Late by Jadalyn Gubat
 

Firstborn

by Satori McCormick


I tried to tell my husband about my first son but every noble intent of the act failed. As we lay in bed months into our honeymoon, I attempted to sketch out the exact shade of his newborn skin (terracotta? rose? like the color of a brilliant desert sunset when it hits the sandstones just before nightfall?) and the deep black pools of his eyes when he opened them (he cried all the time and it was like he wailed, stopped, and opened his eyes just to fill them with sorrow all over again). But with each new sentence I paused, frowning, my hand outstretched in the middle of the air, and I could not remember if this was my baby I was talking about or the fantasy one I’d dreamed up in years since. My patient husband leaned over to kiss my forehead. He rolled over and turned off the light, leaving me in the dark wondering what color my son had been.

But the tragedies topple over each other into peripheries. I was overjoyed to discover that someone wanted to marry me even after I was left destitute and childless and absolute societal wreckage. My husband was so sweet and shy I could hardly believe he was mine. He left every morning at seven to go to work in an office building and came home every night at five. He made his own coffee and poured a measured teaspoon of cream into it. He grew a beard and it tickled my mouth when he kissed me. He never asked me about my past. It was ancient history, a dark age, an aftertaste fading in my mouth.

Our daughter was born on Christmas Day so we decided to name her Mary. She was pale and quiet like an angel. She never cried. In her crib, under a delicate canary yellow mobile of butterflies, she gazed up at me adoringly with caramel brown eyes. I took her everywhere with me. When she wanted to nap I cradled her in the crook of my elbow and watched TV, and when she was awake I took her on walks in the neighborhood in a pink stroller. My husband and I photographed her every minute development, whether it be an extra tuft of hair or a new dress or that the seasons had changed, but suddenly somehow autumn looked different than it always had once it enveloped our child.

"Her fatherless child started crying on the other side of the room and I went to clean up his mess of spilled milk. I felt a sharp hatred towards him."

At her third birthday party I invited one of my oldest friends and she approached me as I cut the cake for a group of eager toddlers. She started talking about how much I had changed, god, what a fucking miracle. I darted her a scornful frown and she laughed. She asked me how much my husband made at his job. Enough for us, I said. And this house? She glanced around at the white walls and contemporary furniture. She scoffed. You got yourself a real perfect life, she spat. Her fatherless child started crying on the other side of the room and I went to clean up his mess of spilled milk. I felt a sharp hatred towards him. What an ugly child. He looked at me with big black bug eyes encrusted with diamond lagoons and I had to look away.

My husband was working late so I brought Mary to the mall. I bought her a light blue backpack to put all her things in. She stuffed in the most audaciously unnecessary things: a pack of crayons, her favorite stuffed animal, a bag of crackers, and a flower barrette, just in case the one I’d clipped in her hair that morning wasn’t adequate by the end of the day. I bought her ice cream in the food court. She savored it as we went in search of a toy store.


I noticed a boy who must’ve been not older than eleven or so. He had shaggy black hair and deep golden skin and as he passed me he looked at me strangely. He joined a white couple that must’ve been his parents and they walked together through the wide glossy mall hallway. I tugged my daughter along faster and she whined in protest, her ice cream dripping onto the floor. In the hoards of people going the opposite way I lost track of the boy. Mary stumbled to keep up.

I caught a glimpse of the family going up the escalator. I climbed in, pushing past strangers who shouted after me and at the top I saw them heading to the exit. I dropped Mary’s hand and followed swiftly.


Just before I could reach the boy the mother whirled around and hissed, “What do you think you’re doing, following us?”


Behind her I stared at the boy. He didn’t look like me. He wasn’t my son. I glanced at the woman, her face frightened and reddened, breathing heavily. Without saying anything, I turned back and made my way to Mary, who was beginning to cry in the midst of a thousand strangers.