Well, you see, she drowned the child. There was very little sound at all, no splashing really, just eighteen breath bubbles, rising popping dead. Just a baby, just a pink and fatty baby,and its face was kind of flat and it didn't have eyebrows yet, or fingernails worth clipping. She ran the water like normal and put in the plastic bear. She knelt down over the tub, water shallow,looking beige because the ugly tub was beige. She held it in her forearms, the child. She held it out, the child, deep pink against the flat white undersides of her forearms. The mirror started to fog. Her sleeves were rolled up her arms. She watched the tiny wisps of hair float out from the baby's soft head, imagined its bones still fusing under her fingers, still becoming, becoming two hundred and eighty bones, two hundred and forty, two hundred and six. She made sure the water didn't get in the baby's ears.
Steven wasn't home, so she could say that it was an accident. She could say that she had left the room, that she had heard no sounds, that the child was just an accident. She could say I didn't know it would be like this. I didn't know it would hurt. She could say I hate this thing. I love this thing. I don't know who I am.
And she did. You know, she talked to the baby in the tub. She let its feet slip between her elbows, little legs bending in. She let its bottom touch the ugly tub and she spread her forearms farther so the water could swaddle its back, its arms, its shoulders. She had her hands behind its head, her hands above the water just a little, just a little. Under the water the baby's body looked like liquid, like wavering, loose liquid, like those babies sucked from stomachs before they really were. She had asked Steven, had begged Steven, had told him she couldn't have it. She could not look like that in pictures. She would not look like that in pictures. She told him tailoring white lace and white beads was expensive, adding hem length, adding darts. She told him the dress is already bought, my mother would absolutely kill me. There is only one ring on my hand. There can't be any babies in my body.
The baby sneezed. Sneezed again. Two clear lines leaked out its nose. The mother flipped it over, pressed the hand with two rings to its back. Counted eighteen bubbles. Counted only those eighteen micro-second sounds. She lifted her hands from the water, from the body, from the body’s brown halo of hair. She would say it was just an accident. She would say but I was its mother.
Our first fall at the log house my father handed me an axe, said he’d teach me how to crack a tree to pieces in a day. We had moved there from Chicago in 1974 after the gas prices had grown too high and my mother was starting to talk.
My mother watched us from the window, the axe bright and heavy in my hands. I felled thin blue spruces along the back edge of our yard, she patted boneless pink chicken legs with honey, lemon, sage. When I came in she hugged me, loose, said I swung just like him.
One night in late September, lightning struck our fir tree. Its fat pine-coned branches exploded into a thousand yellow-black shards, splintering everything, the clover, earth, birds. There were rotten tomatoes stabbed through and dripping down their vines out back. The log house smelled like burning sap, hair held over candles for days.
Around Christmas dad lost a finger and beat mom with a blue spruce log from a tree I had felled in the fall. He went out and peed in the woods, chicken burning in the oven. “It’s so cold,” he said, “my piss froze to the bark.” He said the log came from my pile, told me it was my fault.
My mother slept in the hospital seven full months, brain swelling like a flower in a too-small pot. When the nurses walked by, my father held her hand. When they left, he dropped it like a bad plum, like a spider.
I started seeing deer in the yard whenever he left the house. One day in July I saw a spotted one, a finger of wood jutting from its ear. My mother died that Saturday. I shot the deer the next Tuesday, cut the wood stud from its ear, kept it close.
Dad and I brined the venison with lemon, salt, sage. My father ate it, proud of his son. I buried mine in the bed of dead tomatoes. After a month he found the plate and beat me out of the house. I left, took my mother from the hearth so he’d stop throwing bone scraps into the fire.
Thirty years later my father calls, says he’s leaving the house to me. I drive eighty miles, close his hospital door. A nurse walks in, my hand loosens from the wet wood shard. It is the first day of fall.
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