The Marriage of Opposites

Page 18


The night was hot and long. I drank rum punch until I was dizzy. As the evening was ending my mother took me aside. After all these years of disapproval and silence, she suddenly wanted to begin an intimate conversation concerning what went on between a husband and wife. I suppose she thought it was her obligation to do so.
“You may not like your husband’s desires, but it is your duty to fulfill them, and in the end you’ll become used to him. Do not fight him, and do not think he means to murder you when he takes you in his arms.”
I nearly laughed out loud. “Thank you,” I said, “but you don’t need to say any more. My husband will instruct me.”
My mother gazed at me, eyes narrowed. “You’re very sure of yourself.”
Perhaps she thought I was experienced in matters of a physical nature. In fact, I wasn’t, which was why I’d had so much rum. A carriage took us away. Usually a bride’s carriage would be decorated with ribbons and flowers, but in deference to the first Madame Petit, ours was plain. The black carriage horse was the same one that had brought her coffin to the cemetery. I went upstairs, relieved to take off my wedding clothes. Most people avoided a summer wedding, and now I understood why. It was too hot for the heavy clothes one had to wear for such an occasion. I was relieved to be in my muslin undergarments, barefoot, my hair freed from the tight plaits that Adelle had decorated with pearls. The little beads scattered onto the floor, and they sounded like falling rain. Though I had never spent the night here before, I had the sense of being at home. I peered into the nursery to watch Hannah sleep, then went to look in on the boys. True enough, bats were perched on the window ledge. In the morning I would instruct Rosalie on how to place sharp shells and bits of broken glass along the casements to keep these creatures away. For now, I merely opened the window and shook a handkerchief until the night creatures flew to the treetops.
When I turned, Monsieur Petit was there.
I cared nothing for love, yet I was terrified of all I was yet to learn about my husband’s desires. My mother had frightened me with her instructions.
“We are married,” my husband reminded me.
I said I knew.
“What else do you know?” He was gazing at me in a way he hadn’t before.
“Nothing,” I admitted.
I thought of Jestine and Aaron and the way they were drawn to one another, even when they didn’t wish to be. When I’d asked Jestine to teach me all she knew about love, she’d declined. “If I told you, it would all sound silly or ugly, but when it’s you it will be different. You have to learn for yourself.”
Monsieur Petit brought me to bed and taught me what people did in the dark. He undressed me and I let him, though I had it in my head that I could escape into the baby’s room at any time, turn the key, and sleep on the floor. Monsieur put his hands on me and I let him do so. He told me he wouldn’t hurt me, but everywhere he touched me I began to burn. He moved away from me to ask if I was all right. I nodded and waited for what came next. I found myself to be a bit disappointed. I’d had certain expectations, and Monsieur Petit didn’t act in the manner I’d expected. I’d heard women in the market say that a man would become a beast of sorts, a slave to his desires. Certainly my mother had prepared me for some sort of violence, which in a way interested me. I thought of Perrault’s story of Bluebeard, who’d had so many wives, each one mad for him despite the ill treatment they received.
Monsieur Petit, however, was quiet, possessing a tenderness I hadn’t anticipated. He didn’t rush anything between us, merely held me to him. I could feel the way he wanted me, and that was curious to me. It wasn’t love, but he seemed to possess a sort of passion for me, perhaps a hunger he’d had since his wife had been gone. He had one hand on the small of my back. The other hand slipped between my legs. Who was I that I wanted this? I felt the heat spread out inside of me in a way I didn’t understand. I could not think clearly. I believed I saw a shadow in the velvet chair against the wall. I could have sworn I heard a sigh from that area as well. A single breath. I moved away from Monsieur Petit and gazed in that direction. I had the sense that we were being watched, although aside from the two of us, the chamber appeared empty.
“Is something wrong?” my husband asked me.
I shook my head and closed my eyes. If the first Madame Petit was with us, that was her right, but it was also my right to ignore her. Before long it seemed I had drifted out of my body, as if my spirit was flitting above us. I could watch myself on the bed below. I was inside a dream, but I could feel a stab of heat inside me. Perhaps I was shivering, as if I had flown away with the moth outside the window of my bedchamber, a place where I would never sleep again.