Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday's Females: Fiction (part 2)

This is the second half of a short story I posted two weeks ago. As I said then, there is more factual basis to this story that I am comfortable with, but the details of the story are mostly fictional.
******
The boy who tended the herd failed to show up today for unknown reasons of his own. Therefore, it fell to her to bring the goats in from the rain. The stench of their shed was overpowering today. She would have to tell someone soon.
Her rendezvous with the teacher had lasted a little over two months. They had met in the city only that once. In part, this had been a relief for her. She did not have enough cash saved from her sewing days to pay for an indefinite number of hotel rooms. She had insisted on paying her part, she did not want to be beholden to his man afterwards. For the rest, she had been terrified. He seemed to have an endless network of college friends who would turn a blind eye, or colleagues away on vacation whose houses he could use. She did not like it; it was too public. She did not like trailing her desperation around for his circle of associates to see. In the end, after assurances of discretion, she relented. It was true-- she was desperate.  She had wondered, sometimes, in the quiet hours of the night what she was doing. Did his inexhaustible network mean that he had done this before? What had she tangled herself into? If he had done this before, he had kept his other women quiet as well. She had not been able to uncover any stories about his bad habits in the questioning she had done before embarking on this endeavour.
She ended their meetings a week ago, as soon as she was certain she had what she had come for. It was risky, she knew. She may lose her prize, at which point she would have to go through a similar ordeal again. She had contemplated staying in her current situation until her position was more certain, but the humiliation of it all was more than she wished to bear. Rightly or wrongly, she chose the riskier path that offered immediate solace. He had accepted her breaking off of their relationship easily. She gave the excuse of no longer being able to withstand the increasing questions of her family, that she was not a brave woman. It was not entirely false. Her sudden and sometimes frequent absences had not gone unnoticed by her mother-in-law, but the woman shied from trouble by nature. As long as she completed her chores, the old woman would not complain to her father-in-law. He had laughed at her when she expressed her regrets and derided her when she claimed cowardice, but he had let her go. It had stung, but it did not matter. If he disliked her, perhaps he would not see fit to pursue her afterwards. Perhaps he would allow her to make a clean break of this shameful period in her life, to go back to the quiet of her family. Perhaps she could preserve some dignity.
The rain had prevented her from going to the store today. Her husband came home muddy and soaked, in spite of his umbrella. His father and brother would be along shortly. They were visiting one of their neighbors. Their boy wanted a position at the shop. She drew and heated water for all three men to wash with as they came home. Dinner would be ready soon. He probably should not turn on the TV, the rain kept the solar panels from charging much today. He could tell her about the takings at the store instead.
She had been hopeful when she first came to her husband's home seven years ago. Unlike her sisters, she did not want to live far from the land. She had grown up on farm, and that was where she was comfortable. Her husband's house was remote enough that her siblings were not likely to visit her often. She resigned herself to doing all the traveling that her family would permit and let the matter stand. Her father-in-law had a successful local business selling dried goods and homeopathic medicines. The family had a modest amount of land. She could help them prosper. Her father-in-law had been the first to see the advantages of her work ethic. Her sister-in-law, the elder brother's wife, was better educated than she, having graduated from a well known boarding school, showed no interest in the business side of the family's affairs, choosing to stay by her mother-in-law's side. She had no such compunction. Her father-in-law took her under his wing, and she spent two evenings a week at the store. She quickly became his favorite. This caused some tensions with the other women in the household of course, but her mother had advised her on how to win them over. She redoubled her efforts around the house, which eventually earned her mother-in-law's acceptance. Her sister-in-law quieted a when she gave birth to a boy. The six year old, and his three year old brother sat in the center of their grandfather's vision, the pride and joy of the household.
The boys had not diminished her role in the family. She could never accuse the two charming bundles of trouble of that. Even if they had, she would have  gladly moved over to let them bask in their grandfather's love. But they had not. One could say that their births had indicated a shift from her playing a central role in the household to a more central role at the business. It was not where she had foreseen her life going when she had married, but one cannot argue with what is written in one's fate. There was not much she could complain about, her husband was happy with her new position in the household. There was even talk, a few years ago, when his father's health had given them all a scare, that the land would be given to the elder brother, and the business to the younger. Her husband had pointed out to her that this was, at least in part, due to her active presence in the shop.
The elder of her two brothers, a clerk for a lawyer, told her she should be proud that her father-in-law held her in such esteem. But she was not her brother. Her ambitions had never been to own a successful business. She was simply grateful that it had not come to that. Her father-in-law's heart recovered, her family returned to the happy comfort of before the illness. Her father-in-law had to be careful of his diet and activity in the future, but he had shown no further signs of illness.
She quizzed her niece and nephew on their school work and mended the boy's school uniform while their mother put the youngest to sleep. She would soon not be able to help her niece any more. She usually liked working with the children, but then, she'd found that she enjoyed her morning's tutoring the village kids in her ancestral home a pleasure beyond the money it earned the family. Some said she had a gift for reaching them in a way they understood. Today, however, her heart was not in their studies. She was tired; her mind on the conversation she would have to have with her husband. When her sister-in-law returned, she excused herself and went to bed. There was still mending and accounting to be done. She would tend to them in the morning.
She had not thought it worth bringing up until nearly two years ago. Attempt after attempt had failed. Then she started hearing the unavoidable whispers during the holidays. Her neighbors thought that it was her fault. The thought had crossed her mind as well. When her sister-in-law advised her on how to best capture it within her body, she went to her husband. She wanted to be tested. She remembered the horror on his face clearly, the way he had fumbled and searched for words, the stuttered protests, the unfinished sentences. She had thought then that he had reacted so strongly against the prospect of making her inadequacy so public. She had actually tried to console and reassure him. In the end, he said that he would discuss the matter with his father.
He kept his word, though the men took their time deliberating. Her father-in-law handed down the verdict a month later that no woman of his house would be examined by city doctors. They should simply try harder. If it was not to be, the shame should remain within the house.
She could not accept that. She had to know. She had heard that doctors could do things for people like her, that if she were lucky, with a little help, they  could make it as if nothing had ever been wrong. When she saw her sister during the Christian holidays, she asked her to make an appointment for her. Her sister knew how to find good doctors, she trusted her to make the arrangement. Of course she wanted an explanation. She contemplated lying, at least saying that she was acting with her father-in-laws blessings. But they did not lie to each other. She told her of the whispers and her husband's shame, she bound her to keep the matter quiet, even, no, especially from the rest of the family. Her sister understood. She was glad she had someone to confide in.
It was raining hard when her husband woke her by joining her in bed. Was everyone else asleep?
Yes, his father and brother had just turned in. Why had she gone to bed so early? His mother was worried about her.
She had something to tell him. She wanted him to know before the rest of the family found out.
He stared at her, as she had stared at him over a year ago. But at that point, she had no inkling of what was coming. Now, he knew, or should have known this day would come. He had forced her to bring it about. He spat a word at her. It was the same word she had once told him she did not wish to become. She let it soak into the bed sheet between them. That word could destroy her, it was best not to touch it now. Her husband left for the roof. It was raining, she called after him. He was well aware of that fact.
He had kept her from storming out of this room a year ago, a few minutes after he found her trying to leave the house. She had made arrangement to visit her sister again for a few days, coinciding with the doctor's appointment she had arranged. Her husband found her as she was putting her clothes in her bag. She had no idea how he found out. Perhaps the doctor had called the house. The doctor had been suspicious of an appointment made under such strange circumstances; a woman wanting to be checked, claiming to be married, but coming in alone to an appointment made by her sister. The entire matter smelled to him of something immoral, or at least illegal, nothing he would want his practise associated with. The implications had made her skin crawl. She left him with her husband's number, and their address. What else could she do?
However her husband had learned of the plans, he reminded her that his father had wished her not to see a doctor.
She begged and pleaded with him. She told him how this did not need to be shameful anymore, that there was a good chance a good doctor could fix the problem without anyone finding out. She asked him to come with her. She begged him to let her go and ask his father to forgive her disobedience. She pleaded with him, reminding him her desire for a child, begging that he allow his wife to fulfill this one natural dream.
That was when he told her. It was not her fault. It was he who was deficient.
She stared at him, her jaw dragging on the floor. He had known. The entire family had known. How long had he known and stayed silent, letting her think it was her fault. How long had the entire family conspired against her? She did not ask the questions, though her father had yelled them into the phone later that day when she called him, in tears, telling him what she had learned. He had married her to a family of toilet cleaners, he yelled. They had tricked him. They must have known before the wedding. Why else had the dowry been so affordable? This was grounds for divorce. He was going to call her brother and have him look into legal proceedings. She calmed him down and asked to speak to her mother. She did not want a divorce. She was twenty-six. She would never marry again. She wanted a family.
She would never have a child married to this man. She stopped staring at her husband and wiped the tears that had sprung to her eyes.
That was not true, he told her. There was another way.
She did not believe her husband's suggestion. His mouth spoke, but it spouted nonsense. He proposed the impossible.
He did not  understand why she had to take that attitude. Children were born under those circumstances every day. He would accept the child as his own. What was her problem? It was a simple solution.
Her problem? Her problem was that she was not a whore. She was his wife. She would not be pimped around the neighborhood by him.
He slapped her. The shock of the act hurt as much as the blow itself. Her cheek bled where she bit it in surprise. She reached for her half packed bag and headed for the door. He stopped her there, hands clasped, pleading forgiveness.
She would go to her sister's, as planned. She would not go to the doctor. She would return in a few days. She stepped past her husband to receive her father-in-law's blessings for her journey.
Her husband returned, soaked, but with a cooler head. She rose to give him a towel to dry off and a change of dry clothes. He suggested that she go to her sister's for a few days.
No. She could not step out of her house under the circumstances. Who knew what would happen if she allowed him to push her out of her home. She reminded him that she had done this for him. She reminded him of his professed desire for children.
He had changed his mind, he claimed. He climbed under the mosquito net and turned his back on her.
She did not blow out the kerosene lamp. This was not the end of the discussion. Was this what the months of cajoling and pressure had been for? So he could change his mind?
He had made a mistake. He did not want this as much as he thought he had. Mistakes happen. It was not too late to change his mind.
Never. She had not put herself through that torment on his whim. This was her child. She had earned it.
Her husband did not respond. The conversation was over. She blew out the flame, listened to the downpour and wondered how this had gone so poorly.
When she returned from her sister's that time a year ago, he raised the proposal again. She refused. She was not that type of woman.
He spent the next week telling her how much he wanted children as well. He told her that she could rescue him from his shame. She could make up for his lack. Only she could make their family whole. She refused. They could live quite comfortably on what they had. She would put more time in at the store. His father's health would not last forever.
Eventually he stopped pleading, but he did not drop the subject. He asked her to sit with him when he watched TV, pointing out how women attracted men in the films. One could learn a lot from watching movies. It was indecent and prurient, humiliating to hear him speak to her like that with the rest of the family around. She stopped watching TV in the evenings, finding reasons to stay in the kitchen late into the evening.
Then came a period of undone chores. The clothes that he usually washed, he left for her. The garden they tended together, was hers to see to alone. When their chickens fell ill, it was not due to his negligence in supplying them with feed, but her laziness and lack of resourcefulness. He made her unwelcome at the store, laughing with the customers about the difficulty in training women to keep a store orderly, teasing her lack of education, accusing her of misplacing objects she had not touched, that she was certain he had hidden. Every week he reminded her that their family would be happier if there were children running around. He would feel certain about his future.
Eventually, her brother-in-law accused her of theft. He did not want to go to their father, his health would not take this betrayal. But if she did not return the money to the store, he would have little choice.
She went to her husband. If she did as he asked, would he clear her name?
He did not know what she was talking about.
The money. Would he return the money.
Oh, that? Of course. He was not a thief.
Neither was she. Would he tell his brother that.
Yes, yes, of course. She had nothing to worry about. She must understand. The family needed children. It was wrong of her to prevent them from having them.
Would he promise again that he would accept the child, and take her back.
Yes, of course. Her questions were growing tiresome.
She did not tell the rest of the family for months after she told her husband, though she told her sister-- everything. Her sister told her that she was welcome to stay with her for as long as she wanted, whenever she wanted. She was grateful, but she could not leave her home, not if there was any possibility that she would not be allowed back.
In all honesty, she did not tell the rest of her family at all. Her mother-in-law questioned her about it four months later. She was starting to show. She made the announcement in front of everyone, in front of her husband, that she was carrying his child. She did not know how he would react. They had not talked about it during these past few months. It was not that he neglected her completely, he simply neglected this part of her. Not once had he asked about her health. She had no idea how he would react to this announcement.
He remained impassive. The other two men clamoured for a paternity test. Impossible they said. She was untrustworthy, her brother-in-law claimed, hinting at the alleged theft. They piled insults on her father's head, threatened to keep her closer to the house, promised to not let her work at the store.
When she thought she had born as much as she could, her husband quietly claimed paternity. The four pairs of eyes that looked from her to her husband had all held less scorn for a passing beggar.
Watch her tightly, her brother-in-law said as he left the room. His wife followed, with a look that would have seared a rice paddy.
Her mother-in-law would see to his medication, her father-in-law announced. He moved his feet from her, when she bent to touch them before departing. His mother-in-law did not say a word.
Her husband met her much later that night, tired and tense. It would be better if she spent the rest of her pregnancy with her sister.
Was he asking her to leave her house?
No. He would take her and the child back as soon as her health permitted. There was no question of that.
She could have the child in the hospital in town as easily as she could in the city.
Why was she so deliberately stubborn? It would be easier for him to smooth matters at home without her being a constant reminder of the possibility of dishonor. He would take her back. He gave his word. Was that not good enough?
She did not trust him. She knew the value of his word. But there was wisdom in his request. She called her sister.
A week later, she stepped off a train in the city. Her husband came with her to see her safely to her sister's house. He would promise to take her back in front of her brother-in-law today.
He was a good man, her husband. She wanted to trust him. In a different world, she would be so happy. She had everything; a comfortable home, a good family, land and a store she enjoyed working in, she even had a child growing inside her. She had everything. Her current situation terrified her.

1 comment:

  1. You might qualify for a new government solar program.
    Find out if you're qualified now!

    ReplyDelete