She won’t give me the fish storybook. I take it. Reading the first few pages angrily, aggressively, the door shatters its bell-chime sound and I see my mother towering in the box of a doorway.
“Time to go sweetpea.”
All smiles. I flash a smirk at the hair-lady who runs our playtime and skip out the door, hand shooting to my mother’s stomach. I hold her stomach like her hand. I grasp the bulge of her belly with my palm. My fingers smooth as ivory keys, her shirt stretched to scratchiness.
That night is meatloaf. The next day is food. And the next. And the next. The meals checking off days passed and past, days until.
Today we eat food again. We bunker ourselves in the black Honda Civic, it is fading like a too-washed dress. Arrive in a neat little space in front of the hospital, checking in, waiting for our name to be called.
Time always shudders there. Clocks are loud, pictures paint too many ducks and toys slime with baby fingers. We wait. One, two, three, all in a row. I cannot touch my feet to the ground.
I hear my name. Our name. The nurse looks up from her wafer-cookie clipboard. She is a woman crushed by her oval-flat voice, it is the size of a boulder, heavy and smooth.
The room cuts a cute little cell into the building. It is a cat carrier without the courtesy of a barred window that I can push my nose to, all tiptoes and stretched eyelids.
I cross and uncross my feet, kicking them like a swing pushed too early or too late. My eyes jumble and I cannot concentrate on the grainy images the screen undulates. I like the jelly they rub into my brothers through my mom’s belly button. It has puckered up, embracing the cold gel, making it warm. I know they are brothers. I can feel it the way the stink of jelly blasts my nose.
The doctor’s face opens. Black hole mouth. It sucks my mother’s smile, my dad’s shown teeth. My mother struggles, sits up. They look at me. I want to watch the jelly.
Words fly at me and bounce off. Insulated by gel. Slowly at first, the words hurl themselves at me faster, meaner, lower, like a million boulder voices. The little black gravel, the sharp noses, the roundhouse kicks. Can’t penetrate my cocoon. I learned that word in class, like my brothers in their chrysalis. I cannot hear, I see my parents through aquarium glass. My jellyfish world rolling in on itself and crushing me under its weight.
My pink-balled lion king sleeping bag cuts me into a rectangle, the sunlight hiding behind the lemon tree. Last night I drew a picture, picked a lemon and wrapped sticks – they are presents. One for my mother, two for my brothers.
Part of my dream, Dad is there, he pushes the hair back from my nose and hush-whispers, “you have a brother.”
Rubbing my blinking eyes with stubby fingers I trace my offerings. I take them.
Arrive at the hospital, cold automatic doors slice a whoosh across me like a steel beam to the face. I am awake. I am in this white clay block from which cells are cut.
Nurses flurry, clipboards smack, signatures strike off the pages, stuffed elephants and baby balloons hover in corners, keeping their eyes down. I walk and walk. Finally, this door is mine.
Grins. Ear-to-ear. Knees knocked. Cowlicks in hair. Mismatched PJs. I see Mom. She is holding the light that shied behind the gnarled tree. He has found me. Wyatt. I have found him. His face smells sleepy, like mine. His shine reflects in the face of my mother, it bounces off my father’s stubble and the linoleum is a scatter of lemon-peel light. A box in the corner lights up.
I stumble over, tripping and skipping to find the other. The twin sun. I reach the blanket back and turn my head to my father with lemon poised, waiting, want to put in little baby hand.
Silence. I wait.
I tap tap tap the glass. My smile has sicken-softened and I step back. Step back. I wait. Dad hand gently rests on my head.
My eyes peek back to the moon-face of my other brother, the twin son. His face is an asparagus dyed purple, leeched eggplant. He rests silent. He lies still. He is motionless as the whole world turns on its side.
That day. That day we swaddle Wyatt. His glow could escape through the blue blanket. I smile-cry. I cry from just under my skin. Everything has not sunk beneath yet. The hole where my mother’s smile and my father’s teeth were sucker-smoothed.
We go home. We shut our door, tying off a bandage.
We plan a ceremony for Noah. Soft tissue cutouts in clay red and leafy gold wave the trees closer. Clay angels passed by hands. A solemn group with scythe glasses huddle. Tears sliced in half when they glance down. The jutting lip of the flute splitting the tears in two. One slides back to the liquid sway of the cup. The other eaten by the California dust. So greedy. Speeches lull their way through the grass. They clutch clay angels to their chests.
I want to speak. I shuffle through the aunts and uncles and neighbors and friends and stand, head down, on the sand-scattered patio. Everyone is so tall.
“I miss him. I love him.” They clutch clay angels. I reach for Wyatt.
I hold him like a kitten, afraid—he might wander off. I give him my clay angel. “To remember,” I say. One tear carves a groove past my nose and falls, pillow-soft on Wyatt’s cheek. Full and round, stretched to scratchiness, heavy as a boulder and lemon-sweet.
© Zoe Dabbs
[This piece was selected by Jacky Taylor. Read Zoe’s interview]