A Net in the Tide

I killed you.

As Charles, the man who would have been your dad, gives the receptionist my name, I sit down in a molded plastic chair. The little girls who would have been your sisters crouch on the carpet, fishing Duplos out of a gray milk crate, their scuffed white Stride-Rites curtained by flowered dresses. “Candle in the Wind” plays overhead. Faint vapors of rubbing alcohol and new carpet fill the room.

No, no, no loops through my head. Knees pressing together, my pelvic floor clenches. As if my contracted muscles can hold you inside.

As if you are still inside me.

My God, how could I have done this?

Charles, caught by surprise at this pregnancy, has been beside himself worrying about this baby conceived with my 37-year-old eggs. He’d never agree to try again. You were my last chance at another baby, and I’ve destroyed you.

Yesterday the specialist performed the test, peeled off his gloves, and said, “Grab a mini pad, there might be spotting.” But last night crimson seeped, my panties heavy, wet. Charles called the OB as I sat on the edge of our bed sobbing.

Charles hung up the phone. “She said at nine weeks there’s nothing she can do. She said for us to come to the office first thing in the morning.”

Last night as I lay in the dark, from between my legs warmth pulsed. Don’t leave, don’t leave. My thighs twisted, and I pushed the pad against me so the blood — the evidence of my crime — wouldn’t come in contact with the air, so I wouldn’t feel the cool. No, no, no, the syllables a low drumbeat.

The clock radio flashed 2:00 a.m.

3:00 a.m.

Where were you? In the stain on the scalloped edges of my underpants? A speck of flotsam in the river of red weeping from my womb?

The voice in my head chanted. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. If only I had stood up for you.

I should have said no to the test, no to your dad who wanted assurance you would be healthy. I knew the test had risks. If only I’d shut my legs before the specialist slid that barrel of cold metal into my uterus.

And now, how can I save you — drop a net into the bloody flow to catch you? I long to nestle your ghostly lima bean body in the cradle of my palm. Tell you I love you, somehow radio-wave this message to your nascent ear buds. Resuscitate your penny candy-sized heart. If only the white caps of my grief could flip you, infuse you with the energy to climb back through my cervix like a baby kangaroo burrowing into his mother’s pouch.

The block tower crashes. The two-year-old who would have been your sister giggles, hands your other almost-sister another stack. “It alwite,” she says. Charles stares at the carpet.

“Come on back,” says the nurse.

I killed you. The doctor will confirm it, will say: The baby’s gone.

I’m sorry. I climb onto the table. I’m sorry. Your spirit, I imagine, hovers in the dark corner of the room, three feet below the ceiling. I stare at the spot, as if my gaze tethers you, keeps you with me.

A knock on the door. A rush of water from the sink. The portable ultrasound scrapes across the floor. My nostrils tingle. Antiseptic. Goo squirts over my still-flat belly.

My tears thud on the paper that covers the exam table. The machine whirs. Grainy commas of black and gray swim across the screen. I hold my breath. No, no, no, says the voice.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Can your hear me?

How could I have done this? Snatched from you the chance to suck at my breast, to make me necklaces with beads of dried macaroni, to tantrum when I wedge snow boots onto your pudgy feet. I would have been the custodian of the memories of your childhood.

I would have been your mother.

Your father pushed for the test, but in the end — this is the end, isn’t it? — I am responsible. Accountable.

The machine makes white noise, like a TV station without a signal. Shadows patch along the bare corner of the room.

“Listen,” says the OB.

The machine’s hum gathers and separates, the sound surging like a gallop, hooves crashing through the tide of my grief. A heartbeat. Your heartbeat.

Ba-da, ba-da, ba-da.


Susan Lerner is a student in Butler’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming in, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, Bluestem, Atticus Review, Literary Mama, and The Believer Logger. Susan lives in Indianapolis with her husband, three teenagers, and dog, Mischief. In her spare time she posts book reviews.