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Penny's Gift Point here for more book info
by Edna Ventre-Auerfeld

Paraview Pocket Books, 2004
ISBN: 0743482069
Visionary Fiction, 384 pages
Mass market paperback, $6.99

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Chapter One


Penny wore her ValueBin sweat suit the morning of the day she died. She was jarred awake at five A.M. by the wails of her youngest, Benjamin, who, she thought, was most likely a bat in a former life and had carried over his nocturnal lifestyle into his present state of being. She was certain with each of her three children that whoever had come up with the expression sleeping like a baby had never actually spent the night with one. As of late, lullabies sounded less like songs and more like pleading.

In the six months since Benji was born, she could count on one hand the nights she had gotten more than three hours of sleep in a row. So it was no surprise to her that as she reached down to pull on her socks the floor seemed to reach right back up at her. She sat down and let the wooziness pass. The small Cape Cod rocked and swayed. It was bursting at the seams with clothes that needed to be put away and toys that accented every corner. Every day Penny promised herself it would all be cleaned, and every day she got distracted by someone needing a hug or a game that they desperately wanted to play. There barely seemed time enough to give each of the children the attention she wanted to between making, serving and cleaning up meals, much less any thought to the wash. Motherhood is an impossible job, she'd decided, and the war against the mess unwinnable. More often than not, she just gave it up and read someone a book. Benji was working himself into a hysteria that threatened to wake up Julie and Lydia, a.k.a. the Giggle Twins. She didn't think she could muster up the energy for twin four-year-olds and a colicky baby before six A.M. and got herself together to go scoop up her son.

Like a light switch, screams became smiles when Penny entered the room. He was drooling as though he had sprung a leak, and the tiniest white hint of a tooth hit the first light coming through the window.

"Ah-ha!" whispered Penny. "My nemesis shows itself." She picked up Benjamin, who squirmed with delight. "You just send that tooth back, you hear? There are another three solid months of sleep I'm supposed to have before those things grow in and wreck it all. When will I be lulled into thinking you'll sleep through the night forever?"

She nursed him sitting in the rocking chair her grandfather had carved himself during the Depression. The morning crept across the nursery and settled on the golden hairs that framed Benjamin's face. Her husband, Hal, was already at the office, and she wondered for the hundredth time if he studied their children the way she did. He looked at them, she knew, but did he count and recount their toes? Did he drink in each fleck of color in their eyes? Inside her mind she kept her own album of moments, collected at the times her heart felt most connected with her children. Penny told herself, Remember this second forever! but she felt like someone carrying water in the cup of her hands. Before long, her three children would be grown. She could swear the twins had just been born, and here they were already four. Next year they would be in school all day. How had that happened so fast? When the bus came to drive them to kindergarten, Penny wasn't sure how she was going to stop crying. Her friends told her she'd get used to it and would start dancing a jig at the beginning of each new school year. But Penny didn't think so.

She stopped rocking. There was a nauseousness growing in the pit of her stomach that was taking on a more serious edge. In the back of her mind she denied even a hint of a shadow of a remote possibility she could be pregnant again. She had had her tubes tied the day she delivered Benji, so sure had she and Hal been that they were a complete family. The baby factory was declared closed. Then she saw an article about a woman who had gotten pregnant on the pill, had her second eighteen months after her husband's vasectomy and had twins right after her tubal ligation. Penny felt that she had that same zany Lucy Ball kind of a life and began to worry. The baby had fallen back to sleep in time for another vicious wave of dizziness.

Food had always been her favorite cure-all and she headed into the kitchen to throw some crackers down her throat. She made it to the sink before dry heaves wracked her body. The sound her overturned stomach sent up reminded her of the twins' favorite dinosaur cartoon as she threw herself back at the sink for another round of throwing up.

"Mommy?" Julie, her soon-to-be four-year-old, stood behind her. It was six thirty. Penny felt cheated out of her usual half an hour of solitude before everyone was up, and felt guilty for feeling that way.

"Good morning, honey. It's not time to get up yet." Penny bit her tongue and tried to hold her stomach down. She turned partway to look at her daughter but remained in sink range, pasting a smile on. Two long sets of morning sickness and she was a vomit expert. She got a brief flash of understanding of why dogs crawl under porches to die.

"Mommy." Her delicate eyes were filling up. "I had a bad dream."

"Its okay, love, let me help you back to bed."

"Noooo!" Julie's bottom lip stuck out in defiance, her arms crossed in front of her chest as she had seen her mother so often do. "Mommy, you went away in my dream. I couldn't find you. You got lost." She began to cry loudly and was swiftly joined from across the house by her younger brother. No one cried alone in Benjamin's company.

Jesus, Mary and all the latter-day saints, Penny thought, not today. She desperately could have used one of those everybody-sleeps-so-late-I-have-to-go-in-and-check-to-see-if-they're-breathing kind of mornings.

She scooped up her daughter and held her tightly, thankful for the thousandth time that her kids couldn't read her mind. Her mother-in-law, who had raised four kids of her own, often said the only difference between a good mother and a bad mother is the good one thinks about throwing her children out of a window, but only the bad one actually does it. Penny sank into a kitchen chair and whispered into Julie's ear, assuring her that she was going nowhere, that she loved her and would always be there. She sprinkled kisses on her daughter's wet, salty cheeks and looked at the clock to start the countdown of when her husband would be home.

The flu had passed her up that year in favor of everyone else in the house, and she wondered if it was coming back to collect what it was due. At the time, Hal had said he was jealous that she wasn't so sick and that she should consider herself lucky. After changing twelve diapers, being thrown up on twice and giving three emergency baths before lunchtime, lucky wasn't exactly the word she'd been thinking of. She tried to keep her growling down to a minimum, but a little time on the toilet with a good book had sounded almost good. Now she wasn't so sure. Besides, mothers don't get sick days. She tossed around the idea of calling Hal. Even if he gave her a half a day in bed, she would end up spending the next six cleaning up. How is it that men know where to retrieve something but somehow don't connect that information with the idea that it also goes back to the same spot? she wondered.

It was too late to get Julie back to bed, and Benjamin howled like someone was killing him. Penny's head joined her stomach, beating in time with her son's wails. She would get through the day. Her girls were easy, good-natured, and they would help her keep Benji amused. If she could just make it to nap time, she could lie on the couch while the twins watched a movie. Julie went to wake her sister and Penny tried to get her son changed. Halfway done, she threw up into the diaper pail, holding him on the table with one hand and grounding herself to the wall with the other.

Lydia made her first appearance of the day. "Mommy, why you spittin' in Benny's garbage?"

"Mommy's belly is a little sick, honey, but it's okay."

"Is it a 'mergency? Should we go to the pee-trician?"

Penny laughed in spite of it all. "No, sweetie. Mommy's fine. Please go get dressed. You help sister and have sister help you."

"Anything we want?" Lydia's eyes got big and round. She and Julie had an eclectic taste in clothing -- of the Clown University fashion department genre, as Hal put it. The twins had the ability to mix two perfectly respectable outfits and come up with something she thought of as "modern waif."

"On second thought," said Penny, "let's have pajama day."

"Pajama day?" Lydia sounded skeptical, not ready to give up the clothing free-for-all.

Penny leaned against the changing table and rested her forehead in her hand. "That's when you keep your pajamas on and watch movies all day."

Julie was standing in the doorway listening, then jumped up and down, hugging Lydia. Penny was a strict television minimalist. After an hour of PBS it was usually off for the day, the three of them reading together or making a craft. A whole-hog TV day would be quite a treat. For the second time that morning the house defied gravity and swayed softly around Penny. "Go make your first pick of the day," she said, and watched as the girls bounded down the hall, squealing with delight. She followed slowly with Benjamin gurgling in her arms and headed for the phone to call Hal for the first of many times that day.

Copyright © 2004 by Edna Ventre-Auerfeld



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