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THE REDHEAD with the green eyes continued to play with my wife's breast. She stared at me with what I thought was undisguised triumph. I had prior rights to that breast. The redhead was an interloper, a latecomer, a spoilsport.
"Had enough, had you now?" my wife said to her. "Want to go to himself, do you now?"
The myth was that this eating, defecating, sleeping machine loved me more than her ma. She supported the myth by stretching out her arms to me and gurgling, "Da."
It wasn't really "da." Everyone knows that going-on-seven-months-old children cannot pronounce words. But Nuala Anne had decreed that the gurgle meant "da" and there was no room for dispute.
"The child definitely likes you more than me, Dermot Michael," my wife said triumphantly, a view which was supposed to mitigate my unspoken anguish that the witch had intruded into our marriage and taken my wife away from me. Or at least destroyed my monopoly. "Ma for food, Da for love."
The bewitching little girl snuggled contentedly into my arms and promptly fell asleep, a characteristic she shared with her mother. Fiona, our pure white family wolfhound, watched me suspiciously, not at all sure that I was capable even of the minor task of holding the little redhead in my arms. In Fiona's eyes I was strictly number three. The intruder had taken not only my wife but my good dog away from me.
This is all silly, the Adversary informed me. It is nothing more than a typical superannuated adolescent male reaction to the obligation of sharing one's wife with one's first child. Actually you adore the little defecating machine.
I generally disagree with the Adversary, an inner voice which constantly criticizes me. However, I had to admit that the small creature sleeping in my arms was moderately adorable.
"She's a changeling," I replied to the Adversary. "At six months she shouldn't be trying to crawl and shouldn't be saying 'da.' She's not altogether human. Didn't my mom say that most babies don't crawl till nine or ten months?"
And you didn't crawl till twelve months and walk till eighteen and talk until three and are barely toilet-trained even now.
Nuala Anne had tossed aside her robe and disclosed temporarily her spectacular naked body. I gasped inwardly. Fiona paced around anxiously, knowing that herself was dressing for her early morning run on the beach in the Indian summer sun. Breakfast for all of us, save the red-haired intruder, after her run and before my run.
A warning about my wife's name. It is definitely not Nuahla nor Nulla as in null and void. Nor is it "Null" like in "null and void" as some of my siblings call her, though not in my presence anymore. (She thinks my reaction to that nickname is "funny.") You might try "Noolah" with a touch of Galway fog in your voice or a bad cold and a long and soft emphasis on the "oo," as though you were negatively responding to an attractive invitation with a hesitant "no." I must warn you that she insists that it is impossible to pronounce it correctly unless you speak the Irish language, "and yourself with that terrible flat Chicago 'a'!"
"What was the matter with herself last night?" I asked as Nuala pulled on her running shorts.
Nelliecoyne is what is technically known as a "good baby," which means that she keeps regular hours and thus permits her parents to sleep through the night. It was unthinkable that any child of Nuala Anne McGrail, particularly a girl child, would be anything but a "good baby."
Last night, however, was another story. My wife and I are deep sleepers, particularly after a serious bout of lovemaking. Last night it had been mind-bending in its seriousness. Sometime in the depths of the early morning hours, I had heard as from a great distance an angry wail. I ignored it. Nelliecoyne was a good baby, wasn't she?
Fiona, however, was less easily persuaded by past performance, I felt her large snout nudge me.
"Go away," I told her.
Fiona thereupon barked loudly.
"What's wrong, Dermot Michael?" my wife demanded, her voice heavy with sleep.
"Your daughter is wailing."
"Is she now?"
"I'll go see what the trouble is," I said bravely.
"Ah, no. She's probably hungry and you can't feed her, can you?"
"I cannot," I said contentedly.
So Nuala bounded out of bed, and naked in the moonlight, dashed next door to the nursery, accompanied by the agitated Fiona.
Nuala always dashes. She also bounds. And slams doors.
The tyke continued to wail furiously, something had offended her sense of propriety and order. Her mother's nipple would not satisfy her.
We were spending time in my parents' home at Grand Beach in mid-October, when the place was deserted, to savor the color and the warmth of Indian summer before the arctic air imposed its winter penance on us and to celebrate the second anniversary of our marriage and the third of our chance encounter at O'Neill's Pub on College Green, just down the street from Trinity College. We would take turns each morning running on the beach, swim naked in the heated pool while Nelliecoyne would watch us under the careful supervision of good dog Fiona (who would chase squirrels for the fun of it but never run too far away), walk in the afternoon sunlight with our daughter in her traveling sack, and do our work, such as it was, in the time left over.
I would write a few desultory pages on the first novel of my new contract and Nuala Anne would practice the songs for her forthcoming disc Nuala Anne Sings Lullabies. She was far more serious in her work than I, but never pushed me to settle down and be as responsible as she was.
There were, however, two important reasons to escape Chicago during Indian summer--lovemaking and Nick Farmer, the "music critic" of The Observer, a Chicago magazine, who was grimly determined to wreck Nuala's career because he hated me. Without ever discussing it explicitly (the Irish are great at that) we both wanted to indulge ourselves in sexual abandon before winter came.
Orgy is what you mean, the Adversary sniffed puritanically.
I sleep with many different women: a shy, fragile, virginal creature, a sultry seducer, a playful child, an aggressive sexual demon, an outrageous tease, a warm and close friend. All of them are my wife. I am never sure which one I will encounter in our bedroom. I don't know whether she plays the game of being someone different every night with deliberate planning or whether it is mere random chance. I know her better than I know anyone else in the world. But I hardly know her at all.
Mind you, I'm not complaining.
As I heard her singing an Irish lullaby to our daughter, I imagined her naked in the moonlight, tenderly rocking Nelliecoyne in her arms against the background of the silver Lake.
"The October winds lament,
Around the castle of Dromore,
Yet peace lies in her lofty halls,
My loving treasure store.
Though Autumn leaves may droop and die,
A bud of Spring are you."
I sighed happily. 'Tis good to have a wife, particularly one like mine.
Normally Nuala Anne would not cross the bedroom without clutching some kind of protection for her modesty. But when the child wailed such concerns for modesty vanished.
Slowly, reluctantly, Nelliecoyne settled down. Her wail became a mild sniffle of protest. Then the only sound was yet another lullaby. Finally, my wife snuggled into bed next to me.
"'Tis all right, Dermot," she said. "Something upset her. Fiona is staying with her."
Good dog, Fiona.
I extended my arm around her and we both slipped back into peaceful and compliant sleep.
The next morning, as she was tying her running shoes, Nuala Anne explained why our "really good" child had disrupted the serenity of our mid-October repose.
"Och, wasn't it most likely the boat that was offshore?"
She stood up and reached for her running bra, always the last garment to be put in place, at least when I was present. Deliberate? To taunt me, to tempt me, to promise me? What did I know?
"That big five-masted schooner that was a hundred yards or so offshore."
"That one?" I said as an ominous shiver began at the base of my skull and ran down my spine. My wife is fey, you see. She sees things, usually from the past and, more often than not, things about which she and I must do something. Even the sight of her bare breasts, usually enough to cure me of any and all chills, didn't exorcise this shiver.
"Isn't it the one that is as long as your football fields?"
"You can put herself into the crib if you want, though like as not you'll want to hold her till I come back and tell yourself how much more beautiful she is than I am.…Come on, Fiona, girl, let's leave these slugabeds and get ourselves some real exercise!"
Nuala Anne and the dog thundered out of the house and bounded down the dune to the beach, two exuberant females liberated temporarily from their solemn duty to watch over Nelliecoyne and her inept and indulgent father.
Was unreal exercise what we did last night, exercise in which Nuala delighted in controlling the pace and action of our lovemaking?
I glanced out the window to watch them sprinting down the beach, a beach wider than it had ever been in my lifetime. My parents said that the March storms had swept in two mammoth sandbars that had lurked offshore for a couple of decades. There was debate in the community whether this meant greater hazard for houses on the Lake because the sandbars were better protection than sea walls. I was content with a better beach. But I've never been one with strong motivation to defer gratification.
The child stirred uneasily out of her sleep and whimpered a mild protest. I knew what that meant. So I changed her diaper, an exercise which the little monster seemed to think had been designed for amusement.
"You're a spoiled little brat," I informed her. "Your ma and your dog will spoil you altogether. It's lucky you have a stern father who will impose some discipline in your life."
That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard you say, the Adversary informed me. You're completely without discipline yourself and you're going to teach it to that poor child?
I had been joking, but if the Adversary was too ignorant to know it I was not about to tell him.
Nelliecoyne gurgled happily as I replaced her in her crib. She was not old enough yet to distinguish the various caregivers who waited on her hand and foot. We were simply "the other one" whom she had to remind periodically of her needs. Even the snow-white hound was not distinct from the rest of us, though she seemed to be particularly happy when Fiona's ridiculously massive head loomed over her.
But what did I know?
I knew one thing, however, for sure as I began to prepare the waffles and bacon for our breakfast. There were no football-field-long five-masted schooners on Lake Michigan. There probably had not been any for a century. Save for those which were on the bottom of the Lake.
We were back to our old games. Nuala Anne McGrail was having one of her "interludes" during which the past and present combined into one eerie netherworld of mystery and pain.
That was bad enough. However, I knew that my wife was fey when I married her. Now I also knew that my daughter, the placidly sleeping Nelliecoyne, was also fey.
The chill ran down my spine again. This time it didn't go away.
Copyright © 2000 by Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.