“Well?” Sylvia said.
“Your baby’s condition has not changed much, which is not necessarily a bad thing,” the doctor said. “But at some point we can’t expect her to just come out of this.”
“So what are you saying?”
“We might want to think about surgery.”
Sylvia leaned into her husband. The other babies squirmed slowly like flowers opening to the sun, but Olive was silent, still. Her eyelids were puffy, her throat sunken and fleshy.
Sylvia planted a kiss on the glass incubator. Her sleeping darling Olive was a tiny blue tulip in the white nursery, and now she almost seemed to reach up toward her mother.
“Can we open it?” Sylvia said. “I want to smell her.”
“It’s not a good idea to introduce unnecessary germs.”
They wheeled Olive away, a wall of blue scrubs enveloping her.
Sylvia sat with her husband in the waiting room, neither speaking, her eyes sifting absently over the magazine covers: a white picket fence, a puppy.
“Do you ever miss Java?” she asked.
“No,” Dan said. “We had so many. Do you?”
“No,” she said. “Not at all. It’s only sad when I think about him.”
“But you don’t,” he said.
“He was the cutest one in the litter, you know.”
“You just think that because he was sick. You’re a nurturer,” Dan said. “And a healer.”
“No, he had the softest coat,” Sylvia said. “The prettiest, too. And he never barked.”
“I don’t think he could bark,” Dan said. “He was missing his palate or something. Didn’t have a roof to his mouth as far as I could tell. Couldn’t even drink. All he could do was whine.”
“He did whine,” Sylvia admitted. “Kept me up for a week straight, feeding him through that straw all night. He sure was cute though.”
“You’re a nurturer,” Dan said. “And a healer.”
“And you’re a builder. You made his coffin from a Kleenex box.”
“Wasn’t anything to it.”
“You made it nice,” she said.
They leaned into each other and tried to remember what it was like to be happy, back when there was only a nebulous, nameless emptiness in their lives, not this pinpointed sorrow, sharpened in contrast against the thread of hope it carried.
“I bet he would have made a great house dog,” Sylvia said.
“Sure,” Dan said. “Who knows? His brothers and sisters got it done.”
“Sure,” she said. “It’s all the same, I guess. Just one less dog in the world. I wonder if Princess missed him.”
“His mommy? Probably would have been jealous of his coat. You know Princess.”
“Right,” Sylvia said. “Probably for the best.
The waiting room was white from floor to ceiling and utterly silent, yet it was not a place of peace. Vague wails seemed to steam off the walls in a register just out of human hearing, but not beyond feeling. The doctor emerged holding a box of Kleenex, and Sylvia was sobbing long before it reached her.
Herb Shallcross graduated from Drexel in 2007 with a BS in Psychology and a certificate in writing and publishing. His flash fiction has appeared in Daily Bites of Flesh 2011, and is forthcoming in Daily Bites 2012. His poetry is forthcoming in Puffin Circus.