A note to the Reader: By publishing these stories on my blog I am sharing a part of me that is very intimate because it is something I created and worked on. I am aware that the quality is not always the best, but short stories are more new for me than poetry. I wrote this one about five years ago and a few others (one that I have published on my blog recently) and I have not written any since. I would like to and I hope putting these out there will spur me on to it. But I hope that they will be enjoyed and that I can start finding my voice again to continue to write more. Thanks.
My Maiden Name Is
By Emily Chumchal Andrews
About a year ago I went to a small Bed and Breakfast with my husband, Andrew. We went to "get away from it all" and have a nice romantic weekend, just the two of us. The Bed and Breakfast was a blue cottage with white shutters, nestled in among ten weeping willow trees. I counted them. The perfect porch wrapped around the entire house so that wherever you were seated you could enjoy a new part of the clean, country landscape.
When we arrived at the inn, we weren't exactly sure where the check-in was because it was dark, we were late, and a friend had set it all up for us; we only knew how to get there. We found a note for us there in the inn,welcoming us and letting us know where everything was, including where to check-in the next morning. I don't know what it was about that inn, but I think it was made for reflection. I don't know where Mrs. Griffin lives now; we have never gone back there. Maybe she is still working at her Bed and Breakfast and still asking questions that penetrate you like her eyes. Her eyes are soft and wise and brown-green and they help you grow by just looking into them and answering the questions there honestly.
The first time I met Mrs. Griffin she was sitting by her husband, Mr. Griffin. Both of them were rocking in two white rocking chairs, both in perfect cadence. Mr., smoking his pipe and Mrs., busy with her ledger books. They smiled when we came in the next morning, Andrew and I, not in perfect rhythm like them.
"What can we do for you?" She said.
I told her that we were the couple staying in the cottage. We would be here for a week.
"Are you now? What is the name?"
"Griffin" Andrew replied.
"Griffin, why that's my name." She said.
Andrew, politely interested, asked: "Really?"
"Well, I borrowed it from him" Mrs. Griffin nodded toward her rocking chair twin.
I laughed, I liked her: "Oh, yes, I borrowed Griffin from him" and I nodded at Andrew.
Mrs. Griffin leaned in toward me with a twinkle in her brown eyes. "So, then what is your real name?"
Surprisingly, that question didn't catch me off guard at all, I answered as if I expected it. "Navratil."
It seems like such a simple exchange and I guess it was. She said it sure was a different name, my maiden name, and I told her it was Czechoslovakian. I didn't think very much about the conversation the rest of that day.
Andrew and I planned to take it easy the first day that we were there and not try to do any touristy busy things right away. I was glad because work was draining me. In addition, I was taking a few classes at the local community college and trying to be a good wife and daughter. We tried to see both of our families at least three times a month, preferably once a week. We were a young couple, no kids, and so, I guess, we had a lot of time. His parents were especially pushy about us coming over. Christmas was coming up and both families expected us there on Christmas day. Not only that, we are anticipated to go to each of our Grandmother's houses on Christmas day. I started to hate Christmas after I got married, but I went to the parties with a smile on my face anyway.
"Andrew, do you want to play a game of Checkers?" I called out.
"Sure, honey, but what about making it chess instead?"
"Well, I guess so, yeah, chess would be fine...fun. I'll set up the chess board." I started to pull it out from the shelf. Of course, it's at the bottom.
"Okay, I'll be right there, just a minute, I'm checking our e-mail." Andrew announced.
"How are you doing that?"
"Our cell phone has internet options."
"Yeah, isn't that great?"
I stood by the bed where he was. "It's extra money."
"Hey, it's a vacation we can spend a little extra."
A little extra that we could spend on a nice dinner
"Yeah, it's a vacation and so why are you checking messages? We are supposed to be spending time with each other."
"You took a long bath while I just sat here by myself." He took enough time to look up and glance purposefully at my hair.
"I was relaxing. That is how you relax on a vacation."
"This is how I relax on a vacation."
"Fine. You want to play chess now?"
Was he kidding? My hands curled into tightness.
"What? Are you kidding? I don't feel like playing chess now."
"Why don't you want to play chess anymore? You aren't done pouting? Never mind then, damn it."
Crap! This was such a stupid idea. Now instead of fighting at home we can spend a lot of money and fight 200 miles from home.
I turned my back on him, with my instinct keeping his reaction in sight. He was always so biting. I wasn't a child either. "Why do you have to be so sarcastic with me? Do you think that it's going to make things better? Do you?"
He tossed the cell phone on the bed. "You were sarcastic with me." He said.
"No, I wasn't." I balked.
"Look, I forgive you for getting so angry."
"What? You forgive me? I didn't say I was sorry." I was facing him now, red-hot.
"Well, that's just how the Griffin's are. If you say something sarcastic then don't expect me to just sit back and take it."
"So, you are excused because it's in you blood?"
"I didn't say that. Whatever. I'm sorry." He pulled me close to him. "I still shouldn't have been so sarcastic, you will get used to it though, you're a Griffin now too."
He kissed me on the forehead and everything was supposed to be better. I grabbed my coat and headed outside. A walk had a way of making things better.
His comment made me think about Mrs. Griffin, the innkeeper. She had used the word borrowed for my married name. I know it was just friendly banter, but still. Using the name Griffin was weird for me. Whenever his family said I was 'a Griffin now,' I kind of smiled weakly. I felt like I was betraying the Navratil's when they said that. For twenty-one years I was a Navratil. I would always be one too, I determined. The Navratil's are not sarcastic, we are creative. I decided that the next day I would find Mrs. Griffin and talk with her. It would be nice to have some company and also to avoid another fight with Andrew. I didn't want to fight. I loved him and this was a vacation.
She was in her garden when I found her the next day. As I approached she wiped her hands on her worn gardening pants and and said: "Hello there, how are you and your husband enjoying your stay?"
"Oh, just fine, everything is beautiful here."
"Yes, it is. Mr. Griffin and I love it."
I was afraid that I would not be able to fill the silence that came next, but Mrs. Griffin was comfortable with it and she soon filled it. She was that kind of person, somehow you felt at ease right away and as if you could begin by telling her your whole life's story, starting with all the bad parts.
"You want to sit down here? I think Allen just made some fresh lemonade. I'll go see, Honey, you just stay there."
She came back with two glasses. Sipping leisurely we sat and enjoyed the refreshment. I asked her: "What did you mean when you asked me what my real name was?" I didn't even know if was still on my mind until it was the first thing I said.
"Well, I guess I just wanted to know, that's all. What do you think your real name is?" She replied.
She hadn't really answered my question. "My maiden name is Navratil."
"Navratil. Now where did that name come from?"
"Yes, that's right, I remember you mentioned that when you first came. I bet there is a lot of history connected to it." She smiled at me and I continued.
"My grandfather came here to America in the early 1900's. It means to 'come back' or 'return.'"
"You know a lot more about your name than most. My maiden name was Eloise Mullan. 'Mullan' is Irish and means 'bald.'" She laughed and I did too. It felt good to laugh.
"Andrew wonders why I was so eager to take his last name when we were dating and why, now, I like it when people call me by my maiden name."
"Sounds legitimate to me. Why do you feel like that?"
"I don't know." I squirmed. The back of the chair seemed hard all of the sudden.
"There are a lot of unknowns in this life, Love. Maybe you should figure it out."
Mrs. Griffin was right, of course. I felt as if I should have something very intelligent to say about women and equality and individuality, but in the end, I knew that though I believed all those things they didn't pertain to the situation. What was relevant was my relationship with Andrew.
She had spoken truth and it was there for me to take. We sat there for quite awhile,sipping our drinks and watching Mr. Griffin till the garden.
I wanted to know if she missed her maiden name. I wondered why she took his name. What impressed me most about her was that the two of them were so content. I resented the fact that I took my name from Andrew and that he was who I was identified by, not myself. I guess that was mostly it, in truth. I never felt like I was identified by myself, always someone else and, sometimes, I didn't even know who I was. Shouldn't a person know that?
"Don't you resent being identified by Mr. Griffin?"
"I am not identified by Allen, I am identified with him." She stated simply.
"Well" I started "When I receive letters addressed to 'Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Griffin,' I cringe. If I am going to carry his last name, I want, at least, to be distinguished by my own first name and not completely lost in his."
"What is your first name?" She looked at me and I realized I had never mentioned it.
"Cassandra." My name sat like a weight. I looked at her and just sat there for many moments. "Thank you, Eloise." I said. Nothing more was needed.
Andrew and I left after our week there and the Griffin's sat rocking in their chairs just the same as when we met them. That is how we left them.
When Andrew and I arrived at home we had dinner, a disagreement and afterward we picked up that game of Chess we had never played.
The king and queen move in such different ways, but both are essential to the game. You have to capture the king to win, but the queen, she's so strong. I don't underestimate her. Not anymore.