The gardening is the hardest part. Of course, the other women say it’s therapeutic, that being alone with one’s thoughts is important for healing, but the porch is so close to the garden, and she can handle the porch, could sit there for hours and watch the clouds passing then sunset without boring or tiring, the eventual darkness gently asking her to go inside for dinner. And dinners, she’s good at the dinners, and they’re all good dinners too, for Emily’s a good cook, went to culinary school and worked as an executive chef in New York until her divorce, and she likes to be the one to chop the carrots - she’s been taught the proper ways, folding her fingers over to prevent cuts, swirling the hand holding the sharp knife - for their meals, roasts on rainy days and salads with seared meats on the warmer ones, everything brightened with fresh herbs from the garden. But she watches the woman who gardened that day come in with a harrowed look on her face, haunted by something the rest understand intimately, and she thinks, My shift is in three days. My shift is in two days. My shift is tomorrow. And then she sits through dinner and tries not to feel haunted.
When she gardens, she thinks about Bill. She thinks about blood. She thinks about how much she wishes she had a job to dig her teeth into, then thinks about how maladaptive that’s already been, but hasn’t the polar opposite been maladaptive too? She can’t just be an actress, can’t just be a wife, but being neither of those things hurts tenfold, for she’s stuck in a house with nine other women and two psychologists who leave at five in the afternoon each day, and she isn’t allowed to shave her legs for six weeks because Gemma’s a cutter. She had her bag searched when she first moved in, and luckily, Bill had been gone for hours, so he didn’t witness how one of the psychologists questioned her about a bottle of pills, then confiscated them because, though she had won plenty of awards for acting, Margo Channing happened to be a terrible liar when it came to things that mattered. No pills, no sharps of any kind, no yarn, no needles, no shoelaces, no top sheets on the beds. Through some initiative focusing on the trauma of women, a subject that felt simultaneously feminist and misogynist, a group of psychologists had created this retreat, a six-week program at a Victorian house in the Catskill Mountains, a refuge for women who understood that their pain fell outside of both society and a psychiatric ward.
It had been Bill’s idea. Of course it had been Bill’s idea. She shears off dying leaves from each plant in the garden, for the plant tries to heal those dying portions while neglecting the rest of its body and sometimes kills itself as a result. Whenever she thinks clearly about the succession of events that brought her here, she knows what an intelligent, emotionally mature man he is, that he loves her so deeply and effectively, that he truly wants what’s best for her, but the subjective emotions gnaw at her, make her heart beat faster, bring a flush to her skin. Subjectively, she feels abandoned. They’re going to make iced mint tea to pair with dinner; she plucks sprigs of the herb, sticks them in the pocket of her apron. And though technically this had been her decision, she knows it was Bill’s decision overall, for he gave her an ultimatum, and she simply chose the lesser of two evils. A Victorian mansion with a wraparound porch and four twin beds to a room would always be better than a psychiatric ward in a hospital in New York, though as she winces at the image of herself in hospital clothes, in restraints, she wonders if it wouldn’t be at least more comfortably medicated.
She hasn’t taken a pill in one whole month, no injections or intercourse schedules, no painful punctuations to her day. Though she has plenty of routines here, she misses the medical routine the most, one tailored specifically to her, one she shared either with her husband or with no one else. Instead, she brushes her teeth alongside three other women, bathes in shifts with three other women, bides her time between sunrise and sunset taking shifts within the house. Shifts, shifts. The word is used so often that Margo finds it’s lost its meaning. Now, shift, the time when you must do something you’d rather not do, either with people you’ll detest the whole time or alone, which you’ll detest even more. Like a waitress, like someone who never worked in the theatre, she spends her days in shifts, and she wishes she could be pulled aside to have a shot administered to her buttocks, or maybe to have pills distributed to her in the way they are to some of the other women. No, this place wants her unmedicated, at her most basic state, all of her inner demons welcome to come wandering out. It would be a luxury, she thinks, to be screaming and restrained in a hospital, then injected with something to make her go limp and quiet. Instead, she spends nights half-awake but somehow still having nightmares, and Marissa, who sleeps on the bed to the right of her own, reaches out a hand - the beds are close enough that they can touch fingers with ease - and asks, are you alright, dear?
And she’s not even the craziest one here. Or, rather, if she were to use the proper language, the language encouraged during the morning group therapy sessions, she’s not the most traumatized. Childhood sexual assault, stillbirth, death of a significant other, she’s had it so easy in comparison, but there are other women here too, ones with even more minor problems than hers, divorce or a sense of directionlessness, so she’s forced into the middle, the uncomfortable middle, the place in which she can’t deny her presence here but also can’t loudly proclaim it. Though she’s been through enough to warrant her stay here, she still knows that many of her problems have been self-made, that she could’ve avoided this experience altogether had she never told Bill that she wanted children. These things hadn’t happened to her so much as been caused by her. She was the only person to blame. At one of the private meetings she had with one of the psychologists, she expressed that sensation, how she had caused all of her own pain, and she was told not to look at herself as a problem or a pain and instead to realize that vulnerability came with a price, and that sometimes vulnerability caused great pain. And, of course, the psychologist asked her to come up with a list of examples in which vulnerability had made her life better, and she now had that list taped up above her tiny twin bed, a reminder each time she got out of bed.
My first Broadway show. Canceling a run to take care of Daddy. Bill.
It’s Friday. Today, she gardens because it’s her turn. And tomorrow is Saturday, the Saturday of her fourth week in the program, and that Saturday involves planning for either a longer stay or a return home in two weeks. And on Saturday, Bill will come to see her for the first time since he kissed her goodbye and told her he loved her with a fervor that made her feel like his greatest burden. On Saturday, she’ll have a taste of the real world again.
They’re having iced mint tea with dinner. Next to her taped-up list, she hung a postcard-sized watercolor she did during the art therapy shift of this week, her best attempt at the valley view from the porch during sunset, a gift she’ll give Bill because this place makes her feel sentimental. She thinks about his face, the little lines on it, the way his cheeks feel when he kisses her after arriving home at night. She thinks about watercolor paints, how they can move so unexpectedly, how they love to blend. Picking more mint, she imagines putting the leaves down on watercolor paper, that image warding away dark thoughts.
She made the special request as soon as the psychologists confirmed Bill’s visit.
“Let me stay with him for the night,” she told the psychologist she worked with privately. Mary, the taller one, brunette and fond of wrap dresses, spoke to her one-on-one three days a week. On a day out to the mall two weeks ago, Margo bought a wrap dress inspired by her, and it has been a favorite ever since, aubergine, soft to the touch, what she wears when she wants to feel bright. “I would like to sleep next to my husband.”
And this threw so many red flags that Bill’s visit was nearly canceled altogether, phone calls going back and forth over long-distance lines, constant questions about boundaries. Would they stay in a hotel room together? Bill certainly couldn’t stay in the house. If they were to have sex, were they allowed to have it unprotected? Should they be allowed to have sex at all? Were two psychologists in a house full of traumatized women really allowed to restrict the sex lives of their patients, particularly those who were already planning a formal departure and who also were legally married? If Margo was already asking to be made an exception, was she really ready for this visit at all? But during Margo’s next session with Mary, she did what absolutely no one within the spiderweb of complicated decisions thought she would do: she let the idea go.
“Alright,” she gave after Mary informed her that it would be unlikely that Margo could spend the night with Bill. “I knew it was an uncommon question. I doubted the answer would be yes, but I thought there was no harm in asking.”
When Mary called Bill to inform him of this, Bill droned on for twenty minutes about how lying about something like this was morally reprehensible, then about how this organization must be full of over-prescribing quacks if his wife had been made that agreeable, and Mary assured him that no, Margo was not being drugged, and that Mary herself was as surprised as he was that Margo, who was known to be petulant about peeling potatoes, doing dishes, or finishing almost anything, would be so willing to concede.
And then gossip started to spread around the house in the way it inevitably did, though usually the gossip was benign and about whether or not one of the women in one of the rooms brushed her teeth or used shampoo. While a pair cooked dinner, they would hash out what they had learned: Margo had asked if she could spend the night with her husband, and she had been denied, and never once outside of therapy had Margo mentioned this request. How was that possible? Margo would describe in-depth the details of the used tampon she found in the Pink Room’s shower, but she wouldn’t even mention to another one of the women that her request to sleep in the same bed as her husband for just one night had been denied. Though Margo was a bit more private with personal matters than the other patients were, she by far wasn’t silent about her life, so why hadn’t she spoken up? What did she have planned? She must have something planned, for why else would she concede so easily?
But she didn’t have anything planned. She was told no, and this time, she listened. This time, she scolded herself for even bothering to ask, then swiftly moved on.
And on Saturday morning, she wakes to the sound of the kitchen timer she snuck from downstairs, digital and set for the number of hours from the house’s required lights-out to right before the sunset; she turns it off before the sound can wake the other three women in the room, then tiptoes into the upstairs hallway, gently lowers herself down each of the stairs. She slept in a cardigan, for she knew that the morning would be cool out on the porch. Beyond the windows in the main room, the sky is still dark, the empty mansion uncommonly quiet around her. She knows they don’t lock the backdoor. The front one, yes, but not the back one. In theory, they’re all free to leave at any time, but no matter how horrible the shifts are, no matter what the psychologists force her to face, she doesn’t know where else she would go, doubts the other women know either. No one came to this place because their real homes were comfortable. If she were to set out running, she knows that eventually she would come to a turn in the dirt road leading away from the mansion, then decide it was too far to get into town and that she should turn around instead.
And she doesn’t want to escape through the backdoor; no, she just wants to sit on the wraparound porch, use one of the big wicker chairs because unfortunately the porch-swing would make too much noise, watch as the sun rises over the valley below them. The crests of the mountains, the soft blue of the brightening sky, these are views she’ll never have in New York, and she wants to bow in the presence of such beauty, to applaud at the end of each sunrise and sunset, to thank whatever powers above have granted her this opportunity. By default, she isn’t a grateful person, but this kind of gratitude feels more genuine than most she’s felt, for the sun doesn’t owe her anything, doesn’t control her career, doesn’t threaten her livelihood and image. Awards were credentials, challenging scripts an opportunity to establish herself as an actor, but the sunrises and sunsets didn’t ask her to do anything but watch. Maybe I should see a few shows once I’m back in the city, she thinks, and she wants to applaud then too, to watch the actors onstage bow and to be thankful even if the play is bland and predictable. She wants to be more like the women who pause them all before dinner and say thank you to not only their respective gods but also to those who cultivated this food, who sowed the seeds and watered the plants and plucked each individual carrot or sprig of mint from the garden. She wants to be someone others think of with comfortable fondness. She doesn’t want her own struggles to overrule her ability to be kind.
So she sits back in one of the chairs, wraps the cardigan tightly around herself. Mornings were her greatest challenge at the beginning of her stay; everyone wakes up at seven, the women on their fifth or sixth weeks - or maybe ninth or tenth, if they needed a longer stay - making sure that everyone is up and brushing their teeth, no sleeping in, no five more minutes. Before the morning group therapy session in the main room, they all prepare a simple breakfast together - a big pot of oatmeal, yogurt with homemade granola, pancakes if everyone agrees to make the batter the night beforehand - and eat together at the long table that can seat all of them, one woman at each head and four along each side, the bowls and mugs for tea mismatched and floral and chipped at the edges. The psychologists appear just in time to record whether or not each woman has eaten, and after fifteen minutes of comfortable lounging in the main room, the therapy begins, right around eight o’clock. Everyone must talk, even if only for a few seconds, and because sharing is encouraged, many speak for long lengths of time. If there are any grievances within the house, those are brought up in the presence of the psychologists in order to not cause trouble. On Mondays, the group charts each woman’s shifts for that week, and on Fridays, they create a meal schedule for the following week, planning what to purchase at the market on Saturday. Then, there’s lunch, followed by private therapy, work shifts, and, for the lucky ones on that specific day, the chance to laze with one of the paperbacks found within the house, stretching out on the porch-swing while in one room of the house someone cries over an event from ten years ago that still rules her life and in the garden beyond another woman struggles to believe that she’ll ever feel differently. And then, there’s dinner to be cooked, dishes to be washed, and nighttime routines, showers in shifts and an hour for winding down before the lights are out and everyone is in their beds. Though the psychologists leave before dinner, order remains in the house nonetheless, and to her own surprise, Margo found herself craving that order, looking down on anyone who dared attempt to disrupt it.
But the mornings were challenging for her. Beyond her now, the sky starts its steady turn, glowing brighter blue at the edges of the mountains. One week had been enough time to forget her anxieties. On the morning seven days after they told her that one of the four implanted embryos had taken root, that she was pregnant by definition, she woke to blood. Though she wasn’t sure if she believed in a higher power, she knew that only a god could’ve woken her at four in the morning to the sensation of stickiness between her legs, especially given how many times she’d ruined a set of sheets after she’d unexpectedly gotten her period during the night. She wasn’t in any pain, but still, she woke to the sensation of warm blood between her legs, and though she knew that her first instinct should be to wake Bill, to call her doctor’s all-hours number, to go immediately to an emergency room, her first instinct instead was to mourn. No matter how normal spotting could be, no matter how traumatized the procedures had made her uterus, she knew that for her blood meant a miscarriage. She knew that she wasn’t pregnant anymore, even if a doctor could still find a heartbeat.
She did the right things, waking Bill and calling her doctor, going to the emergency room, but she didn’t do them because she wanted to or because she thought they would be best for the baby. To her, there no longer was a baby, and though the doctors in the emergency room had tried their damnedest to prove her wrong, though they’d had her on an intravenous drip and on some kind of pill to prevent miscarriage - why hadn’t she been given that to take every day? - she still had a dilation and curettage at the end of the day, waking from the anesthesia to find Bill standing over her and reaching out for her scratched-up hand, the intravenous catheter having been removed sometime during surgery. He kissed her forehead as if she were a child. Though she knew he had had two meetings scheduled for that day, she could tell based on his demeanor and clothing that he’d canceled both, and that he’d canceled all of his meetings for the next day too. She wished she could’ve woken up alone.
That morning, the sky had been a perfect shade of blue while Bill hailed a cab. She stood on the sidewalk in front of their building, a maxi pad thick between her legs, and stared up as New York began to wake, apartment lights flickering, the sky a muted navy that turned bright at its edges, then became the color of the Hudson, then transformed into something like the sea in Venice, cool air colored by the sky, Bill reaching out for her hand and easing her into the back of the cab. She’d read that most humans were born in the early hours of the morning, the same being true of apes. When they explained the dilation and curettage to her, she found it improper that they weren’t going to cut her open, scalpel to skin, long scar on her belly. She’d been hoping it would hurt.
The first morning she spent at the Victorian house, a woman who had since left named Whitney had ordered her, get out of bed. Get out of bed. No dawdling. Get out of bed! And though Margo had been told the daily schedule the night beforehand, though she knew that she needed to brush her teeth before breakfast, she found herself paralyzed, stuck in bed, clutching her quilt and no sheet with white knuckles. Beyond the long windows of her four-person bedroom, the sky was that same color, only this one had stars instead of small windows. When Whitney wasn’t looking, she snaked her hand down between her legs, prayed that she wouldn’t find blood there again.
Whitney liked to yell. Though she was released, the other women gossiped about her afterward, claimed she would be back in a few weeks because her recovery wasn’t sustainable. She yelled at Margo, pointing at the bathroom door while Margo tried to hide beneath the blankets, and when Margo managed to tuck herself beneath the quilt, Whitney ripped the quilt off of her, then pointed again to the bathroom. There was a strict order in this house; if Margo didn’t help maintain that order, then everyone else would fall apart. Did she want that to be her fault? Of course she didn’t, but she couldn’t get up. She couldn’t tell Bill this time. She couldn’t call her doctor, nor could she go to the emergency room. She needed to stay in bed. She had the sinking feeling that, if she didn’t stay in bed, then she would die.
Eventually, Whitney gave up, but not before the disruption managed to echo throughout the house, the other women peeking into the Pink Room - there was a Purple Room for four, a Blue Room for two, and the Pink Room for Margo and three others, each room named after the chipped color on the walls - in order to see what problems the new girl had caused, but the problems made the other women cower, for they’d all been the one crying in bed before, pulling the covers over their heads and repeating please stop even though the person who they were asking to stop had stopped long ago. Until the psychologists arrived, Marissa, who had been there for only a week when Margo arrived and who slept one bed over, sat at the foot of Margo’s tiny twin bed, making sure not to touch. When Mary and Ann, the two psychologists, arrived that morning, Ann led group therapy while Mary crouched down to the left of Margo’s pillow, meeting her where she was, and asked what was going on.
I hadn’t woken so early since then, Margo eventually told her, though not on that morning, not on that day. The last time I saw the sky in that color, I was having a miscarriage.
The mornings were her challenge at first. Each day, her wakeup call was a cacophony of alarm sounds, women’s chants, and flashbacks of blue, deep blue, the blue of the sky on that wretched day, but each day, the flashbacks grew dimmer, painful still but easier to push away. She wasn’t paralyzed in bed anymore. If the other women caught her crying while she brushed her teeth, they didn’t speak up about it, nor did they gossip about it. And now, she can sit on the porch and watch as the sky changes color, as pinks come into view, as a deep purple echoes over the puffs of clouds, as the garden is cast in warm, nutritious light, as the house behind her wakes and wonders where she is. She’ll duck back inside in a moment; she hasn’t gone far. But for now, she takes in the warmth of the day, the comfort of the morning, the excitement of having pancakes for breakfast. Things are getting better. She’s getting better. In a few hours, she’ll share lunch with her husband. Though the Victorian house wouldn’t let her keep her engagement ring during her stay, too many sharp edges, they let her keep her wedding band, and she looks down at it with a fondness that brings an involuntary smile to her lips. She’s missed him so much. Once a week, she writes him a letter, and once a week, she receives a response from him, but she misses their long conversations, the feeling of his warm arms around her, the way he gazes at her when they share dinner together. She loves him, maybe even more than she realized when she married him. She’s so excited to see him.
And if the women noticed her absence, they don’t comment on it as she sneaks into the bathroom, brushes her teeth alongside them. They don’t comment as she flips pancakes, as she dribbles bits of batter onto the griddle and hands out tiny golden-brown drips as snacks. Instead, they ask her while she cuts two pats of butter to add to her stack, is your husband coming today? And she beams and tells them yes, then laughs lightly, a smile out loud, and her joy is so palpable and unperformed that she senses it makes the people with whom she shares a breakfast table more joyful as well.
As she does before most meals, Adelaide asks if they can say grace, and throughout the prayer, Margo closes her eyes and thinks of him, lunch with him, two rings instead of one. She loves him, and she counts down the minutes, brimming with excitement, for she’s about to see her husband after a month apart. She can’t wait to see him again.
Some days are so bad that she ducks into a bathroom to cry and finds herself too numb to do so, but other days are so good that she rolls the window down in the car her husband rented and twirls her wrist in the wind as she sings along with the radio, I want a dream lover, so I don’t have to dream alone. In the Victorian house, they keep a radio in the kitchen; those on cooking shifts could tune it to whichever station came in that day, and while Margo scrubbed carrots and potatoes, peeled them in sharp strokes, an Etta James song crackled through the radio, and she braced herself against the kitchen counter at which she worked, listened to the singer’s breathtaking voice, and, for once, felt the lyrics viscerally. Back then, she’d only gone two weeks without seeing her husband, but a comfortable, romantic song could make those two weeks feel as if they’d been infinitely longer, as if she’d last seen his face when he was ten years younger. She wrote to him that night, telling him that she’d started to painfully miss him when the song came on, and she told him she wished she could hear the song again, just her alone in the kitchen, taking a chance to miss her husband, and after that, she wished she could hear the song again but with him that time, his arms wrapping around her, his body against hers, their heartbeats together. When he wrote back to her, he told her that he found that record at a store, then listened to it at home and missed her in the same way she’d missed him. It’ll be sweeter, he wrote, to listen to this with you, both of us back home, no care in the world. No one left to miss.
He brought her engagement ring with him for the weekend, as if he’d known how much she wanted it back. As soon as they were out of the Victorian house, she put the ring back on, her hand feeling heavier in a good way, the diamond sparkling in the sunlight outside. They had a meeting together with Mary while the other women were out doing the weekly shopping, and all the while, Margo sat alongside Bill and wished she could talk about anything other than herself, that her mental wellbeing could be shelved in favor of better conversation. He’d only kissed her once so far, and though she understood the need for a meeting with her private therapist, she wanted to crawl into the backseat of his car and kiss him senseless first, purge herself of that energy and then start the meeting with a sense of relief. Instead, Mary detailed Margo’s accomplishments - no rule-breaking past the first week, perfect attendance, admirable support of the other women though Margo herself would never admit to it - while Margo cringed, and when Bill pressed about deeper matters, Mary asked Margo to step out for the moment, to let Mary and Bill chat one-on-one. Of course, Ann was waiting outside of Mary’s office so that Margo wouldn’t be left unsupervised, and together, they waited for the conversation to end, for Bill’s more important questions to be answered in astute ways, for patient-doctor confidentiality to be as nearly breached as possible. But even if Mary were to overshare, Margo didn’t mind, for her husband deserved the proper assurance. Yes, she still loves you, Margo wished Mary would say. Yes, she’s doing better. Yes, she’s doing more than just surviving. No, she hasn’t shown any of that kind of behavior since arriving here. No, she hasn’t mentioned wanting to try again. Trying to conceive again, I mean. Though Margo knew that communicating with her husband was hers to do alone, she still hoped that Mary could say what Bill wouldn’t believe when heard from Margo. She hoped that, despite it all, Bill would be convinced.
But he’s laughing as she sings along to Bobby Darin, shimmying her shoulders, reaching out to touch and then kiss his bicep. She’s wearing a dress she found last week at a thrift store near the grocer’s, little red flowers over cream-colored linen, hole in the left sleeve. Adelaide, who works as a hair stylist and esthetician, dyed Margo’s hair and gave her a little trim on Tuesday, so now her hair is back to blonde, just below the shoulders in length, no longer so shaggy; though she’s spent her last few weeks in outdoor clothing, wearing gardening gloves and aprons during her shifts, she never realized that she stopped feeling pretty while she was at the Victorian house, but now she feels pretty, especially when he glances over at her, when he smiles so breathlessly. He still loves her. Though she had no reason to doubt him, she’s surprised that he still loves her. He doesn’t need to love her, but he loves her anyway. Isn’t that all love is, feeling something so useless but so important nonetheless?
When Mary spoke with Margo one-on-one, Mary gave a proposition: if Margo thought that she would be okay spending the night with Bill, then she was allowed to go, but if Margo didn’t think she would be okay, no word of this would be expressed to Bill, never allowing for the opportunity to let him down. And of course Margo thought she was okay, for she was okay; she could write home to her husband with her heart on her sleeve, could smile while making pancakes with the other women, could wake up and spend time with the colors of the morning now. However, Margo knew that one subject between her and her husband could be complicated, so she swallowed her pride and asked the dreaded question: do you have condoms that I could take? And because she had hoped Margo would ask that question, Mary pulled a package of condoms from her desk drawer and passed them over, exhaling with relief that, so far as she knew, Margo really was okay. No ulterior motive, no secret agenda, no fixation with conception, no grand fairytale of how this one time, just this one time, it all would magically work. The what if had been replaced with reality. This time, Margo didn’t want to hope.
So now she has a whole package of condoms in her purse, a sick joke, they might use one at most, and her husband is driving her out toward a different part of the countryside, a little surprise for her. Because he hadn’t expected to spend the whole day and night with her, he planned something special, and she brims with excitement, reaching out to hold his hand as he drives, smiling wildly, wondering what could be in store for them. And meanwhile, the other women are at the grocery store, and they’re planning this week’s meals, and they’re clipping coupons and doing all sorts of normal things. Normalcy, she thinks, is the antidote to all pain. After she’s missed him so deeply, nothing feels better than sitting in the passenger’s seat while he drives them somewhere, anywhere. They aren’t talking about estrogen, about phases of the menstrual cycle, about sex on a schedule, about the absolutely unknowable future, and she doesn’t want to talk about those things, not now, maybe not ever again. No, she wants to talk to him about watercolor painting, about his options for his next production, about scripts and actors and furniture for their home and how long is the proper time to cook a boiled egg. She wants their life back. She wants life.
And he takes her up to a field overlooking the valley below, and the day is clear enough that she can name the peaks in the distance. He smiles at her in a way she once would’ve called wretched, but now, she’s seen how Adelaide delicately took her hair between two fingers and snipped only after receiving permission, felt how Marissa held her on the other woman’s worst night, flashbacks of her husband shoving her head through a window, the night around them quiet as they curled up together on the dark floor in the Pink Room and tried not to wake the others. If those women could love Margo in small moments, and if Margo could love them in return, then the love from her husband was tenfold, far deeper and more beautiful, intense and indescribable and endless. As he shakes out a picnic blanket, opens up a bag full of her favorite foods, she watches him in the sunlight and thinks, he loves me. He loves me very much. He loves me despite it all. Maybe he even loves me because of it all.
He spreads brie on crackers. Raspberry preserves and cold grapes and fresh little strawberries that leave pink juice on her fingers, she’s going to stain her dress but doesn’t care. And he kisses whatever part of her he can find, her shoulder and then her neck, her ribs, her calves, her kneecaps, and he brushes his fingers through her hair, holds her hand, rubs the small of her back. Beyond them, the mountains touch the sky, greenery in the distance, empty patches where skiers slalom in the winter, the odd radio tower, no clouds in the deep blue. She feels as if her heart is sprouting wildflowers.
When he brings a grape to her lips, their legs tangling together on top of the quilt, she stills, remembering his hand in front of her mouth, the fluorescent bathroom, mauve tiles, she hated the mauve tiles. His hand in front of her mouth, her lips shut tight, her tongue going numb, and he told her to spit them out, spit them out, Margo, spit them out or I’ll call someone, spit them out now. And she felt a paste form and settle in her cheeks, and she stared at him, not blinking, her vision blurring before her, and he started speaking louder, spit them out, Margo, I swear to god, I need you to spit them out. And though she needed water, needed something to help the paste go down, she tried to swallow, but before she could manage to do so, he was pining her to the wall, his fingers prying open her mouth, reaching inside and scooping out as many of the pills as he could, a pile of white, powdery slush on their bathroom floor, her saliva mixed with her fertility drugs, the aspirin Bill kept for his headaches, allergy medication and anything else she could find in the cabinets. He told her that either he would call an ambulance or she would willingly go to a hospital with him, and she sat on the floor of the bathroom, her forehead resting against her bent knees, too tired to go against his wishes, and because she didn’t want to walk, he picked her up and carried her out of their home, and when they admitted her at the hospital, she wasn't wearing shoes.
She wraps her lips around the grape and forgives him.