Searing pain. Please God, let me die!
It had started with a burning while at the chamber pot two days prior. I could not stop the sensation of needing to urinate. Soon, there was blood. Excruciating pain like razor blades between my legs, escalating each time I sat down at the pot. No sooner had I stood up, when I felt the urge to sit down on it again. Over and over again.
William stood by, concerned but helpless. We were in Paris. I knew that somehow he was at fault. This whole thing was terribly uncomfortable and terribly embarrassing and it was because I had allowed him to have me.
My wedding night was lackluster. I had expected to be schooled by my husband’s skillful hands in the magical arts of carnal delights. Instead, my mind flashed against my will to the lamp lit abortionist’s room in Edinburgh as he fumbled about, clearly not sure of what he was doing. He had likely pleasured himself well enough but had never yet been with a woman. I had hoped to be introduced to the scintillating passions of nuptial bliss. As ridiculous as that sounds, given everything that I had been told by my mother, I desperately wanted something to erase the blight of that one night in Edinburgh and to diminish the hold that Brierly still held over my heart. He was kind but neither of us had any idea of what we were doing. Pleasure was lost for me. In the end, I closed my eyes and endured until it was over. Coitus interruptus. He thanked me. He told me I was beautiful. He asked what he could do better and I told him nothing that I had enjoyed it immensely. I wept silently for myself as he slept. I had not even tried to hide the fact that I was no longer a virgin and it had not mattered.
Now, days later, I begged William to just let me die. I did not want to have to discuss this with a strange man. But he would not listen. The doctor was summoned.
The physician was a jovial, young fellow who bounded into the room with a purpose. Well dressed. Handsome. Sandy hair. He laid his hat and gloves on the table when he entered the room. I was in bed in my dressing gown. Suddenly I felt naked and pulled the covers up higher over my chest. I allowed William to explain my symptoms. On learning that I was a newly wed, he nodded and winked. I flushed. In French he said, “Vous avez cystitis!” and I was prescribed mist pot cit, potassium citrate. The god awful tasting stuff was administered every 4 hours. Its purpose was to make the urine more alkaline and hopefully cure the infection and ease the pain.
William was attentive, feeding me broth, bringing me water. I laid in bed in our rooms for days, the doctor came periodically to check on his patient. Finally, the discomfort began to subside. I had escaped fever and would be on the mend.
“William, I want to go home.” He was standing at the window staring at the street below. He was silent. “Please.”
He turned around. I was sitting in a stuffed armchair by the bed and he came to me, taking my hand. He searched my eyes.
I started to cry. Violent, wracking sobs that I could not control. This time, I wept not only for myself but also for him. He knelt beside me, held me close to him until the tears subsided. “I am sorry,” he whispered into my hair.
We sat there together as the shadows marched across the polished wooden floors. I closed my burning eyes, letting them sooth as I listened to his heart beating. It sounded identical to the one in Brierly’s chest.
“I will tell you about the second inscription in your book if you like,” he said. I nodded. “It is also a Gaelic proverb. Is fheàrr teine beag a gharas na teine mòr a loisgeas. The little fire that warms is better than the big fire that burns. You will see.”
I looked up at him, puzzled. Could he know where my thoughts had been? Surely not.
He smiled reassuringly.
“If you wish to go back to Massachusetts, then that is where we shall go as soon as I can book passage.”
“Thank you.” I hesitated for a long moment. “I love you,” I whispered. And I realized then that I did.
“I know,” he replied.
It was not the same. It was not the dream that I had held close to my heart. But it was love.