Delicious Surprise, Part 21
Part one for Disclaimers
A short chapter, leading into a much longer one.
"But, mom..." Lilah began, only to find her words swallowed by the night. She kicked aimlessly at the trellis bracing the balcony.
She saw her father's sad expression. "I know how it is. No one's loved your mom for as long as I have." He stuck his hands into his pockets and said, "Isn't it weird, though? How a person can start out one way and end up another?"
"I think that should be my question."
Fry shrugged. "After we came home from the war, with you, everything was different..."
"If you stop crying, daddy will give you a hoverporche!"
The teary little face scrunched up, and for a moment Fry wondered if he was in the clear. Her cries filled the air once more.
He groaned, tucking her gently against his chest and rocking her. He was barely aware of a light flickering on; a cloud of purple seemed to be walking toward him.
"It's my turn, Fry."
"I dunno; do clouds know how to take care of babies?"
Lilah's weight suddenly left his arms. "Fry, please go back to bed."
His vision cleared, and he smiled blearily. "Oh, hi, Leela. Want some coffee?"
"No thanks. I need to nurse Lilah."
He perked up. "Ooh! Can I watch?"
"Why?" It dawned upon her. "Fry, you thought I was a cloud...don't even think about it. Please." She sat carefully down on an air-propulsion rocking chair, settling Lilah in her arms before adjusting her nightgown. The squalling stopped, and she let out a low sigh of contentment.
He walked around the back of the rocker and gently massaged her shoulders. She rubbed her cheek against him.
"When you're done, I can rock her; you need your sleep 'cause, you know, tomorrow..." He couldn't quite bring himself to remind her of the upcoming funeral.
Her reaction was subtle, but honest; a stiffening of limbs, a faraway gaze. "You've been up with her the past few nights, Fry. And I'm the one who can't sleep."
Animatedly, he began to pace. "I was kind of hoping to talk to you about that. It isn't good for you to be up all night, Leel. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. I guess it's just hormones." She continued to gaze down at Lilah.
"Are you sure you don't want coffee?"
After a pause she looked up. Fry's face seemed pinched; his eyes reflected an anxiety that he couldn't name aloud.
"Fry, you don't have to worry about me. My dad's in a better place now. It's just my hormones, or our temporary shelter."
While the reconstruction of Robot Arms proceeded, the government had placed them in a boxlike apartment, with walls that felt paper-thin and windows that rattled with every new vibration from below.
"Go to bed, Fry," she said again, her voice as mild as April fog. Though he didn't want to, he quietly turned and padded back to the bedroom.
Leela fussed with the bright red bunting she had wrapped Lilah in. Squalling, the infant kicked and waved her arms, frustrating her mother's attempts to keep her properly swaddled.
She and Fry walked abreast toward a nearby grating. Around them, New New York buzzed with fresh activity. Buildings rose over their heads, braced up and surrounded by the sound of sizzling instruments. The reconstruction seemed to be going well, and there were already flower vendors hawking their wares. Fry bought a carnation and tucked it, fondly, into her hair.
She smiled. "Thank you."
He shrugged. "You're already beautiful." He wanted to tell her more, but they halted in mid-step as they noticed that the grating had been enlarged and transformed into a stairwell.
"I never thought I'd see the day..." Leela mused, as Fry followed her down. After tracing the familiar route back to Munda's house, they found her in the kitchen, staring blankly into space.
Fry hung back awkwardly, but Leela plunged forward. "Mom?" She rested a hand on Munda's shoulder. The woman jumped, then relaxed.
"Leela..." She turned and held her daughter. The embrace sent them into a fit of sobbing. Finally they collected themselves, and Munda asked, "Where's Lilah?"
Fry held the baby out, and Munda took her in a tentacled cuddle. "Dollushki, she's gorgeous!"
"That's because of Fry."
"No, she looks just like you when you were born." She held Lilah close to her face, causing her to burble and giggle in joy. "I wish Morris had lived to see her."
"Me too. But I'm sure he's proud of her."
"He's proud of the both of you." Munda stood up abruptly, handing the baby to Leela. "Well, that pyre's not going to light itself!" she said, suddenly pragmatic.
She ushered them outside. Already waiting was a long boat, moored in place by a rope. Leela stared blankly at the tightly wrapped body of her father, whose floating hearse was festooned with flowers. Her mother struck a match and put it to an oiled brand.
"As Morris' next-of-kin, it's your job to send him into the next life, Leela." She handed her daughter the burning torch; Leela swiftly passed the baby to Fry and accepted it.
For a long moment, Leela just stared at the torch. Then something within her was galvanized, and she lowered it to the pyre. Flames quickly blazed up.
Munda let go of the rope, and, in silence, the group watched the pyre float away down the river, toward the lower sewer. Leela frowned. And even Fry wondered to himself if that was really it.
The pyre became smaller and smaller in the distance. It was a long time before Munda encouraged them to return to the house, where she passed out cups of coffee.
All the while, discomfort mounted between mother and daughter, and though he tried to ignore it, Fry could feel the anxiety throbbing in the air. Leela finally asked her mother what was wrong.
"Oh, I've just been thinking, sweetie."
"How nice it is that your father's funeral was just like your grandfather's. There's something to be said for mutant tradition." She smiled grimly. "And now you have someone to float you down the river after you pass on."
Leela squirmed. "Mom, I...don't think I'm going to have a Viking funeral."
Confusion showed on Munda's face. "But it's tradition, Leela."
She shook her head. "I have a family here, mom. With Fry." She reached out and squeezed his hand.
"You mean you're gonna be buried up there?"
Munda's expression turned dark, but Leela tried to cheer her. "Now that Dad's gone, I guess there's nothing to tie you down over here. Fry and I have been looking into getting a bigger apartment, and when you move in with us..."
"Move in with you?" Munda frowned.
Leela's hand froze on the coffee cup. "Mom...don't you understand? You don't have to stay down here. All of the other mutants are starting new lives..."
"That's fine for young people." Her expression turned distant. "I can't make it up there, Leela. I'll always be seen as a freak."
"Mom, we have big, green aliens hosting national news shows." She reached out. "Come on, don't be scared."
"Leela, I'm anything but scared." Her eyes flashed. "I always wanted you to have a better life, and forget all about me, but I thought things had changed since we met..."
"Munda, Leela only wants what's best for you..."
"'What's best for me'? I can take care of myself!" She slammed down the coffeepot, shattering it.
"Why are you doing this?" Leela asked in a shocked tone.
"Because you're being uppity. Get out!"
Leela stood, unsteadily. "But Mom..." But the tentacles which had lovingly nursed her through the long war were pushing her out the door.
"Your father and I worked hard for everything we have here, Leela. I don't expect you to appreciate it, but I'd like it if you would respect it!"
And the door slipped shut, trapping a part of Leela's heart behind it forever.
"I tried to talk to her about it," Fry said. "Every day, your mom would call her, and when she gave up, I would take over. But Munda wouldn't answer the vidphone. She wouldn't even see you."
"I can fix it, Dad," Lilah insisted, excitement in her voice. "I'm sure I can; Grandma wouldn't turn me away now."
He shook his head. "It's too risky. Your Grandma's hurt, deep inside, and I wish I could make things better, but I can't." He shook his head. "She doesn't want to ever see us, she just wants to be left alone in the sewers. It's best you just forget about it." He gave her a hug. "I'll see if your mom has enough money for lunch, okay?"
Lilah nodded, watching Fry as he walked back into the PE building. A crafty smile bloomed upon her lips, for she had spotted an air duct on the wall, one that led down into the basement. Lilah knew the PE building very well. During its reconstruction, a passage had been installed...
As she shimmied through the grating, Lilah realized that she was behaving just like Dania. Then she let go and slipped down the vent, relying solely on her faith in family to guide her.