[Issue 2 / August 2012]
Kiki hears the metallic chip of the cardinals outside the nursery window a moment or so before she hears Keith’s voice from the doorway. “Morning!” Keith says. There’s a pause, then, “Honey? It’s morning.” She senses forced cheerfulness, masking concern, probably shock – alarm even, to find her sleeping naked on the floor of the empty room. She wishes he would be quiet. She wishes he would kneel beside her, stroke her hair, and let her be in the stillness.
“Couldn’t sleep last night?” he asks, still standing in the doorway. She imagines the look on his face, his struggle to grasp the dramatic shift from what was to what is. “Wow. You’ve been busy. Jesus, where’d you put everything? Kiki?”
“The attic,” she says, after a pause, remembering.
“How the hell did you get the crib through this door?” What does it matter, she wonders. “Kiki?”
“Piece by piece.”
“Here,” he says, and she feels a thin wave of heat rising as he kneels, placing a steaming mug near her hand. “You could’ve asked,” he says, retreating to the doorway. “If you’d asked, I would have said leave it. Leave the room the way it is, ‘til we’re ready – ”
“I was ready.”
“I mean to try, again. I mean, what’s the point of leaving it empty?” It’s no longer shock or concern or alarm his voice is masking. She hears the oceanic inhale of breath through his nose, the pause to control his anger, the steamy exhale.
“It’s time to get up.” Still, she doesn’t move, even though it feels like her hip is on fire, the weight of it pressing into the carpet. Flame-like bursts of pain shoot from her hip to her knee. She tries to focus on breathing, abdominally, but her breath rises quick and shallow from her breastbone. “Kiki, you promised.”
“Yes. . . .but. . .”
“Promises. . . break.”
“Not today. I wish you’d drink your tea –”
“And wishes aren’t granted. . .”
“KiKi, please. Get up.”
“That’s what you said yesterday, and the day before that, and –”
“Just make the call.” Did she have to beg?
“No. I won’t call. People are sympathetic. But, they have their limits.” Yes, there are limits.
“I mean, they expect – movement. A gradual return, that’s all, to some semblance of . . .” his voice trails off into silent thought – self-editing, she guesses, scanning his grief counseling notes. “No one expects you to put it behind you. But you can’t let it take over your life, either. People are worried about you. Your mother calls all day long. You don’t answer the phone.”
“Tell her to stop.” She senses movement. Keith takes a few careful steps toward the center of the room. She hears the faintest rustle of silky fabric as he lifts the nightgown she shed in a fever of activity from the carpet. She hopes he will drape it over her legs, but his steps shift around her body to the window.
“I talked to Joanne yesterday. She didn’t ask when you’re coming back –”
Good. “She asked if you’re coming back.”
Kiki waits a moment before asking, “What did you tell her?”
“That you promised – today.” Kiki wonders if he’s fabricating the conversation, but, anyway, what does it matter? Now it’s the back of her throat that’s burning. “She’s not trying to pressure you, but the auction’s coming and the gallery’s nowhere near ready –” Right, no pressure. “She thinks it’s her fault. She’s afraid you’re avoiding her. Because she’s. . . showing.”
Kiki makes a guttural sound that’s either a groan or a laugh. She knows it must be strange, for Keith, to find the room – to find her – like this, but she has no words of explanation or comfort and she wishes, for his sake, she could have crawled back into bed with him at dawn as she had every other night. But last night she had reached a point of no return.
Sleepless for a solid hour, Kiki had been listening to the creaks and groans of her house at rest, waiting for Keith to sleep, resisting the impulse to climb into the wicker rocker until she could do so in peace. Her legs and arms were cramping – she’d been motionless, feigning sleep, and needed to stretch. Leaning across the bed, she rested her hand lightly on Keith’s breast, felt the slow beat of his heart. In the unlit room she sensed his eyes had closed against his will. Noiselessly, she lifted the sheet, freeing her body as if shedding a skin, rose, and tiptoed across the hardwood floor, quietly closing the bedroom door behind her.
Kiki had been surprised to find the door to the nursery closed. She pushed and the door swung open. Moonlight, shining on the branches of the budding magnolia, blinked through the blinds. She paused for a moment in the silence, twisting her hair into a knot at the base of her neck. The motion of the door had set a flurry of butterflies to flight on the mobile Keith had tacked to the ceiling above the changing table. Kiki watched the butterflies cast ghostly shadows on the eggshell blue wall.
The mobile was Keith’s idea, Kiki’s creation. She had fallen in love with a butterfly mobile she saw in a Pottery Barn catalogue in the waiting room of the clinic the morning of her embryo transfer procedure. Making sure no one was watching, she ripped the page out of the catalogue, folded it, and placing it in the pocket of her jeans made a silent wish—a promise—to order one for the nursery if the procedure was a success. Weeks later, when she went online to order it, the mobile was discontinued. Kiki and Keith had been shopping furnishings online together all that morning. A fierce snow and ice storm had blown in, and Keith, refusing to risk a car accident on slippery roads, insisted they shop from home.
“It’s a bad omen, isn’t it?” Kiki asked, her eyes flashing. “First the storm, now –”
“Don’t be silly – that’s crazy. Why don’t you make one? You’re good at stuff like that. C’mon. It’ll be fun, I promise,” he said, taking her hand. She followed him upstairs.
All afternoon in the snowy, smoky gray light, while Keith prepped the walls and baseboards of his meditation room for painting, Kiki sat on a nest of floor pillows stenciling butterflies on cardstock, cutting them out, and stringing them with fishing line.
“What do you think?” she asked, holding the base, making the butterflies dance.
“Perfect!” he said. “Where should we hang it?”
A breeze bumped the blinds and Kiki shivered in her nightgown. Had Keith opened the window? It was strange to think he’d been in the nursery without her there. Had he been meditating? As long as she’d lived with him, Keith had ritually opened a window before sitting, crossing his ankles, placing his hands on his knees, opening his palms, and closing his eyes. It hadn’t occurred to her that he might have resumed his practice, as if the room, unoccupied, reverted to its original purpose. She felt a dizzying stab of rage rise from her belly to the back of her throat, and had to resist the urge to pick up the rocker and heave it across the room. Instead, she shoved the chair against the changing table to steady it, stood on the seat cushion and reaching as high as she could, pulled the mobile loose with a jerk of her hand. She crossed the room, pulled up the blind, pushed out the screen, held her fist out the window, and let go.
“C’mon, Kiki,” Keith says, shattering silence. “You can do this. You love your job. You don’t want to lose it.” She hears him lift the blind and feels the morning sunlight hit the room like an explosion. “Listen! The birds are singing. Spring’s here!” Kiki covers her ears with her hands, and when he speaks she hears the crack in his composure. “Okay. You’re not the only one, you know, who’s struggling here,” he says, loudly. “What if—what if I just gave up? Stopped going to work? Abandoned all my patients – everyone who needs me?” She turns toward him for the first time, looks up, and their eyes meet. She touches the floor beside her with the palm of her hand, and his eyes dart away.
“That’s what you want? You won’t be satisfied until you drag me down to your—”
“I have to drag you?”
“—level of grief?”
“What do you know about my level of grief?” She demands, turning her back on him.
“You know what I think? I’m not givingin to despair. ‘Cause, there’s always hope, Kiki. Hope is a living, breathing thing.”
“You can’t kill it! Hope is a. . . it’s. . . it’s an energy, a boundless, infinite energy. And, it can rise above loss, Kiki. It’s a force that can carry you, if you let it. You have to let it. That’s why I’m up. Dressed. Moving. Going through the motions. I’m grieving, but I’m also hoping,” he says, and, after a moment, “I’m wishing, you’d come.”
“A half-day. Just try—see how you feel. I’ll make you breakfast. Go to the gallery. Have lunch with your mother. You might feel better, you know? Connecting? Letting somebody in? Like me. I miss you,” he says, then, softly, “Do you miss me?”
“Desperately,” she whispers.
“Lots of people miss you. We’re all waiting for you to come back –”
“Damn it, Kiki! You’re not the only one who—don’t think I don’t understand!
We have plenty of—”
“—choices! We’ll just keep trying.”
“We tried and we failed.”
“We didn’t fail, Kiki.”
“Okay. I failed.”
“You can’t think like that—”
“Stop it! We were able to conceive! Three times. More, if you count the multiples.” She did. She counted them. “The process failed. But, we’re not defeated. We have resources, right? We said we’d try everything—anything. We just have to let go of. . .our expectations. We have to be creative—imagine a new way.”
“Nobody thinks like that anymore.”
She did. She thought like that, at night, alone, in the rocker. She thought about the fact that she was turning forty next month, she thought about her college years, her close calls, those inconvenient times when she prayed don’t let me be pregnant, and how she felt blessed when her prayer was answered, like God was granting her a favor.
“We can try again,” he says, “when the time is right.”
“When you want something as much as we do, there’s always hope. You’re trying to get me to just give up, but I’m not. I’m not gonna give up!” She hears him push the window all the way open, and, after a moment, cry, “Look! Kiki! Do you see that? It’s a sign! A sign from above!” She sits up, keeping her back to him.
“A butterfly! Right through our window!”
“Get rid of it.”
“Look, Kiki! What magic! A monarch, of all beautiful things. . .” He is still behind her and a breeze through the window blows a chill down her spine. “You can tell, you know how? Orange wings, white dots, yes, but the black lines have to be just so. Other butterflies pretend they’re monarchs, to trick predators into thinking they’re poisonous too. But this one –this is the real thing. I’ll show you. Come see.” Kiki’s back stiffens.
“Imagine, the odds, finding its way, through our window, at this very moment.”
“You can’t make me go with you,” she says, but he isn’t listening.
“Right when we need it the most. That’s how it works, Kiki. You know, we could raise monarch butterflies.” Again, she feels a stab of rage slicing the back of her throat. She stands up, and turning, sees his hands cupped gently around something unseen, his arms reaching toward her.
“I want what I’ve got coming to me,” she says, wildly, stepping towards him.
“We could raise them right here in this very room.”
“Every poisonous morsel. . .”
“All you need is milk weed, for the larva, the right light, temperature, and room for flight. . .”
“And I will have it.”
She takes another step toward him. “Let it go.”
“Ah, you know the legend?” he says.
She points to the window. “Let it go!”
“Yes! If anyone desires a wish to come true, they must capture a butterfly and whisper the wish to it.” Keith bends his lips to his hands.
“Don’t you dare!” she grabs his hand, but he steps back, and, dodging her, whispers into his hands before she can stop him.
“Since they make not a sound they can’t tell the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit—”
Wildly, she slaps his hands. “Stop it, or I swear I’ll—”
“So, by making the wish—get out of my way, Kiki!—and releasing the butterfly, it will be taken to the heavens and – you can’t stop me, Kiki!—the wish will be taken to the heavens and—” he gasps as Kiki pries open his hands and before he can stop her, mashes the monarch into his open palms. Keith stares, his mouth open in shock, as she slowly, deliberately, stuffs the lifeless creature into her mouth, and when she finishes devouring it, licks her hands.
“. . . granted,” Keith whispers, finishing his sentence, the word tumbling out of his mouth like something broken.
Kiki watches Keith sink to the carpet on his knees and fall into a fetal position. She goes to the window, closes and locks it. She lets the blind drop, and, twisting the slats shut, seals the room in darkness. She picks up her nightgown, kneels on the floor beside him, lies down, pressing her breast against his back, letting her arm dangle across his chest, her leg over his. She wraps the nightgown around their legs and begins rocking, slowly, back and forth, and she keeps rocking until they are both asleep.
Despite her love of journalism and writing fiction in college, Kelly pursued graduate study in counseling psychology at Harvard University and established a creative arts therapy practice for many years. After closing her practice, she began writing and publishing non-fiction essays about parenting, journal writing and storytelling until she became immersed in writing plays. Kelly’s award winning plays and monologues for adults and youth have been produced around the US and Toronto, and are published by Heuer, Brooklyn, Youth Plays and in Smith & Kraus acting anthologies. She is currently writing fiction inspired by characters she developed for the stage. She lives on the Charles River in Sherborn with her husband, children, and yellow and black labs.