Just This Side of Tomorrow – Part 8
Livy wipes the flour from her hands, letting small dry crumbs of pastry dough fall into the sink. It’s taken her years but she’s finally feeling worthy enough to bake a pie. It wasn’t long ago she was still burning eggs and turning potatoes to mush.
She laughs, shaking her head. She had been such an academic when she’d first arrived - thought it was all as simple as reading a book. Now she understands. And the look on Ray’s face over the years has gone from relief to pride as her skills have improved.
She brushes egg whites over her basket weave crust and sprinkles salt and pepper on top.
“What time’s supper? I really need a bath before we eat.” Ray calls out from the front door.
Livy walks into the hall.
Ray’s soaked from head to toe. His face is so grimy, two holes peek through where he’s rubbed his eyes. His hands are raised as though he’s being held at gunpoint.
She laughs, covering her mouth with her hand.
“I haven’t seen this much autumn rain since, well since before you came anyway.”
Livy takes off his hat and hangs it on the hook for drying.
“The pie’ll be an hour.”
He raises his eyebrows.
Livy walks up to him, turning his shoulders with her hands and marching him towards the stairs.
He smiles at her.
“Sounds good. “
Danny takes a drink of his milk, wiping his face with his napkin.
“ – then when Miss Borden told him to sit again, he just stood there and told her to SHUT IT. That’s what he said Mama. He said SHUT IT. Just like that.”
Ray takes a bite of potato as Livy listens intently.
“That’s shocking. What did Miss Borden do?”
Danny swallows and takes a deep breath before continuing.
“That’s the worst part. She cried. Here we are shaking in our boots since school started – and she just goes and cries.”
Ray looks up at Danny, concerned now.
“How old is this boy?”
Danny slams his hands on his thighs.
“That’s the thing! He’s one year older than her - and a foot taller. What do you think of that?”
Livy looks at Ray, concerned.
“Danny, is Miss Borden married?”
“Nope. She lives alone in an apartment in Wilson.”
“How did she come to work here?”
Danny goes back to his food, shrugging.
“I guess she lived her for awhile when she was a kid is all.”
“Do you remember a family called Borden?” Livy glances at Ray.
“Can’t say for sure. Don’t think so.”
“Danny, I’m going to write a note to Miss Borden and invite her for Sunday lunch next week. She must be terribly lonely. I – yes, it’s the right thing to do.”
Ray stands, pushing back his chair.
“Speaking of a note, that reminds me. You had a letter today.”
Ray goes to the hook on the wall and digs around his inside jacket pockets.
“You were in town? Did you pick up the cotton batten?”
“I did. It’s on the front seat.”
Livy smiles, pleased and excited. She’s making her first quilt ever, for the baby.
Finding the envelope he hands it to her. A slight frown flickers across her brow.
“Doesn’t look like Abby. What address is that?” Ray wonders.
“It’s from my father.”
Danny comes running into the hall.
“Can I go meet Jeremy for an hour before homework?”
Ray nods his head. Danny runs out the door.
Livy walks over to the chesterfield. Ray sits beside her. She hands him the envelope.
“Would you read it to me?”
Ray tears it open gently, removing the folded paper. Another small but thicker envelope falls out. He picks it up, resting it on his lap for the moment. Clearing his throat, he begins as Livy stares at him, hanging on every word.
Four months ago, your sister made me aware of your condition. Since that time I have been struggling with what to do. I understand that you’re living a wonderful and joyous life. I’ve hesitated to contact you and perhaps spoil things in an effort to selfishly carve out my own place in it. I cannot believe how the years have gone by. I’ve continued to pray for guidance.
My sermon last Sunday began with one of your mother’s favorites, from Proverbs:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him
and he will direct your path.
Though I have delivered these words to parishioners more times than I can count, their sentiments echoed through my mind for days afterwards.
Then, an exhaustive search for an old address lead me to some boxes in the attic and I came across a letter your mother was working on but never finished. The letter was meant for you. Your mother fussed over it for more than a week. It was right before you came to stay.
I have to confess to you, daughter, it was difficult not to read these pages. My heart aches for your mother every hour of every day. I only wish I had spoken as many words to her in life as she does to me in death. She is always with me.
Still, they were meant for your eyes and so I have put them in an envelope and sealed it shut to avoid the temptation. What you do with it now is up to you. I hope that it brings you some comfort.
It is my sincere hope that you and your family are happy and well.
Ray folds the page delicately and puts it back in the envelope. Looking at Livy, he hands her the second envelope. As she blinks hard, tears pour down her cheeks.
Taking it in her hands, she sees her father’s handwriting across the front.
“For Olivia, from your Mother.”
Livy hands the letter back to Ray.
“I can’t. Not yet.”
He stands and puts it up high on the mantel, a place of importance next to a portrait of his parents.
“It’ll keep, till your ready. We’ll leave it right here.”
Livy nods, blinking back tears as she laughs. Ray looks puzzled.
“My father – he wants to know me again.”
She dabs at her eyes as Ray wraps her up in his arms.
Ray swerves the beet box up the path to Martha’s house. Martha opens the screen door and steps out onto the porch.
“You left that beautiful shiny red thing at home and came in the farm truck?”
Livy chuckles. “I still love it. So many good memories.”
Ray looks down at his boots, a secret smile fading as quickly as it appeared.
Livy jogs up the stairs as Ray heads around back to join the men.
Stewie looks up from chopping kindling.
“Well, well. Racer Ray. How’s tricks?’
Ray shoots him an annoyed look and turns his back to him, shaking hands with Hank.
Livy stands in the kitchen as Ruth hands her a glass of lemonade. Tilting back the curtain, Livy leans over, looking out.
“Is that Stewie?”
Ruth beams back, nodding her head.
“It’s Reading Week so he’ll be here for nine whole days. Can you believe it?”
Livy takes a small sip.
“How fun. That’s going to be so great for both of you.”
Ruth nods her head again and pours glasses for the men. Lining them up on a small tin tray covered in transfers of bright red apples, she motions for Livy to get the door. Turning for the plate of Fig Newton’s, she balances the tray and heads out back.
Agreeable noises can be heard from outside.
Martha comes in the kitchen and runs her hands under the cool water. Livy stands by the window, watching Ruth chat with the boys.
“How are those two doing, anyway?”
Martha smiles, confidently.
“Good. They seem real good.”
“You know what I mean. “
“Oh Livy, she’s fine. It’s Ray who’ll never live that one down.”
Livy sits at the desk in the front room. The sky outside the window is as black as coal. Light from the amber coloured lamp casts a yellow glow over everything. She smoothes her nighty and picks up her pen. Holding it in her right hand, she starts chewing on the end. In the wastebasket below her are four or five bunched up sheets of stationary. She sighs and puts her hands down to the blank page.
Pausing, she turns in the chair and glances at her mother’s letter, still unopened and sitting propped on the mantel.
She turns back to the page in front of her.
Thank you so much for your kind….
Danny comes in the front door, letting it slam behind him. Walking into the kitchen, he sees Livy moulding two hunks of ground beef into meatloaves. He washes his hands and picks up the thin slices of onion and red pepper she’s chopped on the board. He starts arranging them on top of the loaves and then sprinkles it all with salt and pepper.
She watches him from her peripheral vision. loving the fact that he still considers this his job. He doesn’t know that they deliberately eat late when meatloaf’s on the menu just so he can be a part of it.
“How did today go?”
“Okay. I Guess.”
“Mack’s gone. He’s not going to school with us anymore!”
“Well, that’s good. An education is a privilege. Anyway, he’s too old. He should have been gone two years ago.”
“But Mama he can’t even read good. He talks all bad and –“
“WELL. He can’t read well.”
“But – “
“Danny, it was up to his parents to spend the time with him. Your father and I started very young with you. And how do you think I got interested in archaeology? Mama read to me from Odysseus before I went to school.”
Danny looks down, stricken by the injustice of it all.
Livy takes his chin between her finger and thumb, tilting his head up to face her.
“He’ll be fine. Once he’s mature enough to take in interest in his own future, he’ll be all right. If he finds the right person to help him, he’ll do well. Trust me.”
Ray rubs his knuckle across his nose, one elbow crooked under his head. Livy enters the room, still rubbing lotion into her hands. He looks up at her appreciatively. She laughs softly at that face she knows so well.
Tapping his arms at his sides he gestures for her to come over. She unties her robe. He grabs the bottom corner and tugs, pulling the whole issue away. It slides from his fingers and falls to the floor.
She sits on the side of the bed and scooches over. She pulls her hands up under her chin.
“Are you cold”
Ray get s up and pulls the window down all but a crack. Turning, he looks at her lying across the bed.
“Do you know how pretty you are, lying there like that?”
Ray walks around to her side of the bed and leans over her. Kneeling, he bends down and slides one arm under her. Turning her over on her side he lies down behind her and pulls her close. She can feel him on every inch of her body.
His hands reach over the front and rest, open and possessive on her growing belly. He buries his face in her neck. He takes a deep breath and then sighs, allowing the day to come to an end.
“You smell good, Livy.”
Reaching, she squeezes his hand. Pulling it up to her face, she kisses the tips of his fingers.
“So do you.”
Ray lifts her nighty, rubbing her legs. Suddenly he stops.
“OH – uh – you okay? I mean, are you… uh… tired?”
“No Ray, I’m not tired.”
Livy reaches behind and takes his hand, putting it back where it should be.
Livy waves to Ray as he pulls out of the driveway. Coming up the porch she hears the phone ringing.
“Oh Abby. It’s so funny – I was just thinking of you.”
“Yes I was writing a letter to Father and – “
“You were? But how – “
“He wrote me. A lovely letter, really. Oh Abby, it was so nice. He said you told him about the baby and I think he wants to – to be in our life.”
“Oh, Liv, I’m SO thrilled. That’s wonderful.”
“Thank you for telling him. It’s all because of you.”
They continue chatting for some time. Eventually she pulls up a chair and sits, eager for it not to end.
The dull wurring of a truck engine comes from out front.
“Oh so sorry, can you hold on? Someone’s here.”
Placingthe receiber on the chair, Livy walks out to the porch as Stewie climbs out of the driver’s seat of Hank’s truck.
“They decided to build a new shed. I’m supposed to get the see saw. “
Livy gestures to the back of the property.
“I’m just on the phone but you go on back and help yourself to whatever you need. Is Ray over there with you?”
Stewie nods, walking around the house.
Livy goes inside, picking up the receiver.
“Sorry, Stewie just came to borrow something.”
“How are those two doing anyway? You never finished telling me what happened that morning.”
“Oh, that’s right. Well it was terrible at the time but we’re starting to be able to laugh at it now. We’ll, except for Ray.”
“Well, after Martha called to say he was missing, we just jumped in the car to head over there. What we didn’t know was that they found Stewie about five minutes later. They tried phoning but we’d already left.”
“Where was he.”
“In the hole.”
“THE HOLE? What do you mean THE HOLE?”
“When I moved out here, I mentioned to Ray that I liked to swim. So he decided we needed a watering hole. Anyway, they tried digging one but it just wouldn’t work. There was always a problem with the water turning foul or something or other. It always bothered Ray. Then when Danny turned 3 they decided enough was enough and they finally figured it out. They did ours first and then Hank and Martha’s.”
“So he was in the hole.”
“Yes. He said he woke up and Ruth was sleeping so soundly and he didn’t want to wake the whole house by running a bath so we went out to the hole.”
“So we pulled up in the truck and before I was even out, Ray ran around to the back of the house to find Hank and cook a a plan to find the missing groom. Except when he got back there he didn’t see Hank, he saw Stewie. Lying on his back. Floating, eyes closed, in the hole.”
“That’s right. Taking him for drowned, Ray sprinted over and jumped in. He grabbed Stewie up in his arms and tried to carry him to the edge.”
Abby cannot stop laughing.
“When Stewie struggled free Ray could see he was fine. Then before anyoe knew what was happening, Ray let out this huge yell and Stewie started running. Ruth stepped out the back porch just in time to see her new husband sprinting around the yard, naked as a jaybird, her Uncle Ray one step behind all the way. By the time I got back there she was in tow behind Ray.”
Abby’s laughter coming through the phone fills Livy with happiness.
“Oh, Liv. I just love your stories. And we worried that things would get boring for you out there!”
Just then a vehicle door slams in the driveway again.
“Oh Abby, I’m so sorry. I should go and make sure Stewie got what he needed. I can hear him leaving. Can I call you back tonight?”
After uttering their goodbyes for now, Livy walks over to the screen door. Opening it she steps out onto the porch.
“Stewie, would you like - ?”
Standing before her is a tall, dark haired boy about eighteen years old. He removes his baseball cap and plays with it in his hands.
“Yes. Can I help you?”
Her face freezes politely as she struggles to place the name.
“Mack from school.”
He continues fussing with his hat.
“Danny said… Danny sent me. He said you were just the person.”
“I’m sorry, just the person for what?”
“Ma’am, Danny said you’d be willing to help me. To read.”
Livy brings her hand up to her mouth.