Only Child

only-child-by-liza-dora

She’s seen me sick so often. And so often, with me, pregnant looks so sick.

She brings her Kindle and her headphones into bed, because she knows I sleep lightly. She tucks herself in next to me and I let her, even though I’m burning up.

“Are you asleep yet, Momma?” she asks. Her whisper is loud and clumsy—the headphones masking her own volume from her ears.

“Not yet, my love,” I say, burying my head into the pillows.

“Is the baby coming soon?”

“Not yet, my love,” I whisper.

And then I am asleep.

***

We talk about “the options”, as she calls them. Whether this baby will be cut out, like her, or pushed out. She is worried.

She brings me the book I was given at my last doctor’s appointment. She cannot read and there are hardly any pictures, but she lays it across our laps and turns the pages. It has become her holy book. She thinks if she knows the rules nothing can go wrong.

“Can you tell me again about the options, Momma?”

She saw me taken from this room on a stretcher. She heard me screaming for help as they wheeled me passed.

I cannot make her forget it, and so, together, we fill her mind with other things.

“It won’t hurt when they cut you, Momma?”

“It won’t,” I say. “Not one bit.”

“Because they’ll give you a shot first and lots of medicine?”

She knows the answers to the questions she asks, but still, she asks them anyway. The repetition soothes her and I hope I haven’t cursed her with my own flawed psyche.

***

I put on her pajamas. Her wrists peek out from the cuffs of her sleeves. Her pants are all too short. Each night I close my eyes and in the morning she is different.

She wraps her arms around my neck and I let her hold on.

“Is the baby coming tomorrow?” she asks into my shoulder.

“Maybe,” I say.

“I’m glad we packed your bag today, Momma.”

I smile.

My bag has been packed for weeks—the wishful thoughts of a summer pregnancy in west Texas. We’ve unpacked and repacked everyday this month.

I kiss her goodnight and from beyond the door her prayers begin. They are urgent in the dark and my eyes begin to water.

She wants him, her brother, but she needs me. And with my health, too many times I’ve failed her.

I turn into her brother’s room and smile at the picture above his bed. Not the painted sign in the wooden frame. The one that looks so good in pictures. The picture I’m looking at is taped to the shelf beside his crib. Placed with care, by a little girl who wants to make sure she’s not forgotten in the night.

She won’t always be the only, but she will always be the first.

I go back into my room and unpack my bag again. We have so much in common, her and I. More than I had hoped.

I pack and repack. Counting items and doing double checks.

I save the outside pocket for last, because I know what lies inside. She thinks I haven’t found it yet, but I saw it weeks ago—the day she put it in.only child by liza dora 1

I pull out the scrap of paper and the mini polaroid that goes alongside.

She asked for him, but now she’s scared. I did the same, and so am I. Never have I had so much to lose.

I tuck the picture back into its pocket.

I cross the house and slip into her room, to lie beside her in the dark. I stroke her hair and she wraps her arms around me.

I cannot expect her to forget—my unforgettable girl—but I can give her another something to remember. I can lay beside her in the dark. In a bed tucked under a playhouse. In a room that’s much too small. For one last night I can let her feel what it is to be just us.

And though I cannot wait—I pray tomorrow never comes.

Liza Dora is an author, illustrator, and Texan living in Tennessee with her husband and two children. Liza graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in chemistry and is the proudest member of the class of 2007.

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