Today, sitting a little crooked across the armchair in the hallway Emily Sterling wonders what to name a dying child.
Her stomach hurts a bit, but she's too nervous to eat anything, instead she spreads the unwinding minutes out by picking at her nails, and twitching her eyes up to watch her daughter sleep in the crib directly across the hall. It felt so strange to think of this baby as her child. It was, she knew the truth of that. She remembered the nine months of gestation that procured this creature. She still had the purple stretch mark scars across her stomach to prove it.
Emmy had never been able to say: 'This is my daughter. This is my child. I am a mother,' to anyone besides her own mother. The words felt so thick and radiated static through her body.
Who are you? She thinks, messaging her palm across her temples. She's painted her nails a dull canary yellow because a model in a fashion magazine wore it. But, Emily feels that the color makes her hands look dirty.
She's afraid that if she begins to chip it off - like she often likes to do - then the baby will accidentally swallow it when she sucks at Emily's fingers when she's being held.
Looking up again, she asks herself: Who are you? To her side a small mirror hangs on the wall a few feet away. Emily stares at her reflection harshly, she realizes that she knows herself no more deeply than she knows the baby in the other room. Two strangers. It seemed at times like they were nothing more. That no connection was between them at all, yet Emmy could also without a doubt feel the tug of apprehension, and understanding that a mother feels.
While she was pregnant she imagined that upon seeing the face of… this baby, the exact name would come to her. The first seconds that the nurses had put the little girl in Emily's arms she had waited to hear the mental clarity unfold before her, but it had not.
She had often times stalked baby name websites picking through lists alphabetically, or culturally. She even found a sight with the exact names and spellings for all of the characters from The Lord of the Rings series - both the books and the movies - and being that Emmy had only seen the movie, and not the books there were quite a few that she had not heard of before.
She read the top ten lists for the current year, the previous year, and went as far back as the year she herself was born. Names like Madison, or Sophia, or Katie meant nothing to her. They meant nothing to… her child.
In the night she sometimes would speak those names out loud, or any name that she thought of just to see if the sleeping child would rouse, or give some sign that she approved.
Downstairs a team of movers was unloading boxes from a moving truck and placing them throughout the house. Her aunt and mother were downstairs ordering them around. Emily could hear their voices echoing up through the carpet. She knew that she should get up, raise herself, and uproot her itchy eyes from staring at all things around her. She should help her mother, unpack her things. Her cloths at the very least. Or even just put sheets on the bed across from the crib, or help her aunt out with a load of laundry. She made a long list in her mind of things that she should be doing, but she couldn't manage any of it. Instead, she just sat, and stared, and wondered.
From downstairs she can hear her mother hustling orders like a drill sergeant. Her usual tactic of getting things done quickly didn't seem to be panning out with the workers. Emily could hear an exaggerated sigh before she heard her mother bark out her name, and then plead with her daughter to come down and help.
"I'm coming," Emily called back, though it was a whisper. She didn't want to wake the baby, and she doubted that her mother heard her, though before her mother could protest her daughter's lack of participation Emily was hurrying down the stairs to help. She knelt down to lift a cardboard box labeled 'EM' and got about half way up before she had to drop the box because of its weight.
"Hey, let me help you!" She heard someone say from behind her, and expecting it to be one of the movers she moved away and gestured, but when she looked up she realized that the boy was too young to be one of the workers. The boy lifted the box with little difficulty, though Emily could see that his back was a little hunched forward from the weight. "Where do you want it?" He asked her through slightly clenched teeth.
"Um…" Emily tried to regain herself. She had never truly felt comfortable around males since before she left Washington. "This way!" Emily said, leaping up onto the stairwell and taking two steps at a time. The boy kept up with her though, and he followed her down the long windy hallway and into the room where the baby slept. "You can just put it on the mattress," she said, gesturing to the bed, and feeling her whole body grow cold. She worried that the mattress might give the wrong impression. "But um… please don't wake the baby."
"Awe, I didn't even see it," the boy said putting down the box and crossing the room to the crib. The boy was gentle, he even cooed at the sleeping infant. His behavior surprised Emily. "Is it a boy or a girl?" He asked.
"A girl," Emily shrugged. "She's my sister." The lie slipped out before she really had time to take note of it.
"Cool; I'm Drew Cooper, you'kno as in James Fennimore Cooper."
Drew held out his hand for Emily to shake. Emily hesitated, but didn't want to be rude. She shook it as best she could. The physical contact, even with a stranger made her stomach churn, and giving a handshake had always made her feel a little uncomfortable. His grip was strong, while hers was beyond limp.
"James Fennimore Cooper? Is he a football player?" She couldn't think of what else to say
"No," he said with a little laugh, "he was a writer." He searched her face for recognition. "He wrote Last of the Mohicans."
"Yeah, there's also a movie, and…" Her face still looked blank: "hey it's cool if you don't recognize it."
Emily pondered the fact that he was a writer; she knew that Lucy would recognize the name. "So are you, like, related to him?" Emily asked to fill the silence.
Drew put his hands in his pockets as he began to explain: "My mom says that we are, with him being from these parts, and us being here, but we don't have any proof or anything."
"Do you write?" Emily was surprised at how easy conversation was coming with him, usually it was as if questions and even words themselves didn't exist in her brain when she was in the presence of others.
"No, not much."
"Well," Drew began after a long pause, "Like I said, I'm Drew…"
"Oh my god, I'm sorry, I'm Emily, Emily Sterling."
"Nice to meet you Emily Sterling," He exaggerated all of the sounds of her first name when he said it. It made her feel uncomfortable. Drew could since the change in her temperament and he took a few steps backward toward the door. "Well, I live next door, if you need anything, I, um, come over a lot to help your aunt out with stuff around the house." He nodded his head slowly, "I mow the lawn… and stuff."
Emily pulled her arms around herself: "Well it was nice to meet you."
"Yeah, yeah, like wise."
They both turned and walked back down stairs in silence. Drew greeted her aunt and her mother before leaving. He asked her aunt if she needed anything, and then congratulated Emily's mother on the recent birth. He even said that she looked really good considering that she had just had a baby so recently.
When he left Emily sunk into one of the chairs at the kitchen table. "Emily?" her mother asked her: "Why does that young man think the baby is mine?"
"I said she was my sister," Emmy told her matter-of-factly.
Her mother sighed loudly, already exhausted from the events of the day, and now this: "I wish you wouldn't do that," she chided, but then she softened toward her daughter. Moving over to stand behind her at the table, and put a hand on her shoulder. "This was your decision! No one would have blamed you for choosing to have an abortion. No one."
Emily could feel her mother's hand on her shoulder as a numb wound long healed but still aching from time to time. All Emily could think was that her mother was wrong. Maybe no one else would blame Emily if she had decided to have an abortion, but she always would have.