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The Widow Silver’s home was the last ramshackle cottage on the path that Patience strolled to the sea. As a girl, walking hand-in-hand with her father to this very beach on Sundays after church, she had wondered what grand views might be possible from the house’s dilapidated dormers. But now, as she watched her betrothed’s sister standing upon the lawn as still as a statue, weathered eyes on the horizon, Patience saw the truth of it: to look upon the ocean was kind of torture for the women of this house. How many widows had been made by that water out there? How many beneath this one roof alone?
“You’re lucky,” the sister told her, as they made ready the yard for that evening’s reception, “that Silas fears the sea.”
“I’m lucky,” said Patience, “that my father owns every cranberry bog between here and Buzzard’s Bay.”
Silas’ sister took hold of Patience by the wrist then, and looked her straight in the eye. “You are a fine woman,” she said. “My brother is lucky to have you.”
But that night, waiting beneath the covers of her marriage bed for her husband to return from his labors at the hearth below, she wondered if he’d have her before she fell to sleep. Her foot tapping against the mattress in rhythm with her impatient heart, she longed to be had, to be known.
Patience knew that he’d known at least one girl before her, had caught them canoodling in a carriage abandoned by one of her father’s bogs, but she tried her best not to dwell on their abominable ardor. The Kissing Cousins is what every person in the town had called them, mongers of fish and rumors alike, but Patience took Silas at his word that he had repented those sins. Even though she had seen the look in his eye as he marched down the steps of the town hall holding hands with that half-Irish whore, even though she had listened to them laugh as they tried to steal from one another the piece of paper that announced them as officially intended, Patience took the words of her husband as the Bible truth. She had to, didn’t she? If she closed her eyes, she could see him kneeling in the cold mud outside Charleston, confessing to the chaplain as men moaned in pain around him, as men died in the days between battles. If only she would close her eyes.
But she didn’t want to, not anymore. Instead, she reached for his nightstand and plucked from it the tome that he’d left there. In the candle light, as she read the spine, the deckled edges of the pages tickled her fingers. And though it should have made her smile that he had a taste for at least one fine thing in life — and it would make her father smile when she told him — Patience frowned. She leafed through the book until she found the scrap of leather he’d left to mark his place, then frown turned to scowl.
Book in hand, she stormed from the room and made for the stairs.
“My love?” called Silas from below, something clattering to the floor as he spoke, as Patience stomped down toward him.
She found him standing by the now roaring fire, a bottle of wine in hand.
“Where did you get that?” Patience asked.
“My cousin Patrick liberated it from the priest’s pantry,” he said. “I was a bit nervous before the ceremony.”
Patience looked to the floor to keep from looking at him and saw there a wooden cup rolling across the hearth, the blood of Christ spilt out behind it.
“I,” he stuttered, “was a bit nervous just now, too.”
“Nervous?” she said, as she watched the cup roll into the flames.
Silas stepped toward her then and set his hands upon her shoulders. “Can you not understand?” he said. “You are a beauty, my — ”
“Don’t patronize me,” she said, shrugging him off as she clutched his book to her chest.
“Oh,” said Silas, the cloying tone upon his gravelly voice like a derelict dressed for tea. “My love, I’m sorry to have tried your patience.”
She growled at him and paid him for his pun with a sharp thwack of book on shoulder. And then another. And another. “I am no shrew to be tamed,” she said as she shook the book at him, as he grabbed her by the wrists.
“Are you not?” he said, smirking at her, delight twisting upward the corners of his lips.
Patience thought of her father then, as she struggled to break free of her husband’s grasp. She thought of her father putting her to bed when she was a girl, of what he told her as he pulled the nightgown down over her body, as she held her hair aside and waited for him to lace up the back. “What is wanted,” he said, “must be taken.”
And so she kicked the bottom of her bare foot at her husband’s shin. And as he fell to his knees, hollering in pain, she swung his book at him one last time, driving it into the back of his head. Silas collapsed to the floor, a hand clutching at the spot where she’d hit him, and he whimpered. “Why?” he said. “Why?”
Patience straddled him, pushing him onto his back as she pushed his night shirt up and away from his loins.
“Patience,” he said, as she tugged at him. “Patience, I am not — ”
“This part of you,” she said, as she mounted him, “begs to differ.”
When it was over, she staggered to her feet and leaned against the fireplace, the heat a balm for the places that ached now. On the floor, Silas sat up and tugged at the hem of his shirt to cover himself. “The wait,” he said, “would not have been much longer.”
But Patience was not listening to him. She was staring at the book that lay discarded now upon the floor, its pages soaking up the spilt wine. “I saw her perform once,” said Patience, absentmindedly. “Your beloved.”
“She was not my — ”
“Your beloved,” spat Patience, balling up the hem of her gown to sponge away what Silas had left behind. “During the war, Father took me to the city to see a show.”
“Which play?” said Silas.
“That one,” she said, nodding at the book. “This one,” she said. “The one you’re playing at now.”
“I’m not playing — ”
“And she was exquisite,” said Patience. “Far too good to be begging on the Common with a soliloquy.”
“What?” said Silas, crestfallen. “I thought you said — ”
“Oh,” said Patience, with a laugh, “we went to see a show, but she was no part of it. Oh, no, no, no. The footlights of Scollay Square were not calling for your lady fair. Nor for anyone of her ilk.”
She watched with satisfaction as her husband ducked his head in shame. But when he told her that she was just as cruel as advertised, she scowled.
“As advertised by who?” she said, watching as he rose from the floor, as he rose to his full height.
“By you,” he said, looking down on her now. “By your lack of a suitor, by that sneer you call a smile. And,” he said, grabbing hold of her chin and yanking it upward, “by the size of the purse your father paid me to take your damaged goods off his hands.”
Patience slapped his hand away. “Why, I never — ”
“And he never!” said Silas, seething. “And if a man of his particular passions is never going to take what he — ”
“What are you implying?” said Patience.
“Not implying,” said Silas, shaking his head as he made his way toward the stairs. “Telling. I am telling you that you are as bound to me as I am bound to you. And if misery is the chain you wish to shackle us together, so be it. I am already familiar with that weight. I can bear it,” he said, plucking his book from the puddle. “Can you?”
And with that, with those words and a smirk for good measure, he took his leave of her, leaving it to Patience to decide if she would be tamed, if she could be, if should be, after all.
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