The conference ended at four p.m., following a final talk (Sergeant James Talbert, Vancouver: “Maintaining Whose Rights?”) and the last hurried instructions of the conference chair to make certain people received their certifications for continuing developmental training courses, as well as parking validations and airport shuttle information. Ray and I would be leaving the next morning, as we’d planned on having dinner that night with Renee Kober née Smithbauer.
Our hotel was eight blocks from the conference, which would normally be a very pleasant walk, but the hot, damp air rather lessened the enjoyment for me. I chided myself for not appreciating the different biome and looked around for something that I would not see in Nupiak.
That was a problem, as I rarely saw litter in Nupiak, and so the piece of paper and the chocolate bar wrapper did not seem to me to be signs of the environment but rather signs that the environment was ill-used by its denizens.
I picked them up and disposed of them properly, and by and large reached the hotel without having touched too many objects that might contain germs that could be transmitted to Gracie.
“I’ve been picking up trash,” I announced, holding my hands up as if prepared for surgery, and going directly to the bathroom.
As I washed up, I looked out to the bed, where Ray and Gracie were both shirtless. Grace was babbling to a toy, and Ray was reading. He smiled up at me when he saw me looking at him.
“Are you good for another year?”
“For another quarter, I should think. And I shouldn’t have to come to this one next year, not unless Sergeant Baine’s wife is pregnant again.”
“Christ, tell me that five kids is enough for those two,” Ray said. Indeed. We were alternately shocked and envious of their family. It isn’t that we didn’t want more children; it was more that we could not understand how anyone survived having more than one child.
“Her rash is gone?” I asked. Gracie wore only a diaper and her skin was back to normal. Perhaps it was not a life-threatening rash, but we both believed that preventative care was best with Gracie, and so Ray had taken her to the pediatric ER that Toronto offered.
“All better, and you know what?” Ray asked, putting his book down and sitting up, animated.
Ray told me a tale that was almost impossible to believe while I took off my uniform, relieved to be out of the heat. But never mind that it was Spammer who’d seen to her, Gracie’s skin was unblemished and she looked happy. Her lot in life might not be heaven sent, but she would at least know that her fathers doted on her.
“So Spammer’s a pediatrician now?” I asked, coming back out in my undershirt and pants. Ray’s eyes stared at the perspiration line down the center of my shirt, but I raised an eyebrow. We’d promised that while Gracie would certainly see that her parents were affectionate with her and each other, she would not be witness to more carnal acts. Ray’s immediate switch to a look of perplexed innocence cut no ice with me, and I turned towards the dresser and put on a t-shirt, pulling out one for him as well. After all, I was only a man with the same appetites as any other: I would not allow him to pull me into temptation.
“Spoilsport,” Ray said, and I laughed.
I then climbed on the bed and picked up Gracie, listening to her babble as I laid her out on my chest, the two of us horizontal with Ray crowding in on the side.
“This is exactly why the air conditioner is on, isn’t it?” I asked, and he grinned.
“It’s better for her anyway, but …”
He kissed my shoulder before shifting some more to kiss me properly, then sat up and made me get up as well, and there we were, toboggan-style, Ray leaning back against the pillows, warm against my back and Gracie warm on my chest.
The warmth outside was oppressive, while the warmth inside was dear. Outside it smelled of rotting banana peels and gasoline (perhaps it is exaggerated for those of us used to Nupiak, but those are the smells that I can distinguish first when I come to Toronto in the summer), but inside the stale air of the hotel could not hide Ray’s natural scent and Gracie’s sweet lavender powder and the lingering smell of baby that any parent will tell you is real.
Outside was a city that seemed clean to the rest of the world but still had trash, still had noise; inside was my family, beautiful and kind. Outside everything was hot and muggy, while inside and on this bed was only warmth. When Gracie was a newborn, Ray would hold her in a pose that duplicated the Madonna and Child, his shock at war with his joy over this, a creation he’d had part in. There was also stark terror, but we were told this was natural. We were also told we’d grow out of it, but others seem to have reached that milestone already, and Ray and I were convinced we’d only stop worrying about Gracie when she was - well, once we were dead we assumed we’d be at peace and no longer afraid.
But the metaphor has gone on too long: all I wanted was to stay there with my warm daughter and beautiful husband and cool hotel room.
“We’ll need to leave by quarter of six,” I said with a sigh.
“Only if we have reservations,” Ray said. “Renee called about ten minutes ago - she says she caught something.”
“Oh, dear. Perhaps we should -”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t. If she’s contagious and we get on a plane,” Ray said, not bothering to finish.
“You’re right,” I said, and relaxed further, my head back on Ray’s right shoulder. He nuzzled my temple, the heat of his breath cooling quickly.
“Besides, I got a funny feeling she wasn’t telling the whole story,” he said.
“I find that highly unlikely, Ray. I will also point out that you are altering my responses from relaxation to interest.”
“Yeah, well, don’t get too comfy. If you fall asleep, Gracie’s gonna fall off you and then off the bed. Meanwhile, I heard someone else over at Renee’s, so I think maybe what she caught was - hey now, I was about to be crude in front of the offspring,” Ray said. “Sorry, baby.”
Gracie was asleep, but I appreciated his discretion. I held her close to me and slowly rolled to one side to put her next to Ray, and Ray’s hand came up to bracket her. Then I rolled back to take a nap, Ray’s other hand on my chest.
A morning walk, vampires vanquished, a park found for a small child to run in, followed by stultifying meetings, seminars, and workshops that seemed diametrically opposed to maintaining the right, and then a small nap with my husband and our child: a mixed day, but a proper ending.