MUSED Literary Magazine.
Fiction

I Think We'll Really Like It Here

Marion Immerman

Clare struggled through the chilly airport with an oversized cat carrier in one hand and Amelia’s little gloved one clutched firmly in her other. She stopped and reached in her bag for a scarf to wrap around her little girl and then continued through the airport to the street. An unseasonable late April wind stabbed at them as they stepped through the sliding doors and Clare shivered from the cold, but from fear as well. She wondered what lay ahead for them in their new home. She worried what it would be like to raise her little girl all alone. What was left of the winter was ugly and un-welcoming. Clare hadn’t considered the need for boots, and the remains of a late snow left slushy gray puddles for them to traverse between curb and cab. She put down the cat and lifted Amelia across the puddle and into the cab.

The view outside the taxi window was gloomy and grey. Amelia reached over and stuck her fingers into Otis’s carrier. She was far more interested in the old calico they had brought from home than the sooty skyline outside the cab’s windows. The drugs they gave the cat had done the trick and he was still docile despite his hours of containment and the bumpy walk through the terminal. Clare was relieved just to be on solid ground herself. The constant noise and vibration of the airplane had left her grouchy and disagreeable. Her own pill hadn’t worn off entirely. They had been awake for hours, traveling back from Heathrow just this morning. But because of the time difference, it was still mid-afternoon in Philadelphia.

* * *

Their last morning together, Clare woke to find the windows open, the breeze swaying the curtains of their small bedroom. The morning light cast Rodney in a pinkish glow. She watched from bed as he prepared for his day. Amelia was still asleep.

“Stay a little longer,” she asked him.

“I’ll be late,” he said. He was already buttoning the silly red jumpsuit he wore for his job as tour guide on one of those big red buses, sharing facts and stories he had only recently learned himself. His bright red curls and friendly nature made him a natural for the job.

“Come on, the bus can’t leave without you,” Clare said burrowing deeper beneath the covers. He was easy to convince. She waited for him to unbutton his uniform and crawl back in bed beside her.

Clare wished that she had listened. She wished she had never asked Rodney to come back to bed. It wasn’t until late afternoon, when they were out returning books to the library, that she heard about the attack. The news rattled her and she hurried Amelia home feeling the need to protect her. But she didn’t know that Rodney was involved until he didn’t return home that night. The terrorist bombing of the bank he happened past on his way to work that horrible morning took so many lives including his.

She blamed her own greedy desire for the cruel twist of fate. The circus around it took months from her own life, but served a purpose too. Clare stumbled through her days distracted by a protective cocoon of confusion and disbelief. That period of unimaginable guilt and grief was followed with several more dazed months when she wandered room to room around the familiar brick house in London stunned and disoriented, uncertain what to do.

She woke some mornings and expected to find Rodney still sleeping beside her. Then she remembered what happened and a chilling rush of fear washed over her. She pulled the covers high and hid beneath them, until Amelia came tugging at her sleeve. Then she rose quickly to start their day. Clare knew that if she was ever going to get past the death of Rodney, and make a new life for the two of them, she had to leave the physical memories behind. The smell of his shaving cream still lingered in the shower, the half bottle of vitamins remained above the sink, the dent in the chair where he liked to read; all made her remember him too much. Clare decided to return to Philadelphia. Her parents still lived there and Rodney’s were close by. If Amelia couldn’t have a father, at least Clare could give her grand-parents. Rodney’s life insurance, an uncharacteristically practical gesture, made it possible to move.

Just six weeks ago on a blustery March morning, after all the packing was finally finished and the last of the furniture had been loaded in, Clare and Amelia stood on the curb in front of their old flat in London and watched as the big metal container was sealed for travel. They huddled close together against the cold. Clare felt small and vulnerable standing beside the big truck. Everything they cared about besides each other, Clare’s parents and Otis was in that box.

“Don’t cry,” she comforted Amelia as Clare sobbed herself. “Your tears will freeze.”

The words made Amelia smile. She waved her small gloved hand as she watched the moving truck drive away. Clare wondered how long it would be before she saw her possessions again. But she didn’t let them linger; she hurried them off in the opposite direction to their favorite little tea shop down the street for hot milky tea and scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. In no time, Amelia was seated amidst the big chintz cushions, warm from the tea and sticky with jam, and the movers were all but forgotten.

* * *

As the cab pulled up in front of the hotel where they would stay until their belongings arrived, Clare felt for her wedding ring and rolled it between two fingers of her other hand. She never thought she would have to make such momentous decisions all alone, and she wondered if Rodney would approve. The hotel was one of those new suite configurations, a living room and a bedroom with a small kitchenette. Hardly homey.

“I’m hungry,” Amelia said opening the small refrigerator’s door and finding it completely empty.

Clare had forgotten about food and this small omission almost unhinged her. She and Clare returned to the lobby, and in the small shop, just a few shelves beside registration really, she found canned soup, crackers, and cereal for Amelia’s breakfast. After feeding her daughter, she ran them both a bath. The room quickly filled with a fragrant steam and the soapy bubbles felt silky and soft. They soaked until the water cooled. Then Clare wrapped Amelia in a big terry towel while she looked for her pajamas. A short while later, she was in her own pajamas, feeling small in the other queen sized bed. It was very late in the time zone they had traveled from and before the sky was fully dark they were both asleep.

“Mommy, Mommy, you gotta wake up. Now! I can’t find Otis.”

Amelia stood at Clare’s bed side, her wide green eyes level with Clare’s own. She shook her mother awake. For a brief moment, Clare thought they were still in London before she remembered where they were and why. “What time is it? I thought he was in his carrier,” she said. Clare squinted at the sunny room and slowly began to focus.

“He looked so lonely. I let him out so he could sleep with me.”

“Oh, Amelia. Really?” But Clare knew now was not the time to get angry. Otis’s medicine must have finally worn off leaving him disoriented and afraid. “We’ll find him. He couldn’t have gotten off too far. All the doors and windows are shut. He must be in here somewhere. Let’s just have a look see, shall we?”

“Uh, Mum, why don’t you sound like the people here?”

Clare smiled. “Sorry, lovey,” she answered rising from bed. “Too much time away, I guess.”

“That’s okay. I kind of like it. It reminds me of home.”

“Oh, Em, come here.” She stopped to give her daughter a hug. “This is going to be home. You’ll see. I think we’ll really like it here.”

Clare grabbed her robe from the foot of the bed and rose to look for Otis. She remembered some dry treats still in her bag from the plane. She put some in a bowl for herself and filled another one for Amelia. They walked back and forth between the two small rooms of their suite calling Otis’s name, hoping either their familiar voices or the sound of the rattling food would attract the cat’s attention. Otis wasn’t far, only hiding underneath Amelia’s bed. He came right out at the sound of the morsels. He must have just been looking for food in the first place. Clare realized she forgot to feed him the night before. She hadn’t even thought to put out litter. Cat care had always been Rodney’s job. If she couldn’t take care of Otis, Clare wondered now, how would she ever take care of Amelia?

“Well, disaster averted,” Clare said. “Now shall we have some breakfast? Fetch me the tea from my purse, would you, love.” Meanwhile, she heated the packaged oatmeal she had bought downstairs for Amelia.

Moving to America did not provide the solace Clare had hoped for. Living in a hotel was living a life in limbo. She was delighted when the mover called to announce the delivery of their belongings, but the elation didn’t last for long. What had filled the small apartment in London looked small and lonely in their new home. The blue velvet chair in the living room still held a dent from the hours Rodney sat in it and read. Wiping down the dining table after she and Amelia ate, she stroked the scarred surface recalling the many happy hours they had spent around it. Their footsteps echoed on wooden floors and Clare cried herself to sleep at night. In the mornings, she lingered in bed reading the newspaper, letting Amelia color beside her. Clare wondered if she had made the right choice. What was the point of leaving London if all her memories had followed her here? But she didn’t really want to forget. She wished Rodney could tell her what to do.

Clare struggled to make Philadelphia their home. In the three empty months before Amelia started school, she took Amelia to all the places she loved the best. They visited the Liberty Bell, the Art Museum and Reading Market. Like London, Philadelphia was old and charming. They took the train to Lancaster where Rodney’s parents lived, but without him with them they spent too much time reminiscing. Amelia’s green eyes and curly red hair, reminded Rodney’s mother of her son and she cried each time they left. Clare and Amelia always felt lonelier than when they arrived.

What Amelia loved the best was the local pool, a novelty to a child accustomed to chilly London summers. Clare sat dutifully at the edge while Amelia splashed around at her feet. Other mothers chatted casually in circles all around her, but Clare was afraid to take her eyes from her daughter even for a minute. Clusters of other children splashed close by the edge, but no one talked to Amelia either. No one seemed to wonder who they were, this new pair in town. No one said hello or expressed any interest in them at all.

“Hi,” Clare would venture when Amelia was safely by her side. The other moms always nodded politely, but did not welcome her into their own tight circles. When Clare packed their beach bag at the end of another afternoon, she always felt a little sad.

Other warm days, she and Amelia travelled by bus to Atlantic City. Driving on what was now the wrong side of the road unnerved her, but she knew that soon she would have to buy a car. Most of the other passengers were off to the new casinos that had sprung up in profusion, but a few like them, carried beach bags filled with towels and toys and sandwiches for a day at the shore. The beachfront town still retained a tattered grace; its tacky quaintness reminded Clare of Brighton. From the rowdy crowds and custard stands along the boardwalk to the endless stretches of sand and pounding waves, Amelia wanted to go there every chance she could. She loved it, building castles in sand softer than she’d ever known, bouncing in the waves, playing carnival games, and eating sticky taffy on the bus ride home. Clare was soothed by the warm sun on her skin and the freshness of the ocean air.

“Oh, look mommy, chips,” Amelia said pointing to a stand selling boardwalk fries as they walked toward the bus depot late one afternoon for the trip back home.

Clare stopped, never in any hurry to return to the empty house, and another quiet night alone. She placed an order, then turned and handed Amelia the fries, seasoned with salt and vinegar just the way she liked them. She loosened her grip on Amelia’s hand, just for a moment, to reach for her wallet, and when she turned back to her daughter, she was gone. Suddenly the boardwalk seemed filled with people, though it was no more crowded than it had been a moment before. Every one of them looked strange and dangerous, though this too, was certainly not true.

“Amelia, Amelia,” Clare called out, looking down the boardwalk first one way and then the other hoping to see her daughter’s purple sunhat in the crowd. She looked out to the sand, but knew Amelia never would have wandered back down to the beach alone. People close by sensed her panic and soon several people were also calling Amelia’s name.

Clare stood on the boardwalk, afraid to move, knowing Amelia would have no way to find her if she did. That hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach, the one she remembered feeling when she first heard about the bombing, and again when Rodney didn’t return home that night, began to form and she worried she might be sick. Someone led her to a bench and offered to find a policeman. Someone else brought her a glass of lemonade. Clare’s mind raced to kidnappers. She worried that it would soon turn dark. She wondered if she would ever see Amelia again.

She sat on the bench for what felt like forever, but really wasn’t very long at all. A woman came and sat beside her. The woman made soft cooing sounds and said, “there, there.” She took Clare’s hand and held it in her own.

“Mommy, mommy” she heard Amelia’s small voice call.

Clare turned to the sound and saw her walking towards her down the boardwalk. She dropped the woman’s hand and ran toward Amelia. She was still clutching the fries, most likely soggy now. A young woman held her other hand. Another kind stranger had come to her daughter’s aid.

“Amelia, where did you go?” she asked as she threw her arms around her, too relieved to be angry. “I was so worried about you.”

“I followed the birds,” Amelia said. “They looked so hungry. I wanted to give them some chips. I was going to come back. Mommy, why are you crying?”

“She looked a little young to be alone,” the young woman said. The woman was young herself, with a friendly smile and a gentle voice. She could see why Amelia trusted her. “So, I suggested we look for her mother.”

“Thank you for finding her.” The woman nodded and walked away, and Clare turned her attention to Amelia. “Mommy, was scared,” she answered her daughter’s question. “You can’t wander off like that.” She couldn’t imagine losing Rodney and Amelia too.

Often after dinner, Clare and Amelia sat on the back deck of their new house eating juicy slabs of watermelon and spitting the seeds into the wind. As dusk turned into dark, Clare watched Amelia run through the grass, her long white nightgown flowing behind her, as she collected fireflies in a jar which they later placed beside her bed. Amelia seemed content. But sipping her wine in those soft summer evenings after she had tucked her daughter into bed, Clare wondered again if she had made the right choice. She wrote long letters to her friends back home and checked the mail each morning hoping for replies.

One evening, late in August, long after Amelia was asleep, Clare heard her front door bell ring. She expected no one. She knew no one to expect. She rose from the deck and moved through the quiet rooms. She opened the door, but the front porch was empty. She almost tripped over the bottle of wine and the basket of brownies at her feet as she ran barefoot across her front lawn to greet the retreating neighbor.

“Wait,” Clare said. “I’m here.”