The child was small, smaller than she had expected it to be. It was ugly, too. Scrawny and wrinkly and red. And loud. It screamed and screamed, and nothing Beatrice did could stop it. Her sister lay asleep on the bed, despite the desperate cries of her newborn child. Beatrice did not know what to do. She clutched the child to her chest. Anna should have been awake by now. Why wasn’t Anna awake?
Beatrice wanted to lay down on the bed with Anna. She was so tired. She did not want to be holding this child anymore. But she would not let it go. Anna had handed Beatrice the bundle of blankets and baby in the den, saying she needed a break. She needed an escape from the madness of motherhood for just ten minutes. But then it had started to cry. And not just cry; it had begun to howl. That was when Beatrice had gone to find Anna in the bedroom. She slowly lowered herself onto the mattress next to her sister. The bundle squirmed in her arms. Beatrice rested the child on her chest as she stared up at the ceiling. She began to hum to herself; a haunting, lilting melody that she remembered echoing in her dreams, the dreams with the dragonflies. Anna still had not woken up, but the child had calmed itself to a whimper.
Beatrice looked at the small body atop her own. The steady rise and fall of the crocheted blanket calmed Beatrice. She turned to look at Anna. There was no rhythm to the movement of the blanket covering Anna’s body. There was no movement at all.
Beatrice’s eyes went wide. Was there something wrong with Anna? She could not move.
The child seemed alright. Was it possible that it did not know something was wrong with its mother? Beatrice had always thought mothers and their newborns were connected like that. She was sure her own mother had told her that.
The front door opened with a thud that shook the house.
“Anna!” a voice, deep and gruff, shouted. Beatrice sat up, gripping the child. It began to cry. A man walked into the bedroom, his head almost hitting the doorframe. Beatrice had seen him before. Who was he?
“Beatrice, give me Lily. Where’s Anna?”
Beatrice shook her head; she did not want to give the child to this man. He reached his arms out for the child, but Beatrice pulled away.
“What did you do to Anna?” He was angry now. He gripped her arm, trying to force the child out of her hands. He moved over to Anna on the other side of the bed. Beatrice got up and ran.
She ran out the wide open front door. She ran down the steps and out into the street. She ran until she could not take it anymore. Until her lungs spasmed for air, painfully contorting within her body. Until she realized that her feet were bare and muddied and bleeding. Until she
realized that she was still holding the child and it was crying, screaming, shrieking again.
. . .
The Greyhound was crowded and dirty. En route to Boston, it idled amongst the traffic of early office escapees and impatient mothers late to their children’s doctor appointments. The bus reeked of soggy tuna sandwiches and pungent gasoline. Satchel Seigfreid sat in seat 8D, next to a woman in jeans and a brown overcoat. She was mechanically bouncing the crying baby in her lap while staring straight ahead, unblinking.
Satchel eyed the baby. It wore a little white hat and was enveloped in several blankets that seemed to have been hastily wrapped around it. The outermost blanket had an “L” stitched into the corner in an ugly bright green. It heaved a final cry and began opening and closing its mouth repeatedly, playing with the air.
Satchel checked the time; it was a bit after four. There was no way the interviewer would wait forever. Another opportunity lost and another month of living off Dad’s pity checks. Satchel was suddenly hyper-aware of the hum of the bus motor, or lack thereof. The driver of the bus heaved himself out of the seat and stood before everyone.
“Unfortunately, folks, there’s been an accident. And I don’t think we’re gonna be going anywhere any time soon. So if you want to get up and stretch your legs, now’s the time. I’ll make another announcement once I get word when we’ll be moving again. Thanks.”
The other passengers got up one by one, some getting out of the bus to walk the stretch of grass beside the highway while others merely stood in place looking around the bus. The woman next to Satchel did not move an inch.
Satchel wanted to get up but could not bring himself to ask the woman to move. He took a book out of his backpack, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, and removed the packet of extra-strength Tylenol from the page he was last reading. He sighed. His eyes glided over the words on the page with ease, but his brain was restless and unfocused. He desperately needed to get off the bus. Satchel tapped the woman’s arm and she turned to him with a quick jerk of her head.
“Can I just get past you for a second?” Satchel asked. The woman studied his face, unresponsive. Satchel pointed to the aisle. She looked and nodded quickly. Before Satchel knew what was happening, the woman had shoved the baby in his arms and was scurrying down the aisle.
“What?” Satchel said aloud, looking down at the baby in his arms. “Excuse me! I have your child!” Satchel called, but the woman was already gone. The baby wriggled around in the blankets, smiling up at him. He got up and adjusted the baby, unsure exactly how to hold it, and carefully made his way off the bus. Satchel quickly scanned the crowds of people milling around but could not spot the woman. Finally, he saw her on the outskirts of the crowd, sitting alone on the grass.
“Uh, excuse me, here’s your child,” Satchel said as he stood in front of the woman. She looked up at him, panic seared on her face. Her eyes darted back and forth between Satchel and the baby.
“Forgive me,” she said, standing up. “I am so sorry.” She took the child and rocked it in her arms.
“Yeah.” Satchel turned to leave. “Are you alright?” he added, looking back at her.
“Yes.” She caught Satchel’s gaze and held it tightly. “No. Would you mind staying with me?” she asked, biting her lip.
“Uh, sure.” She sat down and Satchel followed suit. “What are your names?” he asked politely, cursing himself for choosing that damned seat three hours ago.
“This is Lily,” she said, “and my name is Beatrice.”
. . .
The house was purple. A purple that forced you to do a double-take and stare at the house at the end of the cul-de-sac as you made your way down the road. It was the purple of grape-flavored children’s medicine, thick and sticky and remarkably sweet. It was the purple of sweaty summer twilights, drunk and insatiable. It was the purple of shadows smeared beneath eyes, vacant and alluring and despondent.
The walk was grey cement webbed with cracks, grass and wildflowers forcing their way up through the fissures to reclaim the concrete. A rusted black mailbox hung next to the front door, swinging dangerously from a solitary nail whenever a wind blew. A small turquoise dragonfly had been painted on the side of the mailbox nearest the door, so that if you stepped out of the house and looked to your right you would see it at eye level.
On this particular morning inside the house, two little girls slept soundly in their bedroom. A woman and a man sat in the kitchen. Soft classical music floated through the radio on the counter. Two yellow mugs filled with coffee sat before them. They did not speak. They hardly ever spoke. In fact, this was the first time in two years they had been in the same room without throwing fragile objects or spewing profanities at one another.
The woman wore a flowered nightgown that hugged her body in all the wrong places and was thin enough for the dragonfly tattoo on her back to be visible. The man was clean-shaven and wore khakis and a tight-fitting polo shirt.
“Lil,” he began, grabbing her hand. But she yanked it away before he could get another syllable out.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Sorry. Lily, I’m ready to come back. I’m ready to be a father again.” His voice wavered on the word father. He took a drag of the cigarette and then stubbed it out on the ashtray next to him.
“Don’t give me that crap, Jason. You were never a father to those girls in the first place and you sure as hell are not going to become one now. I know you, don’t forget. I’ve known you since we were little.” Lily stood up, the plastic feet of the chair screeching against the worn linoleum. “You can go now.” She pointed to the door.
“Please give me a chance. I know I’ve screwed up, but I’ve changed. I swear.” Jason grabbed Lily’s wrist. She tried to pry his hand away, but his grip only tightened.
“Let go, Jason.”
“They’re my daughters, too, you know. Not just yours.” Jason pushed Lily against the refrigerator. “I need to see my daughters,” he said, his voice reaching a growl. He reached as if to grab for her throat and she fumbled for something on the counter next to her. Her fingers latched onto a knife, and she pulled it out towards him. He stumbled back.
“Touch me again and I will kill you,” Lily said, her hand shaking.
“Mommy?” She looked up as a small head poked out of the kitchen doorway. “Who is that Mommy?”
“It’s ok, Anna. Mommy’s just talking to someone for a minute,” Lily said, giving her a tight smile and shooing her off. The little girl disappeared around the corner.
“She doesn’t know who I am?” Jason asked. “She doesn’t know who I am.” He shook his head and gave Lily a grave smile. “My own daughter doesn’t know who I am,” he whispered.
Jason stepped forward towards Lily. There was a sudden flurry of movement. The knife glinted in Lily’s hand. He shouted. She shouted. An arm was grabbed and twisted. The knife clattered to the floor. Then it was jabbed into a chest with a swift, fleeting motion. Silence. The radio produced the only sound in the house, a melancholy, lilting song.
“Mommy?” Two small bodies pressed against the figure on the floor.
“Go back to bed, Beatrice. Everything’s alright. It’s all just a bad dream, my girls.”
Lily watched as Anna and Beatrice stumbled away. The bloody knife was still in her hand.