I write this for my posterity, though I do not know their names. I do not know if they even live.
But I am satisfied. I have created life where there was only death, peace where there was chaos, fortune where there was curse.
I need no obituary, for I write it now. I am the keeper of secrets. I am the secret.
Ella stared through the sheer yellow curtains at the city below. This was her favorite room in the house. The only way to get to it was through a bedroom, a bathroom, and a nursery. Most of the domestic help considered the nursery unlucky, so she was usually left alone here.
She rocked, watching cars drive past. She had bought this chair for nursing. She wrinkled her nose. What a laugh. Nursing. Motherhood.
On the 30th floor, Ella could just barely see the people below. A woman pulled a child along with her, jerking his arm harshly. The kid was probably crying. This woman had probably had an easy time of getting pregnant. Her baby had probably just slipped right out of her, no problem.
That was the way the universe worked, right?
Ella chewed her lip, feeling her tender breasts. They were still leaking a little. Doctor Wu had told her this was normal, and it would stop in a couple weeks. She breathed deeply and wrapped her sweatshirt tighter around herself.
She wasn’t sure if she wanted it to stop.
Sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night with these little sharp pains, and her shirt would be wet, and Chandler would roll over and wrap his arm around her, and she would be able to pretend to herself that there was a baby crying down the hall. For those fleeting moments she could fool herself into believing that they had a son.
She sighed. She hadn’t even really wanted a baby. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t even hoped for. She was only 22. So why did it feel like all the lights had gone out in the world?
She wondered all the time. She wondered if it was her fault—should she have eaten different foods, or exercised more, or less, or gotten more sleep, or been better at taking her vitamins? Should she have paid better attention at birthing class? She shook her head. She couldn’t even remember most of what happened in the hospital. It wasn’t worth rehashing what she could have done differently there—she didn’t even know what she had done. They said it was a side effect of the anesthesia—a rare one, but it happened sometimes. They said she had done everything perfectly. These things just happened sometimes.
These things just happened? People just lost babies for no reason?
She couldn’t help but wonder if things would have gone differently if they had stayed in the States. If she’d been able to have her parents with her. If they had gone to a doctor she knew. Ella’s mom was a ferocious mother bear. She would have made certain that Ella got the best possible care any woman in the world could get.
She wasn’t sure Mr. Butler cared quite as much. She felt guilty for even thinking it, though. This wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. But it would be so much easier if she could blame someone—anyone. Even herself.
So she did. Because there was no other explanation. There was something about her—her body, her spirit, she didn’t know—that was incapable of making a baby the right way. It was becoming laughable to think that she could have been a mother. She was silly, and rowdy, and immature, and flighty. She wouldn’t know the first thing about taking care of a baby, especially one that was her own. It was better this way.
Maybe this was her penance for something she did in a past life. Maybe she was being punished. Maybe she deserved it.
Ella heard the floor creaking in the bedroom. She turned and saw Chandler with a tray of food. He sat on the ottoman in front of her, holding the food on his lap and smiling unsurely at her.
“Are you hungry?”
She looked out the window. “Not really,” she said.
“I made the toast myself,” he said, a sly smile on his face.
Ella smiled vaguely back at him. “Thanks,” she said.
Chandler deflated a little. Somewhere deep in the middle of her gut she felt radiating guilt. She wanted to burst out and hug him and cry and throw a tantrum. But she couldn’t move. It was like waking up in the middle of a dream and not being able to get out of bed. She was stuck, paralyzed. She suddenly hated this city.
“Chandler,” she said. “Can we just… can we go somewhere?”
Chandler paused. “Sure,” he said. “Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere. Away from here.”
“Do you want to go see your parents?”
Ella sighed. Her mom had a flight out here in a week to take care of her. It had been planned for months—they weren’t expecting the baby to come so early.
“I want… I want to be somewhere else. To get away, you know?”
Chandler nodded quickly. “A vacation?” he said. “I can take off work. Easy. Let’s go. We can do Guam, or Thailand… Singapore…”
“Yes,” she said. “Somewhere with a beach. And not a lot of people.”
“When do you want to go?”
“Today?” she forced a quiet laugh. “I mean… soon. When we can.” She looked around. “I just can’t stand it here anymore.”
Chandler frowned. “You spend a lot of time in this room, Ella,” he said. “I don’t think it’s smart. He’s not—“
Ella shot him a look and he stopped immediately.
“You’re right,” he said. “We need to get away. Spend some time just the two of us.”
“Do you think they’ll let me?” Ella said. “With this whole Zuo yuezi thing, they won’t let me go anywhere.”
“Yeah, of course, Ella.” He took her face in his hands. “We can do anything. We can be free.”
A silent tear escaped the corner of her eye. She hated when that happened, and she tried to stop it every time. Chandler quickly wiped it away. He was so sweet.
But she had never felt more trapped. She was an outsider, trying to live these customs and expectations that she didn’t know anything about, and she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be grieving or moving on or just living like normal, or maybe going to counseling. And then she was supposed to stay inside and not wash her hair and not make any of her own food and pretty much do nothing, but she didn’t even have a baby. She didn’t have anything.
She didn’t know what to do. Would Singapore or Guam or any vacation spot in the world make a difference? All she wanted was… she didn’t even know what she wanted. To be a different person maybe.
She kissed Chandler softly. It was worth a try.
“Let’s go,” she said. “How about… Guam?”
He smiled carefully. “We can go tomorrow,” he said. “If you feel up to it.”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, yes, please, let’s just go.”
“Okay. What kind of a place?”
She chewed her lip, thinking of what she could possibly do to distract herself.
“Somewhere… by the beach… with lots of windows. And a piano.”
“A piano?” Chandler grasped her hand, eyebrows raised. He looked hopeful. “You think you want to play again?”
Ella shrugged. The other day she had gotten out of bed and tried to push their baby grand out the window. She had popped some stitches, leaving drops of blood on the hardwood floor as she struggled. Dr. Wu had had to make a house call to stitch her back up. It was a large part of why she had spent most of the last 48 hours in this chair.
She had played her entire repertoire—dozens of time—for the baby. She thought he was going to be a concert pianist someday. Or at least be able to tell the difference between Bach and Chopin. So her reaction was at least understandable… she hoped.
She sighed. She could admit to herself that she was probably going crazy—but hell would freeze over before she would say that to Chandler.
“I think I can be more of a grown up about this,” she said to Chandler, trying to smile. “Piano makes me happy.”
“And I want you to be happy, Ella, more than anything.”
“I know,” she said quietly. He hugged her and she slowly raised her arms to return the embrace. “This will make me happy. Guam. I guarantee it.” She smiled, feeling as though her cheeks would crack.
Chandler searched her face for a moment. His forehead crinkled, but then his face relaxed. “Good,” he said. “Then I’ll go see if we can find a resort or something.”
He left the room with a small smile, leaving the soup behind. She watched him go. He was always happier with something to do, she knew that.
She frowned. She hadn’t known before that things just didn’t ever work out. Her whole life had seemed to sparkle before, but it had all just led to… this. It was like she was bad luck. Or cursed. Or maybe she had just learned something true about the world that she had never supposed before. That there wasn’t a purpose, or meaning, or a plan. People just floated around, bumping into each other, making their lives more complicated and more painful. And she certainly wasn’t an exception.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered to the back of Chandler’s head as he disappeared around the corner. “I still love you.”
But love wasn’t enough. It never was.