The Julius House


Chapter Six



LATELY I'D been feeling as if I were in one of those movies where calendar pages fly off the wall to indicate the passage of time. Events and preparations made the time blur. Only a few things stood out clearly when I thought about it later.

The night we were riding home from the barbecue Amina's parents held for us, out at their lake house, Martin finally told me where we were going on our honeymoon. He had asked what I wanted, and I had told him to surprise me. I had half-expected the Caymans, or perhaps a Caribbean cruise. "I wanted you to have a choice, so I've made initial preparations for two things," he began, as the Mercedes purred down the dreadful blacktop that led to the state highway back into town. I leaned back against the seat, full of anticipation and barbecued pork.

"We can either go to Washington for two weeks, and do the Smithsonian right."

I breathed out a sigh of delight.

"Or we can go to England."

I was stunned. "Oh, Martin. But is there really something - I mean, both of those are things you would enjoy too?"

"Sure. I've been to the Washington area many times, but I've never had time to see the Smithsonian. And if you pick England, we can go on a walking tour of famous murder sites in London, if you'll come with me to get some suits made on Savile Row, or as close to Savile Row as I can man-age." "How can I pick?" I chewed on my bottom lip in happy agony. "Oh... England! I just can't wait! Martin, what a great idea!"

He was smiling one of his rare broad smiles. "I picked the right things, then." "Yes! I thought for sure we'd be going to some island to lie on gritty sand and get all salty!"

He laughed out loud. "Maybe we can do that sometime, too. But I wanted you to have a really good time, and a beach honeymoon just didn't sound like you." Once again, Martin had surprised me with his perception. If we'd sat down and consulted on it, I would never have thought of suggesting England (going farther than the Caribbean had never crossed my mind), and if I had, I would have dismissed the idea as something that wouldn't have appealed to Martin. We had an absolutely wonderful time after we got to the townhouse.

Another moment I remembered afterward was Amina's introduction to Martin. I was very excited about her meeting him and attributed her unusual silence thereafter to the bouts of nausea she was still experiencing. Amina, who had always been happily unconscious of her good health, was having a hard time adjusting to the new limits and discomforts her pregnancy was imposing on her. Her hair was hanging limply instead of bouncing and glowing, her skin was spotty, her ankles were swelling if she sat still for more than a short time, and she seemed to alternate nausea with heartburn. But every time she thought about the baby actually arriving, she was happy as a clam at high tide. So at first I thought it was just feeling demoralized about her appearance that made Amina uncharacteristically silent. Finally, unwisely, I asked her directly what she thought about Martin.

"I know I'm not my normal self right now, but I'm not crazy, either," Amina began. I got that ominous feeling, the one you get when you know you're about to get very angry and it's your own fault. We were standing out in the front yard of the Julius house, which was beginning to look as my imagination had pictured it when I had first seen it. John Henry's legs, in their plumbers' overalls, were protruding from the crawl space under the house, a young black man was trimming the foundation bushes, and the Youngbloods were doing a strange Asian thing on the broad driveway in front of the garage. It was some kind of martial ballet alternating sudden kicks and screams with hissing breathing and slow graceful movements. Amina watched them for a moment and shook her head in disbelief. "Honey," she said, looking directly into my eyes, "who are those people?"

"I told you, Amina," I said, "Shelby is an old army buddy of Martin's, and he

lost his job in Florida - "

"Cut the crap."

I gaped at my best friend.

"What job? Where, exactly? Doing what? And what does she do? Does she look like Hannah Housewife to you?"

"Well, maybe they're not exactly like the people we know..." "Damn straight! Hugh said they looked more like people the criminal-law side of his firm would defend!"

Bringing in Hugh, her husband, was a mistake, Amina realized instantly. "Okay, okay," she said, holding up her hands, "truce. But listen, honey, those people seem very strange to me. Martin wanting them to live out here with you all - I don't know, it just looks . .. funny."

"Be a little more specific, Amina," I said very stiffly. "Funny? How?" Amina shifted from foot to uncomfortable foot. "Could we sit down?" she asked plaintively. I recognized a delaying tactic, but she really was tired. I pushed a folding lawn chair in her direction. I pulled over one for myself. Martin and I had been sitting out on the lawn the evening before, looking at the house and talking about our plans.

"I shouldn't have started this," Amina muttered to herself and tried to arrange her altering body in the light aluminum-frame chair. "I'm just worried about you," she said directly. "If Martin was a regular guy in a regular job who came home every night, I'd like him fine. And I do like him as he is, because he obviously thinks you're the greatest thing since sliced bread. But he's gone so much, he works so hard, such long hours. Why does he have to be out of town so much? Plant managers are supposed to stay at the plant, right? And these Youngbloods." She shook her head.

"Amina, stop."

"Your mom's worried, too." She was crying.

The Youngbloods had finished their strange ritual and were doing some kind of exercise in which they faced each other, squatted, and whacked each other's arms.

My mother, I reflected, had been smart enough not to say anything.

To tell the truth, this conversation shook me.

I handed Amina a Kleenex from my shoulder bag.

"I'm just scared that - it almost looks like you'll be their prisoner."

"Amina, I think you need to go lie down," I said, after a little silence.

"Don't patronize me! I may be pregnant but I'm not stupid."

"Then you'll believe me when I say that I don't want to hear any more of this." We each stared off angrily in opposite directions, composing ourselves, trying to be friends again.

It took a few days.

The ceremony itself was brief and beautiful. Lawrencetonians filled up my side of the church and half the rows on Martin's. Being older, and having moved so many times, Martin had not invited many people, and those who came were business associates from Pan-Am Agra, a few old friends from Ohio, and his sister Barbara. I had some sympathy for Barby since I'd learned more of her history while I was in Corinth, but still I knew she would never become my favorite person or my confidante. (She brought her daughter, a sophomore at Kent State, a pretty, dark, plump, young woman named Regina. Regina was not blessed with many brains and asked far too often why her cousin Barrett hadn't come to see his dad get married.)

So St. James Episcopal Church was full, Emily Kaye played the organ beautifully, my mother walked down the aisle with the dignity that was her trademark, Martin appeared from Aubrey's study with John at his side - Martin looked absolutely delicious in his tux - and Amina went down the aisle in her full-skirted dress that fairly well concealed her pregnancy. Then it was my turn. My father and his wife had finally decided to come, pretty much at the last minute; you can imagine how their lack of enthusiasm made me feel. And then they'd left my brother Phillip with some friends in California. My crushing disappointment had permanently altered the way I felt about my father.

I am no apple-cart upsetter. I am no flouter of tradition. And I am not a person who likes last-minute changes in plans. But when my father had arrived, I had told him I wanted to walk down the aisle by myself. My mother drew in a sharp breath, opened her mouth to say something, then looked at me and shut it. And I didn't explain my decision to Father, or wait for his reaction, or tell him not to get his feelings hurt. And Betty Jo had no say at all. So Father and Betty Jo had walked in before Mother.

That's why I came down the aisle by myself when Emily began playing the music I'd waited so many years to hear. I'd had my hair put up, I was wearing the earrings Martin had given me the night before we'd gotten engaged, I was wearing full bride regalia. I felt like the Homecoming Queen, Miss America, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a Tony Award nominee, all rolled into one. And we got married.

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