Excerpt of The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
(Page 3 of 4)
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I did occasionally, though, play out imaginary sessions with Dr. Ilg in my
head. I would tell her about my father, and, grunting, she would write it down
on a little padwhich is all she ever seemed to do. I pictured her bird as a
dazzling white cockatoo perched on the back of her chair, belting out all sorts
of flagrant opinions, repeating itself like a Greek chorus: "You blame yourself,
you blame yourself, you blame yourself."
Not long agoI dont know what possessed me to do itId told Hugh about
these make-believe sessions with Dr. Ilg, even about the bird, and hed smiled.
"Maybe you should just see the bird," he said. "Your Dr. Ilg sounds like an
Now, across the room, Hugh was listening to the person on the phone,
muttering, "Uh-huh, uh-huh." His face had clamped down into what Dee called "the
Big Frown," that pinched expression of grave and intense listening in which you
could almost see the various pistons in his brainFreud, Jung, Adler, Horney,
Winnicottbobbing up and down.
Wind lapped over the roof, and I heard the house begin to singas it
routinely didwith an operatic voice that was very Beverly "Shrill," as we liked
to say. There were also doors that refused to close, ancient toilets that would
suddenly decline to flush ("The toilets have gone anal-retentive again!" Dee
would shout), and I had to keep constant vigilance to prevent Hugh from
exterminating the flying squirrels that lived in the fireplace in his study. If
we ever got a divorce, he loved to joke, it would be about squirrels.
But I loved all of this; I truly did. It was only the basement floods and the
winter drafts that I hated. And now, with Dee in her first year at Vanderbilt,
the emptinessI hated that.
Hugh was hunched on his side of the bed, his elbows balanced on his knees and
the top two knobs of his spine visible through his pajamas. He said, "You
realize this is a serious situation, dont you? She needs to see someoneI mean,
an actual psychiatrist."
I felt sure then it was a resident at the hospital, though it did seem Hugh
was talking down to him, and that was not like Hugh.
Through the window the neighborhood looked drowned, as if the housessome as
big as arksmight lift off their foundations and float down the street. I hated
the thought of slogging out into this mess, but of course I would. I would drive
to Sacred Heart of Mary over on Peachtree and get my forehead swiped with ashes.
When Dee was small, shed mistakenly called the church the " Scared Heart of
Mary." The two of us still referred to it that way sometimes, and it occurred to
me now how apt the name really was. I mean, if Mary was still around, like so
many people thought, including my insatiably Catholic mother, maybe her heart
was scared. Maybe it was because she was on such a high and impossible
pedestalConsummate Mother, Good Wife, All-Around Paragon of Perfect Womanhood.
She was probably up there peering over the side, wishing for a ladder, a
parachute, something to get her down from there.
I hadnt missed going to church on Ash Wednesday since my father had diednot
once. Not even when Dee was a baby and I had to take her with me, stuffing her
into a thick papoose of blankets, armored with pacifiers and bottles of pumped
breast milk. I wondered why Id kept subjecting myself to ityear after year at
the Scared Heart of Mary. The priest with his dreary incantation: "Remember you
are dust, to dust you shall return." The blotch of ash on my forehead.
I only knew I had carried my father this way my whole life.
Hugh was standing now. He said, "Do you want me to tell her?" He looked at
me, and I felt the gathering of dread. I imagined a bright wave of water coming
down the street, rounding the corner where old Mrs. Vandiver had erected a
gazebo too close to her driveway; the wave, not mountainous like a tsunami but a
shimmering hillside sweeping toward me, carrying off the ridiculous gazebo,
mailboxes, doghouses, utility poles, azalea bushes. A clean, ruinous sweep.
From The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. Copyright Sue Monk Kidd.
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