Fiction Fiction Issue

L. Debard and Aliette

A love story

When Aliette sees him swaying there on the sidewalk, his face pale, she puts a hand on her belly. A soldier and his girl pass between them, but they don’t notice. When she turns, L. is beside her, gripping her arm too tightly.

He drags her into the building and to the doorman’s empty room. A thin wedge of light falls across her flushed cheek.

“You didn’t tell me,” he says. “How long?”

She stares at him, defiant. “Since May,” she says. “That first time, I think.”

“My God,” he says, then leans his forehead against the door, above her shoulder. She is pinned. He rests his stomach against hers, and feels a pronounced thump, and another. “My God,” he repeats, but this time with awe.

“A good swimmer, I’ll bet,” she says, daring to smile a little. But he doesn’t smile back. He just stands, leaning against her, until he feels another kick.

.....

They wait until December, a day when Mr. Huber has returned to Wall Street and Rosalind has gone shopping.

Once the house is empty, they pack only what she needs. In the cab to Little Italy she squeezes his hand until it goes numb. The driver is singing boisterously to himself.

“You’re kidnapping, you know,” she whispers to L., trying to make him laugh.

He looks away from her, out the window. “Only until we can figure out what to do. Until you have him and we can be married.”

“L.,” she says, ten blocks later, “I don’t want to be married.”

He looks at her.

“I mean,” she says, “I would rather be your mistress than your wife. I don’t need a ring and a ceremony to know what this is.”

He is silent at first. Then L. says, “Oh, Aliette. Your father does. And that is enough.”

.....

His mother, aged with recent grief, meets them at the door. She looks at her son, and touches his lip where his moustache had been. Then she looks at Aliette, and holds open her arms to embrace her.

.....

The detectives don’t come looking for Aliette for a week, unable to find out where L.’s mother lives. When at last they do, she hides the couple in her bedroom, and opens the door, already talking. In her quick jumble of Italian, the detective who knows the language passably becomes confused, then tongue-tied, then shamefaced when he tries to tell her why he is there. “L. DeBard,” he says. “Noi cerciamo L. DeBard.”

She looks at him as if he were the greatest fool the world had seen. DeBartolo, she cries, hitting her fist on her chest. She points to the card in the door. DeBartolo. She throws her hands to the skies, and sighs. The detectives look at one another, bow, and leave.

In the bedroom, L. and Aliette listen to this barrage, and press tightly together.

.....

The next day, Aliette goes into labor. Though the baby is more than a month early, Aliette is very small, and it takes a long time. From morning until late at night, L. paces down the street, finally going into a bar. There, he discovers Tad Perkins drinking himself into a stupor, alone.

“Isn’t that old fishface L.?” Tad cries. “My God, I thought you damn well died.”

“You’re not that lucky,” L. says, laughing with great relief. “You still owe me thirteen dollars.” He sits down and buys Tad and himself four quick martinis.

Later, staggering slightly, he goes out into the street. The moon is fat above. When he reaches the apartment, all is still. His mother sits beaming by the side of the bed, where Aliette sleeps. In his mother’s arms, he sees a tiny sleeping baby. A boy, he knows, without being told.

.....

When Aliette awakens, she finds L. sitting where his mother was. She smiles tiredly.

“I am thinking of names,” L. says, hushed. “I like Franklin and Karl.”

“I have already named him,” Aliette says.

“Yes? What’s my son’s name?”

“Compass,” she says. And though he presses, she won’t tell him why. At last, grinning, he accepts the name, vowing to nickname him something more conventional. He never does. After the child is a few months old, L. will find the name suits his son to perfection.

.....

They have a month together in that tiny flat. L.’s mother bustles and looks after them, feeding them elaborate meals, and rocking the baby while L. reads Aliette his new poems.

“You are growing into the best poet in America,” she says.

“Growing?” he jokes. “I thought I already was.”

“No,” she says. “But now you might be.” And she lies back, letting the words from his poems sift into her memory. She looks a little ill, and doesn’t complain, but L. can see that something is not right with her. He worries. At night, he hears a soft rasp as Aliette grinds her teeth in pain.

.....

Soon, the detectives return. L.’s mother does not let them in this time, but their voices grow loud in the hallway. They shout and rage at her. At last they leave. L.’s mother is shaky and collapses into a chair, and puts a cloth over her face, and weeps into it, unable to look at the couple for fear.

L. looks at Aliette. “I am taking you back,” he says. “I’ll keep Compass with my mother.”

Aliette says, very quietly, “No.”

“Yes,” L. says. He tells her that he knows she is ill and her father can afford physicians that he cannot. If she returns without Compass, her reputation will not be tarnished, and no one will know about her pregnancy. Later, when they marry, they can adopt him. Their argument is quiet, but goes on for many hours, until Aliette finally succumbs to her illness and the pain and his arguments. She has been afraid that she is growing worse: she feels herself weakening, and allows herself to be convinced about something that, if she were stronger and less frightened, she never would have countenanced.

At last she clutches Compass to her chest and smells her fill of him. Weeping, feverish, longing for him already, she agrees to go.

.....
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