My toes searched for the other end of the tub. The house was quiet, and although I was expecting guests, the usual feelings of anxiety and inadequacy that usually did double-dutch in my mind when guests were set to come must have been taking a lemonade break.
I was calm.
No, better than that. I was placid. My thoughts were a whispering blue, and I sat there feeling strong, ready to smile the varied smiles that one must when met with congratulations shrouded in sympathy for the poor lot of us who endure the most splintering fates. Water in my eyes competed with that of the tub. I had been doing so well.
When the doctor confirmed my pregnancy, I had to brace myself on the examination table. We were not actively trying. In fact, Lionel and I were on the verge of divorce. The therapist at our church wanted us to try a little harder, but something in me recognized the folly of going to tell a stranger how broken our union was, especially since I didn’t care that he was fucking other women. As long as he wasn’t touching me with those hands, the hands that had failed to protect my daughter, I didn’t care who he used them on. I still found him attractive though, and at the behest of Lisa, the therapist-another human being I was faking it for, I had some drinks with my friends, went home, and let him make love to me. Shortly after, I realized that my body was turning inside out.
We moved immediately. The house on Thurston was her hers. We bought it right after the wedding, when we were climbing into each other’s skin from being so in love, drenched in hope and optimism about our future. Lionel had taken her outside to ride her little Big Wheel. There were pink streamers on the handlebars that she loved to run between her tiny, chocolate fingers, and a seat covered in rainbows and flowers. All the good stuff. Nature’s promises. He says he only looked away for a second to make sure the garage had come down. In that one second, or however many it actually was, someone took my baby. What I remember most is the blood between the cobblestones. At first, it caused me to vomit each time I went in the front yard, but since Lionel wasn’t ready to move, I planted some lavender there. When the flowers bloomed, I crushed them between my fingers and put them in my bra. She was there, laying on me just like she used to do at naptime. Anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t be thinking about that. God gave me beauty for my ashes. Another baby girl. I don’t know what we will call her yet.
I drew my knees up in preparation to leave the tub and noticed a flutter of fabric through a crack in the door. I was the only one at home. This was to be a small shower. Each person was bringing a dish. Lionel was out picking the elders up to bring them over. Just me.
I walked out of the tub, heading for my room, and there she was. Every hair on my body stood up. I could feel my neck and hands starting to perspire. Big, urgent drops of sweat made their way down my fingertips and onto the carpet. I waited for her to say something, since I had no idea what type of decorum was required in these encounters.
Her face was as soft and innocent as it had been at three years old, only now it was a little slimmer. She didn’t look dead at all. The skin on her face shone like there was a flashlight at the base of her neck. Her hair was a black pile of unruly corkscrews, and her mouth was still delicate and perfect. Her father’s eyes inspected me before she spoke.
“Victoria called me here for the party.”
“Yes, you called me Nile, and she wants to be called Victoria.”
What do you say to your dead daughter, now seven years old, outfitted in a ghostly gown when she says she’s coming to your baby shower? I wanted to drop to my knees and shout some nasty things to The Universe for her shitty timing. How could she? 20 minutes before the guests were set to arrive? Instead I said, “What’s her middle name?”