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 (8 page)

BOOK: February
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She does not forget making love. She remembers Cal’s smell. What he tasted like. The texture of his hair and his curls and the freckles over his chest, and if he had been out in the garden the tan line of his T-shirt sleeves, how creamy his skin was above that line. She licked his belly at the top of his jeans. She licked the waistband of his jeans and his belt buckle and the leather belt. And then she undid the belt and the snap of his jeans and the zipper, and she put her tongue on his cotton underwear and then her whole mouth.

He made her come, and waited and made her come again; this went on and on, she remembers. She does not forget that. And she remembers his legs wrapped around hers and his feet digging into the bed and his face with his eyes closed and the colour coming up in his cheeks.

She listens for his voice or a sign or advice. But there is nothing. She lives through the disaster every night of her life. She has read the Royal Commission report. She knows what happened. But she wants to be in Cal’s skin when the rig is sinking. She wants to be there with him.

ONE AFTERNOON IN
that first year after Cal died, Helen left Gabrielle with her mother-in-law so she could do some shopping. The older children were with Louise. She took the bus back to Meg’s at the end of the day and she knocked on Meg’s door and waited, and there was no answer.

It was mid-October and her breasts were leaking and they were hard as rocks and her nipples hurt; one of them was cracked and bleeding. It was still warm that late in the season and she could smell barbecues somewhere in the neighbourhood, and she went around the back.

Meg had her laundry out and the garden had been mowed. The geraniums had dropped their coral petals on the dark green deck. It was very still in the backyard and Helen opened the back door and went through the house calling, and then she stopped calling. She could hear water running. Water bashing hard against a deep sink, and a washer was going.

She came upon Meg with the baby in the laundry room. Meg was holding the baby over the big sink, and she had the baby dressed up in a long white dress that hung down over Meg’s arm and a little beaded cap, and she had her eyes closed and she was praying with the tap running. Meg prayed and took a handful of the water and dropped it over Gabrielle’s forehead, and Helen crept out quietly, unseen, back down the hall, and she opened the back door, careful not to let the spring screech, and ran down the street and around the corner and waited. She came back ten minutes later and Meg had changed Gabrielle back into her sleeper and there was no sign of the baptismal gown. Helen unbuttoned her blouse and Gabrielle latched on fast and her other nipple squirted fine threads of milk all over the kitchen table.

I’ve got a nice stew, Meg said. I’ll heat you up a bowl in the microwave. It won’t take a minute.

I’d love a bowl of stew, Helen said.

That little girl was as good as gold, Meg said.

Cal had refused to have the children baptized and there had been a fight. He had refused. Meg had been angry and hurt. What harm, she had asked Cal, but he would not relent.

Gabrielle snuffled in and sucked hard and the other breast was dripping fast and there was a drop of blood, bright red, on her other nipple and it slipped down her breast.

. . . . .

Wedding, December 1972

HELEN THINKS OF
Cal’s hands on his coffee cup: big, clumsy hands. Cal was tall, six foot two, and there was a kind of grace in his awkwardness. It was the dumbstruck objects, the things that leapt into the path of his hands and arms and knees, that were entirely without grace. Cal was just moving, just getting through, loose-limbed and unwilling to take into account the corner of the coffee table.

On their wedding night he broke a full-length mirror in the Newfoundland Hotel.

He must have touched it, knocked it in some way, but it seemed to spread with cracks all by itself. Helen wasn’t looking, and when she did look there was mirror all over the carpet.

It broke by itself because Cal had glanced at it and all the bad luck to come was already in place. Everything was in that glance and it smashed the mirror.

Helen had left the reception in her wedding dress. She and Cal left their friends, and they left Helen’s new motherin-law in a shiny purple dress with a big corsage. Meg with her glasses reflecting the ceiling lights—this was at the Masonic Temple—and Louise smoking on the fire escape out back. Helen had wanted Louise to catch the bouquet. But Louise had been outside smoking.

They’d done the bride-and-groom dance at the beginning, everybody tapping spoons against their glasses, and they were out there on the dance floor all by themselves and Cal couldn’t waltz himself out of a paper bag; neither of them could. So he just draped his arms over her and they did a couple of shuffling circles, self-conscious as hell, with the lights roving over them, and then he went under her big skirt to get the garter.

She lifted the front of the skirt, yards of satin, and the place went up with catcalls and clapping and someone pulled a chair out to the centre of the dance floor so she could put her foot up on it. Cal got on his knees, inching the garter down, and the men were clinking beer bottles together, and Helen dropped the skirt over his head. She let the whole thing fall over him and he, like a clown, stayed under a long time, just his shoes sticking out.

He put his mouth on her. There on the dance floor. His head a lump under her skirt, and she put her hands on that lump, both hands. His fingertips just barely touching the front of her thighs. Stroking her thighs. He breathed hot breath through her panties while she stood there. She had to close her eyes. She played along, fanning herself like crazy, and everybody cheering and laughing. Everybody whooping it up. And when he came out he had the garter swinging around on his finger.

After a while, Helen wanted to go. She found Cal on the dance floor and dragged him out by the bow tie. She tugged one end of the black shiny bow and the thing came undone with a little
pock
and she seesawed it against his neck and he caught the end of it in his teeth, and then she dragged him, step by step, off the dance floor by the bow tie.

Everybody cleared a path and the band tapped the drums with each exaggerated step Cal took, as if he didn’t want to go, as if she were a temptress, as if this were it, the big night, and she was going to chew him up and spit him out and he was frightened to death. He made big terrified eyes and kind of growled, and then he leapt off the dance floor and the band drum-rolled and they were gone out the door and down the steps.

They had his parents’ car for the night, and how conspicuous they were, checking in at the front desk of the Newfoundland Hotel. Helen had a going-away outfit but they hadn’t bothered to change. The chandeliers and Persian carpets and a waterfall in the lobby. Cal’s tux with black satin trim on the lapels and the bow tie already undone and the shirt with the big frills, and each frill with a line of black piping, and the whole thing untucked because he hated the tux and couldn’t wait to get out of it.

They were just kids experiencing adult luxury for the first time, and it was a lark and utterly serious. Helen marvels at how serious they were.

Just twenty and twenty-one.

She was knocked up, but that wasn’t why they got married. Or maybe it was. They didn’t choose to get married; they did it for their parents or they did it for the big party or they did it because deep in some not-often-used part of their brains, they believed in ritual. Lapsed Catholics, they believed subconsciously that a wedding could weld them together. But they were already welded and Helen had missed her period and she’d told Cal and he’d held her.

Just put his arms around her, and she could tell he was wishing it wasn’t happening so fast. Cal wanted a little bit of time before they had youngsters, Helen could tell that.

But he didn’t say.

Wow, he said. Or he said, Great. Or he didn’t say anything. He moved his hand vigorously up and down her back as if she were a friend in need of consoling. A good buddy who had lost a big bet.

And she had put her arms around him, too, when she told him about the pregnancy. They had been standing in the kitchen. Cal’s sweater smelled of cigarette smoke and she pressed her face into his chest and felt the roughness of the wool against her forehead, rubbed her face against that roughness. This was his Norwegian sweater with the suede patches because he’d worn out the elbows and his mother had said, Leave that sweater with me. Let me fix those holes.

This was, Will you marry me? Or, I guess we should get married? Or there was a slight pause while Cal gathered himself together. After all, this was a baby. They were talking about a baby. For Helen, twenty years old had felt very old, very mature, but for Cal it felt as if the two of them were just starting out.

Wow, he said.

In the Newfoundland Hotel the bellhop scooped up Helen’s train to help her into the elevator. Someone winked. A businessman opening a newspaper on the couch in the lobby winked at Cal. Helen remembers the bellhop, careful with all the satin. He had a cotton ball in his ear.

The doors of the elevator closed quiet as could be and Helen put her hand on the ruffles of Cal’s shirt and pushed him back against the elevator wall and stood on tiptoe and kissed him, pressed against him; and the doors opened. There was an elderly couple waiting, and they saw her kissing him and saw the dress, and they took a step back and didn’t even get in the elevator.

Cal was so tall that sometimes in the kitchen Helen would stand on a chair to give him a proper hug. She would haul the chair over and get up and he’d turn from the eggs frying on the stove and bury his head in her breasts and put his arms around her and squeeze hard, and she’d kiss the top of his head. And then he’d go back to the eggs. He would always have the music blasting when he made breakfast.

Cal put the key in the hotel room door and opened it; the room was big and they looked out the window and they could see the whole city. It was snowing. Snowing over the harbour and the ships tied up with their rusting flanks and sharply curving bows and orange buoys piled up on the deck, covered with snow; and snowing over the white oil tanks on the south side Hills and the cars on Water street, their pale headlights catching narrow fans of falling flakes; and snowing over the Basilica. And the Christmas lights looped across Water street.

Then Cal inched her zipper down, all the way to the small of Helen’s back, where he had to jerk it because it was caught. He threw himself onto the big bed. Helen crunched the whole dress down, stamped her way out of the mountains of scratchy tulle with her patent leather spikes.

And Cal had glanced at the hotel mirror. His face with its freckles and sharp intelligence, and his gangly arms and unfamiliar clothes—he was naked beneath the tuxedo shirt, and he’d dropped the pants on the bathroom floor, the jacket over the desk—and his black curly hair and his big blue eyes, and the gentleness and humour in them, and all the lovemaking to come. Helen remembers the unadulterated energy it took to keep the enterprise in motion from that moment, one baby after another, and the jobs, the bills, snowsuits, dinner parties, disappointments—sometimes she had been immobilized by disappointment—nights on the town, staggering home in each other’s arms, dragging each other up the hill, and the stars over the Kirk, graffiti on the retaining wall; all of that was in the mirror in the Newfoundland Hotel on their wedding night, and—
POW
—Cal glanced at it, and the mirror spread with cracks that ran all the way to the elaborate curlicue mahogany frame, and it all fell to the carpet, fifty or so jagged pieces. Or the mirror buckled, or it bucked, or it curled like a wave and splashed onto the carpet and froze there into hard, jagged pieces. It happened so fast that Cal walked over the glass in his bare feet before he knew what he was doing, and he was not cut. It was not that the breaking mirror brought them bad luck. Helen didn’t believe that. But all the bad luck to come was in Cal’s glance, and when he looked at the mirror the bad luck busted out.

They didn’t even think about the mirror then because they were making love, and afterwards they ordered spareribs and put on the terry cloth robes and steamed up the bathroom, soaping each other in a shower so hot they turned pink, and they lay on the bed and tried the
TV.

They were just kids putting on a kind of maturity. Trying it on for size. No idea what they were getting into. Acting big.

But it was like Helen’s mother said: Get that look off your face or the wind will change.

Helen and Cal ate the ribs and had sex and let the heavy door close on the world and smashed the mirror or walked through the mirror to the other side, and then they were mature overnight. They had changed overnight, or in an instant. They were married.

Helen can bring herself to the point of weeping just thinking about Cal’s yellow rain jacket that came to his thighs and the rubber boots he wore back then and the Norwegian sweater with the elbows out of it and how he rolled his own cigarettes for a time, which was unheard of (he had other pretensions: he made his own yogurt and tofu, grew pot, experimented with tie-dye), and how he wanted a house around the bay for the summers, and how the children came by accident, every single one of them. Cal was a reader, of course; he read everything he got his hands on. They both read. Helen had a book in her overnight bag and so did Cal, and after they’d had sex and showered and looked through the
TV
channels and eaten and drunk some more beer, they each got out their books, and they had the bedside lamps on. They fell asleep like that. Cal with a book over his chest.

Neither of them had paid any attention to the Church; whatever the Church said about birth control they had ignored entirely. The trouble was that they simply could not keep the idea of birth control in their heads. The smell of latex and spermicide—they’d done that the first few times, maybe. The idea of birth control had been a hard one to keep hold of. Have you got a condom? I thought you had them. I thought you had them.

BOOK: February
8.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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