by Kathy Larson
March 4, 2022
The first time, and there was only one other time, that Stan took Sadie to the farm, was for his father’s funeral.
She had asked him a few times before they were married when she would meet his parents, but he had said each time that they were so busy working that there just wasn’t a good time to make the trip. They’d have to stay overnight, because it was a five-hour drive and he wasn’t about to do ten hours of driving for barely a day of visiting. They’d go when he had holidays and they’d stay at least a week; give his folks a chance to really get to know her. It sounded good to her — she’d never been far out of the city, had never been on a farm — the prospect of spending time in the country excited her. In her mind she pictured green fields, lush gardens, and animals, lots of animals.
When Stan got the call that his father had died they had been married nearly 18 months. By that time she was sure he never meant to take her to meet his parents, and he wouldn’t listen to any talk of having them come to stay. Also, by that time, she knew not to push him when he’d said how things were going to be. Not that he ever laid a hand on her, God no, that was something Stan said he would never do and he was very proud of himself for that. It would be her own damned fault if he ever did, though — there was only so much a man could be expected to take, after all. If he had only known just what a useless, lazy, stupid waste of breath she’d become after she got that ring on her finger. . .
For the first few months after they were married she tried everything she could to restore things to how they’d been before. She ignored his moods, took on fixing up the house on her own when he protested that he was too worn out from slaving for her every day, put on a dress and fixed her makeup and hair for when he got home because he’d gone from telling her how sweet and pretty she was to how plain and disgusting she’d become. Nothing worked. Did she think he wanted people to think he’d married a whore? he’d spit at her. Is that what she did all day while he busted his ass to put this roof over her head and the food on her table — sat around playing dress-up and painting her face so that he’d forget what she really was? His mother had tried to warn him, he told her, but he hadn’t listened, and now look what it had got him.
Sadie never thought to fight back — she’d seen what had happened to her mother. She knew that Stan’s anger wasn’t really with her, just as her father’s hadn’t been with her or her mother. Sometimes, she wished Stan would hit her, then she’d have an actual reason to leave him, but to leave because he called her names, or thought she had tricked him into marrying her? That was insane. Who would believe that? Besides, where could she go if she did leave? She had nothing of her own anymore. He’d made her quit the waitressing job — only sluts worked as waitresses, he’d said, and seeing as how she’d got what she wanted with him, he wouldn’t have her embarrass him by throwing herself at other men. She reminded him of how she’d been when they met. That was all an act, he said, she’d played the poor little victim and he’d fallen for it.
He’d even stopped her from refinishing and fixing up furniture. One day he went out to the garage where her supplies were and started throwing them all in the back of his pick-up. What are you doing? she cried, why are you doing this? Because, he’d answered, you have a house to take care of now, you don’t have time for this two-bit hobby anymore. She’d tried to stop him, saying that she could make money doing the furniture, help them save more for fixing up the house and for the acreage they planned to buy, but he had shoved her roughly aside and said he wouldn’t have her wasting her time and his money on such crap. Then he had looked at her with a cold smile and said, there ain’t going to be no acreage. You think I’m stupid enough to let you tie me down with a mortgage I’d never get out from under just so you can play the grand lady? Not gonna happen. After that she simply gave in. The man she had fallen in love with didn’t exist — he had been the one that had fooled her, and sadly she was the only one who knew it.
The days slid by, unremarked, and she busied herself with keeping the house the way he wanted it. She did the best she could to fix it up though he would give her no money for anything he considered frivolous. If she needed anything — there was no such thing as ‘wanting’ anything — he would take her to the local thrift store. In all the years he’d been alive she had never once bought a brand new pair of shoes or piece of clothing. Their dishes, pots and pans, all their linens, and most of their furniture had all come from second-hand stores. He gave her an allowance for groceries and she had to hand him receipts for every penny she spent. Over time she accepted that this was her life, and if it was not the life she had imagined it would be, well, that was, after all, just life.
When they arrived at his parent’s farm for the funeral Sadie was in shock. It was nothing like she had imagined; it did not match the descriptions Stan had detailed for her. The house was small and weather-beaten and badly in need of repairs and paint. Old vehicles and broken-down farm machinery littered the surrounding yard. Though summer was over, it was only the second week of October, and though nothing would be lush and green, everything that should still be living, wasn’t. The garden was an overgrown mass of dying weeds, the trees were nothing more than skeletal outlines against the lead-grey sky, and looking over a barely standing fence was a dusty brown cow that looked to Sadie to be starving. She looked over at Stan and saw that he was not phased at all by anything they were seeing. So, this had been another lie. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands tightly together.
Nothing could have prepared her for Stan’s mother. She had entered the house expecting to find an elderly woman bereft over the loss of her husband. Gloria was not bereft. Sadie knew that Stan’s parents were in their 70s, but Gloria could have been in her 50s. She was in the kitchen when they entered the house talking loudly on the phone. She had a cigarette in one hand and was absentmindedly tapping ashes into a juice glass sitting on the edge of the counter as she talked. She looked up and registered surprise at seeing Stan, looked over at Sadie and gave her a sour frown. Gotta go, she said, the prodigal just came in with his new wife.
Gloria was wearing a dark, bordering-on-the-colour-of-blood, red dress and black, patent leather high heels. Her poorly dyed blonde hair, done up in a loose knot, straggled down around her shoulders. She was heavily made up and the bright red lipstick she wore had bled into the lines around her mouth, making her look haggard and worn. Well, she said, if it isn’t Stanny-boy and the little lady. Sadie understood everything then, and in that moment of understanding felt such an overwhelming sense of pity for Stan that she reached out and took his hand. He startled at her touch, but did not pull away.
The funeral was a small, sad affair. The men in attendance came up to Stan, his mother and Sadie, and offered muted words of condolence. Most of the men avoided touching Gloria by keeping their hats in their hands, but when they got to Stan, they would loose one to shake his. He was a good man, they said. Hard worker. Really tried. Gave it his best. They looked at Sadie with curious expressions and congratulated her on marrying Stan. None of their wives came with them. When it was over Stan drove them back to the farmhouse, but not before stopping at the small hotel on the main street of town to pick up a case of beer and bottle of whiskey.
That night, after he and his mother had gotten into a loud, drunken screaming match he had clawed his way into bed where he forced himself roughly on her. Sadie cried silently throughout the ordeal and when he had finally finished and rolled off her and passed out, she got up and spent the rest of the night sleeping in a lumpy, overstuffed and dusty-smelling chair in one corner of the room. He seemed not to recall anything the next morning, and when he asked why she had slept in the chair she told him it was because she couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to wake him, knowing he had to drive them back to the city. A look of relief, or was it shame, she asked herself, passed over his face; he accepted her lie and within an hour they were on the road. Gloria did not get up to see them off.
They barely spoke on the trip home, Stan was lost in concentration and Sadie spent the time processing all she’d seen and overheard. Armed with the knowledge that everthing Stan had told her about life on the ‘farm’ was all lies, and that he had very good reasons for those lies, Sadie resolved to do the best she could to prove to him that she was not like Gloria. She could win him back, she could help him become that happy, life-loving guy she’d met once again. Without looking at him, she said softly into the space between them, I love you.
He kept his eyes on the road, but she heard him sigh.