“Lili, just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“What? Oh, I’m getting ready to go. And you should be getting ready, too.”
“C’mon, you’re tired. You’ve been telling me that all week long. We should call Treve and cancel. We can go to his place some other time.”
“But this is special, Doug,” she said, “He said that Yipran is at home now, and feeling a bit better. She can receive visitors now.”
“Tired pregnant visitors who really should be sleeping?”
“And their brand-new, overly protective husbands, too,” Lili said, pulling off her chef’s whites. “Oh, what to wear? What to wear?”
“The blue dress,” he said, coming close and putting an arm on her waist. “It drives me wild.” He kissed her neck.
“I don’t think it quite fits these days,” she said, turning around and kissing him. “Besides, Doug, everything drives you wild.”
“And you have a problem with that? Let’s stay in. You don’t seem to be getting so much morning sickness. Reversal business is done – let Treve handle all of that. It’ll be you and me, and it’ll be like it was before, and we will go see Treve and his mother, I dunno, maybe tomorrow.”
“Tempting as your offer is,” she said, “we promised we’d be there tonight! Besides, tomorrow is some festival or other – the Calafans have a million of ‘em and I don’t know which one that is. So we’ll go tonight, we’ll have a nice time, and then we can go home and sleep all weekend, all right? And, um, do other things if morning sickness permits.” She kissed him deeply.
“I see your plan Miss O’Day – er, Mrs. Beckett. Yanno, I gotta get used to saying that.”
“You gotta get used to me getting to be as big as a house,” she said, “Here; could you help me with this?” She had slipped on a light violet maternity dress but was having trouble with the catch at the neck.
“But of course. And we don’t stay more than an hour.” He turned her to face him. “Don’t look at me like that. Those aren’t my orders; those are Doctor Miva’s. If you won’t come home early ‘cause of anything I say, will you at least listen to your own obstetrician?”
“Okay, you win. One hour. Thanks for the indulgence.”
The drive through Fep City was a slow one, as they were still getting used to street signs in the Calafan alphabet. They drove up and down Dary Street a few times before they found the side street – Imspi. Treve, Lili’s business partner, was waiting in front of a squat one-story house to greet them. He was a young Calafan man, completely bald and with solid silver arms. He was in his twenties. Next to him was a young teenaged girl, his sister, Yimar. “Ah, you made it! Our mother will be so pleased!” he enthused.
He let them in as Yimar guided Lili a bit. “How are you feeling? My brother said you’d been sick.”
“Oh, I’m just pregnant,” Lili said, “although I have to tell you, I didn’t expect to get quite so sick all the time.”
“Huh. I don’t think we get sick,” said the young girl.
“It’s good to be a Calafan, eh?” Lili smiled.
In the front room were an elderly woman and a very young boy. The young boy was the youngest sibling – Chelben. And the woman, looking far older than her years, was Yipran. She sat there, head shaking a little bit. She was dressed in an exquisite blue and pink robe, and there was a dull greyish metallic cuff on her left wrist. Chelben got up and came over. “We went to Reversal last week. I tried the chicken. It was pretty good, kinda like linfep.”
“I remember!” Lili enthused, “And I remember you really liked the fish tank, too.”
“Yes!” said the little boy, “I’ve never seen anyone keep water animals before.” He ran to another part of the house.
“He’s so excited,” Treve said, “I think he may be looking for something to show your husband, maybe an art project or the like. I’m the man of the family now, but my brother – I think he’s still a bit skeptical of all that.”
“And your father?” Doug asked quietly.
“Still in the prison,” Treve said, “My mother knows, but not the details. One day, I suppose, she will learn or will figure out that Father was trying to poison her with potassium injections. Until then, though, we are living as normally as we can. She is very glad to see you and Lili. I know it’s not that obvious.”
Lili brought a chair over to where Yipran was sitting. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
Yipran just sat there, looking. The sleeve of her robe slipped a little, revealing complicated silver scrollwork on her arm, but it was fading. “Mother,” Yimar said, “Lili asked how you were feeling.”
The older woman raised her left hand very slowly. She trembled and the corners of her mouth turned up and down a bit, and then she slowly opened her mouth. Very, very slowly, she said, “B-better.”
“That’s wonderful to hear,” Lili said, “I don’t know how much Treve told you about me, and about our business. Well, we opened Reversal really recently. It’s a restaurant, not too far from here, at the corner of Dary and Enne Streets. I’m the chef. Treve does, oh my gosh, he does everything else. He’s wonderful. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without him. And, and, when we opened up the restaurant, that was right around the time I discovered I was pregnant. My husband, you see Doug over there? He and I, we’re going to have a boy. And we’ll name him after Doug’s parents, so he’ll be named Jeremiah Logan Beckett. I think we’ll call him Joss.” She paused for a second, realizing she had been babbling a bit.
“Maybe,” Doug said, smiling at her.
“I know you don’t have last names,” Lili continued, “but we humans do. And we changed ours, because this is a fresh start for us. So Doug’s last name was Hayes but now it’s Beckett. And mine is, too, because when we found out I was pregnant, we felt it was only right that we should get married.”
Chelben ran back in, with a drawing of what looked like a rabbit with fangs. He brought it over to Doug, who perused it carefully. “Oh, it’s a linfep,” Doug said, bending over to look. “This is pretty good.”
“Thanks, Doug!” Chelben ran out again to find some other treasure to show off.
“Mother, Lili is a good friend of ours,” Yimar explained to her mother, who still looked rather bewildered, and extremely frail. “She and her husband are humans. They don’t have calloo,” she indicated the complicated scrollwork on her mother’s arms, “Lili has tattoos made to look like calloo, see?” Lili hitched up a sleeve to show Yipran. “But they are kind friends. Doug is from; he is from the other side of the pond, where the night people live. We got him here a few months ago. Helping him is what got Treve out of the prison – the government rewarded Treve for helping. As for, for Father, he will be out soon. But the, my understanding is, the government wanted Father in prison for a bit longer. But he will be out and, and we will be a family again.” No sense in telling Yipran about why her husband was incarcerated, or the affair that had led to the potassium poisoning or any of that. It seemed unnecessarily cruel and hurtful to give such a fragile person so many unpleasant details.
Yipran looked at Lili and raised her left hand again slowly. She then – and it seemed like a supreme effort of will to do so – crooked her index finger. Lili scootched her chair over, a lot closer. “Yes?” Lili said.
Yipran carefully, with fingers trembling and dancing, traced complicated scrollwork engravings on her bracelet. There was a part that was somewhat faded and softened, and it appeared as if thousands if not millions of hands had briefly touched it, in worshipful reverence. Yipran had been the High Priestess of the Calafans before she had become incapacitated. The piece had something to do with her ceremonial role, as did the robe that she was wearing. Yipran took the cuff bracelet off and held it for a second before presenting it to Lili.
“For, for me?” Lili asked, “I couldn’t. I, this is a cultural artifact, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Treve said, “but it doesn’t have to belong to the High Priestess.”
Chelben came back in, this time holding another drawing. “Oh, uh, is Mother allowed to do that?” he asked, referring to the transfer taking place.
“She is,” Yimar said, “you haven’t had enough schooling yet, but there have been all sorts of different people who’ve owned that cuff. Both men and women, too, although I don’t think a non-Calafan ever has before.”
“We, uh, we shouldn’t take anything from you if it’s not allowed,” Doug said.
“It … is … per-permitted,” Yipran said, another supreme effort of will as she spoke.
Lili gently accepted the gift. “I imagine this is unique,” she said, slipping it onto her left wrist. “How extraordinary it is. The scrollwork looks a bit like your calloo, and like my tattoos.”
“Y-yes, it, it is to, to mimic that,” Yipran explained slowly.
Doug looked at a clock on the wall. Over an hour had already passed. “We should go,” he said, “Lili needs to rest up for the Monday lunch rush and all that.” He helped her up.
Yipran looked up at them. “The, the cuff … it will … it will go to her … th-third ch-child.”
“I’m only on the first,” Lili said, “And he’s a miracle, so far as I’m concerned. I don’t know if two more are in the cards. But I thank you. We’ll come back and see you soon, all right?”
They made their good-nights and left. In the car, Doug said, “Third?”
“I don’t know,” Lili said, giggling a little nervously.
“Let’s just get through with having the first one,” he said, “we’ve had all sorts of big changes lately.”
“Every day with you is a big change in my life. Without you, none of this would be possible, or even fathomable.”
“Same on this end,” he said, parking in front of their tiny apartment. “Thank God it’s Friday and thank God for you.”