Our friends, the ones who invited us (and only us) to their elopement in Santa Fe, are here from Chicago, and we visit the roof of the Peabody Hotel, looking at the duck quarters, me in my pink-print maternity shift (my favorite) and the green Smith sunglasses that are actually yours but that you’ve given to me, because they look good (you say) and because green is more fun than tortoise (my usual), and I need a little fun, you say (and you are right).
That night, we sit on the porch (that needs rebuilding) and enjoy the cool June air, the perfume of the late spring garden, while you three kick back beers and I drink water, because I am seven months pregnant.
Why do we have a security system and bars on the windows, our friends want to know. That’s how things are in Memphis, we shrug (both of us, you and I, because we are beginning to take root here, despite ourselves). But also, you say, we have two dogs, and most people are scared of dogs, so we don’t really use the alarm system much at all.
On the weekends we load those dogs in your truck and head to Patriot Lake where we throw sticks and tennis balls and walk with our group of vagabond friends, almost none of whom are from Memphis. The truck smells like wet dog and lake mud on the way home, so we roll down all the windows to air things out.
All spring you have worked on the house (my house?), replacing the floor in the kitchen, patching and painting the room that will become the nursery. You cleaned up the yard, organized the garage, got things in order, while I was at an office doing office things.
I go to New York (for business), to Montreal (a wedding), and then we go together to Santa Fe to visit your mother.
While you repair the light in her kitchen and caulk the windows, she teaches me to string beads by hand, one at a time, using a needle to guide the knots until each one is snug against a pearl. She is very precise, your mother.
We do this work in the dusty room adjacent to the sunny studio, at a card table, surrounded by a sea of art and history. She walks me through the family tree, explains that I am the first non-Dutch, non-Catholic mother in your 500 year lineage. She asks if I know what I’m getting myself into.
We finish our projects, a necklace and a bracelet made from coin-shaped freshwater pearls and tiny round jade beads. My feet are starting to swell from sitting so long.
Your mother says, while we are tidying up: You are taking my smartest boy from me. Not the most educated, but the smartest.
The next day we go for a walk in the dry sun, and she shows me Wood-Gormley Elementary School, your neighborhood school when you were growing up.
We could live in Santa Fe, I say on the plane ride home. We could build a house next to your mother’s. We could start the art-and-cooking thing we’ve talked about, like Julie’s Supper Club in San Francisco, only better, and with more art.
When we get back to Memphis my mother (who has staged a stunning recovery) wants to help sew shades for the nursery, wants to know what she can do to help with the baby shower, to get ready for her very first grandchild.
My stepmother takes us to dinner, palms you a $10,000 check on the way home, says it’s contingent upon doing the right thing and getting properly married.
No, you tell her. We are not for sale.