Posted February 27, 2008on:
Back she goes to the kitchen, and I’m alone. My things are all around me. Marvin and Doris think of them as theirs, theirs to keep or sell, as they choose, just as they regard the house as theirs, squatters’ rights after these years of occupation. With Doris its greed. She never had much as a child, I know, and when they first came here, to be with me, she eyed the furniture and bric-à-brac like a pouch-faced gopher eyeing acorns, eager to nibble. But it is not greed, I think, with Marvin. Such a stolid soul. His dreams are not of gold and silver, if he dreams at all. Or is it the reverse — does he ever waken? He lives in a dreamless sleep. He sees my things as his only through long acquaintance.
But they are mine. How could I leave them? They support and comfort me. On the mantelpiece is the knobbled jug of blue and milky glass that was my mother’s and beside it, in a small oval frame of gilt, backed with black velvet, a daguerrotype of her, a spindly and anxious girl, rather plain, ringleted stiffly. She looks so worried that she will not know what to do, although she came of good family and ought not to have had a moment’s hesitation about the propriety of her ways. But she still seems perplexed out of her little frame, wondering how on earth to please. Father gave me the jug and picture when I was a child, and even then it seemed so puzzling to me that she’d not died when either of the boys was born, but saved her death for me. When he said “your poor mother,” the moisture would squeeze out from the shaggy eyelid, and I marveled that he could achieve it at will, so suitable and infinitely touching to the matrons of the town, who found a tear for the female dead a reassuring tribute to thankless motherhood. Even should they die in childbed, some male soul would weep years after. Wonderful consolation. I used to wonder at her weakness and my awful strength. Father didn’t hold it against me that it had happened so. I know, because he told me. Perhaps he thought it was a fair exchange, her life for mine.
Yet there’s the picture of me at twenty. Doris wanted to take it down, but Marvin wouldn’t let her — that was a curious thing, now I come to think of it. I was a handsome girl, a handsome girl, no doubt of that. A pity I didn’t know it then. Not beautiful, I admit, not that china figurine look some women have, all gold and pink fragility, a wonder their corsets don’t snap their sparrow bones. Handsomeness lasts longer, I will say that.
Sometimes these delicate-seeming women can turn out to be quite robust after all, though. Matt’s wife Mavis was one of those whose health had always been precarious. She had rheumatic fever as a child, and was thought to have a weak heart. Yet that winter when the influenza was so bad, she nursed Matt and never caught it herself. She stayed by him, I’ll say that for her. I no longer went in to town very often, so I didn’t even know Matt was ill until Aunt Dolly came out to the farm one day to tell me he had died the night before.
“He went quietly,” she said. “He didn’t fight his death, as some do. They only make it harder for themselves. Matt seemed to know there was no help for it, Mavis said. He didn’t struggle to breathe, or try to hang on. He let himself slip away.”
I found this harder to bear than his death, even. Why hadn’t he writhed, cursed, at least grappled with the thing? We talked of Matt, then, Aunt Dolly and myself, and it was then she told me why he’d saved his money as a child. I’ve often wondered why one discovers so many things too late. The jokes of God.
From The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence