Babylon and Other Stories

Babylon and Other Stories by Alix Ohlin Read Free Book Online

Book: Babylon and Other Stories by Alix Ohlin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alix Ohlin
and went to sleep, and Rachel stayed awake for hours, watching shadows and streetlights weave through the window. She waited for something else to happen, but nothing did.
    She went to the doctor. Everything looked fine. She heard the baby's heart beating along with the pulse of her own blood. Brian acted kind yet impartial; when she talked about the baby, he listened. He said nothing against the baby, about the money or the apartment or how or whether they could live on just his paycheck. Rachel also avoided these subjects, knowing they were knotty, inviting danger. She kept her worries to herself. She tried to maintain the certainty she'd held in the pit of her stomach, the push of the extra life inside her, but somehow the energy of these feelings seeped away from her, more and more quickly, each day. In the mornings she felt nauseous, in the afternoons she felt great, and at night she was exhausted and went to sleep right after dinner.
    One Saturday, at lunch, she asked Kevin if he understood what the word pregnant meant, and he said yes. She told him that he was going to have a little brother or sister.
    He put down his forkful of macaroni and cheese and appraised her. “You don't look pregnant,” he said, and gestured a bulge over his stomach.
    “It doesn't show yet. But it will soon.”
    “Okay,” he said.
    He started eating again, and Rachel felt herself plummet down into empty space. But then he said, with his mouth full, “Mrs. Tanizaki has a son.”
    “She does?”
    “He's fifteen,” Kevin said, and swallowed.
    “Is he your friend?” Rachel said, not understanding.
    He shook his head. “No. He sits in the room and eats sandwiches during my lessons.”
    “Oh.”
    “Lawrence is fifteen and I'm eight,” Kevin said. “When the baby's eight, I'll be sixteen.”
    “Yes, that's right.”
    “Sixteen,” he repeated. “I'll really play piano by then. I'll play for the baby.”
    Rachel smiled. “That's right,” she said.
    Mrs. Tanizaki loaned Kevin a book called
Simple Exercises for the Beginning Student.
When she presented it to him, the moment took on the aspect of a ceremony. Lawrence was not in the room, and it was very quiet.
    Mrs. Tanizaki stood up, took the book off the top of the piano, and put it in Kevin's hands. “I'm going to lend this book to you, Kevin,” she said. “It's my book, and I want it back eventually. But you can use it for now. I'm going to assign you exercises from it each week, and you'll practice them. Every day.”
    Kevin nodded and held the book loosely, afraid of damaging or marking the short, wide book with yellow pages, its cover already dog-eared and bent. He opened the cover and saw penciled handwriting on the inside:
Anita Osaka.
I-need-a, I-need-a, he said to himself, then looked at her.
    “That was my name before I married Mr. Tanizaki,” she said. “I've had this book for a long time. That's why you have to be careful with it, and give it back.”
    “Okay.”
    “I trust you, Kevin. I know you'll take good care of the book, and practice every day.”
    “Okay.”
    “Do you understand? Say yes, Kevin, not this ‘okay’ all the time.”
    “Yes,” he whispered. He was close to desperation. He had not told Mrs. Tanizaki that he had no piano to practice on, and was scared to tell her because she might say he couldn't take lessons anymore. Every two weeks his mother gave him an envelope with a check in it for Mrs. Tanizaki, and he brought it and laid it on the piano. It stayed there, undiscussed, until he left. They never talked about his family, or where he lived, or anything. The piano was their only shared element. Now he didn't know what to do. The book was ancient and valuable; he shouldn't have it. In his hands, as if by themselves, the pages flipped open, and he saw the long black lines stretching across the pages, notes rising and falling in small streams. As he looked, the notes wrapped themselves around him like ribbons of seaweed. He could not tell

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