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Oct. 15th, 2009

Ballet

Changing Seasons

She still didn’t have a name, seven days later.

“Really, Bill,” his mother had said back at the hospital, her voice breaking, “Can’t you come up with something? I don’t think they’ll let her leave without a name.”

He had said nothing, but stared at her levelly until she turned away, still muttering under her breath.

*******

He sat up suddenly in the night, disoriented and half-asleep. Slowly his mind focused on the shrill, rhythmic cry that had awoken him. He struggled to orient himself. Then he remembered.

Mechanically, he rose from the warm folds of his bed and shuffled into the next room. The baby animals that decorated the walls of the nursery seemed ominous in the dim moonlight. The mobile perched over the crib hung limp, defeated. He moved to the edge of the crib, grit his teeth and looked down. The wailer silenced and gazed warily back from her crumpled red face. She looked far too tiny for the vast crib. As soon as he saw her, his gut wrenched. To steady himself, he reached out to grip the cool, smooth edge of the crib. It jostled the baby and, startled, she began to howl again.

*******

That cry. The sound they had been anticipating for 40 long weeks. Alicia had staunchly refused to find out if it was a boy or a girl, insisting that she wanted to be surprised.

“We will be surprised!” he had tried to reason with her, “It will just be today instead of in 5 months.” She had laughed and shook her head. The ultrasound technician had shrugged at him.

In the Labor and Delivery Room, he had coaxed her through the worst of the labor with the promise that they would soon know the gender of the baby. It seemed to keep her with him as she pushed, sweat and screamed her way through labor. He remembered the doctor speaking low and urgently to the nurses in between snapping at Alicia to push. She had almost broken all the bones in his hand, but finally they heard the sweet screams and the doctor called him over to cut the umbilical cord.

When he returned to her side holding the tiny bundle, her eyes were closed and her breath shallow.

“It’s a girl,” he whispered to her.

Suddenly, an alarm from one of the monitors jarred him to his bones and a cacophony of activity began. The air had turned almost palpably tense and the doctor started barking orders. Aides flooded into room and a nurse snatched the baby from him and pushed him toward the door.

“Alicia?” he was bewildered and his arms felt cold and empty without the baby. From across the room he could see Alicia -- sweat stood out on her pale forehead and she was swarmed with nurses, but she smiled faintly.

“A girl,” he saw her mouth silently. They pulled the curtain and hid her from view.

*******

“Why don’t you let me stay the night, just to help you out,” Donna had asked, her red-rimmed eyes pleading – for what, he didn’t know. “That was the original plan.”

Yes, it had been Alicia’s plan to have her mother stay with them for the first few days, until they were able to get into a routine. But Alicia wasn’t here anymore.

“Donna, I really appreciate you offering,” he said, looking down. “But I think I’d rather be alone. Just to make sure I can …” he trailed off, unsure of how to finish the sentence.

She nodded and squeezed his hand. When she turned away, he thought he saw relief painted on her face.

*******

Within a moment, he was able to stand upright again. He took a deep breath and scooped the infant out of the crib. After she was carefully positioned on the maple changing table, he went through the unfamiliar motions of changing her soiled diaper while she waved her arms jerkily and kicked her legs with surprising strength.

When he had finished, he carefully folded down the front of the diaper so that it exposed her navel, where the scrap of umbilical cord was drying. He very softly ran his finger over the brownish piece of tough tissue that would soon fall off and be discarded. “The last piece of Alicia,” he thought. He had cut the cord that separated the two if them himself, back when it had been a slippery white coil that looked as though it couldn’t possibly belong to either mother or child. Funny, how something they had once shared would soon belong to neither of them.

The baby began to make the whimpering noises that reminded him she still needed to be fed.

*******

Alicia had been determined that their baby would be exclusively breast fed.
“It’s supposed to be really hard, not like they make you think in the movies and TV,” she had told him on a bright summer day as they walked hand in hand. Her white maternity sundress had ruffled in the wind and her long blond hair blew wild. “But I think I can do it.”

He had nodded in agreement, aware that he didn’t really have a say.

“Besides,” she smiled her wide impish smile, “Why would I want to get up at 3 am to mix and warm up bottles when my body is already making milk -- at the perfect temperature!”

They had laughed together in the sunshine.

*******

It wasn’t that he hated the baby. Far from it – he loved her more than he had ever thought possible, just like all the books said he would. But he knew that she would forever serve as a reminder of all of their past hopes and dreams. All that they had lost. And at the end, all that they had gained. He looked forward to the day when he could look at her without it hurting.

*******

The microwave read 4:12 am as he took a clean bottle out of the drying rack. The counter wasn’t without spills, but he managed to measure out the appropriate amount of formula and water and get the bottle capped while cradling the baby in the crook of one arm. By the time he heat up the bottle and tested the temperature on his wrist – was that right? Or just something they did on old sitcoms? – the whimpering had turned into little bleats of hunger. She latched on to the bottle greedily when he offered it and he collapsed onto the couch.

*******

“You don’t have any names in mind at all?” he asked skeptically when she told him she didn’t want to discuss baby names.

“Of course I have names in mind,” she amended. “There are lots of names I love. But I don’t think we should talk about them until we see her. Or him.”

“You really want to wait until the baby is here? You don’t even want to brainstorm names now?”

“Why, so we have months to argue over them?” she teased, resting her head on his shoulder. “I just don’t want to choose a name for him – or her – without seeing the baby first. What if we named her Vivian when she’s totally an Annabelle? Or Frank when he’s a Chester?”

“Chester?” he looked down at her with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, you know what I mean,”

“I hope so,” he replied, stroking her hair. “OK, we’ll wait. But I’m vetoing Chester right now.”

*******

Now that the baby was finished with the bottle, he stood and made his way to the bay window. He peered out into the back yard. It was fall and the big maple had exploded into a riot of color that looked eerie in the waning moon’s glow.

Alicia had loved the fall. She had reveled in all the traditions – apple picking, pumpkin carving, hayrides, raking huge piles of crunchy leaves to jump into. He knew that she couldn’t wait to make those traditions part of their family story.

He hated the fall. The sunny summer warmth tapered into early nights. The chilly air crept in at night and left behind frost patterns on the windows. And everywhere beautiful, living things were dying. The air outside was sharp with the smell of dead grass, flowers, leaves. Though he had to admit, gazing again at the ancient maple, the dying left beauty in its wake.

He looked down at the baby snoozing contentedly in his arms and smiled.

“Autumn,” he spoke her name for the first time.

Oct. 7th, 2009

Ballet

A Meeting

Always, my favorite is the running.

I know that my punishment as a man and as a Rebel is to suffer humiliation at having to train beside the Ides, these girls whose skill level exceeds mine in nearly everything. In the classroom, in combat, in mien -- they shame me. But despite all their efforts, I run faster. Knowing this makes me want to laugh, though I dare not in their presence. The harsh whistle blows and I shoot ahead, leaving a furrow of frustrated brows in my wake. I can read in the disapproving eyes of the Professors that tomorrow they will redouble their efforts to slow my pace to that of the Ides, but for now I can sense them dropping behind me on the long track.

My feet burn in the too-tight training shoes and my arms ache from the effort of pumping the weights fixed to them, but I smile in my pain. When I run, it is as if I can feel the wind in my hair. Irony tells me that this is exactly what led to the punishment in the first place. But if I close my eyes, I can pretend I am Out again. That my throbbing feet are slapping against springy moss and earth instead of a synthetic rubber track. That the sun is warming my eyelids instead of the incandescent lights of the stark gymnasium. That this wind in my face carries fresh and wild scents, instead of the same recycled air that every man has been inhaling for decades. The same air that everyone has breathed since the War.

The shrill whistle blows again and I can see that my sore feet have carried me to the end of the course and beyond. The Ides cross the finishing mark looking vexed. A scowling Professor dismisses us and the Ides stream into their room with fluid grace. I half-trot, half-limp to the small guest changing room with the pleasure of the run still buzzing through my blood.

As soon as I am out of sight, I collapse onto the bench and tear off the shoes that feel as though they will burst off at any second. I examine the damage and see that my instep is rubbed raw. Angry blisters have surfaced in the course of my day of physical training. I flex my foot and wince. Bad enough that I must give up a week to this punishment, but to become crippled as well? I sigh quietly and hope that my skin will become calloused by the time I am released. If they stay in this much pain, I won’t be able to go back to work.

I look up from my feet to catch a flash of white from the corner of my eye. One of the Ides has been watching me. Quickly, I drop to one knee in salute -- this is likely some kind of test of my loyalty to the Council. I stare at the veins of the green marble floor until she stammers, “You may stand and address me.”

I rise, thinking that this is the first time I’ve heard an Ide proclaim in the individual and not in the collective, when she gasps so loudly that I instinctively look to the door, expecting someone to burst in and take me away.

“Your feet!” she kneels to examine them and I instantly fall to the floor beside her. She meets my eyes inquisitively, her hand frozen delicately on my raw foot. I am propped up on my elbows and we stare at each other for a moment. I recognize her by her eyes, a darker blue than the rest of the Ides, but can’t remember her name. I know it’s something short and strong -- not unlike herself.

In a flash she remembers that as an Ide, no one must stand above her. She blushes and, dropping my foot, flies back to her feet. I follow more slowly, not waiting for her proclamation this time.

“It is the training shoes,” I tell her, careful not to meet her eyes. “I must wear the same style as the Ides.”

I choose my words carefully and try not to sound too irritated, but I can't resist throwing in the obvious: “They don’t fit.”

“I saw you limping,” she says, shoulders back and chin high. “I brought you these. I thought they might help.”

I hold both hands in front of me and she carefully places her gift into them. I turn over the sheets of soft material and raise an eyebrow without looking at her.

“Moleskin,” she states. “You may put it over your blisters for the rest of training. Your feet will not hurt so much.”

I hesitate, trying to decide whether to accept the gift. How could I not accept any gift that an Ide would choose to bestow upon me? But what if this is some kind of a trap for me? Or perhaps she is only using me to gain status points with her Professors?

As I struggle, she blurts, “See?” and lifts her flowing white robes, exposing her sandaled feet. Bewildered, I see the scarred marks along her insteps that match my own wounded feet. My eyes can’t help but stray to her gracefully curved arches, her delicate ankles, her pretty pink toes. Now it is I who am blushing as she grins and releases her robes to the floor.

“I had a hard time adjusting to the training shoes as well,” she confides. “I hope that the Moleskin will help.”

Before I can say a word, she has turned and disappeared. I am left staring after her in wonder.

Nov. 6th, 2005

Windy

Partially inspired by Before Sunrise

What is up from up?
Where do we go?
There are so many ways,
Side ways and back ways,
Over each other, through it, in.
But the way to take?
That's when we falter, that's what we seek.
Seek to seek and only be
Whatever it is that we preform
On a cold night at 42nd and 8th.
Glamour, eyelash, the curve of a thigh.
These are not who we are,
Or where we are going.
Sometimes we're a tear in the smoke
At a glistening club
And sometimes we're an embryo
Secretly floating and pulsing to a bass line.
We never know where we are
Even when we get there.
A laugh, the turn of a head
The step that steps you over the edge.
High over out lives, we still can't see,
We;re only looking through the fog
To meet the eyes of some other
Across the loud, crowded room.
When we dance we know
(we think)
The frenzy, the sparkles on lips and hair.
We watch the others and forget ourselves.

Oct. 11th, 2005

Dusky Flowers

(no subject)

A Dream to Track One

Pulse here
And curved, long body dwelling
Under wool and feather
Lamp bulb blinding my eyelid
My step becomes yours
Far away, under a star-loud sky
Wanders cobblestone streets
With no lamp light
Head down, there’s nothing to say
We are watching us
As the cars point their headlights home

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