Delia and the Stone Man
by Shuana Niessen
(Text Tapping “The Skating Party” by Merna Summers)
When Dobson Sykes, a tall self-possessed, middle-aged man, first started showing up at my parents’ small farm, outside Winnipeg, Manitoba, I thought he was there to get to know them. Soon, however, I realized that he wasn’t only interested in getting to know my folks; he had another motivation. His careless glance began fixing steadily on my frame, following the cut of my form, like a man looking to buy a quality horse. He was looking for a wife. At first, I was flattered. Eunice, my older sister, hadn’t caught this rich old man’s eye. She wasn’t showy or spirited enough for Dobson. I, on the other hand, had both show and spirit, and Dobson liked the idea of capturing and taming me. Besides, he needed someone classy to match his riding team. So, when Dobson asked me to marry him, I said, “Yes!” without a moments hesitation.
A few months after the wedding, Dobson announced that we were moving to a farm outside Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan. I was surprised and dismayed. I hadn’t really thought about how marriage would effect my independence. I liked the idea of having whatever I wanted, and gaining the respect that would result from marrying the most eligible, wealthy bachelor in town. I didn’t expect to have to leave my family, my sister, my home! I began to realize that all of Dobson’s wealth didn’t count for much at all. I secretly began to loath this aging man who had robbed me of my independence. Before moving, I bought the most expensive household appliances and decorations that I could find. I figured my independence had to be bought at a price. I had the best of everything.
In an effort to prove to Dobson his mistake in marrying me, I began acting as childish as I could. The day I met Nathan, I was playing the part of an insolent child. Before leaving for town, I went outside and sat in the wild grass, french-braiding a dandelion crown. I refused to sit with Dobson and Mr. Knight on the way into Willow Bunch. Instead, I lay in the hay, like a twelve year old, staring unhappily into the clouded sky. That’s when I met Nathan. When I heard his voice greet Mr. Knight, I rolled over and sat up, stray strands of straw sticking out of my honey-golden hair. While I repositioned the dandelion crown, our eyes locked and my heart awakened, rising up from its slumber. I hadn’t felt that way before…or since. It was as if my heart hadn’t really beat until that moment, the instant it was no longer mine, when it found its home in the embrace of his eyes. I knew then that marrying Dobson had been an even bigger mistake than I had previously thought. Not only had I lost my independence to an old man, but I didn’t love him. My marriage to Dobson became intolerable. The things that I had purchased, bought and paid for by my independence, became meaningless. I lost interest in everything, except Nathan.
In an effort to survive, I made our house into a meeting place for all the young people. I wanted as many people my own age around me as possible. The less time with Dobson, alone, the better. Every morning I woke up, hoping to see Nathan, waiting to breath, waiting to live once again. I became agitated and restless. Dobson didn’t understand. I overheard him speculating to a neighbour that I must miss my family. He tried to ignite my old spark, urging me to unpack our trunks. Surely the lovely things I had purchased in Winnipeg would liven me up. Finally, he suggested I write to Eunice and ask her to come stay. I agreed, thinking that having Eunice around would give me more distance from Dobson. I hadn’t really thought that through either. I didn’t expect Nathan to find Eunice attractive. I assumed that he was mine, in spirit and in truth. When Nathan started dating Eunice, I felt betrayed by both of them. Didn’t he know that he had captured my heart? Without it, I could only die.
One day, while Eunice sat playing the pump organ, looking beautiful, and capturing Nathan’s attention, I felt I could stand it no longer. I suddenly had the idea of riding the new, unbroken, saddle pony Dobson had purchased the day before, but had refused to let me ride until she could be broken. Throwing caution to the wind, I fled the house and went out to the pony. I climbed on her back. I was determined that I would ride the pony or die trying. I was hoping for death. But death evaded me. While I was clinging to her bucking backside, everyone came running out to watch me, leaving Eunice without her audience. I laughed. I knew spirit would always trump beauty. Someone took our picture while I laughed. I have this picture and I can see that Eunice wasn’t laughing. She just tightened her lips, looking angry. She knew I was desperate. She just didn’t know why. Or at least I thought she didn’t.
Having been unsuccessful at staging my own death, I decided, instead, to pour myself into Eunice’s wedding plans. It was as if I was trying to live my life through her, reaching out to Nathan through her arms, her eyes, her heart. My triumph over Eunice in the yard with the bucking pony had lit a flame of hope. A hope that I wasn’t willing to admit to myself. I didn’t stop to examine my own motives. Eunice was prickly with me. Everything I did to try to patch things up between us was met with hostility. She even snapped at me even when I presented her with the rabbit-trimmed skating coat. She crisply thanked me; her eyes erected a wall between us. I quickly averted my eyes, trying not to consider why Eunice was behaving this way. I felt crazy. I was trapped in a marriage with a man I didn’t love or respect, and I was forced to watch helplessly while the man I did love marched into matrimony with my sister. I was out of control, and didn’t realize that all of my plans to make things right, were motivated by my own desire to be with Nathan.
Eunice knew though. The skating party I planned in her honour was really just one more way for me to get close to Nathan. I jealously waited to skate with him until an appropriate time, when no one would question my motives. Finally, when I could wait no more, I skated over to him and he took my hands in his. I hoped to suspend time. This moment, Nathan and I, hand in hand, was the moment I planned to live in for the rest of my life. It was my good-bye gift to myself for the sacrifice I was making.
Eunice knew. She understood that I was using her, that party, her presence in Willow Bunch, everything was a cover for my love for Nathan. When we finally returned from our skate, Eunice was seething. She confronted me and I was furious because of her insight, and because she wanted to deny me the few minutes with Nathan I had given myself. Nathan talked us into going for a skate with each other, to work it out. Eunice and I skated into the dark night. Our faces were hot with anger, and our hearts full and heavy with disappointment. How could we, two sisters, be so hateful, so angry with each other. Eunice felt she had a right to feel angry, that I was trying to steal Nathan’s heart and leave her with an empty shell. I felt Eunice was stealing away my heart, my life. When I confessed, to Eunice, what was going on inside me, we cried together.
As we stood hugging, comforting each other, thinking about the tragedy that was ours, the ice broke beneath us. In an instant we had let go of each other and were clinging to the edge of the ice. The frigid waters paralysed our legs and bodies. The freezing air propelled our screams for help. When the men came and formed a human chain across the ice, I glanced toward Eunice; our eyes locked. Within that look, our hearts gave up our desires, and we longed for the other’s survival. When Nathan’s hand grasped mine, I pulled hard, trying to help him lift me out of the water. I assumed he had a hold of Eunice as well. But when I came out of the water, I saw Eunice’s fur trimmed wrists still clinging to the edge. I heard another large CRACK and I knew my sister was gone, forever. I have often wondered if the crack I heard was the ice breaking, or if it was the sound of my spirit shattering to pieces.
I returned to Manitoba with Dobson. I did what I could, going through the motions of life. I was the ideal wife, a tamed pony. I kept my appearance up, getting my hair done, dressing fashionably, and surrounding myself with meaningless objects. One object did interest me, though; I began collecting stones and stone carvings. I arranged them together to form a human shape on a square ceramic plate centred on my coffee table. Nathan once spoke of an ancient stone man that used to reside on his father’s farm. He wondered what had happened to it. After the skating party, after losing Eunice, I knew what happened to the stone man. He came to live inside me.