restricted access The Valiant
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The Valiant

She waited for the sound of Abraham's footsteps to disappear down the staircase. When the front door clicked shut behind him, Marta sat up, releasing a long, delicate breath through her nose. Her eyes were heavy and sore from a sleepless night spent listening to him pack up the study.

In the bathroom, she stood under the yellow glare of the bulbs, surveying herself in the empty tiled room. She had a thin frame, and even with the three-month roundness of her stomach, she knew that hers was not the type of body that would support wobbly hips, breasts, and arms the way her sisters' had during their pregnancies. She and Abraham both had this type of leanness, and they would undoubtedly pass it on to whatever was nestled within the slight bulge of her nightgown.

After washing her face and placing the towel back in its box on the bathroom floor, she wiped a chilly layer of dew from the window and was surprised to see him, bundled in a thick brown pea coat, red scarf, pajama bottoms, house slippers, working a scraper back and forth across the windshield of their car.

She had always thought it a beautiful car, had always loved its size, its shape, and especially the way it had moved under her like a dangerous fish the one time Abraham had let her sit behind the wheel and steer its sleek bulk around the neighborhood.

There was still work to be done, and as she scanned the bedroom, cluttered with half-filled boxes, she felt lost. They had accumulated so many things. How had this happened? It would take more time than they had to sort it out.

She went to the closet, where his wool suits still hung unpacked on the rack, and bent to drag a box of old clothes from the back.

She had started packing away her things weeks ago, not long after he had proposed that they return to Ethiopia. He said he hadn't been able to focus. Not in this cold. He missed home, their real home, the ringing wit and music of their language. It was time. She missed it as well, missed the long walks they used to take on warm nights in Addis. Starting from Kidus Giorgis, working their way through the shops and theaters of Piasa, down to Churchill Road where the smell of mille foglie and espresso wafted out from the cafés, and the lights from passing taxis made the buttons on her shirt glow, her thin legs would ache with happiness.

Looking down, she was surprised to see the globe she had bought at a yard sale a few years ago. She smiled wearily as she recalled Abraham's worry when she'd returned home that day. She remembered the look on his face, how she had found him pacing in front of the empty recliner where she usually sat knitting and watching commercials. She had been cradling the globe in the crook of her arm as though it were a child. She had held it [End Page 258] out to him, a peace offering, giving it a little spin with her finger. "Our little world," she had said.

As their smoke-scarred percolator, the only item left in their kitchen, began to choke, she watched him close the front door behind him and stomp snow from his house slippers and crumple the FOR SALE signs into a tight orange ball. As she poured a thick black rope into his mug, he told her about his plan to get rid of the car.

"Better to move ahead," he said. "Better to leave it be."

When he wound his way through the boxes to take his mug, she grabbed his hand and kissed his freezing fingers until they were warm again.

They drank their coffee, and he went back into his study for the rest of the morning. As she worked to pack away the living room, she could hear him upstairs giving himself little slaps on the forehead to stay awake. Around noon, he came down again with a box on which he had...