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Authors: Patrick Somerville

The Cradle

BOOK: The Cradle
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Copyright © 2009 by Patrick Somerville

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

First eBook Edition: March 2009

Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette
Book Group, Inc.

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and
not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-07263-2

Contents

Copyright Page

Part I

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Part II

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Acknowledgments

About the Author

ALSO BY PATRICK SOMERVILLE

Trouble: Stories

I

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,

Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,

Out of the Ninth-month midnight,

Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where the child, leaving his bed, wander’d alone

—W
ALT
W
HITMAN

1

Marissa could not be comforted, and wouldn’t have it any other way. The cradle for the coming baby had to be the cradle she’d
been rocked in as a child; not only the cradle she’d been rocked in but the cradle that was upstairs in her bedroom when she
was fifteen and her mother came home one night from the grocery store, slammed her keys down on the countertop, slammed the
brown crinkled bag onto the table, looked down at the floor, looked at Marissa, took the keys, and walked out the door, this
time permanently. Ten days later there’d been a robbery at the house. Wouldn’t you know it, many of Mrs. Caroline Francis’s
favorite things had been stolen and not very many of anyone else’s favorite things had been stolen, so Marissa and her father
had always assumed the robbery had been Mrs. Caroline Francis’s transparent version of getting what she wanted for the start
of her new life without having to walk in and see anyone or do a painful thing like say good-bye. The cradle was taken that
night.

They said the cradle came from the Civil War. Matt had never believed that, no matter how many times he’d heard the story.
What poor family living outside Milwaukee had Civil War relics in their home, and furthermore, who used such things, if they
even existed, for actual children? Also, what exactly did a Civil War cradle look like? Did it have guns on it? Were there
Confederate and Union flags carved into the headboard? What antique dealer had ever confirmed its origin? Had it been to Gettysburg?
And whose baby was in it back then? Ulysses S. Grant’s? Or the child of some Wisconsin soldier from the prairie who’d gone
south to fight and never come back? There was no story attached to it and no good reason why the Francis family should have
been so caught up with it.

But they were, and Marissa wouldn’t have it any other way. She told this to him eight months into her pregnancy, her belly
taut and round like a globe. It was June 1997, hot, and Matt was killing himself at work. He’d been taking whatever double
shifts anyone at the plant dangled in front of him just to store up enough money for the baby. He had no idea what it meant
for the kid to come and no idea what it was going to feel like once it came, so the one thing it made sense for him to do,
he figured, was put his head down and get money in the bank and leave the understanding to Marissa or her father, two people
who seemed to know quite a lot on the subject.

They were drinking lemonade on the back porch when she told him that the baby would be requiring the cradle.

She said it with her hand on the glass, staring at Matt straight in the eyes.

He said, “Well, how am I supposed to get it?”

“It’s not like she broke it up into firewood. She’s still got it.”

“That doesn’t matter much if we don’t know where she is,” he said.

“I think you’ll be able to find her,” she said. “I don’t want to find her. I don’t want to see her. I don’t want to know how
you do it or where she is. But you can, if you look hard enough. You can find anything. You’re Matt. What about my keys? I
look for six hours, then you get home and you find them in five minutes.” Marissa aimed her dark countenance at him and waited.
Her eyes were a deep chocolate black, like her hair, back now in a loose ponytail. She had a little birthmark that hugged
her right nostril, and freckles up beneath her eyes. In the last month or so her skin had taken on a new tone—not exactly
a new color, but rather a new timbre, infused with a ruddier health and light. She was not smiling.

“That’s not the same thing. I’m sorry.”

“I just want you to get it and bring it back.”

Matt kept looking at her face. He was pleased to go to the grocery store to get her pickles in the middle of the night. He
did suspect she was making it up half the time, of course, that half the time she wasn’t really feeling any food cravings
but was just acting out something about pregnant women she’d seen on TV. But he rolled out of bed and did it every time and
never said one word. Fine. Going off to find her mother or an ancient cradle was different.

He looked up at Glen, his father-in-law, who was manning the grill about fifteen feet away and who was too deaf to overhear
the conversation. “What will your father think?” he asked.

“I haven’t said anything to him,” said Marissa. “I don’t know what he’ll think. Maybe you should say something. He might have
things he wants you to get back, too.”

“Baby,” he said, shaking his head at her grin, “I can’t tell if you’re joking right now or not.”

“Just because I’m laughing doesn’t mean I’m joking,” she said. “That’s rarely the case. You know me, Matt. The baby needs
it.”

“Why?”

“Because it matters, that’s why,” said Marissa. “Because every time I think about him in the world, I think about him inside
of it. I don’t want him growing up in some white plastic piece of trash that we order out of a catalog. That came halfway
around the world. What lesson do you think we would be teaching by doing that?
I
was in that cradle, Matt.”

“That’s it,” Matt said. “No one else. It’s not as though your family’s had the thing since the damned Civil War. Your grandma
bought it at a yard sale.”

“Right there, then. There’s another link. Her hauling it home that day. Where it first came from doesn’t matter. It’s what
it’s done since then. I want it back. You of all people should understand this.”

“Why?”

“You’re an orphan.” To her, the whole truth of the connection was obvious.

“How exactly does this relate?” Matt said, because it wasn’t to him.

“There are two kinds of people in the world,” Marissa said. “There are people who understand that everything matters and people
who don’t understand that everything matters.”

How Marissa it was to say that. Matt smiled at her halfheartedly, leaned back into his chair. She was keen on breaking the
world into its parts; she wanted its pieces on the table in front of her. Matt didn’t know where this habit came from, this
analytic aspect of her world. It certainly wasn’t her father’s way. Her father was all gray and compromise. Maybe Caroline
had that to her. Or maybe it happened to you when you had a mother and then suddenly did not. Your mind, shifting miracle
that it was, went all the way and compensated with certainty. You lose one of the two people whose duty it is to provide the
truth and you replace her with your own vision of the truth. It has to be strong. You look out at the world and say, yes,
it must be this or this. On or off. Better that than nothingness and blur. Matters. What matters?

“And you think I’m one of the people who understands that everything matters.”

She nodded.

“When have I ever said that to you?”

“I married you, didn’t I?” she said.

“If we get a new one,” he said, “then we can just start again and invest the damn thing with our own new memories. If that’s
so important.”

“But why do that if there’s something better out there already? It’s not as though the cradle’s gonna fill up with too many
memories. I want it.”

Matt saw his father-in-law turn with the four hamburgers on a wooden tray and start walking toward them, looking down at the
patties. Two of them had cheese. “I don’t think you’re gonna get it back,” Matt said. “I’m sorry. It’s gone, sweetheart.”

“You don’t seem to be understanding,” Marissa said, leaning forward as her father set the tray on the table.

She had one hand down on her belly. She was wearing a black maternity top that he’d watched her buy last week. It cost forty-five
dollars and Matt spent fifteen minutes standing beside her in the store, trying to talk her out of buying it. She looked beautiful
now. Her black shining hair had grown out in the past year since she’d gotten pregnant. Even in the ponytail, the bangs were
evident. They were the bangs that were in style with even younger girls, those Matt had seen at the UWM campus, those that
Marissa probably saw when she was at work. Something about all those young girls on their way to a different life made her
take their haircuts. When he met her, it was cut short. She had been playing croquet in the middle of the park for some crazy
reason, and he’d been sitting on a bench, smoking.

Already the sliced tomatoes, onions, ketchup, and mustard were out on a paper plate. The buns were still in their plastic
bag. “Understanding what?” Glen asked softly. He looked at his daughter, then at Matt. “A man goes off to cook hamburgers
and suddenly there are secrets?”

Marissa kept looking at Matt, and he understood her look to mean it was up to him to choose whether or not to tell Glen about
the request. But this was silly to Matt; either telling him or not would mean he had agreed to the conceit of what his wife
suddenly wanted him to do. Out of the blue. As though it were a legitimate request to make. As though she were after pickles.
He didn’t say anything. He took one of the patties without cheese and made a burger for Marissa with many onions, then squirted
ketchup and mustard onto it, all under her watchful eye. After he passed it to her, he took two for himself, one with cheese,
one without. As he was making his own, Glen said, “Tornado touched down near La Crosse last night.”

“Great, Daddy,” said Marissa. “If we lived three hundred miles from here, we might have been sucked away into Oz.”

“I’m relating a piece of news about the weather, darling.”

She smiled mischievously, bit into her hamburger. This had been happening. Since she was pregnant, she thought she was allowed
to do anything and say anything to anybody. It gave Matt a sense of what she must have been like at fifteen, how difficult
for Glen to handle on his own. As she was chewing, she again turned her gaze to Matt. He watched her. Eventually he shook
his head and she smiled just a little bit. She had mustard on her lip.

“Sorry, Daddy,” she said, turning to him. “I’m cranky.”

“Well,” said Glen, raising his eyebrows, holding his burger in front of his mouth, looking at the fence at the edge of the
yard, “that is not exactly new.” He smiled, then looked to her, then looked to Matt, making sure that his idea of a very funny
joke did not cause anybody pain.

Matt felt out of sorts as he did the dishes. Marissa had gone upstairs to lie down and Glen was in the living room on the
sofa, watching television and sipping a beer. Matt had his own beer on the countertop beside the dish caddy, and between rounds
he set the scrub brush down in the sink and raised the beer to his lips. She was plainly not joking. And he knew she would
not forget about it. Other people he knew would forget about it. Other people he knew—all the people he knew—got ideas in
their heads from time to time about doing something that mattered. A chance came to do something that fit well into the story
of your life, and you either had the choice to take it or not take it. He even had that feeling, once in a while, but he let
go, too. The difference was that ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine percent of the other people let that feeling go after about
fifteen minutes. His wife would not.

The best example of it happening to him was a moment when he’d suddenly decided it was important for him to find his parents.
He was twenty-two, and he had been grinding away at work at Delco for three solid years. He’d never thought much about finding
them before. Sometime around age seven or eight he just told himself he had no natural parents, and until that moment playing
pool with Eric Granderson and the Reilly brothers, he had continued to believe it, as though it were a truth akin to gravity.
They just didn’t exist. He was delivered by a stork. But that night, as he leaned down with the cue resting on his fingers,
sizing up a split at the other end of the table, the whole invisible big idea blocking his way vanished, and before he even
took the shot—he missed—he realized he had to find them. There were too many questions. There was too much history and too
much pain caused by their whispering departure to let them escape so easily. He spent a week calling foster homes and then
an adoption agency. At times it felt like it was going to work, and his enthusiasm kept moving forward. As did his fear. Then
he hit a wall: an answering machine. The sound of a woman’s voice saying she was away from her desk, but please leave a message.
He did. Many times. Over and over again. Ma’am, hello, my name is Matthew Bishop, I’m calling to inquire about some time I
spent in a few different foster homes and I’d also like any information you might have about who might have given me up for
adoption originally. Far more formal than how he ever talked—he’d even written the speech down on a slip of paper before the
third call. But no answer came. So he’d backtracked and called the others again, and they’d given him this woman’s number
again. Betsy something. Betsy Middlebrook? He left more messages. Maybe four. Ma’am, hello, my name is Matthew Bishop.

BOOK: The Cradle
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