Every Silver Lining

by Cherri Randall

      Marcy walks in five minutes late and right away it was obvious she would be “on” today.  She’s wearing a shirt that says:

                                                   E           T

                                           S     H          T

                               I’d Like To Buy Another Vowel, Please

      There is a new girl sitting in the circle, and Marcy takes some kind of perverse delight in seeing if she can scare them off or get them to cry on the first day.  The counselor never arrives earlier than fifteen minutes late, which means Marcy has ten minutes.  She could almost run off the veterans, so a rookie hardly stands a chance.  Marcy takes one glance at the new chick, which means she sees everything it would take a normal person several moments to absorb.  The new chick is some kind of walking advertisement for Gucci and Armani and smells like real Giorgio, not that imitation stuff in the yellow bottles from Wal-Mart.  The thing that will set Marcy off will be the new chick’s nails.  They are perfectly manicured and they’re real.  They aren’t thick enough to be acrylic.  Marcy is a nail biter.  Sometimes when everyone else is bawling or screaming the counselor will get this look on her face like she wants to tear her hair out.  Marcy is never part of the fray.  But once in a while she will be biting her nails, and sometimes it will be so bad she can’t get them to stop bleeding.

      “Did you guys hear about the kid in South Carolina?”

      One thing the group knows about Marcy is that resistance is futile.  They will be assimilated.  Nora looks at Marcy.  “What happened?”

      “Well, this woman was at Burger Palace with her kid, a little boy almost three years old.  She lets him play in the ball pit in his socks and he gets out and says ‘Mommy hurts.  Go home.’  The kid got hot in there too soon after eating his Lucky Meal and she gets his sneakers off the rack and goes home.  After they get there the kid goes into convulsions so she calls an ambulance but it’s too late.  He dies on his way to the emergency room.  Then the doctor asks her to take a look at his feet and ankles, and they’re covered with swollen little bumps and when she tells the doctor where they’ve been he calls the police.  So they go to the Burger Palace and this guy unloads all the balls outta that pit one at a time with these long-handled tongs, can you imagine?”

      “God,” Nora says.  “Must have taken forever.”  Nora has seniority.  She’s the oldest for one thing, but she’s also been coming to group for the longest time.  She just turned forty, but she looks older.  She would look haggard if not for her kind eyes.

      “Yeah, about three hours.  But guess what was in the bottom of that ball pit?”

      “A nest of spiders?”  Jackie guesses.  She has been coming to group almost as long as Nora.  Today she has her black silk hair knotted up in a scrunchie.   She is half Nora’s age. 

      “Worse than that.  A whole nest of baby rattlesnakes.”

      “Jesus,” Nora breathes.

      “Yeah.  Seems like with the climate there and the indigenous snake population, this is a great place for a pregnant snake to have babies.  In fact, this is the second time this has happened in South Carolina, which is why the hospital and the police had the idea to check out the ball pit, so now they are closing all the outdoor playgrounds.”

      “You would think the eggs would get broken before they could hatch,”  Nora says.

      “Rattlesnakes have their babies live,” Jackie says. 

      “I thought all reptiles laid eggs,” Nora says.

      “No,” the new chick says.  “Although technically, all life comes from eggs.”

      “Where did you hear this?”  Jackie asks Marcy.

      “On the Internet.”

      “And you believe everything you read on the Internet?”  the new chick asks.  Everyone looks at her.  None of the rookies have ever spoken before being properly introduced. 

      “Nope,”  Marcy says.  “But this is weird enough to be true so I happened to call my sister-in-law since my brother is stationed at Myrtle Beach and I tell her don’t let Joey go in any ball pits at Burger Palace and she says this is so strange because they were there yesterday and all the balls were gone and the playground was closed for remodeling.”

      “I still don’t believe it,” the new chick chirps in.

      “Who cares what you believe?”  Marcy shrugs in her direction. 

      The new chick doesn’t know to quit while she’s ahead.  “There is no way the mother could have put the child’s shoes back on.  His feet would have been too swollen.  She would had to have noticed.”

      “Well, now,”  Marcy replies.  “I didn’t say jack about putting his shoes back on, did I?”

      “I still can’t believe the mother didn’t realize something was wrong.”

      “Yeah, so, what are you, married to a doctor or something?”

      The new chick is wearing a rock on her left ring finger, so she’s either married to someone who can afford diamonds on the retail market, or she’s married to a pawnbroker. 

      “I’m not married to a doctor,” she announces.  “I am a doctor.”

      “Well, since you would have known what to do, Marcus Welby, you should have taken your kid to a ball pit instead, huh?  Then maybe you wouldn’t have to be here.”  Marcy flings back.

      The new chick’s face goes white as a lab coat.  It’s her first time so nobody has heard her story, but the rest of the group has been together for months and months.  There is Marcy, Colleen, Nora, Jackie, and the counselor.  Nora has been in the group the longest and Colleen has been in the group the least amount of time.  Off and on the group swells and shrinks between ten and three members.  People come and get over it or they can’t get over it and don’t come back or a combination thereof, but this group has one prerequisite for membership, so the group knows the new woman is only here because she’s bought the ID card like each one of them have.  This would be a good time for the counselor to arrive, but she’s still not here.  Everyone just sits there.  Marcy is really rolling now.

      “So I guess you don’t want to hear the one about the baby.”

      No one says anything, but Marcy isn’t about to stop.  Sometimes Colleen wonders if Marcy saves up these stories just for their shock value.  But Nora told them all early on that this is just how Marcy keeps the pain away, by being one to everybody else.  It keeps her from focusing on the real issues, a delaying tactic.  Colleen had laughed and suggested Nora be the counselor instead.

      Marcy goes into her next spiel.  “This woman had a preemie newborn and she left the baby with her sitter to go back to the hospital because her C-section incision got infected so they readmitted her and when her boyfriend went to pick up the baby the police were there.  As it turns out, they couldn’t find the baby anywhere and the sitter was frantic thinking someone came in and stole the baby until one of the cops notices this woman has a rabbit hopping around her house loose and asks her to put it in its hutch so it won’t get in the way and she says she doesn’t have a hutch.  So the cop says you just let it run around loose all the time and she says they never last very long and by then all the cops are looking at her so she explains that the rabbit is for her real pet.  They ask to see her real pet, so they start looking for it and it’s curled up under the comforter on this woman’s waterbed all cozy.”

      “Don’t tell me,”  Colleen whispers.

      “Okay, I won’t tell you.”

      “Shut up, Colleen.  The rest of us want to know,”  Jackie says.

      “Can’t you guess?”  Nora says.

      “The woman had a boa constrictor for a pet and it ate the baby!”  Marcy announces.  Jackie and Nora look at the doctor and she just shrugs. 

      “Depending on the size of the reptile, and the preemie, it’s entirely possible,”  she says, corroborating Marcy’s story.  Marcy arches a brow at the woman. 

      “Of course it’s possible; it really happened.”

      “Inquiring minds want to know,”  the doctor says.

      “And I suppose you read the American Medical Association Journal in the check-out line,”  Marcy says.  She always wants the last word.

      The doctor stares into space like she didn’t hear Marcy but that’s not possible.  For a few minutes everyone sits there awkwardly.  Marcy starts biting her nails and it’s so quiet in the sterile room that everyone can hear the sounds:  clicking, tearing, biting.  Then the doctor says something.

      “I can’t remember what I do in the check-out line anymore.” 

      Nora nods and says “been there and done that.”  Marcy just stands there.  The doorknob starts to turn and Marcy jumps in the chair closest to the door.  The counselor comes in and sits down in the middle of the circle.  Everyone waits for her to start the meeting.

 

      The counselor introduces the new chick as Alberta Charters.

      “Don’t you mean Dr. Charters?”  Marcy butts in.

      “I see you’ve had time to get acquainted,” the counselor says.

      “In a manner of speaking,”  Jackie says.

      “I would prefer to be called Alba,” the new chick says.  Everyone nods at her, or smiles, except for Marcy who looks bored.

      “Well,” the counselor says.  “Let’s take turns introducing ourselves to Alba.  Who’d like to go first?”

      This is the part that is supposed to heal everyone, having to relate the experience to people who know what it’s like, the repetition helping them take control of a situation in which there is no control.  Basically, it sucks.

      The counselor looks around and finally Jackie shrugs.  “I’ll go.”  Her eyes make the same circle, taking in each member of the group.  She pulls in a deep breath, and so does Nora.  Nora has heard the story the most, so she braces herself. 

      “My name is Jackie and I have three children.”  She looks in her purse and pulls out a snapshot of identical twins:  sparkling eyes and dimples wearing pink corduroy overalls.  Their names are Jodie and Jayna.  They have their mother’s perfect Native American cheekbones.  Then she hands Nora a second picture to pass around.  It’s a little boy and his father.  The little boy looks two but Nora and Marcy know from hearing the story so often that it is the day before his second birthday and that if he is still alive he is four now.  His name is Jorge Jr.  Jorge Sr., who is also in the picture, was twenty-seven when it was taken.  The child has one hand around his father’s neck, with the other hand holding a hat back far enough on his head so he can see.  It is a policeman’s hat.  His father is wearing the uniform.

      “This is the last picture I have of both of them.”

      “Oh God, what happened to your husband?”  Alba asks.

      “I got pregnant again.  For a while it was okay, but when I started showing, and with twins I showed early, he got depressed.  One day he went out behind the garage with his service revolver and shot himself.”

      Alba’s eyes are filming up with tears.  She sucks in her breath and reaches over, clasping Jackie’s hand.  “I’m so sorry.”

      Jackie squeezes her hand for a second and then lets go.  “He left a note that said he was sorry but he just couldn’t take a chance on losing another child.  He knew too much about the sick shit people in this world were capable of doing and it was making him crazy.”

      Colleen clamps her hands over her mouth but she can’t quite hold all the sound back.  It’s the same kind of crying you hear when you stuff your face into your pillow.  Everyone, even Marcy, looks at Colleen with concern.  She’s been pretty together for a while now but she might relapse.  If somebody relapses, it means anybody could.

      “Colleen, is there something you want to share with us?” the counselor asks.

      She opens her mouth and starts to speak.  She closes it and closes her eyes for a few moments.  Presses her fingertips to her temples.  Looks at Marcy.  Colleen is the only one in the group who has never been the focus of one of Marcy’s tirades.  It’s like Colleen wears her soul on the outside and it’s a china teacup with seams where it’s been glued back together once or twice. 

      There is a Coke machine in the corner and the counselor gets Colleen a Dr. Pepper.  Marcy scoots her chair closer to where Colleen is sitting and puts her arm around her.

      “Ya’ll just go on and leave Colleen alone awhile.”

      “All right, let’s focus on the good things going on for Jackie now.”  The counselor is always harping on the need to find the positive aspects of their lives.

      Alba looks at Jackie.  Jackie’s smile is wan.

      “It’s hard to believe right now, Alba, but life has a way of going on.”  Jackie puts the photographs back in her purse.  “For the longest time I kept saying why me?  Why was I all alone at the hospital giving birth to twins?  I had no family of my own and his family . . .  well, it was easier for them to forget if I wasn’t around to remind them.  They are fourth generation Mexican Americans.  They were less than thrilled about a marriage between Jorge Luis Escobar and Jackie Bigbow.  Afterwards, they said I was young, I would love again, but he was their only son, and they would never be able to replace him.”  Jackie smiles while tears roll down her cheeks. 

      “What about the twins?”  Alba asks.

      “Their grandparents send them Christmas cards,”  Jackie answers.

      “His parents don’t call you?”

      “No, Alba, they do not call the woman who cost them both their son and their grandson.”

      “They blame you?”

      “Not to my face.”

      “So what is the good news?”  Alba continues.

      “In June I’m getting married.  I met my fiancé after Jorge shot himself.  He is head of internal affairs for the police department.  I love him . . . ” she smiles, for the first time radiantly, “in ways I did not know two people could love.  My heart is still broken for my son and my first husband.  Sometimes . . .  I dream of getting Jorge Jr. back.  I know I would never have met Robbie if these terrible things had not happened, and I did not want them to happen.  But I can’t take them back.”

      The counselor is always compelled to speak into silence.  When no one says anything for a few minutes, she thinks she is obligated to roll the ball in some other direction. 

      “Marcy, would you care to go next?”

      Marcy shrugs.  Colleen squeezes her hand.  Marcy looks at her for a long moment, shrugs again.  “What difference does it make?”

      “Maybe talking will help.”  This from Alba.

      “It was a rhetorical question, Dr. Charters.” 

      “Please, Marcy,”  Colleen whispers.

      “All right.  I’ll do it for you,” she says to Colleen.  She picks her purse up off the floor, pulls out a wallet, opens it up to the photograph section.  She sends it around the circle, watching Alba, gauging her reaction.  Alba sucks in her breath. 

      “She’s so . . . precious.  Perfect.  I don’t even have a word for it.”

      Marcy waits for the wallet to come back around and puts it up, puts the purse under her seat again.  Shrugs.

      “Her father was from Brazil.  Here on business.  Two wonderful weeks.  We didn’t talk much.  I tried to find him when I found out I was pregnant.  All that time I thought he spoke Spanish and it turned out to be Portuguese.”  Marcy laughs, slaps her thighs.  “I drove some transatlantic operators crazy, for damn sure.”  Her face changes, softens as though a dimmer switch has blurred the lines of her pain.  “I named her Calandria, which means lark, because that’s what it was.  She inherited the best genes we each had to offer.  My mother’s green eyes.  Alano’s smile and complexion.  The curls from my father.  His wit.  She was meant to change the world.”

      “Change the world?”  Alba wonders.

      “Brazilian father, white grandmother, black grandfather.  She would have been the perfect poster child for world peace.”

      Alba shakes her head.  The child was a work of art.  She just wanted to sit and look at her picture.

      “She would have been three next month.”

      “Marcy!”  Colleen interrupts.  “You don’t know that she isn’t going to be three next month.”

      “I want to believe it . . . ” she trails off.  She takes a deep breath around a sob, which makes a strangling sound.  No one moves.  Finally, she starts talking.  “We were in Sears.  I was looking around and she was playing in the center of the clothing racks.  I could hear her voice, her jabberwocky of singing and talking.  Every few seconds I would say ‘Mommy loves Calie’ and  she would answer ‘Cowie uvs Mumma’ and then I realized I was waiting for her to answer and I turned around, looking at all the racks, waiting for one to move by itself, you know how it looks, and none of them did.”  She bites her second nail.  “She was the kind of child someone would steal to raise as their own.  But she was also the kind of little girl that would inspire the worst maniacs to do anything to possess her.  Face it.  All these freaks like trophies.  And she would have been the Best of Show at the Pedophile Awards Ceremony.”

      “I agree.”  Everyone looks at Alba.  “There are plenty of freaks.  And she is probably just the right type for all the ones who prefer little girls.  But I don’t think you have any idea how desperate some people are to have a baby.”

      “So tell us, since you’re an expert.”

           

      “In sixth grade, my class studied human reproduction for the first time.”  Alba’s accent is soft, kind of like the people in that movie Fargo only the way a real person who had never been to Hollywood would talk.  The counselor has a Yankee accent and Colleen is from Georgia.  The rest of the group are natives of the great state of Texas.  The four of them settle in, knowing this is going to take a while.  Rookies are used to telling their story to cops and their families.  They haven’t polished their narratives yet.  That’s what counseling is for.  Learning to tell the story with dry eyes.  Alba’s talking about twenty years ago and her eyes are already wet.  She wipes them with a handkerchief. 

      “I remember thinking it was a miracle that anyone ever got born at all.  There were so many things that had to happen, so many steps, and the timing had to be right just to conceive, to say nothing of carrying a pregnancy to term.  I’ve never been able to get past marveling over the process.  That’s why I became a doctor, an OB-GYN.  My practice is specialized.  I deal with fertility problems.  I’ve used contraceptives myself, but in my practice I can’t deal with preventing the process.  Some of my colleagues . . . it’s not for me to judge, but sometimes they are desperately trying to keep a 26 week old fetus alive in one room, and are desperately trying to get rid of a fetus the same age in the next room.  It’s like that bumper sticker that says:  ‘Against abortion?  Don’t have one.’  Only, in my case it would say ‘Don’t perform one.'”

      Jackie is crying, biting her fist to keep quiet so no one notices right away.  Alba is the last one to look at her.  She takes Jackie’s hand, the one that isn’t in her mouth.

      “I’ve said something to hurt you, haven’t I?”

      Jackie shrugs.  It’s obvious she can’t speak right now. 

      “Have you had an abortion?”  Alba asks.

      Jackie shakes her head and the other group members are shocked.  Jackie had never said a word about it before so no one ever knew.  Alba hands her a fresh handkerchief from her purse.

      “Go ahead, take it,” she says.  “I’ve started buying them wholesale.”

      Jackie wipes her eyes.  “When Jorge was at the academy and I was in my last year of school, I found out I was pregnant.  It would have killed my parents if I didn’t finish, almost as much as it would hurt them if I walked across that stage seven months pregnant.  I got an abortion without telling anyone.  Then they died in a car wreck the following year, and I thought I should have had the baby so they could have one grandchild before they died.  I never told anyone, not even my husband.  After that we had Jorge Jr.  For almost two years everything was perfect.  Then we had his birthday party.”  She laughs, but the tinkling notes are ironic, not delighted.  “At Burger Palace.  With the clown and the Lucky Meals and the balloons everywhere.  He had to go potty and ran ahead of me in the crowd.  Someone called me so I turned around to see what they wanted.  When I turned back around, he wasn’t there.  He wasn’t anywhere.

      “I thought, okay, God.  I’m paid back for the abortion.  Then Jorge . . . did what he did.  I wondered why am I being paid back with so much interest?”

      “This is not divine retribution,” Alba says seriously.  “If it was, God would have to hire an army of kidnappers.  And anyway, what about all the women who have several abortions and then go on to have babies and nothing happens to them?”

      “I don’t know,”  Jackie says.

      “I know exactly how you feel,” Alba says.

      “Have you had an abortion?”  Jackie asks.

      “No.”  She refolds the handkerchief in her lap.  “But sometimes I think I did something to deserve this.”

 

      “I delivered fourteen babies in ten hours.  I was in the nursery doing charts, getting ready to go home.  It was two o’clock in the morning, but that doesn’t mean anything in a hospital.  The shift nurse asked me to guard the fortress, those were her exact words, while she went to the rest room.  We were shorthanded; no one else was there.  A man came to the nursery.  He looked exhausted.  His tie was loose around his neck and he pushed his glasses up on his nose when he looked at me.  ‘My wife can’t sleep without seeing the baby,’ he said.  ‘Can I take him?’  He held his arm out but I was so tired, I didn’t really check to be sure his bracelet matched the one on the baby.  He looked familiar and I was sure I had seen him in the halls with someone, even if he was not the husband of one of my patients.

      “The baby he took was a perfect baby boy.  The only clue was finding the bassinet in the elevator, wiped so perfectly clean there wasn’t a print on it.  His mother was not my patient.  I don’t know what difference that makes.  I am still the person who gave her baby away.  We never recovered the child.”

      “And you feel like you deserved to lose your baby over this?”  Nora asks. 

      “Sometimes,” Alba answers, “I almost hope that the mother of the baby I lost two years ago stole my son and is raising him.  It was the same hospital, the same day of the week, the same time of night.”  Alba looks around.  “It fulfills my notions of poetic justice.”

      “Is this something you would wish on somebody?”  Nora keeps on.

      “Never.  I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,”  Alba says.

      “Then you cannot believe a benevolent God would allow this,”  Nora says.

      “How would you account for it, then?”  the counselor says.

      “I don’t.  All I know is we blame God for everything that goes wrong.  Who do we thank for what goes right?”  Nora says.

      “I’ll worry about that when something goes right,”  Marcy says. 

      “I have so much compassion for you,”  Nora says, looking straight at Marcy.

      “For me?”  Marcy echoes.

      “Yes.  We are so much alike.  I saw you one day in K-Mart.”

      “So we both shop at K-Mart.  Big deal.”

      “You were buying a Disney movie.”

      “And so were you?  Is that why we’re so much alike?”

      “No.  I was buying lip gloss.”

      Marcy chews the nail on her left index finger furiously.  Everyone else is silent.  Just before the counselor can interrupt the hush, Alba speaks up.

      “I fail to make the connection.”

      Nora looks at her.  She pulls out a small photo album and hands it to Alba.  Alba looks at Nora’s pictures.  Her daughter has glasses, a birthmark on the center of her forehead, and crooked teeth in a wide grin.

      “I am so sorry,” Alba says, and her eyes run over again.  “Her eyes are so bright.  You must have loved her so much for her to look so happy.”

      Nora puts the pictures away.  “The lip gloss is for her.  In case . . . ”  She clears her throat.  Still, the rest of her answer is whispered.  “In case I ever get her back, I’ll be ready.”

      Alba runs out of the room.

      Marcy looks at Nora.  “Now see what you did.”  She looks expectantly at the counselor.  When no one says anything Marcy speaks again.  “Aren’t you going to tell her not to run clients off?  Or is that speech just for me?”

      “Alba will be back,” the counselor says.

           

      “Her name was Bonnie.  She wanted to be a veterinarian.  She had a way with animals.  Brought home so many strays I thought she must be advertising for them.”  Nora stares at the Coke machine.  “I try not to kid myself.  Not many people kidnapping twelve year olds because they want kids.  No, twelve years old is an entirely different market.”

      “But you had twelve years with your child that I will never have with mine,”  Alba says.

      Nora shouts, “Don’t you think I would give those twelve years to someone else if it meant she could have the rest of her life?”  Alba’s face crumples.  Colleen whimpers.  Marcy sighs.

      “We are here to heal.  Think calm.  Caaaaalmmmmm.”  The counselor breathes like she is having her respiration checked, big diaphragm-sweeping breaths. 

      “I’m sorry,”  Alba apologizes.  “I shouldn’t be let out in public.  I say such awful things without blinking twice.”

      “I know,”  Nora says.

      “We all know,”  Jackie affirms.

      “There’s this story about a guy who spent his whole life amassing a fortune,”  Nora says.

      “Tell us,” Jackie says.

      “Yeah,” Marcy agrees.

      “Well, when this rich guy died in an accident he begged St. Peter to let him bring one suitcase to heaven.  So Peter says he’ll have to check his record and get back with him.  When he comes back, he says ‘Okay, you can bring one small carryon piece of luggage with you.’  So the guy arrives before the pearly gates and someone in admissions says, ‘Hey, no luggage,’ and the guy says, ‘I have special permission from St. Peter.’  The angel says, ‘well, I’ll have to inspect the contents anyway,’ and the guy says ‘fine.’  So the angel opens the bag up and it’s filled with so much gold it would weigh a ton back on earth.  The angel looks at the guy like he’s crazy and the guy says, ‘What’s the matter?’ so the angel says, ‘What were you thinking?’  The guy says, ‘I worked all my life for this,’ and the angel starts laughing and says, ‘You worked all your life for a bag full of pavement?’  So he opens the gate, and the guy can see inside.  Sure enough, all the paths are paved in gold.”

      Nora’s eyes spill over.  “How many stupid people there are in the world trying to make money and all I wanted was my baby girl.”  She sobs for a moment, then regains control.  “I had so much, and I’ve been robbed of the only good thing I had.”

      Alba is unabashedly crying.  Marcy looks at her and shakes her head.  “You‘re going to have to get tough or you’ll lose your whole life over this,” she says.

      Alba looks at her, dries her eyes, and starts laughing.  She laughs hard and deep, a much unaccustomed sound in this environment.  “Is that what you call it?” she demands of Marcy.

      “Getting tough?  Yeah, that’s what I call it.”

      “You might be tough, but you’re the one losing your whole life,” Alba says.

      Marcy hisses.  “I don’t really think that’s your call to make, this being your first visit.  You might be a doctor, but you’re not my doctor and you’re not too smart either or you wouldn’t have lost your kid.”

      “That’s not the part I meant,” Alba says quietly, and her demeanor commands their respect.  “You said get tough or lose your whole life.  I wasn’t talking about the get tough part.  I meant not losing your life, that part.  Are you in that much denial that you think being tough insures you against the reality that you already lost a big part, the best part, of your life?”

      “You can’t think of it like that!” Marcy yells.  “You can’t think about what you lost or you’ll go crazy.”

      Nora interrupts them both.  “Then I’m the one who should be insane.  I lost the best part of my life after twelve years!”

      All five of the women sit there looking at the counselor.  “What can you do to accentuate the positive in your life, the experience of being Bonnie’s mother for twelve years?” the counselor asks Nora.

      “Twelve years?  I’m going to be Bonnie’s mother for the rest of my life.  On Mother’s Day this year, I am going to buy a corsage and wear it to church.  And I’m going to pray to God that whoever lured Bonnie away from me that day between the school and our house, that they were quick; that she isn’t locked up in some sound-proofed basement straight out of a Dean Koontz plot.  And I’m going to thank God for the best twelve years of my life.”

      Everyone is crying except Marcy, who is on her third fingernail.  Colleen dries her eyes and looks at the counselor.  The counselor nods.

      “I used to believe that every cloud had a silver lining.  I think I still believe that,”  Colleen says.  “But if that’s true, then it must also be true that every silver lining has a cloud.  I’ve never told any of you, but I lost my baby twice.

      “What happened?”  Jackie asks gently.

      “The first time was when she was born.  She was only thirty-five weeks gestation when I gave birth.  She was an emergency delivery; she nearly arrived in the car en route to the hospital.  In the delivery room they couldn’t get her to breathe; she turned purple and black.  Instead of a bracelet, they put this tiny little toe tag on her, the kind they put on bodies in the morgue.”

      Everyone looks at Alba for confirmation.  The doctor nods.

      “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard,”  Jackie says.

      “A nurse screamed in the hallway for a pediatrician, and one was coming out of the room  next door.  He still had gloves on from another baby, but he rushed inside my room.  He suctioned her nose and mouth and leaned over her, forcing air into her lungs.  She coughed and he spit something out of his mouth and she started crying.  Within five minutes her apgar score was almost normal.”

      “That’s beautiful,” Alba smiles. 

      “Everybody knows about the second time,” Colleen says.  “Except for Alba.  There isn’t really much to say.  She had her six-months shots and I wanted to get some Pedialyte on the way home.  It was winter and she was sleeping so I decided to just run into 7-Eleven on the way home.  My car won’t lock with the key in the ignition, but I didn’t want to turn the heater off even for five minutes.  I could see the car from the store but the stuff was on the bottom shelf and some kid was trying to bluff his way into a twelve-pack of beer.  Nobody noticed anything.  When I got in the car I turned around and looked at her car seat in the back.  The straps were unbuckled.  My baby was gone.

      “I just wanted to leave the heater on so she wouldn’t be cold.”

      “How can you believe this cloud has a silver lining?”  Alba asks.

      Colleen looks around the circle and smiles.  “This is my last meeting.”

      “How come?”  Alba wonders.

      “These meetings have been my lifeline.  But I am finally ready to get on with my life.  If my daughter was with me, I would not want her to be ashamed of me for wasting my life.  I will never get over losing Rebecca.  But I have to get on with my life for her little brother or sister’s sake.”

      “You’re pregnant,”  Alba breathes the words with joy.

      “Yes,” she answers, and for the first time in the fourteen months that Colleen has been coming to group, everyone sees her really smile.  She is glowing.  “I will tell this baby about Rebecca when the right time comes.  I tell myself there is some desperate couple somewhere who celebrates the miracle of having her every day, someone who had no idea the agency that handled the adoption was dealing in black market babies.  Who knows?  The agency might not have known either.  It’s a cruel world.”  Colleen takes a deep breath, leans back before continuing. “I tell myself, that even knowing someone was going to take her from me, I would do it all again.  I can never be sorry for bringing my baby into the world.  I am only sorry for some of the things in that world.”

      “I think you’re going to be okay,” the counselor says.

      Colleen looks at Nora.  “I never give up hope.”

      Nora laughs a little.  “I buy nail polish sometimes, too.”

      “I buy Build-a-Bears for Calandria,”  Marcy says.  “And I eat Lucky Meals and save the toys.”

      When everyone is quiet for a few moments, Jackie says, “I want all of you to come to my wedding.”

      “I don’t think I should,” Colleen protests.  “Because . . .  I’ll be eight months along by then.”

      “And you think we’ll feel bad?”  Nora asks.  “If there is any baby in this world I could ever love next to my own,”  Nora puts her hand against Colleen’s cheek, “it would be one of ours.”

      “I love you, Nora.  I love all of you.  You too, Alba.”  Colleen holds the hands on either side of her, and everyone else does likewise linking them in a circle except for Marcy and Alba.

      Marcy and Alba stare at each other.  After a few moments, Alba nods at Marcy.  “You’re right you know.  I’m going to have to get tougher or I’ll just curl up and die.”

      Marcy smiles.  None of them except Colleen has ever seen her smile so softly.  “You’re right too.  My baby – ” her voice breaks.  She bites her pinky nail.  “My baby would not like her momma very much these days.  I’ve turned into such a bitch.  I will have to get softer while you get tougher.”  Alba smiles and they too join hands, making the circle complete.

      Everyone laughs a little, all of them turning some kind of corner on the road that does not lead to recovery, for there is no recovery from losing a child.  But the road to reentering life, maybe.  “I wish Bonnie could be my flower girl,”  Jackie says.

      “But if she could, I would never have known you,” Nora says.

      “I know,” Jackie answers.  She looks around the circle at each of them, Nora, the counselor, Colleen, Marcy, and finally Alba.  “I love all of you but if I had a time machine, and could fix our lives, we would all be strangers.”

      “And I wish to God that’s the way it was,” Nora says.

COMMENTS

Cherri Randall is currently Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown. She has a PhD in Gender Studies from the University of Arkansas where she also holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Mid-America Poetry Review, the rectangle, Lake Effects, Hogtown Creek Review, Paper Street Press, Bewildering Stories, Permafrost Review, Paddlefish, The Potomac Review, Literary Chaos, Main Channel Voices, storySouth and Sojourn.  She has green eyes, fiery red hair, and arms spattered with freckles.  She lives with two teenaged daughters, a panda bear hamster named Rocco Jafar, and high hopes for the future.

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