Chapter 14: Table Talk

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The dinner of bread and peas porridge contained no lizard parts, at least as far as Rob could detect, and he gladly accepted a second helping. 

The mood felt tense at first; everyone knew that Maggie and Rob were expecting a baby, but nobody would talk about it, and it wasn't until Maggie's mother learned that Rob had hired Hans into his medical practice that things got rolling.

Maggie's mother thoroughly disapproved of her former step-children. "Greta's always been a spoiled gold-digger. That boy suffers from an eating disorder that upsets the humors in his brain, and neither are forgiven for locking me in the oven. An entire afternoon I was there, until my sweet husband came home from cutting wood, God rest his handsome soul."

She placed her gnarled hands on theirs and pulled them together across the table. "All of the misery they brought me, it was worth it for the short time I had with their father. I didn't have many years with Magda's father, either—he died a soldier, so young that she has no memories of him even—but I would not trade my marriages for anything.

"I sell many cures," she continued as Maggie rolled her eyes at Rob. "But going through life alone is a disease against which I can offer no defense. Is it a coincidence that married couples live long lives together, while bachelors and spinsters so often find themselves in an early grave? I think not."

"Are you the exception that proves the rule?" Maggie asked.

"Pah! I was never a spinster. I had two precious marriages to sustain me in my old age, which is more than I can say for you."

"Moth-er," Maggie growled.

"Listen to me as I teach you a lesson. You do not want to go through life alone."

"I'm not alone. Not like before, I mean. But marriage isn't some magic spell that's going to keep me happy."

"Well," she said, dabbing her mouth with the edge of her shawl. "I suppose there's some truth in that, daughter mine."

* * *

Halfway home, and just as the stars were coming out, they found an inn with a spare room and an outbreak of vomiting. Rob examined a few patients, trotted out his hand-washing lecture, and declined the innkeeper's offer of a late meal. Rob and Maggie did accept some water with a splash of wine as a disinfectant, and a pair of choice seats by the fire.

"It's not that I don't want to marry you," Maggie explained. "There's nobody I'd rather marry, you understand, but I'm just not ready for that."

"Ready for what?"

"Ready for . . . shit, I don't know. My mother got me thinking about my father, and then my step-father. One lost to war, another to the wolves."

"Wolves? You mean literal wolves?"

"We think so. His body was never found, but I can still hear them howling while I huddled with my gran in her tiny cabin."

"Maggie, that's terrible."

She shrugged. "It is what it is. I've gone on to have other men in my life, but it never ended well. Some treated me like property. Others were violent. Some simply left, or I left them before they could think to do it first. I suppose I'm a little worried that you'll go, too. Which sounds stupid when I say it out loud, but there it is."

"Maggie. I'm never going to leave you."

"Never? Because sometimes I hear you and Zev talking about finding a way home, whatever that means."

"Oh, boy. That's . . . complicated. You know, I've sort of explained where I'm from, and how I ended up here one day."

"Yeah. It didn't make much sense."

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