I Wept for the Women of the World
I Wept for the Women of the World
I stand and face the picture window while gazing out at the lotus pond. Morning sunlight bathes me in glowing radiance. As I look around in the mirror I see myself in my nightgown, illuminated. I feel pure and angelic. It is as though I am transformed by the light into a spirit, free from hunger, pain, or sorrow.
The soft breeze blows from the ceiling fan and rustles my gown with the cotton fabric tickling my soft skin. My bare feet on the wooden floor tingle with pleasure. I wonder where my husband is. However, I am glad to be alone at this moment. His presence isn’t needed or desired at this time.
I watch the light fill the pond with golden sparkles as the sun rises over it. Looking across the pond I see the pagoda soaring up to heaven like a steeple. It is funny how I associate the pagoda with a steeple. Perhaps they both have phallic connotations with me even though of different cultures. I like the pagoda better than a steeple though. It is more elegant and graceful with its curled corners sticking out. Steeples look so aggressive and male. I can imagine the pagoda as a strong graceful woman with delicate hands. The sun is now a swollen mass of flame suspended above the pagoda. I feel the tropical heat penetrate my gown and filling me with a heavy hunger.
I step out the side door and onto the porch hanging over the pond. I stand immersed in the moist air feeling the heat and humidity. Soon I am drenched in sweat. I lie in a hammock suspended between two columns on the porch. I hear the sad, plaintive singing of the Vietnamese women as they row across the pond gathering lotus blooms. They look like little fairies as they float across the water in their tiny skiffs.
Soon the light fades and I feel so far away. I am back in France. It is night and I float on my back in a lily pond. I gaze up at the stars and there are thousands of them. I feel the leaves of the lilies brush against my skin. The water is cool and refreshing. Then I feel the hands. They grasp me holding me suspended in the water. I look to my side and four women rise from the water. They look Asian. Their wet black hair glistens in the starlight. One holds my head in her palms gazing down at me with glazed eyes and look of extreme tenderness.
I feel deep peace. I am like a child in the womb once more. The woman looking down at me effuses love and gentleness. I feel that no one, not even my husband, can trespass upon me in this place. This is a sanctuary where I am inviolate. I vow that I will never let my husband desecrate this sacred place.
Then I feel my body shift. The women fade into the blazing sunlight. Slowly my eyes flutter open. I am back on the porch. My husband stands over me looking down. I feel intruded upon. I ask him, “Weren’t you supposed to be taking Thuy out to lunch today?”
He says, “Oh well, he couldn’t make it. Said he was tied up at home. I think he’s having marital problems and wouldn’t be surprised if they divorced soon.”
I reply, “Oh no André. They’re both strong Catholics. Divorce would be out of the question.”
André touches my forehead. He says, “Francine, you’ve had too much sun. Why don’t you let me fix you a cup of iced tea?”
I look up at him plaintively and say, “Yes, I guess so.”
I rise from the hammock and the magic has disappeared. Now I am back to being Francine, André’s adoringly demure wife. We sit in the kitchen sipping tea. A drop catches in my throat and I begin coughing. André says, “You should drink more slowly.”
I nod. André goes out to the front porch and sits in a chair reading the paper. I fix him croissants and Swiss cheese in the kitchen. I fix some iced coffee, his favorite. As I raise the pot to pour the iced coffee, I feel a twinge of anxiety race through my body. The pot slips from my hand and shatters on the floor. André walks in and looks down at the ice cubes and coffee glowering. I laugh and say, “I always was such a klutz.”
He laughs too and says, “Yes well, I guess that’s par for the course.”
I frown. He says, “Oh, don’t worry. I can get some coffee at the office. I’m really in a hurry to get back. Do you need any help cleaning up?”
I smile and say, “No, of course not.”
He kisses me lightly on the cheek and steps out. I pick up the ice cubes one by one and place them in the sink. Then I slowly wipe up the remains of the mess I have made and mop the floor. It is funny. I have done so little work but feel drained. Really I am more emotionally drained. I want to return to the lily pond.
I walk back out onto the porch and the lotus gatherers have gone in during the heat of the day. The pagoda shimmers in heatwaves. I lie under the fan in the living room. It is so hot I pour a cold bath. I lie in the water feeling the coolness invade the pores of my skin. My body once more feels alive and vibrant. After a couple of hours, the sun begins to sink over the western end of the house.
I look out over the shacks of the city. I gaze across the river on the other side of our house. I see a woman bathing her baby in the water across the opening through the trees. She looks so content. I have never had a child. I wonder what it would be like to have a child suckling at my breast.
My husband says Vietnam is no place to raise a child. They wouldn’t be acculturated properly he says. He wants to wait until we get back to France. Besides there are revolutionaries out in the jungle fighting we French. It wouldn’t be responsible he says to bring a child into such a place. Therefore, we use the rhythm method of birth control. This leaves me unsatisfied a lot of the time. But it is what he wants. Who am I to question?
I remember how André and I met at a cafe in the left bank of Paris. He was a political science major at the Sorbonne. I was an art student at a small college. He didn’t say a word about politics.
That night we made love to the music of Billie Holiday playing on the radio. She poured her blues for us like a barmaid serving whiskey on the rocks. Her moan lingered until the last song climaxed as did I.
The radio announcer said, “It is 7:00 a.m., time to get up and face another day in this crazy world.”
He raced to the shower, threw on clothes and ran for the subway. Before he left he said, “Got to make a presentation today. How do I look?”
I said, “Like you’ve been fucking all night.”
He laughed and said, “Well, what do I care? Maybe it will add zest to my presentation.”
I said, “Yes well, try to stay focused on the subject.”
As he adjusted his tie, he said, “Somehow my hearts not in this politics stuff. Maybe I should drop out of my indoctrination into the grey suit collective and get a degree in Catalonian art.”
I said, “Just what I need another horny college student following me around.” He blew me a kiss as he closed the door.
My mind is summoned back to the present as worry surfaces through the bliss of my recollections. Night has come and my husband is still out somewhere in the city. I am not particularly concerned. However, not knowing when he might pop up and infringe on my solitude makes me a little antsy. I stand out on the porch looking out at the night stars. They are dazzling. The star fields spread across the sky in a carpet of tiny flames.
As I stand out there I hear footsteps. I look across the porch and see a slender Vietnamese woman walk up the stairs in a traditional green silken dress. The gas lantern hanging from the beam on the porch illuminates her elfin features. Her eyes are tiny ovals and her cheekbones angular. Her hair hangs down to her waist. She walks up to me. She stands by me on the porch gazing out at the sea of stars. She looks up at me and says, “Please missus. I need get away.”
I look at her and ask, “Why?”
She says, “Child die in birth. Husband blame me. He try to kill me.”
I say, “Oh my God. Did you call the police?”
She says, “No! Police not help!”
I lead her into the kitchen and give her some cheese and toast. Her eyes dart around fearfully. I hold her shaking hand as she sits across the table from me. I say, “Please, come take a warm bath. You’ll feel much better.”
I lead her into the bathroom and go back to the kitchen and make a cup of tea. I hear her running the water. I hear her moan fearfully. I run into the bathroom and see her lying in the tub with the water red with blood. I say, “You need to see a doctor.”
She says, “I afraid.”
I call a doctor over. He comes to the house. He says that there is nothing they can do for her. She might live or die. It is up to God. I thank him and he leaves. That night she and I lay in the hammock together. I hold her stroking her head as she falls asleep. Soon the swaying of the hammock and her warm body nestled against me lull me to sleep.
In my dream, I am floating underwater in a warm sea filled with kelp, multicolored fish, and surrounded by beautiful pink coral. Mermaids swim by brushing against me with their long green tails, their breasts creamy, and nipples pink like the coral. One mermaid looks like the woman I hold in my arms. She gazes at me smiling as she swims by. She grasps my hands and we swim around each other in circles in an aquatic dance of life. I see the sparkle in her eyes. She looks deliriously happy. I laugh and tiny bubbles rise from my lips. I feel out of breath and she fills my lungs with air from her mouth. Suddenly I feel her arms begin to stiffen as she grasps me. I feel her slip from my grasp. The sea begins to shake as though there is some maritime earthquake deep in the bowels of the planet. I see her float away sinking into a dark trench.
I awaken and her body is still in my arms. She has a tiny smile on her face. Her blood covers me. I kiss her forehead lightly. Then I pick up her lifeless body. I walk out into the lotus pond carrying her and let her float gently in my arms. I stand there up to my waist in the water holding her as she floats. Tears begin to well in my eyes as I hold her body, so stiff and cold, looking into her empty eyes.
I weep for all the women of the world. I weep for this sister who has died unloved by the man she conceived with. My tears fall into the pond like slow sad rain. I carry her out of the pond and lay her in the grass. I stand while gazing at her with my mind whirling with a storm of emotions. Pent of anger, fear, and pain surge through me.
I get a mortared brick from the side of the house and tie it to her legs. I pick her up and drop her into the water over the porch. Then I throw the brick in. Her body sinks into the depths her pain vanquished in this final liberation. I watch her long silken hair swirl into the dark waters the last I see of her as she vanishes.
I go to bed covered in her blood. My husband comes home at midnight. He says he had got caught up with backlogged paperwork. I believe him. He asks me how I got covered in blood. I tell him I had my period. I lie, “You know that means I can’t conceive right now. We can have intercourse without me getting pregnant.”
He says, “I can’t do it during your period. I’m sorry.”
I say, “What’s the matter do you find menstrual blood repulsive?”
He replies, “Oh come on darling, you know that’s not true.”
If he can’t give me affection at least he can give me a baby I think. But he cannot even give that. I don’t feel at all guilty about lying to him about my menstrual period. I kiss him. For the first time since we dated he surrenders to me. My fib is exposed.
I think that sometimes babies can bring couples back together. But that would be a very selfish reason to bring a child into the world. I know I am doing this because being a mother is so important to me. I have always wanted to raise a child and watch it grow.
Perhaps with a child, he would learn what it means to give of yourself, to sacrifice your needs for another. This is only part of the reason I decide to conceive. Most of all I want to love and nurture a child. I feel ready to be a mother. It will be rewarding beyond measure and also the hardest work I have ever taken on.
I only hope he can love the child as selflessly as me. I have faith in him. I can see the shadow of the person he could have become. Vaguely I can see the outline of the stranger within him. Deep in his soul I know there is a young man, trapped in false security through remoteness and self-absorption. I will orchestrate his resurrection with the indomitable power women exert over their men.