CW PREGNANCY LOSS
For my little sister, who makes me laugh more than anyone else.
Cheyenne has round toes. Very round toes. With round, little nails. It’s not something I noticed until we were sitting in the car, riding home from Denver International Airport. My husband is driving, her long term boyfriend is sitting in the passenger seat next to him. She’s typing furiously on her phone. “Sorry,” she breaks the silence, “An emergency with a patient.” Cheyenne sets her phone face down on the leather seat triumphantly, “Ok, I’m done.”
She looks at me for the first time this whole trip. Outside, a soft summer rain begins. My husband pumps the brakes as traffic slows.
“Don’t you remember how much I hate phones out during a visit?” I ask, plastering on a smile. She smiles back.
“She can’t have her phone put away for an entire week,” her boyfriend, Michael, answers from the passenger seat. My husband presses on the gas and we lurch forward. My hand flies to my stomach, my sister’s eyes fly to my hand.
“It was good,” she affirms. Her phone buzzes. She’s lost in the world of exotic animal care.
“Are you ok,” Thomas asks me while locking eyes with mine in the rear view mirror. After an hour on the highway, we pull up to the black, iron gate of our property. He punches in the code and the gate swings open, silently. The gravel crunches under the car and my husband pulls up to the front door. I walk with him and Michael to our hatchback. Cheyenne steps out slowly, taking in the view of our ranch. She smiles at the alpacas grazing in the field. I reach for my sister’s suitcase;“No,” insists Thomas. He steps forward, grabbing the black handle from my fingers. Michael approaches my red wooden door.
“I like the door,” Cheyenne compliments me.
“It was my idea,” I say while beaming at it. We swing open the door and Lydia, our chocolate lab, rushes to greet us. One stern look from her master causes her to take a seat on the wooden floor. Cheyenne bends down and inspects her. She gently strokes her with the kind of love provided by a woman happier in a room full of animals than at a party.
The guest queen bed has been lovingly made. Late last night, I chose a lilac bedspread, then tore it off because it was too girly, and picked a white one. I tore that one off, too because it would show every hair and stain imaginable. Tom stood in the doorway, watching and smiling at me. “Sweetheart, they won’t care,” he assured me while sipping a mug of green tea. I settled on a navy bedspread. I sighed and threw a few decorative pillows on. Then, I threw them off. The anchors would seem tacky.
“They might,” I protested. I began to gather the blankets. Tom let out a chuckle as my arms attempted to reach around my watermelon sized stomach.
“Stop,” he whispers in my ear, his mustache hairs tickled and I giggled. I let the blankets drop from my arms. “They won’t care. She’s your sister. She loves you,” promised Tom.
Cheyenne smiles, “I like the navy.” They set their bags down in one corner. I mumble something about allowing them to freshen up from their flight and close the door behind me. I rush into the kitchen; I can hear Tom chuckling behind me. Frantically, I pull out the sweet tea, brewed last night, and fresh lemonade. “Oh no!” I cry out, “I forgot ice!” I smack the marble island. Tom laughs. “It’s not funny!” I say. I begin searching the kitchen desperately for the ice tray. I’m slamming open the fridge over and over and over as if I will magically appear.
“We don’t need ice, Tilly,” I hear Cheyenne say. I burn bright red with embarrassment. My hands fly to my belly. Cheyenne’s eyes fly to my hands.
“Ok,” I say, “Are you sure?”
“Yes. We’re sure,” Cheyenne says.
“Really? Because I could just go out and grab some,” I begin running out of the kitchen towards my car keys sitting in the bowl Cheyenne got for me for my birthday. It’s large and blue. It has little red roses decorating the inside of it and I had put it out just so she could see it. I wanted my baby sister to know how much I love it.
“Don’t,” booms Cheyenne’s voice from the kitchen. I stop in my tracks. “Really, we’re fine,” she calls out, softer this time, with less authority. I walk back to the kitchen, suddenly ashamed. Cheyenne has poured herself a glass of lemonade. The men are already on the porch outside, chatting. We follow and take a seat at the large, metal table with matching chairs. Tom pops open the blue umbrella to keep the sun from reaching us.
“People always forget that Denver and Loveland are two separate places with two separate weather patterns,” I say. This makes everyone laugh, breaking the tension. I take a long sip of lemonade. The bitterness of the citrus makes me crinkle my nose and Cheyenne scoffs. “What?” I ask. She smiles back at me and shakes her head, her dark brown curls shaking around her shoulders.
“No, really, what?” I asked again. I grab the metal arm rests and push myself up so I’m sitting straight, my green eyes boring into her neck. She turns like a swan to face me, lazily.
“Nothing, you can just be dramatic,” she scoffs again and turns back to watch the chickens eating their snack in the midday sun. Lydia wines. I slump back in my chair, deflated.
“We’re having lunch with mom tomorrow at 11am. Tom and I can drive everyone,” I say. Cheyenne doesn’t turn around to face us, but Michael agrees enthusiastically. I stand and step into the kitchen. I take a deep breath while I pull out the box of sesame seed crackers from my pantry. I hear the sliding door open behind me, “Sweetheart, will you grab the cheese from the fridge, please?” I ask. I hear footsteps falling behind me. I begin arranging them all on a platter.
“Of course, sweetheart.” Cheyenne says, a cheeky smile painted across her face. I laugh at her. “Sorry, I’m sure you thought I was Tom,” she opens the fridge. She pulls out a block of cheddar cheese and reaches for the wooden cutting board. We are soothed by the even sound of the knife hitting the wooden board. Cheyenne begins arranging the cheese and turns to put the remaining half a block back. My bump hits her as I was reaching to grab some deli meat. I blush and mumble an apology. Her eyes linger on my stomach. I take a deep breath and grab the platter. She opens the sliding glass door and we step back onto the patio. The men are gone. I step back inside to leave the platter on the kitchen counter.
I lock the gate to the back patio behind me, leaving Lydia mournfully watching us walk away and lead Cheyenne to the pasture. I step slowly along the gravel pathway, lingering in the sunshine. It makes her hilights glisten softly. “How’s work going?” I ask her. She slows her pace so we’re walking side by side. I suddenly feel self conscious.
“It’s going,” Cheyenne answers. I place my hand above my eyebrows to block the sunlight. I can see two figures standing twelve feet away from us at the base of the hill.
“Do you still like it?” I ask as we approach the barn. Cheyenne doesn’t answer me. Tom takes over the conversation. He tells our guests about raising alpacas.Then, he leads them to our herd. Cheyenne approaches Duke, the largest of all of them, with confidence. She gently gives him time to smell her and then she begins stroking his face. Her lips are moving, but we can’t hear the reassuring whispers. Tom leads Michael to Merry, our resident sweetheart. He warms to Michael quickly as I perch myself against the white picket fence. My hands rub along my stomach.
We walk back together and head inside. Lydia is thrilled at our return and barks joyously. Cheyenne bends down to rub on her face and affirm our love of her. We step inside. We take turns washing our hands and then I begin making supper. My guests sip red wine and dive into the charcuterie board. “We’re having salmon, is that OK?” I ask the room. My sister and Michael lock eyes for a moment. I suddenly feel worried that it’s not OK. “I have chicken, too,” I offer. I stare at the two of them for a moment, the packet of salmon in my hands makes my fingers into icicles.
“I’m actually vegan,” says Cheyenne. I stare at my sister while she turns back to the wine in her hand, suddenly interested in the way it reflects her gaze back.
“Since when?” I demand. I am in full panic mode. I had salmon for tonight, bacon for tomorrow, and steaks planned for tomorrow night.
“For a year now,” my sister says exasperation seeping into her voice. She begins rubbing her index finger along the rim of her glass until a loud note fills the air as she leans into the kitchen counter.
“You could have told me,” I shout, louder than intended. My sister looks up at me.She stops her index finger and the note echoes for a moment, bouncing off the walls. Now, she holds my gaze in anger. I continue ticking off items in my head we can’t eat: the biscuits and gravy idea is out and the roast beef, my piece de resistance.
“You could have asked,” she tells me slowly.
I heave a sigh, “I can’t believe we’re arguing over this.”
“We’re not arguing. You’re being dramatic,” Cheyenne says while placing her empty wine glass on the counter. The sound echoes around me. She turns away, wandering back into the living room with the boys-her long, red ponytail swishing with each step.
I begin reaching into the cupboard for macaroni. I slam the cardboard box on the counter. Tom steps close to me as my sister and Michael leave. They take a seat in the living room as they chatter happily away. “I worked so hard to plan the menu,” I say through thick saliva. Tears begin to fall and splash like rain water onto the counter top. I lean back into him.
“Shhh,” he comforts me, “We can get more items at the store tomorrow.” He wipes the tears from my eyes, gently. I decide to still make two of the filets of salmon as well as a chicken breast for myself and lick my wounds in the kitchen alone as Tom is left to entertain our guests. My sister sits next to Michael. She takes a large helping of the mac and cheese, the stringy cheese stretching out like a spider’s web. I smile as she also takes a serving of glazed carrots.
“How’s the practice doing?” I ask Michael. I think of Michael running his therapy practice in Chicago. He swallows a bite of macaroni and takes a sip of his wine.
“It’s going great, thanks. How’s work going for you?” he asks Tom. The men discuss HVAC systems, Tom’s specialty, for a bit. I notice my sister isn’t eating. She’s pushing one noodle around her plate in circles, slowly. It leaves a trail of gooey sauce like a snail.
“Do you want something else?” I demand. My heart rate rises as I realize I don’t have anything to offer her. She dramatically takes a bite of her food. I clear my throat and stare down at my own plate. We finish our supper and I offer chocolate cake, Cheyenne’s favorite. But she rejects it at the knowledge of the eggs used in the batter. I heave a sigh, remembering the labor put into ensuring that the frosting was perfect. The men each have a slice and I do, too, as Cheyenne watches us.
My dreams are plagued with my sister. She’s standing in a courtroom, persecuting me for being a meat eater. I wake up in a cold sweat. I squint through blurry eyes at my phone. It reads 2:00am. I stretch in bed, Tom rolls onto his right side away from me and the startling bright light my phone emits. I wrap a soft, pink robe around myself and slide into my matching slippers. I head into the kitchen and am surprised to see a light on. My sister sits at my kitchen counter eating yogurt. “I thought you hated yogurt,” I say. My sister twirls the metal spoon with her fingers.
“I used to. Now it’s one of my only snacks,” she looks down at the blue cream, “I’m sorry, I should have asked.” She drops the spoon in the container. I walk over to the fridge and open the bottom drawer. I take out a blueberry yogurt and offer it to her. She takes it and begins to peel back the top. Her starvation is her own fault, I think to myself before taking out a second cup for myself, gasping as the sound of the closure of the wooden drawer echoes into the night. Cheyenne laughs. I laugh. We’re doubled over in laughter. I stand and make eye contact with her. She laughs harder so I do, too. I let out a snort which sends her roaring. “Shhh,” I sputter out, “The boys!”
She laughs harder at the thought of waking them and attempting to explain ourselves. Once we’ve settled down, I sit next to her. “I’m sorry. I really didn’t know that you were vegetarian,” I say. She licks her spoon clean and takes our empty yogurt containers to the sink.
Cheyenne rinses them out, “I’m sorry. I should have told you.” She has the foresight to ensure the water runs slowly, quietly. Vigorously, she shakes the excess water out and tosses them in the small, blue, rectangular recycling bin next to the trash can.
“Do you want tea?” I offer her. Cheyenne raises an eyebrow at me in surprise. I stand and reach for two mugs.
“You drink tea?” she asks. I look down at my belly. Her eyes dart to my stomach, too.
“No coffee allowed,” I say and run water into my little, red teapot. I turn on the burner, relishing in the sound of the gas igniting. Cheyenne asks where the tea bags are and begins assessing her options. I choose a green packet with a sleeping bear.
We drop tea bags in and squirt out some honey. We let out a giggle as the air escapes the honey bottle. “He wants to get married soon,” confesses Cheyenne. The sound of her spoon clinking around the mug fills the kitchen. “It doesn’t help that you’re pregnant,” she whispers. Her eyes are back on my belly. I nod and screw my lips to one side of my mouth. Then, she rests her head on her hand.
I remember how she rested her head on her hand before a big test or the night before the first day of school. Back then, we used to sneak down to our parents' kitchen together. Our little hands would wrap around the jug of milk, together so as not to spill, and pour slowly into matching mugs. We would stir in chocolate syrup and balance them precariously onto the microwave plate. Together, we’d watch, entranced as the microwave would hum along. She’d boost me up onto the plastic counter and I’d snatch the bag of marshmallows. We’d plop three marshmallows into the mugs giddily.
I place a hand on her back. “Do you not want to marry him?” I ask her. She blows a lock of hair out of her face. She sits up and takes the mug in her hands.
“No, it’s not that. It’s that I don’t want to get married right now,” she laments. She takes a sip of her tea and I realize I need to pick my words carefully. I look at her as a smile fills my face.
“You have been together for ten years now, Chey,” I remind her gently. She looks at me, an annoyed expression fills her face. “Marriage is a big deal. It’s a big deal you might never be fully ready for,” I say. I begin stirring my own tea and take a gulp. I let the warmth fill my mouth, then drip down my throat, and fill my stomach.
“You think I don’t know that, Matilda?” she demands, slamming the mug down on the counter. Now, I know she’s mad. She only uses my full name when she’s mad, just like Mom.
“No. I know you know that,” I correct her, gently. “I also know you love him. I know he loves you. And I want you to know,” I pause and place my hand on her cold one, “That we will be here no matter what.” We sit in silence for a moment, allowing the weight of that promise to permeate us. I realize that tears are filling my eyes.
“We lost the pregnancy and he thinks marriage will fix it,” she stutters out. I detect a hint of anger directed I imagine at herself, at her boyfriend, at me, at my unborn baby. Thick saliva has filled my mouth for the second time tonight. I can see tears in her eyes. I hold her. I wait for her to let go. We dab at our eyes and blow our noses. She walks back to the guest room and I shut off the kitchen light.