“Four days. That’s all. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Oliver drags his black leather carry-on down the garden path and onto the driveway, unlocks the doors of the rented Ford Taurus, and heaves the case into the boot.
Carefully, I lumber after him, even though we’ve already said our goodbyes in the house.
“Do you have to go?” I sound whiny and pathetic, even to myself, but I can’t help it. It’s better than lying on the floor and having a luxurious Jack-like tantrum, though, which is what I really want to do.
“I wish I didn’t, love. But it’s the last trip before the babies come. Promise. After that, I’m grounding myself.”
He drops a last kiss on my cheek, then opens the driver’s door and sits behind the wheel, peering at the rental car’s unfamiliar dials and levers.
“I’ll text you when I get to Seattle. You’ll probably be asleep, though. Look after the four of you,” he says.
With a wave and a beep of the car horn, he’s off to Logan Airport.
And here I am, again. On my own.
* * *
Evenings are long when Oliver’s gone. Anita says she loves it when her husband’s away, but I must be very needy or something, because I detest having only my own company plus that of a three-year-old who isn’t yet fluent in the English language. Jack, exhausted by a busy day of Lightning McQueen role-play (I really should start charging Pixar for advertising) is in bed by seven, so, rather than watch hours of TV commercials interspersed with the odd five minutes of American Idol, at eight o’clock I’m in bed with a cup of tea and the eReader Jack gave me for Christmas.
The great thing about eReaders is that there are lots of cheap books to be had, all without venturing from the comfort of your armchair. There are even free ones, if you care to read the classics. Now, I’ve read and enjoyed my share of Tolstoy and Dickens, but as my due date gets nearer, I can feel my brain turning to incoherent mush, so any reading material now is light, romantic frippery. All light, romantic frippery involves tall heroic men (in touch with their feminine sides of course) and women who pretend to be modern and feisty, but usually show their true colours by shagging the bad boys from their high school days who used to torment them for being fat. You know your brain is mush when you’re not outraged by this scenario.
It doesn’t really matter what I read, though, because after ten minutes, I feel my eyelids drooping, and I shuffle down under the duvet with an assortment of strategically placed pillows.
Just for once, the babies aren’t having a private rave party. The full moon is under cover of cloud, and the dark outdoor silence is only enhanced by the chirruping of crickets, who arrived early this year.
I shut my eyes. The world fades.
* * *
Four hours later, I am awake again, with a burning desire to listen to a 70s disco playlist, clean out all the cupboards in the junk room, and scrub the bathroom grouting with a toothbrush.
This phenomenon is known as “The nesting instinct” and is a bald reminder that humans are, in fact, animals, however sophisticated and evolved we pretend to be.
It’s also happening too soon. I’m about 32 weeks along now, and pretty sure I didn’t hit this stage with Jack for another month or so. Could it be that Megan and Sam are going to arrive even earlier than Dr. Gallagher predicted?
The thought gets me both excited and nervous at the same time. The twins sense this, and start hacking at each other’s shins.
Sleep is impossible now.
* * *
American houses have wonderful cupboards — sorry, closets. They’re the size of English spare bedrooms. They hoard clothes you won’t admit will never fit again; started-and-abandoned craft projects; paperback books you will never reread, but Brits just love hanging onto their books; lightly used sports equipment; and outgrown, slightly chewed baby toys.
This last category is what I’m looking for. Somewhere in this cavern of a closet lurks a baby bouncer, a mobile, an activity centre, one of those little horseshoe beanbag cushions, and all sorts of goodies for the frugal second-time mother. When Maggie and I went shopping the other week, I picked out two of everything to be fair to the babies, but was so horrified by the total at the checkout that I returned much of it a few days later. I figured that newborns aren’t likely to get a lifelong complex if one has a brand new, wind-up, musical, Peter Rabbit mobile and the other has a few moth-eaten dangling teddy bears.
I find the boxes quite easily, and begin to haul them into the bedroom where I can sort through them in comfort. As I shuffle the first one across the floor, side to side, it knocks something over, and I squat down to prop the object back up again.
A badminton racquet cover. I remember unpacking it in July, looking inside, and finding something that, unbeknownst to me, Oliver has treasured for nearly thirty years: a 6th birthday card from his absent father, who at that point had supposedly run off with a local librarian, with never a thought for his wife or 6-year-old son.
Once again, I unzip the racquet cover, take out the birthday card.
“Dear Oliver — so sorry I can’t be with you on your big day. See you very soon, Tiger. All my love, Dad.”
Nope. It still doesn’t sound like a message from a father who has run off with a local librarian and doesn’t intend to come back.
Far more likely that Sandra has told Oliver a surgically enhanced version of the story; the truth, though, is probably vastly different. It sounds, I think with a sudden chill, as if her husband was away for a short time that coincided with Oliver’s birthday.
A business trip, perhaps.
Pondering this, I push the box of Jack’s baby toys into the bedroom and sit down on the bed before pulling back the packing tape to open the box.
Inside is a time capsule of nearly four years ago: the blanket we wrapped Jack in to bring him home from the hospital, the plastic identity bracelets, now cut, that encircled newborn Jack’s wrist and ankle. A pair of bootees, knitted by my mum for her first grandchild. A pristine copy of The Times, dated May 13, 2008. I remember hearing, later that day, that China had had its worst earthquake for thirty years, with thousands feared dead, and I’d felt guilty for being so happy while so many were suffering.
And Oliver. What had he felt that day, I wonder? Had I bothered to ask, in my post-birth euphoria?
Happiness, of course, that he was able to be with his new son as he began life; determination, I hope, that he would stay with him until it was Jack’s decision for him not to do so; sadness, I imagine, that his father was not around to share in this family event.
My mobile phone trills a blues scale: a text from Oliver.
Just arrived at hotel, it says. Miss you.
Miss you too, I text back, and within half a minute, the phone rings again.
“You not in bed yet, babe?” Oliver’s voice is comforting in the silence of the night.
I explain about the cupboards and 70s disco music cravings. He laughs.
“I remember this bit,” he says. “Which is it getting the nesting instinct treatment? Pantry or utility room?”
“Spare bedroom closet,” I reply.
A missed beat at the end of the phone, as he recalls what is in that closet. “You’re not throwing any of my stuff away, I hope.”
I hide a smile, even though I know he can’t see me. “Not even the box of squashed ping pong balls. Don’t worry.”
“That’s good. Having a clearout is fine, but you can go too far with these things. Look, why don’t you get back to bed now? You need your rest, and if I’m honest, I need mine, because it’s been a sod of a day. Nearly missed my connection in Salt Lake City, and—”
“Oliver,” I interrupt. “Do you ever think about your dad?” There’s something surreal about a conversation that crosses time zones in the wee hours; it makes you say thing you ordinarily wouldn’t. If there’s a no-go area in our marriage, it’s Oliver’s father.
Another pause — surprise? Anger? I wait. Would Oliver answer?
“Never.” Oliver’s voice is casual, cool. “Not since the day he left.”
You know, I’ve heard that casual, cool tone before. I’ve used it myself as a child, after a slap on the legs from my mum. “Didn’t hurt,” I’d say, bracing myself for another slap that would sting twice as much.
It’s the tone of defiance, of buried hurt feelings. A lie, in other words.
“Go to bed, Libs.” He sounds gentle now. “You must be tired.”
“I am. I think I will…Love you too,” I say, and click to end the call.
But against my better judgment and Oliver’s exhortations, I don’t go to bed right away.
Instead, I head for the computer. I log into Facebook, click Search, and type a name I’ve seen many times over the last year, on Oliver’s birth certificate.
Dean Patrick, I type.
It’s four a.m. before I eventually get back to bed.
Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #44 – Past imperfect, perfectly tense
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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigit