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book cover for Meet Me In Time Meet Me In Time
a novel by Charlotte Vale-Allen

She is not like the others were. You have noticed this?"

Ray looked up from his reading. "Sorry, darling?"

"So quiet," Lisette said. "She cries so little. You have forgotten how Gabrielle cried? And Dana? My God! He screamed without stopping. But this one. Look how she sleeps."

He looked down at the baby in the basket at the foot of the bed.

"She's supposed to sleep," he said.

She shook her head and took the book from his hands.

"You don't listen," she said, putting the book down on the night table on her side of the bed, then fitting his arms around her. "What I am saying to you is Glenn is a different baby from the others."

"And that's bad?"

"I have not said it is bad." She smiled. "You see how you don't listen!"

"Well, now I can't listen." His mouth curved into a responding smile as he lifted the hair back from her face. Tracing her eyebrows with his thumb, gazing into the luminous blue of her eyes. Deeper tonight, darker blue.

"Two more weeks." She sighed, resting her head on his chest. Perhaps it was something only a mother might recognize, this matter of the differences between children. Gaby, eleven, and Dana, nine. As babies they had been very similar, except for the matter of his screaming. Dana's deafening screams had frequently stunned his older sister into surprised silence. A look of unchildlike indignation lifting her pale eyebrows. This indignation prompting Gaby to hang on to Lisette, to drag at her arm or leg, in a direct attempt to shift Lisette's attention away from Dana to herself. Two-year-old Gaby asking in very clearly enunciated tones, "Why do you need him?" pointing an accusing finger at the infant Dana.

"Perhaps," she said, after a moment, "it is only that I have forgotten about babies. Nine years is a long time. I try to remember but I find I have forgotten many things."

"Only certain things," he said tenderly, stroking her arm. He found it impossible not to touch her. Daily more in love with the sound of her voice, the look of her. The sight and sound of her as potently arousing as it had been at the start. But more so now after all the long weeks of abstinence. For a few seconds he experienced a brief flaring of resentment at his own impatience and her damnable fecundity. A few rash minutes that resulted in a third child. Three children when it hadn't even occurred to him - at the beginning - there'd be any. Of course that had been positively imbecilic of him. And he'd grown quite attached, in his fashion, to the children. Because. Because they were proof, somehow, of what he put into loving her.

"I am sore in the breasts," she said, lifting herself off him. "Perhaps I will not nurse her for so long as I did Gaby and Dana."

"Don't do it then," he said sensibly, concerned about her. She was still so lethargic much of the time. "If you put Glenn on a bottle, you'll be able to get a bit more sleep. We both will."

"I will think about it," she said, again looking down at the baby. "I have the feeling maybe it will not make so very much of a difference to her if it is a bottle or the breast."

"You give so much of yourself to the children," he said. So that she studied his face closely, feeling the blackness swirling about her feet, threatening to rise up, engulf her. That ominous heavy feeling that had been overtaking her regularly since the baby's birth. "And tomorrow?" he asked. "You're speaking again?"

"At two o'clock. I must remember to prepare everything, take enough pamphlets. Although there are not so very many women now. Everyone is preoccupied with this war. They think of nothing else."

"We'll get into it right enough," he said knowingly. "No doubt at all since Hitler's been taking over Europe, it's inevitable."

"You think so?"

"I know it. Absolutely."

"You would not go, would you, Ray?"

"They wouldn't have me even if I cared to go. I'm too old."

"Good. I wouldn't wish to have you go."

"No bloody fear." He laughed. "Turn the light out, will you, darling? I'll be damn glad, I can tell you, to get shut of this morning segment."

"Perhaps soon they will let you do the bandstand show. Then you will be happy, eh?" She tried but couldn't see his expression in the darkness.

"It's only logical that since Moore's left, I should be the one to do that show." His voice filled with conviction, determination.

"Of course," she agreed, closing her eyes, thinking again about the baby. How different she was. Easier.

He lay back thinking about the show, planning to drop a few subtle words in the appropriate ears. But carefully. Lisette sighed and he put out his hand to touch her cheek. She sighed again and settled against him. Two more weeks. It felt like years to him since they had made love properly. A hell of a strain. Waking up in the mornings when it was still dark to look at her asleep and want so badly to do something about the accumulating weight of his hunger he had to hurry off guiltily to the bathroom for a cool shower. Cold water to shock away the heat, shrink his flesh.

His parents were out. They were out a lot of the time. Dana didn't mind. He sneaked upstairs and found the two little books of Lisette's poems. They'd been published a long time ago, way before the two of them were even married. She didn't like people reading them, she said. So he had to get the books and then go hide in his closet with the flashlight to read them. He thought they were very good. The ones about breasts and thighs and YOU were sort of silly. But the others were really very good and he liked them, read them over and over. He'd probably read the books twenty zillion times at least.

He didn't think he'd write poetry. Plays, maybe. Or maybe books. But probably plays. Loving the idea of having all kinds of people all saying things. Plays that would get put on the radio. Maybe Ray might even play one of the parts. Maybe. He wasn't so sure he'd let Ray be in any of his plays. One thing for sure, Gaby wasn't ever going to be in any play he ever wrote. He opened the closet door and listened. Gaby was still downstairs practicing. He closed the door and leaned back against the wall in the dark. Gaby was so stupid. There were some girls he really liked. Why couldn't he have had Julienne for a sister? Or Lucy? Gaby. Always acting so important.

The closet was getting too hot and stuffy. He got up, crept out, returned the books to Lisette's desk, then stood deciding what he'd do next. He went to have a look at the baby.

He liked her. Which was a big surprise. Not that there was a baby. He put out his finger and chuckled softly as the baby's fingers wrapped themselves hard around his finger. Oh, he'd known there was going to be a baby. Lisette had said so for one thing. And for another, he'd been watching, seeing her stomach get bigger and bigger. He'd have known even if she hadn't sat them down to say, "You will have a new baby sister or brother." He'd known all the time. The big surprise was how much he liked this baby.

He picked her up and sat down on the side of the bed, playing with her hands, then tickling her feet. Saying, "Does that feel funny? I bet you'd laugh if you could." Very carefully, he touched the top of her head where it was all soft. The hole where they'd put her brains in. You could easily hurt an infant if you weren't very, very careful with them. So he always was.

"Glenn, Glenn," he whispered, then laughed, watching the baby's mouth get all puckery. She was nice and soft and her skin was such a pretty color.

Maria came along the hallway and stopped in the doorway.

"You wanna give her the bottle?" she asked, smiling.

"Sure," he answered eagerly, holding out his hand.

"You be careful, eh? You don't wanna drop her." She gave him the bottle.

"I'll be careful," he said seriously, pointing the nipple at Glenn's mouth, smiling as she started drinking.

Maria came back a few minutes later to take the baby, change her, get her ready for her nap. Dana went downstairs to look up Breasts in the big medical dictionary, studying the cross-section view with all the little lines on it, reading what it said. But it didn't say where the milk came from or how it came out. He'd have to ask Lisette about that.

Someday, he thought, stealing a couple of graham crackers before going out the back door, he was going to have his own baby. A girl baby, it would be. Just like Glenn. He didn't know if he wanted to be the mother or the father, though; because as far as he could see, it was fun being either one.

Lisette came hurrying in. Late.

"She's pretty hungry," Maria said. "Been making a lot of noise the last half hour."

"Bring her down to me. Then maybe you would do the potatoes while I nurse her, eh?"

"Sure," Maria said easily, loping off up the stairs to get the baby.

Gaby sat in the armchair watching Lisette nursing. Thinking it was just disgusting the way her mother did that. She'd do it right in front of anybody. She'd even done it a couple of nights ago in front of guests. Just mortifying. And when she'd said, "Why do you have to do that all the time in front of everybody?" Lisette had smiled and answered, "I did the same with you. You were not bothered." Which just made Gaby so mad because Lisette always said things like that. Gaby was quite sure she said those things just to get Gaby's goat.

And why did they have to go ahead and have another baby anyway? Bad enough they had to have Dana. They were old, for heaven's sake! She knew for a fact Lisette was thirty-eight and Ray was forty-seven. That was old. It was amazing they could still even make babies, she thought. And she couldn't imagine them doing that to get a baby. Every time she thought about what they'd had to do to get that baby all the blood rushed right into her face and she had to close her eyes and tell herself not to think about it, she wouldn't think about it, it was too awful and she'd never, never do anything that sickening with a man.

"Someday you will change your mind about that," Lisette liked to tell her.

"I never will!" Gaby declared.

She crossed her arms angrily over her chest, glaring as Lisette shifted the baby to the other breast. Gaby groaned and Lisette looked over.

"Something is wrong?" she asked.

Gaby just shook her head.

Dana crawled out from behind the sofa to lean on the arm of the sofa and watch, asking, "Where does the milk come from? I looked it up but it didn't explain that."

"A woman's body makes the milk," Lisette said. "Inside the breast."

"But it has to come from somewhere," he persisted.

"I cannot tell you precisely," she said. "I have not a medical degree. I am finished. You would like to burp her, then return her upstairs, Dana?"

"Sure I would," he said.

Lisette fastened her clothes and watched Dana gently rubbing the baby's back. She patted him on the head and went out to the kitchen to see to the dinner.

"Only six women today," Lisette told Ray over their pre-dinner drinks. She sipped at a glass of wine, making it last. "It makes me frustrated, so few. But still, six is better than no women at all."

Thoughtfully, he looked into the depths of his glass. "Why not let it go for a time?" he said. "Stay home, get your strength back. Perhaps work at your writing." You look so tired, he thought, taking hold of her hand. "It frightens me to see you in such an exhausted state."

"Someone must keep on," she said. "If I stop, the others will become discouraged. Elizabeth cannot manage on her own. She becomes too embarrassed when the women wish to ask questions."

Gaby, who'd been closely following this exchange, crossed her legs, lifted her chin and said, "It seems to me that someone who goes around telling women not to have babies if they don't want them, showing them how not to have them, isn't setting a very good example by having a baby of her own. Isn't it just a little hypocritical of you?"

Lisette looked over at her wondering, How is it I would have a child such as you? Some moments I hate you.

"That will do, Gabrielle," Ray said. "One does not speak in that fashion to one's mother. And you're intruding on our conversation. Surely you have schoolwork to do?"

"I've already finished," she countered. "And when're we going to have dinner? I'm starving. I don't see why, if Dana and I have to sit here and watch you drink, we can't have drinks too."

"Dana?" Lisette looked over at him. "You would also wish for a drink?"

"I wouldn't mind," he said with a smile. He'd been sitting pretending to read the book on his lap but, in reality, following every single word that was said. He'd become so good at it, half the time no one seemed to notice he was even there.

"Very well!" Lisette said, getting to her feet. Dislike of Gaby at that moment burning a hole inside her. A sudden irrational dislike of all of them, even Ray. And an overpowering desire to simply walk out the front door and never return. "You shall both have drinks, of course," she said, her voice remaining calm despite the dreadful fluttering inside. "What will you have, Gaby?"

"Scotch!" Gaby declared, her eyes lighting with excitement. This was very grown up. She was going to have a drink just like papa's.

"Scotch," Lisette repeated, noticing her hands were trembling. "And for you, Dana?"

"Could I have some of that wine you're drinking?"

"But of course!" Dana would, naturally, exercise good sense, caution. She poured a measure of scotch into a glass, some wine into a goblet. Returning to present each child with a drink. "Salut!" She smiled at them. "You must absolutely have whatever it is you wish," she said, wanting to strike them, returning instead to sit down once more on the sofa beside Ray, resuming their interrupted conversation.

Ray, if he wondered what she was doing, neither said nor looked so. He rarely questioned her actions concerning the children. She wished he would. Letting her eyes drift, she suddenly saw an image of the four of them hitting each other, screaming; a chaos of windmilling arms and legs. But he continued to drink his scotch, trying to pinpoint where they'd been in their conversation. "Ah, yes," he remembered, patting Lisette's knee. It irritated her. She didn't move. "About staying home," he said. "I do wish, darling, you'd think about it. It's time you got back to your writing. And once we're into the war, there'll be no problem of superfluous babies, after all. There'll be a shortage of men, rather."

"Perhaps," she said, covertly watching Dana and Gaby sampling their drinks. "I have said I will think on it." These children. Wanting so much, demanding so much. Giving so very little. Gabrielle greedily gulping down the scotch. And Dana savoring each tiny sip, appreciatively turning the goblet between his fingers. What would she become, Gabrielle? With her histrionics, her erratic talent. Dana, inevitably, would write. And perhaps be very old by the age of thirty. Someone to whom the world came much too soon. So shocking the things Gabrielle could think to say! Hypocritical? How is it you dare to speak this way to your mother? Accidents occur. Even with the very best of intentions. Will you ever understand about passion? Dana. She looked at him again. Yes, you will. To you, this baby is of interest; worthy of attention, affection. Not proof of parental hypocrisy. You do not make judgments, but merely see. Everything. A small man of nine. A shrew of eleven. God help me! I feel I hate these children and this man who will only offer his support too rarely.

I am being too emotional, she told herself, taking another swallow of wine. Again noticing the tremor in her hands. What is wrong with me? I am not this way normally. I have no hate. But now I am filled with despair. How did it come to this?

Remembering that first night with Ray. Going with him. Something about him. He had been so eager yet so hesitant. It had touched her, his desire to please. A very rare quality. He'd been so unlike the others who'd sought only to use the various parts of her for their own gratification without any apparent recognition of the totality of her. How could she have failed to love someone who cared so very much for her pleasure, her words and thoughts, her company?

Gabrielle vomited violently and had to go to bed without dinner. A hot water bottle for her assaulted stomach. Dana calmly finished his wine, asked for more, was refused and continued reading until dinner was ready. By the end of the meal, Lisette was exhausted; feeling as if she was teetering on the edge of an emotional abyss. She would wake the baby for her feeding. That done, she would at last be able to rest. Until the baby woke again, wanting another feeding. Just thinking of it, she wanted to cry.

In bed finally, she said, "Ray, Gaby defeats me. When she speaks to me in that fashion, I wish so much to strike her I must force myself to think of her age, who she is so that I do not strike her. I would not have dared to speak so to my mama and papa. Perhaps we are too liberal, too easy with them." Help me! I have a wish to die, to close my eyes and be gone from here forever.

"You shouldn't allow the things she says to bother you," he said, eyes on his book. "She's just a child, after all."

"Zut! Nothing very much bothers you."

"Gaby is Gaby," he said, refusing to be provoked. "She'd be precisely the way she is no matter how strict we were with her. I dare say she'd be considerably worse."

No good, she thought, sinking back against the pillows; hearing and seeing Gaby saying, 'Isn't it just a little hypocritical?' So hurtful, selfish. If we had not had these children ... I would have used mama and papa's money not for this house but for trips we two could have taken. So many things. But it is wrong to think this way. I do love them. I made them, they are mine. But they would make it impossible to love them.

"You're not crying about what she said, surely?" he said, distraught. "Really, you mustn't let the thoughtless things they say bother you so. They're only children." Unnerved, he put his arms around her, attempting to embrace her.

"You remove yourself!" she accused, caught up in the tears but finding no relief in them. "You don't see them, hear them, feel. Gaby is heartless," she cried. "Without feelings, without thought for anyone but herself, for anything but this music."

"I do nothing of the sort!" he argued, stung. "I simply see no point whatsoever in being victimized by children. You know you're the only one who matters to me. And you're worn out. The birth and this incessant bloody nursing. I've never seen you this way. This isn't you."

"What is me?" she asked, feeling frantic. "What?"

"Not this," he said, regaining some measure of his composure. "Not breaking down because of some imbecilic remark of Gaby's, not railing at me for supposed omissions. Tell me what you want of me. I can't bear this." He actually looked as if he were suffering. It softened her, broke the spine of her anger.

"I don't know," she said, drained. "I don't know."

He dried her eyes, that grieved expression clinging to his features.

"You need rest," he said. "You are worn out. Completely. I'm not unsympathetic, darling. I simply don't know what to do for you."

"There is nothing to be done," she said, closing her eyes under the tender onslaught of his caresses. His fingers stroking her breasts, his tongue seeking to ease the pain. "I am sorry for ... all of this."

"Shh, shh," he murmured, continuing to caress her.

She kept her eyes closed, thinking again of that first night. How he'd turned from the band and smiled at her. His smile, his eyes making her forget everything. And then, later, during the break, he'd come down from the stand to talk to her. Gerard departing outraged, leaving her there on her own. After the dance, going with Ray to his hotel. So touched at the sudden loss of his impressive composure and certainty. Guiding him, teaching him the ways in which to love her. Effortlessly because the willingness was so strong in him. So many months, years when they'd been utterly happy being two. She opened her eyes, raising his head from her breasts, wanting his kisses.

"I love you," he whispered. "You know how much I love you. When you're unhappy, so distraught, I feel helpless."

"It will pass. It was just a moment."

As she'd done during the weeks before the baby's birth and these weeks since, she made love to him. Feeling lonelier than she'd ever dreamed it possible to be. Anxious for these final two weeks to pass so that he might once more come into her. It was like pain inside wanting him, giving him love but being unable to receive it. Making slow, deliberate love to him as he whispered endearments, stroking her hair, her spine.

Ray went to sleep at once, after. She lay back tracing her lips with her forefinger, the taste of him slowly leaving her mouth.

Having made her decision to try staying at home for a while, she turned over the pamphlets and samples to Elizabeth. Looking let down, uncertain, Elizabeth said, "You're right, of course. It's too much for you now. But it's going to be so difficult without you."

"You will manage," Lisette told her, fond of Elizabeth. "I know that you can."

"Oh, I'll manage," Elizabeth smiled. "Until one of the women asks some question I'm too embarrassed to answer. You're so good at it. It never bothers you. I wish I had your ability, your openness."

"You will be fine," Lisette assured her, although she had considerable doubts. Elizabeth was so English, so rigidly private, so dismayed by her womanliness. "Simply answer the questions and don't think about yourself when you respond. You must try to be clinical, not personal."

"I'll never be able to be that way," she said, then smiled. "But I'll try."

Dana came home from school and marched directly upstairs to the bedroom to say, "Can you explain metaphors to me? What's the difference between a simile and a metaphor?" He held out his English textbook to her. "And how do you decide what rhyme-scheme you're going to use? And what about the meter? Do you decide all that first and then start writing? Or do you start writing and then decide on the meter and the rest of it?"

She looked at his small, perfect face and told herself to remain calm, and tried to appropriately answer his questions. Her insides fluttering again as she said, "Always, when I first began writing, I used ABBA. But later on, when I became freer, blank verse seemed more fitting." She continued on with her explanation, then reached out to embrace him, suddenly wanting more than anything else to hold him. But he held himself away, seeming to suffer her kiss.

"Thank you very much," he said, retrieving his textbook. "I think I'll go do my homework now."

He'd only just left the room when Gaby began practicing downstairs. Lisette got up and closed the door, then lay down on the bed with the baby. Opening her clothes, fitting the baby to her breast. Unable to bring herself to stop nursing just yet. Seeing the end of nursing as some oblique punishment she'd be directing at the baby. Gaby's music pounded in her ears through the several closed doors between them.

"I will go mad," she whispered aloud. The music itself was not unpleasant. But Gaby's interpretations, her heavy-handed articulations and mightily underscored bass notes seemed like some kind of subtle torture purposely directed through the house, up the stairs and past the door, at her mother. How, she wondered, could anyone who was so delicately lovely play with such a total lack of feeling?

Only her first day at home and already she had the sinking feeling this wasn't going to work. She'd no sooner finished nursing the baby - she was just fastening her clothes - when Dana was back, knocking at the door, then opening it; staring fascinatedly at her breasts for as long as they remained exposed to his view, asking, "I forgot what you said. Tell me that again about the meter."

Gaby came pounding down the hall to push Dana out of the way.

"I need a new music pen and some score paper. I have to have five dollars. What d'you think you're doing?" she demanded of Dana.

"Drop dead!" Dana said casually, going to sit on the side of the bed beside Lisette, reaching over to play with the baby's hand.

"You will both stop!" Lisette said evenly. "Gaby, tell me again what it is you need?"

"I told you!" she said impatiently. "Five dollars. For a new pen and some score paper."

"Papa just gave you money for your music paper."

"That was two weeks ago. All right," she said angrily. "If you're not going to give it to me, I'll just have to quit doing my homework. Then I'll fail and you'll be very happy."

"Take five dollars from my bag," Lisette said, too tired to argue. "Please, both of you will go out now. I wish to put the baby down for her sleep."

"There's only a ten and some ones," Gaby said.

"Take the ten and bring the change back to me. Please, Dana," she gently eased him off the bed. "I will talk with you later about your writing. Later."

Gaby, the ten dollars in hand, paused in the doorway to say, "I don't know why I can't just have the ten dollars. I'll only need it next week."

"You will bring me back the change," Lisette said firmly, getting up to close the door. Then leaned against it for a moment before pushing herself away and returning the baby to its basket.

Tomorrow, she told herself, it will be better. They are simply not accustomed to having me at home. Once it is familiar to them, they will stop making so many demands.

But three months later, it was still the same. And she was still nursing Glenn because those half hours had become a refuge. Regular breaks in the day when she could take the baby and escape up to the bedroom for a bit of peace. She'd written nothing in all these weeks at home. She worried about the family planning group disintegrating without her presence to keep everyone focused and active. Elizabeth called regularly to bemoan her failure to properly answer the women's questions. "I go cold," she said. "I look at their faces and make up absurd answers. I do wish you'd come back."

She worried about things over which she had no control, worried constantly, even during those hours when she should have been sleeping. Her head aching from lack of sleep, from the endless nonspecific fears circulating in her brain.

Ray, in his understated and quietly aggressive fashion, succeeded in getting that hungered-for promotion at the station and was now the master of ceremonies for the bandstand show. This much was an improvement because the hours were better. He wasn't required to be at the station until four-thirty in the afternoon.

When he told her, jubilantly relating the details, her only thought was that perhaps the atmosphere in the house might now change. And on the first day of the changeover, they slept late while Maria got the two older children breakfasted and off to school.

The baby's crying woke Lisette and she got up to nurse her while, with a groan, Ray sat up feeling about on the floor for his slippers. She watched him go into the bathroom, heard the sound of the toilet, then the shower. When he came out, he smiled at her blankly and went downstairs. She finished with Glenn, changed her, put her down and went, yawning, into the bathroom to find the towel he'd used wetly abandoned on the floor, sprinkles of talc here and there, a gray ring around the sink. She picked up the towel, used it to wipe out the sink, then pushed it into the hamper. Angered by his lack of consideration.

By the time she got downstairs, he was on the telephone, a cup of coffee perched on his knee. Maria was now upstairs making the children's beds. With a sigh, Lisette reached for the frying pan and began preparing Ray's breakfast, listening to his half of the telephone conversation.

"Yes, quite. Quite. No, indeed. No. Oh, absolutely! We'd be delighted. What time? Fine. Looking forward. Yes."

He hung up, saying, "Dinner. With Sheffield and his wife. Saturday at seven. I expect there'll be a good group of people there, some interesting sorts. Coffee, darling?"

Why didn't you ask me if I care to go? she thought, scowling, feeling sickened by the sight of the two eggs in the pan. Yet watching the edges solidify with a fixed stare. Feeling startled when his arm came around her middle and he lifted the hair from the back of her neck to kiss her there.

"Do you want some coffee, darling?" he asked again.

"Thank you, yes."

"I much prefer these hours," he said, still holding her. "Don't you, darling? So much more one can get done."

She sighed and leaned back against him, mechanically basting the eggs.

"You know we are already to be out Thursday and Friday?" she asked. "Now this will mean three nights in a row we are out late."

"Very worthwhile," he said, releasing her to pour more coffee into his own cup and one for her. "I'll note it down in your diary when I go up to dress."

"You are going out?"

"A few people I thought I'd see."


"Had you plans?" he asked.

"No, no. I had thought only that you would be here." To help perhaps, or talk with me. Something.

"I've made a date for lunch with one of the chaps from the news department."

"I see." She buttered the toast, put the eggs on a plate, carried the plate to the table. Then sat down with her coffee to watch him eat. Trying, all the while, to put words to her feelings. She wanted to say, I want you here. I don't care to go out Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Every night. I wish to stay alone with you. Instead, she said, "Please do not give Gabrielle music money this week. She has taken money from me and not returned the change."

"Right," he said, biting into a piece of toast. "Have you enough, darling? Or shall I give you a check?"

"I have enough," she said. "You will be home when?"

"Directly after lunch." He looked up at her. "Are you sure you didn't have plans? I could cancel the lunch."

"No, no. I have no plans."

He looked at her a second or two longer, wanting to say, You said you'd stop nursing the baby. When do you plan to do it? You look as worn down as you did three months ago. How long is this to continue? He smiled and took another bite of toast as she lit a cigarette.

She looked at the telephone thinking perhaps she'd speak with Elizabeth later, find out how things were going. She yawned again. So hard her jaw cracked.

Ray said, "Why not go back to bed? I'll be on my way shortly."

"Perhaps," she said vaguely. "Ray?"


"Nothing. I will talk with you later." She got up carrying her cup and the cigarette and wandered through to the living room to stand looking at the mess. Gaby's music strewn all over the top of the piano. One of Dana's notebooks peeking out from between the sofa cushions. Several empty glasses on the coffee table and two very full ashtrays. The sight of the room depressed her. She went back upstairs to sit on the side of the bed and finish her coffee and cigarette.

Within minutes of their arriving home from school, Dana and Gaby were having an argument. Lisette stood at the top of the stairs, listening.

"You just keep out of here while I'm practicing!" Gaby shouted. "You know very well this is my time. You can't come in here!"

"You don't own this house!" Dana shouted back. "This is my living room too and if I want to sit in here I'll sit in here and you can't stop me! So there!"

There was the flat, smacking sound of a hand hitting flesh. A brief silence. Then Gaby screamed. The front door opened and Ray walked in to see Dana with his hand wound into Gaby's hair, pulling for all he was worth. And Gaby, red-faced, screeching and kicking at Dana's shins.

Lisette continued to stand at the top of the stairs, waiting to see what Ray would do. He stood for a moment, looking at the two of them.

"Bugger off, the both of you!" he said sharply. The children sprang apart. "Bloody monsters!" he said to himself, making his way to the dining room to fix himself a drink.

In the downstairs hallway, both children stopped to watch him go. Then Gaby again kicked Dana in the shin. As hard as she could. Dana kicked her back, then snatched up his books and went racing up the stairs two at a time. Lisette stepped aside to let him pass.

"I hate her!" he cried, flying down the hall. The door to his room slamming loudly. While below, Gaby began on her scales. Noise.

This must end, Lisette thought, turning away finally; despair clotting in her throat. It was time - again, again, always - to nurse the baby. She lay against the pillows convinced she was going mad.

Ray came in with his drink and stretched out beside her, jiggling the ice cubes in his glass.

"What was that bloody fracas about?" he asked, contemplating his drink tight-faced.

"Nothing, everything. I have no idea. They hate each other. I hate listening to them. It is impossible, this business of staying at home. I will lose my sanity with all this."

"If you're not accomplishing anything, if you're not happy, perhaps the best thing would be for you to get back to your work outside. I merely suggested you stay at home because I thought it might be some sort of solution. Obviously, I was wrong."

She couldn't seem to concentrate on what he was saying. The sound of his voice washed over her melodiously. Then she remembered. They were going to talk.

"Ray?" she interrupted.

"What is it, darling?"

The door burst open and there was Gabrielle. Lisette's fists clenched. Ray's hand closed around her wrist.

"You've got to tell that brat that the living room is mine during my practice hours! You tell him to stay out of there and stop bothering me!"

"Not now," Lisette said, her voice threatening to go out of control. "We are talking. And you will knock. You do not come into this room without knocking first!"

"Daddy?" Gaby appealed to him.

"I believe your mother just told you not now, Gabrielle. Off you go."

Angrier now than before, Gaby banged the door shut and stamped off down the hall.

"Sorry, darling," he said, looking at his watch. "I must fly. I'm on in forty minutes." He got up and leaned over to kiss her.

"I will wait up for you," she said quickly. "We must talk."

"All right darling." And off he went. Leaving his dripping glass on the night table. She picked it up and, in one swallow, finished the half glass of scotch. Then sat staring at the empty glass for some time before realizing the baby had fallen asleep.

Gaby and Dana at last quiet in their rooms and Glenn asleep in the basket at the foot of the bed, Lisette stood naked before the cheval-glass studying herself. Seeing the effects of childbearing on her body. Her breasts still swollen from the prolonged nursing. Her belly round and soft no matter how hard she sucked in her breath and tightened her stomach muscles. Faint stretch marks on the flesh at her hips, the sides of her belly. Up close, standing inches from the mirror, she could see that the quality of her skin was changing, going slack here and there, and there. The area below her collarbone, between her breasts, her upper thighs. It shocked her, frightened her. She'd lost all the weight gained during the pregnancy. In fact weighed less than she had in many years. Yet her body looked old. Her legs somehow too thin in comparison to her torso. Her neck too long. And my face, she thought, holding her hair back with both hands. My face, too, is becoming old.

The sight of her face sending tears into her eyes. She moved quickly away from the mirror, pulling on her robe. To sit on the bed gazing down at her shaking hands. Trying to think.

I must think, decide what to do.

When Ray came in finally, she was sitting up in bed, waiting for him.

"You did wait up after all," he smiled, starting to undress. "I'm glad."

"I told you that I would. You had a good evening?" She smiled back at him.

"You didn't listen?"

"I forgot. I am sorry."

"No matter." He grinned. "There's so much more scope with this show. Infinitely more. I'll be having guests on. And you know they're talking now of four hours a week of on-the-air theater. Getting in scripts, having a look-through, the lot. Very exciting, actually. Room to move in any number of new directions. I quite like the idea of the plays."

He went off to the bathroom and she rearranged herself under the bedclothes, slipping off her nightgown. She was so nervous her hands were wet. The fluttery interior feeling taking hold of her. What was she doing? Every smile, every word coming from some automatic place in her brain that sent out words and smiles meaninglessly.

He returned and she moved over close to him.

"I've been damned worried about you," he said unexpectedly. "I shouldn't have made that lunch date today. I'll not do that again. D'you want me to call back and cancel out for Saturday night?"

"No. That will not be necessary."

"Be sure," he said. "If you're not up to it, we'll simply not go."

"I will be up to it."

"We've got to get you back to yourself," he said, as if he, too, had prepared the things he wanted to talk about. "It seems to be taking you an awfully long time to recover from having this baby."

"So it seems," she said, waiting to hear what else he'd say.

"You know I'm frightful at this sort of conversation," he said apologetically. "But I'm worried. Tell me how you are. What was it you wanted to talk about?"

"I have been deciding," she said, beginning to find him familiar, recognizable. "Tomorrow, Glenn will go to a bottle. And into the nursery as well. It is enough, the time she has been in here." She looked up at him to see his response.

"Good. Very good."

"Then there is Maria," she said. "I think we must dispense with her and find someone perhaps older, more experienced, who will tend to the house, see to the children, cook for them sometimes."

"Quite right! You have been thinking! What else?"

"I am going back to my work. More than before. I have been speaking with Elizabeth and if I do not go back, she will abandon it. She cannot keep it up on her own. And I don't wish to see all we've done lost. It is useless my remaining in the house. I accomplish nothing. Nothing. Gaby must every day find some new dreadful thing to say to me." She was starting to tremble, feeling the rage. "And Dana has no understanding that I require time alone, to myself. They take me over when I am here. I have the feeling they would crush me." She gripped his arm. "If I stay home one more day, I will go completely mad. I know it."

"You're planning to be out all day, every day?"

"No, no," she said quickly. "But I must have sufficient time away. For myself. To do something of value. The writing is finished, Ray. I have no more introspection for the writing. It is gone."

"It all seems to make good sense," he said. "As long as you don't grind yourself down more."

"It's them!" she said feverishly. "Gaby and Dana. They are driving me mad!"

"Lisette, they're children! I grant you Gaby's a shocker. But in time she's bound to come around. And Dana's not a bad little chap. The point is you've let them assume far too much importance. In any case, I think you've probably made a very wise decision. Obviously, the best thing right now is for you to put a little distance between yourself and them. I can't bear to see you trying to surrender yourself to what you see as your role as 'mother.' It's not the sort of thing that works for people like us, darling. Had you been the sort of woman intent only on playing out her life as a mother, I doubt very much we'd be where we are right now."

"Where is it we are right now?" she asked.

"We're moving forward. Surely you can see that. One doesn't halt one's progress and turn oneself over to one's children. My parents most certainly didn't. And I dare say they did a successful job raising their children."

"I dare say they did," she said softly, suddenly unsure of everything. Ray's family. Such cold, remote people. Ray, too, on the surface might seem cold and remote. It was because she possessed such a deep knowledge of his interior aspects, his private aspects that she failed ever to view him as cold and remote.

On the occasion when they'd traveled to England expressly for the purpose of meeting his family, she'd suffered serious doubts as to the wisdom of her marriage to this man. The only time in all the years together she'd been sufficiently removed from him to see him as others conceivably might. Someone often arrogant. Someone abrim with ambition. Someone of the so-called "upper class" who let things fall where they might, confident some hired underling would do the picking up. That was the superficial view. The view privately was of someone with passion. Someone with unsuspected sensitivity. Someone with the rare ability to focus on some point and strive ceaselessly to get there. Someone who could, in bed, devote himself entirely to her pleasure; deriving so much pleasure himself from these devoted acts that he had no need to insist on a return of attentions. She'd been chilled throughout that visit to his family home, both by the unrelentingly damp, cold weather and by the unrelentingly upper-class stoicism and superficiality of his family. "One does," "one says," "one thinks," "one would." Ad nauseum. Until she'd hissed at him behind the closed door to their bedroom, "Say I, say me! You are not 'one.'" It had frightened them both so badly, they'd agreed to cut short their visit in order to return home and reacquaint themselves with each other.

She touched his face lightly now, questioningly. "I am not ugly for you now?" she asked, in a whisper, still daunted by that encounter with the cheval-glass. And by her own emotional up-and-down swings.

"Don't be absurd!" he said emphatically. "You're beautiful! Good God, what a thing to say! You can't believe that!"

"I am not so sure any more what it is I believe."

"Well, damn it, you're not ugly!"

And as if to actively demonstrate precisely how absurd this thought of hers was, he took her in his arms, eagerly searching her mouth, his body urging against hers. She felt all at once lighter, freed in good measure from the weight of a number of her skittering, insubstantial fears.

"Do you remember?" she asked. "That time we went to visit with your family. How they frightened me? You remember?"


"For months, I have had the same feeling here in this house."

"Bloody hell! Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't know why. I have been feeling so frightened."

"Surely you're not still frightened?"

"Less. Much less. Hold me," she whispered. "I have been so afraid you would lose your desire for me, your love."

"Never! Never!"

She laughed softly, knowing it was true. And made love with him feeling as if it had been a very long time since they'd touched, since anything but the voices of the children had penetrated her interior. So that now, his hands on her, his mouth, were extraordinarily stimulating; overwhelming. Their exchange of kisses, caresses removing her from her self at last, bringing her back into him. Rendering her strong again, ardent; capable of loving him as she had at twenty-three. Responding even more explosively than she had then. Because he no longer required guidance and knew, to the subtlest nuance, how to love her. How to move her slowly, steadily into the eye of the storm and then hold her fast as the storm passed over them both.

There was a moment the next morning, as she and Maria were moving the baby into the nursery, when she felt terribly sad again. And uncertain. As if what she was doing in removing the child from Ray's and her room was something far more than merely a physical relocation. There was an accompanying sense of loss. But she would not allow herself to succumb to it. And quickly readied the crib while Maria stood playing with the baby.

She put Glenn down for her nap, sent Maria off to do her chores, then went downstairs to telephone Elizabeth. There were many things to do. An advertisement to put into the newspaper. For someone to replace Maria. She seemed able to breathe more freely. She dialed Elizabeth's number. This family would now begin to grow properly and not be allowed to overwhelm the two people who had created it.

Order Meet Me In Time