My newest novel, Pushing the River, released yesterday (Amika Press)!!
In honor of its official entrance into the world, here are some additional teaser quotes.
The early reviews have taken my breath away. Check them out, below!
“Madeline stood in the street and gaped into the vast cavern of space as if it were a true miracle, as if an outline of the Virgin Mother would undoubtedly appear on a side wall, like Jesus on a piece of toast.”
“That’s my heritage, the stock from whence I come, I will put on my gloves and I will get out there in that garden and I will take no prisoners and I will damn the torpedoes and I will full speed ahead. My family is in need.”
“Madeline became passionately attached to Jeff’s body. She scanned its surface for changes to memorize. She took note of differing thicknesses of the hairs comprising his beard, ran her fingers alone the crevasses of scars from a bad car accident, studied the calluses on each of his fingers from years of playing guitar.”
“My head is gonna explode, she thought. It is going to detach from my body and flay apart into a million, icky-gooey-oozy little pieces. What’s the movie where that happens? It’s going to splatter against the walls and slap Savannah upside the face.”
“…they would be swept up in a great salty tide [of tears] and whisked down the corridor, past roomfuls of astonished new mothers cradling infants, while Madeline swooped up Dylan and saved him.”
“By the second week of December, Madeline felt as if she had fast-forwarded through a ten-year marriage in just slightly more than three months.”
“When he shuffled off to the bathroom each night to brush and floss for an absurd amount of time, it set her own teeth on edge to such a degree she felt certain her back molars would shatter into bits.”
“Sometimes it is a smell or the particular angle of the sun’s light or the sound of a door closing – some thing that makes its way through the store of life’s memories and touches something deep, far, previously lost. In this case, it was the movement, the precise position of her legs.”
“Taking down a Christmas tree was like a death. The death of another year. Pack up and put away whatever was special or memorable or lasting. Throw away the rest.”
“I knew that we were in a race against my grandmother’s remaining time. I thought about the possibility that she might die while we were up in the clouds, and I wondered if I might be able to see her, making her trip to heaven, if I concentrated very hard on the clouds.”
“The really gory detail is how I turned out to be a hopelessly shallow person who fell for a handsome lunatic.”
PUSHING THE RIVER releases one week from today! Here are some teaser quotes from the novel to whet your appetite.
“I have lived in the company of ghosts. I have known this for a long time – that I rattled around among specters and spirits and wraiths. But I also knew that they were, indeed, my company.”
“He shook her toe a few more times and then went over and sat down on his own side of the bed. It occurred to him that maybe if he got back under the covers and shut his eyes and then opened them up again, it might all be different.”
“When Jeff first left — fourteen years ago today – I could read without glasses, even the smallest print on the train boxes. When my hands reached up to dust those boxes, the craggy blue veins did not stand out starkly against my sallow hands. The skin did not pucker into fascinating, horrifying patterns.”
“She had a nearly overwhelming desire to lie down in the grass right then, halfway along the trail, right there, in the middle of the sculpture garden, and resolve to stay there, not move, not continue, until something changed.”
“I was a Natural Woman. I told my mother she had given me her last Toni home permanent, thank you very much, and gathered up my bras for a ritual burning.”
“There was something just a little goofy about him, the stoop of his shoulders, the enormity of his feet in the ultra-white gym shoes she later learned he had bought that day at Costco. A mortal after all.”
“Something old and very deep within Madeline felt a profound shame. She tamped down the instinct to apologize over and over, to do anything, to do everything, that might possibly make Dan feel better, want to stay, want to hold her, want her.”
“Alongside the shame and the blind anger, the most profound feeling of all was a wish that something, just one thing, could be simple. Clear. Easy. Known.”
“Even the wildly striped hair did nothing to dilute the impact of seeing a child – a very small, very young, very sad, and very scared child – standing there. A child who happened to be seven months pregnant.”
It’s Friday. It’s time for the next chapter installment from my novel PUSHING THE RIVER. You may notice that I did not say “finished” novel, as I have completely reconceived the structure since last week. Oh well, such is the joy of revision…
The call came from Claire one morning: “I need your help,” she said. I have no memory of how to do this. I have no idea how people move from one place to another.”
The decision that had begun with a gentle hand against a baby elephant’s trunk in far-off Asia had been made. John would remain in Boston to finish school, and Claire would return to Chicago. She would move into the top two rooms on the uppermost floor of Madeline’s house, and she would await the gathering storm.
Billie Rae, Claire’s mother, and Savannah, her baby sister, made it abundantly clear that this was thoroughly unnecessary, confounding, and furthermore, insulting. They steadfastly maintained that they had full control of the situation at hand.
Unwanted in the new life ahead, and leaving her old life behind, she would await the gathering storm.
Madeline knew the low rumble of the U-Haul when it pulled up in front of the house, though her back was turned to the windows facing the street. She considered how many times she had helped her children move in, or out, since each of them had first left home. She was pretty sure the number was somewhere around 623 times, or so it seemed to her. Still, she rued that her advancing years enabled her to do less and less; her legs now wobbled by the third flight of stairs, and she needed to put boxes down to rest for a moment all too often.
It had been decided that Claire would bring the majority of her and John’s possessions back to Chicago with her, leaving John with a skeletal assortment of bare necessities as he focused on the grueling home stretch of school. Still, Madeline was quite taken aback when Claire swung the U-Haul cargo doors open to reveal a van that was crammed completely full, every possible square inch consumed in what amounted to a breathtaking feat of engineering.
Reading Madeline’s thoughts on her face, Claire remarked, “Yeah. We had to pack it and re-pack it a few times.”
Claire had also brought their dog. Everyone marveled since the first day Claire chose the impossibly tiny sleek brown puppy that she had found the exact canine equivalent of herself, for Proust was relentlessly demanding, deeply affectionate, possessed of strong and generally instantly-formed impressions of all people and things in his path, somewhat unpredictable, and generally in-your-face with his intense and abiding love.
Claire made four or five trips to and from the U-Haul, and up and down the three flights of stairs, for every one that Madeline made. Having endured two days of driving in a cramped and un-airconditioned U-Haul, Proust was not about to leave Claire’s side. He followed right at her heels — crossing the street to the van, jumping into the incrementally growing empty space in the cargo area, wagging his mini tail as the women piled on each load, and yipping his high-pitched howling bark at completely random intervals — the entire time.
The U-Haul sat empty in an astonishingly short amount of time. Madeline stood in the street and gaped into the vast cavern of vacant space as if it were a true miracle, as if an outline of the virgin mother would undoubtedly appear on a side wall, like Jesus on a piece of toast.
“I’ll clean it out later,” Claire said over her shoulder. “I want to do some unpacking.”
“What are you talking about – ‘clean it out?’ It looks pretty cleaned out to me.”
Claire did not respond; she was already on her way into the house.
Madeline leaned her head into the stairwell and called up to Claire, “Anything I can do to help?”
A distant voice, dimmed by mountain ranges of boxes and belongings that lay between the two of them, called back, “ No. Thanks. I’ll feel better if I can get a little bit done.”
Madeline attempted to read and otherwise occupy herself despite the fact that it sounded as if elephants were tossing large pieces of furniture around, two stories over her head. Every so often Proust let out a machine-gun burst of yipping, serving as Claire’s doppelganger mixture of impatient insistent cheerleader taskmaster.
Amidst the cacophony of chaos, Madeline found herself welling up with a strange wave of utter peacefulness. Kate could hear the occasional yip, clunk, rumble and clatter while she talked to her mother on the phone, and Madeline mentioned her wonder at her own surprising sense of peace. “Ha,” Kate said, “Face it, Mom. This is your dream come true.”
“What do you mean?” Madeline asked.
“The house is filling up again,” she said.
When Madeline hung up the phone, a ripe orange glow from the late September sunset flooded the room, and she noted a distinct lack of clatter coming from above. Again she climbed the stairs and leaned her head into the stairwell. “Claire? How’s it going up there?”
“It’s going OK. Come on up if you want.”
Madeline slowed as she neared the top of the attic stairs, stopping a few steps from the top. Claire sat on an old wooden chair at a beloved kitchen hutch she had rescued long ago and now transformed into a desk. She was leafing casually through a stack of papers when she looked over at Madeline and said “What? I’m taking a break for a while.”
Madeline had every expectation of utter catastrophe, but nothing could have prepared for the scene she beheld.
The sizable room looked as if a gifted and meticulous set designer had labored long and hard to create a masterwork from the following task: assemble a young woman’s room that is both crowded and painstakingly decorated. Give prominent placement to her many hundreds of books and tapes — likewise to her artwork that has been collected from friends and strangers alike since she was a child. Make clear that she is a lifelong denizen of thrift stores, where she has spent enormous amounts of time scanning the tossed-aside remnants of others’ lives for objects that speak directly, and deeply, to her. Demonstrate that her aesthetic is completely idiosyncratic, and fully formed. Fill all of the space. Make clear that each and every item in the room has a meaningful history, and has been placed with great care.
Proust lay at the foot of the perfectly-made bed, radiating serenity in a way that suggested he was always this calm, and furthermore, was prepared to chest bump anyone who hinted otherwise.
Here it is: this week’s chapter from my finished novel (well, except for those soul-sucking rewrites I’m trying to face/trying to avoid) PUSHING THE RIVER.
Madeline stared at a dark ceiling, knowing that sleep would elude her, and rolled Claire’s words over in her mind: “She’s not safe.” She thought of two years prior, the last time she had seen Savannah. That summer.
“Not safe.” Madeline heard about the events of that night the following day. She had awakened to then-13-year-old Savannah curled up in a ball, deep in slumber on the couch in the very room where Claire told the story of the previous night as if it were a tale of very long ago, and quite far away. Grotesque scenes involving screaming sirens, spewed vitriol, handcuffs, jail, emergency protective orders, and a young girl – with a freshly stitched and gauze-wrapped gash across her forearm – now in the legal custody of Claire, with the legal residence of Madeline’s home.
“Not safe,” Claire had said again, two years later, into the phone.
Madeline thought of a photo that Claire had pinned to the wall of the room that she and John lived in that summer. An old photo of her mother Billie Rae when she was young, a grown woman, but still young. She was seated at a kitchen table, leaning forward in her chair to nestle herself, her slight-framed body, fully against the table. One shoulder tilted towards the camera in a way that looked both flirtatiously coy and thoroughly exhausted. The photo was not a close up, and the diEddiece made Billie seem even tinier, all long dishwater blonde hair and big blue eyes. There was something else, too – a softness. The girl in the picture possessed a definite softness. This is what Madeline would try to remember. That there had been a time when Billie was soft. Vulnerable. Young. There was strength in that face. And fatigue. And pleading. Whatever came next, and next after that, Madeline would try to remember the girl in that picture.
Here is the sixth chapter installment of my COMPLETED novel entitled PUSHING THE RIVER. New one next Friday!
Claire* hardly ever called. She apologized on a regular basis for being a lousy long-distance correspondent, feeling helpless as she watched all of her cherished Chicago connections elude her grasp, her own ardent desire to keep them close set against a paralysis at doing anything that might stop them all from receding more and more into her corners. So it was particularly unusual for Madeline to see Claire’s name, and her pixie-of-steel face flashing across the phone screen at 10:00 pm. No way this can be good, Madeline thought to herself.
“I don’t know what’s going on exactly. Savannah sent me a text yesterday saying that Mom was acting weird, and now she’s just texted me saying that she’s not safe.”
“I think Savannah’s locked herself in the bathroom. I think my mom’s talking to Uncle Steve.”
“I know this is a lot to ask, but is there any way that you can go and pick her up? Bring her to your house? I’m so sorry.”
“Problem is I’m working tonight. Til midnight. I’m on phone duty, so I can’t leave. Let me think.”
“She doesn’t have any minutes left on her damn phone, so I can’t call her. Can’t talk to her. This is all through text. Madeline, you’re not the first person I called. I called everyone else I can think of. I can’t reach anyone. No one.” Claire took a breath and said, “I’m so sorry. I so didn’t want to drag you in to all of this. I was so hoping my mom could hold it together just a little while longer. Just til I move back.”
“It’s OK, Claire. If Savannah’s not safe, that’s all that matters.
“I think she needs to get out of there now. Like, now. If I can get a ride for her, can she stay with you? Can she come up there? Tonight? Right now?”
“Of course,” Madeline said.
“I might have to call a cab. I might have to see if I can charge a cab, if they’ll take my credit card from here.”
“What!? That’s insane. That’s gonna be a fortune! I’ll be off work at midnight…”
“Too long. As long as I know it’s OK for her to come up there, I gotta go. I gotta take care of this.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“You’re gonna really piss me off if you keep apologizing.”
At fifteen minutes after midnight, Madeline opened the door, and only then did it occur to her that she had not seen Savannah for two full years, four years since she had seen her without a heavily and carefully painted face. Even the wildly striped hair did nothing to dilute the impact of seeing a child, a very small, very young, very sad and scared child standing there. A child who happened to be seven months pregnant.
All Madeline could see in front of her was the giant-eyed little girl sitting in her big sister’s lap the night they met, rocking crazily back and forth on the floor in utter jubilation.
“Whoa, you’re pregnant!” Madeline quipped gamely.
“Ha ha. You’re hilarious.”
“Look, you must be exhausted. We’re not going to talk about anything tonight. Not a thing. You’re going to get a good night’s sleep. Your sister told me you can’t make any phone calls cause you don’t have any ‘minutes,’ so I charged up my phone for you. I’ve got unlimited minutes, so go wild. Call anyone you want to. Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?”
“I’m pretty tired.”
“Want to just go to bed then?”
“Yeah. Well. Do you have any milk? Not the weird organic stuff you used to get, just regular old milk?”
“I still swear you cannot tell the difference in the milk.”
“That’s what you always said about the gummy bears, so ha.”
“I only have organic.”
“Do you have chocolate I can put in?”
“I do. Your sister left about a gallon of it.”
“Can you make it for me? Can you warm it up?”
“Gawd, you’re high maintenance.”
“Can you bring it upstairs when it’s ready? I gotta make a call.”
“Sure. You go on up.”
Halfway up the stairs, Savannah stopped for a second, turned part way around, and said very quietly, “Thank you, MadMad.”
“A lot of chocolate, OK? Really a lot.”
A thousand memories merged when Madeline heard, deep in a hard-won sleep, the sound of faint, small footsteps coming down the hallway towards her room. For many years, John believed that his mother never slept a wink, but lay there all night doing nothing more than pretending; how else to explain that by the time he reached her bedside– each and every time for a whole childhood — by the time he got close, she said in a full, wide-awake voice, “What’s wrong, honey?” Not a drop of sleep remained when Savannah whispered into the darkness, “MadMad. I’m really sorry. Claire said I had to wake you up. She’s on the phone.”
“Madeline, my mother called the police. She reported Savannah as a runaway, and that means you’re harboring a runaway, and that means you’re gonna get arrested. The policeman is there with my mother right now. I have him on the phone. In my other ear. While I’m talking to you. You have to take Savannah home right now, or the police are gonna come arrest you.”
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding.”
“No. Most definitely not.”
“Does this cop know about Uncle Steve? Does he know that Billie is talking to Uncle Steve?”
“Yes. He knows.”
“Does he know that Uncle Steve has been dead for fifteen years?”
“And this clown thinks it’s totally OK to send Savannah back. With your mom. Who’s having long conversations with a dead guy.”
“You know how this works. She’s not a danger to herself or others.”
“Really. So how does he explain Savannah locking herself in the bathroom because she was so fucking scared?”
“He’s not a bad guy, Madeline. I’ve been talking to him for a really long time. He’s been there with my mother for a really long time. There’s no choice here. He’s gotta do his job. Once my mom calls the police and reports Savannah gone, she’s officially a runaway, and you are then harboring a runaway. He tells me this is a Class A misdemeanor. He tells me you could end up going to jail. For a year. So, you gotta take her home now or he sends the cops over to haul you off to jail.”
“So he is totally convinced that your mom is OK? He is willing to put his ass on the line that a pregnant fifteen-year-old is gonna be safe with her?
“Yep. That’s pretty much it.”
“OK, tell you what. You get his name, and his badge number, and you tell his ass that it’s his decision, and it’s his ass. Put me on speaker phone if you want, and I’ll tell him myself.”
“Um, I’m pretty sure he can hear you already. I got the other phone right here.”
“Great. Saves time.”
“You gotta take her home. Right now.”
“Does she know all this?”
“Is she OK with this? I mean…”
“She knows there’s no choice.”
“Well, I’m not taking her home. I’ll tell you what — if I am ‘harboring a runaway’ and am very nearly a felon, I certainly should not be putting this kid in a car and driving her anywhere, right? And what’s more, if Billie’s in such great shape and all fine and dandy and ready to be a mom and not scare the shit out of her daughter in the middle of the fucking night, she can figure out a way to get here and get her Savannah herself. Let’s see her do that. We’ll be waiting right here.”
In a reversal of events from a half hour before, it is Madeline’s turn to tread lightly down the hallway towards the blackness of the room where Savannah lays. She stands for a moment outside, but through the three-inch opening of the door, a little voice says from the nothingness, “It’s OK, MadMad; I’m awake. I know…”
“I’m sorry, Kiddo. Are you OK?”
“Anything I can do?”
“It’ ll take them a while to get here. I’m gonna try to sleep.”
“Then we’ll make a plan. You’re not leaving here unless you feel safe.”
Madeline waits outside the door, but no answer comes.
*NOTE: Name change alert!! The character previously named Marie has now been named Claire. Claire is Savannah’s older sister, and is Madeline’s daughter-in-law.
This is the fifth chapter from the “September” section of my now-finished (!!!!) novel PUSHING THE RIVER. Watch for the sixth chapter next Friday, and catch up on previous chapters in my blog entries over the past month.
The first time Madeline ever saw Savannah, she was plunked in her sister’s lap at the one and only performance of John’s music group. Claire sat on the floor in the middle of the open room as the musicians set up, both arms bear-hugging Savannah as she rocked the little girl back and forth in exaggerated swings. And she was a little girl, too. Ten years old back then, and small for her age. She was all eyes – immense pools of deep blue that flashed out from behind chin-length brown hair that gave the very strong impression it wasn’t going to follow anyone’s orders no matter how hard they might try to maneuver it into place.
She exuded scrappiness, just like her mama and her sister; and whether this was something they had all learned cause of everything that life had thrown at them, or something rooted in their bones, it was certainly there. She looked like she should be a literary character in a series of books that generations of children would adore, or the star of some adventurous, clever, educational TV show.
Madeline didn’t see her again until the next summer, when John married Claire. Savannah was not much taller, but still managed to show signs of gangly, awkward early adolescence, her arms and legs getting in her way all the time, and little, high-up breasts poking out from her T-shirt. Once in a while she could be caught with a far-off look on her face, as if she were gazing way, way into the future. Other times, she was a little girl; one of those legs would get in her way and she’d take a tumble and need her mama to carry her around for a while.
Savannah didn’t make her annual trip to visit her mama the following year, so the next time she came for the summer, she was thirteen years old. If she stood up straight as a die, she would still not reach 5 feet; but in that two years, everything had changed. Instead of being all eyes and a hank of hair, she was all eyes…and absolutely enormous breasts. In an effort not to look like some cruel joke had situated a little girl’s head atop a very-much grown woman’s body, she had begun wearing makeup and coloring her long, still-wild hair.
No one knew quite what to make of her when she first arrived that summer – whether they should talk to her just the same as always or treat her like the entirely different creature that she looked to be. But other than spending sizable amounts of time trying to straighten out and generally tame her long mane, she proved very much the same.
At least that’s what everybody thought at first.
She spent pretty near all day sitting on the sofa watching hour after hour of TV shows about movie stars. Once in a while, she’d walk to the store a few blocks away to get herself a cold drink, or a packet of gummy bears. Her favorite color was orange, followed by red, then yellow then green. Madeline teased her, saying that they didn’t have different flavors at all, just different colors. Then Savannah would make Madeline test her by giving her different colors with her eyes closed, which she could always make out, and then say Ha Ha, so there.
It seemed like every time she’d walk to the store, she’d come back home and spend a whole lot more time on her phone. She would sort of curl herself around it, like it was some precious, secret thing she was trying to protect, her eyes just a couple of inches from the little screen, thumbs flying, and her lips moving every so often.
The whole clan ended up living in Madeline’s house that summer – daughter Kate, son John, his wife Claire, and her baby sister Savannah. Everyone except Madeline was set to scatter to the four winds come the end of August. Madeline loved nothing so much as a house filled with family, and she drunk up their very presence like a hungry cat with a bowl of fresh warm cream. The place was a damn mess. John set up a bike fix-it shop right in the middle of the living room. Claire cooked all sorts of the most bizarre-smelling concoctions at all hours of the day and night. The TV blared non-stop with Savannah’s movie star channels. Kate practiced her fiddle in whatever room was empty. The household went for an entire summer without hearing those things that Madeline looked forward to the rest of the long year – the chirp of a cricket, the breezes ruffling the leaves on the ripe trees, the sounds of children playing long into the evening, giving you the sense that life does go on.
Madeline acted for all the world like every wrench set strewn across the living room floor, every pile of pots and pans, every gummy bear candy wrapper stuffed between couch cushions was a buried treasure. She got into the habit of doing everybody’s laundry, insisting that it was just as easy to toss theirs in as long as she was doing it, and way more efficient to do full loads, besides.
One afternoon, as Madeline took things out of the dryer, sorting, and folding, and humming a medley of tunes from West Side Story, she screamed out, “Claire! Claire, come here! Claire!!
From the sound of Madeline’s voice, Claire could not even imagine what catastrophe had come to pass. She hightailed it down the stairs and into the laundry room, where Madeline held a pair of black lace panties in her hand like it was a dead rat who carried the plague.
“Are these yours?”
Claire laughed. “No. Definitely not.”
“They aren’t Kate’s. I buy all of her underwear, so I can tell you this for a fact.”
“You buy all of her underwear? That’s weird.” Claire took them in her hand and flipped them over, revealing that the back side of the panties laced up, top to bottom, with a shocking pink ribbon.
Those of you who have been following my blog closely – and have you two met, by the way 😉 – have witnessed the birth and development of my third novel, entitled “Pushing the River.” Over the course of the past three years, the novel has endured several structural changes, a complete change of narrator and voice, and the completion of an early rough draft just weeks ago.
“Pushing the River” was inspired by the real-life event of a baby being born. During the fall of 2012, my house swelled from a population of 2 – if you count my dog – to an assemblage of seven people and four animals. Originally, the house itself intended to tell the story of the most astonishing four-month period in its 100-year history.
One time previously, I put this novel aside for a time; I paused, unsure how – or if – to proceed. Ultimately, I decided to change the narrator from the house’s boiler to a regular old third-person omniscient narrator. I heartily missed Merle the Boiler, and always wondered if he might return.
Alas, Merle will not be coming back.
It is with a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting mixed feelings that I have decided to put this novel to rest for good. The current situation with this now three-and-a-half year old child renders it impossible to continue a work of fiction based on his entry into the world.
There is much good work, and good writing in the would-be book, and the deep, unparalleled satisfaction of having put into words some things I had set out to say. What more, after all, can any writer hope for?
“I was trying to feel some kind of good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t you feel even worse.”
What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
“Nope,” Madeline thought to herself. “Nope, nope, nope. Bathetic, mawkish, maudlin – that’s what I’m being. And, my personal favorite – lachrymose.” Sometimes Madeline was goddamn glad that she had spent part of one summer studying lists of words to expand her vocabulary. “Lachrymose,” she let the word swirl around inside her. It wasn’t every day that you could find a reason to use one of your very favorite words of all time, but when that opportunity was suddenly there, boy howdy, that was a banner day. That could turn a shit of day right around.
“I. Will. NOT. Be. Lachrymose. No sirree Bob.” Madeline marched up the staircase with intent, paused at the top to wiggle back and forth in a little dance, and two-stepped her way into her bedroom. Carefully moving aside the freshly laundered pile of clothes, she proceeded to rip the sheets off her bed with a vengeance, then crumple them into the smallest ball she could. She held the ball in front of her, arms fully extended, the entire length of two stair flights to the washing machine. “Ha. I knew I saved this for a reason,” she thought, ripping open a sample packet of laundry detergent that had arrived in the mail months ago. Tide with Febreze. Guaranteed to eliminate your toughest laundry odors, it said. “Well, then, my detergent friend, be true to your word. Eliminate, eliminate. When I lay my weary little head down on my pillow tonight – alone, in my own bed – I don’t want a single whiff, not one hint of a whiff, not a hair of a tinge of a mite of a pinch of a speck of a trace of a hint. Of Dan.”
The machine’s lid sang out as it snapped closed, making a slight symphony with the rushing water and the whistling of the hot water pipe.
Madeline decided to slam the lid again. It felt highly satisfying. But when the last reverberation fell silent, it was as if a little bit of the air had escaped from Madeline’s inner balloon. Her footfalls up the stairs sounded slow and shuffling. There was no dance.
Her intention was to put away the laundry. She swung open the side-by-side doors of the primitive armoir she used as her clothes cabinet. She ran her eyes up and down the stacks of clothes, back and forth across the three shelves. She left the doors agape, and went to lie down on the sheetless bed.
Her flat palm grazed across the mattress pad, and with the gesture, an image: Dan. Also lying on his back, the two of them facing the ceiling. Newborn Dylan, tightly swaddled and sound asleep between their two prone bodies. Their hands reaching toward one another, clasping.
Madeline leapt from the bed and threw open the door of the hall closet, tossing years’ worth of accumulated stuff around, searching for something she was certain had been stashed ever since Kate’s first big camping trip. Febreze. Spray. Mountain fresh scent.
Madeline bounded back into the bedroom and went to work on the pillows, nearly soaking them with spray. Then onto the mattress itself.
“Out damn spot!” She thought: “Wait a minute. Macbeth? Shakespeare?? I thinketh not. Waaayyyyy too literary. How about Ellmore Leonard? Get Shorty?? ‘FUCK YOU, FUCKBALL!!’”
You could see it right away when he was born. Something strange with one side of his face. Even as a brand new teeny little newborn, barely out long enough to have dried off and gotten the feeling of air in his lungs. Wriggling around, even though he was straight-jacketed inside that hospital blanket, you could see there was something going on. When that little one went to cry, or to yawn, or let out a holler, one side of his mouth wasn’t cooperating with the other side. One side stayed perfectly, utterly still, while the other did every bit of the work.
Of course, lots of things happen when a baby is going through the whole business of being born. They get stretched and squished and crumpled up pretty good sometimes in that short distance between where they come from and life outside. Lots of them creases and folds just go away all on their own, and lightning quick, too. Nobody paid much mind as they paraded in and out to coo at the new baby, not when he was going home with a mama who had barely reached fifteen years of age.
Them nurses coming in and out of that new mama’s room seemed to have their eyebrows permanently raised up. They looked mostly at the floor, stealing quick-like glances at each other as they passed. If anybody noticed that one side of the baby’s mouth was refusing to join forces with the other, not a one of them said a word.
Dylan did all them things that babies do right on time, like he was reading right out of some handbook. He smiled and gurgled and cooed up a storm. Seemed that little cuss was going to have a tidy sum of things to say when he grew, cause he was practicing and testing out different sounds he could muster nearly all of the time.
Thing is, if you’d have hunkered down to look at one exact half of his face while he was chortling away, you’d have seen the whole rainbow of life’s feelings passing through his sparkling eyes and across his laugh-pinched cheeks and through that lively little mouth. But if you’d hunkered down on his other side, the other half of his face would have set there stone still. His eyelid blinking just a hair slower than the other, the cheek laying flat, and the mouth as limp and unmoving as a fish way too long out of the water.
That little baby was born with a couple of nerves not connected up the way they was supposed to be. Sets one to wondering if this was the hand of God – showing a mighty peculiar sense of humor– or some fluke in a very big and random universe. Or maybe Dylan hisself had some sense of his own unfolding life.