Franny and Douglas sit out in the little garden where so much has happened in the lives of our Pine Street friends. She still thinks of it as Marilyn’s house, although it is very much taken over by Douglas and Louise, and often by little Penny. David has gone to work, and Douglas and Louise are childcare plan A.
This day in mid-May is unusually warm and calm. Louise has taken Penny in the stroller for a turn around the neighborhood. It is, Douglas shares, often the only way the little girl can sleep. “She has such a hard time soothing herself,” he describes to Franny. “You’ll watch her in the crib. Her eyes close, her body starts to relax, and then, just as you imagine she’s dropped off to sleep, every little muscle stiffens and her eyes open wide. Most of the time, she cries, but sometimes she just stares.”
Franny hears the worry in his voice, sees it in his body language. “I’m sure Penny will get through it, this stage or whatever,” she offers lamely. What do I know about babies? Or about self-soothing, really, she asks herself. “Is it that, a stage, do you think?”
“I hope so. I wasn’t around, you know, when David was a baby. This is my first time seeing what they’re like. They are so… mysterious. Like little aliens visiting from another world. Almost human, but somehow completely separate from us, too.” He shifts his lanky frame, which still strikes Franny as a bit fragile, as if he never completely regained his strength. “But what about you, my dear? Your writing, your teaching, how is it all going?”
Before she can answer, he adds, “And things with Leo?”
There are days when Franny curses the pandemic year because of the way it forced her to live with Leo, to deepen their relationship when she wasn’t ready. And there are days when she gives thanks for it, for the exact same reason. Without all that had happened, she’d most likely be stuck in the same pattern of distancing: comfortable, cautious, essentially alone.
She has not shared this with anyone, yet, but she tells it all to Douglas now. And adds her own fears about looking forward: are any of them ready to think about a future, yet?
It’s as if their conversation is medicine. Both feel stronger when Louise and Penny return, the little girl fast asleep, looking like an angel.