Children liked Mary. She was naturally kind and patient, and she talked to them in the same way that she'd talk to adults. She was also quite strict, grave and generally governess-like, so they were slightly afraid of her. Despite having taught in a number of houses after leaving school, she was never certain how to act around children. She had a tendency to fall back on the behaviour she remembered from her own stern governess.
Mary wanted children. Lots of fat little pink English babies. She knew that John did too. He had given her a wedding present as soon as they came home from the honeymoon. It was a statue of Apollo that, from the ground, came up to Mary's knees. John explained how ancient Greek women would keep images of Apollo in their bedrooms to bring them beautiful sons. (Mary did not interrupt him, even though she had read this herself). She did not like the statue very much. It was beautiful, certainly, as John had assured her. But she didn't feel moved by the bronze, serene and muscular and beautiful as it was. She'd sit on her bed and look at it for ten minutes at a time, and the only thing she felt was mildly frustrated. In the end she took to keeping it hidden under a tablecloth. She doubted Apollo and his beauty; she doubted his ability to bring her sons. She was a good C. of E. girl after all. She could pray instead.
Irene didn't care about having children. She said that she didn't give a damn about losing her figure, but she'd seen girls have babies enough times in her life, and she didn't like the thought of going through all that hurt just to be loosened up down below. Mary asked her whether it wouldn't be worth it to have a child of her own. Irene said it wouldn't. But, she added, she'd be as happy as anything to have a dozen little Mary Watsons calling her 'Aunt Irene'.
Mary envied Irene. Irene, it seemed, had delved deep down into her own soul. Further than that, deep into the Earth, deep into the womb of nature. And Irene had emerged again, perfectly satisfied. Irene was certain of herself and her gender. Those curves and curls were only the tip of the iceberg; everything beneath was only more of the same. She didn't need the tests that Mary needed. Nature was satisfied with Irene, just as much as Irene was satisfied with Nature. From Mary, Nature demanded aching blood and wailing life. Mary Watson, Nature decreed, must work for my approval. Before she does, she is no daughter of mine.
Mary knew what she was: feminine. That weak, watery word. It floated somewhere inside of her, caught up in a flotilla of other debris. To be Mary was to be Mary. It was not to be anything more.
The only time she felt differently was when Irene kissed her. That is, not the polite kisses they shared when they met in the street. Mary meant the kisses that they shared when John was at work and Irene came to visit her and they were both so pleased to see one another. Irene had very soft lips. Their sense of humour and affection told just how much kissing they'd done in her time. But Mary didn't mind, because it had made her good at it. When Irene kissed her, she felt an indescribable excess of self. As though her soul was so full and so vast that her body struggled to contain it. Irene would continue to kiss her over and over. They'd hold each other, and talk between their kisses, so very happy with the company they kept.
In these moments, Mary had a sense of clarity that she could rarely reach at any other time. She understood just what the great, wide universe demanded of her: to be alive; to love; to be loved. She was Mary, and it seemed that to be Mary was a great achievement.