When babies die, people bring lasagne. They bring bread. They bring pie.
They arrive, single file, wearing dark colours, with empty words and full hands, trying to lessen the void that hangs low in my belly.
“Thank you for coming,” Daniel says. “She’s not really eating much yet.” He unclenches his fists to receive the plate.
He stuffs the casserole dish into the freezer. Bits of snow chip off and fall to the floor. When the whispering voices cease and the front door closes, dishes smash against the walls.
There comes a time when Daniel stops throwing things and begins to cook. The scent of apple pie wafts upstairs and into the bedroom. My pillow is pungent and sour, desperation lingering in the yellow folds, but the aroma of the apples eclipses it momentarily. The sticky sweet triggers my memory of the orchard so long ago.
“Are you crazy? We can’t do it here!” I’m laughing as Daniel pulls me down into a tall field beside the farthest row of apple trees. The grass bends easily beneath us, rejuvenated by the falling temperatures.
“Relax. There’s no one around.” He is hungry, watching the straps of my dress fall from my shoulders. “You can’t be this beautiful and expect me to behave.”
I hear the distant sounds of happy families filling their baskets at the east side of the orchard. His breath is hot in my ear and I have a good feeling about this one. Daniel is playful, laughing, grabbing at the fallen apples that dig into my back. Reflections of a baby shine in his eyes.
When I tell him that it’s finally happened, he laughs. “It must have been the apples. They’re magic.”
The next day he brings home a tiny seedling and plants it in the backyard.
“You realize she’ll be in college before that thing produces any fruit,” I say. I’ve said “she” out loud for the first time, my hope slipping out, slamming the air.
He dismisses my sarcasm with a wave of his hand, spade over his shoulder. I smile at the kind of father he will be.
Now Daniel’s weight on my side of the bed is familiar. “Please will you eat something?” He is gentle and pleading, dangling chunks of bread in front of me.
The smell is fresh and yeasty. As soon as she is born I press her bald head into my nose, drinking in the life we have created. I have just enough time to trace the tiny lines on her hands before they take her from me. She has my hands.
She is too quiet. My brain hovers between exhaustion and euphoria so that I barely notice when the doctor’s face changes. It is the beeping of the machines that tips me off. And still, all of this is preferable to the silence that follows. The machines stop. Everybody stops.
The scent of the bread is in my nostrils and Daniel is still sitting on the bed. I push the bread away. It’s wet. He doesn’t even know he is crying.
After a tiny white casket has been lowered into the earth, people gather at my table to eat lasagne. I want to laugh and scream and claw my eyes out at the ridiculousness of this scene but, instead, I will my body to stay in the chair and obediently accept the food that is offered. The cheese stretches out only so far, until it snaps, collapsing back down into the dish, smothered and low.
The people at the table examine my body openly. They give me the once over, trying not to let their eyes rest for too long on the loose flesh that hangs overtop of a defective womb. Dark eyes. Hollow. They whisper, “When was the last time she ate?”
The mourners take away their empty platters so they can be filled again with the next sorrow. I munch on sedatives so that the blessing of oblivion will come. So that the people around me will stop their suicide watch. These offerings of food are well-meant but they will not fill me up.
I am empty.
The doorbell rings less as the weeks go by. The house whispers and groans in the new silence and I have moved from the bed to the couch. My flesh has rearranged itself so that I no longer look like a woman who has just given birth. One less reminder. I am grateful for that at least.
There is a change in the air as the autumn wind rises up, carrying coloured leaves over top of naked trees. Wrapped in my blanket, I sit at the back window and watch Daniel rake the lawn. Leaves cling to his shirt, stick in his hair. He is surrounded by a halo of orange, red and gold. His shoulders are lower than I remember. He approaches the apple seedling, stopping in front to caress its tiny branches. The tree is small but it has survived its first winter and is prepared to take on the next. Daniel uncoils the hose to water the tree. He wraps the skinny trunk in burlap, gentle hands smoothing every wrinkle. I begin to wonder if my memory has failed me. Perhaps she didn’t have my hands after all; maybe they were more like Daniel’s. Gazing at him, I am awed by his infinite capacity for hope.
He stops short when he enters through the back door to find me dressed and sitting at the kitchen table, eating a slice of pie. We stare at each other, and I see him for the first time in many weeks. He brushes at his eyes and walks over to the sink. His voice is tentative. “The tree is looking good,” he says. “Once the roots get stable, it’s not long before the apples come.”
“Maybe by this time next year,” I say.
Tears streaming down his face, he turns towards me, just in time to see me smile.
Laura Maynard is a Writer’s Craft teacher, living with her husband and son in the beautiful village of Enniskillen, Ontario. She feels lucky to be able to inspire a passion for writing in young people. Laura has published four short stories and is currently working on her first novel.