Prayer

Natalie Mesnard

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I am telling you, first of all, that your husband will be beautiful, but he will be a man who will love you then stand out on the stoop, the red eye of a cigarette sighing between his lips, his shoulders slumped as he sucks smoke in a state of unexplainable melancholy. He will teach children so he doesn’t need to ask you for any. He will have curly blonde hair and baby blue eyes and on your wedding day I will wear a green dress and kick off my sandals to stand in the still-wet grass, and I won’t catch the bouquet, but the white petals dropped on the floor in the toss will remind me of marshmallows, my mouth already sticky sweet with cake. At the end I’ll kiss him on the cheek and it will be secretly rough against my lips, and I won’t be surprised when you tell me later he hides things in his closet, hunting knives and his father’s ties and shoeboxes of old photos of family you have never met.

I will take a long series of lovers who fit the pattern of my life like Fibonacci numbers. My entanglements will bore you in their repetition, becoming a collection of bangles assembled from flesh and amputated dreams. I will fuck a man and his son will open the door and call out, “Daddy?” because he’s blinded by the white hall light but he knows something is going on. Later, when I’m alone, and you come to visit and find me deep in a bottle, my eyes rolling in my head like marbles, you will give me the helicopter blade seed of a maple tree, sticky in the palm of your hand, then sticky in the palm of mine. The light will shine beautifully through the bronze gleam of whiskey, throwing the sheen of new pennies on our skin. We will sit together until I’m sober and drink dark tea with notes of cinnamon and talk about a certain lack of faith.

The hardwood floors of your new house will make hollow noises when we walk across them after nights in bars, nights that we won’t give up. You will have a cut made inside you so you can’t have babies, and the house will fill with shadows instead of children’s voices, shadows like your husband, who uses the empty bedroom as an office that he fills with more and more things until it’s splitting at the seams with papers and decay. I will secretly touch his things in the bathroom and I will stare at the dust of dark blonde hair caught on the blade of his razor. And after the surgery you will show me your scar and let me touch it, imagining things escaping from a tiny hole in you. Your garden will be full of bees and I’ll pick sage for your kitchen because I like the feeling of the soft leaves between my fingers and sometimes I will sleep on your couch because I’m too dizzy to drive home.

My daughters will be half-sisters. Their daddies will send me money and come around at odd times, petting the heads of their daughters with distant affection. You will bring me tiny socks and smooth wooden toys and give me recipes for homemade applesauce and pea soup. One girl will have smooth dark skin and the other will be pale as snow, and they will fight, their tiny fingers scratching and their pearl teeth biting. I will work in finance and insurance to make ends meet and I will tell you how the women at the daycare are slovenly and cruel. When they’re old enough we will take my girls to fly kites in the park and you will tell them to try to hook a piece of cloud.

You will take long trips and come back with beautiful photos that look like paintings. You before the ocean, you before vast cityscapes. Your husband will stay home because he’s afraid of flying, and he will help me watch the girls while they play their favorite game, a game called ‘tattoos,’ where they draw on each other’s skin with magic markers. I will drop my wide-necked soft shirt over my shoulder and let him draw a tattoo on me, feeling the cold marker swooping lines on my skin, making a picture I cannot see. You will bring back books of glossy postcards and I’ll tape them to the walls. You will whisper to me of an Italian man, whose apartment in Rome smelled like fish and thyme.

One of my girls will be beautiful, and she will lose her virginity when she is fourteen; I will know this the way mothers know things. The other will be fat and grow fatter, a puffy marshmallow in whose backpack I find candy wrappers and melancholy notes on smudged scraps of lined paper. They won’t like you. They will say you are cold and frightening, but you will still come and sit in my kitchen and tell me you’ve been promoted and you are getting bonuses for your hard work, and you can afford nice things now, and you want me to go shopping with you for clothes. Hearing this, I will go to your house later on a whim with coupons and a tiny bottle of vodka, but I won’t go inside because I will hear you screaming at him, the house quivering with your rage. I will back down the porch steps, brushing my fingers over the blooming clematis growing there on the white railing.

You will get the house; your husband will get his freedom. When the divorce is complete he will come to me, and I will look out into the night before I take him into my arms. He will pad upstairs in sock feet and we will rock back and forth in my bed until I hear a quiet knock on my door, and my fat daughter calling out, “Mom?” because though she won’t open the door she knows something is going on. In the morning he will be gone, and when he doesn’t return that evening, or for a week after, I will take out a secret bottle of tequila and my daughters will quietly pull a quilt over my body as the hour grows late. You will call but I won’t answer the phone. My daughters and I will go for a long walk and the air will smell good, like fall, and we will crush amber leaves under our feet until they are dust. You will hear of his visit to my house, and you will send me a letter I will never open.

I won’t see you for a long time. My thin daughter will marry and my fat daughter will adopt two cats and she will call and ask me what to name them. I will bring her a jade plant because it secretly reminds me of her, cartoonish in its round curves. My thin daughter will be pregnant and have a boy and there will be parties in backyards and both of my daughters will suddenly make contact with their fathers and start having relationships with them, and I will be angry, though I can’t say why. I will hold my new grandson, feeling the same shock I felt when I lifted my own baby, that a thing so little could be so heavy. I will tell my daughter I don’t know much about boys. As I say this I will secretly wish you were there, wandering aimlessly at the edge of the yard the way I’ve seen you do before: barefoot, hands clasped securely behind your back.

I will look at my house sometimes and wonder how long it will hold me. And finally you will come by, appearing one day as I sit on the porch with a disobedient cigarette. You will have news. You’re getting married again. A man you met at work. I will tell you about my daughters and you will hand me a beautiful wood bracelet you bought me in Africa but it will be too small to fit over my hand, which is bigger than yours, and I’ll pass it back to you. I will try to offer you tea but you will assure me you really can’t stay. Later I will hear this second husband got cancer, the way men sometimes do, and he will die holding your hand. You will collect the wilted clusters of flowers in his hospital room and cradle them in your arms, a crisp, brown bouquet empty of fragrance now.

I will start sleeping in your house, sometimes, like I used to, so you know you’re not alone. I will walk barefoot across the cold floors before you are awake, searching for the source of a draft. When you wake you will appear in the kitchen’s doorway like a ghost. We will pull rags from the closet, blouses and sweaters and skirts you can’t wear anymore, and wedge them between each window’s sash and sill with hard fingertips, stopping up leak after leak. We will make a soup. We will talk over the hiss of onions in the pan. You will tell me his face slips from your mind, and I won’t know if you mean your first or second husband. I will take out a worn deck of cards and ask you to play: cribbage or rummy or war. And you will say that this isn’t enough, but I will say it’s better than nothing.

We will go to the beach together. After years of planning this trip and never taking it, we will finally drive east until we hit a tiny cabin with a wooden walkway to the sea. We will sleep in the same bed, our bodies sweaty and pale in the blue sheets. When we touch we won’t pull away, allowing a closeness born of time to be affirmed by the contact of skins. We will eat bags of cherries and drink bottles of wine. There will be things we won’t say. We will pick handfuls of sea oats and put them in an old vase we find in the cupboard and they will dry, a melancholy bouquet on the tiny table where we eat salad after salad but never feel full. We will sit on the sand for hours and I’ll watch you swim out after a lost beach ball, floating lonely on the surface of the water, moving up and down in the waves.

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