Copyright 2017 by Jo Huddleston
Tuesday, March 2, 1954—Talasia, Mississippi
Alice Patterson bolted upright in the bed and listened for what had awakened her. She heard nothing out of the ordinary. Only the hushed, even snores from her husband Paul’s side of the bed. The black hole in her recurring nightmares must have invaded her subliminal mind—again. She had awakened before she sank into its depths. Paul still slept. Obviously, she hadn’t screamed out this time.
She eased from beneath the covers, pushed her feet into house slippers, and grabbed her pink terry cloth robe lying across the foot of the bed. After stepping into the hall and pulling the door shut, she stuffed her arms into her robe and tied the sash around her waist. She knew her house, even in the night, and walked to the darkened bedroom next to hers and Paul’s.
Pale light from the street lamp outside huddled beyond the curtains covering the lone window. Standing in the middle of the room, she peered toward the baby bed, then her gaze focused on the rocking chair with the golden cushions padding its back and seat. She went to the small chest placed against the wall across the room and opened the music box sitting atop it. The tiny box played its shrill rendition of “Brahms’ Lullaby.”
Alice sat in the rocking chair and idly moved it with one foot grazing the hardwood floor, her arms empty. She remained there even after the music box played its last note. Blinding light burst from the hall and pierced the darkness of the room to reveal the baby bed. Empty.
Paul’s voice reached her through the night. “You all right?”
Would she ever be all right again? She turned toward the open door where her husband’s silhouette stood in dark contrast to the brightness behind him. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“It’ll be daylight soon. Come on back to bed. If you can’t sleep, at least you can rest your body. You need to conserve your energy to help regain your strength.”
Paul repeated what Dr. Stallings had told her before he released her from the hospital ten days ago. But what did she need her strength for? She no longer carried the baby they’d both dreamed of. Her body was now empty like her arms and the baby bed.
In his pajamas and on bare feet, Paul entered the room and crouched beside the rocking chair. He took her hand that gripped the arm of the rocker. “You’re cold. Come back to bed and get under the quilts.”
She allowed him to ease her from the chair and guide her to their bedroom, his strong arm encircling her waist. Finally settled beneath the covers and the lamp turned off, Paul’s body heat radiated to her. Soon her skin warmed, but her insides still trembled with the chill of gloom. Paul’s efforts couldn’t thaw the ice surrounding her heart.
“Alice?” Paul waited for her response. When none came, he continued. “Sweetheart, we’ll get through this, we will. Don’t give up. You’re exactly where God wants you at this moment. And you’re where I want you—in my arms.”
After a bit, Alice turned toward Paul. “Thanks for trying to help me. I guess my mind takes its time to catch up with what my body has gone through. I’ll be all right. Please give me a little more time.”
“I’ll give you all the time you need.”
She rolled to her right, facing her side of the bed. She didn’t want him to detect the tears that leaked from her eyes.
He moved close behind her. “You’re warmer now. Let’s get a short nap before the alarm clock goes off.”
Soon, Paul’s soft snores caressed her back, but sleep didn’t come to Alice. Her thoughts roamed wildly. Surely this is not where God wanted her at this moment—grieving for a lost child who never took a breath, who never saw its parents’ smiles, never felt their love. How could a good God put her through this? She couldn’t speak that thought aloud in Paul’s presence. He was Mr. God-Will-Work-Everything-Out-For-Good.
When they’d married four years ago, Alice agreed with him. After her miscarriage, doubt had crept into her heart and taken up residence there. How could Paul continue his patience with her? She had become a burden to him.
The alarm sounded, signaling six o’clock. Her eyes hadn’t closed. She reached for the clock radio on the bedside table and pressed the snooze button. As was their habit, Paul would get another five minutes of sleep while she started breakfast.
Alice eased from the bed, her abdomen slightly sore from the recent trauma. In rote movements, she slid her feet into her house slippers and took her robe from the foot of the bed as she left the room. The humdrum of their mornings played out as her hands accomplished each chore independent from her mind, which wasn’t on preparing breakfast—start the coffee, get the eggs and bacon from the refrigerator, set the table.
When the water pipes grumbled from the rush of Paul’s shower, her routine continued, and soon everything was in order. His footsteps moving up the hall marked the time to drop bread into the toaster and get the butter from the refrigerator.
He came to her and kissed her cheek. “Good morning. How are you? Better?”
“Hmm,” was all she could muster and he didn’t question her further.
Paul draped his suit coat over the back of his chair and went to the front porch to retrieve the newspaper. He sat at the aluminum and yellow vinyl dinette set and scanned the front page before eating. “Looks like they’re moving along well on the new high school building.”
She joined Paul at the table and waited as he offered a prayer of thanksgiving for their food. She sat across from her handsome husband and sipped her coffee. Prominent tracks lay in his damp brown hair where he’d run the fine toothed end of a comb through it. When he spooned scrambled eggs onto his plate, he did the same for her. She buttered her toast, nibbled at a corner, and pushed her eggs around.
“What are your plans for today?”
With indifference, she answered, “Sewing Circle meets today. JayNell called yesterday to say she’d pick me up.”
“That’s good. I’m glad you’ve decided to get out with your friend.”
“I didn’t promise JayNell I’d go. She said she’d call again this morning.”
His fork clattered against the plate when he laid it down. “If you feel like going, I hope you will.”
He drained his coffee cup, pushed his chair away from the table, and stood. “Time for me to get to the store. See you later.” He rounded the table, squeezed her shoulders, and kissed her gently on the lips.
“Bye,” she said. Alice didn’t watch him leave through the kitchen door behind her. Did she lack the stamina or interest? The answer would be a tossup. Nothing appealed to her or held her attention for any length of time. She did a few chores now and then, but always in a mechanical way, like a preset machine with no emotion.
After washing the breakfast dishes and tidying up the kitchen, Alice wandered into their bedroom. She went to Paul’s side of the bed, straightened the covers and plumped his pillow. On her side of the bed, she made a lukewarm attempt to do the same. But why bother to make the bed? Who would see it besides Paul?
She should shower and get dressed. But, again, who would see her? The temptation was too strong to fight, and she crawled into the bed. Still in her robe, she pulled the covers up to her chin.
When the telephone rang, her body jolted. She’d apparently dozed. For how long? She glanced at the clock radio. Eight o’clock. Her pillow was damp, she must have cried herself to sleep. Again. She whipped off the covers and hurried to the kitchen and the wall phone. “Hello?”
“Hey, Alice, you up?”
“I am now. JayNell?”
“I told you I’d call this morning. You going with me to Sewing Circle?”
Alice chanced a peek in the small mirror hanging beside the back door. Could she do this? Now? Or by going to Sewing Circle would she open herself to more hurt from the prying eyes of the women there? She hadn’t attended for several weeks. Not since—”
“Alice, you there? I’ll pick you up about a quarter after nine.”
“No, wait. I don’t think I’m ready yet to get back out in public.”
“You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. Dr. Stallings has given you the green light to be normal again.”
“Oh, you know, like me, scatterbrained-normal. We can watch out for one another. How about it?”
Paul and her best friend, JayNell, both wanted her to go. If she did, maybe they’d stop hassling her. “Okay, see you at nine-fifteen.”
“Great! See you in a bit.”
©2017 Jo Huddleston All Rights Reserved