Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lief: Forty

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    Lief, are you alright? You seem like you’re a million miles away.

    The elevator rumbled up. Lief leaned her head against its faux wood paneling.
    The couple beside her probably thought they were whispering. “It’s just so sad,” the man said. “At her age, a broken hip might as well be a death sentence. She’ll probably never be able to get around on her own again.”
    The woman had her shoulder to him. “It’s easy when it’s not your mother,” she said.
    Lief closed her eyes.
    “It’s not easier,” the man replied.
    Lief hear the gears turning, or something turning, or pulling or grinding. The elevator made pinging sounds as it passed each floor.
    “She doesn’t even recognize me anymore,” the woman said.
    The man coughed. “She does,” he told her. “Don’t think that. Her vision’s poor.”   
    Lief opened her eyes. Next floor.
    “She doesn’t know who I am,” the woman whispered.
    The elevator stopped. The door opened. Lief brushed past them carefully. The man smiled.
    The door closed behind her.
    She could hear her footsteps, so loud on the hallway floor. Lief didn’t look into any of the rooms; her eyes stared straight down the corridor. Her footsteps pounded. They were as loud as anything.
    The nurses were talking to each other.
    “It’s not over til Ohio,” one said. “She’ll win big in Ohio.”
    “It’s over,” the other replied. “She’s done.”
    The first one shook her head. “I can’t even pronounce his name,” she explained. “Nobody’s going to vote for a guy with such a weird name.”
    “You just don’t like him because--”
    The first one interrupted. “What are people thinking, naming their kids weird names? It’s child abuse you ask me.”
    Somebody tsk-tsked. “Everybody’s name is weird if you think about it. I mean, what’s a ‘Clinton’, anyway?”
    Lief approached their station. “Excuse me,” she said.
    They were all so helpful. They told Lief exactly where to go. She could see her reflection in the glass before she could focus on anything in the nursery. She scanned each little crib until she saw her name.
    Each looked the same. But Lief could tell. Even without the nametag she could tell. Inside the crib, her eyes were shut, her little feet bundled tight seemed to kick against something.
    Lief put her hand to the glass.
    “Hello there,” Lief told her.
    Liz sipped her wine. “Which brother is this?” she asked.
    Lief switched her forks. “Glover,” she replied. “Glow.”
    Liz nodded. “What’s your other brother’s name?”
    “Norrin.” Lief touched the tip of her spoon with her finger. “We called him Norm,” she told her.
    People bustled by them. “I always forget you had another brother,” Liz said. “I only remember you mentioning one.”
    Lief nodded. “Norm and I were estranged for a while.”
    Liz drank some more wine. “Ah,” she said. “Have you guys…?”
    Lief made a hmm-hmm noise. “Sort of,” she explained. “We’re an aunt and an uncle now. We’ve got our nephew, Dexter. We just kind of had to get over it.”
    “What were you fighting about?”
    Lief drank her water. “I don’t remember.”
    Liz made a noise that said she understood. “Although,” she continued, “it couldn’t have been that big a deal if you don’t remember it.”
    Lief tucked her hair behind her ears.
    “There’s a lot of things I don’t really remember,” she said.
    Norrin was sitting by the window when Lief came into the room.
    “Hey,” Lief said.
    Norrin turned from the window. His fist was holding up his chin, and he didn’t move it when he answered her. “Glow went to pick up Dex. With Dad.” He crossed his legs. “So he can see the baby.”
    Emily had dozed off in her bed. Lief went and gently ran her fingers along the comforter. “She been asleep for long?” she asked.
    Norrin nodded. “Three more hours and you would’ve had a twin,” he added. “Another leap baby.”
    Lief stepped back and leaned against the wall. “I’m ten years old today,” she said.
    “It’s your tenth birthday,” he explained. “There’s a difference.”
    She nodded. “It’s my tenth birthday.”
    Norrin turned back toward the window.
    “Do you think Dexter will like her?” she asked after a minute. “Don’t kids freak out when they get a new sibling?”
    Something had his attention out the window. “I don’t know,” he replied. “Kids take it differently. I thought it was cool.”
    Lief leaned forward. “You don’t remember,” she told him.
    He nodded towards the window. “I do too,” he said. “At least it feels like I remember.”
    “You were barely two.”
    He shrugged. “I remember it though,” he protested. “It’s not like a whole memory, but, like, the shape of a memory. I just remember Mom bringing you home and thinking you were cool.”
    Lief walked to the other window. Pigeons sat on a ledge on the building opposite the hospital.
    “Do you remember a lot about Mom?” Lief asked.
    Norrin turned around in his chair. “Sure,” he told her. “Lots of stuff.”
    Lief was watching the birds.
    “What about you?” Norrin asked finally. “What do you remember?”
    The pigeons looked like they were sleeping.
    Lief’s phone buzzed. She took it out and read the message.
    Liz was on her second glass of wine. “I just realized you’re not wearing your glasses,” she said. “I thought you couldn’t read without them.”
    Lief smiled as she finished reading. “I had LASIK years ago. The surgery? I don’t need glasses anymore.”
    Liz drank some more. “Who was it from?”
    Lief put the phone back in her bag. “Just a birthday message from Jackson,” she explained.
    Liz held the wine glass in front of her mouth. “You broke up years ago.”
    “He’s actually married now,” Lief explained. “He lives…somewhere. Western part of the state. I can’t think of the name. But he sends me little messages now and then.”
    The wine glass was nearly empty again. “So what happened?” she said. “Can I ask?”
    Lief took another drink of water. “It was hard, y’know? To keep it together. We tried for a year or so afterward, but…it was hard.”
    “After what?” Liz asked.
    The question hung in the air.
    Liz shook her head. “Sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t be so pushy. Two glasses of wine and my tongue gets loose.” She mimed locking her lips and tossing the key over her shoulder.
    “It’s alright,” Lief told her.
    They were silent until their water came to check on their drinks.
    When Glover carried him into the room, Dexter was already crying.
    Dad walked behind them. “He’s just scared,” he explained.
    Emily reached up from bed. “Oh, sweetie,” she cooed.
    Dexter’s face was all twisted rage and confusion, snot and tears.
    “Hey, buddy,” Lief said.
    Dexter had little legs and little arms and they were all kicking and swinging wildly. Glover held him tighter.
    “Do you want to me your new sister?” Glover asked.
    The little boy took several deep calming breaths. Lief watched his back quake.
    “Do you?” Glover repeated in a softer voice.
    Dexter nodded.
    Dad went to get the nurse.
    Glover rocked Dexter in his arms. “Did you freak out like this when I was born?” he asked.
    Lief laughed. “I was thirteen,” she said.
    Glover turned to Norrin. Norrin shrugged. “Probably,” he said.
    Emily was still reaching for her son. “Dex, sweetie,” she cooed. “Bring him here.”
    Glover kept bouncing him gently in his arms and walked him over to the bed. Emily reached up and touched his back. “Mommy and Daddy made you a little sister,” she told him.
    Lief leaned against the window. The glass felt cool through her sweater. She watched Dexter turn around in her brother’s arms. He looked frightened and disoriented.
    “You have a new sister,” Emily told him again.
    Suddenly he was wild kicks and swings again. He swat at her hand. “I hate you!” he yelled. “I hate you!”
    Glover pulled him away. “Hey!” he yelled. “Don’t hit!”
    Dexter was sobbing again. “I hate you!” he screamed. He dragged the word out so long it seemed it would never end.
    Glover shook his head. “I’m going to take him for a walk.” Dexter squirmed in his arms and made low animal noises.
    Norrin nodded. “I’ll come with you guys,” he said. He gently took hold of Dexter’s leg and tickled it. “C’mon. Daddy and Uncle Norm are gonna go for a walk. Wanna come?”
    The men left the room.
    Lief looked over to Emily. Her arm, the one swatted away by her son, clung to her chest, like she was having trouble finding her breath.
    “Are you okay?” Lief asked.
    Emily nodded. She kept nodding, as if it were the only thing keeping the rest of it inside.
    Lief stroked her hair. “It’s okay,” Lief told her. “He was just scared.”   
    Emily’s voice was so small. “He said he hated me.”
    Dad came back in with the nurse, holding the baby. “Where is everybody?” he asked.
    Lief took Emily’s hand. “They took Dexter for a little walk,” she explained. “To calm him down.”
    Dad understood. “Well, I’ll go take a stroll and see if I can find them.” He stood still, then sheepishly backed out of the room.
    The nurse brought the baby over to Emily. “Here you go, sweetheart.”
    Emily was wiping tears from her face. “Lief, could you just take her for a minute?”
    Lief was quiet. “Sure,” she said finally.
    The nurse shrugged. “Here you go, auntie,” she said, placing the baby in Lief’s arms.
    She rocked her in her arms. “So. Jenny?” Lief asked.
    Emily nodded. Her was red and wet. “It was my grandmother’s name,” she said.
    Lief looked down at her niece’s little sleeping face. “It’s a beautiful name,” she replied.
    Rain started tapping out against the window. Lief turned towards it.
    “At least it’s only rain,” Lief said. “Could be snow. That’s something.”
    Emily was crying again. Lief shushed her.
    “It’s something every kid says,” she whispered. “Every kid tells their mom they hate them. They don’t mean it.”
    There were footsteps outside in the hallway, loud, like punctuation marks.
    “They never mean it,” she said.
    Lief held Jenny for a few more minutes in silence. “Jenny’s a good name.”
    “I’ve never been good at naming things,” she continued. “The cat they let me name was ‘Kitty.’
    Jenny made a little noise.
    “I didn’t even get to name my daughter,” Lief said. “I’m not good at naming things, and well…”
She brought her face close to Jenny’s and then lowered her arms and continued to rock her.
    “I got to hold her though, before,” she explained. “They let me.”
    Emily held her breath.
    “I didn’t get very long with her, but they let me hold her.”
    Little Jenny yawned, little arms stretched upward.
    “It wasn’t very long at all, but I felt like I knew her. I knew her like I knew myself. Even if it was only for that little while.”
    Lief readjusted her arms, and Jenny kicked a little as she shifted.
    “Lief, I’m so sorry,” Emily said.
    Lief shook her head. “Don’t be,” she said. “Everybody was, when it happened. And I didn’t know what to say. How to tell them. I don’t know if I knew it myself.” She bounced Jenny gently in her arms.
    “But it was the best day of my life,” she said. “The best of my life.”
    Jenny made another little noise.
    Lief handed her to Emily. “She wants her mother,” she said.
    The rain continued to patter against the window.
    “When I was a little girl,” Lief said. “It’s funny, y’know?”
    Dad came back into the room. “Couldn’t find them.”
    “I’m sure they’ll turn up,” Lief said.
    He stood behind Lief’s chair, put his hand on her shoulder.
    “What are your birthday plans?” he asked. “You only get one once every four years, y’know.”
    Lief sighed. “I’m actually meeting my old college roommate for dinner.”
    Emily ran her finger along Jenny’s open palms. “That’s nice,” she said.
    “I probably haven’t talked to her in eight or nine years,” Lief explained. “She emailed me the other week.”
    “You’ll have a lot to catch up on,” Emily replied.
    Jenny reflexively closed her hands around her mother’s finger.
    “Look at those hands,” Dad said. He sighed a happy breath of air. “I remember the day you were born, Leapfrog.”
    Lief laughed. “Oh, Jeez.”
    “You had the tiniest hands,” he continued. “You wrapped them around my fingers and just squeezed them so tight.” He chuckled. “I could’ve held you like that forever. Just forever.”
    Lief stood up and kissed his cheek. “That’s like the tenth time you’ve told that story, y’know.”
    He squeezed her arm. “I’ll never stop telling it,” he told her.
    “It looks like the rain’s stopped,” somebody said.
    “Lief, are you alright?” Liz asked. “You seem like you’re a million miles away.”
    Lief’s eyes came back into focus. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s getting late.”
    Liz looked at her phone. “Wow,” she said. “Where does the time go?”
    They paid their bill and left the restaurant, walking out into the brisk winter night.
    “You can almost smell spring in the air,” Lief said.
    They crossed the street. “I’m parked on the other side of the Common,” Liz told her.
    Lief nodded. “I am, too.”
    Headlights shuffled around off in the distance. They seemed disembodied, the cars they must’ve been attached to too far away to be seen.
    “We didn’t even talk about Andrew Scioli,” Liz said. “Did you read that big article about him?”
    Lief pulled her coat close to her. “I heard about it.”
    “Do you think those songs were about you?” Liz asked. “It never occurred to me that they might be. I don’t know why.”
    “They weren’t about me,” Lief replied. “They were about him.”
    “It’s crazy to think about back then,” Liz added. “I can’t believe it’s been twenty years.”
    Lief thought of something. “I was going through my old college notebooks last week, looking for a poem I thought I’d written in one of them. Remember Arnold’s Shakespeare class?”
    Liz stopped walking. “Oh, yeah, I hated that guy. What a douche bag.”
    Lief watched the headlights in the distance. “I found this thing I wrote, and I don’t remember what it means. It sounds like the end of a joke or something.”
    Liz looked over to her. “What was it?”
    Lief closed her eyes to help her remember. “ ‘Did Hitler even have a fourth birthday party?’” she said. She made a tiny little noise. “Do you have any idea what that means?”
    Liz just shrugged. “It’s so funny,” she said. “You’re almost like an entirely different person now.”
    The headlights no longer floated by themselves. They were attached to cars now, cars that made noises and were carrying people places. Lief watched them pass on the street nearby.

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