HomeSouthern VoiceIf I Let My Babies Be Born

If I Let My Babies Be Born

by Jessica Wimmer

The only thing that makes me hate God is when the babies die. It’s something I will not understand. When I hear about this one boy dying I am at the grocery store buying bananas because I hear they are good for me. I am passing cucumbers and lettuce when I hear the words “dead,” “bomb,” and “last week” come together in a sentence I hear on repeat now in my brain. The one woman tells the other woman that she knew him — he was supposed to be done and come home in a couple months. She goes to church with his parents. On the way home all I think about is how he was somebody’s baby.

That night I lie beside my husband in a bed I hate the sight of. He sleeps, peaceful. I pull the covers back and go to the bathroom. I cut on the light and lift my nightgown up to see my stomach in the mirror. I place my palm just under my belly button.

There is a womb in there. It’s waiting.

While I make breakfast my husband watches the news. I’m beginning to think we watch a different news. I am so convinced that our realities split down the middle when the news comes on that I now ask my husband to recap for me what he hears during each broadcast.

“Economy’s still bad. Nobody in Washington got any sense again today. Gonna be sunny through the weekend,” he says. He sits his plate in the sink and kisses me before he goes to work. Something is wrong — I didn’t hear any of those things on the news. The stories I hear are “Car Accident Kills Mother and Two Children” and “School Shooting in Michigan — Twelve Dead.”

footIn the shower I look down at my stomach. I watch it every day to make sure it doesn’t grow. “Not yet,” I tell it.

Maybe not ever.

When I walk outside now I always take my shoes off if I can — especially on pavement or gravel. Pavement is the best. I drag my feet along the ragged surfaces, sometimes until they bleed. I need the soles of my feet to be tough in case I have to run. In case God tries to take my babies and I have to scoop them up and run away.

I will not let him.

I have a list of places I will hide if he comes for them. He thinks he knows my list, but he’s wrong. Every night I go out to the backyard. I look up at the dark sky and listen. If he thinks his silence will throw me off — it won’t. I play the man, not the board. “Why?” I shout. I search the sky for signs. “You know children aren’t supposed to die.” The stars twinkle. God mocks me. He thinks my questions are rhetorical.

Sometimes I feel a tightness in the lowest part of my stomach. I know what’s in there. And I know it’s waiting. It wants to be filled but I won’t let it. “Trust me,” I tell it. “Trust me.” But I think it’s getting stronger than I am. A storm brews.

When I get the clothes out of the dryer after dinner my husband walks up behind me and puts his hands on my hips. He slides my hair across my shoulder like he’s drawing back a curtain and kisses my neck in a way that’s so predictable I hate him for it. Every touch I hate. He drops his hands lower and I pull away. “Why not?” he asks.

“Because my feet aren’t tough enough yet,” I say. He doesn’t understand. He never understands.

He sits down at the table and opens the newspaper. Over his shoulder I see “Six-Year-Old Drowns in Lake.” My husband turns the page and says, “Gas prices are going up.” I cannot tell you how little I care about the damn gas prices.

It’s everywhere now. I can’t go anywhere without reminders. In the gas station a jug with a slit in its lid sits on the counter next to the register. Someone taped a sign on the front with a little girl’s face on it. “This is Emily. She has leukemia,” the sign says. It asks me to donate money to her.

Because she’s dying and she’s somebody’s baby.

On the way out I see a flyer that tells me a child in the next county is missing. He was last seen wearing a green shirt. When you walk out of the gas station’s door, the flyer faces you at eye level. Am I the only one who notices?

I have to find a new gas station because in order to get home from this one I have to drive by a cemetery that has four headstones that are smaller than all the rest. A mother had to pick out those headstones. I think of the mothers all the time.

During my sleep I have a dream. A nightmare. In my nightmare I’m standing in the middle of a field filled with deep blue flowers. Only I realize the blue dots all over the field aren’t flowers; they’re birds. I’ve never seen birds like this, so clean and new and happy. I bend down and look at one of the birds. It stares up at me, like it trusts me, and it hops over toward my open hands. But I’m distracted by the loudest, most awful sound behind me. I turn around. Bricks fall from the sky and squash all the birds. So many bricks are falling I can’t save anything. I close my eyes and open them again. I see a field of dead, blue birds. All flat and empty. I look around for help, but I’m alone.

The next night I go back out to the yard and look up at the sky. The air’s got a little charge to it—like it’s ready to talk. “Why?” I ask. I have asked this question every night since my husband asked me if I was ready to start trying. That was the night I heard the clock ticking. “Why?” I say louder. I look straight up. I do not blink. God must not understand my question.

“Why do you let them be born if you won’t let them live?” I scream. “They are somebody’s baby, and you let them have dreams they will never make real. You let them all die.”

Everything gets quiet, and then the wind blows, hard. But that is not good enough. That is not an answer.

“I want to know why,” I scream. God is holding out on me. The wind picks up. That’s his way of telling me to leave it alone. I think of the mothers, and I’m not leaving it alone.

“And you out of everyone, you know how bad it hurts when they die,” I say to him. So much promise and then they die. My babies will not die. I will not bury my babies. I will keep them inside me.

I will take them with me forever.

My husband opens our back door and steps outside. He asks me what I’m doing, why I’m being so loud. He tells me the neighbors called because I am making too much noise. “Get in the goddamn house,” I tell him. He squints his stupid eyes at me, concerned. “Go,” I say. And he knows I mean it. He just now figures out something is wrong. He just now figures out there’s a problem here.

I turn back to the sky. I look from left to right across the vast, mysterious eternity that stares down at me like it’s

tired of fighting. It’s like someone dimmed the stars. Maybe he’s ready to get honest.

“Why?” I ask one last time. I place my hand on my stomach under my belly button. It’s the only safe way to hold them. I’ll take them with me forever. I won’t let them out. But I still want to know. “Why did you make the world this way?” I ask him.

And then, from nowhere and everywhere, I hear my answer.

“I didn’t. You did.”

Jessica Wimmer holds an MA degree from Longwood University and has been writing about Southern folks since she realized she was one about five years ago. She currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, but misses Virginia. This story was originally published in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Read her previously published story in Deep South, “Flashlights,” here.

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  • leighann / September 29, 2013

    Beautifully written…..the best of this group of stories!

  • Susannah S. Cecil / October 2, 2013

    Indeed. Nicely done, Ms. Wimmer.

  • Ms. Shively / November 27, 2013

    What a well written story, Jessica! I am very proud of you.