silence. “Are you chilly, honey? You look chilly to me.”
“No, I’m fine,” Sarah answered. “I was just thinking about some things. My own walks. Remembering.”
“Lemme just throw in a couple more sticks.” Enid got up and went over to the wood box. She pulled out two quartered birch logs. She used one to lift the latch, easing the stove door open. The wood inside had settled to a brilliant, flat tremor. She tossed in one log, then the other, and kicked the door shut.
“My, you’re still spry,” Sarah exclaimed. “Last time I could do anything like that, I weighed 100 pounds. And Woodrow Wilson was in the White House.”
“It’s the country air does it,” said Enid, sitting back down with a broad grin. The fresh wood cracked like .22 rounds. “No, Jock was real romantic, in his way. Wrote me letters on my birthdays. The sweetest things. ‘Bout how he never thought he’d meet up with ‘such a corker’ as me. ‘Such a corker’!” She wagged her head happily. “‘Specially after he turned seventy-five, he said, and lost the last of his own teeth. Said he sorta kissed like a weasel trap after that. Damaged goods.” She laughed again and looked to make sure Sarah was laughing, too.
“I guess he caught his weasel, though.”
“Guess he did. Made me blush, you know? Said he never met a soul so good to folks in so many different ways as me. Him as a husband. Other women as friends. Other men as fellow town-folk and Christians.” She looked up and saw Sarah nodding. “And the kids, always kids. My, but he’d go on. Had a real blind spot for my faults.”
“What faults would those be, sweetie?”
“Well, I surely do love kids. Jock had that right. But he never seen me go after Fred, did he? With my frying pan!” Enid grinned, then looked down and twisted the narrow yellow band around her ring finger. “No, Jock loved me, I’d say. Real love. Grown-up love I could be proud of when I thought about it sittin’ there in church of a Sunday.” She paused and sniffed. “Other men, you know, said they loved me too, now ’n again. But they didn’t, really. Not love. You know how it is.” She looked at Sarah. Sarah reached up to pat an earring. “Well, maybe you been lucky with men, honey. I ‘spect so. Bein’ a lady like you are. I hope so.” She paused again. “But Jock was the first man I ever really knew who, well . . . .”
Sarah adjusted herself in her chair. “Who what, sweetie?”
“Who I didn’t feel loved me for just, you know.” She scanned Sarah’s face. “For what’s between my legs.”
Sarah crossed her arms, then lifted her knuckles to her mouth. Her fist bobbed with her lips as she nodded.
“Like Fred. Oh my!” said Enid, with a huff. “Fred used to come home some nights and I could tell he’d been drinkin’ and . . . .” Sarah’s brows knit tightly. “Well, I shouldn’t speak of it, what he’d say and do then. And I won’t. But once he done his business, you know? Why, I was nothing more to him than an old rag.” Enid turned her head and looked out the window, where the snow still swarmed in the porch light. “‘Course maybe a rag done a pretty fair job shovelin’ snow.” She chuckled gently, then looked back across the table. “Oh, Sarah. I’m sorry, honey. Really. I shouldn’ . . . .”
“No, sweetie. It’s fine.” Sarah’s face was plangent.
“Aren’t you tired?”
“Well, I guess I am a little. Maybe.”
“Of course, you are. And me blabberin’ on like that.”
“It was a hard drive up in the snow. I guess I’m not much of a night owl anymore. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, don’t you be sorry now. Let’s get you some rest. We got plenty o’ time to catch up on silliness. Here, let me help you back to the room.” Enid stood up and walked around the table.
“Thanks, sweetie,” said Sarah, rising on her own. “I can manage just fine.”
“Well, if you say so. Can I warm you up some milk, though?”
“No thanks, dearie. I’ll be just fine. Honestly. I’ll just read a verse or two and I’ll be gone.” Enid clasped her hands to her chest, then reached out to touch Sarah’s cheek. “Your faith’s a treasure, Sarah,” she said. “You know that?”
Sarah nodded. Enid could see her eyes were misting. “It’s the heart of me, Enid. I’ve never let go. Not ever.”
Enid hugged her tightly then stood back at arm’s length. “Don’t you forget them extra blankets.”

Sarah woke to the thunder of a wing-plow barreling down Rt. 25. The room glowed amber with sunlight striking the back of the drawn shade. She reached for her glasses on the nightstand and slid them on. The last time she’d lain in this house, it occurred to her, she’d had the eyes of a hawk. She’d never gotten a driver’s license, but she always spotted things along the road well before George could make them out. Esso stations. Fruit stands. Burma-Shave signs. He’d call her “Cassandra” and laugh. She couldn’t remember moving at all during the night. The extra blankets lay on her heavily but undisturbed. She couldn’t tell if she could see her breath, but she moved as quickly as she could when she slipped into her robe and then into the bathroom. The propane heater whispered contentedly. She thought about going back and bringing her clothes into the warmth to get dressed but she decided it would be too indulgent. George used to jump into the pond every morning they were up at the camp, even when they stayed on into October and the morning frost lay thick on the ball field. He always swore he ran in naked, but, even after two thirds of a lifetime together, she was never sure he wasn’t joking. She’d never gone down to see. But he did always come back with wet hair, and his habit made her more Spartan, too, in her own way.

When Sarah opened the door from the sitting room into the kitchen, the scent of bacon and hot oil coursed through like a July breeze. Over on the counter, the crisp strips of meat lay in rows on yesterday’s Plymouth Record, each one in its shadow of grease. A dozen fresh doughnuts hung next them, skewered to cool on a dowel resting between two coffee cans. Enid wasn’t there. Sarah walked over and bent to sniff the doughnuts, then broke off half a piece of bacon and popped it in her mouth. She was just licking her fingers when Enid burst through the side door. “Brrrrr!”
“Good morning, sweetie,” said Sarah. “You weren’t shoveling, were you?”
“Not really.” Enid stamped the snow off her feet. “Phil Abbot’ll be over soon to plow us out. I was just cleanin’ off the porch a mite. Mostly with a broom. How’d you sleep, honey?”
“Just fine. I don’t think I moved.” George used to say she slept like an effigy. Like Juliet drugged.
“Warm enough, were you?”
“Perfectly. I put on all the extra covers.”
“Hope you wasn’t crushed.”
Sarah laughed. “No. In fact, it reminded me of when the boys buried me.”
“Come again?”
“At the beach. In the sand.”
“Ah.”
“We spent a week at Lake Erie every summer when I was growing up. The boys would scoop out a big trench and then they’d snatch me up and lay me in it.” Enid’s brows arched sharply. “My brothers. They’d cover me all up except my head. Make me a sand body.”
“We used to do that too,” said Enid, relaxing into a grin. “Up to the pond. It was good fun.” Sarah nodded thoughtfully. “How ‘bout some breakfast? Anythin’ look good?”
Sarah sniggered. “Jimmy has you all figured out, Enid. Doughnuts!”
“Well, we don’t need to give him no satisfaction now, do we? It can just be our little secret.”
“I guess so.”
“How ‘bout a fried egg, too? Or perhaps an omelette?” Enid pointed to a raft of fixings she’d laid out on the counter.
“I’d love an omelette. Will you join me?”
“Sure I will. Cheese?”
Sarah nodded keenly. As Enid went to grate some cheddar, Sarah leaned back against the counter next to her. “You know, the first time the boys buried me like that? They played me an awful trick.”
“What was that, honey?”
“When I was all trapped in there like an Egyptian mummy – I couldn’t move one iota, you know, I was in so deep – they told me the tide was coming in. And they said they were just going to leave me there to drown.”
“Why, those evil scamps!” Enid dropped the cheese and slapped her hands to her hips, but Sarah was smiling. “Kids can be so wicked, can’t they? ‘Specially boys.”
Sarah chortled. “I was maybe five. I didn’t know, naturally, that tides are only in the ocean. Never lakes.”
“Of course you didn’t, honey.” Enid turned back to the counter.
“They made like they were going off to the arcade and I started screaming so loud my father came running as though my throat had been cut. My, but he walloped them after he heard what they’d done.”
“Good for him. Fathers gotta protect their little girls. All kinds o’ ways.” Enid poured the eggs into the pan and whisked the sizzling mix with a fork.
“We couldn’t ever do it anymore unless Father were right there with us.”
“So you didn’t mind, then?” asked Enid. “After all that? The fright?”
“Not really. Sometimes the warm sand felt so good, you know? Like in bed this morning.” Enid chuckled. “Other times, I did feel sort of trapped, I suppose. Like that first time.”
“But you let them do it just the same,” said Enid, studying her kindly.
“They loved it so, Dud and Ted. I suppose I wanted the attention, too, from my big-boy brothers. Needy little girl that I was.” Sarah shook her head. “Of course, then my father outlawed it completely.”
Enid sprinkled the grated cheese on the curing eggs and plopped a lid onto the pan. “What brought him to that, sweetie?”
“I was maybe twelve or thirteen?” Enid nodded. “I remember we were close to the water and the sand was very damp and very, very heavy. I couldn’t have budged if I’d wanted to. Once they’d covered me all up, Dud pulled Ted off to the side and whispered something. I can still see the pair of them standing there looking back at me, grinning like fiends.”
“Oh-oh!”
“Oh-oh is right,” Sarah smirked gamely. “They came back over with these big handfuls of sand and, how shall I say it? They ‘endowed’ me. In a ‘womanly’ way.”
“Oh, my!”
“Father was furious!” Sarah adjusted her glasses and looked at her friend.
“Well, o’ course he was furious.”
“He said they were making their own sister out to be a Jezebel. A perfect Jezebel. You know, I think if there’d been any witnesses, he’d probably have strung the boys up with their belts or their beach towels. Sent them off to military school, at the very least.”
“But nobody saw?”
“Nobody was near enough. That ended our little beach games once and for all, though. Or their little games.”
“I should think so. Took it all out o’ your hands.”
Sarah nodded. “Lots of things were different after that,” she added, her voice trailing off.
Enid looked up to see she didn’t mean to go on. She shook her head and sighed. “Well,” she said, pulling off the lid and looking into the pan. “I’ll just fold this over and we can sit down.”

They were lingering over their second cup of coffee, joking about Ronald Reagan’s jet-black hair, when there was a lull in their chat and Enid’s expression turned earnest. “You know, honey, I been thinkin’ I might’ve upset you last night, goin’ on about Fred and all. That way I did. I didn’t mean no harm. I just wasn’t bein’ very thoughtful.”
“Oh,” said Sarah. “It was nothing.” She leaned back and swept the tablecloth precisely with her napkin.
“Well,” Enid went on, “I’m not sure. Sometimes we forget our manners up here. ‘Specially in winter – with none o’ you summer folk around to keep us civil.” She grinned sheepishly.
Sarah smiled and dropped her gaze, tilting her head as though she were shading a drawing instead of chasing crumbs around the oilcloth. She was quiet for a spell. “Enid?”
“Yes, honey?”
“I turned my back on him, Enid.”
“Who, honey?”
“I couldn’t even look at him at the end.” Sarah put her napkin down and gathered her hands under her chin. She peered over towards the door as though someone might walk in.
“Who are you talkin’ about, honey?”
“George. My husband. The night he died. The morning.”
“Oh, Sarah. What do you mean you turned your back? You loved him. I know you did.”
“I did love him. There was so much about him that was good.” Enid nodded energetically. “His kindness and patience. His sense of humor. His music. The boys at camp loved him. Just adored him. He’d play his mandolin, you know, walking back to the house after the campfires ended, Saturdays. Everyone would just follow him, all the boys, singing, like he was the Pied Piper.”
“Oh, I wish I’d been able to see that, just once. To hear it.”
“I wish you had, too. It was magical.” Sarah peered up and scanned the breadth of the ceiling.
“He was in the mandolin band at Columbia, you know. He’d play beneath my window in the evening. Like Romeo. The other girls used to laugh at me.”
“I wouldna laughed,” said Enid. “I had to wait ‘til I was an old lady to find someone who’d treat me that way. Without the mandolin, leastwise. Lots of us never do find a body like that.”
“No,” sighed Sarah. “Lots never do. Poor souls.” She smiled. Then she looked ready to move on and talk about something else altogether. The grandchildren. The new minister in town.
“So what is it you wanted to tell me, sweetie?” asked Enid. “We got off the track there, didn’t we?”
“I don’t know.” Sarah was silent for a moment. “I don’t want to be a burden, Enid. It was all so long ago. Water over the dam.”
“Oh, tush!” said Enid. “I won’t hear of it. You wanted to say something, so out with it, now.”
“Well,” said Sarah. “I do feel so close to you. You’re so good to take me in like this.”
“What is it, sweetie?”
“Well. Of course we knew for years that George’s heart was weak. And when he woke up with the pain, that terrible . . . .” Sarah drew her breath sharply. “I was afraid he was going. I just knew he was going. I should have let him stay in bed, I suppose, but I thought he’d probably be more comfortable sitting up. Somehow. Or I thought if he could just sit up, then at least it couldn’t be anything serious. Perhaps just indigestion.”
Enid grimaced. “Oh, Sarah!”
“I helped him as far as the door when he fell.” Sarah stared at her folded hands, her head tipped to the side again. “I remember the weight of him, pulling me down. Pulling my nightie against my throat as he slid down. I tried to hold him up, but he hit his head on the chair as he fell. His cheek was oozing a little blood, actually, and he was clutching his shoulder and he just lay there looking at me. He was on a rug just like that.” She pointed over in front of the range. “It’s still there in our house. Never moved. He looked at me. At first he looked more like he was worried about me than frightened, almost. Or like he was curious about something. I tried not to cry.”
“Of course not.”
“I didn’t want him thinking something bad was happening, you see? I guess I ruled myself too well, though.” Enid got up and pulled her chair around the table. She sat down next to Sarah and put her arm around her shoulder. “I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t really cry even when I could see from his eyes he’d gone. When I knew he was gone, I got up and went over and sat in my rocker facing the fireplace.
Waiting for the real tears to come. Looking at the ashes.”
“There, there,” whispered Enid.
“I had to let Jimmy know, of course, over in the other house. It was still pitch dark, I remember, and I couldn’t find a flashlight. It was George who knew where all those things were kept. But I made it. George would have said it was just like me to see perfectly well in the dark.” She smiled distantly. “Anyway, Jimmy came over and called the doctor, but I just went straight into the other bedroom and lay there, through all the commotion, until the sun came up. I never saw George again. I never said goodbye to
him, Enid.” Her right hand cocked on her wrist, then dropped back onto the table. “Jimmy had to close his father’s eyes. And I never did move back into our room.”
“Oh, honey.” Enid reached for Sarah’s hand and raised it to her lips.

Sarah went on as though she were reciting. “My friend Ethel said, you know, when her husband died? She didn’t really cry much, either. Until she saw him laid out in their bed like he was asleep, she said, and he looked so innocent and peaceful. Just like a child, Ethel said, as though she could have been slipping into the room to kiss him goodnight. Kiss her boy goodnight. Then she wept, she told me. As she’s never wept.”
“You can cry now,” said Enid, stroking her hair. “Do, honey! You’re safe here with your Enid.”
“But I don’t think I can,” Sarah answered, turning to stare at her friend. “More than misting, I mean. More than the tears you might feel watching a sad show. It makes me feel so ashamed.”
“Oh, Sarah, don’t!”
“I’ve tried to explain it to myself. I think sometimes it was because I loved his spirit, Enid. His soul I loved. When that was gone – when his eyes were all empty that way they were, just a stare – what was lying there just wasn’t George. Do you think I was wrong? Maybe thinking that?”
It seemed to take Enid a moment to hear what Sarah was asking. “No, honey,” she said at last. “It’s your faith did it, I’m sure. It was a special grace Jesus sent to you. You loved his soul, and his soul didn’t die, did it? Jesus spared you all that kind of grieving good Christians really don’t need to feel. Don’t you see?”
Sarah shook her head. “I’ve felt grief, Enid. So much I could have died. But it never turned into . . . I don’t know. It never broke. It never ravished my heart. And it should ravish my heart. If I really loved him?”
Enid paused again. “Jesus just spared you the sobbing, honey. I think that’s what you must mean. The sobbing. Of course you felt grief. Of course you cried.” Enid squeezed her hand, but Sarah was
focused on something else.
“Did you love Jock’s body, Enid?” Sarah turned and fixed her old friend.
“What?”
“Scripture says we’re meant to leave our mothers and fathers and cleave unto our spouses. And love our husband’s body as our own. Did you love Jock’s body?”
Enid paused, then nodded slowly. “Yes, honey. I believe I did.”
“And you wept when you saw he was gone?”
“Well. Yes, I did weep.”
“And his body couldn’t move, ever again.”
Enid looked slightly puzzled. “No, sweetie, it couldn’t move again.”
“And you wept.”

It’s three o’clock, Sarah, sweet.” Sarah looked up and saw a dark shape leaning into the room. “You said to knock at three.” She’d been napping for an hour.
“I did. Thank you, Enid. Come in, come in.” She sat up and reached for her glasses. “My. Is it still snowing?”
“It sure is. I can’t believe we’re havin’ another big dump like this so quick.” It was Saturday, the third day of Sarah’s visit.
Sarah tossed back the quilt and dropped her legs over the side of the bed, sitting there with her hands flat on the spread. Her engagement and wedding rings tilted loosely above an enlarged knuckle. “I hope Jim and Dee don’t get snowed in up in Waterville. Or worse. Try to come down here tomorrow
when they shouldn’t.”
“Don’t worry, honey. Jimmy’s a big boy. He’ll be smart.”
“I know he will.”
Enid nodded reassuringly. “What a sweet picture of all o’ you,” she said, crossing to the bureau and picking up a small photo in a tooled leather frame. Sarah’s family was sitting at a cluttered dinner table. “Musta been Thanksgivin’. Not much left of that gobbler.”
“No,” chuckled Sarah. “We didn’t restrain ourselves.”
“And such a nice one here. This one of George.”
“That was taken for his book jacket. By someone over in Hanover, I think it was.”
“He was a good lookin’ fella,” sighed Enid. Sarah laughed heartily. “Well, he was! Just look at him. C’mon now!”
“I know,” Sarah replied. “It’s just that his looks got to be a bit of a joke with us.” She began to scissor her legs, like a girl on a porch swing. “Once when Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn or one of
those big Hollywood stars was having some sort of marriage trouble. We were talking about it at a dinner party or somewhere, and I up and announce to everybody how glad I am I didn’t marry ‘a handsome man.’” Enid guffawed. “I truly did. George practically fell over laughing. And, when I tried to explain – that I meant ‘handsome’ as in all those things some handsome men think they can get away with – it just made him laugh all the harder. I never heard the last of it.”
Enid grinned, then looked back at the bureau. “And this is . . . ?” She picked up a faded, full-length portrait in a tarnished silver frame. It was a beautiful young woman in her late teens or early twenties – coaly hair, fiery eyes, a mischievous pixie. “You?”
“Yes it is.”
“Oh, Sarah! You were just lovely!”
“‘Handsome’ even?’” Enid looked back and they both giggled.
“Truly, though.”
“Lily of the Rhondda,” Sarah said. “That’s what George used to call me when he was acting a wee bit silly. ‘My Fetching Little Lily of the Rhondda.’ Quite a mouthful, no?”
“I’ll say.”
“Both my parents came across from Wales, actually.” Enid nodded. “They met in Ohio, but they both spoke Welsh and they sang all their lives in the Methodist chapel. Father was the choir master and a lifelong deacon.”
“That explains your lovely voice.”
“I suppose. And my nature, perhaps, a little. Father was the thundering Ancient of Days. It was George who tried to make me over into a lilting Congregationalist.”
“My, just look at your middle there. Your waist. I could wrap my fingers right ‘round it. What a wasp you were, Sarah! A beautiful, raven-haired wasp.”
“You can see why George fancied me so, can’t you? Why he’d come around and sing.” She paused.
“And just see me now.” Sarah looked down, holding her hands out to frame her figure.
“Oh, Sarah.”
“I’ve been this way ever since Jimmy’s big brother was born. Not a wasp, but – I don’t know – a dodo.”
“Now Sarah, you’re a lovely thing. Look at your face. Your lovely, kind face. And, besides. I feel silly even havin’ to say it. We all know it’s what’s inside that counts.” She sat down next to her friend and put her hand on her knee.
“Thank you, Enid,” said Sarah, patting her on the wrist. “I guess I’ve just always hated being this way, really. Fat. I don’t know why I am.”
“It’s God’s will folks should be the way they are, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. I suppose. It makes it easier to think so.”

Enid’s friend Phil, the man who plowed her drive, came by at five to take them over to the Grange for Bingo. “Beano” everybody called it now, to dodge the ban Concord had put on “Bingo” in a bid to keep the Granite State free of the blights of Mammon. The games were identical, but these days the money for the cards went to the Town Library Fund, and the prizes were all donated by local businesses. No cash at all. Sarah won ten pounds of kibbled dog food from the Agway in Plymouth, collectible whenever. When they were done playing, Phil offered to take them over to Steve’s Restaurant for supper. Enid declined. She had some chicken all thawed, she said, and Phil’s reputation would never recover if anybody spied him squiring a brace of eligible old biddies all over the Baker Valley.
When they’d finished supper and their clean-up, Sarah and Enid were still tittering at how Phil blushed when Enid teased him. Sarah had gone back to her room to trade her shoes for some slippers, and Enid followed and stood in her doorway.
“He musta had somethin’ in mind, don’t you think, honey?”
“You know him best,” answered Sarah, with a little grin. She adjusted her glasses and looked up at Enid more seriously. “You know, sweetie. I never told anyone what I told you yesterday.” Enid nodded. “Not ever. It was hard for me to get it out, even with you. I don’t know that I’d like it to get any further.”
“Of course not,” said Enid, blushing deeply. “I’d never . . . .”
“Oh, no, honey,” Sarah broke in, “you know I didn’t mean to suggest you would.”
“I know you didn’t,” Enid answered, smoothing her apron. “It’s like those ‘Dominis’ confessing. A deep, dark secret. I’ll be silent as a priest.”
Sarah smiled distractedly. “I think Jimmy knew some of it, maybe. He saw me just disappear into our other bedroom after George went. He must have wondered what I was doing. Why I didn’t go back to be with his father. Maybe that’s why he got so hard on me.”
“Jimmy would understand, honey,” Enid said firmly. “He would. He knows you loved his father.”
“I hope he does. I hope he knows.” Her lips parted but she said nothing.
“What is it, honey?” Sarah’s eyebrows rose. “What is it, Sarah?”
“I guess I just need to tell you a little more.”
Enid sat down next to Sarah on the edge of the bed and put her arm around her.
“I turned away in other ways, too. From George. For years and years. And . . . . ”
“It’s okay, honey.”
“Well, it mattered. I see that more and more, talking to you. It hurt both of us.”
“How was that, Sarah?”
Sarah crossed her arms, collecting herself. “George never knew, but it came back to me once. He touched another woman, in Cleveland, where we lived. Touched her carnally.” Enid’s hand rose to her chin. “A friend,” Sarah went on. “They were passing through a hallway at some get-together, New Year’s Eve, I think it was, because there was some drinking. And they’d just passed each other, and she said he called out her name and she stopped and stepped back to him. And then, she told me – she thought, you see, I needed to know. Even though she said it hurt her so to tell me?” Enid’s brow furrowed, but she nodded encouragement. “Well, she told me he – George – he put his arm behind her back and pulled her close, as though he were taking her to dance. And then he just . . . touched her where he shouldn’t. She said his hands were trembling.” Sarah’s own hands fluttered over her bodice. “Like some sort of palsy, he had. Some fury. Oh, Enid, I’ve . . . . Of course nothing else happened. It couldn’t have.”
“Of course it didn’t, honey.”
“Still, I lived it over and over, you know.”
“Of course you did.”
“I’d see it in dreams. Awful ones. Like filthy French post cards or something, come alive. With my husband and my dear friend.”
“Oh, honey,” said Enid, pulling Sarah close. “It happens with men. The best of ‘em. It’s nothin’. It’s the way they are. It’s like dogs havin’ fleas. Or smellin’ when they get wet.” Sarah shook her head. “I told you Fred was awful. He was awful. What George did was nothin’ compared to what Fred did, ‘most every week.”
“Did Jock do it?”
“Did Jock?” Sarah stared at her and nodded. “I dunno, honey. I dunno. Jock was an old man when I met him.”
“But a good man.”
“Now, Sarah, George Morgan was a good man, too. You know that. I know you do.”
“I do, Enid. I said, didn’t I? There were so many good things about him. There were. Perhaps, though . . . .”
“Perhaps what, honey?”
“Perhaps he should have had a better woman.”
Enid drew a sharp breath and pulled away. “Come on now, Sarah. Whatever are you sayin’? George had a wonderful woman. You cherish him every day. Still. In your heart.” She tapped on her own chest.
“And there, the photograph, too. He’s in your sight every day, and in your thoughts. Every single day, he is.”
Sarah looked at her intently. “Still,” she said, pointing over to her own picture, “he didn’t really ever have that!”
Enid looked towards the bureau and then back at Sarah. “What do you mean, honey?”
“That!” She pointed again. “What any man has a right to expect when he takes a wife. What he thought he would have, for Heaven’s sake. Don’t you see? His Welsh Lily. His Juliet. I never cleaved to him, Enid.” Her friend stared at her quizzically. “Oh, I know we had two healthy sons, sweetie. They were our own sons, George’s and mine. But that whole side of things? I could never embrace it. I could scarcely even stand it, truth be known.”
“Oh, Sarah!”
“Of course it was my duty. I knew that. Bodily union. I knew all about Paul’s Marriage Debt, almost from Sunday School on. But the price was too dear for me, don’t you see? I don’t know why, but
it was too dear.” She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, then put them carefully back on. “I felt smothered, I think. Buried. I hated . . . I hated George, when he was on top of me like that. May I . . .?”
“Go ahead.”
“And, you know, he’d be breathing so hard, and doing all that to me. Even though he knew I wasn’t right there along with him. With my will. It felt as though he didn’t care, you see? That he knew perfectly well he was doing something I loathed but that he just didn’t care. Or see.”
“Oh, honey.”
“It was that stare. The very same stare he had at the end, too, on our little braided rug. Like he was looking for something way beyond me. Beyond anything. Like he was dying. Right then. A dying animal, he looked like. A lost soul.” Sarah hugged herself tightly. “And all I needed to do to make it right was just to take some pleasure in it. Wouldn’t that have been enough? To do what Paul said – what any winsome Welsh girl should have been able to do all along. Just close her eyes and . . . get swept away.”
“Sarah,” said Enid, her eyes welling. “I honestly don’t know what to say.”
“It is hard to know, isn’t it? But after I was pregnant with Ted?” Enid nodded and swiped at her cheek. “When I started getting this way with Ted?” She ran the backs of her fingers down over her belly to her thighs. “George didn’t seem so interested anymore. So I let myself just stay that way, I guess. And get worse. It made everything easier. No more watching my diet.” The shade of a smile passed as quickly as it came. “Honestly, though,” said Sarah, staring at Enid. “It couldn’t have made it easier for George, could it?”
Enid paused, then answered softly. “Perhaps not, honey.” There was a roar from the road as a salting truck rumbled by.
“I can’t imagine how he must have felt about doing what he did with Ellie. Even if it were only that once. And who knows?”
“No!” Enid said firmly. “No more of that, now. Of course he couldn’t have felt right.”
“But he was a good man. The boys knew that.” Sarah glanced over at her friend again.
“And they were right.”
“And look at me, Enid. Look at me. And look at that picture of me as . . . as a hopeful, happy girl. And see what . . . .”
Enid gripped Sarah’s shoulders, chaffing them hard. “C’mon, now. Time changes us, honey, all of us. But what I see in you, Sarah, is a saintly soul. A kind old Christian lady. With a family, and friends, and a strong, strong faith. And so many good memories, too. That’s what I see.”
Sarah squeezed Enid’s forearm. “Thank you, sweetie. It’s just that when I hear you talk about Jock the way you do, I feel as though something awful turned me against George. And then, you know, against myself.” Enid looked at her and drew a breath to speak, but nothing came out. “Look at us over there, sweetie. George has been gone – it must be seventeen years, now. But, if that’s me? In that picture, Enid? I’ve been gone so much longer.”

Sarah packed her bag the next day after lunch, wrapping the three photos in her nightgown and laying her Bible on top. She’d told herself the night before she’d probably forget her alarm clock on the nightstand, but she didn’t. For an hour or two, she and Enid watched television – Lawrence Welk, then Donna Reed in Beyond Glory. When the movie was over, they went out to the kitchen and Enid made a pot of tea. She offered to get out some cookies, but Sarah insisted she’d spoiled her enough already. While they waited for Jim and the family to arrive, a freshening west wind broke up the overcast and the low January sun probed, now and again, deep into the room.
“You know,” said Sarah, after she’d checked her watch for the third or fourth time. “I painted an awfully gloomy picture last night. Of George and me.”
“Oh, I don’t know, honey. Nobody’s life’s a bed o’ roses.”
“Well,” said Sarah. “I had a lot to be thankful for. I still do. I think George was happy with me and the boys. I know I was.”
“I’m sure you were happy, Sarah. All of you.”
Sarah looked down at her wrist again, then slapped her hand over her watch and laughed. “I swear I’m in no hurry to go.”
“I know you’re not.”
Sarah smiled. Her face looked younger in the lateral light. “Don’t feel sorry for me, sweetie.”
“Of course I don’t. I won’t. It’d be like being sorry for . . . I don’t know.”
“Hmmm. Persephone?”
“Who’s that, honey?” asked Enid. “Who’s Persephone?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Sarah, blushing. “Just a girl from one of my old Greek myths. How about Noah’s wife?”
“There!” said Enid. “Why not! Noah’s wife.”
Sarah nodded. “Some folks drown.”
“You’re so right, honey,” said Enid. “Drown in the ocean or drown in a lake. Some folks do.”

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