Read The Mothers of Voorhisville Online
Authors: Mary Rickert
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The things you have heard are true; we are the mothers of monsters. We would, however, like to clarify a few points. For instance, by the time we realized what Jeffrey had been up to, he was gone. At first we thought maybe the paper mill was to blame; it closed down in 1969, but perhaps it had taken that long for the poisonous chemicals to seep into our drinking water. We hid it from one another, of course, the strange shape of our newborns and the identity of the father. Each of us thought we were his secret lover. That was much of the seduction. (Though he was also beautiful, with those blue eyes and that intense way of his.)
It is true that he arrived in that big black car with the curtains across the back windows, as has been reported. But though Voorhisville is a small town, we are not ignorant, toothless, or the spawn of generations of incest. We
recognize the car as a hearse. However, we did not immediately assume the worst of the man who drove it. Perhaps we in Voorhisville are not as sheltered from death as people elsewhere. We, the mothers of Voorhisville, did not look at Jeffrey and immediately think of death. Instead, we looked into those blue eyes of his and thought of sex. You might have to have met him yourself to understand. There is a small but growing contingency of us that believes we were put under a type of spell.
in regards to our later actions, which we take responsibility for, but in regards to him.
What mother wouldn't kill to save her babies? The only thing unusual about our story is that our children can fly. (Sometimes, even now, we think we hear wings brushing the air beside us.) We mothers take the blame because we understand, someone has to suffer. So we do. Gladly.
We would gladly do it all again to have one more day with our darlings. Even knowing the damage, we would gladly agree. This is not the apology you might have expected. Think of it more as a manifesto. A map, in case any of them seek to return to us, though our hope of that happening is faint. Why would anyone
this ruined world?
The mothers have asked me to write what I know about what happened, most specifically what happened to me. I am suspicious of their motives. They insist this story must be told to “set the record straight.” What I think is that they are annoyed that I, Elli Ratcher, with my red hair and freckles and barely sixteen years old, shared a lover with them. The mothers like to believe they were driven to the horrible things they did by mother-love. I can tell you, though; they have always been capable of cruelty.
The mothers, who have a way of
over me, citing my recent suicide attempt, say I should start at the beginning. That is an easy thing to
. It's the kind of thing I probably would have said to Timmy, had he not fallen through my arms and crashed to the ground at my feet.
The mothers say if this is too hard, I should give the pen to someone else. “We all have stuff to tell,” Maddy Melvern says. Maddy is, as everyone knows, jealous. She was just seventeen when she did it with Jeffrey and would be getting all the special attention if not for me. The mothers say they really mean itâif I can't start at the beginning, someone else will. So, all right.
It's my fifteenth birthday, and Grandma Joyce, who taught high school English for forty-six years, gives me one of her watercolor cards with a poem and five dollars. I know she's trying to tell me something important with the poem, but the most I can figure out about what it means is that she doesn't want me to grow up. That's okay. She's my grandma. I give her a kiss. She touches my hair. “Where did this come from?” she says, which annoys my mom. I don't know why. When she says it in front of my dad, he says, “Let it rest, Ma.”
Right now my dad is out in the barn showing Uncle Bobby the beams. The barn beams have been a subject of much concern for my father, and endless conversationsâat dinner, or church, or in parent-teacher conferences, the grocery store, or the post officeâhave been reduced to “the beams.”
I stand on the porch and feel the sun on my skin. I can hear my mom and aunt in the kitchen and the cartoon voices from
which my cousins are watching. When I look at the barn I think I hear my dad saying “beams.” I look out over the front yard to the road that goes by our house. Right then, a long black car comes over the hill, real slow, like the driver is lost. I shade my eyes to watch it pass the cornfield. I wonder if it is some kind of birthday present for me. A ride in a limousine! It slows down even more in front of our house. That's when I realize it's a hearse.
Then my dad and Uncle Bobby come out of the barn. When my dad sees me he says, “Hey! You can't be fifteen, not my little stinkbottom,” which he's been saying all day, “stinkbottom” being what he used to call me when I was in diapers. I have to use all my will and power not to roll my eyes, because he hates it when I roll my eyes. I am trying not to make anyone mad, because today is my birthday.
As far as I can figure out, that is the beginning. But is it? Is it the beginning? There are so many of us, and maybe there are just as many beginnings. What does “beginning” mean, anyway? What does anything mean? What is meaning? What
? Is Timmy? Or is he not? Once, I held him in my arms and he smiled and I thought I loved him. But maybe I didn't. Maybe everything was already me throwing babies out the window; maybe everything was already tiny homemade caskets with flies buzzing around them; maybe everything has always been this place, this time, this sorrowful house and the weeping of the mothers.
We have decided Elli should take a little time to compose herself. Tamara Singh, who, up until Ravi's birth, worked at the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other Saturday, has graciously volunteered. In the course of persuading us that she is, in fact, perfect for the position of chronicler, Tamaraâperhaps overcome with enthusiasmâcited the fantastic aspects of her several unpublished novels. This delayed our assent considerably. Tamara said she would not be writing about “elves and unicorns.” She explained that the word
comes from the Latin
, which means “an idea, notion, image, or a making visible.”
“Essentially, it's making an idea visible. Everyone knows what we did. I thought we were trying to make them see why,” she said.
The mothers have decided to let Tamara tell what she can. We agree that what we have experienced, and heretofore have not adequately explained(or why would we still be here?)âmight be best served by “a making visible.”
We can hope, at least. Many of us, though surprised to discover it, still have hope.
There is, on late summer days, a certain perfume to Voorhisville. It's the coppery smell of water, the sweet scent of grass with a touch of corn and lawn mower gas, lemon slices in ice-tea glasses and citronella. Sometimes, if the wind blows just right, it carries the perfume of the angel roses in Sylvia Lansmorth's garden, a scent so seductive that everyone, from toddlers playing in the sandbox at Fletcher's Park to senior citizens in rocking chairs at The Celia Wathmore Nursing Home, is made just a little bit drunk.
On just such a morning, Sylvia Lansmorth (whose beauty was not diminished by the recent arrival of gray in her long hair), sat in her garden, in the chair her husband had made for her during that strange year after the cancer diagnosis.
She sat weeping amongst her roses, taking deep gulps of the sweet air, like a woman just surfaced from a near drowning. In truth, Sylvia, who had experienced much despair in the past year, was now feeling an entirely different emotion.
“I want you to get on with things,” he'd told her. “I don't want you mourning forever. Promise me.”
So she made the sort of unreasonable promise one makes to a dying man, while he looked at her with those bulging eyes, which had taken on a light she once thought characteristic of saints and psychopaths.
She'd come, as she had so many times before, to sit in her garden, and for some reason, who knows why, was overcome by this
she never thought she would feel againâthis absolute love of life. As soon as she recognized it, she began to weep. Still, it was an improvement, anyone would say, this weeping and gulping of air; a great improvement over weeping and muffling her face against a pillow.