Heresies of Nature
by Margaret B. Young
[p.134] Merry was in her armchair when Elizabeth arrived at South Beach Haven. Janny was curled up on the bed; she had slept there all night. Elizabeth detailed Penny’s miscarriage.
Jan sat up. “I guess,” she murmured, “that’s what Cody would call a puzzle piece.”
“You get it, don’t you?” Janny’s question had no animation [p.135] whatever. “This baby is for Joe and Pen. I’m growing their kid.” She patted her womb.
“I’m serious, Elizabeth. I feel it in my bones, like I already knew. This is theirs.”
Merry spelled, “You should—”
“Think about it?” Jan finished.
“I don’t need to.”
“Are you—” Merry blinked.
“Courageous,” Merry spelled.
“Josh wanted me to abort it, you know.” She whispered this like a great confession.
A blink yes.
“I could never do that. Not after what you went through to have me. And if Pen takes it, then I’ll get to see it sometimes. And I know she and Joe will raise it perfectly. At least that’ll be one good decision I’ve made.” She was using her little girl’s voice. “Mom, I never want you to regret having me.”
Merry didn’t have to spell out the next words, her face radiated them, but she did anyway: “No regrets.” Twice, for emphasis.
“Where’s Dad?” Jan asked as the sisters left the care center for school. She tucked her pale hair into her coat hood.
“Mom’s been asking about him. He never visits.”
“Of course not,” Elizabeth snapped. “He just divorced her, duh.”
“So that means they can’t have any contact at all? He can’t even write. Can’t send a message with one of us? What does he [p.136] think, if he touches her, some big fat judge will call them married forever?”
“Is Mom upset about it?”
Jan rolled her eyes.
“I do think it’s inconsiderate,” Elizabeth acknowledged.
“Unforgivable,” Janny said.
Elizabeth touched her sister’s coat sleeve. “We’ll have Dad a lot longer than we’ll have Mom.”
“He’s abandoning her.”
“Maybe he feels like she abandoned him.”
“Oh, right. By getting sick. Like she had anything to do with it.”
“I didn’t say it was rational, only maybe he FEELS that way.”
They walked together again, their steps crackling on the icy snow. Until they got to school, those were the only sounds they made.
Ben proposed at the frozen lake in the pewter afternoon light. Cody was putting on ice skates. “I want to,” he said.
“In front of everyone?” She glanced up coyly as she tied her laces.
“You know what I mean. You always know. I want to marry you.” When she didn’t answer, Ben hunched over his own skates, asking softly, “You don’t want to?”
“Isn’t it beautiful here?” she said. “Everyone in those big coats, big gloves. I’ve never skated.”
“Are you scared?”
“I’m never scared. Hold my hand anyway, though.”
He led her to the ice, put his arm around her waist, let her feel the ease of the skates. Towards the north end, a teenager in a pink parka was twirling, gloved hands joined above her head.
“How would it be?” said Cody.
[p.137] “Good. I think it would be good. There’d be problems. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be problems.”
“No,” she laughed. “To be that girl, free like that.”
“They give classes here, if you really wanted—”
She stopped skating and put her arms around his neck. “If I say yes …”
“Oh, I want to marry you. It’s just, I didn’t think it would happen this way.” She lowered her arms, stepped haltingly forward, let herself slide as Ben held her up, then stopped and gazed at him. “I swear to God—to Buffalo Woman, whoever’s listening—I swear, I meant to heal her.”
“I thought you said—”
“I didn’t picture this.”
“You’re doing well,” he acknowledged after a long pause. Their movements were in sync, Cody no longer hesitant. “Am I going too fast?”
“No, you’re fine,” she said.
“You should be wearing a hat. We both should. Why didn’t I think of it?”
“My hair covers my ears now.”
“I’ve noticed. You’re prettier than you were, you know that? I like your hair this long. And I like the color.”
She watched him. “Do you love me?”
He turned his eyes away and eased her around the ice. “Enough,” he said. “I do enough.”
“I mean me. Me. Because I’ve lost her, Ben.”
“What does that mean—lost her?”
“I’ve lost Merry. There’s a big, thick wall now. She’s the one who put it up. From the moment she went to the home, she—. Oh, she’s strong, Ben—a lot stronger than you’ve ever suspected. She’s keeping me out. Even when I’m with her there, she’s not letting me.”
“And she’ll hate me if I take you. That wall will turn to ice. [p.138] But there won’t be any skating on it, just falling down with nothing to hold on to.”
“She won’t hate you.”
She touched his cheek with her gloved hand. “Then she’ll hate you.”
He didn’t answer. The teenaged skater was twirling again only a few feet away. Cody watched, then whispered, “I’m no good at being alone. I was never any good at loneliness.”
She skated away from him, then turned and skated backwards—fast, slow, fast, slow, adjusting to the culture of ice as easily as to any other. She waited until he took her hand again, then she whispered, “Yes.”
“Yes. I’ll marry you.”
In the distance, a ditched car revved its engine against the snow, sounding to Cody like a lion’s angry roar.
Cody could not hear or feel any part of Merry’s voice when she read it. The earlier words of the journal had closed themselves up as well. Merry had said in heart or mind, “Let there be dark,” and there was dark.
Cody went late at night to South Beach Haven. The only noise in the room was the steady rattle-hiss of the radiator. Merry lay [p.139] on her bed and Cody leaned over her, listened for deep breaths. She found the breaths wheezy.
No response. A Daddy Long-Legs was poised on Merry’s pillow. It moved its graceful, spindly legs, starting towards Merry’s head.
“Out in Blanding,” Cody said mostly in her mind, though she spoke a few words aloud, “farmers find dinosaur bones all the time. They take them to the universities or to museums. I’ve heard about scout troops gathering as many bones as they can, then trying to make them fit like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s an obsession for some of them. If you discover some new species, your name goes down in the books. Of course, with all the floods and time, there’s a mix of bones from a thousand different creatures, so what are the chances of getting a whole skeleton? No, you can’t ever tell for sure which bones belong, and which don’t.”
The spider paused. The nightlight on the wall made its shadow bigger than its body.
“I’m doing my best to put this puzzle together, Merry, to see where I fit. Before I came, I had no soul and I felt yours move into me, up through my hands. I wanted to heal you, more than I’ve ever wanted anything. And when your soul came up my hands, your love for Ben came too, only I had my own body to give him—but in your name, don’t you see? You’ve got to believe me. Every time I’m with him, it’s for you. Every time! This is how I’m trying to heal you and heal him. There’s no other way. So, why have you pulled yourself out of me?”
Merry’s forehead twitched.
“Would it be so bad to be sister wives? So bad? Polygamy is in the Utah air, you know. Two houses up from you, there’s an old fake cellar. Polygamous husbands used to hide out from the law there. Plural marriage—it’s part of this place.”
Daddy Long-legs started up Merry’s head, across her hair to the other side of the pillow, then down the bedside. Cody [p.140] stretched her hand to stop it, but drew back. What harm would the spider do?
“Come back, Merry Boswell Morgan. Undo the wall. We can put this puzzle together, you and I, even if the bones are from different creatures.”
Merry’s breaths got deeper. The spider was on the floor now and quickly under the bed.
“He asked me to marry him. I want to. I will. I always do what I want to do. But I’d die if you hated me. I mean that.”
Merry stirred, opened her eyes.
“You were sleeping,” said Cody, smiling brightly and, suddenly, falsely. Her voice got loud and bouncy. “I wanted to check the dye.” She whisked her fingers through Merry’s hair. “I enjoy your hair short, don’t you?”
Merry moaned to spell, and Cody helped her get the words out: “LET GO YOU.” Merry’s lion eyes were fiercely set.
Cody turned away, not waiting for clarification.