On any given day, Klaidi would have described her house as quiet, calm, and peaceful. There were seven of them who shared the rooms in shifts as their ships came in and out of port. Six of them had shared the arrangement for years, and they slid around each other like fish in a school, happy in each others turnings and never minding the frequent bumps as they came and went. The baby had not changed much, and they continued their comings and goings with hardly an unwelcome echo between the walls.
Then the baby woke on a sunny work day and decided it would be a good day to exercise her lungs. The sun had just appeared with a promise to stay round and orange the whole day through, and the baby opened her mouth and screamed. Klaidi threw the covers back and jumped to her cradle, tucking the baby against her shoulder and holding her tight until she calmed enough to eat and drift back to sleep.
“What’s wrong?” Leven asked when she crawled back into bed beside him.
She glared at his shut eyes, knowing he must have heard the baby if he’d felt her tuck herself back in. She smacked him lightly in the shoulder. “Nothing,” she said. “Go to work.”
He groaned, smiled, and rolled out of his side of the bed.
Half an hour later, he and Nets, their housemate walked out the front door. The door tapped back into the frame behind them, just loud enough to bring Klaidi up out of sleep and set the baby crying again.
Then Reeda came by after breakfast, holding up a basket of extra bread and eggs she’d bought and now couldn’t use fast enough. The door slammed behind her. The baby woke up and started crying.
Manny knocked on the door, tools poking through every finger of his left hand. He offered to fix the stairs at the back door, like he’d been promising to do for weeks. He apologized, and joked, and laughed and upstairs, the baby starting crying.
A dog barked somewhere in the back alley. The baby started crying.
Manny knocked something over, or hammered too hard, or maybe just took a wrong step on a board that wasn’t yet in place. The baby started crying.
A cart rumbled down the street. The baby started crying.
Nets came back early, and shouted her hello into the house. The baby started crying.
The neighbor kids ran past the window. Three times. Kicking stones and calling each other cheaters. The baby started crying.
When Klaidi heard the door creak open, just as the sun was setting, she left dinner on the stove, spun toward the sound and met Leven with the wooden spoon still in her hand. She stopped him before he could shut the door, laugh, bark, hammer, rumble, clack, shout, kick, or call names.
“If you make a sound,” she whispered. “I’ll turn you inside out and hand you a screaming baby.”
Leven stared at the spoon, then at her.
“I’ll stay with her tomorrow,” he said.
She stopped his next step, keeping the spoon in his face. “Only if you’re quiet and I haven’t turned you inside out before then.”
His mouth twisted and he choked to keep back a laugh.
Klaidi nodded in satisfaction.