By Kelly Terrazas
A sharp pitch pulled me from my sleep. I sat erect and turned to the small crib nestled beneath the window beside me. Inside was a small bundle of blankets. He fit snuggly into the slope of my chest. I began humming and we swayed to the sound. Slowly, his tone soothed until it harmonized with mine. I stared down at his little face. My love felt overwhelming. The heat burned though me, setting my insides ablaze. First in my fingertips and elbows, then through my shoulders, along my chest, until the feeling settled in my lower stomach. The pain was crippling. It blurred my vision and caused my head to feel as though it was floating above me. Still, I rocked him.
I heard a creak in the wood behind me. I turned to find Brandon resting against the doorway. He had always been handsome in the classic sense – dark hair, light eyes, sharp jawline. The dark blue coveralls that the factory had assigned him seemed to swallow him whole. I smiled up at him. He did not smile back.
“It’s four in the morning, Amy. What are you doing?”
“He was crying. I think he just missed me. Here,” I said, patting the bed beside me, “come sit with us.”
Brandon left the room. I closed my eyes and continued rocking. Moments later, I heard the front door shut. Brandon still had to work. Since my job at the diner didn’t exactly come with any maternity leave, we had decided that I would quit my job once the baby came. I could be with him all day and do the whole stay-at-home mom thing for a while. Then, when I was ready, the ladies at the church daycare said that I could get a job there and bring him with me. That way we could always be together.
I had always wanted to be a mom. Growing up, when people would ask me what I wanted to be, that’s what I would tell them – a mom. My dream was always to have a big family with at least five kids. Their names were all picked out by the time I was in the third grade. I was lucky to have found a man so supportive of that. Brandon had to pick up a few extra shifts every week to make ends meet, but he always said that it was worth it for me and the baby to be happy. And we were.
After some time had passed, my arms began to tire. I placed him back in his crib and made my way downstairs to get ready for his feeding. The plan was to breastfeed. I had checked out everything the library had on the subject from parenting books to medical journals. I had read them with a fury, as he swelled inside me. I wanted to know everything. Had memorized ideas from those journals like a new catechism: I learned about how my lobes were filled with colostrum, which contained antibodies that could help him fight off infections or even help prevent him from developing things like asthma or allergies. The enzymes being passed through my alveoli cells were supposed to ease his digestion. What was being produced by my milk ducts could increase his cognitive development. The bond created by skin-to-skin contact was to be profoundly immeasurable.
But he never latched onto me. I checked out even more books, yet no matter how many I read the problem would not resolve. Instead of bonding with my child when my breasts would swell, I attached them to a machine that made a loud whirring sound and watched them deflate. Every time I sat down to do this, it hurt my feelings even more and in a way that I didn’t quite understand. Those round plastic cups took the place of my child and sucked the motherhood right out of me.
I pulled a small bag of milk that I had frozen from the freezer and placed it in a larger cup. I then retrieved the kettle from its cupboard, filled it with water, and placed it on the stove to warm. The front door opened, and a cold gust of wind flew in with it. A chill made its way up my legs until small bumps pressed up from my skin. The door shut and I could feel someone walk in behind me.
“That was fast. Did you forget something?” I asked.
“You’re still in your nightgown,” said Brandon
“Yeah, I just put him back in his crib. I’m making him a bottle now.”
He slammed his lunchbox on the counter and leaned against it with a huff. The kettle whistled. A loud cry echoed from our room. I poured the boiling water into the cup and waited for the milk to thaw. It looked different than regular milk. As it heated, a swirl of pale yellow began to form on the top.
I could never muster the courage to taste it. Brandon did once though, back when I was still pregnant. We were lying in bed one morning, with his ear pressed against the mound that had overtaken my abdomen. He was taking turns listening then kissing the circumference of my stomach. As he moved to reposition himself, the tips of his fingers tickled just slightly over the height of my chest. A rush swept through me, and I could feel the moisture gathering. Finally, a single droplet reached the surface. I remember feeling so embarrassed that I closed my eyes, as the heat filled my face. The trickle slid down the side of my left breast until the tip of a tongue caught it and traced it back to its origin. I opened my eyes to find Brandon grinning, with his chin at the center of my ribs. He told me it was sweet.
The milk returned to liquid form. I removed it from the heat and poured it into a bottle.
As I turned to go upstairs, Brandon grabbed my arm.
“Is everything okay?” I asked. I pulled my arm back.
“Amy, do you even know what time it is?”
“No. I’ve been a bit busy to watch the clock,” I said.
“It’s 6:30, Ames. It is 6:30 at night.”
“Oh! Well, no wonder he’s hungry. I haven’t fed him all day.”
The screams grew louder. I pushed past Brandon and raced up the stairs. My bundle was still tucked away in his crib. I pulled him into me, with his head resting soundly in the crook of my elbow. We sat on the edge of the bed. He batted at his bottle. I rocked as he ate and stared out the window above the crib. Brandon appeared in the reflection. His hands were in his pockets – head hung. He came and sat beside me. I smiled at him. He only looked down at his shoes. I rested my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes.
I must have fallen asleep on Brandon. I woke sometime later tucked into bed. The hall was dark, and the room was only being lit by the moon through the window behind me. I rolled over to face my baby. The crib was gone. Suddenly, my lungs had been drained completely. I parted my lips to gasp at the air, but a scream came out instead. Every inch of me began to tremble. I threw the covers off me and stumbled out of bed. I only made it down the stairs by sheer muscle memory; my brain was too concerned with other things. I found Brandon leaning against the kitchen counter in the dark.
“He’s gone!” I cried.
Brandon said nothing.
A loud screech echoed through the kitchen. It was my baby. I could hear him, but I couldn’t see him. I began opening cupboard doors and pulled out every pot, pan, and dish. I emptied the contents of the refrigerator onto the floor. I looked in the stove. I rummaged through every shelf of the pantry. He was nowhere to be found.
The sound moved behind me. I ran to the living room. I pulled the cushions off the couch. I opened the back of the recliner, then pushed it over to look underneath. I shoveled through the TV cabinet. I relieved the broom closet of its inhabitants. Still, no baby.
The weight of my body collapsed in on itself and dragged me to the floor. There I lay curled in ball amongst the wreckage of my search. I pressed my palms to my ears, but the sound only grew louder. It filled the house until I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I felt Brandon behind me. He brushed my hair back from my face. Then the sound narrowed once again. It was coming from the stairs. I pushed Brandon off and ran to them.
One by one, I pressed my ear to each step as I made my way up. The third step from the top was the loudest. I pulled at the wood. It wouldn’t budge. I ran back down the stairs and into the garage – where the tools were kept. Hanging on a pegged wall was a large hammer. I retrieved it and ran back inside.
Brandon was leaning against the wall at the bottom of the stairs. He opened his arms to embrace me, but I yanked free of his grasp. I climbed to the third step and placed the prongs of the hammer beneath the lip. With all of my strength, I attempted to pry the step open. It would not break free. His cries began bouncing around inside of the step and grew louder. Each one tore through me. I began pounding at the edge of the step with the hammer. It made a hole. I peered inside. The screaming stopped. There was nothing there.
The hammer fell from my hand and crashed into the floor below. My body melted into the stairs. Brandon was looking up at me from the bottom. He was crying. I had never seen him cry before. I wanted to comfort him, but I couldn’t move. Brandon came up the steps and gathered me in his arms. He carried me back to bed. We lay with my head on his chest. He stroked my hair and hummed to me, as I drifted back to sleep.
Kelly Terrazas is a recent graduate from the University of Arkansas Little Rock (UALR), with a degree in Creative Writing. During her time at UALR, her bilingual piece titled La Senda was published in the school’s literary magazine, Equinox.