Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lief: Thirty-Two

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    The sun was warm across her face when she woke.
The sheets were wrapped tightly around her legs and it took a few little kicks to untangle them. Jackson stirred beside her, but did not wake, did not move. Her shirt had bunched up in the night, as well, up over her stomach. Jackson’s arm rested over it, and she did not move, did not want to wake him. She lay on her back, his arm on her stomach, and she felt the sun.
    It was only a little while later when Jackson woke up. “Happy birthday,” he said quietly.
    She squeezed his hand. “What’s the weather supposed to be today?” she asked.
    He rolled over onto his back. “Cold,” he said. “Maybe some snow later.”
    Lief looked out the window. “It looks warm out,” she said. “It feels warm.”
    He rubbed his face. “I heard low 40s,” he replied. “And maybe snow later.”
    She closed her eyes. “It looks warm.”
    He sat up and bent over to kiss her stomach. “Good morning,” he said.
    Lief ran her fingers through his hair. “Don’t. I’m gross.”
    Jackson kissed her stomach again. “Don’t listen to her,” he said. “She’s not gross.”
    “I dreamt it was born,” she told him. “It had horse hooves.”
    He rested his head against her. “Cool,” he whispered. “A centaur.”
    She shook her head. “It wasn’t like a centaur,” she said. “It was different.”
    “I can’t wait til he starts kicking with those horse hooves,” he replied. “That’ll be awesome.”
    She laughed. “Stop it,” she said. “I’m telling you about my dream.”
    He kissed her stomach again then swung himself out of bed. “How often do your dreams come true?” he asked.   
    Lief turned to again face the window. She felt the warmth of the sun on her skin. “Not often,” she replied.
    Jackson was in the kitchen. “What was that?” he asked.
    She sat up. “I said you’re right,” she answered. “It was just a dream.”
    “What do you want for breakfast?” he called to her.
    The remote control was on the floor. She reached over and picked it up, turned the TV on. “I’m not really hungry,” she answered. “What did you say the weather was going to be?”
    The weatherman was talking about the Midwest. “I just want the local forecast,” she said.
    Jackson poked his head into the bedroom. “Seriously, you’re not hungry?”
    She shook her head. “They should just have a channel that does just local weather.”
    “Locals are on the eights,” he told her. He went back to the kitchen.
    “I don’t want to wait that long,” she said. Both her hands were on her stomach.
    He called from the kitchen. “What’s with you and the weather?”
    “I just want to know what it’s going to be like,” she replied. She looked at the clock and muted the TV. “Five minutes,” she said to herself.
    Jackson came back from the kitchen. “I’ve got to hop in the shower,” he said. “Are you sure you don’t want any breakfast?”
    She kept her eyes on the weatherman. “I’ll make myself something later.”
    “I could still call in,” he said.
    The weatherman was laughing at something. “It’s okay,” she told him. “There’s some stuff I’d like to get done today before we go over my dad’s.”
    Jackson groaned. “How long do you think we’ll be able to go before he makes some crack about marriage?”
    Lief looked away from the television. “My dad’s old-fashioned, that’s all.”
    Jackson leaned against the door frame. “You know I’d marry you in a second,” he said.
    Big green globs were moving across the map. “I know,” she replied. “What’s happening in the northwest. Those look horrifying.”
    He scratched his head. “I’m hopping in the shower,” he said.
    She smiled at him. “I love you,” she told him.
    He blew her a kiss then disappeared into the hall. She could hear the water running. The green blobs kept moving across the screen, only to reappear again at the bottom, cycling through.
    The sound was still off. Lief stared at the screen.
    “Oh,” she said finally. “It’s just rain.”
    She missed the local forecast. Jackson called to her from the shower, but when she went in either she had only imagined it or it hadn’t been that important. She came back into the bedroom and it was 9:10 and she had eight more minutes to wait.
    Jackson got dressed and went to work, kissing both Lief and her belly separately before he left.
    “I could tell them my car’s broken down,” he said. “I could really just call and tell them I’m not coming in. I don’t even have to lie.”
    She shook her head. “There’re some things I need to do today,” she told him again. Jackson nodded and held her head and kissed it. “I love you, Lief,” he said. “I’ll see you tonight.”
    She sat down at the desk. The light from the window slanted across her face. It was warm. It felt warm. She closed her eyes and let it bathe her face.
    She opened the notebook. She held the pen tightly in her hand. She closed her eyes again and let the pen go slack. It dropped from her hand onto the empty notebook page.
    She opened her eyes.
The cold followed in through the library door. Lief trembled in the entranceway.
    “Oh, dear,” the librarian called. “YOu should have a heavier jacket on,”
    Lief blew into her hands. “It looked a lot warmer out when I left my house,” she admitted.
    The librarian pulled her hair back into a ponytail. “It always does,” she said.
    There was a boy in the stacks. Lief couldn’t tell how old he was. “It’s still winter,” he said.
    Lief smiled briefly at him. She rubbed her hands together to help work out the chill.
    “I just thought it might be warmer,” she repeated.
    She wandered around the stacks for a while. The boy seemed to work there or help out there; he was always pushing the return cart around, always an aisle away from her, wheels squealing.
    She ran her fingers along the books’ spines, pausing at titles that seemed familiar or that seemed odd and surprising. She pulled out those books and flipped through their pages, stopping and reading at random.
    “That’s a weird way to pick out books,” the boy said. He was behind her now. “Just reading the middle.”
    Lief felt herself bristling. She forced a smile. “To each their own, I guess,” she said. She then moved two aisles over.
    She was now close to the end of the alphabet and still hadn’t found anything. She continued pulling out books that interested her, reading a few random sentences, then putting the book back. There seemed to be warm air moving between the shelves and she let her hands linger there a few seconds after she returned each book.
    Her hand stopped on one book. She scowled, and rocked the book in place with her index finger before pulling it out. She didn’t open it, didn’t even really look at it.
    “ ‘One Way Traveler’,” the boy said. “I love that book.”
    Lief whipped around. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I get a little uncomfortable when people stand behind me.”
    The boy smiled and shrugged. “Just making the returns,” he said. “I’ll be out of your way quick.”
    He pushed his cart past her. “Have you read that one?” he asked.
    She shook her head.
    He took books from the cart and made room for them on the shelves. “It’s about this girl who discovers she can travel back in time. But once she does, she finds out she can’t go back. Back to the present, I mean. She has to keep going back further and further into the past.”
    Lief squeezed the book. “I’m not really a science fiction person,” she said.
    The boy continued cramming the books where they belonged.
    “Oh, it’s so much more than that,” he told her. “It’s like more like Slaughterhouse Five or something. It’s a social commentary.”
    Lief smiled again. “Well, it sounds interesting.”
    The boy leaned against his cart. It nearly slid out under him, but he caught himself. “He’s got a new one coming out,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
    “I hadn’t heard that,” she replied. “Thanks for the suggestion.”
    She wandered around the library, away from the fiction and away from the library assistant and his cart. Against the far wall were painted silhouettes of children reading. Lief studied them for a minute, and then walked over.
    Off in the corner, a daughter balanced on her mother’s knees. Lief listened to the quiet voice the mother used reading the book to her. The little girl rested her head against her mother’s chest and sighed a tired little sigh. Lief had been staring a long time. She turned towards the shelves.
    “Just this?” the librarian said when Lief brought her book to the counter. Lief nodded.
    “ ‘The Sky is Made of Birds’,” the librarian read, looking at the book. “I’ve never heard of this one.”
    Lief smiled. “It’s a little older, but I really liked the illustrations. They reminded me of something from when I was little. I think.”
    The librarian opened the book and scanned the barcode. “A little one at home?” she asked.
    Lief tucked her hair behind her ear. “No,” she replied. “No, I just really liked the illustrations.”
    “I’m always surprised the things people find in here,” the librarian said. She printed out the slip and placed it in the center of the book. “It’s due back in two weeks.”
    “Thank you,” Lief said. She could hear the creaky wheel of the book cart. She took her book.
    “Stay warm,” the librarian said.
    “I’m sorry?” Lief asked, turning back towards her.
    The librarian cupped her hand around mouth. “I said, make sure you keep yourself warm,” she repeated.
    Lief stood in the entranceway, her hand on the door.
    “Thanks,” she replied.
    Dad bent over and leaned his head against Lief’s stomach. “What’s that, grandson?” he bellowed. “You wish your mom and dad were married?”
    Jackson turned to her. “Not even through the door,” he said.
    Lief smiled. “I’m just glad I didn’t bet on it.”
    Dad kissed her. “Hey Leapfrog,” he said. “I’m just giving you guys a hard time.” He shook Jackson’s hand.
    “Hey, there, Roger,” Jackson said.
    Dad squeezed his hand. “Browne!” he shouted. “Thanks for coming!”
    Lief took her jacket off. “Where’s Glow?” she asked.
    Dad hung it on the hook for her. “Said he had an exam tomorrow,” Dad explained. “He sends his love.”
    Lief smirked. “Yeah, right.”
    Dad shrugged and took Jackson’s coat. “Ah, cut him some slack. He’s in college. He did say to say ‘hi’.” He hung it on the hook as well.
    “So,” he said. “I just ordered a couple of pizzas. I hope that’s alright.”
    Lief nodded. “We could’ve taken you out, Dad.”
    Dad shook his head. “I invited you over for dinner,” he told her. “I’m just not really so good at making stuff anymore.”
    Jackson sat down on the couch. “Pizza’s fine, Roger.”
    Dad signaled with his hand for Lief to sit on the couch. “How’s things going with the baby?” he asked.
    “So far, so good,” Jackson said. “Everything checks out.”
    “Six months?”
    Lief cleared her throat. “Five,” she answered.
    Dad sat in his armchair. “Are you singing to it?” he asked. “I used to sing to you,” he added. “Every night.”
    Jackson smiled. “Do you remember this?” he asked her.
    Lief tilted her head. “I wasn’t born yet,” she told him.
    Dad waved his hand. “She remembers,” he protested. “She just doesn’t remember she remembers. I was a great singer.”   
    “I barely remember anything for my childhood,” she replied. “I certainly don’t remember things in the womb.”
    Dad shook his head. “You were the most beautiful baby,” he continued. “You used to grab my fingers with your little hands. I could’ve held you like that forever.”
    Dad coughed. “You’ll know what I mean once he’s born.”
    The door buzzer sounded.
    “That’ll be the pizza,” Dad said.
    Jackson stood up. “I’ll go get it.” He scurried out into the hallway.
    Then Lief and her father were alone.
    “Why does everybody assume it’s going to be a boy?” she asked.
    Dad scratched his head. “Your brother called today,” he said.
    “I know,” Lief replied. “You already told me.”
    They could hear Jackson coming back up the stairs.
    “Oh,” Lief said finally. “What did he want?”
    “Just saying hi,” Dad replied. “Updates. You know.”
    Lief folded her arms. “I heard,” she said. “I hear some stuff.”
    “I know he’d like to see you,” Dad said. “Especially with the baby.”
    Lief was quiet. “I can’t talk about this today.”
    Jackson came in and put the pizza on the kitchen table.
    “Thanks, Browne,” Dad said. He handed him a twenty. “Just take it.”
    Lief stood up. “Let’s eat,” she said.  The three of them sat at Dad’s tiny kitchen table.
    “I found this book at the library today,” Lief said. “It was so familiar. ‘The Sky is Made of Birds’.”
    Dad continued to eat. He didn’t seem to be listening.
    “Does that ring any bells?” she asked. “The illustrations seemed really…like I knew them.”
    Dad wiped his mouth with a napkin. “It doesn’t sound familiar.”
    Jackson put his pizza down. “Lief, do you really think your dad is going to remember every book you had when you were little?”
    “Browne, you’d be surprised how much you’ll remember.”
    Lief looked down. Dad was faraway somehow.
    “I could’ve held you forever, just like that,” he said. “It was a great day, it was.”
    They were driving home. “There’s the snow,” Lief said. It was coming down light and slow.
    Jackson put on his wipers. “This is nothing.”
    Lief rested her head on the window. “I wanted to go to that park we went to that time.”
    Jackson leaned over. “You mean the night you didn’t tell me it was your birthday?”
    Lief closed her eyes. “But it’s too cold,” she said.
    “I don’t mind. We can go there, if you want.”
    She shook her head. “It’s too cold.”
    They drove some more.
    “Have I shown you the house I grew up in?” she asked.
    “No. Is it nearby?”
    Lief started looking out the windows. “Yeah, it’s close by. It’s on the other side of the park. Just take a right up here.”
    They drove a mile or so. “How long did you live here?”
    “Take this right,” she instructed him. “Til I was in high school. Then we moved to the apartment.”
    “Your dad’s apartment?”Jackson asked. “That small place? How many of you were there?”
    “Just me and Dad and Glover,” she answered. “Slow down. It’s up ahead.”
    Jackson slowed down. “Right side or left?”
    “My side,” she replied. “Dad couldn’t afford the house after my mom died. It was just too much.”
    “Lief,” Jackson started to say.
    Lief touched his arm. “There it is.” She pointed out the window. “That white one.” All the lights were out.
    “That’s nice,” he said. “Do you know the people who live here?”
    She shook her head. “It doesn’t  look like anybody’s home.”
    “It’s after ten,” Jackson told her. “They’re all probably asleep.”
    Lief opened the car door. “Let’s just get out here.”
    They stood together on the sidewalk. “That top room there was mine,” she said. “My parents’ bedroom was in the back.”
    Jackson held her hand. “My house was opposite. The kids’ rooms were in the back.”
    Lief’s hand went slack in his. “It doesn’t look like anybody’s home.”
    Jackson coughed. “You don’t really talk about your mom that much. Was she sick a long time?”
    Lief shrugged. “I don’t really remember,” she said. “Long enough, I guess.”
    “How old was your brother?”
    “Him?” she said sharply. “Oh,” she said after a second. “Glover was just a baby.”
    “Wow,” he said. “So he never really knew your mom then.”
    “None of us really knew our mother,” Lief answered.
    They stood together in the falling snow.
    “C’mon,” Jackson said finally. “It’s getting cold.”
    Lief sniffled. “You’d think it’d be warmer,” she said. “It’s almost March.” She started walking to the car. “This library guy was giving me shit about it today. This nerdy library assistant or whatever. Said, ‘it’s winter.’ I know it’s winter. That doesn’t mean it has to be so cold.”
    Jackson opened her car door. “I think that’s exactly what it means,” he said. She got in and he closed the door.
    She looked out the window. “It’s looks like they’re on vacation.”
    Jackson got in and put his hand on her stomach. “How’s this guy doing?” he asked.
    Lief smiled. “I can feel him in there,” she said. “I know he’s there.”
    Jackson snapped his fingers. “See, you’re doing it too!” he said. “You called him a he.”
    She rested her head against his shoulder, placed her hand on top of his on her stomach.
    “Have you thought about any names?” he asked.
    She shook her head. “Not really,” she said. “I’m just waiting to meet them first.”
    Jackson started the car.
    “This is the happiest I’ve ever been, Jackson,” she told him. “I’ve never been so happy.”
    They drove down the street. The snow seemed to flurry with activity, so they went slow, creeping past the rows of houses, looking darkened and empty in the cold winter night.

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