The stalk drooped under the weight of the bud. Julia tended the flower, making sure the soil wasn’t too moist or too dry.
She had to be doing something wrong, not a single bud had ever bloomed. She’d tried watering it less and the plant had turned brown and crispy. She’d tried watering it more and it failed to bud at all and ended even more swollen, it’s leaves black and slimy. Right now, it was at its happiest; at least it still lived and still budded. As Julia pulled back from the pot, her fingers brushed the bud and it fell onto the soil with plop.
She picked up the soft bud with a sigh. It fell apart as she touched it and as she expected, inside was rotted and putrid, no sign of the brilliant blossoms she’d seen in her dream. Those were brilliantly purple with a hard white seed in the center. Something was missing. Julia tossed the bud into the mulch pile. Disappointment filled her and for a moment, she wanted to give up. James still wasn’t talking to her despite her weekly visits. So why did she even bother? But she couldn’t just give up. The little girl in the darkness had said she’d succeed. She had to, otherwise the girl would never be born, right?
She stretched and suppressed the groan that wanted to escape. She was as huge as a whale these days and since she wasn’t in water, not nearly as graceful. She rubbed her belly, soon, she promised. Soon you’ll be out in the world and we can see each other face to face.
Part of her couldn’t wait. She was done being pregnant, already little Max was a week overdue. But a part of her was glad he was taking his time. Were they ready, really ready, to be parents?! Surely not.
I wrapped the darkness around me like a blanket. It was soothing, numbing. The darkness took away my fears and my sorrow. It left only me, for which I was grateful. When it was just me, I was comfortable. Surrounded by the darkness, I was safe and nothing could reach me. Not the overwhelming sorrow of betrayal or the red-hot anger that followed it.
And so I wrapped myself in the darkness, sinking deep into its depths – seeking forgetfulness. The darkness obliged and twisted around around me, pressing closer. Everywhere I looked I saw darkness. It stretched to the horizon, covering everything like a heavy weight. It was too close and hard to breathe. Wait. I tried to push it back, but my efforts only served to bring it closer.
This wasn’t what I wanted, right? I tried to remember. To remember before the darkness. Flashes of bright memories streaked through the darkness, like a thunderstorm. They crashed around me. Smiles. Joy. Pain. Too much, too fast. I tried to push away from the memories but once they started it was impossible to stop. Each memory ripped into me with painful clarity, stripping away the numbness. Each shone like like a beacon. I was drawn towards the light.
There was happiness in the light, there was joy. I met a small girl over and over again, we played together. Spoke about our dreams and hopes. She called me James. I tried to remember her name, but the wind stripped it from my mind.
I screamed against the storm as the lightning crashed around me, images stripping away the illusions of joy leaving behind only pain as she left. I could see her with another now who wasn’t me. Breana. The thunder rumbled her name and shadows snaked through the light. The shadows came with a numbing cold, whispering to me. Stealing through my memories, blotting out the light.
She had never really cared for me, I could see now. Her laughter was brittle, her eyes filled with malice. The betrayal had been inevitable.
The storm faded away and the darkness settled around me. I calmed and the numbness took away my pain.
Max was crying again. Julia rubbed her eyes, attention yanked from her homework, scattered by the distressed cries of their son. When did we think this was a good idea?
Immediately guilt crushed down on her. What kind of terrible mother was she? She didn’t regret having Max, honest. But sometimes it seemed like the universe had played some terrible trick on them. Julia heard Bre’s footsteps and felt a tiny sigh of relief. Again she felt the guilt threaten to choke her. Wasn’t she supposed to want to spend every waking moment staring longingly into her son’s eyes? Wasn’t everything supposed to be light and joy?
Julia couldn’t concentrate on her homework anymore. Instead, she listened to Bre quieting Max down and his cries slowly died down. She couldn’t hear what Bre said, only the murmur of her voice through the walls. Guilt gnawed at her, but when she heard Max’s giggle, Julia couldn’t help but smile. His laughter was much more welcome than his cry.
Eventually, Bre left their bedroom and headed back out into the living room.
“Everything okay?” Julia asked although Max was quiet now.
“Yeah,” she smiled softly. She collapsed on the couch. Julia felt the guilt gnaw at her again. Bre was still working full time and taking care of both of them afterward. Julia was hopeless in the kitchen, but it seemed like something she should do. So they’d been enjoying frozen pizzas and cheesy pastas instead of Bre’s more complex meals.
“It’s not working, is it?” Julia asked.
She’d been worried about it for several weeks now. They’d managed okay when she had quit and they’d only had Bre’s paycheck. Then she’d gotten a side job with the university and that had let them afford the donors and doctors and appointments. But Julia hadn’t worked for the last months of her pregnancy and the job had gone to another grad student.
“Hmmm?” Bre yawned, “what’s not working?” she asked.
“This,” Julia sighed slowly. “Everything.”
“Aw, baby,” Bre gave a small smile. “That’s not true. Yes, it’s not all peaches and roses, but that’s to be expected with a newborn. We’re supposed to be exhausted and tired and wondering who let us have such a fragile and dependent creature.”
“Keep wondering why they let us leave the hospital with him?”
“I thought it was just me.”
“Oh, baby, no. I have it on great authority that it’s a common feeling among parents.”
“My mom,” Bre gave a quick laugh, “and your parents actually.” She sat up quickly suddenly serious. “You’re not worrying about this, are you?”
“A bit. It just seems so hopeless sometimes.” She sat down on the couch next to Bre, craving her support. “Not all the time,” Julia quickly added as Bre opened her mouth. “But sometimes he just seems to cry for no reason and I feel like a terrible mom.”
Bre pulled her close. “Sometimes you look at him and he seems so perfect and wonderful, and other times you stare at him and just want to scream?”
“It doesn’t make me a terrible mom?”
“I think it makes us human.” Bre laughed and kissed Julia on the forehead. “We get to muddle through this the best we can. And hopefully someday, he’ll learn to talk and be able to tell us why he’s crying.”
“Uhg, the terrible twos. How will we survive?” Julia moaned, half terrified but really, more excited than terrified. What would he be like when he could talk? When started exerting himself as an individual. Already he seemed to smile more when he saw the two of them.
“Together, of course.” Bre said smoothly. And she was right, Julia knew. It wasn’t like they had a choice.