I hold the envelope in my hands, the pressure in my chest building, threatening to engulf me. I know Natalie would have wrestled with sending it, not wanting to hurt me, but ultimately deciding she didn’t want to risk excluding me. That’s just the way she was, my dear sister. Unequivocally kind, unyielding in her quest to please everyone.
Hands trembling, I open the letter and pull out the pastel stationery inside. It feels so light and fragile in my fingers. I already know what it says because I helped her write it, yet I read it anyway. She was overjoyed when I told her I was pregnant as well, insisting on celebrating together by going out for lunch and shopping for baby clothes. I was much further along than she was. I had been saving the news, fearful that if I said it out loud, it might no longer be true. Like it was all a dream, a fabrication my mind created to deal with the long months of trying, each negative test feeling like a punch to the gut. Josh and I had all but given up when I went to my doctor complaining of extreme nausea and fatigue. We demanded answers, and he gave us the news we so desperately wanted to hear.
The first few weeks were a whirlwind of joy as I took time off work to prepare for our baby’s arrival. Shopping with my mother, resting, taking my vitamins. Nothing could curb my excitement, not even the intense nausea that struck at any time of day. Josh put the crib together while I painted the walls an azure blue, knowing, as only a mother knows, that I was carrying a boy. I wanted to create wide-open spaces for him, let him reach for the sky, and to know that the world was his oyster. I read in a book somewhere that blue was also the colour of bravery, and I needed him to be brave, to conquer the odds with me, and fill the aching void in my heart. As I read every baby book on the market, I rubbed my belly with a solid determination to do it right this time around. Sipping peppermint and ginger tea to quell my daily bouts of morning sickness and praying each night for a miracle.
After the first trimester, my husband and I breathed a sigh of relief. We had come so far, so much further than before. Giddy with excitement, we were more confident now that I had surpassed that first hurdle. Once I had made it to eighteen weeks, Dr. Asher scheduled an ultrasound, and we found out what I had known all along. We were having a boy. The doctor smiled and asked if we had any names picked out. ‘Liam,’ I blurted, hoping that my husband wouldn’t mind I named our child without discussing it with him first. I laughed at the surprised look on Josh’s face. ‘For my father,’ I whispered, as tears of complete and utter joy coincided with regret that my father was not here to see his first grandchild.
I spent the next few weeks floating on a cloud, unable to stop smiling. Natalie planned my baby shower, inviting everyone from my work, my friends, and our extended family. Being so organized and efficient, she bought almost everything in twos. She wrote out my invitations as I wrote hers, in perfect synchrony, two sisters sharing in the greatest joy of their lives. I suggested having a double baby shower, but she wouldn’t hear of it. After my years of unexplained infertility and then two miscarriages, she wanted to let me have my moment in the sun. She said she would simply have hers after Liam was born, and let her favourite nephew share in her special day.
It was a beautiful occasion marked by laughs, games, and lots of love. My Aunt Camille had made a three-tiered cake, with a white top merging into the softest of blues. A rainbow of bright butterflies trailed down one side. My mother doted on us, despite the mess we were making of her home, and insisted on doing all the clean-up herself.
Josh came to lend a hand, filling our backseat with all the gifts, smiling at me with his impish grin. We set up Liam’s room, putting diapers and wipes inside the changing table and attaching the mobile with tiny jungle animals to the crib. I turned the dial and a soft melody of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” filled the air. I laughed as the baby inside me kicked repeatedly. Almost as if he were dancing himself. ‘My little lion,” I thought, my heart bursting with pride. It had been a perfect day.
That night, Josh rubbed my aching back as we both drifted off into an exhausted slumber. I woke up sometime in the night and looked over at the alarm clock, its red numbers blinking in the dark. I was hit with a sickening sense of recognition that something was wrong.Very, very wrong. My hands rested protectively on my swollen belly. I was afraid to move, let alone breathe. Slowly, I used my left foot to nudge my husband awake. An anguished cry erupted from my throat as the wetness between my legs spread, seeping into the bed.
I woke up hooked to machines, my mother’s worried face floating not far from mine. I heard Josh and the doctors whispering near the door, and when Josh looked up his eyes locked with mine. He didn’t have to say a word, I already knew. My child lay inside, lifeless in my womb. The doctor told me I must do the unthinkable, induce labor and give birth, here and now. I panicked because I was not ready to let go yet. I wanted to hold him inside a little longer, his tiny body tethered to mine. But the doctor just patted my hand, told me it was the only way, and I watched helplessly as he administered the oxytocin. My husband held my hand, the tears flowing freely down his face as he told me he loved me and begged me to keep going. One final push and I fell back on the bed, exhausted, drowning in guilt and shame that I could not save my precious baby boy.
They brought Liam to me, nestled snugly in the tiny blanket my mother crocheted for him. I held him on my chest, and I looked down at my sleeping little lion. I rocked him gently, softly humming his favourite song: In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…
The next few months passed in a blur, lost in grief and unimaginable pain. I barely showered or got out of bed, I even refused to go to Liam’s funeral. I could not bear the thought of seeing him in that tiny casket. I ate nothing for days, punishing myself for being alive when Liam was not. I wanted to die, to be with him, wherever that was. Anything would be better than this aching purgatory of sorrow. I was unable to go into his room, haunted by the ghost of what was no longer meant to be.
My sister’s envelope is still in my hands as I turn the knob, my heart thudding inside my chest. Everything is exactly how we left it. Silently, I drift around the room, fluffing up the pillow on the wooden rocking chair, straightening books, and running my fingers along the crib as I imagine Liam sleeping inside. Where does my little lion sleep tonight? I wonder. I refuse to believe that his life meant nothing, a gift from God with no meaning. I look down at an empty box. I begin to gather Liam’s things, placing them inside, along with his mobile. I pick up the stuffed lion Josh bought at the hospital gift shop and a pain deep and visceral rips through me, stealing the breath from my lungs. I clutch the toy to my chest and in that precious moment of agony, I let Liam go. For a new baby boy has come into the family, and I desperately want to be the best aunt I can be, for him and my sister.
I tape the box closed, wrapping it in brightly coloured paper. I address it to my sister, tucking the invitation inside the letter I have written.
I will gladly come to your baby shower. I just hope you can forgive me for taking so long to visit. I’ve packed some of Liam’s things, I’m sure he would want Sebastian to have them. How is my favourite nephew? I cannot wait to finally meet him.
Lori Green is a Canadian writer who has been writing poetry and dark fiction since she first picked up a pen. Her work has been accepted in various publications including Ghost Orchid Press, Dark Rose Press, Black Hare Press, and more. She studied English Literature at the University of Western Ontario and now lives along the shores of Lake Erie. She is currently working on her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter @LoriG1408 or on Facebook.