Marie’s father stood six-foot-one on his good leg, six feet even on his shorter left. He had a face that did not age. Daniel looked the same at fifty as he did at thirty, when Marie had her first unremembered glimpse of him.
On the day that Marie was born, two weeks after her parent’s first wedding anniversary, after nearly four days of uninterrupted labor, her father was conducting a funeral. The funeral was for a Miss Annabelle Dubois, the fetus lady, an eighty-year-old former nurse who had never married and had no family to speak of, save a nephew out in California who she refused to acknowledge on account of his choice of life style. He kept a beautiful Hispanic boy on his arm, the Californian equivalent of a trophy wife.
The fetus lady earned her name from her rather unusual habits. Her house was a maze of stacked refuse, phone books dating back fifty years, newspapers, hatboxes, and National Geographics filled the rooms to the ceiling, some so old that they had long since compressed themselves into bricks.
If you were to enter her house and wind your way in through the path surrounded by that ancient paper, past the kitchen filled with sixty-year-old preserves, the living room stacked high with disused, antique furniture, and finally down into the basement she would present you with her only family.
The basement was surprisingly neat given the state of the rest of the house, rows and rows of shelves bearing hundreds of large, shining, dust-free pickle jars. In each jar floating like some strange fruit were fetuses. Hundreds of them preserved in formaldehyde. All were still-births, some deformed, some with skin slip and blank marbled eyes, some perfect, looking asleep and ready to be decanted out into the world were the right person to come along and uncork the lid.
Each had a name, and they were all different names. They each had a birthday, but no date of death. Annabelle had filled out a birth certificate for each one, taken their tiny cold footprints, and written her name in the space reserved for the mother.
She would visit them for hours every day, singing to them and praying for them, telling stories to her little Peter Pans. Two weeks passed before they found her. Some of the Ladies noticed her absence from church and even though they were well above actually speaking to her on a Sunday, they mentioned her absence to Daniel, their voices sliding down the register of false concern, hands barely hiding their smirks.
He followed the smell down through the winding pathway through her full and empty house. He found her curled like a child on the swept dirt floor of her basement. A few jars had smashed around her, Betty, and Sally, Frank, and Billie Joe rotting by her side, but more jars were gathered safe in her stiff arms.
They left together in the ambulance, Annabelle and her four broken children. The rest followed after. Some went to various schools of medicine, where they would have gone in the first place had it not been for her. The rest were incinerated.
The lady herself was buried in a quiet service on the eighteenth of June, on the hour of Marie’s birth. The funeral was a sparse and empty affair. A few old crones, the kind of ever present deaths-head women who attend the funerals of both friends and foe for the sheer joy of rising one more time above the ashes, poked around talking through the service as the man who that hour became a father read poetry from the Presbyterian Book of Order.
The graveside service was deserted. He read it anyway, believing that she deserved the comfort of words, and threw the first fistfuls of rich South Florida soil down on the cheap pressboard coffin.
When he came in to the Church office after stopping for a quiet lunch full of deep and lonely thoughts his secretary gave him the news. A girl. Six pounds, seven ounces.
He was gone before her voice faded, breaking speed limits, and racing through red lights. He turned into the hospital trailing a parade of flashing red and blue lights. Sweating, he talked his way out of a ticket and a reckless driving charge, red faced and shaking he burst into his beloved’s room.
The doctors had finally resorted to extracting the girl via cesarean section. Janice later joked that if she had stayed in any longer they would have been potty training her in utero. The new mother was still unconscious from the drugs, but the baby was very much awake, and squalling.
Her father’s hands were large yet tapered, the hands of a violinist, or sculptor. She rested neatly in his palm. He looked her over with a sense of pride and fear.
‘So small, so small and so perfect.’ He turned her in the light and she fell silent at the sudden change. ‘So perfect. My Daughter. My Marie.’
And that was how she met her father. Her first meeting with the mountain.