“You can’t make a living as a musician! How will you support me and any others who come along?”
“All right, all right,” Jim surrendered. Jim was tired of the same argument over and over again. “I promise I’ll get a more practical job. What was it you said? One where ‘I get my hands dirty.’” Jim smiled. The smile frustrated Estelle. It frustrated her because she couldn’t fight that smile. All the hardness she had built up during the course of an argument evaporated and left her naked.
“Come here,” Jim said.
Estelle had been peeling potatoes for dinner. “Jim, my hands are covered in potato remnants.” She lifted her hands as if she needed evidence.
“Did you know that in ancient times the Greeks smeared each others’ faces with ‘potato remnants’ as a sign of affection?” Jim said, moving toward her.
“No,” Jim laughed.
“You!” Realizing the joke, Estelle retaliated by lunging at Jim and smearing her hands on his face. After one wet hand full of potato peels landed on his face, Jim caught her wrists and turned her around to hold her still.
When the laughter had died down and Estelle was calm she said, “Jim, it must be wonderful to have so much knowledge filed away up there.” She pointed to his head. “Promise me that if we have children they will all be educated like you.”
“What do you mean if? You mean when. Yes, they will be educated.”
“Even if it’s a girl!”
“Even if we have a girl.”
A neighboring couple with three children of their own took care of Victor and Viola while Estelle was bedridden. She felt like a helpless, imprisoned, expanding balloon. Jim spent the days looking for the work that didn’t exist. He had had a job helping out the local theater through the relief program but since that shut down he had nothing else. Each day when he came home the gray eyes had grown more distant.
It was worse when Estelle could sit up. She could see all that needed to be done to keep the home in some kind of functioning order but she could do nothing. She couldn’t even keep her family under one roof. Victor and Viola had been spending the nights at the neighbor’s house. All Estelle could do was direct. “Jim, dust the floor—not that way—. Jim, check on the children—yes now!”
Estelle wanted to be home. She thought of Lola. She thought of freedom. Her head throbbed and the thing in her stomach continued to squirm and make her nauseous. She was anchored. She didn’t choose this, any of it.
“Hey, look here!” Jim’s eyes were surprisingly alert. “Here’s a letter from Frank.”
A burst of excitement permeated her body, leaving her nauseous. Jim handed her the open letter. She looked at the print but the black lettering made her head ache even more.
“You read it Jim,” she said.
He took back the letter and read.
All things considered we’re in relatively good health here at home. I would say I wish you were here but I’m actually glad you’re not. The twisters have run rampant across the Plains. The summer storms took off all the good planting soil. We’ve managed to protect most of the chickens and two of our cows. With the winter coming I fear what the blizzards will be like. No one has the money to buy our eggs or milk. We’ve been living off them ourselves. Mother makes us go to church every week. I’m actually glad she does because it helps us remember and forget at the same time. We remember that everyone is in the same boat and we forget together over a game of cards or while we listen to each other make music. Pop whipped out his old violin. It’s heinously out of tune but we loved hearing him play just the same. Do you remember when he used to play us a lullaby with that thing when we were babies? I hope that you all are doing well. I hope you have ways to remember and forget with those around you. I’m sure motherhood helps boost your spirits.
Your loving brother,
P.S. This may be the last letter for a while. Mailing is expensive.
Estelle put a hand on the weight that anchored her to her bed—the weight that made her more helpless than ever. Motherhood. Her eyes flooded. She drifted into darkness.