I should clarify "wife." Well, no. Wife is unequivocal, and wife is what she is to me, in the full meaning of the word. To love and to cherish, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, et cetera, et cetera - though no one has ever said as much, in so many words. Nevertheless, my lawful wedded wife she is, or so she claims. And who am I to doubt her? I love her, and what do I care for the lawfulness of it, anyway?
Still, like Uncle Pers, I sometimes choke on the word. Not that Kate's an inadequate wife; far from it. She's a beautiful woman, though you might not notice that at first, because her beauty isn't conspicuous but rather part of a complex mix of female vitality. It's one of the qualities I might check off, in a stunned, disbelieving assessment of my good fortune: beauty, intelligence, grace, lust, kindness, humor, good education, good prospects, good family - good enough, anyway, to harbor serious reservations about her husband.
Or maybe I'm taking their reservations too personally. After all, they do seem to like me. Probably they're just disoriented, as I am, by the timing, the suddenness of this marriage. Wife and husband, husband and wife. Kate and I have no common history to support the solid weight and implications of these words. They are just difficult words to pronounce, when you haven't had a chance to get used to them, when there's no background behind them, no foundation beneath.
Even from his sickbed - that is, his deathbed - Pers saw this at once, and took advantage of it. It's as if he got one look at us, husband and wife, and said: "So - you have no history; I'll make you historians. You are living in the present; I'll transport you to the past. You have no story of your own; I'll give you mine."
Reprinted from The Road Builder by Nicholas Hershenow by permission of Blue Hen, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Nicholas Hershenow. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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