We spent the rest of the night playing MacGyver. Mike and I whittled paddles from the futon slats and padded the handles with sliced up strips of rubber non-slip bathtub mat.
Moira and Jill completed life preservers for everyone. I especially loved the ones for Bethel and Lexington. Rows of small capped plastic bottles ran along the backs and sides of two of Bethel’s sweaters. The little blumpy bottle jackets were then encased in garbage bags to ensure that the bottles didn’t pop free and float away. The bottles on the backs of the sweaters were to keep the pets from being turned upside down in the water and getting stuck that way. Bethel was definitely top-heavy, so I appreciated the design.
The jackets were all about keeping heads above water. The people jackets featured two liter soda bottles. We put them on and agreed that we looked like Michelin car tire men. No fashion, but lots of float. Moira didn’t say anything about it, but she tossed a small jacket at me. For Ali’s kid.
We ate again as the sun came up. I’d never enjoyed cleaning out my freezer so much. We had frozen pizza and ice cream drumsticks and frozen egg rolls. “This stuff is nasty,” Moira informed me through a mouthful. Then she stabbed at my hand with a fork when I tried to take an egg roll off her plate.
Our plan was to sleep away the day. We’d take off for the park and the river well after dark. Camp out for a little while. We thought we should assault the river right at sunrise, if you can call jumping in with recycling life preservers and a bed as a raft an “assault.”
Mike and I decided to let Ali know our plan, in case he still wanted to send his daughter with us. We’d been thinking of the girl as a given, but Ali might have changed his mind, or his wife might have brained him with a frying pan when he told her about his bright idea.
We knocked on Ali’s door. We heard someone quietly moving on the other side. A soft rustle made me assume that Ali was looking at us through his peephole. Then the door opened quietly and Ali joined us in the hallway. “The basement,” he whispered. Mike and I shrugged at each other and got into the elevator with him.
Ali didn’t speak until we were in the basement and out of the elevator. Then he spoke in a whisper. “You are taking her?”
“If that is what you still want,” I whispered back.
“I do. When do you leave?”
“Late tomorrow night,” I said. “We plan to cross the next morning.”
Ali nodded. “She will be ready,” he said. He got into the elevator without us and left us in the basement again.
“Damnit,” Mike said. “He’s really an asshole, isn’t he?”
Back in the apartment, Mike and I hit the futon. Bethel snuggled up next to me, and I was determined to enjoy her small warmth. I had no idea when we could relax like this again. Except I found I couldn’t really relax. I knew we were going to do a crazy, crazy thing. I just didn’t know what else to do.
I finally did sleep. We all slept longer than we’d thought we would. We hadn’t been anywhere we felt safe in a long time, and we really were exhausted. When we woke, the sun was well across the sky. We all gathered in the bedroom to peek out the window at the river and the George Washington Bridge. The river was serene and beautiful, as always. The bridge was another story. It had been a graceful suspension bridge, but it now looked like a giant, evil child had dumped an erector set on it. The sharp metal frameworks that kept people from crossing into New Jersey looked cruel in the light, and they cluttered the simple bridge in a sinister way.
I let the curtain drop. None of us said anything. We went back to the living room and kitchen. We worked on our silly inventions for the what was left of the day, and thought of ways to make them more portable. We argued about what to take and what to leave. I made a net that fit over the bed out of some climbing rope I had left over from my days of hanging lights from impossible to reach trusses. I hoped that the net would help us hang onto the bed, once it was in the river. Then, I deflated my bed and put it in its special carrying bag. I grabbed my cheap little foot pump from the closet. No way I wanted us on the river bank taking turns puffing into the air stem until we all got dizzy and passed out.
Time passed like a snail, in spite of our industry. At sunset, we turned on the TV in hopes of getting some news. We got “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” which we actually all enjoyed, mainly because of Angela Lansbury. We made decisions about who would do what once we got to the river and once we got into it. We ate crab cakes and frozen burritos. We drank pot after pot of coffee. Moira tried to force us into an early departure a couple of times, but it was only a twenty minute walk to the river. I wasn’t crazy about spending the entire evening there.
Finally, at 3am, we gave in to Moira’s carping. We decided it was time to go. We packed up our river gear, our guns, the pets, and our remaining canned food and cigarettes. The beer was long gone. Packed, we crowded into the hallway and knocked on Ali’s door.
Ali must have been waiting for us. The door popped open immediately and he shoved the little girl out at us. “Her name is Sadad,” he said. Then he slammed the door. The sound of a woman wailing rose from beyond the door and we realized that giving us the girl hadn’t been a family decision.
I looked down at the little girl. She put her hand in mine. And we all walked to the elevator together without saying a word.