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 (9 page)

BOOK: February
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And Helen had thought, when she was pregnant, It’s a boy and he will be like Cal, and my son will be like that: black hair and blue eyes and thousands of mirrors smashing in his wake.

But of course John looked nothing like Cal. He was not clumsy and he looked like her, exactly like Helen.

. . . . .

Jane Telling John, November 2008

JANE IS AT
the airport in Toronto. She’d been on her way home to Alberta and she had discovered, in the terminal at Pearson Airport, that she could not go home. She’d been sitting at a crowded Tim Hortons with an apple-cinnamon tea and her laptop. There had been an email from her father. The baby had jabbed a toe into her spine. A toe or a drill bit.

A young woman with drawn-on eyebrows is working the Tim Hortons counter. She has the sweet smile and shiny scalded complexion of someone on antidepressants, and there is a scar, a soft white wrinkle, running from her nose to the top of her misshapen lip.

The customer in front of Jane had wanted an oatmeal raisin cookie, and the girl, whose wide backside was squeezed flat in polyester pants, could not see the oatmeal raisin cookies.

Right in front of you, the customer said. The girl’s plump hand with the square of wax paper hovered over the donuts and a blush crawled up her neck.

Oatmeal raisin, the customer said. She was wearing a glossy black plastic coat that squeaked when she lifted her arm to point. A clean, uncomplicated sound. Jane felt glad to be back in Canada. She was sick of New York, the grime and abrasive twang and the poverty she had documented—
unflinchingly
, her supervisor had said—in her master’s thesis. She was leaving after four years, just as things were about to change for the better.

Second shelf from the bottom, Jane said. Three trays over. No, three. One, two, yes. Jane listened to the woman unfold her arms, the moist plastic making kissing sounds. She thought of the snow over a field of stubble back home, and the Rockies off in the distance, smoky and white-capped. She was at the peak of a euphoric hormonal surge.

Oatmeal, the customer said again.

Raisin?

Oatmeal. Raisin.

The Tim Hortons girl snatched up a cookie and dropped it in a paper envelope. Anything else, she said. A gold ring hung from her nose like a drip. Then the girl got Jane’s tea and stood with it in her hand, staring forward with what might have been paralyzed awe or a prolonged yawn. She gave herself a little shake and put the cup on the counter.

When’s your baby coming, the girl asked.

February, Jane said.

I got three at home, the girl said. My brain went out with the placenta. But it’s not too bad because I live near the airport so I get to work easy. My mom helps out.

Jane got a table and pried the lid off the tea and the steam smelled of apples, and she felt the baby’s hand—she thought it was a hand—wobbling her tight tummy.

Then she read her father’s email. Jane would not be staying with her father after all. She pressed her eyes, first one, then the other, with a crumpled paper serviette.

We’ll go it alone, Jane whispered to the baby. What she had actually thought, throughout the six months of the pregnancy so far, was that her father might help her. Maybe he would drive her to prenatal classes, she’d thought. Jane’s father might let her stay with him until she was on her feet. But it turned out that Jane’s father wondered, as he stated clearly in his email, what in the name of God Jane had been thinking.

Jane’s New York friends from university had been titillated when she told them she had not contacted the baby’s father. These friends had thrown her a shower in her colleague Marina’s tiny apartment—just ten or so women from Anthropology—and they’d lowered their voices when they mentioned the subject of single parenthood. They’d sounded reverent. They were all in their mid-thirties and most of them were childless because they’d lost themselves to academic careers.

But they were excited about the shower. In the spirit of parody they’d resurrected old games. One of them, Lucy, brought a video camera because she wanted to use the resulting material object in her FemCrit class. They ate retro appetizers. Cucumber sandwiches on white bread with the crusts removed, an aspic mould with tinned fruit cocktail, pigs in a blanket. Jane was forced to put on a pair of stockings over her jeans while wearing oven mitts. Her friends dressed her in a shotgun-wedding dress made of toilet paper. Everybody was given a chance to design some part of the dress, and the prize—a hand-held cappuccino foamer—went to Elena, who constructed a bustle over Jane’s ass that took an entire roll.

Someone passed a crystal platter of devilled eggs and the faintly sulphuric smell reminded Jane of the water from the taps in the Reykjavik apartment where she and John O’Mara had spent the week together months earlier. The shower and kitchen tap in Reykjavik stank, even after they ran it for five minutes, but John had assured her it was good to drink. The devilled eggs made Jane feel off kilter.

It’s your body, absolutely, Jane’s friend Rhiannon said. The guy knew he was taking chances, right? I mean, he wasn’t a total dummy. Rhiannon popped half an egg into her mouth and seemed to swallow without chewing.

Jane lay on the floor while another friend, Michelle, held a needle swinging from a piece of thread over Jane’s belly. The needle circled and stopped and swung in a line and circled again. The needle would not make up its mind.

Maybe it’s a little hermaphrodite, Gloria said.

Michelle told Jane about a cousin whose baby’s head had been stuck in the cousin’s pelvis for eight hours of pushing.

That’s apparently when the pain is greatest, Michelle said.

Imagine—too big, Rhiannon said. She made a face as if the egg had lodged in her chest. She thumped herself with a fist.

What size is your baby’s father’s head, Michelle asked.

Jane got up off the floor and began unwinding her toilet-paper wedding dress. Marina stacked the paper plates, and removed one end of a blue streamer hanging over the entrance to the kitchenette and began rolling it in a tight coil.

You don’t even really know the guy, Elena said.

After the shower was over, Jane had phoned her closest friend since childhood, Keri Farquharson, a marine biologist with three golden labs and a new husband, who had recently moved to Maine. Jane had put off telling Keri about the baby.

It was one week with the guy, Jane said. Almost seven months ago.

Phone him, Keri said. The dogs were yapping in the background and Jane heard Keri open the door and the dogs burst out into what sounded like a wide, open space. Then a screen door slammed.

Jane was surprised by a weeping jag and she could not trust herself to speak.

Jane, Keri said.

Yeah, Jane said. But it came out as a high-pitched wheeze.

Phone him, Keri said. She must have moved into the kitchen, because Jane heard boiling water and a pot lid crashing into the sink.

I would be better off by myself, Jane said. A profound welling of sorrow had ballooned in her chest. She could speak only in chuffing spurts. Keri could be lacerating. This was why Jane had finally called her.

Don’t you think your kid is going to want to know her father, Keri asked.

The baby kicked and wedged an elbow under Jane’s rib. I’m as big as a bloody whale, Jane said.

You need to think about the baby.

I
am
thinking about the baby. But Jane had been thinking of John O’Mara, and the night the two of them had been together in the bar with the Cuban musicians. Reykjavik at four in the morning, and the light still bright with long shadows, but there had been a chill in the air and she and John were both drunk. Arm in arm in the courtyard outside the bar. The next day they’d woken up in the early afternoon and all of Reykjavik had been out on the streets for a big parade. It was Independence Day. The crowds waving tiny flags and, near the harbour, a strongman strapping himself to a transport truck. The man planned to move the truck several yards simply by putting his back into it.

I want to be independent, Jane said to Keri. But the truth was, she could not face the idea that John would be angry or sullen or sarcastic or anything other than—but she could not imagine. Her girlfriends in New York had been right: Jane hardly knew him. Her imagination migrated to her ribs, and the baby wedged an elbow under them and made them go numb, and she could not imagine John at all.

The extra week in Reykjavik had been John’s idea. Jane’s conference had ended and she was ready to go back to New York, where she was finishing her PhD thesis, and John said, Stay with me. I’ve got a little apartment for the week.

Light pouring in slanted shafts through the dusty windows of the bar, and cigarette smoke hanging above their heads like pulled taffy.

I’ll pay for everything, John said. Later, when they were both coming out of the bathroom at the same time, John backed her against a grungy wall and wedged his knee between her knees, gently prying them open. He worked a thumb under the button on the cuff of her blouse and he moved his thumb in circles on the inside of her wrist, hardly touching. It stirred her all through. It was like stirring a lump of sugar through a cup of tea. He was stirring horniness through her sluggish drunken self. Back at the table he held on to the end of her long silk scarf, playing with it, flicking it with his fingers. He took the very end and let it touch his lips. Someone at the table said there was going to be a volcano in the sea. You’d get to see an island rise up out of the ocean. Someone said the glacier was magnificent.

And out on the sidewalk in Reykjavik, the windows of buildings across the square were bright pink and winking, and Jane allowed John to throw his arm around her shoulder.

It had been one week. That was all. And so, for a long time, Jane had decided not to tell him about the baby. She stood at the kitchen counter in her New York apartment and heard herself practising his name, as if she were about to call him and casually mention
I’m pregnant
, and his name had sounded more like a sound than a name, a sound shaved of all meaning.

Just do what you think is right, Keri said. She was banging something, a ladle, against the sink. Three sharp raps. It sounded like a gavel dismissing court.

I’ve got to clean up here, Keri said. Bill will be home any minute. And so Jane said goodbye to Keri and phoned John, and John said about an abortion—
Why didn’t you have an abortion?
—and she hung up on him.

The idea had formed itself almost at once after that: Jane’s father would let her stay with him. Jane’s father was going to be a grandfather. He could help. She had sent her father an email and packed and got a flight back to Canada the very next day.

Jane’s mother had died five years before of breast cancer, and a little more than a year later her father had married a woman named Glennis Baker. Jane’s father had told her this in an email—the first she had ever received from him: that he was marrying a woman who wrote climate-modelling software. He made a comment, not without innuendo, about getting a firm grip on the newfangled technology and lots of other new things.

Glennis Baker was unassuming and not cold to Jane but they had met only once, during a brief Christmas visit when Jane was home between semesters. When Jane thought of Glennis she thought of gloves sitting on the dining room table. Black leather gloves that still held the shape of Glennis’s big hands, the knuckles shiny, fingers curling up, and in the palm of one glove, a set of house keys. Years ago Jane’s mother had bought a handmade plaque for keys and it used to hang in the back porch. The plaque was varnished wood and it had the family name burned over small brass hooks. It had been crafted at the penitentiary where Jane’s mother had been a social worker in charge of rehabilitation. The key holder was now gone from the back porch, but the paint was less faded where the plaque had been and the screw holes in the wall looked raw. When Jane had returned home for the Christmas visit, she’d found her father doing all sorts of chores he’d never done before: sorting laundry, stacking the dishwasher. His wardrobe had changed. He had answered the front door wearing a pink sweater-vest.

Jane’s father owned a riding stable with more than forty trail horses and four full-time employees. Jane had mucked out stalls and hauled water and hay bales and managed the cashier’s booth in the summer, handing the tourists insurance waivers before they headed into the paddocks where the saddled horses waited with their reins looped over the rails.

It had been a sun-struck childhood spent outdoors in all seasons. Jane had never heard her parents quarrel. Theirs had been a marriage marked by a lack of turbulence, lasting forty-five years. Jane’s father was a vigorous man with a demanding, satisfying business. He had moved with shocking ease into a new relationship a year after his wife’s death.

But three years ago there had been an accident with rodeo horses during a six-day trail ride to the Calgary Stampede that had left him frail and unfathomable. A train had spooked the herd as they were going over a bridge on the outskirts of the city, and nine wild horses had fallen into the swollen, charging river and the animals had broken their legs or backs or necks.

Jane’s father had been hired for the ride to oversee the tourists. The deaths of the wild horses seemed to have affected him more than the death of his first wife, which he had weathered with a distracted grace. After the accident with the horses he phoned Jane and wept for a long time. Her father described the frothing mouths of the animals, and their terror, the whites of their eyes as they tried to keep their heads above water, and how finally they had gone under for good and there had been nothing he could do but stand on the bank and watch them die. I had a bad feeling, her father said. That ride should never have happened.

Several months after the accident, Jane had received another email from her father. It seemed he had thrown off his torpor; he had joined the Knights of Columbus. He followed this statement with three exclamation marks. Things are much better, he wrote. He typed
much
in capital letters. He was seeing less and less of Glennis, he said, because her work absorbed all her attention. He mentioned that he had begun donating money on a monthly basis to an animal rights agency in the name of Jane’s mother. He had visited Jane’s mother’s grave that very morning, he said, with a bouquet of roses he had picked up from the supermarket.

BOOK: February
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