Read part 1 here.
Evelyn inhales, then breathes out, “No-o-o.” She joins Marion at the kitchen door. They peer out the window together, one head tilted one way, the other the opposite.
Jean is making a three layer chocolate cake. It is the Easter cake. The frosting is chocolate buttercream and contains a pound of butter. She will spread raspberry preserves between one of the layers.
The evening is setting in. It is after supper and her parents doze in front of the television. The kitchen smells of the fish she broiled for supper. The scent of chocolate will replace the fish smell as soon as she can get the cake in the oven.
“I wish you two would let me get this cake in the oven,” says Jean.
“We’re just standing here,” says Marion.
“You didn’t even go to Good Friday service,” says Jean.
“What does that have to do with anything?” she looks back at Jean. “Anyway, I did go. I took my kids.”
“I didn’t go,” says Evelyn. She’s still looking out the window.
“I’m aware of that, Evelyn.” Jean turns to Marion. “I didn’t see you at Sacred Heart. I brought Mom and Dad.”
“We went to Saint Joe’s.”
Jean makes a face. “Saint Joe’s?”
“Yeah, Saint Joe’s. You know Frank’s family’s always gone there.”
“That girl is pregnant?” Evelyn asks, eyes still in the yard next door where the girl pegs sheets on the clothesline.
“Yeah. That’s what I heard,” says Marion. “Why would you hang sheets on the line at this hour? They’ll just get damp and heavy.”
“How do you know she’s pregnant?” says Jean. She cracks an egg too hard and then has to pick shell out of the batter. She sucks her teeth, irritated.
“I just said I heard.”
Jean walks over to the window and looks out. “She doesn’t look pregnant.”
“Well, they don’t start out eight pounds big, Jean.”
Jean goes back to her big sliver bowl. “I don’t believe it.”
“Why not?” says Evelyn.
Jean shakes her head. “She’s just seventeen.”
“What does that have to do with it?” says Marion.
“Everyone does it, Jean,” says Evelyn.
“Do you have to be so crude, Evelyn? Everyone does not do it. I don’t see everyone running around pregnant,” says Jean.
Marion rolls her eyes.
Evelyn laughs. “Some girls just get caught, but everyone is doing it.”
“I don’t believe that,” says Jean. “I’m not.”
Jean glares at her but says nothing. She turns the mixer on high. Its loud whirring covers the sound of her sisters’ voices.
Once they finally leave and the cakes sit on wire racks in the darkened kitchen, Jean settles into bed and turns on the small television on her dresser. She can’t seem to listen to any of it, her mind on the girl next door whose name is Rosemary. She tries to relax; she has a lot to do tomorrow. But she keeps thinking about Rosemary, who traipses around in her faded flared jeans, her tight tops. Jean remembers when Rosemary was a baby, a little girl, a gawky preteen. Could Marion be right?
She thinks back on herself at seventeen, cloaked in her parochial plaid. Her white cotton shirt buttoned up to the peter pan collar at her throat. The frowsy and bulky gray cardigan.
She did not do anything like Rosemary might have done.
Her last date—a set-up—had been disastrous. She had not known the right places to laugh. Men were not gentlemen anymore. His expectations came as a surprise to Jean. She was startled; she behaved abruptly at his advances. She was awkward. He did not call a second time.
“What’s the point of a wedding night these days?” Jean had said to her sisters earlier as they peered at the pregnant neighbor.
Evelyn laughed at her. “Oh, come on, Jean! Is that what you’re waiting for?”
Jean refused to meet her eyes, as if this simple gesture invalidated Evelyn’s sentiment.
No one knows the longings in Jean’s heart. That for which her body craves. Any knowledge of that she tucks deep.
Alone in her bed, the blue light from the TV outlining the shadows of her body beneath the blanket, she imagines the tiny seed growing in Rosemary’s belly. And she aches.
On Holy Saturday, Jean wakes early, puts the kettle on for tea for her mother, snaps on the coffee for herself and her father. Then she walks outside to her cutting garden. She surveys, deciding which she will cut and arrange for the Easter dinner table.
Easter is late this year and it has been a very warm April. Her vegetable garden is not yet planted (there may still be frost, all the way through May) but some of the early spring flowers have begun to bloom from the fat papery bulbs she planted in autumn. Tulips, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinth, paper-whites and snowdrops grow at the bases of the trees in the yard, in rows out front, in surprising places she almost forgot she planted while the warm autumn sun shone on her back, the sky that impossible depth of late September blue. Here, there is order. Here, she can nurture, coax, sing softly and there is loving reciprocation. Her eyes move over the delicate petals with their saturated colors, the green of the stems and leaves, and time waits and she hovers in some suspended sphere, happy. Is it happiness? It is a thing that a simple word cannot button down.
Her hands move over the flowers without hurry as she decides which flowers will grace the table, the sideboard. A little jelly glass of which she is fond will sit squarely over the kitchen sink on the windowsill that overlooks the backyard where the row of forsythia is just beginning to bloom.
Then there are the meal preparations to begin before the Easter Vigil Mass.
The potatoes peeled and cut, placed in the big pot and covered with cold water. Carrots, green beans readied for the boil tomorrow. You can’t save all this for the morning; you will never be done in time to place it all, hot, on the table, an offering to the family.
The Easter Vigil candles glow brightly as the flame moves from person to person through the church. As the flame draws near, she closes her eyes for a moment. Wordlessly prays. She touches her unlit candle to the lit one being offered by the person nearest her in the crowded pew. She passes the flame along.
The world is lit and she, for that moment, believes in the light. Lives in the light, is enveloped. Consumed. She exhales, ecstatic. She lives.
Before bed, she kneads a yeasty dough for rolls and leaves them to rise in the warmest place in the kitchen. Now shut the light, remove the Easter dress worn to the Easter Vigil and hang it up for tomorrow. Sleep.