She was a newlywed five weeks, red-haired, skin a vivid pink though she’d just settled into the clawfoot tub’s hot, soapy water. The closed-up bathroom filled with steam, beyond the tub the toilet and sink were floating apparitions of white porcelain, the medicine cabinet mirror was glazed with condensation. Her pale green robe hung from a hook on the door that shook when either of them walked down the hall and now, Claire smiled, pressing her eyes against her knees, with Ed coming on the run.
The door swung open and there he was, on the edge of striking a Charles Atlas pose. But, no. His shoulders fell in on his chest, one hand dropped in front of him. Five weeks now, still timid. With his free hand he shut the door and then climbed into the tub with her. He trembled as he lowered himself in. “Hot.”
Claire laughed and leaned toward him, breasts pressed against her legs, and said, “You can take off your underwear now, don’t you think?”
These are my parents, Claire and Ed Strom. She at nineteen and he at twenty-one. I see other couples at that age and they don’t seem ready to be parents, but Claire and Ed, Claire in 1951, she looks ready. And here I come.
In 1951, there were 79,074 miscarriages in the United States. I was one of them.
Claire took the crowded city bus to her doctor’s office, a small, cold clinic in Superior’s south end. Dr. Jordan was an older man with raw sausage link fingers who, when the nineteen-year-old was up on the examining table with her feet in the stirrups, looked like he would have been more at ease in a machine shop on the lakefront, working at a metal grinder, sparks shooting off the wheel like the Fourth of July. But Dr. Jordan was a good technician. Claire told him about the spotting, its increase. The doctor examined her, apologizing for the chill of the speculum.
After the dilation and curettage, after she was dressed, they sat facing each other and he held her hands, a damp Kleenex crumpled and clutched there, in his larger hands, and he assured her that there would be other babies for her and Ed. But I would not be one of them.
This was their world without me.
The summer sun at 4:43 P.M. cuts across the lawn of the three-bedroom ranch. A family reunion in a backyard, the taste of Claire’s macaroni and beef hot dish eaten from paper plates at a picnic table. Ed’s collection of utility sheds abutting the graveled alley, inside old grass clippings, the ghost smell of gasoline for the lawn mower, rust-edged snow shovels, plastic ones with cracked blades. Sons Michael, a lippy child and a stranger moldering with addictions, and Andy, the absentminded one who came across AIDS in Minneapolis.
They were a part of the neighborhood for fifty years.
Now, it was as though they were never there.
Jeff Esterholm's fiction has appeared in Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder flash fiction series, Midwestern Gothic, Flash Fiction Italia, Yellow Mama, and The J.J. Outré Review, among others. Upcoming in the new year, he will have a story in Crime Factory and another in Yellow Mama.