This section is a curious one. It is the only one in the novel that will stray from the third person to the first–I conceived of it as almost a ghostly elegy from beyond the grave. Thus the inspiration of the day is going to be….
I liked the idea of this person, Edward, telling the reader who he was or at least the motivations behind some of his more unlikeable decisions (namely, not telling Hanna he was sick) and giving a little vignette of the romance between him and Hanna. A lot of the novel is about the seeking out of Edward–Leon searches for the basic facts of his father’s life and death and even Edward himself tries to find a clear way to define himself. Now, let us turn to Edward and hear from him:
I remember her belt–a thin circle of twine tied along her hipbones. I do not know why but I felt that the girl who would wear a belt full of rugged charm must possess the ferocity of Eleanor of Aquitaine. But he locked her up, my mother would protest if I spoke too kindly of her (her name still passed down to me, centuries later, even if she was buried in a priory). Hanna carried her head in noble fashion, haughtily lifted to scan her lands alongside the farmer’s market. I knew her family as they owned one of the largest farms in the county, culminating in a white-painted house resting on top of the hill like a citadel. Hanna, I will take you to the Indian mounds and teach you. She giggled, running her sun-freckled hands over her skirt. She agreed in the laissez-faire manner that she was doubtless taught (her mother stood a few yards away, her hands bound together in front of her chest, before finally walking over to shake my hand but never meeting my eye. She had smooth white skin under the cover of her straw hat, her black hair tucked under in looped knot).
A month later, I knew that I loved Hanna and as for my lady Eleanor, Hanna would learn from her (that rugged belt, I found out, was the sole sharpness that Hanna shared with the lady of Aquitaine). It still took an hour after we joined each other’s company before Hanna said my name or moved closer to me. When asked how she spent her days, she responded with a predictable chorus of “in the garden.” Some days she arrived still wearing her gardening gloves. When she took my hand I knew she would rather be tending to her flowers (I had never seen flowers bloom with such pigmentation).
“Can I kiss your neck?” I whispered to her while watching the old fishermen sit undisturbed in their boats. She stared ahead, a redness engulfing her neck, her apples of her cheeks clawed by the same heat. She blinked back tears, forcing them back to where they originated.
“Don’t say that,” Hanna ordered. She pulled at the gardening gloves on her hands, tugging at her fingers. A minute later she faced me, a pink smile on show.
“I bet Eleanor liked that line,” she laughed. I gathered her hands and kissed the fingertips through the gloves (such a small surface area). I taught her the skill of skipping a stone afterwards, minding not to be caught staring too long at her throat or the spin of her hips.
“Hanna you are a born rock skipper,” I sang. She bowed her head, masking the grin she gained from the compliment. I want to know when I made you happy so that I can take those counts to the grave. Henry made Eleanor simper with laughter—in that time after they wed it must have been a loved number, a number that slipped into bed with him and kept her company when her love shared his nights with blonde-haired mistresses.
“Who do you want to marry? What kind of man?” I asked her.
“One who can uproot trees,” she said after a pause. It was in this response that I decided not to tell her that my childhood had been followed by a period of consumption. Perhaps it was a deception that doomed any chance for a successful marriage. I never felt stronger than when I knew that she thought me capable of great deeds—in my mind I built a railroad with each strike of the metal strengthening my sinews. I still hoped in those days that the disease was merely an interlude from God, a test all the faithful must endure—the book on saints depicted greater healings. I know that I forced on Hanna a veil of ignorance. My parents worried each year of my life that I would be buried next to my sisters and the stillborns. They spent more time in the cemetery than the grave-diggers. “If it was not for the misery,” my mother would say in her husked whisper, “I would have a churchyard full of children under the ground.” I would keep Hanna under my hands, glancing away shyly, never told to commit to an action that may reveal desire.
“Marry me, Hanna. Marry me please,” I pleaded as we lay on our backs on the Indian mounds, a pair. As a blessed child born among death, my parents never made me beg for books or toys—my first plea (the chroniclers always noted these moments in a saint’s life).
“Yes, I will marry you, Edward,” Hanna relented. I found a woman to rule over my life. I thought she loved me too the way she flickered a tiger grin.