You can read the opening chapters of this novel here. Should you want to read the rest, you can (for not very much) buy your Kindle version of it from Amazon: here.
They grieve for they lost his living
he grieves for he lost his life
but dead he lost more than the living
in them he is still alive
while he lost life
and memory both
:: One ::
He knew by the cry of locked wheels on tarmac, by the sting of rubber smoke in his nostrils, by the core of silence in which he found himself despite the noise—and perhaps mostly by this stillness—that he was not going to make it.
He knew as he rushed towards it, or it towards him—for he felt stationary; knew as he saw the number painted on the undercarriage and looked again to make it out, 486 it said, paint peeling, or fading, no, it was peeling; he knew then, in the near timelessness of this immediacy, and with astonishing clarity, that he was going to die.
The tractor-trailer had just overtaken him. It had come up from behind, speeding surely, had blasted its horn once, then again—he had almost sensed the irritation, this was a vehicle used to being heard the first time—had then swung left and rumbled past him like an indignant mountain on the move. That accomplished, the eighteen-wheeler, without signaling, simply taking what was rightfully his, had steered right again, back to the slower lanes, its proper territory.
But a small foreign car, new and blue or blue-green and perhaps three car-lengths ahead, was in the rig’s way. This driver either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Neither did the rig.
The collision wasn’t much at first, just a touch, a scraping. But then the rig, as if suddenly aware, convulsed and slammed on the brakes. Smoke streamed from the locked wheels as it began skidding to its right.
He had all the time in the world to make up his mind, at least that is how it seemed. One moment came, stayed a while, then the next, each slow and long. He thought, and noticed himself thinking: he could simply brake and yes, possibly lose control, though that would lessen the impact, or—possibly a safer choice—he could perhaps avoid the sliding rig altogether by veering left for the fast lane, clearing now as the rig continued sliding to the right.
He made his choice and eased the steering wheel to the left, thinking yes, yes, he would miss the rig, easy does it, but not too fast since the rig, a helpless whale now, was slowing fast and not entirely out of the fast lane yet.
Then, and he should have done this sooner, halfway into the fast lane he glanced in his rearview mirror and saw the gray Pontiac—yes it was a Pontiac—come up from behind him at speed, also heading for the fast lane. To get out of Pontiac’s way and into the fast lane before him, he floored the accelerator and heard his Toyota gear down to gather strength and speed. But not fast enough.
Two things: the Pontiac, no doubt distracted by the skidding rig, did not hit the brakes in time; and the rig was not yet all the way out of the fast lane, now almost sideways in its slide. The Pontiac caught up and struck him from behind, careening him, still accelerating, directly into the trailer.
Those numbers, four eight six on the grimy blue of the undercarriage, were the last things he saw.
Metal screaming and the destruction of glass were the last things he heard.
Had he put away his groceries? was his final thought.
“An accident on the 110 freeway just before the 91 has all southbound lanes, I repeat all southbound lanes shut down, with traffic backed up to before Redondo Beach Boulevard. There has been a terrible accident involving a jackknifed big-rig and several other vehicles, with at least one fatality. Police and emergency vehicles are arriving on the scene with more on the way and according to Caltrans it will be two hours, at least, before any of those lanes will reopen. If you’re in a hurry, you’d do well to avoid this area. If you’re traveling south on the 110, we suggest you take El Segundo or Rosecrans and use the surface streets. Northbound 110 is also bumper-to-bumper due to spectator slowing.”
The impact was curious. There was pain, surely. There must have been pain, but if there were, it was very sudden and gone too soon to actually register.
No, not really pain. It was more like a burst of wind, a rushing upward from his feet to his head as iron and force crushed lungs and spine and his head was all but severed in this single act of bad luck and mechanical violence. The gust, like a giant exhaling, seized him and pulled him up and out and clear of the wreckage.
:: Two ::
She walked quietly past the closed bedroom door and down the stairs. It was still dark outside and the air smelled of rain. The living room was dark but the kitchen light was on, spilling onto the threadbare carpet all the way to the bottom of the stairs. She could hear Beth getting things ready for Bill’s breakfast.
She stepped into the kitchen then stopped short: it had happened again. Although she could only see the left side of her face, she could tell. Bruised and puffy. Her mom did not turn to face her.
Elsie Reilly was only twelve years old, but had already known for almost a year that it was up to her to help her mom. This had come to her almost as a revelation on a dark and rainy morning like this one.
The old spruce outside her window, restless with wind, had scraped the roof and prodded her awake, she had opened her eyes on the dark, and realized she was thirsty. She had slid out from under her blanket and tiptoed down the stairs for a glass of water. Then back to bed. Not quite time to get up yet.
Then, as now, the kitchen light was already on, seeping out from under the closed kitchen door. As Elsie had entered—maybe it was the light, maybe it was that Beth didn’t turn to greet her right away, maybe it was something she had dreamt, she never really did sort it out—she noticed, as if for the first time, how tired her mother looked, how stooped and bent. After a while Beth had turned and smiled at her, but it wasn’t really a smile. Not a happy recognition, no, it had only been like a gesture before returning, almost mechanically, to the brush and the carrots in the sink. Elsie had looked at her face, at the side of her face really, at the tired shoulders, the bare arms, the graying hair caught in a small bun, at the struggle that was her mom, for what seemed a long time while she at the same time also saw a younger, happier mom; the face from before Tim and Sarah and Evelyn came, from when there had been only the three of them, a happier mom then with a brighter face smiling down at her, laughing often. Even singing sometimes.
Her mom had turned to her again, with the same not really a smile, and Elsie had smiled back, and known that it was up to her. Her mom needed help, and that was what being the oldest child was all about, wasn’t it? Up to her. She should have known sooner, she thought, but she had never put things together before: Beth was always up before everyone else and down in the kitchen to get them all fed and off to work and school and day care before getting herself ready and catching a downtown bus, to work a full shift sewing clothes. Then home again, hurry to day care before they close, fix dinner, wash the dishes, put the kids to bed, read them stories, make sure Bill has his TV snack and beer, mend socks and stockings, polish and clean, and perhaps even laundry before she could catch her breath and maybe a TV show if she wasn’t too tired, then off to bed, then awake again to everything all over.
That morning, as this had all added up and almost stunned her, she had decided that she would do a lot more to help. She would start by helping with the kids. She would take them to day care before school, she would pick them up after school as well. She would get them ready for bed. She would help clean, too. She would make her mom’s life a little easier, ease her load. And she had felt, seeing it all so clearly, and making up her mind, that she was growing up in a matter of minutes.
Recently, she had grown up further; had grown to understand Mom’s other problem. The one with Daddy and how her face got swollen.
For sometimes her mom would have a swollen eye or a blue cheek, sometimes she would favor her arm, but when Elsie would ask her about it, she would never really answer. Not answer answer; instead it was always just a stumble or a clumsy me or it was nothing really, darling; things Elsie couldn’t quite believe or make sense of. Then her mom had a broken wrist in a cast for six weeks and a bruised shoulder and face at the same time. Fell down the stairs, she said, clumsy me, late for work. Elsie did not know what to believe. But she had begun to notice how her mother stayed clear of Bill when he was drinking.
Then one night not long ago she had woken up from Tim’s crying in the room next to hers. He wouldn’t stop, and no one else was looking in on him, so she got up to see what was the matter. Once out on the landing she heard noises from the kitchen, angry noises. Dad loud, Mom answering, it sounded like begging. She had stolen down the stairs, and that’s when she saw how Beth got hurt.
Mommy had never told anyone about these things, so neither would she.
But knowing strengthened her resolve. She would do anything to bring her mom’s smile back. It was up to her.
“Let me do that,” she said.
Her mom stepped aside to let her help, but she still didn’t turn to face her.
:: Three ::
It was George Frideric Handel who changed his life, and became his hero.
Handel, in his view, was not merely a composer, he was the complete artist, sprung from purpose, a genius. And not only at the keyboard, but as a businessman, as a director, as a conciliator, as a survivor.
For not only would he write his oratorios; not only would he score all the parts. He would then scour London—or the Continent—for a cast, negotiate their fees, rent the Covent Garden Theatre or some such place, stage and direct the thing, make peace among his warring crews and prima donnas, wear the cashier’s hat, the organist’s, the conductor’s, the bow-taker’s, and pay master’s, and then, with all of London singing his praises again (and, to be sure, he was not above enjoying praise), it was off to Brook Street, where he lived, to count the profits. Oh, yes, he was the complete artist-survivor.
And what he admired most about the man was his heavenly ability to, in the midst of this whirlwind world, sit down at the keyboard and simply transcend all pressure, all this world, and once again conjure up his celestial music, his godly music.
And, of course, it was Handel who had saved him.
Three years earlier Leonard Sanderson had finally called it a day. Yes, he was good, no argument there, but so were many others. He was skilled, but not great; and after years of trying he finally saw, quite clearly, and almost with relief, that he never would become great.
He had played the piano since he was four, and had always pictured himself becoming a professional musician, a concert pianist, an artist, admired and successful. And he had given it his very best shot.
Growing up, when his friends got together after school first to play, later to chase, then torment, then woo the neighborhood girls, he would practice instead. For hours. And hours. Some days it came to him freely but often, too often, it was a grind, an endless drilling.
Some of the requisite fire was his own, but whenever it waned his mother was always at the ready with a backup flame. Fiercely. Mustn’t waste your talent on trifles, Len. You’ll be greater than them, you just see. You’ll be an artist. You’ll be a great pianist one day. This is your calling, Leonard, and don’t you forget it, but you have to work to get there. Work, Leonard. Practice makes perfect, Leonard. He had grown to hate that phrase.
But he did work. Slender fingers grew longer and stronger. By the time he graduated the Music Academy he had built a repertoire that led to some real engagements: real, as in getting paid. And with time and constant drilling, he matured along with his reputation. Yes, his gigs grew too, there was more money, the halls were a little larger, but still, at twenty-seven—being brutally honest with himself—he had to admit that he was still only a second-string pianist, playing second-string venues; and, really, was he ever going to become the true artist he had always pictured? He found the spark fading if not gone.
Even his mother had stopped nagging him, another bad sign.
Then—it was late one Saturday night and he had just returned from yet another high school gig—things came to a point. Closing his apartment door behind him, he leaned against it and closed his eyes. Why was he doing this? How many of these pimply kids really cared about the music? How many came just to appear sophisticated, as part of some highbrow mating ritual? He shook his head. Talk about pearls before swine.
He shed his tux and hung it back in his closet, donned a sweat suit.
It was dark outside, he could see his reflection in the kitchen window. Soon to be thirty, he thought, and I’ve climbed as far as I ever will. He looked down at his long, slender fingers—his strongest feature, that’s what Vivian claimed anyway—flexed them and cracked his knuckles. He heated some water and poured it into his glass teapot, added green tea, and stood watching as the water embraced then drowned the slowly sinking leaves, feeling emptied.
He carried the pot over to the sofa and sat down; poured the tea into a small Japanese cup and watched the steam curl up from the green liquid to evaporate into the silence, much like his life. He leaned back into the soft sofa cushion, closed his eyes again, and on a fundamental level simply let go.
What he felt was relief. There was more to it, to be sure, there were other currents, other feelings—the gray sense of failure among them—but in the main it was relief. And he decided then, as he re-opened his eyes and brought the small cup to his lips for a first sip: he would accept the teaching position he had recently been offered.
Six months into his new career he ran into Handel.
It was a garage sale of all things. With a steady job—decent money coming in and all that—he no longer used to bother with them, but the day was nice and he had time on his hands and something of the old hand-to-mouth spirit surfaced when he saw the badly painted cardboard sign and the little cluster of bargain hunters on the grass. He braked his Toyota and stepped out for a survey.
Albums, clothes, trinkets. He picked up a large, badly painted piece of plywood, cut to resemble an enormous light bulb, and wondered at the things people will buy and then try to get rid of. He replaced it and moved on. Four hundred recipes guaranteed to lose you twenty pounds. A big book. Wonder why that one’s fallen out of favor? Smiled. More clothes.
An old but unmolested box on the fringe of things caught his attention. He walked over to it and saw why it seemed untouched: it contained music scores. Not much of a garage sale item, to be sure. Only guys like himself would bother. He sat down on his haunches to take a closer look.
Piano scores mostly. Mozart, lots of Mozart. Haydn, lots of Haydn, too. Haydn, the music factory. Some Liszt, some Dvorak. A piece by Handel. More Dvorak, happy Dvorak. More Handel. He liked Handel but hadn’t played him much, if at all. He stopped to think. Actually, he could not remember ever having played Handel. Well, of course, oratorios and organ concertos were not meant for the piano. Some Bach. Then more Handel. An opera. Julius Caesar. He’d heard of it, but never listened to it that he could recall. Some recorder sonatas, Handel as well. The seller was either a fan or had inherited these scores from someone who was. And at the very bottom: yes, yet another Handel. He balanced the pile of already inspected scores on his left knee and brought it out into the light. How curious. He took a closer look to make sure, no, he was right. This was an organ concerto transcribed for the piano. Yellowed paper, old and brittle. He placed the other scores on the ground and returned to the piano score, began tracing the notations. It was beautifully transcribed. He read to the end of the page then looked back into the box, were there more of these? No, just the one.
He was so pleased with his find that he forgot to bargain and paid the full asking price of a dollar.
Back in his car he did not start the engine. Instead he turned the opening page over and kept reading, falling as he read through the clefs and staffs into the world of melody and counterpoint. And as he fell he savored the beauty now whispering, now rising—harmonies breathing and dancing. This was such fine, fine music.
He finished the score and laid it down on the seat beside him. Gently, almost respectfully. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes. Handel. He smiled. What a guy. This was wonderful.
Someone knocked on the car window. “You leaving or what?” Muffled through the glass.
He looked up at an agitated face, dark against the bright sky. “Oh yes, sorry.” He started his car and set out down the street while his mind returned to the score. He wanted to hear it. He wanted to play it and hear it. For the first time in months, in years to be honest, he really wanted to play.
He could hear the phone ring inside the apartment as he turned the key. As he opened the door the ringing grew louder, impatient. He put the score down on the coffee table, tossed the keys into the bowl, and reached for the receiver.
“This is Leonard.”
“Just calling to remind you. Five o’clock.”
“Five o’clock?” he tried to remember.
“Sharp. And, please, be on time for a change. Mom and Dad are coming too.”
Oh, God. The monthly. The ordeal. Dinner with her sisters, their smug husbands, and now her folks as painful bonus. He had completely forgotten. He looked around the room as if for a lifeline, and his eyes fell on the score.
“Viv,” he lied. “I can’t.”
“I can’t make it, Honey. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, Len, I asked you yesterday, I specifically asked you and you said fine.”
“I know. But something’s come up.”
“A gig,” he said. That’s almost not a lie, he told himself.
“A gig? You haven’t played for months.” Silence. She was waiting for details. He didn’t supply them. “How come you didn’t know about this yesterday?”
“I forgot. I had a note on the fridge. Just saw it this morning.”
Another silence, “I don’t know whether to believe you, Len.”
“Vivian, you know I’d like to come, but I can’t.”
“That’s precisely it. I know you don’t want to come.”
The truth stung. “I’m sorry. I really am. I have to practice a bit and get ready.”
She hung up without another word. Receiver in hand he steeped for a moment in his duplicity. He didn’t like lying. The shame was warm and unpleasant. Then he carefully replaced the receiver and turned back into the room and saw the score. Handel, his co-conspirator. He walked over to it and picked it up.
He played through the afternoon and into the evening. The phone rang several times, people left messages. He hardly noticed, but played on. Something within him had awoken, and he played on.
From that day he devoted himself to Handel.
He read every biography he could find. He bought all his oratorios. He devoured his organ concertos. He listened. And listened. He tracked down all existing piano scores. And he played.
Handel, the person, the man, the musician, the survivor—most of all the survivor—had re-lit the flame and every new discovery about him fanned it hotter. He practiced five hours a day again. He fell behind in his class work, got talked to about it, fell behind some more, got talked to again, then resigned his teaching job.
Stirred alive by Handel, filled with new purpose, he knew that he would finally realize his dream. And his fingers agreed. His ears agreed. He was becoming great.
Vivian, along with the rest of the world, grew peripheral. His need was too urgent, and there was only room for the one. He began playing gigs again. Then the gigs grew. Two weeks ago he had played Royce Hall at UCLA for the first time, to very good reviews indeed, and his agent was now talking about the Ambassador.
One Thursday afternoon late that January he returned to his apartment with groceries to find a message on his machine. It was from Bruce, his not at all unhappy agent. Please come see him. Now. Great news, he said. Great, he stressed. Then, as if he just could not bear holding on to it any longer: An offer from Sony. Oh, man.
He slumped into his deep armchair: Finally! This was it. For several seconds he battled with the concept, as if with some alien utterance that needed decoding. But it was plain enough, he had made it. Then he sprung up, he’d better get down there. He grabbed the keys out of the bowl, slammed the door, ran down to his car, pulled out of the garage, negotiated the streets, and headed south on the 110 freeway for his agent.
The bag of groceries still on the counter.
:: Four ::
Bill hunched over her, an inebriated beast, and spoke slowly, “Beth, I’m only going to tell you this once. You understand? Once.” He held up one slightly shaky finger. Then pointed it directly at her, a weapon. “If you’re pregnant again, you’re getting an abortion. If you don’t, I will beat it out of you.”
“Bill, please. I promise, I am not pregnant.”
His eyes stayed fixed on her, while his finger sliced the air in her direction once, twice, and again. “You know I can tell when you’re lying.”
“I am not lying, Bill. I swear.”
“You had better not.” He straightened up and glared at her from his new height. Then abruptly turned and left for the kitchen.
But she was lying. She had missed her period two months running and had gone in for a test. Sneaked in. How could he possibly have found out? And this afternoon the clinic had called to congratulate her. Congratulate? Nothing worse could have happened.
After Evelyn was born Bill had given her an ultimatum: either you have your tubes tied or I leave. But she couldn’t do that. It just wasn’t natural. It was not Christian. It was like clamping a muzzle on God’s channel of life. She could not, would not do it. So she refused. He beat her and repeated his ultimatum. She still refused. He beat her some more, but did not bring it up again.
What love there had been between them was long gone. Their lovemaking no longer had anything to do with love. He used her whenever he felt like it, and sometimes she didn’t have the time—he didn’t give her the time—to use her shield and foam, and afterwards she spent days and weeks anxiously waiting for her period. Once she worked up the courage to suggest that maybe he could have some sort of operation to make sure she didn’t get pregnant. That earned her another beating, and he called her wanton, lewd and whatever else. Ungodly. She concealed her bruises. They used to heal faster.
And now it had happened. She knew it had to eventually. And to make matters worse, God, so much worse, she had lied to Bill. Lied. Where had she found the strength to? There was a time she used to lie to him, to make him stop hitting her. When she used to say things to please him, what he wanted to hear, but he always found out, and it only made him angrier. Always made things worse, fed his rage. So she didn’t lie to him anymore. Never. Not until tonight. But she hadn’t lied for herself, had she? She had lied for the new life, her baby, her unborn.
Bill returned, beer in hand. Sat down heavily in the sofa. It groaned under his weight. He glanced briefly at the television set—a game show, reached for the remote. Turned it over in his hand, studied it for a while, as if trying to decipher it. Then he turned his gaze back on his wife.
“So why did you go to the clinic?”
“It was just my annual checkup, Bill.”
He took a long swig of his beer, and put the can down on the table. “I think you are lying, Beth.” The musty smell of beer reached her as he bent closer. “I haven’t seen your things in the garbage for a while.”
“You know damn well what things I mean. Your things. Your period things.”
Oh God, he’s spying on me.
The next lie came more easily. “I had my last period five weeks ago, Bill. At my age,” she paused to swallow, “at my age, the doctor told me, it starts to get irregular. Nothing to worry about, he told me.”
Bill took another swig, tried to suppress a belch, failed, straightened a little, “All right. But I want to see those things next time.” Then added, “I don’t trust you.”
He finished the beer, and made to rise, failed, tried again, succeeded, stumbled slightly and bumped his shin on the low table, swore, steadied himself.
She watched him as he turned and headed back toward the kitchen for another beer, his fifth tonight.
Her fear grew steadily over the following weeks. Showing him bloodied tampons was of course no problem, a child could have figured that one out. It was not as if he was going to smell them. Seeing it was enough, and ketchup was very red. No, it was the swelling, a little larger, a little rounder each week, that threatened her and the life within.
She studied herself again in the foggy bathroom door mirror. It was going on four months now and she was definitely showing. Definitely. She turned again, trying to determine how much. Now in profile, now head on, now from the other side, she turned again and scrutinized her reflection. She could not make up her mind. Looking now, from straight ahead you could see, but only if you knew it was there and looked for it, but then, oh God, when she turned sideways it was obvious. Obvious. And her breasts were firming up, preparing to supply. She lifted them, heavier now. Bill would notice soon.
“I need to get in, now.” His impatience muffled by the bathroom door.
“I’ll be right out.”
Bill was better in the mornings. Gruff, always, but not so worked up. There had never been a morning rage. She was sure it was his work, that and drink that made him so foul at night sometimes. She put on her bathrobe and opened the door. Bill, anxious to get in ahead of the kids, disappeared behind her and pushed the door shut. She heard him turn the lock, then went back to their bedroom to get dressed.
The cold kitchen greeted her with silence. The two windows, as she flicked the light switch, sprang to life with reflection, extending the kitchen out into the dark backyard beyond. She took a deep breath and entered her sanctuary.
They didn’t have much, she was all too aware of this; that ends barely met, but despite this, or maybe because of this, here in the kitchen, here in her world, she found both purpose and pride. For despite everything, despite penny-pinching and hand-me-downs, they did manage, she did manage, she was providing a home for her family. There was food on the table and Bill and the children always had clean and comfortable clothes. No one was lacking, she was making sure of that. This certainty, this satisfaction spread as a sort of warm glow every time she prepared breakfast first for Bill and then for Elsie and the kids, every time she cared for her charges, readying them for the day. It was silly, she knew, and probably meaningless to anyone else, but this was her secret pleasure. It gave her life meaning, and it mattered to her, very much.
And now, with a new life inside her, even more so. She was mother, custodian, keeper, tolerator. Lioness, she thought. Proud and strong, protecting her young. And she smiled at her own reflection in the window. Some cat.
Still, this is what she enjoyed, this is where she lived. Her secret life.
She opened the door to the refrigerator and took a silent inventory. Eggs? She brought out the carton and counted them. Yes, there were enough left. She glanced at her reflection again, tucked a stray strand of hair in behind her ear. Yes, she thought, it was kinda silly; but this is what she enjoyed, where she felt the most alive.
The only problem was that once Bill and Elsie and the kids were on their way, the real world arrived and then she had so little time to get herself ready. Just minutes really, to get dressed and catch the downtown bus. The one with heavy morning traffic that always threatened to, but seldom did, make her late for work. The one with three blocks to almost run from the bus stop to the clock, the clock she had to punch in and out five days a week.
Five days a week to make expensive garments for other people; the irony that she could never afford any of them herself not lost on her. But she sewed on. A cold lunch, back to the sewing machine, then punch out for her almost three-block run not to miss the bus back home.
How she had come to hate sewing, though. The sameness of it grated on her, the monotony was painful. Still, she should be grateful. She did have a job, after all—many did not—and they needed the money. So, thank the Lord for cheap city day care—and thank the Lord for Elsie who made sure the kids got there.
The other world, the one darkly beyond her reflection, served a purpose, which made it endurable. Her weekly paycheck meant eggs and flour and socks and shoes. And that’s what mothers do. They provide. Whatever it takes. They provide. And this what she was, she affirmed as her reflection swam back into focus, a provider. Mother. Keeper. Lioness.
She brought the large glass bowl down from the cupboard. She would scramble Bill’s eggs this morning. Pancakes for the kids.
Late that night in bed she turned over carefully. The old bedsprings groaned a little but not loudly enough to wake him. She eased first one leg onto the floor, then the other. She quietly donned her dressing gown and went downstairs.
She brought out her light blue dress from the closet. She shook it out a little, then held it at arm’s length for a while, regarding it. Yes, this was the one she’d let out next. She draped it over the back of the sofa, then returned to the closet for the sewing basket which she kept on the top shelf. Back at the sofa she sat down under the quiet light of the floor lamp, retrieved the seam ripper out of the basket, reached over for the dress and went to work.
She didn’t hear her come down, and she started.
“What are you doing up, Mom?” Elsie’s voice was only a whisper.
“Oh, nothing. I couldn’t sleep, and I figured I’d just mend this old dress.”
Elsie, soon to be thirteen now, thin and tall for her age, long brown hair messy from sleep, looked at her mother, then at her handiwork, and back at her mother.
“That’s not mending.”
“No,” she looked up at Elsie. “You’re right. I’m making it a little larger, that’s all.”
Elsie sat down on the sofa beside her. “Why?”
“Why? Well, I’ve put on a few pounds lately is why.”
Elsie didn’t answer at first. Instead she looked at her mother for a long while. “Not from overeating,” she said finally.
Oh, God, Beth wanted so much to tell, to let everybody know that she was pregnant again, that a new life was growing inside her. A new life on earth, her life. And she hated her deception. It wasn’t right. You should not hide God’s miracle. From Bill, yes, that was necessary, but not from the children. She wanted to share her joy with them. She wanted their hands to feel her belly, to feel the baby grow and soon the little stirring and kicks as well. And she almost told Elsie then and there; her desire to confess, and share, almost took charge, and she caught the words just as they were leaving.
Instead she said, “Oh, I don’t know about that. I just noticed that it was a bit tight is all. Besides, it’s the new fashion, you know. The loose fit.”
“Mom,” Elsie searched her mother’s face, “Mom, are you pregnant again?”
But there was no catching the tears. They burned at first, then welled, tiny rainbows as they formed, warm and heavy, to fill her eyes. She couldn’t look up. Silent drops coursed their short way down her cheeks before falling onto the blue of the dress. At that moment she loved Elsie like she had never loved another human being. She turned toward her, and took her in her arms. “You must not tell anyone. Not a living soul,” she said.
Elsie said nothing. Only nodded her head in the curve of her mother’s warm neck.