He cried for about three minutes, his little voice sounded powerful at first, fighting, and strong. His cries found their way to her ears, which had always been so desperate for love. His strange sounds immediately sounded like home, and like love, but those sounds very quickly changed. Of course, it all happened so fast, she did not even know it was a ‘him’ at this point. It was just crying, just screaming.
There was an almost immediate feeling of removal, followed by a rush of emotion, pain, and even more blood. So much so, that the expulsion of this texture felt as though she were still giving birth. She did not even realize her part in all of this was done. She had done ‘what she could’ and the rest was up to God.
He made guttural sounds, uneven, jagged bursts. Gasping sounds that seemed to grow muffled, as if there were a thick viscous liquid poured down his throat. It was a drowning of sorts; the irony was that he was drowning outside of her. He was drowning on this crisp spring night in the slightly dusty and salt-tinged air of Portland Maine.
It was painful to her, those begging breaths that seemed to reach out and grasp. The pain was not real, not in a physical sense, not anymore. But the emotional pain, she was beginning to feel it now. In the seemingly endless minutes that passed, she had already come to know his sounds. Those frenzied sounds, the way they stampeded into her, she knew she would feel this forever. They were carved into her like initials on the old Oak tree in the small yard of the poorhouse where she grew up. She knew that the echo of these cries would last years. Their scars would grow pale over time but would always be there, marking her memory; these little auditory footprints that would feel like kicks insides of her.
The part of her that made him, that held him inside her body, was scarred now. Ruined.
There was pain for months before this. It went unsaid. It was ‘to be expected.’ At her age, there should have always been ‘some discomfort.’ She mentioned it, or at least she thought she must have when she would visit her physician. His office was an uncomfortable and dusty room located in the back of the Apothecary.
During her visits, she would describe what she was feeling inside of her. She said it was like butterflies at first, the kicking, the movement . . . but over time it dwindled. The butterflies became moths, and eventually they were just dust in a jar, on a shelf, inside of her body.
She is not quite as sure now, she is trying to remember, and maybe she never mentioned it at all, or at least not enough. She should have made it clearer, made her voice heard; the feeling that something inside her took a wrong turn, that it somehow went wrong. She should have said that the excited feeling she had deep below her belly, was still there, but it felt slower; did she say that? And if she said it, did they hear her; was she heard?
Did they care? Worse, did she care?
She thought she would not be able to take the sound anymore, the plaintive and desperate cries from this small creature that lived inside her, it was too much. Could none of them do anything to make it stop? She tried to push herself out of the bed. She tried in vain to reach for something that was not there, that was never there.
She imagined the hands, the small fingers almost like cats’ claws. She wanted to feel the sharp nasty cuts from this kitten of hers. This little thing filled with so much fear, anger, and love, that in its excitement it hurt her. It reached out and scratched. It bit.
But as she sat up, the room swam around her and the darkness crept in front the corners. It almost overtook her, which was when she noticed it; the sudden silence. She let herself fall back onto the bed as the early morning light turned from daylight to madness, and then of course, there was nothing, there was nothing at all.
Her hair which had been soaked with sweat, now hung cool and damp against her face. The blood soaking the sheets, which were warm only moments ago, began to thicken in the cool air and feel stiff against her skin.
Isabelle thought it would all be different, she imagined throughout these not quite nine months, that the room would be warm, that someone would have thought to light candles. She always pictured a healing fire in the fireplace in the corner of the largest room, in their small house. She could imagine Henry’s face, it would be warm, appreciative, it would seem almost, if not quite exactly, to look like love. This expression of his, it would live in the house next to where love would be, if it had only ever moved in, adjacent to it, holding its hand, living with it. A feeling next to love.
He would hand her the baby and Henry would say, “Here he is, our boy, our Oscar.”
It was not nine months. No, of course, it was not. It was seven, maybe seven and a half – she should know. She should have always known, the exactness of it, the moment of conception. The moment that she would be more than just a ‘her,’ the moment she would be a mother, the thing she was always expected to be, and until now, and even now . . . was not.
She did not know; she did not know any of this. She was a mother, who now was not. What is that called? Is there a name for that; the silent grief, the mourning that is best ignored, tidied away, lest it make someone uncomfortable?
There was blood on the floor, it was mixed with tissue, there were pieces of her, and pieces of Oscar. She thought perhaps his little hands had held onto something inside of her and pulled it out on his way. As if he knew, it was not his time to leave.
She closed her eyes, and a cry filled the air.
His cries, Oscar’s cries, not hers; Isabelle had not cried.
There would be an inexpensive grave that simply read, ‘Baby Boy,’ when it should have said his name; a name that her husband would want to save for ‘the next one.’ As if this one was not real. As if a life existing in three small minutes somehow meant less than a life lived in thirty years.
This thing that happened, she could almost hear the neighbors whispering about it, their voices thick with judgement and colored on the ends with fear. Whispering about the birth that did not happen, the baby that did not live.
The life that never happened – except it did.
There was Oscar; he was there, for three minutes. There were no loving looks, no warmth of candles and dim soothing firelight. There was pain. There was blood. There was relief.
There was three minutes of crying.
There was Oscar.
Then, then, there was nothing.