the origin of clouds (a novel)#13

It would be years before she mentioned that terrifying afternoon or the several more times when men in white emerged—cold, sterile handlers gesturing instructions to one another like mechanics punctuating parts—to exact order. No one of the neighbors in Brier Hill seemed to notice the unrest at the Girard house. Or if they did, they never divulged it, not even to each other.

The women only gently referred to it among themselves, during refreshments in the social hall after Sunday mass or while waiting in line at the grocery checkout. By asking if anyone had heard anything about “the Girard woman.”  Then to say, “I heard she is home” (which meant ‘she’s out of the loony bin’), or “I haven’t heard” (which was to say ‘she’s in the loony bin again’). In that industrial village of first and second generation Italian immigrants—where Laura, an Irish-Italian married to a Frenchman, might almost have been admired as cosmopolitan had she not been suspect for it—maladies such as hers were only politely referred to in public.

The truth is that the women knew that in 1957 any one of them could have been her. Could have been pregnant five times in ten years, another baby at her breast no sooner than she had weaned one; having to worry about how to feed them all and maybe herself, her husband gone for weeks with who knows what woman this time. Holding onto one baby and pregnant with the next as she was being carted off, like other women they’d heard about, who were involuntarily committed to psych hospitals. Had they suffered from a bout of discontent or saw fit to challenge their husbands’ promiscuities.

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