By - Silke Heiss
“No worst, there is none.”
- Gerald Manley Hopkins
Aubrey Taylor was laid off. They were very sorry. They gave him a ‘golden handshake’. But no reward, however, golden, can counteract the force, or the feeling, of rejection. In any case, the golden handshake was a misnomer. It amounted to three months’ pay. Aubrey Taylor had only been a driver.
His wife was Logan. She was a housekeeper for Professor Searle from the university. For more than two years now. It was a good position, which they could not now afford to lose. ‘They’ included the children, Kane and Rosabel, who were both at primary school.
The family was initially somewhat uplifted, in spirit at least, despite the new insecurity in their lives. Aubrey knew he was unwanted, not needed – a realisation which naturally smarted. But at the same time it provided him with an opportunity to spend hours, indeed, days (which quickly turned into weeks and months) with his children.
Logan Taylor was delighted, for the children thrived. New loves were growing from the family misfortune. They could not afford fish ‘n chips from the takeaway anymore; and they had meat only every other week now; and they saw no immediate way of replacing Kane’s shoes, out of which his feet were popping. But Kane was perfectly able to play soccer with his dad in bare feet on the empty, windswept sports field. In fact, he was even proud of his toughness. And instead of buying Rosie rings and ribbons, Daddy told her bible stories like Noah and the flood, or Joseph’s dreams - which gives you wealth far greater than plastic jewellery, my child. So you see.
When they sat down round the curried bean casserole at the supper table and held hands to sing –
Thank you Father,
Thank you Mother,
For our food, for our food,
And our many blessings, and our many blessings,
Amen, Amen –
Logan would look significantly at her family. Especially as she uttered the words ‘our many blessings’.
It was Aubrey, of course, who had insisted on introducing the ‘Mother’ into the singing of grace. It was an act for which Logan knew she ought to be grateful, even though she did not quite comprehend it. She instinctively avoided questioning Aubrey’s decisions. But God was not female. Female power as Logan imagined it, no, knew it to be, was discreet. A person can feel in the body how it must be, although it can’t finally be said. There was something overall upside down with actually mentioning it, her, the ‘Mother’ (for of course they weren’t Catholics). It was like putting the earth on top of the sky or something. But even so, Logan took Aubrey’s words in good humour. He wanted to show his love. To instruct his children to honour their mom. Her hands had prepared the food, which had been purchased with money she had earned. She could not deny that. But all by the will of the Lord, let her not forget.
Sometimes, she was afraid that she might forget. That she might unbind herself quite suddenly, or be unbound. And be flung far, far from the fold. Yes, it made her quite uncomfortable, she thought as she spooned steaming spinach and sweet potatoes onto their plates, to find her designation – ‘Mother’ – in such close conjunction with the Name of Heaven. It was – well, not that the word ‘sacrilegious’ entered her head, but maybe it came close. At the same time, Logan found herself unable to accuse her kind and considerate husband.
How exactly it happened it is not possible to tell. But as the months went by and Aubrey became increasingly maternal, or womanly – doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, making his wife breakfast and cups of tea (even over weekends) – so Logan found her attitude towards her husband changing. She knew, of course, that times had changed drastically everywhere already - Kane and Rosabel’s school curriculum did not distinguish between man and woman. The old ways, according to which Logan and Aubrey had set up their home and family, had long dissolved. One could see men pushing prams these days and taking their children to the public library.
Certainly Logan was confused. She experienced irritation with the fact that Aubrey was encroaching onto what she considered her territory. In his way, moreover, which was less complete, than hers. More cavalier. When sweeping, for example, he failed to lift the chairs, no matter how often she suggested that this should be done. When washing dishes, the kitchen surfaces, sometimes even the dishes themselves, would remain sticky, unclean. The thought or the realisation that her husband was ‘not much good’ at what he did worked like a slow releasing poison on Logan’s consciousness. ‘That’s why they sacked him’, she found herself thinking. Immediately she squeezed her eyes shut to block out the thought and invoke forgiveness.
Logan searched for compassion in herself as she noticed that Aubrey’s time with the kids seemed to result in things lying all over the house. It was a big mess, to be truthful. But they did have a fantastic time together and both Kane’s as well as Rosabel’s teachers had said how they’d noticed a difference: the children were actually excelling – excelling said Mrs Goodall – at their reading. Was Logan spending more quality time with them?
“No, it’s my husband to be honest. He’s very devout, you know, and well he lost his job. Now for the time being he reads the Bible with them every day without fail. He’s got all that time you see.”
“Oh? Right. Well – how lucky you are. That is so good having a husband who makes the best of a bad situation!”
“It is good. He’s a good father,” admitted Logan, worrying about the fact that she could not quite smile.
But now who can put a price on excellence? Logan must not be petty. Who thinks of tidying while working, while playing?
So the mother came home in the afternoons, cooked, tidied, washed, and then told bedtime stories. For she did not wish to grow distant from the kids. Once she started snoring, they said, while she was reading to them. She just nodded off for a second. Oh my good Lord, oh my! The children laughed uproariously. Logan laughed with them. While Aubrey read the Bible quietly to himself. He was devoted. They must not lose hope.
But when Logan came out of the children’s room (thank the good Lord they still had the house) and saw him there beside the shaded lamp, with the picture of his God-fearing parents behind him, she not so much thought as realised. That here was – no, she must be honest – here was an unattractive, a bloody ugly man. His smile resembled a failed snarl. And that’s what he was in reality doing – snarling at her, while pretending to smile!
Logan caught herself. She sighed. She bent to pick up from the floor and then proceeded to fold her husband’s jersey. She knew what she was doing. Nor could she help it, though God preserve her. She had held truthfulness at bay for long enough, now it pressed through. What was in her hands was not Aubrey’s jersey. That is to say, it seemed to be, but it was not. It smelt exactly, but exactly like the toiletries used by her employer, Hugh Searle. Unfortunately, the sensation roused her terribly. She breathed in deeply this strange escape come over her. It provided such relief. Oh my Lord, forgive me.
She was convinced that God had decided to teach her a lesson. Because she had presumed to be intimate in the daily prayers, He had come to earth - or chosen for a time at least to inhabit the body of Professor Searle. Logan did not want to be with Aubrey: she felt that disinclination like a razor blade in her heart. She wanted to be Mrs Searle. And it was all Aubrey’s doing, that she wanted to be the wife of God.
“What’s wrong?” asked Aubrey.
She looked at him, filled with love and guilt.
“I am tired,” she said truthfully. “I am very tired.”
Professor Searle was not at home, most of the time. Like a real man. Out hunting for the bucks. That’s crude thoughts maybe, but let us call a spade a spade. Logan did the professor’s laundry and the ironing. She even ironed his sheets. That’s really quite, quite unnecessary, said Professor Searle, but Logan happily, stubbornly ignored him. God is proud of you for those extra little bits. She vacuumed the carpets and washed the floor. She kept the bathroom spotless, and dusted with devotion the shelves with their reading and so much music. Professor Searle had records and often their covers were out and Logan would see to her surprise (which she never got over) photographs of sloppily-dressed, barefoot men with long hair like real derelicts or hippies even. She told herself it was cultural difference; certainly Hugh Searle was always presentable. Even though he wore mostly denims, he always looked smart. One record cover showed a drawing of a bird that in its large claws carried a naked woman with huge breasts. Well, Logan made allowances for the European heritage about which she supposed she was largely ignorant, and everybody was entitled to their privacy. That had to be the professional housekeeper’s slogan, after all. And so Logan kept that bird with its captured woman absolutely private, naturally. But when on one occasion the CD rack toppled while she was cleaning, and fifty odd CDs clattered out, and she picked them up and saw on the case of one of them a host, a photograph, of nude women – a rainbow of women one would have to call that – all with their breasts and thighs exposed and pouting very suggestively – then Logan did at once ask for forgiveness on Professor Searle’s behalf. Just in case. Luckily he now also had Beethoven and all those very highly thought of, which was his saving grace as far as Logan could tell.
Logan kept Hugh Searle’s fridge and cupboards stocked with sliced bread, cheese crackers, canned peaches, and soup packs, and during the week cooked suppers that would wait for him in the microwave oven. It was an easy job, in a way. Most days she knocked off at lunchtime. She received sufficient pay not to have to look for work elsewhere.
Professor Searle liked grey, white, black, beige and brown. Aubrey Taylor, on the other hand, liked bold reds and yellows. Blue, pink, green.
“It’s the African in you,” his wife would say. There would be a mixture of tenderness and criticism in her voice. Having African in one was nothing to be ashamed of. She herself, too … But it was a burden nonetheless. The burden of too much light, or maybe even love, that cast a sharp, black shadow. Aubrey was so loving. It burnt into Logan, this love, this sunny warmth of his. For somewhere in Logan’s heart, or head, there was a search for something that was cold and grey. An inarticulate yearning for, or perhaps it was only a phantasm of, the obscure. An imagined mistiness, the thought of eternal nights such as Kane was being taught exist at both the poles in winter-time.
Logan put down the photograph of Professor Searle in front of Cambridge University. Standing there in the northerly light with a grey-haired gentleman friend. She passed the duster over the glass again to remove her fingerprint.
He had no wife. He had two girls, whose passport-size photos were in his study. There was a picture of them as young women in skiing gear, held up by a doughnut-shaped magnet on the fridge. The wife was nowhere to be seen. Had it perhaps been a nasty divorce? If dead, would she not be commemorated in photographs? Perhaps it was worse than divorce? Was it Abomination? Logan’s heart expanded with pity and love for Professor Searle. Dear almighty God, I humbly ask that you give Hugh Searle all strength and courage. Forgive his sins and those of them around him that might spoil his life and cause him to suffer. Thank you, Lord, thank you. I am your humble servant Logan Taylor.
For herself, Logan Taylor often forgot to pray these days. She clearly remembered saying the words ‘for richer, for poorer’. Marriage is an institution that ought to endure. The suffering it brings with it is unavoidable. Logan had not gone blindly into her marriage. Her parents’ example had taught her not to expect bliss or salvation of any sort.
She knew that her feelings were wicked. They were cold and delicious. The thought of abandoning Aubrey and declaring her eternal devotion to Professor Searle seemed tempting to a degree beyond any she had known. She felt invincible, young, excited about life, was sure she had grown slenderer and more supple during the past year of employ with the soft-spoken, distinguished professor. Of course she ate less under the circumstances. It was terribly wrong. Bad for the family. The thought of her children, more even than Aubrey, put up a wall to beat back her fantasies. Her train-friend, Denise, to whom she partially confessed the illicit stirrings, looked at her sceptically through narrowed eyes. A mirthless smile played on her lips.
“You’re too old for that sort of thing,” Denise said. “Best you hand in your notice,” she advised.
Logan felt a jab in her innards as she imagined asking her employer for a reference. The train stopped. Denise moved closer to Logan as the old Munter squeezed in beside them, breathing phlegmmily.
“They’s coming,” he sighed, “for justice.”
He looked significantly at Logan. There was nothing unusual in that. Munter permanently looked significantly. But today, Logan noticed the significance. She noticed it in her culpable heart.
“I’s now somebody who never did harm anybody,” declaimed the ragged man. “Ask anybody. Never, no. But I point out – “
Munter stretched out his arm and swivelled it slowly in a semi-circle, like a torch-beam or searchlight, “I point out the wrong that people does to one another. Woman,” he declared looking straight at Logan, “you must obey your husband.”
“Only when you feel like it,” a young woman with electric blue toe-nails, sitting opposite them, countered. She enunciated the words very beautifully. Obviously private school. The train chuckled with its passengers.
Munter, however, frowned and wagged his thick, dirty finger in the young woman’s direction.
“It must have somebody,” he said, “what points out. That’s me. Ekke. I’m that man.”
The young woman smirked indulgently, shook her head slightly, and abdicated by craning her beautiful neck to look out of the window. They were all beneath her, behind her, irrelevant to her. They were captives of the past, enduring their stuckness, their griminess, while she was new and fresh with a platter-full of gleaming options before her. Please, good Lord, may you stand by me.
Munter retracted his searchlight and patted his breast with satisfaction. Fellow-travellers regarded him tolerantly in his rags and worn boots. Some people murmured agreement, or approval. The woman with the electric blue nails looked on disbelievingly, smiling and shaking her lovely African hairdo from time to time, always returning to the window, the far sky or horizon out there. Logan stared at the toe-nails like miniature ice-floes, so cold and bright and unnatural were they.
“It’s drugs,” said a man in oilskins. “Drugs. And you forget all what you’ve learnt in the Bible.”
He took a small, raggedy New Testament out of his breast pocket and began to read aloud from Revelations. Munter began to argue. They argued without disagreeing until a buxom female security guard put him off the train at Heathfield, where Logan got off as well.
“And there was war in heaven. Mark my words, it’s war,” cried Munter on the platform.
The walk home took twenty-five minutes. She entered the house and stumbled over Aubrey’s shoes at the front door. She managed to steady herself, but her leg hurt from the jolt, it felt a bit out of joint. Then she sounded like a fishwife to her own ears. Somewhere inside her there was an elegant soul, swept clean, snow white. She felt sure of that. But the circumstances of her life would not allow it. This was her home, her life. She tidied, cleaned as much as she could, and cooked. Aubrey supervised the children’s bath, that they didn’t use too much water or get cold sitting there too long. She was grateful for that. It was more than most husbands she knew of would do. He was progressive, so democratic, he did always ask her opinion, and had he ever put her down? The answer must be no. She did not need to obey him, he was so considerate.
From the red kitchen Logan, limping slightly, brought the bobotie through to the yellow lounge. She longed somehow to be able to extinguish these colours. Wished for a snow to befall them in a calm ice age of sleep, where things might rest for a while before re-awakening. She longed for the greys and browns. She longed for the emptiness of her work.
Logan brought the turmeric-yellow meal to the table in its azure ocean. Nobody was there. The children must be playing or something, were they outside now after their bath?! Aubrey was quiet upstairs. Quiet and temporarily unavailable.
Logan set down the casserole dish. She thought she might explode, or implode. One or the other. She went upstairs, into the bedroom, where she found Aubrey reading the Bible.
She said, “I want a divorce.”
She said it right out of the blue, without thinking. She had not even had the thought, in fact. She was in a state of complete surprise at herself. And Aubrey stared at her with his pale green eyes. His startled gaze quickly became hateful. How quick his understanding was now! Logan felt an urge to walk out of the house immediately, that seemed to be the most fitting thing to do. But at that hour the streets were dangerous. Logan feared she might be mugged, or worse, most likely worse.
Aubrey said nothing at first. His wife hesitated at the door. What did it matter that he was holding, or reading, or relying on the Bible? He had not found work in five months! And then the thought of her own infidelity to God smote Logan, and Aubrey saw it, and then her words got right under his skin.
“Why don’t you go then?” he asked bitterly. “Go!”
The wife stared at the husband. It was her turn to be startled. When last had he summoned this amount of energy? When last had he exclaimed? Now he even rose, and was attempting to wave her out of the room, pushing her out with his puffed chest without touching her. He had never before been so immense, she was sure. Close now, he stared at her. His yellow nostrils flared, his nose was huge with in- and exhalations, his healthy teeth (his pride) were bared in what had turned, over the months, into a genuine snarl. He was expending himself in ways unrevealed till now.
“You don’t respect me,” he hissed, “and you don’t love me.”
All true. Her failure as a wife.
Downstairs the hungry children were calling. Logan noticed the Bible lying on the bed. What was it doing there? Where was God, if He was in there? Made out of paper or what?
“No,” cried Logan, “I don’t love you and may the Lord forgive me.”
Then Aubrey laughed an evil laugh.
“The Lord!” he said sarcastically. “What know you about the Lord?”
So the Devil had arrived. She had invoked him, had she not? He raised his hand and struck the housekeeper on her cheek. Electrified with shock, she dared to look at him outraged, although ice-cold with fear. She knew she was tempting him to further violence, which she would endure. Because it proved something. (What?)
He grabbed her arm and yanked her from the doorway, hurled her onto the bed, and when she pulled her knees towards her to deter his blows by kicking, he deftly outmanoeuvred the random thrusts of her stockinged feet, from which Mr Price’s slippers had flown in arcs, and hit her hard on her thigh. Then, in the interim of her shock, he hit her in the face again, as if he knew exactly what to do. She had not seen him so sure of himself, nor so directed. But he must stop. The children had come into the doorway and stood crying. Then Kane ran into Aubrey and began hitting him, shouting,
“Don’t hit Mommy! Daddy, don’t hit Mommy!”
While Rosabel screeched unbearably, “Kane! Kane!”
Kane was crying, choking on incomprehensible words. Aubrey abruptly accepted defeat and slunk out. Logan straightened her skirt, gathered her slippers, patted down her hair, took a child in each arm as she sat on the edge of the bed, and told them,
“It’s all right.”
Kane was more upset than Rosabel. He took his time calming down. Then they all blew their noses. When Logan fetched Aubrey from the sofa (there was no other place to hide), he said, “I am ashamed.”
So she said, “It doesn’t matter.”
To which he replied, “I love you. I don’t want to be like that, to do what I did. I love you Logan. What you said hurt me so deep inside.”
It was as if he’d thrown a stone at her, into her burning face.
It was the first time in months that she had had to work in Professor Searle’s presence. It was nerve-wracking, exhilarating and disturbing. She felt him, in his jersey with the reindeers and snowflakes, watching her, but whenever she looked up he would be moving away, concerned with things other than her working self. She felt embarrassed for his sake. When lunchtime arrived, Logan sat down at the fancy kitchen counter, on the barstool, about to have her egg on toast, when Professor Searle entered again.
“Sit down. Sit down,” he said, because she had made to rise.
It was terrible. Swallowing her food in a gulp, she could see that she did not actually see the man, who appeared to be shifting. He did not sit down. So she got up again and was glad that he left it at that
“Logan,” began Professor Searle, “I do not want to surprise you. I mean – .“ He stopped and seemed to think. She wanted to speak for him, he seemed so desperate. The silence was eternal. What might he be looking for to say to her, oh Lord? Logan noticed that her mouth was slightly open. She closed it. The professor looked at her mouth. So Logan bowed her head, to spare him the embarrassment.
“I shall be staying in this flat for two more months, till the end of the semester. Then I am moving to Mexico. Permanently. I intend giving up this place. Logan. I have valued your service very much. I am sure I shall not find another housekeeper – “
The professor studied her at his leisure. Logan was swirling in the eddy of this awful moment, this closeness breaking on the edge of closure, of an end. It was the end of Logan’s life. It was the end of the Taylor family, her children. She would never find another position. She was too old, too disturbed. She had not the energy. She could not look up, for fear that he might detect the horror and despair in her face.
The professor now put his hand on her shoulder, briefly. It might have been boiling water. She had to endure it.
“A housekeeper as reliable,” said the professor, and then, “as discreet” – that was the word he had searched for in his mind full of torchbeams and searchlights, and found – “as you, Logan. I am sure you will have no trouble in finding secure alternative employment. Thank you, Logan. I wish you the best of luck. I shall naturally pay you the pension arising out of your service to me. It’s nothing much, of course, nothing to rely on. You have a husband, isn’t that so, Logan? And two children, was it?”
Logan nodded vacantly.
“I am sorry if I caught you by surprise,” said he, “I had intended to avoid that.”
Logan nodded. “God bless,” she said.
Professor Searle looked briefly puzzled.
Then, “Yes, of course, thank you,” he said, and maybe smiled a little as he looked up. There was a pause. Then he went out of the kitchen. Soon after, he went out of the flat, and Logan Taylor thought that snow must have begun to fall, at last, onto her hot soul.
She was cooling or softened now towards her husband, although his efforts at finding a job remained unsuccessful. She sent him out these days onto the street, and occasionally he got odd-jobs varnishing window frames and doors, or helping to carry some load, or cutting up a dead tree in someone’s garden for R80.00 plus food. Frequently, though, he came back empty-handed and told Logan how the other unemployed, desperate men at the roadsides would leap uninvited into cars and onto bakkies, hectoring salvation, forcing their luck. Aubrey did not, could not belong with those hard, bitter men. He was no longer young (although there were men much older than Aubrey, too, of course, cast off and useless now, may the Lord protect us all); he could not smile as readily or as audaciously as they. For the Hand of God was in all this, and if He shall choose to push my face into the dust, who am I to presume to cast His Greatness off? A vain liberation that would be. Yet the return home to the children watching television, their lack of spark, their boredom and quarrelsomeness, served further to indict. Aubrey would flee upstairs as if afraid of contaminating them with his lifeless self.
Logan found that she forgot to pray or, when she did, that she begged wretchedly for deliverance, salvation and protection. God had never felt so far away. Shame prevented her from confiding in the pastor, and Sundays she sat with her family, choking back tears of culpability when they sang, ‘Onward Christian Soldiers marching as to War’. Then came the inertia in the form of headaches, and she actually stopped going, begging Aubrey would he pray for her please? At home alone her spirit was vagrant, without abode. Although with the greyness of her mood came then also an unexpected calm. Is that what she had been looking for – this tranquil lifelessness, this sleep? Every time her family returned from church, they had to wake her up and she had not even washed or dressed yet.
But this must change! Logan was a forward-looking woman. It was neither permissible nor possible to be anything else. After almost two months’ grief and somnambulence, during her final week of employ with her heartbreaker (the news of his departure had been welcomed by Denise – ‘God is looking after you’) – during that week of April Logan bought a box of rainbow tissues and some fine, green plastic-coated garden wire from the hardware store. In the evenings, she sat with Kane and Rosabel, ignoring silent Aubrey. They made two hundred soft, pastel coloured tissue flowers with wire stems in two weeks. Now that’s a better use for tissues that crying and blowing your nose into them, isn’t it? Logan bought a pink plastic bucket and put the tissue blooms inside.
The tissues and the wire together had cost R 40.00, the bucket R15.00. If she sold the flowers at R1.00 apiece, she would make a profit of R 145.00, not counting labour – “which you can’t count, because it is a gift to God”, said Logan to her children. Logan was repenting. And she had sufficient wire over for another two hundred flowers, once (if) these sold. She told Denise what she had done, and Denise looked at her pityingly and said that a person must be strong. Denise’s husband worked for an insurance company. He was a clerk, who was very clever with his figures. It is a problem when a person is not clever with his figures. Although neither Aubrey nor Logan were now ‘illiterate’, Good God no. Look at how Aubrey read the Bible and let Denise’s husband do that night after night without fail. Yes, Logan’s thoughts were on the right track again, in the right place.
But still, on Logan’s last day in the Rosebank flat, she chose a white flower from among her bucket of freshly made blooms. Rosabel had had the good idea of sprinkling on just a teensy bit of glitter which clung beautifully to the delicate petals. Logan was not able to hand the flower over personally to the professor as she had fantasized she would. Evidently, he had intended the good-bye of eight weeks previously to be the final one. Logan put the flower into a crystal vase that had not contained anything for a whole year, or longer for all she knew. The flower looked insignificant, tatty, pitiful – upstaged as it was by the armoured vase. But there was no other place where Logan could have put it.
“God forgive me for my sins,” she muttered. Then she went away for good. She felt the still so fresh scar pull on her heart as she pulled the door shut behind her for the last time.
Aubrey accompanied his wife carrying the pink pail. They must not look like skollies. In fact, she looked lovely in her silvery scarf. She felt Aubrey in that scarf. (It had been a gift long ago.) Aubrey was excited by his new designation as salesman of his wife’s and children’s handicraft. He had not been able to contribute much to the creative process, because of his fine motor coordination or something, or actually it was his fingers which were too big, that was it, he thought. Although he himself was easily torn, just like this tissue paper.
Logan, on the other hand, realised at this point that God had left the Taylor family after all. It was her scarf alone that protected her head. She was naked. Naked and cast out she went after Aubrey carrying the pail. She had not the imagination to do anything else.
They stood between the pharmacy and the supermarket and watched people doing their errands. After an hour, an elderly and very trembly white lady in an obviously hand-knitted cardigan and old, white shoes, approached them.
“Did you make these?” she chirped feebly, pointing a huge, crooked and vibrating finger.
“My wife and kids, M’am,” replied Aubrey happily, adding, “Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, in his Law does he meditate day and night.”
Logan’s initial cold shock on hearing her husband speak so gave way to renewed flow of blood when she saw the old woman half-close her eyes and begin nodding. Not that that took much, what with whatever it was that shook her anyway.
“And he shall be like a tree planted by the river of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season, his leaf also shall not wither – “
“His leaf shall not wither,” interrupted the lady.
“And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper,” concluded Aubrey.
“Prosper,” echoed the lady. She seemed to be in something of a trance.
There was a pause during which some snow settled in the crevices of Logan’s heart, or so it seemed. As good as moneyless, jobless – this insecurity tore her apart. She must be strong, but now her husband had gone mad. How should Logan understand, what should she do? Where was her faith, her guidance? There was nowhere to sit down. There was no provision. This was all, she was certain, because of her spiritual infidelity. But when had she made the pact with the Devil? Logan could no longer remember, although the flowers appeared to her now in all their hopelessness.
Aubrey put his arm around his wife. She stared at him in horror as he said, “What’s wrong, Logan?”
Logan shook her head.
“Come now,” said Aubrey, “we just had the first sale of the day and what a long face are you making?”
Logan pressed a smile. It was not painless, but she succeeded. Who was this man, whom she had not only despised, but indeed ignored, for more than two years now? Who bathed, who played with her children, whose children were hers too, and who touched her own body with his hands, both tender and brutal? Aubrey held her in his dry, yellow hands and said,
“Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me, for my soul trusteth in you, yea, in the shadow of your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities be overpassed.”
Logan began to sob, there was no holding her. She stood for two hours sobbing intermittently, while Aubrey Taylor sold twelve flowers in all and they had twelve rand. They moved over to the public library where Aubrey doubled the price and sold ten more and they had thirty-two rand. They had just about covered their costs, Aubrey pointed out to Logan, who was utterly exhausted from smiling at customers in her grief.
They crossed the parking place, made their way through the taxi ranks. Then came the streets flanked by grey, white, pink, orange, blue and green and yellow little houses, with low walls and torn fences around semi-barren gardens of molerat hills, wild grass and marigolds. There was the park, which was an expanse of molerat hills, patches of grass, broken playground equipment. Beyond the park were the tenements, where the Taylors had their home. They sat down on a bench that had two slats left.
“Aubrey, man,” began Logan. How would she say this? How could she break his heart?
“I can no more,” she said. “I can no more believe in God.”
There. She looked at him, filled with confusion and remorse. He would cast her out now, she was sure, or worse – lecture her, redouble his absurd faith. But he remained tense – silent, staring ahead of him grimly as it seemed. Logan became fearful. She dare not touch him. She dare not move. But Aubrey turned around quick as a cat and smote her with a glance so furious, she flinched as if she’d been hit.
“I blame myself,” she defended.
“Why do you go on and on,” he hissed, “pouring this ash on your head?”
He grabbed her scarf, yanked it down. The knot caught at her throat and Logan gagged.
“Moody woman! That depression of yours affects me, man!” exclaimed Aubrey, shouting it out for all the molerats to hear.
That was too much for Logan, who shot up from the bench, toppling one hundred and seventy-seven flowers. She put one hand on her hip and wagged the pointer finger of the other in front of seething Aubrey.
“You!” she screeched. “You!”
She searched, but could find no more words in the heat. Became aware: here they were, a poor man and his wife, squabbling in the morning sun about unhappiness or rejection. About fear and guilt and pain. She broke down. How many tears would wash through her yet today? Tomorrow? They did not clean her, these tears, but eroded. Sniffing, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her blouse (for God’s sake there were no tissues to blow it), she began to pick up the flowers. They’d become sandy. She blew off the sand, stuck the flowers one by one back into the bucket. She expected Aubrey, who’d risen, to kick her. She slowed down in her picking, waiting for it. But in vain. Instead, he came down on the ground and started helping her. They looked at one another: wary, hesitant. Slowly, some of the hardness went away.
“Here we are,” said Aubrey, “You, Logan, and me. Is it not enough?”
Enough, yes. It was enough. Contradictory currents coursed through the woman.
“Some things are too difficult,” she eventually said, still picking, but more slowly, as if she were in a dream now. Then the bucket was full.
“There we are,” said Aubrey, getting up, taking the handle, holding out his hand for her.
Of course he was perfectly right. There they were - naked or not, with or without God. She was his wife, re-tying her scarf. God was here or not. But here they were. They would soldier on till the end of this war, because they were.