Coming and Going


by Kathleen

Nuala’s labor started when she was dreaming of her little sister who had died nine months ago. “It’s going to be the best thing in your life,” said the skinny eight-year old girl, who had been killed by a drunk driver.

The dream occurred in vivid light and ended in darkness, like a lid shut tight. By nine a.m., she and her husband Charlie took turns cradling their newborn son.

Afterwards, Nuala nurtured Davey in sustained euphoria. She didn’t care if she slept or ate or ever left the apartment. Good thing, too, because that winter the temperature rarely rose about zero.

In February Charlie’s boss turned forty, and his third wife was throwing a party in their penthouse। Charlie told Nuala, “We’ll only stay a few hours.” Seeing her face, he said, “One hour.”

Nuala’s bereft mother, Anita, imagined babysitting might be healing. And Davey drank pumped milk from a bottle without fuss, because his grandmother had begged to feed him from the beginning.


Nuala cinched a belt over a pleated skirt that was too big. Any extra weight she had gained while pregnant slipped off in weeks, and more pounds had followed.

“You look beautiful,” her mother said. “Have fun.”

Nuala stepped into a night so cold her lungs seized up for a second, refusing such frigid air. Inside their rusty car, she rested her head against Charlie’s shoulder. “Let’s phone with our regrets.” She wiped the steamy car window. “Look, she’s waving Davey’s hand good-bye.”

Charlie found a parking place after much searching. Arms locked, they skidded, bending into the wind. “We can say we got the day wrong,” he said, which was preposterous. They needed to show up.

He was anxious for Nuala. After meeting a stranger, she and the other person often watched dumbstruck as the person’s secrets hung in the air. Rarely, people loved Nuala’s spooky intuitions. More often, they stalked off, angry.

Charlie’s boss kissed Nuala’s cheek and marveled at how lovely she looked. His wife Natalie asked, “Why are you doing this?” when Nuala requested a non-alcoholic drink.

A dark-haired woman named Jessica hiccupped, telling Nuala. “You’re a dead-ringer from my childhood. My best friend. Whose name escapes me, because I’m drunk.”

Seeing Charlie, Jessica lurched toward the couch. Charlie claimed he didn’t know the woman, but Nuala didn’t believe it.

With their coats on, Charlie said, “No one will remember whether we say good-bye or not. So, no hanging around the doorway.”

Halfway up their stairs, they could hear Anita singing.

Not a drop of blood.She never suffered.Shes in heaven now.She's in heaven.

“Yoo-hoo!” Nuala called.

Anita jumped up. “So soon? Davey’s asleep.”

As Charlie waited to take Anita home, she said, “Sometimes I forget. And when I remember, it’s like my little girl’s just died all over again.”

Nuala hugged her mother and they cried together.





7 comments:

Stella said...

Excellent as usual. I love the way you can capture many rapid impressions and images.

Rufus said...

Stella's right.
It's amazing how, in such a short space, your stories capture so many different perspectives and characters.

kathleenmaher said...

Thank you, Stella and Rufus. I'm always over-reaching and was worried it turned out glib, when I was going for so many feelings: loss, grief, and dread filtered by streams of love.

Paul said...

'In February Charlie’s boss turned forty, and his third wife was throwing a party in their penthouse. Charlie told Nuala, “We’ll only stay a few hours.” Seeing her face, he said, “One hour.”'

Great story, but this one paragraph stands out for me. It carries so much in it. Superb.

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks for that, Paul. I don't think anyone's ever said anything I did was "superb," except maybe for the fruit pies I make for people's birthdays.

Mike French said...

Honestly Kathleen how do you do this?
So much in such a short space. As a reader, you really do believe that these people live lives outside of your snapshots. Have you got 100 people living whole lifespans inside your head?

kathleenmaher said...

Every week, I'm sure this is the time I'll come up empty, but then for better or worse the words fall place.
This week's attempt is up and kicking, and I should get it together either tonight or tomorrow.
And, you know, I love doing this. I suspected as much or I wouldn't have jumped so fast when you gave me a chance, Mike. And for that, I can't thank you enough.