“A lie would make no sense unless the truth was felt to be dangerous.” Carl Jung
“Leilani,” Lila said in answer to the nurse’s question.
“Mom, she asked, what is your name?” Katie instructed her mother softly.
“Leilani,” Lila repeated. “Leilani Marie.”
“It’s Lila Monroe, Mom,” Katie corrected her mother carefully.
“No! Leilani Marie.” Lila paused a moment, “My mother. My uncle,” she finished with frustration.
“It’s okay,” the nurse said cheerfully. “Let’s try something else. “Who is the president?”
Lila looked at Katie for an answer.
“There is a big election coming up, Mom,” Katie said. “Do you remember? Do you remember the name of the president?”
Lila bent her left knee and dragged it up the bed and then pushed it straight away again in uncomfortable agitation.
“You like the new guy, Ronald Regan, the actor. You want him to be president but I don’t. Remember we had a whole debate about it because I want the current president to be re-elected. Do you remember what his name is? President blank?” Katie said using her hands as she spoke, trying to coax her mother into remembering.
Lila looked at Katie, again she furrowed her brow and looked away.
“It’s okay Mom, it will come back. You are just tired,” Katie consoled.
“Leilani,” Lila said again, now with eyes wide. “Heavenly flower,” she said with conviction. “Marie,” she said, “Bitter-sea. Sorrows.”
Katie looked at the nurse for help but the nurse only returned her gaze with sympathetic eyes. “You should rest Mrs. Monroe,” the nurse instructed. “You’ve been through a lot; your brain needs to rest.”
“I saved her,” Lila spit out seamlessly; satisfied with the full sentence she carefully pieced together.
“Who did you save?” Katie asked.
“Mom,” Lila answered. “Me,” Lila said pointing to herself with her left hand. “Heavenly flower, saved her. Drowning. Bitter sea. Sorrows,” Lila finished looking down at her right hand that lied without motion on the bed next to her leg.
Katie put her hand on top of her mother’s lifeless hand. She was careful not to disturb the needle that pierced through her mother’s skin and provided the IV fluids she needed.
“I will stay right here Mom,” Katie said. “Close your eyes and rest.”
Lila obeyed her daughter like an obliging child. Katie pulled the chair close to the bed so she could keep hold of her mother’s hand without strain.
With her eyes still closed Lila said, “No one saved me, no one saved me.”
Katie sat with her hand on her mother’s and kept very still. She watched as a tear flowed out of the corner of her mother’s eye and her body stiffen slightly with agitation as she repeated herself. She thought her mother might sit up for a moment but then her body softened as sedated sleep took over.
Katie left her mother and went out to the nurses’ station.
“Excuse me,” she called over to the nurse that was just in attendance at the bedside. “My mother is talking nonsense. What does that mean? What is wrong with her? How come she doesn’t know who the president is or her own name? Why is she talking all that nonsense?”
“The neurologist will be in this afternoon to do a full evaluation,” the nurse answered. “We just have to wait and see.”
“But is she okay?” Katie asked. “Will she get better?”
“I know it is hard,” the nurse said, again with those same sympathetic eyes that seemed to already say, I’m sorry for your loss. “Her vitals are stable. She has just been extubated, she is breathing well on her own, the sedation is wearing off and she is even talking. These are all positive indicators. The doctor will speak to you after he evaluates her but all we can do is wait and see how she does.”
Vera rushed to open her locker, fumbling with the dial and having to clear it when the lever jammed instead of released on pull.
“Well, what did he say?” Addie asked.
“Addie! I figured you had gone home by now,” Vera replied, collecting her things from the now successfully opened locker and hurrying into her hat and coat.
“No, of course I waited for you,” Addie replied. “What did he say? It must’ve been good because you were in there a while; it doesn’t take that long to tell someone it’s for shit. Unless you are a real son of a bitch.”
“Hush Addie. I’ve already been delayed too long,” Vera said “Look at the time,” Salvatore will be home soon.
“Who cares about Sal. What did Mr. Jensen have to say?”
Vera stopped for a moment and turned to look at her friend. Her face grew bright and her eyes widened. “He offered me a position in the advertising department after my holiday employment is through. He said my sketches are better than what the department is creating and that they could really use my talent. Can you believe that? He actually used the word talent.”
“Of course, I can, you have more talent than anyone in this entire company,” Addie confirmed.
“Well, I don’t know about that but I do know we have to get home before Sal does.”
“I don’t know why you cater to that husband of yours. He is a REAL son of a bitch.”
“Addie, I won’t have you speaking of my husband like that. He works hard and he wants his wife to have his hot dinner waiting on the table when he gets home.”
“And you don’t work hard? You slave away for him making sure everything is just the way he demands it. And he yells and does worse to you, in return.”
“He is just cranky when he gets home,” Vera explained.
“Grumpy, miserable son of a bitch,” Addie repeated. “And you would have me believe you are just always walking into walls and are such a klutz.”
“We can’t all be as lucky as you and have a man like your Dean. Always smiling and singing, sweeping you off your feet and dancing you around the kitchen. The Italian bread!” Vera cried out. “Oh, Addie, the time! I forgot all about the Italian bread! When I went this morning, I was too early and the baker was late and he only had yesterday’s leftovers. He said to come back this afternoon and that he’d put a fresh loaf for Sal to the side; but now it is past five, it is too late. I have to get home or I will never have dinner on the table.”
“I will go, Vera,” Addie offered rolling her eyes. “I will go for you. Go get dinner started for that ogre of yours and I will bring the bread by.”
“But he will know that I forgot,” Vera fretted.
“Well, what does that matter? He will have his bread!”
“He mustn’t know I forgot; he will have me quit. He said I could only work if it didn’t interfere with my duties.”
“Of course, you can’t quit you are going to be a big wig in the art department,” Addie said with a flourish of her hands.
“Don’t be ridiculous, you know I can’t take that position. Salvatore only agreed for me to work this handful of weeks before the holiday. He knew how important it was for me to buy him a real present with my own actual money, instead of buying him something with his money that he slaved for and then signing my name to it.”
“Go inside,” Addie said as they arrived in front of the duplex. “I will get the bread.”
“It must be from Ritchie’s and Sal mustn’t know that I forgot Addie, so hurry he will be in the door within the half hour.”
“I will hurry,” Addie called back waving her hand in dismissal.
Vera ran up the stairs opened the door and bursted into the small apartment. She walked directly into the kitchen where she found her husband seated at the table waiting for her arrival.
“Oh dear, you are home early,” Vera stammered. She went to her husband and gave him a kiss on his cheek. She scurried to the refrigerator and took the apron off the handle, placed it over her head and tied it around her back. She opened the fridge door and felt the eyes of her husband bearing into her. Vera nervously took out the sauce she had prepared on Sunday and the defrosted steak she had prepped this morning before she left for work. She bent over and retrieved the frying pan and placed it on the stove. She lit the burner and uncovered the uncooked steak. She went about filling a pot with water for the pasta.
“This will only take a moment to cook up while the sauce is warming and the pasta is boiling. You will be eating in no time. Oh, your pipe! Where is my mind today?” Vera put down the plate which held the marinating steak and scurried out of the kitchen to retrieve her husband’s pipe. “Here it is,” she said. “I cleaned it after your morning smoke so it would be all ready for you this evening.” Vera placed the pipe in its pouch in front of her husband.
Salvatore opened the pouch and took out his pipe. He went about packing and lighting it. Vera sighed hoping that his pipe would keep him calm enough until she had his supper fixed. Vera emptied the sauce in a pot and went about searing the steak. Waiting for the pasta to boil, Vera grew fearful that Sal would lose his patience with every second it took. Somehow, however, tonight, the pasta managed to boil before Sal did. Vera fixed Salvatore’s plate, just right, and brought it to the table with the proper setting. She went to retrieve the wine as she waited to hear Salvatore slice the first cut into the steak. Vera held her breath as she opened the wine; if the steak was too rare, he would become irate and she’d have to try to fix it but if it was well, he would not eat it at all. Her hand was shaking as she filled his glass with exactly four ounces of his favorite red, if she poured more than four, he would accuse her of insinuating he is a sot.
“Where’s the bread?” Salvatore asked. “You can’t expect me to eat dinner without the bread and I can’t wait for the bread or my steak will get cold. Do you have my bread?”
“The bread should be here any minute,” Vera answered feeling her stomach sink and her legs trickle weak. “Addie went to retrieve it.”
Salvatore stared down his wife.
“You see everything is just off today. I was early to Ritchie’s this morning but the baker was late so he didn’t have today’s bread ready. He said of course he would hold a fresh loaf for you. But then the funniest thing happened at work. Carol, my supervisor, saw my silly little design sketch book and got it in her head that they were really good. She showed Mr. Jensen who heads up the advertising department and he called me in after my shift. I had to meet with him, he is my superior, I couldn’t have said no. Well, he said they could use my talents in the advertising department. Could you imagine he offered me a real permanent position after the holiday employment is through? Of course, I told him I didn’t have time for such a position that I had too many obligations in the home and to you; of course, it was nice that he thought my sketches were good. Anyway, by the time he released me it was too late to get the bread and get dinner started on time, and then when I got home late, you were home early. It really is kind of silly and I would have had the bread if the baker wasn’t late this morning, it all started with the baker being late and not having his bread ready this morning. Anyway, so Addie offered to get it so you wouldn’t have to go without.”
“Are you quite finished with your epic tale of woe?” Salvatore began. Vera recognized the contempt in his voice and knew to make herself silent. “Because the question I asked you was a simple one. Do you think this time I can ask and you can give me the simple yes or no answer that is required?” Sal paused waiting for a response from his wife.
Vera shook her head, yes.
“Very good, you are not as stupid as you sound. One more question, do you see the sauce and the steak and the wine on the table?”
Vera nodded her head yes.
Salvatore picked up the plate full of steak and sauce and threw it, with force, across the room aiming directly and intentionally at Vera. Vera moved out of its path and the dish crashed into the wall and fell to the ground. Vera braced herself as Salvatore threw the chair to the floor behind him and stood up. Salvatore walked across the room and slammed Vera into the same wall he smashed the food. He raised his hand back high and slapped her across the face with his full force.
“Salvatore please!” Vera cried holding her hand against the sting.
“You think you can disrespect me with another man? You think he cares about your silly sketches? You actually think, he thinks you have talent? He thinks you are a whore and he thinks I am a fool.” Salvatore put his hand around Vera’s throat and held her up against the wall.
Vera felt the pressure on her windpipe and felt the panic of restricted air.
“Stop Sal!” she cried out weakly through strangled breath. “Please stop!”
But Salvatore didn’t stop, he pressed harder. The strength of his force took Vera off her feet and she dangled in the air; pinned to the wall by his hands wrapped around her throat.
“Stop!” Vera whimpered out again now in full hysterics; instead of releasing her, he increased the pressure he was applying in spite of her desperate cry for help. “You have to stop! I’m pregnant! You’ll hurt the baby.”
When Salvatore heard these words, he immediately released his strangle hold on his wife. Vera fell to the floor in one lump.
Salvatore looked down at his wife and spat at her. “Let’s hope you can get something right for once in your god dam life and give me a son.” He walked out of the kitchen and through the front door passing Addie in the stairway, who was holding the bread.
“Let’s see how the babies are doing today Mrs. Estes,” the nurse said retrieving her stethoscope.
“Please call me Nina. I don’t think I will ever feel grown up enough to be called Mrs.,” Nina said with a smile. “And to answer your question, they are active, very active.”
“Well, that is exactly what we like to hear, means they are growing big and strong and with two in there, they are running out of room, bouncing off of poor mommy.”
“I don’t mind it. I think they are going to be dancers. I like to imagine them dancing; maybe they are doing the hustle,” Nina said with a laugh. “I play music and we dance around the apartment; I will miss their movement when the time comes.” Nina laid back and settled herself into position on the table, she raised her white and pink flowing shirt so the nurse could begin the exam. She closed her eyes and her face relaxed in happy anticipation; this nurse usually let her have a listen to the heartbeats through her ear piece and Nina looked forward to it during the long wait in between appointments.
The nurse put the scope to Nina’s large belly. She leaned in to listen, immediately a smile crossed over her face as she found the heart beat with ease.
“Strong and quite fast, Mrs. Estes,” the nurse said returning to her professional diction. The nurse turned her arm to view the second hand of her wrist watch, she remained focused as she stood still and counted. “I’d say I’m listening to your little girl about 160 beats a minute for her. Here you are now, have a listen to your baby,” the nurse said holding the microphone in place with her one hand and removing the ear pieces with her other. Nina reached for the headphones being offered and fixed them inside her ears. She searched the nurse’s face as her ears adjusted and strained to hear what the nurse just had. She closed her eyes and found the quick rhythm of the baby’s heart settle clearly through the static.
“Now let’s see if you will move over a bit to let us have a listen for your brother or sister,” the nurse said taking the scope back and then proceeding to move it again around Nina’s large, brown belly, stopping here and there for a moment to listen before relocating to another position.
The doctor had told her there was no way to know, until they arrived but in his experience the heart rate was a pretty reliable predictor of the baby’s gender. The twins had started out with the same higher heart rate but had settled into a consistent difference with one being about 20 bpm slower than the other. At that time, the doctor had prematurely congratulated Nina on the good fortune of having both a little daughter and son but Nina had felt a little disappointment at this news because she had already fallen in love with the idea of two little girls. Sisters, identical in every way and growing together inside her and then forever through their lives. She had imagined the matching dresses she’d put them in and the ties she’d secure their braids with. She imagined the games they would play and the fun they would have tricking everyone with their identical looks. Tricking everyone except for their momma; Nina knew she who would always know them apart.
Nina brought herself back from her dreaming as she noticed how long it was taking the nurse to find the second baby’s heartbeat.
“Is everything alright?” Nina asked.
“I can’t say,” the nurse replied.
“Tell me,” Nina demanded. “Is something wrong with my babies?”
The nurse removed the stethoscope from her ears and folded it into her front pocket, she started to fix Nina’s blouse back into place but Nina was already coming to stand on her feet.
“Tell me if something is wrong with my babies,” Nina demanded again.
“There might be something wrong,” the nurse answered, “or baby A is just not making enough room for me to hear the other baby.”
“You mean Nese is not making enough room for Tala. You can’t find Tala’s heartbeat?” Nina asked. “What does that mean?”
“It means I can only find one fetal heartbeat but it can be tricky with twins and the doctor has the necessary skill; he will examine you,” the nurse explained.
“But what does that mean?” Nina asked again. “What does it mean, might be wrong?”
“I am not allowed to say. Let’s calm down. The doctor must examine you. He will know,” the nurse responded sternly and walked out the door.