When you died, I made copies of your portrait. It was 3 a.m. at the 24-hour copy shop and I smelled like someone had dumped an entire bottle of Burt’s Bees bubble bath on me because that’s exactly what I did to myself when you popped out from between my legs. You were a jellybean. You were so pink I could’ve eaten you. Placed you on my tongue and savored you. To bring you into my body again. Make us two beings in one again. Then we would’ve been Mommy and baby splashing in the tub. Dream Daddy might’ve swooped in with a rubber ducky or toy ship. The perfect scrapbook moment.
Instead the olive green sweats from my fat days were barely staying on my hips and my huge Hanes Her Ways were bunched up to my belly button. Maybe I had lost weight too quickly, I nagged myself, tugging at my baggy T-shirt with “Save the Ta-tas” printed across the front. I had on no makeup. I had on no bra. All I had on was a base layer of grief and an overcoat of nostalgia. The one cashier on duty pretended not to stare when I hobbled over to the copier. Since there were no other customers, I took center stage. Gaze upon my sadness, boy. Gaze upon this once-upon-a-time mother and her hands turned raisins from four hours spent in the tub.
When I nodded at the cashier, he nodded back. He was sallow and heavy-lidded. Otherwise, he might as well have been a cardboard cutout behind the counter. I didn’t register any of his other features. Instead, I wanted to imagine yours.
I had always hoped that you — or whichever baby came along — would have my mother’s dimples and almond eyes. Your father wasn’t a particularly handsome man, but, still, I wanted you to have his height, his freckles, and the laugh I once heard daily. Most of all, when I looked at you, I wanted to know that you were mine. I didn’t want there to be a mistake at the hospital. I didn’t want you to spend eighteen years in someone else’s home. If you made the front page of the newspaper, it would be for an award or a good deed, not some scandal.
All those musings were old, of course — three decades in the making, renewed this evening. When Lionel Richie blared on the radio, he reminded me that you were gone. The real scandal was that your death would never make the newspaper. You would never win an award or perform a deed of any kind. No one would ever take your headshot or your mugshot. You had had no hair, no lips, no chin, no distinguishing features at all. If you resembled your grandmother at all, then you resembled her prenatally.
I had no photos to compare. You were a two-centimeter chunk of raw chicken breast drenched in blood. Something tells me your great-grandmother — a woman who only hung paintings of flowers on her walls — wouldn’t take or keep such photos, even if she could. When Grandma was conceived, the ultrasound hadn’t even been invented yet.
But in the sonogram, there was no blood. You were black and white, which meant that I could fill in the colors. I could choose your dreams. I could paint the life that would have been.
I stood back and watched the paper shoot out of the machine, sheet by sheet by sheet. Through the copier’s beeps, I asked God why your father had gone out of town this weekend. Even though this was a man I now knew mainly through the Powerpoint printouts he left on the breakfast counter, his presence would’ve meant not losing you alone.
The past couple of years, he had hustled for promotion after promotion so we could ready our nest for you. We made love in between presentations and meetings and deadlines. In those 26 months we tried for you, we watched Britcoms and held hands until I finally gave in and rolled over. Now I had to tell him that instead of rolling over all those times, we should’ve just watched another episode of Fawlty Towers. We barely discussed the weather — except when it might change his commute or delay a business trip.
Maybe I would call him in the morning. Maybe I would just wait until he came home. Maybe I’d mutter something during the credits of Are You Being Served? These days, I no longer rolled over. One TV show after dinner was never enough and conversation was too much.
When the copier spat out the last image of you, I pressed three hundred printouts to my chest. The cashier nodded as I walked out. Then I headed to the car in a daze.
Once home, I went straight for the kitchen drawer and grabbed two rolls of tape. I inched toward the nursery because it scared me. Yet when I got to the doorway, all of the teddy bears comforted me. I sat down in the rocking chair with a green bear motif. Another one with blue bears faced the window. One for me, one for Daddy or Grandma. I rolled two tape doughnuts for the first sheet of paper and then stuck you on the wall. I repeated the action three hundred times. You replaced the teddy bear wallpaper.
Dark as it was, the room became a womb. I was inside of you, just as you had been inside of me. I would sleep and maybe when I woke up, you would be born, and your father would be somewhere in the stars. Genesis with no Adam. We would be blind for four days until we saw the sun. Then life would really begin. But we’d have to be quiet and wait for our Eden.
Christine Stoddard is a writer and visual storyteller from Virginia, as well as the editor of Quail Bell Magazine. Most recently her fiction has appeared in The Feminist Wire and Whurk. Her collection of short stories, Once Upon a Body, is forthcoming from Six Gallery Press (Pittsburgh). In 2014, Folio Magazine named Christine one of the nation’s top 20 media visionaries in their 20s. Christine recently released her documentary film, Richmond’s Dead and Buried, which tells the stories of Richmond, Virginia’s historic cemeteries.