But I loved all of this; I truly did. It was only the basement floods and the winter drafts that I hated. And now, with Dee in her first year at Vanderbilt, the emptiness -- I hated that.
Hugh was hunched on his side of the bed, his elbows balanced on his knees and the top two knobs of his spine visible through his pajamas. He said, "You realize this is a serious situation, don't you? She needs to see someone -- I mean, an actual psychiatrist."
I felt sure then it was a resident at the hospital, though it did seem Hugh was talking down to him, and that was not like Hugh.
Through the window the neighborhood looked drowned, as if the houses -- some as big as arks -- might lift off their foundations and float down the street. I hated the thought of slogging out into this mess, but of course I would. I would drive to Sacred Heart of Mary over on Peachtree and get my forehead swiped with ashes. When Dee was small, she'd mistakenly called the church the " Scared Heart of Mary." The two of us still referred to it that way sometimes, and it occurred to me now how apt the name really was. I mean, if Mary was still around, like so many people thought, including my insatiably Catholic mother, maybe her heart was scared. Maybe it was because she was on such a high and impossible pedestal -- Consummate Mother, Good Wife, All-Around Paragon of Perfect Womanhood. She was probably up there peering over the side, wishing for a ladder, a parachute, something to get her down from there.
I hadn't missed going to church on Ash Wednesday since my father had died -- not once. Not even when Dee was a baby and I had to take her with me, stuffing her into a thick papoose of blankets, armored with pacifiers and bottles of pumped breast milk. I wondered why I'd kept subjecting myself to it -- year after year at the Scared Heart of Mary. The priest with his dreary incantation: "Remember you are dust, to dust you shall return." The blotch of ash on my forehead.
I only knew I had carried my father this way my whole life.
Hugh was standing now. He said, "Do you want me to tell her?" He looked at me, and I felt the gathering of dread. I imagined a bright wave of water coming down the street, rounding the corner where old Mrs. Vandiver had erected a gazebo too close to her driveway; the wave, not mountainous like a tsunami but a shimmering hillside sweeping toward me, carrying off the ridiculous gazebo, mailboxes, doghouses, utility poles, azalea bushes. A clean, ruinous sweep.
"It's for you," Hugh said. I didn't move at first, and he called my name. "Jessie. The call -- it's for you."
He held the receiver out to me, sitting there with his thick hair sticking up on the back of his head like a child's, looking grave and uneasy, and the window copious with water, a trillion pewter droplets coming down on the roof.
Excerpted with permission from "The Mermaid Chair," by Sue Monk Kidd. Published by Viking Adult. Copyright © 2005 by Sue Monk Kidd.