The chapter tells of the misbegotten marriage of Martin Driscoll with Kirsten Collins along with Cordelia Driscoll's shame and regret over her part in its failure.
Local gossips had a field day over Martin's divorce. For years resentment had been building at his excessive good fortune, which had not gone unnoticed by the other parents, who saw his achievements only minimized the accomplishments of their own children. It was not surprising then, that the scandalous break-up of Martin Driscoll's marriage was viewed by some as simply restoring the proper balance of triumph and sorrow that is necessary to keep one's neighbors from being swallowed up with envy.
Still, there was one casualty in the matter who softened the glee of even the most hard-hearted. 'His poor mother.' It was one of the few sincere sentiments expressed. In the eyes of the community, Cordelia Driscoll had always been above reproach. She never talked about Martin's triumphs (in a situation where few mothers could have resisted), and when he entered the seminary she displayed an equally modest silence. She was determined not to do the slightest thing to jeopardize her uneasy peace with God. From the outside, it seemed the epitome of virtue.
Yet even respect for Cordelia could not completely still the talk. "Who would have ever thought it?" friends and acquaintances alike asked with genuine dismay. "They seemed so perfect for each other."
And less charitably, "Of course Martin was used to having things his own way. If you ask me, that was the problem."
Someone else would offer, "I hear he's left town. Couldn't stand the disgrace, I suppose."
A newcomer to the conversation might ask what disgrace exactly did they mean, and be informed severely, "Well surely you heard what his wife did!" And one of several versions would be offered (and contradicted) of the day that Martin caught his wife of less than a year, in their own bed, in the middle of the day, making love to a stranger.**********
On the surface Martin and Kirsten were perfectly matched.Both came from highly respectable, well-off, Catholic families; Martin was a product of St. Paul's, the boys' Military school run under the strict supervision of the Christian Brothers; Kirsten had been educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, at St. Ann's, just a few miles away. Both had more than their share of charm, good looks and excellent future prospects. Although the Collins family was not as wealthy as the Driscolls, Hugh Collins made a tidy profit each year from his half-dozen dry cleaning shops, and was a wise investor.
Some people insisted that Martin and Kirsten had gone together in high school and that Kirsten was the reason Martin left the seminary. But that just another rumor. Martin did not even meet Kirsten Collins until the year after he had come back home.
It was one of those chance meetings, a few days before Christmas when the stores were a madhouse of panicked shoppers and harried clerks. Kirsten and Martin were stranded together in a long line at the shirt counter at Dayton's, both having fallen back on the same unimaginative, last-minute gift for their fathers.
Martin had felt someone's eyes on him and glanced up to find a strikingly pretty girl with sapphire-blue eyes and silver earrings that nearly brushed her collar, staring at him. She immediately looked away, but not before giving Martin the vague impression that he had seen her before. Later he learned she had been two years behind him, at St. Ann's, and that she and her friends used to go to every football game. (She did not mention the main reason they went was to meet and flirt with the boys at St. Paul's).
Martin stole a few surreptitious glances at Kirsten, trying to place her, and finally uttered that oldest of introductions, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
That was how it began. Kirsten had smiled and introduced herself, and suddenly they were deep in conversation, exploring school connections and mutual friends, and caught up in each other's charm.
Some pages later
The wedding took place on a warm, sunny June morning the following year, as Martin had planned. The Church of The Transfiguration was packed. There were 350 guests to toast the bride and groom at the wedding breakfast in the Crystal room of the Ambassador Hotel. That evening they returned for a catered dinner in the hotel's famous formal gardens, and dancing under the stars. The bridal couple disappeared around midnight, immediately after a magnificent display of fireworks was set off above the reflecting pool.
It had been a beautiful Catholic wedding, appropriately followed by a story-book honey-moon in Europe. Kirsten would remember it as the happiest (or at least the most exciting) time of her life. She thoroughly enjoyed the status of newly-wed. She liked the novelty, the drama, the attention. Her only lingering disappointment was her husband's lack of sexual enthusiasm, which forced her to conclude that what she had once attributed to heroic self-control, was more likely low motivation.
After a few more pages
Martin never remembered the man leaving, even though he would have had to pass him to get out of the bedroom. His eyes were fixed only on Kirsten, everything else was blurred and muted. He stood in the doorway numb with disbelief. He had a sense of his life toppling around him like a building in an earthquake. Kirsten was watching him with the alert caution of an enemy. Her jaw was tightly clenched; the lower lip was thrust slightly forward. It was a look of defiance, not remorse.
Martin came slowly into the room. He moved stiffly, with the slightly dazed look of a man emerging from a bomb-shelter. He came to the foot of the bed and stood over it like a huge, lumbering bear roused from hibernation. He stared down at Kirsten as though he had never seen her before. His face was white, his jaw was tight and hard, and he kept clenching and unclenching the hands that hung at his sides as though they belonged to someone else.
Kirsten pulled the flowered sheet up to her chin. The movement released Martin from his stupor. He swooped down and tore the sheet away. Kirsten cowered against the pillows, her arms crossed over her breast like some virgin martyr. Martin gazed down at her naked body as though he had never seen it before. His eyes followed the softly rounded contours of her breasts and hips, her long shapely legs, the pearly-white toes. He forced himself to look at her face. Her full, pouty lips were trembling ever so slightly, but the dark, sapphire eyes stared back at him, completely devoid of emotion. He looked from her eyes to the bed, and began to slowly shake his head as though to wipe away the last few minutes. But then his numbness gave way to anger and he felt the rage that had been gathering behind his eyes, begin to pound in his temples like a hammer. A sound must have broken from his lips.
Kirsten pounced on it. "What?" she demanded.
He stared at her.
"You want to know why? Is that it?" Her eyes flashed. "You know why. What was I supposed to do, live in a box by myself and wait for you? How did you expect me to stand it?" She was accusing, angry.
Martin watched with astonished fascination as Kirsten tried to change him from the victim into the villain. He thought she must be mad. He felt his anger struggling to burst loose. He wanted nothing more than to shut her up; to stop the stream of foul accusing words.
Suddenly he had an image of himself thrust on top of her, holding her down, his body covering every inch of hers. He was immediately horrified that she could evoke such a powerful, odious impulse. He stood there for a moment, completely shaken. Then took a deep, deliberate breath and stepped slowly backward, keeping his eyes fixed on the bed as though he was stepping away from the edge of a cliff. He stared at the Kirsten's smooth, white body, at the dewy sheen of her skin, as though he had never seen it before. His gaze moved from her body to her eyes, which were regarding him coldly. "Slut!" He spat the word with vengeance, like a bullet, then turned and fled. It was the last thing Martin ever said to Kirsten, without an attorney present.
Even later in the chapter
When at last the divorce was final, Cordelia tried to put the whole thing from her mind. It had been her greatest wish to see Kirsten removed from Martin's life, but it turned out to be a shallow, soiled victory. Martin's move to New York had, in effect, completely separated him from his family. It had been a sad, sad time.
At the end of the chapter we return to Cordelia who lies dying
Cordelia had not thought about Martin's divorce in years. When she did, it was simply as a fact, the way one notes a road sign; without embellishment. It was an old event in their family history; one she had long ago put to rest as a failure of judgment on Martin's part and a failure of morality on the part of Kirsten.
Cordelia had never contemplated the details surrounding the divorce; the passion and the misery it entailed, or her own place in those events. But in these last few days, as she lay on her back staring up at the painted trees and sky and meadow on the living room ceiling, she found herself returning to that time. But now, the certainty she once had felt about her actions was gone. Doubt fluttered at the edges of her conscience like a bird trying to escape through a closed window. The question poked and nagged and would not leave her: What if she had responded differently to Kirsten that day on the telephone? How might that have worked upon all the consequences that came after?
And there was a deeper reproach, more shameful and petty; one she had never before allowed herself to articulate. Why had she not overcome her pride and accepted Kirsten from the very beginning, like a daughter, instead of holding stubbornly to the dislike that Martin had seen so clearly and thrown up to her?
It was true. She had never welcomed her. She had never done a single thing to make Kirsten feel a part of the family. She had never made one overture of friendship. And the only time Kirsten ever came to her for help, she had turned her back on her.
Cordelia began to sob. How could she have been so callous? Perhaps if it was not for her, everything would have turned out differently. Perhaps Kirsten and Martin would still be together today. Anything was better than his current state. Must that be on her conscience too?
End of selectionsfrom First Sunday of Ordinary Time
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