by Linda Sillitoe
[p.191]Paul called her at work first thing that morning and told her the transfer to Denver had come through. The Denver station would help them find a house and move during the Christmas holidays.
“Congratulations,” Marly said bravely.
“Marly,” Paul said, then silence.
“It’s okay,” she said, turning away from Bernice at the next desk. “We can keep in touch. We can stay friends.”
He sighed heavily. “You have no idea how I’m going to miss you,” he said, and she could tell he meant it despite the undertone of excitement at the promotion.
“I’ll miss you, too.” A pause while Marly swallowed tears and tipped her chin high so none could spill down her cheeks.
“Do you want to get together?” he asked softly.
“No. Let’s just let go,” she said, managing a muffled, “goodbye,” before hanging up.
Of course she hadn’t told him that the night before, just before falling asleep, she had seen herself holding a newborn with dark eyes. She had held the infant in the crook of her left arm, and the baby had gazed steadily at her face, rounding her lips as if she would whistle.
Marly drifted into sleep admiring the small, smooth face, and [p.192]woke with the image in her mind. She got up and consulted the calendar in the kitchen counting back five, six, seven weeks. Seven weeks. Then she made some tea and, with Lennon, watched the city air grow dusky and then bright beneath a remote December sky.
One shock, she learned, often preceded a second. Now the evidence on her calendar and Paul’s telephone call confined her like brackets. Other people, other things outside the brackets could be dealt with only superficially. Her attention must stay focused within where trumpets blared and the earth trembled.
She had planned to finish her Christmas shopping after work but instead walked home wearily. She ran a hot bath, climbed in, and cried long and hard. How she would miss Paul-his smile, his hands, his listening, their lovemaking. Honestly, how could two adults in their situations fail to use birth control? They had never even discussed it. She was a librarian, for pete’s sake, and he a media anchor. They both knew about the risk of disease, even AIDS, let alone complications like pregnancy. He was a father, but he had never asked what she was doing about birth control. She had never suggested condoms—maybe because his penetration was such a breath-stealing moment anyway. “You okay?” he would gasp, and she would twist his fingers in hers, lost somewhere between hurt and ecstasy.
When she finished weeping into the cooling bath water, she looked at her flat, white stomach appreciatively. Her breasts looked fuller and they hurt. She had assumed it was just PMS. Longterm PMS, she decided with a wry smile. She touched a finger lightly below her navel. So someone still traveled with her—not Paul but part of Paul.
She climbed out of the tub and watched her tears go down the drain with the day’s grime. She didn’t think she would cry that hard again. She even hummed as she fixed a simple supper and [p.193]then shared it with Lennon. Poor Lennon, who had never liked children.
Later, curled in the chair by the window that looked north on the downtown lights, Marly cradled the telephone against her ear and listened closely to the intelligence Caitlin had gleaned from her conversation with Barbara. She let her bracketed self rest, concentrating on the day Boyd had died; then the years of her childhood spun through her mind. She had the sense that things were coming together and fitting but felt too numb to try to articulate how.
Outside her mist-edged window, the city sparkled Christmas. Caitlin’s voice was intent, her words precise. “Mom said, ‘You are my son. I know you. And you are not,’” Caitlin repeated. “Except every sentence had an exclamation point, the way Barbara remembers.”
“Hmmm,” Marly said, to show she was taking it in. The darkness in her apartment seemed to thicken around her chair and the telephone.
“Exactly,” Caitlin answered. A silence.
“Let me sleep on it,” Marly said. A pause. “You know what, Caitlin? It’s about time to talk to Roger. Any clues there?”
“I think that talk’s past due!” Caitlin exclaimed. “Not many clues. Two letters were mailed from Utah. One letter was postmarked Vernal, one postmarked Moab, and another postmarked Jackson, Wyoming. Of course, he may have asked someone to mail one or more of the letters for him—he wouldn’t necessarily have to do it himself”
“But they’re all mailed from the same region,” Marly said. “Maybe he’s not really all that far away.”
“Seems like it. And he’s used a credit card in Manila, wherever that is. “Now listen to this.” Caitlin’s voice shifted to amused indig-[p.194]nation, as she told Marly about Fred seeing Cait at McDonald’s with Nick. “Barb and I seem to live on different planets. Of course, if Fred were caught at lunch with another woman, I guess it would be a whole different thing.”
“I know,” Marly said. “The library administrators go by the same rules. Sometimes it gets silly.” Caitlin laughed. “Rules—that’s what Kerry told the twins the other night—‘We have wules!’”
Marly chuckled. “Don’t you have to say that in a squeaky voice?”
Caitlin tried it again, and they both laughed. “But it’s more than that,” Caitlin continued. “Barbara and I have always lived in different worlds—maybe because I went to work. The thing is, until recently, I thought I knew my world.”
“Yes, but you probably saw it differently than most people.”
“True. But I’ve realized lately that Jake and I are on almost completely different tracks except where the twins are concerned.”
“Is that a problem between you?”
“I don’t know yet. What I realized tonight with Barbara is that she still uses the map of the world we grew up with. But I’m outside the boundaries of where I’m expected to go.”
“Well, so am I. That’s the map of a flat world,” Marly said. “If you do this or that, you fall off the edge into the mouths of dragons. The funny thing is, I’ve been over the edge for a long time now.”
Caitlin took that in for a moment while Marly wondered if her sister would start asking Who? What? When? Where? Why? Cait didn’t; she was too focused on the metaphor they had created and mused softly, “So what does that mean to the rest of the family?”
“Well, my life might be confusing. But they usually pretend [p.195]I’m still inside the boundaries. You’re the one who travels where others fear to tread. You create more tension than I do. So far, anyway.”
Silence for a moment. “Okay, but now you’ve told me you’re not still inside the boundaries. And you’re not being munched by dragons as far as I can tell.”
“No more than anyone else,” Marly said simply.
“So,” Caitlin concluded, “their map isn’t accurate. You can’t fall off the edge.”
“Maybe it’s accurate for the world they live in,” Marly disagreed. “That’s not quite it. Boyd fell off the edge. I think Roger fell off the edge at least temporarily.”
“So why don’t you?”
“I have a different map.”
“No kidding!” She heard Caitlin take a fast breath. “So as long as you navigate by your own map, you’re not lost. But where does that leave Jake and me?”
“Maybe you’re between maps,” Marly suggested.
“Do you want to photocopy your map for me?” she asked, with only a little irony.
Marly took a deep breath. “Into brand new terrain? I don’t think so.” Then she said it: “I’m pregnant, Cait.”
“What?” The gasp startled Marly; she almost dropped the receiver. “It’s okay, Cait, Really. I’m fine.”
“But—are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. Don’t tell anyone until I go to the doctor. Can I borrow your obstetrician?”
“Of course, but—Marly, what are you going to do? God, I didn’t even know you’d been—exposed! What are you going to do?”
“Nothing. Just check it out. Now don’t worry, Caitlin. I’m all right.”
[p.196]“I mean—will you get married?”
“No,” Marly said, discouraged at how her voice tightened. “That’s not an option. He’s married and has kids.”
“God, Marly. What are you going to do? Will he help out financially? There are a million implications to this.”
“No, but it’s okay, Cait, Really. I haven’t had time to work out the details but I’m not all that upset. I mean, I’m upset that he’s leaving—he’s been transferred out of state—but I’m not upset about the baby.”
“Transferred.” She could hear Caitlin struggling to take all this in. “Does he know about the baby?”
“No. No one knows but you. And you can’t tell anyone.”
She heard Caitlin sigh. “Well, we’ll figure out something.” “Great,” Marly said. “Now I’m tired, and I’m sure you are too. You know what? Last night I saw the baby. A girl.”
A long pause. “I don’t suppose you’re considering an abortion,” Caitlin said.
“No. I can’t.”
“How many months?”
“Not quite two, but she’s real. I want her, Cait.”
Another long pause. “What about the family? What about the church? You could get excommunicated.”
“Well, don’t worry. Be happy for me. Go to sleep.”
Marly nestled in the chair a while longer, watching the Christmas lights and the diminishing traffic. She thought about Barbara’s memory of their mother’s conversation with Boyd. Boyd had been her mother’s child in the same way this baby she envisioned would be hers.
A fierceness she had never imagined rose in her from the core. Why had her mother said what she did to Boyd? She thought how her mother had changed since Boyd’s death, dimmed, as if her vibrancy became pastel. Had she become vague and gentle [p.197]overnight, or just after Marly’s illness? Marly didn’t know, but she rested a hand protectively on her abdomen. The baby’s very existence made her vulnerable, she saw now.
How had Mom ever managed to have five children, each one a risk of so much love? Roger was her mother’s son, too, and Mom had faded more since Roger disappeared. Marly closed her eyes, scanning for a sense of Roger. Stiller than sleep, she sat for a long time, curled in the chair. Then on the dark window opposite her, there flickered a zigzag road winding through a snowy forest. A deer at the side of the road stood perfectly still as her car approached, for Marly was driving. Then as she passed cautiously, the deer’s mouth opened and shouted, “Here!”
The voice sounded familiar, but she didn’t place it until she woke at dawn and replayed the scene in her mind. Okay, she told her racing heart, I’ll find the road. She yawned hugely, curled up, and slept deeply until the alarm rang fifteen minutes later. Then she opened her eyes and looked around at the new day.