Up Islandby Anne Rivers Siddons
From childhood, Molly Bell Redwine was taught by her charismatic, domineering mother that "family is everything." But no one warned Molly that family can change unexpectedly. In rapid succession, her husband of more than twenty years abandons her for a younger woman, her mother dies, and her Atlanta clan scatters to the four winds. Molly is set adrift in a
From childhood, Molly Bell Redwine was taught by her charismatic, domineering mother that "family is everything." But no one warned Molly that family can change unexpectedly. In rapid succession, her husband of more than twenty years abandons her for a younger woman, her mother dies, and her Atlanta clan scatters to the four winds. Molly is set adrift in a heartbeat.
With her old world crumbling, Molly takes refuge with a friend on Martha's Vineyard, hoping to come to terms with who she truly is. When the summer season ends, Molly decides to stay on, renting a small cottage on a remote up-island pond—becoming part of an odd, new, very real family that taxes her old outworn notions. And as the long Vineyard winter approaches, Molly braces herself for the arduous task she must undertake: a search for renewal and identity, and the strength to carry her through to the warm and healing spring.
Molly Bell Redwine is a woman who's never had a chance to discover herself. As a child, she lived under the shadow of her glamorous mother. As a young adult, she met and married Tee, a Coca-Cola executive who fathered her two children, Teddy and Caroline, and kept her comfortable in the manner to which she'd become accustomed. When Tee announces out of the blue that he's met a younger woman, a Coke attorney, and wants a divorce, and Molly's mother up and dies without any notice, Molly's stable if painfully dull Atlanta existence is thrown into disarray. On the advice of her transplanted northern friend Liv, she heads to Liv's house in Martha's Vineyard for the rest of the summer, and to everyone's surprise decides to stay once Liv heads back south at the end of the season. On the island, Molly finds herself in an unusual position as house-sitter, nurse, and friend to two elderly, ill women, and as part-time caretaker to one of the women's sons, who's suffering from cancer and has recently had his leg amputated. On top of it all, Molly's depressed, mourning father joins her, hoping to find solace in this place where he and his daughter are anonymous. But as is often the caseat least in a good Siddons novelalone doesn't last for long, and love comes when it's least expected. What has seemed at first an unbearable burden transforms Molly in ways she couldn't have imagined.
Far-fetched but oddly compelling, this beaten-down housewife's journey to self-reliance and happiness has surprising quirks, lively characters, and actual feeling.
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You know how people are always saying "I knew it by the back of my neck" when they mean those occasional scalding slashes of intuition that later prove to be true? My mother is always saying it, though she is not always right. Nevertheless, in my half-Celt family, the back of one's neck is a hallowed harbinger of things to come.
I first knew my husband was being unfaithful to me, not by the back of my neck, but by the skin of my buttocks, which, given the ultimate sorry progress of things, was probably prophetic. I always thought it was grossly unfair that Tee got all the fun and I got dermatitis of the posterior, but there you are. According again to my mother, it was a pattern we had laid down in stone in the early days of our marriage.
I had been having fierce itching and red welts off and on since Christmas, but at first I put it down to the five pound box of candied ginger Tee's boss sent us and a savage new panty girdle that enabled me to get into my white beaded silk pantsuit. Later, when the itching and welting did not go away, I switched bath soap and body lotion, and still later had the furnace and air conditioning unit cleaned and found some plain unbleached cotton sheets for our bed. Still I felt as if I had been sitting in poison ivy, and often caught myself absently scratching in public as well as private. Teddy, my eighteen-year-old son, was mortified, and my best friend, Carrie Davies, asked me more than once, her elegant eyebrow raised, what was wrong. Tee would have teased me unmercifully, but he was not around much that winter and spring. Coca Cola was bringing out twonew youth-oriented soft drinks, and Tee and his team were involved in the test marketing, which meant near-constant travel to the designated markets across the country. I could have scratched my behind and picked my nose at the same time on the steps of St. Philips and poor Tee, jet-lagged and teen-surfeited, would not have noticed.
When I woke myself in the middle of a hot May night clawing my skin so that the blood ran, I made an appointment with Charlie Davies, and was distressed enough so that he worked me in at lunchtime the next day.
"Well, Moonbeam, drop your britches and lay down here and let's see what we got," he roared, and I did, not really caring that the paper gown Charlie's nurse had provided me gapped significantly when I tied it around my waist. Charlie and Tee had been roommates at the University of Georgia, and I had known Tee only two weeks longer than I had Charlie. Charlie had married Carrie Carmichael, my Tri Delta sister, a week after Tee and I had married . . . we had all been in each other's weddings . . . and we had kept the friendship going all through med school and internship and then practice for Charlie and the early and middle years at the Coca Cola Company for Tee. Charlie had probably seen my bare bottom more than once, given the houseparties and vacations we four spent together.
He had called me Moonbeam after Al Capp's dark, statuesque and gloriously messy backwoods siren, Moonbeam McSwine, since the first time we met. I allow no one else to do so, not even Tee.
I rolled over onto my stomach and Charlie pulled back the paper gown and gave a long, low whistle. "Shit, Molly, has Big Tee been floggin' you, or what? You look like you been diddlin' in the briar patch."
Despite his redneck patter, Charlie is a very good doctor, or he would not have any patients. Atlanta is full of crisp, no-nonsense out-of-towners who would draw the line, I thought, at being told to get nekkid and lay on down, unless the one saying it was supremely good at what he did. Charlie was. In time, the good-ole-boy gambit became a trademark, a trick, something people laughed indulgently about at parties. If it secretly annoyed me more than it amused, I never thought to verbalize it.
"How bad does it look?" I said.
"Honey, how bad can your sweet ass look? The day Tee married you the entire Chi Phi house went into mournin' for that booty. Though now that you mention it, there seems to be a good bit more of it these days, huh?"
And he slapped me gently on the buttock. I felt it quiver like jellied consomme under his thick fingers. There was indeed more of me now than when I had married. Where once people had looked at me and seen a tall, sinewy sun-bronzed Amazon with a shock of wild blue-black hair and electric blue eyes, now they saw a big womana really big womanwith wild, gray-black hair, all teeth and leathery-tanned skin and swimming, myopic eyes behind outsize tortoise shell glasses. Then, they had stared at the slap-dash, coltish grace and vividness that had been mine. Now they simply stared at big.
"Christ, it's a goddamned Valkyrie," I had overheard someone say at last year's performance of The Ring when it came to Atlanta. Tee and I had both laughed. I seldom thought about the added pounds, since they did not for a moment inhibit my life, and Tee never seemed to notice.
"I mean the rash, or whatever it is, you horny hound," I said now to Charlie.
"Well, I've seen worse," he said. "Saw jungle rot once, when I was a resident at Grady."
"Come on, Charlie, what is it? What do I do about it? I never had anything like this before."
"I don't know yet," he said, poking and prodding. "I'd say some kind of contact dermatitis, only you don't have a history of allergies, that I remember. I'm going to give you a little cortisone by injection and some pills and ointment, and if it's not healed by the time you've finished them I'm going to send you to Bud Allison. We need to clear this up. I don't imagine Tee is aesthetically thrilled by the state of your behind, is he?"
"I don't think he's even noticed," I said. "He's been out of town so much with these new Coke things that all we've had time to do is wave in passing. It's supposed to slack off in a couple of weeks though, and I wish we could get rid of this by then. He'll think I have been rolling around in the alien corn patch."
"Gon' sting a little bit," Charlie said, and I felt the cool prick of a needle. Then Charlie said, "I thought he was back by now. I saw him the other day over at that new condominium thing in midtown, the one that looks like a cow's tit caught in a wringer, you know. I guess he was helping Caroline move in there; he was toting a palm tree so big only his beady eyes were peekin' out of it, and she was bent double laughing. She's a honey, isn't she? The image of you at that age, thank God. Y'all must be real proud of her. She working around midtown?"
He pricked me again.
"That must have been somebody else's beady eyes peeking out of that palm tree, Charlie," I said. "Ow. That does sting. Caroline is married and living in Memphis, with a brand new baby. Honestly. You knew that; y'all sent the baby a silver cup from Tiffany. Must have killed you to pay for it."
Charlie took his hand off my buttocks. He was silent for a space of time, then he said, "You get dressed and come on in the office, and I'll write you out those prescriptions."
I heard his heavy steps leaving the examining room. I heaved myself up off the table. It hit me as I swung my bare legs over the side. The skin of my face felt as if a silent explosion had gone off in the little room. I actually felt the wind and the percussion of it. The room brightened as if flood lamps had been switched on, and when I took a breath there was only stale hollowness in my lungs. A new hot, red welt sizzled across my left buttock.
"Tee has somebody else," I thought. "He has had, since Christmas, at least. That was Tee Charlie saw. He knows it was. And that was her Tee was moving into that condo."
I sat for a moment with my hands in my paper lap, one cupped on top of the other, a gesture like you make in communion, waiting to receive the Host. I could not seem to focus my eyes. My ears rang. Through it all the skin of my behind raged and shrieked.
I stood up and dropped my paper gown and put on my clothes and went out of the little room and down the hall and out through the reception area to the elevator. I never got the prescriptions Charlie wrote for me.
When the elevator came, I got on with a handful of lunch-bound people, some in white coats, and stared vacantly at the quilted bronze doors, and thought, "the family. What is this going to mean for the family?"
By the time I stepped out onto the hot sidewalk running along Peachtree Street, I felt as if I were on fire from the back of my waist to my knees. I had the absurd and terrible notion that the weeping redness was sliding down to my ankles and puddling in my shoes, the visible stigmata of betrayal and foolishness.