Just This Side of Tomorrow – Part 13
Hanks strains his eyes to see something ~ anything ~ that looks familiar in the road ahead. The lights of his vehicle are dimming by the moment as the thick, wet snow sticks like plaster of Paris. He growls in frustration, stopping for what feels like the tenth time already to scrape them and restore visibility.
“Hang on. Hang on, my girl. Don’t push yet. I said don’t push.”
“Mwaaaaaaa.” Livy shouts at her husband in frustration.
“It’s time. I can feel it. I know it is. It’s time.”
Ray pushes down on her leg, squeezing her knee with his hand, gently but firmly making his point.
“Olivia Dunn Singleton, I want you to listen to me now and listen good. I know you feel ready. But I can tell you from where I’m sitting here, it’s not time yet, my girl.
She scoffs in utter exasperation.
“What do you know?”
He rubbs her leg soothingly.
“I’ve been in this seat, in one way or another, every spring and fall since I was not much older than this little one. I know what I’m talking about. You have to just trust me now.”
A roar of boisterous party-goers can be heard through the receiver. Danny holds it back from his ear.
“Hi. Where’s your dad?”
“Stewie, he’s with -”
“Can you hear me, boy?”
Dan sighs. Taking a long breath, he bellows from somewhere down deep in his diaphragm.
“They’re not here. They’re LOST.”
“I need you Dad to settle a – what – how’s that now?”
“I said they’re lost. Mama was – the baby started acting up and Doc said they should head into town. The snow started and they never made it. Uncle Hank’s out looking for them now.”
Stewie’s tone obviously had an affect on his fellow partygoers as things were suddenly coming through the phone line crystal clear. He shouts something at his friends who begin rallying in the background.
“We’re heading out from this end to comb the roads. We’ll find ‘em.”
Daniel thanks him, but it’s been so long now that he’s past being consolled.
“Names? How about some names? Let’s do that, again.”
Ray clutches the brim of his hat, pleased with this temporary distraction.
“Okay. Good, yes. Okay.” Livy blows air through her pursed lips. “Girl.”
Livy shakes her head. “Too many S’s.”
She shakes again. “Too – mature. More like your bridge partner than your baby.”
Ray laughs openly, welcoming this moment of much needed levity.
“Too long. Chris-ti-na-sing-le-ton. That’s about two syllables past a mouthful.”
Ray sits on a highly varnished tree stump stool, wondering how long he can stretch out this game.
Daniel turns his face, forgetting his hood is up. Lowering the bulky fabric, he glances sideways at Ruth. She drives slowly alongside her young cousin.
“Where are you going?”
He thrusts his hands into his pea coat pockets.
“Going to find ‘em. Can’t wait around anymore.”
“Stewie’s out there with his buddies. They’ll find them. Now, hop in and we’ll head back to the farm.”
“No. Sorry but I’ve go to do this.”
“What if they try to phone? And Franklin’s probably worried sick by now.”
He shakes his head no.
“Besides, I really need to use the wc.”
He stops in his tracks. That was enough of that talk. He hops in and they head down the road.
The snow falls thicker than ever.
“Huhm.” Livy’s chin puckers slightly. “Not bad. You’re getting closer.”
“What are we looking for, here? I mean, what’s the benchmark?”
“Well, not too long. Not too modern. Not too precocious.”
“Um, adorable but bratty about it.”
Ray nods, still playing along. The truth is that he would be happy with any name she picked. He could see it was important to her, but as he had once pointed out, there was a fellow working at the grain elevator named Thackmorton who was surviving just fine.
The humour of this was lost on his swollen, volatile wife and since that day he’d learned to let her take the helm on his issue.
He had only one demand.
Ray made it clear that he wanted the baby to have a fresh start with a name that was new to the family. Bearing a name that reminds all those who knew him of his brother’s passing had been an honour, but it was also his son’s cross to bear. Every time Danny dug into his creamed peas on toast, he saw his father give his head a shake. His brother had always hated them.
Scooching the stool over beside the cot, Ray takes Livy’s hand in own.
“Shut up you idiots. What’s that? Is that a light?”
The loud chatter in the car ceases instantly as Stewie turns down the radio.
“Oh ~ you turn down the radio to see better and we’re the idiots?”
Laughter booms out from the back seat.
“I said SHUT IT. Do you guys hear that?”
All four windows are lowered and the passengers remain quiet, straining to hear. The heavy white snow cover muffles all sound.
Stewie pulls his foot off the brake slowly, picking up speed.
“Whoa, what’s that?” Derek’s bony finger points out from the back seat. Squinting, Stewie tries to see through the front window. A small light grows dimmer and dimmer, shrinking finally to nothing.
From what like the sky above, a tune can be heard faintly.
“Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in looooooove with youuuuuu.”
The guys are slammed forward as Stewie’s truck hits something. Hard.
Ray shoves the logs around with an ancient looking andiron. They’re almost out of wood. A few sparks shoot up. He steps back, stomping out the two orange embers that land on the horsehair rug.
“What was that?”
“No, outside. I heard something.”
“It was me, honest. Uh, how about boys? Should we do boys now?”
“I need to push. PLEASE, is it time?”
Moving the lantern over closer, he holds her knees and leans in. His heart starts
pounding so hard. He’s sure she can hear it.
Livy starts whimpering quietly, but catches it in her throat.
“You’re doing fine, Ray. I’m sure you’re right. Let’s do boys now.”
Ray’s eyes well up. His wife is a miracle. Here she is with all this on her plate and yet she’s trying to make him feel better. Things must look pretty bleak.
He chews his cheek, ponderng their situation. The snow is too heavy for people to see smoke from the ground level chimney. He’d left the truck lights on and the engine running. Hopefully someone will spot the Beet Box on their way back from the pageant.
Ray glances out the small window at the snow. It seems like it will never end. He figures it must be after midnight by now. If worse comes to worse, the gas can is full. He decides he’ll slip out in a bit and top her up. They’ve got more that enough to keep it running until morning. By daylight they could make it to town.
He closes his eyes silently and prays it won’t come to that.
“Are you guys hurt?”
“Derek? Everyone okay?”
“I’m fine. The others are okay I think. You?”
“Can’t see anything. Must have hit my head. I taste blood. Can you get out?”
“The door’s crushed in on my side. I can’t move.”
“Are you okay?”
“Can you crawl to the front, pal?”
“I can do better than that.”
Mike opens the door and gets out.
“What the? – “
Ray grabs the side of the Stewie’s DeSoto, bracing himself. Mike comes around from the other side, almost colliding with Ray.
“How is she?”
“Stewie, you’re bleeding from the head!”
“I’m fine. How’s your wife?”
“Rayyyy – where are you?” Livy calls from the dugout.
Ray turns quickly to face the boys.
“Could be better. Now give us a few minutes and you can come inside.”
Hank barrels down the road at a decent clip. He’s been down here twice already but nothing – and the snow’s only getting worse.
He stops suddenly, snorting at his own stupidity. Of course! He’s coming from town. They’d be on the other side.
Pulling out again, he veers over across where the white line would be if he could see it in this snow. Struggling to see in front of his truck, he skids to a stop when a figure appears in the road ahead. Hank rolls down his window.
“Stewie? Mike? That you?”
“Mwwaaaa. Ray….oh, I can feel it. The baby’s coming. I can’t stop it. Can I push? Can I push?
Ray dries his freshly washed hands. Holding her knees, he sees the baby’s head crowning.
“It’s time. Okay, now PUSH.”
“Derek, take my truck back to town and pick up Doc McCutcheon. Stewie, Mike, you come with me.”
Approaching the small door of the dugout, they hear Livy screaming. Hank lowers his chin into his coat collar.
“Let’s give it a minute or two.”
“Oh my Lord – we have a daughter. She’s a girl!”
Ray scoops her up and carries her over to her mother. Livy cries unabashedly as Ray places her in the fold of Livy’s arm.
“Look at her. Just look at her. Look what we did!”
Livy grabs Ray as he goes to stand. She pulls him close again.
“You are my hero, my best friend and the love of my life. And to have you for a father, well, this is just the luckiest little girl in the world.”
Ray kisses his wife and leans over, planting one on his daughter’s forehead too.
Standing, he turns towards the door. Just then a pounding comes from outside. Ray opens the door.
“Come on in and meet my new daughter.”
“How did all you boys find us? Stewie is that ~ are you bleeding?” Livy starts to sit up Ray motions to stop her.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
Hank, Stewie and Mike stand across the small room in a straight line. They each have their arms crossed tightly.
“What time is it?” Livy asks.
Mike looks at his watch.
“It’s just after two am.”
Ray chuckles comically.
“You boys look like the Three Stooges standing there. Get in here and see her.”
“Ray, its Christmas Eve.” She says to him.
Ray shrugs, looking at her for a hint.
“They’re our Three Wise Men.”
“Come in, come in! Happy New Year!”
Ray holds the door open for Martha. Inside, Danny collects coats, taking them upstairs to be spread out on his bed. Each time he steals a few moments to read another page of his Davey Crockett book.
Livy sits in the corner, her new baby swaddled in her arms. Rocking gently, she leans forward every now and then as guests approach to admire the new addition to the family.
Martha leans over to her sister-in-law.
Livy looks up at her.
“Does our little one have a name yet?”
Livy looks back down, adjusting the blankets. Ray steps up as people tune in for the answer.
“We’re taking our time. We want to get it right. It’s not as if she starts school tomorrow, folks.”
A few small bursts of laughter across the room make Ray feel momentarily foolish for his little outburst. Martha smiles knowingly at Livy, whose face beams back in appreciation. Conversations resume around the room as Ray approaches his sister.
“Truth is, we’re not making this any easier on her.”
Martha glances up at her brother, curious.
“How do you figure?”
“Singleton. It’s a bit of a clunker. Hard to pair up with anything, really.”
Livy looks up at Ray, somewhat surprised.
“Raymond Singleton. I will have you know that you, we rather, have one of
The most distinguished surnames in Otero County. Not only can Singletons be traced far back here, but I have found compelling evidence which shows that your people arrived to America in the mid sixteen hundreds, first settling in Virginia.”
Ray flips his wrists, displaying his open palms to his sister as if to say “I told you so.”
Livy stands, handing the baby to Martha. Turning to her husband, she takes his hand.
“Do you know what the name Singleton means? A farm in a burnt clearing. Back in old England someone had a fire and was then able to rise above that tragedy and make a farm. Renew life where it was destroyed. So, you see, I wasn’t having trouble with the name Singleton, I was trying to find a first name that would do it justice.”
Ray envelopes his wife in his arms. She tilts her head up, her chin resting on his chest. “And, I think I have.”
“You think you have what?”
She laughs, her eyebrows doing that confused little half frown.
“I think I’ve finally found a name.”
Ray tugs her gently into the kitchen. Martha follows, the baby in her arms. Danny’s gulping water down at the sink. He turns to face his family.
“You mother thinks she’s found the right name.”
“What is it?”
“Beth.” Livy answers, her chin pointing slightly in punctuation.
Martha’s face registers polite surprise. Danny looks puzzled.
“You mean, for the Coronation? For Queen Elizabeth?”
Ray looks over at his wife in anticipation.
“No, Beth for the night she came into this world. That cold, scary, heart wrenching night.”
They all stare at her, waiting, hoping she’ll elaborate.
“Bethlehem. Beth as in Bethlehem.”
Livy rinses the bread and butter plates at the sink as Ray gently rocks Beth to sleep. He coos at her quietly, humming a tune under his breath.
“Hey, what every happened with the Metcalfes?”
“You mean you still want bananas? I’m shocked. I thought you’d had enough to last you the rest of your life.”
She pretends to swat him with the tea towel.
“No, didn’t you say he came to see Danny?”
“He caught Sherry and Danny kissing in the shed behind the store.”
“He’s not even nine years old.”
“They weren’t wearing their -”
Ray clears his throat. Laying Beth gently in the bassinet, he walks over to Livy and places his hands on her shoulders. Turning her to him, he looks her square in the face.
“They weren’t wearing their shoes.”
She gazes down at those pink little cheeks.
“I’ve been on this Boy Island since the day I got here, little one. And it sounds like things are about to get worse. I’m so glad you showed up when you did.”
Ray chuckles behind her as he picks up where she left off with the dishes.
Bending down, Livy scoops up her girl, unable to resist that sweet, sleepy face.