Everything That Is
If your eyes were not the color of the moon,
of a day full [here, interrupted by the baby waking – continued about 26 hours later]
of a day full of clay, and work, and fire,
if even held-in you did not move in agile grace like the air,
if you were not an amber week,
not the yellow moment
when autumn climbs up through the vines;
if you were not that bread the fragrant moon
kneads, sprinkling its flour across the sky,
oh, my dearest, I could not love you so!
But when I hold you I hold everything that is -
sand, time, the tree of the rain,
everything is alive so that I can be alive:
without moving I can see it all:
in your life I see everything that lives.
~Sonnet VIII: If your eyes were not the color of the moon
Twenty-six hours of mud. Twenty-six hours of cold, foul-smelling water, of leaking pipes and near flooding, and twenty-six hours apart from his wife and infant daughter. Vincent tried—and failed---to shake the detritus of those hours from his tangled and filthy mane as he walked towards their chambers. The mud caked in his fur, dampened his boots and weighed him down but he pushed forward. Many of his crew had chosen to stay in camp, too exhausted to return home once the crisis was over, but twenty-six hours was quite long enough to be away and he was needed elsewhere.
He took up the fine threads of his connection to his wife and child, as he'd resisted doing all the hours before because his full concentration was needed, and found no real emergency, only an exhausted Catherine and the fainter, fretful impressions of their daughter. Vincent sighed. Laurel had begun teething again just as he'd been called away to the work crew and Catherine had assured him that she and Laurel would be fine.
No matter that he entered their chamber quietly, Vincent knew Catherine would sense his approach. As he pulled off his boots and placed them near the entrance to dry off, he heard his wife's lullaby as she walked the narrow hallway beyond the antechamber. Laurel's cry—uncomfortable, pained---rose in response as Catherine tried again to soothe her. He pushed aside the curtain just as Catherine was reaching to open it. “Oh, thank god,” she said, over their daughter's wailing. “I'm so glad to see you. Everything is all right?”
He nodded. “The patches should hold, provided there's no heavier rain coming before we can replace the pipes.” Vincent noticed how tired and drawn she was, the harried, pinched look of her eyes and the faint grey tinge under the rose tones of her skin telling of many hours without sleep or respite. “Let me change my shirt and I'll take her.”
Catherine pushed disordered hair out of her eyes. “Oh, bless you. She's been inconsolable since you've been gone.”
She followed him into their bedroom and sat down at the rocking chair while he changed into a clean shirt and pants. He was still covered in mud but at least the worst of it should stay off Laurel. “There, now,” Vincent murmured, taking their squalling daughter from his wife. “What seems to be the problem?”
“Fangs,” Catherine said succinctly, leaning her head against the solid wood of the rocking chair. “It's been worse this time than it was before.” Looking at Laurel's mouth, Vincent could see why: two miniature fangs were struggling to break through. “No wonder,” he murmured to his daughter; the red haze of her pain was an undercurrent through their own distinct bond as she cried. “There now,” he said, rubbing her back. “Has Father been by?” he asked his wife.
“Yes, but there was a flu outbreak just after you left,” Catherine replied. “Father and Mary have both been run off their feet and anyone who can lend a hand, has.” She glanced over at Laurel with a tired smile. “I offered to help but Mary insisted I couldn't be spared, of course.”
“No, you couldn't,” he agreed, watching as Laurel started gnawing on one chubby hand. “So...you've been by yourself for the last day, with a crying, fretful baby?”
“Mmm, not quite,” she replied. “I've been alone with a crying, fretful baby who hasn't slept.” Catherine yawned. “Well, neither of us have slept.”
“Then sleep,” Vincent said. Laurel's wailing had quieted somewhat, enough for them to speak at a normal volume. “I can take care of her for a few hours at least. If she'll take a nap, then I'll join you.”
“Vincent,” Catherine said, as if only just then realizing, “you're covered in mud.”
He nodded. “I am. But you both needed me, so...”
“Why don't you go take a shower first?” she suggested, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. Vincent wondered how he must appear to her, bedraggled as he was---as they both were. “There ought to be enough hot water now.”
The thought of getting the thick mud out of his fur, of being clean once again was tempting but... “What about Laurel?”
“What about her?” Catherine asked. “I'll take her while you shower.”
Laurel's changeable eyes—blue in some lights, green in others---darted between her parents as if she knew she was the topic of discussion. “I'm going to take a shower now, little one,” Vincent told her. “So be nice to your mother for a few minutes, all right?”
Laurel grinned a gap-toothed drooling smile and Vincent felt Catherine relax once the shrieking didn't resume. Taking their daughter from him, Catherine turned to Vincent, her gamin smile surfacing. “Have I told you how glad I am you're home?” she asked, kissing him full on the mouth.
Careful of the mud that still coated him but knowing that Catherine didn't really care, Vincent reached up to brush a lock of his wife's hair behind her ear. “You have. But you can tell me again.”
When he emerged a few minutes later, clean, but still damp (there had not been time for a proper drying and Vincent reluctantly concluded that he'd just have to be damp until the morning) it was to find his wife drowsing on their bed and their daughter asleep at long last. “How long?” he asked, voice quiet. Laurel's head nestled on his wife's shoulder, her mouth making sucking motions in sleep. Her curly hair, more red than his own, glowed copper in the candlelight.
“About ten minutes,” Catherine said. “I never thought the water might soothe her but she conked out right after you got in the shower.”
Vincent shook his head, bemused. They had been parents for just under a year and every day seemed like one discovery on the heels of another. “I'm glad she's resting now.”
Catherine chuckled. “You and me both, love.” She rubbed Laurel's back and slowly shifted over to allow him room to join them on the bed. He settled next to them and wrapped one arm around his wife's shoulders. “Better?”
“Mmm...hmmm,” she replied, resting her head on his shoulder. “I missed you.”
He kissed the top of her head. “I missed you too. Would you like me to read to you?”
She smiled. It had been their nightly ritual ever since their marriage. “Please.”
Their nightstand was always piled with books, arranged in no particular order and with colored papers sticking out of them to mark where they'd stopped. Vincent didn't bother to see which book was at the top of the stack this week as he pulled out a small volume. “Will Neruda do?”
Catherine, already half asleep, looked up at him. “Vincent, Criminal Law and Procedure would do, so long as you were the one reading it.”
He chuckled, opening the book at a random page. “'If your eyes were not the color of the moon,'” he began, listening to the slow even breaths of his wife and child.
Some minutes later, he finished: “'Everything is alive so that I can be alive/without moving I can see it all/ in your life I see everything that lives.'” Vincent glanced down and saw everything that lived for him, and dragged the spare quilt over them all.
Smiling, he closed his eyes and slept.