The place was tiny. No garage. Washer and dryer in plain sight next to the kitchen sink–quickly we learned that laundry during dinner would drown out the hope of conversation.
The redhead toddled, pacing between dinner dishes at the sink and the exersaucer, it’s bottom disk overflowing with kid-version chew toys that rattled and popped and whizzed. I remember that penguin walk, all-in, one foot at a time.
Nestled somewhere in that bottom disk she found a single Golden Graham. A stowaway hidden there, forgotten and staled.
In a momentous turn of unfortunate timing a plate was dropped to the kitchen floor. Shatter echoed in waves and pierced her ears. In turn she drew in a sudden frightened breath, sucking in that perfect little square. It smoothered the pulse of her, flat against so tiny an airway.
There were no sounds, just the deafening gape of her tiny mouth below two perfectly helpless eyes. It was the only time I’ve ever seen so desperate a plea. Such inherent trust in eyes wide open.
The water was left running in the kitchen. Suds bubbled over as the steady whir of it it blended in with the murmur of cartoon voices, laughing from behind. Mocking such sudden change in circumstance.
I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t trained. I watched as–like a ragdoll–he flipped her over his forearm, delivering blow after blow between her tiny shoulder blades. So unforgiving a space. No room for a slip.
Time grew muddy. Sludgy seconds piled up, thick with the weight of urgency. There was but one option so how could it be that another–the unthinkable one–came closer while she slipped slowly away. The blows grew more frantic. Time wouldn’t give.
As long as I live I will never lose the memory of what it looked like when she gave up. When her lips went blue and her eyes rolled back, too tired to stay locked on mine a second more. Still, I was calm. Fists gripped–fingernails digging tiny trenches in my palm. There were four words that I spoke, the trail of them piling up like a car wreck on so treacherous a road: you can do this. You can do this. I know you can.
So why aren’t you?
I never even bothered to pick up the phone. No nine one one. There was no hope of time for that. Just a redheaded baby girl–fresh from inside me–slipping silently away.
But then something gave and as instantly as it started it finished and she gasped and coughed and cried and a wave broke free in my chest and I did, too.
Truly I tell you that not another box of Golden Grahams has passed our threshold since.