small motions, sustained and urgent

We stay in bed so late this morning, the boy and me. The bed is wide, but I wake on the margin of it, with my son’s warm body mashed up against mine.

I cannot explain the weariness I feel in my bones. Like I have spent the days digging trenches or carrying boulders from one place to another.

I can hear the traffic moving on the highway - a steady, dull hum.

“Do you know what, Mommy?” W. asks, his voice loud, breaking the stillness. He goes on without prompting. “On this day is when my daddy is coming home.”

“Yes, that’s right, bun,” I assure him. “Tonight.”

“I am just a little anxious that he has been gone for a long time,” he says slowly, his voice trembling a little. I hold him close. “I know, my love. I know.”

My friend is moving back after a few years in New York. She wants to have a baby, says, I’ll give myself a year to find someone. And if I don’t in that year, I’ll do it alone.

If those had been my options, I wonder whether I would have had children at all. I don’t know that I am at my best, alone.

There is a spider on the ceiling above my bed. There would be no reason to think it anything but a bit of dust or dirt except that as I stare at it, I can detect the motion of its little legs working busily at a project that I cannot see. From this distance, I cannot be sure that it’s making any progress, but now that I am focused on it, it is apparent that is has never stopped moving.

My daughter was born during the summer Olympics. I spent so much of those early days, when everything I did was dedicated to her - to her eating, her sleeping, tending to her - on our green sofa in the living room, the accessories of babyhood all around me, watching hours of swimming and running and gymnastics, with her in my arms. If she slept, I dared not move, so we sat there until she grew hungry again.

On the television, the sound turned low, I watched the young girls on their balance beams, walking off the mat with tears in their eyes, rubbing their taped hands.

She nursed all the time. I tried, as they tell you in the hospital, to sleep when she slept. But it was always lightly - always poised, as one must be, to leap back into action at the first sound of a cry. Every part of me ached. I longed constantly for a warm bath and rest. When I dreamed at all, I dreamed of sleep.

Last night, I get a phone call from a blocked number that I assume to be M.

“Did I wake you?” he asks.

“No, I just hesitated because I wasn’t sure that it was you.”

“Oh yeah?” the voice asks, and suddenly, I realize it is not M.

“Who is this?” I ask.

“This is Jason.”

“I think you have the wrong number.”

“Oh really?” he says, “Are you sure?”

I hang up instantly, my heart racing. He calls again. I do not pick up. Instinctively, I look out the windows, make sure all the curtains are drawn. Check the locks on the front and back doors.

When I was in high school, there was a time when we received phone calls daily. In the afternoons, when my sister and I were home alone. I’d pick up to silence, then the sound of slow exaggerated breathing like during a physical exam, when you are asked to inhale deeply, hold it, then let it out.

It amused me at first. Some days, I would talk, pretend I was chatting with one of my friends, go on a bit about the experiment in chemistry lab, or the paper I was writing for English class on Notes from Underground. When my monologue ended to the same slow inhale and exhale, I’d hang up.

This went on for several weeks. And then it stopped.

My friend C., in love with the married man, writes me just after the new year. Late last year, his wife joined a committee that she is on - for the museum that she loves nearly as much as she does this man - and this, it seems, is the last indignity she can bear. They meet up, late on New Year’s Day. He comes to her apartment with a new manuscript in a box. “Open it,” he urges her.

On top of the pile of pages, a smaller box. A wide silver bracelet with a chain closure. She turns in over in her hands. There are places where the metal has been dented, flaws in its soft patina. “It was my mother’s. I found it over Christmas. I wanted you to have it.”

She writes: I knew I couldn’t talk about it, couldn’t have a whole long conversation. So I just put it back in the box, and gave it back to him. And I said, if you love me, you will leave now.

And then he did.

I come back from the shower and look for my spider. I can’t detect any motion, so I stand up on the bed to get a closer look. It appears that it is, after all, just a bit of dust. I move around on the bed to see it from as many angles as I can. Unmistakable. And as I go about my morning routine - brushing my hair, buttoning my sweater, I think about those optical illusions where you can see several things in one image. How you see an old lady with a fur collar while what I see is a young woman wearing a wide-brimmed hat. But I wonder how it is that I could have seen movement - small motions, sustained and urgent - where there was none.