The door creaks open. Safe behind half-closed eyes Mary watches the young man’s reflection emerge in the mirror opposite. The moment is approaching. Will it end in “yes” and a happily ever after or a “no” and a crumpled face? Happily, this decision can be delayed.
This weekend, she has escaped her chaotic life and emerged as another being. She is comfortably bedded in Richard’s sister’s room, a room which still holds a faint memory of lavender although the long since departed sister is now a wife and mother on the other side of the country.
The vast, high ceilinged bedroom is decorated like an old-fashioned nursery with tiny flowered wallpaper. There is a bay window from which, Richard explained, one can see the back garden.
The previous evening she and Carole had arrived too late to get the full tour. Exhausted from the long bus ride, they had been promised a more leisurely walk through house and garden in the morning. She had seen enough, though, to know that Richard’s family was loaded.
Although exhausted from the journey, Mary’s mind had buzzed the occasion, luxuriating in the soft mattress, covered with a satin quilt. She pictured herself as a travelling princess sleeping in the castle. Ragged, poor, her face pale but underneath…a could-be princess.
It was a stark contrast to the bedlam of her family’s house on weekends: kids arguing, doors slamming, her mother yelling at her father to fix something, her father shuffling around hammering, sawing, and dropping things. And a far cry from her basement apartment with its dilapidated entrance around the back, down three crumbling cement stairs, a bare bulb exposing the paint peeled door. And inside across a damp basement hallway, another small unwelcoming door, and behind that—chaos.
Today, thanks to the tranquil setting, Mary wakes, tucked in a twin bed beside her friend Carole, rested and enervated. In her own apartment she sleeps heavily and wakes so lethargic she is late even for her afternoon classes. Every day drifts into the next: missed lectures, late assignments and rent overdue. With little money saved from her summer waitress job and no budget, her finances waver between worrisome and desperate.
Dazed except when at a party with friends, smoking or drinking cheap wine, where she brims with ideas, about essay topics and course work. Ben nags her to get started, which she agrees to do, but the following day, buried in the dark basement she sleeps the day away, until she finally wakes to root in the fridge for food, gnawing on bread as she wanders from room to room.
All that can change, if she gives the nod, marries Richard. “Might as well fall in love with a rich man as a poor one,” her mother advises. Her parents would be blown away if she had a nice house and someone to do the housework. She could do whatever she wanted, read, write, whatever.
The door gapes open, a large tilted head appears—Richard, of course.
Why does she gather such odd rosebuds? Now Ben’s love she can take. When he notices her, she glows. Under his spell they wander the night streets, drift whole days away making love, laughing and talking, about Ben’s “cabbages and kings.”
“Richard?” her friend’s voice hisses from the twin bed.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you,” the giant steps gingerly into the women’s room.
“It’s all right I was just coming to,” Carole smiles, putting on her glasses. “Mary’s still asleep. Sit.” She pats the soft bedspread.
The man moves cautiously across the room, lowers his bulk onto the bed and grins shyly.
Clairvoyant, powerful, Mary tingles with the drama.
“Are she and Ben still an item?” the man asks.
Carole nods sadly. “Better ask her.” Herself a romantic unhappy in love, Carole longs to further his cause.
The man glances doggedly at the motionless figure, dark curls strewn like petals across the lacy pillow, her pale, thin face in repose, looking so vulnerable and unaffected.
The young man rises slowly, leans over to Carole and whispers, “Come down when you’re ready. You can eat breakfast on the porch and read the Saturday papers.”
When his shadow lumbers out the door, Carole disappears into the bathroom. Mary sits up. How wonderful it would be to be cared for, to be Richard’s protégé. She could be a writer or maybe an actress. Of course, the sex would be nothing like with Ben but so what. She could play hostess to Carole and her other friends, have parties with fancy desserts.
Rising elegantly from her bed, Mary drifts across to the bay window, and pulls back the lace curtains warming to the sight of a gnarled apple tree with a wooden swing, just like in a children’s book. She can think of nothing she’ll be giving up, except Ben, who will never marry her anyhow. And she will make Richard happy. She sees his face explode with pleasure when she agrees.
Living in a bright house she could easily organize her life and become an A student. Now her only reprieve from her black hole is Sunday at home with her family listening to her mother talking of Dick Goodey—a man her mother had loved but who was not considered husband material.
“Forget Dick Goodey,” the girl laughs swirling the lace curtains so the sun flickers golden across her face. She will sit on a satin bedspread and tell her daughter about Ben.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Originally posted at:http://www.sixminutemagazine.com/issues/Six_Minute_Magazine_issue_4.pdf Page 22