For the hundredth time this year, Ash has fallen asleep with the baby, only to waken surrounded by warm, slumbering bodies. Shifting his stiffening back against the warm down quilt, he considers turning over to stave off the pain, extend his rest. There is a note of wryness in his expression as he tries to complete the maneuver without disturbing the bed’s other occupants. It’s a nearly impossible task and, when his daughter turns in her sleep, her head snuggled against his chest, he gives up the fight and lies still, listening to his children breathe.
Sleep is as elusive for him as it is effortless for the kids; Ash soon finds himself staring at the eggshell-colored ceiling thoughtlessly. Scanning the walls for entertainment, he finds nothing but expanses of dark paint, old family photos and curios gathering drywall dust and dead skin. Sheila decorated this room when they moved – shades of dark plum and blue color the surroundings, the blankets upon which they a brighter shade of violet, pink, cut from the center of an unripe blackberry
Ash’s eyes finally light upon the window, and so he spends the time counting clouds as they drift by, perfectly content with his own lassitude for the moment (far too hot to move – what’s Sheila thinking, playing her Handel alone in the airless living room?). Orange-golden sunlight pours into the room from a half-open sill, and he traces a crack in the leftmost pane with his eyes, a fault line that distorts the smooth glass, bisecting the telephone line strung a few inches away, contorting it to something new and somewhat monstrous.
He turns his head, stares elsewhere. The sky beyond the window is an ethereally unreal shade of blue as the sun begins to dip. Soon night will fall around them in layers, pale sherbet colors, then mauve and crimson, violet, plum, navy, black.
His hands tighten instinctively against Emily’s china cup-colored wrist.
Under the pink quilted covers,
I hold the pulse that counts your blood.
I think the woods outdoors
are half asleep,
left over from summer
like a stack of books after a flood…
Under her skin blood beats, strong and thick; that pale cover, dotted with the occasional beauty mark, belies a strength she has inherited from her parents in equal measure. Ash looks at her and sees pieces of himself reflected upward – unlike the broken mirror it does not mock but comfort him.
I press down my index finger-
half in jest, half in dread-
on the brown mole
under your left eye, inherited
from my right cheek: a spot of danger
where a bewitched worm ate
its way through our soul
in search of beauty.
Under the spike of her closed lashes lie the eyes she inherits from him – brandy-colored, wide, questing, fearful, teasing. She bears his spotty complexion, though their spots do not line up concurrently – the mole on the right side of his jaw shows up under her left ear; the dimple that marks his left cheek shows up on her right. Much more of her comes from her mother. Much more of her comes from the unique font that is neither his nor hers – it is her own music, welling up from within the warmth of her soul, from the center of her humanity.
He strokes her hair – wild like his, made worse with the curl handed down by her mother – and she stirs, rubbing her cheek against the worn material of his work shirt, her right hand uncurling around his metal index finger. A ragged dark scar there marks the place where she has been bitten by the devil, the place where they are twinned.
The boy, lying face-down against Ash’s ribs, is twinned to his father by the alchemy of genetics; he nearly wears his sire’s face, his low brow, dark eyes, prominent chin, sharp cheekbones and nose, all hidden now, revealed with the toss of his head . A toy truck lies under limp fingers, frozen on its journey to nowhere, upon Ash’s belly button.
They could not be more different, these two that he brought into this world. The boy is as easygoing as his sister is stormy. Yet both are outgoing, both observant. This is something he has taught them both; always keep your eyes wide. Never blink twice.
The wooden front wheel makes a strange noise as it shifts the car in tune with Ash’s steady breathing.
The tiniest one lies swaddled against his right shoulder, robustly growing even in her sleep, with a beauty mark by her left eye. Already she has her mother’s beestung pout, though, being a girl of impossibly sunny temperament, she does not use it often. She is unfathomably petite in her father’s careful hold, her head capped with dark swirls of hair plastered down with white plastic bow-shaped barrettes.
He has no idea who this one is, who she will be one day. If she will have a day to call her own.
Darling, life is not in my hands;
life with its terrible changes
will take you..
The process of raising these three threatens to teach Ash a lesson he’s not sure he really wants to learn – a lesson in selflessness. He is admittedly selfish, admittedly heedless, admittedly wrathful; he survived the torments of demonic assault by making himself mighty, putting himself first, turning himself from boy to man. One cannot play the tyrant with innocent children. He tries to give. That’s all Sheila asks of him, and all that he can do.
He’s not exactly Bill Cosby, but she doesn’t expect it of him.
It won’t be enough one day. He knows that. One day they will climb onto the shores of humanity, grow legs, and walk across the sandbar of adulthood to firm holdings. The trick will be in letting go.
He hadn’t planned on ever having to let go of someone again. Before their mother had been returned to him, Ash had been driven to avoid any sort of attachment. The plan had been to stay alone and keen, ready for disaster. His humanity is his strength; his humanity is his weakness. He loves because he must – foolishly, endlessly – because his heart will not let him alone, because he cannot help himself. He had claimed Sheila because he needed her; they had brought children into the world because her heart ached for them, and he could not resist the experiment.
It’s been successful thus far.
Emily’s sleepy voice draws him out of his trance. Two sets of brown eyes focus on a miniature, brown bird perched upon the wire, its throat open, its tweet piping prettily through the air.
I cannot promise very much.
I give you the images I know.
Ash the ex boy scout knows the answer. “A grackle.” His voice is low and soft.
They watch the little bird frolic in silence for awhile, before she stirs and yawns, pulling out his embrace.
“What time’s it?”
He checks his watch. “Four.”
She pulls away from his embrace, scoots off of the bed. “Doctor Who’s on,” she explains, leaving him there, with a puddle of drool darkening his freshly-washed shirt. Wiping at the spot, he listens as a robin calls plaintively for its mate, thinking of little but the children who hang, dependent, against his touch.
They should not trust him – he barely trusts himself. He cannot always save them….
His wife stands in the doorway, sweat glistening upon her forelocks. It’s the look in her eyes that says it all. She trusts him not to hurt them. She trusts him not to break.
I promise you love. Time will not take away that.
And it’s enough.