“Do you still need me, viejo?”
“Just stay nearby,” James says, sliding his long legs out from under the sink, then jumping up with the kind of wiry energy I’ll never have. “I don’t have the right tools.”
James is in the garage when the phone rings. I catch it on the first ring.
“Rita, I need James,” Tamaya says. “It’s about Mama.”
I hurry to the door from the kitchen to the garage, calling to James. “It’s Tamaya.”
He takes the phone from my outstretched arm, walks over to a stool at the kitchen bar, and half-leans, half-sits on it.
I climb onto the stool next to him.
“When?” he asks.” Where is she now?” A pause, then, “What about Taneesha?”
It’s a long time before James speaks again. “Rita and I can take her,” he says, raising an eyebrow at me to ask if it’s okay.
When the call is done, he puts the receiver down and looks at me. “Tamaya put Mama in a hospital. She had a breakdown.”
I get off my stool and place my body between his legs, leaning toward his chest to offer him a comfort-hug. He’s a big man, so from where I’m standing, my head comes to his chest.
“Mama has been talking pretty crazy lately,” he says, pulling back a little.
We stare at each other, peeling back layers of denial.
About a month ago, Mama went off on a complicated riff full of they‘s: They were building skyscrapers off energy sucked from her troubles. They were giving college scholarships to some that rightfully belonged to others. Even a neighbor’s kitten was being used by them. Her they system was as complex as a space shuttle’s computer system. That night James made the first of his “what are we going to do” phone calls to Tamaya.
“I need a half hour to finish the sink,” James says, bringing me into the present. “Then we can get Taneesha. You sure it’s okay for her to stay with us?”
I nod, but I don’t know how easy it will be to have a 13-year-old in the house.
All of Taneesha’s belongings fit into two suitcases. While she unpacks, James heads back to the apartment to help his brothers load Mama’s stuff into the old pick-up Malcolm inherited by mutual agreement after Pop died.
That night Taneesha is so quiet it’s like she forgot how to talk. I try to welcome and reassure her, but she just dumps her suitcase on the guestroom bed and heads straight for the TV.
I’m used to my family’s ways. We talk about things. James’ family is different.
James told me before we picked her up that, even though he doesn’t like her friends, maybe too much change would not be good. If I was willing to drop her off and pick her up, she could keep going to the same school. I tell her this plan now.
I sit with her, knowing that she’s going through a lot but frustrated that James is so busy trying to figure out what to do with Mama’s stuff that I’m out here alone with her. She and I get along well, but I don’t know quite what to say to her.
Finally, he comes in, sits down on the other side of Taneesha, and puts his arm around her. She scoots close to him and, after a half hour or so, falls asleep. We get a pillow, some blankets, pull out the nightlight from the master bathroom, plug it into a wall socket, and leave her there for the night.
“All the Brown kids scared of the dark, you know that,” he reminds me.
“You’re not scared now.”
“I was when I was a kid.”
That was the first night.
It takes a few days for Taneesha to start talking to us, and a few more days for me to begin to feel like the house will never again be quiet. She always has the radio or TV on. Still, after a week, we have settled into something resembling a routine.
Each night after James and I brush our teeth, I read my courtroom thriller and James watches TV, the volume down low so it won’t disturb me. Then we talk about Taneesha.
“She may be my sister,” he says one night, “but it’s almost like she’s an only child. Everybody but Malcolm was grown or nearly grown when she was born.”
“But still, you’re all sisters and brothers,” I say, wondering why I’m so caught up in defending Taneesha as full-fledged sister.
“Of course. But Taneesha and me, we didn’t grow up together. I was 16 when she was born, right when I was mostly thinkin’ ’bout girls and cars, so I didn’t hardly notice her till I was movin’ out with you.”
I’m not sure why he makes it sound so cold, this relationship he has with his little sister, because I’ve always thought they were close. Does he feel guilty? Or is he feeling as awkward about the whole thing as I am?
On another night, I tell him that she has been complaining that she never gets to do anything with her friends anymore.
“Good,” he says. “That’s the way I like it. Punk-ass gang wannabees.”
“But it’s got to be hard for her.”
James shakes his head. “Mama never had the heart to discipline us. Pop was the one always made us all toe the line. We need to get Taneesha away from that gang.”
“They’re not a real gang, are they?” I say.
“No, maybe not, but they like the street way too much. You gonna read some more?” he asks me, looking like he’s hoping I’ll say no. But I’m tired, and I want to shower in the morning, not tonight, because I have to wash my hair. I could say yes and have what I think of as one of our tennis-match lovemaking sessions, but I’d rather wait and do it right.
The next day, Taneesha is still sulking about her friends, and she eats maybe three bites of dinner, and, really, I make great enchiladas. Sure enough, she scarfs down a bologna sandwich later. So now I sit here on the edge of the bed, brooding, angry because she didn’t eat, and feeling foolish that I’ve taken her refusal to eat so personally.
James has just come out of the shower, and he looks so delicious that I decide to take a night off from talking about Taneesha. I give him my vamp look and nod at the drawer where we keep the condoms. Sighing, he tosses a package on the bed near our pillow, and we begin. He may not like having to use protection, but it’s that or no sex.
He takes his time, and it’s real nice.
I snuggle up against him afterward, but he begins to snore right away. I lie awake, listening to his breathing, thinking about my miscarriages. Well, not exactly about the miscarriages themselves. These days, I am visited by a cruelly matter-of-fact voice in my head that tells me I am never going to be a mother.
Taneesha can be such a pain in the ass that it’s hard to hang onto warm and fuzzy feelings about her, but she’s a child, I’m an adult, and she needs love. All my maternal urges are bubbling right now.
I wake up at about eight the next day, a Saturday, see James’s half of the bed empty, and remember that he is working overtime.
Taneesha is likely to sleep until about ten, so I settle down with coffee and the newspaper. Then I put in a load of laundry.
The first Saturday Taneesha was with us, I challenged her to a duel. The one time I like ranchero music is when I’m doing housework. My mom taught me the words to lots of the songs, so I like to sing along. Here’s the deal I made with Taneesha. I could play one CD; then she got to play one. Unfortunately, I hated her gangsta rap as much as she hated what she calls my “Mexican cowboy” music, so we decided that the best solution is for her to plug into her portable CD player and leave me alone. I told her I have to have mine on the stereo because it’s got to blast out in order to energize me when I’m scrubbing sinks and toilets. And besides, I’m the grown-up and grown-ups rule the world.
She didn’t even smile when I said that.
I’m figuring on a two-hour housework blitz today after she gets up. At 11:30, I decide that I don’t want to wait any longer. I knock first, then push the door in, thinking I’m going to have to actually rouse her.
“Oh, my God!” I shout.
“It’s okay. Really. It’s okay.”
There is blood all over all over her leg.
She puts her hand behind her back, but I can’t think about anything but blood. I run to the bathroom and grab some towels.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make such a mess,” she says when I wrap a towel around her thigh. The blood soaks into the first towel pretty quickly, so I wrap another one around her.
“What happened?” I ask, trying to stay calm.
She won’t look at me.
“What do you have in your hand?”
“I’m sorry, Rita,” she says, looking toward the window, not at me. “I don’t know why I did it,” and she hands me my razor.
I check the towel wrap and see that the blood is not coming out as much.
“Damn it, Taneesha. We’re going to Acute Care. Now stay still for a few minutes.”
I get us shoes and sweaters, grab my keys, and drive us there.
Two and a half hours and six stitches later, the doctor hands me a pamphlet about teenage girls and cutting.
When James gets home, Taneesha gives him calf eyes, promises him that she won’t do it anymore, and I get as far away from them both as I can. I know that’s the way they deal with things, by talking as little as possible, but screw them, it’s not enough, the girl needs help. And she is damn well going to help me with the housework tomorrow.
And then, to top it all off, when I need to talk later that night, James is no help.
“Baby,” he says, “I honest-to-God don’t know what to do.”
“She needs counseling.”
“I’ll call the union and see what we got for coverage.”
He puts his wallet on the table next to the bed and starts to pull his shirt off. “She’s doing good in school now, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, but . . .”
“Let it go for tonight,” he says.
I grab my nightgown off the hook and march to the kitchen to get a beer, which I plan to drink in the bathtub.
The next day he is gone again when I get up.
Taneesha and I finish the housework.
Then I go outside to do some gardening. As I pull weeds, the sun warming my back, I decide that I’m not really mad at James for not wanting to talk about Taneesha right at bedtime. Discussing problems at bedtime is a road I’ve been down before. For the five years that James and I tried to have a baby, I needed to talk, worry, hash and re-hash. After my fourth miscarriage, we decided that we couldn’t face trying any more. But then I needed to talk about the decision to stop trying. Bedtime had become talk time more than sex time.
Last night when he just put me off, I wanted to grab him and say, “Okay, so if you don’t want to talk about her problems, how about my feelings? What about all that blood and waiting around at Acute Care and how she totally screwed up my day?” But today, as I enjoy the fresh air and tending to my garden, my more sensible self takes over. If James and I are to take care of Taneesha, I will try to do my part graciously.
Taneesha’s school is five miles away from where I work, and every day I drop her off 15 minutes before the bell. Since my workday ends later than hers, she has to wait for me after school. It has been hard on her that she can’t “kick it” with her friends the way she used to. At first, she tried going with them as they moved from one place to another, but she had to keep checking her watch. After a while, they just let her go.
While we’re clearing dinner dishes a few nights after she cut herself, I decide to ask some questions.
“You and Tootsie still friends?”
“Uh huh. I guess.”
“You still hangin’ together after school?”
“Who are you friends with now?”
“Got lotsa friends.”
I revise the question. “Who do you hang with after school?”
“Where do you go?”
She looks down. “Library.”
When she has dried and put away the last dish, she hangs up the dishtowel and high-tails it out of the kitchen. Now I know how to get her to hustle with chores.
It’s amazing how much better things get when I decide to be pleasant.
It has taken months, but Taneesha and I now have a very organized after-school routine. As soon as we get home, she heads straight for her room, where she is supposed to start her homework. There’s always hip hop or gangsta rap music seeping out of the crack in the door, but if I pop my head in, I will see her sitting on her bed with a book open and a notebook and pencil at her side. She knows I’ll call her teachers, too, if I think she’s not doing her homework. I wasn’t raised by Connie Martinez for nothing. My mom always insisted on three things: honesty, good manners, and good grades.
At the end of the first quarter, we get her grades in the mail, all B’s, and she even has two outstanding citizenships.
Just after Thanksgiving, we are all sitting in the family room. An “In Living Color” rerun is on. James is paying bills, and I am going through the mail. Taneesha is the only one actually watching the show.
At a commercial, she turns to me. “Does your mama laugh a lot?”
“No, not really,” I say. “My mom has a sense of humor, but I don’t think she laughs as much as I do. Probably more than Pancho, though,” I say, poking James playfully, “and he’s so cute when his dimples show.”
James tilts his head, signaling me to keep her talking.
“Why do you ask?”
“Did Mama laugh a lot?”
She hesitates, then nods.
Afraid to push her any further, I look across at James.
“Taneesha,” James says, “say what you mean.”
“Well, sometimes she wouldn’t stop laughing for a long time.”
What James and I did just now, it feels good. We didn’t plan it or talk about it; we just acted. For the first time in a long time, I feel like James and I are partners. Also, his smile makes me feel like he has noticed all the time I’ve put in with Taneesha.
A few days later, she tells us that, about a month before the breakdown, Mama stopped buying groceries. She finally had to ask Mama for money to buy food, and Mama cheerfully handed over three 20-dollar bills. After that, Taneesha did all the food shopping.
“And she’d be like talking to somebody, holding a real conversation, only wasn’t nobody there,” Taneesha tells us another time.
“Why didn’t Taneesha tell any of us?” James asks me later, when we’re sitting at the kitchen table snacking on cheese and apples. “I mean, when it was happening.”
“She was afraid, maybe. But don’t you even think about asking her that.”
He draws back. She is his sister, after all.
“She’s just a kid,” I say. “She must have been terrified.”
“What are we gonna do?” he asks. “Mama might never –”
I put a finger on his lips. “Taneesha can stay here as long as she needs to.”
James leans his head on his hands, his elbows forming a triangle.
At Christmas, we talk her into visiting Mama at the hospital.
The mental ward is a pretty depressing place, with its yucky green walls and the rigamarole visitors have to go through with the nurse gatekeepers, ringing the bell to be let in and out, so we haven’t insisted that Taneesha come along when we visit. But it’s Christmas, and she needs to be here with the rest of the family.
“Holidays are loaded,” one of the nurses reminds us before we go in.
All eight of the Brown “kids” and their partners and families are there, from Taneesha to Tamaya. We take turns, going in twos and threes.
Mama is pacing.
“Merry Christmas,” James says, reaching out to give her a big hug. He kisses her soundly on the lips, then nods at me.
“Oh, it’s the wife,” she says. Her tone is friendly, but the words throw me, so my hug is light. James and I have been together for nine years, so she knows my name. I wonder if she’s feeling jealous because Taneesha is living with us, though I don’t actually know if she realizes where Taneesha’s staying and why. Mama is pretty full of Mama right now. That’s the illness, of course.
“They been putting things in my food,” she whispers, directing her words at me. “They do that with all the women. They don’t want us having babies, so they put this powder in our food.”
She turns to James. “I didn’t eat for three days, but then I decided, what the hell, I can’t have no more kids anyways, and I told my roommate I’d take her dose, only we can’t figure a way to do it.”
She laughs loudly.
I can tell that James wants to establish the facts once and for all, that no one has been trying to sterilize her through her food. He doesn’t say anything, though.
“What do they do around here for holidays?” I ask, mentioning the holiday partly to anchor her in time, yet ending up embarrassed by how lame my question sounds.
“Well, they put up decorations,” she says, waving at the red and green garlands that are strewn across her room, “and we get a turkey dinner. I used to eat dinner with Mr. Green.” Lowering her voice, she leans forward. “He’s Jewish, so Christmas don’t mean nothing to him. Only one kinda spirit in that man, in his pants.”
“Has he — did he try anything?” James asks.
“Don’t you worry about me. I can dodge him pretty good. Besides, if I need to, I know how to kick a man so’s he won’t be able to walk or talk for a week. Hey,” she says, turning to James, “you seen Cousin Betty, out at the front desk?”
“No. Did she come to visit you?” James asks.
“She’s one of the nurses, the one wearing a blonde wig. And she lost a lot of weight, at least since I last seen her. I keep asking her about Carol Jane, since her mama and I was ‘specially close, but she act like she don’t know me.”
The only blonde nurse I saw at the front desk has translucent, blue-white skin and Cousin Betty is, as Tamaya has always phrased it, “black as a night in the desert.”
I am amused until I look at James’s face. He looks like he’s ready to throw up. I stand up to signal him that I’m ready to go if he is.
He tells Mama that Malcolm and Micah are coming in next, Merry Christmas, we’ll see her again soon.
We wait until everyone has gotten in to see Mama.
Taneesha has been sitting on the outer edge of the family, her knees pulled up against her chest, her eyes vacant. She wouldn’t come with us when we went, but after Malcolm and Micah come back, Tamaya grabs her hand and pulls her along. As the oldest of eight, Tamaya is not somebody people say no to, including Mama. It was Tamaya who brought Mama here in the first place. Tamaya tells us later that Taneesha never once made eye contact with Mama and didn’t speak to her at all.
“We need to get Taneesha to agree to go to counseling,” I tell James.
“We talked about it with her before.”
“Well, you’re just going to have to get her to agree.”
He tells me later that he said, “Taneesha, you got to go to counseling, period,” and she just said, “Okay.”
“You got a lot of your pop in you, old man,” I say, and I can tell he’s pleased.
Things are going pretty well between me and Taneesha now, too. We still fight over music on Saturdays, but it has become a kind of family ritual. Her grades are steady, and she doesn’t just drag her feet about helping me with the dishes. Not that she volunteers, but I’m not complaining. In fact, things are so calm and easy that I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Which it does a couple months after Christmas.
The phone rings all evening, a gathering of the family forces. Taneesha has settled on the couch in the family room, the TV turned up as high as we allow it. She seems determined to ignore the chaos and us, for she hasn’t moved in about an hour, not even to get a snack.
James keeps poking his head into the family room, but he never quite makes it in to talk to Taneesha. Finally, when he is on the phone with Malcolm or Micah or whoever, he mouths, “You tell her.”
“Taneesha?” I say, plopping down right next to her. I grab the remote off the coffee table and put the TV on mute.
“Your mother is being released from the hospital.”
She just stares at the TV.
“Did you hear me, Taneesha?”
“Uh huh. Am I gonna live with her?”
Nothing is going to make this girl move her head.
“No, m’ija. You’re going to stay with us. Mama’s not ready for her old life yet.”
A trickle of water on Taneesha’s cheek is all that tells me she understands.
Pulling her close, I begin to stroke, then braid her hair. Eventually, her skinny body untenses.
“I like it when you call me m’ija. That’s Spanish, right?”
“My mom always calls me that,” I say.
“What’s it mean?”
“Well,” I say, “it’s like saying ‘baby’ or ‘sugar.’ It’s an endearment.” Actually, it means “my daughter,” but the term is used loosely. Still, my throat suddenly constricts.
“En-dear-ment,” Taneesha echoes. She smiles sleepily, and her head drops onto my lap.
James joins us later. He pets her head, and she opens her eyes briefly, smiles at him, then drifts back to sleep. We get a pillow and blankets for her just like we did the first night she came to stay with us. James pops the nightlight into the wall plug and turns off the lamp.
I go to bed feeling calm and peaceful. Taneesha and I connected at a very basic, physical level. She is going to be okay.
But when I go to pick her up from school the next day, she isn’t at the waiting spot. I keep the engine running for about five minutes. Then I turn it off, the radio on, and wait another ten. Finally, I get out of the car.
After checking the library, I walk down each row of classrooms, peering across the playing field, looking for a tall, gangly girl with beads in her braids and a way of moving like nobody else does, kind of slinky and child-like and athletic.
It’s time to go ask at the office.
There is no one at the secretary’s desk, but behind it is a small, enclosed office. I walk right to the door, which is open, stand in the doorway, and wait until the principal, a dark-haired, middle-aged man, looks up.
“How may I help you?” he says when he realizes I’m there.
I look at the nameplate on his desk and recognize the name.
“Mr. Dionopoulos,” I say, “I’m Connie Martinez’s daughter. Do you remember my mom?”
“Of course. I remember your mother quite well. A very good teacher.” He pauses, aware that I must have a real reason for being here.
I tell him about how James and I are Taneesha’s guardians and that she is not where she is supposed to be, that she is always there on time but isn’t today.
We hear a door open and some laughing. Two teachers have just come into the outer office. Mr. D calls out to them, and they come to the door of his office.
“This is Connie Martinez’s daughter and the sister-in-law of Taneesha Brown. Taneesha was supposed to meet her, but Mrs. Brown can’t find her.”
They wait for me to explain how they can help.
I tell them I think she might be with some friends, and when I name Taneesha’s friends by nickname, they come up with given names.
Mr. Dionopoulos begins punching these names into his computer, and as soon as the computer gives him a phone number, he dials.
No luck. Taneesha’s old friends spend most of their time on the streets.
“I can’t give out these phone numbers,” he tells me, his black eyes sympathetic, “but I’d be glad to supply you with the students’ last names. Maybe the phone book will help.” He hands me the list of names he used to make the calls.
“Do you think she might have gone back to the house where she used to live?” Mr. Bowen, Taneesha’s English teacher, asks.
I thank them and run to my car. The apartment where Taneesha and Mama lived is only four blocks from the school.
When I ring the bell, a fiftyish woman wearing stretch pants and an oversized tee shirt answers the door. She exhales cigarette smoke from her mouth slowly, shaking her head when I describe Taneesha, and closing the door on me before I can thank her.
The smoke lingers while I stare at the door.
The office is closed when I swing by the school again.
I remember pulling out of traffic and into our garage, but nothing of the drive itself. I fumble with my key at the garage-to-kitchen door, praying that Taneesha got home somehow. She has a key, so she could have gotten in.
Maybe she’s asleep, plugged into her Diskman, or on the phone.
Please, God. Please.
I search every room, every closet. I even open up the shower door.
I look at my watch. It’s 5:07. If I call James on his cell phone, I’ll just scare him. It’s rush hour, and he is probably a half-hour into his hour-long commute. There’s no way he can help until he gets home. I’ll have to wait.
I get the portable phone, my address book, a pad and a pencil from the bedroom, grab the phone book, and sit at the kitchen table with the phone.
My first calls are to the two neighbors who have children Taneesha’s age.
Neither family has seen her.
5:16. I am beginning to wonder if I need to get the police involved before more time passes. I don’t want to be the one making that decision, though. I think about Taneesha’s friends who, as James puts it, like the street a little too much. Taneesha lived a very different life before coming to stay with us. Once James called Mama at nine o’clock at night, and Taneesha still hadn’t gotten home from school. But things are different now, aren’t they?
I pull from the pocket of my pants the list of names the principal gave me. Not convinced that any of the Taneesha’s old friends will be home, I open the phone book.
Tootsie is the logical first choice. “Tootsie” Lorelle Rabateau.
I try three different spellings of the name in case the school got it wrong. Nothing close to Rabateau shows up. Unlisted? No phone?
I flip clumsily through the phone book backwards, tracing with my finger a Jackson on Paradise Road. Freddie “Boom Boom” Jackson is not home, but his mother knows Tootsie’s number.
I dial quickly.
James Earle Jones — well, it sounds like him — answers the phone. I get out only part of the explanation when he says, “Just a minute, please. Lorelle?” I hear some muffled sounds and wonder if he has misunderstood. I mentally rehearse the story again, but it is not Lorelle who comes to the phone.
I take a deep breath, and then another. The pause grows big.
“Rita?” She is not so cocky now.
“Please ask your friend to tell me how to get to her house,” I say, hearing James at the door. He comes in whistling, hangs his keys on the hook by the door, then sees my face.
I shake my head at him slightly, signaling for him to wait.
After Tootsie gives me directions, I ask for Taneesha again. “Your brother just got home,” I say levelly. “We will be there in 20 minutes.”
I hang up, pull at James’s arm, and say, “C’mon. I’ll explain in the car.”
I wait in the car while James goes to the door.
I watch as he speaks briefly to Tootsie’s, Lorelle’s, father. I like what I see of Mr. Rabateau. He looks like the kind of man James will be in ten years, solidly built, dressed neatly, with intelligent features and close-cropped hair.
Taneesha comes to the door, and James grabs her elbow, not roughly but not gently, leaning toward her to say something. When they get to the car, Taneesha faces her body toward me but looks down. “I’m sorry, Rita,” she says.
Twenty minutes later, we settle in the family room. James and I, seated side by side on the couch, face her as a unified force. Taneesha sits up straight in the chair across from us.
“Girl, you scared Rita to death,” James says, speaking more gently than I could have managed. “She thought something horrible must’ve happened.”
Taneesha bursts into tears, large, wet, messy gushes of water. She has not really cried in the five months she has been with us. The trickle I saw on her face last night when I told her about Mama’s release is nothing to this tempest.
James reaches out his arms, and she slides across the space into them.
“I just wanted something to be the way it used to be,” she says, sucking in deep, jerky breaths. “I wanted to have fun. It wasn’t fun, though. I don’t fit in with them now. I don’t even like them anymore. Well,” she adds, “Tootsie’s still my friend.”
She looks at James, and that’s when I know that, of all the brothers and sisters, he is her favorite. James sees it too, and he looks a little ashamed, as if he feels unworthy.
After dinner, I ask him to go buy us some beer and, when Taneesha goes to bed, we each pop open a can. I get out a Luther Vandross CD and put it on. James finds him corny, but he likes Vandross’s effect on me.
“Taneesha is going to be okay,” I say, settling down next to him. Then I remember my rule not to hash out the day at bedtime.
James begins to nuzzle my neck.
We drink some more and make out for a while on the couch, careful to keep our clothes on in case Taneesha wakes up. After a while, we make our way to the bedroom, turning out lights as we go.
I climb under the blankets, and James turns on the bathroom light so the room won’t be completely dark. He locks the door. Then he snuggles up to me. His breath both warms and tickles me. I roll over on my side, facing away from him. “Rub my shoulders? All that driving around gave me big knots.” Damn. I’m bringing up the day again. But I would like a shoulder massage.
He kneads my neck, shoulders, and back. Then he turns me toward him. Every part of my skin tingles, especially where his fingers are now grazing.
He stops touching me, looks at me intently, and motions his head toward the drawer where we keep the contraceptives. “What you say we throw that stuff away?”
I shake my head. “We decided not to keep trying.”
The silence grows.
“The doctor said a baby might take if you stay off your feet,” he says finally. “Taneesha would help, I know she would, and I’m making good money now.”
I shake my head again, but he’s got me thinking. Thinking about taking a year off, something we couldn’t afford before. Thinking about how awful it has been, and how we’re finally healing. Wondering why James wants to put us through it again.
I don’t realize that my eyes are closed until I open them.
His eyes find mine and hold them. “We got money in the bank,” he says.
Just in case there are big medical bills. The idea hangs there, a suffocating canopy over our bed.
“It’s all right, baby,” he says. He reaches out to touch my face. “It’s all right. It was just an idea.”
But I know it’s not just an idea, not just a spur-of-the-moment thing. He has been hinting at me for a long time. I just thought he wanted to “ride bareback.” The difference is that now he’s being direct. He is talking to me, not just to comfort me, not just to be supportive. He is telling me what he wants, not what he thinks I need to hear. And what he wants is something I might not be able to give him.
I think some more about taking a year off work. It’s been almost two years since the last miscarriage, and I’m healthy. I think about James and Taneesha and me and a baby.
“Okay,” I say.
“Okay? Okay meaning what?”
“Okay, we can try again.”
“Are you sure? Because I don’t want to if you don’t.”
“I’m sure,” I say, reaching out to him, as sure of this as I am of anything, which is to say not sure at all.