Read the other chapters here.
December 24, 2008
Everything is made a miracle by the fact of their togetherness. The banalities—something spiritual.
The way Jamie does their laundry. How his diligence for clean, crisp folds never extends to removing the drier sheets, tangled amongst the clothes. Claire is forever finding them in the armpits of her sweaters, or in the rolled cuffs of her jeans when she dresses in the morning. A waft of detergent—and of her husband—as a white sheet drifts down, brushing her calf like a beloved’s hand. (Familiar; intimate.)
And the way Claire knows terms like methylprednisolone, but cannot win a single game of Scrabble. Rainy days spent brooding over the board, Jamie trying to coax Triple Word scores from her Z’s and Q’s and X’s. “I reckon it’d be quixotic to think the weather will clear for a picnic?” he asks (hints), peeking at her tiles.
More miracles, then: the way her eyes light up. The kisses she will give him for this small act of kindness. Quixotic written by her lapping tongue, and poppies left to bloom on his neck. (They will make the neighbors blush.)
Their home, too, is another miracle, with its wainscoting and butter-leather and Persian rugs. No longer must they suffer the grimy box of their mid-20’s, or the lonely echoes of their own respective homes. Boston and Scotland have been shed like old skins, or if not shed, then at least peeled to the thinnest films.
Instead there is this house and Jamie’s footsteps in the study, and the pour of Claire’s nightly glass of milk. North Carolina lies just beyond the windows, a wild glory whose trees lean close, listening. (Even the universe has grown green-bright with envy, wants to be a part of Jamie and Claire’s love.)
And just last week, they installed heated floors and called a plumber to insulate the pipes. So now: socks peeled off with glee, breakfasts of mouths that taste like sleep and last night’s Colgate. The coffee is brewed too long and the pancakes are left on the griddle, and they burn (and burn and burn).
But even so, there is one miracle that has not come. Their hope for it—the fervency, the sheer constancy of the thing—is shadowed by a fear similar to Claire’s wedding-day stomach. Lying side by side in bed, they worry:
What if it never happens? What if it does?
“We’re so old,” Claire jokes one afternoon, a few weeks into 40. She is walking the tight-rope of Jamie’s spine, trying to usher his stiffness to the surface and away. She remembers her splintered, little-girl feet—dancing in 1973—as she tip-toes up and down, up and down her husband’s back.
Though this ground is more uneven than her childhood porch, she prefers it. No sneaky shards to puncture her once-tender skin. Jamie’s are deltoids here and his trapezius there—a special comfort in her favorite pearl of his vertebrae. She hunts for it, feels its safe rub against her sole, and holds back a sigh. (Suddenly, this seems like the most precious gift, and she wishes, more than ever, that she could offer her own back to two tiny, wobbling feet.)
“Aye, we’re fossils.”
“You could dig us up and brush the dust off,” Claire says, and so Jamie reaches back, swipes his index finger along her shin and licks it. “What would you do if you found my bones? You’re just walking along one day, kilt swinging, and you trip right over my fibula?”
“I’d build a home out of you,” Jamie says immediately. “I’d sleep on yer pelvis.”
“Awfully uncomfortable, pelvises. You’d have more back problems than you do now.”
“But that’s what yer fibulas are for, see. I’d save them for a cane and fuse ‘em together. I think it’d be nice. Always having you to lean on.” Jamie groans when she tuns around; Claire’s heels digging in and scooping out his pain. “But that’s assuming you die before I do, Sassenach. Maybe I’ll be the one who starts to go first.”
“I bloody well hope not. That’d be unbearable.”
“But no’ impossible. Me, wearing diapers at age 70…D’ye think you could ye wipe my arse, and still love me afterwards?”
“Darling, I can’t imagine a higher honor than wiping your ‘arse’ for you.”
She is smiling—but only just—as she steps down to lay herself across his body, to shield the life of him.
“And what about you? Will you still love me when I’m blind? I’ll have to get glasses—those big, alien things that make people look like startled bugs or arctic explorers. Like Murdina wears.”
“You’d look verra cute as a spectacled, startled bug, Sassenach.”
“But not an arctic explorer?”
“I’d prefer you as a wee crawlie inside my shirt.”
Claire snorts (a vestige of her mother there, in that unchecked happiness), then adds, “And my memory! Sheesh. A few years, and that’ll be shot straight to hell. Might even forget your name one day. Jack Fraser? Jay Fraser? ‘Ringo Starr, is that you?’ It’ll all be very embarrassing, so please just play along and pretend it’s endearing.”
“Dinna be silly,” Jamie says. “There’s no forgetting me or you.”
(A shame his body is so stiff. More feeling in his back, and he would sense the creep of a premonitory chill. See a far-off but certain future where he must pause, think slowly, in order to make a wife out of the woman next to him. A stranger to him, suddenly, until she reintroduces herself. Jamie, it’s me, it’s me.)
“I suppose you’re right,” she says. “We’re rather stuck with each other, aren’t we?”
Jamie hears the unspoken longing in her words, and he feels it too, somewhere deep in his chest. Let it be this way forever. (Together, beyond death, inside a pair of slanted amber eyes.)
“I meant my vows when I said them, Sassenach. ‘In diapers and dementia…’”
“Oh, is that how it goes?”
“Aye, the Catholics have always said it so.”
“Have I told you that I’m so glad to be stuck with you again? You. Ringo. My two-times-over husband.”
Jamie laughs, rolling over beneath her so that they’re side by side, face to face. Elbows propping heads; Claire’s right leg, straddling. She moves closer, extending her hips—oh, to live there in that cocoon of bone!—and the last of Jamie’s tension loosens, his body freed.
“So nice ye had to do it twice?”
“Better than nice,” she whispers. “Perfect.”
(No matter what, he will always remember this. How two is so much greater than one.)
But while Jamie and Claire joke about their ages, they both know that time is running out. Their baby, they realize, would be a different miracle from all the others—would eclipse even those babies born from more youthful, hospitable insides. And though they have not sat down and spoken plainly as they once did (I want to have a baby), their needing rings throughout the house, spells itself out on the Scrabble board. A baby. Let’s have a baby.
There is an added sense of responsibility to their lovemaking now, which is no less passionate but simply filled with extra care. As if the baby teeters on some fragile precipice, and needs only their encouragement to find its will to live.
Claire has taken multiple tests, all negative, over the past several months. Each time she throws a stick into the waste bin, she feels their chances slipping through her fingers, joining the pile of Q-Tips, wrappers, and tissues soaked in her frustration. She wads up toilet paper shrouds and covers the oval screens, pretending there was no test, no probability lost with the pronouncement of that one thin line.
This time is different though; Claire knows it. It is after Christmas Eve mass, 11:30PM, and she is pacing in the bathroom. Claire has been waiting all day for her courage, to be able to lock the door, hold a seventh stick, and see if her instincts have any kicking, doughy legs. She retrieves the pink box from the cupboard and sits on the toilet. Holds her breath until black sparks are in her eyes.
Tonight, she thinks, is a night for miracles.