[Today, we present the first installment of Guard This House, a portrait of a family told from four points of view. Each chapter occurs during one of the four seasons, and takes its title from one of the four celestial animals corresponding to the cardinal directions in Chinese Astronomy.]
The main threats to tigers are poaching, habitat loss, and population fragmentation.
PART ONE: THE BLACK TORTOISE – LYNN – WINTER
Brady tiptoes out of bed at five in the morning to drive to Mass General. I sleep until noon, boil a bowl of chicken soup, and in a restless fit, decide to clean under the bed. I haven’t vacuumed there since we hosted our first Thanksgiving. My parents and sisters drove and my brother flew from Santa Fe. Brady cooked turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes with enough butter to please my youngest sister Brielle. We used all our new plates and wine glasses. We battered the dining room table with laughter and inappropriate family stories and nostalgia about our wedding last year.
I’m sick of being sick. I’ve spent the last two days in bed with a terrible head cold when I should be finger painting with kindergarten kids. I pick up the vacuum and get on my knees. The dust mites crackle. And then I hear the moan of a larger object caught in the mouthpiece. I turn off the vacuum and pull out a black, diamond-studded hair pin. At first I just throw it onto the bed. Then it dawns on me.
I rummage through Brady’s drawers, searching through receipts, looking for ticket stubs or lipstick on his button-down shirt collars. I search the bathroom cabinets, the closets, and even the basement. Still, I find nothing out of the ordinary. I sit down at the dining room table and inspect the clasp. There’s no brand name and it looks too cheap for a thirty-something woman. I don’t want to be divorced. I tell myself Brady is reliable and loyal, unlike past boyfriends; he’s not the think with your pants kind of guy. Stop staring at me, I yell at the pin.
He hadn’t wanted to get married. He had just graduated from medical school. I had grown up in Manhattan, attended Springfield College, and stayed in Boston to get my teaching degree at BC. That’s where I met Brady. He was the outgoing guy who made friends with everyone at the bar or the backyard BBQ. We had been dating for two years and I told Brady that he should either propose or walk. I was 30 and couldn’t waste time.
The door opens. I stick the studded pin in my hair. I stay seated with my back to the door. He wipes his shoes on the mat and yells my name. I hear him clank some groceries on the table as he tells me he picked up food from the Cheesecake Factory. I say thanks, that sounds great and wonder if these are sorry for cheating on you avocado egg rolls. Not even my favorite appetizer can fix our possibly destroyed marriage. He goes in to kiss me but I cough and tell him I don’t want to him to be infected. He sits across from me and takes off his shoes and unbuttons his pants and I want to vomit. He asks me if the fever went down. Is that what this was Brady, a stupid Man Fever? I turn my head to give him the full view of the diamond black hair pin. He tells me about his foot cramps. I keep straining my neck, feeling the muscles pulse. Still, he tells me about bumping into an old friend from high school.
I say, so who is she? Brady tells me Kurt just opened up his own grain store in Wailend and asks me what the hell I’m talking about.
I point to the pin in my hair. I tell him his game is up and he better explain. I pull it from my head and slam it on the table between us. The pin, I yell, the pin I found under our bed. He tells me he’s never seen that thing before. You had to do it here, I rant. You couldn’t at least go to her house? He says that I need to calm down. I tell him that his condescending tone does not relax me. I scream that next time he should pick up a dust buster for once in his life or just pick a skank who doesn’t wear ugly hair accessories. Is she skinnier than me? Oh god, I say. She’s 25, right?
Enough, Brady says and stands up from the table. How I could ever think that he’d do that to me? Do I think our marriage means nothing to him? He never thought I’d be one of those wives. He says he’s gonna take a shower and when he comes downstairs this conversation will be over.
I hear him stalk upstairs and the water pipes hum. I walk over to the fridge and pour myself another glass of orange juice. I close the fridge and sip, staring at the photos on the door: One of Brady and me stuffing wedding cake into each other’s mouths and one of me and Brielle at Thanksgiving.
If he cheated for sex it could have been a drunken one night stand. But I can’t spend the rest of my life wondering if he’s sleeping around every time he goes out. And then, I think, what if it’s for love. I pushed him into marriage too soon. And no man will ever want me again because I’ll be too old and too bitter.
And what would I tell my parents? Would I even stay in small town Massachusetts? And then I imagine Brady in a seedy bar in Boston with the guys. I see him buy her a drink, a pretty young nurse he’s seen around Mass General. I see her go up to him and rub the tops of his broad muscled shoulders and whisper down in his ear. It’s better if she takes advantage of him because he’s too plastered. It’s better if when they got back here he blacked out.
I sit back down. I listen to his bare feet move from the bathroom to the bedroom and then down the stairs. I wipe my eyes and put my face on the cool wooden table. Brady puts his hand on the back of my neck to check my body temperature and then rubs me down.
I wouldn’t notice the picture of me and Brielle on the fridge for another week. The notorious black diamond studded hair pin held back her bangs. I had brought Brielle upstairs to our bedroom after Thanksgiving dinner. I gave her our bed because it had the better comforter. Four hours later when I had washed and Brady had dried all the dishes we sat on our kitchen counter tops and for the first time our new marriage felt old.
Part Two Continues Next Thursday
Jamie Carr is a junior at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Her writing has been published in The Lettered Olive and Polyphony. She’s spent summers studying poetry and fiction at the University of Virginia, Emerson College, and with her college in Spoleto, Italy. A native of Manhattan, she plans to attend an MFA program and eventually move back to New York.