Weaving a timeless story
On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen. Now, I know what you are thinking: older man (not thin, somewhat bald, lame in one leg, teeth of...
On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen. Now, I know what you are thinking: older man (not thin, somewhat bald, lame in one leg, teeth of wood) exercises the marital prerogative, thereby mortifying the poor young—
But that is false.
That is exactly what I refused to do, you see.
On our wedding night I clumped up the stairs, face red with drink and dance, found her arrayed in some thinnish thing an aunt had forced her into, silk collar fluttering slightly with her quaking—and could not do it.
Speaking to her softly, I told her my heart: she was beautiful; I was old, ugly, used up; this match was strange, had its roots not in love but expedience; her father was poor, her mother ill. That was why she was here. I knew all of this very well. And would not dream of touching her, I said, when I could see her fear and—the word I used was “distaste.”
She assured me she did not feel “distaste” even as I saw her (fair, flushed) face distort with the lie.
I proposed that we should be . . . friends. Should behave outwardly, in all things, as if we had consummated our arrangement. She should feel relaxed and happy in my home and endeavor to make it her own. I would expect nothing more of her.
And that is how we lived. We became friends. Dear friends. That was all. And yet that was so much. We laughed together, made decisions about the household—she helped me bear the servants more in mind, speak to them less perfunctorily.
She had a fine eye and accomplished a successful renovation of the rooms at a fraction of the expected cost. To see her brighten when I came in, find her leaning into me as we discussed some household matter, improved my lot in ways I cannot adequately explain.
I had been happy, happy enough, but now I often found myself uttering a spontaneous prayer that went, simply: She is here, still here. It was as if a rushing river had routed itself through my house, which was pervaded now by a freshwater scent and the awareness of something lavish, natural, and breathtaking always moving nearby.
At dinner one evening, unprompted, before a group of my friends, she sang my praises—said I was a good man: thoughtful, intelligent, kind.
As our eyes met I saw that she had spoken in earnest.
Next day, she left a note on my desk. Although shyness prevented her from expressing this sentiment in speech or action, the note said, my kindness to her had resulted in an effect much to be desired: she was happy, was indeed comfortable in our home, and desired, as she put it, to “expand the frontiers of our happiness together in that intimate way to which I am, as yet, a stranger.” She requested that I guide her in this as I had guided her “in so many other aspects of adulthood.”
I read the note, went in to supper—found her positively aglow. We exchanged frank looks there in front of the servants, delighted by this thing we had somehow managed to make for ourselves from such unpromising materials.
That night, in her bed, I was careful not to be other than I had been: gentle, respectful, deferential. We did little—kissed, held one another— but imagine, if you will, the richness of this sudden indulgence.
We both felt the rising tide of lust (yes, of course) but undergirded by the slow, solid affection we had built: a trustworthy bond, durable and genuine. I was not an inexperienced man—had been wild when young; had spent sufficient time (I am ashamed to say) in Marble Alley, at the Band-box, at the dreadful Wolf ’s Den; had been married once before, and healthily so—but the intensity of this feeling was altogether new to me.
It was tacitly understood that, next night, we would further explore this “new continent,” and I went to my printing offices in the morning fighting the gravitational pull that bid me stay home.
And that day—alas—was the day of the beam.
Yes, yes, what luck!
A beam from the ceiling came down, hitting me just here, as I sat at my desk. And so our plan must be deferred, while I recovered. Per the advice of my physician, I took to my—
A sort of sick-box was judged—was judged to be—
hans vollman Efficacious.
roger bevins iii
Efficacious, yes. Thank you, friend.
Always a pleasure.
roger bevins iii
There I lay, in my sick-box, feeling foolish, in the parlor, the very parlor through which we had recently (gleefully, guiltily, her hand in mine) passed en route to her bedroom.
Extracted with permission.