I dropped my second baby. She fell between my fingers before I could name her. No blood. No first-life breaths. No trace of her anywhere. At least I’d seen my first baby be born still, unruly curls haloed around her sleeping-forever face.
I wanted to be a good mother, one that sniffed my baby’s head with deep breaths to inhale the newborn smell. After dutifully reading parenting books and baby naming books, I felt doubly cheated again: still no baby and still no name and no nostrils full of new life scent.
My mama, who insisted on shopping with me like I was less of a woman, pushed me to the grocery store with her Bible and coupon-stuffed purse, offering only scriptures and guilt.
I’d prepared for motherhood by doing all the motherly things. I knew it was time to do a wifely thing so my husband wouldn’t have to eat pot pies, frozen pizza and take-out again. I obediently put on a slash of lipstick and maternity pants that were just starting to sag as my belly shrunk.
“It’s time you put on your face and got out,” she told me.
We went to the grocery store with pregnant bellies and screaming babies approaching me on every aisle. I needed some answers that my fertile mother didn’t have; I asked the Pic ‘n Save stranger-mothers for advice.
“What did you name your child?” I asked. “Can I hold her?”
They briefly gifted me their downy-headed well-named children without a thought. I could tell Mama was jealous there was a baby in my arms and no grandbaby in hers. She threw a worn word platitude at me.
“God counted the hairs on your head before your birth.”
She told me in the produce aisle as mothers often do, life conversations over snap peas and artichokes.
“Did he count my babies’ hairs too?” I asked.
She didn’t have an answer as I sorted and cradled just-born Pink Ladies, Fujis and Galas, sniffed them for freshness, dropped them into a plastic womb tied with blood-red twist ties.
When I got home with groceries I wouldn’t eat, I was relieved to hear my still-nameless baby calling me: soft, almost-silent whimpers like wall mice building hairbrush-tangle nests. I tried to find her again but my husband stopped my hands-and-knees search.
“Our reservations are at 8:00,” he said.
I knew he meant well, we hadn’t been out together in months. But I wasn’t ready. Not yet. I slouched in the pale pink rocking chair, a pastel elephant dancing over our heads, half-constructed crib abandoned in the corner.
“I’m grieving and I need to be home with the new babies.”
“What babies, Katie?”
He asked like he didn’t know.
I pulled out handfuls of glorious Ash Blonde No. 2 straightened-by-Miss-Susan baby hairs for him.
Plucked sheaves of glorious babies, counted by me and God.
I had names ready for them all, from the Pic ‘n Save check-out, library storytimes and DMV lines; names gifted from women with less glorious hair than mine — children frivolously named after food and appliances — unbrushed messy-buns with messy names not fit to fill Bible family lists, and beehive-headed grandmothers with borrowed modern-named babies in modern strollers.
Refrigerator labels. Family names. Old Testament monikers.
I named each one quickly, carefully, comforting them as they mewed for their lost sister in the carpet cemetery, braiding each bleached strand into conjoined siblings.
I hadn’t failed. I was a mother again. A good one. A baby-namer. These babies were not stolen or rented or borrowed. They were all mine. I had made each one, inch by inch. I wrapped them around my fingers for safety, drawing bloodline-lifelines across my palm. And sniffed in the smell of hairspray and what I imagined a newborn head might smell like.
“Let’s go,” my husband said.
And, with that one well-meaning breath, and despite my best efforts to catch them in my fingers, his words blew all my new babies away.
He didn’t notice and patted my head like I was a toddler. I felt his cold hand on my patchy scalp and shivered.
About The Author
Amy Barnes has words at a variety of sites including The New Southern Fugitives, FlashBack Fiction, Rejection Lit, Perhappened Mag, Popshot Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, X-Ray Lit, Anti-Heroin Chic, Museum of Americana, Penny Fiction, Elephants Never, Re-side, Lucent Dreaming, Lunate Fiction, Cabinet of Heed, Spartan Lit, Penny Fiction, National Flash Fiction Day and others. Her work has been long-listed at Reflex Press, Bath Flash Fiction, Retreat West and TSS Publishing. She volunteers at Fractured Lit, CRAFT, Taco Bell Quarterly, Narratively, Retreat West and NFFD.
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