Herself

 

Herself

by Joyce Melton

 

"It's funny," Leanne said, there near the last.

I sat quietly beside her, not wanting to speak because I didn't think anything could be funny. My wife of less than two years lay dying from internal bleeding that the doctors would not be able to stop, and I didn't feel that I could laugh ever again.

"What's…" I had to stop to swallow. Crying for the last several hours had left my throat clogged and tight. "What's funny?" I asked. Doctors and nurses bustled around us, still trying to save Leanne's life, prepping her for some procedure they had not named. They had cut her clothes off her and tubes and tapes draped her naked, broken body.

She opened her eyes and looked up at me, sitting on the little stool they give you in the emergency room. The pale green plastic curtain they had pulled across for privacy was reflected in her own gray-green eyes, the pupils dilated to huge black holes. "Jacob's smile," she said.

Jacob was our son, not quite ten months old. He lay in a crib on the other side of the room behind his own death-green curtain, unhurt because Leanne had shielded him with her body when they were hit in the crosswalk by the drunk driver. I had gone ahead to get the car out of the parking lot across the street from the restaurant where we had eaten our pre-anniversary dinner.

I had black pepper chicken and Leanne had tofu stir fry. Jacob had milk under a little yellow modesty blanket to shield the other diners from the sight of breasts.

"Doesn't he… have the cutest… smile?" said Leanne. "It makes me… laugh."

* * *

Later, the doctors told me that Leanne had said nothing at all while they worked on her for that last half hour and that they had removed me from the area and sat me down beside Jacob's crib.

I do remember one of the nurses asking if I wanted a sedative and saying no. And I remember sitting next to the crib with my hand inside for Jacob to gnaw on when a doctor came to tell me that they had been unable to save Leanne.

"I know," I said. I looked down at our baby. Jacob's eyes were blue, like mine, though not so slaty dark. He smiled up at me, showing his three current teeth in a lop-sided grin, two down, one up. I made a noise that might have been a laugh.

Leanne's mother found us there, benignly forgotten in the corner by the staff who had, of course, moved on to new emergencies. Naomi looked at Jacob. "Do you want me to take him?" she asked.

I shook my head. "Can you deal with the paperwork? I know there will be things for me to sign…." I trailed off.

"Because you were married," she said, her lips pressed into a thin line. Naomi had never completely approved of our marriage.

"Yes," I said, keeping it simple. She left to find out what needed doing and to do it, leaving me sitting beside Jacob in his crib.

* * *

Naomi drove us home, my car still being parked at the Chinese restaurant across town. "I called Mitch at work," she said. "He'll call the mortuary and get someone to take him to pick up your car."

I nodded, not wanting to speak. I had fastened Jacob into his car seat and climbed in beside him in the back of Naomi's car. He babbled cheerfully. "Muh-muh," he said to me, looking around. I shook my head.

We stopped at a drugstore for diapers and other necessities. Naomi had to pay because I had left my billfold somewhere in the confusion, along with my phone and all of my keys. We had Jacob's big baby bag and Leanne's purse, though, and I let myself into our apartment with her keys.

Himself, the big, red and cream cat who shared space with us stropped my ankles, purring to let me know that he was glad to see me and that the dinner bowl was empty. I let Naomi take care of the cat and other trivia while I got Jacob settled into my lap.

"Do you want the TV on?" she asked, pausing in front of the black screen.

"No," I said. "Leave it off, the world can wait."

"What are you going to do now?" Naomi asked, moving things about on the shelf above the TV for no good reason at all.

"I'm going to feed Jacob," I said. I lifted my blouse and opened my bra, my milk-heavy breast falling into my hand. Jacob made smacking noises as I put his head where he could suckle. Naomi pulled the yellow modesty blanket from the baby bag and draped it over us.

"We're at home," I said. "We don't need that thing."

She shrugged, finally sitting on the couch to watch us after more aimless wandering around the room. "He's got teeth now, Karen," she said, like I couldn't tell.

Jacob made piggy sounds under my blouse. I could feel him punch me with his tiny fists to make the milk come faster.

"Three tiny little teeth," Naomi said. "He's got the cutest smile."

I nodded, tears running down my cheeks.



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This story is 885 words long.