Falling toward Heaven
by John Bennion
[p.266] The Goshute woman, dressed in white deerskin, stood next to Allison’s bed. She panicked, rolling to her hands and knees, clutching at the blankets. Howard was downstairs dressed only in his long thermal underwear, standing in front of the stove. His face glowed red. “You couldn’t sleep either?” he said, grinning like a devil.
“I just had a bad dream—one of your desert dreams.”
“Tell me,” he said.
“You know, I never remember dreams,” she said. Then the image of this one slipped to the surface. “The angel of death came to me dressed like an Indian.” Allison sat on the edge of the bed. “Or maybe I just saw you pacing the house in your ghost suit.”
Howard looked at her over his shoulder. “Is anything wrong with—?”
“No,” she said. She held her hands across her belly.
“You need to be careful,” he said. He came up the stairs toward her.
“It was just a dream. I’m not superstitious.” The Goshute’s face had not been dusky. It had been pale like her brother’s.
“Look at this bed,” Howard said. “Bolts of fear can’t be good for either of you.” He unknotted the sheets and blankets, fluffed her pillow.
[p.267] “Okay, so I won’t be afraid next time I have this dream.” She snapped her fingers. “Just like that.”
“Just think round thoughts. Pleasant, rhythmic vibes.”
“Oh, go to hell,” she said. “Want to feel?” She took his fingers and held them against her belly. “She’s awake and kicking.” He moved his hand away. “Wimp,” she said and got back in bed. “Before I got fat, you couldn’t keep your hands off me. You always wanted to examine.”
He went back downstairs to the couch. When he couldn’t sleep, he twitched and twisted, keeping them both awake if he stayed in bed.
She woke again just before her alarm was set to go off. It was still dark. The window above the bed wasn’t tight, and cold air breathed through. Clouds streamed across the gray inlet, and when they passed over the cabin, they seemed almost close enough to touch. The past week they had dumped three feet of snow.
Allison wrapped her arms around herself, pushed her mouth and nose into the crook of her arm. She could use another body in the bed. She thought of Emily alone in her apartment in Salt Lake. The city was Allison’s element, but it was foreign to Emily, and she was away from her community, the women she loved. She and Allison were both made lonely by circumstance.
Howard climbed the stairs, bearing a bowl of Cream of Wheat, steaming, in his two hands. “My grandfather fixed me this in the desert.” He had sprinkled it with brown sugar. When Allison stirred, she brought up lumps, some an inch across. She flapped the spoon against the mush.
“I don’t understand how you achieved such large clods.”
“Dumplings,” he said. “I cooked it that way on purpose.”
She pushed the bowl away. “It drives me crazy when you’re so damned cheerful.” Howard ran out to start the car.
She dressed and walked to the stove, swaying from side to side. “Quack, quack,” she said, warming her hands. She heard the car engine roar and then idle. She felt the child kicking again—a daughter, she knew from the last ultrasound. “Kick, kick away. Some day you’ll be Pelé woman and be able to kick a soccer ball.” Howard and Emily both told her that spirits traveled from Mother and Father in Heaven to the [p.268] bodies of women. A hazardous journey. Mark, who was currently into bee pollen and higher states of consciousness, told Allison to talk to the baby and to give her a prebirth name. Howard called her “Cletus the Fetus.” Even though she sometimes felt foolish, Allison did talk to the child. For the past few weeks, without having any specific ailment she could point to, she had felt the baby’s attachment to her become uncertain. Perhaps the act of naming could hold them together. You’re getting as feeble-minded as Howard, she thought.
He came in the back door and she heard him rummaging in the storage room. He came out with the tire chains. “Just in case,” he said, “Even though we’ve got studded tires.” She pulled on her parka and waddled after him out to the car.
“Marian,” she said. “Emily-Lois, Eve.”
“No, Howardette,” he said. “She shouldn’t have a name less dignified than her father’s.”
“You don’t have a dignified bone in your body.” He had the hood back on his parka, and she examined his tangled swirl of hair. “You don’t have a dignified follicle.” Her belly was small for six months but the weight still threw her off, making her walk awkwardly. It bothered her that no name would stick.
“Have patience, hasty one,” she whispered. “You have three more months.” She shook her head. Talking to someone who couldn’t hear. Like Howard praying. She was dreaming dreams. Next she’d hear the Franklins and Warrens proclaiming Texas pride in her head. “Follow your destiny. Return to the lands of your forebears.” What she wouldn’t give for a stiff drink to drive the fog away.
While Howard put the chains in the trunk, she slid behind the steering wheel and waited for him to climb in. “I’m dropping you,” he said. “For once you’ll be early.”
“But I feel like driving. And slow is my new mode.”
The clouds had moved away, leaving the spruce above Eagle River powdered with snow. She drove carefully down the road from their cabin, two ruts with berms of snow on either side. She reached Hiland Road and started the zigzag course down the mountain. The snow on the road was packed hard as rock.
[p.269] They could see a hint of light from sunrise, still more than an hour away. Even so, they could make out the inlet in the distance, gray like the mud in the burial pool. She imagined all the water under the earth connected, heavy veins of liquid. Passageway to the next life. The Goshutes were no more superstitious than Mormons, she thought. Imagination weaves fairy tales to protect the weak, protect them from a good, strong, biological fear of death.
Suddenly she cramped, a severe low pain; she bent forward over the wheel. “Ohhhh, damn,” she said. She stamped her foot down on the brake and felt the car slide. One wheel dropped into the ditch at the side of the road.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. She couldn’t answer. “Can you move?” She shook her head.
“Just let me sit for a minute,” she whispered, finally. He tried to take her hand; she didn’t move to let him. She heard him get out and open the trunk. Finally the cramp faded, leaving a dull ache. When he closed the trunk, she saw in the rear view mirror that he had found a shovel.
He opened his door again. “Is it false labor?” he said.
“Not this hard,” she said. “It shouldn’t have happened.”
“We’re going to the doctor,” he said.
“I don’t need to go to the doctor. I just need to lie back for a minute. I’ll be all right.”
The door closed and she heard the thud of the shovel against the front tire. She knew that her dream came from the memory of the Goshute mummy. It was as if the shrunken corpse had filled with life and walked or floated 2,000 miles north, as if her dreams warned her of something about to happen to her body. What was the connection between dream and life, mind and body? The anthropologists had laid the woman on the table. Her head was white with crystals of salt, shrunken but hardly decomposed; her teeth grinned, leathery eyes shut, the child bound across her belly. Childbirth, said her Aunt Jenny, is the valley of the shadow of death. A straitened valley for a child to pass down; every Warren had a small pelvis. Her aunt and mother both had difficult labors, culminating in Cesarean sections.
[p.270] Howard walked to the front of the car. He stuck the shovel in the snow and braced his feet, ready to push. “Okay,” he shouted. “Nice and easy.”
Emily said that God answered prayers. “Emily’s God,” Allison said. “I don’t know you, but I’m telling you I don’t want to lose this child.” She put the car back in gear. “We want to stay together.” She nudged the gas, hearing the wheel turning against the snow.
“Stop,” shouted Howard. “It’s just spinning. If I can’t get us out soon, I’ll find somebody to help.”
“I’ll just call a taxi,” she said.
He dug some more under the front wheel. “No, somebody will come along soon,” he said. The smell of exhaust nauseated her, so she turned off the engine. She called on her cell phone to tell Lisa she was sick. She didn’t understand why Howard didn’t want a taxi.
She heard him rummaging again in the trunk. He took out one of the sand bags he’d put there for weight. That’s my Howard, she thought, prepared for everything except life itself. With difficulty, she maneuvered into the passenger’s seat, lay back, and waited.
“Damn,” Howard said, as he poured sand behind the back wheels and kicked it under. “Damn, damn, damn.” For some odd reason, he felt almost as if he was praying. He got in and backed slowly, then faster—and the car was on the road again. He braked and turned to her. She held out a hand, fingers tipped with red.
“Howard,” she said, “I’m bleeding. This isn’t supposed to happen.”
“We’re going to the hospital.”
“I think I’m going to lose her.” Her jaw clenched with the pain. The car was cold inside, but sweat stood on her forehead. She held her arms around her own shoulders, despite her heavy coat. “Ohh, ohh.” She bit her lip. Her eyes closed and she reached across the seat to grip his hand. “They can’t help me.” A tear beaded at the lower corner of her eye, ran across her nose, and dropped to his jacket. Another tear beaded, then another. “I’m such a wimp.” Soon she tightened with [p.271] pain again, her breath catching, her knees drawing up. “I’m not supposed to bleed.”
He put the car in gear and started down the winding road, driving too fast. He made himself slow down. She flinched again. “Oh, God. Oh, no.” Howard rubbed the still-fogged window with a glove. Finally they were off the mountain. The road skirted the south end of Eagle River and then merged with the three southbound lanes of the Glenn Highway. He hated the Glenn Highway in the winter.
Allison didn’t move, didn’t talk. Behind them a white cloud of snow billowed. Her hand gripped the arm rest. Howard saw cars off the road, one or two every mile, pointed down in the ditch that divided the highway.
“I’m going to lose her,” Allison said.
“Fatalism is the worst kind of superstition. We’re not powerless, you know.” But he saw her face white and frightened, and he drove even faster. Between cramps she lay sideways on the seat and rested her head on his lap. Turning onto her back, she reached upward between his arms to touch his face. For several miles they drove past the fence bordering Ft. Richardson and then, finally, went under the Muldoon Road overpass and into Anchorage. She clenched in pain, relaxed again.
Seven minutes later they slid to a stop outside the hospital’s emergency room. Howard flung open his door and ran around the car to Allison’s side. Nurses emerged and loaded her onto a wheelchair, pushed her inside. Howard parked the car and came back through the entrance way in time to follow the wheelchair into one of the examination rooms. “I’m her husband,” Howard said, as he helped a nurse lift Allison onto the examination table.
The nurse took Allison’s blood pressure and temperature and hooked a fetal heart monitor around her belly. Howard paced in the small room, wondering if he should have given her the blessing he’d hinted at. He could have simply dropped one hand from the steering wheel, but she wouldn’t have liked it. Let her be all right, he prayed. I don’t even care about the baby, just let her be well again. The door opened and a doctor entered, washed her hands and, as soon as she was [p.272] gloved, began a careful examination. After a minute the doctor said, “I don’t think she’s lost the fetus. We need an ultrasound before we know what’s happening. And I want to admit her.”
“Thank you,” said Howard.
Another nurse positioned a gurney next to the table and helped Allison slide onto to it before wheeling her through wide double doors. The nurse told him that the public elevator could be reached only from the front door. He walked outside, entered again, and finally found Allison’s room. Her face was as white as alkali clay and she breathed unsteadily. She reached out her hand for him, and he sat next to the bed in a chair. Soon she was finally able to sleep.
Later a nurse brought lunch. There was another bed in the room and Howard lay on it, watching the gray sky. Allison turned on her bed, her hair pulling more and more out of the pony tail she had put it in, frizzing around her neck. She held the blanket between her arms, against her cheek, tucking her knees up toward her elbows. When she woke, Howard gave her soup and 7-Up from the tray. She ate even that liquid food slowly, laboriously.
“I could still miscarry,” she said to Howard. “Happens a lot.”
Mid-afternoon, a technician gave her an ultrasound. Allison watched the monitor as he directed the gray, flat-bottomed instrument across her belly, which had been smeared with an amber gel. The child was curled, floating in what showed on the screen as shadows of flesh and liquid. Howard bent and examined the image. Allison could see the small girl’s arms and legs, the coil of the umbilical cord. The picture of the moving child had reassured her before, but now the tissues that were supposed to bind them seemed tenuous.
Back in her room, Allison’s own obstetrician, Dr. Perry, told her, “Your placenta is beginning to detach.” He pointed to a cloud on the image. His face was as broad and red as a Utah farmer’s. “Some doctors would keep you here. But you might as well be home because if you’re going to lose it you’re going to lose it. But what you really need is total, horizontal rest.”
“Lisa will fire me,” Allison said.
[p.273] “The longer you can keep her,” said Dr. Perry, “the better her chance of being healthy.”
“Let her fire you,” said Howard. “We’ll make it.”
Allison called the office. “Stay in bed,” said Lisa. “You think you’re indispensable? Mark’s the only one around here I can’t let go.”
“I’ll be at home. I can work there.”
“You should be in the hospital,” said Lisa. “Not at home.”
“For three months? No. Put stuff on my computer and I’ll work it over.”
“Stubborn,” said Lisa.
“Stubbornest bitch you know,” said Allison.
Moving like a great, dull animal, she walked to the bathroom in the corner of her room. When she returned to bed, Howard rubbed her back and neck, which felt good. He fell asleep on the chair next to her bed. She watched his pale, innocent-worldly, Howardish face, his delicate brown lashes. Tears fell from her eyes. Soon he sat up, trying to wake himself.
He said, “Is something wrong?”
“What if she dies?” He moved to the bed, held her two hands together in his. “I don’t want to be here. I want to go home.”
“Tomorrow,” he said. “Maybe tomorrow.”
She thought about the narrow Franklin pelvis, about the danger of losing the child. Howard told her that his fear of God had relapsed into a tentative trust. Despite her own beliefs, she recognized that he was happier, more stable, since he’d given up trying to be an unbeliever and reconciled himself to religion. It was in his blood. What would he do if they lost this child?
Allison’s bed in the peak of the cabin filled with the greasy smell of Howard’s cooking, but the view of the inlet comforted her. She ate sitting cross-legged on the bed—a bowl of potatoes and canned meat boiled in tomato sauce. “You’ve reverted to functional cooking.”
“My grandfather made this all the time.”
“And look what it did to him. I’m frightened you’ll drag me out there, bury me there.” She imagined she was in that cabin, a hundred [p.274] miles from a doctor, and that she looked down not on an arm of the ocean, dark below her, but on a white plain.
“You know I’ve given up that dream,” he said. “Why do you keep bringing it up?” He walked down the stairs without saying anything else, and she knew she had hurt his feelings.
The next morning she panicked and called Emily. “I’m on my back. Howard is taking care of me.”
“You’re not seriously ill?” asked Emily.
“I just have to be careful the doctor said. I bled. I was in the hospital for a day.”
“Oh, Allison.” Her voice wavered.
“I’m fine. But I’m going to puke my guts out. Howard’s frying onions in butter. It smells real bad.” She called down to Howard. “Your mother says for you to go buy me more celery.”
“I bought two bunches yesterday,” he said. “Those are gone already?”
“He won’t make a celery run,” said Allison. “Tell him.” She held the phone over the balcony toward Howard.
He climbed the stairs and bent over the phone. “I’m taking care of her, Mom.”
“Howard’s a good boy,” Emily said when Allison took the phone back. “A simple soul.”
“How are you doing?”
“I’m lower than I’ve ever been before. Because I didn’t fit in well at the ward in Salt Lake, I’ve tried driving out to Rockwood on weekends for church. It’s very uncomfortable being in sacrament meeting with a man you’ve accused of abuse. His name is Samuel Fitch and he glares at me with tremendous hate whenever we meet. If nothing else, that proves to me that the girl was telling the truth. ‘You are a woman who has sold her soul to the devil,’ he said to me last week.”
“So he still denies everything.”
“The girl told me that some people from Protective Services came out and interviewed her. They want to build as good a case against him as they can, so they told the girl’s parents that they would wait a month or two before they do anything in case another girl, hearing about the [p.275] accusations, might build up the courage to come forward. They say it’s highly unlikely she’s the only one.”
“How did word get out? You didn’t tell anyone, I’m sure. If your bishop did, I think he could be in trouble.”
“Samuel was the one. He told a few of his friends about the accusations. They’re upset because any woman can accuse a man falsely and ruin his reputation.”
“Shitheads,” said Allison. “Sorry.”
“The Protective Services people told the girl’s parents to take her out of the riding club and to make sure at least one parent of the other girls is always with the club.”
“Have you told the bishop exactly what happened when that girl came to your apartment? Have you told him you didn’t break your promise?”
Emily was silent. “He has to trust me. So far he doesn’t. When I’m in his office, it’s as if he’s lecturing a bad child. He’s forgotten who I am.”
“Delta has a direct flight from Salt Lake,” said Allison. “Come up over Christmas and we’ll take care of each other. Leave that beastly desert.”
“Sometimes I’m tempted,” she said. “I picked up the papers to get approval from the state to have a house for battered women here. They’re sitting on my desk. I can’t seem to work up the interest to even fill them out.”
“When I have this baby, we’ll fly down and slap you out of this Rockwood gloom and lethargy. That’s supposed to be a male trait.”
“I inherited it through marriage. It’s possible that you will too. It will be nice to see you. Good-bye, Allison.” Allison heard the crackle of something frying. The smell of burned butter rose to her bed. Howard came up the stairs with a plate of toast and greasy eggs.
“Throw that crap away,” she said.
“This is for me. I’ve got orange juice for you.”
“Eat it downstairs. Eat it outside.”
“How is she?” he asked. “I wanted to talk some more before you hung up.”
[p.276] “She’s low. She’s depressed because the bishop won’t tell her that she can respect herself.” Still angry about what was happening to his mother, she glared at him. She couldn’t resist the cut. “You would convert me to that kind of thinking?”
“No,” said Howard. “Not to that kind of thinking.”
“You can’t see that it’s all connected?” she said. “It’s like a disease.”
“We Rockwoods are adaptable,” he said. “See, I can listen to you without getting angry.”
“Dammit, Howard,” she said. “No one is adaptable to all conditions. She’s suffering.”
He sat down on the edge of the bed and dialed the number. “No advice,” said Allison. “Just listen to her.” For once he did what she said.
The last part of November was like a tunnel of night; the sun rose in the south and stayed low until it set a few hours later. Allison woke and dozed, keeping her body quiet. The cabin felt like an underground prison, one that admitted no light. She believed that the placenta was coming loose and that her child would die. But surprisingly, she didn’t bleed again.
Howard did his housework and hers, seldom talking to her, moving quietly up and down the stairs: cooking, bringing her food, loading the fire, scrubbing the floor. “You’re too much of a slinker,” she said to him one day. “Noise won’t bother me. I’m bored out of my gourd.” So he immediately made a symphony of banging pots with a wooden spoon. He sang U2 songs to the rhythm of the washing machine. “Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down, but I did what I did before Love came to town.”
Later she dozed, willing the baby to stay. “Steady now. No need to be an early bird.”
Several times she woke to the ticking of snow against the window. When it was more clear, she sat on the bed with the binoculars and watched the dirty ice and the dark gray water in the inlet, the gray sky. [p.277] Some days the clouds blew away and the bitter wind seemed to come through the wall to her bed.
After one of the storms, Howard, wearing his red parka, shoveled the driveway outside her window. When he came in, he stamped his feet and banged his hands together. “The car won’t start.” He brought the battery in and hooked it to the charger he had bought. He discovered that their electric dip stick had stopped working, so he drained the oil and heated it on the stove.
“You’re going to burn us out,” she said. But by noon he had the car going and drove to his classes.
Lisa moved Allison back to the boring work she had done when she first came to Anchorage. Her commissions were much lower. Lisa’s words, “Only Mark is indispensable,” came back to her with new meaning. Toward Christmas she had to draw from her savings. “I spend money too easily,” she said. “I wish I’d saved more.”
“We don’t have to pay rent,” Howard said.
“Just taxes and interest.”
“We’ve still got my job.”
“Yes, we have that,” said Allison.
“Don’t mock. Some day soon they’re going to make me a cook and then I’ll get a raise.” She buried her face in the pillow, grinning and thinking about all the ways he ruined food.
Days Howard went to school and worked as an unpaid intern for the botanist, but nights he worked at the restaurant. Allison was alone most of the time. She relaxed into lassitude, floating on her bed toward lotus land. When Howard came home, she felt like baring her teeth and growling.
Then one morning mid-November Nancy called and told her that Emily had wrecked her little truck driving back to Rockwood from school. “She took a turn too fast. Slid on ice and rolled it all the way over onto its wheels again. She drove it on in to Rockwood, but she had to duck down because the roof was smashed in.”
Allison called Emily at the hospital. “I was careless,” Emily said. “Drove like it was summer.”
[p.278] Allison thought of her rattling inside the truck cab as it turned around her. “How bad were you hurt?”
“Not a scratch,” said Emily. “Well a few scratches. How are you?”
“Can’t work much, can’t do anything but ride this damned bed. I’m living in a cocoon made of the smell of Howard’s cooking.”
“Two low women. Allison, what should we do? I can hardly find the energy to do my school work. I’m going to fail more classes than accounting.”
“Move to an island in the Pacific. Start humankind over. Make sure it’s done right this time.”
When she told Howard what had happened, he called his mother and scolded her as if he was the parent. “Stay in Salt Lake when the roads are bad.”
The child grew larger every week, and Allison sat on the bed with her legs apart, her arms and hands limp. Her stomach bulged until she thought her skin would split. She no longer had the energy to change her clothing or wash her face and hair. Howard slept on the couch, so he wouldn’t disturb her. He usually ate breakfast quickly, then left the house. Daylight was a closing window, less than six hours.
Thanksgiving Day, two and a half months before the due date the doctor predicted, they celebrated with canned quail, sweetened carrots, and Coca-cola. “When it’s winter, it’s hard to believe that things will grow again,” she said.
“You’re real depressed,” he said. She glared at him, and he went outside. When she looked in the mirror, she found that her face had become pale and luminous, like the skin of an old woman.
Belinda called Howard. Allison answered and handed him the phone. He moved across the bed, his back to her, murmuring into the phone. “Not ever?” he said. She heard the words “I’ll call Nan.” He spoke too softly for her to hear more. While waiting for Howard to finish, she imagined that his invention, Grandmother God, appeared to Emily, passing through the adobe walls as if the brick had become liquid—just as an angel had passed through walls to get at Joseph Smith in one of Howard’s myths. “You are to form a church in my image.” Better that the grandmother said something practical. “Sign and send [p.279] those papers. Knock down some walls and make that house a house of women” or “Get out of Rockwood.” Get to a place where the seagulls don’t call “God, God, God” and the air doesn’t reek of patriarchy.
After he hung up, Howard touched her. “Your face is tight and angry.”
“What did she say?”
“Mom hasn’t come out of the house for two weeks. Like a hunger strike.”
“She’s not eating?”
“She did fast for three days, but Belinda talked her into eating. She won’t come out to go to school. Belinda makes sure she has food. Won’t go to church. Won’t let any visitors from the church in. Shuts the door in Bishop Hansen’s face. Nan has finally talked her into moving in with her. Maybe they can get her to finish out her classes, get back some of her self-respect.”
“She’ll become like your father, your grandfather.” She wanted to fly down but knew that no airline would let her on the plane. She thought Howard should fly down, but he wanted to wait until Emily had a try at living with Nan.
The next morning Allison found blood again. Howard rushed out to start the car. The wind blew against the log house, making a low sound like an oboe. A half hour later he came back in. “I can’t figure out what’s wrong,” he said. “Maybe it’s water in the gas. Maybe the timing chain has slipped. I’m calling the ambulance.”
“Taxi,” said Allison. “Just call a taxi.”
She dozed, woke to a slight pain, dozed again. Finally she sat up on the bed and looked out the window. Howard leaned down to the window of a taxi; he turned and walked toward the house. Allison got up slowly and dressed herself.
“You should be lying down,” he said.
She finished and walked out into the yard.
“Qué pasa?” said the driver of the taxi. “You need an ambulance?” Howard opened the door, and she lowered herself to the seat. The Goshute baby had been reattached to its mother with leather bands. You can’t beat death that easily, thought Allison. The driver appar-[p.280]ently thought she was going to have her baby any second; he drove too fast down the mountain and on to Anchorage until they reached the doctor’s office.
Dr. Perry ordered another ultrasound, and found that the placenta was more detached than before; he showed her the dark curve of her uterus, the dark cloud of the fetus, the white line between them. “Nothing I can do,” he said. “You are resting, aren’t you?”
She and Howard looked at each other. “Yes,” she said.
After Howard left for the restaurant, Allison called Emily and asked her to come for a couple of weeks. “I’m alone,” she said. “I need you to care for me. Howard’s gone all the time.”
“I’m a sucker for people who need me,” Emily said.
“I know. I figured that’s the only way I could get you away from Rockwood. We can have a good time together. A women’s time without Howard. I’m alone all day and half the night.”
“You need a nurse,” said Emily.
“I need you,” she said.
“We’re a pair of invalids,” said Emily. “Both of us disasters waiting to happen.”
“You’ve become a pagan?” said Allison. “No faith but in fate?”
“I don’t need to believe in fate or be a pagan to know that disaster happens,” said Emily. “It’s just the nature of the world.”
Howard drove to the airport to get his mother. She looked older than he’d ever seen her—limp and listless. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said. They drove up the winding road in the dark. Allison had turned up the gas logs and the room was warm.
Emily walked upstairs and hugged Allison. “I’m the walking wounded,” she said, “and you’re the lying wounded.”
Allison stayed in bed night and day, allowing her body the space to heal itself. She lay in warm baths, talking to the child. She knew her words were useless, and she counted it as evidence of how unsteady she was emotionally. Emily rejected Cletus or Howardette and renamed the baby Nicodemus—Nicky for short—because she was a waverer.
Emily moved around the house on feet as quiet as a ghost’s. Her [p.281] eyes were dull, her hands slow; nothing about her was as vital as when Allison first knew her. She sat for long periods of time, looking at the floor or the wall, out a window.
Often, when the two women needed to talk, they instead found themselves issuing proclamations:
“You can will your body to heal itself,” said Emily.
“Take your own advice,” said Allison.
“Body and soul,” said Emily. “We’re subject to powers no one controls.”
“You are a mind and a will, a strong woman.”
“We are transients, here a minute, then dead and buried.”
“The earth is just the earth. Only what you touch and see.”
“The earth is a cross on which we are sacrificed,” said Emily.
“Believe your own words from when I first met you. Your soul is eternal, indestructible.”
One morning they found that the weather had turned warm. From her window Allison saw puddles melting in the roads. She watched but Howard didn’t come until nearly midnight. Then the three of them sat on the bed, talking. He said that, walking between the giant pots in the steaming kitchen of the Chinese restaurant, he felt as though he had been consigned to hell. Allison dozed; the pleasant rhythm of their voices was a balm to her.
Although Allison was careful to keep herself still, control her fear, she knew that resting hadn’t prevented her bleeding a second time. Once the unnatural process of detachment started, she felt it would continue to its end. Emily fussed over her, bringing dinner up and talking to her while she ate. Emily read positive things—Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and the New Testament. They often circled back to the same arguments. Emily told Allison that depression could cause physical problems. Heal thyself, said Allison. She knew that her own sadness was the natural fear of death; she thought that Emily’s problems came from not trusting herself enough.
A few days after the solstice, and contrary to expectations, Allison hadn’t bled for two weeks, since before Emily came. The doctor told her she could get some exercise, so she went on short walks with Emily [p.282] along the roads near their cabin, passing under the dark spruce and birch. On Christmas Eve they stood and watched a moose chewing willow. Allison didn’t know what she’d do if a moose came after them. There had been a story in the newspaper about a moose stomping a man to death. When they climbed back to the house, they built up the fire inside, opened the door, and sat watching the flames. Howard walked in, red-faced because the car had slid off the road and he’d had to walk two miles in the cold. “It’s the jolly elf himself,” Allison said. He read the Nativity, and Allison’s mind slipped again to the Goshute woman, pictured her squatting in a blue cave in the desert, dropping her child onto the frozen ground.
Early in January, when the days were growing subtly longer, Allison had another appointment with Dr. Perry. He examined her carefully. “Thirty-eight weeks,” he said. “We’ve about made it.”
“Good,” said Allison. “I’ll be glad when this is over.”
“It’s never over,” said the doctor. “Don’t relax your care for her,” he said to Howard.
“Relax?” said Allison. “How could he relax more? His mother has been taking care of me.”
The Goshute woman stood between the cook stove and the bed. She walked the house. Sometimes she had the withered face that Allison had seen, sometimes she had Emily’s face. Allison woke and found Howard holding her.
“Another evil dream?” he asked. She heard Emily turning on the couch downstairs.
“I don’t believe in dreams,” said Allison. She discovered that she had been holding her breath. The baby was still—sleeping, the doctor had assured her—but Allison poked and massaged her stomach until the child moved again.
“She’s going to be plagued with insomnia,” Howard said.
“It will be genetic from her father,” said Allison.
The next day Allison felt well enough to work; she kept at it steadily all morning. Emily cleaned or sat in the room below her, giving [p.283] her space. At lunch Emily talked about flying home. “I’ll come back to see the baby,” she said. “I’ve missed the beginning of school.”
“I didn’t know you were missing school. Why didn’t you say something?”
“I don’t even know if college is the thing I need right now. But I do need to try to gather myself. I need to be in my home.”
“Go then,” said Allison. “I’m fine now. We’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be glad to get back to more consistent daylight. I don’t know how you make it through the winter.”
After lunch Emily walked up the stairs. “I’ll be back soon. I have hardly seen this place you live in.”
Allison worked some, dozed some. Two hours later Emily still wasn’t back. Allison stood in the yard and peered through the binoculars, but it was getting too dark to see. Howard would be in the library or class for another two hours, then she could call him at work. Emily’s tracks—she had borrowed Allison’s snowshoes—led south, upward through the trees. Allison thought of calling 911. She thought of Emily, a desert woman, who had braved winters nearly as cold for forty years. Emily had worn Howard’s coat, warm as a down sleeping bag.
Allison pulled on her boots and coat. She stepped into her skis, then slipped them off and tightened the straps on Howard’s snowshoes. She wrote Howard a note and stepped on the snowshoes, fastening the buckles.
The night was cold, probably ten below, and she pulled her scarf across her face. The tall, thin trees cast long shadows on the snow. She felt like she was waddling through a Jack London story: not a hard-as- nails frontier man, or a wolf-like dog, just a pregnant woman, following her mother-in-law—who might have lost her way.
The snow was powder on top of a two-inch crust. She walked in Emily’s tracks. Clouds passed across the moon, the trees were black, fields of light and shadow moved across the snow. Bears had come this low before. Still Allison grinned into the frigid breeze, glad beyond rationality that she hadn’t called for help. She shook her head, picturing Emily down, frozen stiff, gnawed, like Howard’s grandfather, Emily’s [p.284] father-in-law. The night was so bright. She felt, not like a wolf, more like a brown bear moving heavily through the snow.
She wasn’t used to walking, especially with snowshoes, and her feeling of exhilaration changed when she tired before she was out of sight of the cabin. She began to feel like a fool. Then she smelled smoke, saw a glimmer of light through the trees. Closer, she saw crisscrossed logs, a fire, a bulky-coated figure bent over the flame like a street person. Emily’s adventure had only taken her ten minutes away from the cabin.
“Hey,” she called. “Emily.”
Emily whipped her head around. “Allison,” she said. “You shouldn’t be up here.”
“I was just following a wild woman. I was afraid you’d fallen in a drift or broken a leg.”
“I’m just fine.” She held up each foot. “Only frostbite.” She stood and came toward Allison.
“Are you serious?”
“No frostbite,” she said. “I was on my way back and couldn’t face another eighteen-hour night in that cabin. Only because it’s not my cabin.” She took Allison’s arm. “I’m worried you’ve overextended yourself coming after me.”
“It’s beautiful,” Allison said. “Let me rest for a minute and we’ll head back.”
Emily brushed the snow off a log and helped Allison sit.
Allison said, “Two weeks in this country and you’re ready for home.”
“Ready for something. I lie there in your cabin, and I think about Walter. Wish he wasn’t gone. This is a hard time to be alone.” She turned her gloves above the fire. “Sitting here, I’ve been thinking about the fires I sat over with Walter, our first year, before we had children. On the cow herd, deer hunting, or just camping together. Even after we had Evan, we went. Then after I had two babies, it was too hard to camp with them. He still counted on me for work. I drove tractor plowing, harrowing, or planting. I held the calves while he doctored [p.285] them. It was all right. But it gradually changed.” She looked at Allison. “Children change everything.”
“Howard says he’ll help mother the child.”
“I give him four months. I think he’ll be real good at it, but I give him four months. Most men would last a week.”
“Damn,” said Allison.
“Don’t look so glum,” said Emily. “You’ll work something out.”
“So what are you going to work out?”
“I had hopes of making a home for women. I pictured a healing place, women in both sides of the house, upstairs and down. Good food, sitting up late talking about our lives.”
“You imagine people half healed before they get there.”
“That’s right,” said Emily. “I imagined Eden or Paradise.”
“You said ‘had.’”
“I told you that Nan got me to send in the papers to the state. Well, I did it. But Bishop Hansen told me that most people in town are against the idea. Before he got mad at me, I asked him if he’d support me. Even then he said he’d have to think about it. He thought it was a good idea for me to have something like this, but he wanted to keep out of it. Now I’m sure he won’t help me. He made me promise not to bless women with the priesthood, but he won’t bless them the way they need to be blessed.” Emily smiled. “Anyway, that’s why I need to get home. To try to get courage to work through some of these tangles.”
“You can do it, Emily. You have the money, a building; you’re good with harmed souls. It’s perfect.”
“Another problem is the building. I thought we could break down a few walls, redo it completely. But the foundation’s crumbling, the walls are rotting.”
“Build a new house.”
“In Rockwood?” she said. “I’ve lived there forty years. Now it’s a hard place to be. But if I try to buy property closer to a city and then build a house, I don’t have enough money.”
“Get a contractor to evaluate it. Someone will be able to tell how to fix it up.”
“I’ve been so tired of trying to swim upstream,” she said. “But [p.286] maybe I can try again.” She put her hands on her knees and stood. “My feet are real cold. I think it’s time to get back.”
Allison’s clothing and limbs were stiff from the cold, but she followed Emily as they clomped down through the trees. Clouds still skidded across the moon. Allison stopped next to a dead tree which had snow thick on every branch.
“You all right?” asked Emily, turning.
“We’ll kick Howard out and live here forever,” she said.
Emily tromped back and took her gloved hand. “You don’t want that.”
“Of course, I don’t. I just want to keep you here.”
A white light flashed through the trees, white light and dark body, Howard kick-stepping up on his skis. “What’s wrong?” he called.
“Nothing,” called back Allison. “We just went for a little stroll.”
Emily laughed out loud, a laugh like Howard’s own, the wheezing bray of a donkey. The sound echoed off the trees.
“You scared me,” he said. Allison threw a crust of snow at him, and she and Emily stomped past him. He swooped below them, dark as a wolf slipping through the trees. Inside the cabin they shed their coats, pulled off their boots.
Allison lifted her sweater. “She’s kicking again. You should feel.” She took both their hands, thrusting their cold fingers against her warm, round belly. She looked into their faces as they felt a heel or fist knocking to get out.