Friday, December 09, 2005
YELLOW HOUSE: A short true story
Originally uploaded by JJSchad.
The priest refused to marry them, saying that at sixteen, they were too young. He could not sacralize a marriage that would never work. The wondrous swell of her belly beneath a white dress littered with tiny blue flowers could not sway him.
But it didn't matter. Another priest was found, thin rings slipped on, the words spoken. She said she would show that first priest a thing or two about making things last. What did he know anyway?
But wait: this is not about the teenage couple who moved into her grandmother's boxy yellow house, who fell asleep every night, holding hands like children who'd fallen asleep in the woods. Hansel and Gretel, maybe.
This is about the woman next door. The good woman who invited her to coffee and listened as she told told the story about the priest who refused to marry her. The priest who had tried to curse them with his words.
This is about the good woman next door who helped out when she could. Who brought casseroles when the baby was born and offered to watch him for an hour or two so the young wife could get some rest.
She was still helping when the fifth child was born, though reluctantly. The yellow house was overcrowded by then, and the couple, though only thirty, no longer seemed very young.
It was an imposition, really, always being asked to watch a baby, and she was busy, this neighbor. Still, she never said no. And the fifth one, in particular, she grew to love.
He had a serene temperament and the clearest eyes she'd ever seen. She set the playpen in the sunny window, and he played quietly there. Whenever she looked over to check on him, he smiled.
It was snowing on the morning when the husband next door called her, disrupting her sleep.
Her first thought: didn't he know she worked nights?
Her second thought: His voice, though utterly familiar, was a voice she'd never heard before.
Something had happened, he said. Something terrible. He had to go to the hospital with the baby. Would she come over and stay with his wife?
She looked out and saw the ambulance parked outside the yellow house, and dressed quickly, not even turning on the light.
She only hesitated once. She was standing in the kitchen, looking into the broom closet where she hung her blue parka. She reached out and touched the slippery skin of the jacket, memorized its color, took in the white fur trim around the hood.
It was probably only a few seconds that she stood there, but it was long enough that she would never lose the vision. Never forget how that jacket looked, or how she felt when she thought about what would happen when she put it on.
The ambulance was pulling away as she arrived at the house, but there were no lights flashing, no siren blaring.
"The baby's dead," the mother said flatly when the good neighbor entered her house. Then, while they waited for the husband to return, she railed at God, and at the priest who had cursed them. She hated them both, she said. She would never forgive them.
The good neighbor listened. Unbelieving, she walked in and looked at the empty crib, the half drunk bottle of milk. When she leaned close to the sheets and smelled his baby scent, she could remember holding him.
He was almost two by then, but they called it a crib death. Some less charitable neighbors would question what had "really happened" in the yellow house, what they had "gotten away with."
But the good neighbor always walked away from such conversations in horror.
Within months, everything had fallen apart. The husband fell into an affair with his wife's closest friend, and left the house. The wife took a job at a local donut shop, and began bringing men home at night.
The four remaining children, played alone in the street outside the yellow house; their laughter grew increasingly feverish. They were never dressed for the weather.
Things got worse on the quiet street. Cars pulled in and out at all hours of the night. People said the woman in the yellow house was dealing drugs.
Her parents took the oldest child to live with them. The other three went with their father and his new wife. The yellow paint peeled and no one mowed the grass.
Eventually, the young mother who had stopped being young long ago, moved to Florida. No one heard from her again, not her parents, not the children. It was said she was an addict.
But this is not her story. This is the story of the good neighbor. She grew old; she forgot things. But she never forgot to mourn the baby who had sat in her house in a playpen by the window.
Over and over, she would tell the story of the morning she got the call, how she saw the yellow house through a screen of snow when she looked out.
But mostly, she would remember opening the broom closet in the kitchen and looking at the blue parka with the fur trimmed hood, knowing that once she put it on, nothing would be the same
And then putting it on. Slowly. Deliberately.
Meanwhile, I'm still seeking answers to the question of why you blog. Please scroll down!