Jeff was gone. He left, and the clouds came in, darkening the sky, the house, and my mood. It was midnight-dark. Black. All of it, and everything.
It was the little things, I think—why he left. All those little things that go unspoken, but you can see them building in his eyes; feel them growing in the room. I’d known he’d been unhappy for a few days now, really since the baby was born, and I watched his face change, and I swear it changed just like the sky as those damn blackened clouds billowed in and pushed everything down as low as it could go.
His eyes held the worst of what he wouldn’t speak, and for three days, I had waited for this. No, I didn’t speak what was in me either. The pain, the resentment—goddamn, he had wanted this little boy just as much as I had. But his eyes, his beet-red face, brooding, yet fearful at the same time—if he spoke, I knew I’d speak back, and we waited, tense like that until just now when it all came pouring out.
It’s those small things that simmer inside—that grow to be monsters. All these thoughts, each one, born from something so damn small.
There was still a tremble in my hands from the fight, and now I was pacing around the house, through the living room, down the hall, and then back to the window, a million times, hoping those headlights would return, trying to recount exactly what happened, exactly what was said.
The fight, Jeff’s anger that came pouring out of his scrunched up face, it all seemed so misplaced, like it didn’t belong in our reality at all—our perfect little world. What was worse, it might have been one of the only real fights that we had ever had. It was such an unusual thing, really.
Such a little thing.
And it was odd for him to leave like that—storming out of the house, slamming the door behind him on his wife who had just (not literally of course, but damn near), given birth—leaving a new mother scared and alone with a baby as she stood by the window in the living room with tears in her eyes as his car sped down the drive. He’d have never done that.
Yet, he did.
I’d have forgiven him that if he’d come home sooner. Now the sky was a slick of oil, with wet-looking swirls of plum swimming about. Tendrils of fog had begun to snake their way along the grass, coming in with the cooler air of the nighttime storm. As I wiped at the windows, clearing away some of the condensation from my breath, little sparks of light popped inside of far off clouds, glowing behind them, illuminating them like giant, iridescent jellyfish in the deep, black parts of some far-off ocean.
Each time a low rumble of thunder shook the china in the cabinet even a little, I cursed under my breath. I was waiting for that one clap of thunder loud enough to startle the baby and set him screaming. I clenched my jaw, just staring out the window, waiting, praying for Jeff’s headlights to cross into the driveway.
The storm hadn’t woken Billy yet. My sweet, little Billy—three days old and as cute as a button—lay soundlessly in his little swing, swaying back and forth. I watched him on the screen of the video monitor linked to my cell phone, and I tensed with each flash and each rumble. He was so quiet, such a good sleeper, and this mommy was proud.
Such a little thing.
The wind picked up. The great branches of the oak tree that towered over our lawn swayed and churned through the flashes of lightning. Leaves swirled like schools of fish outrunning the gaping maw of the exploding thunderheads, growing and churning in the purple sky. The frame around the window creaked and then cracked loudly as the head of a strong gust caught the front of the house, and then the rain began to fall. It was just a few drops at first, but it abruptly turned into a wall of water, obscuring and twisting everything into some malformed version of itself, until even the streetlamp began to look like an old lantern held by a decrepit old crone. I shuddered and closed the curtains as I headed down the hall to where our baby lay.
I peeked in at him where he was sleeping in our bedroom, swinging quietly away. I almost dreaded him waking. Part of me knew that he wouldn’t (a good mother is supposed to know these things after all), but the idea of it suddenly filled me with dread.
What if he had? A storm raging outside and his father nowhere about? How would I ever calm him?
The light in the room dimmed as I began to shut the door. Silent flashes of lightning cut the darkness in intervals, vibrating muted flickers of amethyst along the walls in short bursts. I left the door open a crack so that a cool, yellow light from the hallway fell in a sliver across the baby’s face so he wouldn’t be scared in the dark if he were to wake.
The door squeaked as it moved, un-oiled, and in disrepair—another one of the things Jeff had said he’d get to, but never seemed to get around to doing. I should have brought that up in our little fight, or something of the sort. He was so adamant about dredging up every little tiny thing that was wrong with me, I should have been able to come back with something that was wrong with him. But, even as he yelled at me, the door squeaking, or anything else he failed to do around the house, didn’t seem important enough to say. Not really. Not when you compared it to all of the other things that he did do. That’s what had made the fight so bad, I guessed. Not just that it was such a rare event, but that Jeff was always so good to me, and so helpful, but right then, so ugly in the way he spoke. I should have defended myself better. Instead, I just cried, and he walked out the door.
But really, it was such a little thing.
He had to go, he said. He had to go get help. You need help, he said, as if we weren’t in this together at all, and worse, implying that I couldn’t take care of little Billy on my own.
Well, that was true, mostly, and as the thunder rumbled closer overhead I was too-well reminded of that. The idea of being a mother had seemed much easier before actually giving birth. I pictured Jeff and myself together, raising Billy as complete equals, hand in hand, sharing everything as fully as we could. After the fight, I questioned myself incessantly about whether or not I’d be alone.
I thought I’d answered that question every time I unlocked my phone, hoping
desperately that I’d see a text message or a call from Jeff, and there was nothing there.
Every time I’d open my contacts, my recent tab, and my finger would hover over Jeff’s name, one press, and the call would connect, I prayed that my phone would vibrate in my hand, and Jeff would be there on the other line telling me that everything was all right, and that he was coming home. Every time that didn’t happen, and I’d locked my phone and the screen had gone black, I told myself that Jeff didn’t love me anymore at all—me or our baby—and that he was gone for good. I could have been wrong. I had been wrong about a lot of things.
I started to feel a bit sorry for myself and began walking back to the window to look out for Jeff some more, but before I had made it all the way back to the living room, a roar of thunder made the house vibrate under my feet. My heart seemed to stop and slam itself back into beating again as the lights flickered, and every inch of my skin raised in a sudden tingle. Before I had the chance to settle my breathing just a little bit, I swore I heard Billy begin to cry. I sighed loudly, feeling my breath tremble at the back of my throat, but somehow, I smiled a bit with the anticipation of seeing his sweet, little face; scooping him up in my arms as he stretched from his overly-long nap. The feeling gave me chills.
I walked back toward the bedroom as fast as I could and began opening the door, expecting to see his little head turning from side to side as he began to sputter and cry for comfort. Instead, I opened the door to stillness and silence. Little Billy was fast asleep as if he hadn’t heard a thing at all. I had always heard about things like this happening at odd times throughout the day; a mother’s focus never lightened—always thinking you’re hearing your little one cry.
Oh well, I thought. I was safe for now, as I really hadn’t much wanted to feed the baby at all without Jeff there to give me a hand. Still, I would have to wake him soon. It had been almost three hours since I had last tried to feed him, and I didn’t want to go over four. One hour, that’s how long Jeff had to get home. Damn him, but he was right. I did need some help.
I had done my fair share of pacing throughout the day, from the window, down the hall, and to the bedroom, and back again, so I tried to find other ways to keep my mind occupied. I had a pile of large, wood-carved letters from A to Z that the women at my baby shower had decorated for us. They glued construction paper to them that was different shades of blues and purples and other colors, and they fancied them up with stickers of different bugs and animals, until they were something fit for a little boy to have hanging in his bedroom.
As the rain poured against the windows and the roof of the house, and the thunder and the flashes of lightning came and went, sometimes making me jump and shriek, and other times, almost without a sound, I worked on putting those letters up on the walls in Billy’s little room. They were bulky and a bit heavy, but I got them to stick tight with balled-up bits of poster putty.
As I began hanging them, I began to wonder if I somehow were doing the letters a disservice, being so limited by their ordained order. The A was already placed, as well as the B. But as I stared at them, I searched for words to hang that were more bright and meaningful than just an A to Z. Following the B I could have written BOY, but that seemed somehow unfitting, like I was just giving a label to my son. I could have written BOUNCE or BATHE—a litany of other words that would have fit, but would have all seemed too Goddamn ordinary for such a handsome little man. All except the ones you needed double letters to spell out. I just wished I could have spelled out BABY. That alone would have made me happy, and, out of the blue, I wished then that we could do it all over again. Have another.
Anyway, I could have spelled whatever the hell I wanted in his little blue room. But I would need another B, or another whatever for every damn word, it seemed.
Another B for baby, the thought of that had already sparked and caught fire in me then—the need for another. Not just the need for Jeff to come back home, but the need for another, entirely. Another baby.
Of course, it was too early even to try for one. Everything we had read had said no sex until at least six weeks after birth, and that was if everything had gone well. Which, I thought it had. We had gone au naturel. No hospitals or ERs. No cesarean. Not even a midwife. We did everything we could to let nature take its beautiful course, and Jeff, bless his heart, had been all aboard from the start. Well, I shouldn’t say that. It had taken a tiny bit of convincing on my part.
That was another word I could use up on the wall (it would fit, anyway), and that word was something I wished I never was.
It hadn’t seemed that way, though. Jeff did much of the research himself, too, looking up which type of candles, essential oils, and music would be best for home birth.
BIRTH. Another word that would fit.
Lightning cracked outside, so bright and close that I jumped again and heard myself yelp before I could think to make an effort to stop. I could feel the electricity in the air make my hair begin to stand, and I noticed I was grinding my teeth, waiting once more for the baby to cry. I tilted my head, putting my ear as close to the door as I could without having to stand up, and I listened as carefully as I could—the kind of listening you do where you can actually hear the blood inside of your ear move; feel a growing pressure move in a wave throughout your skull, as if you were subtly calling in the sounds you were searching for, quelling all of the other noises of your home, all of it, just to draw in the ones you wanted until they swam inside your head.
There was silence. I looked at my phone and saw that I still had close to that hour
before I had to wake him. Jeff, where are you?
I called him, then. I told myself I wouldn’t, but I did it anyway. The line rang and it rang. Six times it rang, until an electronic voice told me to leave a message. I hung up instead, and as I did, I felt panic as I imagined giving birth or going into active labor without Jeff by my side. What if I had had to call him only to reach his voicemail? What if it had been a night like this—torrents of rain preceding a looming tempest, and all I could speak to was a robot who recited Jeff’s unanswered number, telling me it was unavailable?
BROKEN. Would that suffice?
The storm grew closer—you could tell by the sound. When I was a girl, I learned to gauge the distance of a storm by counting the seconds between the flash of lightning, and the sound of the thunder. I wanted to know how long until the worst of it was right overhead.
Before I could begin counting, I needed to make sure my baby was all right, so I poked my head in to look at him one last time, and then I made my way back to the living room to watch for Jeff and to look at the lightning. I waited then for a flash so I could start counting. I stood there, again wiping my breathy fog from the window, staring at the drive and at the clouds. Down again to the street and back to the clouds.
The rain was pouring in sheets again, a solid wall of wetness with droplets so big it seemed they’d hurt you if you were to step outside. The fog curled under the droplets, rising up and twisting in the air, dancing like ghosts in the cool of the night.
One, I counted after a flash lit up the sky. It cut its way across the night like etchings in a language long forgotten by time itself. The irony of counting such a thing—ancient forces crashing and spelling out their illegible doom in the sky, and there I stood, counting like an idiot.
Two. Such a feeble thing. Like counting and timing contractions. The pain—so sharp, so all-encompassing—like being stabbed through the guts with the biggest knife in the world. Every single contraction toward the end brought me to my knees, the gravity of it all, my baby getting closer, pushing his little head against my cervix with each downward thrust of my uterus, shoving him down, willing him to break free before he was ready. It felt so big, so life changing, that being curled up on the floor, bawling and screaming, I laughed at how small, but how important it was to time what was happening to me—to count toward the epoch that would define my entire life.
I smiled to myself, felt my still-swollen belly, and I was just about to speak the word three as the thunder hit. The glass in front of me shook in its frame, and somewhere in the house, I heard something thump to the ground. I unlocked my phone, and the screen opened on the app that allowed me to see my son through the little camera in the corner of the room, still sleeping so sweetly in his swing. Sweat beaded my forehead and I wiped it before it could drip on the screen. He was safe, but the fact that I knew it had been something else that had made the noise and I was alone in the house made a cold shiver run from my head to my feet.
The urge to yell for Jeff had almost made me call out to him, and I swear the words were on my tongue before I remembered the truth of the situation. Normally, I’d have sent him to see what had made the thump, but on this night, it crept in deep inside of me that I was on my own.
I had to do it myself. Fucking Jeff. Pulling this shit now. A sweet little baby alone in a room, his mother, body aching, still bleeding and swollen from the place her husband left his seed, heaving in the dark, happier than he had seemed since I had sprung the news on him, which should have been a wonder, should have been a miracle under the eyes of God, oh God, how we had tried, but every time, left a forsaken empty womb of a would-be mother aching for a child; but that look in Jeff’s eyes, the one he gave me when I told him we were to have a child, that look had told me that he would have taken back every ounce of pleasure, every moment of love-making, if it had meant that the little boy that grew inside of me would suddenly disappear.
Was it that? Did I imagine it? Hadn’t he been happy? Somehow it all blurred, his face as he turned and slammed the door behind him, melting, obscuring every clear thought I believed I had.
Hands shaking, I searched the house, starting (of course) with our bedroom where Billy slept, thinking of awful things that skitter along the edges of nightmares, broken free, clinging to the darkness that rested in the corners of our home. Thunder roared overhead, amplified by the empty space of the high ceilings in Jeff’s awful, cold, dark house; those ceilings tall enough to be bathed in shadow, hiding whatever malformed creature of hell that stalked my every step, and up there, somewhere out there in the dark,
I swear I heard it moving, a sloshing, rhythmic sound, folded under the heaving of the thunder. As it wandered somewhere on the ceiling, squelching in my ears, I swear, I could somehow feel it in my guts. The smell was awful. Whatever it was, it smelled like it crawled from a grave.
Still, I searched. If not for my own peace of mind, for the protection of my child. I started again in the kitchen by the door where Jeff had left me crying and alone. The floors were clear—swept cleaned, mopped and polished, just as they were when Jeff left, no thanks to him. As the baby slept the day away, I cleaned, and I’d checked him as Jeff paced with that horrid look on his face. I’d nursed him, trying not to yell in frustration at the tepidness of his shallow little latch, and I had to hold off the urge to shake him silly. Jeff couldn’t bare to be in the same room.
Before today, it had seemed that Jeff was always trying to help with things like this. He tried to comfort me, telling me that things were going to be all right. I remember shrugging him off. The remembrance brought me pain at my frustration and brought a longing for my husband to be home again, for good. My anger with him was misplaced, and ill-contrived.
Such a little thing.
Jeff had cried as I had. He had held Billy, nuzzling his forehead up to our son’s—I think, willing him to suckle like he was born to do. I hadn’t wanted formula—breast is best, they said—and even in that time, Jeff hadn’t offered it, respecting my wishes, whole.
I wished I could take it back, my fury with Jeff, but his words had seemed to open something inside of me, and all the things that were bouncing around my skull must have been there all along, but they had just been hidden from me, and God, I wished they still were. But as I searched the house for that awful thud, and the thing that snaked around the shadows, unseen—whatever horrible thing I might find—something couldn’t let go. His words were ringing in my head: “You need help,” and for that I resented him, even if it was just a little bit.
I was a mother, Goddammit. In our bathtub, through all the pain, and the blood and amniotic fluid, I pushed a tiny baby, our little Billy, out of my womb and into this world, for better or for worse. And, for better or worse, I could care for him myself. I had the tools, and my breasts were aching just at the thought.
My muscles throbbed, ready to pounce on whatever had come with the storm to threaten my baby boy. I stalked the halls and turned on all the lights. I could feel anger flushing my cheeks, my resolve was forged in the lightning that hammered the night as I searched for the maker of that grotesque slithering in the darkness of my house. My house. The house where my child slept.
I checked my phone again for the time, remembering with a sick feeling in my gut that the baby needed to eat quite soon. It was growing closer when I would need to wake him—such a little tiny thing that needed so desperately to grow.
Thirty minutes now, I ran the dark hall again to peer in the bedroom. The tiny sliver of light illuminated my baby’s sleeping face, which wasn’t an inch’s stir from where it’d been the last time I had checked. I walked back toward the kitchen and resumed my search. I prayed that it was nothing, no matter how protective I felt. Maybe a mouse who’d toppled something down while looking for food. Maybe just the storm, knocking something from a shelf, and that noise, the wet, sluggish dragging, maybe just water leaking in from a roof in disrepair.
A girl can dream.
I called Jeff again. I’m not really sure why, as I knew he wouldn’t answer. It rang the whole six times as I scanned the dining room and the family room, and looked in the bedroom again where I’d begun my search. Still, I saw nothing.
I hung up and went to the window. Rain was coming down so thick that I couldn’t see the giant oak in my yard anymore, but I swear, I could hear that ancient thing groan—roots deep within the earth that gave it life, straining, dying to stand strong and keep it upright. So mother-like, it was, as I was then, too.
BRANCH: there was another.
I thought of our family then as I thought of the tree—branches snaking out, withering or thriving in the wind and the rain. What would little Billy’s branch be now—just a nub on another limb, shuddering in another storm.
He needed more support, from me and from his father, both—our love like towering limbs of our family tree—protecting and encouraging health and growth of the littler branch.
I watched the drive for a while, listening to the thunder crash and shake the house, when suddenly I thought of something worse than the storm, worse than my irrational fears of a monster in the house, and worse (much worse) than Jeff’s and my little fight.
I pictured it on the wall, written up there with baby-colored print among the stuffed animals and toys, before I pictured it in reality. Jeff—rain pouring down, sounding like hammers hitting the metal of his car—standing there on the side of the road with his thumb out.
I pictured him waving a car down in the storm, being a little too close to the road, and that car not able to see as their headlights reflected the downpour right back into their
In my head, Jeff, wasn’t just out. He wasn’t off running errands or blowing off steam at his mother’s house or wherever he had gone. No. He was dying in a ditch, every bone in his body broken, every muscle torn, lying in a mangled heap at the bottom of some slick ravine he’d slid down after being struck by a car that never stopped or turned around. I pictured his face covered in blood, dirt, and meat, teeth missing, and eyes bulging from their sockets.
I closed my eyes as I tried to squeeze the picture away, but I couldn’t. I was sure that what I was envisioning was more than just a fear—more than just the most violent representation of the worst thing I could imagine—but that it was a vision into truth, itself. That somehow, in my focus on him, my anger, my wonder, I had torn a small hole through the space that had us separated, and I was peering through that hole, then.
I raced back through the house, away from that window and that terrible storm, and I pushed into my bedroom and scooped little Billy from the swing. I prayed that I was
wrong. I prayed that Jeff would pull into the driveway any moment, and he would hold us and squeeze us, and he would apologize for leaving me, apologize for saying I needed help, and he would kiss me, and he would kiss Billy on the head, and we’d sit in the living room the rest of the night, and we’d watch the lightning streak the clouds, and we‘d laugh. Oh, we’d laugh away the thought of some creature clinging above our heads.
Without hesitation, before he could even cry, as if he would anyway (he was such a good baby), I pulled down the front of my shirt, pinched my breast, and placed the nipple into Billy’s mouth. He wouldn’t latch again, and I was squeezing him so tight I couldn’t tell if he was fussing about or if it was just my shaking arms, and I tried to calm myself, tried to think of something other than Jeff being dead, so I walked to the nursery and sat in the soft rocker, blowing on that baby’s face, trying to get him to latch. I thought of the unfinished alphabet, just the A and B in place.
BREAST, I thought, and I smiled. I looked down at Billy’s little face, nuzzled in against my skin, his short black hair standing up where he had slept on it. As sweet as he looked, my smile couldn’t last. He wasn’t eating and it was starting to show, and I dreaded what I would see when we weighed him again.
I lay him down across my knees, making sure to keep his head up, and I cradled his body still so that he couldn’t wiggle his way off my lap. Once I was sure he wasn’t going anywhere, I got a baby spoon from the drawer of his nightstand, and I expressed some colostrum for him to eat.
BLAST. I pictured that up the wall as I did it for some reason, expecting a spray, but only getting a few drops. The frustration made me grind my teeth. I couldn’t wait for it to happen—to have my milk come in—to have my breasts feel full and heavy, unloading them on that little boy when he could finally eat. But for now, I only had a little, and I wiped the spoon inside the baby’s mouth, but most of it ran down his cheek.
BASH. It just popped in my head so quickly, brightly colored on the wall with construction paper and little animals, but so dark and sinister, too, and God, I could picture crushing him right there, just tightening my hold on him until I felt every bone in
his body pop.
Just as quickly as I thought it, my heart hurt for my baby, but my mind also sped back to that horrid image of my husband dying in the rain. BLOATING, crying out for me, for Billy, for anyone that could hear. I knew there wouldn’t be anybody to help him, though.
Living out here was such a mistake, and God, I had loved the seclusion at first, so much so that it was what had inspired me to give birth naturally, without the interference of the modern world, but now, all I could think of was how stupid I had been.
This love had come over me, this obsession with the country and the forest, and this longing to go back to the way things were before—a world without conflict and taxes
and bullshit, because, God, who wouldn’t want that? But I had failed to live up to it all, and I had given up on so many of my dreams, and now, I wished I could take back so many things.
I had caved on so many of my beliefs, but never once concerning my baby, and I made a vow that this would be different. The birth would be perfect, and if I couldn’t live my dreams of purity in nature, at least this could be a start.
Jeff and I had dabbled in acupuncture and anthroposophic medicine to help with the pains of being pregnant. We used peppermint oil for nausea, and we used lavender for
anxiety. We tried rubbing marjoram oil on my belly during contractions to help fight the pain, but to be honest, I wasn’t so sure that it had done anything at all. All of this, we had done. So much love had flowed between us, and into my womb, wrapping our baby in an invisible blanket of protection, that right then, thinking about it, tears began to stream down my face. I rocked the baby, not so much to soothe him, but to calm myself, because no matter what I did, I couldn’t forget that picture that was stuck behind my eyes—that image of Jeff, dead or dying—and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get Billy to eat a damn thing.
Without warning, the A that had been attached high on the wall above the crib came unstuck and fell, bouncing off the rail of the crib, making an awful thud. I laughed—a sharp bark that I quickly stuffed back down in fear of startling little Billy who lay nuzzled up on my lap, mouth again to my breast.
The B was gone, too. God, how hadn’t I noticed when I walked in the room? It wasn’t some dreadful creature slinking about my darkened home, lurking after my child and me, no, not at all. Just a stupid wooden letter. Lifeless. Obsolete, lying dead inside the crib.
Such a little thing.
Thunder shook the house and I nestled Billy tighter to my bosom. I felt in my pocket again for my cell, hoping, yet doubting all the same that Jeff would answer and tell me he was almost home. My fingers felt nothing, and I shook as the thunder rumbled again.
Even with the knowledge of what had made that thud when the thunder rumbled the walls—knowing there weren’t glistening teeth hiding in the darkness, yearning for my
neck—that fear, that primal fear of being hunted still had its hooks in me.
Goosebumps prickled on my arms as I buttoned my nursing top and lay the baby in his crib. I wished, feeling my eyes well up again, that Jeff was right there with me. He could have probably gotten the baby to eat, and he could have searched the house, himself.
I found my cell phone on a table in the living room, and I found myself at the window as the phone continued to ring on the other end with no answer. The thunder was almost continuous, and lightning arced across the sky in bolts that seemed to never end. I thought of giving birth. The last bit before the baby had come had seemed like a contraction that never ended—like something inside me had coiled up like a snake and was squeezing me to death. It pounded and throbbed, and in my head I saw stars and flashes and blackness and fire.
The rain pounded the window in front of my face, so hard, I thought it might break, and the tree limbs swayed and thrashed on the verge of breaking and crushing the house and my baby didn’t cry, didn’t even make a sound, and somewhere far off, maybe in my head, maybe just a memory in the walls of this awful house, brought out by this awful storm, I heard Jeff calling out, yelling through it all, telling me: “Push, Sarah! You have to push.”
I covered my ears now as Jeff’s voice grew louder, louder now than the churning, roiling storm, and I tried to push it all away, but I remembered, I remembered everything.
In my head I saw myself lying naked in our tub as Jeff knelt over me, his hands in the water ready to catch the baby. I could see myself slipping in and out of consciousness, trying to push as the hours slipped by without so much as a crowning.
I opened my eyes then, trying to see anything else, trying to force away the memory as it brought me back. I could feel the pain as if it were happening again, being torn apart, pushing, bleeding, and shitting in the tub.
Far off through the trees, lights flashed so bright they lit up the night. It wasn’t the lightning; it was bigger than that, encompassing, flashing repetitively, blue and red, blue and red.
In my head, Jeff still yelled: “Push, Sarah. Please! You have to keep pushing.”
The storm cracked and roared, and I could feel it all in the floors, vibrating up from my feet, through my legs, and into my belly. Above the thunder and rain verging on breaking the glass, sirens wailed through the trees. They sped closer, and I could see the headlights. One car leading another, and a van following behind.
Jeff, I thought. I couldn’t put my feelings in place. I felt between my legs, sure that I was bleeding, losing my water, expecting to feel the soft head of Billy again, but that was impossible, it couldn’t have been, and I was right. I pulled my hand away, and it was dry.
The police were speeding up the drive, and at once, all of my fears realized, but fears I had tried to deny for so long. God, each thing I had feared, each thing I denied, and refused to say aloud, coming to light, approaching faster by the second.
They were almost to the house.
I was back in the nursery before I knew I had moved, and I had the baby in a blanket, cradled as I ran back to the living room—the living room, where any moment, there would be a knock, and there the police would tell me what I had known all along, God, Jeff! Why did you have to go?
I clutched the baby so tight to me, swaddled lightly, and I kissed the top of his head. Car doors slammed outside, but the lights remained, red and blue, red and blue, spinning in the rain, breaking through the shadows, but illuminating the whipping tree and toiling leaves, giving light to the horrors of that troubled wind.
I rocked the baby, maybe too hard, I couldn’t tell, and as the lightning crashed, underneath, I heard the stomping boots of men running up the walk, and I thought again of being naked in the tub, Jeff banging his hand on the ceramic, begging me to stay awake, begging me to push, and I’d wake up, and I’d push with all my might, and at last, I felt Billy come, slipping from me like I’d lost control of my bowels, and all my guts were tumbling out.
I saw Jeff standing over me, holding little Billy, and just then, startling me from the memory, Jeff burst through the front door, in real life, right in front of where I lay, collapsed on the living room floor with my baby in my arms. He had the same look he had back then, but this time the police filed in behind him, and I knew, I knew what he was going to say before he could even open his mouth, and as I peeled back the receiving blanket, hoping to see Billy’s shining eyes, but knowing better, knowing what I would see and what Jeff would say, I cried, and my tears fell silently on the swaddle.
My baby boy was a darker shade of blue now, bordering almost on purple, even black in some spots. A police officer stepped forward and knelt beside me, but I shoved him away as I stared at my child and the sunken sockets of his eyes stared right back.
I couldn’t focus. Jeff stood before me, just as he did after the birth, and it was just like this as we both cried and I held my sweet boy.
“He’s dead,” Jeff said.
It echoed as I struggled to hold onto what was real. He said it in both worlds, the memory of the birth and the now, and in both worlds it was true.
“He’s dead,” Jeff said again. “Sarah…you have to let go.”
The officer took him from my hands, my strength gone, everything I’d held in for days, finally letting go. The swaddle broke and his little arm poked out of the blanket.
BLANKET. Another word for the wall.
My vision blurred as the officer carried Billy through the door with his little arm hanging and bouncing with the officer’s steps. I saw it happen, and I also saw the bathroom, the tub, that little arm bouncing as Jeff handed him to me days ago, limp and lifeless, then, also, and I couldn’t separate the two. I felt the warmth of the water around me, calming me as I pushed, but I also felt the carpet on my back as I lay screaming on the living room floor. I felt myself try to crawl toward where they had taken my boy, clawing at the air. Reversing now, further back in time, cresting the other side of the epoch, crawling backwards up the hill until it stopped, centering me in the memory, making me feel every bit like I was right back there, sitting back in that tub as if Billy hadn’t come. I could feel Jeff’s hands rubbing my feet under the water, and as I felt another contraction coming, bigger than the last, I heard Jeff say, “push,” and I did. I pushed.
Thunder made me scream as the police held me to the ground, and then everything went blank.
The water felt so warm around me as I lay in the tub. Jeff was at my side with a smile on his face. Billy would be coming soon, and, God, the labor felt like a storm.
It was such a little thing.