Marvin Shipley Quotes in The Stone Angel
It’s better to know, but disappointing, too. I wonder now if I really want to fling this door wide. I do and don’t. Perhaps the thing inside will prove more terrible even than one’s imaginings.
Meantime, Doris feels it behooves her to bolster Marvin.
“It’s just as Marv says—the doctor says you’d be much better off—”
“Oh, stow it,” Marvin says, all of a sudden. “If you don’t want to go there, Mother, you don’t need to.”
“Well, I like that!” Doris is outraged. “And who’ll do the laundry, I’d like to know? You, I suppose?”
“I don’t know what in hell I’m supposed to do,” Marvin says. “I’m caught between two fires.”
A Rest Room had recently been established in the town. I’d never been inside it, not fancying public conveniences. But I told John to let me off there that night. One room it was, with brown wainscoting and half a dozen straight chairs, and the two toilet cubicles beyond. No one was there. I made sure of that before I entered. I went in and found what I needed, a mirror. I stood for a long time, looking, wondering how a person could change so much and never see it. So gradually it happens.
I was wearing, I saw, a man’s black overcoat that Marvin had left. It was too big for John and impossibly small for Bram. It still had a lot of wear left in it, so I’d taken it. The coat bunched and pulled up in front, for I’d put weight on my hips, and my stomach had never gone flat again after John was born. Twined around my neck was a knitted scarf, hairy and navy blue, that Bram’s daughter Gladys had given me one Christmas. On my head a brown tarn was pulled down to keep my ears warm. My hair was gray and straight. I always cut it myself. The face— a brown and leathery face that wasn’t mine. Only the eyes were mine, staring as though to pierce the lying glass and get beneath to some truer image, infinitely distant.
[The nurse] put a well-meaning arm around me. “Cry. Let yourself. It’s the best thing.” But I shoved her arm away. I straightened my spine, and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life, to stand straight then. I wouldn’t cry in front of strangers, whatever it cost me.
But when at last I was home, alone in Marvin’s old bedroom, and women from the town were sitting in the kitchen below and brewing coffee, I found my tears had been locked too long and wouldn’t come now at my bidding. The night my son died I was transformed to stone and never wept at all. When the ministering women handed me the cup of hot coffee, they murmured how well I was taking it, and I could only look at them dry eyed from a great distance and not say a single word. All the night long, I only had one thought—I’d had so many things to say to him, so many things to put to rights. He hadn’t waited to hear.
I guess they thought it odd, some of the Manawaka people did, that after the funeral service was over I wouldn’t go out to the cemetery. I didn’t want to see where he was put, close by his father and close by mine, under the double-named stone where the marble angel crookedly stood.
What could I possibly tell her, I wonder, that could do her any good? She knows a lot more than I did when I married. Or maybe she doesn’t, really, but who’s to tell her? I haven’t a word to send her, my granddaughter. Instead, I tug at my right hand, pull and shake, and finally wrench off the ring.
“Send her this, Doris, will you? It was my mother’s sapphire. I’d like Tina to have it.”
Doris gasps. “Are you—are you sure you really want to, Mother?”
Something in her eyes saddens me, makes me want to turn away.
“Of course I’m sure. What use is it to me? I should’ve given it to you, I suppose, years ago. I could never bear to part with it. Stupid. Too bad you never had it. I don’t want it now. Send it to Tina.”
“Mother—” Marvin has a very loud voice sometimes. “Are you sure?”
Speechlessly I nod. Why all this fuss? In another moment I’ll take the wretched thing back, to shut them up. Doris pops it in her purse, as if she’s been thinking the same thing.
“If I’ve been crabby with you, sometimes, these past years,” he says in a low voice, “I didn’t mean it.” I stare at him. Then, quite unexpectedly, he reaches for my hand and holds it tightly. Now it seems to me he is truly Jacob, gripping with all his strength, and bargaining. I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And I see I am thus strangely cast, and perhaps have been so from the beginning, and can only release myself by releasing him. It’s in my mind to ask his pardon, but that’s not what he wants from me.
“You’ve not been cranky, Marvin. You’ve been good to me, always. A better son than John.”
The dead don’t bear a grudge nor seek a blessing. The dead don’t rest uneasy. Only the living. Marvin, looking at me from anxious elderly eyes, believes me. It doesn’t occur to him that a person in my place would ever lie.
As he goes out, I hear the nurse speaking to him in the corridor. “She’s got an amazing constitution, your mother. One of those hearts that just keeps on working, whatever else is gone.”
A pause, and then Marvin replies. “She’s a holy terror,” he says.
Listening, I feel like it is more than I could now reasonably have expected out of life, for he has spoken with such anger and such tenderness.