"This was true, she knew, for it was what she had been taught by her father and mother"
Countdown of lifeEach of her own birthdays she celebrated without joy, with a certain resignation and doubt; it came and went as it was supposed to, and a few months later she would find herself depressed and unaccountably perplexed by how old she was. Thirty, thirty-five, forty, all had come to visit her like admonitory relatives, and all had slipped away without a trace, without a sound, and now, once again, she was waiting.
She was seated before her dressing table in her robe and slippers and had begun spreading cold cream on her face. The touch of the cream, the unexpectedness of it—for she had been thinking deeply about how to occupy tomorrow—the swift cool touch demoralized her so completely that she almost screamed.
She continued spreading the cream over her features, steadily observing herself in the mirror, and wondered who she was, and how she happened to be at the dressing table, and who the man was who sat on the edge of the bed taking off his shoes. She considered her fingers, which dipped into the jar of their own accord. Rapidly, soundlessly, she was disappearing into white, sweetly scented anonymity. Gratified by this she smiled, and perceived a few seconds later that beneath the mask she was not smiling. All the same, being committed, there was nothing to do but proceed.
Her album provided many comforting hours. There she could find her children once again, and her husband, too. He was standing in bright sunshine with one hand on the fender of the new Reo and Carolyn was sitting on his shoulders. There was Douglas showing off the baseball bat they had given him for his birthday. And there was Ruth in her first high heels, standing pigeon-toed and earnestly determined not to fall on her face. There, too, were her friends—Grace Barron waving from the high diving board at the country-club pool, Mabel Ong outside the Auxiliary clubhouse with hands thrust in the side pockets of her tweed jacket, Madge one snowy day in a Persian lamb coat with her galoshes unzipped, and Lois Montgomery looking presidential. Mrs. Bridge wished she had taken more snapshots.
Strangers in the familyFor a while after their marriage she was in such demand that it was not unpleasant when he fell asleep. Presently, however, he began sleeping all night, and it was then she awoke more frequently, and looked into the darkness, wondering about the nature of men, doubtful of the future, until at last there came a night when she shook her husband awake and spoke of her own desire. Affably he placed one of his long white arms around her waist; she turned to him then, contentedly, expectantly, and secure. However nothing else occurred, and in a few minutes he had gone back to sleep.
This was the night Mrs. Bridge concluded that while marriage might be an equitable affair, love itself was not.
As time went on it became evident that Douglas was the most introspective of the three children, but aside from this— to his father’s disappointment—he appeared to be totally unremarkable. Mr. Bridge had hoped for a brilliant son, and though he had not yet given up that hope he was reluctantly adapting himself to the idea that his son was no prodigy. If Douglas amounted to anything in later life, he concluded, it would be less the result of brilliance than of conscientious effort.
Good mannersMr. and Mrs. Bridge were giving a party, not because they wanted to, but because it was time. Like dinner with the Van Metres, once you accepted an invitation you were obligated to reciprocate, or, as Mr. Bridge had once expressed it, retaliate.
Mrs. Bridge could not quite recall how she and her husband became acquainted with the Van Metres, or how they got into the habit of exchanging dinners once in a while. Nevertheless this situation had developed and Mrs. Bridge was sure it was as awkward for the Van Metres as it was for them—each couple felt obligated to return the other’s hospitality.
The Van Metres had a disconcerting habit of believing what people said. Mrs. Bridge, having expressed the hope they would stop by again, forgot about them. Yet two weeks had not passed before they came for another nice little visit. She pretended to be glad to see them. They drank several pots of tea and seemed not to be aware of the long periods of silence. Mrs. Bridge desperately tried to prevent silences, and ordinarily she succeeded, but with the Van Metres it was an awful job. She was grateful when either of them began to speak because it gave her a moment to rest and to think of another topic
After one of the Auxiliary meetings she chanced to be nearby when Grace got on the subject of religion and said there was a rumor that after Christ was sentenced to death He turned to one of the soldiers and said, “When am I going to learn to keep my big mouth shut?”
Mrs. Bridge smiled courteously, as she never failed to do when someone told a joke, and though she did not believe God was planning to strike Grace dead, still she could not see there was anything to be gained by asking for trouble.
That summer the family was invited to the wedding of a relative named Maxwell who was a postal clerk in the nearby town of Olathe. Carolyn was the only one who wanted to attend the wedding, but because It was an obligation of sorts the entire family except Mr. Bridge drove to Olathe. When the bride came down the aisle they discovered the reason for the wedding.
“I can’t stand him,” she answered after a while.
“What was it this time?”
“He hit me.”
Mrs. Bridge caught her breath.
“He did,” she repeated, with no apparent anger. “He slapped me so hard I lost my balance and fell down.”
“You must have done something to provoke him. Didn’t you?” she asked. [...]
“Do you know what he did afterward, Mother? He tried to make it up the way men always do.”
“Carolyn, there are some things about marriage that a woman has to—“
“Oh, no, don’t tell me that! I don’t want any part of that myth—I don’t! Why, Mother, he didn’t even know it was me. Do you know what I’m saying?”
Decorum and respectabilityAppearances were an abiding concern of Mrs. Bridge, which was the reason that one evening as she saw Ruth preparing to go out she inquired, “Aren’t you taking a purse, dear?”
Ruth answered in a husky voice that whatever she needed she could carry in her pockets.
Said Mrs. Bridge, “Carolyn always takes a purse.”
There was a great deal of interest in Christmas decorations; Mrs. Bridge very much enjoyed them, but at the same time they presented her with a problem: if you did not put up any decorations you were being conspicuous, and if you put up too many you were being conspicuous. At the very least there should be a large holly wreath on the front door; at the most there might be half a dozen decorations visible, including the Christmas tree. In her annual attempt to strike the proper note she came to rely more and more on Carolyn, who possessed, she thought, better judgment than either Ruth or Douglas, although she was careful to keep this opinion to herself.
“As you probably know, the club was designed by Crandall”
Mrs. Bridge had never heard of this architect, but she thought his tone implied she should have. “Let me think,” she said, touching her cheek, “is he the City Hall man? I really should know, of course. His name is so familiar.”
Van Metre turned to stare at her. He smiled bleakly. “I’m afraid Crandall is not the City Hall man, India. No, I’m afraid not.”
She did want to complete the book because she was always meeting people who asked if she had read it, and within the month she had reached the twentieth lesson, where one turned adverbs into nouns. So far none of her friends had commented as the dust jacket promised; consequently Mrs. Bridge was a little discouraged.
When she had gotten far enough along to feel capable of discussing it she left it on the hall table; however Mr. Bridge did not even notice it until it had lain there for three days. She watched him pick it up, saw his nostrils flatten as he read the title, and then she waited nervously and excitedly. He opened the book, read a few sentences, grunted, and dropped the book on the table. This was disappointing. In fact, now that there was no danger involved, she had trouble finishing the book; she thought it would be better in a magazine digest. But eventually she did finish it and returned it to the library, saying with a slight air of sophistication, “I can’t honestly say I agree with it all, but he’s certainly well informed.”
PrejudicesShe was fascinated by this. She had never known a boy who was poor. In high school she had known boys who worked during summers and some who worked after school in order to have spending money, but none of them had been forced to work in order to eat and buy clothing.
[Ordering an Italian waiter a coffee in Rome] “It certainly does make things simpler when they speak English,” she said, “but my!—doesn’t this one have an accent!”
At luncheon the day after her return to Kansas City she was questioned about the situation in Europe and she replied that it had been frightening and that she really had no idea what was going on. They had not met any Nazis—at least she did not think so —and she could not honestly give an opinion. She felt more sure of herself when asked about the sights they had seen. [..]
“The poverty of the Europeans must be simply appalling.”
“Yes, it’s simply unbelievable.”
“They say there’s no middle class at all, just the rich and the poor.”
“Yes, it seems so unfair.”
“I suppose they’re all dying to emigrate to this country.”
“Yes, though of course you can’t blame them,” she replied. “Grace, would you pass the cream?”
Evan S. Connell - Mrs. Bridge (Counterpoint, 2010)