“Have you named her yet?” Sheila asks.
Jeanie looks down at the baby. She’d looked pretty weird at first, when she slid out with the rest of the gunk, but then one of the nurses took her and scrubbed her off and she’s beautiful now. She has long black hair plastered flat against her head, and big blue eyes and tiny, round little fists that she keeps lifting up and waving around like she’s still working out how to use them.
“I can’t name her yet,” Jeanie says, “she hasn’t introduced herself.”
Sheila squints at her. “When’s that going to happen? She can’t just be ‘Baby’ forever.”
“She could be,” Jeanie says. “Maybe she wants to be. I don’t know yet.” She’s only half-joking; she’d never liked being called “Jeanie,” but the only alternative is using her middle name, and she really wouldn’t like being “Dorothy.” Her parents had named her after her two great-aunts, and they were both horrible anyway. “I’ve got plenty of time to decide.”
The baby is only twelve hours old, born just at the break of dawn. Nurses had circled in and out of the room all day, clicking their tongues in disapproval at Jeanie’s visitors, but she couldn’t care less. She’s a little bit more worried about where she’s going to go when the hospital inevitably kicks her out, but that’s not going to happen just yet (she thinks) and for now, she just wants to feel the moment.
Her visitors have all left now – the head nurse said visiting hours were over, but Jeanie thinks she just wanted to get rid of everyone. Sheila’s the only one remaining, and that’s because she looks respectable enough to get past the orderlies patrolling the hall. But a few hours earlier, it had been a party. Everyone had gifts, like the three wise men, only there were a dozen of them crammed into the tiny room. Dionne had brought a blanket and Angela brought a macramé mobile, and Crissy brought a rattle she’d made out of dried rice and a cardboard tube. The guys didn’t really make anything, but Berger offered to give the baby a hit off his joint and laughed when Sheila told him to get lost.
Something had shifted between them; Jeanie didn’t know what it was for sure, but it had something to do with Claude. Everything did, with them. Without him to smooth out all the wrinkles, they just wound up tying themselves into knots. The content of their conversations is the same, but it’s all brittle and wrong. It’s hard to see it ever being otherwise, now. There’s a big hole ripped out of all of them – every single one of them, plus tribe as a whole. Claude was here and now he’s gone, and nothing can be the same again.
Jeanie hugs the baby tighter against her chest. She has a baby; she’s a mother. Claude isn’t here; he’s dead. She can’t hold the two things in her head at the same time. Whenever one edges in, the other slides out. And right now, her baby is curled against her, making tiny snuffling noises as she flexes her little fists, and it’s hard to think of anything but life.
Sheila looks sad, she thinks; probably she’s thinking the same thoughts as Jeanie, only she doesn’t have a baby, so there’s nothing to push them out. “Hey,” Jeanie says. “You want to hold her?”
“I – “ Sheila looks startled, but she holds her arms out almost automatically. “Yeah, I do.”
Jeanie puts the baby carefully info Sheila’s arms. She doesn’t make a bit of fuss as she goes; she’s been held by at least twenty people so far in her life, so it’s all normal to her. Her blinks are getting slower, long eyelashes fluttering against her chubby baby cheeks. Sheila rocks her a little, humming softly. “Hey, sunshine,” she says. Then - “Hey. That’s what you should call her, Sunshine. She was born in the morning, right?”
Jeanie thinks about it for a second, nibbling her bottom lip, then shakes her head. “I don’t think so,” she says. “It doesn’t feel right.” She’d been born with the sunrise, but nobody could see it for the clouds. It’s been raining nonstop for a whole week. April showers bring may flowers, but what do March showers bring? Babies. “I would like to name her something natural, though. You know, like . . . connected.”
Sheila nods. “Tangible.”
“Physical.” Jeanie giggles. “Real. I don’t know.” How does anyone pick a name? Sheila’s singing to the baby now, bits and pieces of “Chelsea Morning.” Maybe she could pick a name from a song, but when she tries to think of one, all she can come up with is “Sunshine of Your Love,” and that puts her right back where she started.
“Star, maybe,” she says out loud. “Or after her star sign.” Dionne had promised to draw up a star chart for her in the next few days, like she’s already done for everyone else in the tribe. Jeanie’s is rolled up in her bag. She’s a Pisces, a fish. So is the baby. Salmon? Trout? No, she doesn’t like those. Maybe she’s an Aries rising, and Jeanie could call her Ariel. Sheila’s an Aries. Dionne says that’s why she’s so passionate. And Claude was an Aquarius, which is the water-bearer, only he went across the water and didn’t come back. She can’t think about that.
Sheila’s still singing. “Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I saw was the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall . . .”
The rain’s still pattering against the windows. No rainbow yet – but there will be. “Rain,” Jeanie says suddenly, and Sheila looks up. “It was raining when she was born, and she’s a water sign. She’s Rain.”
Sheila looks down at the baby – Rain – who’s fallen asleep in her arms, lulled away by her song. “Rain’s sad,” she says quietly.
“So are we, sometimes,” Jeanie says. Sheila’s eyes are a bit wet, but they’re softer than they were before. “And then it makes the flowers grow.” She holds out her arms. “Can I?” Rain’s only been out of her arms for a few minutes, and she already misses her. She wants to be properly introduced.
Sheila passes her back, and Jeanie kisses her forehead. “Hi, Rain,” she says. Then she hesitates. “Rain – Claudia?” She doesn’t want to make Sheila’s eyes hard and red again, but she doesn’t want to forget either. She’s trying to hold both pieces together, and it’s hard.
“My grandma told me –“ Sheila’s voice is a little wobbly. Jeanie takes one hand away from Rain to squeeze her knee. “You know how my grandma was from Poland? She told me her family never named a baby after a relative who was still alive, because the angel of death might take the baby by mistake.” She takes a deep, quivery breath. “But if the other person’s – dead – I think it’s okay then.” She smiles a watery smile. “And maybe she’d like having a second name she could use if she doesn’t want to be, um. Natural. Like, if she wants an old-fashioned name, she can be Claudia all the time.”
“If she wants,” Jeanie says. Rain hiccups, and her eyes shoot open, like she’s startled herself awake. She whimpers a little, and Jeanie shushes her, rocking her and humming until she’s quiet again. She hums “Chelsea Morning,” since she seems to like that one. Maybe she should add “Chelsea” as a third name? No, two are enough. Two, plus her last name – Rain Claudia Ryan.
There are footsteps in the hallway, and Sheila ducks down behind the bed in case a nurse spots her and shoos her away. She looks silly with just the top of her head peeking over the rails, and Jeanie can’t help but laugh a little. Sheila laughs too, and climbs back into her chair. “So,” she says, “where are you going after discharge? Back to Crissy and Dionne’s?”
“Ummmmm.” Jeanie bites the inside of her cheek. “I don’t know, exactly.” She hasn’t got a place of her own just now. When she first got pregnant, she was in an apartment with two other girls, but then one of them got married and the other stopped paying her rent because she’d given all her money to the Hare Krishnas. Then she’d spent the summer in Central Park, and when it got cold, Crissy invited her to come sleep on her couch. But she can’t do that for much longer – the apartment’s too tiny for three people, especially when one of them’s usually got at least one other person staying over, and double especially with a baby. “Guess I’ll find something.”
Sheila makes an “um-hum” noise. “You know, I’m moving out of the dorms next month.”
“You’re dropping out?” Jeanie doesn’t surprise easily, but that gets her. Sheila’s never been on the “tune in, drop out” trip like the rest of them. She has big plans for what she’s going to do with her degree, she’s told Jeanie as much. Nuclear disarmament and the United Nations and all kinds of stuff. If she doesn’t get sent to jail first, anyway.
“I’m not dropping out,” Sheila says. “I just can’t take my roommate anymore. You know one time I put on a Hendrix record, and she honest to God stood up on the bed and started praying to be delivered from the Devil’s music?” She groans. “It was ‘All Along The Watchtower.’ She probably didn’t understand any of it. Anyway, I’m moving into my own place off-campus. I’ve just got to find someone to share with.”
“Huh.” Jeanie’s about to ask if Berger’s going to move in with her, then thinks better of it. “Angela, maybe?”
Shelia reaches out and jogs Jeanie’s ankle. “Jeanie. I meant you.”
“Oh!” Jeanie blinks. “Well, I mean – sure.” A thought occurs to her. “But won’t Rain crying make it hard for you to, like, study and stuff?”
Sheila’s reply is a shrug. “I’ve got headphones. I’ll manage.” She reaches out and touches Rain’s head gently. “Besides, what’s more important – studying, or raising the next generation to do better than our parents did?”
Jeanie smiles, but then she thinks of something. “Oh, uh – I don’t have any money. Or a job. And I can’t get one for a while, ‘cause . . .” She can’t gesture to Rain, who’s still asleep in her arms, so she shrugs instead.
“Doesn’t matter,” Sheila says, with a dismissive flick of her hand. “I’ve got a job, and I can wire home for money if we really need it.” Jeanie feels a brief flicker of envy at the idea of having parents who would send money, just like that, but it’s gone almost as soon as it appears. “And we can panhandle. And fundraise!” Her face brightens. “The NYU chapter of the Students For A Democratic Society is always down to support people who are raising their children to be radical.”
“I can busk!” Jeanie says brightly, although she’s pretty sure that people only ever toss her money out of pity when she’s busking. Pity money’s still money. And they might give more, if she brings Rain with her.
Sheila sticks her hand out. “Deal. Shake on it?”
Carefully, Jeanie extricates one arm from around the baby, and takes Sheila’s hand. “Deal.”
They move in four weeks later. They’re lucky in that regard – another group of people had just broken their lease, and the landlord is desperate enough for tenants that he doesn’t even bat an eye when Sheila drags in an armful of protest signs, or when Jeanie wafts in after her on a cloud of patchouli and hemp. The hemp is really just a leftover scent clinging to Jeanie from when she was at Crissy and Dionne’s, but she’s not going to say as much – scaring the squares is half the fun. She does let Sheila in on it, once she voices some concern that the smoke isn’t good for the baby.
“She was asleep in the other room while we were smoking,” she reassures her, as she sets Rain down on their new beanbag. “New” in this case is a relative term – almost all of their furniture is the product of dumpster diving, from the suspiciously stained couch to the wobbly kitchen table and five mismatched chairs. Jeanie hasn’t been able to dig up a crib, so she finds a banana crate and lines it with blankets and pillows. It’ll serve well enough as a cradle – as she points out to Sheila, the only real difference is that it doesn’t rock – and she’ll get a proper place for Rain to sleep as soon as she can find one.
The sleeping arrangements are what almost starts their first fight. There’s one bedroom with a mattress on the floor, and a pull-out in the main room. Sheila floats the idea that they share the mattress, but Jeanie points out that they’d both have to wake up whenever Rain cried at night. Jeanie wants Sheila to have the bedroom because she has to get up early for class, but Sheila tells her that she should take the bed, since she needs the rest more. Sheila wins by pointing out that Rain would have to sleep in the same room as Jeanie, and she can’t very well set her down on the living room floor where anyone might trip over her in the dark. So Jeanie gets the bedroom – for now, at least. It ends up hardly mattering, because Sheila comes in to help get Rain back to sleep at least five times a night anyway.
“I love babies,” she says, when Jeanie tries to wave her off. “And you’re a super cute one, aren’t you? Yes, you are.” Her cooing distracts Rain from whatever she was crying about, and she reaches out to grab fistfuls of Sheila’s hair. She has a thing for long hair, which is good, because the people around her have probably a collective ten feet of it. Jeanie’s decided she won’t cut Rain’s hair until she decides she wants it cut, and if that means it goes down to the floor, then that’s just what it’ll have to do. The hair Rain does have is dark, like her dad’s – not like Jeanie’s blonde at all. She doesn’t really look too much like Jeanie, in her opinion, and she’s surprised when Sheila disagrees.
“She doesn’t have your colouring, but she’s got your face,” she says. “Your nose and your chin – you really don’t see it?”
Jeanie doesn’t, but she’s willing to take Sheila’s word for it. She feels strange searching for herself in Rain’s face, anyway – like she’s trying to make the baby a copy of herself instead of a whole person. She had enough of that with her parents, and she doesn’t intend to pass it on to her daughter.
Of course, Sheila isn’t around all the time – she’s got classes and protests and work (part-time at the campus bookstore) and sometimes trips out of town. Mostly it’s protests. It seems like Sheila is always storming in or out of the apartment, arms full of leaflets or signs or noisemakers. One time, she even brings home a life-sized puppet – it sits next to the radiator for a week until its owner arrives to claim it. Jeanie loves and dreads the protests in equal measures. She loves them because Sheila loves them – she always gets so worked up, excited and breathless and unable to sit still – and dreads them because she anticipates the comedown afterwards, worse than any hangover. It seems like every time there’s a protest, there’s a matching article in the paper the next day about casualties in Vietnam or civil rights demonstrators getting beaten by police in Mississippi, and when Sheila sees it, her face gets blurry and her shoulders droop like she can’t hold herself upright any more. It gets worse every time – like she’s a balloon that someone keeps letting the air out of by degrees. Sometimes Jeanie watches her go out the door and wants to say wait, just stay home this time, I’ve got a new record we can listen to – but she never does. So Sheila leaves on another righteous mission, and Jeanie’s alone.
When that happens, the apartment is oddly quiet. There’s Rain’s gurgles and cries, and Jeanie puts music on to keep herself company, but it’s not the same as having Sheila. A couple of times, she sits by the window with Rain in her arms and cries because Claude is creeping into her thoughts again, and having Rain around isn’t always enough to distract her. One day, she finds the tambourine he gave her and sits on the floor with it for what feels like hours, just holding it in her hands. She remembers how sweet he was, how gentle he was with her and how generous he was with all of them. She remembers his ridiculous fake Manchester accent and his books on astral projection and reincarnation. She hopes, if he’s been reincarnated, that the new Claude – whoever he is, wherever he is – has people who love him. They all loved him so much while he was here, but it still feels like it wasn’t enough. After a little while, she puts the tambourine down, picks Rain up, and heads out the door.
She finds the rest of the tribe in Central Park, gathered around the fountain like they always are. Crissy’s hanging on the arm of a guy who she doesn’t think is Frank Mills, and Angela is weaving flowers into Dionne’s hair. Woof is lying on the ground, half sprawled across Hud’s legs, lazily dangling a joint between his fingers. Looking at them, she feels a fierce rush of joy in her heart, not that different from what she feels for Rain.
Crissy’s the first one to spot her, and she jumps up with a yell, running towards Jeanie with her arms outstretched. Jeanie can’t really hug her back, but she leans into it, bumping her head against Crissy’s shoulder. The others cluster around her; someone takes Rain, and then she’s being passed from person to person, cheerfully cooing through it all. There are hands all over her, a hubbub of voices in her ear, and Jeanie smiles. She’s missed these people.
“I got something for you,” Woof says shyly. Jeanie thinks it’s a blanket at first, until he shows her how to knot it behind her shoulder and use it to tuck Rain against her chest. “So you can carry her,” he explains, “and you’ve still got your arms. I got it from this woman in the Village.” Angela giggles, and Jeanie gives her a questioning look; she leans in close to explain that Woof’s found himself a sweet, sleepy-eyed boy whose band plays at the Bitter End, so he’s always in the Village these days. Jeanie gives Woof a hug. She’s happy for him – happy that he’s happy, and happy that he’s not hung up on Berger anymore.
That reminds her – someone’s missing from the crowd. “Where’s Berger?”
Silence falls. A few people cough. Jeanie looks around, searching everyone’s faces. “Where’d he go?”
“To find himself,” Dionne says with a scoff. She never had much patience for Berger’s moods. “Took off to India to go meditate or some shit. I thought you knew.”
So had Jeanie – or, she’d thought she would have known, which isn’t quite the same thing. Of course, Berger had been talking about India for ages, but she’d thought it was just - well, talk. For him to actually go – “Does Sheila know?”
“Dunno,” offers Crissy. “She hasn’t been around much.” Jeanie did at least know that. If Sheila had come to visit the tribe, she would have told Jeanie about it. She’s thrown herself so much into school and protests, there hasn’t been time for a whole lot else. Jeanie had thought she’d been avoiding Berger, but apparently not. “Has he written? Postcards?”
“Uh-uh.” Dionne shakes her head. “You know Berger. He’s probably so high, he’s forgotten all about us.”
“Or he’s trying to forget,” Angela murmurs.
Someone passes Rain back to Jeanie, and she hugs her tight. She hadn’t thought of any more people slipping away from her, and now she’s anxious to keep it from happening again. “He’ll write eventually,” she says, with more confidence than she feels. “Tell us about all the sights he’s seen, the people he’s met. Maybe he’ll stay and become a yogi.”
“Yeah,” a few people murmur, but there’s no heart in it. Jeanie sits down on the edge of the fountain and pulls her tambourine out of her bag. “Wanna make some music?”
They pass the rest of the afternoon that way, singing and talking and splashing in the water. When the sky starts to darken and the wind picks up, Crissy walks Jeanie back to the apartment, hugging her goodbye before she heads upstairs. “Come back soon,” she says. “We miss you.”
Jeanie hugs her back. “I will. I promise.” Rain fusses in her sling, anxious for dinner. The flight of stairs leading up to their apartment seems steeper and longer than usual; Jeanie thinks maybe she’s getting lazy from staying in all the time. It’s a relief to finally reach the door and push it open, and somehow even more of a relief to see that Sheila’s already home.
“Hey,” she says, looking up from her homework. “Where were you?”
“In Central Park,” Jeanie drops her bag on the floor and unwraps Rain, settling down on the beanbag to feed her. She thinks maybe she shouldn’t ask right away, but she can’t help herself. “Sheila, did you know Berger went to India?”
Sheila sets her pencil down. Her face is carefully blank. “Yeah,” she says, “I did. He told me the night before he left.” She’s silent for a long moment, and Jeanie thinks that maybe that’s all she’ll say, but then she adds, “he said he’d write.”
“Oh,” Jeanie says. They haven’t gotten any mail since they moved in. She remembers what Dionne said, considers repeating it to Sheila, and decides against it. “Maybe he joined a commune,” she says, “where they can’t send mail. Maybe he’s doing transcendental meditation and he only stops to eat and sleep. Or he doesn’t stop at all. Maybe – “
“Jeanie.” Sheila gets up from the table and walks over, dropping to her knees and kissing Rain’s forehead. “I didn’t really expect him to write.”
Jeanie’s not really sure what she should say to that. What she thinks, but won’t say, is that maybe they’ll all be better off now – with the fault line that opened up between the two of them after Claude, it seemed as though it was only a matter of time before someone fell in. She’s glad Sheila didn’t fall in. And Berger – well who knows what Berger’s doing now, if he’s just gone crazy or he’s actually going to find enlightenment on the other side of the world, but he’s left the tribe either way. That much is obvious: they’ve all drifted in and out from time to time, but jumping on a plane and taking off like this - there’s no other way to see it. He’s gone.
While Jeanie stays quiet, Rain gurgles and snuffles against her breast, untroubled by anything more than the need to eat. Sheila sits back on her heels, watching the two of them. “You look so peaceful,” she says. Then: “Jeanie, don’t you ever get tired?”
“Get – “ Jeanie looks up, surprised. “Of course I get tired. When I’m up all night with Rain, or – “
Sheila’s shaking her head. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. I mean more . . . “ She’s got a piece of hair she’s winding around her finger, so tight that her fingertip’s turning white. “There’s just so much going on, and all of it’s bad. Dr. King is dead and so is Bobby Kennedy and people are saying George Wallace is going to run for president. George Wallace!” Her voice is shaking. “And I’m scared McCarthy won’t get the nomination, because if he doesn’t, the none of the candidates are going to pull out of the war no matter how much we protest, and what if nothing matters? All of the protesting, all of the consciousness raising, everything we’ve been doing, none of it matters because they don’t care. They don’t care!” Now she’s crying openly, fat tears standing out on her cheeks and dripping down onto her shirt. “And if they don’t care, I shouldn’t care either, I should just – just give up on all of this. But if I give up, then it really has all been for nothing, and it would be like I was just forgetting everyone we lost, everyone who’s dying right now. It would be like forgetting – “
Her sentence ends with a little choking noise, and she buries her face against Jeanie’s knee. Jeanie lets one hand drop to stroke Sheila’s hair, humming a bit of “Crimson and Clover” because it always soothes Rain and she hopes it might work on Sheila too. There’s nothing she can really say anyway, so she just keeps humming and hopes it’s enough.
After awhile, Sheila raises her tear-stained face from Jeanie’s knee and sniffs. “Berger and I used to fight about it,” she says, and Jeanie nods, because she remembers those fights – Berger laughing with a sneer on his face, like he couldn’t be bothered to take any of it seriously, Sheila with her mouth in a thin line and bright red spots on her cheeks. “He thought I was wasting my time.” She pauses. Jeanie keeps on stroking her hair, because she doesn’t see any point in stopping. “Do you? Think I’m wasting my time?”
Jeanie keeps quiet for several long moments, because how can she even start to answer that? She’s not like Sheila; she doesn’t read three newspapers every morning and show up to every demonstration, rain or shine. She knows about Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King vaguely, because she heard it on the radio; she barely knows who McCarthy is at all. She could say it’s because she’s too busy with Rain to pay attention, but that would just be a handy excuse. The truth is, she hopped a bus to the big city because she wanted to join the party, and she joined it all right, but it’s just about impossible to keep dancing when the dancers keep dying. The truth is, Sheila cares – Sheila’s always cared – but Jeanie only really started to care when the war washed up at her front door, and it’s all too big and overwhelming for her to even start to take in. And it would be easy to say that Sheila’s wasting her time, because the world’s problems are so insurmountable, what could she possibly do to change them? What could anyone do?
If she said so, she thinks – if she told Sheila that it was all a waste of time – maybe she would stop. Maybe that would make her happy, or at least happier than she’s been. Maybe she’d slow down and stay home and there wouldn’t be protest hangovers anymore. Maybe they could just stop getting the newspaper, and turn off the radio, and Jeanie could make the apartment into a little bubble that nothing would ever penetrate, and they’d all be happy. Maybe.
But even as she considers it, she also knows that she can’t. Can’t make an apartment oasis and can’t tell Sheila to give up. Whether she’s wasting her time or not, it’s not fair to just say “stop” because it would make life easier – not when Claude isn’t even alive anymore at all. She can’t flip a switch and make Sheila someone who doesn’t care. She can’t make herself not care, even if her caring is a lot lazier and sloppier and dumber than Sheila’s. She’s not smart or educated or passionate, but Sheila is, and trying to change it – well, it would be opening the same fault that cracked between Sheila and Berger. And this time, she’s pretty sure she’d fall in.
“I don’t think it’s a waste of time to try,” she says finally. “I dunno if anything’s going to happen, or change, or – or anything. But you can still try.”
Sheila surges up suddenly, throwing her arms around Jeanie’s neck and hugging her tight. Rain, who’s finished nursing and fallen asleep in Jeanie’s arms, gives a muffled little yelp of indignation at being woken up. Jeanie takes one of the arms that she’d been using to hold Rain and wraps it around Sheila’s shoulders. Her reply had felt like a wild stab in the dark, and she’s fiercely grateful to gotten it right.
“I know,” Sheila says against her neck. “I know, it’s – it’s important. It’s necessary. Even if we don’t win, it’s necessary. I just – “ She releases Jeanie, wiping at her eyes. “I get tired, I really do. And it’s – I can’t talk to anybody, you know? They’re all depending on me to get it right. I can’t tell them I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I think you know what you’re doing,” Jeanie offers. And she means it. Even though she’s watched while Sheila sat at the kitchen table tearing her hair out over some plan or other that wasn’t coming together like she wanted, she’d never once thought that she wouldn’t figure it out. “And – if you don’t, you can always talk to me. I’m not – I don’t mind.” She’d been going to say I’m not depending on you, but that sounded too dismissive; she wants to say you can depend on me, but that sounds presumptuous. Who’d depend on her? She doesn’t even know why her baby depends on her, except that she’s the only option she’s got.
Eyes still teary, Sheila grabs Jeanie’s hand and squeezes it. “Thank you,” she says.
Jeanie squeezes back, feeling her heart clench and flutter. “Don’t mention it.”
It’s July, and the apartment is sweltering hot. Even Rain, who’s recently learned to roll over from her back to her stomach, is too exhausted by the heat to do anything but lie in her new crib (Jeanie found it second-hand for five dollars; it had become a necessity after Rain outgrew the crate-cradle) and wave her hands listlessly in the air. To get away from the suffocating atmosphere, Jeanie and Sheila take Rain to the park, where she can splash in the fountain and cool off. Jeanie’s fish baby takes to the water gleefully, kicking up waves in every direction. Jeanie holds her up so she doesn’t slip underwater; Sheila climbs in after them and tickles Rain’s feet while she squeals and kicks. When Sheila takes her turn holding the baby, Jeanie stands under the fountain’s spray, letting the water run through her hair and down her dress. It renders the fabric completely see-through, and several men passing by whoop in appreciation. Jeanie waves at them and laughs.
“Pigs!” Sheila shouts at them, which just makes Jeanie laugh harder. “They’re just having fun,” she says, while Sheila purses her lips in disapproval. She holds her arms out for Rain. “Come on in with me, it’s nice and cool here.”
Sheila demurs for a few minutes, but eventually she gives in and wades in after Jeanie. She shrieks at the first touch of the fountain’s spray, and shrieks again when Jeanie kicks water at her. Rain joins in, overjoyed by the noise. Sheila’s top is pink, not white like Jeanie’s dress, but it’s thin enough that it leaves little to the imagination once it gets wet. Her nipples stand out, dark and round against the fabric, while her hair hangs in long, snaky tendrils over her shoulders. She looks like a mermaid, Jeanie thinks – all she needs is the tail.
When Rain starts to get fussy, they decamp from the fountain to a blanket they’ve spread out under a tree. Jeanie nurses the baby while Sheila leafs through a book. After awhile, she sets the book aside and closes her eyes, sighing contentedly as the wind stirs her hair. In Jeanie’s arms, Rain finishes nursing and drifts off to sleep. Jeanie sets her down on the blanket and takes a moment to look at Sheila.
She’s been with women before, of course she has – the whole tribe was always hopping from bed to bed, and she knows Dionne’s, Crissy’s, and Angela’s bodies as well as she knows her own. But Sheila was never in that scene. It was only ever Berger with her. And Jeanie never minded before, because it was up to Sheila how free she wanted her love to be, and it was all just fun anyway. But she can’t help but wonder, now, what it would be like – if she bent down and kissed Sheila, slipped her hands up under her shirt and felt her breasts, slung a leg over her hips and a hand inside her skirt. If she could make Sheila feel good, if Sheila could make her feel better in return. If they could melt together in the heat, become one being under the summer sun.
It’s a dumb idea. She hasn’t been with anyone since – well, since Rain was born, but really since they lost Claude. She doesn’t know if it’s been the same for Sheila, but she does know she hasn’t brought anyone back to the apartment – although that might just be because she’s still sleeping on the pull-out. She wants to tell Sheila she wouldn’t mind, but she thinks she actually would mind. Which is dumb. Dumb Jeanie and her dumb, bad ideas that would just make things weird and wrong. She should just keep her mouth shut and find someone else to have fun with.
A dog barks across the park, and Sheila cracks an eye open. She smiles when she sees Jeanie looking at her. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Jeanie says. “Have a good nap?”
Sheila grunts, pushing herself upright into a sitting position. “Nah. I just got bored with this.” She gestures at the book, and Jeanie picks it up. The cover reads The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, and shows a woman wearing a dress that spells “LOVE” down the front. “It’s not good?”
“It’s . . . fine.” Sheila sighs. “One of my professors recommended it, so I figured I should probably read it.” She rolls her eyes. “He’s really impressed with himself.”
Jeanie flips the book over and looks at the author photo. “The guy who wrote it, or your professor?”
“Both.” Sheila plucks the book from her hands and tosses it aside. “I’ve had better profs, put it that way.”
Jeanie nods. She’s heard about Sheila’s professors before; the guy who taught International Relations had been a “smug, imperialist prick,” but she’d really loved the one who taught first-semester American Constitutional Law. “Then why take his class? You don’t have to listen to him.”
“I do if I want my degree.” Sheila looks amused. “Besides, it’s just one class. I’ll survive.” She stretches out on the blanket with a yawn, arching her back. As she does so, a contemplative look crosses her face. “Jeanie, didn’t you ever want to go to college?”
“Me? The statement is so patently ludicrous that Jeanie giggles. “No way. What would I even do at college?” She expects Sheila to laugh, and is surprised when she frowns instead.
“Well – the same things I do, pretty much. Take classes, get a degree.” She puts her head to one side, looking Jeanie up and down. “Actually, I think you’d do really well in Sociology, or Psychology. I could see you getting a degree in Psych. Maybe even a doctorate.”
“Psychology?” Now Jeanie knows she’s joking. “You mean, head shrinking? I’d rather expand consciousness than make it smaller.”
“Not all psychologists are head shrinkers,” Sheila says seriously. “Timothy Leary used to be a clinical psychologist at Harvard before they kicked him out, you know. That was where he got his start with LSD.” She sits up and knocks playfully against Jeanie’s shoulder. “And I know you like your psychedelics.”
Jeanie laughs. Now that she thinks of it, the two words do grow from the same seed – psychedelia and psychology. It all has to do with heads, whether you’re shrinking them or blowing minds. She’s still not going to college, but it’s something to think about.
“School’s not for me,” she says. “I didn’t even finish high school. Nobody in my family did. You know my sister dropped out before she even finished junior year to get married? And now she’s got a baby, too.” She laughs again. “Mom and Dad’s first grandbaby. They never told Patty to stay pregnant, I know that much.” They’d been thrilled, as a matter of fact; held the wedding reception in their backyard and threw a huge party for the baby’s christening a little over seven months later. Patty named him Joseph Francis, and the whole thing had been unbearably Catholic.
Jeanie looks up, startled by Sheila’s tone – angry, but for Jeanie, not at her. Her forehead is creased, lips pursed; she looks like she does at the protests sometimes, when she’s gearing up to lead a chant. “You’re their daughter too, and Rain’s their grandbaby. Why shouldn’t they treat you the same as your sister? How come you don’t get to go home?” The sound of her voice draws Rain’s attention as well; she makes a tiny noise of distress, wiggling on the blanket, and Jeanie has to pick her up and pat her on the back so she doesn’t cry.
“I dunno,” she says. “Probably it’s ‘cause Patty has a house and a husband, so she’s got someplace to go. They don’t want me moving back in.” Sheila’s face is still a stormcloud, so Jeanie tries to reassure her. “I don’t want to move back in either. It’s fine, Sheila, honest.”
Sheila takes Rain from Jeanie’s arms and hugs her tight, pressing her face against Rain’s hair. “It’s bullshit,” she says, voice muffled. “They should be proud of you.”
“Well – I dunno.” To be honest, Jeanie’s a little overwhelmed. She’s told the story of how she left home before, and always gotten a sympathetic pat on the arm and a “parents, man,” before whoever she’s talking to changes the subject. Nobody’s ever gotten angry on her behalf before, and she’s never expected them to. Why bother? They all have parents they left behind somewhere – hell, Claude had even gone back to visit his a few times, and Berger had technically been living at home until he took off for India. The idea of being upset that her parents don’t like the way she’s living is as foreign to her as the idea of – well, of going to university. But Sheila seems to take them both for granted. “Are your parents proud of you?”
“Oh . . .” Sheila sets Rain down, swiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. “They’re okay with me, mostly. Mom says I should tone it down sometimes, and Dad’s really confused by the whole women’s lib thing. But they still make a big fuss whenever I come home to visit.” She pulls a face. “Remember the last time I visited, they sent me back with all those LPs? Total square music, but they thought it was popular. They bought it off one of Dad’s friends from the museum.” Sheila’s dad is on the board of directors for some museum in Albany; she’s mentioned it a few times.
“Rain liked them” Jeanie offers. She’d listened to a few of the LPs and concluded that Sheila was about it being square music; but the Malvina Reynolds record, at least, put Rain right to sleep. And it was kind of soothing, even if it definitely wasn’t music to fuck to. Or dance to. Or . . . do much of anything to, besides sleep.
“Well we’ll keep them around for her, then,” Sheila says. She pauses, like she’s weighing what she’s about to say. “And, you know – you could always come with me, the next time I go to Albany. Mom and Dad would love to have you.”
Jeanie nods, although privately she thinks it’s not such a good idea. Sheila’s parents might love their daughter, even if they’re baffled by her career in protesting; they might not think as much of the hippie single mom she’s managed to pick up along the way.
She stands up, stretching and yawning. “Hey, you want to go find the rest of the tribe? They’re probably around here somewhere.”
The tribe is, in fact, in the park – and easy to find. Now that the weather’s warm again, they’ve started camping out, and their corner of Central Park is a rainbow of gauzy scarves, blankets, and pillows. Once again, they run to her with open arms when they see her, and Rain’s soon being passed from person to person while Jeanie does the rounds and hugs everyone. Sheila hangs back a little, and Jeanie’s struck with the sudden worry that she won’t be able to find her place again with Berger gone. But she doesn’t need to be worried – she glances away for just a second, and when she looks back, Sheila’s in animated conversation with Hud about coordinating an action with the Black Panthers. Jeanie smiles. They all still have their place here.
After she says hello to everybody, she finds herself perched on a boulder next to Crissy, who’s chatting excitedly about seeing Phil Ochs at the Gaslight Café last week; Woof’s boyfriend got them in. Woof, meanwhile, is swinging Rain up in the air over his head while she laughs. Jeanie watches them for a minute or two. “She’s going to throw up on him soon.”
“Probably,” Crissy says with a shrug. “But you know he won’t care.” Jeanie does know. Woof never minds getting messy. He wouldn’t be a bad candidate for having a kid of his own, she thinks – nothing ever seems to phase him. Suddenly tired, she laces her fingers through Crissy’s and lets her head drop onto Crissy’s shoulder.
Crissy squeezes her hand. “You’re sad.”
“Hm-mmm,” is all Jeanie says in reply. She can never lie to Crissy; they know each other too well. “I’m happy, too.”
“You’re always happy,” Crissy says. “You’re not always sad. What’s up?” She pauses. “Claude, still?”
“No.” Jeanie thinks about it for a second, then amends her statement. “I mean – not all the time. You know? I’m sad when I think about him, but it’s not the same kind of sad that it used to be.” What had been a sharp, stabbing pain in December faded slowly to a dull throb over the winter, and now it’s like an old bruise – achy when poked, but otherwise unobtrusive. She thinks it’ll stay like this for awhile, maybe the rest of her life. She can live with that.
“What, then?” Crissy presses. “I know it’s something. And I don’t like it when you’re sad.”
Jeanie laughs a little, squeezing Crissy’s hand back. “Thanks.” She bites her lip, looking at Woof again. Sure enough, Rain’s thrown up on him, and he’s not even a little bit bothered; Justin’s squirting him with a water bottle. “I’m kind of – lonely, I guess. Even when I’ve always got Rain with me, and Sheila most of the time. You know how you can be lonely, even when there’s people all around?”
“Sometimes,” Crissy agrees. “Sometimes when I’m getting high with Dionne and Angela, I’m the last person awake, and it feels like the whole world is empty except me. I feel lonely then. And when I was looking for Frank, and I figured I might never find him.” Understanding dawns on her face. “Are you hung up on someone?”
“Crissy . . .”
“You are,” she says, “I can see it. Who? No, don’t tell me – “ she bites her lip, “ – not if you don’t want to, anyway. But if you do . . .”
Jeanie just sighs. Even leaning on Crissy, she feels like she’s carrying a fifty-pound weight. Maybe this is what her dad meant when he used to say he had a monkey on his back. “It’s not important,” she says. “It’s not gonna happen, so it’s not important. I just have to . . . find someone else, that’s all.”
“It could happen!” Crissy says brightly. “You don’t know. Anything’s possible. I could read your tarot cards and find out if there’s love coming into your life.”
Jeanie muffles her smile in Crissy’s shoulder. Crissy learned how to read tarot cards last year, and she’s been crazy for it ever since. She’s even offered to teach Jeanie few times, but she turned her down. She doesn’t really want to see the future.
She looks across the camp again, to where Sheila’s still standing with Hud. There are flecks of gold in her brown hair, and they seem to sparkle when the sun hits them. Their clothes have mostly dried by now, but her shirt’s still damp enough to cling, and it makes Jeanie think of how she looked in the fountain. How she’d laughed under the spray of the water. How she’d looked just the right shape to fit into Jeanie’s arms, how could click together like puzzle pieces.
Crissy sees Jeanie looking. “Oh,” she says. “Her? Oh.”
“I told you,” Jeanie says dully, “it’s not going to happen.”
For a moment, Crissy says nothing, and Jeanie thinks she’s going to let it drop. Then she says softly – so softly that Jeanie almost doesn’t hear her – “I still think it might.”
“There’s an action this weekend,” Sheila announces, “by Riverside Park.” She drops an armful of flyers onto the kitchen table. “It’s for the Democratic National Convention. A bunch of us at SDS want to go to the protests in Chicago, but we’ve got a teach-in here scheduled for the week after that, so we can’t leave.” She surveys the flyers gloomily. “It’s not as good as being on the ground where it’s all happening, but it’ll have to do.”
“It’ll be great,” Jeanie assures her, bouncing Rain on her lap. Rain drools, gnawing on a discarded wooden spoon; she’s started teething in the last week or so, and the spoon is the only thing that seems to keep her from screaming. “The people in Chicago will keep the spirit alive over there, and you’ll be making sure everyone in NYC is paying attention.”
“You think so?” Sheila smiles a little, slumping down into a chair. “I hope you’re right. Obviously everyone from SDS is going to be there, but I’m worried we won’t have anyone else showing up. Half the university’s gone home for the summer, and the other half is just bumming around campus getting stoned. And we’ve been papering the Village with flyers, but there’s so much else going on, I don’t know what the turnout’s going to look like.”
“The tribe would probably go, if you asked,” Jeanie says. She knows for a fact that Hud is going, because this is the protest he and Sheila were planning the last time they were in Central Park. The rest of them, she’s not so sure about – but they’ll probably come if she asks them to, as a favour. “And – I’ll come. Me and Rain.”
“You and – “ Sheila shakes her head. “You don’t have to do that, Jeanie. It’s going to be boiling hot out, and we’ll be there for hours. You’ll probably get tired. I know Rain will get tired.”
“Rain’ll be in her sling, she can sleep if she wants to,” Jeanie says. “It’ll be good for us to get out of the apartment. And I want to come. I want to help.” She does, of course, but her motives are only partially altruistic. She also wants to show Sheila that she can be in on the action, too – part of the war effort, like her parents always used to say. The anti-war effort. Sheila’s effort. She’s not under any illusions that she’ll be especially helpful, but at least she can be another body in the crowd.
“I don’t –“ Sheila starts to say, then stops herself, rolling her shoulders. “If you want to, you can. I mean, you should do what you feel like doing. That is – gah.” She shakes her head. “You know what I mean. Just as long as you’re sure.”
“I am sure,” Jeanie says stoutly. Rain drops the spoon on the floor and starts to cry. Jeanie picks it up and goes to the sink to rinse it off. “It’ll be an adventure.”
She hasn’t changed her mind by the time she wakes up on Saturday, but she does feel an anxious little flutter in her stomach as she gets out of bed. Sheila left ahead of her – “to help set up,” she’d explained – promising to meet up with Jeanie once she arrives. She gets Rain up and dressed, chattering to her the whole time as she tries to calm her nerves. “We’re going to have fun, aren’t we? There’s going to be dozens of dozens of people, and music and signs and probably puppets too. And Sheila’s going to be there! We’ll get to spend the whole day with her. Or, not the whole day, but a big part of it. Won’t you like that?”
Rain, evidently, isn’t nearly as optimistic as her mother; she fusses and whines the whole time Jeanie’s dressing her and spits up all over her clothes as soon as she’s in them. Jeanie, refusing to be discouraged, strips her out of the soiled dress and bundles her into another. Then, before she has time to start crying in earnest, she grabs the wooden spoon and sticks it into her mouth. That seems to calm her, and she gums it contentedly as Jeanie pulls her own dress on over her head. “We want to look good,” she tells Rain, examining herself in the mirror. “Like we’re taking things seriously. Oh, hang on – “ She’s spotted a forgotten tin of face paint sitting on the floor beneath the dresser. She hasn’t got a real brush handy, so her fingers have to do as she smudges the paint onto her face in the rough approximation of a daisy. She briefly considers doing the same for Rain, but decides against it; it might give her a rash. Satisfied that she looks suitably counter-culture, she packs Rain into her sling, picks up her bag full of baby supplies, and heads out the door.
It is, as Sheila promised, boiling hot – but Jeanie’s used to that by now, so she hardly minds. And the atmosphere of the subway car, at least, is cooler than the air aboveground. She’s a little sorry to get off the train, but she elbows her way through the crowds regardless, and finds that the exit spits her out exactly at the entrance to Riverside Park. She doesn’t have to check to make sure she’s in the right place – it’s swarming with people, at least half of whom are toting signs that say things like “BOMBING FOR PEACE IS LIKE FUCKING FOR VIRGINITY,” “I DON’T GIVE A DAMN FOR UNCLE SAM,” and “END THE WAR BEFORE IT ENDS YOU.” Jeanie wishes she could have brought a sign too, but her hands are already full. Still, she gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up to a girl walking past with a “DROP ACID, NOT BOMBS” poster; she grins and waves at her before dancing away, shouting, “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” There are puppets too, just like she promised Rain – one eight-foot figure towers over their heads, two long white arms fluttering in the breeze. They look almost like streamers. Jeanie unties Rain so that she can hold her up to look, and Rain chortles at the sight, earlier fractiousness apparently forgotten.
“Jeanie!” Sheila squeezes out from between two of the puppeteers and grabs her in a hug, before holding her at arm’s length and beaming. “You came!”
“Of course I came,” Jeanie says, beaming right back. “I said I would, didn’t I? And I said you’d have a great turnout, and look!” The sidewalk is packed with bodies as far as the eye can see. Jeanie spots Hud a few feet away, with a group of his Panther friends; their banner reads “FREE HUEY.”
“You did, didn’t you?” Sheila can’t seem to get the grin off her face. Not that Jeanie’s complaining – she can’t get enough of her looking like this, like she’s swallowed the sun. If she’d looked like a mermaid that day in the park, she looks like a warrior queen now. Her hair is braided and pinned back, and she’s also got her face painted – a peace sign just under her left eye. Jeanie reaches out and touches it, and Sheila laughs. “You like it? Everyone was already painted when I got here, and one of the girls from the War Resisters League did it for me.” She blushes. “I haven’t gotten to a mirror yet. I don’t know if it looks any good.”
“It looks great,” Jeanie assures her. She’s about to say something else, but there’s a shout from across the road, and Sheila looks over, eyes narrowing. “I’ve gotta go handle this,” she says. “Hang on a sec, I’ll be back – “ And then she tunnels through the crowd and is gone again.
Someone’s hooked up a loudspeaker and is blasting “Masters of War;” several people are clapping and singing along, loudly enough that Jeanie can hear them over the general clamour. She returns Rain to her sling, then digs around in her bag until she finds her tambourine. She retrieves it just as the song is ending, but the next one to start up is “I’m Going To Say It Now,” so she bangs the tambourine in time to that instead. There’s a drum circle nearby, which she can’t see, but she can hear. A group of girls near her are singing, and she joins in: “Oh I am just a student, sir, and only want to learn, but it's hard to read through the risin' smoke of the books that you like to burn – “
“There, that’s done,” Sheila says, reappearing at Jeanie’s elbow. She takes in the tambourine and grins. “Having fun?”
“You know it,” Jeanie shoots back. She can feel her face flushing with exertion and joy, and for a moment, she thinks she knows how Sheila feels when her protests come together; the soaring exhilaration, the sense of camaraderie with everyone around her – it’s almost like getting high, except her heart’s beating so much faster than it ever did from acid. Or maybe that’s just because of Sheila; she looks so beautiful and fierce, like a saint or a warrior queen, Jeanie almost feels like her bravery is rubbing off and she could kiss her right there and then.
There’s another shout, like before, but this one’s closer. Sheila turns her head to look, eyes narrowing again. She opens her mouth, but the crowd beats her to it: someone yells “Pigs!” followed by “Gas!” and then there’s screams as a white mist rises up above their heads. Jeanie still barely understands what’s happening as Sheila grabs her arm and yells “run, run!” before turning and running – no, why is she doing that? – back into the crowd, toward the source of the screaming. The people near Jeanie are all taking off in the opposite direction, yanking their shirts up over their mouths and noses. Whatever this is, it’s turning into a stampede.
Jeanie does the only thing she can think of: she does what Sheila told her to. She runs. As she turns on her heel, she sees figures in blue, batons raised elbowing their way through the crowd. She wraps both arms across her chest, holding Rain tight against her body, and sprints as fast as she can. The foremost thought in her mind is get out of sight, so instead of running in a straight line, she dodges down the first side street she sees. She can still see the police when she glances over her shoulder, so she keeps on zigzagging, turning first left then right, until the sound of the crowd is a dull roar in the distance. It’s replaced by Rain wailing in her arms, unaccustomed to being jostled like this and frightened of all the noise.
“It’s okay, rainbow baby,” Jeanie mutters as she finally slows down. She’s far enough now from Riverside Park that she can’t see even a speck of greenery in her surroundings. It’s all shabby little houses, standing cheek-to-jowl along the side of the street. The pavement under her feet is cracked, brown weeds sprouting up between the white lines that have faded almost to invisibility. The police, Jeanie thinks, haven’t been here for awhile. Nobody has.
Jeanie suddenly feels like her legs won’t hold her up any longer. Rain’s still crying, and her feet ache from all the running, and she has no idea where she is. She wants Sheila, or Crissy, or anyone from the tribe – just a familiar face, someone to lean on. She’d even take her parents or sister, come to that. But there’s nobody in sight except a couple of kids playing jacks on the stoop of one of the houses, and they haven’t even glanced up at her. They probably wouldn’t be much help even if they did.
She manages to limp over to the nearest house, and sits down on the front steps with a thump. She unwraps Rain, then digs around in her bag for the spoon, hoping it’ll soothe her long enough to get her to stop crying so that Jeanie can figure out what to do next. She comes up empty – she must have left it at home. That, of all things, is what pushes her over the edge. She drops her chin to her chest and starts to cry.
A door bangs open behind her. “Hey!” says a sharp voice. “This is private property! What do you think you’re doing on my porch?”
Jeanie looks up, sniffling. A middle-aged woman is standing on the stoop, both hands sitting on her hips, a fierce scowl on her face. “I’m – I’m sorry,” Jeanie says, lurching to her feet. “I just – I was tired, and I needed to sit down for a minute. I’ll go.”
The woman’s scowl softens a bit when she catches sight of Rain. “That baby okay?”
“She’s fine,” Jeanie says, shifting Rain in her arms. She’s worn herself out crying, but she still has enough energy to whimper. “We were just, um – “ Fuck it, she thinks; she can’t come up with a good excuse on the fly, and how much harm can the truth do? Worst come to worst, the woman will call the police, and they’ll come and pick her up, and she’ll get a ride to the station and probably get to leave in the morning. And she’ll be able to find out what happened to Sheila. “We were at a protest,” she says, “and the cops came and gassed us, so I ran away. Only I got turned around, and I don’t really know where I am now. I don’t – I’m not from here.”
“I could tell that,” the woman says, but the scowl’s almost entirely gone from her face now. “Cops gassed you, huh? Sounds like them. But you’re okay?”
“We didn’t breathe any of it in,” Jeanie reassures her. Just the sight of a friendly face is lifting her spirits a bit. “I’m just gonna – go home. As soon as I can figure out which way to go. Can you tell me where I am?”
“You’re in Morningside Heights,” the woman says, “just over from the university. You a student?”
It reminds Jeanie suddenly – ridiculously – of her talk with Sheila, and she has to swallow a laugh. “No, ma’am,” she says, “I’m not. I live over on Fourteenth, near NYU. My roommate’s a student there.”
“Huh.” The woman shakes her head. “You’ve wandered a ways away from home, then.” She steps back a bit, holding the door open. “Come in for a bit, get rested. You look like you could stand to put your feet up.”
“You mean it?” Jeanie says. It seems almost too good to be true – not that she should let that stop her. The alternative is walking back to the apartment and waiting for Sheila to come home. At least this way, she can rest a bit first. Maybe the walk home won’t seem so daunting after she’s gotten the chance to catch her breath.
“I always mean what I say.” The woman’s voice is sharp, but not snappish. “My name’s Sandra. You?”
“Jeanie,” she says, walking up the front steps, “and this is Rain.” Sandra snorts a little at that, but she doesn’t rescind the invitation.
Jeanie ends up staying for several hours, seated on Sandra’s well-worn living room couch while Sandra fusses over Rain and listens to Jeanie explain what happened at the protest. She’s not too surprised, she says – the police have never been friends to anyone in Morningside, and it’s only gotten worse since the uproar started at Columbia. You’d think they would keep all their attention focused on the students, but no, they’re still driving up and down her neighbourhood harassing peaceful people just going about their lives. Sandra’s son is still in high school, but she’s damn sure she won’t be sending him to college if this is the kind of thing they get up to over there. Jeanie tells her that she never went to college herself, and Sandra just snorts. She never went either, she says, and neither did her husband, but did that help either of them? No; he spent a year in Korea, then came home and drank himself to death, and now she’s got to work nights as a waitress just to keep the lights on. Really, there’s no way to keep yourself out of trouble, but she’s at least tried to avoid the people who go around looking for it, and Jeanie should think about doing the same.
“I will think about it, thank you,” Jeanie says in her politest yes-ma’am voice. She disagrees with more or less everything Sandra’s saying – if Sheila were here listening, she thinks, she might just explode – but she’s not going to say as much when Sandra’s been nice enough to invite her in. She hasn’t completely abandoned her Midwestern manners, even if she doesn’t use them that often. “I better be getting home now. Thank you for having me.”
“Don’t mention it.” Sandra waves a hand at her. “Just take good care of that baby, you hear? And be careful about the kinds of people you give your time to. Better to steer clear of this kind of nonsense than get yourself tangled up with the police.”
Jeanie thanks her again, then sets off. The sun’s hanging low in the sky, and it’s not quite as hot as it was when she set out earlier in the day, but she can still feel sweat trickling down between her shoulder blades as she walks. Sandra had pointed her towards the nearest subway station before she left, but it’s several blocks away, and she’s exhausted again by the time she catches a train back to 14th Street and staggers up the stairs to the apartment.
She’s barely pushed the door open when a blurry figure comes flying towards her, and then Sheila’s arms are around her, pulling her inside. “I didn’t know where you were,” she says into Jeanie’s neck. “I didn’t know where to look, who to call. Are you – “ She takes a step back, holding Jeanie at arm’s length and eyeing her up and down. “You’re okay? The cops didn’t get you?”
“They didn’t even come close,” Jeanie says. She lets the strap of her bag slide off her shoulder, onto the floor; she’s too tired to put it away properly. Briefly, she sketches the events of the afternoon out for Sheila, how she ended up spending the afternoon on a stranger’s couch in Morningside before she managed to make her way home. “She was nice,” she says. “Kind of – well, square, I guess – but nice.” She thinks for a second, the reconsiders. “Actually, she wasn’t that square. She didn’t like the cops. Mostly she just seemed tired.”
It’s then that she looks properly at Sheila for the first time since coming in and realizes that she’s a mess. Her hair has been yanked out of its braids, hanging in snarls around her face, and there’s a quarter-sized bruise on her cheek, just below the smeared remains of her peace sign. “What about you?” she demands. “Did the cops beat you up? Is that what happened to your face?”
“What?” Sheila puts a hand gingerly to the bruise. “Oh no, that wasn’t – I got away from the cops, that wasn’t them. A guy elbowed me in the face and knocked me down while we were trying to get away.” She tries to grin, but it comes out more like a grimace. “They did grab my shirt while I was running, though. Ripped the whole arm off. I had to throw it out.”
Jeanie goes to the garbage pail in the corner and fishes Sheila’s shirt out. The arm is, in fact, dangling by a few threads, but – “It just ripped along the seam,” she says. “I can fix it. Maybe even do something funky, like add patches or use a different colour thread. It could be like your battle scar.”
“Do whatever,” Sheila says. “I don’t care. It’s an ugly shirt.” Then she adds, as though she’s just remembered the long-ago yellow shirt she brought back from Washington, “but thanks for offering.”
She slumps down onto the couch, running a hand through the tangled ruins of her hair. “God, Jeanie,” she says. “I was so scared. I didn’t know where you were, and there was no way to figure it out, I didn’t see which way you’d gone – “
“Scared for me?” Jeanie says. She’s sorry she worried Sheila, but underneath the remorse there’s a spark of something like gratification. Sheila had been scared for her; in the midst of all the pandemonium, the wrack and ruin of her demonstration, Sheila had been thinking about her. As soon as she locates and identifies the feeling, it’s replaced entirely by guilt. “You didn’t need to be. I was fine.”
“But I didn’t know that!” Sheila raises her head, eyes fierce. “You could have been anywhere – you could have gotten trampled! And god only knows what would have happened if the cops had caught up with you – if you’d been arrested, or worse. I wouldn’t put it past those pigs to beat up on a woman with a baby.” She’s gnawing on her thumbnail, which is already bitten down to the quick; it’s a nervous habit, Jeanie’s noticed. “I shouldn’t have asked you to come. It wasn’t safe.”
“You didn’t ask me,” Jeanie points out. “I volunteered. Besides, you were there. You went, even though it was dangerous, so why shouldn’t I?”
“Because – “ Sheila starts to say, then trails off as though she hadn’t thought through how the sentence would end. “Because,” she says again wearily, “just because.” And that sounds kind of like bullshit to Jeanie, the type of dead-end logic she used to hear from her parents – but she’s too tired to argue, and she thinks Sheila probably is, too. She just wants to go to bed.
A wail rises up from her sling, and she winces. “I’ve gotta change Rain and give her a bath before I put her down,” she says, “it’s been hours.” And who knows how long it’ll take her to get to sleep; after the tumult of the day, she’s probably so wound up, it’ll be hours before she drops off. She unwinds the sling and looks down at Rain’s red, angry face with a pang of guilt. She doesn’t regret going for Sheila’s sake, not for a second, but she does regret that Rain’s stuck with her for a mother. Maybe she would be better off with a mom like Patty, a house in the suburbs and church on Sundays. Something safe and stable, so she wouldn’t be crying and exhausted and soaking wet when she ought to be peacefully asleep in her crib. For that matter, she thinks, maybe Sheila would be better off with a friend who could actually contribute something to her causes besides wandering aimlessly around Morningside. Maybe she does regret going, just because there was no real point to her being there; she didn’t do anything useful.
“Here.” Sheila holds her arms out, and Jeanie passes Rain to her automatically. “I’ll get her cleaned up. You go to bed. You look exhausted.”
Jeanie blinks at her. “Seriously? You’re probably exhausted, too.”
Sheila shrugs as she gets to her feet. “I’ve been home for a couple of hours now. I’ve had plenty of time to wind down. You go ahead.”
And maybe it’s the cumulation of the day’s events – the heat, the screaming, the running, the getting lost, the ache in her back from carrying Rain around for so long, the fact that the baby is still crying and Jeanie knows it’s her fault, the knowledge that she’s being rescued from her own failings for the second time in the space of a few hours – but all of a sudden, it’s all too much, and Jeanie starts to cry again. It starts with tears leaking from her eyes, then her shoulders start to shake, and she sits down hard on the beanbag, snuffling and hiccupping and trying her hardest not to sob out loud. It’s not working.
“Jeanie?” Bouncing Rain on her hip, Sheila comes over and kneels down next to her. “Are you okay?”
“I – “ She can’t seem to stop sniffling and hiccupping long enough to get a coherent sentence out. “I screwed up. I’m sorry.”
“Screwed up how?” When Jeanie looks at her, Sheila’s forehead is creased with worry. Rain’s actually stopped crying for the moment, apparently too startled by the sight of her mother in tears to focus on her own discomfort. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I did.” She gulps, trying to get her breathing under control. “I shouldn’t have gone. I didn’t help, and I worried you, and I kept Rain out all day and now look at her. She’s miserable. I’m a shitty mom and a shitty protestor and I just – I’m in the way.” She feels a bit better for having said it out loud; now that it’s hanging in the air, she realizes that it’s a thought that’s been cooking in the back of her brain for months, and she just hasn’t given voice to it before.
“Jeanie.” One of Sheila’s hands closes over Jeanie’s wrist, squeezing firmly. “You are not a shitty mom. Not even a little.”
“But Rain – “
Sheila snorts. “She’s a baby. Babies get tired and cry sometimes. She’d be crying just as much if you’d spent the day at the playground, and hundreds of moms did that today instead of going to a protest. And their babies are probably crying now, too. And you’re not a shitty protestor, or in the way. Protestors are supposed to be in the way. It’s what we do.”
“But – “ Listening to Sheila, Jeanie can feel her breathing coming back under control, and the hiccups are slowly receding. “But you were worried about me.”
“Yeah, and?” Sheila’s face is so soft just now, Jeanie can hardly stand to look at her. “If you’d stayed at home, I would have been worrying about how you were doing while I was out running from the cops. I’ll worry no matter where you are, so you can give up on keeping me from being worried. Worrying’s kind of my thing.”
“You shouldn’t,” Jeanie says, but she can feel her spirits rallying at Sheila’s words. Sheila doesn’t think she’s a fuck-up, or a bad mom. Sheila doesn’t mind worrying about her – not only doesn’t mind it, but welcomes it, which is a new experience as far as Jeanie’s concerned. Her parents had used to worry about her, but it had always been couched in annoyance and predictions that she would drive them into an early grave. That was at least part of why she’d cut herself loose. It’s just that she somehow managed to stumble into a situation where she actually likes being worried about, probably because it’s offered in terms of affection rather than exasperation. That’s a new experience, and she thinks she enjoys it.
Sheila sits back on her heels, looking thoughtful. “You know what I think? I think you’re tired.”
“Well, yeah,” Jeanie says. “We’re all tired. It’s been a long day.”
Sheila laughs a little. “Yeah, but more than that. Remember a few months ago, when I asked you if you ever got tired? And you said – “
“ – I said yeah, sometimes,” Jeanie finishes for her. It had been a night not unlike this one; Jeanie in the beanbag, Sheila on the floor. Only this time, Jeanie’s the one who’s crying. “But not like you, I don’t think.”
“I think you do,” Sheila says seriously. “But – I think ‘tired’ is the wrong word for it. You get worn out. We both do. I get worn out working with the SDS, and you get worn out taking care of Rain.” She squeezes Jeanie’s wrist again. “And me. You spend all this time taking care of me, and I don’t really – I haven’t paid attention like I should. I’m always so busy, I don’t notice when you need me. But you try so hard to make things easier for me, to make me feel better when I’m down, and I haven’t done the same for you. And I should. It’s not fair that you do all this work and I just keep unloading on you.”
All of this sounds a little dubious to Jeanie, because she’s not really sure what work Sheila’s talking about – listening to her? Making dinner? Sometimes cleaning up when the apartment gets too messy? That’s normal stuff, not anything she deserves a medal for. But she’s not going to argue the point just now, both because she can tell Sheila really, sincerely means it, and because she really is too tired. So when she opens her mouth, instead of replying to anything Sheila’s just said, what comes out is “You should sleep in the bedroom tonight.”
Sheila looks startled. “What are you talking about? You should have the bed, you’re exhausted – “
“I can have the bed,” Jeanie says, “we both can. It’s big enough, and Rain’s sleeping through the night now so I won’t need to be up with her, and it’s silly for you to be on the couch. Besides, I like – sleeping – next to someone.” She takes a wobbly breath. “So will you?”
“I . . .” Sheila bites the inside of her cheek. “I might wake you up when I come to bed.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jeanie says, “I’ll go right back to sleep.” She hesitates. “Please?”
“If you want,” Sheila says slowly, and now it’s Jeanie’s turn to bite the inside of her cheek so she doesn’t smile. “I’ll be along in – an hour or so, I guess. Don’t wait up.”
“I won’t,” Jeanie says, fully confident that she’s lying through her teeth.
As it happens, she doesn’t quite wait up after all; she drifts, half-asleep, until she hears Sheila come in and settle Rain down in her crib. “Shhhh,” she says when Rain gurgles, “we don’t want to wake Mama, she’s tired.” Then there’s the soft sound of her shucking off her jeans, and she crawls into bed besides Jeanie in just her t-shirt and panties, not bothering to put on a nightshirt. Jeanie hasn’t bothered either; it’s too hot for that. Several minutes tick by in silence.
“Sheila?” Jeanie whispers. Sheila stirs on the pillow, making a soft noise in the back of her throat. “I was trying not to wake you.”
“You didn’t,” Jeanie says. “But – did you mean what you said? About me not being a shitty mom.”
“You’re not a shitty mom.” One of Sheila’s hands comes to rest between Jeanie’s shoulder blades. “You’re a great mom. Rain’s lucky to have you.”
“Really?” Even at her most ambitious, Jeanie’s never thought of herself as a great mom. An adequate one, maybe.
“Yes, really.” Sheila yawns. “She’s happy, she’s healthy, and she’s loved. You spend all day talking to her and cuddling her and singing to her. Lots of kids can’t say the same. Do you know how many kids I knew growing up who spent more time with their nannies than their parents?”
Jeanie couldn’t afford a nanny for Rain even if she wanted one, but she understands it’s the principle of the thing. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.” Sheila yawns again, wrapping both arms around her pillow. “G’night.”
“Night.” She can tell Sheila falls asleep right away; her breathing is slow and even within seconds. On her other side, she can hear Rain snoring peacefully in the crib. With people she loves surrounding her in both directions, it’s easier than Jeanie expected to fall asleep with them.
Jeanie’s figured out how to make money. Not a lot of money, to be sure – not enough to cover their entire rent, or to buy anything fancy. But it nets her around three dollars a day, which is more than she’s ever made before. Every morning, after Sheila leaves for class, she gathers Rain up and heads down to Washington Square Park with a sketchbook and easel. There, she sets herself up near the entrance and offers to sketch the people passing by. A lot of them are tourists, and they’re charmed enough by the sight of her – the picturesque hippie girl with her bangles and scarves and her cute baby gurgling on the blanket beside her – that they readily agree to give her fifty cents in exchange for a picture.
It's times like these that teach her to be grateful that they live by Washington Square Park instead of Central Park. She misses being able to walk down and see the tribe whenever she feels like it (though she can always take the subway if she wants to) but Central Park is overrun with vendors hocking jewellery, art, second-hand clothes, records – anything that they can pawn off on gullible tourists for twice as much as it’s worth. Washington Square Park is quieter, but there’s less competition. There’s something in that.
Of course, not everyone is friendly, and it’s hard to spot the difference sometimes. For every sweet couple from Iowa who are glad to buy a portrait, there’s a businessman from Seventh Avenue avoiding her eye as he hurries past. They’re easy enough to ignore. The mothers and nannies pushing strollers are sometimes harder to pick out, but their pillbox hats and spotless white gloves are usually a giveaway. She sometimes slips up, though, and is rewarded with a withering look as they walk on by. It doesn’t bother her too much. They come from different worlds.
There’s one that stings, and it’s half her fault for calling out in the first place. She spots the woman from behind, notices her loose hair and pretty blouse, and calls without thinking, “hey lady! Want me to draw you a picture?”
The woman turns to look at her, lip curling, and Jeanie belatedly realizes her mistake. Her blouse is buttoned up tight to her neck, and the skirt accompanying it is ironed and starched to within an inch of its life; Jeanie isn’t sure how she can even walk in it. She takes Jeanie in at a glance, touching one hand to her chest and flashing her fancy gold bracelet in the process. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” she says. She bounces off the two syllables of “ashamed” almost like they’re separate words. Then, apparently annoyed by the smile still fixed on Jeanie’s face, she adds “that poor child,” before stalking across the park and out of sight. Jeanie watches her go, noting that the skirt restricts her to tiny little steps like a penguin. It’s like the opposite of waddling, but the effect is somehow the same.
Jeanie gathers Rain up in her arms with a sigh. This woman isn’t the first person to cast a judgemental glare at her for having Rain, and she undoubtedly won’t be the last, but she’s learning not to let it upset her. Once upon a time, it would have – but Sheila’s on a one-woman campaign to fix that. Every day, she makes a point of saying something about what a good job Jeanie’s doing; if she ever catches someone giving them a judgemental look, she stops and gives them hell on the spot. If she told Sheila what just happened, she knows, she’d probably go stomping down to the park to find the woman and tell her off. It’s overwhelming and imperious and very, very sweet. And it’s working, too – it’s hard to feel bad about herself with her own personal cheerleader providing a constant running commentary on her successes.
In turn, she’s trying to do the same thing. Being praised feels unnatural, but it feels a little less so if she returns the favour. So every time Sheila praises her, Jeanie praises her right back; for every compliment she gets, she makes sure to give one. Sometimes, they get locked in a cycle of congratulations, lobbing flattery back and forth until one or both of them cracks up. It’s purposeful, but somehow it never feels artificial. Jeanie means everything she says; Sheila is doing great. And she knows that Sheila, for all her blustering, isn’t lying when she says she’s proud of Jeanie. Their compliments complement each other.
She’d tried to give Sheila some of her earnings when she first started to bring money in – it’s only fair that they go halves on the rent now that they both have jobs – but Sheila had put her foot down and refused. “Buy yourself something nice,” she’d said, “or a new dress for Rain, or something. The rent’s covered, you don’t need to worry about it.” Though she’s never come out and said as much, Jeanie knows she thinks she ought to be covering all their expenses, since she comes from more money than Jeanie does and it’s more equal that way. A small part of Jeanie rebels at the thought, but also having a baby is expensive, and not having to worry about rent does mean she can buy diapers and baby clothes more easily. So she lets it go.
The sketchbook had been a gift from Sheila, and so Sheila was the first person Jeanie drew a picture of. It’s hanging in their bedroom at home, tacked up to the wall with putty. She knows it’s not really her best work – she’d been just starting out, unsure of what she was doing, and it’s paradoxically harder to capture someone you know than it is to draw a stranger – but Sheila says she loves it. So Jeanie’s been quietly sketching Sheila while she goes about her day, when she’d bent over her work at the kitchen table or stirring something at the stove or playing with Rain. She likes these pictures better, herself; there’s more life in them. She hasn’t shown any to Sheila, though.
The day of the woman in the park, she feels unsettled enough to pack up and go home early – and she’s already earned a dollar fifty, so it’s not like the day is a wash. Since she’s home early, Sheila isn’t there yet, and she has time to put her stuff away and settle down to play with Rain before she gets dinner started.
“Smart girl,” she says as Rain starts to pull herself across the floor in the direction of the couch. She’s learned to drag herself around with her arms recently, and nothing in the apartment is safe; if it’s on the floor, it’ll go in her mouth sooner or later. Anything she could swallow has been moved to higher ground, much to her consternation; she can’t stand up yet, so if there’s something out of her reach, she’ll sit on the floor beneath it and cry until Jeanie or Sheila picks her up. Jeanie pulls her sketchbook out again and starts to draw Rain as she gives up on moving and rolls over onto her back, kicking her bare feet up into the air. She’s also recently become fascinated with her own toes, probably because there’s no way for anyone to keep her from sticking them in her mouth. Sheila says she’s got an oral fixation.
Jeanie hears the keys jangle in the lock and calls “it’s open” just as Sheila pushes the door open and steps in. Rain looks up, rolling back over onto her stomach and struggling to push herself upright so that she can reach for Sheila. She flops down onto the carpet, scrunching her face up like she’s ready to start crying.
“I’m here, baby girl,” Sheila says, swooping her up off the floor and into her arm. Rain snuggles against her, tears forgotten. “You’re home early.”
“Oh . . .” Jeanie shrugs. No point bringing up the woman in the park; it’s already fading into the rear-view mirror. “I got tired, I guess. You want rice for dinner?”
“Sure.” Sheila sets Rain down in Jeanie’s lap and moves over to the store. “I’ll get it. Unless you want to eat later?”
“Now’s fine.” Jeanie watches Sheila as she steps from the cupboard into the stove, pouring rice into their battered pot and turning the stove up. She loves watching Sheila like this just as much as – if not more than – she enjoys watching her in action at protests. It’s so cozy, even if all she’s doing is heating up water. She remembers her dad watching her mom the same way when she used to get dinner ready, and wonders if her face is as soft as his was then. He’d deny it if anyone asked him, eyes shuttering as soon as he realized he was being watched – but Jeanie was good at watching without being noticed. Those had been the rare times when she’d actually wanted what her parents had, when marriage had looked like something comfortable instead of a claustrophobic trap.
“Has Rain eaten yet?” Sheila asks, leaning down to pick the baby up. “Or can I feed her now?” Sheila loves giving Rain her dinner, and Jeanie – who’s not crazy about getting mashed banana spit back in her face – is more than happy to let her do it. “Go ahead.”
Sheila settles Rain in her high chair and pulls a jar of baby food out of the refrigerator. Jeanie’s been making her own since Rain started eating solids, not wanting to bother with the prepackaged, chemical garbage from the grocery store. Besides, how hard is it to mash up fruit and vegetables? She can do it herself, boiling it down to mush on the stove and storing the results in mason jars. It makes her feel self-sufficient, like some kind of farmer or pioneer.
“Mmm, you want some peaches?” Sheila says to Rain, who bangs her cup on the high chair in reply. “I bet you do. Open up.” Rain opens her mouth as soon as she sees the spoon in Sheila’s hand, which is almost insulting, considering that she always puckers her lips and turns her head away when Jeanie tries to feed her. Maybe Sheila’s just got magic hands.
While Sheila’s feeding and chatting to the baby, Jeanie gets up and wanders over to the record player. Sheila’s parents’ LPs are sitting on a stack beneath it, and she grabs one at random and sticks it on the turntable and sets the needle in place. The room fills with music, and Jeanie bounces on her heels in time to the music.
Sheila looks up, laughing. “The Weavers?”
“I kind of like it,” Jeanie says, still bouncing. “It’s catchy.” The words are in Hebrew, so she can’t really sing along, but she notices Sheila’s singing under her breath. Rain is giggling, banging her hands on her tray. She can dance to it, anyway. She was wrong earlier, when she thought that this music was only good for sleeping; it’s pretty catchy, in its own way. Nothing she would hear at the Bitter End, but still nice.
The first song ends, and the next one starts with a sudden explosion of violin strings. Sheila’s eyes light up. “Oh, I loved this one when I was little! My grandma used to sing it.” She taps her foot on the floor and keeps singing as she spoons food into Rain’s mouth. “Tzena, Tzena, join the celebration, there'll be people there from every nation . . .”
Jeanie bounces over to where Sheila’s standing. Rain has apparently caught the mood; she’s no longer interested in the peaches, too busy laughing and babbling along with Sheila. Grinning, Sheila sets the spoon down and spins away, swinging around in a circle. “Come and dance the hora, one two three for all the boys will envy me – Jeanie, come dance with me!” She holds both hands out, and Jeanie catches them, letting Sheila pull her into the dance. Really, it’s more just them jumping up and down in circles than real dancing, but Jeanie never learned how to dance properly, so this isn’t that far off from her usual moves. Sheila’s arms are around her waist, lifting her up as the music peaks, and she’s dizzy from the spinning. They’re both barefoot, but the sound of their feet drumming against the floor almost drowns out the song. Rain’s shrieking with laughter now, both Jeanie and Sheila’s hair is whipping around them as they move, and the room is a blur of colour and motion and laughter.
The song ends, and Jeanie becomes aware of their downstairs neighbour banging on the ceiling. He’s yelling too, but the noise of their dancing drowned out the beginning of his sentence, so all she catches is “- damn kids!”
She and Sheila meet each other’s eyes and burst into simultaneous giggles. Jeanie drops her head down onto Sheila’s shoulder, winding her arms around her neck. They’re both shaking with laughter, and Sheila’s neck is damp with sweat as Jeanie presses her forehead against her. They’ve hugged before, plenty of times, but this somehow feels more intimate. In the background, she hears another song start, just as lively as the last one. They could dance again, and Jeanie pulls back to suggest just that, but she never gets the chance; as she opens her mouth to speak, Sheila leans down and kisses her.
It’s a messy, open-mouthed kiss at first, because they’re both still laughing a little and neither of them had really prepared for it. Then it changes, growing deeper and taking root. They’re already so close together, it takes barely any effort for Jeanie to press up against Sheila, feeling the curves of her body through the thin layers of their clothes. Her breath catches as she wonders what Sheila’s thinking as she presses back against her, what she feels. She bumps against the table and scoots up to sit on it automatically, so she can wind her legs around Sheila’s waist and get enough leverage to push up against her. Sheila’s hands are in her hair, but then they roam down to her back, creeping under her shirt. Jeanie’s dizzy from the touch, drunk on euphoria and relief; she wonders if this is how it happens, if they’re going to fuck right here on the kitchen table.
There’s a shriek from behind them, and they break apart. Rain is clutching the forgotten spoon in one hand, glaring at them in indignation; with the song over, she’s apparently eager to get back to dinner, and displeased at being ignored. Sheila steps back from Jeanie with a sigh.
“Oh, now you want to eat,” Jeanie says. Rain ignores her, reaching for Sheila as she steps over and takes the spoon from her hand. Sheila glances over her shoulder at Jeanie with a smile. “Timing, huh?”
“Uh-huh.” Jeanie spins around on the table so she’s sitting to face Sheila and Rain. Her skin is still prickling with heat. She strips her shirt off in a single motion, and lets it drop beside her on the floor. Sheila glances over at her again and groans. “God, Jeanie, don’t do that.”
“Why not?” Jeanie says, her face a picture of innocence. “It’s warm in here.” She swings her legs back and forth a few times, then tucks one ankle behind the other and leans back to watch Rain eat. She takes a few more mouthfuls of peaches before she starts to bat the spoon away when Sheila offers it, and Sheila leans over and drops it in the sink. “Okay then,” she says, “no more food for you.” She lifts Rain up out of her high chair, grabbing a dish towel to wipe the extra food off her chin, then holds her at arm’s length looking thoughtful. “I think it’s just about nap time, don’t you?”
“Definitely,” Jeanie says, and reaches out to take Rain from Sheila. She walks her over to the record player, where the LP has moved on to a slower song, and sways gently back and forth, patting Rain’s back and humming to her. She can tell when her baby starts to fall asleep, as her fists uncurl and her open mouth comes to rest on Jeanie’s shoulder, breath coming in gentle puffs. When Jeanie’s sure she’s down for the count, she tiptoes into the bedroom and settles her down in the crib. Just to make sure she doesn’t wake up and start crying, she grabs a pacifier off the dresser and sticks it in her mouth before heading out to the living room.
When she sees what Sheila’s done in her absence, she has to cover her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. She’s got the pull-out set up, with the coffee table dragged off to the side and a mattress taking up most of the main room. Sheila looks up, catching her eye and grinning. “I thought we might wake her up if we went into the bedroom,” she says. Then she stretches both arms out. “Come here.”
Jeanie goes gladly, stepping into the circle of Sheila’s arms and letting Sheila’s mouth close over hers. There’s a dozen questions she wants to ask, chief among them did you always know this was going to happen? When did you realize? but they can all wait for now. Just at the moment, her hands are roaming under Sheila’s shirt and Sheila’s fiddling with the clasp on her bra, and then they tumble over onto the mattress in a tangle of limbs and hair. Jeanie’s chin bumps into Sheila’s forehead, and Sheila laughs. “Wait, wait – “ She rolls them over so Jeanie’s head is against the pillows and Sheila’s got a knee on either side of her hips. “There,” she says, “that’s better,” and leans down to kiss her again.
Jeanie stretches her arms up over her head as Sheila kisses her way down her torso, worrying at a spot just under her left breast. “Do you remember,” she mutters against Jeanie’s skin, “we were in the park, months ago, you called yourself a goddess – you said – “
“Slum goddess of the Lower East Side,” Jeanie says, tangling a hand in Sheila’s hair. She’d forgotten all about that; was Sheila really paying that close attention, that she remembers it nearly a year later?
“Mmm,” Sheila breathes against her skin. “You’re not a slum goddess, you’re a mother goddess, a fertility goddess – a love goddess. Aphrodite or Ishtar, or Freya. God, Jeanie.” She groans. “You don’t know how incredible you are.”
Jeanie just tightens her grip on Sheila’s hair and doesn’t answer. She’s been talked to like this before – Rain’s father had once told her she looked like Marianne Faithfull. But it had only ever been breathless babble in the heat of the moment. Sheila actually means it, she can tell. She wants to tell Sheila how amazing she is, how she looks at her and sees a warrior queen, but her mind is too blank and blissful to come up with any suitable references.
Sheila keeps on kissing her way down, and Jeanie lets her legs fall open to accommodate her, pulling her skirt up out of the way. At the first touch of her mouth, she arches up against the pillows, gasping for air that won’t come to her. She sticks her fist in her mouth while Sheila keeps on kissing her, gentle licks and probes of her tongue and fingers, until Jeanie’s eyes roll back in her head and she has to bite down hard on her fist to keep from yelling out loud and waking Rain. Still, Sheila keeps at it until it starts to become more painful than pleasant, and then Jeanie gently pushes at her head. “Hey,” she says, “come up here.”
Sheila comes to her, kissing her hard. Jeanie snakes a hand down between their bodies, mirroring what she’s always liked to do for herself, and Sheila trembles and gasps and mouths at her shoulder as she does it. Jeanie strokes her hair with her free hand, murmuring “you’re so beautiful, you’re so passionate, I love you – “ until she jerks once, bites down on Jeanie’s neck, and goes limp.
The window’s half-open, and the breeze stirs Jeanie’s hair on the pillow. She’s glad of it; it was sticky hot in the apartment already, and it’s much hotter and stickier with their bodies tangled together like this. Sheila’s still slumped on top of her, breathing hard, but Jeanie wouldn’t move her for the world. She keeps on petting Sheila’s hair as they lay there, sweat drying in the warm air.
Eventually, Sheila lifts her head. “Wow,” she says with a little half-laugh. “I mean – wow.”
“Wow,” Jeanie agrees. Now that the initial storm of sensation has passed, her earlier questions are coming back to her. She picks one at random. “Did you ever do that before? With a girl?” She thinks Sheila might have – it felt like she might have – but maybe that was just enthusiasm on her part, making her seem like more of an expert than she was.
“Hmm, a couple of times,” Sheila says. “When I first started at NYU, before I met Berger.” She props her chin on her crossed arms, smiling at Jeanie. “But none of them were as special as you.”
Jeanie starts to say “I’m not special” reflexively, but catches herself and stops before the words reach her mouth. Instead, she says, “when did I get special? For you?”
“Oh . . .” Sheila’s playing with a lock of Jeanie’s hair, twirling it around her finger. “God, I don’t know. It just sort of happened, you know? Like we saw each other every day and I didn’t even notice things were changing, and then I just looked at you just now, and you were – I could see you, like it was the first time. And I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t seen you like that before.”
Jeanie considers this. It’s not far off, really, from her end of things; Sheila had come creeping unobtrusively into her thoughts over the course of months, slipping into place so gently that Jeanie hadn’t even caught on until she was solidly fixed in place. It wasn’t like her summer infatuation with Claude, or the quick, anonymous passion that she’d had with Rain’s father. It was something more comfortable and lived-in, a space where she could stretch out and relax and feel safe. She’d never really thought of love as something that could exist alongside the daily hum of life; she’d imagined that love must fade when it was replaced with responsibilities and routine. But she’d also never imagined that she could have an apartment and a baby and a home without cutting away the vital part of herself, the part that her spurred her to run away to the city in the first place.
“I found myself,” she says out loud. Sheila listens quietly, scanning Jeanie’s face. “I wasn’t even looking, and I found you and then I found myself. Isn’t that weird?” She thinks unexpectedly of her parents’ anniversary party when she was in high school, when they’d toasted to being “the best versions of ourselves.” Was this what they had meant? Shit, does she have something in common with her parents now? That doesn’t bear thinking about.
“It’s not really weird,” Sheila says. She drops her head to rest on Jeanie’s chest again. “I mean – it is, and it isn’t. I guess I kind of found myself when I found you, too. And I didn’t expect it. I always thought I’d find myself – I don’t know, on an acid trip or something. But it feels right, this way.”
“It feels right,” Jeanie echoes. Having Sheila in her arms feels right. Sitting across the kitchen table from her, watching her feed Rain – that feels right. Listening to her talk politics feels right, even if she still doesn’t really understand what it’s all about. It’s not a single streak of colour across a grey landscape; it’s a dozen different pieces that all fit perfectly into a mosaic, a life that makes her happy in ways she’d never expected to be. “You feel right.”
Sheila kisses her nose. “You feel right, too.”
There’s a rattling noise from the kitchen, and they both pause for a second before Sheila scrambles up from the bed. “Shit! The rice!”
Jeanie sits up, laughing as she watches a naked Sheila grab the pot and yank it off the stovetop. She looks in at the contents, and grimaces. “I think dinner’s going to be late.”
“That’s okay,” Jeanie says blandly, “you’ve already eaten.” Sheila pauses for a second, then shrieks with laughter and throws a dish towel in Jeanie’s direction. Jeanie catches it with a broad grin. Late, probably burned rice for dinner, sex on the pull-out and waking up in the morning to kiss Sheila good-bye before she leaves for class: this is love, this is the life she wants. In an hour or so, Rain will wake up and Jeanie will carry her out to the living room, and the three of them can cuddle on the couch together. Sometime this week, they’ll all go down to Central Park and see the rest of the tribe, and she’ll tell Crissy her big news, tell her she was right. Maybe she’ll even get Crissy to read the tarot cards for her. And Sheila’s protests will carry on, and the election will happen in a few months, and then – well, things will keep going like they’ve been going. That’s all she can really ask for, all she needs. After all her hazy dreaming, all her unfocused excitement for the big open future – her future is still wide open. She just knows for sure who’s going to be in it.
November 6th, 1968
“How’d it go?” Jeanie asks, emerging from their bedroom with Rain on her hip. Sheila didn’t come home last night – she’d been at the university following the election coverage. Jeanie had made a valiant effort to stay up with her, but she’d ended up nodding off on the couch, and Sheila had laughed and told her to go home and get some sleep. When she’d gotten home, around midnight, Crissy had been watching Rain; Jeanie had offered to let her crash on the couch, but she’d had plans somewhere else.
Sheila’s sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper spread out in front of her, gnawing on her thumbnail. Jeanie leans over her shoulder to read the headline. NIXON WINS BY A THIN MARGIN, PLEADS FOR REUNITED NATION.
“Oh,” she says. She’s not really sure what else to say. She knows this wasn’t the result Sheila had been hoping for, but – she hadn’t really been hoping for any particular result. She’d told Jeanie several times that the choices ran from bad to worse, and it was just a matter of picking the least bad option.
“Oh,” Sheila echoes, but she turns around and leans up to kiss Jeanie. “The TV didn’t call it until this morning. It was too close.” She sighs. “Bad to worse, I guess.”
Jeanie slides into the chair across from her and bounces Rain a little on her knees. Rain reaches out for Sheila, perturbed by the lack of attention being paid to her. “Hey,” Jeanie says, “you look like you could use some baby hugs.”
Sheila looks up with a small smile. “You know what, I think I could.” She reaches out and takes Rain from Jeanie’s arms, hugging her tight. “Hey, kiddo,” she mutters. “It must be nice to be a baby, huh? You don’t even know what politics are.” Rain, pleased to have both her mothers’ undivided attention, coos and puts her arms around Sheila’s neck.
“It’s not all bad, I guess,” Jeanie offers. “You said he talked about leaving Vietnam, right? And ending the draft”
“Yeah, he did.” Sheila kisses Rain’s cheek, then leans across to kiss Jeanie again. “So that’s something. I don’t like – well, basically any of his policies, but that is something. And as for the rest of it, there’s always more protesting.”
“Always,” Jeanie says. That, she knows, will be a constant. She’s heard Sheila talk about Nixon’s policies – no desegregation bussing, “law and order” (whatever that meant) and attacking the Democrats for being Communists (“ridiculous bullshit” was Sheila’s opinion on that.) Sheila says she doesn’t trust him as far as she can throw him, and that’s not very far at all, but she also hadn’t trusted the last president, so that’s not much of a change. Really, it feels like nothing’s changed at all – like they’re at in the eye of a hurricane, and everything around them’s in chaos, but their little enclave is the only thing untouched.
“I’m pretty sure I would’ve been protesting no matter who won,” Sheila says, “so it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise.” She picks up her coffee mug and drains it. “I’ve gotta go. SDS is supposed to have a meeting this morning talking about strategies going forward, and I’m already running late.”
“At least get something to eat,” Jeanie says, thrusting a muffin into Sheila’s hand. She knows perfectly well that Sheila will go without breakfast if she’s too busy worrying about SDS business. “And come right home after. You need to get some sleep.”
“I know I do,” Sheila says, standing up. “And I will, I promise.” She hands Rain to Jeanie and heads for the door, grabbing her jacket from the coat stand and yanking it on over her sweater. Jeanie’s fairly certain it’s the same sweater she left the house in yesterday.
“Wait,” Jeanie says, standing and going over to her. Sheila pauses with her hand on the doorknob. Jeanie gently turns her around and tilts her head up to kiss her; Sheila’s unresponsive for a second, but then she softens and leans into it. When they break apart, she leans her forehead against Jeanie’s for a long moment.
“It’s gonna be okay,” Jeanie says. “You’re gonna make it okay. I know you are.”
“I hope so,” Sheila whispers. “For our sake – Rain’s sake – I hope so.”
“I know so,” Jeanie says firmly, then takes a step back. “Knock ‘em dead.”
Sheila smiles at her, a slow, painful smile that’s a thousand times sweeter for being well-earned. Then she opens the door, steps outside, and heads down the hall, towards the stairwell.
Jeanie goes inside, watching the street from their front window. She sees Sheila pause on the sidewalk and turn to wave up at the window. Jeanie lifts Rain’s hand and waves back, then flashes a thumbs-up sign at Sheila. Sheila grins and flashes one back before turning and walking away. Jeanie watches until she turns the street corner and disappears.
“She’s gonna make it okay,” she says out loud, half to Rain and half to herself. Then she hoists the baby up in her arms. “Now, what are we going to have for breakfast? It’s gonna be a busy day.”