First there is nothing…dark semi-consciousness. Creaking of the chairs in the orchestra pit.
A soft tympani roll next, the far-off rumble of the train at 5:14 a.m. easing to a stop…clang-screech as it powers back up, making a turn slightly too wide for its frame…bells and piccolos.
I expect -- first drips of adrenaline -- but no sound from the other room. Our soloist, our diva hasn’t yet arrived.
A cool breath from the open summer window, the prelude unfolds adagissimo.
6:33 a.m. she needs no cue from the baton, perfect innate timing…a short staccato shout, gurgles, coos, our young maiden greets the day.
I stagger in dizzy -- should have passed on the last glass of Syrah, a small sacrifice for morning coherence.
Reeling from the dirty-diaper pail, I force an overhead smile. She beams from a tangle of pooh-bear blankets, shriek! gurgle, coo -- sublime notes.
6:53 a.m. I push the Graco out past our wrought-iron gate under a gray fog blanket snuggly pulled over Diamond Heights deep into the inland valleys. It’s quiet, pianissimo. The squeak of our second- or third-hand stroller seems absorbed by the buildings that last night reflected and amplified frenetic hipster slow-food predation. “Do you like salty pig parts?’ queries the menu in the window at Incanto.
Another man, Patagonia fleeced and cargo-pants rumpled, thinning on top, glides his whirring green Bugaboo past me. Our bagged eyes meet, pass, understand. Two more baby-toting dads pass in various states of consciousness, acknowledge camaraderie with grunts and nods…oboes and bassoons.
St. Paul’s Church at the corner of 29th and Church Street is where the movie Sister Act was filmed. Whoopie Goldberg's irreverent, gospel singing nun would be the perfect patron saint of Noe Valley. The Catholic Church may have declared Sunday an official day of rest but Noe moms clearly take it on Saturday. Dads forage in the early morning mist, tots in tow. They are proud, that even in their late thirties and early forties, they are virile, that they are making a sacrifice of sleep, that they are somehow subverting dominant paradigms.
We, my comrades and I, queue up for our morning doses. Baristas at XO bustle, muffled behind stacks and stacks of croissants, Danish, biscotti; steaming, pressing, mixing, cutting, smearing. A scattering of toddlers, strollers, and infants slides, drools, drops, giggles, and whines. Newspapers crackle, plates and forks clink…strings and brass. One-armed bloggers click click click away, balancing onesie-clad tyrants on their knees.
7:30 a.m. Serena strains against her easy-click straps, arches her back, a sudden wail. I am captor, not longer savior, adoration becomes contempt. How effortlessly she changes: she is a diva after all. I free her from her restraints, carry her from display case to window to painting, D.S. al Coda. She rubs the Buddha’s belly, but it seems a hollow gesture, she is already looking elsewhere for yet another ephemeral pleasure.
I am her samurai, her lady-in-waiting, her disciple.
I stop rocking, tuck her against one arm, riffle through the Times’ food section.
Wail, silence, breath, wail. Real tears! This is so new, maybe last week. I am so selfish not to obliterate myself. She looks sidelong and up, betrayed by my wayward glances at recipies for Chilean sea bass. Bounce, sway, rock…nothing, she wriggles desperately. The Boo Game -- “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah boo! aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah boo!” – normally a producer of unrelenting laughter brings confusion, quivering lips, slow pleading sobs. The unbred squirm, look up begrudgingly from their Augusten Burroughs and Ann Lamott – I know, I was there too not so long ago. Chew toy, crinkle bee, Petie Panda, nothing works, she is lost.
I break, relent.
Similac trickles down her chin onto “Daddy’s Little Sparkler” cradled across my pastry crumb lap. Blankets of white noise surround her, mute her Maggie-Simpson sucks and pops…percussions.
Eyes full and serious…eyes half mast…dead to the world.
We wobble across Day Street, weave through the hungry sidewalk crowd at Toast. Their eyes reading hair, shoes, stroller. I pull the sun visor down low against the rising Bernal sun. Serena’s work is done. I sigh, breathe in warm pancakes. Perhaps we will go all the way to 24th Street and back. If I am lucky, she will perform one more time before I get home.