Boston, MA
August 1957

The sweltering heat of late August, normally so exhausting, seemed positively ineffective to Maria as she stepped out of the train car which had carried her from Stowe and into the heart of Massachusetts. She had her valise in hand, and walked straight and tall, head held high with confidence, and a radiant smile graced her features when she saw the daughter who had summoned her waiting near the exit gate.

"Mother!" Brigitta exclaimed, embracing Maria happily when her stepmother drew up to her. "You look so well! It is simply marvelous."

"I feel marvelous," Maria replied. "Moreso every day, it seems."

"I am glad to hear it," Brigitta affirmed, and the two women linked arms and walked away from the platform and toward the exit, chatting rapidly about this and that.

It was sitting back in the comfort of Brigitta's drawing room with the baby in her lap and a cup of tea on the table before her where Maria posed the question that she had been both anticipating and dreading: "I suppose you've had luck contacting Dr. Merrill?"

Brigitta edged closer to the edge of her seat eagerly and said, "Well, when I rang you up to invite you, it was just to ask you to visit for the weekend, but I was hoping that I would hear from him by the time you were able to come down."

"And?" Maria prompted nervously.

"He says he'll see you, next month if you're willing."

"Oh, dear," Maria sighed, sitting back. What engulfed her mind was not excitement, relief, or dread—all of which she had prepared herself for—but rather, exhaustion. Suddenly, all the build-up of nervous energy dispersed and she felt like she could no longer sit up straight. Tightening her grip on the baby, she wedged herself further back into her seat, and then managed to muster, "That is… soon."

"Yes," Brigitta said, looking at her mother with a quizzical expression. "You are happy, no?"

"Oh, yes, of course!" Maria assured. "I just suppose… well, it's been such a long time coming, and the idea of going headlong into this seemed like the thing to do, but now that it's a true thing, I'm finding myself feeling a bit… drained. I cannot explain it."

"Ah," Brigitta said, nodding sagely. "That I do understand. It seems to be common in those with chronic conditions… shoring up so much energy on the possibility of an outcome. But then you go out to do it, and it looms larger than life."

"And I must confess," Maria sighed, "I have had a good few weeks. Good energy, improving stamina. I am doing a lot with your brothers and sisters, and your father as well. Just twinges here and there, but no fever, no attacks. It can make a person forget, for a while…"

Brigitta's lip twitched at the mention of her father, and she couldn't help asking, "You and Father… you are making amends?"

Maria smiled blithely at Brigitta's generous attempt not to appear to be prying. "The day-to-day is a work in progress. It's hard, and it hurts, but… in the way I believe you mean, yes amends are well underway."

"Does it make things easier?"

Maria reflected on the question for a moment before she responded. Then, she said, "I think it does. We have fun together, and we laugh again, and that was so very far away for so long. He has a way of making me feel strong."

Brigitta smiled and nodded, seemingly pleased. Her smile turned to a frown, however, at Maria's next words:

"He still has the nightmares, though. I had hoped they would become better, but it hasn't changed at all since I came home. I asked him to see someone about it and he said he would think about it. He hasn't said a word since, and I don't want to force the issue."

The frown spread and deepened into a furrow between Brigitta's eyes as she considered this, studying her mother's hands as she played with the tiny, squirming, squalling hands of her son, who drooled and cooed happily in Maria's lap.

Maria began to sing a nursery rhyme to him, clapping his hands, which made him laugh with glee and bob his body up and down and side to side with excitement. She didn't feel there was much else to say on this score because she did not wish to violate her husband's autonomy in this matter by asking Brigitta directly for her help. If she were correct, Brigitta would come to the same conclusion and find a way to help that did not look as though it were an ambush of some sort.

"You are a sweet thing, aren't you little Johnny Boy?" Maria asked, smiling and laughing at her grandson. He squealed happily, and she started to sing for him another song, a little English nursery rhyme that she had found once in a pile of long-playing records and had been enchanted by.

"He promised he'd buy me a basket of posies, a garland of lilies, a garland of roses. A little straw hat to set off the blue ribbons that tie up my bonnie blonde hair."

When the baby suddenly began to cry, trying to turn his little body to Maria's chest, she shifted gently with him, turning him in her arms as she stood and continued, "Oh, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Oh, dear, what can the matter be? Johnny's so long at the fair."

When she was finished, she was standing beside Brigitta, who sat on the other side of the table, and looking down at her, she smiled, passed her daughter the baby, and said, "I think someone's getting a bit hungry, love."

"I can make up a bottle," Brigitta offered.

But Maria shook her head. "No, I'll leave you alone to tend him and go find the others. Surely Robert is back with them by now."

Brigitta nodded, understanding implicitly that Maria had reached the end of her ability to be involved in this situation and needed to extract herself. "Check the gardens out back," she suggested. "Perhaps they are having tea time in the garden house."

Robert and the children were, in fact, not in the garden house, but Maria found her favourite bench at the edge of the wooded yard and sat down, somewhat more heavily than she had intended, and released a great sigh.

Her mind was a jumble and she was grateful and glad to be here, but she found that she sorely missed her husband, and wondered to herself whether he would come down if she asked him to. He had said he was going to spend the weekend catching up on work that he had fallen behind on, sending her off with a kiss and good wishes, but she had gone with a slight sense of abandonment that she hadn't expected to feel. Boston had, after all, been her plans, not his.

It felt a bit like emptiness. Maria had been preoccupied with how unsettling it felt for half of her train ride to Boston, until she finally realized that the emptiness was not emptiness after all, but longing. How long had it been since she'd been able to miss him? She had not missed him the last time she visited, that was certain. Not like this.

And since then? She'd gone back immediately when her daughter called for her, understanding the seriousness of Georg's affliction with these nightmares in a way that even Rosemary could not grasp, but it had taken more time still to feel any sort of intimate sense of belonging with him… if she was honest, it hadn't truly reignited until she had decided it was worth her while to seize the day and take over Georg's office in a way she would have done… before all this.

She had intentionally not been dressed, but she hadn't expected much beyond a kiss, and her husband had taken on her forwardness with an alarming eagerness and heat of his own. It had almost felt like it could scorch her, but at the same time, quench her parched, dry world with passion, desire, and love.

It had been an enormous gamble. She understood in those moments that she was relying on his perception of the size of the risk, and she knew that they were far enough away from each other still that it was entirely possible he would reject her for the second time that day. But she had thrown caution to the wind, and the reward had been quite… extraordinary.

She thought about it now how for years she had perceived their honeymoon in her mind. How it woke her and fed her and made her feel so incredibly alive. Her body would literally hum, and it so often felt in the moments after climax that a flood of molten, heavy warmth broke from deep inside her and filled her from head to toe, and it was to her a highly addictive property of the human experience.

There had been a lot of that, since then. Physically, it became easier and easier as the days went by, as she got stronger and more able to maintain her stamina. The difficult days where she was entirely drained and couldn't muster the energy for much steadily became fewer, but when they did come, Georg made it a point to find out about it and then serve up a practically incomprehensible dose of pleasure, in any way he could devise, so that adrenaline surged and that happy warmth rose up in her, making the difficult day all the more easier to bear.

They laughed, more, now. Chuckles and giggles were commonplace when they shared space, and their antics and verve left their children staring or smirking as they bowed their heads and turned away, so as to leave their parents in peace.

Only Rosemary, who was soon to leave them, would linger in a room with them and contentedly do what she came to do. Sometimes she would even join the conversation, asking questions or contributing her thoughts.

"She seems hungry for it," Georg had remarked to Maria one day after Rosemary had gone upstairs to her room with a pile of books in her arms, ostensibly to pack. "To be with us."

"She is going," Maria said softly, feeling her heart wrench as she said this. "It's only natural. And, you know, she's the only one of the four of them who can remember anything at all about how things were before I became ill. I suspect she missed us nearly as much as I've missed us."

Georg had stared at her, hard, his gaze burning into hers, and then unable to help himself, had crossed the room and pushed her down onto the office divan, taking her in his arms and kissing her fiercely.

The impact was immediate: the fire was lit, they were lost in each other, and somehow they had to make it down the hall to their bedroom. Maria whispered that she wasn't sure she could walk, and that her body needed space, today, so with a hungry growl, Georg had stood up, lifted her into his arms, and carried her there, sweeping past a wide-eyed Rosemary whom, they had not noticed, had returned for something she'd forgotten, only to glimpse this scene.

For her part, Rosemary had watched as her parents disappeared into the bedroom, shut the door, and went away to a world she did not know. A hand covered her mouth, and a feeling she could only call joy welled up in her so incredibly strong that she burst into tears. She rushed into the office, shutting the door behind her and locking it with the key. She grabbed the telephone that sat on the corner of her father's desk, and with shaking hands she dialed Brigitta's number.

"Longfellow residence," came her elder sister's voice on the other end of the line.

"Brigitta, it's Rose," she said hurriedly. "They—Mother and Father—they're doing it!" She dropped her voice to a whisper and clarified. "You know, nookie. I'm sure of it."

Brigitta cleared her throat on the other end of the line, trying not to laugh, and said reassuringly, "Rosie, that is good! I only hope the evidence wasn't too, eh, alarming."

"Oh, both parties were fully-clothed, if that's what you mean," Rosemary said, "but I just thought you should know. Father carried Mother off to bed, and it's barely midafternoon. I haven't seen them do that since… well, I don't actually know."

"You see, Rosie, I told you they would work things through and there would be no cause to worry! Nothing will break them apart. That's not how they are. They're very stubborn, but they love each other. And you mustn't forget, Mother is truly very ill."

"I know," Rosemary nodded, gripping the phone tightly. "I do know. It's just… Brigitta, I didn't expect how happy it would make me to see it. Nobody wants to think about their parents doing that. But I really am so happy!"

"A perfectly natural thing," Brigitta assured warmly. "Quite important for a marriage, you know."

"Quite important for a family," Rosemary countered. "I know it was you, Brigitta. You put the idea in her head. It had to be her. He was never going to start it all again. He would treat her like china, and I could see in her face how she hated it."

"I could see it, too," Brigitta said softly.

"Well, whatever you said…" Rosemary trailed. "Thanks for trying, even though it looked impossible. 'Cause it worked."

"I only planted the seeds, Rosie, and it wasn't up to me whether they took."

"Pfft," Rosemary said, "you're a genius, Brie. You get people. You see them. It's not nothing."

"I suppose," Brigitta acquiesced.

After a moment of silence, Rosemary said softly, "You won't tell Mama what I've told you on the telephone while she was gone, will you? I don't want her to feel bad. I missed her and needed her, but she needed to be away more. I understand that, and everything is so much better now."

"Your secrets are safe with me," Brigitta assured. "These are things for you to tell her, one day, if you must, and no one else."

"Thanks, Brie. I love you," Rosemary said. "I'm gonna go, now," she said, and she hung up the phone.

Brigitta had said not a word to her mother in the time of her convalescence, but she had spent many an hour in her evenings listening to Rosemary, who was extremely anxious about their parents' separation, and unlike her siblings did not entirely believe the content of the letter that Maria had left behind for her.

Brigitta had been impressed by Rosemary's scope of awareness, and had done her best to validate that hurt and concern while also painting broader strokes to the big picture, explaining all that she could about what their mother was going through—especially once Rosemary confessed to knowing about the miscarriage—to help her younger sister come to a place of compassion and understanding rather than simply fear and hurt.

It had meant many long, late nights, and with a small baby, it had been a difficult summer for Brigitta, who wanted to devote her attention appropriately to her work, her baby, her children, and her husband. On a promise that this was only a temporary diversion from their normal lives, Brigitta had promised Robert that she would not take on the weight of this situation with Maria without a plan, and that while she could be flexible as necessary, she would not veer far from it.

"She needs space to grieve, Rob," Brigitta had said softly. "She wouldn't have asked if it weren't serious. I know that. And she needs space to heal, and to come to hard choices, and to do it without pressure. She needs space from Father, because his smothering is at times utterly intolerable. She needs to learn how to miss him, and to understand that they need each other, flaws and mistakes and all. I cannot make her do these things, but I can make her welcome here."

"What is the time limit?" Robert asked. "When do you send her on her way?"

"Before the children return to school," Brigitta said. Looking at her husband's furrowed and skeptical expression, she said, "I know that is quite a while, but grief is so deep and complicated. She hurts more than I can comprehend, emotionally and physically."

Slowly, he nodded. "I trust you, Brie."

After feeding her son his meal, Brigitta walked out to the back gardens in search of her mother, and was pleased to find her sitting on the bench at the edge of the wood. She walked with a loose gait, swinging her arms as she went, and smiled when Maria looked up and saw her coming.

"I see Robert hasn't come back with the kids," Brigitta said, smiling as she sat down next to her mother.

"It's quite alright by me," Maria said. "I did not know I needed to think." She glanced at her daughter, one side of her lip twitching as she shrugged.

"Well, I hope this does not add to the burden," Brigitta said hesitantly, pulling something out of her pocket, "but I found this after you left and thought you might want it back. You left it in a drawer somewhere and our maid brought it to me."

Maria looked down at her daughter's hands and saw the tattered daybook, which she was holding out to her. Slowly, Maria took it in her own hands and shook her head quietly, sighing. She felt tears prick her eyes, and she said thickly, "I must have left it behind in my rush to leave. Thank you for keeping it for me."

"You're welcome, of course," Brigitta said gently. "Penny for your thoughts?"

"Did you read any of it?" Maria asked, smile quirking at Brigitta's question, turning her head to gaze at her daughter.

"No," Brigitta said. "Only enough to know it was yours, and that it was important."

Maria looked down at the item, staring at it as she ran a finger over its surface. "I don't know why I kept doing this, after a certain point. The information never helped, and the only time it was ever truly relevant… well, the reason no longer exists, as it were."

Brigitta felt her heart wrench at the obvious pain of this statement, and she grasped a hand over her mother's, saying urgently, "Not anymore, no. But for a while, yes."

Maria sniffed, then looked back at Brigitta. "Rose suggested we name the baby, did you know? I know you two talk a lot. I suppose you might have heard. Well, I named him. Nathaniel."

"It's a wonderful name," Brigitta said encouragingly. Then, she asked, "Did it help?"

"We can talk about it now," Maria said. "Losing him. And by talking about it, we've discovered, both of us, that the miscarriage is truly one of the smallest parts of all of this. It hurts, of course it hurts. But all of this goes back so much further and deeper than one span of a few months, one incident, one bout of illness. I daresay it takes my breath away."

Taking a breath, Brigitta posed another question: "Was it worth it?"

Maria looked around, taking in what she could see around her, and considered the question. It was very general. Brigitta could mean the miscarriage, the daybook, the heartbreak, Nathaniel, the trial that was the last fourteen years. It was overwhelming and Maria could feel that the enormity had the potential to consume her, but for the overpowering truth of her answer.

"Yes."

Brigitta said nothing, only nodded and squeezed her mother's hand.

"I'm sorry for the burden my presence placed on you and Robert, Brigitta, but I want you to know that your love and your kindness toward me is far from wasted. I'm terrified, and I don't know what I'm about to walk into, but I know now that I've done everything I can to make it worthwhile. I am still doing everything I can."

Thinking of what she and Rosemary had discussed over the phone just a few weeks before, Brigitta quirked a secret smile and said, "I know."

In the end, and with Brigitta's encouragement, Maria did telephone Georg and ask him to join them. He came the next day without any convincing, and the four of them spent the weekend discussing the logistics of the next steps that Maria would soon take to recover from her illness more fully.

"If Dr. Merrill thinks surgery is a viable or necessary approach to treatment, you both will obviously stay with us," Brigitta said. "Perhaps Kurt and Annie will agree to bring the family to the farmhouse for the duration. Surely their kids would love the opportunity to stay on the farm. That way Johannes, Eleanore, and Matty have oversight and the house doesn't turn to a shambles."

"Heh," Maria said, sounding a bit bitter. "I don't think even Kurt could fix what neglect has done to the farmhouse."

"Never underestimate a fresh coat of paint, refit carpets, and new windows," Robert said. "It can make all the difference."

"There are structural issues," Georg explained. "The boys and I could theoretically fix them, but money has been slightly scarce for what isn't absolutely necessary. Floors and doors need to be planed, and electricity rewired. The roof needs to be redone. We will most likely sell the place when Matty finishes school."

"Hmm," Brigitta had said, but then changed to subject as she reached for the telephone to call Kurt and Annie to ask if they would be agreeable to any such need to stay in Stowe.

Maria went to bed that night with her head spinning, but this spinning was of an altogether different sort than what had moved her to silence in the garden several days before. Now, the great unknown was becoming clearer, and it was becoming more impossible to backslide on resolution to move forward.

"Maria?" came Georg's voice in the darkness from where he lay beside her. "Are you alright?"

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

She thought about the question. He sounded concerned, but like he was trying to pull back the full weight of it, no doubt swirling with worry and uncertainty. She sighed, then she turned her head to look at him, grasping for one of his hands, which rested between them.

"I don't know," she said thickly. "I don't know if I can know. Not right now. Not yet."

Georg turned onto his side and reached out to stroke her face. "What would make it even just the slightest bit better?"

Maria gazed at him with a meaningful stare and said, "Would you mind very much if I told you it was making love?"

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

The silence stretched on, and Maria wanted very much to close her eyes and shrink away from her boldness. She had been so bold these past weeks, surely there was a limit? Surely he would tire, perhaps even break? Despite the happy and decidedly warm and eager reception of their hundred-fold increased intimacy, Maria sometimes found herself coming up into the face of her desire and feeling as though it might be too much, and that it would snuff out the flame that had been reignited between them.

He hadn't said no once since that morning several weeks ago. And come to think of it, neither had she.

The no would have to come sometime. She closed her eyes, feeling the burn of hot tears forming, and tried to hold off the sting of rejection she felt was coming, must be coming.

Instead, what she next heard was the rumbling sound of her husband's laughter, and when she opened her eyes, it was to see him gazing down at her with such affection and with such amusement that she thought her heart might swell and burst.

"My," he said, shaking his head, "you are quite the vixen, Maria." He cupped her face with his hands and wiped away the tears with his thumbs and said, "I've missed this."

"I thought you would say no," she whispered, hearing the crack in her voice. "I'm so glad you didn't."

He shook his head. "I shan't ever say no to reject you, Maria. Only if I must, or if it's what's good for you."

"Please say it out loud, if that time comes again," Maria whispered. "I cannot bear the idea of years upon years of silence, so that we don't even know how we got to such a terrible place and have no idea how to start again. I think it was worse than being a virgin with no idea what to expect or what to do. It was worse because I did know, and I wanted to, but I simply could not. It hurt you so much."

Georg studied his wife's earnest, open face, then slowly nodded. "I'll say so, and I'll say why, so that you never have a reason to think that I say no to reject some part of you. You will know, and if it is in part to do with your health, we can talk about it instead of being silent."

Maria sighed. "I wish we had known… that everything good between us still needed clear delineations. I feel like we, or at least I, assumed that we only needed to communicate about things that are hard, and that good things could speak for themselves."

"How do you mean?" Georg asked. "I think I understand, but indulge me."

Maria thought about her words, and her meaning, and she sifted through her mind, searching through the years for an example that would help describe her intended meaning.

"I mean," she said slowly, "for instance, when we were in Paris, everything was easy between us. My qualms about being a clueless bride, especially as it pertained to sexual fulfillment, were cast aside as you taught me what it is that love looks like. You showed me how I could be hungry, excited, engaged, and give of myself so completely without limit, and not only would it be a delight to you, but to me as well."

She sighed. "Then, of course, we went home because of the Anschluss, and suddenly that was all gone. Certainly, we took advantage of the children being missing and christened our bedroom, but that was the first time that making love felt… rushed, and tight, and like it was something to hurry through, and I didn't like it, afterward. I never said anything, and was just grateful that we could be together at all. I see now that I should have told you that I felt that way. I should have said as time passed and children came that the feeling only got stronger, like the lack of freedom to luxuriate in lovemaking would crush me. And then, I started getting ill. And they told me not to fall pregnant. I felt not only like something valuable to me had been taken, but like I couldn't have anything at all about our intimacy lest it place my life in danger."

Tears were streaming slowly down her face, now. "I wouldn't give up Paris for anything, but I wish that my naïveté had not painted such grand expectations for the rest of our marriage. I wish I had known enough to understand that, then. I wish I had voiced these things, so that you could help me temper them and shape them into something realistic for us both. But the war came… and we had to run… and then we came here. I had the babies. I got sick. There was never space."

Georg was certain that this was the most length that Maria had gone to in order to explain anything since they'd begun to discuss what brought them to the breaking point. It was the first time she spoke of anything with clear frankness, and through it all he could see the weave of Fate, taking away every chance to understand and speak up, and he was moved to deep, heart-rending compassion for her forced silence.

"Do you think," he said slowly, "that perhaps this was the intended timing all along? That it was always meant to be this way?"

"That seems harsh, if it is," Maria said. "But I recognize that pain has many outstanding qualities as a teacher of life."

"I think the only thing we can do," Georg said, "is take what we have learned and go into the future with a little less fear clinging to us."

Maria nodded slowly, then closed her eyes as Georg leaned closer and began to kiss her. He kissed away her tears, and she wished with all her might that what he said could be true. She wanted it, she knew that, now. He knew something critical about her that he hadn't known before. Perhaps it would open the door. And maybe on the other side of that door, there would be light.