I do not remember when I first dreamed of the pasture. I do not remember not dreaming of the pasture. I am not a religious person: know that. But I dream of green pastures and having my soul restored to me almost nightly.
“I’m old and useless,” I say to my son, Daniel, who barely listens to me.
“Ah, Ma.” He’s watching TV fiddling with his phone drinking coffee reading the newspaper.
“I’m serious. Time to put me out to pasture.”.” I smile. Like it’s a joke. Like it’s a relief. Like he’s listening to me.
“Ah, Ma,” he says again, ready to bolt, eight hands like an octopus to hold devices and cups. Daniel is thirty-one years old and has never listened to me. He used to listen to his father. Everyone listened to his father: we really had no choice about it.
Sam. I hope never to see Sam when I get to my pasture. If there is a hell, and I do not believe in hell, remember I am not religious, but if there is a hell, Sam is surely in it. Probably right-hand to Lucifer. If there is a hell, which there isn’t, but there should be.
This is how my thinking goes these days. Twisting and turning and eating itself. I half-notice Daniel leaving the kitchen, but he doesn’t say “bye” or anything. Or if he did, I missed it. My hearing is good: at night I hear the birds singing in my pasture. I can smell the fresh mown grass and the roses. And in my pasture it is always mid-morning and never night.
I was always scared of the night. Scared even before I met Sam and before he turned into the devil. It wasn’t drink. Why do people always blame alcohol? It’s not the whiskey, it’s the imbiber. It’s not the gun, it’s the shooter. It’s not the abuser, but the abused. Wait, is that right? I no longer know.
I look down at my stained nightgown and then at the clock on the wall. It’s after ten and I am not dressed. I am not washed. In the pasture, I am naked, but so beautiful with it. I could stare at myself in the babbling brook until I become Narcissus in love with myself. With this new version of me.
The present version of me gingerly rises from her chair, my chair, a high chair, and heads to the bathroom. Last year I got a walk-in shower, an ADA toilet, a sink with a water pump faucet. I got tiles in colors of the sea: turquoise and aqua. I got a huge bill and a scolding from Daniel. Sometimes Daniel reminds me of Sam. No. No, he’s entirely different. Daniel reminds me only of Daniel. And Sam? Sam is not welcome in my pasture. Not even in my thoughts.
Sam is dead, so he is no threat to me or to Daniel, or to my daughter, Rowan. None of us went to the funeral. None of us were in his will. Daniel wanted to contest it. He did. He wanted some of what Sam had.
“I,” said Rowan, who was wearing, as I recall, a bright orange and yellow dress, “will never speak to you again if you get one dollar of that evil bastard’s money.”
I fluttered: even then I fluttered and I was just over fifty. “I doubt he had much money.”
Rowan smiled with bright pink chapped lips. “Good.”
Daniel poured himself another shot of…was it Jameson’s? Some Irish whiskey. Or maybe it was Scottish. “Well, I,” he looked at his sister and then his glance grazed me, “we, deserve it.”
“Anything he had was poisoned by him having it,” Rowan said. She was a senior in college, majoring in philosophy. She was a brilliant girl with such a bright future ahead of her. Daniel was then, as now, under-employed and living with me.
I willed myself to stay quiet. I can remember sitting there on a rattan chair on a purple pillow in the courtyard of a restaurant near Brown where Rowan was a student. I remember how uncomfortable the chair was and how I was afraid it would fall apart and dump me onto the floor. I willed myself to stay seated, planting elbows on the table, feet on the floor, ready to jump up if the chair disintegrated. I had ordered egg salad on a croissant. I can remember how it looked more and more disgusting as it sat on my plate. And how it eggy it smelled in the heat.
No, that memory, there’s something wrong with it. Something wrong with me. The conversation took place in my home, mine and Daniel’s, with my whisky: Talisker whisky from the Isle of Skye in Scotland. A gift. A gift I’d received from…the name will come back to me. Names come back to me when I finally stop worrying my brain for them. “Put me out to pasture,” I say to Daniel, only he’s not there. He’s gone off to his room, or to a bar, or to that part-time job that keeps him in cigarettes and mohair sweaters.
The time at the restaurant in Providence was later. After Daniel had contested the will. After the lawyer and the heirs, whoever those heirs were, had conferred and concurred. After Daniel (and also, Rowan, but not me) had received checks for five thousand dollars each.
Rowan had been furious. She was still furious: all red-hair and fire, her eyes branding Daniel as we sat there. She was vegan that year and her plate was filled with strange vegan things that I couldn’t pronounce like quinoa. “I don’t want the bastard’s money.”
“We deserve it RoRo,” Daniel spoke softly, as if his sister was a small child, or a scared rabbit. Why rabbit? I don’t know.
I wonder if my pasture will have rabbits. I like rabbits but they do tend to dig holes, eat tulips and shit everywhere. I might say no to rabbits. If there’s a check-list or something.
“We deserve it? Of course we fucking…sorry Mom…deserve it. After everything.”
I reached out. I think I patted my ferocious daughter’s small soft hand. I was trying to stay uninvolved. I always…well that was my sin, I suppose. The reason I might not even get a pasture. Except, remember, I am not religious: I do not believe in sin.
I do, however, believe in guilt. I remember Rowan took the money after all and used it to go to France after she graduated from college and before she entered grad school at Yale. And Daniel took it and went to the racetrack every day that summer and somehow, because he’d never been very lucky, managed to double the money by September when the track closed.
These memories, relating them, reliving them, has stopped me from my mission of showering, so I skip to the getting dressed stage. I used to love water, but less so now. Now I am somehow afraid of drowning and Daniel finding me, naked, on the tile floor.
Naked on the tile floor will not be a pleasing sight, not like naked in the pasture, like a wood nymph, frolicking with the foxes and well, rabbits. But if there are fox, then there will probably be fewer and fewer rabbits. Which could be good. But, quite possibly, things work differently in the pasture. We all coexist.
For nearly fifteen years I tried to coexist with Sam. I tried to turn a blind eye. I, well truth be told, failed everyone, particularly my beautiful Rowan. And Daniel. And myself. In my pasture I won’t remember any of this. I won’t remember my husband(ex-husband) or my son or daughter. I won’t remember my parents or what few friends I had. In truth, I had no friends, I was alone, a lonely little girl, a lonely woman. Plain. Strange. Inhibited. I inhabited my own head and ignored the world’s callings. And then came Sam.
Did I love him? No. Did I find him attractive? He was not attractive: he was short with oily black hair and pasty pitted skin and a mustache that left a rash on my face when he kissed me. Left a rash on Rowan when, he….
I never knew: I will go to my death, to my pasture, proclaiming that. I never knew until she told me. Until she sat me down at the oak table in the kitchen and dry-eyed and furious told me. With her father dead, there is only me to shoulder the blame. Sometimes I think it has pushed me down so far that my nose is inches from the floor.
Rowan no longer speaks to me: will not take my calls or answer my texts. Letters are returned months later covered in dirty foot-prints like someone stomped on them and unopened. I persuaded Daniel to drive me down to Princeton where Rowan lives and is a professor. I bribed him with money. With alcohol. I begged him and gave him tears. She would not answer the door.
“She’s not here, Ma,” Daniel said, smoking a Camel, leaning against the stone wall that surrounded her garden. Rowan’s garden of roses and hydrangeas and violets. Rowan always liked pretty things.
“Didn’t you tell her you were coming?” My right hand hurt from knocking, the knuckles bruised, I massaged it with the left and coughed from the smoke.
“Yeah. I messaged her. Said I was bringing you.”
Through another cough, I sputtered, “You shouldn’t have told her that.”
“That I was coming.” I stared at the door, at my knuckles, at Daniel and felt the tears coming. I wanted to hurl insults at him, throw daggers of words at his throat: I wanted to hurt him. He turned his back and headed towards the car, stubbing the cigarette out on Rowan’s pretty flagstone path and grinding the ashes in. I wanted to get down on my hands and knees and clean it up. I wanted to make everything pure and perfect in my daughter’s garden.
I clamped my jaw shut and got into the passenger seat, reaching for the seatbelt.
“That was a waste,” Daniel said. Then, with a look of pity as he started the engine. “She’ll come around, Ma. Give her time.” He paused, “Well, she took the money, right? She’ll come around. And if not, you’ve got me.”
Did he smile when he said that? A self-satisfied cat ate the cream smile? I think that he did, a nasty little gloating smile like he’d won. As if I was the prize.
I was never prized. Did Sam love me? I doubt it. I don’t think he love anyone. Or maybe he loved his dogs. He left money to the ASPCA: he provided for his last dog in his will. He left his kids out, but the dog got a twenty-thousand-dollar bequest. Or his girlfriend got it to take the dog. Or the girlfriend’s daughter. His girlfriends always had daughters.
Was that my fault too? Was it my responsibility to protect these unknown daughters? My sin for failing them as I had my own. My daughter.
In my pasture, there is just me. Well, me and the fox and the rabbits and maybe a hawk. Maybe robins or a lost wolf. A lone wolf. There are no daughters in my pasture and no predators. Well, except maybe the fox and perhaps, the wolf.
I never pried. I don’t know why. It seemed wrong. So I never asked Sam about the internet sites he visited nightly. Or why it took him such a very long time to say goodnight to his daughter. Our daughter. Our girl.
Being put out to pasture sounds so nice to me: green field, buttercups, light breeze and bright sun. The definition sound less pleasant: being forced to retire or being moved to a less important job. Forced to leave work or the world. In my dreams, the pasture is longed for. I graze and I gaze at myself and all I am is filled with love. I don’t like to remember the redundancy package I was “encouraged” to accept. I wasn’t put out to pasture: I was put out like a sack of smelly trash.
Sometimes, when I am asleep, or imagining myself asleep, somewhere between the two, I do not dream of the pasture. I dream of another place without calming springs or strong, unbroken trees. I dream of hellfires and angels with the faces of rabid raccoons hopping around the burning floor as if playing hopscotch. Forever. I wake up cold and sweating and unsure. It’s no doubt do to menopause. In life, we women, allow men to blame all of our moods on our periods and then (if the men are still around) on menopause. I fear hell. I do not want to burn.
In my defense, I sat there and listened while Rowan told me what she told me. In my defense, I packed up their clothes, my clothes, while they were at school, while Sam was at work. I drove to the bank and emptied our joint checking accountant into my purse. We crept away in the still of the night, under cover of darkness.
No, I picked them up from school: first Rowan from her middle school, then Daniel from his high school, as if it were just a normal day of after school activities for Rowan and me trying to persuade Daniel to do some homework while we sat and watched Rowan skate or sing or pound at the piano keys as if she hated it.
“I hated piano,” Rowan told me once, before she stopped speaking to me. “Of all those stupid ‘it will look good for college’ I hated piano most.” It wasn’t only once: she told me how much she hated piano for years. It would come up. “I love my French poetry class and I’m doing well in biology and I hated those piano lessons you made me take.”
She was a better pianist than she was dancer, but I never mentioned that, although I did say once (or a couple of times..a few), “It did look good on your college applications, Ro. The piano.. All those activities.” And she shrugged. She went to Brown for godsake: of course it looked good on her college application.
It wasn’t just her academic record and her SATS. It wasn’t just her personal essay. At least I don’t think so.
I hope in my pasture I never have to think again. Or feel. Or do anything that comes with feeling or thinking like cry or scream or stab at the skin of my upper thighs with old steak knives as if I were a teenage girl. As I were being abused. As if I was the one who had been abused.
There it is. A moment of silence. Years of silence. A life-time of silence. I never liked the sound of silence that Simon and Garfunkel sang about. I like white noise. I have one of those ocean sound machines in my bedroom. I talk to myself if Daniel isn’t around. Even when Daniel is around. I chirp.
I was silent. I didn’t know. I didn’t notice. I was not complacent. I was not compliant. I did not willingly allow my husband to abuse my daughter. Not one time. Not four or five times a week. Not from the time she was eight until right before she turned twelve. I would never have left that happen if I’d known.
I did let that happen. I didn’t know.
“Did you know?” I ask Daniel. I’ve asked him before: not at the time when he was a silent distant teenager, but now, now that he is a silent, distant man. “Did you know? I mean at the time. Not later.”
Daniel looks shifty. “No.” He sounds uncertain, certainly unconvincing. “No. I thought..I just thought…”
“Well? What?” I ought to be more patient with him.
“Just that Dad…Sam, I mean, loved her more. Wanted to spend time with her.” He doesn’t say ‘and not me’ but I hear it anyhow and think Daniel was lucky. Does he not know that he was lucky?
It was not love although apparently there were many declarations of love. Many inappropriate and strange gifts: negligées and red Chanel lipsticks and high heels. For a pre-pubescent girl. Rowan buried them in the back of her closet, in dresser drawers under her least favorite blouses, under her bed. He gave her money too and she flashed that around, showed it off to Daniel and to me. Who does Daddy love best?
His special special girl.
Our song was that Bobby Sherman song. “Julie Julie Julie Do you love me?” It was a stupid song. I wasn’t even sure who Bobby Sherman was. And I was always Julia, never Julie. In the pasture I won’t need a name which is excellent because I never liked mine and lately, I don’t always remember what it is. Daniel was a song title, of course, another song Sam liked to sing in his, if I am being perfectly honest, not bad voice. But Rowan?
She was mountain ash and strong. She is strong. So strong she doesn’t need anyone. Especially not me.
I remember I was wearing a purple dress with a silver belt that day and that it was itchy and that I had been thinking I would donate it to Goodwill after I’d washed it. There was a beef casserole in the oven. Daniel was…well I don’t remember…probably in his room. Playing video games or some role-playing thing or something like that. And Rowan was wearing her plaid skirt and white blouse and flip flops because it was June and it was warm.
It was too warm for the casserole, I remember thinking. We should have cooked-out and had hot dogs or just gone to Mickey D’s for the aircon. The kitchen was hot and Rowan came in and she, she had this look to her, flushed. I poured lemonade for us both.
“Are you okay, honey?” I remember asking, even though I could see she was not.
“Sit down, Mom.” Rowan sat at the table and stuck a finger in the glass, playing with the ice cube.
“What’s wrong? Is something wrong?” Nothing was ever wrong with Rowan: she was, I thought she was, such a happy child. So many friends. Such good grades. So good at everything.
I sat. “How’s the lemonade?”
“What? What lemonade?”
“The one you have your fingers in.”
“Oh,” said Rowan and pulled the ice cube out. “Well, there’s an opening.” She sounded older than twelve. “Mom.” She rubbed the ice cube on her wrists and looked down at the table. “I need to tell you something.”
I remember that I realized I did not want her to tell me something. I did not want her to say anything. I wanted Rowan to drink her lemonade and then go off to do her homework. But I smiled wanly, when it should have been warmly, and said, “Okay?”
“Last night when I was getting ready for bed, Dad came in, and he…” She paused to make sure I was listening. I was listening, but I didn’t want to hear this.
“And he started telling me what a big girl I was and how my boobies were getting big and how I wouldn’t be his little girl for much longer…”
And I remember thinking, well, that’s not so bad, that’s not the worst.
“And he said, ‘I like little girls best, you know that, you know how much I love you, Ro.’” She spoke in her father’s voice, her hands twisting one another into pretzels.
“And then he said, ‘I wanna make love to you while you’re still perfect.’ And then he pushed me down on the bed and stuck his fingers inside me like he’s been doing…”
“Like he’s been doing?” I either blanched or turned fire red.
She nodded: auburn hair bouncing against her shoulders. Her voice was so steady: how could her voice be so steady? “For years. Four years.” She raised her eyes to mine. “Did you know? Did you have some idea?”
“No. I swear no.” I reached out for her hands, but she pulled them against her body.
“And so, last night, he, he put his penis inside me and told me he loved me and it…it hurt so much. Where were you, Mommy, when he was hurting me so much?”
Where was I? I remember I had no idea and I still do not. I must have been somewhere in the house; I scarcely went out and never at night without my husband or kids. I must have been in some other dimension, lost in cleaning the kitchen, or watching TV. “I’m sorry, Rowan.”
She stared at me as if I was a stranger. A sinner. A predator and got up from the table and put her glass in the sink. “I’m going to do my homework now.”
I think I remember that she was crying. I think I was frozen and dissolving like the ice cube. “It will be okay,” I said or something equally stupid. Because of course it wouldn’t be and it couldn’t be.
When Sam came home he was drunk and exhausted. I made him a gin and tonic. I made sure he passed out in our bed and in the morning, while the kids were at school, I packed our clothes and belongings and filled the car with them and at three o’clock I picked up Rowan, then Daniel. No, Daniel, then Rowan, no Rowan first and we drove to my aunt’s house in Kitnersville because Sam had never been there had never met that aunt because he wouldn’t find us.
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” I asked Rowan. “To the police?”
She said ‘no’ and because I didn’t want to go to the hospital or the police, I let it go. I let it go. I let her go. The house was in my name and I sold it and I filed divorce papers that said we were incompatible and I never hear from Sam again. Just from the lawyer.
I dream of the pasture every night now. There are no lawyers. No houses. No rapes. There is no guilt. There is no cancer.
In the morning I say to Daniel, “Will you be all right?”
He will not look at me. “Yeah, Ma.”
“You and Rowan, you have each other. There’s something for each of you. This house. Some money.” But I am talking to myself, because Daniel has disappeared.
I rub my temples and think about making some fresh lemonade, cutting up lemons, adding just enough sugar to keep it still tart. I think about having a perfect soul and a perfect body and looking into the stream and loving myself.
From some long-forgotten Sunday school class, I find myself saying, “I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul.”
I don’t remember the rest of it. Just the part about the pasture.
FAITH MILLER received a BA in English Writing from Knox College and has taken numerous workshops and master classes mostly recently with Emily Nemens at the 92nd Street “Y”. Faith is a resident of New York City and New Jersey. Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines including Hanging Loose and Prism International. Faith is a member of writing groups at the New York Society Library and the Boston Atheneum. Primarily a short story writer, she recently completed her second novel. Faith has chosen to focus her recent work on submerged characters, who, each in his/her own way, is fighting to live on the margin. She is working on a collection of stories, including “Green Pastures”, told from multiple points of views from Dublin to California to Peru to New Jersey. There is no facet of human life that doesn’t have beauty.