could have real careers if they lived in communes with shared kitchens and hired cooks and nurses for the children.”
The women liked her in spite of her provocations. They thought anyone with studious habits an eccentric, but she was married to Ed Cheney, after all—a splendid regular fellow. Or maybe they simply didn’t believe she was serious when she spoke out, for what had she done about all her talk?
Throughout the dark winter, she had berated herself from every angle—some days for being an unfit mother, other days for doing nothing
Look at Jane Addams,
she wrote to herself,
and Emma Goldman. Look at Grace Trout, the most ordinary of people, taking on the Illinois legislature for the vote. What is the matter with you?
Louise had come and gone during those weeks, bringing the baby in to see her as if nothing were wrong. By March, Mamah had begun to emerge from her melancholy. One of her first outings was to go hear Frank’s talk at the club.
Reading the diary, she wondered if he had seen her vulnerability as she saw it now.
Was I simply low-hanging fruit—easy pickings?
When she met him next, she asked him outright. They were sitting in his car, parked on a side street on the south side.
“Mamah, something so good has begun here. Don’t rub the bloom off of it with talk like that. You can’t believe it’s wrong, can you?”
“Don’t ask me that. Ask me if I’m happy.”
“I know the answer to that already.”
SHE FELT ALMOST SWOLLEN with a joy that spilled over into every part of her life. She was taken aback by Martha’s sweet baby smell and her tiny, nearly translucent fingers. Mamah could play whole afternoons with John and his friend Ellis from next door, hiding behind bushes in the front yard while they hunted for her. She found herself baking cakes, loading the neighborhood kids into the car, and delivering food to people she knew who were ill or had new babies. Once, when Lizzie read to her about a delivery boy who had been injured when his horse collided with a car, Mamah tracked down the boy’s house to deliver an envelope with twenty dollars in it.
Edwin was deeply relieved by the change in her. He said she was more beautiful than ever. When his hand found her hip as they lay in bed, she didn’t turn away. She let him take his pleasure while her mind drifted elsewhere.
At the beginning of the summer, she had thought,
It can’t last; it’s impossible. Nine children between us, never mind Catherine and Edwin.
Mamah knew she would never leave her children. But to have something perfect, something utterly one’s own for a while…who would be the worse for it if they never found out?
One lives but once in the world.
By the end of the summer, though, she admitted to him what she knew. She loved him with every cell in her body. She found delight in every part of him—his irrepressible laugh, the merry eyes that nearly always looked as if he’d just heard the most amusing punch line, his presence in every waking moment. She loved the way he impulsively brushed the back of his hand across her cheek at unexpected moments.
He made her feel alive and cherished. Rarely did he meet her without bringing some small surprise. He would hold his fist above her outstretched hand and tell her to close her eyes. When she opened them, she might find a foil-wrapped chocolate in her palm, or a small piece of bone from the wing of a bird, its lattice of cartilage stirring a conversation on aerodynamics.
She loved the flexibility of Frank’s mind—that he spent his days fitting together geometrical forms, yet could express himself eloquently in writing and play piano with heartfelt beauty. As for his extraordinary soul, one had only to look at the houses he designed to find it laid open for the world to see.
Mamah realized she cared for him for the very reasons he made other people squirm. He was fearlessly outspoken. And he
eccentric, but it was the