Merry Christmas Dear Friends!
Ray’s rocking his body from foot to foot, nodding his head at the voice on the other end of the phone.
“Yes, I understand. We will.”
Franklin barks loudly out back.
Placing the receiver gently on the cradle, he turns to face Livy on the davenport where he’d carried her just moments ago.
“He says with the baby being early and all, he’d feel better if we headed into the office. Says he’s got a proper surgery there and everything he needs. He thinks we’ve got more than enough time.”
Livy looks down at the rug under foot, examining the scalloped edge. Franklin’s bark continues outside.
“Well, all right then, let’s get a move on.”
Danny removes his coat from the hook. Ray shakes his head at his son.
“But Dad, I want to come too …?”
Ray looks at his son sternly at first but then realizes.
“Just forget about that, now. You’re not being punished, here. You’ve got an important job to do for us.”
Dan’s face perks up. He’s being trusted once again.
“We need you to stay here, by the phone, so you can let people know what’s going on. I’ve tried your Aunt Ruth and Abby but no one’s around.
Danny nods his head, placing his coat back on the hook. He picks up his Mama’s instead and carries it over to her. Placing it on her lap, he leans in close. She bends slightly forward. There faces are just inches apart.
“If it gets real bad, just holler. That’s what I do when I jump my go-cart down the bluffs. Just let out a good one, Mama. It does the trick. For real. “
Livy laughs and hugs her son. Pulling him back so she can look at his face, she holds his shoulders.
“Don’t you worry, now. I’m going to be fine. Just fine.”
Ray points to the kitchen.
“Would you go out back and check on Franklin, son. Sounds like he might have found himself a rabbit or two.”
Danny nods, yanking his coat and sticking his feet into his galoshes.
“Son, I want you to keep trying your Aunts until you get a hold of someone.”
“Yes, Sir. But I bet they’re all at the Pageant.”
Ray and Livy lock eyes. Of course. The Pageant. How had the day gotten away from them like that? Danny was right. It’s December 23rd, the day before Christmas Eve. The Pageant would be in full swing back in town.
Turning towards Livy, Ray’s eyebrows go up in question.
“It’s all right. I can make it. I’m awake now.”
“I’ll get some blankets and we can lay you out in the back, nice and flat.”
Livy winces in a combination of regret and worry.
“The thing is, I lent the car to Abby to go pick up those remnants in La Junta.”
Ray’s face flashes annoyance at his wife’s unrelenting generosity, but only for a second.
“The Beet Box, it is.”
Ray glances above his strong hands on steering wheel, craning his neck to see the night sky.
Livy lays her head back in the corner between the headrest and the window.
“So, what did he say exactly?”
“He said it wasn’t your water breaking. There would have been a lot more. He said a fitful sleep was the cause.”
Livy’s neck tightens in that way she gets when she’s doing some serious reasoning.
“He figures you – you were startle in your sleep – you know. He says it happens all the time.”
What Ray didn’t add was the part about the pains staying he same.
“Pull over. If he pains stay the same time apart for too long or slow down, pull over, Ray. That’ll mean it’s time to get little one out of her, for both their sakes.”
The snow starts dumping suddenly; flakes the size of crab apples, as though a huge white blanket was being draped over the front hood of the truck.
They drive on in silence, other than the occasional sound of Livy hissing air through her tightly gnashed teeth. Ray was sorry for her pain, but glad of its steady pace.
“You’re doing just fine, my girl. Don’t worry – we’ll be there soon.
“Danny m’boy. How are you?
“I’ve been calling there but no answer.”
Hank picks up on the slight panic in his voice.
“I got a touch of fever so I’m lyin’ low tonight. Just got up for some water.
What about you guys?”
“Mama and dad already left, but they’re not going to the Pageant.”
“Where are they going?”
“To Dr. McCutcheon’s office. Mama’s ready to let that baby out.”
Hank clears his throat, trying to hide his concern. The heavy snow started over an hour ago.
“When did they leave?”
“The thing is, it’s snowing pretty bad out here now.”
“Don’t you worry, Danny Boy. I’ll phone the doc’s office and see that they made it.”
After a few words between the two of them, Danny hangs up. He slumps down on the davenport, relieved that he wasn’t carrying this alone anymore.
“Are you all right?”
Livy’s mouth purses in deep concern. They had to pull over every few minutes so he could climb out and scrape off the windshield. At first he used his sleeve but once his hands grew numb it didn’t matter anyway. His hands look red and angry.
He chuckles at her concern.
“You’re a caution, Livy.”
Ray had been timing her contractions to the volume of snowfall on the glass. He’s worried now. The windshield was completely covered again and she hadn’t had another bout of the pains.
“The snow’s getting bad. I think we should stop.”
“What?” Livy seems panicked at idea of such a personal event happening in a strange place. Her face gives it all away.
“We know everyone on this stretch of road by name. Any one of them would be pleased to help us out. “
“But, I just…”
“There’s no time. We have to find somewhere.”
Danny saunters over to the Christmas tree, admiring the first few small packages placed underneath. He gets down on his knees and leans over the colourful bundles, trying to guess if they were for him. That was Mama’s trick – she never labelled them so there was no way to know.
Feeling selfish suddenly, he returns to his spot on the davenport and sits with his back very straight.
The windshield is fighting a losing battle. As their breathing grows heavier with each passing house, Ray rubs, keeping the steam away long enough to make out the sharp twists and bends in the road ahead. No lights on at the Garrity’s. Probably at the Pagean too, he thinks.
The Hollis place is next. They’re away; something about visiting family in Tacoma. He knows he could break the side window. Heck, he could have the glass replaced before they even made it back. They had no telephone, though. He wanted a place where he could call the Doc, have the man talk him through it if need be.
They keep plodding along, Livy’s glances growing wilder by the minute.
Perspiration drips into Ray’s eyes, stinging them and making him feel more and more lost as they pass each fencepost.
“It’s Hank, son. Listen, they haven’t reached town yet. I’m going to head out and see
if I come across them pulled over somewhere along the way. Keep calling your Aunt Abby and try your Granddad at the church too.”
Danny lets out a whimper, but quickly slaps his hand over his mouth.
“Your Dad’s been out driving in much worse than this,” Hank lies.
After thanking him, Danny places the receiver back on the cradle.
Hank stands in his front room. As he hangs up the telephone, nothing but the lantern he's holding lights his way as he climbs the stairs to change out of his pyjamas.
The power went out just over eleven minutes ago.
Ray’s foot goes to break peddle but he instinctively holds himself from stomping down, knowing such a hard stop on an icy road would surely send them into a fishtail spin with nowhere to end but the ditch.
Composing himself and stopping calmly, he turns to Livy. Alarm flashes on his face but just for a second. He waits.
He looks ahead, biting his cheek a moment. The snow is getting heavier. It would take all they’ve got just to get them up the next hill.
“It’s fine. Danny and I have done a lot of work in there. It’ll be fine.”
Ray looks dubious but her pleading face and the sky ahead show him there’s no other way.
Leaving the engine running he gets out and runs around to her side. Opening the door, he slides her gingerly off the seat and hoists her up into his arms. Planting each step deeply into the sticky snow he makes his way to the shallow front door.
“I’m all right. I can walk. Let me walk.”
Ray lowers his left arm until her feet are just inches from the ground. She pushes open the door and they walk in. Waddling right over to the corner, she stops a few times to brace herself on furniture. Striking the long minor’s match, she lights the kerosene lantern. Holding it out to Ray, the light reveals his awe.
“You did this? You and Danny did this?”
They had looked at an old photograph she found of Ray’s mother as a young married woman. In the background, a pencil drawing of a room which must surely be this one was visible, leaned on a small stack of books. Someone’s homework? A hobby? She would never know but she had realized the moment she saw it that the room in the drawing depicted life in this dugout home.
Danny had helped her recreate the room as it once was. It was going to be a surprise.
Ray pivots around the room, arms outstretched slightly.
“This is just how I remember it. This is how they had it. How did you do it? Livy, I’ve got a lump in my throat, here.”
Livy laughs. Bracing herself suddenly, she points to the cot in the corner.
“My lump takes precedent over yours, right now.”
Ray helps her to the bed. She lays down, so grateful for that fresh pillow. Her hand tightens around Ray’s wrist as another bout of pains engulfs her. She breaths her way through it.
As her grip on his slackens a little, Ray stands. Rubbing his arms, he looks around a bit more. A robust but neat stack of firewood sits right at the small hearth. He smiles at the thought of his son. And now they would be four.
He turns, hearing the edge of panic in her voice. He raises his eyebrows.
“What are we going to do?”
Sitting on the edge of the bed, he brushes her hair back from her face and gives her a kiss on the mouth. Looking deeply into her eyes, their faces only inches apart, he responds in almost a whisper.
“We’re going to do what we always do. We’re going to be here for each other.”