The Greenest Grass
She hears a shriek from outside, and looks up from the sink to watch out the window. She smiles at the sight. Charles has hauled Mary up onto his shoulder, and is running through the yard like a mad-man while the girl giggles uncontrollably.
She hears her mother huff next to her where she’s drying dishes. “He’ll throw his back out doing that” she grumbles.
Laura just grins and shakes her head. “Would it kill you to say a nice word about him now and then?” she asks, going back to the dishes, not particularly upset by her mother’s ways. Not that her mother is overly nasty, so much as she always has a point to make, and since finding out about Laura’s pregnancy it seem Charles can’t do anything right. Laura knows her mother secretly loves Charles, but she’s an obstinate woman. Far be it for her to actually admit her affection beyond grumbling acceptance and not poisoning his food.
Her mother just huffs again, and dries another plate. “Well, what good will he be around the house if he’s got a bad back” she mutters. Laura outright laughs.
“You know, you could just thank him for sweeping the kitchen yesterday”
“And give the man a heart attack?”
They both chuckle at that, finishing the last of dishes and stacking them neatly on the kitchen shelf. They take their aprons off and hang them on the hook by the door. Laura’s belly is starting to show, making her skirts look a fuller around the middle. It always takes her mother by surprise to see it, and Laura makes a point to run her hand over her skirts to smooth them flat, caressing her child with a content look on her face.
She and Charles had gone to the doctors last week, and at Charles’ request had tried to hear the baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope. The doctor had been confused to see a father in his offices – and Charles had understandably waited outside during the physical exam – but Doc Tibert had laughed and agreed to the suggestion with a shrug. It was difficult, because the baby is still so small, and Doc had warned they might not be able to pick it up yet without a trained ear. But after a few adjustments they’d both heard a tiny rhythmic flutter when pressing the chest piece just right, hard under her ribcage, and she’d promptly burst into tears. It had been surreal – different from feeling a baby move or kick. It was barely there, but they both heard it; a relief at this stage.
Charles, of course, has been nothing short of miraculous since finding out about the pregnancy. Some days Laura feels positively doted on – something her mother says is just as well – and it seems that every time there is something to be done, someone else has taken care of it before she can. She gets the feeling that Charles had a quiet word with Mary too, encouraging the child to help around the house, and though she doesn’t want stress on her young girl she appreciates that he took the initiative. He’s still so conscious of not overstepping boundaries where her daughter is concerned – aware that he is not her father and he must first earn her friendship.
Well, he’s already done that in spades, so she’s not sure what he’s worried about. But it is good to see him take on a more paternal position. Charles is the only father Mary will remember, and he has more than earned the right to have a soft word with her about making sure her chores are done.
She is shaken out of her thoughts when her mother appears at her side with a glass of water, wordlessly handing it to her. She takes it with a smile of thanks, and her mother runs a hand down her arm in a rare show of affection.
Charles has assured her that by now they are well past the first trimester, whatever that means. He said that in his time, the first few months are the most dangerous – a time when parents are reluctant to share their news in case something goes wrong. Now that they are beyond it, and have heard the heartbeat for themselves (faint though it was) they are both quietly reassured that everything will be fine in the end. Laura grows bigger by the day, and can feel the flutters of kicks and hiccups already. The little signs of life always put a smile on her face. She still worries, but it’s a far-away possibility in the back of her mind.
“Come sit out on the porch with me” says Laura to her mother. “And watch my idiot husband throw his back out”
Her mother huffs, but takes her shawl off the coat hook anyway and wraps it around her shoulders. Laura just smiles and shakes her head as they make their way outside and sit on the small deck at the front door. There was previously only one chair there for her mother, but Charles – in an effort to really expand his skillsets – had taken it upon himself to try his hand at building a second one. It had been his hobby project on weekends, having never really done joinery or carpentry before. I’m not a farmer or a blacksmith or a farrier; I draw pretty pictures for a living. I want to learn at least one talent that will be useful to us here, he had said to her. She had assured him that she didn’t need him to be a jack of all trades; that he had already won her over. And besides, his pretty pictures bring them a second salary, so what more can she ask for. But she had understood his need to do something that she or Mary hadn’t taught him – something of his own – and so she’d leave him be of a Sunday afternoon, under the open annex of the barn.
Needless to say, as Laura settles herself into her simple hand-carved armchair, his efforts have been successful. Simple, but sturdy; a positive start.
Charles is currently building a chest of draws for the nursery too. He wasn’t confident enough to build the crib – thought it best to leave that to professionals – but he wanted to do something for the baby. And he let slip that he’s already looking into desk designs for Mary, to give her room to study as she progresses in school. He wants to quietly encourage her to continue her studies as far as they will take her – is looking to send her to college when she’s older, though they haven’t said as much to Mrs Clarke. His support for women, he said, goes beyond just Laura and her newspaper. He wants the best for Mary, whatever she wants to do. Laura had laughed and then cried, and then thanked him in a long kiss.
“It’s such a beautiful day” she hums contentedly, angling her face towards the sky as her hands rest on her bump.
“Summer is just around the corner” replies her mother, squinting over to the river. “Just as well. Did you hear what Beth O’Reilly’s boy said the other day?”
“Just got back from a trip to Springfield. Came home via Waynesville, though why he’d go that way I’ll never know, adds at least a day to the trip”
Laura grinned. “He has a sweetheart there” she says, holding back her laugh as her mother spins her head back to look at her. “They met at college, and she’s back home because of her father’s ailing health. He wanted to meet her parents while he still can. I suspect he wishes to ask for her hand”
Mrs Clarke looks both stunned and gleeful. Laura knows she’s just provided her mother with a week’s worth of gossip, but honestly it was the sister, Ellen O’Reilly, who told Laura at tea the other day, so she’s only paying it forward. It’s not news worthy of going in her paper, but it is news to her mother.
“What did Daniel say?” asks Laura, bringing the conversation back on track.
“Well, he was just talking about his trip – silly boy should know better than to travel this state in May. But he said the whole area has been seeing tornadoes all season. Apparently one went straight down the main street of Marshfield – all but the bank and the post office got levelled”
Laura doesn’t look overly shocked – she’s been writing about the tornado threat all season – but she is surprised by the ferocity. None of her reports have spread that far, nor have they suggested a bad year like last year. “We were lucky to miss them” she says meaningfully. Their tiny town survived last year’s destruction – surely the worst tornado storms in recent history – by only a couple of miles. She’ll be glad to see the arrival of summer for that reason alone.
He mother just hums in agreement, nodding her head. Lucky indeed. They both look up to the sky – clear and blue with barely a cloud, the breeze just enough to require a cover-up. The last couple of weeks have been much warmer and calmer. That should mean a good change.
Charles and Mary are finished their game or whatever they were doing. The women watch as he and Mary fix the fishing lines, and then Charles gently coaxes Mary’s hand back and swings her arms just right so that the line doesn’t catch them.
“Good cast, kiddo” he says.
“I’ve got a good arm” replies Mary with confidence. “I can throw better than most of the boys at school”
“I don’t doubt it”
Laura chuckles to herself. Her daughter’s audaciousness certainly gets her in trouble often enough, but it is so intrinsically part of her that Laura is glad to temper it into something productive and useful, to foster its potential. Mary is so much like herself in that way; Will was so quiet and serene, and went about his business in such a gentle manner. Mary didn’t inherit much from him, she’s sorry to say, except perhaps a love of animals. Her daughter is all Laura. Secretly she hopes this baby will be a boy – one of each is always appealing, and the thought of having an heir to the farm is comforting. But Laura wants to see how much of his father he would inherit too. Not that it matters, of course, a healthy baby is all that matters and Charles has been adamant on that. But still, it’s a fancy she holds quietly to herself.
“You seem pensive” her mother says, eyeing her critically through her glasses. She always worries these days – keeps a weather eye out for any signs of trouble or change in her daughter.
“Just enjoying the day. Listening to those two” she says with a smile, jerking her head. She would love to join them, but the brief rest is also welcomed; her back is starting to ache more from long days, and she always tired these days from long hours spent working. Any rest is a reprieve.
“And the babe?” asks her mother, her gaze softening just a little.
“He was kicking just before, but I think he’s sleeping now” she replies, rubbing her belly as she looks down at it with a smile.
“He?” hums her mother, raising an eyebrow with a smirk. “You’ve already decided what you want then”
Laura just gives her mother a wry look, refusing to answer that. They’ve been very careful, her and Charles, to remain united in their neutrality on the matter of the baby’s sex – they’ don’t want to add stress or consternation because of Mrs Clarke’s input on the merits and pitfalls of each gender. “Slip of the tongue” says Laura instead, playing it casual.
Her mother looks like she doesn’t believe that for a second. “It might be nice to have another man around the house” she muses, sighing off towards the yard, apparently looking at the day. Laura stifles her laugh, though by the look she gets, her mother was not intending to be subtle.
Laura understands that her mother’s reasons for wanting a boy probably mirror her own; a son to take the farm, the chance to have a small boy back in the house after so long, the chance even for Charles to have his heir, though they both know he doesn’t care about that. Women may be free and independent in the future, but at her age Laura isn’t sure she has another twenty years’ worth of strength to help her child fight this world. Mary will do well because of her own internal stubbornness. There is no guarantee that another little girl will have the same fortitude of spirit, and Laura won’t always be around to fight her battles for her, and then teach her how to fight for herself. And Charles doesn’t always see the forest for the trees here. Walt is getting older; his boys may not want to stay on the farm, nor are they obligated to work it for her. Laura would hate to have to start selling it after so many generations in the family.
But then, another little girl would certainly make this house a fire-pit for emancipation. Strong and stubborn Mrs Clarke, the working wife Laura, the vivacious Mary. Another little girl would fit right in, and though poor Charles would be well out-manned, Laura thinks he might secretly like to dote on his little women. And besides, she has proven that there is nothing holding a woman back from running a farm herself. Mary has shown great love and care for the animals, and a keen interest to learn. She loves to read, but hasn’t shown much acumen for mathematics or science, or even history. Charles is adamant that both his children will see college, but it wouldn’t surprise Laura if Mary came back to the farm. Perhaps her girls would run the place together.
In any case, there is no point counting chickens before they hatch. First she has to get through this pregnancy in one piece, and then see her child through those first delicate years. Either way, the future of this family will not be determine today.
Laura looks back over towards the river. Charles is bent low over Mary’s shoulder, giving her advice no doubt, as his hand points out towards the water. Mary nods fervently, listening intently. Laura can’t help but smile at how well she listens to Charles; how much she takes his word to heart.
“I’ve never seen that child be so still as when she’s having a lesson from him” says Mrs Clarke, her voice unusually soft. Laura smiles, and tries not to let tears come to her eyes in her emotional state.
“They are two peas in a pod” she agrees, never taking her eyes away. “Mary just adores him”
“It is well that the feeling is reciprocated”
Laura smiles again, nodding slightly to herself. Charles does adore them all, it’s true, and he is never reticent in showing his affection for any of them, even Mrs Clarke. Rarely have either of them met such a gregarious man, though Laura suspects he is different even in his own time; approachable and affable in a way that very few men are. She loves him more for it.
Charles looks up at that moment, catching her eye and noticing for the first time that they have an audience. He whispers to Mary again and she nods in concentration. He has one last look at the way she’s holding the fishing rod, and then bounds up to the porch.
“Ladies” he drawls, stopping right next to Laura’s seat.
“Mr Lattimer” replies Mrs Clarke, smirking at him through her glasses. “Still corrupting my granddaughter I see”
“You never know when you might need to catch a fish” he shoots back. Honestly, at this point it’s practically a game between them.
“Are your skills so inadequate at providing food for our table that you must task the child?”
“Mother” chides Laura, but Charles just laughs, a big grin on his face, shaking his head with his hands on his hips.
“You heard the girl” he says. “Best arm at school. I couldn’t possibly compete”
Mrs Clarke just gives him a reluctant smirk, which he returns before squatting beside Laura. Mrs Clarke looks out to the river to give them some semblance of privacy for a moment. Charles’ hand lands on Laura’s stomach as her hand caresses the back of his neck. They smile at one another – intimate and sweet – and he picks up her other hand and kisses the knuckles, resting it back with his own on top of her bump.
“And how is my little peanut?” he whispers, pressing a quick kiss to her stomach before Mrs Clarke turns her attention back to them.
“Quiet. Hasn’t kicked since lunch” says Laura softly, watching Charles’ hand snake this way and that, searching for a lump or a foot or something. She laughs at him. “Still too small yet to feel feet poking my ribs, the kicks have only just started. Give it time”
He grins at her, happy for the suggestion they will get that far. At night she sometimes voices her fears to him, so it’s lovely to hear her be so optimistic about the future.
“No kicking Mama” he whispers to her belly, and then stands before their displays put Mrs Clarke’s nose out of joint. She is surprisingly patient with them, but Charles is not eager to find her limit.
“Do you have any other plans for this afternoon, Charles?” asks Laura, taking his hand in hers where it hangs next to her chair.
“Nope. Nothing special. Thought I might do some woodwork if we have time, if you ladies didn’t have anything else for me to do”
“I was thinking of having a nap” says Laura sheepishly. Her fatigue catches up to her during the week. She can foresee many weekends spent replenishing her energy. Charles and Fred have already worked out between them how to manage the second daily edition of the paper without her, but it’s frustrating, being so drowsy and unable to continue her usual life. You’re making a tiny person, Charles keeps saying, but it doesn’t diminish her consternation over being so fragile.
“Okay, well, call if you need me” he says, planting a kiss on the top of her head. “I’ll go get Mary packed up”
“That child has sums to complete for Monday’s class anyway. Send her up” says Mrs Clarke, hoisting herself from her chair and adjusting the shawl across her shoulders. Laura stands too, not yet big enough for it to be a struggle, and she watches fondly as Charles bounds back over to Mary. They hear the girl groan – obviously displeased with the mention of homework – and then she sulks her way up to the house, not bothering to stop and get directions from her grandmother before huffing through the door. Laura stifles her giggle. Charles walks past them with a grin, carrying the fishing poles around the other side of the house.
Laura and her mother step inside, and Mrs Clarke immediately walks toward the living room where Mary has taken her books.
“I’ll be upstairs if you need me” says Laura.
“Do you need anything?”
Her mother looks open and concerned – soft in a way that she normally isn’t. Laura wonders what she will be like with another baby in the house, and the thought makes her smile.
“No, I’m alright. I’ll take a glass of water with me” she says.
“Make sure to keep your socks on – this house is too cold without the fire going”
“I will, mother” she says with a smile. “Wake me when it comes time to prepare dinner”
Mrs Clarke just grunts and walks away, and Laura goes to the window to watch Charles prop the fishing stuff against the shed and pull out his woodwork tools. He waves at her, and she waves back, smiling through the glass. She rubs a hand over her belly again, and then walks herself upstairs with a glass of water in hand. Doing as her mother says, she keeps her socks on when she lays down, and without her corset it is easy enough to drift off to the sound of soft voices downstairs. Charles will probably find her later, perhaps lay down with her a while and snuggle. Saturdays are such lazy days in the house, and though Laura is loath to waste good sunlight, before long she has nodded off. The peaceful days and easy flutters in her stomach are easing her anxiety one day at a time. She even dares hope that all will be well. It’s a quiet thought, but it’s there.