The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman: A Novelby Alice Mattison
For years, following an early first marriage, Daisy Andalusia remained single and enjoyed the company of men on her own terms, making the most of her independent life. Now in her fifties, she has remarried and settled into a quieter life in New Haven, Connecticut. She's committed to a job she loves: organizing the clutter of other people's lives. Her business
For years, following an early first marriage, Daisy Andalusia remained single and enjoyed the company of men on her own terms, making the most of her independent life. Now in her fifties, she has remarried and settled into a quieter life in New Haven, Connecticut. She's committed to a job she loves: organizing the clutter of other people's lives. Her business soon leads her to a Yale project studying murders in small cities. While her husband, an inner-city landlord, objects to her new interest, Daisy finds herself being drawn more and more into the project and closer to its director, Gordon Skeetling.
When Daisy discovers an old tabloid article with the headline "Two-Headed Woman Weds Two Men: Doc Says She's Twins," she offers it as the subject for her theater group's improvisational play. Over eight transformative months, this headline will take on an increasing significance as Daisy questions whether she can truly be a part of anything a two-headed woman, a friendship, a marriage while discovering more about herself than she wants to know.
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The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman
Nothing distracts me for long from sex. A friendly, intelligent man makes a funny remark, almost for his private benefit. He thinks nobody hears, but I laugh. For a moment shared understanding exhilarates us both; then I go further. I feel a yen to place my hand on his bare thigh, to see what he's like with no clothes on. I was single for decades, after a brief early marriage, and there were many men like that.
What interests me about sex is nothing dangerous, nothing life-changing. It's like the impulse that sends some women into stores that sell colored floss and kits for making stained-glass pendants -- and of course I know that sometimes those women can't refrain, even when pendants hang in every window, twisting together on their dirty strings, falling and breaking into the shards they once were, maybe killing the cat. Sex has mostly, for me, been less threatening than that, a reasonably healthy pastime, a form of arts and crafts that uses people instead of glass or thread.
At length, though, even so delightful a practice as sex begins to feel airlessly limited, a means of expression made clumsy by the need to include bodies as well as talk. At such times, I can be diverted by a different kind of activity: I like to put on conferences. Like patches of plain fabric in a quilt, unremarkable people look better in contact with others, and I look for chances to arrange them. In the seventies I ran something called Women's Weekend. Later I persuaded the community college where I taught to host a colloquium, What Do We Really Think About Race? Most recently, along with my mother, Roz Garber, I ran a conference on mothers and adult daughters. Along comes an idea -- ideas come while I'm driving -- that requires multitudes (at least groups) arguing and laughing. I start making calls in the car, on my cell phone, then continue at home, buoyant over subject matter, forgetting that by the time my conference takes place, I'll have to think of bodies after all, bodies with their stodgy requirements for food, bathrooms, directions, and unlocked, lighted rooms, bodies that may miss the afternoon session because they're in bed with other bodies, even mine.
I am in my mid-fifties, and I have long, blond hair, possibly too long or too blond for my age. I bear the last name, Andalusia, of a man I no longer know and scarcely remember, with whom I moved to New Haven, Connecticut, thirty years ago so he could go to Yale Medical School while I supported him. When Dr. Andalusia left, I stayed. I'm not the only Yale divorcée who has liked New Haven, to the puzzlement of a departing ex. I liked East Rock and West Rock -- red, striated traprock cliffs that bracket this city -- and I liked the dirty harbor full of oyster boats and oil tankers, and the Quinnipiac River emptying rather grandly if messily under Interstate 95 and into Long Island Sound. I liked the decorous, wellproportioned New Haven green with its three old-fashioned churches -- two brick, one reddish stone -- its bag ladies and black teenagers; and I was amused by the way each man I slept with connected to someone else I knew: he'd gone to school with the last man I slept with, or his sister cleaned my teeth. The story I'm going to write down had to happen in a small city. Here, you're never quite sure you're done with a person; you never know how many ways the two of you will touch.
Someone I stopped knowing many times was the man I eventually married, Pekko Roberts. Pekko is a New Haven native, a noticeable man in his sixties: sturdy, white-haired, with a big, white beard he brushes daily and a tidy but prominent belly. More often than not, I broke up with him when we had dated for a few months and were talking about living together. I don't know why I kept leaving him, since I claimed to be tired of being single, and pointed out to myself that a variety of partners isn't inherent to the pleasures of sex. Pekko was in love with me, which made me a little restless, but he wasn't so in love that he couldn't see my faults, about which he was frank. "Daisy, you're not making sense," he'd say when I wasn't; I'd get angry. He wasn't imaginative in bed, but sex with Pekko made me happy; with him, I didn't experience what often took place after sex with other men: a half hour of dismay, even loathing, about my middle-aged body, my habits, my friends, the way I lived my life. I could talk myself out of that unexplained despair, but with Pekko it didn't come. He was moody and often silent, gruff but not unkind; he knew himself well enough not to blame others for his bad days. His caring -- about me, about others -- might be expressed in grunts, but I never doubted it. He was a lake I could swim in, in which the drop-offs and rocks were what they were, but the water was clean and not too cold, and there was intense pleasure to be found by swimming out to the center, turning on my back, and closing my eyes in the sun, whatever that means in terms of a guy.
Four years ago, in 1998, Pekko and I bought a house together in Goatville, a nineteenth-century New Haven neighborhood of small houses with steep roofs and long, skinny backyards, where dogs bark through chain-link fences. (We also bought a dog, a standard poodle called Arthur: a dog should be able to pronounce his own name.) The narrow two- and three-story houses on our block look like kindergarten drawings. It's a cityscape best seen in winter twilight, when the peaked roofs of different heights are scribbled over by the bare branches of maples, oaks, and sycamores.The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman
A Novel. Copyright © by Alice Mattison. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Alice Mattison is the award-winning author of four story collections and five novels, including Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn. She teaches fiction in the graduate writing program at Bennington College in Vermont and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
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