Marika’s Monologue adapted from my first novel: Copper Sky: Marika’s father has just told her that he’s promised her in marriage to Michael Jovich. She is then relaying the conversation and her reaction to the audience.
I walked into our small house and Mama, Papa and Marko all focused on me. It was strange. The girl is not usually the center of attention. I sat down, and waited for the news. Papa’s sickness? My grandmother’s death? Or did Marko join the army? We had just entered the war. But not everyone was happy about it. People said they’d be killing their own brothers, people like us, who’d just crossed the Atlantic to America.
“My country ’tis of thee,” they sang.
“Damn with war,” they shouted.
Nothing so tragic in Papa’s home.
Papa wants me to marry a miner, some Michael Jovich.
Oh, I’d been expecting it. But the news slammed into me. I don’t want to marry.
I’m only 17 and I have dreams.
Papa sent word of the engagement to Baba, my grandmother in Montenegro. But she can’t come here. The village needs her. Papa knows this. It’s a formality to proceed only with her blessing.
He’s sick and ignoring the severity of his illness, making plans for a future he won’t live to see. Not with the consumption destroying his lungs. The consumption is like a giant rat that’s gathered twigs and made a home in his chest. Even the best doctors can’t kick it out.
No one mentioned his illness, and I didn’t bring it up.
Still, the anger swelled in me. Did he think he just said it and it’s done? Without talking to me? He knows I dread the idea of marriage. I don’t even know this Michael Jovich. But I promise to hate him. I will not respect a man who gets a wife under the disguise of tradition, treating her like so much chattel.
Surely he can’t just dispose of me to the first asker. I said as much and he shot his dark eyes at me.
I felt their burn.
I wanted to hold his shoulders in my palms, the way large men do with young children who have misbehaved.
I wanted him to listen to me.
I want to continue my education, which he taught me to value.
I have a dream, to study medicine, to become a doctor, here, in America. And if the time is right, to bring what I learn back home to the mountain villages.
Baba taught me the medicinal uses of local herbs. She taught me to care for people. If I have both modern knowledge and the ancient ability to care deeply, people will heal and my life will be of purpose.
Papa argued that I’d never be admitted to a school of medicine. And if I was, who, pray tell, would pay for it?
He works in the mines and speaks of fairness to miners. What about fairness to women? When we were children he told both Marko and me to read, learn. When I was eight years old, exploring the caves of Dumitor, he said I could climb as well as any boy. He taught me to shoot a gun!
Fool that I am, I thought he might listen to me.
I especially do not want to marry a miner. I fear he will die and I will be left alone to care for our children. How will I feed them if I am not educated enough to make a living wage? Women get paid less than a dollar a day.
Just weeks ago both Roberta Owens and Danitza Draskovich lost their husbands in the Speculator mine disaster. Our own Uncle Vuko died in the disaster. 168 men died. Everyone lost someone up there. It was horrible. It is horrible. No one has recovered. We grieve silently at home or in the alleys, or evenings at Vespers, while keeping our chins up and getting the work done.
I begged Papa. Please don’t ask this of me.
But he insisted he’d made a promise and it was for me.
And Mama insisted I cooperate. Saying Papa wants my happiness.
I watched him relight his pipe, and suck on the mahogany stem, turning his head toward the door as if the newcomer had just walked in and thrown his hat on the shoe bench.
I held my tongue about Papa’s pipe. He is dying; how he hastens the process is his business. He’s made that point clear to me again and again.
I turned to my mother, whose eyes were locked on Papa. She’s always been locked to Papa, determined to hold onto him, ever grateful for him. Yet Mama is no one’s chattel. She belongs to Papa only as much as she belongs to herself, something I know but don’t understand.
And Marko? He carried me to the bunks in the ship’s hull when I became ill from the constant motion of the sea. It was Marko who’d stopped the captain’s aid when he dragged me by the arm into the rope room. I saw that even he had closed his ears to me.
My eyes burn from the tears lurking at their edges. It isn’t proper to cry at first news of your engagement.
The word flies around my head like bat wings in the open timbers, like the cawing ravens over a good kill. I burst with the fear of men confined too long in the cage.
Who is this man? How old is he? What is he like? Maybe he stinks. Maybe he’s gross, fat, dirty, or drinks too much rakija. Maybe he’s mean and he will beat our children. Maybe he’ll go off to fight in France, and come home boxed up, or not at all.
How can Papa send me, his only daughter, off with someone he doesn’t even know? Has he talked to him? Has he ever had him here to dinner?
I have a mind. It can think.
I have a heart. It can love.
But not this man he’s chosen for me.
I will not love Michael Jovich.