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To pass the time, Trudy took to watching out the window. The ins and outs of the Werner family. Ashley, the oldest child next door, was always toting at least one child home from school. Everyday Trudy watched the girl struggling to fit the baby's carriage through the tiny doorway while pushing Hans, the young boy in first. Bill and Trudy had never discussed children. Bill had found the apartment during their first year in this new country. It fit he and Trudy comfortably, but not much else. Reflecting on it, Trudy considered the lease as much of a discussion as they ever had.
The girl couldn't have been a day over eleven and Trudy was watching her raise her siblings. Really, she was listening to Ashley raise her siblings, more than watching. Their day to day life was only visible to Trudy in their comings and goings through the front door, two stories below her window. As Trudy became more and more familiar with their mannerisms, she was able to make them out in the park across street, swinging from the jungle gym or running through the sprinklers. The park was small, but Trudy was worried Ashley was going to lose track of her younger brother. Hans was always wandering off alone, while Ashley sat on a bench with the stroller.
Coming in from the park the squeak of their sneakers scuffing up the hallway floors was soothing. Everyday Trudy counted the number of footfalls, trying to figure out which child's sole was flapping away from their shoe and think that she probably had some adhesive lying around. The floor of their apartment, like Trudy's, was sloped and slanted. When, inevitably, something dropped she could hear it rolling out of sight. When the boy wouldn't sit down and do his homework Trudy heard the television turning on and off as Ashley's footsteps pounded up and down the hallway.
Another hour or so later there was the soft step of their mother, Patricia, dragging herself up the apartment stairs. When Pat had first moved in with Erich occasional dinners had been shared between the neighbors. Just two couples, one young, one old. But once Pat got pregnant, Bill seemed uncomfortable even lending a cup of sugar. Trudy's interactions with the young couple had dissolved once Ashley was born. Shortly after Pat's key turned in the evenings there came a cacophony of whines. The complaints of the eldest against having to be in charge of the younger children. The complaints of the seven year old, Hans, against his sister for turning off the television. And the terse insistence of resolution, "before your father comes home!" of their mother as she prepared dinner, which Trudy recognized as a whine in its own right. And at the other end of the apartment was the overlooked, slow, shallow whine of Chelsea, the baby.
It had been five months since Trudy attempted to leave the apartment and found her flesh fickle compared with the rigidity of stone. Five months of spending evenings safe from collapse, quietly doing her part to keep the small building standing. Five months on the other side of the living room wall where Chelsea called for attention from her family in the kitchen. After five months this is where Trudy was sitting one afternoon listening to Hans and Ashley bicker about the television.
"So what? You're not doing your homework either, you're just talking on the phone."
"I care because I'll get in trouble when your teacher calls dad. I'll be the one that gets grounded. You don't even know what--"
"Good! I hope you do get grounded!"
As their voices rose Chelsea started screaming. Not crying, but spewing loud gibberish in imitation of her siblings. Hans tried to leverage Chelsea's displeasure against Ashley but this didn't last very long before there came a loud thud against the wall that the Werner's and Trudy shared.
After another, softer thud, of whatever it was that had hit the wall sliding onto the floor, everything was quiet. Slowly there was the rising of a pitch. At first an extended exhale, just a heavy breath barely audible. Once this breath had found its sound it became a wail, the power of which only ever comes in such honesty from a baby. Trudy walked to the point on her side of the wall where the baby had hit and put her hand up to the spot that she imagined as concave on the other side. That sound was a sound she lived in fear of. The sound of flesh and bones collapsing onto themselves against this building.
A month passed before Trudy realized what her husband had never given her. The same way fear had moved Bill and Trudy to this country many years ago, it had moved Trudy into her kitchen drawers, searching for some glue as an excuse to interrupt the siblings' quarrel that had thrown Chelsea against the wall. The first time Ashley left Chelsea with Trudy so she could make dinner in peace Trudy was unsure of herself. Ashley put Chelsea down on the floor by the dining table and walked out. Just like that, Trudy was responsible for the life of a child. For the first time in more months than she cared to count Trudy was doing something that mattered. This scared her. She didn't want to, but ultimately Trudy couldn't think of anything better to do than talk.
Chelsea looked up expectantly, "Doody?"
"uh-oh? Doody, uh-oh." Concern spread across Chelsea's face. Attempting to bend close enough to sniff the child, Trudy felt as large as the first time she'd left the house after Bill's funeral. Squatting to lift Chelsea under her armpits Trudy awkwardly lined her nose up with the seat of Chelsea's pants while attempting to maintaining a safe distance.
"Well. I don't smell anything, Chelsea." At the sound of her name she squirmed, trying to look at Trudy over her shoulder.
"Cha-see! Too-dee! Uh-oh Too-dee, uh-oh Cha-see." Trudy placed her down in confusion.
"Sprechen Sie Deutsches?" The words felt hot from being held in for so long. They spilled out, scalding Trudy's decision to speak only English.
"Uh-oh." Chelsea looked worried again, "Too-dee?"
"Yes?" She understood Trudy, finally. "Yes, I am Trudy."
"Cha-see!" She pointed at herself, satisfied in having breached the language barrier enough to accomplish introductions. Smiling, sure of herself, Chelsea looked around the apartment and took off down the hallway. Three years of energy were stored up in Chelsea's newly confident legs. She ran laps up and down the apartment with the jolting gait of a toddler. Trudy stumbled along behind her, worried she might fall. This is the difference between the screams and the laughter of children, Trudy thought. She waited until Chelsea least expected it and then rushed down the hall. When Chelsea saw Trudy in pursuit, her shrill, "Uh-oh!" shook the dust from the photo frames and aired out the cushions of the furniture.
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