This story is by Lisa Walton and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“You don’t have to do this,” Garrett said.
I smiled, looked into his eye and said, “Yes. I do.”
He placed his hand on mine. I felt the warmth radiating through him. He tried to wrap his fingers around mine and draw my hand into his grip, but I pushed my palm into the hard seat. I didn’t want to hold his hand. I didn’t want him to hold me back.
“Macey,” he said. “No-one expects you to do this.”
“It’s too much.”
“it’s all there is.”
I pulled my hand from underneath his and slipped my sunglasses into my bag. I grabbed the water bottle and took a long swig, preparing myself. Then, with a quick glance to make sure no-one was watching I slid the pills between my lips.
* * *
We were all worried about Kallie’s arrival for our own reasons.
Oscar was upset that he wouldn’t be the baby anymore. He worried that no-one would remember him. And he was pissed that he would be outnumbered by girls. “She won’t even play baseball with me.”
Morgan feared she would die of embarrassment when I finally gave birth and and started carting an infant to all her events. “Who has a baby when their oldest child is already in high school?” she asked to anyone who would listen.
I was worried that Kallie would be born with a serious birth defect, you know advanced maternal age . . . Despite twenty-seven ultrasounds I feared that they had failed to detect a life threatening condition.
But, I was equally worried I’d never lose the baby weight and I’d morph into a middle-aged mom overnight, disappointing Garrett and prompting him to leave me for a younger model.
This fear was not inspired by anything Garrett said or did. It was only my own neuroses and messed up priorities. Would I have time to run six miles a day and do yoga with a baby?
Garrett wasn’t worried about how I looked. He was afraid something would happen to me.
We both wondered what the hell we were thinking having a baby in our mid-forties.
Garrett reluctantly left for a business trip on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. He didn’t want to go.
“I’m fine,” I insisted. “She isn’t due for another five weeks.”
I never should have said those words. Kallie took them as a challenge and decided it was time to enter the world. In a snowstorm. In the middle of the night.
I woke to strong contractions around midnight. When I got out of bed to walk them off, my water broke.
“Well, great!” I said. Only I didn’t say great.
My neighbor Dottie answered the phone like she was wide awake and waiting for me to call. She drove me to the hospital and Sandy stayed with the kids.
That was fortunate because Kallie was so anxious to join the world she couldn’t wait until we get to the hospital.
Kallie Marie was born in the parking lot of a McDonalds off Interstate 79. She was tiny and angry and loud.
When the paramedics arrived they made a big fuss about her lungs not being properly developed and the need to get her to a NICU pronto.
But based on her disapproval of the outside world, or maybe it was just the greasy smell of McDonald’s, and the way she grasped her tiny fingers around my pinky, I knew she was going to be okay.
And she was. For a little while.
Dottie insisted we snap a picture of me swaddling tiny Kallie in front of the golden arches with snow swirling around us. Hands down, the best baby picture ever.
Kallie came home from the hospital three weeks later. We dressed her in a Santa hat and plopped her in front of the tree.
Morgan and Oscar declared her the best present ever.
Garret and I agreed.
She watched us intently from her bouncy seat. And seemed to be wise beyond her weeks.
That first year flew by. Kallie walked before her first birthday and started talking shortly after. Once she started she never stopped. She told us stories about rainbows and trolls and superheroes and orbit stars. Her imagination was wild.
Her favorite story was about the lady in the window who sang to her at night. And the dancing stars they visited.
Sometimes, she would be playing quietly and she’d get a far away look in her eyes, as though she could something the rest of us could not.
One afternoon I was in the kitchen. I should have been starting dinner or playing with Kallie. Instead I was taking Facebook quizzes. I’m a Narcissist, in case you’re wondering.
Kallie was playing bakery. She made play dough pastries and sold them to her stuffed animals. I was only half paying attention, because, Facebook.
But then I heard Kallie cry, “No. Not now. I told you I’m not going yet.” Then, in a softer voice, “It will be soon though. I can’t hide much longer.”
I snapped my head up. The air felt cold. “Kallie? What did you say? Who are you talking to?”
She looked up and stared at me curiously. “There’s no-one here Mommy.”
“You said you are hiding. Who are you hiding from?”
She shook her head “Silly Mommy. I can’t tell you that. You wouldn’t understand.”
The next morning I was in the laundry room when Kallie wandered in coughing. “Mommy, I don’t feel good.” Her eyes were glassy and her skin was gray. When I scooped her up she was burning hot.
I didn’t even bother to take her temperature. I grabbed my purse, a blanket and picked up Puggle as I ran to the car.
We all know how that ER visit turned out.
Despite all the doctor visits, chemotherapy, pricks, jabs, needles and IVs, and even the brutal stem cell transplant she endured, Kallie remained her happy and creative self.
She told stories about the bubble palace and gold and silver horses. She said the lady found her in the hospital and still visited every night.
She painted pictures of the orbit stars and told her dollies about the castle in the clouds.
I watched it all. And wondered.
One afternoon, it was after we knew the transplant had failed, Kallie called me over. “Mommy, come sit here,” she said patting the bed.
I forced a smile on my face as I cuddled close to my little girl, being careful not to bump the tubes snaking from her arm. “I’m not scared Mommy. I don’t want you to be scared either.”
I brushed the hair from her face. “I’m not scared baby.”
“Yes you are,” she said sternly. Then more softly, “But it’s okay. You can’t see what I see yet. Hold my hand and close your eyes.”
I did as she said. And then, with my eyes closed tight, I heard her speaking.
“Avara, Mommy’s here. She’s ready to see you now.”
The most beautiful woman, or aura of a woman, appeared in the room. “Hello, Macey,” she said. Her voice sounded like water rippling. “We are ready for Kallie. Let me show you.”
Part of me wanted to scream. To tell this woman to take her aura and shove it. To stay away from my little girl.
But part of me was curious. I knew I couldn’t save Kallie now. I had failed her as her mother. The least I could do was ensure she was going someplace safe.
I let myself see the bubble palace and the metallic horses and the light in colors I couldn’t name. I felt the orbit stars pulse through me and euphoria and peacefulness wash over me.
As quickly as the sensation came, it was gone.
I opened my eyes and looked at my baby. My tiny, fragile, weak baby who had spent the last two years lying in hospital beds.
I smiled a genuine smile. The first in a very long time.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“I’m going to miss you.”
“I know baby. I’m going to miss you too.” I couldn’t hold back the sobs.
“Maybe you can come with me?” She asked, her eyes widening and her face full of childish hope.
I nodded. My smile grew and I wrapped my arms around her.
Maybe I can.
Two days later Kallie sighed and said, “It’s time for me to go.” Her breath grew shallow. We surrounded her bed to say goodbye, and somehow fought the tears until she was gone.
* * *
After Morgan took Oscar home I kissed Garret goodbye. I took the elevator to the fifth floor and quietly slide into Kallie’s room one more time.
I nestled next to her and let myself drift.
“Mommy!” She squealed! “You came!”
“Of course, I did my love!” And together we floated off to the bubble castle.