I could say that I don’t know how we did it but that would be disingenuous. We did it because we’re women and women know how to hide their tears, hide their fear and just keep going on.
Min had her moments; you could see it on her face. Clearing a plate and suddenly her facade would change, her cheeks would begin to sag and her eyes blink wildly. Our customers were patting her hand and offering encouragement (I think) but I didn’t see that kindness was helping her.
“Snap out of it,” I hissed at one point, “I need a worker, not a battered wife.”
Min’s face was shattered but for a moment her eyes flashed anger. I turned my back on her; I didn’t want her to see how shattered I was also. But she straightened her spine and kept going.
Usually our customers closed us down as the island fell asleep but this night they wandered out earlier, small hugs and jovial words we didn’t understand following behind them.
“Go home,” I said to Min, “I’ll do as much as I can and then finish tomorrow.”
“Nick is still here.” Min wasn’t looking at me. “He stayed. And so did you.”
“I’m sorry for what I said. Oh Min…”
Finally her face crumbled. “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare apologize. I was brave damn you. I was brave.”
I held her as she cried. And all I could say, my voice breathing into her hair, “You were so brave. I’m so proud of you Min.”
Nick followed us home. We closed the taverna and there he was, leaning casually over by the general store. I opened my mouth to say something but didn’t have anything to say. I know Min saw him but she was silent.
We walked through the small square and to the path that would wind us along to home. I wasn’t used to this kind of distance between us; physically we were apart and emotionally I doubt we could even bridge the differences.
“I used to envy you, ya know.” Min looked at me in surprise. “You were married.” I gave a harsh laugh. “I know logically that Patton was horrible but illogically I still think well at least you had a husband.”
“Why would you envy me Patton?”
“Not Patton: marriage.” I didn’t usually grasp for words but this was hard. I didn’t know if Nick was listening, he was far enough behind that I didn’t think he heard our voices.
“Look around and all you see is couples. Everywhere. Hell, even Shoosh has a Mr. Shoosh. But nobody ever asked me to be his wife. And I hate that. I hate being that woman.”
“You’ve had relationships, you told me so.”
“And not one of them ever got serious enough to want to take that step. Either they weren’t serious about me or I was using them. I just wanted to be able to say that someone liked me enough to want to marry me.”
“And I wish I was brave enough to have walked out before I wasn’t me anymore and became nothin’ but Pat’s wife. Do you know how much I started hatin’ sex with him? It was always done to hurt just a bit. If we went out, he waited till we were where we were goin’ and then he’d say ‘oh honey, wish you’d worn the black dress, your ass doesn’t look quite so big in that one.’ And there I’d be all night worryin’ that people were lookin’ at my ass or thinkin’ that I was ugly.”
“You’re a fucking mess.”
Min stopped and for a moment I thought she was going to cry. Then she gave that marvelous throaty Min laugh. “Well you’re a fucking mess too, darlin’.”
“You’re going Southern on me woman.”
“Shit.” Min started walking again. “Patton spends ten minutes in my life and I’m a good Southern woman again. Fuck that. I like who I am when I’m here. I like who I am when I’m with you Kate.”
“Well you’re the closest thing I got to a spouse so you better like it.”
She moved closer to me and I felt her hand soft against my back. “I always liked to think that you chose to be single. I thought you were the bravest person I knew.”
“Oh hell. Min, I know I’d make a lousy wife. I’m stubborn and mean and I like having my own way too much.”
“You’re just what Patton needed.”
“Hush yo’ mouth woman!” We both snickered. “Seriously, I never wanted to be married. I wanted to have been married.”
“A fine distinction.” Min was silent a moment. “You know, I am married. I really look forward to being unmarried.”
We walked the rest of the way in silence. But it was the most comfortable, companionable silence I’d ever experienced.
We slept on the roof that night. We dragged a mattress up the slick steps and wrapped ourselves in blankets. The stars were each distinct in the sky and we barely spoke, we lay quietly and felt the darkness settle around us.
“Nick’s out there,” Min said in a hushed voice.
“You mean out there in the night?”
“No, by the dovecote. Look.”
I looked and was going to tell Min she was crazy till I saw the green flash of a lit watch. He was out there. I lay back down, drawing the blanket up to my chin. “Are you scared?”
She knew what I meant and she didn’t pretend. “A little. I know he’s not like Patton but he has his own control. The man owns the island we live on. That seems a little scary.”
“He’s protective in a good way. I’m almost jealous.”
“Really? Seems someone else might be in your thoughts.”
I closed my eyes. “I doubt he can’t handle himself with your ex but I’ll feel better when I see him tomorrow.”
“Think you’ll be hearing wedding bells soon?”
“Yeah right.” I opened my eyes and felt almost dizzy from having the sky pressing down on me. “Marriage isn’t gonna happen. But he’s living in my head right now and it’s been a hell of a long time since someone did that.”
“I wonder what would have happened,” Min said fighting a yawn, “if you’d been obsessed about Italy instead.”