Calliope was in the kitchen. Milo was not too badly upset by this, though he was a little concerned. She had been up pretty frequently the last couple of weeks. It was hard for her to get comfortable. She was hauling — by this point — an entire prefabricated human being around with her everywhere, so, yeah, obviously it was hard to get comfortable. He thought it was kind of unfair that not only was the baby going to come out of her, in the meantime it was keeping her from sleeping.
Geez, why don’t we just lay eggs? Dinosaurs lay eggs. It’s much more efficient… And the size ratios involved… It’s something to do with cranial capacity, isn’t it? He guessed Calliope probably wouldn’t like a baby with a brain the size of a walnut, never mind the tail spikes for self-defense.
That sort of thing doesn’t happen, does it?
“Hey, Milo. Sorry. Couldn’t sleep.”
He shook his head and crossed his hands in front of him. No, no. He was used to this. It was only Calliope. He was sure he could do coffee, and if he couldn’t do cereal, he could always take it into the basement. He’d try to do both in the kitchen, though. Just walking off on someone like that was rude, and he didn’t want her to think she was bothering him, especially when it wasn’t her fault. (Stupid gigantic, human-brained baby.)
“You mind if I borrow your watch?”
He shook his head. He drew it out of his pocket, disengaged the clip and handed it to her. It was a silver one at the moment. There was a little clear spot in the face where you could see the gears moving, that was a nice feature — although it would be extra complicated to draw. Calliope was forever asking him for things, usually clothes or a piece of his anatomy. Hey, Milo, can I borrow your hands? Foreshortening was really a bitch. He didn’t ever draw hands if he could help it. Shoes were not much better, he only liked to do those from the side. (Also it was easier to get in all the details so you could see how pretty they were that way.)
“Thanks. You have a shift today?”
He shook his head. It was the middle of the week, so Ann didn’t have a show, either. No obligations. He thought he’d probably hang out in the basement awhile, and then maybe change. He didn’t have to have the watch back, anyway. He got along without one all the time.
“Cool. You wanna come with me to the hospital later if I need to go?”
Milo turned slowly to look at her, pouring an arc of shredded wheat biscuits over his shoes like confetti. They continued to pile on the floor as she spoke, “I mean, I might not. I know you’re supposed to time them, and sometimes they stop. I wouldn’t like to get all dressed up for nothing.”
Milo dropped the empty box on top of the little mountain of shredded wheat and ran out.
Calliope sighed and shook her head. “Geez, Milo, they’re not even that close together. I was gonna have toast.” She frowned at the watch and considered whether she wanted to put all that effort into standing up just now.
“Oh, gods, what?” said Hyacinth. She hauled open her bedroom door on Milo. Oh. I suppose I’ll have to guess. “Milo…”
He snatched her by the arm and dragged her.
“Milo, I understand the concept of following you!”
He was taking the stairs two at a time. Instead of letting her go, he put an arm around her waist and carried her the rest of the way. He deposited her in the kitchen, where Calliope was standing amongst shredded wheat and making a note on the kitchen pad. “Oh, hi, Cin. I just had another one. Boy, they sure don’t tickle, do they?”
Given the evidence, Hyacinth was able to piece the circumstances together, even half-asleep at five in the AM. “How far apart are they?”
Calliope shrugged. “All I had was the egg timer. Less than a half hour and more than twenty minutes. Somewhere in there.”
“Oh,” said Hyacinth. “Well, that’s not so bad.” She sat down at the table and wiped her hair out of her mouth.
“Yeah, I can handle this,” Calliope said with a snicker. “You want some toast?”
“Might as well, I guess. Thanks.”
Milo pounded his hand on the table, unsettling the sugar bowl. The toast popped up. Calliope exchanged it for more bread. Compromise, one slice advised her, as she applied orange marmalade.
“Milo, having a baby takes a long time,” Hyacinth said. “There’s no point in going to the hospital now, it’s just more stress. It hurts more and it takes longer if the mom is upset. Calliope’s coping all right. We might as well have some breakfast. We might even have lunch before she’s ready to go.”
Milo wildly shook the whole upper half of his body, hands clenched to his face. No! No! You don’t sit around and have breakfast! You don’t have lunch! You have to do something! Baby stuff! Boiling water! Rubber gloves! My gods, she’s standing! The baby will fall out and hit its head on the tile! He grabbed a chair from the table and set it down firmly next to Calliope, crunching in the shredded wheat. Sit down! Sit! Hello? Calliope? He waved a hand. Sit down!
“I’m good, Milo. I’d rather eat at the table. Are you gonna make coffee?”
Ahh! Why is everybody in this house insane? He ran out again.
“I thought he’d be happier,” Calliope said. She was kind of excited about it, herself.
“He’s worried,” said Hyacinth. “Men are like that. That’s why the hospital’s such a pain, they think they’re in charge. You keep a cool head about things and it’ll go a lot easier.” Hyacinth was not un-worried, especially since Calliope was going to the hospital where the idiots thought they were in charge, but it didn’t do any good to spread the worrying around. Fear was exhausting, and Calliope was in this for the long haul. Better to keep everything calm and easy for as long as possible. “Did you feel your water break yet?” she asked, just offhandedly.
“I guess so. My bed’s wet, it’s why I got up. But it’s not crazy a lot.”
“It usually isn’t. Hold still for a second, I’ll check you out.”
Hyacinth had one hand on Calliope’s head and was commenting, “Cervix looks good,” when Milo came back in with Erik and Mordecai. He pointed, Do you see this? Do you see this craziness? Fix it! Fix it! He shoved Mordecai in front of him. Mordecai could talk.
“What?” said the red man in the white nightshirt with the pillow marks on his face.
(Erik already knew what, he was grinning with his hands clasped in front of him, but he couldn’t say anything.)
“Calliope is in early labor,” Hyacinth said, “which can go on for quite a long time and is not improved or hastened by running in circles or screaming. We are having toast for breakfast.”
“Yay!” Erik managed finally. Not about the toast.
“Oh, okay,” said Mordecai. “Hey. Yeah. Great.” He sat down on the tile floor and laced his hands behind his head. Erik patted him.
“Aw, Em,” Calliope said. She wobbled and sat down on the floor as well. Cross-legged and in boxer shorts. It wasn’t exactly comfy, especially with the enormous stomach in the way. It was like trying to work her way around a beach ball. She sat forward and put a hand on his cheek “Cin says everything’s fine and I don’t need you for stuff. I’m okay.”
“Milo, you are hyperventilating,” Hyacinth said above them. “Milo… Milo…!”
Milo thudded backwards onto the dining room carpet.
“Oh, right,” said Hyacinth. She turned and dipped a glass of water. It wasn’t as if they didn’t have time for this. “Erik would you like to wake Maggie and the General?”
Erik broadly shook his head.
“Yeah. Do it anyway. I need more hands for the hysterical people.”
Milo opened his eyes and saw daylight and familiar ceiling. Oh, I had a bad dream. I overslept. Oh, it’s okay. I don’t have to work. Maybe I’ll just lie here…
Milo, please try to be very, very calm, and listen to me…
Maggie leaned into his vision. She was wearing the usual dress. Dark blue. Pleated bodice. Square neck. Her braids dangled. “Milo, don’t get up. Glass of water or paper bag?” She held these up. The bag was gathered into a loose tube.
He shook his head. He tried to get his hands under him. Maggie put her knee on his chest and leaned in, “Look, last time you got up, you ran into the door. Erik said don’t glue you down, so if you get up again, it’s another stun spell. Are you gonna throw up again? I have a bucket.”
Oh, gods, what horrible thing is happening now? It seemed like such a nice day. He could hear birds outside. There shouldn’t be birds and a horrible thing. There should be… sandwiches. And a park.
Milo, it’s not a horrible thing. You’ve just been very upset about it. Please don’t run into the door again. Hyacinth had to staple you.
To something? He tried to sit up. Maggie was still sitting on him.
No, but I wouldn’t put it past her. She’s getting rather annoyed.
“Milo, you remember what’s going on? Did I scramble you? You know what day it is?” He’d been out for over an hour, but, honestly, it was nice to have a break.
Perhaps it’s my birthday? Milo thought weakly. Will there be cake?
No, Milo. It’s Stephen’s birthday.
Calliope wanted to name it Stephen, after her dad. Cousin Violet said it was going to be a boy.
Milo’s mouth gaped open like he was screaming and he covered it with both hands. How are we still at the house? What are they doing? Is the baby here? Did I miss it? Calliope wanted me to go with her to the hospital!
Milo, I think that’s probably not a good idea…
“Milo, it’s fine! Everything’s fine! I really don’t want to stun you again. I’m not sure if it causes brain damage.”
NO! YOU LEAVE MY BRAIN ALONE!
Maggie found herself rather effectively propelled across the room. It was too fast for her to tell how he did it, and a counterspell was out of the question. No flames or flashing lights or glitter, just an all-purpose Get out of the way! She hit the opposite wall and landed uncomfortably on her tailbone. Milo stood up, watching her. She stood up, too, watching him. She lifted a hand and formed a fireball, a pink one, just for the effect. She knew it wouldn’t survive if she threw it, but fancy colors made it look like she knew what she was doing. She was pretty sure Milo knew what he was doing, even if her mom was always running him down for relying on magical notation and gears. He seems to do okay without paper and pencil, Mom, he just doesn’t like to.
“Milo, we are not gonna have a fight,” she said evenly. “Because there is nothing to fight about. I’m sorry I hit you with a stun spell, but I’m just trying to keep you from hurting yourself.”
Milo narrowed his eyes. Oh, they always say that… Maggie was in no way physically between him and the door, but that didn’t matter. She could do magic. Should I knock her out or should I set her on fire? He didn’t have to set her on fire, but he wanted to. She was threatening him, anyway.
“Calliope’s really worried about you, and Cin doesn’t want her to be worried about anything. She doesn’t need to see you fall down the stairs and crack your head open when she’s already trying to have a whole baby, okay? If you’re going to check on Calliope, you need to not throw up on her or faint. I am not trying to hurt you. I am just trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Calliope’s going to hurt more if she’s upset, Milo thought. Calliope is going to hurt. She might die. Erik’s mom died. Maybe my mom died, I don’t even know… He sat sprawled on the floor and put his head in his hands.
“Paper bag,” Maggie said. That was fortunate, because the water was spilled.
Milo breathed into the paper bag. He was barely even blowing it up.
“Milo, do you think you could get into a dress if I helped you?” For whatever reason, Milo had been averse to the dress. She tried picking out different shoes but it didn’t help.
He looked up at her, stricken. Calliope wanted me to go with her. What if I don’t ever see her again?
What if we can’t listen to records anymore? There are so many records. We didn’t even do ‘Build Me Up, Buttercup’ yet…
What if she wants me and I’m not there?
Milo, you’ll be there if I’m there. You’ll be a lot more there than you are now.
I want there to be more records, Ann!
There are going to be more records, Milo. Cin says everything is fine. Calliope will be at the hospital when the baby is born and they will have lots of people and things to take care of her. It is going to be okay.
You don’t know that. Nobody knows that. You just don’t want me to freak out and run into the door and have more staples and make Calliope upset.
…That is true, Milo. Yes.
I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to make it worse… I don’t want the baby to hurt her!
I don’t want that either, Milo, but it’s not really an option.
I am so mad at that baby right now, Ann.
I know, Milo, but that doesn’t really help anything.
“Milo? Are you with me? You’re not gonna pass out again, are you?” Maggie was standing over him, holding a dress and shoes.
I am also not real fond of you, little girl who tries to give me brain damage and thinks she is helping, Milo thought, frowning into the paper bag. Those shoes don’t even go. He stood up and took them from her.
“No running, no screaming,” Maggie said sternly. “Metaphorical screaming,” she amended.
Milo nodded, then he shook his head. He shooed his hands at her.
“Okay,” she said.
In the front room, below, Calliope was sitting in one of the good chairs and sketching. Mordecai had the other one. He was bent forward with his fingers in his hair and his head not quite between his knees. He was coping better than Milo, but that wasn’t a high bar to clear. Erik was standing beside him, concerned. He didn’t like his uncle being upset, but he was sort of used to that. Calliope’s occasional noises of pain were making a lot more of an impression. Erik knew that the whole ‘getting the baby out’ process was going to be painful and messy, but he had expected it to take place in another room. Calliope would politely excuse herself, and then come back with a neat new baby to play with. That part was not happening yet and Erik was anxious that he not have to look at anything too scary — either because someone invisible told him about it or because they did not get Calliope to the hospital fast enough. Hyacinth and the General didn’t seem too worried about it, but Milo climbing the walls in the bedroom upstairs was a persuasive argument for the other side.
Barnaby had come down to investigate the commotion and Calliope had asked him to pose for her. He didn’t take much convincing. “I much prefer being immortalized in his fashion,” he said. “A mysterious apparition bedecked in metaphors. Do be sure to tell anyone who asks that you can’t recall who posed for this, my dear. Let them wonder.” He was wearing a blindfold and wrapped in a sheet. The sheet had a pattern of blue flowers on it which Calliope was ignoring for the purpose of turning it into a respectable cloak.
“I’ll say I made you up,” she said. “It came to me in a dream.”
“Excellent,” he said.
When the door clicked shut behind Maggie, Calliope set down the pad and looked up. “Maggie, is he okay? Did he hit the door again?”
“No, no,” Maggie said. …he just threw me against the wall. She wasn’t going to say that. “I fell. I’m okay,” she added quickly. “I think he’s gonna get changed.” She looked down and realized she was still clutching today’s dress; he had just taken the shoes. Well, that didn’t matter. He had a whole bunch of dresses in there. There wasn’t a law.
“Finally!” said Hyacinth. “At least Ann is sensible!”
“Are we thinking of the same Ann, Hyacinth?” the General said dryly.
“Oh,” said Calliope. She picked up the sketchpad and considered it. “Yeah. I guess that’s okay. Ouch! Damn it!” She kicked the chair leg with the heel of her shoe. There was a dent developing in the scarred finish. “Oo, let go, you bitch.” Her fingers tightened on the sketchpad, then she let go of it again and dropped it into her lap. She did not have much lap to speak of, and it slid from there to the floor. Hyacinth retrieved it.
“Hyacinth…” said Mordecai.
“Five-one-one, Mordecai,” said Hyacinth. “We’re not there yet.”
Five-one-one, Erik mouthed to himself. For someone who didn’t like math, Hyacinth sure had a lot of rules with numbers in them. It wasn’t time to go to the hospital until the contractions were five minutes apart, one minute long, and that had been going on for one hour. The General had Milo’s watch and she was keeping track.
“Somebody has to get to the drugstore and call a taxi!” Mordecai declared. “That takes time!”
“Okay. Five-one-one half, then,” said Hyacinth. “We’re not there yet, either. It’s her first one, Mordecai. The damn thing isn’t just going to fall out.”
“Barnaby, can you tell about when?” Calliope asked. She spread her arms so he could get a good look at her clothes, or anything else that might matter. She still wasn’t… she wasn’t scared. Not like Milo. But this had been going on for a long time and it was starting to hurt more and she was already tired…
And she didn’t want to go to the hospital. She promised Em, because it was too hard for him otherwise, but Cin had told her some things they might do at the hospital — so she wouldn’t get scared! — and she didn’t like those things. She’d rather be home, with Hyacinth who would listen to her if she didn’t want an ether-soaked rag or an episiotomy.
She sort of wished Em would sit up and stop being worried over there and tell her she didn’t have to go. She was a little mad at him. A little.
Barnaby lifted one corner of the blindfold and peeked out. “I’m sorry, Calliope, that’s a bit specific. Hours don’t signify much on a planetary scale. It’s evident the child will be a Libra — we could use a little balance in this household.”
“Yeah,” said Calliope, regarding her stomach. That meant the kid would be out by the end of the month. It wasn’t very comforting. “Do you know if it’s gonna be okay?”
“Oh, Calliope.” He stepped forward and patted her hand. “Things are never okay. It’s best not to think of that now.”
Milo stepped out of Room 201 and walked past Magnificent without looking up. Milo. No dress. No pretty shoes. The guy in the glasses. He had a rectangular white bandage pasted over his left eyebrow; the staples were under there, and the eye itself was darkening slowly.
Calliope looked up and smiled at him. “Hi, Milo.” She waved.
He waved… briefly. He walked past her, too, and into Room 103. He shut the door.
“I am not overly fond of your… ‘music,’ Calliope,” Barnaby muttered. “Perhaps you will allow me to retreat to my attic, now that you have something else to occupy you?”
“It’s okay,” Calliope said. Never mind that she didn’t know what he was talking about, it would probably straighten itself out later.
“Barnaby, what is he doing?” said Hyacinth.
“He thinks he is helping,” said Barnaby. He bowed. “I bid you good day. Enjoy the hospital. I’ll take all those little pamphlets when you’re done with them, Alice, I like cutting things up.”
Well, that was no help, but she didn’t really expect any. “Barnaby, remember to come down and feed Room 101 later… And you!” she called after him.
“I will do my best, but I can’t promise you I’ll do it today. A brief fast will not harm me, or it. I doubt it is a goldfish, I would’ve seen something about that by now.” He climbed up the attic stairs, which had been left down.
“…And don’t paper the house again!” said Hyacinth, belatedly. To this, there was no reply. “I think I’d better grab Ted or Maria or Steven when I hit up the drugstore,” she added, to herself.
“You will do no such thing!” said Mordecai. “You will call us a taxi and come straight home!” He overrode himself, “You will not go to the drugstore at all! The General can do it! She’s of no use medically!”
The General frowned but she did not dispute this.
“Oh, you know a Stephen?” Calliope said. “Is he nice?”
“He’s a dry cleaner,” said Hyacinth.
“A nice one?”
“I don’t know, I never have anything cleaned…”
From behind the door of Room 103 there was faint speech, which was confusing, followed by a ragged snarl, which got everyone to look over.
Calliope snickered. “Oh. ‘Bodies.’ I thought he didn’t like that one.”
There was some skipping and distortion, which might or might not have been part of the song, and then Milo came out, carrying Calliope’s blue record-player by the handle, with the case closed. Though it was being held sideways, it was still happily imploring them to ‘let the bodies hit the floor.’ Milo set it gently on the end table beside Calliope. It continued to play in its new orientation, without skipping. Milo presented Calliope with a card.
Calliope pulled out her reading glasses and digested this. She grinned. “Oh, wow, that’s a really good idea. Can you make it glow, so it looks real obvious?”
“I’ve got an idea! Let me…” She planted her hands on the sides of the chair and prepared to stand, but released them and plunked down with a wince. “Oh, ow. Ow! Son of a gun!” She kicked the chair leg, four times, then she looked up at Milo with a weak smile. “It’s okay. I’ve got some red enamel in my box with the acrylics. Can you grab that for me? And the little brush with the green handle? The fine one?”
Milo nodded. The enamels were in little glass jars. The acrylics were in tubes. It was easy to tell the difference.
“Seven-one,” the General noted, consulting the watch.
“Do you like Drowning Pool, Em?” Calliope said.
“No, Calliope. Not even a little bit,” Mordecai said, but kindly.
Calliope stuck her hand in the little cubby, which had more records. All the records, since Milo put slipspace in there. “How about, um, the Captain and Tennille?”
“Hyacinth, please deafen me,” said Mordecai. He didn’t want to ask the General. She might really do it.
“I like that one,” Erik said, tapping a label.
“’59th Street Bridge Song?'” Calliope said. She saved out that one and replaced the others.
“Paul Simon?” Mordecai said hopefully. He read the label. Harpers Bizarre. “Oh, gods.”
Milo twitched a vague smile when he heard Calliope switch to a better record. That made him feel better, too, like the sun and birds outside. He gave her the enamel and the brush.
“Ooh, goodie, let’s make this look plausible,” Calliope said. She sucked on the end of the brush to stiffen it and spun the lid off the jar. After a brief break to kick the chair leg (“Five,” said the General.) she leaned in with her reading glasses and painted a delicate little flame beside the volume knob. (“What do you think, Em? Should I give ’em five or four? I’ll give ’em four, I feel generous. It’s Stephen’s birthday.”) It did look quite plausible, as if it had been stenciled there, like Milo’s alteration of the record-player’s label. CalliopeFair.
“There,” said fair Calliope. “Now if they turn it down, it blows up, too.”
Maggie examined the record player and snickered. “It does kinda look like it works that way…”
“Hey, Milo, babe, can I get a quick insta-dry over here? I don’t want it to smudge.”
Milo was writing on the back of one of his cards, trying to put together a glow spell that would stack correctly. He abandoned the card to dry the paint. It didn’t take much.
“They may still attempt to wrest it from you and throw it out the window,” the General said. She picked up the record-player and set it in the air, near Calliope’s head. It stayed there when she released it. She twitched a small smile of her own. “Now they cannot. Make it glow red, Mr. Rose. Red looks more flammable than green. That is basic psychology.”
Milo flipped over his pencil without comment, erased a few lines and corrected them.
The General shook her head in Maggie’s direction and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. Do you see how much slower that is, Magnificent?
Maggie just frowned. You haven’t pissed him off yet, Mom. I think it’d be a good idea if you don’t.
Forty-five minutes and eleven records later, the General departed for the drugstore to get them a taxi.
Half an hour and one understated argument about who was going to be in the taxi after that, and Calliope, Hyacinth, the record-player and the General departed for the hospital. Milo, Mordecai, the kids, and ninety-five percent of the worry would follow after.