Seventy: The New Page
"Seriously, Redell, how did you know that Dane would work out so well?"
Redell looked up at me from his desk. "I've lived with you since you were born ... and I've been acquainted with Dane since he was about seven years old. I've always known that eventually you would need a personal assistant; when Dane's parents told me he was choosing to train for such a position, I thought, if it worked out, it would be a serendipitous match."
"Does he talk to you? I mean, what I'm really asking is -- does me like me as his employer, or is he just biding his time until he finds an employer more interesting? I know I'm just a kid and don't have a lot of entertainment available."
"Dane doesn't talk to me about you," Redell said, his brows drawing low, "but he shouldn't. That is as it should be. He works for you, and no one else. But I think that if he wasn't pleased to work for you, he would have been gone within a few days."
Three weeks had passed, and the day was upon us for the arrival of the Arrant Three and the Unknown Four and Mother and Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol. I hardly knew how to greet any of them in person after so long a time. Would it all seem natural, just like it used to be, or would there be more of the weirdness that I had felt at Christmas break?
"You've been here and they've been gone," Dane had said to me before breakfast, when I voiced my concerns to him. "Let them set their feet in place. They'll let you know what they need." He'd paused. "When I came back from the military, for a long time I just wanted to walk around and look at things, remember the sounds and smells of home -- but I did need a lot of quiet time."
The vans were due any time now. It was too hot to wear a suit, I thought, but I did put on a new dress shirt and slacks, in honor of the homecoming. Redell had left off his jacket, and wore only a vest over his white shirt.
Aunt Sully appeared, intense and nervous, with John by her side. "She's about to give birth to three more nephews and a niece," John said. "You better humor her."
"Aunt," I whispered above her ear. "This is the sixth through ninth time you have experienced this. Remember what they told you, breathe, puff, puff, puff, breathe ... "
She rapped my midsection and made me woof in surprise. "There are the vans, come on!"
We met the vans on the front drive. Staff bounded out of the back of the vans to attend to the doors, as though our family couldn't figure out how to open doors for themselves. I had my first vision of my new siblings, all four in cradle-like carriers in the first van. A dark-haired young woman got out and shouted in what I presumed to be Italian. A weeping little boy of about three years of age clambered out and attached himself to her leg.
From the second van, Mother and Uncle Bodie and Grandmother Claire debarked, Mother stretching and smiling, Grandmother looking tired and grumpy. From the third came Michel and Kelsa, followed by Aunt Andersol and Oesha.
Everyone made way for me and Marca to greet and hug our mother and siblings first of all, and of course Grandmother, who patted my cheek and said, "Dear, dear boy," and Aunt Andersol, who was just quietly leaking tears.
As I turned toward the first van, the young woman was directing staff to carefully carry the infants inside the house, now speaking in broken English. The little boy was still clinging to her, wailing. "Those are our brothers and sister," Michel told me, "and their nurse, Fiorella. The little boy is Paolo -- usually he's not such a screamer."
I walked over to see the infants in their basket-like conveyances. Jonah and Rebekah were obvious, with their light skin and blue eyes; Lawley and Carter were dark wooly-haired little things; to make Uncle Bodie's wish come true, both had pale hazel eyes. Fiorella looked up at me with confusion. "I'm their brother, Owen," I told her, hoping she understood.
She curtsied, dropped her eyes. "I, Fiorella." Her little boy was still howling, his gaze darting from the vans to the mansion to the staff hauling luggage and babies. With sudden insight, I figured he was freaked out by all the activity at ground level.
"Here, Paolo, let's see what's happening," I said and held out my hands to him. He hesitated, stopped screaming, and tearfully held out his hands. I lifted him, liking how he collared me with both hands to secure his position. "Let's go with Mama," I told him as we followed Fiorella.
"Mama!" he crowed, no new tears falling.
We followed his mama into the house with the infants, where their baskets were placed on what I could only describe as mini-gurneys. I touched the cheek of each of my new brothers and sister, and said their names. Paolo repeated the names after me.
Fiorella looked from Paolo to the babies to the staff coming in the door, as Jonah started to cry. She turned to me and said, "Baby need eat," and then looked to the staff with luggage and called out something in Italian. Of course they all looked at her in confusion. I spotted Dane, who was standing by Redell in the front hall, and waved to him.
"Do you want me to take the little one?" he asked, reaching for Paolo.
"No, not at all, we're good. It's the nurse for the babies, Fiorella. She needs some help explaining what she needs from the vans, I think." A sudden itchsome jealous satisfaction had leaped within me -- as Dane had held out his hands for Paolo, Paolo had turned from him and clung more powerfully to me.
Dane addressed Fiorella in Italian far to rapid for me to even begin to understand or guess about. Then he waded into the staff and luggage and found a refrigerated case that held infant formula, and hauled it to Fiorella. She pulled four small bottles from it, and set them on top of the case. One she put in her armpit to warm more quickly.
When Jonah's little cries had become piteous to me, Fiorella gave him the bottle she had warmed a little. He sucked fervently at it, and a few minutes later, Rebekah began to fuss. Fiorella looked nervously around for help.
The new nanny, looking a bit overwhelmed by all the people and luggage and babies herself, picked up Rebekah to feed her. "Let's get the babies upstairs where it's quiet," my aunt said, and led the parade to the elevator, and thence to the nursery in Mother's wing. There Anna, the nanny (Nannie-Annie?) sat in a rocking chair with Rebekah, and Fiorella held Jonah to finish feeding him. Nanny and the nurse shyly introduced themselves to each other, obviously finding common ground in the babies. Paolo seemed to be calmed by the smaller room; he rubbed a fist over his eyes, then put his head on my shoulder. As he watched his mother with Jonah, he fell asleep. I walked with him, examining the room that would house the infants until they were just a little older. Everything was white: white walls, white curtains, white blankets, white rugs on the polished hardwood floor. The only spots of color came from mobiles that hung above the cribs; birds and butterflies, teddy bears with happy faces, geometric shapes with rich gradations of color.
The room was peaceful in the afternoon light, the curtains letting in just a little brightness. I carefully sat down on another rocker and leaned back so that Paolo could rest easier. Though the day was warm, his trustful weight on my chest and shoulder made me feel like I was already grown up -- trustworthy, strong, responsible. Even when Carter began to whimper, Paolo slept soundly.
Aunt Sully entered the room barefoot, making not a sound. She watched us all, then offered to take Jonah from the nurse. Jonah was already nearly asleep again; Aunt Sully skillfully draped a cloth over one shoulder and lifted Jonah to it. She, too, walked around the room, gently patting the baby on the back. Jonah burped, an incongruously loud sound in the quiet nursery, making my aunt, Nanny, and Fiorella all chuckle.
John came in just as quietly, taking Rebekah for burping. The scar on his face, the chip out of one ear, and his wary eyes were in contrast to the gentleness with which he held my youngest sister. "You know babies, too, John?" I whispered.
"Yeah," he said, snoofling Rebekah's fine hair. "My partner had about fifty kids. I spent a lot of time with him and his wife Caitlin feedin' and burpin' bratlets. Did you know every baby smells different?"
The satisfaction I felt surrounded by my new siblings, the people engrossed in caring for them, and of the little boy Paolo is something I find it hard to describe.
Something bigger than us was in the room with us; it was holy, it was right, it was like a homeland, a haven, a hope, and a heart. We who held the children -- I can't yet say 'we adults' -- had a common purpose; that purpose was more than just cuddling babies, though, it was the purpose that raises children to carry on the future. Maybe that's just me finding drama to write about, but today, I felt exalted, like I finally really knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I'll always write, and maybe someday even be a writer. But poetry or prose, it all takes a back seat to what I've found. I want to be rooted here in this estate, watching the seasons of my life change. That's not to say I won't travel, but I feel certain that this is where I want to call home. Holding Carter after Paolo had been put to nap by his mother, I felt a sense of the flow of history. I'll be around to watch him learn to run, to read, to eat neatly and ride a pony. Marca will be gone off to college, and Oesha back to Italy; Heaven alone knows where Kelsa and Michel will end up, considering how much they enjoyed bouncing around Europe. I'm the one who will stay, the homebody child. I think if there was one thing in my life I would like to accomplish, it would be to pass on the things I've learned to my newest brothers and sister, and with any luck, to my own children. Maybe I'll even have grandchildren one day.
Maybe tomorrow I'll have a hormone flash and forget all that I've thought today. I don't know. But that's one of the reasons I write in this journal, so I don't forget how I felt.
Looking back, I realize I was knowing things about Jonah and Rebekah and Lawley and Carter months before they were born. People were worried sick about them, embryos though they were, un-named, and unexpected. People worried about their futures, about whether they would even get a chance to live. We fretted about how our lives would change when they were born, and at least in part, my transition from Cellblock 209 to my beautiful suite above the treetops was due to the children's arrival. I will never forget that, no matter how bratty they grow up. And I honestly believe that had the Four not been conceived, I'd have had to spend the rest of my life without my Aunt Sully in residence. I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on that, either.
We heard Mother and Uncle Bodie enter their wing this afternoon. My mother's voice said sharply, "Well, you knew what my profession was when you met me. Why are you so surprised that I want to return to it?" Then, a few moments later, they entered the nursery, and Mother made her rounds of the babies, touching each and whispering to them. Uncle Bodie followed, also caressing the children, but his eyes were hooded and his brow creased between his eyebrows. After a few quiet pleasantries, they left. From deeper in their rooms, my mother's voice rose again. "Well, why in God's name can't your sister come with us?"
From my Aunt Sully's expression, which went from anger to pain to resignation, I suspect Mother will be in residence only for a while, and then go off to her real love, archeological digs. I love my mother, but I know that she's not invested in this estate as I am. Probably she did love my father, but really, I've come to understand that she doesn't like it here. She's been unhappy and chained since Father's death. Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol going to school kept her here, and gave us the opportunity to get to know our mother, but I think that the time away from us kids this past winter and spring convinced her that we didn't really need her with us to maintain our relationship.
The fact is, since she left over half a year ago to hatch our siblings, the household has been sort of ... mine. I've changed in that time period, and frankly, embarrassed as I am to admit it, wondering if I should be ashamed instead of glorying in it, I think that I sort of like it that way.