Maiden’s Choosing: The Amaranth Interloper.

By: Jen Shoop

Below is a draft chapter from a longer form fictional piece I am writing called Maiden’s Choosing, the title of which is plucked directly from volume II of George Eliot’s 1876 novel Daniel Deronda. You can find previous chapters here and a bit of context behind the title here.

“That’s a big ring for a little girl,” was the only thing she said after news of our engagement broke. She tapped at her coiffed hair, and laughed into the rear-view mirror of her Mercedes Benz, teeth bared unconvincingly, as though the marionette of a smile. Violet had told me that sometimes she would idle too-long at the stoplight, entranced by her own ring finger, the way it danced in the sun and put the daylight in her eyes, which maybe she needed, because I’d never seen a darker coal than hers, watching me from across the club dining room, talking to Powell.

“Girls, girls,” she’d said while ushering us into the ladies room, a mirage of Quelques fleurs and Hermes scarves and silken hair turned-under-at-the-ends. “Miss Caroliiine,” she’d trilled into the mirror, “Are we casting after Mr. Powell? A bit above our weight class, isn’t he?” “Mother,” chided Violet, but she laughed, too.

I could feel her in a room, cold blood climbing. The way she’d fix her eyes on me, Cricut-like, honey-I-shrunk-the-interloper! She’d listen a half-beat too long, and frown, no matter the menu. I could have been praising the tea sandwiches or asking after her beloved Wilhemina (a flinty Papillon), and I’d have netted the same dark appraisal.

I spluttered about all of this to Powell, wide-eyed in dismay, in his vast and bare Deloitte-funded apartment in Rosslyn, Virginia. I’d never felt hatred like this before. The wall of his bedroom was a long pane of glass overlooking the Potomac, and beyond it, the spires of Georgetown where I’d once found my ivory tower and which now tented up the sky. An entire world waited for us, and we laid in his bed with the college comforter his mother had bought him and listened to the strange noises of a barely-furnished, too-large apartment, and he eased me out from under the fear of being disliked.

“We belong to each other now, so who cares?”

And his hands clumsy in my hair and soft on my skin.

It was easy to believe this while I stared across the river, and plucked at the hundreds of stories crossing Key Bridge, and imagined their own cruelties and kindnesses — more extreme than mine, if I had to guess. I traveled this pizzicato path to perspective, leveled off by Powell’s warmth at my waist, and drew myself away from the burning amaranth of my ostracism.

But we are such tender birds, aren’t we? Prone to lancing at the downy-feather heart. I could not tell Powell, nor Violet, nor my own wild soul why those anthracite eyes pinned me. I knew only that I was not welcome in a room that in many ways did belong to me. This was my engagement, and my husband, and so I flailed in my vest pocket rage, and shadow-boxed a midnight version of her. And when the sun came up in June, and we walked down the rose petal aisle, I saw her in the pew and tried to feel nothing. I hid behind the pennacious quill. I beamed at Violet, a vision of porcelain skin and avian arms. I tucked my hand into Powell’s, and permitted his broad tuxedo shoulder to shield me.

“Tell me, what did I do wrong?” I asked Violet one afternoon, well after the honeymoon, our legs stretched out on the pool chaises, and she craned her neck at the sun and then settled back into her delicate bones, and said, “Not everything happens to you, personally.” The wind blew in between us. I heard then the pleading and impatience in her half-chiding voice in the ladies’ room all those years ago, recognized the performative “mother” to soften the blow. I saw the long tails trailing behind each and every kited word, the way we send out in words little, imperfectly-forged scout ships and corvettes that carry far more than the littoral. I recast myself as the unnamed understudy to a woman winning her mother’s determined anger. And I strained to forgive, or at least unstick myself from her mother’s imprecise talons.

And then I took Violet’s hand in mine and kissed it, a pitiful apologia.

P.S. More fiction here and here.

P.P.S. “Truly, then, these words are most serious.

P.P.P.S. On being happy for friends.

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