‘Josie’s Thread’ by Richard Greenhorn

There was one thin thread of flesh which was all Samuel really liked about her. Josie claimed it was a great embarrassment to her, from an unfortunate experience in high school and in the present day, when she wore tights or shorts. Samuel could only assign this to stupid vanity; to him, Josie’s thread was a manifest sign of his love for her. To simply set his tongue on her was to resolve that evening’s bitter dispute, was to soothe whatever qualm had set some unspoken barrier between them during the day. The messiness of morals, temperaments, and all the better angels of the universe could be subjugated beneath the mild application of pressure, and all life’s complications smouldered when Josie threw her head back and burst into a white flame.

Josie’s thread provided a linchpin in Samuel’s mental conception of her, and at times when his affection for her was waning, he could think of her thread and resurrect his former feeling. He could sit and think about Josie’s thread for a quarter of a hour at a time, behind his desk, not contemplating a particular motion, not immersed in any thrall of passion, but simply thinking of her thread in appreciation. Every moment they shared together was a movement towards her thread. All the attributes of hers he found unpleasing, from her vestigial religion to her yoga to her mercurial tears, were hollow ceremonies in the two great seasons of their relationship: Having her thread, when he was very happy, and fasting from it.

Josie did not need much from Samuel. She had her own job. She adored her own body. Though she was not terribly pretty, she was fit. She loved running and swimming. The skill and commitment it took to look the way she did was not done for Samuel, but for herself and everyone who looked at her.

Samuel often made her cry. Sometimes she would call herself clumsy or stupid, and he would verbally confirm it, even in front of her friends. He was smarter than she was, and often, when she expressed her opinion about politics or philosophy or the arts, he would tell her there was only one thing she was good for, and that her brain was neither longer nor wider than her pink thread.

But for the most part, the petty bothers which characterized so many of her best friends’ relationships did not apply to Josie and Sam. They did not argue about work schedules or money. Samuel was successful and well-off. She wanted children, though not now; she didn’t know when. Because of Samuel’s ability to please her, his manners could be ruder, his attention to her more lax. They cohabited for many years. They made love very often, and he was so creative, so satisfying as a lover, that she never seriously considered leaving him, even when other men attracted her, even when Samuel would lie in bed and wonder aloud if man had evolved for monogamy. Josie could endure his mockery because she was sure it was insincere; this was proved by his lovemaking, which she knew to be his truest self.

But years passed, and Josie knew they had to marry. Her grandmother would not live much longer. She threatened to leave Samuel if he did not propose. He was not anxious to marry her because although he wanted a son, he did not want Josie to bear it. They had money enough for a surrogate. She called this abhorrent, though could give no concrete reason why. She cried for nine evenings straight until he acquiesced out of pity. Samuel thought about the future as they were making love that night. He saw the child like an army passing through the conquered territory of her body, pillaging her sweetest curves, scarring her softest flesh.

Samuel and Josie were married at the cathedral, with the happy blessing of a gay priest, and Josie’s father hired a string section to play Bach. The reception afterwards was at an art house near Chinatown. Josie had been taught a modern tradition by her girlfriends where, on the dancefloor before the first dance, the groom would remove his wife’s garter without using his hands; both sets of parents thought this would be ribald and amusing. When Samuel was inside her white gown, he went higher than he needed to, and he kissed her fine thread to a shocked smile from her, and much laughter from the room. This was before gripping her garter in his teeth.

Married, Samuel had no firmer claim to her heart, no better right to her property, no better justification to beat her. But he subtly enjoyed matrimony, if just for the fact that he had attached his name to another human being. Josie took her marriage to be a compliment to herself, and she was happy to take his name, and make others recognize her by it.

Josie became pregnant soon after removing her IUD. After nineteen weeks she no longer wanted to make love because she was physically unhappy with herself, and the creakings and ejaculations which often sent her husband to the couch at night. In his forced celibacy, he grew very alienated from Josie, though she did not notice. There was scarcely an evening when she did not have her mother or a friend over to talk about being pregnant.

Josie gave birth to a little girl without complications. Samuel held it, and felt a happy possession no different than he would from holding a puppy, or upon building a home, or buying a Lexus or a boat. He did not consider himself materialistic, and he did not view these things as essential.

Josie would not expose herself to Samuel for weeks after her labor, wanting to resurrect her workout regiment before he saw her again. When this night arrived, and she undressed in front of him, drunk on champagne and unsteadily pulling her dress over her head, his fears were realized: Josie’s thread was gone. Consequently, it was their first time making love that he was not overcompensated with his own pleasure. He no longer liked her smell, her touch, her appearance. Josie was happier than ever. Though the pregnancy had been unpleasant for her, now that it was over, she was overjoyed to find that the feature that had most embarrassed her since childhood was gone. Samuel wondered, sullenly, who she was trying to impress.

Josie worked hard to renew her old figure, and soon she was at her pre-pregnancy weight, running fifteen miles a week, and no longer lactating. This humbled other women and aroused their resentment. When Josie carried the baby with her, it was an immanent form of her new confidence. She believed she was becoming a more effective woman with each passing week, proven by the tight schedules she set for her worklife, homelife, and lovemaking with her husband.

After champagne and lovemaking one night, the baby began crying. That night, Josie had scheduled Samuel to comfort the baby. Josie had forgotten to change the baby before they began drinking, and when Samuel looked into the crib, he saw the diaper was severely soiled. He stripped the child naked and cleaned her in the bathtub, the child’s screaming incessant and almost painful to him. He brought the clean naked child back to her crib.

The child became quiet in weariness. Samuel admired her, her pink skin, the piety of her small puddy fists united over her face. Her features were yet indistinct, and insofar that she looked like her mother, it was behind a shield of babyfat and many intervening years; yet her fat doughy legs would someday be long and athletic like her mother’s, her hair would be blond, her breasts would be small. His naked little daughter would one day have a thread like Josie’s.

This final thought filled him with dread—he didn’t know why. His daughter’s eyes were closed, and she squirmed on her cribtop, trying to get comfortable. He began to weep. The tears fell onto the child’s face, and she started to cry as well until her father picked her up and held her to his face, and told her he loved her. He suddenly started to laugh. He clothed the child, and kissed her.

Samuel watched over the crib, gazing at his daughter until she fell asleep. For the first time in his life he truly loved Josie. He realized that through all their years together, he had only seen a small part of his wife. Yet he somehow realized that since the first time they made love—an occasion he could no longer precisely remember—Josie had held this child inside her; his daughter’s face had been written in her like the ripples on a pond. And the worship he had paid to his wife’s body was merely an approximation to a feeling now which he could not define, but which made his breast tremble and his lips quiver. His greatest passion, the height of his selfhood, had been harbored not in his pleasure or in his own soul, or even in Josie’s, but in this child’s soul, distinct from them. And now the only way he could constrain himself was by gazing at his daughter, repeating like a mantra:

“This child is mine.”

He and Josie had been so enraptured with themselves that they had ignored this gift, their child, this new and perhaps everlasting spirit. His entire life up to that point had been an exercise in ignoring this pink bundle, this fiber in an unbroken circle, this single fine thread in the unrent garment of eternity.

Josie was more drunk than asleep, letting out snores indistinguishable from lewd giggles. Samuel smiled, climbing back into bed, admiring her. For the first time in his life he respected her. He had long used her as a source of pleasure and pride, failing, all those years, to see there was something in her as godlike as the verdant earth. He smiled and lay on his pillow, fondly watching her in the moonlight, until his happy vision transformed into sleep, into dreams.

Within a week’s time, Josie told him she did not want any more children, for what had already been done to her figure. He argued with her about this. Her body was etiolating in age, and no amount of toil would rejuvenate it. In fact, he had begun to grow queerly aroused by its acquired flaws. One night over dinner, Josie informed him that she had had a hysterectomy that morning; all outward signs of it were gone in a few weeks.

Samuel was never faithful to Josie after this. He was a good provider, he doted on his daughter, and neither Josie nor Samuel seriously contemplated divorce. But none of Samuel’s other women could thrill him; none had a thread like Josie’s. He once impregnated a woman from his office, but by her ninth week the baby was dead, and there was no proof of its existence besides his mistress’s occasional tears.

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