Thank you for visiting my public writing journal. This writing exercise was inspired by a passage out of one of my favorite Steinbeck novels. You can guess which one by the title. I spent an hour sketching this out yesterday—the 22nd—and a good hour today—the 23rd—spent revising and editing. The exercise goal for myself here was controlling reader emotions, as well as information release control. Also, I was just having fun writing.
I hope you enjoy the free read. Please check my site often for updates; I write for you!
All Ethan cared about was Sarah then—she just didn’t take to Mission Viejo. If she was angry she did not advertise it, not through the usual petty arguments and passive aggressive tactics that some common eastern women were known to employ during the turn of the century, but then, Sarah was not the same woman that Ethan had married three weeks ago in far away New York.
There, Sarah held his hand as they walked through Central Park, sighing as he recited lines from the tattered leaves of Tennyson. But in Mission Viejo she would not touch Ethan through lace gloves. And if she must look at him, it was with tight, thin lips; a mannequin’s courtesy—and only when it was unavoidable.
On the couple’s third morning after arriving in California, Ethan woke to find his wife not in bed. He followed the sounds of coughing and retching into his tiny hotel bathroom where he found his wife, draped over the toilet, her head sunk deeply in the bowl.
“The shrimp,” she coughed, her voice echoing, struggling to work her throat muscles, tearing up at the sound of her amphibian voice that amplified and echoed out of the bowl. “I can’t talk money now, darling… I’m so terribly—so terribly—oh, just leave me here today, darling. You must go without me.”
Ethan ordered her cold water and an aspirin on the way out of the Queen’s Isle Hotel, found a cab, and went on with the day’s business. At about five in the afternoon, Ethan arrived back at the The Queen’s Isle to find his wife, unmoved from the toilet, her hair and dress both laden with blood. The hotel doctor reached the room quickly and examined Sarah; she was still alive, breathing normally, having fainted from severe loss of blood.
“What’s happened to her?” demanded Ethan, “will she recover?” Whiskey was heavy on his breath, “Please, what happened to her?” Ethan advanced on the doctor with his hands held out
“Mr. Newman! Please! She’ll be all right, I’ve stopped the bleeding—sir, I must insist!” The doctor held up his hands, “But she needs rest. I’ll have her moved to St. Mary’s as soon as she’s able, but for now, she needs rest.” The doctor dropped his head. “You know. I have to tell you, friend.” He couldn’t look Ethan in the eyes; then he could, and when he could he took him by the shoulders and steadied him.
Ethan wished the doctor would stop looking in his eyes; he felt like the doctor had stripped nude in front of him, grown old and feeble. “Now, friend, I have to tell you. Your wife is fine. But her wounds were self inflicted.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you know your wife was pregnant?”
Ethan flinched, breaking eye contact, meeting the doctor’s eyes again. He wanted to say no. He shook his head instead.
The doctor described what he found when he examined Sarah; self-inflicted wounds, a twisted copper hanger, and all the signs of a woman with child. He assured Ethan that his wife was stabilized, and offered to check in every few hours. Ethan remained silent, taking in the doctor’s words. The silence was painful when the doctor finished speaking and before he knew what he was saying, he said,
“You know, Mr. Newman, if your wife tries any more, you understand, monkey business; well, California law is against her. That is, you have your rights.”
At the doctor’s suggestion, Ethan’s eyes turned very cold, his brow dripped over them, and the corners of his mouth twitched. “No,” he said. “That won’t be necessary.”
The doctor tried to hide a shiver. He excused himself, then nodded. He had nothing to say to this, no warning or caution; indeed, the good doctor was already forgetting he was ever called on that evening regarding business with Mrs. Newman.
Ethan thanked the doctor and closed the door behind him. He walked to the bed where Sarah lie unconscious. Ethan’s face had changed; his eyes bulged, a purple vein writhing at his temple—and his fingers had locked into metal grip hooks.
It was true; Ethan had dragged this glimmering prize from the East to the Golden shores of a young California, his head full of Swiss cows and windmills and wide open possibility. It was true; his new enterprise demanded his seemingly continuous presence at banquets, business halls, and country homes, and they no doubt had taken their toll on the young Sarah. But this? To Ethan, such a heartless attempt on his child’s life was inexcusable. Ethan brushed aside a cold rat-tail of hair from his wife’s face; he turned his hand and stroked her cheek, but pulled away at the hard, rubber touch; he screwed up his nose and made a soft, sad noise in his chest. No. This wasn’t the same eager woman he married in New York. Not the same woman at all.
“Wake up,” said Ethan. “I said wake up, damn you! I know you can hear me. Why’d you do it huh? Why’d you do it? Open your eyes, I know you’re awake.”
The drowned little doll on the hotel twin closed her mouth and tightened her lips. She carefully opened her eyes and met her enraged husband with a cold stare.
“So you are awake,” said Ethan with a hateful chuckle, “you sick woman, you terrible… Why’d you do it? Just tell me that, why’d you do it?”
Sarah folded her arms over her stomach, her eyes were glassy but without tears. She made no expression of emotion.
“Am I no good for you? I can’t be that bad, no man’s that bad. You devil! And you know what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Christ you look sick—did you take something? I bet you took something too, didn’t you? Vinegar? Red pepper? Christ! You’re crazy!” Ethan’s face had darkened to a dangerous red. “Well, I got something to tell you, since you don’t want to tell me why you did it.” Ethan went to the bureau and produced a half-empty bottle of whiskey, poured a glass, drank. “Someone upstairs wants us to have that baby because, despite your disgusting attempts, your assault on my child only hurt yourself.” He poured another glass. “The doctor told me the baby is fine.” Drinks. “Your aim sucks. And you’re going to have that baby too. As long as you’re my wife, you’re under my law, and a woman doing what you done here, without her husband knowing, and on her own like this, is certified murder. And if anything happens to this baby—to my child—and I hear about it, then I will testify against you in a court of law and put you in jail to rot. I promise you that. And while you don’t talk much now, I hope you have sense enough to believe me when I tell you I mean what I say.”
Sarah’s mouth, slowly, closed. And her eyes opened, cold and hard. “What do you want from me?”
Ethan set down his whisky, careful not to make a sound, and looked his wife in the face. “Everything I’m going to get,” he said. “Everything. I’m going. To get.”