Mercy looked up from the poem she had been working on that morning and gazed out the window of her cubbyhole of an office at the persistent, insistent Oregon drizzle. The weather must have affected her brain. Finger exercises were fine and good, but this one didn't seem quite fair. Creating a nice turn of phrase temporarily calmed her demons, but it wasn't the kids who were terrorizing her. Correct that--it wasn't the kids who were making her depressed. She shouldn't be pulling apart her problems and attempting literary re-creations anyway; she should be correcting papers. She had studied English because she wanted to be a writer, and now here she was feeling guilty because she wasn't correcting drivel. Life has a pretty sadistic sense of humor at times.
Mercy wasn't doing too well. Her thread of wonder had snapped and she had a strange sick feeling in her stomach like a rope around her guts being pulled tight. She was coming out of a five year hibernation, and it wasn't pleasant; she had endured her marriage for years without recognizing that endurance was required. This was what maturity was all about--a gradual process of calming down until you finally reached an adult state of monotony. Missing the emotional excitement of younger years would have been immature. But there were those nasty emotions again, coming in unannounced, and not even with any of the more pleasant variety along to make the unpleasant bearable. The sensations after so many years caught her numbed senses off guard, ambushing her with their unexpected intensity, leaving her drained and dizzy. Most unpleasant of all was she had no love left for her husband. She didn't even know where or when it had gone. She could remember that she had loved George and why she had loved him, his dry, sardonic humor and his hatred of anything candy-assed; she could remember individual incidents, but she could no longer remember the feeling. When habit had settled in for good, love had slunk out--for good.
Turning from the window and her depressing reflections, Mercy confronted the pile of term papers at her elbow. "Edna Pontellier is a married woman whose identity unfolds for the first time realistically in American literature, a status which until then marked the end of a heroine's development." She shoved the papers aside in frustration.
Mercy needed a break. Luckily she was meeting Deborah for lunch; she could leave early and treat herself to a walk in the rain. Maybe it would help to have a few solitary minutes without domestic or academic duties, walk downtown from this so-called campus, maybe commune with the statue. She would probably end up like a drowned rat; rats at least had free run of the sewers, even if they were only sewers. She might even catch pneumonia, a good excuse not to correct papers. And then her contract would probably be terminated because she didn't have tenure yet. Only tenured professors could afford to get seriously ill.
Outside, the sky was so heavy, the pedestrians could only manage a weary slouch, drooping beneath their umbrellas. Mercy had left her umbrella in the office. In the same mood of rebellion, she tore a branch off one of the bushes deposited next to the sidewalks along the pseudo quads and proceeded to demolish the leaves. Pseudo quads for a pseudo university. Not very long ago, her present place of employment was nothing more than a college, but the predominance of the Oregon population in the Portland area had called for the promotion of one of its institutions of higher learning to the rank of university. Columbia State got the title, but not much else. Money for education had always been scarce, and during the reign of Reagan it was scarcer still.
As she emerged from the protection of the trees, Mercy promptly got drenched. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea after all not to bring her umbrella. She ducked under an awning until the rain let up a little and she could venture farther into the heart of the city. Past the Schnitz and its eight-story promotion of Portland, the district of architectural giants by the giants of architecture began. Back in the seventies when she had first visited George's old hometown, there had been no such landmarks; the skyscrapers of Portland had been less pretentious and less renowned--just like the city itself. Portland had been a failure as a big city, rather provincial and rather boring. Mercy liked the city more now, but it had excited her more then; it had been tied up with her love for George. Now the years had drained the sweet from once-bittersweet memories till only the bitter was left. Mercy was thinking the unthinkable--perhaps she had made a mistake. But then there were Bruce and Bennie, and they certainly were not mistakes. They were brats, they were tyrants, they were a lot of work, but they weren't mistakes. They were intelligent, demanding, sometimes even charming; little individuals she could hardly regret having put into the world.
A patch of blue appeared tentatively through the dishwater grey of the sky. The single ray of sunlight brightened Portlandia's dreary expression, and she glowed and winked at Mercy. Suddenly the grey sky seemed a touch less grey; the bleak future a tad less bleak. Don't give up now, Portlandia said to her, you still have many failures ahead of you.
With that hopeful message in mind, Mercy went to a nearby deli, Steuben's Rubens, where she bought the fattest pickle in the jar. Her first impulse was to buy chocolate, but at the thought of the impending lunch date she restrained herself. As the green pickle juice rolled down her chin, Mercy reflected there was a lot to be said for spoiling yourself. Nobody else would.