The Beautiful Errors
The button had rolled off the sewing counter and along the crevasse of the desk, slowly spinning to a stop exactly where four tiles met on the floor. Belita Cavada had picked it up, then, and slipped it into her pocket. It was one of those immaculate moments where a mistake came out just so. An act of God, her husband would have said, pressing his sinuses on either side of his gold rimmed spectacles. An act of God.
An act of God that would, she mused, have made her a few seconds later in fastening her scarf around her head, buttoning up her coat against the New York chill and heading out into the gloom of mid February for home. A small act that would have made her look up at the yellow streetlights and enjoy their dull glory in the thick haze, taking a few seconds more for her to linger on the corner. And it was there, in those precious seconds where two lives were sewn together in the patchwork of blocks and the sweltering hive of the living and dying, that the last bus to Brooklyn shuddered to a half by the red flash of a signal. And it had been exactly then, at 9.32pm, that she had stared into the eyes of Thomas Carmody.
In her old age, she would catch him staring back at her in the flicker of neon against glass. Little pieces of him, faded with age, like a crumpled photograph from an album another generation once treasured. Round eyed, the inner lid a little too wide, the mouth kind, the expression dumbfounded. Belita had never considered herself a beauty, but he had stared at her through that bus window like God had sliced through the night sky with a scalpel and blown in the dawn. Like all good lovers, he was a poet, and would say that to her one night under the slow click, click of a Manhattan fan, and it would be so beautiful she would write it down, in small block capitals, at the back of her pocketbook. And one line more.
HOW KIND IS GOD TO HAVE LET ME BREATHE WHILE YOU LIVE, AND KNOW YOU WHILE YOU MAY KNOW ME
He had loved her. Not the slow, methodical, labourious love of her husband, but an intense love born over cheap filter coffee and wax coated table cloths, a love with a poetry to it, a reason to it beyond rents, allowances and church. He had asked her once if she felt guilty. No. Did she hate his wife? No. Did she fear God? They were both Catholics, she said, so it was in their nature to attempt sin and apologise later. That had made him laugh, with the curt blasphemy of it all, and her nakedness, and his philosophising with a seamstress.
Her euphoria gave away something, although she was careful not to say what. She silenced herself from her singing when her husband returned, and busied herself with patterns and needles when she knew she was too bright and in love to answer to questions on her smile and humming. An aunt had felt better in a letter that morning, or she had found a dress cloth that felt right with the Sunday hat. Repulsed by femininity, as ever, he returned with a clearing of his throat to his insurance claims and left her to her happy adultery.
And so it went on, for Spring, for Summer, for Fall. More wars began and ended, politicians rose and fell, roses bloomed and lost their heads in the frost. And they made love in Manhattan, in a crumbling list of forgotten hotels, and made sacred their bond over grease and the grit at the bottom of diner cups. He never left her, not really. She never left him, is the truth. But when the baby was coming, she knew she had to decide on a father with folding gold spectacles, or a married poet living on ever-decreasing Papa’s dime.
The decision was without drama or consequence. Thomas had nodded and written her a poem in blue fountain pen, about some Grecian myth she did not comprehend, and her husband congratulated her with the same embarrassed enthusiasm of a great uncle. He might have been, she thought, silently, as he smoked away in clothes from before the war.
But there was a baby, another beautiful error, thankfully with enough of her dark hair to mask questions of round grey eyes. And she pressed the runaway button in her blazer pocket at the christening and asked God to forgive her, if he was still in the habit of doing such a thing when all around her seemed nothing but blood, death and sin. Then there were babies, and more babies, and grand children, and the suburbs, and a house with a washing machine and petunias in front. And all was well, and all was beautiful, if not with a low ache for the memory of a man at the back of a bus one cold winter night.
She was an old woman in May 1973, how old I cannot say, but her granddaughter helped her across the street in Afton, New York. Her husband’s death was a small relief, not from any cruelty, but from years of flinching at his touch, and avoidance of his disapproval. A bus went past, and she saw her lover there, one last time.
“That’s him, Lydia!” she murmured, pointing at the glass. “That’s the man I love.” And her grandaughter had peered as the engine spluttered away to reveal a book display on the otherside, with a man’s face in black, grey and white.
PHILOSOPHIZING WITH A SEAMSTRESS
BY THOMAS CARMODY
And her granddaughter would often wonder about that moment when, in her will, her grandmother had asked to be buried with the last page of a pocketbook, a poem in blue fountain pen, and a button.