art by Junior McLean
by Cat Rambo
Marcus hadn't thought marriage would be like this after three months. He had expected to love Pippa, but he hadn't thought she would love him so much, that she would follow him from counter to till in his tiny shop where he sold souvenirs and curiosities: stuffed mermaids, filagree jars, and great shark jaws set with more teeth than a carved comb.
Was it that he was all the treasure that Pippa had? Would her need diminish with time, as she felt more secure?
His mother had wanted him to marry Gerta the innkeeper's daughter, who could run a household with easy efficiency, could scald a hog or bleach linen, and who had wide hips that could bear a score of infants. His father had wanted him to marry Lisa the banker's daughter, who came with a hefty dowry and land of her own, and who had wide hips that could bear two score infants. Maybe more.
But he had seen narrow-hipped Pippa the day she'd arrived in the seaport town of Spume, in the pinnace that had rescued all that remained of a capsized galleon: Pippa in her drenched skirts and two sailors, one with a scar across his eye and the other a rangy man with only one hand who claimed that a kraken had eaten the other.
The sailors had moved on quickly, taken other ships, but Pippa had stayed behind when Marcus had asked her to become his bride, enchanted by her small, brown-skinned form, her dandelion fluff of hair, her mismatched eyes, one sea foam green, the other as blue as summer sky, the tiny smile that she only let escape in moments of true delight, and which she kept clutched inside at all other times.
She loved him too. At night, she touched him, laying her hand along his back, to make sure he wasn't dead. They were both light sleepers. Wakened by some outside sound--the last of the late night drunkards stumbling home from the tavern in the next street, the cobblestone clatter of a cart, or the apothecary's dog barking at some imagined monster--they would both lie there for a moment. And then Pippa would turn over and lay her hand on his back or side, feeling for his warmth, and then, reassured, would go back to sleep.
It was because she feared losing him, he knew. It wasn't easy but he hadn't expected marriage to be easy. He knew he was a man set in his own ways. His own mother said, "Marcus was a grown man before he was ever a boy." He had followed a different path than his farmer father, had been lured to become a shopkeeper, though not just any shopkeeper. He did not sell merchants' doings, but the odd things sailors brought from other shores, which had fascinated him since he was a boy, and had first seen a gleam of porcelain luck-beads in a traveler's palm, offered for a bag of apples.
To Pippa, he was a greater treasure than anything in the shop. She'd sit watching him as he dusted, telling her each item's name and making her repeat it to him in her soft, slurry accent. He taught her names of spices that were rarely used in local cooking and the adjective for each historical dynasty's antiques, and left her to pick up the simpler things on her own, like "salt" and "water" and "bread."