Read February Online

Authors: Lisa Moore

Tags: #Grief, #Widows, #Psychological Fiction, #Newfoundland and Labrador, #Pregnancy; Unwanted, #Single mothers, #Family Life, #General, #Literary, #Oil Well Drilling, #Family Relationships, #Fiction, #Domestic fiction, #Oil Well Drilling - Accidents

February (5 page)

BOOK: February
9.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

This is a fine state you got yourself into, he said. You’re a piece of work, Missus, I’ll tell you that. What did you go and call me for, he said. I’m just minding my own business. My lucky day, this is.

He lowered Helen into the back seat—she clutched both his hands—and he lifted her feet in since she couldn’t move them herself, and he closed the door. The taxi was too warm and smelled of the wigwag of blue cigarette smoke hanging over the steering wheel and the pine-scented air freshener. Helen opened the door and threw up over the road. The driver jumped back out and ran around the back of the cab to hold the door for her. And then, careful of his polished shoes, he reached over and gathered up her loose hair and held it out of the way, his fist at the nape of her neck.

Nice one, Missus, the driver said. Heave it out of you, my love.

She swatted him away, so he stood looking off down the street until she leaned back into the cab, and then he closed the door and trotted around again to his door and got in. He tilted the rearview, and touched the cardboard pine tree hanging from a thread to stop it from twirling. When the pine tree was still he took his fingers away from it. Helen saw that he was rattled, and what was important to him was to appear composed, and he had better hurry up and get that way because they needed to go.

Then Johnny slapped his hand against the window.

Don’t let him in, Helen said.

The driver leaned over and opened the front door. Get in, my son, the driver said.

This baby is coming now, Helen said. She clenched her teeth and hissed, Now, now.

A slow stream of smoke poured from the man’s nostrils and the corner of his mouth.

Not in my cab, lady, the guy said.

. . . . .

Cab Ride to St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital, 1982

GOD, JOHNNY, HIS
mother said. Remember when Gabrielle was born?

John remembered the cab driver, with the greyest face he had ever seen and the most watery brown eyes. The eyes had squinted against cigarette smoke, and those eyes were calculating. There had been a school photo of a little girl taped to the dash of the cab. The kid was grinning like a maniac, her two front teeth gone. She had a red bow.

Years later, John had run into the guy at the Rose and Thistle and bought him a soda water. For a while the man and his mother had exchanged Christmas cards. In the pub, the man told John that he had gone to
AA
and become an electrician under the
TAGS
program. His daughter was going to sing at the open mike. John realized then that the man was a lot younger than he had thought back in 1982. Or this cab driver was the sort of person who could transform himself to survive. He could pull that sort of thing off. It was something John had thought at the time of Gabrielle’s birth—that the two adults in the cab had transformed themselves. He’d thought that his mother was possessed by the devil, or something more ordinary and worse. And if there was to be a guide through the evil spirit world it might be this man with smoke streaming from his face.

Seat belt, his mother had screamed. Then she screamed it again. The driver and Johnny looked at each other.

Put on your Jesus seat belt, the driver said.

John’s mother had thrown up in the car and in the elevator at the hospital. Bits of apple peel and a foamy pink spew that stank. She and John were separated as soon as the elevator doors opened. There were two nurses and a wheelchair waiting. They got his mother out, and she was sobbing and gasping for breath and telling them it was now, it was happening now. The elevator doors shut and he was still in there, and the elevator went down and it took a long time, and when the doors opened on the ground, there was his Aunt Louise. He stepped out of the stink and the doors closed behind him. Louise shouted his name.

What are you doing here, his Aunt Louise said. She slapped him on the arm. That’s for nothing, she said. Don’t try anything.

John pressed his face into her camel-hair jacket and hugged her so tightly he could feel her ribs moving with every breath. That’s enough, Louise said. Let’s get up there and see what’s going on.

Gabrielle was born as soon as his mother hit the hospital bed, she told him later, and the baby was cleaned up and swaddled and the bloody sheets removed before John and Louise came into the room. Louise had tipped back the tiny white receiving blanket and stared. She had put her face close to the baby, to feel the infant’s breath. Louise with her eyes closed.

Come see your little sister, his mother had said.

They’re calling my flight, John said now. I’ve got to go.

Now, listen, John, his mother said. Are you listening?

I’m listening, Mother, he said. He said
Mother
with a brittle irony.

What did you say to her? his mother asked.

The espresso was thick and textured, full of velvety grit. His mother would not be absolving him. He could feel her taking the side of a woman she did not know, taking Jane Downey’s side over her own son’s.

She was going to make him take responsibility.

Watching the red sun over a runway in Singapore, John felt tears welling. He was exhausted, of course, jet-lagged and trapped. But he was also relieved. His mother would force him to do the right thing, whatever that was. She would know. They had been through this before, in a way. His mother had been possessed that day in the kitchen long ago. She had a butter knife in her fist and her mouth was open, and her eyes got big and shocked and she looked like she wasn’t there any more. The sun struck the butter knife and made a square of jittery light fly over the table and flit across the ceiling. Her soul had fled and she had been taken over.

And she’d left him in the elevator. It was unforgivable. John’s father had already done the impossible: His father had died. What he had thought, moving towards his mother’s hospital room with his Aunt Louise: His mother must have died too. His aunt was holding a scrap of paper with the room number that the woman at reception had given her. Here we are, his aunt said. She rapped on the door, and then turned the handle and stuck her head in. John pushed in behind her. There was a bed in the centre of the room surrounded by a white curtain.

If the death of his mother was behind that curtain, John realized, he was unequal to it. He knew he was just a kid and that he should not understand about being unequal to anything. Most people didn’t have to face that kind of realization until they were well out of childhood; he knew all that. But he had learned too early that you could be unequal to your situation.

Helen, are you in there, Louise asked. John saw a shadow waver, stretch tall, and shrink as the nurse, behind the folds of the thin curtain, moved in front of a concentrated oval of light. Then the nurse ripped the curtain back with a pragmatic flourish. The metal curtain rings on the chrome bar above the bed sounded like the spill of a brook. A delicate tintinnabulation announcing something big. A strong white lamp with a chrome shade was knocked askew and the light hit John in the eyes. The white of the white light: he closed his eyes against it.

He’d seen, just for a few seconds on his closed eyelids, the shape of his mother sitting up in bed, a floating bright orange shape with a violet aura. Then he’d blinked and a buzzing darkness had rushed in from the periphery and dissolved, and the nurse had switched off the big lamp with a loud
snap
. It took only a few seconds, and then the fiery insubstantial outline of his mother became solid. His mother had been restored to John. She was his everyday old mother, only more haggard and happier.

Come and see, she said. John moved in close and knocked against the table on wheels lodged just behind the gathered curtain. There was a basin with the placenta on the table. A solid mass of purplish blood, and he smelled it too—pungent, mineral, ozone-tinted, fishy and rotting smelling.

Don’t mind that, the nurse said, whisking the bowl out of the room.

Over here, his mother said. Wet black hair, blinking black eyes, the tiny wrist with its hospital armband. Gabrielle had been his from that moment. She belonged to John. The little baby had been his to protect and love.

He was in the lineup now to board the plane. He should have called his sister, he realized, not his mother. Any one of his sisters would have been a better choice. But the mistake had been made. He was tired of the red sun, and tired of his mother.

How is Gabrielle, he asked.

She expects you to buy her a ticket home for Christmas, his mother said.

Gabrielle was in Nova Scotia studying art. She had made John a painting out of a red vinyl raincoat with the brass buttons still attached. It was ugly and he’d paid a fortune to get it framed and she had been pissed off.

Glass kills it, she’d wailed. You want to make it palatable. It’s not supposed to match your frigging couch, she said. John had been mystified and hurt.

Call me when you get to New York, his mother said. We’ll talk about the baby.

RENOVATIONS

A Blast of Wind, November 2008

WHY NOT LET
the boy have a jawbreaker, Helen thinks. Then there is a blasting howl of wind and the world is whited out. The skate blade touches the sharpener and the sparks fly.

Helen had been to Complete Rentals earlier in the afternoon to pick up a staple gun and sixty clips of staples. There was machinery in neat rows all over the floor at Complete Rentals and a woman in a grey sweatshirt served her. A sign on the wall, beside a real cannonball attached to a chain and shackle, said
RENT A TRIAL MARRIAGE.

So they were jokers, Helen saw, in the rental business.

The girl in the grey sweatshirt paused to look out the window. The snow required a pause. It hurled itself at the glass and the wind rattled down the eavestrough, and the girl said, Do you need a compressor?

Helen didn’t know about a compressor.

If the guy you got working for you never said nothing about a compressor, you probably don’t need a compressor, the girl said. They usually says if they wants a compressor. He’s putting down a floor?

A man strode out of a back office and also paused to take in the weather.

A silence occurred and then there was a siren, far away.

There’s a fire, or someone has had a stroke or heart failure, Helen thought. There was a spat of domestic violence or a holdup in the west end.

Last night she’d bought gas after Christmas shopping at the Village Mall, and it had been cold on her hands, working the squeeze nozzle. She’d gone into the glass booth of the station to pay and the young man behind the counter was reading
Anna Karenina
and he turned the book over on the counter regretfully. She saw the big Russian saga drain out of his eyes as he took her in. Helen and the smell of gasoline and a freezing gust of wind.

The coldest weather in fifty years, the radio had said. They would have snow. She had watched as the gas attendant dragged himself from a cold night in Russia, full of passion and big fireplaces and lust, back into the cold, lonely night of St. John’s to take Helen’s debit card, and she had felt motherly. The gas attendant was John’s age, she guessed, but he was nothing like John.

If there’s a compressor involved they usually says, the man at Complete Rentals agreed.

He didn’t say compressor, Helen said.

Is he a good carpenter?

He seems to be good, Helen said. She thought of Barry hooking the metal lip of the measuring tape over the edge of a piece of two-by-four, marking it with the pencil he kept behind his ear, then letting the tape skitter back into the case with a loud
snap
.

Then he got his own compressor, the girl said.

After the skate sharpening, Helen drives her grandson to a shop to buy a second-hand helmet. Children aren’t allowed to skate without a helmet these days, and at a red light she angles the mirror so she can see Timmy’s face, and his cheek holds the jawbreaker, round as a moon.

. . . . .

Water Everywhere, February 1982

SOMEHOW HELEN HAD
picked up the idea that there was such a thing as love, and she had invested fully in it. She had summoned everything she was, every little tiny scrap of herself, and she’d handed it over to Cal and said: This is yours.

She said, Here’s a gift for you, buddy.

Helen didn’t say, Be careful with it, because she knew Cal would be careful. She was twenty and you could say she didn’t know any better. That’s what she says herself: I didn’t know any better.

But that was the way it had to be. She could not hold back. She wasn’t that kind of person; there was no holding back.

Somewhere Helen had picked up the idea that love was this: You gave everything. It wasn’t just dumb luck that Cal knew what the gift was worth; that’s why she gave it to him in the first place. She could tell he was the kind of guy who would know.

Her father-in-law, Dave O’Mara, had identified Cal’s body. He told her this over the phone.

I wanted to catch you, he said. Helen had known there wasn’t any hope. But she felt faint when she heard Dave O’Mara’s voice. She had to hold on to the kitchen counter. She didn’t faint because she had the children in the house and the bath was running.

It gave me a turn, her father-in-law said. I’ll tell you that much.

There were long stretches in that phone call where neither of them said anything. Dave O’Mara wasn’t speaking because he didn’t know he wasn’t speaking. He could see before him whatever he’d seen when he looked at his dead son, and he thought he was telling her all of that. But he was in his own kitchen staring silently at the floor.

Looking at his dead son must have been like watching a movie where nothing moved. It was not a photograph because it had duration. It had to be lived through. A photograph has none of that. This was a story without an ending. It would go on forever. And Helen was trying not to faint because it would scare the living daylights out of the children, and besides, she had known. She’d known the minute the bastard rig sank.

BOOK: February
9.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Carbon Murder by Camille Minichino
Divorcing Jack by Colin Bateman
Save Me by Eliza Freed
Walking Into the Night by Olaf Olafsson
Desert Flower by Waris Dirie
Endless by Jessica Shirvington