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The Baby

by Evan Guilford Blake

May 10, 2013

There is mist falling through the chilly Saturday afternoon sky, and the still-stark trees tilt from the wind. There are small pits, small swells in the old road. Now and again, the old shocks fail to cushion her and with one hand she holds to the dash to keep from bouncing. With the other, she touches her stomach.

The roundness is just-visible to Walt, still invisible to nearly everyone else, though she has seen it for weeks, felt it for longer than that. She runs her other hand over it, watching the road, the rain, thinks the baby, the baby, as the car bucks once again, this time with more force. “Walt,” she says, “be careful.”

“I am” he says. “It’s this road.”

He leans over the wheel, hands together at twelve o’clock, chin atop them, eyes fixed. “You okay?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

He smiles and nods. “How ’bout ...?”

She runs her hands over her stomach. “Yeah, just, I can feel it didn’t like that. The bump.”

“You can feel that? Already?”

“Think so. Here.” She places his hand on her belly. “Feel her? Him.” She laughs.

“Hnh” he says and grins. “Whoever. Hey. Light me a cigarette.”

“I will not!” Megan says. “I don’t want t’ be breathin’ one of those things now. Yu-uck, Walter!”

“All right” he says. “All right.” He sits forward again and squints into the mist. “Won’t Mama be happy” he says, and they both smile. “Mmm” she says, and turns the radio on and begins to sing.

Mama is happy. She takes Megan and Walt upstairs to the attic and sorts through trunks of memories. The attic is cool with the scent of March amid must, the trunks are warm with the aroma of other times in potpourri.

“... he was so proud of it” Mama says. “Daddy used to wear it every year; on July 4th. In the parade. We all used to march in it. Danny carried you, piggyback.”

“I recall” Megan says.

“Do you? You were so little then.”

“Seems like I do. The parade.”

Mama rummages. “Bet it’s been packed away up here f’r, I don’t know, goin’ on twenty years, anyhow. It was such a handsome thing...” Her voice trails off and she stares at the open trunk seeing, perhaps, something that has never been inside.

Walt coughs into the silence. “Sure smells - sweet up here.”

“Sweet?” Mama says. “The attic?”

“It does” says Megan. “You got a sachet in there, Mama?”

“I suppose there is.” She continues to work her way, carefully, through the layers. “Hm. I haven’t even been up here in I don’t-know-how-many years, much less gone through the trunks. But I’m sure it’s in here, Meg. I know I wouldn’t of thrown it out.”

“It’s in there, you’ll see.”

“I just wanted you to know where it was so when you --- Here.” Gently, Mama lifts a tatted christening gown and lets it fall open.

“Oh, Mama; that’s beautiful,” says Megan.

Walt nods. “It sure is.”

“This was yours, Meg,” Mama says, “and before you, Nancy’s; and Danny’s.” On her knees she clasps the gown to her lap and looks vaguely at the open trunk. “You r’member Danny at all, Meg?” she asks.

Megan half-nods. “Only a little” she says. “He was tall.”

“He was” Mama says. “He was tall.” She hmms once and sighs. “He loved babies. I’d’ve been a grandma six times over by now, ’stead of about t’ be the first time. This’d be all wore out.” Walt laughs gently. “He was so pretty in it” says Mama. “So were you; and Nancy.” She laughs. “And you all slept right through it, the whole thing. Sound as snails!”

“That’s still how she sleeps,” Walt says, and Megan laughs. “Walt!” she says.

They all smile. Then Megan asks: “How is Nancy? You heard from her lately?”

“Oh, a little now and then” Mama answers. “She’s fine. She took the bar exam last month, the results’re due any day. Thinks she did fine. Still likes livin’ in Atlanta. Wants me to visit her there.” Mama laughs, Megan and Walt smile. Mama has never liked cities, just as they don’t. Nancy couldn’t wait to get to one.

They eat an early supper in front of the fireplace, Walt and Megan seated on stacked cushions on the hooked rug, Mama in the big rocker.

“ ... Sure is nice, eatin’ in here like this” Megan says.

“Really good supper, too.”

“Thank you, Walt” says Mama. “Always felt more homey, havin’ supper in the livin’ room with a big fire goin’; ’stead of sittin’ up straight at the table. Course, I always liked this rocker; most comfortable chair in the house. Daddy thought so too.”

The brass frames on the mantel shine with the fire’s reflection; the pictures in them are almost as yellow as the flame. Most are in black and white, a few are in color: Walt and Megan’s wedding portrait, the girls’ graduation photos, Danny in uniform. “He sure looked handsome in that, didn’t he” Mama says. “He did” Walt says. “He got that took the day he got his stripe” Mama says. “Less’n a month after he enlisted.”

“That’s real quick. He must’ve been real good,” Walt says.

“Uh-huh” says Mama. “He sure was.... Hard to believe he’s been gone sixteen years.”

“I was four” says Megan. Mama nods.

“You were four” she says. “He’d of just turned twenty when the telegram ...” She rocks in the chair, rocks.

“Mmm” murmurs Walt.

“Well” says Mama. “It’s almost six. I’ll get the coffee.”

Mama brings them coffee and sits in her walnut rocker. “You’ll have t’ come here more often now” she says, “so I can take care of you when Walt’s workin’.”

“Oh, he’s never away overnight, not any more” Megan says, and Walt nods.

“Not since the new store opened” he says. “They put the offices right next to it. I’ll only have to go to Richmond once, maybe twice, a year.”

“Would you like to come stay with us a while?” Megan says. It is a matter of form; they ask often, Mama always says no, she likes the old house.

This time Mama says “Maybe; when the baby’s born, maybe. It’d be good for me t’ be around.”

The phone rings. Mama goes to answer it and Megan lies down, her head on Walt’s lap. He strokes her stomach. She lays her hand on his and traces the swelling with it. “Mama looks tired” she murmurs.

“What?” Walt says. “Hm?”

“It’s Nancy” Mama calls from the kitchen. “She passed the bar.”

“That’s wonderful” Megan calls back.

“Great” Walt calls.

“Come talk to her” Mama calls. “Tell’er your good news.”

When they come into the kitchen, Mama is listening and nodding her head, interjecting periodic Um-hms into the telephone. After a minute she says “Well, here’s Meg and Walt, they got something t’ tell you” and hands them the phone. They share it, foreheads touching. Mama stands by the kitchen door, smiling.

Nancy says “Congratulations” and asks “What are you going to name it?”

“Why, we haven’t thought about names” Megan says, “it won’t be here for ---”

“We’re going t’ name it for Danny” Walt breaks in. “Danielle if it’s a girl.”

Megan looks quickly at Mama, then cocks her head and lifts her brows at Walt. He arches his brows back at her. She nods.

“Yes” she tells Nancy. “We are.”

When they come back to the fireplace, darkness has fallen outside, the smell of rain seeps through the seals of the aged windows. Mama is in her rocker, sipping coffee, holding a photo. The wind whistles softly through the dim, into the chimney, a soft night song; the rocker creaks, back and forth, back and forth, the fire crackles.

“You okay Mama?” Megan asks.

“Oh, yeah” Mama says. “Just, rememberin’, is all....” She sighs, then smiles, stands and carefully replaces the picture on the mantel. “Well. It’s gettin’ late. Y’ got t’ be at work real early?”

“Yeah” Walt murmurs. “Prob’ly ought t’ go b’fore it gets too dark. Roads’re slippery.”

“You drive careful, Walt. And you call me when you get home.”

“It’ll be kind of late” Megan says.

“That’s all right” says Mama. “I won’t be goin’ t’ sleep for a while, yet. Not for a while.”

Mama hugs them both at the door and watches through the screen as they climb into the car. They wave as the car pulls out and they drive away. Mama waves back. Then she closes the door and sits in the rocker with her coffee.

For a long while she rocks, looking at the dwindling fire, the mantel, the still-stacked pillows; the mantel again. When the phone rings she answers it, then returns and rocks, rocks... “Danielle if it’s a girl” she murmurs. When she decides to go to bed, the coffee is cold.

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