Every Age She'd Ever Been
78 hogged the baby. She carried her around snuggled up to her neck and handed her off to 30 only if she needed to do something that required two hands. When the baby cried, colicky and contorted, from five to seven every evening, then 78 handed the baby with its twisted, red, screaming face to 17 with a look that said "See what you've gotten us into?" 17 wasn't sure why the old woman with the swollen ankles was picking on her, but 18, 21, 24, and 29 rubbed their growing bellies and gave each other knowing glances. 2 bit whomever was closest.
When 17 (who felt a touch nauseous) finally got the baby to fall asleep, 78 returned to retrieve the sleeping form and cradled that precious head against her shoulder and breathed in the powdery goodness. She looked almost happy, and they were all momentarily content. All except 45, who continually glowed with self-satisfaction, not yet aware that the divorce was too late coming.
66, resigned, filled out crossword puzzles with 7, otherwise she would have told 45 that she should have asked for more alimony.
34 fell asleep early and woke at random intervals, worried about where her husband was, about cleaning, about her teenage daughter's boyfriend. 6 had nightmares as well, and the two of them regularly met in the kitchen for late night bowls of ice cream, which did little to help them sleep better, but gave them the pleasure of infuriating 40 who would have liked a little pick me up first thing in the morning.
There was no 79, which occasionally they thought about, because 78 grew more feeble and forgetful. Twice in the last week she set the baby down, and if it hadn't been for an astute 11, it's quite possible 3 and 4 would have dragged the baby off the table, annihilating whatever existence the whole lot of them had to begin with. Not that all of the women would have complained. 17 herself felt tired of the general consensus that if she'd kept her legs together they might be more comfortable in their present situation.
69, 70, and 71 made a bed for 78 in the living room and recruited 51 to make tea. They propped 78 up with pillows and tried to make 9 feel the gravity of the situation, but she chattered about butterflies and the Fourth of July picnic with little care that 78's breathing was labored, and, although she still accepted the comfort of the baby, she accepted none of the tea. Sometime after 35 and 6 finished yet another carton of Chocolate Revel, 78 grew still. They pushed against each other, elbows out to maximize space until the last second when they felt themselves snapped together like a fan, bodies and memories nestling together in the instance their hearts stopped.
Rebekah Orton earned an MA from Brigham Young University, and has work forthcoming in Brain, Child magazine.