"Her name is Eva," Sylvia told us a few hours later, when she woke up. "Eva, named for you, Evan. I couldn't have… I mean, she wouldn't have… If you hadn't helped…" My mouth slowly dropped, and I just blinked several times, feeling tears piling up behind my rapidly moving eyelids.
"I don't think… I mean, you shouldn't name her for…" I stopped, feeling my throat filling with tears. "Didn't you pick a name with your husband?"
"Yes," Sylvia said softly. "We picked Emily for a girl's name and Trey for a boy's. But how different is Eva from Emily?" She reached out and took my hand. "You've been so good to me. You've helped me, and you haven't even stopped to think about your own problems." With a slight smile, she finished quietly, "And I thank and respect you for that, and will do so until the end of time."
"Thank you just seems so weak right about now," I whispered, touched. Sylvia laughed and sniffled.
"Yeah, well I'm crying too." I squeezed her hand gently, and bent over to look at the sleeping baby on the bed. Her head seemed unnaturally large, with strange red spots and a small, wobbly neck. I took one of her tiny hands and brought it close to my face. She had this clean, fresh sort of smell, combined with the smell of the bathroom soap. Her fingers were tiny and bendy, and her nails were even smaller. Her whole hand in comparison to mine was what startled me most. My hand swallowed hers alive.
"Eva," I whispered. "You're going to live in a beautiful world, you know that?" I kissed her hand gently, careful not to scrape my poorly shaven face against her soft, smooth skin. Everything about her seemed so perfect, and I was determined not to ruin it. "Are you going to move her to the crib again?"
"Soon," Sylvia breathed, running her hand down her child's back. "I'm just so…"
"Overcome with feelings?" I finished wryly. Sylvia smiled slightly.
"Well, who wouldn't be?" Marissa asked softly from beside me. "She's beautiful." I merely smiled. I had grown used to the fact that Marissa couldn't quite understand my sense of humor, as much as I tried to make her get it.
"I wish she had a toy, or something," Sylvia murmured suddenly. "A doll or a stuffed animal. Doctors always say how that helps their grip, or something or other." She looked at us hopefully, but Marissa shook her head.
"I've got nothing," she sighed. I started to shake my head, but then I stopped mid-way.
"Wait." I stood up and walked over to the closet with my bags. I ripped through two full bags before finding what I was looking for. With an unintentionally loud "aha!", I jumped back into the room, waving my prize around. "Here you go. Orange." I passed over my childhood bear, and smiled broadly. "I got him as a baby, and I think he's served me well. Time to move on, don't you agree?"
"If it's your baby toy," Sylvia started, but I held my hand up.
"Let her have it. From one Evan to the next… um, Eva." I smiled slightly. "It's a great bear. Orange. That's his name. Orange."
"Orange?" Marissa asked, smiling slightly. I shrugged.
"Figures." She sighed, and leaned in close to Eva. "She's so beautiful. Sometimes I wish I could have a baby."
"Not at this age," Sylvia and I answered immediately, at the same time. Marissa grinned.
"That sounds like my parents." The smile slowly slipped off her face, and she turned away from us. The mood shifted, and suddenly I felt worried again.
"We should get the doctor back," I said quietly. "I mean, we've got to check that she's okay and that you're okay…"
"He said we're fine, and we are," Sylvia said firmly. Even though the glum look had gone back in her eyes, she still had a spark of joyous fire gleaming in her face.
"How do you know?" I asked. She smiled, and ran her hand down Eva's back again.
"I just know."
I left it at that.
After Eva's birth, the feeling and atmosphere in the room changed considerably. With the birth of the beautiful baby girl, suddenly everyone felt relaxed. There wasn't the constant worry about Sylvia giving birth at any moment. There was the problem of room, though. With seven people in what would normally be a four-person room, things began to get crowded. Gabrielle was moved out of the crib temporarily and every night she slept on a pile of blankets on the floor. Bathroom time became a problem too. Bathing the kids now took an unnaturally long amount of time.
But the worst problem was keeping them entertained. Now that Eva was born and breathing, Brooke's formerly calm demeanor disappeared. She began to cry at night and scream during the day for her father. She needed round the clock attention in order to stay quiet, and that was far from easy. David, who for a nine-year old was pretty calm, also started to get fed up with being indoors all day long. He began to act moodily and spent most of the day in a dark, taciturn mood.
"If Joseph was here, at least it'd be interesting," he muttered, folding his arms across his chest and glaring at the wall. Whenever we tried to get him to explain, he closed up, locked up residence, and wouldn't talk for hours. For a young kid, his attention span was certainly long.
We were strictly forbidden to leave the hotel, and the downstairs were either echoingly empty or loud, crammed and full. With little to do in the room, we picked up the markers, and drew.
At first only David drew. Once again, I was struck by how mature he seemed. His drawings had a depth to them that I couldn't match. I had loved drawing when I was younger, though I wasn't good, not by anyone's means. David was good. Then Marissa joined him. Her drawings were incredible, too. She drew faces like they were. First there was Sylvia's face, drawn from before, but each day she bent down on the ground and drew a face of someone in the room. She sang softly as she drew, and her voice was beautiful and soothing. It was comforting in that room, listening to the scratching of the markers against the wall and Marissa's beautiful singing voice. Sometimes Sylvia joined in, when she knew the song. Then one day she sat down with Brooke, and the two picked up pens. We were beyond the corner now, and now they were just drawing on the walls. Brooke drew stick figures and awkward scribbles. Sylvia sketched some silly cartoon-like images, and then one incredible picture of a clown. When asked about it, she just laughed and said she didn't like clowns.
I joined them differently. The next morning, before they all woke up, I picked up one of the pens and began to draw. I was drawings planes, boats, houses, faces, angels, demons, cars, and feelings. David, always second to wake up, looked over at me, blinked a few times, and then smiled. He climbed out of bed and joined me, filling in the empty spaces in our drawings with white-out.
Another week passed like this, until we got the call.
The day didn't seem any different on that day than any other day. We were still hungry, still tired, and still frustrated. Or, at least, everyone else in my room was. I'd fallen into the pleasant rhythm and though I felt guilty about this, I was enjoying myself. I still couldn't feel any sorrow from the flood, and even worse, I felt glad.
This morning went like all others. The five elders were on the floor. The babies were in the crib, sleeping peacefully. We were hunched over our masterpieces on the floor when the phone rang. We all turned to look at it, surprised and intrigued. The phone never rang in our room, and instantly emotions ran high. I stood up immediately.
"I'll get it," I announced, but it was unnecessary to say so. The phone was already in my hand. I lifted it to my ear and said, "Hello?"
"Um, room 1224?" a voice on the other end asked.
"Yes," I answered, and unable to restrain my curiosity, I added, "Who's this?"
"This is the front desk calling. Is there a Felder family here?"
"Yes," I said, unable to keep the suspicion out of my voice. "Why?"
"There's a group of Felder's coming up to your room," the voice continued. "Their home is suitable for moving into again. They think you're family." There was a pause. "You… you are missing people, right?"
"Yes, yes, send them up," I said softly. "Thank you." I hung up the phone, and blinked several times feeling a strange sense of nausea around my stomach.
"What is it?" Sylvia asked distractedly, not looking away from her drawing.
"David." The boy turned and looked at me, both eyebrows cocked in expectation. "Your parents. They've found…" I stopped, noticing the look on the boy's face. It went from expectant to ecstatic, to angry, to disbelieving. I swallowed, and finished. "They've found you, and are coming up." David blinked once, twice, and then turned back towards the wall. I met Sylvia's eyes with a bemused expression as the boy resumed his drawings calmly as though nothing had just happened. Marissa grabbed David's arm and turned him away from the wall sharply.
"Didn't you hear? You're going home!" David shook her off violently and turned back.
"No, I'm not," he said in a low voice. Marissa grabbed him again and literally picked him up and threw him down on the rollaway. Brooke let out a small cry, and hid behind her mother.
"Yes, you are! Your parents are on their way up! You're going home, unlike the rest of us!" she cried, gripping him tightly. With a strange half-punch, half-slap, David shoved her off him, and stood up, eyes ablaze. Eva began to whimper as she woke up, but David didn't notice.
"No, I'm not!" he shouted. "Because it's not going to be them! It's going to be someone else, or a dream, or a nightmare, like every other time! There's nothing that can get me out, not screaming, not waking up. We're going to be stuck here forever because nobody cares!" Tears streamed down his face, and Marissa sat back, stunned. I stood, still frozen to my spot, feeling the tumbling in my stomach intensify. Eva's cries faded away, and she fell asleep once more.
There was a silent moment in room 1224 which was interrupted by an abrupt, sharp series of knocks at the door. I managed to get myself unstuck and walked to the door, breathing in deeply to calm myself down. David didn't move from atop the bed, though the tears had stopped. Marissa seemed unable to look up and Sylvia was watching the door expectantly with a touch of sadness. I opened the door to reveal a small boy standing there, maybe five or six years old. I didn't recognize this ecstatic kid and was about to ask him what he wanted, but then it hit me that the little boy there looked uncommonly like David.
"David?" he asked. "Is that you? David?" His voice had the slightest hint of a lisp, and the wistful expression on his face as I let him in nearly broke my heart.
"You're not Joseph," David said coldly, breathing heavily and running to my side. His fingers wrapped around my shirt. "I'm imagining you."
"David, it's me!" The boy stopped a foot away from us, and tipped his head to one side. "David, what…" There was an expression of naïve confusion on his face.
"You're not real!" David shouted, holding onto my shirt tightly, tugging on it.
"David, what… I've been waiting. I've been bored. And everyone keeps crying, and Mom and Dad were so scared about you and I don't…" He stopped, and held his hands out.
"He's here, David," I whispered. "It's not just you. He's here."
"Joe?" The little boy stepped forward until he was just in front of his brother, and then David let go of my shirt and threw his arms around the small boy. "Joseph, god, you're here, real!" The two fell together in a hug, and both began to cry. It was all I could do not to join in.
"Joseph, what's wrong?" a woman asked, coming in through the door. "You're…" She fell silent as she looked down at the two boys crying, and suddenly her face twisted and she whispered weakly, "David? This is it… room 1224. David."
"Mommy," came the answer, in just as disbelieving of a voice as hers. The woman fell to the ground, and wrapped up both her sons in a teary hug.
"And Gabrielle?" a man from above them asked weakly. Behind him was an old man in a wheelchair, fast asleep. This tall man simply stood there, looking like he didn't know how to react. David's father, with his mannerisms. The same stunned silence his son had. "David, you had…" The man began to breathe heavily, holding onto the doorframe with large hands.
"Here," I said quietly, stepping forward. Sylvia, Marissa, and I had simply stood on the side to let this family reunite, but then I remembered that we had a member of their family in our room. Sylvia stood (Brooke one step behind) and handed Gabrielle to her father. Almost instantly, the baby began to gurgle happily. Her mother began to cry again, and reached one hand up to stroke her baby's face.
"My Gab, my Gab," she breathed, still on the ground and holding her sons. "You took care of them?"
"Yes," Sylvia said softly. "I fed her. Me. She needed it." David's mother nodded absent-mindedly, and continued rocking on the floor with her still-crying sons.
"And they took care of us, too," Marissa added suddenly, joining us. "David's a sharp kid. He deserved a lot more than sitting in a stuffy room for a while."
"Thank you," the father said. "I don't know how I can possibly thank you more, but… thank you so much."
"You're welcome, I suppose," I said, "but anyone would have done the same." I bit my lip and asked, "Are you going home now?"
"Yes," David's father said, nodding absent-mindedly. "They've cleared it all out and we can go back in. Our house seems to have had little damage. We're flying out tonight."
"Tonight?" Marissa asked suddenly, and I noticed how her eyes filled with tears. "How… how did you find them?"
"They waited," David's mother whispered. "They waited until our house was ready to bring us back together." With a watery chuckle, she continued. "I don't think whoever thought this plan up is a mother." She looked up at Marissa, and added, "If you're missing your parents, they'll only be told where you are when your house is suitable again." Marissa nodded, and stepped back. A muscle in her jaw twitched as she clenched and unclenched it.
"Well… good luck," Sylvia said, breaking the silence. "Take care, I suppose."
Awkwardly, we stood around watching them uncertainly, but then David disentangled himself from his mother and came up to Sylvia. He hugged her, hugged Brooke for a long time, and then hugged Marissa. He gave Marissa a small peck on the cheek, at which she laughed. Then he hugged me tightly. I bent down slightly and hugged him back.
"Take care, buddy," I whispered. "I hope to hear great things from you one day. David Felder? You'll see. Someday, you'll be big and famous, and then I'll be proud." We broke apart, and he returned to his parents. My stomach rolled as I watched him rejoin his family. With an awkward wave, and one final smile, they left the room, shutting the door behind them.
Sylvia sat down on the edge of her bed, and murmured softly, "Well… At least someone's going home."
"But my house was wrecked," Marissa whispered, tears pouring down her cheeks. "And… and Ma won't be able to wait. She'll worry, and we'll be stuck here forever." She bit her lip, and wiped at her eyes. "I can't… I can't…"
Unconsciously, I stepped forward and wrapped her up in a hug. She fell against me, shaking as she sobbed. I held her gently until she stopped crying and broke away.
"You miss them," I said softly as she sat on the edge of the rollaway. "You miss them."
"Yeah, I do." The words came out softly, and then with a strange little laugh, she added, "And I'm going to miss David and Gab."
"Mommy?" Brooke asked suddenly, causing us all to turn our heads.
"Why did David leave?"
There was a pause, and then Sylvia said quietly, "Because that was his family, sweetie. He belongs with them. His mommy missed him, just like you miss Daddy." Sylvia reached out and gently stroked her daughter's fine hair. "They're his family."
"But isn't Evan his daddy?" Brooke asked, turning to look at me. I instantly relaxed, and unable to help myself, I smiled.
"No, darling, I'm not," I assured her. "I'm nobody's daddy. I'm nobody's anything." Brooke said nothing, and leaned back against her mother without another word.
The rest of the day was like that. Almost mournful. The room felt so quiet and empty, and every moment felt wrong. We were waiting. Waiting for the phone to ring and for this ordeal to be over. Just… waiting.
The next day felt off too, but slightly better. We resumed our drawings, and for the first time, something changed. Marissa, instead of drawing one of us as she always did, began to sketch faces entirely unfamiliar to us all.
"Who's that?" I asked her, pointing at the face she was working on.
"Are you sure?"
It was impossible to argue with her, so I just let it go, returning to my own work. I was busy trying to draw Lawrence as I had last seen it, but it was proving to be trickier than expected. Instead of constantly making mistakes, I was drawing on the wall in pencil with the intention of going over it all again later.
Three days later, four days after David and Gabrielle's departure, the room still felt emptier, and suddenly felt emptier still. A quick, abrupt phone call informed us that there was a couple down in the lobby waiting for us. Surprised, we abandoned our posts at the wall, slipped on a "Do not disturb" sign, and went downstairs to a relatively empty lobby.
"Déjà vu," Sylvia muttered upon entering the lobby. "Just like day one."
"Less crowded this time," I said. "Anybody see a reason why we're down here?"
"I think…" Marissa stopped dead in her tracks, breathing heavily. "I thought, for a moment…" She bit her lip, and then screamed out, "Ma! Ma!" With crazed movements, she ran forward and flung herself into the arms of a small, skinny woman halfway across the lobby, who instantly began to cry.
"Ari, darling!" The woman and Marissa hugged tightly, and then the woman cried out, "Our baby's back!" to a man somewhere behind her. The huge, lumbering guy came out of nowhere and wrapped them both up in a hug. After a moment, Marissa pushed her parents away and said, "You're embarrassing me, Ma." Marissa stepped forward to us, and sighed.
"Well, guess this is goodbye. I get to go home," she said softly.
"Thanks so much for watching over our baby," the woman said, smiling through her tears. "I was so worried."
"She barely needed watching," I retorted. "She did the watching." Sylvia chuckled from behind me, and Marissa grinned slightly.
"You were a wonderful help, and you're a wonderful girl, Marissa," Sylvia said gently. "It was an honor to meet you, and if you lose touch with me, I'm warning you. You're still Eva's godmother." Marissa blushed, laughed, and took another step forward. She reached over and hugged me first.
"Maybe I'll get a sense of humor later in life," she whispered before letting go. I laughed slightly, and made a face. Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks glowed pink with a warm happiness.
"Doubt it." I smiled at her, and said, "Don't worry so much. Being serious is good, but it's more important that you appreciate yourself. You're a wonderful person, Marissa. You're an incredible artist and an amazing singer." I squeezed her hand gently, and added, "It would have been impossible to do this without you." We hugged again, and I let go and stood back.
Then she reached over and hugged Sylvia, careful not to bump into the sleeping Eva in her hands. The two held each other for a long time, and then Marissa bent down and kissed Eva's forehead.
"She's beautiful," Marissa told Sylvia, smiling gently. "Really." Finally, Marissa bent down in front of Brooke, who had a stubborn expression on her face, almost of denial. "Can I get a hug?" Marissa asked, holding her hands out. Brooke nodded, and let Marissa hold her for a moment or two.
Then she asked, "Why are you leaving?"
"Because this is my family," Marissa said softly. "You're also my family, and I'll see you again, but right now I have to go with them." She kissed Brooke gently, and straightened up. "Bye, guys." We waved slightly, awkward once again, and began to head back. I couldn't help but turn back once again to see how she fell into her parent's arms, talking and laughing. Again, something turned inside of me, and I felt that it was hard to swallow. Sylvia was already crying, and Brooke was crying silently. Knowing that this was not the time to break down, I took Sylvia into my arms and held her for a moment.
Then I broke away, and said softly, "Let's go back."
The hotel was emptying, and we felt it. When I went down the next day to replenish our food supply, the kitchen was empty for the first time since our arrival. There wasn't the usual bustle and nervous feel to the air. The cook was relaxed enough to chat with me—though only for a moment.
"Everyone's leaving, you know," he said, thrusting a small box into my hands. "We're actually letting other people in again." Then, almost as though realizing that I was there, he squinted at me. "Why are you still here, again?"
"They still haven't located everyone in my room," I explained. "I'm waiting for my roommates to be reunited with their family, and then I'll just be leaving again."
"You're not waiting for anyone?"
"It's weird that you're sticking around, then," the cook said with a shrug. "Anyways, if you want proper food, you might be able to order later. Or come down to the restaurant. We're reopening."
"There are kids."
"Oh. Maybe not. Anyways, you should leave soon, or they'll make you leave." With a shrug, he added, "I don't think they're going to want a bunch of leechers for free for much longer." I nodded slowly, and muttered, "Right…" Then I went back upstairs to the room.
We began to feel it, too. It suddenly felt right to step out and notice how the hallway was empty and clean. There wasn't as much bustle, not as much noise, and everything had a softer, gentler pace to it. Each day I noticed people leaving, and each day we waited for the phone call that would make it final.
There wasn't much in the room anymore. We were four, now. Down from seven. Each one of us had their own bed, and even when we were awake we were separate. Sylvia was practically catatonic, simply sitting in her bed and staring ahead into nothing. Brooke played all day long with the wall, drawing nothing drawings and mostly talking to herself as she touched the older things we had done. Eva mostly slept, though when she woke up, she played with Orange, smiling to herself. I took pictures with my camera, rescued from my hotel in Lawrence. Mostly, though, I sat and watched.
When the phone rang we were all surprised. Sylvia nearly jumped a foot, and Brooke let out a little shout. I just stared at the phone dumbly for a moment before picking it up.
"Sylvia?" a rough voice asked through the receiver.
"No," I told him. "She'll be down in a moment."
"Thank you," said the voice, and hung up. I turned to Sylvia, and she instantly began to collect Eva's things. With nothing of her own, she really only had to pack up the gifts the hotel had given her. Within a minute, she was dressed and ready to go. Eva was wrapped up in her arms, and I held onto Brooke's hand as well as Sylvia's bag.
"Bye, room," the little girl said, waving as we left. Quickly, before anyone noticed, I slipped the "Do not disturb" sign on the doorknob again. My things were still there in a disorganized mess in the closet.
Down the elevator we went. Sylvia was mumbling to herself, whispering her husband's name and holding onto Eva tightly. The elevator doors slid open, and she ran into the lobby, looking around eagerly.
"You see anyone?" I asked her.
"That's him," Sylvia answered immediately. She thrust Eva into my hands and began to run towards a man not far away. He stared right at her, and began to run towards her as well.
"Daddy!" Brooke shrieked, letting go of my arm and running towards the tall man. In a beautiful moment, the three crashed together, and began to laugh and cry.
"The baby, the baby," the man said, holding Sylvia as she cried. "What happened…?"
"Evan?" Sylvia turned her tear-stained face towards me and smiled slightly. "You can come. You're part of the family now." I stepped forward and held the child out to the man.
"This is your baby," I told him softly. "She's beautiful, sir.
"Evan helped me, Robby," Sylvia explained through her tears. "He saved my life so many times. He helped me so much… And her name is Eva." The man stroked his wife's hair and accepted the child. He looked at her for a moment and then turned to Sylvia.
"But I though we'd agreed on Emily," he said, sounding confused.
"Eva, for Evan," Sylvia answered. "If he hadn't helped…" She didn't answer, but it was clear. "Evan, what can I say? Thank you sounds so weak and inappropriate, right?" With a watery laugh, she stood up and hugged me. "You'll keep in touch, right? Here, I'll give you our phone number…" I handed her a slip of paper from my pocket and a pen, and she scribbled down a phone number and address. "You'd better call me. Let me have your number too…"
"No home, no number," I said, holding a hand up. I took the slip of paper and carefully slid it into my pocket. Feeling tears behind my eyes, I hugged her again. "You take care, and next time…" I grinned slightly. "Go to the hospital. Even that doctor wasn't good enough for you." She laughed, and hugged me back.
"You take care," she retorted. "You'll make a great father someday."
With a half laugh, I answered, "Not at this age." Sylvia smiled, and shrugged. "Anyways… You'd best get going. The bus to the airport will be leaving soon. You'll get to… recreate your life, this time with Eva." I bent down and kissed the girl gently. "Bye, Eva. It's a beautiful world you'll get to live in." She stirred, blinked once or twice, and began to cry. Her father rocked her and nodded at me.
"Thanks for helping Sylvia out." He looked at me rather awkwardly, and I knew that he felt suspicious. I reached out and shook his hand. There was a warmth and light in his eyes as he looked at his wife and daughters, and I knew that there was no need for me to worry about Sylvia, Brooke, or Eva any longer.
I shrugged, and said softly, "Anyone would have done the same. Especially for your beautiful girls." Bending down, I now said, "Brooke?" She turned to look at me, and then hugged me. I held her close, feeling her thin her body was, and then let her go.
"You're going to your family?" she asked me softly. I shook my head, and held her close.
"No," I whispered, blinking back tears. "You are."
Quickly, almost impulsively, she planted a gentle kiss on my cheek, and ran back to her father. I stood there, my fingers pressed against my cheek, half bent, feeling that turning sensation in my stomach once again. I stood there as theybegan to turn and head off, struggling to breathe and not to cry. I couldn't understand why I wanted to cry so much. It was like I was turning into a sentimental girl. I just stood, and taking deep breaths to calm myself, I watched them walk away. Sylvia was crying again, and Brooke was talking to her father non-stop. I was forgotten, and I breathed in deep to keep myself from crying. Then Sylvia stopped and turned.
"Evan!" she cried out. "What about Orange?" I laughed out a booming, delightful laugh.
"Hers for life, from one Evan to the next Eva," I called back. I waved, and began to head back to the front of the lobby. It was empty, and this was the first time I had ever seen it as such. I tried to grasp that happy feeling I'd had barely a few days ago, but my stomach felt rocky and nauseous. The feeling was gone.
I went to the front desk, and rang the small bell there. Almost immediately, Nash from my first day appeared. Déjà vu, whispered a voice in my head, but things were so different this time that I knew it wasn't real. It was just my imagination.
"Yes, sir, how may I help you?" he asked politely, smiling pleasantly. I paused, trying to recollect my thoughts. Then I asked in a quiet voice if I could please stay another night, here was my credit card number, and I'd like to still be in my previous room. Nash smiled and said, "Of course, sir. Would you like cleaning services?" No, thank you, I answered, and went back upstairs.
The room looked strange when I got back up. At first I thought it was because it was empty, but then I realized that it wasn't because it looked empty, but because it felt small. With seven people, the room had felt cozy and normal, but now with one lonely, confused man, it felt tiny, with the walls closing in on me. I couldn't breathe, and without understanding what I was doing, I threw open the closet, pulled my bags out and tossed them on one of the beds in loud, thumping throws. I kicked the bed, I screamed aloud, I shoved the crib aside, and then, breathing heavily, I spotted the wall.
All the rage left my body and my legs crumbled underneath me. We'd moved far beyond the corner, and with the crib shoved aside, I could see everything. I could see every single one of the drawings we'd created on the wall. There was the blurry "help" from the first day, there was my first angel, there was Eva's birth, the story of the flood… There was the story of our lives in this wall. This wall lived and breathed, and for a moment, remembering that conversation with Marissa and David, I thought I could hear children's voices in the room. Maybe it was just an echo of our laughter, but for a moment I could hear it, filling up the empty spaces. I pressed one hand against the wall, feeling how the children moved and wept with me.
But I wasn't supposed to feel anything. I hadn't felt anything from the flood. Nothing. Not one thing. This pain… it wasn't supposed to be here. It wasn't like I'd lost a home. I hadn't been separated from my family. I hadn't had anyone to worry about… Their faces were before my eyes—David, Gabrielle, Brooke, Marissa, Sylvia, and Eva… Their faces were pressed into my mind and into the wall, right before my eyes, right before my heart and soul. They'd felt. I hadn't.
It seemed almost involuntary. I picked up one of the black pens we'd left behind, uncapped it, and pressed it against the wall. I didn't know what I could draw, but then instead of drawing, I wrote in large letters MARISSA above the "help". Above Sylvia's cartoon images, I wrote SYLVIA, and above David's children, I wrote DAVID. BROOKE and EVAN went in their appropriate places, and then in above the pictures of the angels, I wrote EVA. When I took a step back, I realized that the names formed a sort of arc, this kind of dome, with one empty spot in the middle. Impulsively, I wrote right there FAMILY in huge, sprawling letters.
"You're my family too," I whispered to myself, hearing the room swallow the words.
I stepped back again, and just stared at the wall. It was covered in drawings, and each one of us had put our heart and souls into it. Every drawing told the tale of our life. Every drawing was part of the tale, and every single one fit in.
And I saw those children for just a moment. Some of the older drawings had begun to fade slightly, the black marker seeping into the wall-paper. For a moment, I saw tired children, trying to live off of the single moment of life I gave them, and then just waiting. Waiting as I had. Waiting for someone. Children. All of us. Children in the walls.
And I wondered. I wondered what would happen to those faces, to those children in the walls. What would happen when the walls tumbled down? When everything crumbled? What would happen to those children whose faces are carved deep into the ashy white, whose lives depend on my air and my blood, my fingers, my ink, my life? What would happen to their faces, their lives… These images?
And what would happen to us?