“Dannie?” Rob called into the echoing house. “Dannie, I’m home!”
Well, that was … odd. Rob had been coming home from the studio for lunch every day since Granny had taken her last turn, doubly so since she passed on. He didn’t say it was to check on Dannie, because there were some things that a good husband simply refrained from saying. Particularly a good husband of Dannie. But she seemed to know it anyway, and if she didn’t always have food ready when he came in, she always called back to him.
He tried again, a little louder. “Dannie?”
No answer — but he heard something. Soft singing. She was probably trying to calm Stevie-weevie down and put him down for his afternoon nap. Rob wanted to sigh at the lost opportunity to play with his son, but all the women insisted that routine was good for babies, and Stevie-weevie’s routine had been to go down for a nap around lunchtime long before Granny had become quite so poorly. Rob could wait.
The cat padded slowly down the stairs, turned his yellow gaze onto Rob and yowled. Rob’s eyebrows went up, but he said nothing. Saying something seemed to encourage him.
Pepé (which was the cat’s name) turned a glance at him which was surely the feline equivalent of a human’s baleful glare and roll of the eyes before he padded into the kitchen. Rob watched. The cat sat next to his food dish and yowled again.
… Dannie hasn’t fed the cat?
That couldn’t be right. She’d forget to feed herself, but would always feed the cat. It was the work of a moment to hunt up a rag to clean the bowl — Pepé yowling and twining around his legs the whole time — but while Rob cleaned, he also thought.
There were some things which his normally sharp and possibly brilliant wife did not get, Rob decided, and one of them was the importance of letting oneself grieve. She’d bawled her eyes out at Granny’s bedside, and again at the funeral, but had apparently decided that that was enough open grieving. Granny, she claimed, would want her to keep going. Granny wouldn’t want her to be sad. Life was too short to do anything other than live it, and that was what Dannie was going to do.
But as Rob wanted to protest, but was not sure he could find the words — well, yes, of course Granny wouldn’t want Dannie to just stop. She wouldn’t want her to be sad. She certainly wouldn’t want her to stop living. But Granny was no fool, either. Of course Dannie would want to slow down for a while. Of course she would be sad. Of course she would grieve. Granny, Rob was sure, would know instinctively that it would be better to ride the storm and get it over with. Then one could —
He heard a sob.
And not a baby’s sob, either, a common enough sound in a house with a six-month-old infant. But a sob of —
“Dannie?” Rob yelled, galloping up the stairs.
Pepé followed him to the bottom of the stairwell and yowled his protest upward. Maybe it was that which drowned out Rob’s call to Dannie. Or maybe it was Stevie’s sudden crying as well.
Rob rounded the stairwell at a run and threw open the nursery door. “Dan–”
Dannie stood in the middle of the room, holding Stevie out before her. The baby was flailing and shrieking in her arms. And Dannie was sobbing. “Stop! Please, Stevie! Just stop crying!”
Stevie wailed again. Dannie tried to bring the baby to her shoulder, but little fists could pound and deliver a punch that belied their size — Rob had discovered this through a few colicky fits already. “Stevie! Please!”
Dannie turned to him, bouncing the shrieking baby on her shoulder. “He won’t stop crying!”
Well, no, of course he wouldn’t stop crying. Mama was crying. Mama was the one who was supposed to make the crying stop, not to start her own. If Mama was crying, then something was very wrong, and what could Stevie do other than wail and wail until somebody else came to set everything right?
The worst was that Rob could piece out this much of baby-logic — but how could he explain it to Dannie without having her feel worse than she surely already did?
The gaze she turned to him was as pitiful as Stevie’s crying. “I can’t get him to calm down!”
“He’s probably just teething,” Rob lied. Well, maybe Stevie was teething. They’d not seen a tooth break through yet, but it could be any day now. That was what Rob’s mother said, and she was the best source he had.
“Still? He’s been teething since before — since before –” Dannie’s face crumpled. If only she could see herself! If only she would let herself go and let herself grieve for a while! But no. Granny wouldn’t want that. And Rob had no idea how to convince her that Granny would rather Dannie grieve than wear herself out by not grieving.
“Maybe it’s just taking a while. Give him to me?” Rob asked, holding his arms out.
Dannie nestled Stevie against her shoulder and turned away.
Wright damn it! “Dannie …” He hesitated. “You’re tired,” Rob finally settled on saying. “He’s been up the last few nights. Maybe you just need a break.”
“I don’t need to hire a girl,” Dannie muttered. Rob tried not to wince. He had indeed suggested that when Granny first became poorly. Dannie had not seemed to enjoy the thought that perhaps she could not do everything and do it with a smile.
“I’m not suggesting that. I’m just suggesting you let me try with him.” Rob shrugged. “I am his father … unless there’s something you’ve been meaning to mention.”
Dannie snorted, as he had been hoping she would. “He certainly didn’t get the freakish paleness from you …”
“You better pray he hasn’t figured out what ‘freakish’ means yet,” Rob tried to chuckle.
Did he try too hard? Not hard enough? Dannie stared at him with the glance of a stricken doe. “Oh, Lord! Do you think he –”
“Dannie! He’s six months old! Of course he doesn’t know what ‘freakish’ means yet.” He stepped up to her, rubbing Stevie’s back with one hand and not incidentally stroking Dannie’s hand as well. “And if he did know, he’d know his Mama meant it in a good way.”
Dannie managed a watery smile. “Is there a good way to mean ‘freakish’?”
“There is now.”
She smiled, then, without another word, she held Stevie out to him. Stevie cut off in mid-wail, staring through bleary blinking eyes at Rob.
“Hello, lad,” Rob grinned. Stevie blinked a couple of times before showing off his gums in his best grin. Rob brought the baby to his shoulder with a little smile. Except for a few hiccups and snuffles, Stevie was quiet.
Dannie stared blinking at him, her face fallen. “He — he just calmed right down –”
“Well, you must admit I’m a …” he started, wanting to make a joke about being a more soothing or restful Sim than Dannie was — which, he thought, was completely true anyway. But watching her face made him think better of that. “Dannie — you’re upset — about him not going to sleep, of course — and he can probably sense that, so he got upset, too. It’s nothing to worry about.”
“And you’re … not upset?” Dannie murmured, twisting her hands together like a scared girl.
Rob smiled. “I only have to deal with screaming patrons, not screaming babies. Why don’t you go get yourself cleaned up — I think Stevie drooled on your dress — and I’ll put him to bed, and then we can have some lunch?”
“Lunch!” Dannie gasped, as if the third meal of the day had completely slipped her mind — and as if this slip was a hanging offense.
“Get yourself cleaned up first,” Rob murmured. “Between you and me, I’m pretty sure whatever Sir Bors wants to commission as a wedding present for Freddy and Clarice is sufficiently horrible that I won’t mind putting it off.”
“You could lose the business …” Dannie murmured.
“Dannie, how many other sculptors are there in Albion?”
She chuckled. Then she moved to the door. But reaching it, she hesitated, looking over her shoulder at Rob and Stevie.
“Get cleaned up,” Rob repeated, because he wasn’t sure how to go about telling Dannie, Go have a good cry, you’ll feel better.
She nodded and disappeared into the corridor.
As soon as Rob heard the door to their bedroom open and shut, he sighed and whispered into Stevie’s ear, “Kiddo, between you and me, I don’t know what we’re going to do with your Mama.”
Stevie nestled against Rob’s shoulder, turning his head this way and that as if he was listening.
“She probably talks more to you than she talks to me,” he sighed. “I don’t suppose you’d care to let me know what she’s been saying?”
Stevie giggled. Rob sighed again. “Of course — you can’t talk.” He patted the baby’s back. Stevie wiggled. “I don’t suppose you’d care to learn a little early?”
Maybe Dannie was getting her grieving done when nobody was around to watch. It was — hurtful — that she didn’t trust him enough to let him it, but it sure as hell beat the alternative. He could deal with the hurt.
And then he heard it. The soft sob. And this time, there was no wailing Stevie-weevie to provoke it.
He gave Stevie one last pat, then laid him down in the crib. “Sorry, kiddo,” Rob murmured, rubbing his chubby little tummy, “but I think your Mama needs me more than you do right now.”
Stevie whimpered, but Rob was out of the nursery, the door shut behind him, before Stevie could do more than that. He would fall asleep soon enough. Babies usually did.
He hurried into the bedroom, where he found Dannie — sitting all alone, the drool-spots still on her dress, and what was much more disturbing, the tears tracking down her face.
“Rob!” she gasped, patting herself down for a handkerchief.
Rob found his and held it out to her without a word. She wiped at her eyes — not soft, ladylike dabs meant to take away the tear stains but preserve the cosmetics, but wholehearted wipes that left her sooty eyelash-black trailing over the handkerchief and cheek alike. His Dannie never did anything by halves — at least, until she looked at the handkerchief, which she would have to be washing, and murmured, “Oh, damn.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, it always washes off your face. And eyelashes.”
“Cloth is different. Blood washes off skin, but not always off cloth.” Dannie sniffled and started to rise. “Anyway, I should –”
“Dannie,” Rob said, stepping between Dannie and the door. She shot him a glance that could only be called beseeching.
He didn’t move. He didn’t speak. He just waited.
He did not have to wait long before she broke down. “Wright damn it!” she whispered, sobbing.
Well, anger — even at herself — was better than nothing. He slipped an arm over her shoulders, still saying nothing.
“I hate it!” she gasped. “I hate feeling like this!”
Rob rubbed her shoulders with one hand smoothed her hair back with the others. Now was not the time to speak. Now was not even the time to make shushing soothing noises. Now was just the time to listen.
“It was just a stupid lullaby!” she gasped. “I can’t even sing the stupid lullaby without — without –”
Rob kissed her temple.
“Without turning into this!” Dannie snapped. “Look at me! I’m pathetic!”
Now was the time to speak. “You are not pathetic.”
“Then what am I?” Dannie sniffled. “Sobbing because of a lullaby!”
“I don’t think it’s just the lullaby.”
“Yes it is! Yes, it is!”
“Dannie,” Rob asked, gently, “what lullaby were you singing?”
“The –” She stopped. He waited.
Dannie didn’t say, “Hush, Little Baby.”
She didn’t say, “Rock-a-bye, Baby.”
She didn’t even say, “Lullaby and Goodnight.”
She just started to cry harder. “Granny’s lullaby!”
Rob pulled her to him, head resting on her shoulder.
“The one she sang to G-Georgie-porgie!” Dannie gulped. “And Freddy! And m-me!”
I know, Rob thought, but did not say anything.
“It should make me happy — her lullaby! It always used to!”
I know, Rob thought again. It was practically the only lullaby she sang to Stevie. The poor boy would probably be in school before he learned that there were other lullabies — or at least, he would have, had Granny kept going for a few more years.
“B-but now — it should still make me happy! I want to remember her!”
“But Dannie …”
Rob sighed. “I don’t think you can start being happy again until you’re finished grieving.”
“But I –”
“No.” Rob kissed her temple. “No, Dannie, you’re not.”
“She wouldn’t –”
“She would. Dannie. Who wouldn’t be happy to be missed?”
“Not like this!”
He sighed. “Your Granny,” Rob replied, “was one of the wisest ladies I ever met. I don’t know if she’d want to see you like this. But I think she would know it was … inevitable.”
Dannie sniffled. “Granny always soldiered on.”
“Your grandmother didn’t have a choice. Hell, she didn’t have time. She had to keep a roof over her head and food on the table for her daughters. But you’ve got time. You can get help if you need it. Even if we couldn’t afford it, you know your friends would send you over a spare maid in a heartbeat if they thought it would help you out.”
“I wouldn’t want to accept charity.”
“First of all, we can afford it, so you don’t have to. Secondly — it’s not charity, Dannie, it’s love.”
Dannie’s lips quivered. “Damn it all, Rob. Why do you have to start sounding like her?”
Rob pulled his wife closer, and he whispered into her hair:
“Dannie … it’s probably one of the reasons why you fell in love with me. Why you always loved Granny. It’s because we only talk sense.”