Livia and Una, 2004. Taken by my mother Pryde Brown
Jasper ran through the apartment in his Clone Trooper costume and caused the picture to fall off the wall. The glass shattered, shards everywhere. I was annoyed, of course. It was 9PM. He and Livia should have been asleep, but I’d gotten home late, was exhausted, had been running since 7AM when my husband left for work, when I began getting the kids ready for school: out the door, up the street, drop off at school, race home, prepare dinner (for much later), straighten up, in the car, drive to the university, read a few student stories, faculty meeting, lunch with a former student, office hours (“Do I really need to set the scene? It’s just a NY City apartment?” student asks. I give her a curious, I-Can’t-Believe-What-You’re-Asking look and say, “Yes. Yes. You need to set the scene. Watch, smell, taste, touch.”), teach two classes, home again in the car (45 minutes on the LIE), my son’s person-of-the-week project (glue and photos and crayons and glitter) all over the place, cat unfed, apartment a mess, my husband just home too, baby sitter leaves, dinner, baths, (how many months has it been since I’ve written a word of fiction?), Clone Trooper storms the hall, I warn him to be careful, picture falls, glass shards everywhere, I want to scream, think instead of Hilary Stout’s piece in the NYTimes on yelling being the new spanking.
I pick up the picture of my baby girl, five years old, with her Nonna’s dog in her Nonna’s garden in red and pink, hair in braids with tiny bows, standing before the foxglove, her little haunting wisdom—like those newborn eyes of hers that held mine, latched onto mine as if to say: I am yours; you will take care me, you will love me: commanding, determined eyes. On the wall, I hadn’t looked at the picture in a long time. Now nine, Livia holds onto Jasper; they watch me crouching by all the glass, waiting for my reaction, suspended in…is it fear? “I’m sorry, Mommy,” Jasper says. I’ve gone back: he is a newborn again and Livia is four—a fall afternoon in my mother’s garden. It is all there—the smell of wood smoke, the chill, the crisp sky and lazy clouds—and everything in between. A marvelous compression of time which then, less marvelously, leaps forward five years—Jasper ten, Livia fourteen, almost grown. “We can fix this,” I said, as my husband vacuumed up the glass and I took the children to their beds and read to them from The Magician’s Elephant, Kate Di Camillo’s wonderful new book. And on the street, sixteen stories below, the man who roams our neighborhood most nights chanting HALLELUJAH began his evening song.