by Suzanne Stormon
The woman stood by the side of the road and took the box that held the small engagement ring and the wedding band out of her wool jacket pocket. She opened it and fingered the rings.
I don’t need you, she said, thinking of the man she had left at home. I will go on without the comfort of the institution. I will be my own woman. She slipped the rings back into her pocket, unwilling to totally let go of the broken promise.
She filled the three tiny cordial glasses she found in a tiny antique shop on Wells Avenue with the Kalua she had brought along. The brown liquid, thick and syrupy, mirrored the consistency of the feeling in her heart. She handed two of the glasses to her friends and they lifted them to each other.
“So begins my not getting married ceremony,” the woman said.
They clinked their glasses, drank the dark liquid, and got back into the car. The drizzle that started early that morning continued as they made their way from their homes in Reno out toward Gerlach and the Black Rock desert beginning to melt the earlier snowfall.
The woman sat in the back seat and began to tell her story. It was good to tell it out loud. She’d been telling it to herself for the last month. Going over it again and again as her depression worsened. The only thing that kept her going for that month was the touch of her baby, the baby that she loved so much, the baby that kept the woman and the man together.
“I tried,” she said. “You should have seen me right after the baby was born. All of a sudden I felt so helpless. I didn’t know how to take care of her, you should have seen how messily I put on her diapers, how slippery she seemed to be when I tried to dress her. I had trouble with the nursing. He sent me to my mother’s for a few days. ‘Go, learn,’ he said to me.”
She laughed at herself a little, then said, “I’m better at all that now, but I don’t know if I could do it alone.”
The friends listened as they traveled down the two-lane road out past Pyramid Lake, the window of the car open just a crack, enough to let in the brisk air and the sweet smell of wet sagebrush. They hadn’t seen a car for miles. No one seemed to be going their way on this damp November day. They told stories about the bad parts of their basically happy marriages, trying to cheer up their friend.
“We were doing alright.” the woman continued. “We were just taking it one day at a time, through the pregnancy and the months after she was born. I was fine with that. I’d figured on raising her alone if I needed to, but I was open to staying together too. After nearly a year together he asked me to marry him. I was really sort of amazed, but I said yes. I’d seen how much better it was to have two of us raising the girl.”
She handed the wedding invitations up to her friends. They had this November date on them, they were nearing the time of day when the wedding reception would have taken place when they drove through Empire, the gypsum mine quiet because of the rain. Even wet, the town looked gray and dusty. A few kids were out playing in a field with their winter jackets open to the cold.
“Just a few days after he asked me, he went to talk to his mother. He had lent her some money and he wanted it back for the wedding. She refused. She didn’t want him to marry me. I wasn’t the kind of girl she wanted for him. He told her he was going to marry me anyway and left her to stew. But I guess he was stewing on it too.”
The woman thought back to the days when they went to get the rings, decide on a place to marry and order the invitations.
“The invitations came the day after he told me that he thought we’d better wait. Maybe his mother would come around someday. He wanted to wait until she paid him back. He said he knew she never would return the money if he married first. I knew his mother would hold on to that money to control him, but he was resolute. We would wait.”
The woman was stifling tears as they pulled into the little town of Gerlach.
“I cried for days. I yelled. I told him he was a coward. He didn’t change his mind but he didn’t leave. I was happy enough until he asked me to marry him. I didn’t expect it, but I allowed myself to get caught up in this different dream. Then he dashed that dream. My heart just feels cold now. I’ve been stuck in this depression for the last month.”
They pulled into Bruno’s parking lot.
“It looks like this is the only place in town to eat,” the driver said. “Good enough place for your alternative reception.”
The friends helped the woman out of the back seat and put their arms around her and led her to the entrance. The waitress pointed them at a table in the nearly deserted restaurant.
A bit of sun came through the clouds and the mist of the drizzle lifted for a few minutes and the women enjoyed the light of the desert and the shadows of the buildings and trees in town.
They ordered the specialty of the house, ravioli and red wine. The women told more bad stories about their husbands and congratulated their friend on not getting married.
The woman began to feel better. Her friends were with her. That’s all she needed. Her friends, her family and her little daughter.
On the way home, they stopped for one more toast in the desert, in the drizzle. The woman picked up a couple of stones and put them in her pocket next to those rings as remembrances of the day.
She would go home, she decided. Stay with him for now. Stay for the sake of her child, but her heart and all of her love would revolve around that little girl she loved so much. Her happiness had to come first.