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Joe's Holiday

Noah Leznoff
From:   Why We Go To Zoos. Toronto: Insomniac Press, 1997.

    It is true what they say about daughters, even before they can speak.

    Joe watched her take the nipple, the wetness of it, how it had become something different and wonderful too, Anna's nipple, long like the end of a little finger, and the shininess of it, the thin milk dripping as the infant withdrew. And how she squirmed in his arms at first trying to suckle, then, as she nested to their cradling, curled inside and quiet against his fat chest. And the night he held her to his cheek and danced her to radio music, singing softly and breaking with sugary joy when she sang back, a definite new whimpering.

    And Anna was beautiful too, keeping her square, hard beauty. But long hours and overworked blood left her often silent and inward, though perhaps there was something else to it.

    Anyway, he would do the standard: unbutton her sleeper and blow farting sounds into her belly or under the fatness of her neck to make her laugh outright. He would lie on his back on the carpet and she would crawl on top of him; he would roll her from side to side, a little roughly, but making sure of the head with his big hands, and she would shriek with fear and excitement and tiny vertigo. And once lying on his side with her he said before he had a chance to call it back: "I am teaching you how a man loves."

    Usually when she was difficult to console at bed time he soothed her with rocking and with his voice before lowering her into the crib, and then let her cry for ten minutes so that would be that. It was what the doctor said they should be doing now, being firm about bed time. But she had slept a lot today, or maybe was afraid of a new apprehension, or was thirsty, so when after six minutes had passed and she was still screaming, he fought himself and counted another half-minute before opening the door to see her standing up in her crib, hands tugging on the top bar, a big smile coming suddenly when she saw the widening space of light and him standing dumbly in it. And his heart soft went despite the fatigue of his holiday, and he called her "little devil", for she knew all the tricks to melt a father's counting, and not even a year in the world.

    He took her onto the big bed and followed her with his hands as she crawled, leaning head-first over the edge. He grabbed her under the arms and lying back tossed her lightly in the air -- she left his fingers for less than a second -- then caught and lowered her to him slowly with clucking noises and faces that made her laugh. He had shut off the light to relax them, but she was playful in her babbling and spitting raspberries, her reaching out and yanking his nose and beard, knowing that this was a good joke. And so busy too in her crawling all over him that he hardly noticed the gentle distending of his body.

    Light from the street came through the window. Loose pieces of it that settled on their arms and cheeks as their movements slowed and the nonsense noises of love quietened. When finally she fell asleep beside him, her hand in her mouth, he turned on his side, watching her awhile. In the patches of darkness he was somewhere else, he was half-asleep, gelified and acute as in the tingling numbness of dreams. He leaned over and knew his mouth was opening; a long, deep kiss that pulled at the terry, rough enough so that her hand jerked and she let out a startled cry that made him jump back.

    Then pacing beside the big bed, feeling the warm weight of the thing, trying to walk it off like a sleeping foot, looking away, hearing her whine and fuss as if from another room, another house. It's not me, he told himself, it is only love, an adjustment of love. And with deliberate quickness he picked her up and, holding his arms out in front of him, carried her screaming to the crib.

Noah Leznoff's works copyright © to the author.

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