I was frantic to be away from the woman who smiled and cried happy tears, so I ran from the room we shared. I wanted as much space between us as possible, so I ran and I didn't stop until I ran out of room to run.
I found myself in a room empty of people, but it was still full of other things I wanted to run away from. Breastfeeding brochures. Parenting magazine. Prints of women holding tiny babies.
In desperation, I pushed open the door that led outside to a roof deck. I was relieved to discover it was unseasonably warm for late March so I settled into a chair and watched the traffic go by on the street below.What are you doing?
“I don’t know,” I said, because the only thing I knew was that I was scared.
“Stop trying to scare me.”
“I’m not trying to scare you,” he said curtly. He’d just returned from a visit to the doctor and was irritable.
“Then what are you trying to do? Piss me off?”
“Am I?” he said, sounding almost hopeful.
“Can you just stop being an ass and tell me what the doctor said?”
“He said I’m dying.”
“He said that a year ago.”
“He has to be right sooner or later.”
I stared at him as he stood just inside the front door of his house. Outside a woman was walking a German Shepard. I saw them stop at a tree across the street and then they were gone. Absurdly, I missed them.
“So he tells me,” he sighed.
“Honestly, if there’s a God…and I’m starting to doubt there is, by the way…”
“I’ve been telling you this for years…”
He ignored me. “…yes, today. But, since there is no God, probably not.”
“A year. Less.”
I felt the air leave my lungs. “Oh…”
“This baby you say is the reason for the lumpish appearance of your abdomen? Keep it.”
“What?” I still couldn’t breathe.
“No, I can’t.”
“You have to. I’m dying and I said so. End of discussion.”
He strode away from the door and took the stairs two at a time until I couldn’t see him anymore.
“Mull it over!” he shouted down the stairs.
“I already have and…”
“Mull it more.”I heard his bedroom door slam.
A car door slammed, echoing loudly in the early morning stillness and bringing my thoughts back to the present. I sensed I was being watched and turned around to find him standing behind me.
“Hey,” I said. “You look tired.”
“Listen, kid, we need to talk,” he said. “Come inside with me.”
“I don’t want to go inside…”
“I can’t sit out here,” he said softly.
I immediately stood up and followed him inside. He took my hand and led me around a corner to a nook tucked into the space behind a bathroom. A baby with a pink hat lay sleeping in one of the plastic bassinettes.
“It is,” he said as he gently pushed me down on the sofa. “You have to hold her.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You have to.”
“No…” My voice left me the instant he put the baby in my arms.
He sat next to me and took the baby’s hat off, revealing a shock of dark hair. He gently rubbed his thumb across her cheek.
“Look what you did,” he whispered. “Look at her, darlin’. She’s gorgeous.”
“Listen to me,” he said in an urgent voice. “I want to keep this baby. I want to watch you love her.”
“I want to watch you love her,” he repeated in a whisper. “I want to watch her love you. I want you to show her everything you are so she can be just like you. Let me watch you grow together for as long as I have left so I can die knowing you won’t be alone.”
“What will we call her?” I asked when the lump in my throat finally went away.
“Anything you want.”
“What if what I want isn’t good enough? What if I don’t love her enough?”
“You already love her more than enough.”
“What if she doesn’t love me? What if she hates me when she’s a teenager?”
“All teenagers hate their mothers.”
“But I hated my mother. What if I’m not better? What if I’m worse…”
“You are not your mother.”
“What if I don’t make her proud?”
“You will make each other proud, darlin’. I promise, you will.”
"MUM! Did you see that? Were you watching? Did you see?”
My daughter is standing in front of me, brown eyes full of excitement and pride. I feel tears stinging the back of my eyes but I blink them away, not wanting to embarrass her in front of her teammates and her beloved coach.
“It was awesome."
“If I can get it consistent, I can throw it in competition and have a good chance to place at States! Can I stay for an extra hour of practice? Please?”
Her eyes plead with me and I can’t say no.
“Thanks, Mum! Love you!”
I watch her bound away. The shock of dark hair she had as a newborn is now a softer shade of brown, tied up in a ponytail. I watch as she mounts the uneven bars and am, as always, surprised at her determination. I no longer blink away the tears.
“You seem so proud of her,” Jen’s mother says softly.
“You have no idea.”