Post Road Magazine #25

Rooted

Lesley Mahoney

Every Sunday: a two P.M. pot roast, its skin charred and wrinkled, nestled between overcooked carrots, potatoes, and turnips.

As she cooked, Mae whistled church hymns from the church she no longer attended, slapping her plump knee when Henry said, Dinner's divine, honey, as though it were a new joke.

After, Henry arched his back and stuck out his full gut, ambling to his seat in the den next to the window, which opened in a crooked and accidental yawn. It was buttressed on all sides by towers of dog-eared books, whose embossed spines brought on a feeling of comfort not unlike when Henry and Mae used to share a bed.

Their house stood on an old apple orchard. Once mistaken for an errant, thin branch of a razed tree, a vine, shy and spindly, sprouted through a gap in the kitchen floorboards. Years passed and it skirted the floor, all the way to the den under that window, lodging between Dickens and a Burpee catalog. Mae refused to cut it. Nature's way, she'd said.

When they'd bought the property, Mae wore pastel eyelet dresses belted with a sash to show off her small waist and Henry suspenders to keep his pants up. They'd both since grown considerably in girth, Henry busy attending to his accounting ledgers and Mae cooking enough food for the two of them plus the children they never had.

Mae didn't feel much like reading today and set out for one of her walks to the pond, kicking up mud, which splattered on her thick calves. Pieces of driftwood scattered on the banks and the water had a complex, shadowy shimmer like black onyx. She tripped on a branch and turned her ankle. Clawing at the cool mud, she slipped and tumbled in.

The cold water stung and her long hair tangled in her face. Years ago, Mae had jumped in the pond clutching her cramping stomach. The baby came five months too early, all that blood mixing with the water, ghosting her inside, leaving her fallow.

Now her teeth shook and she clung at her drenched housecoat. Catching her footing, she waded to sturdier ground and hoisted herself up the bank.

At home, Henry stirred in his chair, glass in hand, the last sip of whiskey swishing. What in the . . . he said when he saw Mae.

But Mae just stared at the books framing the window, imagining their winding sentences connecting beneath the surface like tree roots. When she was pregnant, briefly, she'd sat in the chair next to Henry, her eyes cloudy with daydream as he set aside his insufferable tomes to read aloud her favorites: mostly stories by Chekhov and Mansfield.

Henry was up from his chair now, walking toward his wife.

Mae took his hand and led him to their room, her bed. She pulled his arms around her and they lay there, as the mud caked and crumbled from her legs, and her damp hair and clothes darkened the buttermilk-colored quilt.


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