Written by Rebekah Postupak
for the Fall Flash Festival
“There’s something wrong with the baby.”
The words rushed out, unstoppable, crashing on the floor like the bowl of Cheerios a moment earlier, like the macaroni the night before, like the leaves from my favorite maple tree, like the southeast corner of the kitchen ceiling, like airplanes, like stars. Down, down, down, by ones, by twos, shattering in blazes of hideous glory.
Jason wasn’t there to hear, of course, and Autumn didn’t look up from the floor where she was stirring the mess with her feet. But the words filled the room anyway, terrible and liberating. There’s something’s wrong with the baby. I said it again while mopping up the cereal. Said it again, only louder, while stuffing what looked like a month’s worth of cloth diapers into the dryer. Screamed it as scalding water thundered onto my head, my skin blushing in my first proper shower in three days.
“You’re imagining things,” said Jason over supper. Supper tonight was his turn, rubbery eggs and burnt toast. Given the day I’d had, it tasted like filet mignon.
“She laughs at everything,” I said.
“Of course she does! She’s a happy girl.”
“No. Not in a good way. She laughs when stuff breaks, even her toys. She laughed this morning when she scraped her knee. Blood dripping down her leg, and she shrieks like I’m all three Stooges.”
“So she’s a tough girl.”
“She laughed when I cut my finger last month and had to go to the ER.”
Jason shrugged, not unkindly, but in a way that meant You’re overreacting again. “I’d rather have her meet problems laughing than crying. Life’s hard enough.”
“She won’t look at me anymore.” My list stretched across three pages; Jason was not getting off the hook that fast. “She won’t play with her friends. She uses her Barbie dolls as silverware. She—”
“Autumn is two. Do you really expect mastery of skills at this age? She doesn’t even know what a Barbie is. And you never played with dolls at all yourself until you were, what, ten?”
“Nine.” I remembered the cherub-faced babydoll as clearly as I did Autumn’s baby face. They weren’t entirely dissimilar, actually, with their round cheeks, long lashes, and vacant stares.
“There you have it then. Maybe she’ll be a late bloomer.”
“She’s not a bloomer at all. Jason, she’s going backwards. She’s forgetting how to do things.”
“What is there to forget?? She’s two. Darling, I love you, but you have some kind of crazy expectations for this kid.” He held up his hands, palms out, stopping my protests in mock defeat. “Look, if you’re really worried, get it checked out. I may not share your concerns, but I trust you. Call the doctors. See a specialist, whatever. You know the drill.”
You know the drill.
Now it was his words’ turn to fill the room. They cascaded lightly in reds and golds and glaring lights and needles and turkeys and pumpkins and tests and vermillions and ambers and failure.
It had taken five doctors and dozens of copays to stamp out the embers of our dreams.
You’re not going to conceive on your own.
You have kidney problems. The risks of metformin are too great.
Clinical trials have proved inconclusive.
Have you considered adoption?
My miracle girl banged her cup on her head, shouted something incomprehensible and giggled. Jason glanced at me sheepishly, his mouth puckered into a half-smile.
“Isn’t it a little bit funny?”
Winter lurked in the air, its cold, dry fists already pummeling my lungs, my heart.
Leaves curled on the ground in fetal position, dissolving into ash.
Autumn threw her cup. It ricocheted off the fridge and then my head before skipping across the floor where it spun on its edge like a figure skating champion going for the gold. She froze, cocking her head, as if waiting for something. Then:
She looked at me.
And her beautiful, chubby, perfect hand gripped my trembling, shadowed hand.
She looked at me.
Something deep within me cracked a little. Only a little, but it was enough. Enough for spilled cereal. Enough for burnt toast and missed showers. Enough for a man who loved me, for faith pieced together by hands so much stronger than mine. It was enough for today, for this moment.
I breathed in the beauty of Autumn. I had forgotten it could still be found, but there it was. It would be there tomorrow too, and the next day, and the day after that, in tiny blazes of precious glory.
And the chimes of our laughter floated up.