Mother, I just know you’ll love him once you get to know him.
Sulfur. My daughter smells of sulfur. Great fires have burned around her. I know this and I know to keep my mouth shut. I clutch my clutch. I avoid biting down on my lip, because I fear getting lipstick on my teeth. Howser should have come with me, but New York City is no place for a dog that wasn’t born here. That wasn’t born smelling the skyscrapers and inhaling constantly the fragrance of streetside hot dogs.
Mother, don’t be too hard on him. He’s misunderstood the way all great men are. The way father probably was when you met him.
The day I met her father, he had stopped by the farm to pick up several pies my sister had made for him that morning. They were to be married until he took one look at me and decided I would make for a more suitable bride. On our wedding night, I walked outside and prayed to the moon that this man who I was meant to spend my life with would die in his sleep. A cloud passed over my face, and when I went back inside the house, he’d stopped breathing. I remember dancing back out into the yard to sing my gratitude at having been made a widow. I didn’t know you were already forming inside me. I didn’t know you had chosen to remain.
Mother, I was standing in front of the big sign with all the train times and destinations for three hours. I knew when you were coming, but I just had to get here early, because I was so excited. Isn’t Grand Central the most beautiful place? Sometimes I come here and I just stand and watch people come and go, come and go. Do you find that strange?
The first letter came when she was sixteen. It was in a silver envelope and the penmanship on the front was impeccable. Her name had never looked more lovely.
I tore it up, but it didn’t matter. The next day I found three more just like it in her room. I nearly left them undisturbed. I told myself that a young lady deserved some privacy. Then I remembered that my job was to keep the silver out of her heart until she could no longer resist it. The first letter spoke of clouds and thunder. The second of exile and despair. The third talked of how many rivers a love must cross. How close one must be able to stand near a flame. The tailored orange. The relaxed red.
Mother, you have to walk quicker than that. He’s expecting us at six for dinner. Six on the dot. He doesn’t like tardiness. Not that he shows his temper. Not with me. Still, we should try to arrive a little bit early if we can. I know you’re probably tired and don’t feel like yourself after the train ride in, but I told you to take an earlier one, didn’t I? Now you’re going to have to go to dinner in your traveling clothes. There just isn’t any way around it.
The night she snuck out her window, I heard a truck backfire at the end of the driveway. My legs had swollen up right after dinner. I knew I couldn’t chase after her. Outside I went, no longer a scared newlywed, and asked the moon to bring my daughter back. A cloud cast itself across my face, but this time, it didn’t pass. It didn’t pass until the sun came up the next morning. I woke up on top of the grass. All of it brown. All of it having died overnight. The milk spoiled in the fridge. The lambs attacking each other as though they were possessed by wolves. The screen door leading into the house ripped to shreds. I had my warning. I knew the moon’s answer and it was no answer at all.
Remember when you said you would never come visit me here? Remember how sure you were? I just knew if I held out long enough, you’d given in. I knew you couldn’t be as stubborn as he said you were. I knew nobody was that stubborn.
The phone would ring at three. I wouldn’t pick up. She’d leave messages on the machine. Apologetic, then mournful, then hysterical. She needed her mother. A man didn’t change what a young woman needs, but she was seventeen now, and that meant she could make her own choices. She’d made a choice. It was all love and silver. Her voice sounded like a bad bargain. The machine filled up. I didn’t bother replacing the tape. It wasn’t until I got her letter that I booked my train ticket. I told my sister that if I didn’t come back, she should sell the farm and keep the profit. She told me I was a tramp and my daughter was just like me stealing men that didn’t belong to us. I knew that was the liquor twisting her tongue, but I hung up on her all the same. I had packing to do.
Isn’t this the most beautiful restaurant you ever saw in your life? Fancy tablecloths and everything. We eat here two--sometimes three times a week! I’ve had the most exotic foods, Mother. Escargot and things like that. You would practically think I was French the way I eat now, and it shows. My skin is so light now. Not like it used to be when I was out in the sun all day working, working, working. Mother, do you need to sit and catch your breath?
A woman sat next to me on the train and asked if she could apply her make-up or would that bother me? I told her it was a free train in a free country last I checked. She smiled, and I could tell that she had a thing for people who don’t care to notice her. She asked me where I was going, and I told her that I was headed to New York City to see my daughter and her new husband. I told her when I got there, I was going to ask them to take me on a subway ride. My new son-in-law would insist on paying for a taxi, but I’d say that I wanted to ride the world famous New York subway, and my daughter would do the whining that she does, and he’d give in. As soon as we were underground, I’d smile at him and make conversation, but as soon as that train got close, I’d shove him right onto the tracks. Right in front of her and me and however many other people were watching. I’d return him to silver with no questions left in my heart about it. The moon would forgive me or it wouldn’t. I had no time for consideration.
Mother, smile. You’re not smiling. He likes it when women smile.
The woman putting on her make-up told me that her husband messes around with everyone under the sun. Told me he’d get a bull pregnant if it was a cow. Kids all over the country, because he was some kind of salesman. Jupiter, Ltd. Had I heard of them? No, I hadn’t. She finished her make-up, opened up her purse, pulled out a small bottle, and placed it in my lap. Told me that subways are messy and homicides make people late for work. These days everybody’s concerned with punctuality. She told me poison is the lady’s way. Your son-in-law sounds like a man that likes soup. Hot soup. When he uses the little boy’s room, you tell your daughter to go ask the maître d' to turn down the heat, because you’re too hot, and she’ll oblige. Once they’re both gone, everything in that bottle goes into the soup. Kit and caboodle. He’ll have a fine night, but his morning is going to be hell. That’s how it was for my husband. I even put a little in his brother’s soup just for good measure. Never liked him anyway. Always smelled like fish. I didn’t thank her, but I put the bottle in my clutch.
Mother, there he is at the table. Isn’t he handsome?
Handsome and a lick-lipper with all the trappings of good breeding. Never adopt a dead rich man’s dog, because it’ll only eat steak. These are the things you know if you grew up wanting to know things. If you didn’t grow up only caring about somebody loving you and you loving them back. He motioned for us to come forward. I let my daughter lead the way. The soup was already in front of him, but his spoon was clean.
Mother, he said, I didn’t want to start until you arrived.
I told him I was here now. I told him to eat, but slowly. Savor the meal. Before that though, I suggested he use the men’s room. Get it out of the way. I told him that once we started talking, I wasn’t going to let him out of my sight.