The Inside-Out Woman
CHAPTER 28: EVENING STAR
Beautiful. Wonderful. Marvelous.
Iam didn’t tire of singing the words over and over whenever she gazed at the grounds that were much more than a garden or a park; that she colored as an Edenic preserve. Her pastoral vista was tranquility itself, and she was, for the most part, at peace.
Her portion of Eden was perpetually green. The air was a constant of warmth and sweetly fragranced. Flowers bloomed unendingly. Trees offered up succulent fruit of any variety she desired, and the harvest was limitless.
When she wished to sit, a lovely white wrought iron bench presented itself.
When she wished a walk, a level path led her through forests and meadows, by ponds, and the ocean, if the sea was what she desired.
When she wearied and wished to retire, a cottage, or house, or apartment appeared, decorated to match her vision of a home, changing in accord with her imagination.
When she entered, the interior contained everything to satisfy her needs—food, beverages, utensils, chairs, and beds.
When she clothed herself, she could dress as her mood dictated, for fashionable apparel of different designs from different periods always appeared corresponding to her whim.
When she wished to pray and receive Communion, Father Chapas would knock on her door. He would stand before her in his dazzling white surplice marked with a red cross over his sacred heart. He would hold golden chalices, the Blood and the Body in each hand. His incarnation would be beyond temporal; Father Chapas would come to her as the angel he had been to her.
She had everything in her beautiful, wonderful, and marvelous world, everything save Billy, Dominic, and Dominica; and Aunt Margie could be distant.
Oh, when will they come? When, Aunt Margie? Aunt Margie, I know you are there. Please, don’t ignore me. Is today the day? Will they visit today?
“My goodness, dear, but you are an impatient little goose. Well, I don’t know why I should except you would change anytime soon.”
No, Aunt Margie, but are they coming today?
“Yes, dear, today is the day.”
Oh, I am excited. I am, I am.
“You are a silly child. And you most certainly are excited. You’re shaking me all over. Please, dear, you’re jumping and clapping. You must be aware of the disturbing picture it creates?”
Sorry, Aunt Margie. Sorry.
“Well, I’ve worked diligently putting on a display for them. For weeks, I’ve demonstrated that no one could be more normal than we are, dear. Normal, joyful jeunes filles who wish only to be with their family, caring for them, loving them, and receiving their love in return.”
Yes, Aunt Margie, and you’ve been perfect. They will adore you.
“Adoration is pleasant, indeed, you darling ladybird. Our ticket home, however, is belief. Pestering me constantly with the same question, and acting like a birdbrained schoolgirl … well, dear, you must see how it defeats my efforts at projecting composure.”
Aunt Margie, I’m sorry. I hope I haven’t jeopardized all your work. Oh, that would be terrible. I feel so bad, like I’ve failed us, like I’ve failed you.
“I will not stand for you punishing yourself. I am not criticizing you. I am simply asking for your patience.”
I’ll be good, Aunt Margie. I’ll be patient.
“Well, you are a good girl. You have always been a good girl, dear. You have always been the joy of my life.”
The lady, in a pink shirtwaist with the skirt and crinoline demurely tucked under her legs crossed at the ankles, sat in a room next to a freshly made bed in a metal frame chair on a cushion upholstered in salmon vinyl by a multi-paned window looking through the mesh embedded in the glass at rolling grounds and a parking lot, sitting and watching and chattering in anticipation.
Billy had parked in the lot in front of the hospital that looked nothing like the building in the photograph he remembered, yet was the same nonetheless. He stood in a stark corridor by a metal door. He watched her through a small rectangular window, through mesh glass.
“She’s still talking to herself?”
“Yes,” said the doctor, a worn man in a worn seersucker suit.
“When will she stop it?”
“She tells us that we must be mistaken; that she isn’t talking. Occasionally, she says, she might express some thoughts aloud, but thinks it is natural in an environment like this.”
“Yes, except for me and a few of the staff. I thought family might help draw her out.”
“I would have come sooner.”
“You were injured, Mr. Brick. Besides, too soon might not have been good. No, you and the children are visiting at exactly the right time.”
“Dominic and Dominica are excited to see their mother. It’s been two months. The summer’s practically gone by without her. They miss her.”
“Understandable, Mr. Brick.”
“Do you really think seeing them will help? I mean, do you think it will, you know, snap her out of whatever she’s in?”
“As I said, I hope it will motivate her to come out. If it doesn’t, as I’ve mentioned to you, we have several very effective therapies and medicines available to us.”
“But she won’t be herself, doctor.”
“She isn’t now, Mr. Brick.”
“No. But what you’re talking about, they’ll make her … dull.”
“I wouldn’t say dull. If we’re successful, she’ll be herself, close to herself, on an even keel.”
“I want my wife the way she was.”
“Yes, I understand, Mr. Brick. We’re doing our best.”
“We brought a few things. The tornado destroyed most of our things, but we salvaged what we could, what was important to us, important to Iam.”
“Very good, Mr. Brick. We hope she associates them with better times and they aid her in moving pass the trauma of the storm.”
“More than the storm, doctor.”
“Certainly, Mr. Brick. The storm was the trigger. It was painful, I’m sure, to learn about … the past.”
“It was a surprise. Like I’ve said, it was difficult. She was protecting us. She thought so, anyway.”
Billy felt the doctor’s eyes on him, seeking a clue to his true feelings about the … How to describe them? Revelations, he guessed, was the word.
Billy met the doctor’s eyes, fixed on them, and spoke to them with his own. What are you looking for? Pain, anger, sorrow?
Billy felt none of these. Well, maybe sorrow, but not for himself. Sorrow for Iam, for all she’d suffered, for how she’d dammed up her sorrows in herself, for her private agony. It was sorrow about her. Not fear that the dead, the Pater, Ricky, her mother and brother, would return to haunt her to the edge, to the edge and maybe over it; or her sister would emerge from the refuge of her convent to lay claim to her. Sorrow for fear of him, of how he would react, of his walking away from the truth; for fear a day would come when he would learn, when the box in which she’d stored a lifetime of bad memories would find its way out of the basement, as she must of known it would, and into her life, into their life, and wreck it.
If it would satisfy you, doctor, at first, he thought, there were waves of resentment.
She had so little faith in him, little belief in the strength of his love for her, of what they shared together, that she did not trust him with her secrets; that she feared he would desert her; or that he would stay and stew in anger over what her life had been, the whoring, the cult disguised as religion, the unsavory activities for its sake, and then the self-mutilation, the averted sacrifice, and the death of the priest. His loathing was justified and he unleashed it in private. But it was short lived, a few evenings, no more than three. His rage ended when he understood the real reason she’d confided nothing. She loved him. She didn’t want to hurt him. Knowing how she’d been hurt, knowing his deep love for her, he would suffer beyond what she’d already endured. And the other horrors, well, she’d lost control; her demon got lose, possessed her, and manipulated her. The realization of her sacrifice for him served as a renewal of his vows of love and devotion.
His understanding and forgiveness was only part of it. The rest came later in fragments of memory, of the warmth of her next to him in the car on a cold night, the comfort of her in his arms on the couch after a day with the children, her quiet passion under him in their bed, a passion met by his, passions that nearly, nearly merged them into what he had prayed for. Two into one.
“Is there something I should know about, Mr. Brick?”
There’s plenty you would like to know about, but nothing you should. “No. Why?”
“Is smiling a problem?”
“No, not at all. But I’ve talked to you before and this is the first you’ve seemed happy.”
“It’s the first time I’ve been hopeful enough to feel happy.”
“That’s good, Mr. Brick. Everyone is healing.”
“Yes, we are. Well, we’re ready to see her. The children are getting a bit antsy,” he said, gesturing at Dominic and Dominica squirming against the corridor wall, the pair holding boxes containing what she’d asked about.
The doctor knocked on the door, a politeness perhaps for the sake of the children; Billy knew the doctor could enter anytime at will; he knew that Iam had little choice about when he entered. She was a prisoner they called a patient.
“Mrs. Brick,” the doctor said, opening the door, “you have visitors.”
Billy followed him, with Dominic and Dominica behind him.
In the room, everybody lined up in front of the lady seated in the chair.
“Well,” she exclaimed, “what a lovely picture. I’m thrilled and delighted and, oh my,” fanning herself, a bit overwhelmed. “No, I don’t believe I can rise. No, I’ll just topple over. Come here my darling lovelies.”
She extended her arms. Dominica rushed to her. Dominic hesitated. She nodded to him, and he, too, rushed to her.
“What’s troubling you, Dominic?”
“I was afraid you were mad at me.”
“Mad? Why would I ever be mad at you?”
“Because I got you into trouble.”
Aunt Margie, I can’t believe I injured poor Father Mario … that I tried to kill Dominic. And here he is afraid and guilty. If you hadn’t—
“Shh, quiet. There’s no need for that. You aren’t responsible for my troubles. Don’t think that for even a second. No, I got myself into trouble. It is my own doing,” she said, casting an eye over Dominic at the doctor that declared: See I am his mother and he is my son; I understand what I did; I am rationale and sane; I am, I am.
“Absolutely. I hurt myself, too. Well, to put it plainly, I was off my rocker. Looney tunes, correct, doctor?”
“I wouldn’t use those words, Mrs. Brick.”
“Dominic, the doctor’s being professional. He is a very educated and thoughtful man. Let’s say I wasn’t myself. Not one tiny bit myself.”
“You’re you now, right?”
“Yes, I am one hundred percent me. As a matter of fact, I’ve never been more me, or better.” She rubbed her chest. “Look, the nasty wounds have healed. Now, both of you, let me hug you and kiss you a thousand times.”
After she smothered them with hugs and kisses and they returned the kisses as profusely, she was able to stand.
She took a step toward Billy; he had her in his arms before she could take a second.
“I’ve missed you so much,” he said.
“Billy,” she said, “Billy, Billy, Billy, Billy. Oh, golly, I can’t say Billy enough. Billy, it is like the first time.”
He kissed her and she kissed back. He felt emotion in her kiss that had been missing before; it was the feeling he’d prayed for; it was the passion he thought moments ago the doctor would have liked knowing about.
Two into one. It was possible. More than possible. When she was home from the hospital, on the very night she returned home, he would make love to her, and it would be as it never had been before. It would be as if they were making love for the first time. He would be on top of her and he would melt into her and she into him; they would absorb each other; they would be another breed of human; they would be separate lovers merged by the power of their love into one being. Yes, it would happen, because … because of the absence of the barrier. She had no secrets. He knew everything about her. He had forgiven her everything. She would see he loved her. He loved her more than he ever had. Without the barrier of secrets, they would achieve what he’d always wanted: absorption into each other.
He glanced at the doctor. Why am I smiling, doctor, he thought, with a broad, almost silly smile? Because, before your very eyes, like magic, we are merging into one Brick.
Continuing to hug her, unable and unwilling to release her, he said, “We brought you gifts.”
“Oh, Billy, how thoughtful. What I asked for?”
“You’ll see. Dominic, Dominica, show Mommy what you brought her.”
“Well, I must sit for the grand presentation, mustn’t I? Otherwise, I will fall over with joy.”
She perched on the chair, leaned forward over crossed legs, and accepted Dominica’s box. She opened it and exclaimed, “It is what I wanted.” Removing the pink Jasperware oval box, “Isn’t it divine?”
Dominica, Dominic, and Billy said, “Yes,” while the doctor nodded approval.
Dominic handed her his box.
“Hold the box for me, Dominica. I wouldn’t want to damage it, not after everything it has survived.”
Dominica took it and clutched it tightly to her chest.
She opened Dominic’s box. She removed the pink Jasperware cup and saucer. She began weeping.
“Did I do something wrong?” asked Dominic, turning to Billy.
“Wrong?” she said. “You could not have done better. You could not have made me happier.” She wiped her tears. “Silly of me to cry. Doctor, from this moment forward, I’ll have my tea in my beautiful cup.” She paused. “I’ll have my tea in my lovely heirloom.”
“Certainly,” the doctor said.
“Children, let’s put these on the bedstead by the lamp. They’ll make the room seem more like home.”
The doctor and Billy exchanged glances as the children placed the cup and saucer and oval box on the bedstead. She supervised, but looked back to catch the communication between them.
“Naturally, what I mean is they’ll remind me of happier times of niece and Aunt enjoying each other’s company.”
“She was nice,” said Dominica.
“She was a delight, dear, an absolute delight. Why, I wouldn’t be who I am if it had not been for Aunt Margie. I don’t think it’s too much to say I owe her quite a bit.”
No, Aunt Margie, you saved me. You saved everyone. I owe you so much.
“Life goes on, though. But each time I look at these and I use the cup and saucer, I’ll remember those happy days. You know, she always liked good girls.”
I’ll be good, Aunt Margie. I promise.
“I’m good,” said Dominica.
“Yes you are. And you, too, Dominic. You are both very good, the very best children a person could ask for.”
They came to her and the three embraced and kissed.
“Well, I for one am parched. It’s a gorgeous day for a walk, and from my perch here I’ve spied a refreshment stand on the grounds. We can quench our parched throats in the beautiful sunshine.”
“Mommy,” said Dominica, “you talk funny.”
“You talk different,” said Dominic.
“I do? Billy, dear, do I sound different to you?”
He shrugged. “A little, but nothing we can’t get used to.”
“My, my. Well, I suppose the storm mixed me up a bit. I expect it will sort itself out in a while, and after everything will be back to normal.”
“I want to go outside,” said Dominica.
“If it’s okay with the doctor. We don’t want Mommy overdoing it,” Billy said to the doctor.
“A stroll outdoors is just what this doctor ordered,” the doctor said.
“Doctor,” she said, “I always suspected a sense of humor lurked under that stern visage of yours. Well, what are we waiting for? I am absolutely dry.”
“Me, too,” cried the children together.
Several buildings dotted the undulating landscape that extended to high black iron fencing encircling the grounds. Patients walked with orderlies and nurses. Seating areas were arranged under copses of trees. And, as it was summer, there were two refreshment pushcarts. The Bricks stopped at the first one they encountered.
“What does everyone want?” Billy asked.
The children ordered juices. Billy got himself a Diet Pepsi.
“Iam?” he asked.
She pointed at the two lemonade dispensers, one regular, the other pink. “I’m dying for a pink lemonade.”
“Are you sure?” Billy said.
“Absolutely. I adore pink lemonade.”
“But you said you never wanted the stuff in the house?”
“We had pink lemonade,” Dominic said.
“You did?” Billy said. “When?”
“Then,” said Dominic.
“It was good,” Dominica said.
She wound an arm around his. “Now, Mr. Brick, you may know a lot, but you don’t know everything. Tastes change.”
“I guess,” he said, ordering her the lemonade.
When they finished, Billy and she strolled the grounds. The children played around them, stopping and catching up, or getting ahead of them and waiting. She talked about the beauty of the grounds, how fortunate she was to lodge in a room overlooking them, that her stay was a sort of vacation, and like a vacation would end soon, and the absence would make arriving home all the sweeter. He told her he had to rebuild all of the house and most of the barn and expected to start on the garage and barn shortly. She said she looked forward to living in a practically new home.
They returned to the room after having been out nearly two hours. She kissed the children. She thanked them for visiting and the splendid gifts. She embraced and kissed Billy deeply, several times. The children cried as they left. Within herself, she was crying as she watched the door shut and the latch click.
“Please, dear, in a moment you will have me gushing like a geyser.”
It’s just that I miss them so much. And little Dominic, I almost can’t bear to look at him, not after …
“Dear, it does no one, especially yourself, any good to dwell on unpleasant past events. Water under the bridge, you know. We are moving forward. We are not looking backwards. Onward, I always like to say.”
Yes, Aunt Margie.
“Dear, have I told you recently that you are a good girl?”
Yes, Aunt Margie.
“You are, dear. Now rest.”
I can’t rest. Their visit excited me. I don’t think I could sleep for days.
“I certainly hope you are speaking figuratively, dear. We have to rebuild ourselves, just as Billy is rebuilding our little homestead.”
Well, I feel strong.
“Excellent, dear, I can sense you improving. But you aren’t quite ready yet, now are you?”
No, I suppose not, Aunt Margie.
“No. But I am sufficiently strong for both of us. I’ll continue watching over our affairs for a while. Someday, when you are fine as a fiddle again, it will be your job.”
Yes, Aunt Margie. How long do you think it might be?
“Well, dear, I am confident we will know when the time arrives. For the present, my prescription for you is to spend time in that beautiful world of yours. It is lovely. It is summer all the time. Nothing bad ever happens. You will be safe. And who knows? I may have to drag you kicking and screaming from it. For now, since you are bursting with energy, let’s write a note of thanks to Billy and the children for visiting and bringing us our delightful Jasperware. I just adore looking at it, don’t you?
Yes, Aunt Margie.
“I’ll have to summon the nurse for pen and paper. And she’ll want to watch us compose the note. It seems like such a bother. But sending a thank you note is proper etiquette.”
Yes, Aunt Margie.
She rose and went to the door. She used the intercom to attract a nurse’s attention. The nurse brought a notepaper and pen. The nurse asked if she might wait while the note was written. She obligingly said she understood the nurse completely.
In her chair, she began to write. She wrote a few lines and frowned at them. She tried again, frowned again, and tried a third time. She smiled and dashed off the note, addressed the envelope, inserted the note and sealed it. She handed it to the nurse.
Glancing at the envelope, the nurse said, “I have the same problem.”
“What might that be?”
“Writing without lines. My writing goes every which way.”
“I know a lady who can write straight lines on lineless paper.”
“How does she do it?”
“She is rather old. People of her day placed great store in their penmanship.”
“I envy her,” said the nurse, leaving the room.
Iam sat beaming at the window.
“Thank you, dear, for helping me with the note. Quite authentic, I think.”
Sometimes you can be too perfect Aunt Margie.
“You are very kind, dear. Now, it’s time for you to rest.”
Yes, Aunt Margie.
NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, AUGUST 31 : A REQUEST FOR YOUR FEEDBACK