Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Bergman Megan Mayhew

Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Bergman Megan Mayhew

Author:Bergman, Megan Mayhew [Bergman, Megan Mayhew]
Language: eng
Format: azw3
Publisher: Scribner
Published: 2012-03-05T16:00:00+00:00


The Right Company

The month after I found out my husband, Nate, slept with a woman who rode dressage, I rented a run-down cottage on Abbet’s Cove with sloping pine floors and a large front porch that caught the sound-side breeze. The Realtor dropped a marble and it rolled from the front door to the back. I’d always wanted to live in an old house, but Nate had preferred new construction. Perfect, I said to the Realtor. I’ll take it.

I attached an oil painting of the Virgin Mother to my headboard with a Chip Clip. She was street-vendor beautiful and reminded me of Donna Reed, draped in a blue bedsheet, lipstick and rouge faultlessly applied. That night I almost slept, the faint smell of Fritos above my pillow.

Dear Mary, I prayed, let me be celibate and rational. Let me, for once, forget about men and be happy.

Lights off, I lay in bed, no one but Mary listening, remembering all the men I’d slept with, the boys I’d wanted who hadn’t wanted me back, and how it had ruined parts of my life. The love letters I’d left in a locker for the star pitcher in high school—he hadn’t read them. The beers I’d bought for the guitarist six years my junior—he’d blushed. The husband I’d loved—he’d strayed. Maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough. Better not to try at all, I figured. Better to cut out the complexity and admit that I never really believed in marriage, the power of a vow between flawed people.

Mother Mary, I said. How can I find peace after this year? Have faith, she said.

You always say that, I said. Everyone does.

Two cats were already living in the house when I moved in. I let them stay. I let them sleep in the bed.

When I couldn’t sleep—I’ve had insomnia for years—I walked through my new neighborhood and gazed into other people’s living room windows. Televisions lit rooms like squad cars. I saw the backs of people’s heads, arms around shoulders, the moments when a family has relaxed into itself, into the couch, faces unwatched and watching.

Sometimes I sat outside and watched the silhouette of my new neighbor on his ham radio, his tin-sided shed lit up at night. From the porch swing I could hear the anarchist funk band practicing in the abandoned barbershop, the metallic sound of the doughnut shop stacking trays in trucks for the morning delivery.

I was a runaway from a husband who had cheated but felt bad about it—bad enough to want me back. I just wasn’t brave enough to go. I was onto something about myself. Even if my heart was broken, maybe this was my chance to live the way I wanted to live, and where. Sure I’d be lonely. Sure I’d crave companionship. But the idea of real freedom was seductive.

Within two months, I’d made one new friend in town—Al Hastings. Al was a food writer who frequented the mom-and-pop restaurants of Eastern North Carolina. He talked about vanishing Americana, red-eyed gravy, the genericized Southern vernacular.



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