the blush

There is a woman at the cafe with a new baby, one that's still purple around the ears and sleepy. He's tucked against her breast, knees folded, fingers kneading, as if he is still in the honey-sweet sea of her womb. He's half here. An in-between place.

She looks beautiful, and she feels beautiful, though she is surely still bleeding, though she is surely still sore around the hips and painted with the kind of exhaustion that only comes with the arrival of needing new life. The happy haze of motherhood is lifting her tired eyes and turning her cheeks a tender pink. She has been well cared for, this mother. Someone held the slow breathing babe this morning while she washed, and pressed her hair, and painted her eyelashes a deep black. Someone heated oats on the stove and leaned into her and said, "You're doing well, I am proud of you." Maybe a husband, or a lover, or her own mother. Someone. Someone.

Her friends have joined her, one on either side. They sing like doves and place warm hands against the sleeping babe, against the tender skin of the mother, her hair, her face. One takes the child in her arms and rests his cheek against her shoulder. She rubs his back in slow, neat circles. The other fills cups with water and ice and pulls from a paper bag summer berries, thick cream, slices of bread and cheese.

How loved this child must feel, cradled against the shoulder of his mother's keeper. How loved this mother must feel with new fingers reaching, with new heart swelling, with soft and familiar hands to touch, to heal, to warm.

There is such a beautiful color that blushes the mothers who are not alone. I felt the way it spreads, thick like butter, from time to time. During the first months with Aspen. But there could have been more. I could have asked for more. I will ask for more, this time.

I wonder how we may all be privy to such care - how we may all become blessed with a mother's keeper. The kind of whole-being nourishment that is a right to all who birth, to all who carry beneath tired hearts and in the nook of tired arms.

In the cafe, watching this new mother like an old dove on a branch overhead, I am more inspired than I've ever been. This is a right. This is necessary. And to all mothers, somehow, I will make it so. 

the noise

In my left ear, there are lyrics humming: Someday soon, you and I will both be gone. Lately I can't help but think that the love we feel will live on. And my right ear, the sound of a fan in the window, a dove softly whistling in the oak canopy, beyond that, a car moving from one street to the next, the stray cat stepping over dry leaves, a cricket, the sound of the moon. Aspen sighs. I hear that, too, somewhere greater than my ears. I can feel her sleeping, though I cannot reach her.

The world has been mighty and loud lately. There is noise all around me - within, and without. A toddler crying over which spoon she ought to use, the sound of a car starting, stopping, starting again, doors clicking shut, fingers tapping, the hammering heart of the babe beneath my breast. I feel like it's too easy to become swallowed like a pill by the sounds that surround us. All of them, all at once. Especially after the yawning start of motherhood. Especially as a business owner, as a worrier, as a day-and-night worker, as a woman, as a man, as a human being.

I have been trying to remember the moment she told me, "You need to find the silence beneath the noise. It's always there, you know. Just lift the edges, peel back the layers, dissect and flay each sound like the peel of an apple. Find the center. There. Within. At the root, the beginning. Silence."

And it's working. Sometimes we wake up, and we're awake - all of us, every inch - and we have to cling heartily to that awakeness like a barnacle on the rocks beside a great sea. Right now, I am awake. And now, I will practice. I will practice to stay this way.

We have moved. All of our boxes stacked neatly in the garage of my mother-in-law's home. We have moved, and we are floating now, waiting for the next home to rise up from the horizon. We are feeling better. I am feeling happy. 

tommy

The next time she saw him, there was hair on his chest and he called himself Thomas, rather than Tommy. 

He washed his face in the bathroom and opened the window above the bed. City sounds soaked the morning light and spilled like honey into the flat. From ten stories below, one stranger called out to another: “I love you! I’ll see you soon!”

She sat up on an elbow under the covers. “You know, I almost asked you to be my boyfriend when we were in eighth grade. I took the note out of your locker before you could find it.”

He laughed. Her name filled his mouth and he spoke it aloud carefully, quietly, as if it were something that might turn to smoke and disappear out the window. “Think what might have happened if you hadn’t taken it out,” he said. 

“Not this. Not last night.” She shook her head. “The universe doesn’t work like that. Everything happens for a reason.”

The last time she saw him, it had snowed overnight on the football field. She was on the second story of the Foreign Language building, looking down. And he, there, boots pushing through fresh powder, looking up. She waved. He smiled.

“I was going to write your name in the snow,” he said. He tucked his body back under the blanket and folded himself over her. 

She found a rough patch of skin on his elbow and kissed it gently. “I’m glad you didn’t.”

the fan in the bedroom

this morning, during a nap that fell upon her too soon, I told you that I was terrified.

"my love, I've given birth to a physical manifestation of my own anger. she's so unhappy. every morning she wakes more tired than the last, curling her fingers around my skin and asking for me, wailing my name over and over and over again."

you tucked your hand beneath my chin and said, "you're wrong."

in the bedroom, a fan turned and a salt lamp glowed like a light pink eye and there she was breathing, in and out, beneath a thin sheet of white. she sleeps.

she's been waking at six, at five, at four in the morning, not ready but not able to coax her baby limbs back into slumber. and I try to help her. I pat and I sing and I whisper, but without a mother's milk, she turns in her skin and crawls to the door and paws at the handle. morning before the sun. my eyes burn.

"you're wrong," you said. "she's just an incredible mix of us both. she's not wildly unhappy. she's all of my seriousness; she's all of your emotion. she is troubled already by the things that she doesn't understand, by the things that she remembers from lives before. she is older than you and I. and she is difficult, but she is ours."

I tucked my knees to my chest and listened for the sweeping sound of the fan in the bedroom. she sleeps. one hour, two, two and a half. the longest nap that's cradled her yet. I closed my eyes, felt your hand against my waist. and sleep came to me, too, like honey, like wine.

a night not meant for sleeping

She has decided that there are nights not meant for sleeping. She lays flat-backed against the mattress, thin stomach slowly moving up and down. Her eyes open, blink hard, adjust. She wonders what, then, nights such as this one are for. 

It’s raining. The quiet kind of rain. The kind you might walk in with a lover, both bodies tucked beneath the spines of an umbrella, knocking elbows, trying to keep the other’s hair from getting wet. She counts the times that the streetlight outside the bedroom window flickers like the tail end of a lightning bug - eight, nine, ten. She counts the inhalations and exhalation of the body beside her. In-out, one. In-out, two. 

Her hand finds his side and she rests it against him gently, like you would a stack of things that are about to fall. She whispers, I love you, and then slides her body from the bed. The screen door knocks against the frame. She fumbles at the lighter on the railing, flicks the metal once, twice, holds the flame to the bottom of a cigarette. A charcoal sky has opened wide and pushed the clouds to the west. The pavement smells sweet and blackened like burned pancakes, the humid air as thick as syrup. She can see the smooth outline of her neighbor sitting on the second stair of his back porch. From across the fence, he strikes a match against the brick and his face turns the color of honey. He looks up, nods at her, looks back down. 

A night not meant for sleeping, she thinks.

She takes the phone from her pocket and dials a number, slowly, deliberately. Two hundred miles away, he answers.

“I can’t sleep,” she says. She leans against the house and watches the hallway, in case the man in the bed has woken to find that she’s gone.

“Neither can I. But you knew that. It’s been a while. How are you?” She hears him putting a kettle on the stove.

“Really, really good,” she says, and she means it. “I’ve never been so content. I’ve always felt like running until just recently.”

“That’s really good to hear.” He sits by the window. She can hear the city, the stopping and starting of the night busses like a low moan, the hiss of a gutter, someone yelling in the street.

“Bring the phone closer to the window,” she says, “I want to hear the night there.” And he does.

He pours water from one container to another. She hears him take a drink. After a while, he draws in a breath. “I’m moving to China,” he says. The words fall from his tongue, as if he is commenting on the weather.

She moves a hand to her throat and closes her eyes. Two weeks ago, she was in the city. The man in the bed bought her ramen and tea, and they listened to bluegrass in the meadow. There must have been a hundred thousand people in the park that day, bodies like water, swaying and heaving as a fiddle and a cello spoke sweetly to one another on the stage. The man in the bed held her hand and sang along, but she was standing on her toes, eyes moving left and right and left again like a ship captain surveying the sea. “Who are you looking for?” The man in bed had asked, and she shook her head and said, “Someone I used to know.” 

Spine curved against the wooden siding, she swallows. “I’m never going to see you again. Are you getting married?”

He laughs softly through his nose. “No. I love her, but it wouldn’t work. I’ll be back. Maybe in three or four years. I’m going to live around, you know how it goes. I’m still looking for what I’ll be doing with the rest of my life.”

Her neighbor rubs the end of his cigarette on the stair and moves back inside. Overhead, a ribbon of clouds pass over the moon and a thin rain begins to fall again. She watches the dry spots on the pavement turn black.

“What do you hope for?” she asks.

“A little passion for something.”

“What are you feeling now?”

He breathes. Outside his window, someone laughs. “Not too much of anything, really. I’ve been all over, you know. Went to Tibet last summer, Peru and Paraguay the fall before that. But I haven’t felt anything - really felt anything - in four years.”

She checks the hallway again. “Has it been four years? My God. I feel like a stranger in my own skin when I talk to you, like I’m present in another life entirely.”

“Nothing’s changed, even though everything has.” he says. She hears the subtle sound of skin moving against a sheet as he lays back. 

“I’m going to be thinking about you, wondering about you, longing for you for the rest of my life. And just knowing that is strange. It’s like looking into the future. It’s the only thing I’m sure of.”

She hears him smile. He licks his lips. Softly, he shifts the phone from one ear to the other. “We have something. Something that just seems to last and last and last. I love that you have a daughter and a little family but that’s – that’s something else. Our lives are so ordinary and good, but there is a profound and always present layer where I hold you.”

She is quiet. She checks the hallway once, and again. Swallowed by the night, she closes her eyes and reaches an arm out, as if the simple act of wanting may bring his body forward through time and space. He would stand before her, hold the curve of her cheek in the palm of his hand and run a finger over her bottom lip. And they would collapse together and disappear, just like that, the way two galaxies might when they finally brush edges in the sky.

His voice is hardly there, just a whisper now, two hundred miles away. “I’m afraid to see you, I think. Despite what you say, I think I could find that old, other part of you.”

She nods at the night. “Probably quicker than we would know what to do with it. I would fall apart.”

“Strange how I want both things.”

From inside the house, a floorboard groans. The man in bed is rubbing his eyes, fastening the buttons on a coat, searching for her. She slips the phone into her pocket without saying goodbye. The man in bed leans against the doorway.

“Can’t sleep?” he asks, wrapping her shoulders in a blanket. She shakes her head, and he smiles. “Come back inside. I’ll talk to you.”

She takes his hand and trails behind him. In her pocket, two hundred miles away, the closing of a window.