|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
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
"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
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
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
"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
Copyright © 2004 by Edna Ventre-Auerfeld