Home > Commonwealth(7)

Ann Patchett

About the time he started really looking at the car, which seemed somehow sexy just by virtue of its being French, he remembered the baby was missing. He thought of his own baby, Jeanette, who had just learned to walk. Her forehead was bruised from where she had careened into the glass yesterday, the Band-Aids were still in place, and he panicked to think he was supposed to be watching her. Little Jeanette, he had no idea where he’d left her! Teresa should have known he wasn’t any good at keeping up with the baby. She shouldn’t have trusted him with this. But when he came out of the garage to try and find her, his heart punching at his ribs as if it wanted to go ahead of him, he saw all the people at Fix Keating’s party. The proper order of the day was returned to him and he stood for another moment holding on to the door, feeling both ridiculous and relieved. He hadn’t lost anything.

When he looked back up at the sky he saw the light was changing. He would tell Fix he needed to go home, he had his own kids to worry about. He went inside to find a bathroom and found two closets first. In the bathroom, he stopped to splash some water on his face before coming out again. On the other side of the hallway there was yet another door. It wasn’t a big house but it seemed to be made entirely of doors. He opened the door in front of him and found the light inside was dim. The shades were down. It was a room for little girls—a pink rug, a pink wallpaper border featuring fat rabbits. There was a room not unlike this in his own house that Holly shared with Jeanette. In the corner he saw three small girls sleeping on a twin bed, their legs crossed over one another’s legs, their fingers twisted in one another’s hair. Somehow the only thing he failed to notice was Beverly Keating standing at the changing table with the baby. Beverly looked at him, a smile of recognition coming over her face.

“I know you,” she said.

She had startled him, or her beauty startled him again. “I’m sorry,” he said. He put his hand on the door.

“You’re not going to wake them up.” She tilted her head towards the girls. “I think they’re drunk. I carried them in here one at a time and they never woke up.”

He went over and looked at the girls, the biggest one no more than five. He couldn’t help but like the look of children when they were sleeping. “Is one of them yours?” he asked. They all three looked vaguely similar. None of them looked like Beverly Keating.

“Pink dress,” she said, her attention on the diaper in her hand. “The other two are her cousins.” She smiled at him. “Aren’t you supposed to be fixing drinks?”

“Spencer left,” he said, though that didn’t answer the question. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been nervous, not in the face of criminals or juries, certainly not in the face of women holding diapers. He started again. “Your husband asked me to find the baby.”

Finished with her work, Beverly rearranged the baby’s dress and lifted her up from the table. “Well, here she is,” she said. She touched her nose to the baby’s nose and the baby smiled and yawned. “Somebody’s been awake a long time.” Beverly turned towards the crib.

“Let me take her out to Fix for a minute,” he said. “Before you put her down.”

Beverly Keating tilted her head slightly to one side and gave him a funny look. “Why does Fix need her?”

It was everything, the pale pink of her mouth in the darkened pink room, the door that was closed now though he didn’t remember closing it, the smell of her perfume which had somehow managed to float gently above the familiar stench of the diaper pail. Had Fix asked him to bring the baby back or just to find her? It didn’t make any difference. He told her he didn’t know, and then he stepped towards her, her yellow dress its own source of light. He held out his arms and she stepped into them, holding out the baby.

“Take her then,” she said. “Do you have children?” But by then she was very close and she lifted up her face. He put one arm under the baby, which meant he was putting his arm beneath her breasts. It wasn’t a year ago she’d had this baby and while he didn’t know what she’d looked like before it was hard to imagine she had ever looked any better than this. Teresa never pulled herself together. She said it wasn’t possible, one coming right after the next. Wouldn’t he like to introduce the two of them, just to show his wife what could be done if you cared to try. Scratch that. He had no interest in Teresa meeting Beverly Keating. He put his other arm around her back, pressed his fingers into the straight line of her zipper. It was the magic of gin and orange juice. The baby balanced between the two of them and he kissed her. That was the way this day was turning out. He closed his eyes and kissed her until the spark he had felt in his fingers when he touched her hand in the kitchen ran the entire shivering length of his spine. She put her other hand against the small of his back while the tip of her tongue crossed between his parted teeth. There was an almost imperceptible shift between them. He felt it, but she stepped back. He was holding the baby. The baby cried for a second, a single red-faced wail, and then issued a small hiccup and pressed into Cousins’s chest.

“We’re going to smother her,” she said, and laughed. She looked down at the baby’s pretty face. “Sorry about that.”

The small weight of the Keating girl was familiar in his arms. Beverly took a soft cloth from the changing table and wiped over his mouth. “Lipstick,” she said, then she leaned over and kissed him again.

“You are—” he started, but too many things came into his head to say just one.

“Drunk,” she said, and smiled. “I’m drunk is all. Go take the baby to Fix. Tell him I’ll be there in just a minute to get her.” She pointed her finger at him. “And don’t tell him anything else, mister.” She laughed again.

He realized then what he had known from the first minute he saw her, from when she leaned out the kitchen door and called for her husband. This was the start of his life.

“Go,” she said.

She let him keep the baby. She went to the other side of the room and started to arrange the sleeping girls into more comfortable positions. He stood at the closed bedroom door for one more minute to watch her.

“What?” she said. She wasn’t being flirtatious.

“Some party,” he said.

“Tell me about it.”

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