Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 6 No. 1 | Spring 1984 (Seattle) /// Issue 7 of 24 /// Master# 55 of 73

large head in the sky now, in fact a whole body on its back, showing a fat stomach. She recognized this from a dream, a dream she had intensely disliked, and looked down again. At this moment a car passed by. It was going too slowly, which she understood, but it went on by, on the other side of the street, up the hill toward her apartment building. Maybe her mother would see it too. It was a dark blue car, the paint oxidized so it was almost black. She looked at its rear, the bulging trunk door with the handle pointing down, tailpipes protruding underneath. It picked up speed on the hill and disappeared. Evelyn picked up her toy cars and put them into the bowl of her skirt, but she remained sitting. She counted the birds perched on the telephone line, six pigeons, squatting like parked cars. She was not surprised when the blue car returned, this time on her side, slowly again, a head looking out the open side window. Quickly she put her knees together, hiding the toy cars. What her mother had told her about rape was this: a man takes hold of your legs and pulls them apart, splitting you up the middle. She imagined it stopped at the neck. The little metal cars were pressing into the insides of her thighs, hurting her skin. The blue car stopped. “Want to come for a ride?” She looked at the man’s head, heavy cheeked and gray. His mouth was thick, smiling without showing teeth. It was the fleshy lips that first frightened her. “Come on, honey, I got something for you.” She stared back, squeezing the toy cars between her legs. “Come here, honey, I’ll take you for some ice cream.” He opened the car door, swinging it wide, and she saw him sitting, twisted toward her, his stomach bulging over his large thighs in black pants. “I got something here, sweetheart. Come and see.” He reached into the front of his pants and pulled out the dark pink sausage, stretching it toward her. “Come on over here.” He made it an order. The motor was still running, the tailpipes vibrating in the rear. Evelyn jumped up, dropping the cars, and ran fast up the dirt path, screaming, just around the first turn. There she stopped, listening to hear if her mother’s voice was calling. She looked through the brambles to see that another car had come down the street behind the first one, and they both drove away. She turned back, picked up her cars, and ran up the sidewalk, back into bounds, past the houses where her mother could see her, into the entrance of the apartment building. The blue car came by again, and the man saw her just before she disappeared through the door. She did not tell her mother about this but stayed inside for a few days, watching the street from the third floor window. The toy cars had bruised her skin inside one thigh. “What happened here?” asked her mother while bathing her. “I don’t know,” she said. Evelyn thinks about this scene, she believes, exactly as it occurred. She knows she was lucky that the second car came along and made the first one drive away, giving her the chance to run home. She was lucky, but still, nothing happened, and that seems to be the point. She rises from the table, washes the dishes, finds the key. When she is sitting at the table again, she looks at the envelope and her name written in a hand that is now familiar, for this is the third one. Now that she has gotten beyond the intensity of her speculations, she feels calm. She examines her name. Ms. Evelyn Moore, lettered in black ink, and the stamp. Each time, the stamp has been different: Francis of Assisi, International Peace Gardens, and now Solar Energy, a white sun surrounded by auras of orange and yellow on a black field. The envelope is stiff; there is something in it besides a letter. She will look at it soon. With a hand that is trembling slightly, she lays the envelope down. Last Christmas, her friends in Eugene gave her this man’s name, Dr. Jerome Quinn, and his address. “You are practically neighbors,” they had said. What is it, a hundred miles between Indianapolis and Louisville?” Evelyn didn’t really know, and anyway, the address was not Louisville but Mammoth Cave. How could this be? “Jerry's a geologist,” Martha said, copying the name and address on a card for Evelyn. They were sitting in Martha's kitchen in the old house on High Street, near the University, where Jim is a physics professor. Evelyn has known Martha and Jim Bailey since the early sixties, when they were all in Corvallis, living in student housing. She was married to Greg then, a doctoral student in biology, and the Baileys were really his friends; but of course in those days the couples interacted as units, so they had to be hers too. Like the other wives, she worked daily in an office on campus while her husband attended classes or inhabited a lab. The divergence itself constituted the primary bond. One must have faith to wait in simple duty for the return of an eye drawn elsewhere through a lens. It was a faith, Evelyn knew, that she lacked. It was true; the friendships were always formed through the men, while their wives came together in the symbolic neighborhood of related disciplines. On evenings when they would gather in one small apartment or another for conversation, it would go like this: They, the graduate students, would compare their qualifications and achievements. It was more subtle than that, of course, but Evelyn understood that this was the essential thing, to demonstrate their competence to each other, to their wives, to themselves. She also understood that they were afraid of each other at the same time that they were drawn into a center of mutual protection, circling their wagons while eyeing each other’s guns. And because she understood these things, because she saw that they were trying to be safe, she could not join them. She observed the wives, the other wives, smiling and expressing their admiration, marveling at their husbands’ ability to understand science. Only when they were away from the men did their talk center on themselves, and even then they adhered to their identity as wives. “I’m on the pill now,” confided one when this was not a common thing. “And For Evelyn, noise has always been a form of violence. it's changed my figure completely.” Her capris fit her like the skin of a frankfurter. “But my husband says he likes me with meat on my bones.” This was typical. They were always quoting their husbands. “My husband won’t let me take the pill” said another. “He says we don't know enough 'about it yet.” Later when she found she was pregnant, she assured the other women that she had never failed to use her diaphragm. “Did you put more jelly in it the second time?” someone asked. This was the kind of talk that went on, reflecting a preoccupation with male credentials and female plumbing that seemed to Evelyn like a veil being drawn over her face, shutting out breath as well as light. It was as if she were being kept ignorant of a larger world where men did not have jobs and women did not have babies, but what world was that? Throughout the graduate school years, Evelyn was in fear of betraying her husband, not with another man but with herself. Increasingly, she took refuge in silence, while the talk around her took on the density of walls. Greg was a good student though not brilliant — rarely were any of them that — just productively compulsive and aware enough of his own margin of danger to do well. And of them all, he was the least safe, for he harbored the mystery of a rheumatic heart. Knowing this, Evelyn was appalled to realize how badly she wanted to take spiritual flight, not only from Greg but from certain aspects of herself to which she had no wish to lay claim. And yet also to find some aspect that seemed already to be lost, leaving a vacancy too desolate to understand. She drew a metaphor from her fearful longing for a self unknown. She and Greg were a number, she thought, a cipher and a one. If she stood on the right side of her husband, she increased his value and shared it too. But if she stood on the wrong side, or off by herself somewhere, she became nothing, and she was depriving him. She disliked the logic of this conceit, yet she believed it. But she held her peace. It was not Greg, after all, who threatened her. It was being a wife. And the ' marriage endured. Evelyn even decided that it was the unspoken impiety of her thoughts that Greg needed most, just as he sought the wilderness of the mountains for respite when he could. In early summer they would stay for weeks in the interior forests of the Cascades, beyond the inhabited campgrounds, alone in the clear cold mornings and the astonishing star- crowned nights, and then, for a while, none of it mattered. In sleep they lay locked together for warmth, while a thin pane of ice silvered the edge of the lake. Her breast against his, she absorbed the irregular beating of his heart into the steady rhythm of her own. Or was he drawing her firmness into this fever-damaged part of himself? Was this her part, to give up some of her strength to him, who needed it more? Could she do such a thing? They never discussed it. Evelyn has not opened the letter yet, but now she feels that she must. She is thinking that her friends would consider a geologist to be a suitable sequel to a biologist. Martha explained, in their private conversation in the kitchen, that Jerry had been divorced two years after twenty years of marriage. This meant that he had married in the same year as she and Greg. He too had lived in student housing with a wife who typed. “I think he is lonely," Martha said, fixing her eyes upon Evelyn’s as if to determine that she was lonely too. “He lives in Mammoth Cave?” Evelyn had asked. “Of course not the cave,” Martha replied curtly, as if reminded of something she used to dislike in Evelyn. “He works for the Geological Survey in the Mammoth Cave area.” So he lived in an area, not a cave. This did not help to make him more explicit in Evelyn’s mind. It was easy enough, in Oregon, to say yes, she would contact this friend of theirs. But when she had returned to Indiana, and the address on the card was only a few hours’ drive away, Dr. Quinn seemed suddenly quite close. She imagined him sitting by a large black entrance into the earth, his face blank with solitude, waiting for the person sent to find him to arrive. She imagined him rising to meet her, then beginning to explain the contours of the earth. She wrote, finally, after three weeks of deciding not to, because she had said she would. In small ways, at least, she could keep her word. His reply, the letter with St. Francis under a postmark, had startled her because he had enclosed a picture. She guessed that Martha had written to him already, encouraging something like this. It was a picture like a passport photo, showing his head and collar. His face was clean shaven with a bald forehead and dark-framed glasses, unadorned, the face of a man who does his work well. In his letter he briefly recounted his biography, his work, his marriage, his amicable divorce. She wondered what that was and imagined two people agreeing, one morning, to get a divorce. At the conclusion, they would smile and shake hands, promising to stay in touch. He told her he had a son, now living in Montana, and she thought this would be a diaphragm baby born in graduate school. At the end, he invited her to ask further questions, anything she wanted to know, and requested her picture too. The letter made her feel as if she had placed an ad in a newspaper. Again, she decided not to reply. She put the picture away in a box of other old snapshots and did not look at it again. She had no picture of herself to return and no further questions to ask. She felt that his letter presumed too much, so that it would be dishonest to reply. Then Martha sent her a set of prints taken at Christmas, some of which included her, and said in her letter that Jerry had been glad to hear from her. It would not be as simple to decline as she had thought. So she looked at the pictures and decided on one to send. In one, where she stood beside Martha, her face looked exactly as she knew it was, broad and patient, in character for her years, her graying hair trimmed neatly about her ears. A face, in short, precisely suited to the one in the passport shot he had sent. But in another, where she was sitting between Martha’s teenage daughters, her head slightly lowered as she opened a gift, there was a glimpse of her earlier years. Here her short curls fell forward just enough to frame her face, the gray blending in with the brown like highlights, and her lowered eyelids eased the strain of visiting, giving her features a gentle cast. It was this picture that she chose to send. She still did not want to look at his picture again, or to ask him questions, but she matched the information he had provided and invited him to ask further questions if he liked. When Evelyn is with Martha’s daughters, or sees herself in a picture with them, she is reminded that she too would have a daughter this age if the child had not died two weeks before delivery. She refers to this in her mind as a simple fact. She carried the corpse of the infant under the mound of her maternity top for two weeks, unwilling to go out on the streets for fear that someone would ask when the baby was due. During those two weeks, she slept every night in a grave and awoke each morning weeping, and Greg held her against the limping beat of his chest whenever he found her crying again. And another simple fact is this. She had known something, just for that two weeks, and then forgotten it. It was as if some unknown opening in her mind had spread, like a lens, and then it had closed again. So now she does not know what it was she knew then, beyond the grief, as Greg held their child's death close to his own, with her between them. All she knows now is that it was there, a meaning rapidly retreating to its source as her body was retracting from its failed work. Now she remembers only the hardness of her stomach after it suddenly became still, and how she sometimes thought of herself as an egg that had accidentally gotten cooked. Evelyn opens the letter carefully so as not to damage the stamp. Inside she finds a note and a card of glossy cardboard, folded twice, which opens into a small topographic of the central Kentucky cave region. She sets it on its side like a folding screen and reads the note. In this communication, the subject of love is raised. What is it, he asks, if done by someone you care for, makes you feel loved? Evelyn puts down the letter and picks up the map. It shows an area of knobs and valleys with the Green River circling among them in the center. She reads Goblin Knob, Sugar Sink, Strawberry Valley, Crystal Cave, and she thinks of fairytales. The Green River twists around Mammoth in this place on the earth where one goes deep, not high as in the mountains, into the mirror of what one knows. This is one of his Christmas cards, he has explained, and perhaps this is why the cave passages are drawn in red lines and the shafts are marked by green dots. She turns the map over, and on the back is an article, “Caves, Vertical Shafts and Springs of the Central Kentucky Karst,” in letters the size of mustard seeds. She reads this, the tiny print densely packed in sentences that are long nevertheless, conveying many facts. The language is suggestive but obscure, and she can’t be sure about a northwest-trending trunk passage, age that is carboniferous, caprock outcrops, anticlinal folds or colluvium-filled cavities that have no expression as depressions. She feels she could find poems hidden in these lines, like faces and animals concealed in a forest scene, the kind of puzzle that intrigued her as a child because she could not catch her eye making the transformation. She wonders what his friends thought when they received the card. Among the standard lines, peace on earth, may you find joy, a twelve-hundred-word passage on the topographical features of caves. In fact, Evelyn toured Mammoth once, but it was too long ago for her to remember how long she had driven through the hills of southern Indiana and northern Kentucky to get there. In the cave, she was struck by the metaphors the tour guide used to orient them to the Clinton St. Quarterly 29