This is Installment Twelve of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapters IV.i and IV.ii. It is 6,930 words long. As installments are posted, links for each will be added under the tab labeled “The Novel” at the top of this page. Enjoy!
Rose looked at her father. She had never seen him look more handsome than he did at this moment. His face was a clouded joy, and both the cloud and the joy were as full as they could be. He was on the verge of tears and she wondered when they would finally break, as she knew they would.
“My little Rosebud,” Phillip’s voice quavered. “My little Dr. Rosebud, I guess I should say.” He smiled proudly and she smiled back. “I never thought this day would actually come.”
“I know, Daddy. And it’s not officially Dr. yet.” Rose studied her father, waiting for him to speak again. Age had made Phillip Jackson even more handsome. He wore a mustache, gray like his hair, and glasses now, too. Central casting could do no better than Phillip Jackson if they were looking to fill the part of a man who embodied loyalty, trust, and dedication. He had a slight belly, though on his still lanky frame you could hardly see it. If someone told you that Phillip Jackson could still beat any of his sons in one-on-one in the family driveway, you wouldn’t have a hard time believing them.
“You know, no matter how big you get, or how smart you get, you will always be my little girl.”
“I know, daddy.”
“I love you so much, Rose. I never knew I could love in the way I love you. I’d lay my life down for you without a second thought.”
“But you don’t have to do that, daddy.”
“I know. But I would.” Phillip paused. “Anyway, I always thought I’d have something more profound to say at this moment, but all I know to say is that I love you. You’ve made me very proud and very happy.”
“Thank you, daddy. You’ve made me proud and happy too.” Rose flashed the smile that melted her father, among others, then said, “I guess we’d better go.”
Phillip nodded his head, then held out his arm for her to take. “Let’s go, Rosebud.” He escorted her to the big double doors, waited just a moment for their cue, then walked her down the aisle toward her waiting husband-to-be.
Rose met Rodney at Harvard. They were both working toward the Ph.D. in English and began dating by default. They had been part of a study group that disbanded rather quickly, but the two of them continued to get together for library rendezvous and coffee before or after classes.
Rose was passive about the relationship. She allowed things to progress, but never instigated. When Rodney reached out to hold her hand and stuff it into the pocket of his big down coat that freezing January night they walked through Harvard yard, she had let him. In fact, she didn’t even realize he thought it more than a friendly gesture until he kissed her a few nights later. There had been two women assaulted near campus that semester and Rodney insisted on walking her to her apartment after their evening seminar in Romantic poetry. When they got to the door of her building, he hesitated, stammered something Rose no longer remembered, then leaned over and kissed her for a few seconds – not long enough to be passionate, but longer than friendly. After that, Rodney was the one who just seemed to assume they were an item. They never really spoke about the status of their relationship. It was just there. For three months, nothing much changed between them except the hand-holding, the kissing, and an occasional hug. Rose was aware, though, that Rodney was intensifying each touch and each kiss by small increments each time they occurred. She knew he was getting her used to the idea, making her immune she sometimes felt, and that she would eventually have to deal with what would be his desired next step.
She wasn’t turned off by the idea of sex with Rodney. She had had sex with others, one boy in high school, a couple of guys in college, and, of course, Michael. Each time she wondered if she was getting it wrong or if she simply had bad taste in men. None of them made her touch heaven. So with her track record and the rather benign way she felt about Rodney, it wasn’t that she was turned off – she simply never thought of it at all, except to recognize that he was going to want it soon.
About a week after Rodney kissed her, he asked himself up to her apartment. Apparently, he realized he’d wait forever if he waited for her to do it. That began a habit of going to her place, two or three nights a week — watching a movie, eating popcorn, having a few beers, cooking dinner, sometimes just studying – and the hand-holding, the cuddling on the couch, the increasingly intense kisses.
After three months of this, Rodney made his move. Like the rest of them, nothing was discussed. They made out on the couch until it crossed some invisible line of no return. Rose tried to think of Rodney while they made love, but she couldn’t. Her mind was on Keats. If Keats was right, that love enters through the eyes, then what did it mean that she was staring at a spot on the ceiling while Rodney moaned on top of her.
Rose supposed she loved Rodney, or would grow to love him over time. She wasn’t sure what being “in love” meant. If she had been in love with Michael, she didn’t know it. She loved him, sure. But, whether he was around or not made little difference to her happiness. She felt the same way about Rodney. So maybe she was just missing the nuances that let people know they’re in love. She was drawn to love songs on the radio, good ones, and felt jealous of the singers. Maybe it was just a ploy to be marketable – to sing about this overwhelming feeling no one had ever really felt. But something about that kind of passion seemed real to her. She had read too much great literature to believe love was just some grandiose fiction.
Maybe she was incapable of loving, though she couldn’t figure out why that would be. She had plenty of love in her family. There was no sordid abuse or violation in her past. She was, in every other way, a normal, healthy, young woman. She enjoyed sex physically. She had all the natural biological responses to stimulation. But she had never felt a connection with anyone, that soul-to-soul meeting the books she read and the songs she sang along with seemed to promise.
Michael had been a pal with privileges, nothing more. Thankfully, he had felt the same about their relationship. Everyone around them stayed in a state of confusion, thinking they were destined to get married at one moment, then puzzled over the seemingly platonic friendship they usually displayed. But, Rose and Michael were never confused. They were friends, good friends, and sometimes they had sex. And when graduation came around, they said so long, went their separate ways, and felt nothing other than an occasional interest in what the other might be doing.
Rodney wanted more, and Rose knew it. He was more of an academic than she was, to the point that he was painfully awkward in social situations. He was content to bury himself in a life of studying, teaching, writing papers, and attending conferences. Most of that seemed beyond dull to Rose. She continued her education because she was still searching for something she couldn’t name and felt drawn to look for it in literature. She knew she could teach when she finished her degree, but also knew that she would never devote her entire life to the things Rodney coveted. Because of the cave he chose to live in, Rodney would never find a mate in the outside world. He needed to find someone cut from his cloth, who would share the narrow life he was pursuing, and graduate school was the best shot he would ever have. Rose knew he loved her, but mostly she believed that she had been the right person at the right time for Rodney.
Rodney was a good man, though. Rose analyzed her way into saying yes when he finally proposed. She could do much worse, and the passion which might exist in the world hadn’t found her yet and might never. He had been old-fashioned about the proposal – getting down on one knee with a modest diamond ring held between his thumb and forefinger. He even wanted to call Rose’s father to seek his permission to marry his daughter. Rose drew the line at this.
“I love my father, and I think you should meet my family, but I’m a grown woman. No man owns me. No one can give you permission to marry me except me.”
“And you do, right?”
Rose put on a playfully stern face. “You have my permission.”
So they were married in the chapel at Harvard after finishing their class work and before they each began their major dissertation research. It was a small wedding. Rodney’s family was in Los Angeles, and only his mother flew in for the ceremony. All three boys made the trip – Phillip, Jr., from Atlanta where he was the vice-president of sales for a television station, Paris from Nashville where he was doing session work and was one of the most sought after bass players in Music City, and Peter from Brunswick where he had taken the same position his father had once held as a high school band director – and Phillip’s and Peter’s wives and children. Beyond that, and Phillip and Marabelle, of course, about a dozen other candidates in the Ph.D program, a couple of professors, and their various significant others were the small crowd who watched Rose Jackson become Rose Kaplan. Rodney had no close friends and had asked Phillip, Jr., to stand up as his best man. Phil felt a little strange about this since he had only met Rodney briefly last Christmas, but he agreed for Rose’s sake. The maid of honor was a classmate of Rose’s, no one she was especially close to, but someone available and willing nonetheless.
Since neither had much money after all their years of education, they had decided to forego the honeymoon, but Phillip and Marabelle surprised them at the small reception afterwards with their gift of a Caribbean cruise. It was a disaster from the start. Rodney got motion sickness and spent the majority of the cruise in their stateroom, or more precisely, in the bathroom of their stateroom. The few times he felt well enough to move about was when the boat was docked and they were free to go ashore. Then he would spend the entire time making comments about how good it felt to walk on solid ground followed by a far too detailed description of how sick he had been the night before. Rose didn’t want him to be sick, but was secretly glad he was out of the way. She passed the time propped in a lounge chair, reading novels found on no graduate class reading list, and drinking frozen drinks with exotic names and little umbrellas propped in the slush. She relished her freedom, she always had, and felt certain that, if marriage with Rodney brought her nothing else, she had partnered with someone who would let her have her freedom.
They returned to Cambridge and set up house in Rose’s tiny apartment. They had the money to get through the next year of dissertation research, but would need to be looking for jobs after that. Rose knew she would have freedom, but had no idea how ample it would be. Rodney spent hours in the library, leaving the house at 7:00 am and often not returning until Rose was watching the evening news. Often the only times they would see each other was when they agreed to meet for lunch or dinner when Rodney felt he could take a break from his research. He worked on that dissertation like a Nobel Prize was the carrot dangling in front of him. Rose spent considerably less time on hers. She would spend a few hours at the library two or three times a week, then come home, spread her research out on the kitchen table, and write, hammering out her own ideas on the computer, ignoring the research she had gathered mainly because it was required.
Rose was also looking ahead more than Rodney. They had agreed that the first one to land a job would determine their next hometown. Rose was offered a tenure-track position at Vanderbilt University and jumped on it. Vanderbilt was a prestigious school and this would be a plum job for her. It was in Nashville and there were many schools in the area where Rodney might find a position. Besides, Paris was there and it had been several years now since Rose had lived in the same city with any of her brothers. Rose had finished her dissertation and defended it while Rodney kept insisting that he still had work to do, that to rush this would lay a poor foundation for the rest of his academic career. So when the fall semester came, Rose moved to Nashville alone. Her family thought the whole situation was crazy, but she insisted that it was fine, Rodney would join her as soon as his research was complete.
Rose found a small house for rent in west Nashville, about five miles from the campus, and moved everything they owned by herself, except the desk and bed which was all Rodney said he needed to keep in Cambridge. She was going to sleep on the couch until her first paycheck came in, at which point she would buy them a “real bed,” as she called it, something besides the ever-shrinking double box springs and mattress they had spent the last year on.
Paris was recording in Los Angeles, which he did two or three times a year, and felt a brotherly guilt about not being there to help Rose unload. All three boys still longed to fulfill the mission their father had given them the day Rose was born. She was each brother’s special charge, and Paris was pleased and a bit proud about the fact that Rose would be most directly under his watchful eye now. None of the brothers had the slightest notion about easing their sense of responsibility to Rose just because she had a husband.
Rose liked Nashville right away. The people were friendly and the countryside around the city was beautiful. It was a diverse town and fed Rose’s need for variety. With Vanderbilt and the other universities in the city, there was plenty of free-thinking, generally liberal intelligentsia around, but there were also locals, good solid Nashvillians. Rose soon determined that this was one of the most misunderstood cities she had ever seen. People outside of Nashville, including her at one time, seemed to pigeonhole the city as just so much twang, nothing more than a large suburb of the Grand Ole’ Opry. But the locals had long ago put that slice of its metropolitan pie in its place. Rose was pleasantly surprised to find rock, pop, jazz, and even some classical music on her radio, along with the relatively few country stations.
And the people were just as varied. There were Belle Meade Country Club snobs, West Enders who seemed to forget the rest of the city existed, Green Hills new money elites who were usually more new than monied, and those at the southwestern edge of the county who would move across the street if it would change their mailing address from Nashville to the more prestigious Brentwood. There were also the middle-class and middle-of-the-road of Donelson, a bedroom community of the 50s and 60s which was turning into a haven for senior citizens and single moms. Hermitage added both the redneck fringe and the east-side new money, middle management who were University of Tennessee alums rather than Vanderbilt. Each section of the countywide metropolitan area seemed to bring its own flavor to the buffet that was Nashville, and somehow the resulting feast was a complementary combination of tastes.
Rose wondered how this southern town would accept her and Rodney, two highly-educated black people jumping into one of the most elite academic circles west of Cambridge. Rose typically didn’t give much consideration to racial issues. She had always been comfortable in her own skin and expected others to be comfortable with her as well. Growing up black in Georgia hadn’t been as racially charged as one might think. Of course, she had been shielded from a lot by her father and brothers, but to her knowledge she had never met an overtly racist person. Boston and Cambridge had been nothing more than Harvard to her, and the liberal university atmosphere had welcomed her. But she knew nothing of Nashville except that Paris seemed to like it.
There were a few sections of town that were historically black, as were two of the universities – Tennessee State University and Fisk. She knew of the reputation of both schools, but their existence also made her wonder if Nashville was a town divided, whites in their area, blacks in theirs, and never the twain meeting. She was pleasantly surprised to find several sections of town, mostly the middle-class east side, which were nice mixtures of racially-diverse suburbs. On her street, among the West Enders, there were mostly white faces, but everyone had been friendly to her so far, and she thought she saw a black family pulling their car into a driveway a block away. Not that it mattered to Rose. She was not the type to survey her neighborhood and pass an initial judgment based on any sort of internal quota system.
She had never cared what color a person might be. She had been raised by essentially non-racist parents who had taught her to value all of humankind, but she was certain that her father was unaware just how much he had passed on a general wariness about whites. Phillip was about as racist as any other generally decent American who swore they weren’t racist. He truly believed in equality. But he was of the generation still one step closer to blatant discrimination than the generation his daughter belonged to. He was no longer concerned for himself, but his protectiveness of Rose had uncovered the fears he still carried in his core. Rose had dated a white boy her freshman year of college, but just a few times. She instinctively knew not to mention him to her father.
The university had one of the most liberal non-discrimination policies in the country, even including gays and lesbians, so at work Rose felt accepted and respected. She thought Rodney would like it here too. Hell, as long as there was a library, Rodney would like it.
Paris came back to town three weeks into Rose’s first semester of teaching. They met for dinner on a Friday night at one of the packed trendy restaurants downtown.
“I was trying to remember the last time you and I spent any time alone,” Paris pondered between bites of salmon.
“Hm. You’re right. It must have been that time we rode to the store together to get mom some dinner rolls. I think that was Christmas break of my junior year of college.”
“Wow. That’s been, what, five years ago? It must have been, because I remember having to leave early that year for that New Year’s gig at the Ryman. Jeez, baby sister, we might have to reintroduce ourselves to each other.” Paris grinned, then blushed slightly. His nose still showed traces of the freckles he had borne throughout childhood. “I guess I shouldn’t call you ‘baby sister’ anymore, huh?”
“You can call me anything you want, Paris. I’m just so grateful to have you here. It feels like a whole new phase of our lives is beginning, one where we get to really know each other, as adults.”
“But, you were always closer to Phil and Peter. Are you sure you’re glad it’s me?” Paris’ question was part joking and part truly wondering.
“I think maybe things shift as we get older. When I was a little girl, Phil watched me like a hawk. It was like he felt he had to be dad whenever dad wasn’t around.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.” Paris’ voice carried a sibling cynicism that stopped short of bitterness.
“And then when I got a little older, especially as Phil and then you left home, Peter was like a real brother, sometimes even a playmate. Phil was almost like an uncle since he was twelve years older than me and stayed around Georgia to go to school. Peter was only four years older, so we could relate to each other’s childhood a little better. You were eight years older, probably not fond of a little girl tagging along when you were in high school, and gone off to USC by the time I was ten. In some ways, this may be like getting to know each other for the first time. So, here’s the first question I’ve always wanted to know the answer to – why did you go way off to California to go to college?”
Paris shrugged. “I got a scholarship.”
“You also got a scholarship to Morehouse.”
“USC has a better music department than Morehouse.”
“And a scholarship to UGA, Auburn, and Duke.” Rose raised her eyebrows. When she put on that face, you knew she wouldn’t quit until she had the real answer.
Paris gave a tight-lipped smile of defeat. “Okay, you got me. I guess the answer is that I needed to get away from home. Far away. Our family was great, don’t get me wrong. We had a pretty idyllic childhood. Mom baked cookies and kissed skinned knees. Dad played catch and built us a tree house. And they’re still happily married. What more could a kid want? But it was like we had two families – the family with three boys and then the family that happened after you were born. In the first family, I was the middle child, a hellish position to be born into. Phil wasn’t musical, so when I came along I was dad’s little musician, even though he swore he didn’t want us to be musicians. So, I was both his dream and his nightmare. It was very confusing when I was young. Peter came along and was moderately talented. I’m not trying to put him down, but his musical ability is much more pedestrian than mine. He’s great at what he does, but as a musician, Peter can’t really expect to do much more than teach high school.”
“Is that a little harsh?”
“Maybe. But it’s true. And I say that while being aware of the fact that Peter has talents I don’t have. I’m a player, not a teacher. I’ve watched Peter teach, and he’s damn good at it. As important as I think music is in this world, and especially in educating our children, there are ways in which I believe Peter’s talent to be much more valuable than mine. I couldn’t do what he does. Conversely, he couldn’t do what I do. Where Peter knows music, I feel it. Put notes in front of me or don’t, I’m still gonna play. So, even though Peter was drawn to music too, he always talked about following in dad’s footsteps and teaching high school band. I think the security of that relieved dad a little. I wanted to perform, and it scared the hell out of dad.”
“So, how do I figure into this?”
Paris sighed, then went on after looking as if he had to decide if he should or not. “When you were born, you became the first priority in this family. Dad declared it, and we knew it was just going to be that way. Everything, including music, took a back seat to Rose.”
“So, you probably hated me there for awhile.” Rose spoke softly and suddenly looked like a little girl again.
“I never hated you. I probably felt like a lot of older brothers feel at times. It wasn’t bad, Rosie. It was supposed to happen that way. If anything, I should thank you. You were part of the reason I wanted to go far away and let music be first again. I loved my years at USC, and the years I’ve been here in Nashville. I’m doing what I came here to do and I couldn’t be happier.”
“I guess dad gave you boys a real trip about looking out for me.”
Paris laughed. “You have no idea.”
“So, was dad just a teacher? Or was he a player too.”
“I think he was a player. Once, anyway. Dad used to have this little jazz group that played out at the resorts. He stopped when you were about two. I remember going with him a few times and watching him play.” Paris smiled. “I was only about eight or nine, but I remember thinking that he looked like a stranger up there blowing that sax.”
“He played the saxophone? I never saw him play the saxophone.”
“He played everything. In one set he would jump from piano to drums to bass to lead guitar to sax to trumpet. I even saw him do a hell of a riff on flute one time. He was really in his element. He looked so happy, the kind of happy that doesn’t necessarily even need a smile, just a deep-down, meant-to-be, in-the-zone kind of happy.”
“Why do you think he stopped doing that?”
Paris looked at Rose in disbelief. “You don’t know?”
“For us. For you. He said he only did that to help buy our house, to bring some money to the family. Mom and dad paid off the house when you were a baby. Then he stopped. I think he lied. I think he played because it was in his soul, because he had to do it. But, it was six nights a week during tourist season. Once you came along, and the house was paid off, I guess he didn’t think he should spend those six nights a week away from us. From you.”
“Shit, Paris, you’re laying a real guilt trip on me.”
“Oh, I don’t mean to do that. He made his own decisions. If it makes you feel better, I think mom would have made him quit once the house was paid off anyway. He gave up a lot for us, all of us, not just you. That’s why I’m never having kids. I have two kids, my electric bass and my upright. I guess you’re going to have to give me lots of nieces and nephews, Rosie.”
“Don’t hold your breath.”
“You’re not having kids?”
“Honestly, Paris, I’ve never even thought about it. Which might mean I shouldn’t.”
“So, now it’s my turn for a question.”
“You just asked one.”
“That doesn’t count. It was a natural extension of our conversation.”
“Okay, one question per dinner. I guess I can live with that.”
“What’s up with Rodney? Why didn’t he move down here with you? Is that . . . is it a good marriage?”
“It really is one question, Rose.”
Rose dabbed the corners of her mouth with her napkin. “Paris, what is a good marriage?”
“No fair answering a question with another question. Besides, what would I, the eternal bachelor, know about that?”
“And thus you have just answered a question with a question. I don’t know, Paris. Do you want to know why I got married? Because it was the next step a person takes in life. I felt no passion about it one way or the other, so I figured when in doubt, do what everyone else is doing. Rodney’s a good guy. I could do much worse. He doesn’t smother me, and that’s a plus.”
“He’s like 800 miles away. He can’t even hug you, let alone smother you.”
“He’ll be here when his dissertation is finished.”
“Rose, the entire world is on the internet these days. Why can’t he finish it in Nashville?”
“Are you trying to make me think twice about my marriage?”
“No. I’m just curious. It all seems so. . .weird.”
“Rodney is weird.” Rose said it with so much ease that she surprised herself. “I can’t believe I just said that.”
“It’s okay, Rose. I’m your brother. Say anything you want. Everybody ought to have at least one person they can say anything they want to.”
“And my one person is Paris.” Rose grinned. “Who woulda’ thought?” They both laughed, then Rose continued. “He is weird. In a nice way, I mean. He’s kind, and every now and then we have fun, but he’s completely tunnel-visioned about academia. I love him, as much as I love anybody, I suppose. But, and I guess this is the weirdest part, it doesn’t really bother me a bit that I’m here and he’s there.” Rose lifted her eyebrows at her own confession.
“He’s not your Romeo.”
Rose suddenly stopped smiling. She almost looked like a different person for a moment. For some reason, she thought of the picture that now hung in her bedroom, the one that Rodney had never seemed to notice. Within a split second, her next thought was of the beach. She was so far away from her beach, and she missed that ever so much more than she missed Rodney. She closed her eyes and stood on the south Georgia shore. Then she whispered, more to herself than to Paris, “No. He’s not.”
Rodney stayed in Cambridge for an entire school year. Once a month, Rose would fly into Boston and they would spend the weekend together. Rodney never came to Nashville. When Rose asked if he wouldn’t like to come see the town he would next call home and the house she had picked out for them, he would absent-mindedly reply that he would see it in due time, and that he trusted her completely about the house.
Their weekends together were odd. With each month that passed, it felt more and more like Rose was going to visit a stranger or a casual school acquaintance she was keeping up with for old time’s sake. Some months Rodney would be so immersed in new research that Rose wondered if he knew she was there. Other months, he would make an attempt to be engaging, take her to dinner or a museum, as if he was showing a first-time visitor around Boston. They went for a stretch of three months without having sex. Rose thought that if there was such a thing as the love she read about, then that love would propel two people into intimacy on such rare meetings as they had. She had fully accepted the fact that Rodney was not the love of her life. He was her husband, and maybe that was all she could hope for in reality.
During her first year teaching, Rose and Paris became closer than they had ever been when living under the same roof. At first, they went to dinner together every few weeks, then Paris would come by her house to repair a leaky faucet or provide the brawn on the regular occasions when she decided to rearrange the furniture. By Thanksgiving, when they rode home to coastal Georgia together, they were calling each other every other day, asking each other’s advice, sharing even the smallest details of their day. They had the special relationship that grown siblings can sometimes discover, a friendship that’s more than family, yet more than friendship because it is family. They both looked forward to the ride home together. They could have flown, but decided to make it a road trip and anticipated it with the same excitement that Christmas morning used to bring.
On the way down, Paris had jokingly asked which one of them she thought dad would hug first. “After you’ve been home for awhile, would you mind just mentioning to dad that I came along too?” Rose played at being hurt by what he said, but they both recognized the bit of truth contained in the teasing.
When they arrived, however, Phillip was happy to see them both, and even surprised Paris by asking if they could have a little jam session before the weekend was over. With Rose, Phillip was mostly concerned about Rodney’s absence.
“Is everything okay, Rosebud? I think your husband should be here with you. But then, I think your husband should live with you. I know, it’s none of my business.”
“You can make it your business, daddy. I don’t mind. Rodney is, of course, deep into his research. He’ll be here next Thanksgiving, I promise.”
But she never answered the question that Phillip was trying to ask. He would be concerned about his little girl if she had married the prince of all men, someone he had hand picked himself. This absentee husband business bothered him greatly. He knew Rodney just well enough to know that he was a decent man and would never hurt Rose, but he felt intrigued by the mystery of Rose now more than ever. There was something missing from this life for his daughter, and he was deeply saddened by the emptiness he sensed was growing in her.
On Thanksgiving morning, Rose woke before dawn and followed her familiar path to the Atlantic, slipping quietly across residential lawns until she reached the beach at Massengale Park. Fall was more pronounced in Georgia before the sun came up, and she bundled up in her father’s pea coat that always hung on a hook behind the kitchen door. When she reached the shore, the ocean winds cut through her like a knife and she felt her intestines shiver. It had been a long time since she had stood on her beach. In Athens, the ocean was just far enough away that the thought of going there began to get pushed aside by the business of day-to-day life. In Cambridge, she still had to make quite an effort. She sometimes walked over to the Charles River, but it wasn’t the same. Once or twice she had explored different possibilities – Deer Island, Revere Beach — but there was a different feeling there. It wasn’t her beach back home. By the time she moved to Nashville, her disconnection from the ocean seemed complete enough that being land-locked hardly crossed her mind. Over the years when Rose would come back to Brunswick for a visit, she found herself getting to the beach less and less. She would have such a short trip home and her parents would have her time packed in a whirlwind of family get-togethers and special dinners. She hadn’t realized that she had stopped going to the beach altogether over the past few years, starting about the time she and Rodney started dating. She had moved away from her shore and finally the east altogether, moved away from her one constant, moved further and further from herself.
But recently she had been thinking about the ocean more and more. She had determined that this trip home would include a pre-dawn jaunt no matter what. And here she was, standing at the water’s edge, holding that stance reserved for this place. The old pain returned, the ache of something she could not name. But it had gained strength during her years away. She had thought, hoped even, that she would come back here and feel nothing, that time and maturity would have erased what would prove to have been simply an adolescent longing. Instead, she felt 14 again, but with an even greater capacity to understand how far down her emptiness went.
The water was only a cold gray when the first moments of dawn gave it any color at all. The sky lightened and Rose saw why the stars seemed to have stopped burning. It was overcast and even looked like snow. It was a Boston winter sky on a Brunswick fall morning. The sun never did show his face. The light seemed to come from the soft glow of the clouds. A deep fog draped the world in layers of sheer gauze. Only a few layers deep along the shore, thirty or forty feet away, the trees seemed almost clear. Deeper, the rocks looked like large bolls of slate cotton. The ocean disappeared into the mist completely just 100 feet out. It could have been a river or a lake instead of the mighty Atlantic. The power of fog is that it hides what lays ahead, Rose thought, and the English professor in her saw it as a powerful symbol of the horizon hidden deep in her soul.
Rose felt a raindrop on her hand, and then realized it was a tear. The discovery made her gasp audibly, a sharp intake of air that sounded like a reaction to pain. She struggled to control her emotions. The last thing she needed was for her father to think she had been crying.
She turned up the beach and walked parallel to the waves. Movement might help. She strolled up the shoreline, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hands, sniffing in to hold back the tide of her ache, then stuffed her hands into the pockets of her father’s coat. She felt something in the left hand pocket. She pulled out a sheaf of folded paper, briefly wondered if she was invading her father’s privacy, and then pulled it apart anyway. Inside the single sheet of notebook paper was a crinkled newspaper announcement from several years before. “Jackson Wins California Music Fellowship” read the headline, and Rose quickly scanned the article about Paris’ achievement in college. It was from the Brunswick daily and instantly Rose knew this news would not have blipped on a local reporter’s radar screen without her father’s assistance. She pulled the notebook paper from the bottom and stopped walking when she saw what it held. Her father had neatly ruled the paper into a musical staff. The composition was simply entitled “Paris.” Between the treble and bass clefs, in her father’s tiny handwriting, were the lyrics, words of a father’s joy and immense pride. Rose smiled, and wondered if she dare ask her father to play the accompanying music for her. Or better yet, if he would play them for Paris.
Rose tucked the papers back into the coat pocket and turned toward home feeling a little lighter. She may not have had a passionate true love, but she had a pretty damn good family, and for now that seemed like enough.
Rodney moved to Nashville the next August. He had finally finished the dissertation and defended it, but moaned that it was not nearly what he knew it could be. He had applied to every university within 100 miles and was disappointed to have only two offers – Western Kentucky, 50 miles away in Bowling Green, and Middle Tennessee State University, about as far the other direction in Murfreesboro. He interviewed at both campuses and took the WKU position. His commute was hellish for him – he had always been averse to driving – and it meant that he left the house at 7:00 am and returned home about 6 or 7 each evening, depending on how many student conferences he had going. Rose was surprised to find that having him around wasn’t much different from having him in Cambridge. They settled into a predictable routine within a few weeks.
In the fall of her third year teaching, Rose learned she was pregnant. It was not a planned event and at first she contemplated whether she really wanted the baby. She had almost determined that she would never have children, that her benign and lackluster marriage wasn’t exactly the ideal environment in which to bring a child. But as rarely as she and Rodney made love, and on the pill at that, she began to think that the odds of conception were so low that this baby must be meant to be. She even began to think that perhaps this would fill her aching emptiness.
She told Rodney about the baby when she was almost four months pregnant and starting to really show. He was more floored than happy, although he evolved into a kind of acceptance. When she went into labor the next spring, mid-morning of May 3, Rodney was in Bowling Green. She tried to reach him, but he was in class. She left a message with the departmental secretary then drove herself to the hospital.
Cade Paris Kaplan was born at 3:14 that afternoon. His father arrived at 4:45. It was the angriest Rose had ever been with Rodney. She didn’t really care if he was around most of the time or not. In fact, she didn’t really care that he hadn’t been there for the birth. She was angry for her son. She was angry at every thoughtless thing Rodney would do in the future and how those oversights would affect Cade. From the moment the doctor first laid him in her arms, Rose knew that this boy was hers and hers alone. The ache inside her eased momentarily.
© Deborah E. Moore – 2011