Anna Emery’s pregnancy was quite unexpected; not in the Virgin Mary immaculate conception kind of way, but a surprise nonetheless.
She and Mason had been very careful, always making sure they were using protection. But as Anna’s grandmother was often quoted as saying, “If you do the deed, there’s a chance he might plant his seed.”
And three months after their first date, Anna was pregnant. A month later, they were married. Not long after that, they were on the verge of a divorce.
Charles Braden Emery was born during one of the many times when the marriage was on the precipice of divorce. And when Charlie arrived, he cried relentlessly, as if knowing the kind of mess God had the nerve to deliver him into.
Charlie was three months old the first time Anna and Mason separated. When he was six months old, they were back together again, but basically living like glorified roommates, with Anna staying in Charlie’s room and Mason sleeping alone in their king-sized bed.
Sure, the fighting had lessened as they focused on the daily care and feeding of Charlie. But never in the history of babies had one ever saved a marriage, especially one that cried as much as Charlie.
Tuesday in the Emery house meant bath day, which also meant that Charlie would cry from seven in the evening, his bath time, until at least nine 0’clock.
“Can you keep him quiet, please?” Mason said. There was a hint of aggravation in his voice that Anna did not care for.
“What do you think I’m trying to do?” she responded, just as annoyed.
“I have no idea because he’s been crying since I got home.”
“Then you try,” Anna said, plopping Charlie into Mason’s lap. “Let’s see how you do while I’m gone.”
“Where are you going?” Mason asked.
“Out!” Anna replied with a wave.
“Are you coming or not?” Anna asked Mason. He was getting ready for work, trying to avoid the conversation altogether. “It’s Charlie’s first birthday. I can’t even believe you’re thinking about not coming.”
Anna wanted to throw Charlie a giant spectacle, with a bouncy house, clowns, and a cake twice his size. But as usual, she and Mason were arguing about it. Nowadays they argued over just about everything.
“Anna, I think . . .”
“You think what, Mason?”
“I think it’s a mistake.”
“You think it’s a mistake to celebrate our child? Maybe it’s a little over the top, but he deserves it. Our Charlie deserves this!”
“He does,” Mason said quietly. “But I won’t be here, Anna. I . . . I just can’t.”
Anna was waiting in the living room when Mason came home. He noticed that the food and the cake from the party were barely touched. He wasn’t surprised.
“Where were you?” she demanded. “Fucking whatever whore girlfriend you found?”
“There’s no one else, Anna. There never has been.”
“You missed his birthday. You should’ve been here.” The anger had subsided and was replaced by a terrible sadness.
Mason pulled out a business card and handed it to Anna. “I’ve been seeing a therapist. That’s where I was today. She thinks it would be good if you came with me.”
Anna stared at Mason in disbelief. “I don’t need a therapist. If you want to waste your time, be my guest, but the truth is, Mason, I think what I need is a good lawyer.”
Anna threw the card at Mason and rushed upstairs to see Charlie. He’d been so quiet lately, so much easier these days. He didn’t even wake up after their argument like he usually did.
“Good night, baby,” Anna said.
She took a couple of Ambien and fell into a deep sleep.
Anna’s head was throbbing when she woke up. Her throat was dry; her lips, cracked and bleeding. She heard what sounded like wood splintering and instinctively reached for Charlie.
The police rushed in, followed by Mason.
Anna’s mind was still pretty foggy, but she tried to stand up and stop them from going to the crib — but it was too late.
“Dear god,” the officer gasped, as she lifted something from the crib. Something wrapped in one of Charlie’s old blankets.
Mason got the call at work around 4 pm.
“Mr. Emery, it’s Jonathan Perry from Oceanview Mortuary.”
“Uh yes, what can I do for you?”
“Well, Mr. Emery, I . . . I don’t know how to say this, but your son’s grave has been disturbed.”
“Disturbed? What do you mean, disturbed how?”
“Uh . . . well, it seems that someone has taken the child’s body.”
“How could you let this happen?”
“It was late, and no one was here, but we had CCTV cameras installed a few years ago after some kids vandalized a few of the grave sites.”
“Then you know who did this. Why haven’t you called the police?”
“Well, Mr. Emery, we haven’t called police because it appears the culprit was your wife.”
Anna’s eyes were wild as she leapt at the officer. “Give him to me!” she screamed. “Give me my baby!”
The officer relented, and Anna cradled Charlie the way she did when he was born and the doctor placed him in her arms. The way she did on the night she found him in his Scooby-Doo onesie, cold to the touch, his skin a deathly shade of blue.
Tears streamed down Anna’s face. She looked up helplessly at Mason. “Do you think he would’ve liked his party?”
Mason nodded. “Yes, honey, he would’ve loved it.”
The night Charlie died, Anna left the house, fed up with Mason, fed up with Charlie, fed up with her whole life. She only intended to be gone for an hour or so, but didn’t return until the following morning. Nothing improper happened, unless you consider getting a hotel room so you can finally get some uninterrupted sleep improper.
While Anna slept soundly for the first time in months, Mason was at his wits’ end as he tried every trick known to man to get Charlie to stop crying — but nothing worked.
“Please be quiet, Charlie, please,” Mason said. He was exhausted. But Charlie’s shrill screams continued to echo throughout the house.
At first, Mason simply placed his hand over Charlie’s mouth. When he continued to cry, Mason increased the pressure by just a little, then a little more, until Charlie was finally silent.
It was Anna’s anguished screams that woke Mason. He couldn’t understand why she was yelling. Then he saw that Anna was cradling Charlie’s limp body in her arms, and the memory of what occurred, of what he had done the night before, came flooding back.
Mason couldn’t move; he couldn’t get up to comfort Anna, and he definitely couldn’t look at Charlie. Instead Mason turned his gaze away from Anna, who had fallen to her knees and was crying hysterically.
That’s when Mason noticed it, the bag on the floor next to the crib. He knew exactly what it was, had seen the Penny Lane Toys logo a thousand times. He knew there was a gift inside, a gift for Charlie, whose very first birthday was only a week away.