Pantherwife No. 1

The story begins--again it begins--with a Marigold Woman. She never goes away, that woman who wears a skeleton. My loves, my lo-ammi, I cry your patience as I tell the story of the Marigold Woman. Not the stories that came before, but this one, this story that is happening now. Break with the past--not with its lessons but with its continuity--leap over it--let your sleeves trail in the cascade and fling droplets of swamp water behind you--land with a thump on the mossy bank.

Arriving here, arriving now, deriving pleasure from the knowledge that so much of rot and dryness lies behind us, we find ourselves caught briefly in a thicket of the recent past.

The Marigold Woman is getting married. Her betrothed is a Fabulous Beast, a Panther of Many Colors, and no one saw this coming. The small angry prophet says she did, but she knows that we know she is exaggerating wishes into prophecies. The moonbuggy smiles and does not pretend to know anything. The writer sits tremulously in the front row; do she and her children belong to this family still?

The Marigold Woman wears a ragged white dress, and this is the most surprising thing of all. It flutters and flickers and sends off sparks of hope and health, weak moths emerged but lately from their cocoons, damp with insecurity but flapping velveting wings and grooming fluffy heads. It is not the wedding dress of a screen star, spangles and sequins and sweeping trains and slubbed silk in a silver white like the silent moon. It came cheap, but it suits her.

In any event, the groom towers and beams like a lighthouse; he cannot smile for nerves but his happiness flickers out across the assembly. Hers answers easily and unexpectedly adamant, and suddenly she smiles enough for both of them, and while her hooded eyes will never be wide her smile is so broad it hurts, so broad she grows tired of it but can’t make it stop and would never dream of trying.

These are tired images, the usual happy couple at the usual happy wedding, and I will not burden you with more of them. But, my precious ones, my alabaster cows with painted gold spots, my tiny pipe-cleaner insects, my friends and my enemies, my loves my lo-ammis--

You had to know it once, in order to understand what follows.


Here is the moral: the Marigold Woman--the pantherwife--she beats her breasts and tears her arms, but she is capable of the most cliched happiness just like the rest of us. Even her biting self-enmity cannot make her special.

In that knowledge, considering seriously and solemnly and really not that subtly the pretensions that have been and the ones inevitably to follow, I humbly request that you congratulate the Panther and his wife on their typical joy.

For, I will be so bold as to suggest, we are all very ordinary in our sorrows and our joys, and it is the devil’s own gospel to think otherwise.

Many happy returns, everyone.

No promises.