Cy held her elbow as she struggled to sit down on the picnic blanket and spread her skirt around her. He was ashamed because she repulsed him and surely this wasn’t the way that he should be feeling. He tried to keep the emotion from his face, but lately Mary had been catching on. It was the last month of her pregnancy; he could barely look at her, much less talk to her civilly, though he tried. She used to be chatty. In fact, she never shut up if they were around other people. She would go on and on about how she wanted her own home and her own table to sit at; with the baby coming they should really establish themselves as their own family and move out of his parents’ house. She never felt at home there…always just a guest. He spent too much time with his parents. She wanted more time alone with him. The discourse never ended and made him look like a failure. As soon as they were alone, he’d make sure she knew how she’d humiliated him. Mary would apologize and over time she had curtailed her attacks and become hushed.
When they first married, she was pretty, even beautiful, and he was proud to have her on his arm around town. It made him feel superior to the other plain-wived men. She quickly started to let herself go. He tried to encourage her to keep up on her looks by talking her up when they were around other folks, but as soon as they were alone, the repulsion would surface again and he’d be short and nasty with her. They hadn’t been together since she’d conceived and then it was only because he’d been drinking with the men in town and he had been aroused by some women from the next town over who had flirted with them. As the child grew, Mary became fleshy and faded.
When they’d go to church or into town, he made sure they walked. He always had an excuse, despite Mary’s complaints: the wheels on the mule cart were wearing down, it was too nice of a day to not enjoy the sun, or he’d complain that he was just too antsy to take the cart. The extra exercise might make her want to slim down a bit.
Mary had made an effort to look pretty today for the Fall Festival but he still didn’t want to sit on the blanket facing those dark-circled eyes and all that soft meaty skin. He positioned himself so that he was looking outward at the pond, grateful that she hadn’t been opposed to the spot he chose since it was on the outskirts of the activity.
“I do believe this is a fine day, don’t you, Cy?” Mary was struggling to smile as she looked down at her hands and scratched at the nail bed of her left thumb.
“What’s for supper tonight?”
“Oh, come on, Cy. Let’s enjoy being out.” She opened the basket and started to remove the chicken, pickles and bread that she had packed. “I made your favorite fried chicken.”
He loved her fried chicken, but he didn’t want her eating any of it. She was big as a horse and the last thing she needed was to be eating. He wanted to vomit as he anticipated her chewing and licking her fingers.
“Thanks. It looks delicious.”
They ate in silence while children laughed and chased each other nearby. Cy hoped that once the baby was here, Mary would keep herself busy with the other mothers, chasing children and gossiping, so that he could be with the men instead of sitting on a stupid blanket.
“Oh, my God, Cy. Something’s wrong.”
He licked his fingers and looked out at the pond.
“I’m serious. I think it’s time.”
Cy helped her up and saw that her skirt and the blanket were quickly becoming soaked. He saw the dark stain of the moisture and imagined that it was a sign. A sign from God telling him that freedom was near at hand. They began walking towards home. Mary’s pain increased regularly, and an hour later he put Mary down on the bed and prepared to go for the doctor. Cy walked to the barn, saddled up his horse and headed back towards the festival. Cy was sure he would be there. People didn’t like to miss the Fall Festival. He hadn’t seen him, but then he hadn’t seen much of anyone except for the ruffian kids.
He soon returned with Doc Jenkins in tow. Mary was writhing in pain and for a moment, he felt a wave of unexpected compassion. He turned away at the doctor’s urging and went to the parlor to wait it out. Mary’s screams were horrific and he couldn’t stand to hear them. He walked outside to the front porch just as his mother was coming up the front walk. She grabbed his hand and they sat on the porch swing in silence for what seemed an eternity. Cy passed the time by drinking from the flask that he kept in the interior pocket of his jacket. He went inside and refilled it once, but lost his urge to drink when he passed the bedroom on his way to the kitchen and heard Mary moaning. But once he was back on the porch swing with his mother, he forced himself to drink again and it got easier with each swallow.
Doctor Jenkins came out with a bundle in his arms and held it out towards Cy. He accepted the offering and peeled back the layers of the blanket. He looked at the baby’s face and thought he smelled taffy.
“It’s a girl, Doc Jenkins announced. “Congratulations.”
Cy gazed down at his daughter and smiled.