Gently, she took off the baby's cap, and a soft fuzz of red hair sprang up, just like her own. "Oh!" Sara said, delighted, and the baby's eyes locked on Sara's, and then Sara couldn't help herself. Bending, she picked up the baby, a warm, soft presence, like a little cat. "Anne," she said out loud, as if she were test-driving the name. She brought her carefully over to the bed and lay down with her. She felt as if she were all glass inside, breaking apart deep inside of her. Gently, she started to open the swaddling, to catch glimpses of her daughter's toes, her knees, her belly, and then she heard footsteps outside, a burst of laughter. Quickly, she swaddled Anne; she held her and waited, expectant.
Flowers came into the room first, two big bundles of golds and pinks, and then she saw George's face behind them. She saw Eva following, carrying a huge silver package. As soon as they saw the baby, they stopped. "Oh! Isn't she beautiful!" Eva cried. She put the packages on the bed, she reached for the baby, taking her easily from Sara's hands, and as soon as she did, Sara felt empty. She tucked her hands under the sheet.
"There's our girl!" Eva said and Sara half-smiled before she realized Eva wasn't talking about her. Eva rocked Anne in her arms, and then George bent low over the baby, his face bright and expectant. "Look at that red hair!" he said. "Isn't that funny!" He looked from the baby to Sara. "Not your mouth, though."
I swear she has my mouth," Eva said. She turned to Sara, and for a minute Sara thought Eva was going to ask her if she wanted to hold the baby again, which she ached to, but instead, Eva's smile grew. "You look terrific," Eva said. "You were astonishing."
"I was?" Sara said.
Eva nodded at the package on the bed. "Open your present," she said, gleefully.
Sara unpeeled the tissue. Pale pink, a soft satiny nightgown flowing like cool lake water through her hands. "Why shouldn't you look beautiful?" Eva said. Sara flushed. No one had called her beautiful in a very long while. "Hold it up against you," Eva urged, but when Sara lifted her arms, her breasts hurt. All this morning she had listened in on the lesson a nurse gave her roommate on breast-feeding. She had heard the woman wince. "You have jaws like a barracuda!" the woman told her baby, and then she had told her friends how she planned to bring a pump to work and let anyone dare to stop her.
Sara drew her johnny tighter against her chest. They were giving Sara a drug to dry up her milk because Eva wanted to use formula right from the start.
Sara studied her flowers, the only ones she had. She opened the card. There was Eva's delicate schoolteacher script. "Perfect baby! Perfect you! Love, Eva and George." Sara traced the words with one finger. Perfect, she was perfect. "Thank you," she said.
George took out a camera and clicked Eva holding the baby. He turned and took a picture of Sara. She blinked at the flash. Then he turned to the baby. "My turn," he said and lifted Anne up. He studied her mouth. "She's going to have great teeth," he decided.
George was a dentist, something Sara had hoped might bond him to Abby, but instead it made Abby angrier. "He should know better," she said wearily, but Sara didn't know what that meant except that there was probably a lecture in it for her if she dared to ask.
George swayed the baby in a kind of dance. He hummed something, so low and sweet-sounding, it just about broke Sara's heart. She watched him, and yawned. "You poor thing," Eva said. "I bet you're exhausted. Don't mind us, you can sleep."
Sara struggled to stay awake. Her lids floated down, her breath evened. She was half-dreaming, and then she heard the door push open. Her roommate, Sara thought. Her roommate's friends. Her roommate's baby. She opened her eyes, just a hair, just enough to see Eva. "You little beauty!" Eva said, kissing the baby gently, just as Jack and Abby came into the room, As soon as they saw Eva and George and the baby, all the air in the room froze.
Copyright Caroline Leavitt 2004. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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