She’d had a tiny baby. She hadn’t seen it. At least, not that she could remember. She thought there must have been a moment when the baby was leaving her body that she would have looked down and seen the top of a head, maybe a foot, or a lump held up to her in the arms of a doctor or nurse, in that unforgiving overhead light. But she remembered only the room and herself, and even that was in pieces, splinters of a body like close-ups in a movie. Her hand, clenched. The top of her stomach. A ceiling tile with little dots like pairs of eyes that looked like they were blinking.

Nobody had touched the baby. Not directly. Only through layers of gloves and blankets, and even that not very much. They tried to touch the baby as little as possible. She hadn’t touched it at all. The nurse with the cheeks that always looked like they were blushing told her the baby was being taken care of in another room. The baby had to be separated from everything and everyone as it gained strength. She was lucky to be alive. She, and the baby. The baby was also a she, but everyone called it the baby. 

The hospital sent her home, but the baby stayed.

She pretended that she didn’t have a baby at all, tiny or otherwise.

She took cold showers. She ate peanut butter sandwiches, drank chocolate milk, and watched re-runs of Bewitched. Maybe she could be a mother, after all.

She became obsessed with small things. She began cataloging them. Stamps, pennies, violet petals. A miniature porcelain statue of a cat. She found these things all over the house. She had never noticed them before, but now they seemed to jump out at her. She kept a photo album and in the clear, plastic sheets she slipped scraps of trash—movie ticket stub, ripped receipt, half-charred match. She couldn’t bear to throw these things away.

The baby arrived. Or, it was ready for pick-up. That’s what the hospital said on the phone. Or something like that. Of course they weren’t going to deliver it.

When she went with her mother to pick up the baby, nobody had ever held it. She was going to have to touch it. Of course. She stood in the hospital hallway just outside the room where the baby waited. She longed to be home, watching TV. She did not want to touch anything. She did not want anything to touch her. When her mother nudged her towards the door, she flinched.

The nurse lifted a bundle of cloth that most likely had the baby inside it, wrapped like a gift. The cloth held the baby the way she had held the baby inside her, only then it wasn’t a baby but sleight-of-hand. The nurse was passing the cloth to her, the cloth was heading towards her arms that did not know how to hold a baby. Maybe it was so tiny it would slip through her fingers. Maybe it would crumble in her hands, like a clump of dirt. Maybe it would disappear. Maybe the baby was not inside the cloth at all. Maybe the baby was not real. Maybe it was too small to be real. Yes, maybe it was too small.

***

Quinn Forlini has been published in The Greensboro Review, The Vassar Review, and The Journal. She received her MFA from the University of Virginia and teaches creative writing at Ursinus College. 

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