And Then The Hunger Had More Power Than Even The Sorrow

by M. F. Sullivan

Delilah couldn't articulate why she was sometimes uncomfortable watching her husband interact with his mother. At first, she'd been so glad the woman had returned to Richard's life. But there was just something—wrong. She didn't like thinking about it because if she thought too hard on the subject, the thoughts took her to a terrible place, but maybe it was how they spoke to each other. At dinner, for instance:

“You know, Richard, when I was in Paris, I visited the Musée Rodin. You'd ought to take Delilah.”

“There's one in Philadelphia. We just went—” He focused on Delilah, who recalled the drive from Columbus, how hot! Summertime. He looked good in sunglasses. The music on the stereo. Simon and Garfunkel. Just after she watched him the first time. Maybe—

“Three years ago,” Delilah supplied.

His mother leaned forward. “I don't suppose they have a copy of La Porte de l'Enfer?

“Of course they do.”

The older woman shut her eyes and gave a sigh of bliss, one hand fluttering upon her heart. Delilah watched her husband observe this without expression, blink, and sip his drink as his mother continued, “What an incredible work. The detail—I was particularly taken by the plight of Ugolino.”

“Poor Rodin,” mourned Richard from his glass, “that piece possessed him until he was dead.”

His mother's green eyes flickered like the candles upon her dining table. “You sound as if you can relate. What piece claims your life, Dick?”

It was moments like this that Delilah worried his mother might know. She didn't think he would tell her about their secret, but his mother was shrewd.

“A comparable monument,” he said at last.

“What do you suppose is on the other side of that door,” asked his mother.

“What else could be on the other side of such suffering, eventually? Ecstasy. Pass through the Gates of Hell,” said Richard, “and realize we've been there the whole time.”

“So the gates are an exit?”

“What else could they be? Great work is always an exit.”

That moment, it was Delilah's turn to drink. The next day, when Richard was sleeping off his hangover, she went to the House in the Country. She wanted nothing to do with the thing in the cellar, but she had to learn how much his mother knew. He'd never tell Delilah if she asked him directly. So, she'd panic him. She'd take the head, and when it was time to exhume and move it out to the woods—if he accused Delilah, she'd say she was trying to help him and had reburied it somewhere. If he didn't mention it, well—then there might have been something he wasn't telling her.

Let the mother and son keep their secrets, she thought as she took the head of a pretty Texas girl from out of her trunk, then hustled it down to the basement freezer, where Richard never checked. There were certain things husbands and wives kept between one another. Certain things his mother had no right to know. Boundaries, after all, were essential to a healthy relationship.