Paper Ghosts Don't Tell Stories

Submitted into Contest #56 in response to: Write a day-in-the-life-story about a first-time parent and their newborn child.... view prompt


Drama Fantasy Holiday

"Say hello to your baby boy!" a distant voice insists. My head tilts down in a drowsy slumber, exhausted from the 26 hours, 32 minutes, and 15 seconds of agonizing labor that got me to this point.

My body craves sleep and a burger. It's all I can think about now that they aren't out of the realm of possibility anymore.

"waaaaaaa!!" The cry is what pulls me out of the numbing pain and exhaustion. My hands are grasping for the sticky red bundle and instinctively pulling him close to my chest.

I know the baby is meant to be my blissful distraction while the Doctor pulls out my insides in the most invasive way possible. I happily comply and study his features for distraction.

His eyes are squeezed shut, refusing to relinquish his soul secrets so easily. I study his wailing mouth. It moves in and out like a suckerfish clinging to tank algae for the sake of survival. His lips quiver at the peak of his cry before surrendering to an intake of breath unfamiliar to his tiny lungs. I trace the curves and creases of his ears and whimper at the reality of his existence.

"We're gonna check him right over here, momma. We'll give him right back." My arms let go reluctantly, but my heart pounds against my chest in anger for letting him go.

I still can't help but watch his tiny frame moving around the shadow of the light, protectively waiting to give my life for his at any moment.

The scene around me changes from labor and delivery to recovery. I can feel the atmospheric shift in rooms, but my eyes are only on him, the sleeping burrito protected from the world by my shielding arms. Nurses ask questions, poke and prod, and continually examine my naked body.

I don't care, though. The time ticks forward, but my attention never wavers from the human my body created.

We get home, and I lay him in the bassinet next to me. My exhaustion is overwhelming, and I lean back on my bed's headboard and start to nod off.

"Waaaa!" I jump up and run to his side defensively. I quickly realize he's just hungry and pull down my shirt's sleeve to comply with his demands.

The minutes away from the hospital pile up in front me as a constant reminder that I'm doing this alone. At least I could count on them to check-in on us and make sure he's doing well.

We've had a rough start together as he refuses to sleep, and I crave it with a fierce hunger.

I lay Jack back down, moving so slowly it takes me nearly ten minutes before my hands can pull away. I tiptoe back to bed and shimmy my way into sheets with a quiet, languid outtake of breath. Finally, my eyelids begin to succumb to the blissful persuasion of dreams and the unconscious.

A book falls off the freshly stocked baby shelf, and I shift my attention to its loud clank. I peak at Jack with my fingers crossed and teeth gnawing on my lip in anticipation. His lips pull back to the quivering wail I've grown accustomed to hearing every hour.

I bounce my baby bundle and search for an anchor to sanity. My first day home with him and my reality mixes with my imagination as I fight the disorienting symptoms of lack of sleep.

"Wanna hear a story, Jack?" I bend down and clasp my hands around a book my mother made when I was a kid, "It's called paper ghosts."

"Your Grandma was a natural-born storyteller. They just came to her at the moment, and she'd delight in sharing them with me."

I analyze the small back-to-back wordless pictures that set the stage for so many stories my mother made up. She drew ghosts, pumpkins, kids in costumes, and so much more. This one was related to Halloween, but it was only one of many of her creations.

It was a craft I never learned to do. Especially after her death, I sought out anything to feel closer to her, and stories were the next best thing to her existence. It wasn't something I believed could be learned, but I clung desperately to her memories.

I'm whipped back into what one could only assume is reality as another wail protrudes my ears. I cry with him.

I cry because I feel so helpless in the inability to keep him happy. I cry because I'm too tired to hold them back anymore. I cry because my appetite aches for more than the snack box next to my bed. And more than anything else, I cry because my mother would know what to do and she's not here.

I cry, and I bounce Jack soothingly, to which he hiccups into silence. I bend down, holding onto him tight, lowering my head to the floor, and let myself long for my mother's presence for just a moment.

Her book opens on the floor, and the words dance around Jack and I like a protective ribbon slowly circling our connected bodies and kissing our ears with reassurance. I give in to my sudden slip from sanity, and let the paper ghosts tell us stories from my childhood memories.

Jack's body relaxes, and one look at his face reveals an expression of wonder and pleasure. The words must be comforting to his ears as well.

Have I managed to draw us both into this other world of insanity? Into an alternative reality where my mother's words embrace us from stories I haven't heard in over a decade. I don't regret our connected delusions because his first twitch of a smile eases all my parenthood fears for a moment.

One...two, pumpkins in the patch...A third's about to hatch. 

The critters in the dirt slither beneath the gate...and the animals gather inside the latch. 

The bats fly ahead, their wings dancing in the night air. 

The paper ghosts sing into the darkness in a lullaby of cheer.

A baby pumpkin joins them with a pop.

Now there are three pumpkins in the patch,

The paper ghosts never skip a beat, never stop.

Jack coos at the sound of the whispering story emanating from my mother's handcrafted children's book. I lay him softly into the bassinet and eye him suspiciously, unbelieving of his calming demeanor. His eyelids shutter open and close slowly, grasping onto the words of the whispered stories in the room but unable to resist the lulling temptation of sleep.

"Thank you paper ghosts," I whisper into the room with relief.

"Anna, paper ghosts don't tell stories," a familiar voice answers.

"Neither do dead moms," I point out.

My muscles are relaxing with each minute Jack's body welcomes his dreamy state. My eyelids replicate his resistance and compliance simultaneously before settling in on the unconscious mind's sweet embrace.

"You'll see Anna," her whispers cling to the air in the room, and ride the tide of circulation around me, "Mothers never really leave their baby's side."

August 26, 2020 16:47

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B.T Beauregard
16:29 Aug 31, 2020

Beautiful story!! Heartwarming and inspirational, I love the title. Great job, I’m looking forward to reading more of your stories. Ps: If you could check out my newest story and leave some feedback I would really appreciate it. :)


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Tawney Coleman
19:44 Aug 31, 2020

Nothing short of amazing 🙌🙌


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Vanessa Marczan
00:29 Aug 31, 2020

Hi Brandi, I loved this! Great transition into this fantasy world, I can totally relate to this slip when in baby-sleep deprivation zombie mode! Nice one!


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Karen Mascazzini
10:47 Aug 27, 2020

Nice descriptions. I could see it as i read it.


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Karen Myers
00:16 Aug 27, 2020

I love this one too!! And yes I did cry 🤷‍♀️😉


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Judy Yetzer
00:00 Aug 27, 2020

Loved the descriptions!


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Misti Coleman
16:55 Aug 26, 2020

Wow! This was DEFINITELY my favorite. The "neither do dead moms" got me and I almost teared up a bit 😭


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