Part Six by SG
Livy rolls over. The room is still dark. She glances at the alarm clock on the dresser. Lit only by the pale moonlight that gleams through the window, its mother-of-pearl face reads 4:12 am.
Her stomach suddenly lurching, Livy gets up carefully. Taking her pink chenille robe from the bed knob where she had draped it the night before, she wraps it around herself. She tiptoes down the hall and enters the bathroom. Carefully shutting the door in the dark, she flicks the switch on only after it’s completely closed.
Approaching the sink, she braces her two hands on the white porcelain. She turns on the cold water and splashes her face.
The wave of nausea passes.
She pulls her hair back and takes the facecloth off the small hook. Her cheeks are flushed. Running the cloth under cold water, she presses it to the back of her neck with one hand, holding her hair up with the other.
From behind she hears a quiet tapping on the door.
Ray stands in the hall, his forehead almost touching the doorframe. He raises is eyebrows at her. She brings one finger up to her mouth, indicating he should keep quiet, and steps aside. He enters and closes the door behind himself.
“Are you all right?” Ray takes one of her hands, pressing it between his two.
“I’m fine, just a bit of fever I think. Go back to bed. I’ll be there soon.”
“It’s almost sun up. We’ll be at the church before you know it.”
“I just want to sit for a bit and let a cold compress do the trick.”
Ray takes the cloth from her hand and runs it under the spout.
“Sit.” He pulls her one shoulder down so she’s propped on the edge of the tub. She gathers all her hair up in her hands as he wipes down the back of her neck, sweeping around and cooling under her chin. She sighs.
“That feels good.”
He puts the cloth back on the hook and takes her by the hand. They shut the light off before opening the door. He tugs her towards the bedroom. On the way, they peek at Danny in his bed. He’s lying on his side with his back to the window. His face wears a contented half-smile. The blankets are kicked to the floor except for one corner, which he is gripping with all his might.
“Little beggar.” Ray says, smiling as he shakes his head.
Livy stands in the doorway, watching as he picks the blanket up off the floor and gives it a shake. He drapes it over his son, tucking him in. Bending down, he kisses his forehead.
They take one last glance, then close the door and return to bed.
Livy rubs her eyes as the sun makes its way around, gently bringing in the day. Ray dozes beside her, on his back with one wrist propped up against his forehead.
Livy stands, slinking her robe from the end of the bed slowly. Feeling a lurch in her stomach she hurries a bit now, tightening her sash and running on her tiptoes to the bathroom.
She shuts the door and runs a bath to cover up the sounds she’s about to make. This isn’t her first time. Leaning over the toilet, she lifts the lid and holds her hair back.
Immediately after she feels a sense of relief.
Reaching into the medicine cabinet, she takes out what she needs and brushes her teeth.
Sliding her robe off, she hangs it on the hook on the back of the door. Swinging one leg high over the edge of the deep tub, she sticks her foot in to test the temperature. It’s just warm, a perfect start to what promises to be a hot day. She swirls her foot around, allowing some of the cold water still coming from the spout to mix in and form refreshing cool pockets.
Stepping in, she sits and leans her head on the back lip of the tub edge. Sighing, she closes her eyes and allows the water to lap up over the tops of her knees.
She picks up the bar of Lux soap from the wire basket. Lathering her hands, she brings the bar up to her nose.
Mama. It gets her every time.
She brings her left leg out of the water and soaps her foot. Then, the other. Diving under, she hums, blowing bubbles out her nose. Her hair is smooth and slippery, spread out and flowing under the water like silky ribbons. Coming up now she rubs the drops from her face.
Livy opens her eyes. Ray’s leaning against the bathroom sink in his brown bathrobe.
“I’m shucking corn. What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Hoooh. Fiesty today.”
Ray slides off his bathrobe and hangs it on the hook over top of Livy’s.
Livy giggles at the site of his arms and face, toasty brown next to the whiteness of everywhere else.
“You look like a gingerbread man.”
Ray glances down at himself, as though he’s never given it a second thought. He shrugs.
“You want me to start ploughing in my birthday suit? Even things out?”
“It certainly would give you an edge when it comes time to hire pickers. We’d be the most popular farm in Otero County.”
Ray smiles, warmed by her comment.
Walking over to the tub, he swings on leg up and over as she moves forward. Getting in behind her, he pulls her back so her head rests on his chest.
“Uh huh.” Livy sighs, completely relaxed.
Picking up the bar of soap again, she lathers up and washes his legs and feet, which are sticking out in front of her.
Ray picks up the small metal pitcher on the side of the tub and plunges it under the water. He pours it gently over her hair.
Picking up the bottle of Prell, he squeezes a dollop into his hand and rubs it into Livy’s scalp. She loses her focus on his legs now. She moans a bit as he uses his fingers to work the creamy lather through all her hair.
Picking up the pitcher again, he fills it.
“Tilt your head back.”
She does as she’s told.
The water pours luxuriously down. He repeats several times until she’s all rinsed.
Squeezing the ends, she twists out the water. Pulling her hair up in a knot, She leans back against him.
Ray takes the bar of soap and rubs it in his hands. He slides them over her hips and around to her abdomen. She begins to feel warm as his hands cover her front.
He stops, dropping the soap. Palms open now, his hands clasp her hard belly.
“I... are …?”
Livy gets up on her knees and pivots her body around. Sitting back down, she pulls her knees up in front of her.
She looks him square in the eye.
Danny stands at the kitchen table, staring at the box of cereal. It hasn’t been opened yet. He sighs, glancing down at the eleven Hop-along Cassidy trading cards spread out methodically before him.
There are at least two more cards inside that box - but he won’t know which two until it’s open.
Mama always opens the box.
Danny picks it up, looking at the top to see if there’s any way to get in without it looking obvious. The dumb thing’s closed up tighter than a drum. He sighs.
A loud “Whoo-hoo!” sound comes from upstairs, followed by a low growling laughter and the sounds of Mama whispering.
Placing the box back on the table gingerly, he rests his face in his hands.
Ray leans over the sink, scrutinizing his tie knot in the mirror. He pulls the smaller flap out and redoes it.
Livy tugs her stockings gently up over her leg, clipping the top to her beige garter fasten.
Ray stops what he’s doing, watching her reflection in the mirror.
She stands suddenly, peeling them off, frustrated.
“Nothing. Just a stupid ladder.”
He goes back to his tie. He’s smiling so much he looks as though his face might split open.
He turns, facing her.
“Let’s not… can we not tell anybody about this yet?”
He clears his throat, tugging at his collar. “Why?”
“It’s Ruth’s day. She should be the centre of everything. I want people to know this day is all about her.”
“I think the individual, hand-written place cards thingies spell it out for everyone, don’t you?
She looks at him, her lips pursing tightly.
“You know what I mean. I want things to be just ginchy for her.”
He looks more serious now.
“Martha’s going to know something’s up as soon as she gets one look at me..”
Ray turns back to the issue of his tie.
“I never could lie to her.”
“All I’m saying is, I don’t want any surprises. Please. We’ve got lots of time to tell them.”
Ray’s face looks crestfallen.
He recovers, shrugging slightly.
“If that’s what you want.”
Livy comes up behind him, wrapping her arms around his middle. She stands on her tiptoes, peeking around the side of his shoulders and glancing at their reflection in the mirror.
Ray revs the engine on the Beet Box as Livy looks towards the front door.
“There he is.” She gestures at Danny to hurry along. Opening the door, she holds her hand out to him. Tugging on her forearm, he jumps up and throws himself across her lap.
“Ooof.” Livy exhales as he wriggles around, finally slumping down on the seat in between them.
“Danny, watch your mother there. Don’t be roughhousing her like that, now. ”
Danny looks up at her slightly alarmed. She lowers her eyes and smiles at him, indicating she’s fine.
Livy puts her hand out, gently rubbing the dashboard. “I guess some things won’t stay the same, will they?”
Ray looks out the window in silence.
The sound of chatter in the church borders on deafening. It seems the whole town is there. As they walk down to the section reserved for family, Ray indicates for Danny and Livy to scoot in. He sits in the aisle seat.
Suddenly, he turns to Livy, leaning in.
“Can you see?”
She smiles, still deeply moved by his never-ending concern for her comfort and well being.
“I can. Thank you.” She takes Ray’s hand.
As the organ music continues, she stares straight ahead. Stewie stands alone at the alter. His hair looks freshly cut. His face is frozen.
Livy leans in.
“Who’s his best man?”
“Patrick. You know, from the Livery.”
“His dad’s second cousin or something.”
“Well, good Lord, where is he? That boy looks scared enough to –
“ – I could go up there and just have a real quick word”
Ray walks over to the altar. Stewie looks relieved to have someone to talk to. He leans his head in. Ray utters about ten words. Stewie nods. His face is set sternly now. Ray walks back to join his family.
“What did you say?”
“I told him what his best man would if he was here.”
She waits in anticipation. Ray stares straight ahead.
He tilts his head towards her, speaking out of one corner of his mouth.
“I told him he was looking a bit skittish up there and that if he didn’t buck up, his wife would find someone else.”
Livy opens her mouths in protest, only to be drown out by the sudden rise in volume as the back doors fling open. Ruth stands at the bottom of the aisle, beaming in her cream coloured gown and Alençon lace veil.
Livy tries to stifle a gasp of happiness as she catches a glimpse of Hank, so proud with his daughter on is arm. His eyes are locked on Martha, just up the aisle from them.
Overwhelmed, Livy turns away, looking ahead at Stewie instead.
Every ounce of fear and trepidation has melted away now as he stares in complete awe at the approach of his beautiful bride.
Livy looks down at her shoes, trying to hold it together.
Ray slides his arm over her shoulder and pulls her close. She looks up at him, her eyes full of tears. He reaches his hand down, brushing her cheek.
The Reverend Case steps forward, clearing his throat. All heads bow.
“Lord, hear our prayer.”
Danny chomps a huge bite out of his buttered roll. Setting it on the side plate, he reaches for his glass of milk.
“Use your napkin, please.”
Ray returns from the men’s room, taking a sip from his bottle of beer.
“The place is jumping. I don’t think I’ve seen it this full since VE Day.”
Livy smiles, nodding her head at the memories of that wonderful time.
“What’s VE Day?” Danny holds out his corn-on-the-cob, waiting for an answer.
“That was the day the war ended.” Ray places his napkin in his lap.
Danny nods, distracted now by the corn feast that awaits him.
“Eat up.” Ray beams at his son.
Danny doesn’t need to be asked twice. He munches his way down the cob, offering them both a big yellow smile.
“Thank you both SO much. Everything looks BEAUTIFUL. You two must have been here all night. And the candles – Livy, they’re the prettiest things I’ve ever seen.”
Ruth’s words come fast, her face flushed with excitement.
“I had nothing to do with it. Livy did all the work.”
Livy frowns playfully. “You were busy - the factory.”
Ray glances down at his lap.
“Anyway, Aunt Livy, I can’t thank you enough.”
Livy clasps her two hands.
“You’re so welcome.”
Ruth hugs her warmly and runs off to the next table.
Ray takes a bite of his potato salad. Still staring down at his plate, he pretends to look a little put off.
“Oh – just, you were right.”
“When you said three nights in a row of canned soup would be worth it when I saw how happy it would make her. You were right.”
Livy nods, smiling as she takes a sip of tea.
Danny lies draped across Livy’s lap. She runs her fingers over his strawberry blond curls. Ray stares straight ahead, keeping an eye on the road. The sky is dark tonight.
“It was a great wedding.” Livy brushes a curl out of her eyes.
They pull up in front of the house and stop. Ray gets out and comes around to her side. Opening the door he picks up Danny and carries him up the porch. Livy grabs the front door.
He flops Danny down gently on the chesterfield. Standing, he puts his hands on the small of his back and grunts. Livy smiles at him.
“I hope you’re not getting too old. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
Ray laughs, looking excited again. “Don’t I know it.”
“You must be so tired. You came to bed long after me. When did you get in anyway?”
Ray walks towards the stairs. “After three, I think.”
“Goodness, why so late?”
“Problem with one of the conveyer belts.”
Livy yawns, nodding her head. Ray picks up Danny and the three of them head upstairs.
As Ray flops him gently down on the bed, Livy turns to him.
“You’ve been a better father to him than I could have hoped for. I can’t tell you what- ”
“- Liv, you’ve made me the happiest man alive.”
Livy hears Danny tramping around downstairs, getting ready to start the milking. She turns over and looks at Ray. He’s fast asleep. Good.
She decides to give herself a few more minutes as well and flips her pillow over, pressing her face down to the coolness.
Livy wakes suddenly as she hears Danny calling from the bottom of the stairs.
“DAD. THE BARN.”
Ray sits up, rubbing his face. Livy jumps out of bed, pulling on her robe. Ray groans. Livy flings the door open and runs to the top of the landing.
“What’s wrong Danny?”
“I can’t get into the barn.”
“What do you mean you ca- ”
“ - it’s locked!”
“There’s a big lock on it.”
“Ray do you- ”
Ray stands, scratching his behind and yawns.
“Well, we’d best go take a look.” He pulls on his brown robe.
As the three of them walk out to the barn, Livy is the first to approach the door. Taking the large metal lock in her hand, she turns to Ray alarmed.
“But, who would-”
Ray smiles. She looks at him, eyebrows pinched together.
Ray reaches into his robe pocket and pulls out a key. Holding it out to her, he grins like a Cheshire Cat.
“Ray what are you-”
“Just open it.”
Livy looks down at Danny.
“Open it Mama!”
Livy grabs hold of the lock and sticks in the key, turning slowly. She tugs on it until it pops open. Removing the lock from the latch, she takes hold of the handle and pulls on the wide door, swinging it open.
Sunshine floods the barn. A glimpse of deep red and chrome reflects brightly back at her. She gasps in awe.
“Holy Mackeral!” Danny screams in excitement, running towards the machine.
“Wha – what is it?”
Ray crosses his arms, full of pride. He’s grinning from ear to ear.
“It’s a Dodge. A Dodge Coronet Wagon.”
Livy runs her hand across the front fender.
“Do you like it?”
Livy turns to him, her eyes bulging.
“I just - I don’t know what to say. It’s – it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Ray nods his head, satisfied. “I know.”
Danny opens the door to the back seat and crawls inside.
“Wow, it’s so big I can lie down back here. Mama you gotta see this!”
Smiling at his enthusiasm, she turns to Ray.
“How did you get it here, without me knowing?
“I brought it the night before last when you were decorating the hall.”
“You mean you had it here two whole days and you kept it a secret?”
“You said. No surprises.”
Livy scowls a little, ashamed at herself for impacting his surprise so much.
“Oh, Ray, I’m so sorry. Can we go for a ride?”
“We sure can.”
Livy laughs with excitement.
“Let me just throw on some clothes.” She tugs at her robe.
They all hurry to the house to get dressed.
Ray pulls the wagon up front as Danny comes bounding out of the house.
“Where’s your mother?”
“She said she’d be right along. She had to answer the telephone.”
Ray groans, slapping his open palm on his forehead.
“We could be here forever.”
Danny nods, one knee jittering in anticipation.
A few moments later, Livy opens the door and walks slowly out onto the porch. She’s chewing the skin on one thumb.
“Uh-oh.” Danny sighs, recognizing a sign of imminent trouble.
Ray leans over, calling out through the open window.
“What is it?”
Livy walks up to the car, clutching the doorframe in her two hands.
“It’s Ruth. She woke up this morning and- ”
“ - is she okay? Is the baby okay?”
“It’s Stewie. He’s gone. She woke up alone. No note. No nothing. He’s just gone.”
Ray slams his hands down on the steering wheel. He looks off in the distance for a moment, chewing his cheek.
Livy opens the door and slides onto the white leather seats.
They pull out and coast up the road in silence.