:: an excerpt from my previous work, set in 1924 ::
August arrived in an unseasonably cool rush, an ocean wave shattering on scorching sand. It swelled through the homes along the Sound, opening windows and scattering inhabitants into their yards. The frequent gusts stirred Margaret from her scotch-induced nightmares and persuaded her to walk the gardens.
She put one foot in front of the other, left heel to right toe, heel to toe, heel to toe, until she reached the end of the stone path. She fingered the white rose petals with her right hand, swinging the bottle in her left as if it were a pendulum that only came to rest when it struck her lips. Margaret pulled a petal from each rose, going back to the beginning in a grid until every stem showed a barren bulb. The cupped petals floated, suspended in the air for the faintest breath and gathered in a mound at her feet. She peered at the pile, too crisp and unadulterated, too white.
Fervor washed over Margaret, an ordinary thought under guise of a striking revelation. It flitted about, restless, evading her grasp and shedding particles of dust for her to collect and reassemble. She collapsed on the stone wall, a three-foot-high barrier that kept the greenery from invading the walk. She watched Chauncey load Hazel’s belongings into the car, a few pieces of luggage, a few boxes, but no furniture. Margaret closed her eyes and allowed the clean, wet air to infiltrate her memories and glue her thoughts together. She smelled the sweet jasmine floating on the soft hum of voices, Hazel’s low and thick, as they drifted into the garden. Margaret’s mind lurched, remembering:
She clenched her fingers firmly around the bedpost until her knuckles were white, cringing each time her attendant Edie cinched the corset tighter.
“Why must I wear this wretched thing?” she asked.
Edie chuckled, “We mustn’t discuss this again, child.”
“But I can’t dance in it. I can hardly breathe.”
Edie tied the final section and reached for the lace gown, “Arms.”
She put her arms above her head and slipped into the pristine, white garment. It had long sleeves, a neckline that encircled her throat like clutching claws, and an exaggerated waistline that billowed into a twelve foot long train. She stood in front of the mirror, twisting from side to side.
“I wish it weren’t so heavy on my legs,” she whined, pulling the gown’s layers up in front to reveal her ankles.
“Margaret Catherine Cort, you put that down. Yuh know it ain’t fittin’ for a young lady, especially not fo’ a young lady on her wedding day.”
She blushed, “I know, but it would be nice without all these layers.”
A congregation had arrived at Blackbird Glen Estate to witness the joining of the two prominent families. Her fiancé, Dr. Robert MacColl, had completed medical school at twenty-four, a brilliant man five years her senior. They had met at a family gathering some years ago before either had the vaguest idea of love. He had asked for her hand late last summer but she had told him to wait until she finished university. He refused and got her parents involved. The wedding had been set for the week immediately following the end of the school year.
“Are you nervous?” Minnie squealed, rushing into the second-story bedroom. “That’s normal, you know.”
Minnie dismissed Edie into the hallway and began fiddling with the tiny buttons along the gown’s side.
“I’m not nervous,” she sighed. She wondered whether or not she should tell Minnie, but the words were out of her mouth before she could rein them back, “I’m disappointed.”
Minnie’s face grew colorless, a blank sheet on which no emotions were yet written.
“I mean, I’m not sure I want to get married yet.”
“That’s just the nerves, Margaret,” Minnie waved her hand, letting the air out of her lungs. “Of course you want to get married. Every girl wants to get married.”
“Oh, I do. Just not today.”
“Three hundred people are out there waiting for you,” Minnie gripped Margaret’s hands in her own, “Tell me right now what you want to do. Do you love him?”
“Then I don’t understand,” She dropped Margaret’s hands and finished the dress’s buttons. Minnie declared, “I’d marry him even if I didn’t love him yet – he has connections, a good family, he’s rich, and he’s a doctor. I didn’t love William at first, but now – well, love can grow.”
“Didn’t you ever want to do anything else?”
Minnie shook her head.
“I want to marry him. I just want to wait.”
“Wait for what? You aren’t getting younger,” Minnie tied the ivory sash into a bow on the gown’s back, “Beautiful.”
“I don’t know.”
Minnie started for the door, “See you down there, Mrs. MacColl.”
She stood at the window and watched the guests as young men in black suits filed them into their respective rows. She searched her brain for plausible excuses but thought of nothing that her guests would understand.
“Come along now, Miss Margaret, everyone’s waiting,” Edie scolded, “Don’t just stand there.”
Edie shoved a tulle and lace veil directly behind the diamond-encrusted tiara on Margaret’s head and the two descended the wide staircase. She considered tripping but Edie prevented such an act by holding the train and any extra fabric out of the way.
Her body shook and her palms grew clammy as she stepped up to the altar.
“Margot, my love,” Robert whispered.
She had loved Robert and didn’t regret marrying him. She directed his servants, organized his parties, and bore his child, dedicating her efforts to being a wife and mother, nothing more and nothing less. She assumed a selfless role in their relationship, giving him all control with the exception of Hazel’s name, a direct result of Margaret’s favorite feature. She denied the waves of cynicism and disgruntled yearning that washed over her person, holding them hostage until the day he died and took her whole self with him. Then, and only then, did her resentment announce itself teacup after teacup, bottle after bottle.
The glass container slipped from Margaret’s grasp, crashing into hundreds of fragments near the sandstone wall. Droplets of scotch seeped into the pathway and left mottled stains on the rocks. All traces of the liquid would soon fade, buried deep under the surface and forgotten by everyone but her.
The car’s engine rattled and stirred Margaret from her hunched position. She looked out over the gardens to the circular drive where a black-brown cloud hovered around Venus’s torso, shielding her shell, before carrying over the gates. Once it lifted she saw the car disappear around the bend. Hazel had left.
“Oh!” Edie ran out into the garden, “Ms. MacColl, go on inside. I’ll get a broom.”
“Leave it,” Margaret said, her voice steady. She walked back to the end of the row where the mound of white petals rested. She crushed them underfoot, stamping and turning until they tore into bits or rolled into small spheres.
Edie waited until Margaret reached the house before she stooped to pick up the large shards of glass. She placed them in her apron and ground the small pieces into the pathway until they were nothing more than specks of sand.
– M. Ray Hall