Writes of Spring
©2004 The Angst Guy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: email@example.com
Synopsis: Winter changes to spring (and more changes come to light) in the little home of two Boston college students in this, the seventh tale in the “Pause in the Air” series.
Author’s Notes: “Writes of Spring” is the seventh of the “Pause in the Air” tales, taking place in an alternate universe in which Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane are married lesbians going through their first year in college in Boston—while expecting a baby! Details appear in the “Author’s Notes” of earlier stories. Previous “Pause in the Air” tales include (in chronological order): “Pause in the Air,” “Thanks Giving,” “Moving Day,” “Silent Night,” “Shock and Aww,” and “Family Affairs.” “Writes of Spring” appeared on SFMB in May 2004, just as Massachusetts began allowing gay couples to marry. Funny how things like that work out sometimes.
The bit about “handscapes” was borrowed from an earlier, unfinished, unpublished fanfic not related to this one. It was too good to miss.
Acknowledgements: My thanks go out to everyone who sent e-mails asking me to do another PitA story. It worked. I’ll try to do more soon.
The auditorium was filled with professionals in business suits who looked up as Jane Lane walked to the lectern and arranged her notes. She was going to tell them about art—her art, which was on display outside in the hallway. Strangely, the large room looked like the auditorium of her old high school in Lawndale, but it was supposed to be in New York City at a famous art institute. The institute’s name had slipped her mind, but it was important, she was sure of that.
Ready to begin, Jane looked down at the audience—and saw that it had changed. The businessmen were gone. The men and women in the audience were now dressed as farmers, tramps, construction workers, beatniks, and hippies. They were artists, the most creative people on earth, and they knew bullshit when they saw it. Jane’s throat closed up in fear. She could not pretend to know what she was doing in front of people who knew what real art was—and weren’t afraid to say so.
She took a nervous breath to start her speech.
“I have a question!” shouted a bearded man in the fourth row. He wore black nerd glasses, overalls, and a plaid shirt. In his hands, held high over his head as he stood up, was a scorched soft-drink can nailed to a crude plywood base. “Is this yours?” he said in cold disdain.
Is that really mine? Jane reeled in shock. Did I make that, trying to be like Andy Warhol? It’s awful! What was I thinking?
Everyone in the audience shouted at her in fury. “Another Lane!” someone cried, and everyone took up the call. She was just another Lane, another pretender, another flyspeck dirtying the crystal window of Art. She was not their equal and had no right to be among them. The thousands of artists in the auditorium mocked and cursed and laughed at her. A sudden wind blew Jane’s note cards from the lectern to the floor. She gasped and tried to recapture them with clumsy hands.
A man wearing a tuxedo ran onto the stage from her right. “You’re needed at home!” he told her. She had forgotten something! Something bad had happened! She was running now, up the sidewalk and through the door of her parents’ home in Lawndale, up the stairs to her old bedroom.
On her bed was a small bundle wrapped in a soft white blanket. Jane scooped up the bundle and held it close to her. Inside it was an infant who looked exactly like Daria Morgendorffer, complete with tiny round-lens eyeglasses and long, thick hair, though her hair was black and her eyes were gray. It was the newborn daughter of Daria and Jane.
The tiny girl gave Jane a reproachful look. “You forgot us,” she said.
And the infant withered into a dead, brown husk and broke apart in Jane’s arms.
Gasping for air, Jane Lane sat bolt upright in bed. She thought she had cried out when she awoke, but she wasn’t sure. With trembling fingers she wiped cold sweat from her face, then looked at the long, dark shape under the blankets beside her. Her beloved was still asleep. Thankful for that, Jane turned and squinted at the pale blue digits of the clock-phone by her bedside. It was Friday, 5:47 a.m., in the middle of a cold March in Boston. She’d had a nightmare.
Jane lay back on her pillow, then took a deep breath and held it, trying to relax. The nightmare came back. Grief overwhelmed her, and tears ran down into her hair and ears. My daughter is dead! My baby! She’s dead, and it’s my fault!—but she fought down the memory of the dreadful dream, blocking it and reigned in her sobs. She found the tissue box on the bedside table after fumbling around, wiped her nose and cheeks, then held her breath again for half a minute. Her heart rate slowed. By the time she let out her fourth breath, she trusted herself to be rational. It was time to get up and shower. The alarm was set for 6:15, she had a full day of classes, and going back to sleep again was impossible. Who knew what she would dream next?
Jane swung her legs off the bed, shut off the alarm, and got up, careful not to awaken her spouse. It was cold in the apartment with the heat lowered to keep their monthly electric bill down. Jane had taken to wearing a red cotton sweat suit and tube socks for extra warmth in bed, but she shivered as she shuffled across the bare wooden floor to the bathroom. Better this than that damn dream, she thought, feeling for the light switch and closing the door behind her.
A half hour later, her hair still damp from the shower, Jane was making a quick breakfast in the kitchen of the two-bedroom Boston apartment she shared with Daria. The aroma of chocolate-raspberry coffee drifted from the coffeemaker as she prepared toast. On the counter before her was a stack of notes and study sheets for the test she would take that afternoon over the history of Asian art. So much to remember, so hard to keep it straight. Had her brother Trent been right to urge her and Daria to skip college and stay in Lawndale? Her classes seemed like so much useless torture. Her stomach knotted up. How much longer could she keep her head above the academic waters?
On the positive side, she’d made it, alive and well, halfway through the second semester of her freshman year at the Boston Fine Arts College. Only two months of classes were left before finals, and then . . . summer school and more classes.
She picked up the mug of coffee and held it below her nose, inhaling its aroma. I’m not a failure, she told herself. I’ve got a shaky B+ average—better than I thought I’d be doing, better than my C average in high school. Even if I screw up a few classes, I’ll make it. I’m still worth something. I can do it. I can create something great. I know I can.
But . . . she was terrified that she would not. The projects she had so far created for her art classes looked rigid and forced; they met the minimum requirements, but they showed little of the promise she believed she had inside her. Worse, a creative block had stalled all her after-school art projects for weeks. Working on art on her free time was the last thing she wanted to do after coming home from BFAC. Perhaps her Muse was merely tired and dozing, soon to awaken, refreshed and ready to go.
Perhaps, however, Jane’s Muse was gone for good. Jane had a big project that needed to be completed for her still-photography class, but she’d been unable to think of a thing to do for it. The final day for turning in the project description was Monday. To her horror, nothing came to mind. She could fake genius for only so long before—
A door creaked down the hall. Slipper-covered feet thumped softly toward the kitchen. Jane looked up from her notes and set her coffee aside. “Daria?”
“Maybe,” said Daria Morgendorffer. Seven months pregnant and looking every minute of it, Daria waddled into the tiny kitchen in her bulging, forest-green flannel nightgown. She had gotten her long brown hair cut short and tinted the month before, but otherwise she looked much as usual. The tint brought out a slight reddish quality in her hair, making it a rich auburn. Jane thought Daria’s new hairstyle was almost identical to that worn by Daria’s mother, but she wisely did not say so.
Jane reached over and gave her shorter spouse a long hug and a kiss on the forehead, avoiding Daria’s big eyeglasses. “Why are you up so early?” she asked, talking into Daria’s hair in case either of them had a bad case of morning breath. “You don’t have to be at class today until ten.”
“Couldn’t sleep.” Daria pulled away and walked over to the small dining table nearby. She eased herself down into a chair, gritting her teeth as she did. “Your kid woke me up a little while ago. Annoying as hell.”
Jane smiled. “Like I say, it’s got your personality. Hungry?”
Daria nodded, looking hopeful. “Are there any Pop-Tarts?”
“No, no Pop-Tarts for you. No peanut brittle, either. You’ve overdone them both. Cereal, an orange, glass of soymilk—”
“Jane, please, just one—”
“—and toast and jelly. Low-fat jelly. I didn’t buy any Pop-Tarts at the grocery, and I found the ones you hid in the bathroom closet behind the towels. Locked ‘em up.”
Jane looked at Daria with sympathetic regret. “Doctor said no, Sunshine. I’ll peel your orange, if that helps.”
Daria sighed, looking downcast. “Wait until you get pregnant,” she grumbled, “and we’ll see how you like it.”
“Dream on,” Jane said with a smirk as she gave Daria her soymilk and cereal. “I’m not baking anything in my kiln for a while.”
Daria looked down at her cereal bowl. “Do I eat this with my fingers?”
“Spoon coming up. Napkin, too.”
“And a Pop-Tart,” mumbled Daria.
“And your mail from yesterday,” said Jane, reaching for a handful of letters on the kitchen counter. “You didn’t open it when you came in last night. Speaking of which, how’d the World Lit study session in the library go? You were out pretty late.”
“It went okay.” Daria took the letters and laid them beside her cereal bowl. “The group liked my cheat sheet. Everyone photocopied it. I ought to charge for it, but they’d just buy one sheet, copy it, and ruin the market.”
“It’s not a real cheat sheet, is it?”
“No, just a study sheet with everything condensed on it from the books and class notes, sort of like those study sheets I made in high school.” Daria took a sip of her soymilk, making a face. Regular milk was inclined to screw up her digestion since she’d become pregnant. She then poured milk from her glass over her cereal and looked around. “Where’s the sugar?”
Jane got a small box out of a cabinet and put it on the table along with Daria’s peeled orange. “Use this. It’s a sweetener I got that won’t—” make you fat “—it’s a lot healthier for you than real sugar. Try it.”
With a dark look, Daria opened the box and took out two sweetener packets, emptying them over her cereal. She spooned the result into her mouth, crunched it up, paused to evaluate the taste, and—to Jane’s relief—kept chewing. “Doesn’t suck too badly,” Daria said. She flinched, then put down her spoon and pressed a hand against her nightgown-covered abdomen. “He kicked me again. This kid never sleeps. I thought they were supposed to sleep a lot when they were in the womb.”
“It’s just the special way it has of saying it loves you,” said Jane with a grin.
“It’s just his way of saying he loves kicking all my major internal organs, you mean,” said Daria.
His way of saying . . . ? Jane turned away from buttering Daria’s toast. “What?” she said.
“It’s not that he loves me, he just likes kicking me.” Daria noticed Jane was staring at her. “What?”
“You said ‘he.’”
“Oh.” Daria hesitated, then sighed. “Yeah, it’s a boy.”
“A boy?” said Jane, eyes wide. “Wha—how—I mean, wha—I mean, how did you—how do you—?”
“I just know,” said Daria, matter-of-factly. “Mom was telling me the other day about how Quinn and I felt inside her, and while she was talking I could tell it wasn’t like that. It’s a boy.”
Myriad thoughts fought to be the first one out of Jane’s mouth. “Wha—d-d-did you, like, go to the doctor and, um, you know, get—”
“No. I can just tell.”
Jane made an attempt to continue fixing breakfast in a nonchalant way, but she kept dropping the toast when she tried to spread margarine on it. “So, you don’t really know if it’s a girl or a boy, you sort of—”
“Boy, definitely,” said Daria, and she returned to eating her cereal.
Jane put down the toast and walked over to the table, where she sat down next to Daria. She put a hand on her spouse’s back. “How long have—did you—how long—”
“Just since Tuesday night,” said Daria, still eating. “I sort of thought it was a boy before then, but when I was talking with Mom, I knew it.”
“Does she know?”
“No. Just you and me.”
Jane felt relief at that, but the shock was still deep. “It’s—it’s all so, so, so weird, because we weren’t—” She took a deep breath and pulled her hand back “—I know I’m not being very coherent, but I thought we were going to let ourselves be surprised when it was born, you know? It was a surprise, you know, to hear you say you know what—”
“I’m positive,” said Daria softly. After a reflective look, she looked down at her belly. “Active little guy, too.”
Jane reached for Daria’s midsection and gently pressed her hand against the green flannel. A moment later, she felt movement. It mesmerized her. A son. We’re going to have a son. Assuming Daria knows what she’s talking about. I never knew she had an intuitive side; she was always a thinker, not a guesser. Is it normal for a pregnant woman to know things like this? Guess I won’t know until I decide to get pregnant—yeah, right, assuming we ever decide I should do it and I could ever find a guy I’d want to—oh! It moved again! He moved! Our son. My son? Can I call him my son, even though it’s really Trent and Daria’s son? She wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for me, and I’m raising him with Daria, so it’s really my son, right? Like adopting? But not like adopting, because whatever genes Trent and I share are in him, too. He’s kicking me. My son is kicking me. We did this. We made him. We created a baby.
“Apollo, this is Houston,” said Daria in a deadpan. “Come in, over.”
“What? Oh, sorry.” Jane shook her head to clear it, and then stood up. She walked slowly back to the kitchen counter where she had been preparing toast and wondered what she was supposed to do with the bread and margarine. She wiped her eyes and picked up the butter knife. In the background, she heard Daria spoon cereal into her mouth, chew it noisily, and open an envelope.
“Another credit-card application,” Daria said. “This makes about a dozen so far this year.” Another envelope was opened. “Thirteen now.” Another envelope. “We still have just over seven thousand left in our bank account. Good old free-loving Aunt Rita. Oh, by the way, Mom said she and Dad were sending over another check, just in case we needed it. Maybe I should have told them about Rita’s little bribe, but—”
“No,” said Jane, finally done fixing two slices of toast. “Don’t tell her.”
“Don’t worry. I’d have to tell Mom why Rita was bribing us, and I don’t think I could stomach the consequences any more than you could.”
Jane walked to the table with the toast in hand, then realized she didn’t have a plate to put it on. She put down the toast slices, walked over to the refrigerator, took out the orange juice and put it on the table, then went to the cupboard and got a glass, which she put in the refrigerator. Walking back to the table, she stared down at the toast and carton of orange juice, without the slightest idea of what to do next.
“Are you okay?” asked Daria, watching Jane with interest.
“Sure.” Jane took the orange juice carton and put it in the refrigerator again, then took out her glass and put it on the table, empty, and sat down. She stared at the toast.
Daria braced herself against the table’s edge and got up. She walked around to the refrigerator, got out the orange juice, poured Jane a glass of it, then got two small plates, one for each toast slice, and put the toast on it. She gave one to Jane and one to herself.
“Thanks,” Jane mumbled. “Guess I’m not really with it.”
“Do tell,” said Daria, looking in one of the cabinets for jelly.
I remember the dream now, Jane thought, staring at her toast. I remember our daughter died because I forgot about her and Daria. I was so involved in my work, I went away and didn’t come back, just like my own father and mother did, and I was just as bad as they were. Am I going to be like that? What can I do? Maybe it won’t matter because I’m not getting anywhere lately anyway with my art. It’s all garbage and looks forced and isn’t saying anything, and I feel like it’s coming out of me like tin cans on a conveyor belt, processed for class and grades and not anything like what I want it to say or do or be. I really am another Lane, another hometown pottery-maker, color dabbler, a seller of wind chimes at county crafts fairs. Another screwed-up Lane with a spouse and a baby, and one day it will be just me alone, because I wasn’t there when my family needed me.
Jane felt a hand grip her shoulder from behind. She reached for it automatically but did not look around.
“Big test today?” asked Daria, giving Jane a kiss on the top of her head before walking back to her chair.
“Yeah,” said Jane dully. “Big one. Hope I’m ready for it.”
“You’re doing pretty well so far.” Daria picked up the last envelope, frowned, and turned it facedown on the table. She went back to eating her cereal.
Jane looked over with a flicker of interest. She reached for the envelope and picked it up before Daria could stop her. “This is from Inner Galaxy Magazine,” she said after looking at the return address. “Why don’t you open it?”
“It’s just a rejection,” said Daria glumly. “I’ve sent them six stories and they sent almost all of them back. Just leave it.”
Jane weighed the envelope in her hand. “This has more than one sheet of paper in it,” she said, shaking off her depression with an effort. “Either you open it now or I will.”
With an unhappy look, Daria reached for the envelope and opened it. Jane watched as Daria pulled out several sheaves of papers stapled together at the top. A cover letter came with them.
“What’s that?” asked Jane, but she already thought she knew what it was. It looked like multiple copies of a free-lance contract.
Daria stared at the cover letter with wide eyes. She flipped the cover letter back to read some of the stapled papers, then looked back at the letter. “Well,” she said, and then she didn’t say anything more.
Jane waited until Daria appeared to finish the letter, then put out a hand. After a moment, Daria gave the letter to her and began to read the stapled papers. Jane glanced at the beautiful letterhead on the stationery, showing a galaxy behind a female alien’s head, then went to the body of the letter itself.
Dear Ms. Morgendorffer:
Please accept our apologies for not getting back to you sooner. We’ve had a bit of an editorial bottleneck here at Inner Galaxy, but we hope to resolve it soon. At any rate, we have read your recent submission, “The Daughters of Memory,” and we enjoyed it very much.
“Was this the story you were working on last October after you did that story about the girl who got kidnapped by aliens and came back to earth as a brain-stealer? The girl who ate her dopey parents?”
“I remember this one, too. This one was good. I liked the main character, the one who . . . oh.” Jane focused on the letter again.
I rarely see such intriguing characters as Mem, though I confess I know nothing about memory palaces and some of the other mnemonic techniques you describe. My editorial assistants assure me you have your facts down correctly, but they want to know your sources, particularly whether you are using a book by Francis Yates for your information. You can take up the specifics with them at a later date. The background you posit for the future earth seemed a bit loose, scientifically speaking, but it was internally consistent and engaging, and Mem and her daughters dominate the story, so we’re not inclined to be picky.
“What’s he talking about? Your story made perfect sense! Everyone on Earth is made stupid by an alien stupid bomb, except Mem and her family, and what does he know about science, anyway? He’s just an editor! Who does he think he is, Carl Sagan?”
The story is much longer than our usual fare, and in fact it qualifies as a novella, not a “short story” per your cover letter, but after some discussion we decided to take it and run with it—under one condition. Can you allow the story to be split into two parts, one for the November and the other for the December issues for this year? If you are agreeable, it will be the main story for both months and will get the cover art for November, too. If you have any suggestions on where to divide the tale (I have my own idea but wish to hear from you first), please send them to me soonest, as I need to get the artist going now. We might use the same artist for both cover and interiors (to be resolved here, don’t worry about it).
“Holy shit!” Jane gasped. “They took your story—and for two issues, yet! Two issues! And you get the cover art! Holy shit!”
“Mmm,” said Daria, still reading the contract.
“How can you be so calm? You’re going to be published! Twice, with one story!”
Enclosed are three copies of our standard contract for first North American serial rights. Please sign all three, but keep one for your own files. Are you agented? If so, write back at once so we may contact your agent instead. Better yet, call—use the toll-free number below my signature, not the number on the letterhead. Proofs will be supplied to you this summer, probably in July or August. Details to follow.
Jane got up and leaned over to see the paperwork Daria was reading. A brief scan gave Jane all the information she needed.
“Seven hundred and ninety-six dollars?” she yelled, and she jumped up with fists clenched in the air and screamed, “YES!”
After dancing and jumping around the living room and knocking a pile of books off the coffee table, Jane stopped to read the rest of the letter.
By the way, I don’t recall seeing your name in print before. Didn’t see you at the Boskone SF convention last month, either. You live in Boston, Taxachusetts, right? Anyway, can you send along a short bio, about 100-150 words? We include a few notes about the author at the end of each story.
Thank you again for a superbly told tale. Got anything else lying around you care to send in? If so, address it to my attention and put “DARIA” in bold on the lower left corner so we can sort it out early from the rest of the slush pile.
All the best,
Mike “Nemo” Nowall
Editor, Inner Galaxy
“And you’re getting special treatment! Oh, God, this is great! I can’t believe it!”
“Mmm. They didn’t like my other stories. Why does he want to see them again?”
“Who cares? Daria, what is it with you? I mean, right, you can’t go dancing around like you are—oh, hell, sure you can!” Jane rushed to Daria’s side and tried to drag her to her feet. “Get up! Let’s dance!”
“I can’t dance! I hate dancing!”
“So do I! Who cares? Let’s dance! Come on!” Jane hugged her spouse and kissed her, getting poked in the cheek by the rim of Daria’s glasses. “Be happy!”
“I am happy,” Daria said in a flat voice. “But you smudged my lenses.”
“I’ll lick your nose if you don’t dance!”
Daria groaned in resignation and pressed her face into Jane’s shoulder as they hugged, shifting her weight from one foot to the other in the most pathetic attempt at dancing ever made by a human. “Okay, I have to stop,” she said after four seconds of torment. “Your kid kicked my bladder, and I have to go to the bathroom.”
Jane let Daria go after several more kisses and another hug. As her spouse waddled off down the hallway, Jane sat down at the table again to read over the contract Daria left behind. It was hard to believe that poking at a computer a few hours a night could net this much money. The contract looked like some of the art contracts passed around among BFAC students who had gained free-lance work.
Could I do this, too?
Jane made a skeptical face, but she continued to look over the contract and think about it. Writing was out of the question, but she thought she could snare some free-lance work illustrating various publications. If she earned enough, it would help them both in the long run. She’d painted a number of masterpiece knock-offs for an art gallery in Lawndale when she was a high-school senior, and the works had sold quickly—but it wasn’t her art, and all the money went to repair a collapsed gazebo in her parents’ backyard, smashed during the making of a music video by her brother Trent’s band. At any rate, the experience proved that free-lance work had value—possibly a lot of value.
But was it what she wanted to do with her talent in the long run? She hadn’t thought so then. What about now?
On one hand, Jane thought, free-lance work would let me stay home with Daria all the time, except for class work. I wouldn’t have to travel anywhere except on personal vacations. If I could snag some work, like Daria’s getting for her writing, it would sure help with our joint checking and savings accounts.
On the other hand, I’d never paint what I wanted to paint. That book-cover artist who visited BFAC last week said he was booked solid and hardly dared turn down work, so he could build his reputation. He didn’t even go on vacations. I’d always have to do what the contracts called for, painting scenes for someone else’s stories and never my own views of life and the universe and good and evil and all that. And I’d have to be the dead-solid best, the absolute top of the line to a steady stream of big-paying work. I’m just not there yet. But is money more important now, or saying what I want to say? I’m not getting anywhere as it is, so why not go the free-lance route? I could try, yeah, and I wouldn’t have to do it full-time, but—
“That must be one hell of a test coming today,” said Daria, sitting down again across from Jane. “Care for some diet strawberry jelly?”
“Uh, sure.” They finished their breakfast in silence as Daria picked up the letter and contracts to read them over once more. Jane finished first and carried her plates to the dishwasher, feeling depressed. What am I going to do with my life?
“Can you get me a pen, please?”
“Sure.” Jane fished one out of the utility drawer and handed it over, feeling a stab of jealousy as she watched Daria sign the contracts. Shame followed. It took a few moments to locate a stamp and an envelope large enough to return two of the contracts.
“I should scribble out a note for Nemo, too,” Daria said, looking around again. She gripped the table’s edge to brace herself and get up again.
“Wait, let me get you some paper.” Jane left and walked to the bedroom they both used as their creative space, picking up a notepad from her overly cluttered desk. A second stab of jealousy hit her as she glanced at Daria’s neatly organized computer desk. Daria had finally found her voice, perhaps—the one thing she had wanted to do since high school, when she had begun to write seriously. When will I find my voice? When? Tomorrow? Ten years from now? Never?
It was then that Jane saw the most recent issue of Inner Galaxy magazine on Daria’s desk. She glanced at the door, then walked over and picked up the issue, flipping to the front where the table of contents was. It was there that Jane also found the names of the magazine’s staff, subscription information, and free-lance guidelines for writers and artists. Snatching a pencil, she wrote down the name and address of the art director, tore the sheet from the pad, folded it up, and stuffed it in her pants pocket.
Back in the kitchen, she handed the pad to Daria. “Thanks,” said her spouse, and began to handwrite a note to the editor. She stopped after a few words and looked at Jane. “Should I type this? It’d look more professional.”
“He might like the personal touch,” Jane said. “Your handwriting is fine.” She frowned. “Of course, you might want to keep a copy of your correspondence, so—”
Daria put down the pencil and forced herself up on her feet. “I’ll type it and save a copy to the hard drive,” she said, waddling off to the creative room. “Damn it, kid, stop kicking me! You’re coming out in two months, so get over it!”
“I’d better go if I want to catch the bus to campus,” Jane called.
“You want the car today?” Daria called back before turning on her computer.
“No. It’s yours.” Jane visited the bathroom a last time, applied lipstick and a minimal amount of makeup, got her book bag, put on her boots and coat, and headed into the creative room to give Daria a goodbye kiss. She found Daria pecking away at her desktop computer with a bland expression.
“I love you,” said Jane, hovering over Daria’s head, waiting for her to turn her face up to get the kiss.
“Mmm,” said Daria, typing intently.
“Just a sec.”
Jane waited a moment more. She looked down at the huge bulge in Daria’s abdomen.
Our baby. Our son. What will we call you? Will I always be there for you when you need me?
Despite her heavy backpack, Jane knelt down on the floor beside Daria’s chair. “Turn around,” she said in a low voice.
Daria stopped typing and looked down at her blankly. “What?”
“Turn around and face me.”
Daria looked at the computer monitor, then looked at Jane and was on the verge of offering an excuse for why she couldn’t turn around just yet, but she read urgency in Jane’s face. She sighed and scooted her chair around to face Jane, who pulled up the bottom of Daria’s flannel nightgown to expose her bare legs and abdomen.
“Hey, it’s cold in here!” Daria protested—but she got up from the chair for a moment to let Jane raise the nightgown farther, and she held the hem up to her breasts. Jane closed her eyes and leaned down, putting the left side of her face against Daria’s pregnant bulge. Her arms encircled Daria’s waist. Someone in Daria’s belly moved against Jane’s cheek as if trying his best to touch her.
“A boy?” Jane whispered.
“It’s a boy,” Daria whispered back. She raised a hand and ran her fingers through Jane’s silky black bangs. After a moment, she noticed that Jane’s shoulders were quivering. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Jane’s head nodded but did not rise. Her arms tightened around Daria as she drew in a shaky breath and continued to cry without sound.
Worry filled Daria’s face. She waited until Jane kissed her belly several times just below the navel, and got up to wipe her red eyes on her coat sleeves. “Are you okay?” Daria repeated.
“Yeah. See you tonight.” Jane kissed her mouth, then turned away for the door.
“I’m okay.” Jane looked back and waved. Tears ran down her face. She sniffed and wiped her face with the palms of her hands. “A boy!” she said. “I’m already thinking up names. I guess having another Trent around would be a little too much, huh?”
“That’s okay with you, right?”
“What? Calling the baby Trent?”
“No, that it’s a boy.”
“Oh!” Jane looked started and shook her head. “No, that’s fine. It—you know, it was just finding out. It caught me by surprise. I’ve just been so used to calling the baby an it, and now it’s a he, and I guess it sort of got to me. I dunno. It made it real, I guess.”
Daria raised an eyebrow. “Made it real?”
Jane winced and smacked herself on the forehead. “D’oh! Sorry, that didn’t come out right. Just forget it.”
“I think I understand. It’s a person now, not an it.”
Swallowing, Jane nodded. She did not meet Daria’s gaze. “I’d better go.” She hesitated before adding, “I love you both.”
Daria looked at Jane for a long moment. “We love you, too,” she said softly. “Good luck on your test.”
Jane nodded and left the apartment. Freezing air stabbed deep into her lungs and hurt her throat. The fog of her breath curled around her aching face. The bus came on time, and she climbed its steps and was gone.
Daria waited until she heard the bus pull away before she picked up her computer keyboard and retrieved the plastic-wrapped Pop-Tart below it. She ate it in one minute flat, then continued with her letter to the editor. The peanut brittle taped to the bottom of her top desk drawer was still secure and would serve as the weekend’s sneak snack.
Ten hours later, at 5:30 that overcast afternoon, the bus came back. Empty-faced, Jane climbed down the steps. She rubbed a gloved hand over her weary face and trudged along the sidewalk toward the apartment, hoping her nose wouldn’t run until she got home. Almost all the snow was gone, leaving dead leaves and debris visible everywhere. The world was a wash of cold and colorless grays and browns.
It looks like my future, Jane thought—but it was hard to be too depressed. The weekend had begun. The test on the history of Asian art had not gone well, but there were more important things to be thankful for. It helped to forcefully remind herself of them.
She unlocked the apartment door and pushed it open. Warm yellow light and the smell of baking pizza spilled over her and filled her senses. She closed the door behind her, hesitating before she put down her backpack. Should I tell her that I’m planning to start piling up free-lance work? It doesn’t matter, I guess, but maybe . . . no. Not yet.
The toilet flushed in the bathroom. After a pause, the door opened and soft footsteps came down the hallway. “Oh,” said Daria, walking over. “I didn’t hear you come in. How’d the test go? Or does the way you look pretty much say it all?”
Jane hugged her and they kissed. “It’s been a long day,” she said into Daria’s hair. “It’s good to see my Sunshine again.”
They talked about their day as they ate their traditional Friday-night low-fat, healthy vegetable pizza—sprinkled with a good bit of high-fat cheese and hamburger to celebrate the week’s end. They both decided to wear green underwear but regular, non-green clothing on St. Patrick’s Day, just to be different, and agreed to get a large, live houseplant to celebrate the first day of spring, arriving the following week. When the weather improved, they would visit Boston Common and take pictures.
After dinner they watched “Sick, Sad World” and a rented comedy video that turned out much funnier than either had expected. Jane forgot her dark mood as she and Daria cuddled together under an afghan on the overstuffed couch, leaning back on the pillows with their feet propped up on the ottoman, laughing at a movie together for the first time in weeks.
Near the movie’s end, Jane leaned over and whispered an indecent proposal.
No reply came. Jane turned her head and squinted in the dim light. Daria was sound asleep, her glasses still on as she faced the TV.
You must have been more tired today than I was, Jane thought with a rueful smile. She looked down at Daria’s hands, curled up below her chin clutching the edge of the blanket, then sighed and snuggled closer to her lover.
What am I going to do? Jane asked Daria in silence. This is a bad time to start wondering if I’m heading down the wrong path with my career. I want to create whatever I want to create, just as you do with your stories, but school is overwhelming and I have no idea where my Muse has gone. I’m a dry fountain, an empty waterfall, a cup with dust in the bottom. All I have is you and our child. Who do I turn to, to find the right path to walk? Where can I go to find my own voice, just as you are finding yours? Thanks to your aunt, we have enough money for the time being, a little breathing space, but it won’t last forever. I want my art to make money, yes, but if I set out to do that on purpose, if making money is my only goal, all I’ve ever dreamed of doing will be sacrificed.
Her lips pressed together in a flat line. Is that a bad thing, though? Everyone in my family sacrificed the relationships they had with each other to have their own, uninterrupted artistic life. Mom and Dad ran off separately, my sibs ran off—except for Trent, but he slept all day and wasn’t really there when he was there. Did you know I might do that, too, when you married me, Sunshine? Did you trust me not to do it?
Is it a bad thing, then, to sacrifice my art for us, for my family? But I want to create! I have something to say, something to show! And I don’t know what it is!
Jane’s eyes closed. I have to be brave when there is no reason left for hope. I have to hold on when there is nothing left inside me to cling to. I have to believe it will work out somehow, that what we’ve created is worth it all, all I can give to it.
You are my life, Daria. You and our child, you are all there is for me.
Jane could not get close enough to kiss her spouse without bumping her shoulder and waking her. She leaned back, her eyes sad, and let her gaze roam the quiet room. Tiring of that, she looked again at her pregnant love and noted how small and vulnerable she was. One day we’ll both be gone, Jane thought. Who will remember us then?
She found herself looking at Daria’s enlarged abdomen, and she knew the answer.
A table light across the room illuminated Daria’s hands. At a range of only a few inches, her fingers looked like hilly ridges between great valleys. The knuckles were like smooth mountains, the backs of her hands the Great Plains.
They’re like landscapes, Jane thought, still more than a little sorry her indecent proposal would have to wait. She would have liked for her hands to have crossed those warm, lovely landscapes below the afghan, under Daria’s clothing. She looked at Daria’s hands and imagined herself to be so small, she could climb the back of one hand toward the summit on the nearest knuckle.
Jane blinked. She stopped thinking of sex and peered closely at Daria’s hands. She stared at them for a long time, thinking and imagining.
It was possible to get off the couch without awakening Daria, who was a hard sleeper of late. Jane tucked her in, then padded off in sock feet to the creative room and turned on the light. She looked through her sketchbooks at some old drawings she’d done in high school of her own hands, then hunted around for a picture book on Rodin’s sculptures. She found this unsatisfying and stood frowning in thought.
An idea came, and she went to the bathroom and took out a small plastic bottle of hand lotion. She smeared some on her hands, rubbed it in, then held her hands up to the bathroom lights and looked at her semi-gloss skin. Her fingers twisted and turned as she posed her hands in many positions next to her eyes, trying to envision her hands as landscapes, new environments that offered contact, communication, the chance to touch and be touched. Every person was a new continent, a world waiting to be explored. . . .
It worked. It would work better with someone’s hands other than her own, rougher and more interesting hands, but it worked. More shadows might help, too.
She wiped off her hands on a towel, found her camera and set it up on its tripod, then set up a couple of lights in the creative room and got the hand lotion again. She took a whole roll of experimental close-up shots of her own hands against a black background, then dropped the roll in a pouch and wrote out the label to have it developed at BFAC’s photo lab. She could get it in tomorrow while running errands around town with Daria.
That done, Jane sat down at her worktable and pulled out the project description sheet for her still photography class.
HANDSCAPES, she put in all-capitals handwriting, in the space for the project name. She filled out the rest of the form, making it up as she went along. One hundred photographs minimum, in black and white, arranged on black upright display panels. One hundred close-up photographs of hands as landscapes, Ansel Adams style.
She never once thought about her test over the history of Asian art.
At half-past two, she glanced at the clock and grimaced. She’d pay for this in the morning, but it was worth it. After closing up shop in the creative room, she turned the heat up, went back to the living room, and turned off the lights and TV. As she started to climb on the couch next to Daria, too tired to change into her sweat suit, she felt something crinkle in her pocket. She got up again and fished out the piece of paper with the name and address of Inner Galaxy’s art director. After a moment, she crumpled the paper and threw it away in the wastebasket under the kitchen sink.
She got back on the couch under the thick afghan, snuggling up to her lover. In the semi-darkness she listened to Daria’s breathing, slow waves coming in to the shore, and when it was time, she went down into the sea unafraid.
Original: 05/17/04, modified 11/21/04