“Do you even remember what it was like to . . . grow?” William whispered into the darkness. He knew they should be quiet, pretending to sleep, but his worries galloped through his mind tonight.
“Well . . . kind of.” She rolled onto her back to stare at the same deteriorating ceiling that his gaze circled. “It was like full . . . and stretchy.”
“Stretchy?” He chuckled. She swatted his chest.
“Yeah, I don’t know how to describe it. But we were aging, we were going to grow old together—” she stopped before regret sounded. “Back then, there was past and there was future; the memories and dreams breathed to make the present stretch. But now, it’s just . . .”
“Dead,” he said.
“Dead,” she whispered. Then burst out, “Why on earth would anyone leave a living, growing child on our front door? Us? They must have been blind or they would have noticed the lifeless neighborhood, the limping houses lining the broken sidewalk?”
“Quiet, dear. You’ll wake her.” He couldn’t help but smile, though. That Lucille was always so lively, even after all these years apart from the living.
“Sorry.” She buried her face in his shoulder.
“Well, ours were the only lights on that night, as we ‘enjoyed’ a nice glass of wine.”
“Oh, I swear I could almost taste it!” Her whisper shot to the ceiling.
He smiled seeing the moonlight catch her pale, outstretched hands. He grabbed her left in his right.
“So we must have looked like an ordinary, loving couple. Totally understandable for someone to mistake us as living if they saw us drinking wine in a lit, furnished dining room.”
“I suppose. But it makes me wonder. What sort of person even comes into this neighborhood, and with a child no less? I mean, I haven’t seen more than a mangy cat chasing a skeletal mouse in—what year is it now?”
“My goodness. Has it really been sixty years already? Time flies when you’re not living in it anymore, doesn’t it,” she sighed.
“It certainly does. I don’t know what would have inspired anyone to come this way. There must be some reason.”
“I’ve been thinking about it every moment since she got here. It scares me to death—okay well, it terrifies me—to think I’m responsible for the life of another person, so small, so unaware of this ghastly world! How can she be anything but ruined by everything around her?”
“I’m scared, too, dear. But, oh, how I almost feel my heart beat again when she smiles at us. Don’t you just love that?”
“I do. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. I’d die again for her.”
“Now we’re just starting the life we never had. Well, sort of.”
She smiled. He knew she smiled because she always did when he said “sort of.” Just enough to where her lips etched a moon-shaped dimple into her cheek that caused a reflective sparkle in her eye. He lived for that smile. Or died for it. Yes, he had chosen to die for that very smile.
“It’s hard work pretending,” she continued. “Like eating, breathing, sleeping. Gosh, sleeping is perhaps the most dreadful of all. I mean, not that I don’t mind lying here with you, dear, but there are just so many other things we could be doing right now.”
“But we can’t wake her.”
“Yes, I know. Not that reading, for example, is loud, you know.”
“I know, Lill, but we’ll get careless if we don’t have some sort schedule and stick to it. Children need schedules. It’s going to be a big change for us. Everything has changed and will just . . . keep changing. That’s what life is, change.”
“Except we’re not changing anymore, Will. We don’t stretch anymore. Our hearts stopped and our blood stopped and we don’t age. How long is she going to fall for that, do you think?”
“Oh, I didn’t notice my parents getting older until I was out of the house, I think. Parents hold some sort of ageless charm while kids grow up, too busy with their own growing to notice those already-grown, adult figures making any changes. I’d say we’ve got a good sixteen years before she suspects anything. If we stick to pretending.” He poked her ribs.
“Ayy!” She squirmed and wrapped a fist around his culprit finger.
“Parenthood,” she breathed. “We’re parents. Finally, after . . .” She looked down at her stomach.
“After all these years,” he spread a hand on her lower abdomen. When the doctor told him his son hadn’t made it and that his wife wasn’t expected to make it either, he had done this same thing. He lay down in the bed next to his wife, held her feverish head to his chest while he spread his other hand over her tired womb.
He cleared his throat to scatter the haunting memory and moved his hand to her cheek. “You are going to be an amazing mother,” he said. “You can do all those things you loved doing—cooking and preparing lavish meals, sewing and mending clothes—living again, for this child.”
“Yes, I will. I will do my best to pretend that I am as capable a mother as any living woman.”
“Oh, you won’t even have to pretend, darling. You’re a natural, I’m sure of it. The world is scary, but there is so much love, too. Think of all the marvelous things this one child could do to change the world? She has changed our world so much already.”
“We’ll have to move, won’t we?”
“She’ll need to have friends; we’ll have to make friends.”
Silence met his ears. He turned his head toward her. Out of habit impossible to kill, her chest rose and fell with a characteristic sigh.
“You will do beautifully.”
“We will,” she said, squeezing his hand. “Thank you for sticking with me.”
“Till dusk and till dawn.” He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed it.
A baby’s cry echoed down the hall. Lucille leapt out of bed faster than a grasshopper from underfoot.
“I’ll go!” And she was wrapped in wails down the hallway.
William crossed his arms behind his head. A father. At last.