The chair was her friend, and the hot water bottle her baby. The comforts of old age, she said. Bring me my baby, she said.
That look crossed his face every time she said it, but he brought the thing to her, lay it her lap, and turned away before she clutched it to her bony frame. My baby.
She romanticized everything. Always had. Was her biggest problem. She never saw things straight on, couldn’t or didn’t face reality.
She was old. More senior than most senior citizens, a term he abhorred along with elders, the elderly, even old folks was some sort of bromide. Why did they—we—have to be called anything? He didn’t believe in naming every goddamned thing that existed, personifying the whole world as if everything lived. My baby! My eyetooth!
Bah, humbug, he said.
Well, that made her laugh, always did. You’re no Scrooge, she said, as much as you want to be. The baby—the hot water bottle—was wrapped in the afghan and snuggled against her abdomen—her pain was real. The rubber mouth of the thing stuck out, and she had her thin arms wrapped around the bottle—the baby—itself.
They’d had babies, real babies, five of them, one died—her fault, she’d said, but she was wrong about that too. How could it be anybody’s fault but God’s? He preferred not to think about that one—Elizabeth. They never should have named her. He knew it the minute he saw the look on the doctor’s face, heard stillborn from his lips. Shouldn’t name a dead thing or grieve for it—her.
But she had named Elizabeth, told the children, cried and prayed. It’s over, he had said. She patted his hand and said she knew, but wasn’t she beautiful?
But the others. Even he knew they were as beautiful as she said, beautiful babies, nothing like the inanimate rubber thing she held to her bosom now. And where were those babies? Gone to their own lives. Voices on the phone, pictures on a screen. Which was right. Is how the world works. He knew that.
Don’t see him crying, do you, or pretending? He lived his life awake, in the real world, without foolishness.
He looked over. She was watching him, clutching the baby, and smiling because she was happy.
God in heaven, look at her, the beauty he married. Now that was real.
© 2011 Kathleen Coskran