Fairytale: presents impossible events under possible or almost impossible conditions as though they were possible.
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections
If my life were a fairytale…
The fragment of thought came unbidden from the tired place Catherine had become familiar with, but never accustomed to, in the last two months, the part of her mind that could both cherish her kicking and hungry son and hate his middle-of-the-night restlessness.
She lifted Jacob out of his basket, letting his blanket fall away from his fighting limbs.
If my life were a fairytale, she thought, while bringing the rooting and hungry child close to her body, the baby would have slept through the night.
The relative quiet outside the window and the sight of the street lamps cutting the dark, told her the time without a clock—the wee hours, the lonely hours, the mother’s hours. 2 a.m.? Maybe 3? Only brief sleep, said her mind of the time spent in Vincent’s arms, but it couldn’t have been. It must have been a good length before the baby started to wake, even if it only felt like minutes.
She’d been dead asleep yet still able to be wakened by her baby. How is that even possible, she thought? But it was. Jacob could always wake her.
At first, he only chirped, tossed his head, and then … quiet again. Her eyes would open to him, then shut almost immediately. He would repeat his sleepy call, and she would slightly rouse until there was stillness once more. His dance of rising, and her dance of ignoring, went on for a while, but the end was a foregone conclusion. Jacob was deferrable, but also inescapable.
After almost an entire day without her, without food, he needed to play catch up.
If my life were a fairytale, I could have gotten a decent night’s sleep, and Vincent and I could have made love one more time. Even just one of those possibilities would have been wonderful.
With a yawn, Catherine shifted into the routine—change the diaper, sit in the chair, don’t disturb Vincent, position baby, latch.
Eyes almost closed.
Thank God this is automatic.
Clean and fed—the baby should have passed out.
If my life were a fairytale…
The baby jolted and turned. She tried nursing him again, but he just popped on and off. She burped him once more, pressing against his belly as Mary had shown her. He gave her back nothing but grunts and resistance.
Vincent was still sleeping, the sweet blackness of heavy, dreamless slumber, the bond told her. With this reassurance of his rest, she slipped into the bed, hoping the warmth and closeness would pacify the child. That lasted about five minutes. Five minutes of the baby not really nursing, not being soothed, not sleeping.
If my life were a fairytale…
Trying again not to wake Vincent, she escaped the bed as quietly as she could to rock the baby again.
Back and forth, back and forth, while watching her beautiful, extraordinary, and half-naked husband sleep deeply. Although she was still upset at having to forgo rest, she couldn’t help but smile. She hadn’t had this opportunity in all the weeks they had been married. Even in the odd times she was awake when he wasn’t, he’d always kept clothed, hidden.
My life is a fairytale.
Looking at him, at muscle and plane exposed by disturbed blankets, the fluttering desire in her belly reminding her.
We’re married now. Truly married.
A marriage unlike her parents’, or Nancy’s, or Father’s, or even Peter’s, which she’d only glimpsed from Susan’s half-understood stories. Marriage to Vincent was unique, as different as he was from other men—she had to acknowledge that, even if there was no shame in the difference. It was to have and also to want, the way one might hold something so rare, so beautiful, so delicate, its fragility whispering, sacred, impermanent.
And that wasn’t the only difference.
Third time had been the charm.
Stronger, deeper, more…
My life is a fairytale.
She had theorized before, but their last time together confirmed belief.
They had climaxed almost simultaneously, again. That was impossible, right? Stupid to expect. All the Cosmo articles she’d read told her that. All her other relationships had taught her never to assume something so … romantic, silly … fairytale…
Did he wait for her? That had to be part of it. He may have demurred, asked her to control their love-making, and yet he somehow governed her reactions, or at least added to them. Perhaps it was just something about them, something about the bond brought them into accordance, transcendence. She could feel their bodies and hearts merging, so strong, so taut and then…
Thank god Peter hadn’t been home.
They had tried to be quiet, and mostly succeeded. She was still amazed they didn’t wake the baby.
Jacob chirped again, suddenly pulling her out of carnal reverie. She turned the infant to assess his clothing for comfort and caught an intent baby gaze. She offered him a tired smile.
We might not have woken you before, but now you’re up, aren’t you, little one? And despite all my mommy powers, I don’t know why…
As if he read her mind, he answered with a coo and some kicks.
She pulled him back in close and bounce-walked him over to the dresser to check his diaper again.
My life is a fairytale, but this is the part of happily ever after they never tell you about, she thought with chagrin, lying in a comfortable, warm bed with a baby that won’t sleep. She knew she would have to walk him around the house if he couldn’t settle.
The idea of walking was almost beyond her exhausted comprehension.
Please, baby, just go to sleep.
The changing area lay in front of the mirror on the dresser. It was impossible to do work there without seeing her reflection. She wished she had something more than just an open blouse and underwear to cover herself, but in her haste to make the baby happy, and to keep Vincent sleeping, she hadn’t had time to find anything else.
I’m not who I used to be.
She didn’t want to wallow on any one feature—stretch marks, stomach, nipples, sags—but she wasn’t pre-baby Cathy anymore. Vincent had shown her in a thousand ways that her outward changes were nothing to him, the least of his reservations or worries, but she couldn’t give them up, not yet.
Maybe if I hadn’t spent my entire pregnancy locked up, I wouldn’t have gotten so out of shape…
Don’t think about that.
She closed her eyes.
Don’t think about that, don’t think about that, don’t think about that, don’t…
“Catherine?” A drowsy question came from behind her, followed by the immediate rustling of thrown-off sheets and the donning of pants.
Vincent awake, the last thing she wanted…
…the only thing she wanted.
He enveloped her, his chest pressed against her back.
“You are too beautiful,” he said then kissed her neck, as if to answer her doubts. He let a little of his weight hold her there, and she was glad for the mooring. She consciously sighed away memory while regarding them all through the mirror.
He stayed there, holding her, watching the increasingly fussy baby from over her shoulder. Vincent’s closeness, the connection, was the reassurance she needed. She wondered if they’d ever been this close, in this way, before.
Yours, he had offered her then. He had reminded her.[i]
We are each other’s. It’s a fairytale…
“How are you?” he inquired, eyes catching hers in the reflection.
She smiled. “Do you have to ask?”
“No,” he answered, slightly shaking his head, the barest hint of self-satisfaction brightening his features. “But I will. I will always seek out your words, Catherine.”
She nodded, accepting his love, her mood turning aslant along with her smile.
“Well, I’m fine,” she said, emphasizing the “I”, and the subtle, but significant difference between her and the baby.
Jacob, his diaper changed, his tummy full—nothing wrong, but everything wrong—still awake, still fighting sleep. Now they would circle, calming and feeding the baby, with light sleep and more calming, into the rest of the day, the endless circle of parenthood.
She lifted Jacob from the folded towel they were using as a changing pad and turned to Vincent. Even in her weary state, she couldn’t help but admire the strength of her husband, the definition clearly visible beneath the short fur of his chest. How many times had she placed her head there to hear his heart, wishing there weren’t so many layers between them? There were none now, the lights of the outside just enough to view the excellence of him.
He is so beautiful.
The baby started to cry, bringing her appraisal to an end. Vincent pivoted from them, walking back to the bed and reaching for his shirt on the floor, clearly ready to take over.
“Wait,” she begged and he stopped mid-reach, shirt in hand, arm outstretched.
I want us. I want all of us together.
“Just lie down. I have an idea,” she promised.
With graceful deliberacy, he allowed the shirt to drop and slowly eased onto his back in bed.
She turned the baby until she had him under his arms. Her hands held him out from her and, while praying her jostling didn’t outrage him further, she placed the child face down on her husband’s bare chest.
Vincent didn’t quite know what to do, caught off guard, not knowing where to hold. The baby didn’t know what to do with the new position either, pushing up, twisting his head, letting his indignation be known with an outburst. Jacob’s fists grabbed hair and Vincent winced at the first pull, but finally, Vincent’s hands descended onto the baby’s back. The baby pushed against his father’s embrace in slight protest, yet Vincent’s sympathetic breathing, the rise and fall of his bellows chest, was a lullaby all its own. Jacob’s father breathed him up and down, the baby rocking with the swell of Vincent’s sea.
Catherine curled beside the men in her life, and carefully pulled the sheet up over them. She watched the interaction between father and son, almost holding her breath, but her intuition into both of them whispered, Right.
Vincent continued to rock the baby with his breathing, adding a soothing rumble here and there. Jacob asserted himself with a few more grunts and tosses of his head, but they came further and further apart. After about four minutes, he finally surrendered to sleep.
“He just wanted you,” she half-mumbled, beginning to drift too.
She had never thought to do this before, the Tunnels’ coolness against it, but she should have. The baby would have been more than warm enough on Vincent.
“He just wanted to feel connected.”
My life is a fairytale…
She laced her fingers into Vincent’s so both of them held the baby.
“Maybe that’s why so many people are unhappy,” she continued, closing her eyes, and nearly dreamt the words. “They’re just…disconnected.”
She smiled in sleep when she felt Vincent’s kiss on her forehead.
This is happily ever after, even if you only get it for a few moments.
This is worth everything.