I liked to hide. I liked to be in a place where no one could see me or find me until I wanted them to. A place where no one could tell me what to do, or even say that they liked or didn’t like what I was doing, like adults. I liked it the most when, from where I was hiding, I could see and hear other people but they could not see me. Then I could watch them without worrying about them watching me back. If another kid was hiding with me, that was okay, because they didn’t count. Especially Molly. I never wanted to hide from her.
Molly’s mom brought Molly over to play with me. Molly’s mom always wanted to talk about the baby in my mom’s tummy.
“Jane, you look like you’re ready to pop any day now!”
Mom nodded and rolled her eyes. “Joan, I’m a week from my due date. I’ve had some contractions, but my doctor says they’re not real labor yet.”
“They say the second one generally comes quicker than the first!” Molly’s mom was always trying to tell my mom things like that.
“I’ve heard that too. I’d be happy if it is quicker this time. Cloob…”, she paused and made a funny face like she wasn’t sure what to say next, “I was in labor with Jonathan for twelve hours! I’m counting on this one being a lot quicker.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. She had used that word “labor” before but I was afraid to ask her what it meant. It seemed like something that women talked about with each other but not with men because it was too embarrassing. If I asked I was afraid that she would think I was being bad, or that word I’d heard, “naughty”.
“So know that Jack and I are always ready to take you to the hospital if Eric can’t do it for some reason. You have all our phone numbers, right?”
Mom pointed down at her foot. “I do. You and Jack are sweethearts! I keep the list in my sock all the time, since these damn pants don’t have any pockets! I’d show you but I’d have to bend over.”
Both women laughed. I started to laugh too but I didn’t know what we were laughing about. Molly didn’t laugh, and she looked at me and made a funny face.
Molly’s mom took my mom’s hand and looked at her very serious. “Jane, I appreciate you watching Molly while I do the shopping. It won’t be more than an hour. I’ll be at the A&P if you need to call and get them to find me there. You know I’ll watch Cloo…” she paused then said, “Jonathan any time you need me to. And when your time comes, call me or call Jack and we’ll drop whatever we’re doing and take you to the hospital if you need that, or watch this guy”, she said pointing at me.
Again I was uncomfortable because they were talking about serious things and I felt helpless. I wanted mom to get that baby out of her really soon so things could get back to normal.
Mom got that look where her big blue eyes got kind of watery and she made a sort of pretend sad face. “Joan, that means so much to me! And make sure to tell your Jack that he’s a sweetie!” They squeezed each other’s hands one last time and Molly’s mom walked across the street, got in their car and drove off.
Mom looked at the two of us and smiled. Then she looked at Molly like she was thinking what to say to her.
“I’ve been telling Jonathan that I’m going to have a baby any day now and he’s going to have a younger brother or sister. Your mom said she talked to you about it?”
Molly nodded and said carefully and seriously, “Yes Misses Zale”, like she was using words someone else told her to say but not her own.
Mom made her biggest smile. “If I can call you Molly, you can call me Jane. Okay?”
Molly’s shoulders relaxed and I could tell that she was happy my mom said that. “Yes… Jane”, she said with more of her regular voice.
Still looking at Molly, “We won’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl until he or she is born, but I feel like it’s going to be another boy. We’ll see if I’m right again this time. Not that I wouldn’t be thrilled if it was a girl like you.”
Molly kind of squeezed her face thinking, and finally nodded.
“Well, okay”, mom said, clapping her hands together. “I’m going to sit in the backyard and try to get a little sun. You two are welcome to play in the basement or in the backyard.”
Molly’s eyes found mine. “Show me the island”, she said. I had told her the day before about what I had made with all the dirt.
“Okay”, I said and i started to run around the side of the house and Molly ran after me.
I stopped by the big tree and looked at the fort I had built under it. I had used pretty much all the dirt my dad and I had gotten. The green good guy soldiers were along the walls and in the towers of most of the fort, but the gray pirates had captured part of the fort and were in that part.
Molly came up next to me and surveyed the whole scene, thinking. She got down on her hands and knees and slowly crawled around looking at everything carefully. She pointed at the green figure that had one hand pointing and the other holding a pistol.
“Is that the good guy captain?”
She crawled over to the part of the fort where the gray soldiers were.
“These are the pirates?”
“Yep.” I was pleased she was getting it and that she was taking so much time to check out every part.
She pointed at the gray figure with his hands on either side of his waist and his elbows sticking out.
“Is that the pirate captain?”
“What about these guys?” She pointed at three green soldiers lying on their side in the dirt in the part of the fort where the gray soldiers were.
“They’re dead”, I said, as seriously as I could.
“And these guys?” She pointed at two more green soldiers surrounded by gray soldiers.
“Captured”, I said.
My mom walked by carrying a clear plastic bottle. She was wearing white shorts and a white shirt that covered her big stomach.
“Not to interrupt you”, she said, “But I was wondering if Molly wanted to see how the tomatoes and cucumbers are growing.”
Molly bounced up on her feet all excited, nodded, and ran across the grass towards the back of the yard. She let her body fall to her hands and knees in the grass right in front of the garden. I was mad that she seemed more interested in the plants than the dirt island, but I ran after her. Mom more slowly followed us.
So mom proceeded to tell Molly about the tomato and cucumber plants like she had told me before. I got down on my hands and knees next to Molly, not so much because I wanted to look at the growing tomatoes and cucumbers again, but because I did not want to be left out.
But Molly was quickly satisfied after looking closely at the green tomatoes turning red and the tiny hotdog shaped cucumbers with their little hairs, which she ran her fingers over. She stood up again, her knees and elbows green from the grass. She looked up at the sky and made a funny face with her mouth.
My mom saw that and said, “Well okay, I just thought you’d like to see how they are growing. Again, you two are welcome to play here out back or in the basement.”
Mom walked over to the lawn chair and carefully lowered herself down into it, groaning as she did. Once in the seat, which was in the sun, she put a pair of glasses on that were dark in front of her eyes. She squeezed some clear liquid into her hand from the clear plastic bottle she was carrying and rubbed it up and down her other arm. It made her skin look all wet and shiny. She did the same thing with the other hand on the other arm. And then on each leg from inside her shorts down to and over her feet. Next was her ears and neck and down under the collar of her shirt. Finally she carefully spread some of the liquid on parts of her face, making a funny expression with her mouth as she did. When she was all done, her body was all wet looking and shiny in the sun. She put her head back and just sat there quietly. It all seemed like a strange thing to do. The crazy things adults did. When I looked at Molly, I could tell she was thinking that too.
Molly looked back at me. I could see the little blue circles in her eyes in the sun. I could tell she was thinking things, lots of things, but I could not tell what. When she was thinking just one thing, I could usually tell what it was. I always liked it when I was with her. I liked watching her think, and waiting for her thinking to turn into talking.
“Let’s hide!” she finally said.
Her idea surprised me. “Where?” I asked.
She looked at me and tilted her head. “I don’t know.” I could tell she thought I should know where because it was my backyard.
I tried hard to think of a place but could not right away. She gave me a fierce look like she was waiting and expecting me to come up with a good idea. I finally thought about the spruce tree.
I walked over to it and she followed me. I moved a big low needle covered branch aside, and then a second one, to where an open space was on the ground by the trunk between those two and other low branches. It was dark in there and the ground was covered with needles that had fallen off the tree and turned brown.
Molly nodded like I was showing her a good hiding place. I held back the branches as she crawled in, the needles crunching softly under her knees and hands.
“Now close the branches and see if you can see me”, she said from inside.
I did, and walked away from the tree and turned to look at it.
“I can’t see you”, I said.
“I can see you”, I heard her voice from inside the tree. “Now you try it!” She crawled out, pushing her way free between the branches. She held back the branches like I had and I crawled in. The needles pricked at my knees and hands and the smell went up in my nose and tickled inside it.
She was right. From inside the tree I could see her but she could not see me. It was strange how that worked, but it was a perfect hiding place.
She managed to part the branches herself and crawl back in. The hiding place was small, and for the two of us to sit in it together we both had to squeeze right next to each other with our knees together and pulled up almost against our chests. I felt her arm and leg press against mine. She felt warm. The smell of her body mixed with the smell of the tree. I was happy and not worrying at all. I could tell she was happy and not worrying either. Pressed against each other I felt we were two parts of the same thing.
“Coob”, she whispered my name but she didn’t need to, since it was only the two of us. I liked the easy way she said it. It would just pop out of her mouth, rather than the “Cloob” that my mom and dad were calling me now, that was harder for your mouth to say. I knew my name was supposed to be Jonathan, my parents only called me that when they were talking to other grownups. And I knew that it was not supposed to be John or Johnny, which was what other grownups tried to call me and made my mom tell them not to. “My mom told me a baby is going to come out of your mom’s tummy between her legs”.
“My mom told me too”, I said, wanting Molly to know that I knew as much about it as she did. Though mom had not told me the between her legs part. How could that happen anyway?
“It could be a girl like me or a boy like you”.
I heard her say that and it hit me that Molly was supposed to be different than I was, but I couldn’t figure out any differences. Her hair was longer than mine and I wondered why that was so important.
I tried to stretch my mind to understand it all, but I couldn’t. “It doesn’t make any sense!”
“I know”, she said, “My mom said that it would when we get older”.
She paused, thinking, then asked, “You think you and I will ever be a mommy and daddy and have a baby?”
I couldn’t imagine I would ever be like my mom and dad or the other grownups. It made sense to me that I would get older and get taller, but they were completely different than us, like they were dogs and we were cats.
“I don’t think so!” But now I wasn’t sure and it made me worry.
She patted my hand with hers. “Don’t worry about it Coob!”
We sat there quietly for a while. I figured she must be thinking a bunch of different things because I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. My mind zoomed all around that I might be different than Molly and that I might be a grownup someday like my dad. It was a strange world outside of our hiding place.
“Cloob! Molly!” It was my mom’s voice calling out, making my mind stop zooming. She worked hard to rise out of the chair and stand on her feet. We could see her looking around but we knew she couldn’t see us.
We glanced at each other but didn’t say or do anything. We just watched. She called our names a couple more times then picked up the clear bottle of the stuff she had rubbed on her body. Then she slowly walked by us and on into the side door of our house. I could hear her calling our names inside. Finally she came out the side door again looking worried and walked to the front yard and called out our names with her loudest voice. Then she came back into the backyard not far from the spruce where we were hidden and called our names once again.
“Oh dammit”, I could hear her voice almost crying. Molly and I still did nothing and said nothing. She went back in the side door.
“This is the best hiding place”, Molly whispered in my ear, “We can stay here forever if we want to”.
“Yeah”, I whispered back. All sort of thoughts zoomed around in my head. Things were changing too much out there. Something was going to come out of my mom between her legs and change everything. Molly would get a big tummy too and she and I wouldn’t be two parts of the same thing anymore. The grownups controlled everything. It wasn’t fair.
A car finally pulled up across the street and it was Molly’s mom. She got out of the car and ran across the street towards my mom who was sobbing.
“Oh my god Joan, I can’t find them!” My mom’s voice sounded very scared. “They were in the backyard with me and I think I dozed off and now they’re gone!”
Molly’s mom said, “Take a deep breath Jane, they’ve got to be around somewhere! You stay here Jane and I’ll go over and look in our house and backyard, and then look in the park and walk around the block!”
“Okay”, mom said, taking quick deep breaths now. She put her hand out against the side of the house and cried. Still next to Molly, hidden in the spruce, but less than ten feet from mom, part of me wanted to come out and tell her that we were here and everything was okay. But now I felt afraid that she would be mad at me for not responding when she had called for us. Molly was quiet next to me but I could feel her tension.
Molly’s mom looked very serious. “I’ll be back in five minutes, ten tops! We’ll find them!” She ran across the street towards their house.
“Jonathan! Molly!” My mom yelled the words in her loudest voice. “Where the hell are you two? Oh my god… please no!” She was breathing fast her eyes were red and wet, and her face was afraid.
Still Molly and were quiet and did not move. It was like we weren’t really there anymore but we were.
After a while, our car pulled into the driveway. My dad got out and went over to mom.
“Eric dammit. I can’t find them! Where the hell did they go?” She sobbed some more and my dad looked like he was thinking very hard.
Dad’s voice was very calm and like he was trying to be in charge, “Liz, don’t worry. We’ll find them”, like she was making it a big deal but it really was not. “They can’t have gotten far! Did you look everywhere in the house?”
My mom made a very angry look at my dad. “What do you think I am Eric, an idiot? Of course I looked everywhere in the house, ten times!” She put her hand to her forehead and leaned against the house, still sobbing.
My dad looked hurt by her words. His mouth closed and his face got very stiff.
At that moment, Molly sneezed. Then she giggled. Both my parents’ heads turned toward the spruce. Dad quickly came over to the tree and moved the branches enough to see us.
“Here they are Liz. They’ve been right here all the time!” His face relaxed to a smile.
Mom came over and looked in the gap now between the branches to see the two of us. She glared at me, “What the hell do you think you were doing? Why didn’t you say something when I was calling you? I thought something awful had happened to you two!” She put her hand on her forehead and closed her eyes. “Oh my god!”
I felt hurt and mad that my mom had said those angry words to me, and my mind was blank, like I couldn’t think, or feel anything else. Everything was suddenly moving slowly and I felt very, very calm.
“Get out you two”, dad said very seriously. Molly and I crawled out, crunching over the pine needles.
Mom’s eyes were still closed and her hand still on her forehead, now leaning against the side of the house. “I don’t feel well”, she said.
“Liz”, dad responded, “Are you going into labor?”
“Let me sit down for a minute and get my bearings.”
Mom started for the side door, but Molly’s mom appeared, running up the sidewalk towards our driveway where we were all now standing. “Oh thank god, you found them!”
Dad explained to her that the two of us had been hiding in the spruce the whole time and not responded to any of their calls.
As she listened to the explanation, Molly’s mom rolled her eyes, shook her head, and let out a big breath. She kneeled down in front of Molly.
“Molly Wheeler”, her voice was quiet, not loud and angry like my mom’s, “When Cloob’s… Jonathan’s mom called you two, you didn’t say anything?”
Molly’s eyes narrowed and she squeezed her lips together and shook her head.
“Did you know she was scared that something might have happened to the two of you?”
Lips still squeezed together, Molly said nothing. She glanced at me and I could see in her eyes that she was trying to help me.
Molly’s mom stood up and looked at my mom. “I am so sorry Jane!” then noting how my mom looked, “Jane? Are you all right? Are you having a contraction?”
My mom breathed hard and nodded. Finally she said, “I believe I’m having one right now!” She looked down at her wrist. “It’s two-fifteen”.
“Have you been having them today?” Molly’s mom sounded concerned, “You didn’t say anything when I left Molly here and went to the store!”
“I’ve been having them off and on but nothing strong or regular”, mom was puffing air out of her mouth, “But this one feels much stronger”. More puffs. “When it finishes, let me lie down and pull myself together and see how long til the next one comes.”
Molly and I stood there silent. The three adults were talking about things that were way beyond us, almost like they still couldn’t see us. I thought about Molly having to grow a baby in her tummy some day. I thought about mom’s sharp words to me a moment ago and I still felt mad. Now there was silence all round as mom continued to puff out air.
Finally mom put her hand on Molly’s mom’s shoulder and took one long deep breath. “Okay, it’s done!”
Molly’s mom put her hand on mom’s, and patted it three times, “Okay… Jane… Eric… how can I help?”
Dad said, “Liz, should I take you to the hospital?”
Mom stretched her eyes open big after having them closed while she was puffing air. Her eyes quickly looked at dad, then at Molly’s mom, then Molly, and finally focused on mine. I felt her looking deep into me. Her eyes weren’t angry anymore, but I felt like they were saying, “Well… here we go”, and for just a quick moment she did not seem like an adult, but seemed more unsure like me and Molly.
“I’m going to lie down”. And then she was like the good guy captain telling his soldiers what to do. “Eric… can you fix me some tomato juice on the rocks and then sit with me until the next contraction comes. Joan… can you take these two characters over to your place for now? I’ll have Eric call you when we decide what’s what.”
“Okay dear”, Molly’s mom said, “Call me as soon as you know!” Then looking at Molly and me, “Okay you two, move out!”
We followed her across the street to Molly’s house. I could feel things were going to change. At least Molly and I were solid, for now.