“Yes,” said John having entered their new home, having walked and turned about in the empty, hardwood-floored, high-ceilinged living room. “Yes,” meaning, as Marian knew, “Yes I’ll get my bible,” something he had been quietly deliberating over—whether to bless the new house as they had their first. She was used to things slowing down intolerably, and life moving on around her husband for the sake of his rituals, his intuitions. It was why in fact she married him. Practical, undaunted, aggressive, but also acutely Protestant. Superstitious, some would say. She now admired his slender body, his firm hands pressing her shoulders as he sidestepped, flitted through the front door, a quick jog to the truck in the driveway.
“Mom! Mom! Look!” squealed Hammond in a room somewhere. She hoped, only vaguely, doubtfully that it wasn’t a spider, a snake, that he wasn’t prodding it with a stick.
“Leave it alone, Hammond!” she called, resisting the urge to rush to wherever he was and get involved. She shrugged the luggage from her shoulders to hear the satisfying ‘thud’ of their hitting the hardwood floor. What wood was it? she thought, quietly repeating aloud several times the question for its own pleasure. John was going to varnish it. She took a step back and imagined the light through the bay window gleaming, dazzling off of it, off of the kids’ hair and glasses of milk and cutlery as they ate breakfast at a nice, large new table. For now though it was a dull, chalky grey-brown. Most of their furniture would have to be bought anew—some was coming from her mother and father in law; they were driving it over on Sunday, would be visiting for a few days.
For the last several months she felt as though she had fallen into a groove, as though she were being melted down into something cheap and elementary, and her mind were being spread thin like an aether. Now she stood before the beautiful bay window of her new home and looked out at a neighbourhood—a real neighbourhood where people did things she couldn’t predict, lived lives not dictated by duty necessarily, as they did inside the base; here were monsters behind the curtains and doors, patriots and traitors, people to whom she would turn her back at times and not know the outcome. Across the road the flag on its gleaming white post waved and unfurled, and it reminded her of an inferno, or 9/11, the way it was immaculate, emergent, laden with symbolism in just that way, that moment. The way, she supposed. the immaculate American flags on the base were not, had lost their aura gradually and became part now of that other world of hulking great structures, indomitable power; the American military. Behind this flag was a person, and she wondered whether she would like to meet him. John encouraged her to meet people, or at least to follow through with the acquaintances they had already established, and she couldn’t argue with that—it was important. She hated doing the same thing every day and being so self-contained, a se, like a little island. But the rhythm of it all seemed to keep her going; there was always something ahead of her toward which things were moving. Even abstract things, everything—when there was nothing there was something, a kind of empty expectation, like dread, a preoccupation with time and selfness and God that didn’t end, could not be assimilated and forgotten, only kept going and going forever.
John reentered with more luggage, though without his bible.
“You haven’t seen it have you? I thought it was in the dash but it’s not.”
“In that case, no, I thought it was there, too,” said Marian.
At that moment a flash of white streaked across the room, hitting her eyes. A neighbour across the road, a woman had opened her front door and was standing, it seemed, tentatively at her front step, looking in through the window at them. John turned. Across the road a car arrived, the woman’s husband, a child ran out to greet him.
“Look, Mom, look!” said Hammond, galloping in. It was a dusty figurine, a little wooden thing with horns, like a yule goat. “Can I keep it?”
“Should give it a clean,” said John, taking it and looking it over. Hammond cheered. Margaret came out from the hall, too, light from the open doors bounding off her blonde hair. She wore an excited smile, pushed her hair back from her face. In the kitchen the children watched John wipe clean the toy at the sink and talked about all the other toys they might find around the place.
Outside Marian lingered at the truck bed, moving boxes. She stacked a couple behind her on the driveway and looked casually up, hoping to catch the eye of the neighbours. The woman pointed discreetly in her direction and her husband turned. Marian gave a casual wave before she lifted the boxes, regretting now that she had attempted two, and the child returned her wave. The man nodded, then turned and entered his house with his wife.
The bathroom had a weird vibe to it that she had noticed the first time. Marian struggled to put it into words. It was the sort of feeling she imagined she’d have walking into a cathedral, or else that was the word that occurred to her while she stood there. It was large, like the house, with a high ceiling, pale blue and white floor tiles, an extra large vanity mirror with black pearl granite counters, sparse and angular, with a large crystal chandelier in the centre of the ceiling above a bronze clawfoot tub. Marian raised the blinds. She inspected the new paint on the walls, the Cambridge blue, explored with a light finger the scratches and idiosyncrasies in the plaster.
“A million people have lived and died here,” she said. She resisted an impulse to leave and instead stationed herself by the bathtub, the fingertips of one hand stroking the frozen enamel coating and stood off against a very vague yet personal, quietly seething sense of hostility.
In the hall the children had set up their scrapbooks and markers.
“Don’t you want to explore the backyard, you two?”
“Mommy, Mommy, look what we found!” said Margaret, scrambling up and bringing her the wooden toy.
“Yes, I saw!” said Marian. She took it and held it to the light. The shape was simple, almost crude, a little goat with a shaggy fleece represented in shallow scoriations, worn and smoothed and simonized dark by the oil of possessive fingers. “That’s wonderful, honey,” she said, handing it back to Margaret who was now jumping, reaching, grabbing. At the last moment she held it back up and inspected something she had missed—the eyes. Two pinpricks of jewels, glass perhaps, dark red rubies. She turned it in the light, saw now a bold, flashing claret red punctuating a strangely dull and sibylline face—another word that strangely and spontaneously impressed itself on Marian. She held it up against the light from the hall window to face it directly, the two outward-facing eyes glowing like stars in the sun, the two horns forming a sharp, near symmetrical crescent.
“Mommy!” Margaret whined.
Marian gave it back to her and headed into the backyard where John was tinkering with his lawnmower.
“You’re not planning on starting on this now, are you,” said Marian, indicating, the grey, frost-brittle grass, bringing her jacket in tighter around her shoulders.
“No,” said John, straightening, “I suppose not. Just seeing if she’ll start for me.” Steam obscured his mouth as he spoke. Marian drew into him, pulled his arms up around her, and John pushed his face into her neck, kissed her. He wet her jaw with his cold, damp nose, and she kissed it in turn. She looked up at the house, at the windows of the second story, the wind vane, the chimney, the balcony.
“It’s ours,” she said.
“It sure will be,” said John, grinning.