It had to be someone’s fault. Everything was something’s fault. Except this. She looked around the room and felt the silence looming over her. The heavy weight of it wrapped around her heart and squeezed. It’s no one’s fault, the doctor had said.
She couldn’t believe it, couldn’t stay there not believing it. Tired of being punished so harshly for such small sins she ran. Picked up someone else’s life by mistake, a letter left on a bus stop bench. The young woman didn’t mind.
“You take it. I can’t do it, too isolated up there.”
Then on the ferry, a book someone didn’t finish reading. Read it until they docked, the story echoing her pain.
“What’s your name?” A big man, gruff and angry. He scared her into lying.
“Margaret At-” she thought about the story, looked at the cover, and then out at the waves. “Atwater.”
“Huh,” he wondered but needed her too much to question. She left the book behind. Before the car’s engine cooled she had a baby in her arms again. Her breasts ached at the infant’s cries.
“Her mother took off,” he explained. “That’s why you’re here. I’m on the boat about six months out of the year. It’s the good six months too. In the winter you’ll see too much of me, in the summer not enough.” A pause, shaking his head ‘no-no-no’. “Least that’s what her mother said, before she took off.”
He left on the boat two days later. Another day and she’d forgotten what he looked like. The baby adored her, starved for attention. Her milk came back before the end of the week. Every night she prayed for a miracle. Make the baby mine, she intoned, hands folded, eyes squeezed shut. Let her take the place of what was taken from me.
It would have been easy to leave but she couldn’t. Couldn’t steal that way. Besides, he’d be gone for half a year. Her wish was already half fulfilled. She mumbled it all the time – in the car, walking to the park, rocking the baby, making meals. Let something happen, anything. When they went to music class she introduced herself as another mother, wanted it to be true.
Days into weeks and weeks into months. The baby weaned, a necessary evil since the boat would come back soon.
Except it didn’t. Alaska was a hard place.
She sat in the house, feeling the silence again. This time it wasn’t quite so heavy. This time a baby cried.
It’s no one’s fault, she thought, but she smiled just the same.