Lynelle by the Sea

Overview

Lynelle Page Carter knows how it feels to have a baby growing inside you, knows the way it makes you lazy and yearning and peaceful all at the same time. But she has no words for the grief she feels at the sudden death of her infant daughter, Grace, after only three days of life. Wracked by a sorrow that reawakens feelings of an earlier loss, a sorrow so deep she has to leave her husband and their working-class life in New Jersey, Lynelle returns home to Florida. As she aimlessly wanders the beaches of Singing ...
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Overview

Lynelle Page Carter knows how it feels to have a baby growing inside you, knows the way it makes you lazy and yearning and peaceful all at the same time. But she has no words for the grief she feels at the sudden death of her infant daughter, Grace, after only three days of life. Wracked by a sorrow that reawakens feelings of an earlier loss, a sorrow so deep she has to leave her husband and their working-class life in New Jersey, Lynelle returns home to Florida. As she aimlessly wanders the beaches of Singing Island, she sees an infant in a stroller, alone under tree. Surely the child - who looks more like her than her own lost little girl - is waiting for her, waiting to fill her empty arms and heart." "In Florida with her husband and three children to visit her parents, Annie Thompson is torn between the demands of her family and her own unfulfilled need for individuality. Then, in the blink of an eye, it happens: One moment three-month-old Dylan is there, left with his older brother for an instant; the next he is gone. All Annie's logic and courage desert her. Without her son, she simply cannot imagine how she will go on. Falling deeper into a marital crisis, terrified that she is coming unanchored, Annie must confront her feelings of grief and guilt over the child who may be lost to her forever." "Alternating between the voices of Lynelle and Annie, Lynelle by the Sea probes the depths of primal love in a poignant, sparely told novel of family, faith, and two women whose lives are transformed by tragedy and redemption.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In her first novel, the talented Albanese weaves a poignant story of two women suddenly faced with the heartbreak of losing a child. Lynelle Carter's daughter, Grace, just two days old, dies of SIDS; then Lynelle, responding to her need for a baby, snatches Annie Thompson's three-month-old son Dylan from his stroller. Misguided but not malicious, Lynelle becomes obsessed with trying to reach the spirit of her own mother (also named Grace), who died when Lynelle was a child. Now doubly bereft and mourning, she sees the child whom she abducted as an answer to her prayers. The tale that follows shifts smoothly back and forth from Lynelle to Annie, as the author explores love, loss, justice, and forgiveness. A good read for women of all ages, it is well recommended.--Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, MD Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786229161
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Pages: 371
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.76 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Lynelle
ELIZABETH, NEW JERSEY

How I came to steal that baby named Dylan isn't a long story unless you want it to be. To me it was as simple as picking him up out of the stroller, holding him close to my skin, walking like he belonged to me, and moving through the people who didn't even look twice, who barely stepped aside to let me pass with my bundle.

It's not a long story unless you don't know how it feels to have a baby grow in your belly, the way it makes you lazy, makes you lay on the couch with the sun heating up through the windowpane, the way it makes you long to lick the salt off something, yearn for something pickled, pucker for something sour, drool for something sweet. Teeth and nails sharpen so that tearing apart a chicken is easy, so that cracking the bones and sucking out their marrow is something you do without thinking, do with a new relish brought on by the life in your belly.

"Just what the heck are you doing, Lynelle?"

I was expecting my own child back then. My husband Hogan was sitting across the supper table from me, staring with this horrified look at the chicken bones piled like a little graveyard next to my plate. Something about Hogan and the way he can say "what the heck" in that back-home way made me ashamed. I grabbed a little blue napkin out of the wooden holder that Hogan had made me and I covered up those chewed bones, I laughed and stood to clear the table. Hogan likes that, likes bringing out the girl in me. He reached out a hand as I squeezed by him in our little tiny kitchen, and caught me real gentle on the bottom of my belly.

I stopped in front of him, saw that pink tongue peeping out from the front of his grin, and I let Hogan nuzzle his face against me, against the widening bowl of baby growing between my belly button and my thighs. I felt an overwhelming desire for him, a desire too strong for a woman in my condition, a desire so strong that it pushed right through those thoughts of not-in-my-condition and I had to take a deep breath to get over that light-headed feeling that Hogan can bring upon me with his dark hair curling down the back of his neck and his two front teeth just a tiny bit crooked, one chipped. It's that chip Hogan's tongue looks for, rests upon, worries against when he's working or thinking. It's the chip that I look at to know when something's on his mind.

"Lynelle, you sure do look good in this baby," Hogan said. He lifted up my red maternity blouse and pressed his mouth against my belly, and that was it. I let myself go except for whispering, "Hogan, go wash your hands for me, please, and take off them dirty work clothes."

I gave him a squeeze on the thigh to take the edge off my request, and moved away so he could stand up and get by me. The walk from our kitchen table to the sofa in our teeny living room is nothing more than a drop. I fell onto it, wriggled out of my maternity pants, and listened to the sound of Hogan splashing water in the bathroom, unzipping his green airport jumper.

We're from the South, Hogan and me. His family hails from Tennessee and Tallahassee, while I'm from the middle parts of Florida where black and tan rivers run through the swamplands and down into the citrus groves. I was born five years after they built Walt Disney World, but I've never been there. My mama passed when I was seven and me and Daddy had enough of a time just living. Daddy did okay raising me considering how much of it we spent alone in mobile homes between Ocala and Port Charlotte, but I know I have that look, a black kettle-edged look around my eyes that can turn inside out and take me away from anyone, any time. Hogan calls them my come-hither-go-away eyes.

I was working at a bank in Gainesville when me and Hogan met. We were both filling in for friends on a bowling team, and it was Hogan's smile, the way he lights up fast, that turned my head. Hogan knows the names of things, he knows airplanes and engines, rivers and wildflowers. He says, "Honeysuckle, wisteria, jack-in-the-pulpit, scarlet sage, larkspur, morning glory, Queen Anne's lace," and all the blood goes to my head. He says it with a rumble in his throat, like a mountain man come to sit down awhile and woo a woman with poetry. It's enough to make me not mind the smell of beer on his breath in the morning.

We live in New Jersey now on account of Hogan's job, which is working food and last-minute luggage on the runways at Newark Airport. We live so close to the airport that the planes pass over our apartment day and night, and before their roar blended in with the background noise of life, me and Hogan used to lay in bed and take turns making up stories about where the planes were going, or who was going on them.

"Coming in for a landing," Hogan said. He was buck naked, his front tail as tall as a proud young tree rooting up from a patch of shiny brown grass.

"Check your landing gear and make a slow descent, Captain," I said, for I was almost as protective of the baby in my belly as I was desirous of him to be moving inside me.

Later, much later, I feared it was too much sex that hurt my baby. Even though the doctor said it did no harm, I could cut off my arms now just thinking of how I pulled Hogan to me, how I moaned and rocked and then lay there afterward with all four of our palms pressed against my belly, feeling the baby moving herself back and forth even after we were still. Anyone who thinks a baby in the womb is just a lump of tissue has never felt that.

The year I was pregnant we spent Christmas up North, due to my condition. My daddy, who lives over in the Florida panhandle now with his third wife, Tina, called one day to ask if he could send us something for the baby.

"I should give y'all something special being this'll be my first grandbaby," he said.

I could picture him sitting in his folding chair on the porch outside their trailer house, portable phone in his hand, gray stubble on his face. By the way he talked I knew he was chewing the soggy end of an old cigar between his teeth.
"Daddy, that's real nice of you," I said. We already had a new bassinet filled with yellow and green outfits from the girls at work, so I told Daddy we needed a stroller and a car seat. Then I asked if he had any baby pictures of me and my mama together.

Chaw, chaw. That cigar went a full circle in his mouth. I listened hard and heard a truck starting up in his trailer park.

"Daddy?"

"We didn't take too many pictures, little girl."

All those years with only one small picture of me and her, from a distance. It had seemed enough, but I wanted more. I was straining to see Mama's face, and I couldn't do it on my own.

"I seem to recall some kind of pink box, with pictures and such," Daddy said at last. "Maybe your aunt Fay knows where it is."

I called Aunt Fay, my mama's big sister, who lives out in the Ozarks now and has a hot tub built on her back porch. Halfway between forty and fifty and she's still young at heart.

I asked Aunt Fay about the pink box and told her how my ankles were swelling and the baby was waking me at night with the kicking. Aunt Fay said she had no idea where that box might be, on account of having moved around a lot herself, but she promised to look for it.

"You be sure to keep them feet up," she said. "And don't reach for anything on a top shelf. You got that handsome husband of yours to do that."

In his spare time when he isn't working, teasing me, or loving me, my husband likes to carve things. Back home they call it whittling but what Hogan can do with a piece of wood and some glue is more like art than craft to me. Over the years he made me the napkin holder and napkin rings, cherrywood candlesticks, and even a set of little box turtles that nestle one on top of the other. Soon as I got pregnant he started turning out baby toys one-two-three, whistling air through that chip on his tooth and handing up a bone-shaped baby rattle with three rings carved right out from the branch itself, and then this tiny flat brown bear with the cutest little face (I told him, "This is really art, Ho, making a piece of wood into something so lovable").

For Christmas Hogan gave me a footstool he made out of oak, and come Christmas afternoon I was sitting on our old brown couch with my feet up on that stool, sort of reading a baby book but mostly looking at the way my calves blended into my swollen ankles.

Outside our third-floor window everything was cold and covered with snow, but I was hot enough to be wearing a sleeveless blue-jean jumper. I was having night sweats already, and strange dreams about flowers that sucked up and died. In one dream I was kneeling at my mama's grave sobbing because there wasn't a single green thing growing there.

It was strange the way my mama started coming back to me. She died before I really knew her, and the truth is that I'd grown used to her being gone, had smoothed over the lump of loss she once was. But that winter I'd be making the bed and suddenly see Mama's hands folding down the corner of a sheet, or I'd sit down to eat and recall the way she liked her corn on the cob hot and dripping with butter. It was a surprise and a comfort, even if I couldn't really see her face and the way she'd smile or look at me. But not the dreams. The dreams were the dark side of remembering.

"Listen, Hogan, this book says lots of pregnant ladies get bad dreams," I said.
Hogan was sitting at the kitchen table with a can of beer in one hand and a big atlas spread open in front of him. He was bundled up against the cold, having long since stopped complaining about how I kept turning down the heat and opening up the windows to let frosty snowflakes land on my hot arms.

"Denver," Hogan said to me. "I like Denver."

"You know I can't travel," I said, "and anyways I'm talking to you about something important here, about the dreams I've been having."

"Well, Lynnie, I am talking about the baby too," he said. "I like the name Denver, or maybe something in Hawaii."

I was speaking to Hogan in half profile, just the tip of his nose, the sides of his ears peeking out from under a John Deere cap. I leveled a stare at him, a stare that always shut up any rude customer at the bank. "Are you crazy, Hogan?"
He turned to smile at me, but I wasn't taken in by that grin or the tongue teasing between his teeth.

"The way I figure, I'd like to name this baby for one of the beautiful places in the world, maybe a place we been together," he said. On account of him working for the airport, we can fly places real cheap and have been on more than a dozen airplane trips together. "Remember Denver? The deepest green trees you ever seen, the bluest sky?"

"Hogan, I'm not naming my baby after some stupid city. You know I'm hoping to name this girl after my mama."

We'd already spoke of this at great length and I believed we'd settled upon Gracelyn, which was my mama's name, or maybe a shorter, more to-date version like Grace. But of course Hogan had pretended to agree while keeping ahold of his own idea, as always.

"Okay, Lynnie, I've got you a deal. If it's a girl, you can name it after your mama. But say it's a son, a chip off the old block kind of thing, then I want to pick his name."

His eyes lit up like they were looking out over a runway, or across a great big mountain sky, and in the end I just let him say what he wanted, knowing full well it was a girl in my belly and that I would name her for my mama.

My baby girl, Grace Denver Carter, was born on the seventh day of February at two-thirty in the afternoon. She was born with sky blue eyes two shades paler than Hogan's and filled with light as if she could already see something ordinary people could not. She was born on a Tuesday, and everyone knows that Monday's child is fair of face while Tuesday's child is full of grace. I agreed to Denver for a middle name, instead of my maiden name of Page, because of the light in her eyes.

Grace came easy into this world, with me wide awake and Hogan holding my hand, both of us shouting and looking down at the bloody bend of my legs. I had to push and grunt like a big old sow, but when her head crowned the rest of her slid out shiny and clean, pale pink skin clear as water, little white fingers with perfect half-moon nails. One of the nurses lifted her up onto my belly while her little body was still attached to me by the long purple cord.

"She's a miracle, Lynnie," Hogan whispered in my ear. He held his hand over her, his palm making a blanket that was bigger than her entire little behind.

After we ate a supper of soft hospital meat and mashed potatoes Hogan went home, leaving Grace and me alone. She was cleaned up, dressed in a white hospital gown with a pink cap on her head and little white mittens on her hands. She slept in a high plastic cradle right next to my bed, where I could lay on my side and take her in. I slept barely a wink from sunset to past five in the morning. All night long I just kept thinking Welcome to the world, welcome to the world, and all kinds of things kept coming into my head until I was actually talking to her out loud.

"I remember my own mama," I told her. "Everybody thinks I don't remember, but I do. I remember sitting on her bed with all her shiny jewelry spread between us and Mama's laugh ringing like a bell. I remember her dusting the house with the radio turned up loud, her cleaning and scaling a bunch of fish and then squeezing out lemons to clean the smell off her skin. I remember her singing lullabies to me, even if I can't remember what they were. I know she loved to sing, and I know she would've loved you, my baby Grace."

I talked and talked like I had been waiting for that girl all my life. There was a pad wedged between my legs, stiff and big as a pillow and filling with my trickling blood. The doctor had numbed me to stitch up the small tear Grace made coming out, but during the night the numbness went away and the pain began to come in slow like a bruise somebody was pressing against. I didn't mind. I felt alive that night, alive with both joy and pain spreading out from the center of me. I felt my life flashing through me, the scrape of tight brown shoes rubbing my heels raw the first day of school, the night I slept with my ear pressed against my bedroom door so I could listen in case Mama cried out from her sudden sickness, the way Hogan touched the sides of my face the very first time we kissed. The ache between my legs grew to a throbbing of pains and pleasures coming closer into one, a mixed-up river of Hogan loving me, Grace pushing out of me, my hipbones spreading and creaking open slowly like a rubbery wishbone stretched to the limit, my girl Grace fresh in the world as proof and payment for everything I lived through up to then. I felt strong as a backwoods witch just for having carried and birthed her, and even though I was beginning to feel tired as a bone I felt the wonder of myself was electric, and the strength I could give my girl was something fierce.

"You won't have to do any of it alone, baby Grace," I said to her, "no you won't because I'll be right there with you forever. I'm not going anywhere, I'm not dying on nobody."

She slept on and on, the stars twirling outside our window and her chest rising in tiny breaths.

Just before dawn Grace began to stir and an old black nurse came into my hospital room and told me to put her to my breast and let her suck. "Nothing coming yet, but the sucking will bring in your milk," she said. She picked Grace up and handed her to me in the bed.

"Go on now, baby," the nurse whispered. She looked like somebody's old granny, with her hair pinned up and wispy gray pieces falling alongside her wrinkled face. Until that minute I'd been planning to use formula, which most people say is so much easier, but that lady, looking at me like something wonderful was about to happen right in my own body, made me want to try.

I untied the top of my hospital gown and put Grace up to my bare skin. She opened her mouth wide, her nose sniffing and her face nuzzling against me. Her suckle felt just like the lick of a newborn puppy, soft and warm. No pain at all.

"She ain't sucking hard yet, but she will," said the nurse. "She will. You just keep on putting her there."

The rest of the day I did it every chance I had, picked her up, pushed the nipple into her mouth, jiggled her around until her tiny mouth closed down and her mewing soothed.

"Hogan, it don't even hurt," I said. He just watched with his face filled up, his hands and body still as I ever seen them.

It was Hogan, of course, who took us home from the hospital that night. Nothing was wrong with Grace then. She weighed just under seven pounds at birth, and the same on the day of her homecoming, thirty hours later. The nurses said it was normal for her to sleep so much. Count your blessings, they said, 'cause it won't last long.

Grace was dressed in a tiny pink knit dress with mother-of-pearl buttons, newly made by Hogan's ma and sent up to us by overnight mail. Just before our leaving the nurses took the hospital photo, which I was planning to have made into button pins for Hogan and me and his ma and pop. Grace scrunched up her eyes and balled her fists when the camera flashed. She let out a little cry, and her tongue came out between her lips.

"Lookit that, Hogan, she's already doing your thing with her tongue." I laughed.
Outside it was freezing cold, with new snow flurries coming down upon the mounds of snow already there. The nurses wheeled me out to the car in a wheelchair and put Grace into the car seat themselves. Hogan drove so slow you'd think he had a load of chicken eggs stacked on our car roof.

At home we found that my girlfriend Allison had come by and put a pot of spaghetti sauce on the stove and a bunch of white and pink carnations in a glass jar in the middle of the kitchen table. Me and Hogan sat down to rest and eat, but Grace had a different idea. She was opening and closing her mouth like a fish, pink and flushed, crying first in little guppy cries, then louder and louder. I stood up, walked, jiggled her, walked, sang, cooed. She cried so long it put a fear in me.

"Hogan, listen to her," I said.

"How can I help but listen?" He was walking alongside me, staring into her face.

"What should I do?"

"I don't know."

"Don't say you don't know, Hogan, 'cause we got to be together on this."
Walking, walking. Bouncing her on my shoulder, talking in a whisper.

"Maybe a bottle?"

"The nurse said I shouldn't give her anything, just let her suck on me."

"Just water? To fill her up?"

"Hogan, I'm telling you what she said, and she was just like somebody's granny."

"Well what, then?" Hogan gave a little chuckle, which I took to be the nasty kind.

"Hogan, don't you laugh at me."

"I ain't laughing at you, Lynnie, I'm laughing at us together, covering this same track in the rug here like we're going somewhere."

"Oh." I didn't see anything to laugh about.

Hogan put his arms on my shoulders. "Just relax, Lynnie. You're doing great. She's beautiful. Look at you. You're both beautiful."

I didn't feel beautiful. I felt worried and weary to the bone. A whole day and night without sleep.

"Why don't you lay down on the bed together and let her suck like that. Maybe it'll calm her."

Soon as I laid down on the bed and put Grace onto my nipple she stopped crying, drinking up the thin white liquid that was not quite milk but seemed to satisfy her just the same.

Hogan lay next to us and together we watched her smooth, sweet face going off into the safest dreamland in the world. Mama and Daddy holding her. Hogan rubbing my forehead. All of us touching skin. Quiet, at last.

"Lynnie, I forgot to tell you," Hogan whispered into the low blue light in the room. His voice was almost a dream.

"Hmmm?"

"When I called your daddy with the news, he said he remembered something."

"Yeah?"

"He said that when you were a baby your mama used to take you on long walks under the trees and you went crazy for the leaves with the sun coming through them. When the wind blew and the leaves danced he said you used to laugh and laugh and clap your hands and try to catch those pieces of shadow and light."
I remembered. I opened my eyes a bit to look out between my lashes and I could see those dancing shadows and almost, almost, in the corner of the room, I could see my mama clapping, too. Her hands, her long yellow dress, the shape of her hair. But not her face. I couldn't see her face.

Later that night I felt Hogan lift Grace off the bed. I was almost drugged asleep, but woke enough to remind him to put Grace on her side in the cradle. To be sure to put her on her side like they showed us in the hospital. I tried to sit up, but my head was too heavy.

"I'm doing it right, Lynnie," said Hogan. After he put her down he came over to me, tucked the blanket around my shoulders.

"She's just perfect," he said, but I had to see for myself. I sat up, crawled across the bedcovers. Didn't even have to get out of bed to see her because the cradle was that close in our tiny room.

She was perfect. Sleeping on her side under a white blanket. Little pink cap back on her head. Very, very still.

"Beautiful," I said. I kissed her on the cheek, and it was warm. I remember that it was warm.

I was asleep, deep-down seaweed-tangled sleep, dreaming nothing but the color green, when I heard Hogan shouting into the telephone. It was a struggle to come up. My hair was webbed across my face, my heart pounding from the effort and the fright coming up with me.

"Get up, Lynnie, we got to get the baby breathing."

Hogan towered over me, his feet on the mattress, holding my baby in his arms. The back of her head was a fuzzy ball fallen over to one side.

I jumped up and grabbed her out of his arms. Grace was gray, her eyes sunk far away and staring past me.

"What happened? What did you do?"

"I found her this way."

"Call 911."

"I did, I already did."

I put my fingers under her nostrils. Nothing. I plugged up her nose. She didn't move. She didn't blink.

"Oh, Jesus, where are you, where are you?"

I dropped down to the mattress with Grace flat out under me and pushed on her chest, put my whole mouth over her tiny petal lips and tried to blow breath back into her.

"Come on, let's get downstairs." Hogan tugged my arms from under me. We wrapped Grace up in our bed quilt and ran down the stairs in our nightclothes, out into the white, dead quiet street. The ambulance wailed from around the corner and I ran through the snow waving my arms.

It would be merciful if I couldn't remember but it is crisp and clear in my mind, the close air in that ambulance making it hard for me to breathe, the oxygen mask that covered Grace's whole face, her hands and fingers still by her sides, the bed quilt dropped on the floor, a girl not any older than me working slowly at my baby's chest with little red pads stuck onto blue wires.

"She needs the blanket, she'll be too cold," I said, but they acted like they didn't hear and Hogan kept trying to turn my head away.

Sudden infant death syndrome is what the doctor said.

"Nothing you did to bring it on, and nothing you could have done to stop it," he said. He was an old man, and he looked sad. I wanted to ask for another doctor, maybe somebody younger, who knew more, but it didn't matter anyway. She was already gone, and I was already fallen into a hole inside myself.

The coffin was tiny, with pink roses painted on the white enamel handles. Hogan picked it out. He did everything. I was so tired it was just about impossible for me to hear the Scriptures that were read or to trudge through the snow to the grave.

Grace was buried in a new part of the cemetery, and we had to walk a long way. Hogan's brothers Giles and James carried the coffin on their shoulders. They came up from Tennessee and didn't know how to dress for the cold, so that their ears were flaming red and their big bare hands stuck to the coffin handles.
She wasn't even old enough to know she was alive, I kept thinking to myself. The thought got stuck in my head the way a boot gets stuck in creek mud.

Hogan and me walked with the preacher behind the casket. When someone stumbled, we didn't turn around. When an airplane flew overhead during the prayer and forced the preacher to stop, Hogan and me didn't even look up.

Damn the world. Damn you, God. I didn't even feel sorry for thinking it.

My daddy and his wife didn't see their way up to pray for a life so short-lived, but Aunt Fay, she was there. After the burial she knocked on my bedroom door and came in real quiet without waiting for my answer.

"It's Aunt Fay, Lynelle. I've just come to sit awhile."

Five or six blankets were piled high on top of me, pulled up over my head and wrapped around my shoulders. It seemed I could not cut the chill in my bones. As warm as I was while carrying, I was twice as cold after Grace was gone.

"I made you some tea, sweetie. Real tea I grew in my own garden. Chamomile, mint, and lemon. It'll soothe you."

I pulled back the blankets. Aunt Fay was wearing a black cape dress. I could barely see her face in the dim room, but I could smell her Chantilly and I could see her lips set in a sad line. She never looked like my mama, on account of her chubby cheeks and light brown hair, and I was glad for that.

"Lynelle, I'm so sorry for you, baby. I wish your mama could be here to help you, but she's not. I'm a poor second, I know it, but I'm going to try anyway, just to say what I might."

That yawn and lump of weeping came up in my chest. She took a sip of the tea herself, and we sat quiet awhile.

"All babies are still part angel, Lynelle. God gives them flesh, but their souls have strong wings and they fly straight back to heaven if they don't take hold of the body.

"It makes us sad and grieving and even angry, sometimes real angry. But other children live. Others of yours will live."

She took my hand. Her fingernails were painted bright pink.

"I carried seven babies, did you know that?"

I shook my head.

"Only five made it all the way to being born."

Her eyes were shining, the whites glittering above my face.

"The ones who live give up their wings slowly. We watch over them more carefully. I think God takes them young sometimes as a mercy. We can't know, honey, we can't know."

I cried a good long while. Aunt Fay lay down and put her arms around me. The press of her skin and the smell of Chantilly kept me knowing I could find my way back to her when I was done.

Two days after the funeral my milk came in. It came in hard as rocks, with nowhere to go and no one to take it. Aunt Fay and everyone was gone, and Hogan was sitting at the kitchen table eating toast. I sat up in my bed and called up the hospital.

"I'd like to talk to that nurse please-"

"Which one, honey? We got sixteen on round here." The voice was kind but tired.

"She showed me how to feed my baby. She was like a granny."

"You must mean Earlene. She's not here till Thursday. Maybe someone else? Is there a problem with your baby?"

I hung up. Hogan was next to me in a flash, holding a book out and showing me where to read. There was two pages on what to do when your baby dies. It said to rest and give myself time. It said to pump myself like a cow and let the milk go down the drain. I read it with Hogan standing over me and then went back under the covers to wait. I knew I was waiting, but I wasn't sure what for. Waiting for time to pass, I supposed. Waiting to believe it, waiting to cry, waiting to stop crying. Waiting for night, for sleep, for dawn. I remembered waiting for Mama, how the waiting followed me the rest of the year when she died. I waited through my birthday, through Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. The feeling that something-should-be-happening-but-wasn't-but-soon-would-be stayed until I was old enough to know that I was waiting for her to come home, to kiss me good night, to flour the whole top of our kitchen table and roll out sugar cookie dough. Even after I knew in my head that Mama was never coming back, I waited for her inside of myself.

I knew this time I couldn't wait for Grace. I knew she wasn't coming back. If I was waiting for anything I was waiting for the chance to be alone, to rage and scream and then slip away from my own life.

Every time I looked at Hogan I could see that waiting inside of him, too. He just kept standing next to me with that grief in his eyes, waiting for me to see it, name it, call it up and comfort it. On top of that was the way he was right there every time I went to cry, or go to the bathroom, or look at something that was part of Grace he was there, my name on his lips, that fur ball of sadness in his eyes.

"Go on and cry, Lynnie," he'd say, or else he'd say, "Don't cry, Lynnie," or

"I'm sorry, Lynnie. Tell me what to do, Lynnie," until I couldn't stand it anymore and finally at the end of that day I turned on him coming up on my heels in the bathroom. "Goddamn you, Hogan, get off my tail."

He was wearing his animal skin vest, a straggly patched-together bunch of shearling scraps that somebody in his family hand-stitched a long time ago. I hate that vest, have always hated it, and the way it was draped over his shoulders made it easier for me to yell at him.

"There isn't a damn thing you can do for me except get off me. Can you bring Grace back? Can you take away this hole in my heart? Can you make the damn sun come out or the sky blue or the world something different from what it is?"

The stricken look on his face wasn't enough to stop me, nor was the way he backed away from the bathroom into the living room, stumbling over the loose strip of molding at the edge of the linoleum floor. Even his hand swinging up and grabbing at the wall for balance, as if my words were knocking him over, just gave me steam to keep on going.

"For three days now you've been following me around like there's something you can do for me, Hogan, but you can't, do you hear me, there's nothing you can do. My baby's in the ground and the weight of the world is right here in my chest pulling on me like I'm some kind of cow, so unless you want to do something about it, unless you want to find me a baby to suck me some relief, then you better get away from me."

At that I slammed and locked the bathroom door, tore back the shower curtain with a map of the world stamped on it in bright colors, ripped off my bathrobe, and stood under the blasting hot water sobbing, sobbing, squeezing my two swollen breasts between my fingers and watching the milk swirl down the drain.

That's when I knew I had to get away.

From Lynelle by the Sea, Laurie Lico Albanese. (c) December 1999 , Laurie Lico Albanese used by permission.


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