Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nancy Scott

Quaker Meeting House, Princeton, NJ

          after The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

While sitting in my car in the gravel parking lot of the Friends School, waiting for Leah’s classes to end, I was so engrossed in the last few pages of the novel flashing on my Kindle screen that I almost missed Mitchell as he emerged from the path in the woods, which linked the Battlefield, the scene of a Revolutionary War battle, to the Friends property. He stood for a moment in the dwindling late afternoon sunlight as if to catch his breath, then proceeded down the narrow path that would take him around the brick wall and toward the Meeting House. As he skirted the wall, I lost sight of him. I understood that he often  took this route when he wanted to attend early Sunday services in the Meeting House, where not feeling the need to say anything, he would sit quietly until people began to shake hands and make their way outside to the goodies laid out on a picnic table. Since today was Thursday, I wondered what had brought him here; perhaps it had something to do with Madeline. I couldn’t see what he was doing beyond the wall, but I imagined that he might be walking among the rows of nameless markers in the small graveyard like I did in the 1970s when I’d rented space for a nursery school in the low-slung building adjacent to the Meeting House. While I had been preoccupied with entertaining a gaggle of three- to five-year-olds, Mitchell was a teenager in Detroit. In college, he’d met Madeline and fallen in love with her, unfortunately an emotion not reciprocated. After Madeline’s marriage to Leonard fell apart, she returned to her parents’ home in town, and kept Mitchell around for company. I saw Mitchell reemerge from behind the brick wall just as I read that he had finally found the courage to confront Madeline and tell her he was leaving. As my Kindle powered down, I glanced at my watch, got out of the car and headed toward the Friends School, which had not yet been built when Mitchell decided to give up on his misbegotten love affair. When I looked back Mitchell had disappeared, and Leah, freed from the restraints of the classroom, was racing toward me, her Hello Kitty backpack bouncing about her shoulders.


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