The child dangles grey in the doctor’s hand. No movement, no cry. It comes to this.
Seven months she has waited, telling secret stories to the little fish swimming in her ocean, staring at night over the mound of her own flesh and whispering, “I’m waiting,” feeling that momentary answering caress within. She built for it a world of sunlight and joy joy joy bursting from the ground. But it comes to this. The child dangles grey in the doctor’s hand.
When they told her to look at adoption, she closed her eyes and willed her body to swell, willed weak flesh to strengthen. She held her husband inside her and whispered prayers to her own body. And so it happened, just like in her mind—she grew large with secrets and with possibility.
Later, they came to her with assurances of “daughter” and “incubator,” but she thought, no, I saw it. Saw it still, hovering in the corner of her eye, in the high ceiling corner behind her — that still, grey face, blue lips, closed eyes.
After the needle, she closed her eyes and sank heavily into the white sheets. In the dark, in the quiet, the little ghost drifted down and away. She willed herself after it, out to the hospital grounds, to the back and into a shadowed group of trees, into the hole in the ground. The child hovered in front of her, light enough that she could follow it. The hole was damp, and worms crawled on the walls (she could feel it), but she wasn’t afraid. When a cavern opened in front of her, and a dark lake, she was surprised how it looked like glass.
“Sing me a song,” the child said in the voice that had always answered in her head. “Sing me a song,” it said.
She sang a song in the language of waiting, a song about milk and warm flannel blankets, a song about kisses and sun on her face.
When she was done, the grey form still hung there, but waiting now, as if the song had stirred it in a way it craved but did not understand.
“Tell me a story.”
She told it a story of longing, a story of dreams stored up in cookie jars, turned over and over in her hands, until she took them out on the new moon and let them go like butterflies. She told a story about happiness, about popsicles on long July afternoons, about furry dogs with big wet tongues, about the first crocus poking through snow.
And it seemed the child smiled within its glow. It seemed that the child looked over its shoulder at the obsidian lake, and then to her, its breath still held in its mouth.
She clasped her hands together and wished one more time, so hard her chest ached with the strain of it. The child came close and looked at her with a newborn’s sea-blue eyes.
“Do you want me?”
She thought, as she woke, that she heard a baby’s cry. But the sound and the dream were displaced by the clarity of the child dangling grey in the doctor’s hand. And so the winter light faded to grey, along with the food on her breakfast tray, the horror in her head when they said they would take her to see it.
But they did not ride the elevator to the basement, to a tiny draped form on a gurney. They went down one floor and around the corner, to bring her to it. It lay locked in a glass box, like Snow White under a spell, tubes in its nose and arm but, unbelievably, pink. She laid her hands and forehead on the cool glass and breathed every sigh of hope all over again. “Oh, baby,” she called to it across the gulf between them that diminished every moment. “Oh, daughter.”
And the girl opened her sea-blue eyes. As at waking, the mother heard the cry.
Virginia Mohlere lives in southeast Texas with a surfer muse, a cat that eats beans, occasional Wicked Stepchildren and badly organized piles of paper. The ink staining her fingers is green. Neither the snakes nor the lizards in her yard are bothersome, but she has a mortal dread of tree roaches.
Image: Prosperine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.