Marin’s fingers fiddled with the white buttons running the length of the blue dress. White satin would have been her first choice before the other choice she’d made, the one she couldn’t take back, the one that led to the blue dress. But blue it had to be, for she was no virgin and on this day of marriage, her body was filled with the baby. The Justice of Peace would know, as would the appointed attendant, the one with black hair and painted-on brows, but none would say a thing as the vows were declared and they were locked in union ’til death do them part. And if Marin could have known how to define death at that point, she may have defined it, but she did not know the death of what, so she smiled when she said I do.
After the ceremony, they sat in the restaurant between the two lakes, the noise of the peepers singing from the lily pads pouring through an open window and the clink of bottles upon the bar the barkeep wiped with his moist cloth and the clattering dishes in the steaming kitchen, Marin gazed upon Jerry’s umber skin and neatly oiled hair saying to him, “And what now?”
Jerry’s eyes did not meet Marin’s, but looked away at the server in the tight black skirt who set Jerry’s drink, laced with rum, upon the table between them, and then Jerry looked at his own fingers as they circled the glass, him feeling the coolness, and his thoughts did not turn to the distance in the space between them, but his new wife, Marin, she felt it, and Marin chewed her lip a little but did not speak again until the plate of drunken chicken was set cleanly before her when then she said, “And this looks good,” to which Jerry nodded, still gazing to a place beyond Marin, past her shoulder, and past her knowing what to think.
This, their first meal as husband and wife, set the tone to each meal Marin and Jerry would ever share, together in body, but never in spirit, with Marin looking upon her food as sustenance, to build her some bones to help her stand tall and some muscle to move her forward, and Jerry never noticed his food as any source of nourishment as his eyes wandered from here to there always searching for that thing outside himself that might make him happy.
After the meal, Marin sat next to Jerry in his father’s Pontiac and Jerry drove to the green house with the gray roof, set back from the road, set back from St. Patrick Lane, the house resting among the lilac bushes which were blooming this spring, full and green and the robins were at home having flown from the south more than a month ago. Jerry pressed on the brake, and it was not instantly they came to a stop near the side of the house. Jerry got out of the car and walked up the steps, and Marin waited, and when Jerry went inside, Marin let herself from the Pontiac and walked up the steps wondering how it was some men came to carry their wives across the threshold and she chewed her lip a little and set her teeth tight as she took this first step into her new home, and was sure she felt the baby stir. Marin thought for a moment about this, what was marinating inside her, what it would soak up, and what sort of child it might be, and if he would like this green house with the gray roof, this house among the lilacs.
When the baby came, and it was a boy, Marin wrapped him in blue, and laid him in the crib at the edge of the room, and covered him with a thin net to keep the bugs from stinging him in the night, for there were some cracks in the green house with the gray roof, and in between the cooking and cleaning when Jerry was away, Marin put mud in the cracks to keep any stray thing from the outside from coming inside, but when the summer rains came they washed the mud away, and Marin began looking for something other than mud to press into the cracks, something that would last longer but did not cost so much, but it seemed she could not think once the second baby was started inside her. No matter where she looked, nothing was sturdy enough, and if it was, it cost more than she had.
Summer left quickly that year, and in the morning after Jerry had his coffee, and Marin packed him a lunch that she put in a black metal lunch pail with a square bottom and rounded top so he could eat at noontime with his friends at the place where he worked stirring the curd for the cheese all day long, Marin would shake from the blue blanket the dusting of snow that had crept through the cracks in the night and she would lift the boy from the crib and set him upon the braided rug in the middle of the floor. She would set him among his wooden blocks and she would listen without saying a word as he built things that would topple and fall, and when they fell he would laugh and start again. This the boy did throughout the day while Marin washed clothes if it was Monday, or baked bread if it was Tuesday, and there were times Marin felt so content she would hum a little as she washed and baked.
And thus it was, each day was spent, as Marin shared the things of her youth with the boy on the braided rug. She pointed at the color of the fire through the window on the stove and its heat, and at the color of the apple she would grind for his lunch, and how to count numbers and recognize letters and what fit where, and the softness of the kitten her mother had brought, and how to chase a string, and draw pictures of horses on hoar-frosted windows and if Marin would have known how to save each day’s simplicity, she would have put it in a jar and kept it near her bed to remind her of how it was.
When winter drew back its white sleeve, exposing a cuff of green to flesh out the stark black bone of cold, on a Wednesday after two weeks of warm sun, on the day of ironing before shopping for food, and a time when Jerry expected his supper, the second baby came too early, and this was a new thing for Marin, and she was frightened while pretending to be brave, and alone in the tiny black and pink bathroom, the baby slipped from Marin’s body and upon the cold tiles between her legs it rested without a breath, without a cry, and before wrapping it in a pink blanket Marin cleaned away all the evidence of its coming too soon. With unsteady steps, Marin made her way to the table, and showed Jerry the still pink bundle, and said to him, “And what now?”
Marin did not know if Jerry could not or would not answer. A tear slipped from her and she said then, “Watch your son,” and Marin hurried from the green house with the gray roof and followed a path she knew that led to the edge of the lake, and while she opened the ground, the cold kind of ground that holds a shiver of ice, with the shovel she had dragged behind her as she made her way down the path as she juggled the pink bundle and a small wooden box she had emptied of tools when she stopped at the tool shed on her way to the path that led to the lake, she let all the tears fall where they may, for it was her only consolation, to cry upon the earth that would cover her daughter. As Marin placed the last stone upon the soft mound, a gunshot cracked upon the stillness and Marin rose to face the direction of the green house with the gray roof, and an urgency settled upon her. With a start, Marin headed back up the path, at first slow, and then faster, wondering what of the single shot she’d heard.
Marin came through the front door, wondering what she might find, and Jerry sat at the table staring at his empty plate. Marin went to the crib, and their son was silent, and she held her hand to his face to feel of his breath and it was warm. She went to the closet and felt of the barrel of the gun, and it was warm.
Marin went to the sink and turned the water on hot, and pushed her hands under the spout and scrubbed the dirt from her fingers, and harder around the nails where she’d had to dig in under the edge of the stones to put on the mound. When her hands were clean, she served Jerry his meal, and he said not a thing, and she did not ask. The next day was the day to shop for food, and the day after Marin would clean the house, for the day after next was the day before the weekend, and she would need time to think of something to tell her parents and Jerry’s parents, and this she thought of as she swept and scrubbed, for they would come, and they would ask of her, and of the baby, and this would not be easy to tell, but Marin vowed to think of something to say as she made clean her house for when their parents came.
And when all the parents came, Jerry was not there, and he had not been there since he ate the meal after Marin had placed the pink bundle in the shallow grave. Marin had been sure she would have thought of something to tell their parents, but when both mothers walked in the door, Marin had only to look at them, and they knew. Marin left it to them to tell the fathers, and she served them all some food and watched them play with the boy and his blocks on the braided rug in the middle of the room, and she watched them build things up, and she watched as things fell down. Marin didn’t mention the packages of pink their parents had brought, and she hung silent while the mothers put back in their carrying cases the simple gifts, taking them back to their cars when they left. There were some hugs as they said their goodbyes, but no one cried or talked about what had happened in the green house with the gray roof. When the parents had left, Marin put her son in his crib, and checked the plastic she had tacked to the wall to keep any wind from coming through the cracks, and then she slipped into bed to wait and listen so she would know when Jerry came home, if he did, in the night.
And then one night, some nights later Jerry came, but he did not smell of cheese curd, for that was a smell Marin knew, but still this smell she knew, but it was not hers. This smell Jerry would keep for his own, for he was a man, and this was a time when a man could do as a man pleased, and a woman was not to say a thing, and this Marin knew, and even so, soon there was another baby in her, and Marin knew this even as she scrubbed and cleaned and watched her son on the braided rug. And sometimes Marin would sleep alone at night, and watch for a ray of light alerting her to Jerry’s arrival in the earliest hours of morning, and it would be then that Marin would turn to the wall and pretend she was not aware Jerry had been gone or even that he had come home.
And this is how it was, and Marin learned to be content with this way, for she was born to patience and had learned caution and if a thing was good enough it was best to leave it, as her mother would, and this Marin knew, and she had concerns other than where Jerry went some nights, and so could be content to know Jerry went to make the cheese curd each day, and after two weeks would pass Jerry gave Marin his money, and it was just enough, so Marin could care for the house and the boy, and then also the daughter who came in the fall, while Marin was in the barn at her father-in-law’s farm, milking the cow, and the stool upon which Marin sat became wet so she knew the time would be soon. And the time was right and long enough, and even the doctor was the same as the one who brought the boy into the world, and at this Marin did rejoice for there was a rightness to this birth, this child conceived after wedlock. Out of respect, Marin would not let her mind return to the time and the reason for the blue dress.
In her mind, Marin vowed not to go to that place, back to the blue dress, for she reasoned if she thought not of it, it would fade from the minds of others as well for just the idea of it was like a marble from her youth, so that if she would pull it from the drawer of memories and ponder it, every memory captured inside the small globe would come oozing forth, demanding attention, and this Marin would not do to her firstborn, her son. And in her heart, Marin knew Jerry would not think twice about it, for Marin was beginning to see Jerry knew nothing of marbles or even of life.