S H O R T S T O R Y
MARRYING THE VEIL
b y k a t h l e e n d e g r a v e ~ p i t t s b u r g , k a n s a s
JEANNETTE FREELY admitted that the wedding was what she lived for. Ever since she’d been a child, she’d practiced for the day, first with dolls, dressed up in handkerchiefs and doilies, all white; later dressing herself in her communion veil and her communion dress, until they grew too small. In Thiery Hommes, a village of 300 in northern Wisconsin, girls didn’t question their fate: they became farmer’s wives and prayed that their children wouldn’t be born with webbed feet. But Jeannette was different. She didn’t want to get up at four-thirty to milk the cows and cook chicken booyah all day long. What she did want was vague. It involved a man who would sweep her away, take her to some town where her next door neighbor didn’t expect to share her flour and spend two hours in her kitchen, flour bag in hand.
When Jeannette was fifteen, she had a nightmare that came back again and again. In her dream, her arm was dead. Not her hand yet. Not her shoulder. But the flesh of her forearm had a gash that didn’t bleed.
“Like leprosy,” her father said, when she told the dream at the breakfast table after the third night the dream came.
“Like lost youth,” was her mother’s opinion.
Both of her parents had gaunt cheeks and small eyes. They didn’t look at Jeannette when they made their pronouncements, but the next day, Jeannette’s Aunt Mary, whose body was covered in scales, said she agreed with her mother.
Jeannette herself thought her father was right. In the dream, the flesh of her arm wasn’t human. It pulled away from itself in the gash that widened moment by moment, as one imagines a corpse’s flesh to pull away. Still there was no blood.
“If your arm falls off,” her father said, “in the dream . . . If it falls off at the shoulder, don’t worry. That means something is going to change.”
Jeannette woke up from her dream, night after night, needing to moan. Nightmares can be divided that way: into those that make you cry out, once, as you sit upright, and those that make you sweat, soundless. Then there are nightmares like this one—that won’t leave your mind, some image, like dead flesh pulling away, making you moan, and again, until at last the moaning makes the images stop.
When the man came, the one who would sweep her away, it wouldn’t matter who he was, as long as he was tall. The center of Jeannette’s vision was the white lace veil—she would marry for it. The scene played itself vividly in her mind: at the altar, the tall man (a short man would have to jump, tip up on his toes; she would have to bend) tossed, folded, lifted, gently raised the veil up, back, away from her shining face.
Waiting for him, Jeannette had attended many weddings, dancing the Mexican Hat Dance, joining in the polkas. Boys from town danced with her and tried to get her to kiss them, but she held herself aloof. Jeannette was careful not to tell anyone her secret desire. She didn’t want to create hurt feelings, and she didn’t want her mother calling her into the bedroom to give her a talking to. “What’s wrong with the boys right here?” she would say. “Your father was good enough for me.”
Almost everyone in Thiery Hommes can trace an ancestor back to Belgium in the century previous, and no one marries an outsider. Outside boys might be criminals or carry deadly diseases. In Thiery Hommes everyone knew which boys were right.
Already a boy was lined up for her. That she would marry him was the common presumption—René and Marie’s son, Henri. René and Marie were old friends of Jeannette’s mother. The wedding had been planned since Jeannette was born, three weeks after baby Henri came.
The problem was that, although Henri was nice, pimply but kind, he stood no more than five feet two.
In the spring of Jeannette’s eighteenth year, Jeannette’s cousin Suzanne married a boy from the edge of town, making the old women talk. First, the boy’s family being new to Thiery Hommes, having arrived only thirty years before, didn’t understand how things worked. Then, Father Richard was going to say the mass using a microphone, so those who didn’t fit into the church could hear. The townspeople are so many, they don’t quite fit in the Catholic chapel, where the organ sits up front. The organ was donated by Mrs. De France back in 1960, so she is the one who gets to play it, pumping air into the pipes by moving her foot up and down.
Suzanne and Peter wanted a modern wedding, though, where they could read their vows to each other and replace Mrs. De France with Suzanne and Jeannette’s Aunt Lizette, who played the guitar. Suzanne had prepared everything herself, with Peter’s help. Many of the relatives, unhappy that they hadn’t been included in the buying of the dress or the making of the guest list, predicted the marriage wouldn’t last.
The chapel, visited by Father Richard on his mission route for two masses on Sundays and confessions every other Saturday, was almost full with Suzanne and Peter’s immediate families. Their friends had to bring lawn chairs to attend the service outside the walls. But at Communion time, everyone had the chance to walk down the aisle, careful to avoid the white satin bridal path, and take the host from Father Richard himself, although Jeannette’s Uncle Fred handed out Communion on the church lawn for those who wanted to expedite the process. The old folk were mainly inside, as was Jeannette, being a cousin, so they didn’t have to choose. But even if they’d been in the lawn chairs, they would have made the trip to receive Christ from the consecrated hands of the priest, uneasy with the thought that their Lord might be touched by the fingers of an uncelibate man.
Jeannette, five rows back from the altar, waited with excitement for Suzanne to march up the aisle. The moment right before Communion would be the center for her, when Suzanne, draped in a heavy veil, would be revealed in all her beauty to the man who would become her life. Until that moment, Peter would not have seen Suzanne, not truly. Jeannette, trembling, visualized Peter lifting the veil and Suzanne’s passionate glow. Finally, the aunt began to sing a joyful entrance song and strummed her guitar vigorously. Jeannette’s eyes clouded as she turned to watch her cousin come up the aisle, a single girl for only a few moments more.
The little girl strewing flowers, the beautiful white dress, the father by her side—but, the veil! Suzanne didn’t wear one—just a ring of flowers and vines in her hair! Jeannette could hardly breathe.
The ceremony meant nothing to her now. She sat and knelt and stood at the tinkling of the altar bell, but she didn’t hear a word of the vows so carefully constructed by Suzanne and her new husband. Still, she hugged Suzanne when it was over and tried to believe that the relatives would be wrong.
Because it was spring, the wedding dinner was held outside in the chapel parking lot under a canvas tent. The Sodality girls lined up to dish out brats, beans and sauerkraut, with raisin pie, cherry crisp and cream-filled knee-caps for dessert. Everyone made way for Suzanne and Peter, although the old women, held back by their daughters, almost pushed ahead in displeasure at Suzanne’s breaking with tradition.
Jeannette understood her cousin’s need to try something new. At night, alone in her room, sometimes Jeannette worried about what her child would look like, worried that she had some hidden disease that would show itself when the child was born, that the baby would be disfigured—a sixth finger, an extra nipple. There had been talk about Jeannette, that she’d overheard as she came up to doorways or around corners. “Webs.” She’d heard that word. “Tongue-tied.” She had examined her hands and feet, studied the underside of her tongue for long minutes in the mirror. Always she believed that she saw the remnants of some disfigurement her parents had cut out.
The urge to find a tall man seemed bound to this image of her essential defect. Henri was short, as were his father and his uncles—the old Belgian blood. He took her hand at the wedding dinner and led her to a folding chair at the edge of the tent cover where the sun would be behind them. Henri slipped his jacket over her shoulders so she wouldn’t be cold in her thin spring dress. Even at eighteen, Henri had the barrel chest and thin legs of his ancestors, so his jacket hung on Jeannette’s square shoulders.
“Did you like the wedding? I didn’t see you in church.” Henri picked up Jeannette’s plate from where he’d set it and gave it to her.
Jeannette balanced the plate on her knees. The sauerkraut, brown and pungent, seemed to hold a message for her if she could read it.
“I can’t marry you, Henri,” she said, her eyes stinging.
His own plate piled high with beans and all three desserts on top of his brat and potato salad, Henri had been sitting down, carefully. He steadied himself, then sat quietly, his knees together under the plate.
“But we’ve always been together, in my mind. You have always been my wife.”
“When I was a baby,” Jeannette said, giving him this secret, "my tongue had to be cut.” She thought for a moment and then said decisively, looking into Henri’s eyes. “You are round. It can’t be. I feel that truth deep in my heart.”
Henri’s eyes filled. Jeannette wiped her own cheeks with her napkin, then handed it to her friend, her betrothed. “I’m sorry, Henri,” she said.
That great scene played through Jeannette’s mind that night. It was deliciously romantic, almost as alluring as the veil.
Perhaps her announcement to poor Henri was the catalyst Jeannette needed, but in truth it was the very next Saturday when she went shopping for flour, sugar and baking soda—things you couldn’t raise on a farm—that Jeannette found the man she would marry. To do proper shopping, the people in Thiery Hommes had to drive fifteen miles to the IGA store in Walleye Lake, where the grocery had six aisles and air conditioning in the summer. Jeannette’s mother didn’t know how to drive, so Jeannette had the chore of buying the week’s groceries Saturday mornings. As she did every Saturday, Jeannette got ready by brushing her hair: she took a plait over her hand, black against white, counting the strokes and dreaming that the day had come. She was eighteen. Her black hair, reaching to the middle of her back, shone, her jeans fit tight, and her shirt was one of her best—a soft blue with eyelet flowers by the buttons.
It was May, so she rolled the long sleeves up to her elbow, showing off her strong wrists. She backed the Honda down the driveway slowly, wary of cars barreling past on the gravel road. Once underway, she speeded up, aiming the car down the center of the gravel where the road was most flat, dodging potholes, glancing at the new calves, white splotches on black, by their mothers’ sides in the pastures that glided by.
She met the man she’d waited for by the frozen juices. He wore a yellow polo shirt and dress pants—an intimidating sight in Walleye Lake—and was having trouble finding the right kind of orange juice for a screwdriver. Jeannette solemnly stood by him as he looked, not being versed in refinements on any liquor that wasn’t beer or brandy. The man’s name was Harold; he came from Green Bay, thirty miles down the road, and was out here for a party, necessary for his job, he said, being a purchaser for one of the paper mills. He had to keep the clients happy.
For Jeannette, everything about Harold was mysterious and exciting. He had red hair and used words she wasn’t used to. If he looked at her steadily for any time, his left eye would begin to jitter and then sail off to the side. Jeannette’s mother scolded her about it later, saying such an unruly eye could only mean something seriously wrong with the man; but for Jeannette the eye told her he was wise.
And he was over six feet tall.
It didn’t take long for Harold and Jeannette to plight their troths, barely six months after Suzanne and Peter. Harold needed a wife who could cook dinners for clients and keep his house in order. Already he had a house for them to move into, a split-level in a suburb of the city. This was the life she’d dreamed.
But to bring it to fulfillment, she had to find the right veil. Not bare flowers like Suzanne’s! In each bridal store, she suffered through the dress—now a low-cut, shoulder-baring, guilty one; now high-necked with lace. It didn't matter. Sometimes she would choose a dress with one hundred fifty hooks up the back that the saleswoman or her mother would have to fasten, just to put off the moment she longed for. In store after store, Jeannette would stand on the pedestal before the mirror, take the veil from the saleswoman—so carelessly thrown over her arm—settle the tiara on her hair, and lovingly pull the mesh or tulle over her face. Then simply gaze.
Jeannette scorned those veils without the piece to hide her. Her mother learned to warn the saleswoman away when she came to offer her daughter a little hat with webbing, or a long mantilla that fell gracefully, but did not cover her face. “Don’t you understand?” her mother would say, her voice biting. No, the saleswoman didn’t understand. She thought Jeannette wanted a certain style. But what Jeannette truly wanted, desired, was the veiling.
"That one is beautiful," the saleswoman said in the fifth store the mother and daughter had tried. A long veil, all lace, Jeannette’s eyes a blur behind it.
Unlike Suzanne, Jeannette wanted help when she got married. Suzanne drove Jeannette and two aunts to the church a couple of hours before the wedding, because Jeannette hadn’t wanted to show up in her big dress and have to crawl out of her father’s tiny Honda. She would put the dress on at the church, in the only room big and private enough: the nursery, with its child’s mirror on the wall behind the playpen. Jeannette didn’t want to look at herself until she was dressed, even though she had been to the family hair dresser in Thiery Hommes that morning—the hair dresser opening the shop early so Jeannette could get to Green Bay looking perfect and on time.
"I'll bet you don't recognize yourself," Suzanne said.
Jeannette couldn’t avoid looking at herself any longer. Her long hair was piled and piled on her head, black curls raining down the sides of her face for balance. The hair dresser had done her face, too: blush, lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, foundation, eyebrow pencil, lip pencil. The skinny mirror edged in pink reflected the perfect head, the perfect face, above a workshirt and bluejeans. Jeannette tried to smile.
"You don't even know who you are," Suzanne said.
Cribs pushed against the walls and playpen out of the way, it had been time to put on the dress. Jeannette allowed Suzanne and the aunts to do their will as she stood helplessly, her eyes wide.
"We'll just slip this over you. Come on. We can't risk that work of art."
Suzanne and the aunts tied a big kitchen towel around her neck like a bib, not to protect the shirt but the face and hair. They raised the towel over Jeannette’s chin, eyes and forehead and draped it over her hair. An executioner's cowl reversed. Jeannette had had no last words. The dress slid down her upheld arms, neatly missing the best of her.
Fully dressed, with satin shoes and a bouquet attached to her wrist, Jeannette still felt uneasy. Not until the veil came down over her eyes did she take a deep breath and settle into her fantasy.
It wasn’t the veil itself that Jeannette wanted; it was the lifting of it. “Wife” means “veiled,” so the marriage ceremony should be a putting on of the lace, not a taking off. Yet her fantasy had always been the slow rising, the husband uncovering her face.
Harold was tall enough for the purpose, but Jeannette hadn't realized, going through the rehearsal in a haze, that in this ceremony—not in Thiery Hommes, but in the cathedral in Green Bay, where Harold’s family wanted it—with this priest, it was her father who would bare her. It being December and snowy, he had put on clean shoes in the foyer so he and his daughter could walk down the aisle without leaving tracks, their shoes side by side on the white cloth flung over the red carpet, the organ playing a song Harold’s mother had chosen. At the altar rail Jeannette and her father turned to face each other, she thought to smile their last good-byes. Her father recoiled when she looked at him in horror as he lifted the veil and smoothed it back behind her tiara.
"No!" she cried. But it was too late.
When Jeannette and Harold moved to his house outside Green Bay, Christmas and Jeannette’s waterfall wedding cake in red and green had gone. But Christmas lights still lit the streets. The neighbors had formed a committee, and block after block was draped in golden lights, thrown to the tops of trees, strung across the roadway, house to house. The trees, maples only a few years old in the front yards of new houses, marched in uniform line down both sides of the streets. They were hung with green lights, all the same shape and color, in honor of the Green and Gold that pumped through everyone’s veins: the Packers and Jesus, hand in hand. Anyone who dared consider red or orange or blue lights on a pine tree or along the eaves of the house was quickly dealt with. White snow, unmarred by the tracks of children, reflected green and gold all night long, the lights never turned off during this blessed season, by order of the block committee.
Harold’s split-level sat in a row of three. His was mauve along the top half of the siding, the neighbors’ were peach and yellow. Through the long months from January to May, Jeannette sat at the front picture window watching the snow deepen, then harden, then melt. She didn’t go outside on the porch, as she would have back in Thiery Hommes, because no one did here. When she drove to the grocery store (this one was carpeted and sold guava fruit), the eerie stillness of the neighborhood made her wonder if people lived in the houses at all, or if the houses themselves owned the streets, the committee a phantom group watching over the lawns and the empty driveways. As the temperature rose, Jeannette yearned to see someone, anyone when she went out to her car, but no. The grass mysteriously stayed cut and edged, flowers sprung up inside circles of brick or stone, white pebbles or cedar mulch appeared around the bases of the maple trees, but no children, no one sitting in the backyard. Still, patios now held gas grills and clay chimineas. Porches grew cast iron love seats. Jeannette boldly walked down her sidewalk and on for block after block, at different times of the day, looking for anyone, someone. At suppertime, when Harold came home, he parked the car in the garage—bringing hers in if she’d been so careless as to leave it out—and pressed the button to close the garage behind him.
Jeannette lived through her first year as a wife only half awake. Her fantasy of being a wife had never gotten that far before. There would be the veil, then the kiss, and then Happily Ever After. Somehow fried eggs and bathtub rings hadn’t played into it. When she and Harold made love for the first time, Jeannette cried. He told her that was natural. She became pregnant the same way she vacuumed—by default.
The old dream that had haunted her when she was a teenager came back after she’d had the child, a little boy. In the dream, the gash was still there, and high on her arm, above the elbow, was a white spot, with tendrils behind the skin moving outward and down. That was leprosy, she supposed. Her infant son, on his belly in his playpen, his diapered rear showing Huggy Bears, tried to dial a phone to call the doctor as the gash on her forearm grew deeper—her arm eaten half through now. Jeannette tried to help, but the phone book didn't have the doctor’s name and she couldn't remember the number. She desperately held her arm together as the baby banged his hand on the phone dial.
She was a married woman, twenty years old, her future before her unwavering. In the grayness, one thing always stood out shining—her boy, her perfect boy. Cory. When he was born, Jeannette went through the ritual of counting toes with more than mock seriousness. She checked to see that his fingers could spread and that his tongue was free, her heart clenching until she was sure. In her dreams she held her son tightly in her good arm, as tornadoes threatened.
Suzanne came to visit Jeannette sometimes, when she went on a shopping jaunt to the city, her own baby girl in the care of the aunts. Jeannette told her about the dreams and waited anxiously for Suzanne to tell her what they meant. Suzanne, pregnant with her second child, didn’t want to offer an opinion. Jeannette’s boy toddled over to look at Suzanne’s hands to see if she had anything sweet.
"Do you ever dream of stealing out of the house,” Jeannette asked her, “before anyone else is up, when the sun just touches the horizon?"
"And go where? Do what?" Suzanne opened her purse to find candy that Cory could handle.
"I don't know. My dream stops before I'm down the porch steps."
One day in the third year of her marriage, while Jeannette folded clothes in the basement level of the house, Jeannette’s mother stood beside her, eyeing her daughter’s faulty creases. Jeannette expected her mother to tell her the proper positions of sleeves and so was surprised when she said, "You should go to the doctor and get yourself fixed."
Her emaciated face stern and displeased, Jeannette’s mother made Jeannette feel like a rusted out Chevy with loose hoses. After her mother left, Jeannette contemplated finding a mechanic. The yellow pages gave her name after name. She closed her eyes and traced a finger down the page until the finger stopped of its own accord. From there everything was easy. Harold thought a psychologist was a good idea: maybe he would have a pill that would make her work right. Jeannette went to the office the very next week, excited again, as she hadn’t been since the wedding.
“What should we talk about?” the psychologist said, sitting behind his desk with his elbows propped and his hands folded.
Jeannette thought of the gash in her arm. In the dream it was pink, like the soft rubber ball she used to play with as a child. She had gnawed on it, taking a mouthful of gritty rubber. The ball would separate grotesquely, in raw pink, under the knife. But in Jeannette’s dream her flesh was smoother than that. She could see its smoothness as she held her arm up, trying to make the sides join. When she told her doctor, he said, “I see,” and found a potion for her.
For months, Jeannette counted the hours from one dose to the next, her little boy watching her, his thumb in his mouth, as she watched the clock. At last she poured the medicine into the toilet where the blue pills circled and circled before they went down. The next day Jeannette sat in a chair in the middle of the living room determined not to move until she figured out what would make her happy. Harold brought her a cup of coffee on his way out the door; Cory shifted his little chair from in front of the TV and sat with her.
After an hour, Jeannette’s nerves began to jump. She knew what she wanted to do, so she would do it. Cory behind her, she went into the back bedroom and dug into the closet to bring out the dry-cleaning bag that held her wedding veil.
It had been a few years since she'd tried it on, and for a moment she doubted it would fit. But she was wrong. The silver and flowered tiara fit snugly just above her brow; the white tulle still fluffed out. She stood in front of the mirror, in her jeans and T-shirt, and gazed at herself as she gently, lovingly unfolded the veil over her face. She breathed deeply, seeing the world and her own gauze-hidden gaze in the mirror through whiteness. This had always been her vision. The house, the tall husband, the clinging child were all shadows far back behind the whiteness of this truth. It came clear to her now. All along she had meant to marry the veil. They, the veil and she, could be one forever.
Jeannette soon found that wearing the veil gave a certain spice to scrubbing out the bathroom sink and washing the clothes. As the afternoon wore on and suppertime approached, her excitement rose. Harold would be home just in time to sit down at the table. Jeannette would make Harold’s favorite meal—boneless chicken breasts with frozen vegetables lightly steamed. No boiled cabbage for him.
When Harold came into the house, he washed his hands and turned on the headline news until Jeannette called him to come and eat. He didn’t see her until she made her entrance, platter of chicken and bowl of veggies in hand. Then he drew in his breath.
The dining room table, her son and her husband, all shimmered through the veil. Jeannette set the dishes neatly in the center of the table, careful that the net didn't droop.
"Jeannette?" Harold said.
Through the veil, Harold looked handsome. Jeannette had forgotten that she once had thought so. Now that she had to peer at him to see his face at all clearly, she realized that he was as bemused by life as she was, his wandering eye a symbol she could read at last, and for a moment she glimpsed Cory in his face.
"How have those pills been working?" Harold said.
"I've decided to stop taking them. I don't need them any more."
“You don’t need . . . take that goddam veil off!”
Jeannette put down her fork and stood up. Her breath came short, her heart pounded. An interior veil descended behind her eyes.
"This is me, Harold," she said. Her body tingled; she felt light-headed. "I can’t lose the veil now."
Jeannette wasn’t fanatical about the thing. That night she took the veil off to shower and, after an uncomfortable hour or two, when she slept.
Harold wouldn’t speak to her. For some reason, that made her feel tender toward him. Even after the veil was off, Harold turned away from her and slept as close to the edge of the bed as he could. Jeannette put out her hand and touched his back. His shoulders were broader than she remembered. Once she fell asleep, her dream came back: this time she held her arm together with masking tape over the gash, around and around her arm, then crosswise this way and that to make sure it stayed. In the dream she wore the veil, and under it neither the gash nor the tape was visible. She held her arm at her side, the tulle folding over it.
Everything was white. Foggy. A haze of purity. It was a good dream. The next morning, after Harold, still not talking to her, left thirty minutes early, Jeannette spent a long time playing with her hair, trying to imitate the loops and furbelows she'd had at the wedding, but after all she decided she preferred her hair straight and natural. When she put the veil back on, though, her long black hair through the hanging veil reminded her of vampire women, and she faltered.
Still, as it had the day before, her housework took on a glow, a meaning, through the hazy mesh. The day now had something for her to look forward to. This day she would be going to the store—the idea gave her a thrill. Cory had found his Zorro outfit the night before, a face mask and a cape, and, like his mother, had worn it all evening as he sat on his stool in front of the TV and as he played with his toys while Jeannette did the dishes. He had it on now, too.
Unlike the streets and yards, the grocery store had plenty of people, and when Cory and Jeannette walked in, hand in hand, the people glanced at them then quickly looked away. Jeannette was there for the week's groceries, but she thought she might look at hair color as well. Blonde hair under the veil wouldn’t have the vampire effect. Jeannette put Cory in the cart seat, and they began their promenade up one aisle and down the next. Jeannette said hello to the women she knew from church, not like back in Thiery Hommes where the women knew each other intimately, but only by name. The women answered her hello too brightly, their round earrings reflecting the fluorescent lights. One stopped to talk.
"You're wearing a wedding veil."
"Yes. And Cory has on his Zorro suit."
"Oh!" Her relief was transparent. Mothers might do anything to make their children happy.
Jeannette wanted to make her point. “Want to know how long I've worn it?"
The woman began to fuss with the packages in her cart.
"Two days," Jeannette said.
The woman murmured something about forgetting to pick up bananas, about having to leave. To her retreating back, Jeannette said it again.
"Two whole days!"
The encounter probably explained Jeannette’s decision in the hair color section. She was tingling with power, her world white by her own election. Auburn, brunette, golden blonde all seemed too tame. She bought blue instead.
But the blue didn’t work, just gave her black hair a sheen. After Harold came home, Jeannette went back to the store alone. This time, everything looked different, as if the veil had grown in power the longer she’d worn it. She could see auras around the fresh fruits and vegetables, dark auras when the melons were going bad, pink and yellow auras when the eggplant was good. As she got used to her new sight, she realized that people had colors, too. The manager coming toward her shimmered in red. She quickly turned down an aisle away from him and went to the hair dye section to buy the peroxide she would need if she wanted the blue to take. A woman standing there looked up when Jeannette hurried around the end of the aisle, and Jeannette stumbled back. This woman was just like her, wearing a veil, too. It hung down to her chest in front and low on her back. Through the veil, the woman’s eyes seemed haunted. Jeannette snatched the first bottle of peroxide she found and headed to the checkout counter. The woman behind the first register wore a veil; an old woman in line with her basket, veiled too. Everywhere Jeannette looked, women’s faces and bodies were veiled, and when they turned their gaze toward her their eyes were like hollows.
Jeannette went to the shortest line where a girl checked the groceries out. She had no veil, and her aura was green. Amid all the veiled women, this girl was the only one with a clear face—she and one woman with three children around her. Jeannette paid for her goods, trembling.
The next morning, Suzanne came to visit. Jeannette wondered if Harold had called her. The night before, after coming back from the store, Jeannette, hands shaking, had used the peroxide to turn her black hair white. Then the blue appeared, as vivid as the sky. The blue hair had shocked Harold almost as much as the veil did. He had stood, aghast, in the doorway of the bathroom where she was putting the veil on over her newly colored and dried hair. Seeing him then through the veil made him seem small and dark. Jeannette had never thought of him like that before.
Suzanne did a doubletake herself when she saw Jeannette: once for the veil, again for the color.
“What are you doing to yourself?” she said, as Jeannette stood back for her to come in.
“I’ve stopped taking my pills.”
“And that’s good?”
Jeannette offered Suzanne the Lazyboy, and she sat on the floor at Suzanne’s feet. Through the veil, Suzanne seemed distant, her face clear, and for a second time Jeannette faltered. She reached up and took out the hair pins that kept the veil in place and laid it aside so she could see her friend with nothing between them.
“I’m not crazy, you know.”
“I never thought you were.”
“I’ve been wearing this veil for three days. No one wants to say anything to me about it. Can you imagine if I tried to do this back home?”
Suzanne laughed at the thought, and Jeannette laughed too, the first time she’d truly laughed since she’d gotten married.
“Why did you take the veil off now, then?”
“Because I wanted to see you better. You seem . . . free.”
Suzanne leaned down and opened her arms; Jeannette hugged her, hard.
After Suzanne’s visit, Jeannette left the veil on the floor where she’d laid it. She tied her blue hair back with a rubber band and helped Cory undo his mask and cape. They were going to go back to Thiery Hommes, she told him. Just for a while, just to see how things felt there.
“To Granma’s house?”
“For a little while. Then maybe I’ll find a special place for you and me. I’ll get a job in Walleye Lake and we’ll do fine.”
“What about Daddy?”
“I don’t know. He can come visit if he wants.”
“What about that?” he said, pointing to the veil, a mass of white on the living room rug.
Jeannette considered it for a moment. The yearning was gone; it was mere lace and ribbons, nothing more. “I’m leaving it here,” she said.
And so Jeannette returned to the village of her birth, one perfect child in tow. The old ladies talked about her behind her back, saying that they’d known she could never be happy with an outsider. But they brought her casseroles and pies the week she moved into a little house that had been standing empty since the owner died, and Henri came to visit on weekends, to talk about his new fiancée.
They say that Harold threw the veil in the trash. And when the buyers came for supper that next week, he served them chicken breast and steamed vegetables himself.
Jeannette had her dream one last time. She no longer had a veil, just blue hair streaming down in front of her eyes. Everything seemed murky through it, a sea-water dream. Her arm was fine, no gashes, no tape. She and Cory stood alone on a huge rock at the shore of some unnamed ocean, waves smashing below them.
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