What We Buryhttps://i1.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/WAGON_GIRL.jpg?fit=1920%2C1275&ssl=119201275Madeline AnthesMadeline Antheshttps://i1.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/maddieanthes.png?fit=96%2C96&ssl=1
I buried my girl on the top of the hill overlooking the lake. I carved out the earth and placed her tiny body at the base of our oak tree, the roots cradling her in their webbed fingers.
I can see the spot from my kitchen window; I wonder if I’ll ever stop looking for her.
We weren’t ready for a baby. I was shaking as I showed him the pink stick, and we cried together in our double bed, watching our future dissolve into a foggy unknown. We were going to travel. We wanted to be alone.
I wished and wished this baby away.
I started spending more time at the tree. Before work, while I shucked corn for dinner, after a long bath.
My girl had needed so much and filled every moment; I didn’t know how to fill the endless stretching seconds now that she was gone. How had I spent them before her? Would they ever feel full again?
Each beat of a day is punctuated by her absence.
I didn’t love her for the first few months she was inside me, but when she kicked me something changed. She was a fighter like me.
I imagined the bits of her she’d get from us. My ability to make small talk. Her father’s ability to get out of a difficult conversation.
After he fell asleep each night, I’d whisper to my belly, asking her questions about who she would become.
He left two days after we found her, still and helpless in her crib. She was six months old, and we’d already realized that she was the last thread holding us together.
He said he couldn’t look at me. She’d had my eyes. He said he’d never be able to look at me and not see her.
We’d had so many nevers together. We’d never stop loving each other. We’d never let anything come between us. I’d meant these words when I said them, but I understood why he left. Our nevers hadn’t considered something like this. This kind of sadness would never touch us.
I found myself talking to her after she was in the ground. I asked her questions. Your eyes were still milky gray – what color would they be?
The tree started answering. I imagined the different colors her eyes could have turned – nut brown like mine, or frosty blue like her dad’s. I pictured her big eyes blinking at me. A simple motion, a reflex, that I’d never see again. As I was turning this pain over in my mind, an acorn dropped from the tree and landed next to my hand. I picked it up, and felt a warmth spread from my fingertips and into my chest. Brown eyes like mine.
A day later I imagined her as a twelve-year-old, long-legged with downy hair spread over her calves, free from the embarrassment and awkwardness that would consume her soon. Unburdened, brazen-hearted. Would you love the outdoors as I hope you would? As I asked the tree, a flower fell from the branches and landed at my feet. It was a beautiful red tulip that had no business in an oak tree. I knew the tree was answering yes.
The answers got stranger as time went on. A ribbon fell when I asked if she’d be a tomboy, a sure no. A blue feather fell when I asked what her favorite color would be.
When I asked what her career would be, a stethoscope fell from the sky with a thump. When I asked her what she’d do for fun, a Jane Austen novel toppled down and splayed open at my feet.
I didn’t question it. Why would I when I was getting the answers I craved? I kept these answered prayers in a shoebox under my bed. I counted them each night, placing them next to each other on my bedspread. Together, they painted a picture of the girl she would have become, the woman she’d grow into.
But there were countless holes to fill; I needed to know everything.
I asked harder questions. What would her pet peeves be? A cigarette fell. Who would she fall in love with? Down came dogtags on a silver chain.
But one day I asked a repeat question. I wasn’t thinking and asked what her favorite season would be. The first time a golden leaf had fallen from the sky, despite it being springtime. The second time I asked, a flower fell.
I panicked and asked it another repeat: Would she have children of her own? The first time two pennies had fallen. The next time a nickel.
A cavern opened up within me. I had been filling it with these soft answers, these possibilities, but what if the tree had been lying?
What if there could never be answers because she was never meant to have a future?
I buried the shoebox on the other side of the oak tree.
I still look out the window, but I can’t bring myself to sit near it again. She’s there, willing me to come to her, sit with her, dream with her. But I can’t let myself imagine anymore.
She was here once, and now she is not.
I watch the wind blow through the oak tree’s leaves and listen in the silence for the sound of her cries.
Madeline Anthes is the Assistant Editor of Lost Balloon. Her chapbook, Now We Haunt This Home Together, is forthcoming with Bone & Ink Press. You can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes, and find more of her work at madelineanthes.com.