Chapter I – Gone Missing
Hudson’s River Valley, Summer 1769
Als de maan vol is, schijnt zij overal.
When the moon is full, it shines everywhere.
The longest day of the year and a full moon. I read to the children for a long time. The boy’s breathing quickly deepened and his gaze subsided into the depth and darkness of his pupils, but the girl’s eyes remained bright and she continued to ask questions, not comprehending the story because of my own distraction. I could not answer her queries as I was not listening to the words coming from my own mouth. My reading did not find the cadence in the tale, so absorbed was I within my internal heart. I had to backtrack in the text. Finally I shut the book, snuffed the candle and backed away from the bed, blowing her a kiss before I shut the door.
As I stepped toward my own enticing bed, the soles of my feet sucked up the coolness of the polished flooring, as if they were tasting something savory. The evening air too was honeyed, thick with summer. Lilies yawned around the house where I had planted bulbs in the autumn, and wafted their yellow dust, both spicy and sweet. My husband had scythed the grass in the yard of the house, which seemed a miracle in and of itself. The scent of maple pollen rode the wind towards the house from the woods, floating on the warm platform of the smell of the grass. Its golden dust settled on the sills of the windows.
I stood in the dark, drawing my breath up through the skin of my feet. Standing still with closed eyes, I could smell the salt of myself mingled with the odors of the night. I noticed the sensation of my ribs expanding and contracting and I awakened to the rhythm of this. The breath rising and falling has its own sweetness if you attend to it. I pulled apart my thighs merely by shifting my stance, as the skin at their top was gently chafing. My breath ruffled the back of my throat.
Above the sound of my breathing in my ears, I could hear the high chirping of the tree frogs and the low burping of the bull frogs and knew exactly where he was. He lay on his back by the pond up the hill behind the house watching the moon rise, swilling from a green glass bottle filled from a keg. The danger was that sleep would grab him and he would not awaken until the moon had crossed the sky drawing the sun up in its wake. The back of his trousers and shirt would be soaked through by then. I inhaled deeply and with my mind called him to me. Life beckons you from your reverie. I am your wife. Rise up sir and come to me.
I slid to the cupboard and removed my cap and then my clothes. I took my brush and pulled it through my hair. I smoothed my chapped hands with oil from a little glass cruet. I drew the porcelain bowl from under the bed and squatted. I patted myself dry. I donned my bed shift, slipped between the cool linens, a wedding gift now stained and worn, but still quite a luxury. In the bed I faced my own peril. The work of this day released from my hands, my neck, and my shoulders, but the work of the next day was listed in my mind and wore me out. If I slept now, I would be awakened by his snoring at dawn, and such a sound would fill me to overflow with regret. Could I face the particular dismay of yet another lonely night alongside the labors of the day? Surely I could. I had long learned to take refuge in discourse with my children, or even with the cat or the farm animals. But the assault of a rising ire could not be fended off in that moment when I first awoke to the coarse and dry disappointment of the sound of his rough breath rattling in the aftermath of too much juniper. I willed myself to wait for the creak of the kitchen door and the tread upon the step, no matter how long. I sat up listening. Frogs, breath, tread.