He was but a gargoyle, a stone image. How the gift of sentient observation had come to him he did not know any more than man knew where the soul originated. From his place on the roof he observed … Continue reading
One day Aunt Melissy, Uncle Joe and a I had been invited to an assembly on a Sunday after church to the church elder and his wife. The men and boys were gathering in the meeting hall of the church while the womenfolk were expected to assemble at the church elder’s house. His wife was entertaining us with cake and good strong smelling coffee in her dining room that was big enough to fit at least twenty people at the table and then some around the benches placed at the wall. Even at such a gathering there was no idle chatter but the women discussed who in the community was in need of support or charity and how the community should cooperate to provide it. The girls were clearly as bored as any girl at any time would have been even though I was sure they were working as hard and obediently as I was. We were all seated alongside the wall on the benches, holding on to our mugs and a piece of cake. I exchanged glances with a girl about my age who was seated across the table at the other wall. The girl seemed strangely familiar but I could not place her face. She was dressed just a bit prettier than the other girls and in fact she was a bit prettier than everybody else. After we had finished our coffee she got up, left the room and returned with a tray to collect our mugs and the dishes we had been balancing on our knees. When she took mine she made a funny face at me, and the girl next to me giggled. I couldn’t tell whether she had been laughing at me or about me but the pretty girl had already filled her tray and carried it out of the room. When she came back into the room she did not reclaim her seat on the bench but stood next to the state elder’s wife, her hands neatly folded in front of her apron and waiting to be allowed to address the woman sitting at the table. Finally, her mother decided to look up and notice her. As soon as her eyes found her daughter’s smile you could see the smallest glimpse of pleasure and pride you will ever catch in another person’s face. I looked at Aunt Melissy. Nothing much escaped her sharp birdlike eyes and, sure enough, she was squinting her eyes in the familiar way she displayed only when she was alarmed by some misbehavior while observing elder’s wife intently. The lady was well trained though and the moment of satisfaction with her daughter’s beauty and well-displayed training had passed quickly and had been replaced with the usual sober inquiry she met everyone in her church with, never letting on that she was the first lady of the community. I think that in this moment though I knew that behind all of this admirable display of virtue people were as they are through all times – well meaning at their best, proud and ambitious underneath, full of insecurity and doubt. Maybe even Aunt Melissy knew some of these feelings. I looked at her. Nah, not Aunt Melissy, I corrected myself. Maybe every hundred years or so somebody came along who was actually virtuous and good to a fault. In this room I knew this one person not to be the church elders’ wife but Aunt Melissy.
They never talked to each other of their feelings. After a while it was difficult to say whether they didn’t talk because they didn’t want to deepen the grief in the other, whether they were anxious that even the one person they shared their grief with would not be able to relate to its depth or even feel hurt by it – or whether it was because they were guarding their own grief with a certain possessive jealousy. The spring changed their marriage. It was the first time they did not talk to each other about something that kept their minds occupied. It became more difficult to talk about the daily life as well.
Thus they were quiet in each other’s company. Iris was dedicating herself to creating miniature watercolors, none of them larger than the palm of a woman’s hand, some as small as a postal stamp. She used the finest brushes and worked deliberately slow. She had perched a nature encyclopedia on the kitchen table and truthfully to nature had copied illustrations of small insects and birds, placing them in imaginary and impossible landscapes filled with a soft green light that on better days implied a spring day, on days of more severe depression dark and damp shadows.