- This Is How It Always Is
Then Roo set the table. Then Ben poured water into water glasses. Then Penn, Rigel, and Orion came back in, all three of them wet and emotional, Penn from the traffic, which he reported was a mess because of the thunderstorm, Rigel and Orion from something having to do with a sand table that Rosie couldn’t make out but made sympathetic noises toward anyway. If traffic was bad, she needed to leave early for work. If she needed to leave early for work, she needed to leave now. Penn pulled the shrimp from the grill and the rice from the pot, threw both in with the vegetables in the wok, combined sauce and beans, and dumped some of all of the above into a giant to-go container, added a spoon, and shoved it into Rosie’s hands as she checked to see how many of the many things she absolutely must not forget had actually made it into her bag. Some. She gave quick kisses all around and headed for the car. If traffic was as bad as Penn said, she’d be able to eat dinner on the way to the hospital.
That was how. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. All for one. It wasn’t so much that she and Penn had set out to practice Zen marriage equality and perfect-balance parenting. It was just that there was way more to do than two could manage, but by their both filling every spare moment, some of what needed to got done.
One good turn deserves another. Two heads are better than one.
Why was a harder question. Rosie thought about it all the way to the hospital, not that day, but 257 days later on the one when Claude was born. Labor had begun in earnest during dinner, though she’d known it was coming all morning and afternoon. Her feet itched peculiarly just before contractions started. She knew that sensation from long experience and had figured the baby would come the next day or even the one after that, so even though the contractions came closer and harder, she made dinner. But between passing the salad around and actually finishing the pasta, contractions had gone from every seven minutes to every three. Penn said, “So, how about dessert?” Rosie said, “Instead, maybe the hospital.”
How they were going to get home was an open question, but for the moment, they all still fit in one car. Rosie installed herself in the front seat, calmly but with no little effort. Penn grabbed the bags. They weren’t for Rosie, who needed so little. She had never been the type to prepare a soundtrack or a collage or a special pillow for the delivery room, but by now she realized that even the handful of things she’d brought the first few times were unnecessary. No, the bags were for her mother. They contained provisions to spend hours and perhaps days on end in a waiting room with four small, giddy boys—books, trains, LEGOs, glue sticks, juice boxes, granola bars, stuffies, blankies, and particular pillows. Rosie did not need a special pillow for the hospital. This was the difference between her and her sons.
One boy’s trash is another boy’s treasure. Back to square one.
All the way to the hospital while the kids sang Peter Pan in their car seats and boosters—their babysitter was starring in her high school musical—and Penn squeezed her hand and pretended, unsuccessfully, to be nonchalant by obeying all posted speed limits, and she resisted the temptation to tell him to hurry the hell up, Rosie was thinking one word over and over: Poppy. If the baby was a girl—and surely, surely it had to be: she had eaten fish and cookies; she had had sex in the afternoon facing east; she had done the thing with the spoon, and besides, it was her turn—she would name her Poppy.
They had had the name picked out from the first pregnancy. Rosie had had it for even longer, since one dark day sitting on her little sister’s hospital bed while their parents were in the cafeteria taking a break. Rosie was braiding Poppy’s wig hair and Poppy was braiding Poppy’s doll’s hair when she said, out of nowhere, “I’ll never have a little girl whose hair I get to braid.” Her voice was raspy. Rosie knew now it was from the chemotherapy, but at the time it seemed like something inside her little sister was fighting to get out—and winning—a goblin or a witch or a demon, something that was already breaking through in snatches here and there: a croaking voice, red rolling eyes, bruises that raised slowly then seemed to spread and multiply as if peeling back from a sea of purple skin roiling just beneath her ever more delicate surface. Rather than being frightened, Rosie found this idea comforting. She welcomed the demon on its way out of her sister because it was becoming increasingly clear that Poppy could not survive this terrible, unspeakable, unthinkable disease, but maybe the demon could. Demon Poppy seemed much stronger. Demon Poppy had more fight in her.
“Will you take care of Clover for me?” Poppy croaked. Like all the children in the Walsh home, Poppy’s doll was named for a flower.
Rosie nodded. It was all she could manage. But then Poppy’s regular voice came back: “Where should we go on vacation?”
“When I get out of here.”
“I dunno.” The only place they’d ever been on vacation so far was their grandparents’ house, which smelled like basement. “Where do you want to go?”
“Siam,” Poppy said immediately.
“Like The King and I.” The hospital had a poorly stocked video library of which that was the highlight. And Poppy had a lot of lying-around time.
“We’ll go everywhere,” Rosie promised. “As soon as you’re out. Well, we probably have to wait four years till I get my license. Is Siam in driving distance?”