by Diane Root
It was a peaceful country, she thought, with rolling verdant hills and freshly plowed fields in spring, exuding the wonderful aroma of dark earth, pristine towns and prim steeples, winding dirt roads dotted with plain white clapboard houses. Then there was the promise of the glorious spring, after the blue-white silence of winter that sparkled in the sunlight like diamonds The sun-drenched summer, sliding in just after the rains, heralded and harbored the seasonal harvests: cornucopias by the bushel spewed beans and beets, radishes and rutabagas, corn and cauliflowers, spinach and salad greens, at the very least.
Then again there was the village green, a one-room schoolhouse, country fairs and 4-H clubs. The sole diner manned by a jovial woman named Mabel, whose pies were prized by all, and who almost invariably won all of the baking contests, despite fierce competition from the local women. The women, whether through their poverty or their thrift, clothed themselves in the patterned cotton of flour sacks, occasionally adorned by a bit of lace here, a little tatting there. Without apologies.
Thick groves of maples turned gold and tangerine and red and russet come fall, framed by the blue-green black of the spruce and pines. Blanched birches held up the sky, cupped and captured between their graceful branches.
“We can spend our lifetimes together in peace,” she said to her blinded mother, whose husband had gouged out her eyes. With a knife. She would never again look at another man ever again, he thought to himself. Never.
She describes the seasons, the landscape to those glass eyes.
“Yes,” she told her, “This is perfect.”
They had only married a year before, she a “city girl” as he called her, he a “country bumpkin”: as he called himself. He had just bought the farm in the wilds of Vermont at the end of a winding, five-mile dirt road. Five-thousand dollars, he said, a song for 730 acres, a house, a barn and a stable.
He forgot to tell her that the house was all but falling down under the weight of peeling paint, and that it came with an appendage: namely an outhouse attached to the woodshed, frequented by porcupines bent on demolishing what was left of the house’s underpinnings.
She had fallen in love with his squared-off jaw, the sunlit blond of his hair, the startling green eyes, the muscular, tight frame. The powerful shoulders and the heavy, large-boned hands. Hands that were used to work.
Soon she would regret loving them.
He was a hard worker. She admired his curved body when he planted an acre of vegetables. She followed the arc of his arms when he swung a scythe to fell the hay. She marveled at the curtain of sweat that streamed off his forehead and onto his face during the heat of the day.
Trouble was, he drank as hard as he worked. Since she was beautiful, he conjured imaginary lovers to justify his rages.
It was not long before she too wore flour-sack dresses with long sleeves and down to her ankles which she hand-sewed herself. By then her body sported the bruises, purple, blue, green and yellow depending upon how old they were from his nearly daily drunken beatings. Her face was marked with the bruises he inflicted, the eyes darkened. She no longer went into town. She could no longer hide the beatings, short of wearing a mask. Besides, he would hide the keys to the car. For her, there was no escape. Especially after he had broken her legs. Walking five miles on a dirt road was no longer an option. It took months for them to heal. Crooked.
It was then that she remembered her mother’s advice: “Never marry a man you haven’t seen drunk.”
Now she reveled in the footed bathtub long ago emptied of the acid and filled with the farm’s dark loam. The rose geraniums and purple petunias grew joyously seemingly wanting to outdo themselves in generosity. They spilled over the sides of the tub, Next year, she thought, I’ll plant morning glories.
She had waited until he stumbled outside in his usual stupor to relieve himself in the bathtub that he had refused to install, just to spite her. She hobbled after him and then pushed him as hard as she could. He fell in, cracked his skull, his penis still in his hand, and died. She didn’t touch him. She poured the acid over him that she had managed to acquire on the Internet without his knowledge. A door, not yet installed, made the perfect cover.
The disintegration lasted over the waning months of the summer, into the fall. The stench, only slightly muffled by the wooden cover of the door, slowly diminished.
She didn’t mind. It was perfume to her.
Now that she could go into town, some of them asked her about the whereabouts of her handsome husband. “I don’t know,” she answered. “He left on foot to shoot a deer—it was the season, don’t cha know? He never came back,” Rumors flew, of course—divorce, “the other woman” in town, or anything else that occurred to them. But Vermonters aren’t big on asking pointed questions. Even answers are oblique. They believed in privacy like they believed in privies. The authorities combed the forested areas of the farm. They found nothing.
By this time, the bathtub was blooming.
Her daughter was born after he died, the result of an encounter that smacked of a wrestling match and a rape. Like many of the country women in these parts, she managed to deliver the child by herself. It was, strangely, an easy birth, almost painless. Not to mention that she was young and strong, despite her warped legs.
Five, six years passed like water on the acre of vegetables that she planted every year despite the infirmity she endured. Around about then she erected the scarecrow. The skeleton dressed in her husband’s faded, patched and tattered clothes, were highly effective. Crows screeched and circled, soon vanishing; deer disappeared in a flash.
The children loved the skeletal scarecrow. They played around it. Ring-around the-rosy, hide-and-seek They made up scary stories at noon.
“Here,” they said, “it’s like Halloween every day.” The adults, only slightly more suspicious, more used to straw and burlap, take on the kids’ interpretation. They recognize the tattered overalls that her husband wore. When asked—and few did—she would say that it was a way of remembering him. No one questioned her anymore. It was far safer. Dry is the drink of the day in these parts.
She loved to sit on the porch on one of the two squeaking rocking chairs during the early evening as the sun set and the shades of twilight crept across the sky.
Tonight, as she would on all warm nights, she leans over to set the second rocking chair in motion. She looks at the deepening blooms in the bathtub.
She leans over to put the empty rocking chair in motion. She listens to the breeze flapping her husband’s tattered work clothes on his scarecrow, the creak of the rocking chairs and the rattling of his distant bones.
No matter, It was music to her ears.
Yes, she tells herself, this is perfect.
Diane Root, a dual-national, was born in Paris of an American father, the journalist and writer, Waverley Root, and a French mother. Primarily known as a painter, she is, as she describes herself, “an accidental writer.” She never sought to be published but that notwithstanding, she was nonetheless published in the New York Times Magazine (“The Artful Dodger” about lunch with Picasso) and various other venues. View her art: http://matakia.com.