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Islay: A Novel|
I know at last what I want to be when I grow up
There in the den, shut against the world, against Mary as well, though he would never admit it, Lyson C. Sulla spent his Saturdays. Mary was uneasy about this. Uncomfortable also with the semantics by which he called the room a den. She knew there was no such thing as a den in an apartment, but Lyson was obstinate on this point. She would have been more comfortable had he called the room, really a spare bedroom, an office. A nice domestic ring to the word office: bright, airy, dust-free bustle; efficient and purposeful as her own kitchen. Everything in its rightful niche, where it can immediately be found.
But a den is where bears go in fat, happy, and warm and come out hungry, disheveled, and irascible with a momentous hangover. Not that Lyson was that bad, really. Just that—that something was going on that must never be allowed out, out in the light of day. She was never satisfied with what was his hobby, exactly, but knew enough to keep it a tight secret. She wasn’t even sure it was wise to refer to it as a hobby, as Lyson insisted. She’d have preferred something more dignified, like project, but Lyson explained that men respect hobbies more than they do projects.
If only he could see, she sighed, the mirth in the eyes of her friends as they inquire after the locked door. At first he had thought she could simply say he was out, but that would be a brazen lie. And what if he forgot and opened the door early, before her friends had left? No way! A vexation: He wanted his hobby kept a secret, and she agreed, but she had no way of satisfying her friends’ curious glances at the locked door.
The last time she had played the brave wife, explaining that Lyson took his hobby far more seriously than his job, her friends smiled not so secretly at one another: Don’t all men? All her friends smiled; that is, except Mortima Gooser, who saw no humor in the foibles of men. If only men would take their jobs, and consequently women, seriously, she snapped, her gestures sharp and jabbing. And she would glare, her lip curled, at the locked door behind which Lyson hid, oblivious of them, the society of women, ignoring them as if they did not exist. The nerve!
Mary had every reason to be cautious around Mortima. Not for nothing was the name sign for Mortima Gooser synonymous with gossip. Just how such a derogatory name sign got attached to Mortima is not certain, but her old classmates claim that Mortima herself was the one who gave herself that sign. What mattered, though, was that Mortima did not at all blush when referred to by such a sign. She introduced herself to strangers by that sign. She just never thought to be embarrassed by it, not any more than a bull is by the chewed swallowed digested processed and passed remains of hay drying on its rump raising a stink and a whirring cloud of flies.
Once a minister of the gospel dared a bit of Christian sanitization by pointing out to her the impossibility for gossips to ever find happiness in heaven. No sin up there, you see, therefore nothing to gossip about up there, hehehe. But Mortima had returned him a certain stare—blank yet pregnant. So even a minister of the gospel, as did Mary and everyone else, learned to be circumspect around Mortima.
“I am a card,” she liked to tell hearing people. She never said this to the deaf as she doubted they’d appreciate it the way she thought it deserved to be. They’d only curl a lip, while the hearing at least had the courtesy to smile. When she was little, her favorite aunt had once gushed, “You’re a card!” Mortima had wondered about it for a long while, until she looked it up in a dictionary. Among other things, it said a card was an attraction and a comical person. She took it to mean she was attractive and funny and gushed to every new hearing acquaintance, “I am a card.”
So Mary was leery of Mortima and never invited her to the apartment. But such was Mortima’s craft that when she invited herself to the Saturday teas, Mary hesitated to shut the door in her face. Furthermore, it was with uncanny timing that Mortima always managed to arrive at the same moment as the other, more welcome guests. So an armchair, one of the more comfortable in the apartment—Lyson’s, where he’d always presided during the teas—was reserved for Mortima. This was because Mary wanted to locate Mortima facing away from the door to the den. That heavy chair just happened to be the one suited for this maneuver; unfortunately it gave Mortima the impression it was the place of honor. That couldn’t be helped. Better she should think that than be allowed the awful way she could glare at the door, as if she could look right through it at Lyson and discern his secret. This glare also would only serve to draw all the eyes in the room toward the door.