Eva spoke first. "How nice to see you again," Eva said politely. George put his hand out and Jack shook it stiffly. "Sara's fast asleep," George said quietly.
"Isn't she beautiful?" Eva said. Abby lifted an arm toward the baby, then lowered it.
"Doesn't Sara look wonderful?" Eva prompted.
"She's a lovely young girl who's been through a lot," Abby said quietly,
"This never should have happened," Jack said.
"But it did," Eva said quietly. "And now we're making something good from it."
Sara felt as if she were outside her body, suspended above all of them. She felt exhausted; her lids began to droop. All she wanted to do was sleep again. Her eyes shut.
"She's still sleeping," Jack said, astonished, as if he couldn't fathom how Sara could sleep at a time like this. Sara, though, knew better. Put all of them in a room, and the smartest thing to do was remove herself from the scene, to keep her eyes shut and slow her breathing. She breathed. In and out. Deep as a trance. And then she couldn't have moved even if she had wanted, which she didn't.
"Well, delivery isn't easy," Eva said.
"Nothing's easy when you're sixteen," Abby said. The baby started to cry, As if she knows something is up, Sara thought, and then the baby abruptly stopped.
"Well," Eva said. There was silence. "Here. Would you like to hold her, Abby?"
Sara tried to open her eyes and failed. Her heart hammered. Was Abby holding Anne?
"We know we don't have to tell you that you and Jack are, of course, welcome to visit the baby, too. Anytime you like," Eva said. The silence thickened.
"Yes, we all share--" George started to say.
"Share what? This tragedy?" Abby interrupted. "Why do you have to get so close? How can that be good for any of you, especially for a child?"
"This way's more beneficial for everyone involved. No secrets. Everything out in the open just the way it should be," George said. "It's better for the baby."
"Which baby? Sara or Anne?" Jack said.
"Sara's a sixteen-year-old girl who should be allowed to forget," Abby said. Sara heard rustling. Abby must be pacing, the way she always did when she was annoyed. And if she was pacing, then she wasn't holding the baby, and if she wasn't, who was?
"Oh, Abby," Eva said. "How could she forget? And why would you want her to?"
There was a strange, edgy quiet. And then Jack said, "Maybe we should just let Sara sleep, instead of talking in here."
"Here, I'll take her, Jack," Eva said. "I'll bring Anne back to the nursery.
Her father had held the baby, Sara thought, amazed. He never even talked about it, not the whole time Sara was pregnant. Sara heard footsteps, the dull whine of the bassinet wheels on the floor. It all grew fainter. The room grew completely silent. Everyone had left, she thought. And then she started to open her eyes, and she saw her parents holding each other in the center of the room, pressed together like a seam. Neither one of them saw her wake. And then she heard Abby snuffling, and when her parents broke apart, she saw they both were crying.
"Come on," Jack said, putting his arm about Abby. He dug out a handkerchief and daubed Abby's eyes with it, and then his own.
"I shouldn't have held her," Abby whispered. "I shouldn't have."
"I know. Jesus. I know. Come on. I'll get you some tea, you'll feel better."
And then the two of them were gone.
Sara half-dreamed on her bed. Imagine. Her parents had held Anne. They had held the baby and they were determined not to do it again. Fresh start, Abby had said. That was Abby's favorite set of words, Sara thought. Like a cooking recipe. Life as a cake mix you hoped might be delicious and to ensure it you just had to be extra careful about the ingredients you chose.
Copyright Caroline Leavitt 2004. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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