On Guard For You
This is how it happened. No excuses. Nothing to make me look better, or at , least not so bad. Moira had just stepped out of the bathroom, and after she’d gone, like I could see through walls, gave her a look, then clicked off her curling iron. Why she can’t remember to do that, especially now with little Larry tottering around, is beyond me. I picture him snagging a loop of cord, pulling the iron down, wrapping his hands i I around the bright rod. The idea of his fingers burning there makes me shiver.
She forgot to close the door, too, so within a couple of seconds, there was Larry, standing in the doorway, wearing his I-wonder-if-I-can-get-away-with-this smile. He bent, slapping his thighs in excitement, and took a step across the threshold.
I said, “Larry? What do you think you’re doing?”
He wouldn’t be a year old for another few weeks, but he knew perfectly well that he wasn’t allowed in the bathroom, where he could conk his head on the tiles, eat all the aspirin, or drown in the toilet bowl.
I’d just come in from my night shift, still covered with a film of of oil from the refinery, and my tub was running. Moira’s last words over the rush of water were, “Maybe for his birthday you could actually put in that shower.”
She has a legitimate gripe-I’ve been telling her I’d put in a shower ever since we’d moved into this place–but, tired, I responded by mouthing her words back at her, all singsory. Then I stepped over Larry to shut off the water, making it less fascinating to him.
He thumped his fists on the edge of the tub, thinking he’d be getting in with me, one of his favorite treats. But he was already in his snowsuit, dressed for day care, and Moira was heading out to her office, planning to drop him off on her way. And I’d be hitting the sack as soon as I got out of the tub.
Larry slapped the edge of the tub again, double-handed, shouting louder, and I said, “Watch yourself, Ace,” and stepped out of my pants, kicking them toward the hamper.
Larry had pulled the wicker hamper over on himself last week, climbing being his newest game. He’d scared himself silly. But at least he hadn’t figured out hour to scale the smooth sides of the tub yet. Even so, I naturally never took my eyes off him. Two inches of water, they always say, that’s all it takes, not even two.
We were in the middle of the standard January cold snap, so when I pulled my work shirt over my head, it stuck a little on my long johns. It took me two seconds longer than usual to get out of it. Trapped inside the shadow of my shirt, I thought of the way Moira’d say, “Undo the buttons, Lar”. You undress like a two-year-old.” But I grinned, thinking I’d teach Larry the same timesaving techniques: leaving the buttons done, stepping out of shoes without untying them. It’d drive Moira wild, but eventually, I figured we’d all get a laugh out of it.
When I came out of the shirt, I threw it toward the hamper in the same move, a little surprised not to see Larry there, clanging my belt buckle against the floor. Usually he waits for me to take off my pants just for that thrill. I glanced over my shoulder at the toilet, which was closed and safe, and for some reason, even as I shot a look at the empty, open doorway, my heart started to gallop.
I turned to glance at the gently swishing water in the tub, steaming a little, ready for my soak–and there was Larry, on his back, on the bottom, peaceful as can be, his arms stretched out. The water waved above him, and his eyes were wide open, looking at me a few hubbies escaping from his nose.
“Moire!” I shouted, thrusting my arms into the water, sweeping up Larry so quickly it seemed he could hardly be welt I mean, he couldn’t have been in that water any longer than two seconds, three at the very outside.
Moira was at the door in a second, something in my voice scaring her before she even saw us.
Larry, thank God, was coughing and sputtering, while water streamed like Niagara from his snowsuit onto the floor. I nearly slipped sitting down on the edge of the wet tub, almost dropping us both back into the water.
Moira screamed, “Larry!” though which one of us she meant wasn’t clear.
I was holding little Larry across my knees, belly down so the water could drain. Then I flipped him over, tugging at zippers, stripping him down being important for some reason.
Larry hadn’t started to cry, too busy coughing at first, I think, then too amazed at all the activity; his mom and me both pulling at his clothes. He stared at one of us, then the other, his eyes still as big as nickels, amazed to find himself there, but not unhappy, not scared-more curious.
Then, because Moira was almost in tears herself, saying, “What happened? over and over, Larry’s lip started trembling, and he reached out his now naked arms toward her neck. She let him clasp her, and as she stood, I held onto his snowsuit, dragging it off, taking everything else with it, so he hung from her neck in just his diaper, shaking now, with cold probably, and starting to cry.
I untaped the diaper, and it came away in my hand, weighing about a hundred pounds, having soaked up half the tub, thanks to whatever space-age material they use to make those things these days. Then I was left, holding the diaper, as Moira sped Larry out of the bathroom, cooing at him, leaving me standing there in my wet long johns.
Though the excitement was over, my heart was just starting to crank into gear. I sat on the edge of the tub again, beginning to shake. I looked at the water, at where Larry had been lying so quietly. There W2S a bit of blue fuzz from the snowsuit stuck to the side of the tub, and I picked it off.
Only two days earlier, in swimming class (Moire’s idea because she doesn’t know how to swim), Larry had progressed trom submerging his mouth and nose to a complete head dunk. He came up after that first dunk, squirting a stream of water from his mouth, like spitting out a watermelon seed. We d laughed, holding him tight in that chlorinated pool, wondering where he d learned that. I wondered now why he hadn’t done that squirt this time. Not that bobbing in a ring of toddlers and their parents, singing “London Bridge,” was anything like lying by surprise on your back in a bathtub, but that’s what I wondered anyway.
I got up, grabbing the sink to keep from going down on the wet floor. Dropping a towel onto the mess, I walked out after Moira and Larry, my wet feet slapping against the linoleum.
Although she was still dressed for work, Moira was in our bed, wrapped around Larry, the blankets pulled up to their necks. She was tickling his chest, singing quietly about the Animal Fair and the big baboon combing his auburn hair. Larry was giggling, and when he saw me, he turned, smiling even wider. This would be like a Saturday, I could see him thinking, all of us rolling around in our bed, tickling each other, getting trapped beneath the blankets by the roaring monster, the Gozzard.
I shivered again, starting to work the top of my long johns over my head with trembling fingers. Wet as it was, it clung like a snake’s skin, and I bent over, tugging, frantic to get out of the same trap that, minutes before, had nearly cost me more than my life.
When I finally had the thermal top over my head, the sleeves still handcuffing my arms, I looked at the bed. They were both sitting up now, looking at me. Larry slapped his thighs, waiting for me to jump in.
“He seems okay,” I whispered.
“What happened?” Moira asked, like she really wanted to understand, not like an accusation, as I’d expected.
I was ready with, “You left the door open,” but the way she asked the question made me realize how childish that answer would sound. “One second,” I said, instead, shaving the time. “That’s all. I was taking off my shirt.”
I remembered a video shown at our childbirth class, about children’s safety, and how every parent of a drowned child said, “I only took my eyes off him for a second.” I looked at the floor.
Then Moira said, “He was hardly wet. The water didn’t even get to his socks.”
That sounded like she was letting me off the hook, and alter a second, waiting to see if she’d say more, I wriggled out of the pants of my long johns. Still, without looking at her, I went to the foot of the bed, lifted the covers-the Gozzard’s sneak attack from below.
“Larry,” Moira said, and this time I knew she was talking to me.
I peeked up, holding the blankets to my chin, ready to dive.
“I’ve still got to go to work. He’s still got to go to day care. You’ve got to get some sleep.”
I shook my head. “I’ll take him later. When he’s calmed down.”
Moira gave Larry a look meaning if he got any calmer, he’d be asleep, and I let the blankets droop.
“Take your bath, Larry,” Moira said, sighing. “I’ll get him ready again.”
I did as I was told, still waiting for her to make that one false move, showing that, though she was going to be good about this, treat it like an accident, no one’s fault, she wasn’t ever going to forget that, single-handedly, I nearly killed Larry only a few weeks before his first birthday.
I stepped into the water, shallow now with all that had been sucked and splashed out, and sat listening to Moira talking to Larry, and his answering whoops and babbles. After awhile, I turned on the faucet, full hot.
While the steaming water was swirling into the tub, Moira came to the door of the bathroom, holding Larry in her arms. He was still as naked as the day he was born. He squirmed for me, yelling to be let go.
“Let him come, Moira,” I said. “Let him take a bath with me.”
“You’ll die if you don’t get some sleep,” she answered, but she was already lowering him to the floor.
He raced to the side of the tub, running out of control, and gave one almost unseeable heave over the edge and was in my lap so fast I wouldn’t have been able to catch him if my lap hadn’t been there to save the day.
Moira’s eyes widened at the quickness of it. I saw that, and knew that when she was gone I’d thank Larry for that display. But, while she was still there, watching both of us in the tub (her Larrys, she sometimes called us), she only bit her lip.
“I won’t let go of him,” I promised. “I won’t take my eyes off of him. Not ever.”
Moira looked at me a second longer, still chewing on her lip. “Yes, you will,” she said. “We both will.”
I clutched Larry hard enough so that he turned to see what was wrong, already straining away from my grasp. “Of course we will,” I whispered, lifting him up high, making him laugh.
“I’ve got to go,” Moira said, and she blew us both a kiss.
Larry waved bye-bye, a first, and I almost called Moira back to show her.
But he’d be doing that forever. There’d be plenty of time for her to see.