EXCERPT

Monkey Bay

about-the-book
about-the-book

about-the-book

The apartment has four rooms and a bath, all with sloped ceilings because of their position under the eaves, all sparsely furnished. The floor is made of large squares of brown linoleum laid over plywood, not even nailed down, overlapping in some places, curling up in others. We have a long and narrow sitting room in front, overlooking Winter Street; a dark kitchen with a home-made wood counter, covered with oilcloth, propped up against a deep sink; a bedroom with a closet made of sliding doors that are stuck in a half-open position; a second bedroom hardly bigger than a shoebox.

The main stairwell leads up to a central hall in the apartment, and even with the doors closed we can hear the boys in the apartment below playing hockey in their hall, pucks chewing up the woodwork. The back stairs wind down from the kitchen to the back yard. On the landing the boys’ cat has its litter box. The attendants in my mother’s madhouse would have called the cat “untidy”—it regularly misses the box altogether. In front of the kitchen stove the floor creaks and sags. I imagine myself appearing some day without warning in the second-floor apartment, dusted with plaster, still clutching a spatula.

It’s not so bad, though. I’m warm and the morning sickness is gone. I’m left alone most of the day, sewing curtains for the baby’s room by hand, watering my house plants, reading, in the late afternoon starting supper. I call Gran to check on her or go around and play a hand of cards.

Aware of the slight swelling in my abdomen, I feel completed, like two interlocking pieces of jigsaw puzzle. I am often reminded of my mother, Angie Mullen, sitting in the furnished room in Watertown after my father died in the war. I’m satisfied that, like her, I have already experienced love and death.

But unlike her, I will not need to lose track of reality.

The child, unborn, is perfectly cradled and contained. Pat is gentle and familiar, tries to please me. He brings home a basket chair that was half price at Kresge’s, with a wild story of his adventures with it on the rush-hour trolley, and he washes up the pots and pans after supper.

We each, unknown to the other, hire a different milkman, one at the back door and one at the front. We don’t have the heart to fire either one of them. So we get milk and eggs at the front door and milk and ice cream at the back door. We envision some terrible dawn when both milk trucks arrive at once, and a terrific battle over territory is played out in the yard.

Pigeons live under the eaves, on the other side of the drywall. After the alarm goes off we lie in bed for a few minutes and listen to the birds cooing and squabbling in their nests—there are still stars in the sky, it is nearly the winter solstice—and Pat burrows his face into my nightgown, his head under the bedspread. But I move away, drop my feet to the cold floor, light the burner under the percolator. By the time the coffee is bubbling in the glass nipple, smelling better than it ever tastes, he’s already in the bathroom, squeezing shaving cream into his palm and applying it to his flushed, unmarked cheeks. From the kitchen window the chimneys and aerials are odd, shadowy shapes; the radiator pops and bangs.

The strange thing about sex is that I think about it so little. I am like a bare-branched tree in its resting period; the baby inside is all I need. I’m happy enough.

I can easily take in Pat’s body, swallow him up almost, and yet my mind moves clearly and lightly to other things: the match of thread to fabric (does it come out lighter or darker when unwound from the spool?), or the sound of ice-coated twigs tinkling on the window glass. I never come to orgasm. Pat doesn’t seem to notice, but there’s still a scrap of guilt about cheating him. Should I tell it to Father Smythe, who sits pulling his nose in the Confessional? Father forgive me, for I have sinned. I suppose he wouldn’t care either. He’d give me no penance, so long as I am producing a child for the Church. After Pat sleeps I move away from his moist body and lie looking at the winter sky, wondering why it’s lighter than the summer sky.

My husband does not know he is not the father of my baby. My baby’s father is dead.

Pat and I walk to Mass together and afterward buy a bag of pastries and the Sunday newspapers. Walking toward Rindge Avenue, I can see Charlie’s house and, if I squint my eyes, the fat white teapot on the windowsill where I left it. Sometimes I wonder if his wife sees me. There’s been comment in the neighborhood about her. They say that now Charlie is gone, she’s always sitting in the upstairs window, staring down at the street with her tiny piglike eyes. Perhaps she’s looking for me. I shiver, holding the warm, sweet-smelling bag of pastries against my chest. I take Pat’s arm to cross the street.