Family Business

Nicole Makarevicz
Family Business
That he married you, a city woman: they never forgave him for that. He was the best catch in town, a good-looking guy who turned the heads of girls and women. His dad was the owner of the local store, his uncle, a childless bachelor, the only innkeeper.

He wasn’t looking for love, but then he found you. That is how he recounted it back then, at the beginning and still many years thereafter. You liked that he was different than the other guys you knew. He had a hands-on attitude about him, a rawness in his demeanour and directness in his speaking. He said he needed you and wanted you, which felt very flattering. And so one thing led to another and then you were married and there was no room for doubts.

You had always wished for a big family since your only childhood was lonely and boring. But there came blood, month after month, year after year. Your childlessness was seen as a punishment from God. You stayed silent and were at the mercy of their despicable malevolence. You did it for him.

Mumps had made him sterile back way back when he was a toddler. To find out about it was as shocking to him as it was for you. Instead of being heaven’s punishment, it was simply a forgotten sickness from long ago. The results stayed the same, but the gossip was all the more hurtful.

Although God seemed as foreign to you as you to them, you went to church every Sunday. Every Ash Wednesday you got your benediction and on every Holy Saturday the blessing for eggs and ham. For Easter and Christmas you went to mass. You attended funerals and marriages. Every time it was a challenge and the pain appeared unbearable.
Still they didn’t accept you. Even when they talked to you, they didn’t say anything. The sharp tongue of silence drilled into your soul, until it was filled with holes and permeable for resentment and spite.

That deliberate silence made you fragile. It was a wall that could neither be torn down by politeness nor by kindness. A wall that became more stabile the harder you tried. A wall that at some point also stood between you and your husband. Meanwhile, the silence around you grew loud enough for even him to hear.

The priest’s niece was a lean thing who pressed herself into every corner in order not to be noticed. Her voice, deep and melodious, provided her with attention from which she desperately tried to escape. And so she persisted in voluntary muteness, exposed to ridicule which she could not defy.

The priest had taken her in after her parents died. An accident about which nobody seemed to really know anything precise. However, everyone seemed to agree that fire was somehow involved.

For two years the girl managed the priest’s household. She did it so quietly and inconspicuously that her vanishing would have hardly been noticed if she had not given birth to a boy just a day before. The name of the child’s father the girl never mentioned. Yet the village had a suspicion as to whom might have brought the girl into her altered circumstances.

Merely a couple weeks after the girl vanished, the priest was surprisingly relocated. He wasn’t mourned afterwards because too much of his preaching were impregnated with hellfire, and the atonements which he inflicted upon those repenting were too strict. They gossiped about how he turned a blind eye from his own doorstep which should have been swept clean first.

On the side it was rumoured that the niece had been dropped into the deep end. The priest had gotten rid of her, they murmured to each other. That girl simply attracted disaster, just remember what happened to her parents.

You didn’t care about where the baby came from. Simply its well-being was important to you and its destiny seemed somehow entangled with yours, its resentment being like a reflection of your own. If you had hesitated, maybe your husband might have convinced you otherwise. But this way, he said yes and you became a mother.

After you had accepted the controversial child, the silence lost its horror. Your son, because he was your son, from the first moment onward, reimbursed you for your humiliation of remaining the stranger. You two became a unity that even excluded your husband. Although his affection eroded from the constant headwind, he always remained loyal and let you go your way.

Your love protected your kid like a cocoon, like armour which repelled harsh words as well as vicious remarks. Your son was your one and only; you were his everything and nobody could come between you.

Years later, her smoky and unique voice was heard on the radio. The throwback turned bullies into friends. The village, dazzled by her success, became bloated with complacent greatness and bathed in the fame of someone else. Your son was courted and ensnared. He enjoyed his surprising popularity, but to the disappointment of the flatterers he showed no ambition to contact his famous mom. His high flight of fame ended not abruptly but gradually, yet it was no great loss he assured you.

On his 18th birthday the niece returned to the village. Mother and son stood across from each other, more foreign to each other than strangers. The niece, who had become famous yet would always remain remembered as the pregnant girl of the village, tried to make polite conversation, but failed miserably. You tried to mediate; you pitied her for she seemed to be a victim just like you.

It is time she said suddenly. And then she told him, what he needed to know about his father. Your husband’s uncle had only recently been buried. He had left everything he owned to your son, who was also his son. Your husband wasn’t very surprised that he had raised his own cousin. His uncle had always been still water running deep. But he had been a coward too, hiding from responsibility. One simply cannot choose who belongs to family.

That is not true, you thought as you embraced your niece.
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