Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts

Saving Face

by Gailmarie Pahmeier


Nearly 35 years from today

she’ll be asleep on a Sunday morning,

her second husband spooned against her,

the two cats cornered at the bottom

of the bed.  She’ll rise to the ring

of the telephone, shuffle through the hall

to the kitchen, leave the man, a carpenter

she’s loved for years, loved from the day she knew

he could build her this house, its open spaces

and secrets (her name carved into a truss,

their own hand prints pushed into stucco),

she’ll leave this man to sleep in.  When she picks

up the telephone, it’s her mother’s voice,

coming to her from a little brick house

in the hometown she left decades ago,

and she’ll hear that house in her mother’s breath,

see its tidy lawn and tomato plants,

the rose trellis and the chain link fence,

the blind poodle, the fireflies, mosquitoes.

Her mother will say–Oh, honey.  It’s bad

news.  Laura Thompson has shot herself

through the heart, has saved her face, she’s gone,

gone, she’s done such a sad and common thing.

This news will take its clear and careful time

to bring her down, but she will on that Sunday

morning go back to bed, back to the man

who loves her, his uncovered chest a mat

of black and grey, and she’ll think of the wolf

come to blow a house down, and then she’ll sleep

awhile, rise again, make coffee, break eggs.

But on this very day in 1969,

she and Laura Thompson ride a tandem

bike through neighborhoods they’ll never live in.

Both she and Laura have boyfriends,

thirteen year olds with substantial Greek

names and the town’s fullest promise.  She and Laura

wear their heavy ID bracelets, talk of how

when they marry these boys they’ll have porch lights

and horses, barns and patios, gardens

with statues, welcome mats at both screen doors.

And on this day Laura laughs from the front

seat of the bike, turns her soon to be

heartbreakingly beautiful face, says

Look!  Look at that one!  The people

in that house could be happy forever

as she pedals them farther and faster

through tall grass, toward deep woods, and into stone.