by Neal Suit
We were going to name you Paul or David or Lance. Or Charlotte or Melody. We name what we treasure. We name what we love.
I thought you were going to be a boy. I’d call you buddy boy or partner, waiting for you to giggle at your favorite nickname. I’d explain baseball. I’d teach you to swim and bike. I’d let you shave next to me in the bathroom, my blade shearing hair from skin, your razor empty and tickling your blameless skin. I’d teach you to make mommy’s coffee in the morning, with just the right amount of non-dairy creamer and cinnamon and explain how mommy would want a refill ten minutes later.
Mommy dreamed you’d be a girl. She would teach you to dance and find the beat, like she did when she was a little girl. She would read you every Nancy Drew book and see if you could guess who did it before the ending. She’d teach you how to keep the boys’ fumbling paws off of you. You would follow her around, learning the motions and expressions needed to get daddy to concede to your every whim. Mommy would show you how to draw and paint, taking white sheets of papers to recreate worlds and invent new ones. She’d make sure you knew you could be whatever you wanted and do whatever you wanted and love anyone you wanted.
We’d both cringe and hold on tightly while we taught you to drive, our car grinding as it lurched across asphalt and chipped its paint in a collision with a mailbox. I’d take you on roller coasters and hold you tight as we tiptoed through haunted houses; your mommy doesn’t like either of those. We’d both help with your homework. Split infinitives and gerunds. Where the Wild Things Are.. The Giving Tree. The Hundred Years’ War and Vietnam. Linear, Trig, and Logarithm Equations.
We’d both watch helplessly when your heart shattered into a thousand pieces, and we’d help you pick up each piece , leaving your heart a little more guarded with each reconstruction. We’d shake our heads at your petulant outbursts as you battled hormones, puberty, and peer pressure. We’d watch you on fields and at meets and at recitals and graduations. We’d let you sneak into our bed when you were scared and pretend we didn’t notice your elbows and knees. We’d read to you until you fell asleep and quietly sneak out of your room.
You’d watch me silently, learning all of my flaws. You’d learn to be impatient and bark at others when stressed. You’d bury your head in your phone and ignore mommy and your friends more than you should. Sometimes you’d pretend not to hear when you really did. You’d sometimes drink too much and swear too much. You’d understand the art of little white lies. You’d say hurtful comments for a laugh, realizing before spoken they would leave their bitter mark.
Mommy would teach you about body insecurity and stare at the mirror for hours, treasure hunting for flaws. You’d take comments personally, harboring them as fuel for unspoken resentment. You’d fail to speak up for yourself when you knew you should. You wouldn’t give the right answer, even though it came easily, because you didn’t want to be called a know-it-all and wanted to belong.
We listen for life. It’s only crackling static. It’s the emptiest sound I’ve ever heard.
The nurse adjusts, smearing jelly across mommy’s belly like a kindergartener learning to finger-paint.. Mommy’s eyes water, but she does not wipe away the sticky, round drops that escape on to the tissue paper underneath her that the nurse laid out like a red carpet. We’d give anything to hear a rustle or bump on those menacing speakers. But death is quiet and uncaring.
“I’m sorry,” the nurse says. There is no need to say anything else. She leaves the room. My wife squeezes my hand until I lose sensation and I feel her fingernails burrowing deep into my flesh, maybe even breaking the skin. But I do not object.
We will not bury you or celebrate a birthday or deathday. We will not speak of you at all. You will be mourned silently, like a shameful secret.
Good night, Paul or David or Lance. Or Charlotte or Melody. I give you these names. Maybe you’ll pick the one you like. I hope you will whisper it in my ear when I close my eyes.
Neal Suit is a recovering lawyer. He writes fiction and is completing his first novel. He has short stories published or forthcoming in Mystery Weekly, Boston Literary Magazine, and Fiction Kitchen. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his family and periodic writer’s block.