WARNING: This story is about a woman who had suffered a miscarriage and is now possibly having a psychotic break/postpartum psychosis. While I would never intentionally hurt someone with a creative piece I can see how this story could be traumatic to someone who lost a child. If you are upset with the idea of miscarriage please don’t read this fic. If you are upset with violence and violence directed at children, please don’t read this. If you are upset with the death of an infant please don’t read this. I’ll write more stories about shadows murdering people and zombies working call centers. You can read those.
TAGS: Dead Dove, Miscarriage, Murder, Child Abuse, Child Murder, Infant Murder, Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism, Dark Eyed Children, Social Work, Divorce, Postpartum Psychosis, Psychotic Break, Violence, Sexual Abuse Implied, Dark fic, original fic
It started the day after Macy’s baby shower. I spotted one of them standing in a busy parking lot that night. It hadn’t been a good day, in fact it hadn’t been a good week. Fortunately the Hannafords in Leominster sold all sorts of cheap wine and I just needed to relax and unwind. She was standing by the carriage return. The lot was dark, the evening light of a dying sun. Concerned for her, I started to walk over. She couldn’t have been more than ten; a tiny little thing standing there all alone at night.
But then I stopped in my tracks. Something about her stopped me. No, that’s not quite right. Something about me stopped me. Something about her was compelling me towards her. It was as if she were drawing me in, calling me. And that’s why I stopped. That feeling you get when you’re wanted, desired, needed…I hate that feeling. That’s when I noticed her eyes, large and the deepest black. My breathing slowed and I swear I felt my heart slowing as well. She wasn’t moving, but her attention was focused completely on me now.
The lot was practically empty. A few disinterested people were waking heartlessly to their cars. For a second I took my eyes from the girl and looked around. A woman carrying three plastic bags fumbled with her keys. She dropped a bag and a monster energy drink rolled out. Cursing under her breath she went to catch it with her foot only to watch it roll under the car. She cursed louder. I could feel her disappointment, not just for the lost drink but in her entire life. To my right a man exited his car, the door squealed in protest as it closed. He walked close enough for me to catch a whiff. Pot and body odor were battling each other for dominance. He caught me looking and scowled, stuffing rough hands into abused pockets.
“You think you’re better than me?” he challenged, shoulders rising in quick jerks.
No. I realized I was just as sad and pathetic and lost as the rest of the thrown away people in this lot at this hour. We were all tied together in our pathetic lives of late night shopping. Buying food that we would heat up, partially eat, and toss. Going home to empty apartments with disinterested pets and dead plants. Once, I had been one of the respectable five thirty shoppers, people who stopped in on their way home from work at normal hours so they could be there for families. I was one of those women, and on my way to being a ‘two carriages on Sunday afternoon brood leading’ woman. Women that worked successful jobs that stopped at designated times because their second shift of wife/mother began promptly thereafter. Women who went to PTA meetings and complained to managers. I had my resume typed up for that and everything. But then…
My head snapped back to her. The girl was gone. Somehow I was relieved. A small child in a dark parking lot disappeared and my first reaction was to thank god I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t look for her. Just got in my car and drove off.
The baby shower had been a nightmare. I mean, after your first four do you have a shower? Who fucking cares? My sister, Amanda. That’s who.
“She looks amazing.”
I smiled over to the voice as it approached me. Amanda’s friends had once been my friends. This was Stacy, three kids, who had studied to be a librarian and now just drove in circles all day. “I know. Really happy for her.” I sipped my mimosa and fought the urge to swallow it in one gulp then take three more.
Stacy’s smile slowly turned to pity, “We don’t see enough of you these days.” She shifted her weight the way women do in Hallmark movies to show they are being sincere.
Oh fuck me… “Well, the job, you know.”
Stacy jumped at the excuse, “Oh, of course. I mean. Wow. I don’t know how you do it.” She looked at me expectantly.
I froze for a moment, oh shit she wants details? “I just focus on the kids. Trying to do right by them. Trying to keep families together.”
She smiled, “That’s beautiful. Something good to battle all the bad you’ve been through.”
God I wanted to tell her it was a fucking paycheck that I mostly drank away.
Stacy grew emboldened to give me that lecture all women seem to keep in their back pocket for women like me. “You know, my cousin had a miscarriage on her first try. But she had three more after. It’s not too late for you.”
My body went cold. People just can’t leave death alone, can they? No they have to pick and pick and watch you bleed. They have to keep reminding you of your fucking catostrophic failure and make you relive it time and time again. So that after you have successfully wept yourself into the corner you can emerge like a phoenix…but a weakened one. Duller feathers, limp wings. You can sometimes put on makeup so people can say how brave you are, but for the most part you have to play the sorrowful example. A fucking warning to other women.
“I don’t mean to pry…”
“No, it’s okay.” I flashed my fake smile because fuck this bitch, I’m NOT crying. “I should probably find a guy first. I heard they are part of the process.”
Stacy smiled and for an instant I remembered why I liked her, loved her. Why we would talk for hours on the phone about boys, life, anything so long as it was nonsense. She was my first kiss. I wasn’t hers. ‘Just practicing,’ she said. “Well, I mean, are you on any dating apps?”
I nearly dropped my drink. “No. I’m still figuring out me.” Yeah that sounds like some middle aged woman bullshit.
She hummed nodding, then noticed my sister waddling to the presents table. Stacy turned to me, broad smile and moved to the front. She had assigned herself as the wrapping paper collector while another of my ex friends kept a list of who gave what.
I watched my sister lower herself to a chair. “I can’t do this again!”
“You said that last time.” Stacy joked coming up beside her and rubbing her cheek in her hair. The studio audience, because that’s really what this was right?, laughed and awed. “And the time before that…”
“And the time before that!” Amanda chorused in.
Cue studio audience for a big laugh and applause.
My sister opened her gifts, each as thoughtful and wonderful as the last. Tiny baby clothes. Tiny baby shoes. A baby book. Baby bible of days. She was glowing by the end. I can’t lie. I wish I could. She was radiant, perfect, expectant.
I stood there empty. Excusing myself to the bathroom I found the bottle of champagne and drank quickly, hoping the feeling would fade into that numb lightness that comes with alcohol. It did. I got back to the room just in time for Mom to lead us in a quick prayer. Lowering my head I felt her words wash over me. It had always been a comfort to pray. And I couldn’t be angry at Jesus. I fucked this all up myself.
Two days later I was back at work. Social work is a kind of hell reserved for those with big hearts or no heart. Luckily mine had died a few years back, or maybe it left with Jerry, I don’t know.
Cases piled up, but that was a combination of being overworked and being an underperformer. I met some families, called in on others, talked to teachers, and mainly filed paperwork. Pictures of children with large eyes filled my day, some were scared, some hungry, some angry. Most of them just looked empty. Usually by the time they ended up on my desk they were shells of people.
The day over, I packed up my desk and went to my car. The lift in my building quit working and the stairs had me breathing hard when I hit the cold air of the lot. My breath came out in heavy white clouds screaming to the world how out of shape I was.
It was dark in the lot. Winter light dies quickly. Somewhere in the shadows I heard the scurrying of rats dragging discarded fast food wrappers around. Birds congregated in corners, and I walked slowly and softly to avoid startling them. Reaching my car I heard the tapping of bare feet on the pavement. I turned, but saw nothing. My keys were in my pocket and I had to fumble for them before I could get in. It was dark, shadows crawling up the walls. Inside my car was no better, no warmer.
The hairs on the back of my neck rose slowly. My chest felt empty. I looked around, slower and more carefully this time. My eyes strained to see into the shadows, looking for any movement. Turning my attention back to the car I saw a puff of white against the inside of my window as if someone were breathing against it.
Tripping backwards I screamed, that’s when the patter of bare feet started again. But it was quickly flooded out by the eruption of birds. My scream woke the crows who immediately joined in, screeching into the night and flying around only feet from my head.
The horror of what might be inside my car was forgotten instantly and I plunged the key into the lock, allowing myself in and slamming the door behind me. The engine turned over and I pulled out of the spot, driving too fast out onto the street. A homeless man yelled at me from behind his carriage.
At the first red light I stopped to catch my breath…Breath. My eyes snapped to the rear view mirror. There was nothing. I spun around to make sure, even leaning over to see the floor space. Empty. The car was empty. I was safe.
I started laughing at myself, a silly shaken woman, but my laughter caught in my throat as I saw the child standing at the bus stop, staring right at me. Large black eyes calling me to get out of the car. To walk over to her. See what is wrong. Help her. She had no coat, no shoes.
The horn behind me blared, jarring me back to myself. I turned, gunned it and drove home.
“Tina, it’s okay to admit you…”
“Mom. I’m not jealous of Amanda’s baby. I just don’t want to talk about it.” Brunch with my parents is always good for a fight.
She reached across the table to put a hand over mine. I noticed how old her hands looked. “None of us think you are a failure, plenty of women have miscarriages. You just have to get back on that horse…”
“I’ll have to wrangle a dick first.” That’s when I noticed my own voice. It was high pitched and very loud. The restaurant went quiet as forks scraped around on plates. The stares from other patrons were like shouts.
Amanda was on her fifth and mine fell out at three months. Jerry couldn’t understand. He figured it hadn’t been long enough for me to grow attached. They really suck at teaching reproduction in this country. Babies literally grow, attached. He wanted to try for another right away. I couldn’t bear to have him touch me. He grew distant, I grew distant. He tried, and I refused to. And then I started drinking. I guess you could say I lost two really.
“Tina, lower your voice.” Dad’s rebuke was sharp. Of course he would take her side. And why shouldn’t he. I was a failure. Not just the baby. A law degree so I could do meaningless social work. A costly princess wedding for a marriage that ended with a coffin. A big house sold and split.
I took a long sip of my bloody mary. Why can’t people just drink bourbon for breakfast and have done with this charade?
Mom shot Dad a look that sent him back to the bacon bar. Alone at the table she tried again. “Honey, we think you could use some help.”
“What did you have in mind?” I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to offer. New age crystals? All night prayer sessions…
Well shit. I must be in much worse shape than I think if Mom is offering practical advice.
“I tried that…”
She shook her head, “No Jerry tried that. You went, and that’s a start but you never took the next step.”
I looked up at her. This was the first time we really discussed my post traumatic disorderly conduct. “Did you say it was a waste of time and money?”
I watched her purse her lips and for the first time ever I noticed little crinkles. Mom smoked? “I thought couples’ therapy wasn’t good for you. It was clear that you and Jerry weren’t working out.” She sighed, “After the loss it was clear you weren’t going in the same direction. But I think you need it. You need to talk to someone.” I started to shake my head but she stopped me. “No, you are falling apart, and I don’t mean the job, or the drinking. Honey, it’s like watching a zombie these days. You’re here but you’re not. You’re alive but you’re dead. We don’t know what to do.”
“Okay, okay.” I could see she was having one of her rare Irish Catholic emotional moments usually reserved for holidays. I didn’t want to use up the Christmas fund so I put paint to the Ibsen scene before it could start. “I’ll look into it.” Doubt sprang all over her face, “No I mean it. There’s a couple at work we can visit for free. I’ll talk to one this week.”
She pulled hands back, playing with her napkin. “Will you? Really?”
I took a deep breath in, and lied. “Yeah.”
“Ester. I was going to name her Ester, like from the bible.”
The universe is weird. I had no intention of talking to the counselor at work and then I met him in the elevator on the one day it decided to work. He was handsome, and unlike the rest of us he looked like the job hadn’t beaten him to death by Tuesday. There was something about him that just made you want to talk to him, need to do it.
We made small talk in the lift on the way up. Parting he turned left to his office, I went right to mine. The caseload was heavy and I had a ton of calls to make and appointments to schedule so I resolved to make myself so busy I couldn’t possibly think of talking to him. I made it to 10:14.
It was a shared kid that brought me to his office. A boy, twelve, chronic runaway but we couldn’t get him to talk about home. After five minutes of talking about the boy I mentioned my sister was pregnant, with her fifth. And after the customary small talk he had my life story staining the carpet of his small office.
“I like that name. Ester.” He said it like he was test driving it. “You know she was way more than the beauty queen of the bible.”
My ears perked up. “I do actually.”
“That whole story fills me with faith.” The look on my face must have given away my skepticism because he was laughing softly. “I know, god’s not present in the story, but there’s all different kinds of faith. Ester and Mordecai worked together, with their community, to stop a genocide. They used strategy and planning to outmaneuver a man infinitely more powerful than they and to save their people.”
I sat for a moment, thinking that over. Can people save themselves? “I like that.”
“People can surprise you sometimes. Strength comes from pulling together as a community.”
“And eating ears.” He laughed again. It sounded like music. I suddenly wanted to know who his favorite band was, and did he like pepsi or coke…please be pepsi.
“Ear shaped cookies, not actual ears.” His smile was lopsided, and his teeth were a little crooked. These perfect imperfections.
He noticed I was staring. I noticed that he noticed and jumped up. “Sorry for taking up so much of your time. I should get back…”
“It was fine. Please, you know you can talk to me when you need.” He held out a hand and I took it. Oh god it was warm and his skin was smooth like silk and I wanted that hand to travel all over me.
“Thank you.” Blushing like a teen I darted out of his office.
Amanda called that night. Just to check. Just to spy.
“Mom told me you were going to talk to a therapist.” It wasn’t judgy but somehow that made me all the more pissed off.
“I did actually. I talked to one at work.” I wanted to burst into a 90s moment and talk about how cute he was, how the office was decorated with nicknacks to the shows he likes. How his tie had a spot on it that I learned was from spaghettio. That he still ate spaghettios! I wanted to be back in our room as two girls gossiping and laughing and eating cheetos until our fingers were orange. But I just couldn’t.
“That’s great.” Her voice was warm, sincere. A pause, waiting for me to fill in gaps.
“Well, I mean. I work with him and he’s just there to support us.”
She could tell I was defensive, “No, I didn’t mean…I’m just happy you opened up to someone.” There it was. The judgment. You don’t talk to us. You pull away from us. You don’t trust us.
“Yeah, I gotta go.”
“No Tina, wait. I want to talk to you…” I could tell she needed to say something. There was always that edge in her voice that let me know when it was bullshit and an actual need. So I waited. Finally she blew out a breath, “Have a good night.”
My mouth opened, the question caught in my throat, the invitation to talk dying on my tongue. “Night.”
Work was work. It was hard, it beat you down, and the beating didn’t let up. I was called out to help with a removal from an apartment later that week. Meeting the cops and the foster pick up there, I knocked. No answer. Bad sign. Turning I looked at the officer but he seemed clueless. Way too young for this work.
“Mr. Welles, you need to open up.” I knocked harder, my social worker knock. Knocking is part of the training. “Mr. Welles, we need to see Andrea. The police and DCF are here.”
There was no sound from within the apartment. It was a basement walk down tiny thing. Trash collected at the doorway and the windows were so streaked with smoke and grease you couldn’t see in. A bay window sat next to the door, two of the three windows were covered but the furthest was unobscured. Pressing my face to the glass I caught a glimpse of motion. Two little bare legs ran across the room, darting out from a shadow only to be swallowed by another.
“She’s in there.”
“Okay, let’s get in.” The police officer motioned for me to move away. He pounded on the door one last time, from the corner of my eye I saw the motion again. I thought it odd that she ran in the same direction as last time. I hadn’t seen her run back. Calling out he kicked in the door and immediately turned his head. “What the fuck!”
The stench hit me and I nearly fell over. You never get used to that smell.
The officer took out his side arm and flashlight proceeding in. I followed him. It was freezing cold in the tiny apartment, almost worse than outside. My breath was tiny puffy clouds in front of me. Seated in the armchair facing a broken television set sat the body of Mr. Welles. He had taken a gun to himself some days ago from the look of things.
Death never surprises me. It’s the lack of fucks a person must give right before suicide that does. Mr. Welles was wearing stained pants, no shirt. His man tits were sagging down his ribcage. Somehow men are able to be skinny and fat at the same time. Stubble had grown over his face, and his black hair was plaster to what was left of his skull. The roaches that had scattered at our invasion returned to the food he left at his side.
“Find the kid.” The cop stared at me hard, “Hey! Snap out of it.”
I came back to myself. “Right, sorry.” Nodding, I moved into the apartment. “Sarah?” She had to still be here. Incredible that no one would have heard her crying. People would ignore the gun shot, that was the world we lived in, but the nuisance of a crying child disrupting primetime television, that would be reported.
Breathing into my hands, I desperately tried to warm my fingers. The white puffs filling the space around me. Down a dark hall, I saw the bare feet in a slice of light, “Sarah?”
The feet retreated into blackness again. I followed down the hall to the bedroom. The door crept open, creaking at every inch. “Sarah, hon..” I stopped cold.
Sarah Welles was lying face up on the bed, eyes open and unseeing, body cold and stiff. She had been strangled, days ago. Her legs and feet were bare.
“Fucking window is open.”
I jumped at the sound of his voice as he brushed past me.
“Thought you said you saw her in the living room?”
I blinked, I had. “I was wrong. Trick of the light, I guess.”
“I’m calling for an ambulance.” He walked out, already speaking into his radio. From the living room, I could hear him filling in the foster pick up. She seemed genuinely upset. But I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
That’s when it happened. A single cloud of white breath rose from her open lips. I fell backwards into the bureau, upsetting the collection of shit they had.
My boss met me at my cubicle the next day. “Jesus, Tina, you could have taken the day off you know.” She made a big show of pointing out her concern.
It was 2:30 in the afternoon. She took her sweet time getting concerned.
I smiled and played along, “Well maybe I’ll take Friday off and have a three day weekend.”
She faked a sympathetic smile, “Friday’s are tough and if you are out then that leaves the work for someone else. Would you do that to someone else?” Checkmate. “But you know what you should do, talk to Dr. Randall.” She put her hands on my shoulder and I could see the fuzzy pills of her cheap sweater at this angle. “Come on, I’ll walk you there myself.”
Admittedly, this wasn’t hard. And I could tell she had expected a fight, but when I compliantly walked down the hall to his door she smirked, “Well, just make sure you get back to your desk. Again, you’re leaving work for others.”
“You could take my calls.”
I could have sworn she screamed on the inside at the just the thought. But before she had a chance to be bitch the doctor was rising from his desk.
“Hey, I heard about yesterday.” He moved to his chair and motioned I take the other arm chair in the room. “Come on in.”
I walked in and sat.
He looked behind him and smiled to my boss. “Thanks, Sheila,” he said, snapping the door shut in her face.
It was everything I could do not to laugh at her expression. He, on the other hand, let out a soft chuckle. It sounded like heaven. It was a deep, manly chuckle, but still kind and soft. That’s when I noticed his cologne. Woodchips and lavender.
We sat quietly for a few minutes. “It was creepy. The cops must think I’m nuts.”
His face was a calm and open book. “Tell me about it.”
I took in a breath and let it out, rolling my eyes at my own stupidity. “I thought I saw her running around, but then we found her body.” Laughing, I waved my hands indicating the humor of it.
His calm mask slipped, “That must have been horrifying.”
Suddenly I realized how callous I sounded. Was he judging me? What did he think? I could feel my body sweating furiously. What should I do now? How do other people respond to finding two dead bodies?
“It was.” I could see from his face my response was too late. “I just…I swear I saw her…but then there she was on the bed…” Her face floating in front of my memory. “She had clearly been dead for a few days.”
“You know…this is a little above my paygrade.” He shifted in his chair. “I can talk to one of my colleagues and…”
I bolted up, “But I saw her. I swear I saw her running around.”
“Yeah, I know you think you saw her…” He had cleared his chair and was behind his desk, separating us.
“I don’t THINK it!” Suddenly I heard my own voice. I was screeching at him. His face was white. I sucked in a breath. “I’m sorry. It was just…”
He stood perfectly still. His hand hovered to the phone, then stilled and went back to his side. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” I went to say more but stopped quickly when I saw his hand go up.
“Please return to your desk.”
I stood still for a moment. Waiting, praying he would relent and ask me to sit again, I stood there refusing to look away.
“Tina, I want you to leave. Please.”
Tears pricked at my eyes and through them I could see him. He was beautiful and kind and loving. And once again I had killed a chance. I picked up the pieces of my pride and left.
That night I drank until I blacked out in my living room.
Amanda went into early labor. Nothing scary or difficult about her birth, the baby just really wanted to move out of her first apartment and into the world. She called to say it was a girl. They never did the gender reveal thing, thank god. 8 pounds 7 ounces and 21 inches long. I said she would be a supermodel if she kept that proportion.
“Tina, will you come over? The kids want to see you, and you have to meet her.”
“Her? You haven’t decided on a name?”
Amanda was silent on her end. “Ester.”
I was breathless for a moment. It wasn’t pain, nor anger. It was death. The final nail in a very small coffin. My hopes, my baby were all finally gone.
I sucked in a breath, startled by my own name. “Yeah, I’m here.” We paused, silent. “I love it.”
Amanda sobbed, “Really?”
And I did. I really did love it. And I loved her. I wanted her to have Ester if I couldn’t. I could see her as a niece if I couldn’t as a daughter.
A few days later mother and daughter were at home. The boys were staying with my mom to help keep the house quiet for the new arrival. They had seen her and visited their mother. It was a perfectly timed sleep over with Gramma and Grampa. Amanda and I sat in the nursery, Ester’s tiny form swaddled up in a blanket dozing on and off.
“My first girl.” Tina couldn’t take her eyes from her.
I couldn’t blame her, Ester was perfect. Truly a beauty queen. “You know that story’s more about a community coming together to save itself.”
Amanda couldn’t hear me. No one could hear anything of how divine that baby was.
“You want to hold her?”
I felt myself grow cold at the offer. I loved my nephews, and was present in their lives, but we weren’t close. Not ‘holding a baby’ close. And now it dangled before me like an early Christmas present. I practically salivated at the thought.
“Yes.” The word croaked out first quickly and appeared in a puff of white between us. Amanda saw it, I saw it. But she laughed at the oddity of it. But then my hands were itching to get that baby.
Amanda smiled, rising from the rocking chair and we swapped places. I thanked god I hadn’t started drinking that morning. My sister was close enough to have smelled it. She settled the baby in my arms and stood back, “I have to go to the bathroom anyway. These pads fill up too fast.”
I made a face at the grossness of the statement, then realized, it was part of this. Part of life and creation. It was the aftermath of making a baby. Something that I could learn about, something I could undergo.
“Will you be okay for a few?” She motioned towards the door.
I was struck dumb by the beauty of the baby and could only nod my response. She left, I heard her scurrying down the hall and the bathroom door close behind her. I chuckled softly. Was that something I would have to get used to? Maybe. The future was wide open.
Alone in the room I was able to really look at her closely. The tiny scrunched up face moving slightly in a dream. Even her tiny little nose that breathed in and out, tiny puffs of white. Ten tiny little fingers reflexing and releasing. Her weight, the gravity of holding the baby, alive in my arms. I swear I could feel her heart beating, blood pulsing, lungs filling and expelling. And the smell. That new baby smell was sublime. She was perfection.
The sob broke from my mouth before I even knew I was crying. “Hi Ester. I want to…”
But my words were cut off. My promises of being there, getting sober, opening my future, and making my own path all died. Suddenly the Hallmark movie film reel turned black and white, slowed and melted in the light. My body went cold.
Ester had opened her eyes, large and black.
I breathed out. The room was freezing and my breath created a cloud of fog through which I could see the baby clearly. It was one of them. This demon in my arms.
Down the hall I heard the toilet flush, and the tap turn on. My sister was singing some showtune. I couldn’t let this thing hurt her.
I reached for an empty plastic bag, used to hold diapers, and wrapped it over her head.