Who’s the God of Minnie Marsh, the God of the back streets of Eastbourne, the God of three o’clock in the afternoon?
All she did was to take her glove and rub hard at a spot on the window-pane. She rubbed as if she would rub something out for ever-some stain, some indelible contamination. Indeed, the spot remained for all her rubbing, and back she sank with the shudder and the clutch of the arm I had come to expect. Something impelled me to take my glove and rub my window. There, too, was a little speck on the glass. For all my rubbing it remained. And then the spasm went through me I crooked my arm and plucked at the middle of my back. My skin, too, felt like the damp chicken’s skin in the poulterer’s shop-window; one spot between the shoulders itched and irritated, felt clammy, felt raw. Could I reach it? Surreptitiously I tried. She saw me. A smile of infinite irony, infinite sorrow, flitted and faded from her face. But she had communicated, shared her secret, passed her poison she would speak no more. Leaning back in my corner, shielding my eyes from her eyes, seeing only the slopes and hollows, greys and purples, of the winter’s landscape, I read her message, deciphered her secret, reading it beneath her gaze.
Hilda’s the sister-in-law. Hilda? Hilda? Hilda stands at the door as the cab draws up, holding a coin. «Poor Minnie, more of a grasshopper than ever-old cloak she had last year. Well, well, with too children these days one can’t do more. No, Minnie, I’ve got it; here you are, cabby -none of your ways with mee in, Minnie. Oh, I could carry you, let alone your basket!» So they go into the dining-room. «Aunt Minnie, children.»
Hilda Marsh-Hilda the blooming, the full bosomed, the matronly
Slowly the knives and forks sink from the upright. Down they get (Bob and Barbara), hold out hands stiffly; back again to their chairs, staring between the resumed mouthfuls. [But this we’ll skip; ornaments, curtains, trefoil china plate, yellow oblongs of cheese, white squares of biscuit-skip-oh, but wait! Half-way through luncheon one of those shivers; Bob stares at her, spoon in mouth. «Get on with your pudding, Bob;» but Hilda disapproves. «Why should she twitch?» Skip, skip, till we reach the landing on the upper floor; stairs brass-bound; linoleum worn; oh, yes! little bedroom looking out over the roofs of Eastbourne-zigzagging roofs like the spines of caterpillars, this way, that way, striped red and yellow, with blue-black slating]. Now, Minnie, the door’s shut; Hilda heavily descends to the basement; you unstrap the straps of your basket, lay on the bed a meagre nightgown, stand side by side furred felt slippers. The looking-glass-no, you avoid the looking-glass. Some methodical disposition of hat-pins. Perhaps the shell box has something in it? You shake it; it’s the pearl stud there was last year-that’s all. And then the sniff, the sigh, the sitting by the window. Three o’clock on a December afternoon; the rain drizzling; one light low in the skylight of a drapery emporium; another high in a servant’s bedroom-this one goes out. That gives her nothing to look at. A moment’s blankness-then, what are you thinking? (Let me peep across at her opposite; she’s asleep or pretending it; so what would she think about sitting at the window at three o’clock in the afternoon? Health, money, payday loan companies in Pittsboro NC bills, her God?) Yes, sitting on the very edge of the chair looking over the roofs of Eastbourne, Minnie Marsh prays to Gods. That’s all very well; and she may rub the pane too, as though to see God better; but what God does she see? I, too, see roofs, I see sky; but, oh, dear-this seeing of Gods! More like President Kruger than Prince Albert-that’s the best I can do for him; and I see him on a chair, in a black frock-coat, not so very high up either; I can manage a cloud or two for him to sit on; and then his hand trailing in the cloud holds a rod, a truncheon is it?-black, thick, thorned -a brutal old bully-Minnie’s God! Did he send the itch and the patch and the twitch? Is that why she prays? What she rubs on the window is the stain of sin. Oh, she committed some crime!