Wonder 18



I can still beat Charlie at chess, even if I play the black side. I’ve got a feeling, though, that this won’t last for long. The other day, he asked if he could borrow BCO, and I can see that he’s already playing some of those openings.


“Are there such things as professional chess players?” he asked me.

“Yeah, not many,” I replied, “but a few. You gotta be world class to make a living, and it’s a tough life, but it can be done.”


Over the board, he fell right into my trap.

“You also gotta learn to keep your queen protected!” I chuckled.


He thought for a while, and then captured my bishop with his rook, initiating an exchange that would give him a slight plus.


“Not bad, Charlie!” I said. “How’d you find that exchange?”

“Thinking of futebol,” he said. “Think I could be a professional futebol player like Pai was?”


Beryl was playing the guitar, and I thought how neat it would be if Charlie were a professional musician. He’s nearly mastered the violin, and he’s already started composing on it. I can see that he loves it. I wondered why he didn’t think of becoming a professional musician.


He was still analyzing chess positions when Berry and I took our supper out at the patio table.

“Ever thought of becoming a musician?” I asked Charlie.

“What, like a fiddle player?” he said.

“Well, that. Or a concert master for a symphony. Or a composer, conductor, or member of a quartet. Or maybe a solo violinist.”


After supper we sat down to another game of chess. I had white this time.

“You know, Mae,” Charlie said, “the thing about music is that I love it. It’s where I go that’s all mine and I can do when I want. What if I had to play and I didn’t want to? What if it became work?”

Knowing how my attitude towards my writing shifts when I’m writing for publication as opposed to when I’m just writing for me, I had to admit Charlie had a point.


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Wonder 16


“Chazzie’s teacher called,” Beryl said. “They’re wanting to test him again.”


“Because he’s so smart but his grades don’t reflect it.”


“That’s so ridiculous,” I said. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t gotten into this program with Charlie. I know I felt I needed the prenatal care, but what if I actually didn’t need it? Now, the program administrators feel like they’ve got a right to our lives.

I’ve had good luck holding off the testing so far, but I realize that when Charlie moves up to secondary school, we’ll probably have to accept the full range of intelligence and physical fitness tests. Part of life. I guess, if we’re not completely cut off from the rest of society, there will be parts of it that we need to comply with, even if we don’t agree with it.

Paolo dropped by just about the time we were expecting Charlie to get home from school. While I fixed snack, he and Berry sat in the kitchen and talked.

“The administration of the test of the intelligence is the awesome idea!” Paolo said. “O menino, he is the genius. This I know. It is from the mother of him. Mae, she is the genius, and so the son of her will be the genius, too. This is the biology.”

I shuddered a little. Labels. Charlie is a boy. That’s plenty.


Paolo looked out the window at 3:15.

“Ah! The boy genius is at the home!” he said, and he went outside to greet his son.


I watched him encourage Charlie. Sometimes, Charlie gets this look like he doesn’t really agree with what you’re saying, but he wants to be nice and go along with it. That’s how he looked then.


Then I could see that he was raising objections with his dad. He doesn’t do that often, only when he feels he has a definite point to make. I wondered what they were talking about.


Paolo left when Charlie pulled out his homework.


“How was school, Spud?” I asked when I saw that Charlie had finished his schoolwork.

“It was great, Mae!” he said. “We’re learning about angles and stuff in math. I like it because I know how to kick better in futebol and where to stand when I’m goalie.”


We went swimming before supper, while Berry cooked up spaghetti.

Charlie and I raced. I won when we swam backstroke or freestyle, but he actually beat me when we swam breaststroke. He’s very fast, and he’s got a great kick. I guess having an athlete for a dad has given him physical strength, agility, and fast motor connections. I hope he keeps up with sports as he gets older.

“Did you learn anything today?” Berry asked him over supper.

“Sure,” he said. “Did you?”

Beryl thought for a moment. “I did,” she said. “I learned that when we’ve discovered characteristics that we love in one person, we will often look for those same characteristics in others.”

Charlie thought for a moment. “You mean the way I try to find how other kids are artists like you?” he asked.

“Just so,” she replied.


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Wonder 13



Saturday morning. I was so glad to have our boy at home and not off at school all day. He came up to me while I was playing chess and asked me to read him a story.

We wandered over to a bench in the Commons, and I pulled out one of the books I’d written.

“This is a story about my dad,” I told him.

“Did you live with your dad when you were a kid?” he asked.

“Yes, Berry and I both did. But this story is about when he was a boy, before he met my mom. Before he was my dad. It’s called ‘Crab-pot Willie.”

Charlie closed his eyes, and I began the story.


“Early every Saturday morning, Willie rowed his dinghy out to the fishing boats in the bay.

“‘Got any fish-heads for me?’ he called, and the fishermen hoisted down buckets of fish heads.”

“Fish heads?” Charlie asked.


“Willie said thanks and rowed out to a small blue and yellow buoy bobbing in the middle of the cove. Attached to the buoy was a line, and Willie pulled and pulled. Sometimes it was so much work, for seaweed would get tangled up in the line and to the wire box that was attached at the other end, and Willie would need to use all his strength to pull the wire box out of the water and hoist it into his rowboat. This wire box was the crab pot, and into it, Willie would pour some of the fish-heads, then down it goes!  Back to the bottom of the bay. And off Willie rowed to the next blue and yellow buoy bouncing in the cove.”

“What do you do with crab pots?” Charlie asked.


“You catch crabs!” I said.

“For eating?” Charlie asked.

“Sure, or for selling. That’s what my dad did.”

I read the rest of the story, which told of a frightening day when a storm brewed up while my dad was out in the bay checking the crab pots. The story had a happy ending, though, for my dad was brave, like he always was, and he had such a good harvest that the family had money to buy brand new shoes for every family member that winter.

They even had enough left over to buy a pair of new shoes for Charlotte, their neighbor.

“When Willie and his family, and Charlotte, got home from Sears, each one wearing their new shoes on their feet, Charlotte said, ‘Willie, we’ll call these shoes Willie-shoes, and every squeak of the sole will be to thank you.'”

“‘Naw,’ said Willie. ‘Don’t thank me. Thank the crabs. And the restaurant chefs that bought them. And the fishermen who gave me the fish heads. And the fish whose heads they gave me. And don’t forget the machines that stitched the shoes, and the workers that packed them in boxes! There’s a whole world goes into our wearing these new shoes on our feet!'”


“I wish I could do something helpful for our family,” said Charlie, “like my grandpa Willie did for his.”

I thought for a moment about what Charlie could do.


“You know,” I said, “there is something that would be a big help! The other day, I had to put our groceries on the tab, because we didn’t have enough money to pay for them, but Berry sold some paintings to the gallery, so now we do have money! You could take some money to the store and pay our bill with Mr. Fennis.”

“Could I really?” Charlie asked.

“Sure,” I replied. “If you feel brave enough. It’s a big job, for you’d need to go all the way through the tunnel where the lower courtyard shops are. But it would be a big help, for me, for Berry, and for Mr. Fennis, too, who wants his money, surely!”

“I can do it,” Charlie said.

I gave him the bills to pay our tab and watched him run down the hill towards the lower courtyard.


Once he passed through that tunnel, he’d be out of earshot. I thought for a moment about all the adventures my dad had, even as a little boy of Charlie’s age. Times were different then, and Frank and Sylvia, my paternal grandparents, trusted the wide world to make a place for a small boy. They trusted, too, in my dad’s resilience, strength, and ingenuity.


I walked home, calculating how long it would take Charlie to make it to the store, how long he’d likely spend window shopping, talking to Mr. Fennis, and meeting new people.

He should be home in half-an-hour, I figured.

Thirty minutes passed, and each minute after, I worried. If he wasn’t home within the hour, Berry and I would head out and fetch him. But we had to give him that time. He needed to be able to have an adventure and to complete that task on his own.

After forty-two minutes, I saw Paolo and Charlie walking towards home. They were deep in conversation. Charlie looked so serious. Somethings, I guess, a boy saves up to talk about with his dad.


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Wonder 12



“Tia Berry!” Charlie said this morning. “Guess what today is?”

“Chips-for-breakfast day?”

“No, silly! Kickball day! And if I get there first at recess, I get to be the captain!”

Charlie ran off to school full of excitement.

The day passed quickly. Beryl painted. I cleaned house and watched a boring movie on TV. It felt good to sit for a few hours and let my mind go numb from bad acting.

We were standing out in the yard chatting by Beryl’s easel when Charlie came home in the afternoon.

He stood out front for a moment.


I wondered if he was taking in the view. Sometimes the clouds over the mountains steal our breath. Berry spends hours telling us stories about the captains and crews of the tall ships sees in those clouds.


“How was kickball?” I asked Charlie at supper.

“Good,” he said.

“Not great?”

“It was OK. I was captain, and we won. No big deal.”

After supper, when he was drawing, I came over to listen to him. When we were kids, Berry used to talk so much when she was drawing. That’s when she’d really open up with me if something was bothering her. I thought maybe Charlie might be the same.

“Why do there have to be losers?” he asked.

“What do you mean, Charlie?”

“When our team won, the other team lost, and they were sad. Pierce said they were losers, and Martin started to cry. I don’t want to be a winner if it means it’s gonna make the other guy sad.”

Huh. I didn’t know what to say. Did I think about ethical dilemmas when I was a little kid? I guess I did. I never thought about how my winning made someone else feel badly, though. I always wanted to do my best, and if that meant I won, so be it.

“I’m not sure I know the answer to that one, Charlie,” I said at last. “Some questions don’t have easy answers. But that’s cool. That means you get to think about it. So, you can keep on thinking about this one, and maybe you can talk about it with me, your pai, and Berry, and you can fill us in on what you discover. This can be one of those lifelong questions you explore.”

“Do you think the robber goes faster if his car has more glitter or less?” he asked me, turning back to his drawing.


Berry brought out a surprise she’d gotten him: his own fiddle. She showed him how to hold it, how to use his left hand to play notes and his right to hold the bow, and, to our surprise, within half an hour, he was actually sounding decent.


After forty-five minutes, we could recognize the tune he was playing, the team song for his dad’s old soccer team.


I expected he’d grow bored, or his fingers would hurt, or his bow arm would get tired, but he stayed out in the garden playing for hours.

“Should I let him keep playing?” I asked Berry.

She laughed. “You’re the one who insisted that he be allowed to play computer games to his heart’s content, and now you’re wondering if you should restrict his time on his violin? What happened to ‘every obsession is a chance for mastery’?”

I had to laugh. I guess, for me, playing computer games for hours on end seems like fun, so why curtail fun? But playing a violin for hours seems like such hard work! To Beryl, it must be the other way around–the computer’s boring, but the violin is heaven.

Charlie loves both.


He came in for a snack eventually.

“You like the violin, then?” I asked him.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I like Berry’s scrambled eggs better.”


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Wonder 11



I asked Charlie to tell me about his drawing.

“I’m in the green car,” he said, “and I just stole lots of money and the guys in the blue car have the red lights, and if they catch me, the red lights will eat up the green car.”

“They’ll eat it up?” I asked.

“Yeah! Like the arithmetic game where the red lights eat the green numbers when you’re not fast enough!”

“Oh,” I said. “I see. But why did you steal the money?”

“To buy candy.”

“Oh. But you know stealing is wrong, right?”

Mae!” he said, drawing it out to about five syllables. “It’s just a story!”


Today was his first day of school. We’d made a plan to do homework first thing in the morning. He told me about his drawing while I made the bed, and by the time I finished making the bed, he’d not only finished his story, he’d finished his homework. Smart little monkey.

He looked so confident when he headed off to school.


As soon as he was gone, it struck me. The house is silent. My little boy is at school.


I decided I’d spend the morning at the chess park. It’s just down the street. I was enjoying meeting new people, looking at a few opening positions, and then, my body shivered–not a cold shiver, but electric. I looked up and saw Paolo entering the park.

We’ve hardly seen him. He’s called once or twice when I was busy and couldn’t meet up with him or even chat on the phone, and he’s hardly even stopped by.

I don’t mind, for, oddly enough, when he’ not around, I don’t think about him. I would’ve guessed that Charlie would always remind me of him, but Charlie is just Charlie, not little Paolo.

I assumed that Paolo was my two-night fling–nothing to it but a bonus gift for me. All of Paolo’s talk about wanting to be there, wanting to be part of his son’s life, that was talk. Sure, he probably felt it at the time, but I figured Paolo was like me, as soon as Charlie and I weren’t around, we were out of his thoughts. Out of sight, out of life.

But this shiver. This electric jolt. Sure, it’s physical, but that doesn’t make it less real. Maybe that makes it more real.


“What is the happening with the little Carlo?” Paolo asked.

“It’s his first day at school!” I said.

There were people around, so I couldn’t say to Paolo the one word my body was screaming for me to say, “Closet!” But I could tell from Paolo’s grin that he was thinking it, too.

We’re going to have to make an appointment with each other soon.


When Charlie got home from school, he was furious.

“The test is so stupid!” he says. “It’s little circles! What do I learn from circles?”

He had filled them in in a pattern that he liked, and when his teacher saw it, she’d scolded him for not following instructions.

I had a moment’s rage. Standardized tests? Here? Even in Windenburg?

Berry stepped in. “Chazzie,” she said, “how about you take a shower? Let the water wash away all your angry feelings. Water can do that. When you come out the world will feel new again.”


While Charlie showered, I did some research on the school district’s website. Standardized tests–bubble-tests, no less!–were government mandates. But they weren’t evaluated on an individual level, and, in fact, it seemed that they hardly served any purpose at all. So perhaps, like so much in life, they’re simply one more innocuous waste of time.

Maybe I’ll run for the school board. I could have fun making change.

“Can I use the computer?” Charlie asked when he got out of the shower.

“Do you feel better?” I asked. “I downloaded a typing game for you.”

“Good,” he said. “I want to relax.”

As I left the room, I heard him telling a story while he played the game.

“The C-A-T wasn’t a normal cat. It was a S-U-P-E-R cat with magic H-A-N-D-S.”


What does a standardized test matter when a little boy can turn a typing game into a story about a magic cat?

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Wonder 9



“Chazzie’s spending an awful lot of time at the computer,” Beryl said to me. “Should we suggest he go outside and play?”

I said not.

“Remember how we were as kids?” I said. “Remember that year when you barely came out from under the bed because you were building the mines under there for the Gandorfian kingdom? Mom and Dad let you spend every free moment under there. You even slept under the bed all winter!”

“But that was different,” Berry said. “That was using my imagination and creating something.”

“This is important, too, Berry. This is part of a process. I don’t want to limit the learning that’s happening. He’ll be done when he’s done, ready for the next enthusiasm.”

“I just hope the next enthusiasm is something that doesn’t involve the computer,” she said. “I haven’t had a chance to play games or check my email in days!”


As I was heading into the kitchen, I heard her ask him, “Did you figure out how to feel the numbers yet?”

“Naw,” he replied. “I see them. Like I see the five dots and the seven dots so when they combine in the pattern of the five and seven, that’s when I know it’s the twelve.”

“Dang!” Berry said. “Not bad!”

“Help!” Charlie shouted. “How do I see one hundred and fifty-seven! The dots cover everything! It’s dots from here on down!”


We’ve been letting Charlie stay home from school. I know he’ll have to go in a few days–we’ve nearly used up our allowance of time-off for excused absences. But right now, I’ve been watching Charlie’s development on the computer, and he’s learning at such an accelerated pace that I don’t want to interrupt it.

The school encouraged him to call his teacher each day so that he will feel familiar with her when he does start attending school.

He seems to really like her.

“You play with balls at school?” I heard him say to her on the phone. “I love balls! Meu pai is the player of futebol! We think balls are the greatest! Do you have those kinds with honeycombs on them?”


I feel grateful that we’re bringing up Charlie in Windenburg. The flexibility of the school system is great, and the culture suits us so well.

We haven’t received any prejudice or scorn due to our lifestyle. At home, I feel that I would always be brushing up against resistance and pressure to marry Paolo or at least move in with him. As it is, here, we’ve been able to maintain an easy flow–we see him when we see him, and no one resents the self-sufficiency of two sisters and their boy.

It’s a village–we came as outsiders, but now we’ve been welcomed into it, and there’s room for us and our way of doing things. We fit. We contribute. I don’t think we could’ve created this back home.


Charlie’s friend Joaquin has been coming over. He always does something kind and helpful when he stops by. Today he took out the trash.

“You don’t have to do that,” I told him.

“Ah, but it is my joy!” he said. “The single mother, she is like a something special. Something honored. My mama raised me with only her and my grandparents alone. So for me to give it forward, this is something that I do with the gratitude.”


After supper, Charlie came out and announced, “I’m done with the computer!”



“Yeah!” he said. “I took a break from the dots and number game ’cause all I saw were dots on my brain, and I thought, ‘hey! let’s look up Pai!'”

“You looked up your dad?”

“Yeah!” said Charlie. “Did you know he’s like a super hero super star guy with the futebol?”

“I knew he was a professional,” I said, “but I didn’t know he was a superstar.”

Gosh! I feel a little bit embarrassed now that I think about it, but I never even googled Paolo! Not once! Paolo had told me a lot about his career as a soccer player, of course, and I guess I knew he was talented–I mean, he’d been recruited. But I’d never realized that he’d been something of a star before his injury. It explained a lot. It also made me respect him even more, for he’s never tried to trump his fame or even to impress me. I like a modest guy.

“So, pao said to this writer guy that he would play all day long. He slept with the ball and took it to school. One article said to get really good at sports you need to play outside and do stuff. So that’s what I want to do now! Can we go to the park?”

It was late–after midnight. But Charlie had had a good nap that afternoon, and he had one more day of vacation, so as soon as he finished his sandwich, we caught the late bus to the park.


“Where are all the kids, Mae?” Charlie asked.

“Honey, it’s late! They’re all home sleeping.”

“That’s OK,” Charlie said. “I’ll play futebol with the vampires!”


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Wonder 8



I can spend all day watching Charlie. When I was a kid, I remember my mom sitting near where Berry and I were playing, doing nothing but looking our way with a smile on her face. I caught myself doing that the other day, and I understood. My mom didn’t spend the years of my childhood doing nothing: she spent those years being a mom.

“What are you drawing?” I asked Charlie the other evening.

“Those pointy things,” he said.

“You mean roofs?”

“No, like roofs but more… more anywhere. Like the blue line comes down like this, and the other blue line down like that, and it makes that pointy thing.”

“A triangle?”

“Right! This whole drawing is all about those. Triangles.”


The program wants us to have Charlie tested to establish a baseline against which they can measure future physical, social, creative, and mental development. The administrators say it’s a requirement for all participants to undergo evaluation at regular intervals. So far, my requests for special dispensation have been accepted. I just don’t want Charlie to be tested.

Berry and I are letting him develop in his own way. We know that he probably won’t develop intellectually, creatively, physically, and emotionally in the exactly the same way that we did: he’s his own person, with his own personality, his own style, his own approach, and rather than comparing him to us, we want to enjoy and support his own unique blueprint for success.

I’m not sure he’s all that smart, truth be told, but he is curious, friendly, and enthusiastic–and that goes a long ways.


Chess doesn’t interest him that much as a mental pursuit, but as an activity that lets him meet interesting people, he’ll give it a try.


What has captured his interest is an arithmetic game I downloaded for him.


He’s been playing it with only breaks for meal-times since I downloaded it.


I overheard Berry and him talking about game and mathematical problem-solving strategies.

“Tia Berry,” he said, “how can I get quicker? By the time I figure it out, the bar has dropped and the red lights eat the numbers.”

“Feel the numbers,” Berry said. “Close your eyes, and feel them. Is it plus? Then feel it more. Is it minus? Feel it less.”


“Help! It doesn’t make any sense!” he said. “How’m I supposed to know what five times seven feels like?”


I had to laugh.

“You’ll find your own way of solving problems,” I told him when I kissed him good night before heading to bed. I could hear him talking to the computer screen while I fell asleep.

“Seven fives! Seven fives! That’s thirty-five! That’s the same as five sevens, you dunder-nose Freezer Bunny red-flashy light! Take that!”

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Wonder 6



“So? I was right?” asked Ulrike when I ran into her in the park.

“You were,” I told her. “We have a little boy.”

“A son for Paolo!” she laughed. “Will you raise him to be the artist or the player of futebol?”

I chuckled. “We will raise him to be Charlie Rocca Cups!”

Something in me has shifted, after Charlie’s birth. All my future-thought, planning facilities feel like they aren’t accessible. I can’t think about schools or colleges or child-rearing philosophies or anything like that.

All I can do is enjoy the sandwiches that Berry makes for me.


All I can think about is cleaning dishes.


All I can feel is this wash inside of colors I don’t even know how to describe. Yeah, I guess I’m still in love and drowning in oxytocin.

This biochemical cocktail of love is great for writing, though! I finished that book about our dad, and now I’m writing a book about bunnies. What? Oh, heavens. It’s true. I am drunk on the mommy-hormones of love.


Fortunately, Berry’s got herself together. She’s still taking over any projects that require concentration.


“What would I do without you?” I asked her the other day, when both the bathroom sink and the toilet broke.

“Marry Paolo, most likely,” she replied.


The whole time we’ve been here, Berry’s been painting every day. Her work’s masterful. She’s been painting a lot of landscapes. The scenes look like they’re from the Pacific Northwest, where our dad grew up, and where we spent most of our summers as kids, roaming around through mountains and along the coast with Frank and Sylvia, our dad’s parents.


I’ve spent a long time looking at her most recent painting.

I can’t really express what I see in it. Three trees in the foreground, and there’s something about the way that smaller of them inclines away from the other two that tugs at me.

It feels like family in some way, that dynamic of love, dependence, and individuation.


“Berry,” I said to her. “Thanks for being here with me while I’m this big puddle of emotion. I don’t feel like myself. I feel good, but I feel weird. Thanks for being here to keep everything going.”

She wrapped her arms around me and didn’t say anything, except she hummed this funny little song that our mom used to sing.


I heard her later that night singing the song to Charlie.

Mares eat oats
And does eat oats
And little lambs eat ivy,

A kid’ll eat ivy, too,
Wouldn’t you?


It’s just an old nonsense song that was popular when Mom and Dad were kids, but when I hear her sing it, all these marrow-deep memories come alive.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was so happy–so fiercely happy. It was a power beyond me–like in my genes. And I thought of Frank and Sylvia, Nonny and Papa, Mom and Dad. I thought of all this continuation of a gesture, a voice, an arch of an eyebrow.

I didn’t think about a song, and how one day, maybe little Charlie Rocca will sing this same song to a little baby in his arms.

But somehow Berry knew.


Somehow, Berry’s got this all figured out, this complicated dance of ties and love and independence.


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Wonder 4


I realized that I hadn’t even seen Paolo since I told him I was pregnant. I hadn’t even thought of him–oops.

So when he called to ask me for a date, I suggested that he meet me at the clinic after what was scheduled to be my final prenatal check-up.

He was so sad when I saw him standing at the corner in front of the clinic.

“Is the appointment with the doctor of delivery over?” he asked.

“It was with a nurse practitioner,” I said. “But, yeah. It’s done. Clean bill of health for me and the baby!”

“But I wanted to be there,” he said. “Look at the size of you! How did this happen?”

“It’s called pregnancy,” I said.

“Oh no, that is not the meaning of the intent. I am so sorry. You are so beautiful. I wanted to be there. I wanted to see the swelling of you. No, not the swelling. The growth of the mama. Like the rose and the apple on the tree. And how did this happen? How did it go so fast that now the time is at the arrival?”


And here I thought he didn’t care!

“Would you like to feel your baby?” I asked.


“It is OK? I can touch the bebê?”

As he put his hand on my belly, the baby gave one of his huge kicks.

“Ah! He is the player of the futebol! He is the he? Or no, he is the she?”

I told him that I didn’t know–I didn’t look at the ultrasounds since I wanted to be surprised. But I shared what Ulrike had told me, and I said that Beryl and I, too, think that the baby is a little boy.

“I am going to be the pai! Paolo the pai!” he said. He really is adorable, Paolo is. Geesh, do I really feel that? I do. In spite of it all, he seems so innocent. We had never really talked–I mean, there just wasn’t time for many words when we were heading to the closet those two times. I realized I knew next to nothing about him, and I wanted know.


We went inside and he told me all about his family. His grandfather was a printer. His shop specialized in broadsheets of work by poets like Sidónio Muralha and Fernando Pessoa.

“The grandfather of me, he cut the pictures in the wood for the poems of them,” Paolo said. “These are very beautiful. Very famous. Very beautiful.”

Paolo’s father is an artisan, a furniture maker. “All the world wants the tables of him!” said Paolo. His mother had been an aspiring opera singer in her youth, but as her career began to demand more traveling, she gave it up, so she could stay home to raise her five boys.

His brothers are all professionals in Barcelona: a doctor, a professor, a commodities investor, and an attorney. Paolo had planned to work with his father, but his skill as a soccer player turned his fate, bringing him here. An injury eighteen months ago halted his career, and now, he picks up odd jobs as he can.

“I want for not much,” he said. “The dance, the party, the… the life! This is enough. And now, the bebê!”


“You two are so cute together,” said a woman at the bar with us. “Newlyweds?”

“Oh, no,” I said. “We’re not married. We won’t be. He’s the dad, but, yeah. We’re not exactly a couple.”


Paolo laughed. “It is the understanding,” he said. “The understanding of amar.”

After the woman left, I asked Paolo, “What’s your father’s name? And your mother’s.”

“Ah, meu pai is called Carlos Rocca, and minha mãe is called by Isabella Fernanda de la Maria de Rocca.”

I began to laugh.

“The name has humor?” he asked.

“No, not the name. It’s mother! Mãe! My name. My name is Mae.”

While I was laughing, the first contraction came.


O, meu Deus!” Paolo shouted. “The time! She has arrived!”

I breathed.


“When I had my first baby,” said the bartender, “I was in labor for thirty-nine hours and forty-two minutes. Finally, I just said, ‘Get me a freakin’ epidural and get this thing out.’ It was rugged. ‘Course with the next one, she came in an hour and a half. But you never know, that’s all I’m saying. You could have the baby here, you could have it in the cab on the way home, you could have it three days from now after a world of pain.”


The contractions were still quite a ways apart. I called Beryl, called a cab, and then I went to take a nap on the couch while we waited. I wanted to be rested when the time for pushing came.


We heard the cab honk, and Paolo raced out the back door. “Vou pegar o táxi!” he shouted. And I didn’t see him the rest of the day.


I walked out the front and called for another cab.


When I got home, Beryl raced out and gave me a big hug. “The midwife is on her way! She actually had another delivery, but that woman is at ten centimeters so she thinks it will be any moment, and the toilet clogged so I’ve been plunging it but I’ve just about got it plunged but there’s a big puddle so I’m going to mop, and thank God, you’re home. Are you breathing?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m breathing. Are you?”

“God, no!” laughed Beryl. “I’m too excited to breathe!”


I came inside and changed into my PJs, and then, before the midwife even arrived, the contractions were so strong. I had to push. I just had to.


Beryl was still in the bathroom mopping. I was breathing, so I couldn’t say, “It’s time.” All I could think was “Eesh. Eesh. Oooh,” over and over, like the crazy refrain of a monkey song.


And then, before I knew it, I was holding Charlie Rocca Cups in my arms, looking into his soft brown eyes that didn’t hold the ghost of my dad or the spark of my grandfather but that shone so deeply and so purely with all of the being of this perfect little baby.


His laugh is golden.


I am so in love.


When he sleeps, all I can do is stand and look at him.


His little nose! His fingers. I want to eat them. I want to devour his toes.


And when he wakes, he makes these little gurgles of happiness.


Then he laughs.

He kicked with his left leg and threw out his right arm, and I recognized that movement–that’s the same move he made inside of me.


And when he screams! Oh! When he screams, the roof cracks down and my nipples leak and I feel a spasm in my uterus, and he just belts it out at the top of his lungs, and all Beryl and I can do is laugh and laugh. We have a healthy little boy.


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Wonder 3


Somehow, I can’t bear having anything dirty around. Before I got pregnant, I don’t think I would’ve thought twice about having a half-full trash can in the kitchen. But now, an old crust of bread and an empty soymilk container sitting in the bin make me feel like there’s a parade of ants marching up and down my spine. Shivers!

I can’t even call it morning sickness anymore, for it comes at anytime, followed by sadness, followed by anger, followed by ridiculous, overwhelming bliss.

“You know, Berry,” I said in a calm moment between the waves, “I think perhaps the purpose of prenatal emotions being so mixed up is to give the baby an experience of every feeling before he comes out. See? This way, when the baby feels anger or sadness or joy, these feelings will all be familiar.”

“Right!” she said. “The baby will say, ‘Hey! I felt this before! It’s no big deal! It’s just part of life, right?'”

And then a wave of sadness hit me, and Beryl wrapped me in her arms.

“You are doing great, Mae,” she said. “It’s not easy to carry the whole spectrum of human experience inside of you! You are so brave!”


Thank heavens for Beryl. My sister knows how to make everything right for me.


Except for this flu I seemed to have caught. I had a really high fever.

“It can’t be good for the baby if I have a fever, can it?”

Beryl called the clinic.

“They say just to rest and drink green tea,” Beryl reported back. “Prescription drugs could hurt the baby, but they say just rest, drink tea, and you and the baby will be fine. They say this can happen when you’ve been overdoing it.”


The tea didn’t quite sit right. Had I eaten that morning? Oh! I really just wanted my body back. It felt like it’d been hijacked.


I started imagining these little tiny suicide bombers dressed in fatigues racing around inside my cells, KaBlooie! No wonder I felt like my body was the West Bank. Call in the anti-terrorist squads! White blood cells to the rescue. Covert operations underway, boss!

Oh, God. I was a little delirious, but it was fun.


“Don’t forget to eat!” Beryl said. “Even if you’ve come down with something, you still need to keep up your strength.”

I grabbed a piece of fruitcake.

“Is that the cake that Jade brought over when we first moved in?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “It smells really good.”

“Well, it should be OK! I’ve hear fruitcake has a shelf life of about five years!”


It tasted amazing. And I felt like I could keep it down.

“I think I’ve discovered manna for mammas!”


I took a long nap after my snack. It felt so sweet to lie in bed while around me swirled the sounds of the radio from the other room, a few birds singing out back, Beryl walking through the house singing to herself.

I felt wrapped up in the arms of home, like when I was a little girl taking naps after school while Mom bustled through the house, gathering her art supplies, stretching canvases, and whistling while she painted. Then Dad would come home from the office and play the piano, and through it all, my afternoon dreams nestled into the sounds of home.


When I woke, the fever was gone and I felt strong enough to take a stroll through the neighborhood.

A woman was looking at me with a curious smirk. It took me a moment, but then I recognized her. She’d been the one standing and laughing with Jade the second time that Paolo and I fell out of the closet at the Narwhal Arms.  Which means she was, in a way, witness to the creation of this little person inside of me, weird and strange as that is.

I was pretty sure she recognized me.


Nothing to do for it but introduce myself.

Turns out that Mary is something of a kindred spirit. We ended up talking about plant genetics and chess openings and how the theory of probability predicts points of intersection between the two.


My afternoon walk helped, and Beryl had fresh grilled cheese, made with provolone and blue cheese this time, waiting for me when I came out of my evening shower.

“My back is killing me,” I said. “God, I’m sorry I’m always complaining about how my body feels.”


“Didn’t they say that lower back aches often signal that the time’s coming pretty soon?” Beryl said. “And don’t even think twice about complaining. If you can’t share how you feel when your pregnant, when can you? Besides, you’re my sister!”


I still say that Beryl puts magic into her grilled cheese, for after I ate, I felt well enough to do some writing for a while before bed.

I’m working on a kid’s book for the baby. It’s about Beryl and my dad. There was this story he always told us growing up about one summer, when he floated off on a log down the river and into the Puget Sound. He was gone for about 12 hours. He always said that during that time, so many thoughts went through his head–a whole lifetime of thoughts–until he reached the point where he just stopped thinking and just lived. Eventually, the captain of a tugboat found him and hauled him in and brought him back home, but by then, as Dad said, “The damage had been done.” Something switched inside of him after that, he said. He was never quite a regular person. He was better–and a little bit magical.


Maybe this baby will never meet his grandpa in the flesh. But something of my dad is never-ending. And maybe that something will get transmitted somehow to this kiddo. What if I look at him and see my dad’s eyes looking back?


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