Clarissa could only see herself as a womb: a condemned shack with broken front steps. The baby, evicted like the others, remained nameless.
Into forty-three cartons, one for each year of life, she poured her soul. After several failed attempts to conceive, she abandoned her maternal longings and labeled each carton, two percent mother, above a photograph of a missing child. The waxed cardboard containers hid gray liquid. The expiration date coincided with her hysterectomy. She tethered the cartons to a pole and strapped it across the shoulders of her husband, Drake, and asked him to haul her contents uphill, as close to God as he could get without being burned, while she hung herself on the line to air out the garment of her skin. He said nothing, just lowered his head and watched his feet climb jagged rocks.
Clarissa’s soul-free days were filled with light. She convinced herself emptiness dissolved the veil she had worn over her eyes in the past. Basking in the sun, flapping chalk white, a sheet in a warm breeze, her tears dried and she grew stiff and numb. Her nights were clammy and suffocating and spread like a wet stain—extinguishing all light; only soggy darkness remained. Mildew and mold coated her surface until no one wanted to be around her. Cynicism infected her tongue and sharpened her teeth until they appeared serrated.
Drake returned and instead of golden answers he brought a bouquet of dark clouds attached to strings like balloons. She stood still as he wrapped the strings around her ankles until the clouds were eye level.
From that day forward, no matter where she went, she saw the world as if peering through a shroud and Drake became a silhouette she could not touch. She walked with her arms outstretched, fingers wiggling. A faint moan seeped from her throat, restricted by an invisible noose that strangled her dreams for the future.
Drake dug a grave and stood on the far side of it and called her. Like a mindless zombie, she fell into his trap and saw another woman’s silhouette appear beside him as soil and sleeping pills rained down like confetti of forgiveness or stones of blame. She wasn’t sure which. It didn’t matter, either way her dead body was finally buried.
Beneath dirt, she heard the muffled first word of a baby, “Da-da.” Clarissa smiled and grass formed a blanket over her. Drake placed his tiny daughter on that small green patch of lawn and she took a step forward while squeezing his fingers in her chubby fists. He bowed and let her giggles force him to walk backward so she could do it again and see her reflection in his eyes.
Once on the other side of the cemetery gate, he stood and smiled at his new wife with sunlight in her hair as his daughter picked forget-me-nots along the graveyard wall.