by Sharon Frame Gay
She's nestled in the space between heartbeats, a ghost child who never grew up. We had such a short visit with her, the memory now tucked into boxes along with little sweaters, booties.
We named her Kristina and hosted a memorial in the living room with friends and family after she died. I lit candles and ordered white roses, their petals falling from the vase afterwards, settling onto the table like tears. A few friends brought balloons with colorful baby ducks and teddy bears. We talked, played lullabies, shared our sorrow. After the ceremony everyone stepped outside, formed a circle and held hands. The balloons were released, rising towards heaven, startling the angels.
Kristina was so small. For one short moment, she opened her eyes. There was wisdom, wonder, as she moved her head from side to side, taking it all in. Then as quickly as she was here, she left. A little sigh, a light shudder. The nurse whisked her away and hurried out of the room.
Later, a woman with sad eyes who smelled of stale coffee and disappointment placed Kristina in my arms for a final goodbye, tiny body wrapped in a soft pink blanket.
I cupped Kristina's head in my palm, unwound the blanket, checked her perfect little legs, arms, the shell of nail on finger, tiny ears. Inhaled her scent, committed it to memory. Josh sat in a chair beside the bed, hands clasped between his knees, rocking back and forth. He leaned over and kissed her forehead. Something shattered in me so vast, so yawning, that I thought I could never scrape the shards together again. There will always be tiny, shiny bits missing.
Each day the world continued to spin around the sun. It did not stop in its orbit for something such as losing a baby, but felt tilted and out of control, like a child's top that careens across the floor.
Josh went back to work the next week. His eyes were downcast and solemn as he left the house, but his footsteps spoke of relief, released from the clasp of sorrow, if only for the day.
Friends returned to their lives. Even my mother's voice regained its normal cheerful quality, and my dad resumed puttering in his workshop. The dogs sniffed at the unused crib, then wrapped themselves in our bed as I slept off grief like a drug. There were no dreams, only the deep expanse of darkness I looked forward to as if it were an old friend.
For weeks, I wandered through the house aimlessly. Strolled from room to room, my shadow inching alongside, a mournful companion. I touched the toys that Kristina will never play with, the delicate clothing that never graced her body. Rubbed baby lotion on my arms, legs, aching breasts.
As if it betrayed me, my body morphed back into shape. My belly had only been a small bump the day we went to the hospital. Now it's tightened and hollowed from lack of eating, sadness. There was simply no sign of Kristina when I stared long in the mirror, wondering what I did to lose the one thing God had given me to tend.
When Josh and I found out we were expecting, we were overjoyed. I placed my palm on my belly throughout the day, proud and excited. In soft and fecund daydreams, I saw her take first steps, speak first words, grow into a leggy girl, then a lovely woman. I thought about adventures together, a trip to Italy. Josh and I sitting at college graduation in chairs that numbed, sunshine beating on our shoulders, fanning the heat with folded programs. In my dreams, we walked Kristina down the aisle, her dress and flowers white, then blinked back sorrow, remembering the candles on the mantel, the roses in the vase. I pictured myself as a grandmother, anticipating the shared joy as we looked over her baby's head and our eyes met, a kinship of womanhood, a legacy.
The world seems cruel now. Well meaning friends said there was plenty of time to make more children. My mother confided that she had a miscarriage when I was two. A little brother or sister who went back to the Universe. Their message was clear. Move on, start anew. Trade in the dream for a memory and take heart. I listened, nodded, then shut the door to their words. I held Kristina's stuffed lamb in my arms and whispered that I would never forget her. It seemed disloyal to think of another baby, another life, when Kristina was taken so soon.
I hid from the phone, ducked under windows when the doorbell rang, smelling my defeat in the stained robe I refused to take off, day after day. It was torture to walk into Kristina's room, and yet I stepped over the threshold again and again, a sacred place, mesmerized by the movement of the mobile in the corner, the cold, silent emptiness of the crib.
Why, I wonder, did Kristina's soul decide that she somehow made a wrong turn and wanted to go back home? Was she meant for another mother, but ended up in my womb by accident?
Roaming the hallway and watching the world go by outside the nursery window, I thought maybe she was destined for something else. Another galaxy. A star, perhaps, yet undiscovered.
The hospital gave us a small curl from her head. A few fragile tufts of blond hair. All that is left of Kristina.
I put it in a box shaped like an angel wing, tucked it away with yearbooks, wedding photos, post cards of the timeline of our lives, and a swatch of lace from her christening gown. Someday, the box will be buried with me, along with a sterling charm bracelet I meant to fill with memories from Kristina's childhood and give to her on her eighteenth birthday. The silver will tarnish and fade long before I wear it around my own wrist when I take my final breath.
It is then I hope that Kristina will lay in my arms again and tell me everything I need to know.
* * *
"Baby Steps" was previously published in Literary Mama Magazine in October, 2018.
Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. Her work has been internationally published in anthologies and literary magazines, including Chicken Soup For The Soul, Typehouse, Fiction on the Web, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Crannóg Magazine, and others. Her work has won prizes at Women on Writing, Rope and Wire Magazine, The Writing District and Owl Hollow Press. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. She is found on Amazon @ https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01HN5AGXK Facebook: Sharon Frame Gay-Writer. Twitter: sharonframegay